Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection: Spoiler Review!

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! Arcanum Unbounded has hit bookstore shelves, mailboxes, and doorsteps across North America and the U.K.!

This beautiful book – and I do mean beautiful, in so many ways – collects all of Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere short works to date, plus one new novella, so you want it for All The Reads. It has gorgeous all-new artwork inside and out, along with maps, essays, drawings, and postscripts for each system or story, so you want it for all the new material. In short, it’s a must-have for a Cosmere fan.

Before you click on that enticing cut, please be aware: HERE BE SPOILERS. SPOILERS. SPOILERS! I SAY. This is the spoiler review, and anything contained in the book will be fair game for discussion here and in the comments. Within the book, the cover page for each story contains a warning for any books that would be spoiled by reading the short work first. Here, they will all be spoiled. You have been Warned.

For fans of Sanderson’s many worlds in the Cosmere, most of the stories will be familiar, at least by name. Briefly, the contents include two stories set on Sel; three set on Scadrial; excerpts of both the graphic novel and the original draft of White Sand, set on the planet Taldain; one on the minor world of Threnody; one in the minor Drominad system; and one on Roshar.

All but the last of these have been published before, either in anthologies, as con-special doubles, as stand-alone novellas, or as e-books. Now they’re all collected in one place for your reading (and bookshelfing) pleasure. In their new setting, they’re a sight to see, starting with…

The cover. I love the cover, with its hint of mystery and promise of revelation. I assume the person is Khriss, but we don’t get to see her face; it’s hidden in the shadows of her hood. All we can see clearly is the book, with the new Cosmere symbol on the front. Mysteries still abound, but the book contains Information.

The endpapers. Oh, the endpapers!! Isaac Stewart has gone all out for this book. I’m longing for this poster, which will be available in Brandon’s online store in time for the holidays, I’m told. It will soon be MINE. MINE, I tell you.

Arcanum Unbounded star map partial

The drawings. If you’ve been following Tor’s teasers, you got a look at the new drawing of Shai in her room for The Emperor’s Soul. Each story has its own new drawing, all from Ben McSweeney (IIRC), and they are worth the price of admission all by themselves.

Okay, moving on… Khriss and Nazh have been busy lately; they have given us, respectively, an introduction and a map for each star system mentioned above. Whatever you do, do NOT skip these. They are chock full of things you didn’t know before about the planets, the systems, the magic, the Shards, and even some ancient history of the Shards; if you didn’t do it right away, go read them now. We’ll wait.

Did you ever hear of Silverlight? Mwahahahaha! Silverlight: the Restaurant at the End of the Cosmere.

Seriously, though, we have no solid information on what Silverlight is. A city? A planet? A spaceship? It could be almost anything. All we know is that it has “universities” and “societies,” and expeditions have been sent out from it. There is also an unsubstantiated (AFAIK) rumor that the star chart on the endpapers is as viewed from Silverlight, which I think would be very cool if it proves true.

One more example of the many shiny new things in Khriss’s notes: what happened to Threnody. Casually blowing holes in some otherwise fine theories, she tells us about two continents – one occupied by a creeping darkness, the other a frontier; both the people and the planet have been twisted by an ancient conflict between the Shards Odium and Ambition. While this was not the location of Ambition’s final Splintering, this clash resulted in a mortal wound, and the power loosed in the process did some very, very strange things to the system.

I could spend all day talking about the new material wrapped around the stories, but I’ll restrain myself and let y’all pick your own favorites to discuss in the comments.

The final work, the new Lift novella Edgedancer, is destined to become a favorite for many, I think. It was originally intended to be around 17,000 words, right about the dividing line between a novelette and a novella. However, as he notes in the Postscript, Brandon decided to make use of this opportunity to show a couple of things that would otherwise have to happen off-screen, weaving them together in a single narrative. The result is approximately 40,000 words… which just happens to be right at the dividing line between a novella and a novel. For a Sanderson work, it’s a novella; for many other authors, it would be a full novel. Stormlight Archive 2.5, anyone? Appropriately, the whole thing is a slightly bizarre mixture of intensity and levity, swinging between the two with unexpected but flawlessly executed timing.

These two major events—and I fully agree, it would have been frustrating to the reader to find that they had happened between books—are both part of the climax. The opening isn’t nearly so portentous: it’s just Lift being… well, Lift. Apparently irresponsible and childish, her actions are based on underlying motivations she won’t admit even to herself. She insists she left Azimir because they were trying to “eat” her – trying to give her food, clothing, lessons, trying to turn her into someone else that wasn’t her. So she “escaped,” heading south to Yeddaw, her ostensible goal being to steal pancakes. Yep. That’s Lift.

Of course, the fact that Nale is in Yeddaw is just pure coincidence…

In what feels like a perfectly natural follow-on to Words of Radiance, the story of Edgedancer ties together Lift’s Surgebinding development, interruptions to natural weather patterns, Nalan, Szeth, the Everstorm, a new Ideal, and the unequivocal arrival of a new Desolation. In the process, Wyndle is hilarious: gardening chair-souls? Really? My favorite, hands-down, were his unintentional hints about Shardblades, which Lift didn’t get at all but were totally obvious to the reader. For example, characteristic of the weird combination of tension and humor throughout the novella, this:

Darkness emerged into the storm, rising from the hole in the clifftop. He saw her, then stepped forward, raising his Shardblade like an axe.

He swung.

Lift screamed. She let go of Wyndle’s vines and raised both hands above herself.

Wyndle sighed a long, soft sigh, melting away, transforming into a silvery length of metal.

She met Darkness’s descending Blade with her own weapon. Not a sword. Lift didn’t know crem about swords. Her weapon was just a silvery rod. It glowed in the darkness, and it blocked Darkness’s blow, though his attack left her arms quivering.

Ow, Wyndle’s voice said in her head.

Ow, he says. Oh, Wyndle.

There are so many things I could point out: Lift trying to live up to the image Nalan painted of Edgedancers and their gracefulness. The appearance of our first Dysian Aimian, who is totally creepy. Snippets about other Edgedancers – a reference to Ym, and the new one known as the Stump. The appearance of Szeth and Nightblood—who likes Lift, incidentally—in company with Nalan and a couple of minions. The arrival of the Everstorm, and the transformation of the parshmen.

A new Ideal: I will listen to those who have been ignored.

A Herald in crisis: “Storms. Jezrien … Ishar … It is true. I’ve failed.”

An unexpected response: She hugged Darkness… He clung to her and wept in the storm.

I know, they’re the obvious ones, but they really are my favorite lines. What were yours? Why? Tell me about it in the comments!

Alice Arneson is a SAHM, blogger, long-time Tor commenter, Sanderson beta reader, and literature fan. She keeps thinking about trying her hand at creative writing, but… great story ideas are hard to come by, and there’s always another Sanderson book to read and to write about!

69 Comments

Subscribe to this thread

Post a Comment

All comments must meet the community standards outlined in Tor.com's Moderation Policy or be subject to moderation. Thank you for keeping the discussion, and our community, civil and respectful.

Hate the CAPTCHA? Tor.com members can edit comments, skip the preview, and never have to prove they're not robots. Join now!