The Well of Ascension

Having loved Mistborn: The Final Empire last year, I was really eager to read its sequel, The Well of Ascension. The ending promised a lot of things to come, which made me curious as to what would occur next.

Unfortunately, The Well of Ascension didn't do it for me. Not at all, truth to tell. Indeed, for some reason it failed on basically every level to interest me. If this had been a book by anyone but Brandon Sanderson, I would have quit long before the end.

I really like Brandon. He's one of the nicest guys around in the genre, a class act and always accessible. I enjoyed both Elantris and Mistborn: The Final Empire, and I was truly looking forward to reading The Well of Ascension. In a way, I feel a bit bad about having to write such a negative review concerning the work of an author I respect. And yet, I have to be honest if I'm to maintain any semblance of integrity. Having said that, I'm glad there are some very positive reviews out there, which demonstrates that many people found it to their liking. I wish I could claim the same. . .

On the upside, once again I found the magical system to be the most fascinating aspect of this novel. We learn a bit more about it, and it's evident that Sanderson created something special. The action scenes are as cool as in the first volume, though they don't have the same sort of impact the second time around. The worldbuilding is interesting, yet I would have loved to learn more about the Deepness and the Well of Ascension. Still, I'm intrigued enough to pick up the third volume of this series.

In retrospect, I feel that there simply wasn't enough material to warrant a novel-length project. Yes, I'm well aware that this book weighs in at 589 pages, yet "filler" is predominant throughout. If you strip The Well of Ascension down to the bare essential, I feel that we'd be left with less than 100 pages. For the most part, by the halfway point of the novel, I was just going through the motions, plowing on without veritable interest, yet hoping that something would turn this one around and get me into it.

The Well of Ascension, with its banter and "funny" dialogues, shows once more that Brandon Sanderson is David Eddings' heir in terms of style, although he's more action-oriented than Eddings ever was. Which means that those who used to love David Eddings should enjoy Sanderson's work. On the downside, those people who couldn't stand Eddings will, in all likelihood, find Sanderson off-putting for the same reasons.

Unlike its predecessor, the characterization in The Well of Ascension is the facet which I found left the most to be desired. I believe the tale missed Kelsier a lot more than I ever thought possible. Vin and Elend's relationship makes for the better part of the story's backdrop, and I found it quite on the lame side. I was hoping for either or both to be killed by page 50, but alas this is no GRRM book. . . Without Kelsier, the rest of his crew lost all their erstwhile appeal.

The narrative doesn't flow well, mainly because Sanderson interrupts the flow of the story with constant thoughts and feelings from every single POV character. There is a lot of "inner" dialogue going on in their heads, often reflecting on what the narrative has just explained. This results in a somewhat sluggish pace, forcing us to go through a lot of emo crap which serves little purpose in the overall scheme of things. . .

The politicking -- the whole "let's make Ellend the bookworm a king" -- was clumsy and unrealistic. And since intrigue and politics are at the heart of the tale, I felt that this one read like a YA novel.

The ending is good enough to make me want to read the final volume of the series. But The Well of Ascension was a letdown, making this book my biggest disappointment of the year thus far.

The final verdict: 6/10

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P. S. I believe this is the first time Rob Bedford and I don't agree on a book. . . What is this world coming to!?!:p

6 commentaires:

Robert said...

You actually shared a lot of the same sentiments as I did :) I too thought the magic system was the best part of the book, the characterization was weaker (I really missed Keslier!), and the court politics were uninteresting compared to the caper elements from the first book.

So compared to "The Final Empire", I didn't think "The Well of Ascension" was as strong, but there's still a lot to like about the book, and I'm optimistic that the last one in the trilogy will be much better :D

Larry Nolen said...

Since I read both Mistborn books within a week or so of each other this summer, I wonder if my more positive take could be due to that, as perhaps maybe your more negative take might be the result of the passage of time between reading the first and second books.

When I wrote my thoughts on the two Mistborn novels and the Winterbirth (which incidentally I didn't like as much as you did, if I recall), I remember trying to focus more on what Sanderson tried to accomplish and what he did accomplish. I think in this middle volume, he wanted to develop the two main characters left after Kelsier's death.

For those who found Kelsier's wit and dashing personality to be the key to enjoying the first volume, it would be very understandable that WoA wouldn't be as exciting to them (and perhaps not as enjoyable in the end). But for those who found that character to be a bit too over-the-top (and I was one of them), it was good to see that Vin's wary character was developed some.

Yes, Sanderson still has issues with describing the action and getting the dialogue to feel "natural," but I thought WoA showed some definite signs of improvement over TFE and over Elantris. Considering the story by design focused on Elend and Vin's relationship and how that dynamic changed throughout the book due to external and internal pressures, I would have to say that Sanderson accomplished most, if not all, of his goals.

Is it more of a case perhaps of him not writing a middle volume in a style that you prefer, or is it more a case that you believe that Sanderson largely failed to accomplish his aims? Or is it some sort of combination of the two?

RobB said...

Pat you considered Winterbirth one of the best books of 2006. I recently finished it (like Larry) and didn't think much of it. I was, in fact, rather underwhelmed.

Anonymous said...


I pretty much agree. I thought Mistborn was not the greatest of Fantasy books in 2006 but interesting enough because of his magic and because of Kelsier and the book's plot to overthrow the Lord Ruler. It had a strong ending. Well of Ascension has very little in the way of good characters and is a marked disappoinment.

Patrick said...

Robert: I'm hoping that the last volume will be a marked improvement!

Larry: Regardless of what the author's aims were, I thought the execution fell rather flat throughout the book.

Rob: Say it isn't so!;-) Hopefully this is the end of a streak, and not the end of an era!

I read Winterbirth when it came out, which means that I had no expectations whatsoever. I think that a lot of the rave reviews have raised the bar for that one. Plus, in retrospect, it appears that this novel is hit or miss with most people. It leaves no one indifferent -- you either love it or not.

Calibandar: We don't always see eye to eye when it comes to books. It's nice to agree, even if it's just once in a while!:p

Tesse said...

After reading Mistborn: The Final Empire, I felt a feeling like I missed something. However since the ending of the book was pretty good in my opinion I decided to buy the WoA as well. Also the idea that Sanderson will finish the WoT made me want to read more of his work.

I'm glad to have stumbled upon this review. Most reviews I have read of Final Empire gave him 7.5 to 8.0 with a comment like pretty good but not all the way. These were all a bit too positive for me and I wondered if I was alone in this. Therefore I'm glad to see someone share my sentiments of disappointment. I think of quitting the book and trying nation of Terry Pratchett as my first pratchett book.

On the upside for Sanderson. I could only be dissapointed because I like how he actively manages his site and his project with Warbreaker. I've read the first few chapters of Warbreaker and thought it was actually pretty good. I might give it a try when it comes out in print if I like book 12 of WoT.

p.s. Am I right in assuming here that Pat = Patrick Rothfuss? If so I'm eagerly waiting for your 2nd book :). no pressure.