Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson (Book Review)

I read Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn a few months back and found it a solid book with a unique setting, world, and magic system. It was a little too long for its plot but, in the end analysis, that length worked well enough for its tale of overthrowing an evil empire. The same cannot be said about book 2 in the series, The Well of Ascension.

There’s far too little story here to justify 700+ pages. Approximately 600 pages are taken up by a siege where very little happens except a lot of worrying and politicking. The politicking could be interesting except there’s a 200+ page sequence that results in much the same story conditions that occurred earlier in the book (avoiding spoilers, being vague). This, in my estimation, isn’t solid, concise storytelling. This is too little butter being spread across too much dry toast.

I can’t say I was bored all that often or that the writing was tedious or bad… there were certainly moments that dragged but generally speaking, it held my interest but never my emotions or intellect. But if the dominant feeling I had while reading was not for the characters and their story but on how many pages full of pondering and worrying before, for example, anyone started looking for what the book’s title suggests and that, perhaps, Brandon Sanderson is getting paid by the word, then that’s a real problem (note: I don’t think Mr. Sanderson is getting paid by the word… I just think he didn’t have a self-edit button or an editor to suggest brevity might be in order).

I’d say one deadly problem is that I was invested in the plight of the city or the majority of the members of the crew. And it felt like I was meant to. But without any real feeling for the city or its populace, the dire straights in which they found themselves felt like something they had to get muddle through and resolve before the main storyline could pick up (again, the titular Well). This is a real problem for a book that invests so much time in the siege – and a more concise storyteller could have done better with fewer pages (plenty of fantasy novels of the past have proven this so).

The last 50 pages or so played well against fantasy tropes, I’ll give the book that credit. Unfortunately, it does so based on a prophecy or writings that we, the reader, never fully had any stake or awareness of. We are constantly told snippets by a couple of the characters during their research but since we only know these tiny amounts, I’m not sure how invested one could be in their endless research. We don’t know enough to really surmise or guess at what it all means. That is, until they provide a lengthy text review on the last three pages that makes thing clear. This, to me, felt like the author deliberately holding back information to maintain his story – but given the nature of the prophecy, that was unnecessary, in my estimation.

I could continue with other issues such as the number of armies, the leaders of said armies, the maneuvering, vague references to poisoned wells, the other mistborn character who was ultimately unsatisfactory (unless his story continues in some way in book 3), and other factors. Some things that bother me (such as the mistborn I mentioned) might be left deliberately mysterious and may be revisited or resolved in book 3.

But, for now, that book is on a distant horizon. I’ll get to it, it’s just not next on the docket given my general dissatisfaction with this book.

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