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Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere – A Primer

Brandon SandersonBrandon Sanderson has made himself into one of the top authors in the fantasy genre today. Perhaps most famous for taking on the role of finishing The Wheel of Time books after Robert Jordan’s unfortunate passing, Sanderson has also begun crafting a name for himself as “the magic guy.” Between Mistborn – which included Allomancy, Feruchemy, and Hemalurgy – or his recent Stormlight Archive which features Surgebinding and Soulcasting, and a rumored 30+ other systems of magic, Brandon Sanderson has earned his title as “the magic guy” many times over.

Saying that Sanderson is a prolific writer is an understatement. Since first being published in 2005 he has released at least one new book each year, often even two. These books have had a variety of plots, backgrounds, and systems of magic, each more detailed and well-thought out than the last. So what is the Cosmere, you may ask?

The Cosmere

To put it in plain words, the Cosmere is the universe in which the majority of Brandon’s books exist. That is, each book he writes is set on a unique world, and each of these worlds is set in the same universe, the Cosmere. Naturally, Brandon being the man he is, has arranged it so there is a little bleed through between worlds, connecting factors that give his books an extra treat for those who are aware of what to look for.

Brandon has stated in interviews that his reasoning behind this was due to his love for the enormous, multi-volume epic stories. However, when he was just beginning to write he didn’t believe a publisher would be interested in an enormously long series of books. So instead he built his own connections in secret, underlying Easter eggs for those keen minded, and doling out tidbits of information sparingly during interviews and conventions. Once you know the key, you too will be able to hunt for the hidden gems and start to see a whole new layer of complexity open.

2012 FEB Magic - Mistborn (cover art)Adonalsium and the Shards

Adonalsium: The term is used to describe either a god or the power of creation, it’s still left rather unclear. What is known is that Adonalsium shattered, creating the sixteen Shards. These Shards found their way into the hands of certain individuals, empowering them with god-like abilities along with a certain intent, which slowly alters their personalities.

The most prevalent of these Shardholders are found in the Mistborn series between Preservation and Ruin. The Mistborn Trilogy, along with The Alloy of Law, are some of the best resources the fan community has for delving into the secrets of the Cosmere. More recently in The Way of Kings, we’ve been introduced to more of the Shardholders: the Almighty – also known as Honor and Odium.

Hoid

For every novel set in the Cosmere there is a single character that makes an appearance in each. The original Easter egg. This man’s name is Hoid and for reasons that are still unknown he plays a critical role in the events of the Cosmere as a whole. He has the ability to use another realm, known as Shadesmar, to travel between worlds at his own leisure.

In The Alloy of Law, his latest appearance, he’s a man dressed in black at the wedding in the beginning, talking to the newlyweds. While he doesn’t directly affect the plot, he remains a nod to those who know what to look for while reading.

Realmatic Theory

Realmatic Theory is the structure that exists within the Cosmere. It contains three realms that exist separately but work together to make the framework of much of the Shardworlds and the magic found within.

Sazed brought us our first real description of Realmatic Theory in Hero of Ages.

“I have come to see that each power has three aspects: a physical one, which can be seen in the creations made by Ruin and Preservation; a spiritual one in the unseen energy that permeates all of the world; and a cognitive one in the minds which controlled that energy.”

Physical
The Way of Kings (cover art)The physical realm is the most readily understood as it is merely the manifestation of the world as experienced by the characters, with properties similar to our own.

Spiritual
The little that is known about the Spiritual realm is that it is the site of the afterlife for much of the Shardworlds. Due to certain events in the world of Scadriel following the end of Mistborn: the Final Empire it can be assumed that the barriers separating the Physical and Spiritual Realms are not as firm as in our own world.

Cognitive
Information concerning the Cognitive Realm is sparse. One thing that is known for certain is that the Cognitive Realm is also known as Shadesmar, which makes a strong appearance in The Way of Kings as both Shallan and Jasnah travel there. Hoid also uses Shadesmar as his means to world-hop and travel where he is needed.

Brandon Sanderson has stated that there are a planned 34 novels that are connected to portray the overarching story of the Cosmere. Being that we’re only a quarter of the way there it’s safe to say we’ll have a Sanderson original to keep us company for years to come.

I wanted to make sure I pointed out that knowledge of the Cosmere and the behind the scenes information is not necessary to enjoy his books. Sanderson specifically crafted the Easter eggs to be purely bonus material. Also, not all of Brandon Sanderson’s works are a part of the Cosmere. A full list of published Cosmere books is posted below:

Elantris (2005)
Mistborn: The Final Empire (2006)
Mistborn: The Well of Acension (2007)
Mistborn: Hero of Ages (2008)
Warbreaker (2009)
The Way of Kings (2010)
Mistborn: The Alloy of Law (2011)
The Emperor’s Soul (2012)

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8 Comments

  1. Larik says:

    I really enjoyed this article. I knew about the Cosmere already, but it’s awesome to find out a lot more about it.

  2. Firyar says:

    I just became a huge fan of Sanderson’s works but I didn’t know that the books where connected…although I felt that some of them were somehow “similar”. Thank you for that article!

  3. I’ve heard he was originally in, and then removed from, The Emperor’s Soul as well.

  4. Pablo says:

    Nice article, it cleared up some questions that I had about the connection between worlds and Hoid.

  5. I knew about the Cosmere, but hadn’t delved as deep as this article. Very interesting that Brandon has done this.

  6. Elfy says:

    Good introduction for someone who has very little knowledge of this concept (I’ve only read Elantris, although I do intend to read more of his work), spoilers were kept to a minimum and that allows a beginner to discover things themself, while being armed with some useful background knowledge.

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