In one sentence: While it is an awkward entry between the great first, and the strong ending of the third, Ascension is still worth reading.
This review will contain spoilers!
In many sentences:
I really enjoyed the first Mistborn novel. I thought the world building that Sanderson did was fantastic, and the development of Vin as a character was wonderful. Reading as she grew from street urchin to powerful Mistborn, overcoming constant hardship and self-doubt, was a constant pleasure. All of this, however, simply made the second book that much more disappointing. Instead of a strong, determined young woman, hell-bent on conquering the Lord Ruler despite the odds, we now have a waffling, whiney girl who cant decide between the love of her life, and a sociopath?
Sure, you could argue that the insanities of Zane are not apparent to Vin, but I find it hard to believe a girl of her instincts would not have even an inkling into Zanes true character any earlier than she did. As a result, I found the "maybe Elend is just using me" subplot to be extremely weak. What was Elend supposed to do with the greatest weapon at his disposal while faced with three invading armies and complete anarchy in his fledgling government? And Vin isnt an idiot, she knows these things, and yet she simply questions him (and herself) throughout the book. It was almost as those all the growth and change of the first book didnt matter any longer.
Granted, the book does get a lot better once she makes the decision to go with Elend and kills Zane, but it should have gotten to that point a lot sooner than it did. It felt as though Sanderson knew that needed to happen, but since other plot points had to happen first (such as her developing relationship with TenSoon and all the knowledge it brought), he had to leave her stagnant as a character for far too long. Speaking of TenSoon/OreSeur, he was easily the best part of the middle section of the book. In many ways he felt like Sazed from the first novel – a source of wisdom and stability amongst a chaotic world that didnt know enough about itself.
A subplot I would have appreciated more than the focus on Vins indecision over Zane v. Elend was the conflict that arose between Vin as a fighter/assassin/murderer and Elends sense of honor/nobility/pacifism. The contrast between the Mistborn Vin and the scholar Elend was far more interesting to me than an obviously ridiculous decision over which man was worthy of her love.
Despite being a brazen cliffhanger, I liked the ending. It was not entirely unexpected (at least not the fact that something bad would happen, if not that specifically), but it was still surprising and it sets things up well for the third book. I admit I would have preferred if Elend did not become a Mistborn (it feels too much like fanservice and I liked the imbalance of "power" between Vin and Elend), but the fact that they just released an Ancient evil makes up for it in terms of everything not working happily ever after.
If not for the strength of the first book (and what I hear about the third), I would not recommend this book very highly. But for those that enjoyed Mistborn, and are looking for more from the world Sanderson created, this is still a fun read with plenty of great moments that leave you excited for the finale.