In fall of 2016 fantasy author Brandon Sanderson officially revealed in the Arcanum Unbounded collection that almost all of his books take place in a single cosmos, known as the “Cosmere”. Along with charts of each star system known about in the Cosmere (here’s an example), the book hinted that characters from the Mistborn, The Stormlight Archive, Elantris, and Warbreaker series had already begun quietly appearing on other worlds (i.e. other books) within Sanderson’s fictional universe.
These “worldhoppers” hold the secret to the larger epic underpinning Brandon Sanderson’s novels and stories, so I got curious…what do we know so far about them?
Spoiler warning: There are some spoilers ahead, but nothing that gives away the entire ending of any of Sanderson’s stories or novels. There may be inadvertent spoilers in the comments, however.
A note: The version of this article originally published on June 6th was sourced from Arcanum Unbounded, Sanderson’s other “Cosmere” novels, as well as the fan-updated Coppermind wiki. As such, it contained canonical facts mixed with speculation, while at the same time missing key canonical statements made by Brandon Sanderson during interviews and Q&As. The article has been substantially updated since then, thanks to the diligence of The 17th Shard forums.
Since the article itself is discussing a work-in-progress there’s no way that it will stay accurate–there will always be more information to add, especially after the publication of Oathbringer (Stormlight Archive Book #3) and White Sand Volume 2 this year–but I’m hopeful that it now provides a solid jumping-off point for fans of Brandon Sanderson to explore the hidden epic behind his many epics, and to join in the speculation as to what future books may explore.
First, Some Basics
There’s an inciting event behind all of the worlds in the Cosmere which narratively linked them together and produced the first “wave” of worldhoppers. From Martin Cahill’s “Let’s Talk About Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere“:
…a long, long time ago, there was a singular entity that went by the name/title of Adonalsium. From what little we know, it was a celebrated force of life and creation. But something happened and Adonalsium was shattered into sixteen shards, each of them containing a single aspect of Adonalsium’s cosmological DNA and power, with both positive and negative aspects contained within.
Present at the Shattering of Adonalsium were sixteen individuals, who found the Shards left from the catastrophe and took them up, gaining immense power, and essentially ascending to godhood. With this newfound power, the Shardholders went off to do whatever it is that gods do.
With a consciousness to direct them, many of the Shards began to Invest their magic and influence in certain planets or peoples. Every Shard impacts a planet in a way that allows certain individuals to tap into its own distinct magical power.
This first wave of sixteen Shards–known more recently as Vessels–puts the list of known worldhoppers in the double digits already. This is our framework for mapping The Cosmere-Thus-Far, allowing us to illustrate the relationships between planetary systems in the Cosmere by way of the beings who have “hopped” between them.
The Catalysts: Vessels (Shards)
These are all of the planetary systems, focally important locations, and Vessels that we know of at this point. It does not reflect the accurate physical proximities and locations of these systems, as that is information we do not possess, but nevertheless it allows us to “see” magical power being seeded on different worlds visited by the Vessels, creating either purposefully or inadvertently the Cosmere in which Sanderson’s epic tales take place.
We’re missing an additional key element for this relationship map of The-Cosmere-Thus-Far: the timeframe. The Yolen system is a clear starting point, but which Vessels got to which planets first? Did they all leave the Yolen system at once or did they go in stages? We know, for example, that Ambition left before Odium, because it has been mentioned that Odium chased after Ambition with the intent of destroying it. (Odium is one potent animus. Currently it is up to very bad things in The Stormlight Archive series.) Do the events of Mistborn, Warbreaker, or Elantris start right after the Vessels leave Yolen, or are there gaps in when the Vessels arrive and imbue themselves into the worlds we already know? What books would go before each other if one were to assemble a master timeline of the Cosmere?
It’s too early to answer that question as of yet. The Cosmere will contain several sets of Mistborn books, a full 10-volume run of The Stormlight Archive, and lots of other new titles and smaller book sets before its story is fully told. (Brandon himself keeps track of this at the end of year in a “State of the Sanderson” blog post, here’s the latest one from the end of 2016, detailing the many, many books yet to come in the Cosmere.)
Like hobbits on the way to Bree, we’re still figuring out what shape our journey is going to take, and there’s no way to accurately predict how it will populate and unfold. We as readers are still discovering the shape of this epic. But that’s okay, because so are a lot of other worldhoppers in the Cosmere!
Those Who Came After: The Worldhoppers
In the Cosmere, worldhopping is made simple by the existence of “The Cognitive Realm,” an other-dimensional space where certain portions of The Physical Realm (normal space) are represented, allowing for quick and easy passage between planetary systems. Not everything in the universe is fully represented in The Cognitive Realm, and in fact Khrissalla, a worldhopper studying the magic systems of each world affected by the Vessels, notes in Arcanum Unbounded that it may be possible that worlds disappear and reappear in The Cognitive Realm over time. Worlds and the strength of their presence in The Cognitive Realm may have something to do with the travel of the Vessels. Or it may be the other way around, that the power of the Vessels is what allows access to The Cognitive Realm, and that the worlds we see in the relationship map above were simply the easiest ones to get to via the Cognitive Realm.
Regardless of its potential origins, The Cognitive Realm allows many different types of worldhoppers, from supermagicked knights to over-tired economists, to transit between different planetary systems. We have already seen some of these worldhoppers in Brandon Sanderson’s books, often unknowingly, and if you add them to the relationship map, the Cosmere-Thus-Far gets very busy, very quickly.
For the sake of simplicity (uh huh), the above relationship chart is limited to individuals and groups that are interested in the machinations of the Vessels…as well as the individuals and groups interested in those who are interested in the Vessels. (Simplicity!) Through interviews and Q&As and snippets throughout the books, Sanderson has revealed that travel between worlds in the Cosmere is so robust that it supports an entire interstellar economy and culture!
Despite the ubiquity of worldhopping, it is an open question as to how many denizens of the Cosmere know about the shattering of Adonalsium, or the spread of Vessels throughout the Cosmere. (After all, if interstellar travel had always been easily available throughout history, would you question what sustains it?) However, there is one individual in particular who keeps showing up in Sanderson’s books, and who seems to know a lot about what’s going on: a man named Hoid.
Hoid, or one of his aliases, can be spotted in The Stormlight Archive, Mistborn, Warbreaker, and Elantris. And he seems to know an awful lot about the Vessels, to the point where you have to wonder if he played a role in the inciting event on Yolen, the very event which kicked off the spread of magic to other worlds.
Hoid is curious and in turn engenders curiosity in those he meets, especially in Khrissalla, another important worldhopper who we recently met in the White Sand graphic novel. Flip to the back of any Brandon Sanderson book and you’ll see her work under the title “Ars Arcanum”. It is she, and sometimes her assistant-for-hire Nazh, who study the worlds of the Cosmere and map out the magic systems left behind by the Vessels, potentially spreading information about the larger Cosmere to new worlds. A beginner magic-user within the Cosmere, given access to Khrissalla’s Arcanums, could perhaps figure out how to expand their abilities enough to begin worldhopping themselves. We the readers are curious about the Cosmere, so the curiosity of Hoid and Khrissalla is easy to understand. In a sense, they’re exploring the Cosmere for us.
Although these Cosmere-Thus-Far relationship charts don’t show every known (or suspected) worldhopper in Sanderson’s Cosmere, and although it’s not limited to a single timeframe, charting out movements between planetary systems still reveals some interesting new questions that may be answered by future novels.
Does the planet Yolen still exist?
No one ever seems to go back there and it’s the location of a veritable god splitting into Shards, so…
…yes, actually, it’s still there. An individual named Frost sends a letter to Hoid from Yolen in The Way of Kings. Hoid sends one back in Words of Radiance.
But what is it like?
Where did all this humanity come from?
Yolen being set up as an originating planet for worldhoppers (most of whom are human, or human enough) implies that Cosmere humans also originated there. So where did the humans on the other planets…like Roshar and Nalthis and Sel and…come from? Are they all descended from the inhabitants of Yolen? If so, how long ago did Yolen colonize the Cosmere? Long enough for societies on different planets to forget their origins? If not, what’s the explanation for human similarity between worlds? (Recent events in The Stormlight Archive and Mistborn may hold a lot of clues regarding the answer to this question.)
What’s with that box called “Silverlight”?
We don’t know for sure, but it’s not a planet and Khrissalla mentions it a few times in Arcanum Unbounded, so it’s most likely a repository of knowledge and/or research accessible to worldhoppers. Rumor has it located entirely within The Cognitive Realm, making it even more unique.
At the very, very least, Silverlight serves as a waypoint for worldhoppers, accessible from most places (if not everywhere) in the Cosmere and vice versa. (That’s why it’s somewhat cordoned off in the relationship map, otherwise there would be lines connecting every world and every worldhopper to it, and no other journeys would be visible.) That also means that what appears to be a direct line of travel, like Hoid hopping from Scadrial to Roshar, could just as easily include Silverlight as an unseen waypoint.
What are those question marks in the paths of Ruin and Odium?
That means they may have gone somewhere unknown before resuming that path.
Can a Vessel visit Silverlight?
Unknown, but Theoryland may have a clue from Sanderson logged in its vast archives.
Theoryland is totally Silverlight, isn’t it?
Er, uh…”read and find out”?
Why doesn’t anyone visit First of the Sun?
Khrissalla explains why in Arcanum Unbounded. It’s a Cosmere world, so it’s included in this map, but it’s not well-traveled.
How do the events on Roshar (Stormlight) and Scadrial (Mistborn) line up?
Hoid is prevalent in both The Stormlight Archive and both Mistborn sets of books, but the latter spans many centuries, so how does it all fit together?
I owe a big thanks to Pagerunner, Oversleep, Argent, and Chaos on the 17th Shard forums for pointing me to Sanderson’s answer (and many others) regarding this question. Right now, the order is:
- The first Mistborn trilogy (Final Empire)
- The first 5 Stormlight Archive books
- The second Mistborn set of books (Wax & Wayne)
So The King’s Wit, as Hoid is known on Roshar, the planet of The Stormlight Archive, probably survives until at least Stormlight Archive Book #5. Maybe. (Death may be an open question in the Cosmere, but that’s a theory for another day!)
Where are the other Vessels?
In brand new stories yet to come! As mentioned above, the State of the Sanderson gives a good outline of Cosmere epics yet to come, so we’re bound to add more planets, locations, and people to this map as those epics reveal the presence of more worlds and more Vessels.
When will we see more explicit crossovers between novels/Cosmere worlds?
We seem to still be in the “Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase 1” portion of Sanderson’s Cosmere epic. There are cameos, and the equivalent of post-credits scenes pointing to a larger threat, but we’re still learning the lay of the land. (Hence this article trying to make visual sense of the Cosmere-Thus-Far, really.) At the moment, The Stormlight Archive series are the books most deeply steeped within the larger lore of the Cosmere.
Who are the Five Scholars? The Seventeenth Shard? The Ire? And Iyatil and Demoux and…
Sanderson’s published Cosmere books contain highly visible worldhoppers like the Vessels, Hoid, and Khrissalla, but they also contain blink-and-you’ll-miss-them easter eggs of other worldhoppers. Some of these folks, like The Seventeenth Shard, seem to be working to counteract whatever scheme Hoid is up to, although we don’t know if that is for good or for ill. (Perhaps they want to preserve Odium’s presence in the Cosmere or perhaps Hoid’s plans too often interrupt their own.) Some of these folks are only mentioned in brief lists, like the Five Scholars, with their purpose and location as yet untold. And some are almost literally part of the background, like the Ire, an army stationed in The Cognitive Realm, mentioned in passing.
And some names, both major and minor, I haven’t included on the map at all.