It’s not very often that I force myself to stay up late into the night through the wee hours of the morning to finish a book. It’s simply not something I like doing: for one, I like my sleep, and I need a good seven to eight hours of sleep every night if I’m to be functional in the morning. For another, having the ability to read whenever and wherever means that one gets used to constant interruptions, so why should putting a book away for the night be any different than, say, pausing in one’s reading once one reaches the cashier while lined up at the grocery checkout?
But sometimes, a book comes along that is impossible to put down. They’re few and far between, but when I do start reading them, I want nothing more than to curl up in my bed, under the covers, and hiss like an irritated cat at anything that tries to interrupt me. For those all-too-rare reads, I’ll forgo sleep if I must, as long as it means I can read one more chapter, get one more bit of dialogue in, before the spirit is forced to yield to the body’s demands and I slide into sleep (only to wake up an hour or two later with the lights still on and the book still open).
The most recent book to have the honor of keeping me up late at night is Mistborn: The Hero of Ages, the last book in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy of fantasy novels. I’ve already reviewed the first two books, Mistborn: The Final Empire, and Mistborn: The Well of Ascension, and the entire trilogy has proven to be a virtual roller-coaster of emotion. The Hero of Ages proves that the trilogy is well worth the price of admission: one’s heart, perhaps a piece of one’s soul, depending on the book or the characters or the ideas that engage the reader at any given point.
In The Hero of Ages, the events from the last two books are finally coming to a head, though the events directly tackled in the novel itself stem from events in the second book The Well of Ascension. Having released the slumbering power at the Well of Ascension in the last book, the world’s disintegration is beginning to happen at a far faster rate, and everyone is beginning to realize that maybe the end of the world is coming after all. But Vin and Elend (now Empress and Emperor, respectively) have very little time to think about the end of the world – or at least, it’s the least of their problems. They might have secured the city of Luthadel and the Central Dominance after the climax of the second novel, but now they must bring their power to bear upon the other cities beyond the Central Dominance – not least because they’ve discovered that the Lord Ruler (whom Vin killed in the climax of the first novel, The Final Empire) has been preparing for just this event all along. They go from city to city, attempting to find and secure the Lord Ruler’s supply caches, and searching for the most important one: the one containing the Lord Ruler’s atium stockpile.
Aside from the events dealing with Vin and Elend, the other characters from the last two novels each have their own role to play – not least the Terrisman Sazed, who has gone into a deep depression after losing his beloved, Tindwyl, and is trying to find purpose again. There is also Spook, an orphan Tineye who played relatively minor roles in the first two books, becomes a major player in this novel, practically growing up and becoming a leader in the mold of the great Kelsier, the Survivor of Hathsin, who was the protagonist of the first novel. And then there is TenSoon, the kandra who betrayed – and later saved – Vin during the climactic battle of the The Well of Ascension, and who has gone back to the kandra homeland to face trial for revealing the secrets of his people to a non-kandra. All of these story lines, plus threads from the last two books, come together in an epic conclusion that will likely leave the reader feeling mildly stunned and uncertain how to face the world afterwards.
As the last book in a trilogy, the reader rightfully expects that the author will wrap everything up as best as possible, while making the journey feel relatively organic. In this, Sanderson has succeeded spectacularly. I’ve mentioned in previous reviews (though not in the exact same words) that his world-building is some of the finest I’ve ever encountered in a fantasy series, and certainly one of the most solidly-built, and he proves this during the climax of The Hero of Ages. All of the most important questions are answered: not least questions about the Lord Ruler, who was a presence from the first novel to this last one, as well as questions about the Inquisitors, the kandra, and the koloss. Sanderson’s use of the prophecy as a fantasy trope continues where he left it off in The Well of Ascension, and when that prophecy reaches its fulfillment, it makes very good sense and there is no sense of anything coming out of left field – or at least, not in a bad way.
When a plot is as epic in scope as the plot for The Hero of Ages is, it’s easy to forget about the more personal aspect of the whole affair, to focus solely on getting things done so that when the world goes up in smoke and fireworks, everyone is where they need to be and any loose ends have been properly tied. Sanderson, however, resists this tendency, and instead gives the reader insight into the thoughts and feelings of the characters as they confront the coming apocalypse. This is another thing that I’ve appreciated about Sanderson’s writing of this trilogy: character development always has bearing upon the plot. Emotion (and logic, to a degree) is what drives the characters to do what they do, and this is what causes everything to come to a head in The Hero of Ages. Nowhere is this made more clear than in Vin’s thoughts regarding Ruin, the main antagonist of the novel:
The life of a person is more than the chaos of its passing. Emotion, Ruin. This is your defeat.
In many ways, the first sentence of that quote is the best summary of the entire trilogy. Humanity is capable of terrible things, and this is something Ruin exploits, but it is capable of great things, too, beautiful things: things like love, and joy, and hope. The personal lives of the characters (specifically Vin, Elend, Sazed, Spook, and the kandra TenSoon) are the engines that drive the plot, and Sanderson never lets the reader forget that. From Vin and Elend’s struggle to hold onto their love and trust in each other despite the coming end; to Sazed’s journey to find hope after the devastating loss of his beloved; to Spook’s coming-of-age and transformation into a true leader of people; to TenSoon’s realization and subsequent struggle to do what he believes is right – all of these demonstrate that no matter how grand the fireworks are at the end, it only makes sense when the characters racing to greet those fireworks are worth sympathizing with, if their struggles are worth celebrating. Sanderson has done his best to ensure this, and in doing so the ending of The Hero of Ages, and therefore of the trilogy as a whole, is extremely satisfying. I can honestly think of no better payoff.
Overall, The Hero of Ages is everything the reader could ever want in a conclusion to Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy: questions are answered, loose ends are tied, and all the characters find some form of resolution. What makes it enjoyable, however, what makes that ending worth everything that has gone before, is how Sanderson gets there. He focuses on the larger, grander events of the plot, sure, and this influences his characters, but it is the characters themselves, and their personal struggles, that are the plot’s true driving force. The world-building is as fine as any I’ve encountered, certainly finer than a lot of others, and The Hero of Ages proves this handily: there are no lingering questions regarding anything from the previous novels. Sanderson has built a world in which to tell a fantastic story, a story populated by fantastic characters, and it is those characters that drive the whole thing to the very end.
And if the reader puts this book aside, feeling happy and yet distinctly sad, then it might be said that Sanderson has well and truly done his job, proving that he is definitely a writer worth watching.