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The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson
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really liked it
bookshelves: fantasy

My review of Brandon Sanderson's second Mistborn book (and the fourth full-length novel of his that I've read) is pretty much the same as my previous reviews and especially the previous review of Mistborn: The Final Empire: the lows are low and the highs are high. Overall: the highs win out.

Lows: Sanderson's characterization continues to be brutally blunt. His characters are great, but he has to tell you everything about them that makes them great. In some (rare) cases this is necessary because whatever makes the character great is internal. But in most cases the characters' actions would speak for themselves if allowed to do so. There's also some really weird/annoying love-triangle thing that never really makes much sense. Lastly, Sanderson isn't writing the book that it seems like he's writing, and that can mean that entire plot threads which seem quite central end up being more tangential. This compounds the sense of feeling bloated. Imagine a book that starts out as a heist (with lots of detail about the layout of the place that the crew is supposed to rob), but then ends up gradually shifting into a rom-com that inexplicably continues to have long, detailed descriptions of perimeter fences and and guard rotation schedules well after it has become apparent that the heist doesn't really matter to the book anymore.

Highs: The flipside of that bloat is that Sanderson can surprise. He has some really, really great ideas. His take on relationships is very Mormon, and I wonder how many non-Mormons pick up on that. You can tell this is a guy who grew up in a culture saturated with reverence for and wisdom about making marriages work. That's an incredibly refreshing breath of fresh air in a genre fiction novel. Dynamic, fun, believable, and healthy relationships are just incredibly rare in popular entertainment, which almost always emphasize the pursuit and never spare time for the relationship itself. (Think of Zoe and Wash from Firefly for one of the rare counterexamples.)

There's also a lot of religious speculation in this book, and once again the Mormon themes are very prevalent to a fellow Mormon writer. One obvious influence is writing on metal, which obviously parallels the fact that the text translated by Joseph Smith into the Book of Mormon was first written on gold plates. It's not just a coincidence, though, even the rationale for writing on metal (in the book) closely parallels the reason that the prophets in the Book of Mormon chose to write on metal. (There would be a spoiler if I said more.) There's also the idea of an apostasy and lost knowledge and corrupted religion, all of which are huge aspects of Mormon religious experiences. For me it feels very familiar, of course, but reading it in a fantasy setting makes it unique.

Not all of his surprises come from Mormon influences, however. He just messes with some of the conventions of the genre in ways that are intelligent and pulled of adriotly. There was a moment about 1/2 way through when I was so frustrated I thought about putting the book down and giving up. And yet by the end, I was very, very impressed with how much better the story he told was vs. the story I was expecting.

So here's my TL;DR: Reading a Sanderson book is like watching a really, really great movie with someone who insists on constantly whispering in your ear about what makes the movie great. It's annoying, but the movie is still great.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
December 9, 2014 – Shelved
December 9, 2014 – Shelved as: fantasy
December 9, 2014 – Finished Reading

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Heather The lows are REALLY low. I'm not sure how anybody can write anything more boring that Elend talking about politics.

But you're right--the highs are high. And I actually loved how this book ended. So, I read on.


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