WARNING: This review will have spoilers from the first book in the series, The Final Empire
How often do you read a book or watch a movie about an oppressed, fictional people going up against a tyrannical government, and get pumped when the rebellion succeeds at the end; then, call it a day when you finish, with nary a thought of what came after? More times than not, I'm sure. We're not conditioned to think about what comes next, and you know why? Because rebuilding a government is a messy, complicated business with loose ends that can't be neatly tied.
Well of Ascension, however, forces us to face the aftermath of the rebellion that took place in The Final Empire. Yes, the Lord Ruler was killed and deposed, but now what? Will Elend's government be everything that the Lord Ruler's wasn't? Will other factions try to seize power themselves now that the Lord Ruler is out of the picture? And, what about the Deepness?
Sanderson doesn't take the easy way out and portray a world that is hunky dory now that the Lord Ruler is gone. Instead, he gives us more bitter realities.
It was hard to believe that anything could actually be worse than the Lord Ruler’s oppression. Sazed told himself that these people’s pain would pass, that they would someday know prosperity because of what he and the others had done. Yet, he had seen farmers forced to slaughter each other, had seen children starve because some despot had “requisitioned” a village’s entire food supply. He had seen thieves kill freely because the Lord Ruler’s troops no longer patrolled the canals. He had seen chaos, death, hatred, and disorder. And he couldn’t help but acknowledge that he was partially to blame.
As if rebuilding a government and kingdom infrastructure wasn't enough to deal with, Kelsier's crew (who are now really Elend's crew) face some very pressing difficulties, including that they can't find the city's atium for economic stability, and oh- the fact that three armies are laying siege to Luthadel. Then, there is talk that the Deepness is returning...
There's a lot going on, yes, even though this is just a "transition book," as most middle books in a series are. We must get from point A (the first book), in which Kelsier's crew defeated the Lord Ruler, to point C (the third book), in which - well, obviously I'm not going to spoil the set up, but let's just say, major stuff is going to go down. Well of Ascension bridges the gap from point A to point C, but manages to do so in a way that is riveting, heart-pounding, action-packed, and suspenseful.
While the first book focuses on the development of Vin as she changes from a broken street urchin into a formidable Mistborn, this book in turn chronicles Elend's journey from an earnest idealist into a self-assured ruler. It's certainly not an easy journey for him, and his struggles are portrayed realistically.
Elend shook his head. “Can you not be both a man who follows his conscience and a good king, then?”
Tindwyl frowned in thought.
“You ask an age-old question, Elend,” Sazed said quietly. “A question that monarchs, priests, and humble men of destiny have always asked. I do not know that there is an answer.”
Keep in mind, too, that Elend is very young (in his early twenties) when he takes the throne. His insecurities feel achingly truthful - he can't help but wonder, wouldn't Kelsier have made a better king?
And, speaking of Kelsier, his absence is certainly felt throughout the novel, by both the characters and the reader. The skaa have deified "The Survivor," and well, I found myself somewhat deifying him too, as I was constantly thinking, "What would Kelsier do?" After all, it has to be said - as much as I like Elend, as much as I felt the realism of his struggles, as much as I think he's a better king than Kelsier would ever be, the fact remains that he's not Kelsier, and I sometimes wished he was.
Vin, to me, is much more compelling than Elend. As she's pretty much the epitome of a strong, female protagonist, I can't help but love her. It's so refreshing to have her protect Elend, and not the other way around. Of course, she comes with her own bundle of insecurities - how can Elend love a woman like her, a paranoid, trouser-wearing, killing machine? I can understand some readers being frustrated with Vin's constant self-doubts with regard to her relationship with Elend, but I never was because I thought it made sense for her character, especially knowing where she came from. It's difficult to accept love when we don't think we deserve it, after all. I also loved the contrast between Vin the Mistborn and Vin the girl. People are complex, and someone can be strong and insecure at the same time - Sanderson understands this.
My concern with Vin at this point, though, is that she's getting too powerful. In the first book, she came to realize that even though she's a Mistborn, she's not invincible. Well, in this book, she seemed pretty damn invincible to me.
You know, there's a lot of stuff in this book that I haven't talked about in this review, that I don't even know how to begin to talk about, without my review being the size of a dissertation. There's just so much depth in Sanderson's books, and the fact that I can't even discuss 99% of the things I would like to mention without opening a can of word vomit hopefully attests to that. There are some events from the ending that I'm not sure how I feel about... mainly Elend's easy acceptance about being given the position of Emperor, and Elend "snapping" into a Mistborn at the end. But, I'm willing to trust in Sanderson that these were the right choices for the series - he sure hasn't let me down yet.
While this book doesn't have the perfection of its predecessor (in my eyes, at least), it's still amazing and one of the best books I've ever read. I was biting my nails the whole time, and there were some incredible, jaw-dropping, "oh NO he didn't!" moments from Sanderson. I'm still reeling over the ending, and once I get over the shock I will be delving into The Hero of Ages.
There are also a lot of heartbreaking moments, and the struggles of one character in particular just ruined me. My poor, poor Sazed! "He knew at that moment that he would never believe again." My heart. Hurts.
I'm pretty sure that the next book will have a lot of heartache as well, but I can't stop, won't stop, not now.