I mentioned back on my birthday post that Brandon Sanderson had announced a special kickstarter that involved twelve months of surprises, including eight swag boxes and four books he wrote in secret during the pandemic. In the weeks since that announcement, Sanderson’s newsletter has released the titles and preview chapters for each of the four novels. Three are in the Cosmere, one is not.
[The Cosmere is a universe that links together many of Sanderson’s books. There are some underlying elements that created and continue to influence the different parts of the Cosmere. The magic systems, though unique to each location, have commonalities the tie them all together. Additionally, there are ways to travel between worlds, and certain characters are known as world-hoppers. The most famous (or infamous) world-hopper is Hoid, who shows up in most (all?) of the Cosmere books, whether in major or minor capacity. Each series or single-book in the Cosmere can be read without reference to the greater whole, but it’s so much more fun to cross-reference, gather clues, and connect the Cosmere books.]
I’m not one of those people who avoided reading the title or preview chapters of these books, and I’m going to give my brief thoughts on each one below. If you’re one of those people who don’t even want to know what these books are called at this point, it’s time to turn away now. (But honestly, I don’t think I have many Cosmere-fans as readers?)
1. Tress of the Emerald Sea: I’m in two minds about this book so far. The story itself seems quite interesting, and I look forward to seeing where it goes. However, I’m not terribly enamored of the narrative voice. It sounds like second-person (addressing the reader as “you”), but it’s actually a story being told from one person to another. More specifically, this is a story that Hoid is telling. Hoid has told stories in former books, but has never fully narrated a book. And here’s the thing: While I love Hoid and I think his stories add value to the books, I despise the way he tells them. He has this flippant, whimsical, satirical voice that grates on me, so I tend to skip his stories on my rereads. (I know. It’s like Cosmere heresy.) I will say that Hoid’s storytelling voice actually lends itself well to the fairytale-like feel to this story. However, I know the story will get more serious as it moves past those introductory chapters, and I hope Hoid’s narration evolves accordingly! Also, I hope there’s a really, really good audio-narrator chosen for this book!
2. The Frugal Wizard’s Handbook for Surviving Medieval England: This is the only one of these books not set in the Cosmere. The chapters I read came off as a bit of an amnesia-comedy-thriller, which isn’t really my thing. However, I trust Sanderson to make it something I love, as he has converted me on several premises/genres that I didn’t think I’d get into. Still, of the four previews I read, this was probably the one I was least invested in.
3. Yumi and the Nightmare Painter: This is a sort of Freaky Friday tale involving two different Cosmere worlds (I think?), and I really, really like it so far. Mostly. Because once again, there is a first-person-telling-a-story narration from Hoid in this novel. It’s not quite the same whimsical, fairy-telling vibe as in Tress, but more of his action-packed, sarcastic tone. It still sounds exactly like Hoid, though. Props to Sanderson for pulling off two entirely different narrative voices that both sound exactly like this guy’s style. Would I have preferred a non-storytelling narrative voice? Yes. Still, I think of the three read up to this point, this will end up being my favorite. It’s definitely more traditionally Cosmere, at least as far as the preview chapters show.
4. The Sunlit Man: This book is Stormlight-adjacent, so by default, it was the one I was most interested in. It was also written in more traditional Sanderson style, and in third-person rather than first-person. He explains that he did this intentionally, so that not all the secret books releasing would be in unusual voices for readers. Anyway, we were given ten chapters of The Sunlit Man to read, and I can definitely say this is my favorite of the books as of the previews. Will I like Yumi and the Nightmare Painter more? Possibly. It has the potential to be a really interesting book. But The Sunlit Man involves a character that I already know (and I spent the whole of the preview speculating on who it might be, and my primary guess was correct!), and some very deep Cosmere ties just in these first few chapters. It takes place well-after Stormlight – or at least well-after the fifth book – so there are some (minor?) spoilers related to this character, but Sanderson stated that he explicitly thinks this book should be read before Stormlight 5. All in all, I’m very intrigued, and even more impatient for Stormlight 5 (not scheduled until late 2023/early 2024!).
Notes on these chapters: The preview chapters are not final – not entirely rough draft but not in final form yet either, and subject to change. In the past, Sanderson has read aloud some preview chapters from other books (like Skyward), and I’ve noticed a distinct sharpening from the rough to published versions.
So these are my mini-reviews of unpublished, subject-to change preview chapters of four books. Ha! I look forward to reading the full versions next year!!! It’ll be fun to see how my thoughts on these four books change as I read each one.