Arcanum Unbounded by Brandon Sanderson. ★★★★
I’m a huge fan of Brandon Sanderson’s interrelated worlds – the Cosmere. Obviously, I had to read this collection of shorter Cosmere stories (short stories and novellas). While it took me a while to get to it, better late than never!
This collection is probably not a great starting point to those unfamiliar with Sanderson’s Cosmere work. While some of the stories stand independently, many tie in to his novels. In particular, you really need to have read the original Mistborn trilogy before reading Mistborn: Secret History. I would instead suggest The Emperor’s Soul or Sixth of Dusk as shorter Cosmere works that can be read on their own. Or The Way of Kings, Elantris, or Mistborn: The Final Empire if you’d prefer to start with a novel.
However, if you’re already a fan of Sanderson’s work, you’re bound to enjoy Arcanum Unbounded! Even though I’d already read a number of the novellas included in the collection, it’s still nice to have print copies of them for ease of potential rereading. I also loved how it included introductions to each world contained in the series, written by the character Khriss.
The collection begins with the world of Sel, where the novel Elantris was set. This section contained the short story “The Hope of Elantris” and the novella The Emperor’s Soul. “The Hope of Elantris” is set within the same time span of the novel Elantris and follows a girl named Matisse as she tries to protect the children of Elantris during the invasion. It’s a sweet story (and one available for free on the author’s site), but it doesn’t pack much of a punch. I found it the weakest link in the collection.
On the other hand, I love The Emperor’s Soul. It’s probably one of my favorite things Sanderson has ever written. Since I’d already reviewed it separately, I skipped rereading this time around. But I know that one day I will want to come back to it.
The next world up is Scadrial, home of the Mistborn books. The story “The Eleventh Metal” gives some backstory to Kelsier, specifically his training right after he gained his Mistborn powers. It’s a fairly short story that was written for an RPG, to give unfamiliar players an introduction to the world. As such, it’s fairly simple.
There’s one other story about Kelsier in this collection – the novella, Mistborn: Secret History. It’s another one that I’ve read and reviewed separately, I won’t say a whole lot here. Except, this is one that’s full of spoilers for the Mistborn original trilogy, so new readers beware.
The last Scadrial story was also written for an RPG – “Allomancer Jak and the Pits of Eltania, Episodes 28 through 30.” In the Alloy of Law era books, the newspaper inserts contain fragments of a pulpy adventure serial about Allomancer Jak. This story is three of those serials, with snarky annotations from Jak’s Terrisman steward. The annotations were wonderful and probably made this the funniest story in the collection.
Roshar, the home of The Way of Kings, is the only other world with a full length novel to make an appearance in Arcanum Unbounded. The novella Edgedancer is exclusive to this collection and follows one of my favorite characters from the Stormlight Archive series – Lift! I was so excited when I heard Sanderson was writing a novella for her (and apparently she’s going to take a larger role in the novels to come!). She’s wonderfully witty, vibrant and all around spunky. In this novella, she leaves Azimir for the city of Yeddaw, where the mysterious Herald she knows as “Darkness” is now working. I enjoyed this novella so much, and if you love Lift as much as I do, you need to read it!
The world of Taldain is the setting of White Sand, which is currently being adapted into a graphic novel. Arcanum Unbounded contains an excerpt of the graphic novel and Sanderson’s original first few chapters, but I’ll admit that I skipped these. I don’t like excerpts. They just make me hungrier for the full story. Besides, I’d rather wait and read the full graphic novel in color instead of the grey scale excerpt in Arcanum Unbounded.
I also skipped Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell, the only story as of yet set on the world of Threnody. I’d already read and reviewed this one, but I liked it a lot the first time around. It was originally written for George R. Martin’s Dangerous Women anthology, and it has a great female protagonist – Silence, a middle aged mother who’s very much the independent frontier woman.
Arcanum Unbounded contained one last story that was new to me. I’ve been meaning to read the novella Sixth of the Dusk forever but had somehow never gotten around to it. It’s set on the world of First of the Sun, which is being visited by spacefaring people from another world. There’s no word on who these aliens are, but I’m suspecting that it may be a future Scadrial. The story follows Sixth of the Dusk, a trapper on the dangerous island of Patji. The world is changing, and his traditional way of life is being threatened. This novella was simply lovely, and I hope Sanderson returns to this setting and characters.
To make a long review short, Arcanum Unbounded is a collection I would highly recommend to any fan of Sanderson’s work.