The way Sanderson has tied together all the threads, from the three novels, is nothing short of exceptional. Just when you think you know all there is to know in the world of Scadrial, another secret is unveiled, and another spanner is thrown in to the works of our heroes’ plights.
The Hero of Ages is Book 3 of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy.
I have a lot of respect for Sanderson’s Mistborn series. The previous two novels were well written, and the world building was excellent. But, in truth, I have never really understood why they are the cornerstone of modern fantasy. I thoroughly enjoyed The Well of Ascension, even though there were a few issues that prevented it from being a true classic in my eyes. After reading The Hero of Ages, it is clear that the Mistborn series becomes a true classic when you view it as a whole and overlook the rare minor niggles.
After accidently releasing the evil spirit, Ruin, Vin and Elend, who is now the Emperor of Scadrial, embark on a mission to bring the whole land under his rule and uncover the Lord Ruler’s secret caches that may hold the secret to defeating the ancient evil. The ash is falling thicker, the mists are causing illness amongst a portion of the people, and the last two independent kings refuse to bow to Elend’s rule. And, beyond all of this, Ruin is pushing his hold of the land and the people.
Once I finished The Hero of Ages it became very clear that these books are meant as a whole. To read one and not continue the series does it a disservice. The reason for this is that the clues to the overall story, and the epic ending, are sown throughout all the books. As are the traits of all the characters. There is a complexity to the story that seems amiss at first. But the further you delve in to the lore, accentuated in this final entry, you see how masterfully crafted it is.
In previous reviews I have been a little critical on how some of the characters are portrayed, but The Hero of Ages goes some way to rectify this. Spook, who has always been a peripheral character, has now been given a starring role, and in it he shines. There is a roughness to his demeanour that we haven’t seen before, and he has become hardened by the cruel world he is fighting in. His arc is one of a true hero. Without the power of some, or the influence of others, he fights his cause through sheer grit and determination. Sazed, once wise, all-knowing, and oft times infallible, shows more humanity. He has doubt. He is will is broken, but his goodness tries to hide it from the others. This humanity gives the culmination of his journey so much more gravitas. Elend is no longer quite the damp squib that he once was. Along with the development if his physical prowess, he has found within him the strength to make the tough decisions. For this he is more relatable. And Vin, who hasn’t always shone for me as the main protagonist, with her self-doubt miring how she is perceived by the reader, is now fully fleshed out and, thanks to a very large revelation, made that much more damned awesome as the novel progresses.
These are the ones at the forefront, but it is also the subtlety of the background characters that makes this novel great. Marsh is such a tragic creation. You root for him and hope that the burden that he is under can be lifted so he can be the good man that he wants to be. This is the last book in the series, so it has to….right? But Marsh’s path is not quite as tragic as the story of the tyrant known as the Lord Ruler. Murdered in The Final Empire for being the millennia-old murderous dictator who destroyed so many lives, we are now given more motivation for the heinous acts he committed. Sanderson proffers to us these questions: How many bad acts in the name of good can a man commit before there is no longer in good left in what he is trying to achieve? What happens when someone is given unlimited power with good intentions, but does not know how to use that power? These are deep questions that are rife throughout the background narrative of the story. The answers aren’t always obvious, but if you are paying attention, they are there, and they are a wonder to behold.
Not all characters are developed so richly. Ham and Breeze still seem to merely exist as one note clichés. Thankfully they are present more in the background this time, letting the more interesting characters shine. There is also a slight predictability when it comes to certain members of the Kandra. Ironically, this may be a side effect of Sanderson’s long-game narrative planning. We have seen these characters already and the seed of their dubious nature has already been planted in our minds. As a result, when they act the way they do, we are not surprised, and I found myself expecting it quite early on.
These are minor criticisms, for the book is so dense with wonder you cannot allow them to distract from the journey. One aspect of the novel that I truly loved was the tone. Previously there had always been that idea of hope. Kelsier giving the Skaa the strength to fight. Vin defeating the Lord Ruler and bringing in that promise of change. Sazed finding love in spite of his physical restrictions. All of this is turned on its head in The Hero of Ages. The tone is now sombre and oppressive. The characters are defeated and ground down under the torrential hopelessness that constantly rains on them. And that makes their willingness to fight back all the more rousing. As a reader you are forced to marvel at the strength of humanity and, even within a bubble of hopelessness, you witness the true heroism of persistence.
Even though the Mistborn series got off to a slightly stuttering start for me (don’t get me wrong, they are still excellent books in their own right), now that I have finished The Hero of Ages I am able to see the true genius behind Sanderson’s skill. Not only has he written a fantastic novel, but he has written one that actively improves on those that came before. That is true talent. And that talent makes this series a must read.