I finished the Mistborn series and as such I am compelled to review the final book. Let me start with *SPOILERS* for this and many other series I have read. (Mistborn, WoT, Harry Potter, Mithgar.)
I must say, the first two books were exceptional. I strongly recommend them for anyone interested in fantasy but bored by the overabundance of the same old thing.
It is difficult to end a series and end it well. Do you end on a positive note? Do you conclude the entire story? Do you leave it a bit open ended? Do you have the final chapter saying “Where are they now?” When J.K. Rowling was finishing book 7 she said in an interview she was tempted to kill Harry. Not because she didn’t love him or felt he needed to die, but because she knew that would *end* the series. Without him, there is no continuing.
To go ahead and spoil it, at the end of Mistborn, Brandon Sanderson proceeds to kill off the MAIN character and her husband, who is essentially the second main character. Now I am a Joss Whedon fan. I am used to losing characters. But the ending seemed… wrong. These were not the first two characters to die. In fact, several other major characters pass in the telling of the story. But all of them “felt right” meaning that when the character died you were left with a sense of resolution and completion. You missed the character, but you could see how the death was required to make other characters stronger and progress the story. Much like Dumbledore must die, otherwise Harry will never strike out on his own and become the man and wizard required to defeat Voldemort.
So why did the ending of Hero of Ages leave me bereft? Well to begin with, I read fantasy, as opposed to Non-fiction, for enjoyment and the happy endings. I like when good conquers evil and all the good guys go home, get married and have babies. It just feels nice. It is, after all, the fantasy of any hero. Kill the dragon, save the princess. But even this isn’t 100%. When I read Voyage of the Fox Rider, I was distraught at the end of the book. Aylis was dead. Or presumed dead. But then, I understood. I knew there was a slim chance, but even if she had died it was necessary for Aravan to move forward. (Fortunately, she did not die and they were reunited 8 books or 8000 years later, depending on how you look at it. Which let me tell you, was a very emotional time for me.)
Near the end, Vin, the focus of the story, is imbued with the power of Preservation, one of the two gods in the story. (Up until this point the book is beyond excellent.) She becomes a god. At this point I immediately thought, well crap. Unless she could make Elend (her husband) a god, she was already irreparably separated from him. Then it occurred to me. No! She has to give up the power! I mean, after all, this is the crux of the story. Ruin was trapped and needed to be freed. He changed the legends to say she needed to give away the power. But what if Ruin didn’t change it much? What if instead it meant she had to give the power over to a person who could use it properly? But of course! That is it. Knowing that knowledge of religion and belief was a major theme of the book, this made sense to me. She would give the power to the one character who truly understood religion, natural and otherwise, and had all of the knowledge needed to make everything right within the world, Sazed. Ah ha! and so I kept reading.
But then the unthinkable happens. Elend is beheaded. In a short, one sentence clip, this character, so vital and central, dies. With nary a whisper. Of course, I expect Vin to go revenge mode. She doesn’t. And in fact states something to the effect of “Well you just got rid of the only thing I had to fight for.” and proceeds to suicide against the strength of Ruin, killing him as well as herself. I can honestly say I stared dumbfounded at the book for at least 5 minutes. The essences of Ruin and Preservation float down, Sazed takes over, and makes everything right, using both powers. Of course the book ends with the implication that Vin and Elend have gone on, and are happy in the after life, but all that remains are a ton of minor characters.
First, if you plan on killing the main character, you had better have a backup ready and loved. In Harry Potter, Rowling had Ron and Hermoine. If Harry had died, we would all look to those two and feel better. At least they made it. Sanderson had no such backup. Who cares if the world was saved if all the characters we truly cared about are dead? Even having Vin die, with Elend you would have had someone to hang on to.
In the end, I am left with a sense of loss, failure, and the question of why. Why were these two deaths necessary to the story. I can only answer that they weren’t. Vin could have given up the power of Preservation to Sazed and become normal once again. Ruin was *still* thwarted by Elend and the Allomancers burning all of the Atium. Sazed still had the power and knowledge to restore the world and it’s ecosystem. He didn’t *need* Ruin to do that. What of Ruin? Well, considering the Atium crystals were destroyed and all the Atium burned… He is going to have to wait a few thousand years to regain the power to destroy the world. Plenty of time for Sazed to build power or to figure out a way to balance against Ruin once again. Essentially return to the status quo. But instead Sanderson takes the easy way out. It is a final win, but at that point you don’t care. It would have been better to allow for the short term win, with the survival of the characters you know and love, with the knowledge that in a thousand years, another battle will be fought.
The only thing I can conclude is that he wanted the story to be done with. No hope of returning or falling back on the series. We have all seen the fantasy author who writes one or two good books then proceeds to write way past the point the story can sustain. But is that a good reason to slaughter your main characters? I say no. Even with the short term win, we know all those characters will die of old age. We know that when the battle is fought in the future, that will be with different people. And even so, with one minor change, don’t allow the Atium crystals to regrow, you can prevent that to begin with! To this possible explanation I say, get some self control and be done with it!
Now I am wildly concerned about the end of Wheel of Time. Please, please please let RJ have written a list of who survives, who dies, and why. Otherwise we may see the mass slaughter of dozens of characters we love.