Robyn’s Cosmere Christmas: The Bands of Mourning

‘The Bands of Mourning’ was, somewhat unusually, written before Sanderson had finished its predecessor, ‘Shadows of Self’. While both are excellent novels, ‘The Bands of Mourning’ is much larger in scope, with far more significance for the wider Cosmere. It’s definitely the strongest Mistborn Era 2 novel released so far.

Wax, still struggling with the events of ‘Shadows of Self’, is finally marrying Steris – or at least, he attempts to, only for the wedding to be interrupted and Wax whisked off on an adventure to help the kandra, and possibly find his kidnapped sister at the same time. The kandra are searching for the titular Bands of Mourning – bracers worn by the Lord Ruler in The Final Empire. These bracers may have more power than anyone knew, and being beaten to the chase could have implications not just for Elendel, but possibly the entire Cosmere.

Wax’s character development in ‘Shadows of Self’ was excellent, but it also left him with deep internal scars. Sanderson excels at writing characters with mental health disorders, especially depression and PSTD, and he never shies away from the true mental impact of trauma. Here, the impact on Wax’s psyche is evident, along with how it effects his relationships with those around him. Steris plays a far greater role in ‘The Bands of Mourning’ than in previous books, and her interactions with Wax are brilliantly written. This book also highlights the full extent of Wax and Wayne’s friendship and loyalty in a way that’s both heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time.

The kandra once again play a significant role, especially MeLaan – a fantastic character introduced briefly in ‘The Hero of Ages’ who then featured prominently in ‘Shadows of Self’. MeLaan is free spirited and fun, very different to most kandra, but still has a very different outlook on life to most humans.

Where this book really elevates itself from its Era 2 predecessors is the plot. All Sanderson books are cleverly plotted, but this one has higher stakes, more twists and turns, even more emotional resonance, and an ending that beautifully sets up the final book. This is still very much a fantasy Western, but it also feels more true to Sanderson’s epic fantasy roots.

Overall, ‘The Bands of Mourning’ is an excellent novel that perfectly balances the more comedic tone of Mistborn Era 2 with the depth and ingenuity that makes the Cosmere so great. Highly recommended to all fantasy fans or just fans of strong, entertaining books.

Published by Gollancz

Hardback: January 27th 2016
Paperback: January 5th 2017

Robyn’s Cosmere Christmas: Shadows of Self

‘Shadows of Self’ is the second book in Mistborn Era 2, after The Alloy of Law, and the fifth Mistborn story overall. It continues the fast-paced fantasy Western feel, but things take a darker turn and the ending is ingenious yet heartbreaking with classic Sanderson brilliance.

Wax has returned to being Lord of Ladrian, trading in his bounty hunter ways for a life in law enforcement. He’s busy planning his wedding to Steris – but unrest is building in Elendel, and Wax and Wayne – ably assisted by the brilliant Marasi – may be the only people who can prevent an escalation to outright civil war.

One of the best parts of this book is Wax’s development as a character. In ‘The Alloy of Law’, he’s kept somewhat mysterious – the hereditary Lord who secretly moonlights as a bounty hunter, one half of the dynamic power duo of Wax and Wayne (all puns undoubtedly intended). Here, more is revealed about his past – how he started as a bounty hunter and what shaped him and Wayne into the people they are today. By the end of the book, it’s impossible not to feel heartbroken for Wax and the decisions he has to make to keep both himself and the city safe.

‘Shadows of Self’ also sees the return of the kandra, a race of creatures introduced in the original Mistborn trilogy. The interaction of familiar faces with new players is nostalgic, and seeing some of Vin’s fears from The Final Empire finally come true on page feels like coming full circle.

The books in Mistborn Era 2 are far shorter and pacier than in Era 1, with more abrupt twists. The first twist in ‘Shadows of Self’ is predictable, producing a brief sense of disappointment – but it’s immediately followed by a second, far cleverer twist which entirely removes all disappointment. The ending leaves you immediately needing to know what happens next.

Overall, this is another excellent addition to the Cosmere which takes Mistborn Era 2 in a slightly darker and more substantial direction. Recommended for fans of fantasy Westerns and thrillers, fast-paced adventures, and intriguing fantasy creatures.

Published by Gollancz

Hardback: October 8th 2015
Paperback: October 4th 2016

Robyn’s Cosmere Christmas: The Alloy of Law

‘The Alloy of Law’ is the fourth book in the Mistborn series but the first in Mistborn Era 2 – a separate series set 341 years after the original trilogy. It’s completely different in tone, with far more humour, and a brilliantly fun and engaging read. Era 2 can be read completely separately from Era 1, but the events of Era 1 have formed the current myths, legends, and religions, and its easier to understand the magic systems of Allomancy and Feruchemy with the base knowledge gained from Era 1. (If you haven’t seen my previous reviews, more information on Era 1 can be found here.)

Mistborn Era 2 is a series of fantasy Westerns. Waxillium Ladrian – known as Wax – has lived all his life as a lawman, but now his uncle has passed away and he’s been forced to assume leadership of his house. He tries to settle into his new, more sedate, lifestyle – even entering into a marriage contract – but when his friend Wayne shows up with a job proposition, Wax finds himself being pulled back into his old life. There are kidnappings, murder plots, robberies, family secrets, and above all carnage. Wax and Wayne – aided by Wax’s fiance, Steris, and Steris’ cousin Marasi – must find out what’s really going on before it’s too late.

Fantasy Western isn’t a genre I read very much, and I wasn’t convinced when I heard about the intended direction of Era 2. Fortunately, Sanderson proved me completely wrong. ‘The Alloy of Law’ is much lighter in tone but still packed with engaging content and loveable characters. It’s impossible not to love Wax, and the banter he has with Wayne is exquisite. Marasi, too, is a brilliant character – strong, fierce, and determined to defy convention in a society even more repressive for women than Mistborn Era 1.

One of the most interesting things about this book is how the events of Era 1 are interpreted in hindsight. Sanderson has taken the original trilogy and created several new religions, an accepted history which is similar to – but not the same as – what actually happened, and several different cultural viewpoints and perspectives on the events. It’s cleverly done, creating nostalgia for the first trilogy but also showing how the facts of history are warped depending on who tells them and how they’re passed down.

The other fascinating part is the technological advances, and how these have been shaped by increasing knowledge of Feruchemy and Allomancy. Most of the technology is recognisable from the Victorian Era or American Western novels, but with subtle alterations to allow from a society where some people have enhanced abilities. Feruchemy and Allomancy have also been hugely advanced from Era 1 – they’re now subjects of study, and the way Wax and Wayne use their powers is incredibly different to how Vin, Kelsier, and the rest approached theirs in Era 1.

Overall, this is nothing like the other series’ is the Cosmere, but it’s still fun, brilliantly written, and packed with wit. Recommended for fans of lighter fantasy, witty banter, and intricate explorations of technology and magic.

Published by Gollancz
Published November 10th 2011

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

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!