First Line: Marsh struggled to kill himself.
Before I even get started, let me just say this… Do not read this book without having read the first two in the series. That statement can also be read as:
If you haven’t read the first two books in the series, go out and buy them right this very minute. Back? Good. Go read them. Both. Back again? Good. Now you can read The Hero of Ages.
See, The Hero of Ages is the third and final installment in Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy, and, overall, it’s an impressive conclusion to an equally impressive series. One of the most interesting elements of the trilogy is how very different the style of each book is. The first book, Mistborn: The Final Empire, is very much an old-school heist story set in a wonderful fantasy world. It is fast paced, action driven, and easily my favorite of the three novels. In the second book, The Well of Ascension, Sanderson turns to a much heavier focus on character (oddly, perhaps the weakest point in his writing, but more on that later). There are many, many point of view characters sprawled all over his world, and the story tends to drag as we hop from storyline to storyline.
The Hero of Ages, however, is totally and completely focused on plot, and it’s here where Sanderson’s story-crafting ability truly shines. One of the inherent dangers in multi-book series is the dwindling away of sub- or parallel-plotlines without a logical or satisfying resolution. Sanderson, I think, does a remarkable job at tying off all those loose ends from the first two books. He doesn’t just tie them off, though. He expands them and gives them new life and meaning as additional knowledge becomes available to his characters. Hints and clues dropped in book 1 become immensely important in book 3, and Sanderson does a terrific job at reintroducing them into the various storylines. Everything comes together nicely, and there aren’t any of those annoying “Hey whatever happened to….” type of questions.
There are, however, two rather significant flaws. The first is one that reared its head in The Well of Ascension and is even more prevalent here in The Hero of Ages. Sanderson’s primary writing weakness is characterization, specifically the characterization of his primary players, Vin and Elend. They are so… polar in their attitudes and emotions. There’s never any middle ground with either of them, and I find the shift from one end of the spectrum to the other with no attention paid to the transition and evolution in between both annoying and ungraceful. For example, Elend is a character I actually never liked, and that did not change in THoA. With his acquisition of the Mistborn abilities, I would have loved to see some kind of awkward growth period, as we did with Vin in TFE. But no, THoA starts a year after Elend has acquired his abilities, and he is now officially a badass even more powerful than Vin. Unless, of course, he’s standing on a hill looking out over a city and whining to himself about not being the kind of man he always wanted to be. Fighting or whining. Those are the only two sides of Elend we ever get to see. (Now that I think about it… It’s something Robert Jordan struggles with as well, especially in his female characters. There’s a lot of similarity between Sanderson and Jordan, and it’s easy to see why he was tagged to finish up the The Wheel of Time series.)
Sazed, one of my favorite characters from the previous books, is even worse than Elend in this regard, but with a much more serious outcome. I just couldn’t buy into the tremendous change of his character from TWoA. Elend’s is at least plausible with TWoA ending with his acquisition of the mistborn abilities, but Sazed’s is a completely internal change. And not only is the transition missing for him, it is, I think, essential if we are to believe in the shift not just in his personality, but in his entire belief system. His bouts of self-loathing and constant search for a “true” religion flies in the face of everything we learn about him in the previous two books, and more than once I found myself wondering how he could be so stupid about something which he was once the world’s foremost authority. Moreover, the heavy-handed nature of his search through the religions of the world was utterly transparent and removed any doubt as to who the Hero of Ages is (even if it was all but spelled out in book 1).
Even with the bi-polar characters and Sanderson’s authorial hand shining through in Sazed’s search for religion, this is still a solid read and a finely tuned story. I don’t think it’s as good as TFE, but it is a very strong conclusion to the series, and I can safely say that Sanderson has solidly placed himself among the best current fantasy authors.