Arcanum Unbounded collects all of fantasy author Brandon Sanderson’s short fiction set within the Cosmere, a cosmos encompassing numerous planets on which operate diverse cultures and distinctive forms of magic, some of which are also host to power-bestowing Shards of a shattered god.
Each section is prefaced by a brief overview of the solar system in which the subsequent stories take place, with the only missing setting being the world of Warbreaker (as there are no other tales set there), while each tale is postscripted by Sanderson’s thoughts on its content and the inspiration behind writing it.
Beginning things strong is award-winning novella The Emperor’s Soul, in which a forger expert in magically altering the nature of objects must, under threat of execution, create an artificial soul to revive the empire’s recently assassinated ruler, who is only mostly dead. Although set on the same planet as Elantris it takes place in a different part of the world and so functions perfectly well as a standalone tale, and a pretty damn good one at that.
The Hope of Elantris, meanwhile, retells part of the novel’s climax from a different perspective. The weakest of the collection, it’s a somewhat melodramatic exercise, which the postscript freely admits.
The Eleventh Metal is a prequel short featuring Mistborn antihero Kelsier early in his training, revealing a man far more at the mercy of his rage than the accomplished warrior, thief and con man we meet in The Final Empire, and slightly expanding on the brief flashes of his backstory we became privy to, along with the subtlety by which unseen forces were already influencing him.
Allomancer Jak and the Pits of Eltania is a fantastically entertaining comedic outing, relaying an excerpt from the self-aggrandised autobiographical exploits of the eponymous adventurer, with regular sardonic footnotes (at least one per page) from his long-suffering companion pointing out grammatical errors and narrative inconsistencies. Imagine ‘60s TV series Batman as magical steampunk told in a first-person narrative with running commentary by Animated Series Alfred and you’re most of the way there.
Another novella, Mistborn: Secret History retells the surprise death of a significant character towards the climax of The Final Empire and continues on to relate their time as a spirit, confirming the subtle hints throughout the rest of the trilogy that their influence could still be felt, while also revealing the behind-the-scenes war of divine powers.
White Sand is a graphic novel series set on a desert world, partly focusing on the lowest member of an order whose members are stratified by their ability to control the magic of the planet’s sand. While the included excerpt is an engaging introduction, the colour comic is reprinted in black and white for obvious financial reasons, but in doing so is robbed of its true realisation. Added for contrast is the opening of the unpublished novel on which the comic was based, highlighting just how much better the story works in a visual medium.
Although laboriously titled, Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell is another highlight, telling of an innkeeper and her daughter who moonlight as bounty hunters, using the reward money to maintain the silver barriers around their remote tavern that hold at bay the malevolent shades haunting the vast forest in which they live. More a horror tale than fantasy, even in its short length it presents its wonderfully eerie setting fully formed and utterly compelling.
Like Shadows, Sixth of the Dusk takes place on a world not seen in any novel, featuring a tracker sailing around an uninhabited archipelago whose stock in trade is the islands’ bird species which bestow various psychic abilities, and whose way of life is in danger of being infringed upon by advancing civilisation. Although an interesting deconstruction of the ‘noble savage’ pulp archetype, the scope of the story feels too limited, despite including the frustratingly unelaborated revelation that at least one civilisation somewhere in the Cosmere has developed space flight.
Finishing things is the previously unpublished novella Edgedancer, featuring the teenage thief Lift from an interlude chapter in Words of Radiance being driven by a sense of obligation she doesn’t yet understand to attempt to prevent a murder. While Lift is one of the more interesting (and certainly less annoying) characters from the novel, the story still feels as incidental as her previous appearance, ultimately adding little to the sprawling narrative planned for the ongoing Stormlight Archive series.
Unbounded is a lengthy and mostly engaging collection; certainly one for
completists who are determined to learn all they can about the Cosmere and its
hidden secrets, and also people who just love well-crafted fantasy tales.
UNBOUNDED / AUTHOR: BRANDON SANDERSON / PUBLISHER: GOLLANCZ / RELEASE DATE: OUT