The OF Blog: Brandon Sanderson, The Hero of Ages

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Brandon Sanderson, The Hero of Ages

Last year, I wrote this in regard to Brandon Sanderson's middle volume in the Mistborn trilogy:

But just because one chooses to use some of the older conventions does not mean that the story cannot be enjoyable or even innovative in places. Those who believe this might point out Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy, now with the second volume, The Well of Ascension, in bookstores. There are no real shades of grey characters driving the plot, nor are there buckets of blood waiting to be poured out on the battlefields with vultures circling off in the distance. Instead, we see something a bit smaller, something perhaps more akin to a naive country bumpkin stumbling upon a great inner power, but we see it done differently and perhaps with more sincerity behind it.

Sanderson in his novels has started with a rather interesting question: What would happen if a prophesied hero were to fail at his task? What if the destined Frodo-like character had instead seized the forbidden power and had become corrupted? What would happen in a world where a Dark Lord would indeed reign for a thousand years?
Sanderson's concluding volume, The Hero of Ages, takes those questions that I had noted earlier and creates a story that is darker without being grim and better, a story whose character development is good, a story that is in turns surprising and logical in its plotting. When I read a galley proof of this book four months ago, the world around me was very different than it is today - who knew that companies such as Lehman Brothers, Wachovia, or Washington Mutual would sink in a red sea of bad debt? Who knew that millions of 401K retirement accounts would lose much of their value? Who knew that in 1/3 of a year, around 9 out of 10 Americans (and likely a similar percentage in much of the post-industrial world) would feel that things were so off-track and "wrong?"

In skimming through Sanderson's book after those developments, I cannot help but to wonder if outside matters such as the current financial crisis will color others' opinions of the story and its tone. I found that for myself, that the dark opening chapters, with the powerful Mistborn Vin and her consort-husband Elend (himself only recently endowed with Mistborn powers at the Well of Ascension) reeling from the onslaught of Ruin unleashed by their mistake at the Well, to contain some well-written scenes exploring the confusion and frustation that comes when one tries to hold back wave after wave of bad luck and horrid consequences. Just like today with many people searching for scapegoats to offer up as atonement for financial malfeasance/sin, there is that sense in the story of the protagonists and several supporting characters blindly seeking for understanding, with some placing blame rather than attempting to overcome their frustrations.

Much of The Hero of Ages deals with Vin and Elend learning how to confront Ruin and the forces he controls via dark arts such as Hemalurgy (the stealing of power via the driving of various metal spikes through the bodies of selected victims), as well as certain creatures created via the use of such spikes. At times, the story threatens to become yet one other travelogue, with the intrepid heroes gaining knowledge and wisdom, but Sanderson manages to overcome (for the most part) his tendency to have manna from heaven revelations and interventions by devoting more time to showing how certain peripheral characters, such as TenSoon, have developed and have been changed by their experiences. In addition, mysterious little elements, such as a certain piece of jewelry and the etching of important information on steel, are explored in greater depth and while for many astute readers these plot revelations will come as no surprise, nonetheless Sanderson incorporates them well into his tale.

Thematically, The Hero of Ages examines the duality of creation/destruction, eros/thanatos, and Preservation/Ruin. Character goals and aspirations, even when one considers events from the prior two novels, are cast in this dualist light. By the novel's conclusion, there is a marshaling of forces by both Ruin and Preservation, with surprising results. Referring back to my earlier review, I made the following observation:

It is rather obvious from reading Sanderson's novels and his interviews that the author is an optimistic person and in these novels, that sense of hope and joy of life pervades the pages and provides a lighter view of the imagined world than what one would find in the "gritty" novels such as Winterbirth.
The conclusion to The Hero of Ages fits this observation well. After a massive battle that had an extremely high body count, including PoV characters as well as the Imperial Stormtrooper stand-ins, the novel concludes with a twist, one that harks back to the original question about heroes and their "failures." Sanderson brings things full-circle and the end result is a denouement that feels complete; it would be very hard to justify returning to this world for future adventures based on how the story ended.

Although there were a few weaknesses with the novel (mostly in the dialogue and sometimes in how certain events were set up during the course of the novel), for the most part The Hero of Ages builds upon the accomplishments of Sanderson's earlier two novels. It was fast-paced and the conclusion was one of the best I had read in an epic fantasy in years. While doubtless there will be those who will be reading this series and especially this volume for clues as to how Sanderson will complete Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time, those who read it expecting to find an enjoyable read likely will find this concluding volume to be his strongest and most solid work to date.

Publication Date: October 14, 2008 (US). Hardcover.

Publisher: Tor


ediFanoB said...

I liked your review.
Especially your reflection about the influence of normal life on our understanding of books.

Hope you understood what I tried to express. Sometimes English isn't that simple.

Larry Nolen said...

I understood it quite well :D Glad you enjoyed the review.

Anonymous said...

Brandon...was that you? You are write about English not being simple to get ideas across. Haven't read this one yet, sounds like it borrows from Hinduism a bit though which I like. Wow you read Larries review, cool. Defintly a very positive review.

Anyway you could get a signing in NC? Would be awesome...charlotte NC would be best!

Larry Nolen said...

Huh? The poster is from Germany.

Anonymous said...

Ah now it makes sense...I thought the last bit about you understanding what he was trying to express was about the book...not what he said above. The English their was so perfect I assumed the author of the post was English. I didn't click on his name to get info about him, should have. Sorry about that.

Your english is good though original poster, it even fooled a native speaker!

Es ist besser dan mine deutch und Ich fer sex yar studiert.

Though I haven't used it for about the same amount of time.

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