I don’t talk a lot about Brandon Sanderson for two reasons. One, most people already know and read him. He is an extremely successful author, for good reason, and people don’t need me to help discover him. Two, I really, really like his work and I do my best not to review books I know I am going to unconstructively gush about. However, recently Sanderson has released a new book, Arcanum Unbounded, which I really enjoyed – but works as a great case study in why Sanderson is one of my all time favorite authors: he is simply playing an entirely different game than anyone else out there.
What do I mean when I say he is playing a different game? To put it better, I think Sanderson has one of the most impressive writing styles I’ve seen. He sets different goals from many other traditional fantasy writers and has built a relationship with his readers beyond what other authors have achieved. See while most writers are focused on creating a successful book that people want to read, Sanderson’s focus is on telling stories- and while the difference might seem like pretentious pedantic line drawing to you, it makes a very big difference to me. Of course, Sanderson wants to have successful books as well, I am not trying to deify him as an altruistic writing god – but when you listen to how Brandon talks about making his stories you can tell that he just wants to bring you into his a world/universe. He is one of the most prolific writers on the scene today, consistently publishing 1-3 books a year (often giant in size). When I once asked him why/how he writes so much, he told me something that has stuck with me to this day: I have a lot of stories to tell you, a lot of worlds I want to show you. If I don’t keep churning them out and putting them on paper, I am going to die before I have a chance to take you to them all.
So what does this all have to do with Arcanum Unbounded? Well if you do not know, and it’s totally fine if you don’t, a large portion of Sanderson’s books all take place in the same universe. While all his stories are almost completely independent, he has had some minor crossovers throughout his books – for example a planet hopper who shows up in every book to give sage advice to protagonists. Sanderson has always stated that he wants his series to both have an independent identity (which he has succeeded at) and to eventually come together into a larger picture. Arcanum Unbounded is his first major step toward unifying all of his worlds and series. Arcanum is a collection of short stories both from worlds that Sanderson has already written about and those he plans to explore in the future. When I went into the book I was expecting some short pieces that were fun and well written and starting to give us a glance at Sanderson’s long term plan. This is exactly what I got, but the stories and the plan blew my expectations out of the water.
While the entire collection is characteristically great, The Emperor’s Soul is the standout story (and it won a Hugo for best short story). The collection is more beautiful and detailed than I expected. Sanderson’s plan and universe is bigger and better than I imagined. .He stretches my imagination further than he has before, employing art and a level of detail I didn’t think was possible in a book. Like a literary Matryoshka doll, there were layers upon layers of storytelling on both a micro and macroscopic level. As with everything he does, the scope that Arcanum reveals is astounding and if there is any writer I trust to deliver on big promises it is Brandon.
Normally when I read a book, I spend a lot of time making notes and recording my feelings and thoughts so I can write detailed and informed reviews after. While reading this book I had the rare experience of just being awestruck and losing myself in its pages. The first bits of Sanderson’s master plan defied my imagination and filled me with the kind of excitement you get from something you have never seen before or an idea you never considered. In one of the short stories in the collection, one character asks another if they are sure they want answers to the questions they ask – because once you get the answers, you will understand how small your current problems are and how big the universe’s problems can be. I agree with this statement completely, and due to it I do not recommend Arcanum until you have at a minimum read his Stormlight series, Mistborn series, Elantris, and Warbreaker. They are all amazing stories in their own right, so it won’t be so bad I promise. Once you do, I whole heartedly recommend you pick up this beautiful collection and start to find out what Sanderson has in store for us. The Arcanum Unbounded is designed as a piece for Sanderson readers who have read his greater catalogue and want to look behind the curtain in OZ; except instead of finding a frail old man at the controls, we truly find a wizard.
Rating: Arcanum Unbounded – 10/10