The Story Behind the Story — Mistborn: Secret History

As anyone who has read Mistborn knows, there is always, always another secret. Today is no exception. But first, a word of caution: There are SOUL-DESTROYING SPOILERS below the cut.

Well, not quite that bad… Your soul will probably not be in real danger but if you haven’t read all the books, you don’t want to go there. You want to have read the original Mistborn trilogy (preferably quite recently) plus the three published Wax & Wayne books—including The Bands of Mourning—before you click this link. Really, really, you do. You will destroy the endings of all six books if you read this before you read them. Trust me.

However: If you have finished The Bands of Mourning, read its Postscript and the new novella, Mistborn: Secret History, you may proceed.

As Brandon notes in his preface, this particular story has been in the works for nearly twelve years now—begun even before he was a published author. At long last, we get to go behind the scenes of some of the major events in the first trilogy. We get to find out what really happened.

It’s an unusual book for Sanderson; there’s somewhat less action, and a lot more time-killing while waiting for action. The climactic events are already established, and known by the reader. In some ways, this tends to reduce the tension. For the first third of the book, anyway… and then Kelsier starts talking to Worldhoppers in Shadesmar, and it’s like a whirlwind up in here. Cosmere information and implications all over the place, and Kelsier stirring things up just to keep it stirred, because Kelsier.

Let’s touch on just a few specifics, and then I’ll open up the comments and y’all can dive in. One request, though: please keep ALL spoiler discussions to this thread (at least on Tor.com), so as not to spoil things for those who haven’t got this far. Especially, of your kindness to fellow readers, please don’t leak the identity of the main character—Kelsier. That man never could follow instructions.

There have been many hints along the way that Kelsier was perhaps only mostly dead; now we know the truth. For reasons even he doesn’t fully understand, he simply refuses to die properly. Here we get clarification of some odd references made in other books and in Q&A opportunities, and a whole list of Words of Brandon (a.k.a WoB) suddenly make sense. Kelsier is, indeed, a Sliver of Preservation: he has held the Shard’s power and then released it. It’s an interesting little twist that Kelsier spends three years fighting for Preservation and against Ruin, eventually Ascending as Preservation for a time, even though he is naturally much more aligned with Ruin. Sneaky, that.

Also, Kelsier and Hoid definitely do not get along!

Kelsier’s Cognitive-Shadow POV provides us the opportunity to see the events and the people from a different perspective. For instance, I was both angry and relieved to learn that it was Kelsier who gave Elend the near-fatal wound at the Well, and it was Preservation who truly saved his life by giving him the final bead of Lerasium. It also puts a slightly different spin on Vin’s selfless choice to give up the power rather than using it for her own needs: it hammers home the knowledge that the Cognitive Crew was doing everything they could think of to get her to use the power, to keep Ruin imprisoned.

One of the loveliest things provided by this new angle, to my mind, is the sense of closure for two particular characters—and I know I’m not going to be the only one feeling this way. It was so burningly painful to see Elend and Vin die at the end of Hero of Ages; now we get a proper farewell, and recognize that they were content to go together into whatever lies Beyond the Realms. Okay, it made me cry all over again, but it felt a lot better this time! Not nearly so gut-wrenching, you know?

Speaking of people dying, I’m still snickering over the whole Lord Ruler thing. Kelsier fully expected him to put up a fight, either against Kelsier or against death, and he just… doesn’t. He gives Kelsier (what turns out to be) a well-deserved sneer, for thinking that he’s saved the world when he knows nothing about it, drops a hint to that effect, and just goes away. I can’t say I liked the way he handled the world, but he did keep Ruin contained, and that’s not nothing.

Two of my favorite developments, though, were with Spook and Marsh. Most of what Spook was hearing was Ruin pretending to be Kelsier, but in the end, Kelsier was able to make a firm connection, and now the results are even sweeter. Regarding Marsh… maybe y’all had figured this out already, but I hadn’t. Getting Spook to send the metal-etched message, ostensibly to Vin, was a brilliant piece of misdirection on Kelsier’s part. By setting it up so that Marsh would retrieve and read the message, letting Ruin think he’d won by keeping it from Vin, Kelsier gave Marsh a way to fight back against Ruin’s control.

Now I wonder what Marsh has been up to for the last 300 years…

* * *

Along with eye-popping insights into what was really happening behind the scenes on Scadrial during the years of the first trilogy, we get head-spinning Major Revelations of Cosmic Significance. Worldhoppers, ahoy!

Drifter, a.k.a. Hoid, is floating around doing his thing—swiping Investiture and being completely obnoxious in the process. He’s always been obnoxious in a snarky way, but this time, he’s a total jerk. It’s been implied before that he might actually be under some sort of geas which makes him unable to hurt people. His altercation with Kelsier would seem to confirm that—

“That was unpleasant,” Drifter said, “yet somehow still satisfying. Apparently you already being dead means I can hurt you.”

—and it gave me a decidedly less pleasant view of Hoid. He seemed to enjoy causing pain to Kelsier, as if it had been a long time since he had the fun of pounding the living daylights out of anyone. (Which… is a beautifully inapt metaphor, under the circs. Heh.)

Khriss and Nazh are tooling around the Cosmere, apparently doing scholarly things while in exile. Ooooo…kay. It’s fun to see them both again (second time each, I think? though chronologically the first) and this time, wearing their own names and having a real conversation. Khriss most definitely Knows Things, and I’m glad she wasn’t snooty about sharing what she could. I’ve always liked Khriss, but I’ll admit to wondering what she’d be like after becoming a Worldhopper and the most-informed person in the Cosmere. So far, things are looking good. I liked Nazh far better than I expected—probably because of the knife. It was generous of him to give it to Kelsier. Useful, too. I wonder if he’ll ever get it back.

The Ire, or Eyree, (two syllables, pronounced with a long I and a long E) are creepy, and more than a little strange. They’re hanging around waiting for Leras to finally die so they can snatch his Shard and take it back to Elantris? This strikes me as a singularly bad plan, attempting to substitute another Shard for your own Shards that were Splintered by the big nasty. I mean, I can understand wanting some protection against a power that could do such a thing, but I question how well another Shard would adapt to a world not of its own making.

I would also like to know just how far back in Sel’s history these folks originated.

Threnody’s Shades didn’t exactly make an appearance, per se, but they sure make people jumpy. Nazh I can understand, since he’s from Threnody himself; his offense at Kelsier’s unmitigated gall in choosing to become a Shade was comical. But why are the Elantrians so nervous about them, to the point that they have a special device to identify anyone from Threnody within a day’s march?

There’s always another secret.

This Secret History, in addition to taking the entire fandom by surprise (despite a couple of leaks in the last month), has granted a whole new look at Adonalsium, the Shards, the Realms, and the Cosmere. Things are not so straightforward as “us against them” in any Cosmere situation: there are more “thems” out there than we knew, and almost certainly several more “thems” of whom we know nothing yet.

There’s even a lot more hinted for Scadrial than we knew before. We’ve been told elsewhere (TBoM) that Spook, a.k.a. Lord Mistborn, governed for a century or so before stepping down—not dying, which is odd when you think about it. Now we have a hint at how he was so long-lived, but very little clue as to what he did after that. Is he a Worldhopper? Is he still on Scadrial? Did he finally let go and die?

I fully expect another episode in the Secret History, because I Have More Questions. What did Kelsier and Spook come up with? How did they make the Bands of Mourning? What about the southern continent? These may be answered in The Lost Metal, I suppose, but there’s plenty of room for a sequel History.

 

There is always another secret.

Alice Arneson is a long-time Tor.com commenter and Sanderson beta-reader. She was awestruck and delighted to learn of this project in November, and to participate in what must be the fastest turn-around ever: a 50K-word “novella” going from an alpha/beta read starting 01 December, 2015 to ebook release on 26 January, 2016. What a ride.

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