The Stormlight Archive #4 debuted on November 17, 2020. It is book four of five in Brandon Sanderson’s epic fantasy series. By this point, he’s solidified his position, in my mind, as the best working fantasy writer.
When Robert Jordan died in 2007, his wife had a deep bench of fantasy writers to pull from. George RR Martin is a master of character-driven fantasy. Kevin J Anderson has a workmanlike proficiency. Karen Miller is an expert at shifting voices. Brian Ruckley is the muddy-booted king of low fantasy. Despite all of the available talent, she chose Brandon Sanderson.
His debut novel, Elantris, is a standalone novel about a world in which magic has become a curse. Imagine a letter from Hogwarts being a death sentence; it’s like that. Sanderson weaves a compelling tale of hopeless characters finding hope again and doing cool stuff with magic. However, it’s not completely accurate to say Elantris is a standalone novel.
Elantris takes places on a world named Sel. Sel is a planet within The Cosmere. The Cosmere is a (fictional) star cluster containing between fifty and one hundred stars. There are dozens of habitable planets in The Cosmere; they’re all bound together by a Cognitive Realm. Characters from one Sanderson novel can, and do, travel from one planet to another by traveling through the Cognitive Realm.
Many of the worlds are governed by Shards, who act as gods of the Cosmere. Shards are Shards of Adonalsium. Sanderson has been pretty forthcoming with information about his novels, but it’s not clear exactly what Adonalsium was. It seems to me that Adonalsium was some kind of creator god, or maybe just a demiurge. Either way, Adonalsium was broken into sixteen pieces — sixteen shards. Each Shard represents some aspect of Creation — Preservation, Ruin, Honor, Odium, etc. The Shards can then use their own essence to “invest” a world with some of their power. That creates the magic systems.
For example, in the Mistborn novels, Preservation invests the planet Scadrial with his power through metals. Select individuals can “burn” metal inside their body to produce supernatural powers. Burning steel allows an allomancer to push metals away from themselves. Burning iron allows them to pull metals. Etc.
With his new novels, The Stormlight Archive, Sanderson seems to be writing a magnum opus. Stormlight takes place on Roshar. Roshar is a world that is frequently ravaged by a powerful storm known as the Highstorm. The Highstorm’s energy can be captured in precious stones left outside to be battered by the tempest. The jewels then glow with the light of the storm, hence the name Stormlight. Characters and concepts from his other novels feature prominently.
Sanderson’s magical systems are complex but well developed. He tends to follow the principle of “hard magic systems.” Those are systems of magic with hard and fast rules. Sanderson seems to approach his magical systems as science more than mysticism. This is more experimentation than expelliarmus.
He subverts fantasy tropes, plays against the expectations of veteran fantasy readers, and twists the genre into new patterns. Brandon Sanderson is a fantasy fan who writes novels for other fantasy fans. If you’re a fantasy reader, you’ll dig what he’s putting out.
Brandon Sanderson Reading List:
- The Mistborn Trilogy
- The Stormlight Archive
- Mistborn: Wax and Wayne
The order isn’t terribly important. I read them in this order, and I loved it. Book 5 of The Stormlight Archive debuts Fall 2023.