“I write these words in steel, for anything not set in metal cannot be trusted.”
I have no idea where to begin with this book, and it will be impossible to discuss it without giving spoilers for the first book, so I will just say that I absolutely adored it and I will try to keep my thoughts as concise as possible. While The Final Empire (you can read my review here) was an action packed introduction to the story, themes, main players and setting of the trilogy, in The Well of Ascension Sanderson focusses less on driving the plot forward and instead spends his time fleshing out the characters and the world he had set up, resulting in the best book I have read so far this year.
The Well of Ascension picks up one year after the events of The Final Empire, the Lord Ruler is dead and Vin, Elend Venture and the Survivor’s crew are attempting to rebuild the world from the ashes. This book really centres on the politics of the new empire, how the world has suffered without the tyrannical, yet ultimately stabilising, influence of the Lord Ruler and as the political landscape shifts we watch as the men of power flourish or flounder in the new environment.
The character development in this book is fantastic and in my opinion this is Sanderson’s biggest strength, with this trilogy containing some of my favourite characters ever. The growth of crew members that weren’t of such a big focus previously, most noticeably Breeze and Clubs who have some very touching moments, and the addition of some new faces was wonderfully done (I am giving nothing away here as I do not want to spoil anything) and I would also be remiss if I didn’t quickly mention Straff Venture, he makes a great antagonist and I thoroughly enjoyed disliking him.
Vin’s journey and her struggle to fit into her burgeoning roles as a Mistborn, the Survivor’s Heir, Elend’s lover, and as a young woman trying to find her own identity, felt very real and it was rewarding to watch her grow into herself. However it was Sazed, Marsh and the Kandra, OreSeur, who absolutely made this book so wonderful for me, and all for very different reasons. I find the Steel Inquisitors so interesting in general (and I am desperate to find out more!) and as a character Marsh is something of an enigma, he actually appears very little in this book, but he still managed to make a huge impression in spite of, or perhaps because of, his very noticeable absence. OreSeur, with his sarcasm and sassy back chat has been the most interesting character to watch grow. As with the Inquisitors, the Kandra are a very secretive bunch and Sanderson definitely teases us with small, but important, snippets of information which are revealed as the relationship between OreSeur and Vin develops.
Sanderson expanded on the different point of views that we got in this novel and Sazed is, without a shadow of a doubt, the star of this book for me. He is a scholar and combined with his introspective nature his observations allow us insight into events and people that we wouldn’t otherwise get as he has a skill for gently peeling away their outer layers, and there are some affecting moments between Sazed and Clubs, who I will admit I had mostly overlooked previously. While most of the other crew members are very much focussed on the here and now, Sazed is delving into the past through his studies into the prophesies in order to find answers for the future and it allows him more time to question his changing role. While the others are forced to change through action without much time for thought, by comparison we can see Sazed question more deeply his role and who he is; as a Keeper and a Terrisman his role was more clearly defined, through a quiet and constant lifelong resistance, by the presence of the Lord Ruler than that of the rest of the main cast. Throughout the first two books he has become a comfort to those around him, his faith and knowledge making him a strong support for the rest of the characters and I am interested to see how his role will be developed in the final book, as I was left with the impression that events have led him to further question his place, along with the beliefs that he previously revered. There are many other things I would like to mention about Sazed here but I do not want to spoil anything that happens in this book, so I will just say that in The Final Empire I loved his character but it was during the course of The Well of Ascension I fell in love with him.
As with The Final Empire I had a wonderful time with this book and I cannot recommend it highly enough, it is rare to find the second book of a trilogy surpass the first but that was definitely my experience and I hope this trend follows with the final instalment.