An overview of Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere
By Caroline Ho, Arts Editor
Brandon Sanderson is one of the most popular, prolific authors in the contemporary fantasy sphere. Unlike some other well-known writers in the genre, he doesn’t just stick to his writing schedules—he blows through them and accidentally writes an extra novel or two along the way. His latest novel, Oathbringer, was released this past November, the third in the planned 10-volume magnum opus The Stormlight Archive. In addition to Stormlight, Sanderson also has several other series, standalone novels, and short stories that all take place on different planets in his expansive universe called the Cosmere.
Creating a single believably-detailed secondary world, complete with history, culture, magic systems, and more, is impressive enough. Creating several worlds, connecting them with subtle background hints, keeping things internally consistent throughout, and planning everything out before the launch of one’s published writing career is, to say the least, ambitious. Particularly worthy of appreciation are Sanderson’s magic systems: Each of his planets has an innovative form of magic with its own structured mechanics, and all of them are also connected by underlying supernatural forces, yet each still feels entirely distinct.
Sanderson’s first published novel was the standalone Elantris (2005), though much of the universe was designed, and several novels drafted, well in advance. The city of Elantris was once the home of people randomly blessed with divine magical power—until ten years ago. The magic mysteriously stopped working, the Elantrians all became diseased, and the gift became a curse. The novel unfolds as a quest to discover the source of the land’s magic and the cause of its failure. Though a little rougher stylistically than his later works, Elantris is still an engaging, innovative debut.
Mistborn was the next published addition to the Cosmere, and contains arguably one of the best hard magic systems (rules-based magic) ever created. On a planet called Scadrial, magic-users called Allomancers consume metals that give them supernatural powers, with different metals conferring different abilities; over the course of the series, we also learn about a couple of other metal-based magical disciplines, all of which are ingeniously designed. The first Mistborn trilogy was published between 2006 and 2008. A second series, the Wax and Wayne books, set 300 years after the original trilogy and expanding on the magical mechanics, hit the shelves in 2011, with three books out so far and a fourth still in progress.
My personal favourite Cosmere novel, however, is the standalone Warbreaker (2009), set in a world where gods live pampered court lives and Breaths bring inanimate objects to life. Every individual in this world is born with a Breath that can be given away to another person or used to Awaken and Command objects. Accumulating enough Breaths grants a person certain powers, including functional immortality. Warbreaker features a clever tiered system of power, an impending war, a god who doesn’t believe in himself, and a badass talking sword named Nightblood. It’s also available for free eBook download on the author’s website.
Then there’s The Stormlight Archive, which takes place on the planet and supercontinent of Roshar. Every few days the world is wracked by a destructive phenomenon known as a highstorm, and the geography, biota, and culture are shaped around these highstorms. The storms also bring magic in the form of stormlight, which is used as both currency and a power source for magical devices. In addition, the planet is inhabited by beings called spren, which are like physical, sentient manifestations of natural phenomena, emotions, or concepts. Like most epic fantasies, the world of Roshar has an ancient and terrible history involving mythical fallen orders of Knights and inter-species war, which, readers are learning book by book, spans through the Cosmere.
Complex as it is behind the scenes, the Cosmere is approachable through with any of the individual series or books. Every one of Sanderson’s worlds on their own have enough rich history and self-contained plot to be perfectly digestible without diving any deeper. So far there are barely a handful of worldhopping characters and inter-world references—although as the Cosmere gets more and more fleshed out for fans, we might also see more crossover.
By the same token, there’s still plenty to look forward to, and likely without too much of a wait; so far, Sanderson’s published 24 novels since 2005 (some Cosmere, some outside), and that’s not counting numerous short stories and novelettes. Along with the rest of Stormlight and Wax and Wayne, he also has in the works (according to fan wiki Coppermind, and not in this order) two more Mistborn trilogies, sequels for Warbreaker and Elantris, a prequel series about some Cosmere deep history, an ongoing graphic novel series, and assumably much more to unveil about the intricacies of this universe.