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Book Review

The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting [magazine] (https://store.focusonthefamily.com/goaa-thriving "magazine"). It is the second book in the “Mistborn” series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

It has been a year since Vin, the Mistborn skaa, killed the Lord Ruler. While Kelsier, Vin’s mentor and the mastermind behind the plot to take over the Final Empire, had hoped the tyrant’s death would mean a better world for all, the world is still in turmoil.

Because of the Lord Ruler’s death and the disappearance of the Steel Ministry, the Final Empire’s religious and the ruling government body, various regions have fallen into anarchy. With the help of Kelsier’s old crew, Elend Venture has claimed the crown and attempted to stabilize the capital city of Luthadel by forming a parliament-like assembly made up equally of working skaa, skaa merchants and noblemen.

Unfortunately, three armies lay siege outside the city’s wall. Rumors of the Lord Ruler’s Atium horde and the political importance of Luthadel have attracted Straff Venture, Elend’s father, with the largest army in the north; Ashweather Cett from the west; and an army of koloss under the control of Elend’s former friend, Jastes. (Koloss are blue, humanoid creatures whose bodies keep growing until their hearts can no longer support their massive size.) As each army waits to see what the others will do, Luthadel runs low on food and resources and high on fear.

While Elend is skilled in theories of leadership, he lacks experience. His rule becomes unstable as members of Luthadel’s assembly vie for power. At Sazed’s request, a Terriswoman named Tindwyl arrives in Luthadel to help teach Elend to be a more authoritative king. Tindwyl’s teachings pay off, and Elend convinces the crew that he should meet with both Straff and Cett, manipulating the other kings to attack each other.

Straff intends to kill Elend after their meeting, but after feeling Vin’s powerful Allomantic control of his emotions, he is afraid and allows Elend to live. For the first time in his life, Elend is taken seriously, but it’s too late. While Elend meets with Straff, the assembly deposes him.

As Elend works to get the assembly to reinstate him, Vin is experiencing her own turmoil over her self-worth. A year before, she turned down Elend’s marriage proposal. Despite loving him, she doesn’t think she is good enough for him.

Complicating her feelings is Zane, Straff’s illegitimate Mistborn son and Elend’s half-brother. He spends his evenings sparring in the mists with Vin, seducing her and driving a wedge between her and Elend. Vin has also become suspicious of the mists, noticing they come earlier in the evening and stay later into the morning. She senses an ominous spirit in the mists and fears it will attack her. She feels Allomantic pulses that she believes are coming from the Well of Ascension, the mythical source from which the Lord Ruler got his power.

Vin also has another problem. A kandra, a being who takes the bones and form of another, has taken the form and identity of one of Kelsier’s crew to spy on their hidden strategies. Vin enlists the help of her own kandra, OreSeur, now in the form of a large wolfhound, to help her root out the spy.

Sazed, who has been tasked by the Terris Synod to teach the skaa in the south of the Final Empire, is tracked down by Marsh, Kelsier’s brother and an Inquisitor. Marsh asks Sazed to go with him to a Steel Ministry compound, The Conventical of Seran, where the Inquisitors and Obligators of the Lord Ruler’s religion fled after the collapse. There, they find that the Inquisitors and Obligators murdered all their servants. They also find an inscription etched in a large steel plate written by the Terrisman Kwann, the one who discovered Alendi, the man believed to be the Hero of Ages. Rashek, the Lord Ruler, killed Alendi to take the power at the Well of Ascension.

Sazed abandons his teaching and returns to Luthadel to translate the inscription and do research, as he, too, is concerned about the mists, having heard reports that the mists have been attacking and killing people in the daytime. While Tindwyl helps Sazed with his research, she disapproves of his rebellious nature and his role in defeating the Lord Ruler, yet she admires his bravery and is in love him. Sazed feels just as strongly for Tindwyl, but doesn’t feel worthy of her because he is a eunuch.

Straff’s assassins attack Elend at an assembly meeting, and Vin kills them, making this the first time Elend has seen her work as a Mistborn. The look of horror on Elend’s face causes their relationship to deteriorate further. The looming armies and constant fear of assassins cause Vin to feel a loss of control, making it easy for Zane to convince Vin that Cett sent the assassins.

The two Mistborns attack Cett and kill hundreds of his men. Vin, convinced that Cett is Mistborn, confronts the man, but when she realizes he is not, she leaves him alive and goes into hiding. With OreSeur’s help, Elend finds Vin and tells her that while he doesn’t understand why she attacked Cett, he trusts and supports her decisions. After the loss of his soldiers, Cett decides to abandon his siege and leave Luthadel.

Zane tells Vin that Elend will never understand her like he does and finally convinces her to leave Luthadel with him. Remembering Elend’s words of trust, Vin changes her mind, telling Zane that she will stay and support Elend. Zane is enraged and tries to kill Vin, telling her that his kandra TenSoon killed OreSeur and has been the spy impersonating her kandra. TenSoon, who has grown fond of Vin but is being forced to work for Zane, warns Zane that Vin knows of the kandra’s weakness to Allomancy. Vin uses the hint to control TenSoon, forcing him to help her, and she kills Zane.

Finally, sure of what she wants, Vin accepts Elend’s proposal, and Sazed marries the two. Sazed, fearing that they will all be killed when one of the remaining armies takes the city, conspires with the rest of the crew to get Vin and Elend out of Luthadel. He draws a fake map to the Well of Ascension because Vin feels compelled to go there.

With Cett’s forces withdrawing, Straff strategically withdraws his own forces, encouraging the koloss army to attack Luthadel. Straff plans to let the koloss weaken Luthadel before coming in as the hero to rescue the city. Vin learns of Sazed and the crew’s deception and returns to Luthadel just in time save Sazed from being killed.

She realizes that the same Allomancy used to control the kandra works on the koloss, and she manages to stop the widespread slaughter and destruction, but not before Tindwyl and some crewmembers die. Vin uses the newly controlled koloss, and with rest of Luthadel’s army, she attacks and kills Straff and his generals. Cett returns and allies with Luthadel against Straff’s armies. After the victory, Vin tells the armies that Elend is the new emperor of the Final Empire.

The city is saved, but Vin still hears the Allomantic pulses in her mind. Convinced that she is the legendary Hero of Ages, Vin realizes the Well of Ascension has been in Luthadel the entire time. She finds a secret doorway in the Lord Ruler’s castle that leads down to underground caves.

Sazed, stricken with grief over Tindwyl’s death, goes over the research and translations they did together. The writings all say the power at the Well of Ascension must be released, but there are inconsistences in the information he has gathered. As he tries to figure them out, the mist spirit that has been following Vin appears to him and directs him to stop Vin and Elend. It leads Sazed to the Lord Ruler’s castle.

Once there, he is surprised when Marsh confronts him, and the two fight. Marsh tells Sazed he is not acting of his own free will, but he must kill him. They fight and Sazed survives with the crew’s help, but it’s too late to stop Vin.

Vin and Elend find the Well of Ascension, but the mist spirit appears and stabs Elend. Vin knows that if she takes the power in the well, she can heal Elend and even more, fix all the problems in the world. She also fears that the power will corrupt her, as it did Rashek 1,000 years before. Vin goes into the well and decides to release the power to save the world instead. As soon as she does, the entity trapped within the well bursts free. Vin is horrified at the mistake she made, but it’s too late.

The mist spirit appears again and urges Vin to feed Elend a small piece of unknown metal. After he swallows it, he becomes Mistborn and starts to heal himself with Allomancy. Vin understands that the mist spirit stabbed Elend to get her to take the power of the well and heal him. It did not want her to release the entity trapped in the well. Elend recovers, but he and Vin are concerned as they don’t know what the future holds. The mists are killing and making people sick more than ever.

Sazed travels back to The Conventical of Seran. Upon re-examining the inscription, Sazed sees that it is different from what he recorded. The writing says that the entity that is trapped in the well is crafty and able to change anything not written in metal. Most importantly, it must never be released from the Well of Ascension.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

People worshiped the Lord Ruler as a god. His religion, the Steel Ministry, and its Inquisitors and Obligators, have disappeared since the collapse of his power.

Sazed is a Terrisman Keeper and stores the knowledge of hundreds of old world religions in the metal he wears. He teaches people about religions that he thinks are a good fit for them. Sazed is tasked by the Terris Synod to travel and teach old religions to the skaa, but he abandons his duty when he finds Kwaan’s inscription.

Sazed believes in all the religions he knows until Luthadel is invaded and Tindwyl dies. Her death, coupled with the realization that the entity in the well has been changing holy Terris text for centuries, causes him to lose all faith.

After Kelsier’s death, the skaa form an entire religion around him known as the Church of the Survivor. Vin is worshiped as Kelsier’s Heir, and Sazed is worshiped as the Holy First Witness. The skaa believe that Vin and Sazed will save them from all danger. Both Vin and Sazed are uncomfortable with the church and the devotion. Elend converts to the Church of the Survivor to get the skaa votes when he works to be reinstated as king.

Zane thinks he is crazy because he hears a voice he believes to be god telling him to kill people. As he is dying, the voice tells him he isn’t crazy.

Authority Roles

Vin’s mother murdered her baby sister and tried to kill Vin when she was very young. Vin considered Kelsier her mentor and is very angry that he purposely sacrificed his life to start a revolution. She considers his death suicide, and she is angry with him for leaving her.

Elend and his father, Straff Venture, have a contentious relationship. Straff considers Elend a fool and plans to have him killed after their initial meeting. Straff only relents when Elend threatens to have Vin kill him. Straff uses his illegitimate Misting offspring in an assassination attempt on Elend’s life. Straff doesn’t have positive relationships with his illegitimate children either. He treated Zane poorly for years until Zane came into his Mistborn powers and could be used. Straff thinks Zane is crazy and plans to kill his son when he doesn’t need him anymore. When Straff thinks he has lost control of Zane, Straff send assassins to kill him. Zane hears a voice that tells him to kill Straff. Despite how poorly Straff treats him, he can’t bring himself to murder his own father.


Profanity includes: h---, b--tard, p---, and d--n. Lord Ruler and by the forgotten gods are used as a swear phrases.

Vin engages in several bloody, gory battles with Misting assassins. When Elend is attacked at an Assembly meeting, Vin uses her dramatically increased strength to bash an assassin’s head, causing the man’s head to explode. Elend sees her do this and is horrified. Vin kills Straff by using a massive sword to chop him and his horse in half.

Zane and Vin attack Cett and kill hundreds of his soldiers who are protecting him. Vin spares Cett and his teenage son’s lives only after she realizes neither are Mistborn, but not before she tosses them around the room.

Zane cuts himself when the rage and voice in his head get to be too much. He also allows his father to falsely believe he has been poisoning him. Straff strangles Amaranta, the woman who was poisoning him. Vin and Zane spar, but never hurt each other until she rejects him. Then Zane attacks Vin with the intention of killing her, but not before he cuts her breast, kicks her viciously in the ribs and stabs her in the shoulder. Vin kills Zane by stabbing him in the neck.

Koloss regularly kill each other in their camp. Elend goes into the koloss camp and kills one of the smaller beasts. Elend also beheads Jastes, his former friend and leader of the koloss army. When the koloss attack Luthadel, they slaughter thousands of people. Vin fights koloss until their bodies form mountains in the city. Vin slaughters Straff’s generals, leaving the army without direction until they give up.

Marsh tries to kill Sazed to stop him from getting to Vin at the Well of Ascension. At the well, the mist spirit mortally slashes Elend in the stomach. Blood and gore are heavily depicted in all fight scenes.


Soon after the Lord Ruler’s death, Elend proposes to Vin but she refuses, thinking she isn’t good enough for him. While Vin and Elend kiss and embrace, their relationship goes no further. Vin feels a connection to Zane: they are both Mistborn and understand what it’s like to be used by those in power.

Because Zane hears a voice in his head that tells him to kill everyone he meets except Vin, he thinks he is crazy and that Vin is the only one who can save him. Zane slowly manipulates Vin by telling her that only he can ever truly understand her. When Vin rejects Zane’s love, choosing Elend instead, Zane becomes enraged and attacks her, using a knife to cut into her breast while forcing a kiss on her.

Vin manages to kill Zane, barely escaping with her own life. She immediately finds Elend and accepts his long-standing marriage proposal. Sazed marries them that night. As Sazed is stitching up the cut on Vin’s breast, Elend’s first instinct is to look away, but then he realizes she is his wife. When they leave Luthadel to find the Well of Ascension, Vin and Elend share a tent at night. She is naked when she wakes up in the morning.

Elend tells Vin that Straff was fond of the skaa brothels because he liked how strong he felt when having sex with a girl, knowing she would be killed afterward. Straff has kept many skaa mistresses over the years for entertainment and had many illegitimate children.

His hope is that enough of his children will be Allomancers so he can have his own powerful army. During their meeting, Straff introduces Elend to his 15-year-old mistress, who bears a resemblance to Vin. The message to Elend is clear: Straff can get a woman just like Elend’s, only younger and prettier.

Straff keeps a long-time mistress, Amaranta, for her skill at making antidotes for poisons. When he sends for her, Amaranta thinks Straff wants sex, but Straff thinks the woman, now in her 20s, is too old and unattractive after bearing several of his children. He rejects her. Later, when Straff sees cuts on Amaranta’s breast, he realizes that his former mistress turned to Zane for sex and companionship.

Cett’s 18-year-old daughter, Allrianne, seduces one of the crewmembers, Breeze. Breeze doesn’t have romantic relationships because his Allomantic power of soothing people’s emotions makes him suspicious of women who get close to him. Allrianne uses her Allomancy to greatly enhance Breeze’s attraction to her. Vin tells Breeze that he is much too old for Allrianne. When Breeze wakes up in bed with the girl, he knows he should feel guilty for the relationship, but he does not.

Sazed tells Vin that Tindwyl used to be a breeder, forced to take fertility drugs and repeatedly raped by strange men until she became pregnant, usually with twins or triplets. She had her first child at 14 and birthed more than 20 children by different fathers. Sazed is in love with Tindwyl but does not feel that he can be with her because he is a eunuch. When he tells her that he cannot be a real man for her, Tindwyl tells him that she has had enough of real men and childbearing. She just wants him.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Cutting: Zane regularly cuts his forearms to relieve his rage and silence the voice he hears in his head.

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Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

15 and up




Brandon Sanderson






Record Label



Tor Books, an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC


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Year Published





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