#CBR4 Maneuver #8 – The Hero of Ages
Profile: Epic Fantasy
Summary: From the Back Cover, “Killing the Lord Ruler to end the Final Empire was obviously the right thing to do, wasn’t it? With the return of the lethal form of the ubiquitous mists, increasingly heavy ashfalls, and ever more powerful earthquakes, Vin and Elend are no longer so sure. Long ago, Ruin – one of the primal beings who created the world – was promised the eventual right to destroy all things. Now that Vin has been tricked into releasing him from the Well of Ascension, Ruin apparently intends to collect.”
Some series spoilers below.
After Action Report:
I got on a Brandon Sanderson kick after reading The Way of Kings last summer. That review never got written or posted (but it might!) because reading 12 books in two weeks is really good for reading quotas but really bad for reviewing quotas. Anyway, Sanderson’s Mistborn series got quite a bit of critical acclaim, both for strong fantasy world building and for a really interesting story that links the three books of the original trilogy together really well. I had never read a Sanderson novel before because his books got such universal acclaim and I have a sort of pathology about reading books that the bookstores shove in my face. Hence the lack of Hunger Games or Dragon Tattoo material around these parts. Regardless, I found the first two books of the Mistborn series almost impossible to put down, and aside from some awkwardness in the second book, entirely worthy of the praise.
The Hero of Ages is a different sort of ball game. On the cover of the mass-market paperback version I have is a one word quote from the online review hub, RT Book Reviews. The word is “Transcendent!” Aside from being a single word review, a practice which should be banned, it foreshadows nothing of the enormous mess the book actually is. In spite of having two really well put together novels that stand on their own as paragons of the genre, Sanderson blows it in book three. What could have been a brilliant conclusion to a wonderful series is bogged down in a 750 page retreading of every bloody fact that was ever disclosed and every character facet of the surviving cast.
I should elaborate. In Mistborn, book one of the series, we are introduced to Vin, orphan girl protagonist and nascent Allomancer. Allomancy is the magic system present in Scadrial. Allomancers can ‘burn’ certain metals and alloys within their bodies to produce supernatural abilities. Allomancers typically only have access to one of the ten Allomantic metals but occasionally, when genetics line up, an Allomancer can burn all the metals. Such Allomancers are called Mistborn. Vin is one of these incredibly powerful beings, and even more so because she is a Skaa, a subservient lower class that isn’t supposed to be able to have Allomantic abilities. She is recruited in an effort to overthrow the Lord Ruler, oppressive despot of the Final Empire. She succeeds, but may have doomed the world in the process.
The strength of both Mistborn and The Well of Ascension is their deep world building and strong connection to the past. The key to overthrowing the Lord Ruler in the first book turns out to be exploration and examination of the lost history of Scadrial. As much time is spent setting up the thousand year history of the Final Empire as Vin spends running around killing things or questioning her place in this grand scheme. There is a mystery that underlies the whole world and it needs solving. It’s fascinating and deeply engrossing as a plot.
Where Sanderson goes slightly wrong is a plot twist at the end of book two. In the final moments of the novel, we learn that the true antagonist of the trilogy, an entity referred to as The Deepness or Ruin, has the ability to alter written text unless it has been inscribed in metal. On the one hand, this is a great twist. The puzzle we’ve been putting together, particularly in the second book, is revealed to be a ploy of the enemy and that same enemy has been manipulating you the entire time. But it does force the author to play a long game of ‘look how clever I’ve been,’ for the rest of the series, untangling the plots and lies.
Which is exactly what The Hero of Ages does. It is a long, tedious journey through every single piece of information we’ve already learned, occasionally twice. The main cast is split up into a siege group and an infiltration group, allowing for more story to take place, but forcing both teams to discover the same pieces of information on their own. And there’s a lot of information. In order to support the enormous amount of exposition need to put everything straight, Sanderson crafted an incredibly ponderous narrative reusing plot elements and scenes from the last two books. Despite the fact that the world is coming to an end around our ears, we are subjected to another ‘Vin at the ball’ sequence, accompanied by her inner monologue about how odd it is for her to be at a ball, both elements from both previous books. Elend undergoes a series of internal struggles between being a king and a compassionate intellectual, in spite of the fact that he’d already dealt with those issues in book two. The list goes on. The only really interesting plot is that of Spook, a tineye Allomancer who ends up becoming a heroic figure almost by accident.
I will give credit to Sanderson for his ending. It is well built and flows perfectly from the chess game he’d been playing with the mystery of the legends. The message of the finale is even valuable, if a little open ended. The world building is also to be commended. Sanderson has crafted a brilliant magic system, both elegant and structured and allows us to discover it along with the characters. It is complex, but that complexity builds slowly over the full series and even now with an extra book tacked onto the original trilogy, we haven’t explored the system’s entirety. But these traits aren’t native to The Hero of Ages. They are a framework upon which a much better story could have been constructed. If Sanderson had just explored the bare bones of Spook’s story and the pilgrimage of TenSoon instead of indulging in an enormously redundant epic, it would have been a much better book, and a much better ending to the trilogy.