Monday, May 12, 2014

Review of The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

Despite the disappointment of The Well of Ascension, the premise established in The Final Empire was entertaining enough to at least attempt the third and final volume, The Hero of Ages (2008).  While re-focusing the Mistborn narrative and, to some degree, offering a satisfying conclusion, the faults of the series continue to take center stage.  Sanderson’s blanket of exposed nuance and redundant statements ad nauseum (i.e. the continual re-presentation of obvious elements and prior plot events, i.e. continually telling not showing, i.e. padding the review—I mean, narrative out with spurious statements of the known, i.e. you get the point) smothers any potential impact, creating a slog of a narrative.  Knowing that in the next page or two, the facts, as they stand, will be rehashed in detail, at no time does the reader feel the need to pay attention.  In fact, it’s possible to read the last two hundred pages without missing anything.  Sanderson repeats the salient points relevant to the conclusion at various points, rendering the prior text essentially extraneous.  But I get ahead of myself…

The Hero of Ages is the conclusion of Vin, Elend, Sazed, and a handful of other side characters’ stories.  With the unintended emergence of Ruin at the end of The Well of Ascension, the world has a new evil to focus on, and the good guys look to its destruction.  Sazed continues his sojourn through the countryside, talking with skaa, collecting info, and trying to learn as much as he can of old religions, while Vin, with the newly empowered Elend in tow, go to Fadrex city to learn more about the revelations and mist.  Dangers from kandra, koloss, and other humans abound, whether or not the three will arrive at the knowledge necessary to defeat Ruin is something for the ages (a throwaway line for a throwaway story).

The Hero of Ages, like The Well of Ascension, almost reaches 800 pages.  From one perspective this is entirely baffling: how could so little plot possibly occupy such a page count?  Michael Moorcock or Jack Vance could have written a story of such scope in a fraction of the paper.  But when looking at the text, the reason quickly becomes apparent: Sanderson fills the pages with a painstaking—literally and figuratively—quantity of statements of the obvious.  See the following excerpt:

    Fatren, the city's burly leader, stuck near Elend as he led a group of soldiers toward a large pack of koloss. Elend kept an eye on the man. Fatren was the ruler of this small city; if he died, it would be a blow to morale. Together, they rushed a small group of surprised koloss. The largest beast in that group was some eleven feet tall. Like that of all large koloss, this creature's skin—once loose—was now pulled tight around its oversized body. Koloss never stopped growing, but their skin always remained the same size. On the younger creatures, it hung loose and folded. On the big ones, it stretched and ripped.
    Elend burned steel, then threw a handful of coins into the air in front of him. He Pushed on the coins, throwing his weight against them, spraying them at the koloss. The beasts were too tough to fall to simple coins with any reliability, but the bits of metal would injure and weaken them.

If the leader dies, it would be a blow to group morale?  Wouldn’t have thought of that, thanks Brandon.  And if a beast never stops growing and their skin remains the same size, how can it be that the elderly have stretched and ripped skin?  It’s a logical impossibility!  Thanks for telling me, Brandon, I missed the previous fifty-seven times you described the koloss’ physical characteristics.  And the way you repeated the word ‘loose’ to get meaning across, that was just sublime.  And lastly, let me get this straight, if I shoot bits of metal at creatures but don’t kill them, it will injure and weaken them?  Somehow it doesn’t quite fit… 

Yes, I’m a weak man; I have resorted to sarcasm.  I declaimed the above narrative ‘technique’ in my review of The Well of Ascension, and as it continues in fine form in The Hero of Ages, another approach is needed to criticize what is some of the most overburdened exposition this side of the publishing world.  To think that Sanderson teaches, or taught, writing at a university is a scary, scary idea.

In the end, it’s possible to read a two or three paragraph plot synopsis of The Hero of Ages and get the same level of engagement yet not waste hours of time reading a narrative padded to the nth degree with statements of the obvious and reminder after reminder about the workings of allomancy, copperminds, pewterminds, the physical properties of koloss, kanas, etc., etc.  In the hands of a better writer, the story could have been rendered in two hundred pages, its appeal quadrupling as a result, as with the dross elided, the salient plot points would emerge with impact.  But as it stands, the intriguing premise is utterly smothered in poor style. But, there may be no escaping the story.  Just look at that cover...


  1. ~ To think that Sanderson teaches, or taught, writing at a university is a scary, scary idea.

    I feel this way whenever Dan Brown's name crops up. But to paraphrase the old adage, "Those who can, write. Those who can't, teach. And write."

    1. Ha! Great line! :D

      It's quite interesting to me that long ago when the proletariat were suppressed and, generally speaking, only the aristocracy were indulging in novels, that the quality of fiction (at least what survives to this day) appeared quite high. Whereas today, when the proles rule the market, the average piece of fiction has seen a drop in quality - Sanderson and his ability to proliferate, ahem, teach his 'talent' a good example. I was born into a less-than-proletariat family, and am not being elitist, just making an observation. I would guess I need to do more research into whether or not the fiction produced, for example, in the Victorian era for the wealthy was always of such a caliber that survives to this day.

      I see on your site that you are writing. Any thoughts on the state of literature today?

  2. Thank you for validating my reaction to this 'series', I was starting to think it was just me. Everyone seems to love his books but I just cannot do it. I tried reading his first book 'Elantris' but couldn't finish (I made it 3/4) A few years later I tried THIS series and I made it to the last quarter of the last book before I threw in the towel for sheer frustration with his sophomoric prose, wooden characters and his fumbling and bumbling of 'relationships'.
    I have read quite a few of your reviews in the last hour and a half and it seems we have similar tastes in books. Keep up the reviews.