Defending Elysium: A Good Offense

Brandon Sanderson’s Defending Elysium treats readers to a short, fast-paced story set in the Cytoverse (Skyward). The story moves at the velocity of a spaceship; you’ll be able to finish it at lightspeed. Fans of the Cytoverse should consider this required reading for further context, while those who haven’t read Skyward can still appreciate the bite-sized journey into Sanderson’s sci-fi world. 

Jason Write works for the mysterious Phone Company, a shadowy organization that monopolized communication with alien species. He exchanges witticisms with Lanna via an earpiece as they coordinate their missions. Coln Abrams, an operative for the Northern Bell Phone Company, wants to know exactly what Jason’s business is on Evensong. An alien diplomat was murdered, and Coln thinks Jason knows more than he lets on. 

For a 14,000-word story, Defending Elysium packs a punch. The core of the story is a series of unraveling, intertwined mysteries surrounding Jason, Coln, and the larger society they navigate. In the preface, Sanderson claims he intended to bring many elements of his epic fantasy work into a short story format. In this goal, he largely succeeds. The story never feels overpopulated, even with multiple viewpoints. The pacing feels akin to a core Sanderson story despite its diminutive length. 

The characters are few, but they’re well-defined. Sanderson makes note of the Varvax communication style, for example, with Sonn. Sonn speaks with Jason a few times during the story, and we get to experience the hand motions that comprise much of Varvax conversation. Further, Jason knows about such gestures, showing us how some sectors of humanity have grown to understand these other species. Even Lanna, who is relegated to an earpiece for the majority of the narrative, feels distinct. She has a witty voice and delightful repartee with Jason, leading the reader to wonder at the nature of their relationship.

All of these elements are condensed into a 60-ish page sci-fi mystery with a peppering of action and classic Sanderson magic systems. Untangling the web of questions in Defending Elysium was a joy, and it was a breezy read. 

The density of the narrative, given the size of its delivery, also makes it hard to summarize the plot without giving much away. You know what that means—an incredibly short review! Skyward fans will revel in the connections to the core series while newcomers will enjoy a quick, fun story. No matter which bucks you fall into, you can read the story in full on Sanderson’s website

Rating: Defending Elysium – 8.0/10

Leave a Reply