Fiction Reviews

Arcanum Unbounded

(2016) Brandon Sanderson, Gollancz, £16.99, hrdbk, 590pp, ISBN 978-1-473-21803-1


For a reluctant reader like me, Brandon Sanderson is guilty as charged for producing some weighty tomes in his time and Arcanum Unbounded can be added to the list of charges coming in at almost 700 pages long. Subtitled 'The Cosmere Collection', the clue is in the title as it brings together his short(er) fiction set in his universe, the Cosmere. There are nine pieces in total and most of them have been seen before either in anthologies, stand alone novellas, in gaming books, or as e-books. One of them – 'Edgedancer' – is a brand new novella as Sanderson realised that before he embarked on the next Stormlight sequence there were a couple of continuity issues around his characters Lift and Herald Nale. No problem, he thought and embarked on what he thought would be an 18,000 word story to iron out the wrinkles which actually came in closer to 40,000 words and over 130 pages long - I rest my case.

The Cosmere consists of seven systems – Selish, Scadrian, Taldain, Threnodite, Drominad and Rosharan, and the tales are divided into their respective system. Before the fun starts, Sanderson explains the early beginnings of the Cosmere with the creation of the character Hoid and the influence of Isaac Asimov’s 'Foundation' series, particularly the later volumes which married his Foundation tales with his robot ones. Sanderson also reveals that there is an unpublished Cosmere novel called 'Dragonsteel' which he wrote after 'Elantris' which remains unpublished because it was so bad, although on the sad day he shuffles off this mortal coil, I am sure his publishers will dust it down, and his fans will devour it.

This collection is divided into the seven systems and starts with a star chart and notes on the system before the story starts. There is also a little note about where it fits in the canon and a spoiler alert, and afterwards a postscript where Sanderson outlines the origins of the story, sometimes inspired by his travels, and he is actually a bit hard on himself, identifying what he perceives as flaws in the story even if his fans haven’t noticed. All of the stories are illustrated by Ben McSweeney and the 'White Sand' excerpt starts with 18 pages from the graphic novel before going into prose.

We start off in the Selish System with the novella 'The Emperor’s Soul', a Hugo award winning story about a thief and forger who is kidnapped and given the not so easy task of forging the emperor’s soul. A winner in terms of world and character building. Soul is followed by another world of Elantris story, 'The Hope of Elantris' and contains major spoilers for those who haven’t read the original novel. After this we are in the Scardrian System for a pre-series Kerlsier and his mentor Gemmell in a story called 'The Eleventh Metal', A lot more fun because of the foot notes is 'Allomancer Jack and the Pits of Eltania, Episodes 28 through 30' because it is old-fashioned pulp fiction tale, enlived by the footnotes of a long-suffering editor. Note to Brandon: more episodes please, as this is not the best story in the book but it certainly is the most entertaining. 'Mistborn: Secret History' is over 160 pages and is short-novel sequel to the Mistborn trilogy – no spoilers here. 'White Sand' follows in comic book form with an extract from the graphic novel then we get the story that the graphic novel adapted. Things turn a bit dark and nasty in the short story 'Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell', well they would, wouldn’t they with a title like that? Originally published in a 'Dangerous Women' anthology this is the darkest tale in the book. The second last tale is 'Sixth of the Dust' about a tracker who deals in magical birds set on a world not featured in previous work.

Finally, we reach 'Edgedancer', the brand new story that all Sanderson fans have been waiting for, and reunites us with Lift who first appeared in 'Words of Radiance' and any story that starts with the words 'Lift prepared to be awesome' had better be good, and this is better than good, almost an origin story and setting up Lift for bigger things to come. All in all, 'Arcanum Unbounded' is a must read for Sanderson fans, newbies should start elsewhere.

Ian Hunter

See also Arthur's take on Arcanum Unbounded.

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