Vin is a Mistborn, a magical warrior with the power to "burn" certain metals in her body to gain superhuman abilities. This type of metal burning is known as allomancy. A typical allomancer can burn only one type of metal and thus gain only one super power, but the rare Mistborn can burn every metal and achieve near godlike abilities. In the first book in the Mistborn series, Vin learned about her Mistborn powers under the tutelage of her mentor Kelsier. After Kelsier's death, Vin and her love interest, the extremely non-superpowered Elend, used Vin's abilities to overthrow the tyrannical Lord Ruler, the primary antagonist who had ruled the World of Scadriel with an iron fist for 1,000 years.
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Sanderson's second Mistborn novel brings readers back to the world of Scadriel, where Vin and Elend are forced to navigate the shattered city of Luthadel in the wake of the Lord Ruler's demise. With the help of her band of allomancers, Vin learns more about her Mistborn powers, while fending off both internal and external threats to her new government.
Very little time has elapsed since the end of The Final Empire. Vin is slowly becoming more comfortable with her Mistborn abilities as well as her budding romantic relationship with the noble outcast Elend, who has named himself King of Luthadel. Without the guidance of Kelsier, Vin now takes center stage as three armies converge around her home city of Luthadel.
The strongest army besieging Luthadel is led by none other than Elend's father, the officious Straff Venture. With the support of another member of the nobility, the two-faced Lord Cett, and a mindless band of monsters created by the Lord Ruler known as the koloss, Straff seeks nothing short of the destruction of Vin and Elend's nascent government and his own installation as king.
Making matters more complicated, a second Mistborn emerges in Luthadel to challenge Vin's allomantic supremacy. His name is Zane and he is the bastard son of Straff Venture, which makes him Elend's half brother. Vin's relationship with Zane is complex. On the one hand, he works for her sworn enemy and seems bent on her city's destruction. On the other, he is the only other true Mistborn that she's met since Kelsier's death. He can relate to her in a way that Elend simply can't.
The two central Mistborns vacillate between flirtation and combat until Straff makes his disdain for his bastard son apparent. Zane goes rogue and asks Vin to run away from Luthadel with him. The offer has its appeal, but Vin ultimately chooses Elend sending Zane into a murderous rage. Vin is able to defeat Zane during an epic battle on the rooftops of Luthadel.
A critical subplot here is the underground search for the legendary Well of Ascension, fabled to be the source of the Lord Ruler's godlike powers and unusually long life. Vin's close friend and adviser is a historical archivist of sorts. He searches his records for clues about the well's location, while Vin follows a faint allomantic pulse emanating from somewhere within the city. The pulse's emergence seems to coincide with the death of the Lord Ruler.
After Zane's death, Straff Venture orders his forces to hold position, preferring to bribe the koloss with fake gold to assault Luthadel for him. Cornered by the rampaging monsters, Vin realizes she can use emotional allomancy to control the koloss, just as the Lord Ruler once did. She soothes the rampaging army of koloss and leaves them idle while she deals with Straff. Lord Cett, seeing the tides turning against Straff, decides to ally himself with Luthadel. The combined force overruns Straff's army and kills the defiant nobleman.
After the battle, the mysterious allomantic pulse in Luthadel grows stronger than ever. Vin follows it through a secret door in the Lord Ruler's keep and discovers the Well of Ascension. It was beneath her own city the entire time. Vin taps the power within the well, opting to release it rather than keep it, thinking herself altruistic. That act of altruism results in the release of Ruin, the ancient evil kept in check by the Lord Ruler for so many years. Without the well's power, Vin is unable to heal the wounded Elend. At the urging of the mist spirit, she feeds Elend one of the small, dark stones around the well. Vin suddenly senses an allomantic pulse and realizes that Elend is healing himself. The stone has transformed him into a Mistborn.
Best part of story, including ending:
The story is slower and more cerebral than The Final Empire and represents the weakest offering in the Mistborn trilogy. There's some good character development here, and we learn more about the world of Scadriel, but too many movements of the plot feel like deus ex machinas--especially the final revelation about the Well of Ascension.
Best scene in story:
Zane asks Vin to leave the struggle for Luthadel behind and run away with him. Vin is obviously drawn to Zane, even though the fellow Mistborn is ostensibly her political foe. More than anything, she longs for the life she used to have as a rogue, an insurgent. For a powerful moment it seems like she might take Zane up on his escape, but she ultimately chooses Elend and responsibility for her city. The rejection enrages Zane and ultimately leads to his death at the hands of Vin.
Opinion about the main character:
Vin is an excellent main character. Powerful, yet naive and emotionally complex. The Well of Ascension is a transitional book for her, highlighting the internal struggle between her desire for freedom and her newfound responsibilities to Luthadel.