We’ve talked a lot about Brandon Sanderson and his many works, his worlds, his magic systems, and beyond. One thing we’ve not yet discussed are the amazing and robust line of characters that inhabit these wondrous landscapes and intriguing plots! These characters come from all walks of life. Some have lived in the gutters, and others have walked the battlefield countless times over. Some study in libraries, some study in combat. Some are gifted with great power, and still, others try to take it for themselves. But no matter where they come from, they’re all important, and they’re all worthy of your time.
Many of them seem to have key roles to play in Brandon Sanderson’s overall Cosmere, as well, and may appear in forthcoming books outside of their established series, so it may be useful to know of them beforehand!
We’ll start with the more street-level heroes of Sanderson’s work, and move up to folks on a more cosmic scale:
Boots on the Ground
Kaladin Stormblessed, Windrunner-In-Training (Stormlight Archive):
One of the first point of view characters we meet in the Stormlight Archives, he starts off his narrative stuck in a slave camp for a crime he most certainly didn’t commit. Though he can be brash and stubborn, Kaladin is one of the most honorable characters in the series, and it’s this virtue that leads the self-aware spren Syl to him, a being of immense power who starts him on his path to becoming a Knight Radiant. He’s classified as a Windrunner, which means he can handily manipulate atmospheric pressure and gravitation when the mood suits him. (That is if he can stop falling on his face; gravity training is hard.)
Dalinar Kholin, Bondsmith and Professional Badass (Stormlight Archive):
Another point of view character in the Stormlight Archive, Dalinar is brother to the King of Alethkar, Gavilar, and together, they fought to unite the warring princes of their fractured nation. However, after failing Gavilar on the night he was assassinated, Dalinar has been working tirelessly to keep the peace they fought for from shattering. This difficult task would be easier to accomplish if he stopped having incessant visions of events that happened centuries ago. And if that voice in the sky would stop threatening him.
Shallan Davar, Liar and Lightweaver Extraordinaire (Stormlight Archive):
We meet Shallan, another important point of view character from the Stormlight Archive, on a journey to learn from Jasnah, the greatest mind of her generation. Before stealing Jasnah’s most prized possession, that is. Readers soon learn that Shallan has more she’s running from than towards. She, too, is a proto-Knight Radiant, and is classified as a Lightweaver, able to manipulate waveforms of all kinds (sound, light, touch, etc.) as well as utilize the ability of transformation. She’s accompanied by a creepy and cutely neurotic companion named Pattern, who helps craft her lies into convincing magic. Now if she could only stop lying to herself…
Jasnah Kholin, Scholar (Stormlight Archive):
The scholar that Shallan sought patronage from, and the niece of Dalinar, Jasnah is interesting for two very certain reasons. The first is that she’s a brilliant scholar and atheist in a world where gods have clearly tampered, and so brings a unique perspective to this world of gods and men. Second, she’s had her Radiant abilities for some time, and has gotten so good at them that she can literally turn you into glass.
Szeth, the Assassin in White (Stormlight Archive):
Someone out there is killing Knights Radiants and world leaders, and that someone is Szeth. A Surgebinder and Windrunner, just like Kaladin, Szeth can be controlled by an Oathstone. He recently declared himself free of the orders of his (former) masters, and was granted the sword Nightblood from Warbreaker. Szeth is a wild card in the story of the Stormlight Archive, and quite probably represents the wills of characters playing a larger, Cosmere-sized, game.
Shai, Forger by Birth, Thief by Choice (The Emperor’s Soul):
She’s crafty, she’s quick, she’s smart, and she has about five different identities, all of which can kick your ass. From the novella, The Emperor’s Soul, Shai is a Forger, meaning she can craft new or alternate histories of objects, areas, and even people, and enforce that new history. She can make an old table new again, or rewrite an entire person’s life. When she’s caught trying to steal an artifact from the Rose Empire, she is given two choices: execution, or using her powers to recreate the mind of an almost-assassinated emperor. Shai is on the list because not only does she have a very interesting background and abilities, but she’s one of the few characters we meet with an overwhelming knowledge of Realmatic Theory and how the three realms that make up the Cosmere, Physical, Cognitive, and Spiritual, work together.
Vin, Ascendant Warrior (Mistborn):
Our point of view from the first Mistborn trilogy (The Final Empire, The Well of Ascension, The Hero of Ages), Vin starts out at the bottom of the ladder, living under the thumb of the Lord Ruler, whose immense power has quashed any sort of rebellion for centuries. When she joins up with a rag-tag group of con-men and mistings (magic users), she discovers that she’s a Mistborn, a rare person with the ability to use all metals for magic, and all of their effects. Vin is our underdog, constantly being pushed and pushing back, learning about her magic until she has to not only learn where it came from, but inhabit it fully. One of the Slivers of the Cosmere, someone who’s wielded a Shard of Adonalsium, Vin is powerful but compassionate, growing both as a person and a hero with the help of her love, Elend, and her mentor, Kelsier. Although Vin’s story appears to be done, Sanderson’s readers surely wouldn’t mind her reappearing miraculously in other Cosmere-centric stories.
Kelsier, Metallic Messiah, Kinda (Mistborn):
Kelsier is Vin’s mentor, and a fully fledged Mistborn himself, having discovered his abilities after being “broken” under the rule of the Lord Ruler, due to the murder of his wife and his subsequent imprisonment in a mining colony. While not the most stable man, his heart is in the right place as he sets about trying to depose the Lord Ruler and rid the world of his tyranny. What he’s up to now, no one knows. But there’s a ghost of a chance he’s still around somewhere…
Waxillium Ladrian, or How the West was Won… with Allomancy (Mistborn: The Alloy of Law):
Waxillium Ladrian is the main character of The Alloy of Law, a short story turned novel turned multi-book Mistborn series set 300 years after the events of the first trilogy. Wax was a bounty hunter who hunted in the Roughs, an area far outside the major cities of Scadrial, who is called back to the city (and his noble heritage) after the death of his uncle. Wax is on this list for two reasons: The first is that he’s a Twinborn, someone born with the ability to use both Allomancy AND Feruchemy, which is something we’ve only just seen recently in the Mistborn series and the Cosmere at large. He’s able to push on the metal around him, while also being able to increase and decrease his weight, which leads to some handy advantages over the outlaws he brings in. Second, Wax seems to be hooked into a larger scheme, with a certain god gently tugging the lure; something we learn more about in Shadows of Self and the forthcoming The Bands of Mourning.
Slivers, Splinters, and Worldhoppers: The Demi-Gods Among Us
The Lord Ruler aka Metallic Messiah? (Mistborn):
Centuries ago, the Terrisman who would become the Lord Ruler, Rashek, murdered the supposed Hero of Ages, and took on a wealth of power at the Well of Ascension, becoming a Sliver of one of the Cosmere’s Shards in the process. He changed the planet’s orbit, its geography, and the people who lived on it, all in an attempt to A) keep Ruin at bay and B) to cement his rule over the planet. He also gifted himself Allomancy in addition to his natural Terrisman Feruchemical abilities, making him the only Fullborn, essentially granting himself immortality and devastating power. Although he only held a Shard for a fraction of a moment, the results changed the face of his entire planet. It has been hinted that we’ll learn more about the Lord Ruler in Bands of Mourning, the third book in the Wax and Wayne Mistborn series, which comes out in January of 2016.
Stormfather aka Skyface, Gonna-Kill-Us-All-Man (Stormlight Archive):
The Stormfather classifies as a “Splinter” of a Shard; power that has been broken off of a Shard and subsequently obtained sentience. Sometimes this breaking is a purposeful action, as it was with the creation of the Seons on the world of Elantris, and sometimes it manifests on its own, as the Stormfather did. While we don’t know his specific origin, he seems to be an echo of a dead Shard, capable of manipulating Roshar’s highstorms in catastrophic ways. Where did he really come from? How was he made? What is he capable of, now that a certain somebody is bonded with him? From what we can tell, the Stormfather suffered greatly when the Shard Honor died and the Knights Radiant turned their back on their spren. And now, he’s barely hanging on.
Hoid, The Wanderer, The Trickster (Everything):
Pft, this guy. What a pain in the neck. Mister I’ve-Been-In-Every-Book-Whether-You’ve-Noticed-Me-Or-Not. Not only is he sneaky, he’s supposed to have every magic trick in the book. Plus, he’s a Worldhopper, able to travel between planets in the blink of an eye. He’s so frustratingly enigmatic that I’d hate him if I didn’t love him. Hoid is a mysterious character who we’re still learning about, bit by bit. What we do know is that he’s been around for centuries, and was present at the shattering of Adonalsium. Hoid’s story obviously holds the key to a greater understanding of the Cosmere.
Sazed aka Harmony:
Sazed was a Terrisman scholar set to teach Vin and watch over her in her training as both a Mistborn and as a disguised noblewoman. A feruchemist, he stored all his scholarly knowledge in his metalminds, and even as he grappled with his faith and understanding of the world, he never stopped learning and cataloging. It was only at the end, as Scadrial drowning in ash and stellar fire, the corpses of two Shards before him, that he realized what he had to do. Sazed took on both Shards, becoming something new in the process. The merging of Preservation and Ruin produced a new Shard: Harmony. Now he watches over the planetary system of Scadrial, plumbing the Cosmere for answers and learning of the new power he holds.
Vasher aka The Irritable Immortal plus OMG NIGHTMARE SWORD:
One of the best characters from Warbreaker was Vasher, a highly accomplished scientist, Awakener, and warrior, fighting to keep the city he reluctantly loves from crumbling to bits. He’s also the creator of a special, sentient and powerful blade known as Nightblood, whose idea of a fun time is to consume the soul or Breath of the user until they wither and die and can’t play anymore. Vasher may be grumpy as hell, but he’s smart and knows a ton about Realmatic theory and Investiture. He’s been around a long time and doesn’t always live on the planet of Nalthis. Without spoiling too much, Vasher may be living somewhere new at the moment. But someday, somehow, he’ll going to be drawn back into trouble again, and it’ll all be thanks to that stupid death-sword.
Khriss and Nazh aka Haven’t We Met Somewhere?:
We actually haven’t met these characters, but we’ve seen their handiwork across the Cosmere. Khriss is suspected to be the one writing the Ars Arcanum at the end of each book, cataloging and theorizing on the various forms of Investiture on each planet. She also seems to intensely dislike Hoid.
Nazh meanwhile, is her personal illustrator, being sent on missions to different worlds to draw and record what he finds, be it maps, outfits, people, creatures, and more. While these two are shrouded in mystery, they’re most certainly connected to Hoid, Odium, and the Cosmere at large.
Gods: Shards of the Cosmere
One of the Shards of Scadrial, Ruin used to be a man named Ati, until the Shard he held twisted him into a destructive being, whose whole mind, body and soul were dedicated to the ideas of cataclysm and destruction and endings: in essence, Ruin. Though he and his opposing Shard, Preservation, fought for many years, there could be no clear victor because of their diametric opposition. So Preservation cheated and locked Ruin away from the world. Furious, Ruin’s whole purpose became to escape and end the planet he inhabited. He came extremely close to succeeding, too, but was ultimately halted thanks to the interference of Vin.
The other Shard of Scadrial, Preservation used to be a man named Leras until the Shard he held began to overwhelm him and turn him into a being that honored life above all else: in essence, Preservation. Knowing Ruin would always hound his efforts, Preservation did his best to lock Ruin away, though he lost part of himself in the process. It was Preservation who used a part of himself to gift Allomancy to the people of Scadrial, and even as he neared death, his spirit lingered on to help in the form of mist.
Honor (Stormlight Archive):
Alas, not much is known about Honor, except that he was apparently a good man who tried to take Odium head on and lost. At least in his losing he found a way to trap Odium from leaving a certain Stormlight-y solar system. There are still echoes of him throughout Roshar, but unfortunately, he’s gone the way of Marley and is as dead as a doornail…or is he? (Really, I don’t know, but maybe?)
Cultivation (Stormlight Archive):
Honor’s lover. We know very, very little about her, except that she’s somewhere on Roshar, and she’s bunkered down, hiding from Odium to stay alive. Her influence can be seen in the spren that represent aspects of nature, but this is the limit of what we currently know about her. Some suspect she may be the Night Watcher, but there’s no confirmation of that. We do know that she can look into the future, though the extent and solidity of that ability is unknown.
Odium (Stormlight Archive):
A Shard holder, Odium apparently used to be a good man, but after spending so much time embodying the hatred present within the Cosmere, the man he was is no longer. All that’s left is an awful entity, bent on destroying everything that isn’t it. Odium is responsible for the death of every Shard so far, and it would have gone on to kill more had Honor not found a way to bind it to the solar system that it’s currently in. Not much is known of Odium, but I’m certain as the books continue on, we’ll come to know more of this cruel being’s purpose and ultimate end game.
Adonalsium isn’t so much a being as it is a term, being what the sixteen Shards were before they shattered. It comprised what some called God, or at least an immensely powerful aspect of Creation. It is a name that haunts the Cosmere, and you can find mentions of it throughout Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere books. It’s only a matter of time before we come to understand what Adonalsium was, what it is now, and what it will be in the years to come.
Note: There are more shards that have been revealed outside of the books, from interviews, AMAs, and other discussions with Brandon, but have not been revealed in the books yet. You can see a full list here.
So there you have it: a collection of heroes, saviors, enigmas, and gods, all grappling and fighting and struggling with one another in the vast sea of the Cosmere. While these people are only the tip of the iceberg of Sanderson’s wide cast of characters, I hope the above is more than enough to send you to your local bookshop, and learn their stories for yourself!
NEW READERS, here’s the full primer on Brandon Sanderson:
- Here’s Where to Start Reading the Works of Brandon Sanderson
- Learn About the Many Magic Systems of Brandon Sanderson
- Let’s Talk About Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere
FANS, get in-depth with Sanderson’s works:
- The Bands of Mourning: Chapter One
- How Can We Use Mistborn’s Allomancy to Travel Faster Than Light?
- Let’s Talk About Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere…and its Similarities to Final Fantasy
- Mistborn Mania! Casting Mistborn with Pro Wrestlers
- The Stormlight Grimoire, Parts 1 through 4
- The Complete Spren Catalogue
- Rereading the Stormlight Archive on Tor.com
This article was originally published in August 2015.
Martin Cahill is a publicist by day, a bartender by night, and a writer in between. When he’s not slinging words at Tor.com, he’s contributing to Book Riot, Strange Horizons, and blogging at his own website when the mood strikes him. A proud graduate of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop 2014, you can find him on Twitter @McflyCahill90; tweet him about how barrel-aging beers are kick-ass, tips on how to properly mourn Parks and Rec, and if you have any idea on what he should read next, and you’ll be sure to become fast friends.