After the events of the first book, The Lord Ruler is dead and Elend Venture is now king. A lot of stories end with an evil empire being toppled and then leave it at that, as if this is a sufficient ending, but what The Well of Ascension explores is what actually happens after you topple an empire and it’s not an instantaneous happy ending.
Kelsier, the leader of the team who helped topple the previous regime, is dead and the crew who are left behind are now somewhat directionless. Elend sits on the throne and is a man of good ideals, but somebody without self-confidence or practical experience. While he tries to be the new ruler, the vacuum left by the Lord Ruler is one he doesn’t seem to be able to fill and others are forming armies to try and claim his position of power. Meanwhile, as he and his comrades try to stop a war from breaking out, the average person actually ends up with worse living conditions than they had under the Lord Ruler
I really liked the nuance to this book – there are several different factions vying for power and as you read, you have to question whether our protagonists are really the best people for the job. Everything is falling apart and, unlike the first book, where there was a clear good vs evil dynamic with the Lord Ruler against a group of noble thieves, here you have a situation where the best choice for a leader really isn’t clear. It’s an interesting story of fantasy politics and one which I found much more interesting than the first book (which I did also enjoy).
This book also introduces us to the Koloss, a race of large, brutish creatures which are used as grunts. I found them very interesting, but also felt somewhat bad for them, considering how they were seen as completely inferior to everybody else. We’re also properly introduced to the Kandra, a particularly intriguing species who consume the bodies of dead people so that they can then become a replacement for that person – we’d seen them in passing in the last novel, but what they are and how they operate is really fleshed out here and I was fascinated by them.
Meanwhile, the main characters continued to be fantastic – particularly Vin and Sazed, who are easily my two favourites. It was interesting to see Vin’s doubts and hesitations as she becomes an almost unstoppable Mistborn and we get a glimpse at more Terris people beyond Sazed as we meet a character named Tinwyl, a woman who is much less mild mannered than Sazed. Their adjustments to the changing world were interesting to see and while I was never all that fond of Elend, I think that works well and is exactly what we’re supposed to feel, as there’s a lot of intentional uncertainty over whether or not he is fit to rule.
I mean no disrespect to the first book, which was a great and enjoyable read in its own right, but The Well of Ascension does everything you want a sequel to do: it expands on the story, characters and setting and does a better job of it than the original. This is a brilliant novel of conflicting fantasy politics – just my kind of thing. If you liked the first book, I strongly recommend reading this too.