Robyn’s Cosmere Christmas: The Emperor’s Soul

‘The Emperor’s Soul’ is a brilliant, quick novella, telling a complete and enticing story in just over 100 pages. It takes place in the same world as Elantris, but contains none of the same characters, focusing on a very different country on the same planet. Novellas can be very hit-or-miss for me, but this is a perfect example of how they can be done well.

Wan ShaiLu – known as Shai – is a master forger, a woman who can rewrite the history of objects to persuade them that they are, in fact, something else. However, her latest job has gone wrong, and she’s found herself captured and imprisoned. Only one thing can buy her freedom – creating a forgery of the soul of the Emperor himself, who has been rendered permanently comatose by an attack. Shai must break all the rules of forgery and create something more convincing than she’s ever made in her life, or both her life and the Empire will be forfeit.

Shai is a great protagonist – quick witted and immensely proud of her talent, she’s not only a master forger but a master manipulator in general. She prides herself in being able to see several steps ahead of everyone else. Shai’s desire to escape battles with the immensity of the task she’s been given and her desire to complete something which has never been done before. She trusts no-one – sometimes not even herself.

The magic system of Forgery – unique to this novella – is one of the best parts of this novella. Like most of Sanderson’s magic systems, it’s simple yet clever, with clear rules and limitations. Forgery requires an extensive knowledge of an object’s past, and then the creativity of altering this past slightly so that the object could plausibly be something else. It has almost unlimited applications – as proven by the challenge of Forging a soul – but is so complicated that its usefulness is limited. It’s one of my favourite magic systems within the Cosmere, and I really hope it pops up again – perhaps in the upcoming sequels to Elantris.

Overall, ‘The Emperor’s Soul’ is a clever an intriguing addition to the Cosmere that highlights the versatility and breadth of Sanderson’s universe. It makes a brilliant quick read for fans of clever magic systems, devious women, and themes of betrayal and Empire.

Originally published in the US October 11th 2012
UK Publication March 21st 2013


Robyn’s Cosmere Christmas: The Hero of Ages

‘The Hero of Ages’ is the brilliant conclusion to Mistborn Era 1, and the first book to start to explore the mythos of the Cosmere as a whole. It introduces some of the concepts which underpin the Cosmere whilst telling a tight, twisting tale with a shocking – yet incredible – ending.

Whilst ‘The Final Empire’ was a heist novel and ‘The Well of Ascension’ political fantasy, ‘The Hero of Ages’ shifts focus again to predominantly military or quest fantasy. The various political factions have gained power and followers, and now a struggle ensues for who will take control. Alongside this, Vin is struggling with the aftermath of a massive mistake, and Sazed is going through something of an existential crisis – why does he care so much about religion when he doesn’t know or believe in his own?

Alongside Vin, Elend, and Sazed, there are some new POV characters in ‘The Hero of Ages’ – Marsh and Spook. Both have been prominent characters since ‘The Final Empire’, but here they step up and play even bigger roles. Marsh has always been a peripheral character, very different to the others, and his perspective and struggles are both fascinating and tragic. In ‘The Final Empire’ he was Kelsier’s slightly estranger brother – now he’s far more than that, and the tribulations he goes through could be considered the worst of any character in the trilogy.

Spook’s role, on the other hand, is not immediately clear – he’s not as directly involved in the main plotline, and his direction is very different to the other protagonists. However, his character provides a brilliant example of what prolonged war and turmoil can do to a person’s psyche. Sanderson depicts this sensitively, and Spook becomes a beloved character integral to the overall feel and impact of the book.

‘The Final Empire’ will always be my favourite Mistborn book, but this is probably the cleverest and most essential. The tone is much darker, the story much bleaker. The very world is breaking apart and a few mere humans are fighting to keep it together. It’s the relationships between characters which provide essential moments of light and warmth. Elend remains one of the best intentioned characters in fantasy, and Vin, ruthless as she is, seems far more human when up against such insurmountable odds.

The best part of this novel is how seamlessly Sanderson introduces the seminal concepts the Cosmere is founded on without info-dumping or detracting from the pace of the plot. Readers are introduced to Preservation and Ruin, two of the sixteen shards of Adonalsium – the power of creation. I won’t go into detail here, as that could be considered a spoiler, but it’s one of the reasons I think Mistborn Era 1 is one of the ideal places in the Cosmere to start.

It’s very difficult to write three such different books in a trilogy and keep every one gripping, yet Sanderson manages it. The ending is both heartbreaking and perfect. I’d recommend the trilogy to all fans of epic fantasy, and this book in particular to fans of intricate, unique worldbuilding and quests for answers.

Originally published in the US October 14th 2008
UK Publication February 11th 2010

Robyn’s Cosmere Christmas: The Well of Ascension

‘The Well of Ascension’ is the second book in Brandon Sanderson’s original ‘Mistborn’ trilogy, picking up immediately where the first – ‘The Final Empire’ – left off. It avoids all the pitfalls of the middle book in a trilogy, telling a taut and compelling tale whilst introducing the reader to wider aspects of the Cosmere. It also introduces Sazed as a main POV character, adding an intriguing extra dynamic and perspective.

After the events of ‘The Final Empire’, Luthadel is in chaos – but Vin and Elend have no chance to rest. Having signed up to lead a simple heist, now Vin finds herself a pivotal figure in an emerging new religion, almost single-handedly responsible for the safety of the city, and the target of a mysterious new figure in the mists. Out of her depth, she leans on her trusted kandra companion, OreSeur – but one secret spirals into another, and her actions lead her into more and more conflict with her friends.

Meanwhile, Elend finds himself thrust into an unexpected position of leadership, and Sazed embarks on a quest for answers – a quest that takes him far from Luthadel and into the Eastern Dominance. The mists are behaving strangely, appearing during the day and even killing some of the skaa. There are no clear answers, and in a divided world everyone is keeping secrets. It’s impossible for anyone to know who to trust.

The complex dynamic between Vin and Elend is brilliantly written, even if not always comfortable to read. Relationships take work, and in many ways Vin and Elend are incredibly different people. Vin struggles to trust people, and remains a likeable but prickly – and sometimes naive – character. Similarly, Elend remains good-intentioned but remarkably innocent of the realities of human nature.

Sazed is a far more mature character – and, as a Terrisman, provides a fresh cultural perspective. His internal conflicts are subtler than the dramatics of Vin and Elend, but no less impactful.

It’s difficult to discuss the plot without giving spoilers for ‘The Final Empire’, but it moves from the traditional heist novel to more of a political fantasy, all about power struggles and backstabbing friends. There’s also the underlying threat of the mists and the Deepness – two mysterious, unknown threats hinted at in the prophecies but unclear in nature until it might be too late.

Overall, this is an excellent epic fantasy novel which takes the trilogy in a fresh direction without losing any of the brilliance of ‘The Final Empire. The characters remain complex and engaging, the plot fast-paced and twisty, and the magic system still has secrets. It also introduces the concepts of Ruin and Preservation – critical parts of the overall Cosmere lore – for the first time, laying the grounds for the involvement of a wider mythos. Highly recommended for all epic fantasy fans, especially fans of complex character dynamics and intricate fantasy lore.

Originally published in the US August 21st 2007
UK Publication December 10th 2009

Robyn’s Cosmere Christmas: The Final Empire

‘The Final Empire’ is the first book in Sanderson’s original ‘Mistborn’ trilogy and a classic fantasy heist novel. His second published novel after Elantris, it cements Sanderson as one of the best epic fantasy authors alive today.

What if the Dark Lord won? That’s the question posed by this book. For a thousand years, the Lord Ruler has ruled with an iron fist, completely unopposed, forcing the Skaa who make up the majority of the population into slavery. However, a few rebels persist – and one, Kelsier, the famed Survivor of Hathsin, is determined to enact his revenge. Enlisting a crew of foolhardy Skaa – including the reluctant Vin, a street urchin who works for a local crime lord – Kelsier devises a plan to rob the Lord Ruler (and, if possible, to kill him too).

According to Goodreads, I’ve read this book at least ten times. It’s that good. Vin, our reluctant heroine, is a brilliant character – outspoken and talented yet naïve, she trusts no-one and isn’t convinced by this plan of Kelsier’s. However, Kelsier is the only one willing to teach her Allomancy – a mysterious power gained by ingesting metals – and the longer she spends in his presence, the more invested she becomes. Kelsier, for his part, is a brilliant mentor and father figure. The survivor of unspeakable horrors, including being the only man to escape a death sentence at the Pits of Hathsin, Kelsier’s scars run much deeper than those on his skin. His crew will follow him until the end – but Kelsier has secrets within secrets, even from himself, and his desperation to take down the Lord Ruler seems foolhardy even for him.

Every aspect of this book is brilliantly written. The character dynamics – especially within the crew – are sharp, with even the minor characters feeling fully fleshed out. The mythology of the world – the Lord Ruler having seized power after defeating some undefined evil – is gradually revealed to both the reader and the characters, avoiding info-dumping. The structure of the city with its ten ruling noble families is cleverly painted, and Sanderson manages the difficult task of evoking sympathy for both the Skaa peasants and the scheming nobles. After all, no-one thinks of themselves as the villain.

The real strength of Sanderson’s work, beyond his exceptionally complex characters, is his magic systems. The magic in the Mistborn books – Allomancy and Feruchemy – is very clever, with obvious limitations, and has clearly shaped the way that the world works. Introducing powerful magic without making characters too powerful or indestructible is a balancing act, and its always one that Sanderson manages exceptionally well. Overall, The Final Empire is a brilliant book, telling a tense, intriguing heist story alongside more complex epic fantasy worldbuilding. It makes a great introduction to the epic fantasy genre – especially to fans of simpler fantasy heist books such as Six of Crows. Recommended for all fantasy fans or just fans of strong characters and clever, well-told stories.

Originally published 2006 (US) and 2009 (UK)

Robyn’s Cosmere Christmas: Elantris

Welcome to my Cosmere Christmas series! Over the Christmas period, I’m going to be reviewing every published book in Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere, a fictional universe in which several – but not all – of his series’ are set. Each book can be read alone, without understand of the Cosmere or other books, but there are little nuggets hidden away for those who’ve read them all. Sanderson himself recommends starting with his Misborn trilogy, but I’ve chosen to start with his first published book – and the first book I ever read in the Cosmere, Elantris. I hope you enjoy the review series, and for those of you who haven’t read these books yet, they’re some of the finest examples of epic fantasy I’ve ever read! If you’d like some background information on the Cosmere, I have an introductory post here.

‘Elantris’ is a brilliant fantasy standalone packed full of intriguing, engaging characters with the fantastic worldbuilding Sanderson has become well known for. As his first published novel, it’s not his strongest work – but it’s a spectacular story with an incredibly imaginative premise.

The city of Elantris was once a place of miracles, a place full of magic where the Elantrians lived as gods. The old religions were forgotten as people worshipped the marvels they saw every day – but no longer. Now Elantris lies in ruins, and the Shaod – the process by which ordinary people become Elantrians – is a curse. Arelon, the neighbouring city, has lived in the shadow of this curse for ten years, and whilst at first glance it seems prosperous, many people still live in fear. The safety of Arelon lies with a betrothal between Prince Raoden, heir to the Arelon throne, and Sarene, a princess from neighbouring Teod – but when Raoden becomes a victim of the Shaod, a series of events is set in motion that could be the downfall of Arelon and all who reside within in.

Like most epic fantasy stories, Elantris follows multiple POV characters – Raoden, declared legally deceased and thrown into Elantris to die; Sarene, the princess determined to find out what everyone’s hiding; and Hrathen, a Derethi Gyorn (similar to a Priest) sent to convert Arelon to the Derethi religion of Shu-Dereth. Each character is well fleshed-out and likeable – Raoden for his kind heart, Sarene for her tenacity, and Hrathen for his questioning and clear humanity. Sarene especially is regularly hilarious, constantly outwitting everyone yet hiding her brains from her stepfather lest he become suspicious of her true intentions.

Sanderson is fond of flipping fantasy tropes on their head. In Elantris, he takes the trope of discovering magic and inverts it – where magic once existed, now it is gone, and the world must either survive without it or rediscover it. His explorations of the implications – especially around public perception – are fascinating and incredibly insightful. Memories are both very long and very short. The magic system is also excellent – all magics in the Cosmere follow very clear rules, which makes them both easy to understand and avoids the familiar pitfall of making any one power too overwhelming.

The other thing which sets Elantris apart from many compatriots in the genre is the strong focus on religion. Religion remains one of the most powerful forces to both unite and divide in the modern world, yet many fantasy authors avoid religion playing a prominent part in their stories. The clashes between the two religious sects of Shu-Korath and Shu-Dereth are reminiscent of squabbles between Protestantism and Catholicism, and the way Hrathen twists the truth to fit his purposes and underline his religious messages is – for a book originally published in 2005 – both very insightful of the current ‘post-truth’ media age we live in, and accurate to how religious leaders throughout the ages have sought to pit their religions against each other.

Overall, Elantris is an exceptional debut novel and a strong addition to the epic fantasy genre. Recommended for fans of intricate worldbuilding, excellent characterisation, and clearly delineated magic systems of limited rather than infinite power.

First published in the US 1st May 2005
UK publication August 11th 2011

Robyn’s Cosmere Christmas

It’s nearly December! Are you all excited for Christmas? I can’t wait – it’s the last big break I have before Medical School Finals (how did this happen?), and I really need the time to relax. In the same vein, I’ve decided that rather than focusing on reviews of new and upcoming books, this month I’ll focus on one of my favourite collections of books – Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere. I hope you’ll join me in this adventure into one of the best and most ambitious works of epic fantasy of all time! For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Cosmere, here’s a quick introduction.

What is the Cosmere?

The Cosmere is a fictional universe. Many, but not all, of Sanderson’s series’ take place within this universe. Each series can be read individually without requiring any knowledge of the wider Cosmere, but there are elements of crossover and a whole wider mythos for those who want to investigate them. Every world within the Cosmere shares underlying rules for their magic systems and a unifying creation mythos, but each world, their occupants, religions, cultures, and magics remain unique. Sanderson has stated that he plans for at least 36 books within the Cosmere, which is a hugely impressive undertaking! More information can be found on the official Wiki here, but please be aware of spoilers.

Which books are set within the Cosmere?

The main current works within the Cosmere are:

  • Elantris
  • Mistborn Era 1 – The Final Empire, The Well of Ascension, The Hero of Ages
  • Mistborn Era 2 – The Alloy of Law, Shadows of Self, The Bands of Mourning
  • The Stormlight Archive – The Way of Kings, Words of Radiance, Edgedancer (novella), Oathbringer, Dawnshard (novella), Rhythm of War
  • Warbreaker
  • The Emperor’s Soul (novella)
  • The White Sand graphic novel series

In the future, there are plans for two sequels to Elantris, a sequel to Warbreaker, a third Mistborn Era, and six more novels in the Stormlight Archive. I can’t imagine writing that many epic fantasy books…

You’ve persuaded me! Where should I start?

The short answer is wherever you want! Each series can be read alone, and they all appeal to slightly different audiences. The longer answer is that some books do improve the reading of others – Warbreaker improves the later books in the Stormlight Archive, for example – so are good to read first. Personally, I would recommend starting with The Final Empire or Elantris, and reading The Stormlight Archive – Sanderson’s Magnum Opus – last. But there are no rules, so if you want to start with The Way of Kings, go for it! Check out my reviews over the coming month and see which series – if any – appeals to you.

I didn’t like <insert Cosmere book here>. Should I try another one?

I’m a bit biased, but I’d definitely say yes. All the books are written in Sanderson’s signature style, but they’re very different – The Final Empire is a fantasy heist novel, Elantris is political fantasy, and The Way of Kings is a classic fantasy war novel. If you’re not a big fan of a certain genre of fantasy, you can absolutely skip that series. Personally, I’m not a big graphic novel reader so I’ve never read beyond White Sand volume 1 (I live in hope that a novel version will be published one day…)

Will your reviews have spoilers?

No – this month will be a completely spoiler-free zone! If you want to discuss the Cosmere with me, including spoilers, I’m quite happy to be contacted on Twitter. Please leave the comments spoiler-free for those who’ve never read a Cosmere book before.

Which is your favourite Cosmere book?

Read my reviews to find out!

I hope this brief introduction was useful and that you’ll join me on my tour of the Cosmere this month. Merry Christmas!