narfna’s #CBR5 Review #12: The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

mb3hcIn a lot of ways, fantasy series like this one are only as good as their final book. I think this is even more true for trilogies, probably because there’s less content to work with. It’s why I always told my students when I was teaching English Comp to make sure their conclusions were memorable. You could write the most brilliant essay ever (or book, or TV show — as we learned with Lost), and if you flub the ending, the rest of your content is somehow tainted. This isn’t true of all stories, but I think it is true to a certain extent, especially with stories like this one where all three books are part of a greater whole, deliberately constructed to tell one complete story with a beginning, middle and end.

All of that is to say that if Sanderson had flubbed this final book, and even more importantly, the last 100 pages or so, the other two books would have been colored in response, and I might have thought less of them and the series as a whole, if what they were leading up to was a dud. Thankfully — at least for me, although apparently the ending to The Hero of Ages did rather upset some people — he nails it. A good ending for me is one that ties a whole story together and illuminates things that happened previously in a new light. It resolves problems and gives you a strong idea of why the author was telling the story in the first place. Also, it makes you feel things. As far as I’m concerned, The Hero of Ages meets every requirement on that list.

I’m not going to go too far into the plot because that would ruin it. What I will say is that unless you’re really, really, really good at guessing endings, you’re going to be completely surprised by how it all turns out. Hopefully you’ll also get the nice sense of emotional fulfillment that I got out of it as well. Character arcs not only end satisfactorily but manage to combine to give an even greater satisfaction. Characters get the endings they deserve.

As a whole, despite how iffy I felt about book two (and to be honest the first 50 pages or so of this one), this series as a whole gets five stars from me. Can’t wait to explore the further novels Sanderson has written in this world (which I think take place about 300 years from the time in this trilogy).

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #11: The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

wellofascensioncoverI dove right into book two of Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy right after I finished #1. At first it was great, and then it was a bit sloggy, and then it went back to being great. Pretty par for the course in a second book, really. In fact, as a second book, I’d say The Well of Ascension is near the top of the bell curve. (Please note, the following review is chock full of spoilers for book one, Mistborn.)

The Well of Ascension picks up a year after the events of Mistborn. It’s central premise is that even though our characters purportedly reached their happy ending in book one by defeating the Lord Ruler, all that happy ending has really done is cause more problems in the form of civil unrest, anarchy, and collapsiing governmental infrastructure. Vin and Elend and the remains of Kelsier’s crew (so: everyone except Kelsier, then) have to uphold the constitutional monarchy poor naive Elend so dearly believes in while enemies descend upon them from all sides, including Elend’s tyrant of a father. Oh, and there also seems to be mystical and magical unrest of some kind happening as well, and Vin begins to believe that killing the Lord Ruler put into motion events they will not be able to stop. Like, world-destroying, apocalypse type events.

As most of the novel focuses on our characters facing the emotionally and physically draining prospect of surviving a siege, maintaining a government, and living in constant fear of assassination, it’s no surprise that the story starts to wear emotionally on us as readers, as well. Near the middle, as the worst of the drudgery was happening, I literally closed my book and screamed into my cat’s face (she was sitting in my lap being soft) ‘I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE.’ I’d have to spend some time with it to be certain, but I’m pretty sure a large chunk of the flab in middle of this novel could have been cut out.

It was a bit jarring at first to have the tone of this one and overall structure be so different from number one, but I’d been warned ahead of time that each book in the trilogy has a very different feel. The first one was all and fun and games (well, mostly) and bringing down the Evil Empire, and this one by necessity is less fun. It’s about cleaning up messes and dealing with consequences. For all of the characters, it’s about figuring out what’s next. Sanderson also continues the emotional arcs each character began in book one as well. Vin, Elend, and Sazed are the main focus, but even the supporting characters grow and change.

All in all, a good second book, but books one and three are a bit more solid (and a lot more affecting).

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #10: Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

Mistborn-coverI really wish I hadn’t gotten behind in my reviews (stupid Canticle for Liebowitz) because it’s been so long since I’ve finished this book that I’m not sure I can do it justice. But I shall try anyway.

Mistborn (sometimes sub-titled The Final Empire to differentiate it from the trilogy as a whole, which is also called Mistborn) is Brandon Sanderson’s second published book after Elantris, which I very much enjoyed when I read it a couple of years ago. It was obvious even then that he had a gift for creating complicated fictional worlds with intricate social systems, as well as systems of magic and politics. He is also rather fixated on placing his characters in worlds that are dead or dying and using that as a thematic backdrop for more character-centric stuff.

The two main characters in Mistborn are Vin and Kelsier, and they live in a stagnant, oppressed world. Both of them are skaa (read: uneducated, oppressed slave/peasant hybrids) in a land ruled over by a man who calls himself The Sliver of Infinity, or The Lord Ruler. The Lord Ruler has governed his Final Empire for a thousand years thanks to a set of mysterious circumstances he claims made him into a God. He lords over a world that is covered in ash thanks to constantly erupting ashmounts (see also: volcanoes), and that at night, is covered in a creepy mist that most skaa believe to be dangerous. The people are split into two castes: the nobility, who serve the Lord Ruler, and the skaa, who serve the nobility as slaves. Enter Vin and Kelsier. Vin is a sixteen year old girl who grew up on the streets with her deranged brother, making her way in various thieving crews because of a strange power she seems to possess. She is cunning and ferile and trusts nobody. Kelsier is a hardened escaped prisoner, the only man to have survived the infamous mines at Hathsin (whatever those are). And he’s got a plan.

His plan, in case you were curious, is to rip out the foundation of the Final Empire and bring it to its knees. Also, to kill the Lord Ruler. It’s how he plans to do this that sets Mistborn apart from most fantasy series. He and a chosen bunch of fellow highly, erm, skilled, skaa thieves are going to con, burgle, and revolt the Empire out of The Lord Ruler’s grasp, despite the fact that no skaa rebellion in over a thousand years has managed to do so.

So when I say ‘skilled,’ what I really mean is that in addition to being thieves and con artists (but you know, classy ones), these chumps have magic powers. Not just any magic powers, either, these are Brandon Sanderson style powers, and that means intricate, logical, and like nothing you’ve read before. The magic in the Mistborn series is too complicated to fully parse in a review, and is most likely going to sound stupid if I try to boil it down, so let me just leave you with a feeling: it’s seriously cool.

I don’t want to go too far into the plot in this review because half the fun of the book is watching it play out. There’s a certain structure to these sorts of long-con, heist stories that Sanderson plays with, and it’s really fun. It was also great to read a fantasy book (maybe even an epic fantasy book, I’m not sure) that didn’t follow the usual path. It was also pretty neat to read a story that was purportedly set in a world where the hero actually failed to save the world and defeat the bad guy. The Final Empire exists because the hero failed 1,000 years before, and now Vin, Kelsier, etc. have to try to clean up the pieces.

If you’re a fantasy fan, this is definitely recommended. If you’re not usually a fantasy fan, this might be something that even you will like. Either way, I like it, and Brandon Sanderson is officially on my very exclusive shelf of favorite authors.