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review 2014-01-28 00:00
REVIEW: The Hero of Ages (Mistborn, #3)
The Hero of Ages - Brandon Sanderson

Warning: This review contains spoilers for the first two books in the series, The Final Empire and Well of Ascension

I'll start this review by trying to explain how I feel right now. I feel... empty. As if this book has taken all of my emotions from me, and all that remains is nothing but a hollow shell. I spent the last ten minutes or so openly weeping, not from sadness, but just from being so completely overwhelmed by the beauty of it all, with a deluge of so many feelings at once that I simply couldn't handle them. And now, it's as if I am nothing.

I can't remember the last time, if ever, that a book has made me feel like this.

It's true that I've loved this series from beginning to end, but as I started The Hero of Ages, I never expected that I'd have this kind of reaction to it. Actually, it took me a lot longer to get into this book than it did for the prior books in the series. Perhaps it was because I was in a bit of a Mistborn burnout, having read these books so quickly and back-to-back, but I think it was more because the world I was thrown into was so jarring.

I mean, immediately, it was as if everything I had known and grown comfortable with in the Mistborn universe had changed. Elend is a tyrant now? Not to mention, a Mistborn. As it turns out, the Lord Ruler might not have been such a bad guy, after all? And, this, of all things, is coming from Sazed?

Now, he wanted to know . .  . no, he had to know . . . if the religions of the world had answers for him. He would find the truth, or he would eliminate each and every faith.

Even the style of this book was different from its predecessors. Whereas the reader experiences the first book through the eyes of Kelsier and Vin (with some occasional Elend), and the second book through the eyes of Vin, Elend, and Sazed (with the occasional random character), the third book is all over the place. Vin, Elend, Marsh, TenSoon, Spook, Sazed - so many POVs that it was initially frustrating, because the converging storylines made the plot move too slowly, and all I really wanted was to remain in my comfort zone with Vin.

But of course, that's just Sanderson doing what he does, brilliantly weaving away. And when it all comes together, it's just so, so worth it. I thought I had all of his tricks figured out by this point, but nope, I sure didn't. I still don't know how he does it - how does he create all these moments that I didn't see coming, and yet manage to have them make perfect sense? I am in awe of him.

And the questions that he forces us to face, about politics, religion, life, and everything else, are uncomfortable but full of truth. Take Elend, for example. I mean, I struggled with Elend so much in this book. Is there any such thing as a noble tyrant? Is it okay to subjugate people if it's for their own good? Was what Elend was doing really much different than what the Lord Ruler did, in his empire that we hoped so desperately would crumble in The Final Empire?

“What kind of monsters are we?” Fatren asked in a hushed tone.
“The kind we have to be,” Elend said.

It seemed like Elend had done a complete 180, and yet, he was really just doing the best he could, trying to somehow balance his ideals with the reality that the situation necessitated.

“There has to be a balance, Vin,” he said. “Somehow, we’ll find it. The balance between whom we wish to be and whom we need to be.”

I may not have liked Elend in this book, I may not have agreed with him, but I most certainly understood him.

I also struggled with Sazed in The Hero of Ages, while he searched for a religion to believe in. Religion is about faith, not truth, and yet, how do you find faith in something you don't believe to be true? Sazed was supposed to be the one person full of faith. Elend was supposed to be the one person full of idealism. And when the world had put them in situations in which they struggled with these identities, it made me uncomfortable.

I keep going back to the word uncomfortable, that this book made me uncomfortable, and well, it did. But really, that just made me love it all the more. It's easy to write a book where everything is good or evil, black or white, where the good guys are always right and true and just, and the bad guys are always wrong and false and evil. But it's the idea of balance (which is also a major theme in this book), and watching the characters be forced to face that, which just made everything feel all the more real.

I'm not saying that this book was perfect by any means, and in fact, there are a lot of things that I wish Sanderson had done differently (I won't say what, specifically, because, spoilers). After all, it's easy to compare this book to The Final Empire, which was much stronger with regard to its storyline and storytelling. Yet, despite it's flaws, The Hero of Ages manages to grab you (or me, at least) on a much deeper level, so much so that The Final Empire almost seems like "Mistborn light" in comparison. It's hard for me to put it all into words, and I'm sure that this review doesn't make any sense and is mostly full of my own ramblings, but all that really matters is that reading The Hero of Ages is an experience that I won't ever forget.

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review 2014-01-26 00:00
REVIEW: The Well of Ascension (Mistborn, #2)
The Well of Ascension - Brandon Sanderson

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.


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review 2014-01-25 00:00
REVIEW: Mistborn: The Final Empire (Mistborn, #1)
Mistborn: The Final Empire - Brandon Sanderson

This book was spectacular.

I've been wanting to check out the Mistborn series since, well, forever, but just never got around to it. I finally decided that a good way to combat my procrastination would be to get this on audiobook, so that I'd end up listening to it on my commute to/from work, while walking, while cleaning, etc.

Generally, I only listen to my audiobooks in those aforementioned times, but Mistborn was different. This book was so engaging - the characters, the story, the world-building - that I couldn't make myself stop. Rather than keep this to my scheduled "audiobook times" during the day, I was listening to this book every second I got. I also ended up downloading the ebook, because I was so impatient to find out what happened and I knew I could read faster than the audiobook could read to me.

Let's start with the story. The premise is immediately intriguing - What kind of world results when the hero of prophecy fails? That of Mistborn, which is ruled by the oppressive deity-like Lord Ruler. In this world, there is also great economic and social disparity between the nobility and the skaa (peasantry). A rebel named Kelsier puts together a small but talented "thieving crew" and charges them with the daunting task of putting together a successful skaa rebellion, which is not quite the normal kind of heist that they are used to, to say the least.

One of Sanderson's most impressive skills is the way in which he masterfully weaves this story. The writing itself isn't anything special, but the careful and thoughtful threading by Sanderson more than makes up for it. For example, the story begins in the point-of-view of a nobleman who is completely non-essential to the overall story, just so that we get an immediate feel of how the skaa are treated and perceived in this world. Another example consists of the short narrated sections at the beginning of each chapter. As the book progresses you slowly come to learn more about this mystery narrator, and it's hard to explain the details here (for spoiler reasons and such), but just trust me in that it's all done brilliantly.

But where the book truly shines is in its characters. I don't think there are many book characters that I love or will ever love as much as Kelsier. He's charismatic, loyal, smart, driven, and full of hope. Yet, he's still flawed - he lusts for the blood of the nobility, refusing to see them as individuals and instead seeing them as an oppressive whole; his tactics for completing his tasks are often Machiavellian in nature; and, he has a huge ego.

Then, there's Vin, the true main character of the book (in my opinion), and well, she's awesome, too. Want to read a book with a strong female protagonist? Then, this one's for you. Vin is a very developed character, and to witness her journey and growth from the beginning of the book to its end makes you care fiercely for her.

The secondary characters are also great. Even though you don't get insight into their lives (much) like you do with Vin and Kelsier, they still all have very distinctive personalities. Plus, in Mistborn, it's not just the characters that are impressive, but also the relationships between the characters.

Finally, let's talk about world-building. The magic system (allomancy) is complex and original. Allomancers have the ability to use metals in order to fuel a variety of physical and mental enhancements and abilities, and well, it's pretty damn cool. As for the world itself, we aren't exposed to all too many parts of it (geographically), but you really get a feel for the dystopian setting. The skaa, the nobility, the Steel Ministry (consisting of obligators and the terrifying inquisitors), the mists and the kandra, the keepers - simply put, there's a lot of interesting stuff to delve into. I can't wait to find out more (in future books, presumably) about how the world turned into a place covered with ash, a place with no plants, a place of such desolation.

I guess I haven't said anything bad about the book in this review, and believe me, I'm trying to rack my brain for something, but nothing is coming to mind. I think that any fantasy genre lover should read this, most definitely.

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