Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Hero of Ages

The Hero of Ages
by Brandon Sanderson
Recommended Ages: 14+

The epic "Mistborn" trilogy concludes with this book in which phenomenally gifted couple Elend and Vin Venture race to find a clue to how to stop Ruin - roughly the god of entropy - from bringing their world to a swift and gruesome end. Vin, you may recall, was a street urchin who worked her way up to empress by dealing the death-blow to the Lord Ruler and his thousand-year Final Empire. By her side is Elend, formerly a soft, bookish, philosophical sort of young nobleman, who won her heart, claimed the throne, and developed the powers of a Mistborn, in that order. If you're having trouble with that Mistborn bit, see the previous novels Mistborn (a.k.a. The Final Empire) and The Well of Ascension; they'll bring you up to speed. Let's just say these two have a full collection awesome skills, based on the ability to burn certain metals in their stomach. Other allomancers (op. cit.), known as mistings, only have one of these metal-burning skills. But as we grow to understand in this book, there are other metal-based arts abroad in the world. We already know of feruchemy (the ability to store memories and other varieties of power in pieces of metal, such as rings and bracelets). Now we learn of a third discipline, called hemalurgy, which may blow your mind but is more likely to turn your stomach. It has to do with pounding spikes into people - but enough about that. Behind these powers looms a cosmic conflict between the forces, virtually gods, of Preservation and Ruin. And now Ruin has broken loose and appears to be on the verge of ending everything. It's possible no one can stop him, or it. But if anyone can, most people's bets would be on Elend and especially Vin, who seems after all to fulfill the ancient prophecies of the Hero of Ages.

The only person qualified to interpret those prophecies, however, is a feruchemist named Sazed, an expert in all the extinct religions of the pre-Lord Ruler world. Unfortunately, he has lost hold of his own faith, or perhaps he has lost the ability to believe in anything. His lack of belief is challenged in these last days of the world - challenged by a youth named Spook who, impossibly, develops new powers; challenged by the hopes that gather around a heroic figure, similar to the late Kelsier, whose revolution against the Lord Ruler started it all; challenged by the tidings of a shape-changing kandra who finally puts Sazed in touch with the last surviving members of his people's forgotten religion. But while Vin, Elend, Spook, Sazed, the kandra TenSoon, and other fascinating characters struggle to hold back the tide of Ruin, events are racing ahead of them. A vast army of giant blue berserkers is closing in on the last refuge of mankind. A badly outnumbered defense force stands between a dark god and its heart's desire. And to the very last, the whole truth about the mists that seem to be destroying all life remains elusive.

Whether the story ends in mass extinction or not, may be judged by the fact this trilogy is succeeded by an additional series of three books, starting with The Alloy of Law. How happy or unhappy the ending is, I wouldn't tell you for the world. All I will say, for now, is that it's a surprise of eye-popping, gosh-wow amazement, tying up the loose threads of a phenomenal piece of fantasy world-building. Allomancy, feruchemy, and hemalurgy seem to be an endlessly intriguing, at times disturbing, triad of interrelated magics. The story's richly-textured thought world does not shrink from questions of theology, from creation to destruction, from fanatical belief to cynical despair. Politics, military tactics, moral dilemmas, and relationship issues all see significant treatment. And of course, the combat scenes are out of sight. If you haven't read a book by Brandon Sanderson (such as Elantris or the "Reckoners" trilogy), you have only to read one to believe what I'm telling you: He is a storyteller who can make you forget the hand-cramps that come from holding a really heavy book for hours on end. I look forward to doing elbow curls with more of his books.

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