Books: The Well of Ascension

October 2, 2010

The Well of Ascension is the sequel to Mistborn: The Final Empire, picking up a year after Vin and her friends overthrew the tyranny of the Final Empire. A young nobleman, Elend, has helped the people set up an Assembly to govern themselves, its membership split evenly between noblemen, peasants, and merchants. Elend is King, but he wants the Assembly to have the real authority in the land.

Unfortunately, in surrounding regions, autocratic rulers have stepped in to fill the power vacuum left by the demise of the Lord Ruler. Seeing Elend and his Assembly-led government as weak, an army led by Elend’s father has marched on the city, prepared to defeat them and restore the former way of government and life. Another army soon arrives from another direction, and before long a third army, made up primarily of monsters called koloss, also threatens the city.

Much of the book deals with what it means to be a good leader, and what kind of leadership is good for the people. There is also the issue of whether Elend and Vin are really right for each other, and the meaning of the ancient prophecies about the Hero of Ages and the Well of Ascension, but the book revolves primarily around the political power struggle.

As with Mistborn, I found it surprisingly hard to really “get into” the book. I enjoyed it, but it just wasn’t compelling until pretty near the end. There are all sorts of subplots, but action on the main plotline seems to move very slowly. Vin can’t decide what kind of life she really wants, and Elend is frustrated with people’s unwillingness to accept his leadership, even as he affirms his desire for them to make their own decisions.

In steps Tindwyl, a woman from Terris whose special area of study is biographies of great men of the past. She sets about teaching Elend how to act kinglike so that people will respect his authority. From the way he dresses and wears his hair to his manner of speaking and of reacting to opposition, she teaches him to have confidence in himself and to project confidence in what he says and does.

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Constitutionally sound

September 17, 2008

A paper sent home in my son’s homework folder this week let me know that today was Constitution Day, and asked that students wear red, white, and blue to school today. I didn’t recognize the holiday; it turns out it was only created four years ago. This evening I asked my son what he learned about the Constitution, and was disappointed to hear that they didn’t talk about it at all. Too bad – I was curious what would be taught at a third grade level.

I didn’t learn much of anything about the Constitution until 11th grade, in a required U.S. History class. It was both simpler to understand than I had expected – once its clauses had been summarized in modern English, and more detailed in some respects than I would have thought (for example, the requirements as to age and years residence in the United States for election to various offices). The Bill of Rights was rather more interesting than the original Constitution, as we learned what it meant to take the Fifth, the history behind the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, and where people find justification for their differing views on private ownership of firearms, or religion in the public square.

In recent years I’ve read about how dismally poor Americans’ knowledge is of the history and government of their country. I usually do better than average on the quizzes now commonly found on the internet on such topics, but certain questions do stump me. I never saw a point in memorizing which amendment was which (after the first ten in the Bill of Rights), nor did I try to retain details of dates and names which could be easily enough looked up in a reference book. I was pleased, therefore, to do very well on infoplease.com’s two Citizenship quizzes today, and reasonably well on their other Constitution quizzes (about 90% overall).

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