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Book Reviews

Review: The Hero of Ages

The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Hero of Ages is about how the end of the world might not be a bad thing.

Vin and Elend are given an end to their story as the power couple, having searched their own depths, are able to turn toward saving the world.

Spook finally comes into his own yet finds that his success is wrapped up in Ruin’s plans. His shame is instrumental in the world’s salvation.

But it’s Sazed the depressed Terrisman and his cynical yet desperate-for-hope takes on religion whose story Brandon is really here to tell.

This novel is Sanderson at his most Sanderson. The interplay if gods and humans. The existential, religious crisis. The emotionally insecure heroes. Lore that the reader somehow cares about that two books ago wouldn’t have made any sense.

The Hero of Ages is key to the unfolding story of the Cosmere and an excellent novel in its own right.

Five stars.

View all my reviews

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this week in fandom

This Week in Fandom (1/31/20)

Graphic Novels/Comics

I’m behind on writing this week, but it’s okay, I compensated by reading a lot. In order to meet my lofty 2020 reading goals, I need to count graphic novels and comic books (TPBs not single issues–I’m not a total barbarian). This past week I caught up on some of the comics I had waiting on the shelf. Several upcoming reviews in the queue:

  • Kick-Ass (Mark Millar, John Romita Jr.)
  • Blackbird Vol. 1 (Sam Humphries, Jen Bartel)
  • Trees Vol. 1 (Warren Ellis, Jason Howard)

For now here are reviews of Adventure Time vols. 5-6 (Ryan North) and Captain America, vol. 2: Captain of Nothing (Ta-Nehisi Coates).

On deck to read once I finish the aforementioned reviews:

  • Kick-Ass 2 Prelude: Hit-Girl (Millar, Romita Jr.)
  • Adventure Time vols. 7-8 (Ryan North)
  • Watchmen (Alan Moore)–somehow I have never read this
  • Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation (Damian Duffy, from Octavia E. Butler)
  • Trees, Vol. 2: Two Forests (Ellis, Howard)
  • Superman: Year One (Frank Miller, John Romita Jr.)
  • Invisible Kingdom (G. Willow Wilson, Christian Ward–I actually have all six issues of this series on order, as the first run was amazing.

I’m always looking for recommendations of great graphic novels/comics. I generally stray from Marvel/DC, but only because of the sometimes sharp learning curve and extended history of certain characters. I will definitely check out mainstream superhero books that pique my interest and seem moderately self-contained (and so Superman above). Have any other suggests? Let me know in the comments!

Books

Otherwise I posted one other review this week–Annalee Newitz’s spec fic time-travel novel, The Future of Another Timeline. Find that here. I enjoyed this book, even more than Newitz’s debut, Autonomous. In both, Newitz weaves together the political, the social, and the personal with technology.

I finished The Hero of Ages this week (my third time through Mistborn Era 1) as part of my reread of the novels in Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere. I’m to the Era 1 short fiction (“The Lost Metal,” “Mistborn: Secret History”) from the Arcanum Unbounded collection. This is a bit of a deviation in my Sanderson reading plan, as I typically read the books in more or less published order (though always leading into The Stormlight Archive).

Tor, 2015

I also finally picked up a book that has been on my TBR for a long time: V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic. I’m enjoying it so far! My introduction to fantasy was really through magic “systems,” e.g. The Wheel of Time and anything by Brandon Sanderson. While I clearly still dig Sanderson, my interests have been verging more toward the “low magic” side. Not that these types of magics don’t have rules, but the rules are neither necessarily clearly defined nor intricate. I’m thinking of someone like Neil Gaiman here, especially The Ocean at the End of the Lane. As it happens, Gaiman is one of Schwab’s big influences, so. Look for a review of the first in the Shades of Magic trilogy next week!

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this week in fandom

This Week in Fandom (1/17/20):

This week, I finished up my third pass through Brandon Sanderson’s The Well of Ascension. See my review here.

For more Sanderson and Mistborn goodness, check out the most recent post in my “Cosmeric Faith” series.

With passing of Rush drummer Neil Peart last week, I opened up the week with a bit of a retrospective of his work and its impact on my own life. For that post, go here.

This week, back at work after a few days off, digging into writing, and life, etc., etc., I have been trying to focus on actually playing when my two-year-old is therefore it. I’ve been startled recently by my own propensity to toward distraction and “what’s next?” while my son just lives *here* in this moment. More on that in What Kids Know.

Speaking of having some time off recently, my wife and I watched A Marriage Story (d. Noah Baumbach, 2019) on our anniversay. Still unclear as to whether it was fitting or not. But I really enjoyed this film. Check out my review here.

I’m still working through Annalee Newitz’s The Future of Another Timeline, slowly but surely–more on that next week hopefully. Also next week, look for my review of Disenchantment season two!

I’ll leave you this week with a quote from Resistance Reborn by Rebecca Roanhorse, the main tie-in movel with The Rise of Skywalker which, yes, I am also reading (audio books, man). I have a lot to gush say about this novel, so more on that soon. For now, the book leads with Poe Dameron dealing with the fallout of his boneheaded, mutinous moves in The Last Jedi. Seeing Poe have to deal with the film’s events and his own actions has been satisfying, and I’m excited to finish the book.

“Was he talking about former Imperials, or was he talking about himself?”

Resistance Reborn, Rebecca Roanhorse (2019)

While not wallowing in self-pity, which would have been out of character and nearly unbearable, it is striking that Poe can identify himself with former Imperials. His own experience of shame due to misguided actions has made room for empathy and open-mindedness toward others. He puts it beautifully later on, talking to a rag-tag group of Resistance sympathizers, some with questionable backgrounds:

“Many of us have dubious beginnings. It’s how we end that counts.”

Resistance Reborn, Rebecca Roanhorse (2019)
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Cosmeric Faith

Cosmeric Faith Part 3: God is Broken

Spoiler warning: Heavy spoilers for the original Mistborn trilogy, some spoilers for the later Mistborn books, and references to Elantris and some Cosmere lore.

By the end of book two of the original Mistborn trilogy, Sazed, Keeper of Terris and resident religious scholar and optimist, has been crushed by loss and the meaninglessness of life.

While an expert on many different religious faiths, Sazed does not subscribe to any of them in particular but rather to “them all.” Sazed believes in providence and is generally hopeful in a positive future for the world. He maintains an optimistic stance despite the adversity in his own life and in the life of his people. The Keepers, like Sazed, were persecuted by the Lord Ruler because of their feruchemical abilities, and Terris women were forced into breeding programs in order to maintain a lack of magical abilities in new generations of the Terris people.

Sazed is a man on the margins who has somehow kept to hope and devoted his life to fighting for what is right for his own people and all the peoples of The Final Empire.

But even as Vin and Elend are at an apparent zenith in their own journey, Sazed has been brought low by the reality of death and the tragic circumstances of life.

The trigger for his despair is the death of the woman he loves, Tindwyl. Despite the odds being against them, Sazed and Tindwyl had been reunited and were spending loving hour together researching the problems plaguing the world. Though Sazed sees himself as inadequate and unfit for Tindwyl since he is a eunuch. But Tindwyl loves Sazed, and it looks as if they could truly have a meaningful life of love together ahead of them.

After Tindwyl’s death in the defense of Luthadel, Sazed thinks:

Surely her love for him had been a miracle. Yet, whom did he thank for that blessing, and whom did he curse for stealing her away. He knew of hundreds of gods. He would hate them all, if he thought it would do any good.

The Well of Ascension, 725

Having no specific devotion, Sazed has nowhere to direct his pain and frustration about what has happened. Sazed experiences a depth of pain and brokenness, and his own optimism becomes a part of the problem. The open-minded relativism that protected Sazed and allowed him to cross-boundaries in the world is now part of what is destroying him and bringing him to his absolute lowest point.

Which makes him the perfect candidate for godhood.

Sazed becomes the god Harmony at the end of The Hero of Ages as he takes up the power of Ruin and Preservation. Despite his great power though, he is not omniscient or omnipotent. He has boundaries. Sazed discovers that he is only a part of “God.” As readers of the Cosmere are still learning, “God”–Adonalsium–has been broken. Those who broke “him” are now Shards of that power. Sazed is a piece of God.

It’s is Sazed’s own brokenness and discovery of the apparent meaninglessness of life that prepares him for divinity. Sazed is also a believer in and supporter of the human. Rather than looking from the heavens down, in all religions and mythologies, Sazed sees the meta-human. The various beliefs and religions that have come about on his world emerge from the people, and that’s great. So when Sazed sees that there is a “higher power” out there, he can come at it as a broken human. God is broken, and that’s okay.

Categories
Book Reviews

Review: The Well of Ascension

The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Overall, The Well of Ascension is a great “middle book,” but it definitely feels like a middle book. Brandon sets up lots of Book 3 stuff in all the right ways (it was clearly conceived as a single run from books 1-3), but the pacing in the first half of the book seems off. The now classic Sanderson ending to this book makes the reader forget about the flaws of the first chunk, but looking back critically, I’ve changed my four-star rating to three. Basically, I found myself spending the whole time hoping all the cool stuff in The Hero Ages would be happening instead, and it felt like Brandon wrote it that way too.

The love story is quite frustrating. I can see how everything happening with it was important for Elend’s and Vin’s growth, but they were just the worst viz -a-viz their relationship with each other. And then there’s the main reason that you can tell this is book 2 of 3: Zane, who was such a throw away character. Yes, there important in-world things with his character–the voice in his head and who/what/why he hears–but otherwise he was fancy way to give Vin something to do over the 700 pages in which Sazed and Elend has character development that they needed.

Speaking of Sazed, though, more and more the characters of the original Mistborn trilogy feel like clever ways to tell Sazed’s story. Without spoiling the next book, let’s just say that there Brandon needed to do some ground work on everybody’s favorite Terrisman so that he’d be ready for what’s coming up. Each time I come back to these books, I find Sazed’s story the most satisfying. Much like with Hrathen the priest in Elantris, Sanderson seems to really be in his element writing about his characters struggling with faith. Sazed’s story will crush you in all the right ways as a reader and is a large part of what keeps me in the Cosmere.

View all my review

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this week in fandom

This Week in Fandom (1/10/20): Say Hello to Heaven

The Good Place

This week I jumped back into The Good Place. The Soul Squad has given up on making themselves good enough to get into the Good Place, but they’ve turned their attention toward helping someone from each of their pasts get there. Unable to carry on in ignorance, Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason, are perhaps more free than ever to truly pursue the good. They ironically chase the best for those who hurt them, as Michael explains that they are eligible to enter the real Good Place, knowing the truth of the eternal game as they do.

I really want to see what happens in the upcoming final season of this show, even though I think it peaked in season one. The show has been interesting and engaging but in the big reveal/turnaround at the end of the first season, there was a certain something lost for the audience as well as the main characters. Giving more weight to Eleanor’s story has been a strength of season three, and Michael’s role has been very satisfying. However, that first season just felt so perfect, and like Chidi and co., viewers just can’t go back to the life they once knew.

The Future of Another Timeline

Made some progress in Annalee Newitz’s second sci-fi novel this week. Her interweaving of technology, speculation, and social issues is really engaging. This book really brings life to the concept of “speculative fiction.” I’ve been delighted by the ways in which Newitz has written a definite time-travel book without being cliche or only playing into sci-fi tropes. I’m at the point in The Well of Ascension in which there’s no turning back, so I’ll probably put a temporary pause on this one for a few days.

The Well of Ascension

I’ve been somewhat disengaged with this one. I’ve been wondering if that was due to it being my third time through, but I think it owes mostly to the book itself. It’s got some typical second book foibles. It takes some time for things to pick up. A lot needs to happen before book three which needs to happen…in book two. The love story is also super frustrating and annoying. (But then again…see the quote at the end of this post)

But! Today I crossed the threshold into the pre-Sanderslanche zone. The Sanderslanche is my lazy term for the end of every Brandon Sanderson book (Sanderson + avalanche, get it?). After a haphazard Google search I feel fairly comfortable taking credit for the term.

Brandon really brings it home for the end of each of his novels, and it’s one of those things that keeps readers coming back and makes true commitment out of curiosity.

The Well of Ascension is no different, and now that I feel the ‘slanche coming. There’s no turning back.

Other Various Media: Comics and The Silmarillion

If I’m going to make my lofty reading goals for the year, I need to jump into some comic books and graphic novels. I don’t feel great about counting some of these as a book toward the total. But I also like to see that I’ve read x amount of books and feel that totally unearned sense of accomplishment.

On deck for comics: more Star Wars

Kick-Ass, Book 1 by Mark Millar

Blackbird by Sam Humphries

Sandman, vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman

Adventure Time, vol. 5 by Ryan North

I have made no progress through the audio of The Silmarillion, and I probably won’t until I finish The Well of Ascension. I’m at that dreaded point in the Tolkien master-work where I wonder if I need to start at the beginning again.

Well, there’s another week in my fantastical adventures. From everything I’m hearing, I’m excited to dive into the newest series of Doctor Who after I’m caught up on The Good Place. Otherwise I’ll be a puddle on the floor from the emotional weight of the Well of Ascension ending.

So what did your week in fandom look like?

I’ll leave you with another selection from The Well of Ascension that points back to last week’s. Last week I looked at what Tindwyl of Terris thinks makes a good king, namely, trust. In the following snippet, Zane comes to make Vin run away with him, and she almost does it. But then she finally chooses Elend. Zane asks her why:

“Tell me what it is!” Zane said, tone rising. “What is it abgout him that draws you? He isn’t a great leader. He’s not a warrior. He’s no Allomancer or general. What is it about him?”

The answer came to her simply and easily. Make your decisions–I’ll support you in them. “He trusts me,” she whispered.

The Well of Ascension, 584.
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this week in fandom

This Week in Fandom (1/3/20): Mistborn, Time Travel, and the Magic of That Screen Crawl

Welcome to the first weekly installment of “This Week in Fandom,” in which I’ll briefly explore what I’m currently into and hopefully synthesize my divergent interests into some sort of coherent life. This Week in Fandom is somewhat modeled after Sanderson’s yearly “State of the Sanderson,” in which he outlines his year and the progress he’s made in various projects. However, instead of outlining my own accomplishments, I intend to outline the ways in which I’m enjoying the accomplishments of others.

The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson.

The second book in the original Mistborn trilogy picks up about a year after The Final Empire. Last week [link] I started a series on how belief plays out in this series. So on this, my third time through, I’m digging in and exploring the ideas that have captured my attention on previous reads. This reread is also the start of another pass through the whole Cosmere for me, since we officially have a Stormlight 4 release date. More on what’s going on with Vin and Sazed later as I have a few more Mistborn and belief posts in the works.

The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz

I just cracked into this one, but I’m pretty excited. I read Newitz’s debut novel, Autonomous, last year, and it was great. I veer toward more fantasy than sci-fi, but the approach of Autonomous left me ready to open myself up to the genre. In her first novel, the ramifications of A.I. and bioethics drove the plot forward, so it will be great to see how Newitz takes on geological time travel.

Star Wars: Doctor Aphra, Vol. 6: Unspeakable Rebel Superweapon written by Si Spurrier

Doctor Aphra is yet another Star Wars IP that is a dividing line between fans. Aphra is an archaeologist who plays by her own rules and lives by a “play or be played” philosophy. Her early adventures kept her perilously close to Vader, but these last few books have gone deeper into her back story and her absolute brokenness. Aphra is an absolute mess, but we just can’t look away. Sadly, I believe that Aphra is wrapping up with one final book, but I have found her to be a consistently great addition to the SW universe.

See my review of the latest Aphra book here.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Speaking of Star Wars, I was able to catch the final entry of the Skywalker saga again this past weekend. There is so much to say about this film, it’s place in its trilogy, and it’s place in the SW universe, but for now I’ll settle for just how great it was. I loved this movie. No spoilers here, but Kylo Ren’s *moment* atop the Death Star just wrecked me the first time I saw it. I am so satisfied with this film and remain so glad at the Star Wars revival. It’s not that there weren’t aspects of Rise of Skywalker that I didn’t appreciate, but the Star Wars opening screen crawl just has a certain power. It’s magic draws me in and ensures that I am about to generally enjoy whatever happens next. That is my bias that I don’t care to hide at all.

Other Various Media

I don’t think I’ve binge-watched a show since before my two-year-old was born, but I believe that I’m binge-watching The Good Place. I had heard this show was good, but I can now confirm that it is really good. The show pushes the “sitcom” boundaries and manages to ask deep ethical and metaphysical questions while staying in the comedy lane. Considering the other shows that creator Mike Schur has worked on (The OfficeParks and Recreation), it’s unsurprising what absolute gold this show is.

Currently on the back burner is The Silmarillion. I’ve been intending to take the plunge into Tolkien’s Legendarium since I read The Lord of the Rings as a kid, but have never been able to make it work for me. In order to shake things up, I checked out the thirteen (!) disc audio from my local library an have been listening off and on in the car. To be completely honest, I’m four discs in and can only vaguely describe what I have heard so far. That being said, the audio version is having it’s intended effect. The narrator, Martin Shaw, engages the material in a way that is enchanting and enticing. While it’s been a joy discovering the complexity and depth of Tolkien’s world, I think I have been most captured by the sense of beauty that he attempts to convey. The Silmarillion is rife with wonder.

I’ll sign off with a selection from The Well of Ascension. I have always loved Elend’s journey in this book. Elend finds himself as king of the central dominance. Though he believes in the government that he helped create, he does not believe in himself as king. It takes the catalytic tough-love of Tindwyl the Terriswoman, a specialist in the lives of the great leaders of the past, to get him there. From one of their tutoring sessions:

“Is that all it is, then?” Elend asked. “Expressions and costumes? Is that what makes a king?”

“Of course not.” 

Elend stopped by the door, turning back. “Then, what does? What do you think makes a man a good king, Tindwyl of Terris?”

“Trust,” Tindwyl said, looking him in the eyes. “A good king is one who is trusted by his people–and one who deserves that trust.”

The Well of Ascension, 186 

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Cosmeric Faith

Cosmeric Faith Part 2: "I believe them all"

*This post contains mega spoilers for the original Mistborn trilogy and the “Era 2” Mistborn novels*

“…You said their prayer–is this the religion that you believe in, then?”

“I believe in them all.”

Vin frowned. “None of them contradict each other?”

Sazed smiled. “Oh, often and frequently they do. But, I respect the truths behind them all–and I believe in the need for each one to be remembered.” 

This brief exchange between Vin and Sazed in The Final Empire encapsulates the cosmere-ic take on religion. Sazed holds to the importance and even the truth of all beliefs, and these beliefs are deeply important because they are central to what it means to be human. I wrote recently on the Kelsier story as a counter narrative to the Christ story. Kelsier is shown as the flawed savior perhaps too in touch with his humanity. In a way Kelsier was driven by the same spirit as Sazed, seeing the deep importance of faith itself in the lives of story-telling beings.

There is really a sort of humanism at play here. In the Cosmere, one can truly value various beliefs because no religion can play a trump card against the others, since all of them are important because of how they both feed and manifest the human spirit. It is the affirmation of some beauty, goodness, and truth out there without affirming one specific source of beauty, goodness, and truth. This sort of plurality scares people. It’s scary to think that the source of truth for my specific group might not be *the* source of truth.

Yet part of what drives Sazed in his devotion to all religions is the fundamental lack of the Terris people–that they do not remember their own religion.There is a pleasure in enjoying other religions that heals even as it provokes the existential pain of the Terris people. But on Sazed’s journey toward truth and the faith of his people, he makes perhaps shocking discoveries about the nature of the divinity.

The great move in the Mistborn series is that Sazed, Luthadel’s resident expert in the divine, essentially becomes God. When Sazed picks up the power of Ruin and Preservation, he becomes Harmony, at once becoming a god but also realizing that he is only a piece of Divinity. In the Cosmere, there once was a God, Adonalsium, who was at one point shattered, it’s power taken up by sixteen individuals. As a lover of belief and the search for the divine–of the truly human–Sazed is uniquely suited to take on this power and uncover the deeper secrets of the universe.

Sazed discovers an impotence in divinity. In Mistborn Era 2, Wax, maintains a trust in Harmony as “God,” until Harmony royally effs up his life. Though I would say in some ways Sanderson prepared readers for this with Kelsier, the flawed savior. In the Cosmere, there is power that people can access, and there are new heights of awareness which people can reach. These powers are understandably associated with the Divine, but it is becoming clearer that the “gods” are fighting their own battles and often playing the same games as humanity. What this means for the “God beyond” or the source of ultimate reality is unclear.

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Cosmeric Faith

Cosmeric Faith Part 1: The Skaa Messiah

*(This post contains spoilers for “Mistborn: The Final Empire,” “The Well of Ascension,” and “Mistborn: Secret History.” There are some fairly non-spoilery references to the second era of Mistborn novels.)


I’m currently reading Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series for the third time. I think I read the first book when it was just called “Mistborn.” In the series, as in Brandon’s other books, belief and religion are consistent themes. Though faith does not have as central a role in Mistborn as it does in Elantris or Warbreaker, the importance of belief and the power of religion in people’s lives are driving questions for one of the protagonists, Kelsier. Those questions then set the course for future events–both in the immediate and centuries later–following Kelsier’s death.


In “The Final Empire,” Kelsier is deeply interested in the staying power of religion, especially those that lasted a few centuries into the Lord Ruler’s reign. If the Lord Rules was brutally persecuting all religious sects, what made some hold on longer than others? Kelsier learns about speaking truth to power and the ways that beliefs rooted in hope in an alternate world give people real power. He comes to know how a single religious-martyr figure can awaken people into a new state of being and call them to action to fight for the alternate reality that they have only dreamed of before. Ultimately, Kelsier gives his own life for the cause. He becomes the sacrificial death that ignites revolution.


For a while now I have read the Kelsier story in “The Final Empire” as a take on the story of early Christianity. I’m pretty sure that is not the case at all, at least in the mind of Sanderson, but what can I say except that I spent three-and-a-half years at seminary. Stuff happens.


The take is that the messianic figure is not necessarily divine nor even a sinless human but is actually benevolent and seeks the healing of humanity by instituting righteousness and justice for the poor and the oppressed. Sounds like your standard progressive Christian take on the Christ story, yeah?


I think the rub of this take is that Kelsier isn’t simply imperfect. He’s deeply flawed. He’s rightly concerned with justice for the skaa, but he’s a little…murdery. Also, as Vin so helpfully calls out, Kelsier basically is a nobleman. I.e., unlike Jesus of the Christian gospels, Kelsier does not seek to save the poor by identifying with them.


Also Kelsier’s arms are covered in scars from his time of punishment at the Pits of Hathsin. This experience is the catalyst that leads him from a life of self-centered thievery to other-centered thievery and revolution. Early Christians read this old verse from the prophet Isaiah as being about their savior: “The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5b, NRSV). Yet Kelsier earned these scars through actual lawlessness, rather than righteous resistance to unjust laws.


While that contrast between the two figures used to close the door on the Mistborn-Gospels discourse (yes, I just said that), it currently really, really excites me. Because while Jesus of the Bible is many things–compassionate, righteous, steadfast–he doesn’t really have a personality. Like sure God took on flesh in the Incarnation, but he wasn’t flawed, at least according to traditional theology. The idea of a flawed savior is frightening yet terribly attractive. I think it also testifies to how the lives of ordinary people can take on a much greater significance for those looking for something to believe in.


The other aspect of the story that makes “The Final Empire” feel like a take on early Christianity is “Kelsier’s” appearances to his followers. Though this is not Kelsier but the kandra, OreSeur, who has consumed his body (though for a dead man, Kelsier clings on tightly to life albeit in the cognitive realm.) Belief in his redemptive death takes off because some people see him after he is dead. Kelsier’s apparent death at the hands of the Lord Ruler takes on meaning and is imbued with new power when his new followers see him after the fact. In some way, he lives! Likewise early Christianity, after Jesus’ tragic death, tells stories of a few select appearances to his closest followers. On the one hand, we’re supposed to trust the story because of these eye witness accounts. On the other hand, it seems important to the story that Jesus didn’t go on a public speaking “Resurrection Tour” around the ancient world. Part of the deal is that only a few people knew about it.


Kelsier is the flawed skaa Messiah, born of the noble and the poor, whose story of love, loss, and friendship just might have something to say to the classic Savior story.