It took me a little while to fully gather my thoughts on this book, but I can happily say I found doing so an immensely rewarding experience. Returning to the Cosmere had been one of my unofficial reading goals for the year and with this I certainly did so in style. Now that I am pretty well versed in the lore of its major worlds, I was looking for a deeper dive and that is exactly what I got.
This book is a collection of novellas and short stories divided up into six sections, each according to a different planetary system within the Cosmere. Some were familiar while others were at the very least new to me. Each system was introduced by Khriss, a worldhopper based out of Silverlight, a city in the Cognitive Realm, whom careful readers of Mistborn and the Stormlight Archive (and presumably other works) might recognize. She is also the “author” of the Ars Arcana entries at the end of each Cosmere book and takes on a similar role here, providing a brief overview on items of celestial, historical, or magical significance for each planet covered. As an added bonus, every story also came with an outro from Sanderson describing his thoughts and motivations for writing it.
For my post today, I am going to be a bit more detailed than I usually am when reviewing compilations. In an effort to solidify my own understanding of the Cosmere’s workings, I am going to not only do a quick review for each story in the collection, but also include some of my own notes. These are by no means intended to be definitive (indeed there are way more thorough and authoritative options out there), but rather something I am doing for me. These other sources certainly provide a wealth of information, but they can also be a bit overwhelming (and occasionally frustrating) since they incorporate a lot of things Sanderson says has made canon but are not officially in print yet. And now the warnings. Spoilers abound for various books and the Cosmere in general, so tread carefully, especially in the Selish, Scadrian, and Rosharan systems if you aren’t up to date on the corresponding books. You have been warned. My reviews begin after the break and assume the reader has a slightly more than passing familiarity with the Cosmere and its terminology.
The Selish System
Home to the planet Sel featured in the Elantris novel. It was also once home to the Shards Dominion and Devotion, though they have long since been Splintered by Odium, trapping their powers in the Cognitive Realm. As a result, the local forms of Investiture depend heavily upon location, language, and ideals, making Sel one of the more realmatically aware worlds in the Cosmere.
The Emperor’s Soul (2012): A novella that takes place in the Rose Empire, a political dominion geographically separate from the warring countries seen in Elantris. It tells the story of a woman named Wan ShaiLu, who uses a form of Investiture called Forgery to change the appearance of various objects by applying a stamp that “rewrites” its history and alters its manifestation in the Physical, Cognitive, and Spiritual realms. After being imprisoned for her role in an art heist, she unwittingly becomes involved in a plot to forge a new soul for a catatonic emperor, thus preventing an imperial coup. I really enjoyed this story and found the implications of this sort of magic very interesting to read about. I also couldn’t help but notice that we come across another instance of a malevolent/corrupted individual with red eyes, an occurrence I’ve been monitoring for a while now.
The Hope of Elantris (2007): A short story that fills in a piece of the original novel by focusing upon Ashe, Sarene’s seon, and a desperate scramble to save the children of Elantris during the book’s final battle. As Sanderson admits in his notes, it was perhaps overly sentimental and maybe not particularly important overall, but I did find two things worthy of note. First, Sarene is pregnant! Second, what is the significance of introducing a seon named Ati? Here the word means “hope,” but surely it’s not a coincidence that it shares a name with Ruin’s former Vessel?
The Scadrian System
Home of Scadrial and the setting of the Mistborn novels. This world is notable, and perhaps even unique, in that it was originally created and populated by two Shards, Preservation and Ruin, working in tandem. Despite at least two major changes in planetary orbit, Scadrial is home to a prosperous civilization that, by the time of the Era Two novels, is one of the most technologically advanced in the Cosmere.
The Eleventh Metal (2011): A short story that follows a young Kelsier a mere three months after his escape from the Pits of Hathsin. In it he is paired with his mentor, a troubled Mistborn named Gemmel who is teaching Kelsier how to harness his newfound powers. A stern teacher, Gemmel routinely puts Kelsier in harm’s way to impart his lessons and tends to discourage nonviolent solutions as beneath Mistborn of their standing. I found this story interesting for showing how Kelsier not only became the hardened person we meet in Final Empire, but also for seeing how long Ruin has been influencing him.
Allomancer Jak and the Pits of Eltania (2014): I’m just going to say it: I don’t really like the Allomancer Jak interludes in the Era 2 books. I get that they are in-universe pulp serials designed to contrast with the main story, but I mostly just find them annoying. As such I don’t have a lot to say about this one, but it was nice to get a bit more information about the evolution of the Koloss.
Mistborn: Secret History (2016): Holy cow did I get a lot out of reading this a second time (you can find my initial impressions here)! Be warned that I’m now just going to blurt out all the crazy stuff that happens in this story. It begins immediately upon Kelsier’s death in Mistborn: The Final Empire, and follows his experience cheating death as a Cognitive shadow. While residing in the Cognitive Realm, Kelsier recruits a dying Preservation into his crew (nicknaming him Fuzz), starts a fist fight with Hoid, gets a Cosmere 101 lecture from Khriss, and “borrows” a knife from Nazh. And that’s before he confronts a shadowy group of Elantrians called the Ire trying to capture Preservation’s power, subsequently uses said power himself to fight Ruin behind the scenes of the original story, and then finally transfers it Vin and Sazed. So, yeah, a lot happens and not only was it all really exciting, but it also served to connect a lot dots for me. Kelsier’s determination to learn more about the Cosmere throughout this story I would say is a sentiment shared by most readers.
The Taldain System
Home to a tidally locked planet also named Taldain, this seems likely to be a location of major significance going forward. It is not only the home world of our narrator Khriss, but also the location of a powerful Shard called Autonomy. In her notes about this system, Khriss vents her frustration with Autonomy’s decision to block all outside access to the system while simultaneously interfering in others. Sanderson himself has fueled speculation that Autonomy has a certain sympathy for Odium, but all I can really say on that topic is that from here on out, the various letters scattered throughout the Stormlight Archive are certainly worth revisiting.
White Sand (2016): An excerpt from the first volume of a graphic novel set on Taldain, it followed the ordeal of a young man named Kenton determined to undergo a trial of strength he by all appearances is not ready for. I thought this offered a nice teaser to the series, but ultimately there wasn’t enough offered here to really say much else. I am definitely interested in reading up on this world, but ultimately I may hold out for the novelization. I have nothing against graphic novels, but it felt kind of weird to switch formats after having already read thousands of pages worth of novels.
The Threnodite System
Shortly after the Shattering of Andonalsium this system was the center of a fight between the Shards Odium and Ambition. Ambition was fatally wounded in the conflict and would later Splinter as a result, though it is not clear if Odium had any further hand in this (indeed, Ambition is not listed among his confirmed kills). The residual effects of this conflict took a pretty drastic toll on the human-populated planet of Threnody, where one of its two continents has been abandoned entirely to something called The Evil, while on the other the human inhabitants live in settlements fortified against the peculiar Cognitive Shadows (also called Shades) that haunt the land, waiting to attack any human careless enough to draw their attention.
Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell (2013): This is the story of an indebted innkeeper named Silence who offers a safe haven for people traveling through a Shade-infested forest between towns. She is also secretly a legendary bounty hunter called the Silver Fox, though for various reasons can only act under the cover of a corrupt official from one of the nearby settlements. Her fortunes may be about to change, however, when a particularly lucrative bounty walks through her doors. To collect it, she must brave forests and somehow subdue a violent criminal without attracting any unwanted attention. This was another story that I particularly enjoyed and, like almost all of the others, it left me with some things to think about. Once again, we see red eyes manifest themselves (this time on Shades primed to attack). Also, this story made me really want to go back to all the other worlds and pay close attention to properties of the local metals. Silver is particularly potent here against the Shades, and it brings to mind other instances where one metal or another is exceptionally notable.
The Drominad System
Although Khriss says in her introduction that there is no Shard currently in this system, it has been suggested elsewhere that an extension of Autonomy has settled here for reasons unknown. This would help explain the Perpendicularity mentioned on First of the Sun, one of the three human inhabited worlds in this system and the setting of the only story in this section. Although its local population is only about as advanced as second era Scadrians, it is significant to note they are in regular contact with another human society capable of space travel between planets.
Sixth of Dusk (2014): This story follows a trapper named Sixth of Dusk and his companion birds, Kokerlii and Sak. Interestingly, this trio share some a psychic bond based on some sort of Investment bestowed upon the birds by the island. In this story, Sixth confronts the realities of a changing world when a team of scientists and corporate researchers land on his island refuge in search of something that may give them a bargaining tool to use in their dealings the spacefaring “Ones Above.”
The Rosharan System
The final section takes us to the Rosharan system, home to not only the planet Roshar, seen in the Stormlight Archive, but also two other inhabited planets – Ashyn and Braize. I am going to assume that anyone reading this far is familiar with Roshar and the current battle going on between Honor, Cultivation, and Odium, so I am going to instead take a moment to ponder the other planets. Ashyn is described as a burnt out world that long ago suffered a major catastrophe, likely the Surgebinding incident described in Oathbringer. It is notable that there are still humans there, however, said to live in floating cities. As for Braize, this world is inhabited only by spren and Splinters and is also the location where the Heralds are held when between Desolations.
Edgedancer (2016): Much like Secret History, this story was even better my second time reading it, especially considering how much I now enjoy Lift’s character. It takes place between the events of Words of Radiance and Oathbringer and follows Lift as she and Wyndel leave behind the nation of Azimir, where she recently saved the life of its new Emperor. Fearful of getting too attached to her surroundings, Lift sets of for the city of Yeddaw, with the goal of sampling each of the city’s 10 famed pancakes and, by the way, following Darkness, the man who attacked and nearly killed her. This story was significant in that it filled some important gaps between books and saw a lot of character growth for Lift, including an oath swearing. It also reveals the true identity of Darkness before the events in Oathbringer.