Friday, May 25, 2012

Review: Well of Ascension, by Brandon Sanderson

I liked Mistborn. Wouldn’t go as far as to say I really liked it or anything, but I certainly enjoyed reading it. I figure the book has enough fans and twice as many reviews already without needing to add my thoughts to it, and in any case I’d rather talk about book two in Brandan Sanderson’s trilogy. Because while I liked Mistborn, I struggled to make it to the end of Well of Ascension.

And I mean really struggled. It’s not poorly written or offensive or anything like that, it’s just so boring. So unbelievable boring. And it shouldn’t be! If you take all the parts out of the book and look at them it sounds like a really awesome read. Tense political situations, siege warfare, families turned against each other and romances tested. Awesome, awesome, awesome. In theory.

But the problem is that all of the characters are just so good and noble and nice, it leaves the book almost wholly without tension. It’s not that I expect every fantasy novel to take inspiration from the gritty characters of Joe Abercrombie and his ilk, but I don’t think some shades of grey are too much to ask for. You would think for example, given their leader’s recent death, that there might be a power struggle amongst the old crew, or that some of them might choose to leave. Nope, they all continue to fight the fight because it’s the right thing to do. No conflict there.

Vin is having trouble with her role as Elend’s personal Mistborn, a situation that is only exacerbated by the Mistborn Zane who, despite working for the enemy, keeps saving her life. Lets set aside the fact that this entire plotline is a really annoying example of the whole ‘this-would-be-cleared-up-in-five-seconds-flat-if-characters-a-and-b-would-just-talk-to-other-for-crying-out-loud’ trope, it could have created tension. Nothing like a good old fashioned love triangle to liven things up, eh? Surely Vin would be torn between the man she thinks she loves and this mysterious Mistborn who already seems to know her better then Elend ever could? Nope. Her feelings for Elend never waver, the only doubt inside her comes from whether or not she’s good enough for him. Yawn.

And let’s talk about Vin and Elend’s relationship please. It’s a rare writer who can pull off a decent sex scene, so by all means feel free to leave them out. But don’t expect me to believe that two healthy, unsupervised, in love young adults living lives of extreme pressure and mortal danger aren’t doing it off page. Vin and Elend’s relationship is wholly chaste (and completely lacking in chemistry…) and there’s no reason for it to be so, other then they’re not married, (even though we see next to no evidence that society really gives a crap. And you know what? Even if they did realistic characters would still be doing it- or at least thinking about doing it…) Let’s be honest, the reason for this is the author’s personal religious beliefs, and it made it hard to “believe” in the world Sandersan was presenting. So no tension here, sexual or otherwise.

Elend was my favourite character in Mistorn. This slouching, rebellious, powerful young noble had the potential to be another Jimmy the Hand, or a fantasy Ferris Bueller. Never have I been more disappointed to get inside of a characters head. The kid is noble to the point of stupidity. And not in an interesting and thought provoking Ned Stark kind of way, just in a stupid and boring kind of way. And I also felt that Sanderson completely failed to explore the angst and tension that could have resulted from Elend’s own father laying siege to the city. The fact that his dad clearly wanted to kill him and destroy his idealistic dreams didn’t seem to bother Elend anymore than if it was a stranger camped outside his walls.

Bah! I could go on. Everyone is wholly good, except for the bad guys who are wholly bad. Was Mistborn like this? To a degree, I think it was. But it was saved by Kelsier who was such a complex and shaded character that he made up for it. The only character in the Well of Ascension who is at all complex is the leader of the other army (the one not led by Elend’s father), but he gets too little  page time to balance out the lack of complexity in everyone else.

I don’t see myself picking up Hero of Ages any time soon, nor anything else by Sanderson. There’s nothing wrong with being wholesome and nice, but it sure makes for some boring reading.

I bought this book 


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