The Well of Ascension is the second book in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy. I picked it up from the library within a weak of finishing the first book with high expectations. (You should be proud of me. This time I actually went to the library instead of spending the fifteen minutes reading in the bookstore as I waited for my bus to come.)
The second book in a trilogy is, in my opinion, the trickiest book to write. The first book has natural energy and interest because the story is new and the readers don’t know what to expect. The last book has natural energy as it builds to the big finale. The middle, however, is often a bridge of ‘fun stuff’ and character development that fails to move the grand plot forward much. This can cause middle books to pale in comparison to its flashy bookend neighbors. So, without spoilers, let me share how this middle book—The Well of Ascension—worked for me.
Romance — If Mistborn was a heist book cloaked in the trappings of fantasy, The Well of Ascension is a romance disguised as a fantasy book. Sure, the action and political intrigue play their part, but the main tension of the book is rooted in romantic relationships. While I enjoyed getting to know the characters better through their interactions in this book, the subtle genre turn from book one into book two caught me off guard. “Wait!” I wanted to say, “What about the whole master plan scheme thing from the first book?”
Once I realized that book two was going to be a different type of book than the first, I came to terms with the trajectory of the story. I was disappointed, however, that I was able to predict, with very little error, the outcomes of several plot arcs in the story. That is one of the side effects of switching to heavy reliance on romance—the success of romance relies on the struggle of the journey instead of the rush of last minute changes of plans and the twist ending. Don’t think that the book lacked any of the typical Sanderson flare and creativity, including unexpected twists. It did deliver in that respect. It’s just important that you go into the book knowing that it is inherently different from the first. Judge the book on its own terms, not those you force upon it.
New Characters —The new characters in The Well of Ascension brought some much-needed excitement to the story. The inclusion of several new viewpoint characters, however, threw me off-kilter. After a whole book of following Kelsier and Vin around, it was jarring to have to sort through the five or six viewpoints of the second book. The effect was that the second book felt like it was mostly about new characters, or formerly minor characters, instead of continuing with the strong lines established in the first book.
Deeper into the Magic—Some of my favorite parts of the book were the snippets where bits of the magic of the world came into focus. It’s hard to imagine the magic from the first book getting old, but I thoroughly enjoyed the narrative boost provided by new insight on the world of Mistborn.
I give The Well of Ascension a 3/5 star rating. I would not recommend reading it without reading Mistborn. If The Well of Ascension was a standalone novel, I probably wouldn’t read its sequel, but since I still want to know what happens as the consequences of the first book play out, I am going to read the last book in the trilogy. As with the first book, The Well of Ascension is not meant for readers younger than high school age due to violence and insinuated adult themes. For those hungry for more Mistborn, The Well of Ascension is a welcome diversion and promising appetizer, pointing to a potentially epic conclusion in book three.
Missed the first book? Click here to read more.