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Friday, September 10, 2010

Mistborn: The Well of Ascension, by Brandon Sanderson

The Well of Ascension is the second book in Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy. For my post on the first of these novels, which includes links to information on the author, and on the trilogy, see here.

As in most trilogies, the second book is the least exciting. The first one usually lets you know about where you are, and who the main characters are. The third, ideally, ties up all the loose ends. In the second, you don't yet know exactly where you are, and you don't know where you are going. You, with the characters, have to sort of slog through an entire volume. That's true of this book, although Sanderson has provided a good read.

As usual, rather than try for a complete re-cap of the plot, I'm mostly going to muse on some themes.

First, I will consider metals, as used in this series. A mistborn person is one who is able to utilize metals, ingested in a suspension, in various ways. A misting is able to use only one of these metals. Sanders provides a "Metals Quick-Reference Chart" at the end of the book, which lists 12 such metals. (Actually, there are two more metals introduced in the third book, and a strong hint that there are two more.) These include elements: iron, tin, zinc, copper, and gold. They include common alloys: steel, pewter, electrum, brass, and bronze. They include two elements, or possibly alloys, which Sanderson made up for this series, namely atium and malatium. Why these? Why not nickel or manganese? Why not silver?

Then there's the question of just how these are utilized. Is there a special organ in the digestive system that somehow oxidizes these metals? The mistborns don't seem to know, and we don't, either. How, except, of course, by magic, could the ingestion of steel make it possible to exert some sort of repulsive force (a Push) on an appropriate metal, and propel yourself rapidly into the sky, or for a block or more horizontally? (And, provided there are more metals to Push on, keep going for miles.) Where does this energy come from? How could the reactions, be they chemical or nuclear, be contained in an otherwise normal body?

Another thing to consider is that there are a lot of different sentient creatures in these books. There are humans. But the humans seem to be divided into nobility and skaa, and, although the two can produce offspring, there seem to be differences. Apparently, only persons with a noble ancestor can become mistings, or mistborn. Then there are the Terris people. Did Sanderson mean for us to associate these with Terra? I don't know. If he didn't, perhaps he should have chosen a different name. The Terris have their own traditions and governance, and seem to be somehow distinguishable on sight. They often serve as stewards to nobles of other groups. They use metals in ways similar to the ways they are used by the mistborn. But their uses are not identical. They use copper to store memories, and mistborn have no such power. I suppose you could call the Terris a distinct race. There are obligators. An obligator is a combination priest, spy, and notary public. There are inquisitors. Inquisitors have steel spikes through their heads at the eye sockets, replacing the eyes. They can detect metals well enough that they don't need eyes. They have the powers of a mistborn. And that's only the humans. There are also kandra. A kandra is able to take the shape of a human (or an animal), and they are such good actors that they can fool other people into believing that they are the person they resemble. There are koloss, ugly human-shaped brutes, who seem to want nothing, save to fight. They have blue colored skin, and can grow to at least twelve feet in height. There are no koloss babies. Where do they come from? There may be mistwraiths, strange creatures floating around in the air, generally at night. Do they really exist, and, if they do, are they intelligent? Benevolent?

Then there are the quotations at the beginning of each chapter. There are a lot of chapters, 59 in Well, as well as 38 in Mistborn, and 82 in The Hero of Ages, the last book. Each chapter has from a sentence to a paragraph, in italics, so it is not confused with the main text, at its beginning. Who is supposed to have written these? When? Why? Did the same person write the quotations in all three books? Are all the quotations in any one of the books from the same source? These issues aren't clarified. After reading the trilogy a second time, I think I know some of the answers. But I'm not sure.

Now to character. Elend Venture is the son of the most important nobleman (other than the Lord Ruler) in Luthadel, the main city. But his interests are academic. He likes to study government, and how it should be operated, so as to benefit the people as much as possible. His father, Straff Venture, is an egotist, but one who knows enough about how to control people that he keeps his army, his servants, and his skaa mistresses under control.

In the first book, Vin disguised herself as a noble woman, and attended balls as a way of gathering information about vulnerabilities among the nobles. She met Elend, who came to balls because it was expected of him, but usually read a book, rather than dancing or socializing. The two of them began to fall in love. In the second book, Elend, as a high noble surviving the chaos following Vin's killing of the Lord Ruler, takes over the kingdom. He wants to be a good ruler, but doesn't always know how. Tindwyl, a Terris woman, shows up, and takes over Elend's training, teaching him how to conduct himself so that he will be respected and paid attention to. Her training is not quite on time, it seems, because the council that Elend set up when he wrote Luthadel's constitution decides to overthrow him, and he feels bound by the constitution he has written. Sanderson's political theory is interesting, but it doesn't get in the way of the action.

The continuing development of Vin, and of Elend, is well done. Sazed, too, continues to develop throughout this book. (Sazed is a Terris eunuch who has taken, as his life's work, the study of the religions that the Lord Ruler stamped out, about a thousand years ago.) Sazed helps Kelsier's crew, including Vin and Elend, who becomes part of the crew after Kelsier's death, and he finds meaning to his life in that, but he is seeking a religion that will give meaning to his life, and he can't find one.

I must write a little about plot, because there are some events at the end of the book that are crucial. The Well of Ascension is a magical entity. Vin opens it. In the process, she releases some sort of spirit being. Elend is injured badly, and it seems that he will die. But another spirit signals to Vin without speaking, and tells her to feed Elend a nugget of metal, found near the well. He becomes fully Mistborn, and begins a healing process.

More can, and probably should, be said, but I will stop here, and attempt to post about the third volume, in the near future.

Thanks for reading.

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