Published by Tor
Brandon Sanderson brings his Mistborn saga to a close (for now) in The Hero of Ages, wherein mists are now seemingly destroying the world and two ancient forces are about to clash. The only hope Vin, Elend and their allies has are clues the now-dead self-fashioned god the Lord Ruler left in various caves where metals were stored.
In the first novel, Vin killed the Lord Ruler, thinking she was ridding her nation and the world of a despotic tyrant. His ominous dying words turned out to be prophetic and a hint of things to come. For when Vin killed the Lord Ruler, she released a more destructive thing which the Lord Ruler was keeping under his heel, protecting the world.
Much of the second novel, The Well of Ascension, dealt with the immediate after-affects of toppling the Lord Ruler’s hold on the world. Here in The Hero of Ages, the after affects are still felt, but Sanderson shows them on a larger scale. Elend has matured into the role of leader, truly taking his leadership with Vin’s assistance. Well laid the ground work very well, in much of a baptism-by-fire sort of way, for Elend’s role as king/emperor. The events in The Hero of Ages take place approximately one year after the conclusion of The Well of Ascension and as Elend comes across the lords of the lands he is trying to unite, many of them remark on what a changed person he is from the fop of a character he came across as in The Final Empire. In other words, the groundwork Sanderson laid in Well paid of extremely well in this final novel.
Here in The Hero of Ages, the struggle to maintain the life of the world is a battle fought on multiple fronts. Elend represents what needs to be done on a socio-political level – aligning the nations together, fighting off enemies, and convincing certain people that yes indeed the Lord Ruler is dead and we need to move on. As I said, I think Sanderson’s evolution of Elened was a pretty successful character arc – we see his growth both in his actions and how other characters talk about him and for the most part, it comes across as real and genuine.
Vin’s evolution has been a continuing thing over the course of the three books and The Final Empire is no exception. Sanderson, in many ways, was preparing Vin from the very beginning for the role she plays at the conclusion of the book and series. It is built up effectively, logically, and unlike some of Sanderson’s peers, it does not come out of thin air, at least metaphorically. Whereas Elend is confronting the people and physical forces that are threatening the life of the world, Vin is slowly confronting the metaphysical and more fantastical forces which threaten the world. In each novel she’s confronted different aspects of the world and herself, and again Sanderson plays his cards right with her confrontation here.
Throughout the course of the trilogy, Sanderson’s hand has been subtle in the clues he laid out in terms of the ultimate threat, but he has also managed to echo some of his literary predecessors. One of the literary devices I’ve enjoyed the most over the course of the novels is the diary quotes Sanderson uses as an opening for each chapter. These quotes hint at what just happened in a previous chapter involving a certain character, or what will happen in the chapter it leads and gives the story more resonance and authenticity. I liked how it allows Sanderson to tackle some of the themes of the novel without weighing down the narrative of the characters’ plight throughout. At times, some of these themes, particularly Ruin and Preservation as opposing forces, put me very much in the mind of Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant novels and the dichotomy between Lord Foul and The Creator. All told, some really good stuff here by Sanderson that is effective and enjoyable on many levels.
Another thing Sanderson continually does throughout the trilogy is question the role of leadership and its relationship to perspective. At the outset of The Final Empire, the Lord Ruler is portrayed as an uncompromising tyrant. Once he’s dead; however, more light is shed on Rashek, his name prior to becoming the Lord Ruler. Through journal snippets and what Vin, Elend, and their advisor Sazed discover, the Lord Ruler was not the tyrant they thought him to be. They saw the reasons for what he did and why he kept such a strict rule in the Final Empire. Although they react in a way to suggest they might not have approached the problems encountered by the Lord Ruler in the same way, they can understand why he did what he did, which in turn logically informs their decisions and approaches to those same problems. These related themes are also echoed in both Vin’s and Elend’s thoughts as they try to balance their power, they continually brace their actions with thoughts of not wanting to be perceived as they perceived the Lord Ruler. Elend in particular handles this struggle very convincingly and it’s a credit to Sanderson’s great skills at how effectively this is woven into the overall plot of the novel and trilogy as a whole.
Doubt and perspective could be the themes that characterize Sazed’s character, as well. Although on the surface he plays the role of Royal Scholar, Sanderson plays with that character type with nuance. Sazed’s faith is continually in question throughout The Hero of Ages because of the death of his wife, something with which he has difficulty coming to grips. As a cataloguer of world religions, Sazed is searching for the “true” religion. The only thing in which Sazed continually shows his faith is in the prophesized Hero of Ages. Though he can’t quite grasp the intimate specifics, his faith in the vague prophecy is what keeps him grounded. Here again, the cliché of the prophecy is toyed with by Sanderson (reminiscent of Tad Williams Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy) to great effect..
Well, where does that leave everything? The third novel in a trilogy – I would urge people who haven’t read the first two to hurry up and read them and then come back for this one. I said it about Greg Keyes superb Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone and I’ll say it about Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy. Not many authors writing epic fantasy today can stick to the amount of books they initially plan and in a manageable time frame. Sanderson and Keyes have both done that. I would also say the conclusion and resolution were handled very well, often a tricksy thing for a writer to do since the ultimate judging of these extended series rests on the writer’s ability and willingness to craft a satisfying conclusion that is not pat and too contrived. What Sanderson has also been able to do is finish the trilogy with three top notch books, each telling a part in a greater story all the while managing to play with his own rules and the conventions of the genre (and specifically the subgenre of Epic Fantasy) while telling a terrific story, with great characters, and a fascinating world. I would highly recommend this volume and the whole series without hesitation.
© 2008 Rob H. Bedford