Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection

By Brandon Sanderson

I’ve already written about my admiration for Brandon Sanderson, who continues to produce a staggering volume of excellent writing (most recently embodied in The Stormlight Archive). I won’t belabor the point, except to reiterate that one of the really impressive things about Sanderson is the way in which he plans out his narratives, far, far in advance.

The clearest, if not yet fully realized, example of Sanderson’s foresight, is his claim that virtually all of his published works exist in the same universe (“the Cosmere”), despite occurring in seemingly disparate times and places. For most writers, creating a satisfying narrative structure for just a single book is challenge enough. Sanderson, on the other hand, aims to connect whole series, in a way that will presumably be satisfying to the devoted and attentive reader. For most, this would be a pipe dream, but I have all the faith in the world that Sanderson can pull it off.

All that brings me to Arcanum Unbounded, which is a collection of short stories set somewhere within “the Cosmere.” All of the stories are outgrowths of Sanderson’s previously published work, so readers who are familiar with Mistborn, Stormlight, etc. will find a number of familiar faces. Overall, it’s about 600 pages, so is a substantial and satisfying collection. Some of the stories are better than others (I didn’t love the Allomancer Jak one, for instance), but the overall content is quite strong.

I need to give special mention to one particular story, Mistborn: Secret History. More than anything else in the collection, this story really exemplifies the kind of long range planning that I described earlier. I first read the Mistborn series in 2010. I can’t tell you how weird it was to, in 2017, sit down and read a story about Kelsier (a pivotal series character) and have my understanding of the entire series totally changed. I was flabbergasted. This was exactly the kind of satisfying “twist” that authors are looking to produce, and Sanderson didn’t even put it in the original trilogy!? To know what kind of reveal it was going to be, and yet to delay publicizing it until 6 years after the original trilogy has been out? This is a man who not only has a plan, but who is confident and methodical about following it.

So to sum up, if you like Sanderson’s work, you should absolutely read this short story collection. If you haven’t read his stuff yet, I’d recommend starting with The Way of Kings.

Rating: 3 – Highly Recommended

The Night Angel Trilogy

By Brent Weeks

How have I not written about Brent Weeks yet? Time to rectify this oversight.

The Night Angel Trilogy is Weeks’ first published work, and though it’s by no means a perfect collection of books, it demonstrates that Weeks has a firm grasp on plot, character, and what makes a reader unable to put a book down.

The trilogy’s plot centers of Azoth, a street urchin who has bigger, and darker, aspirations. After being taken under the wing of Durzo Blint, the realm’s most accomplished Wetboy (think: assassin), Azoth’s life changes dramatically, and he too begins to train as a killer-for-hire. That’s the basic premise of book one, but this is one of those stories that really expands over time, and by the conclusion of book three, the whole scope of the story is quite different than what we began with.

These are dark books, similar in tone to Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire series, so reader beware. Then again, if you like things a little grittier, than this may be right up your alley. There are certainly some flaws, which isn’t surprising considering this represents Weeks’ first published work. Most notably, the scope and pacing of the end of the trilogy gets a little out of whack. The magic system is quite cool, but there is definitely some “power creep” that sets in, and by the end, several of our characters have grown into Nietzschean supermen-types. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it does threaten to break the readers’ immersion from time to time.

With all that said, these books go down real smooth, and I’ve happily read them twice over the last five years or so. There are some great characters, and there was never a point at which I was inclined to put the books down. This isn’t Weeks’ best work (his more recent Lightbringer series holds that crown), but it’s an excellent dark tale of magic, assassins and love. If you enjoy the darker side of fantasy, read with confidence.

Rating: 3 – Highly Recommended

If you liked this, you may enjoy: Price of Thorns, The Shadow of What Was Lost.