mistborn book two: vin’s biggest challenge may be dresses, not armies

At first glance, it look like a fairy tale. Vin has fallen in love with the young king of Luthadel, Elend Venture. She caught his eye at a ball, where she was hiding her poor upbringing. Her dresses were beautiful, and Vin danced with a grace few could master. And now Elend has proposed, so Vin could be a queen if she says yes.

But Elend only became king after Vin and her crew killed a terrible dictator and overthrew an oppressive government. Vin was graceful partly because she became a powerful Allomancer–a trained warrior and assassin with powers that draw from different kinds of metal.

And she doesn’t need a magic mirror to tell her she is the most dangerous person in the land.

Vin is a hero we don’t often see. She is small and beautiful, and she is also a powerful killer. Her role in her crew is essentially to provide the muscle. She can kill 10 men before another could get their sword out of its sheath. She is her boyfriend’s bodyguard. She also likes dancing and wearing ball gowns, and she wears perfume every day, often trying new scents.

But even the most powerful woman in all of the Final Empire struggles with what it means to be both feminine and powerful, both beautiful and strong. Especially when her boyfriend can’t do the things she can.

text from mistborn: the well of ascension

It kills me to think of how many women have thought this same thing–that by having talent or shining brightly they are offending a man around them. Just by being themselves, just by being a woman who happens to be good at something.

Vin has always struggled with her place in the world. As part of a thieving crew with an untrustworthy leader, she hid her strength and femininity to be unassuming and less threatening in a world full of men. When she joined Kelsier’s crew, and began to make real friends and discover her powers, it became helpful to them to play up her femaleness and use her to spy on nobility at balls. When she met Elend, Vin was pretending to be Valette, a clueless noblewoman in big dresses and jewelry. But none of those personas was the real Vin.

So after the Final Empire fell, Vin wasn’t sure what to be. She cared for Elend and became his bodyguard, and there was no one more powerful or vigilant. She gave up wearing dresses because she felt that a trained killer shouldn’t wear a gown–the dresses she wore were bulky, anyway, and didn’t let her move quickly. But being Elend’s love led her to play a role once more, and she accompanied him to a meeting with his father to discuss an alliance. To get ready to meet her boyfriend’s father, like many before her, Vin went shopping.

Tindwyl, a Terriswoman adviser to the king, and Allrianne, a noblewoman who makes no apologies for loving fancy things, are Vin’s shopping buddies. With their guidance, Vin finds a dress she loves that makes her feel beautiful. And with help from the tailor, adjustments to the dress allow her to move quickly and gracefully so she can still be the warrior she needs to be.

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Throughout the Well of Ascension, Vin struggles. She struggles with who she is and who she wants to be, and easy questions like what to wear become anything but simple. In the end, Vin has to decide on who she is. And if she can be someone who likes dresses and perfume, and someone who can control armies, and someone who is in love with a king, and someone who can kill an emperor god, and someone who gives hope to those around her.

Vin is all of these things, but embracing her complexities in a world that wants to see women as fitting only certain roles is perhaps her hardest challenge.
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