David's Reviews > The Well of Ascension

The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson
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I don't know what to make of this book. It dragged so badly when I first started, badly enough that I put it aside for months.

And then I picked it up again, and despite some initial whining, ended up tearing through it. So...?

So, here's the thing. I don't care so much about fast paced action - melee or political or thriller or whatever - which is what carried me along through to the end. I care about what ideas the author was thinking about while writing. I care about what they are trying to say or explore. I liked Magicians because Grossman seemed to be writing about Bright Young Things and how a real magic college might work; a friend asked in her review "What are they studying for?" (paraphrase) and I reply, because that's what people do. I disliked the first book of this series because it felt like what Sanderson was really thinking about was the d20 sourcebook he might eventually help write.

So about a third of the way through, I thought I found Sanderson thinking about something. About why (Western) people love to read about Kings, people who live in democratic societies that you imagine would abjure someone like Aragorn or Belgarion or Arthur if he were to rock up with, as they say, a sword some watery tart tossed at him. Barack Obama could have personally shot Osama bin Laden on live television and then married some likely lass and no one is going to give him a crown, or even a third term (that could look optimistic in a couple of months :- ).

I thought he was deconstructing this appetite for benevolent dictatorships amongst the fantasy genre's audience. Or at least pulling at the threads a bit. Maybe he was, a little. I'm not sure either way. But he certainly did seem to come down on the side of fascism in the face of disorder. what is Aragorn if not a strongman promising to make things all nice and Ordered again, what is Belgarion if not the ubermensch. Vin spends so much time fretting about being the knife at the throat of society, and then in the end as much remakes the world as much as the Lord Ruler did; she stops being the knife, she makes Elend the knife, whispering "My guy, or the highway."

And of course, let's not forget Sanderson's apologia for mass propaganda. Sure, Soothing isn't mind control. It just makes people forget about reality for a moment, forget that the bad shit, and concentrate on feeling good. Ok, it works by accentuating emotions the victim is already feeling; that's what propaganda does. It gives the victim an excuse to follow the emotion they really want. Almost without fail, people want to feel good, to feel safe, and feel ok. Guess what, we can make you do that, just look into my eyes (warning, no need to look into their eyes, just be close by).

If Sanderson winks somewhere around 200 pages from the end of book 3 and reveals the long con, that he's really been trying to show that what Our Heroes have set up is in fact a marginally less horrific way to run a society that out and out physical domination and slavery, I'll stand and applaud.

But I don't think he will.

Three stars for at least making me think and intriguing me, even if it didn't last long. I can stand being horrified by his conclusions; better that than horrified by his emptiness.
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Reading Progress

March 25, 2012 – Started Reading
March 25, 2012 – Shelved
March 25, 2012 –
page 111
18.81% "Sorry, Sanderson? I meant Eddings"
March 26, 2012 –
page 152
25.76% "There are two armies camped outside the city almost as soon as the book begins, and somehow, it is so boring. It feels like there's nothing at stake, because he didn't even bother to build them up. He just said "Boom. Stakes. Have some!""
March 31, 2012 –
page 202
34.24% "Struggling with this book. Will probably have to switch to something else for a time, owing to my toxic relationship with this series."
September 4, 2012 –
page 203
34.41% "Oh Cino, there's so many pages of this interminable shit. Why am I doing this to myself?"
September 4, 2012 –
page 293
49.66% "What is it about epic fantasy readers that are so on live with noble nobles ruling over a chorus of undifferentiated commoners. This book even salts this meal with some mind control. And these are the good guys. And I don't think Sanderson is that subtle."
September 5, 2012 –
page 334
56.61% "Maybe he is that subtle. Maybe I just got interested in his book."
September 6, 2012 – Finished Reading

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