So last year, soon after first discovering the works of fantasy author Brandon Sanderson, I wrote a blog post where I talked about Sanderson and what he does. At the time of writing that I had just starting this blog, and had only read a few books by Sanderson.
The other day I finished Rhythm of War, the fourth and most recent installment in his Stormlight Archive sequence. Having now read all of his adult fantasy novels, watched all of his 2021 YouTube lectures, and examined his rigorous fan interaction and work ethic, I feel as if I’m slightly more qualified to speak on the topic. This will be a revised version of that original blog post, which I wrote last September.
“The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.”Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings
This post, like the original, will be split into two parts. First, I will speak on the author’s history and legacy (doing my best to explain why he is so popular), then move on to the Cosmere fictional universe and writing style. After those parts, I’ve devoted a section to the recent enormous success surrounding Sanderson’s Kickstarter.
I want to round out this post by first speaking a little on Sanderson’s history as an author. Feel free to skim or skip over this part if you just want my views on his work.
First off, let’s talk a bit about his “breaking in.” The process of breaking in is that during which an author (or other media personality) becomes officially recognized at their craft. This occurred for Brandon in 2005, when he published his first novel, Elantris.
Brandon had written a total of 13 novels before he published Elantris. Twelve of the books were rejected by publishers, though they set the stage for a brilliant overarching story and allowed him to establish his signature writing style. I’ll speak more on this style later.
I won’t go into Brandon’s career and education before publishing—he talks plenty about this on his website. Within a few years of publishing Elantris, he outlined and published the book that would become his best received and largest legacy within the fantasy genre. Mistborn was published in 2006, and over the next two years its trilogy was completed with The Well of Ascension and The Hero of Ages. Since then, he has published dozens of other short stories and full novels. He tends to make them long (some exceed 1,000 pages), a fact not unappreciated within his fanbase.
Most notable among these is the Stormlight Archive series, planned for ten volumes, consisting of four to date. He was also chosen to finish Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time sequence—a series of which I have read the first book and which I plan to finish in the foreseeable future—in 2007.
Last year, I listened Michael Kramer’s narration of the Mistborn series on audio, and I was blown away. The books linked above are the ones that originally got me into Sanderson and his work. And what a journey it’s been. (If you wish, you can read my review for the Mistborn series here.)
Brandon has sold around 20 million copies to date, according to himself.
Sanderson is known for his humble attitude toward fans, both at events and, in past years, on his YouTube livestreams. Consistently determined to interact with readers, he answers their questions patiently and thoroughly, only refraining from doing so when the answers would spoil unpublished works.
And in addition to this already impressive level of interaction, Sanderson teaches an annual sci-fi/fantasy writing course at BYU. In 2020, he had every lecture recorded, making the entire course available for free on YouTube. Impressive, wouldn’t you say? And that’s not the end of it. On his YouTube channel, he’s filmed FAQs and writing help videos covering a wide range of topics. These have been somewhat replaced by livestreams as of late in which he answers reader questions—I’ve found these streams nearly equally helpful, even if they do require some sifting through.
If you’re an astute reader of Brandon’s work, you’re likely aware that many of his books are, in a subtle way, connected. His stories span many worlds, feature diverse and varied character perspectives, and showcase different forms of magic—all while supporting a behind-the-scenes plot that flows in the background of every tale. The magic and worlds of all his books share overarching rules, philosophies, and concepts. Brandon gives special privilege to his in-world religions and mythologies, and it is these that weave the web of the cosmere—the combined universe of Brandon’s epic fantasy tales. This is a concept we’ve rarely seen in literature, though it has appeared in novels by the likes of Isaac Asimov, from whom Brandon confirmed he drew inspiration. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is also of note as it utilizes a shared-universe concept.
As a side note, he’s stressed that you don’t need to read his books in a specific order to enjoy them. While certain sequences are recommended if you wish to catch every Easter egg, each series can be enjoyed entirely on its own.
Brandon is known for his focus on detailed worldbuilding. Though the term speaks for itself, I plan on writing more about it in the future. He has created worlds that feel epic yet distinct from those such as Middle Earth or Westeros. He has an affinity for creating, defining, and explaining Hard Magic Systems.
While there isn’t a ton to say about Brandon’s personal writing style, it’s worth including a section about it here. He’s known for his fast-paced and easy-to-understand prose, which doesn’t weigh down the story. His handling of philosophy and religion is delicate, intelligent, and encouraging to readers of any background. Overall, his style is very different from those of the classics. Some criticize is as being bland, however most, in my experience, enjoy the break from classic fiction prose. I generally fall into this second group.
My experience reading the Cosmere
Here I’ll talk a bit about my personal views on his work, specifically the novels in the cosmere, which are what I’ve read or listened to. If it isn’t apparent already, I’m a huge fan of the Stormlight Archive and Mistborn series, and I eagerly await The Lost Metal. There’s a ton I could say about this. I’ve written reviews of all four Stormlight books, and talked extensively about them here on the site. Let’s try and narrow it down to some key points.
One of my favorite things about Brandon is the way in which he handles religion and philosophy. These aspects are not subtle in his work—they play enormous roles in the plot, characters, and even the various magics. However, I’m often dumbfounded when someone claims he’s somehow pushing his own political or religious agenda. He’s religious, and open about that fact. But he’s constantly given merit to different religions, different philosophical arguments, and conflicting political stances. He writes openly atheist characters, and explains their arguments well, offering supporting arguments from both sides. I see this as something of immense value, something we can and should learn from. He’s even spoken about how he feels it is his duty as a writer to study various stances, to understand different views. People are diverse in mind, and that shows in his work better than most other fiction I’ve come across over the years.
Recently, as you might be aware, Sanderson gained recognition all across the internet for a Kickstarter campaign centered around four novels he had written in secret over the course of the pandemic. In a video released at the beginning of March, he explained his process of writing these books and the system by which he’d be releasing them as limited editions. Over the course of the next month, the campaign raised over $41 million, becoming the most funded Kickstarter project ever.
Despite all this, he still maintains a normal human schedule, releasing books every year and interacting with fans at conventions and online. Multiple wikis have been formed around the cosmere universe, more and more folks out there have started recommending it, and in general his stories have spread like wildfire. So in the midst of it all, this is my part. I hope you’ll consider trying out his books. Truly, they’re worth it.
That’s about it for today. Sanderson puts out so much that I’m sure we’ll need another revision in a few years. Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed this analysis! You can find my full reviews for all the books I mentioned on goodreads.
Finally, you can discover more about all of Brandon’s books on his website.
As a famous mantra from the Stormlight Archive goes,
Life before death
Strength before weakness
Journey before destination