These first of Brandon Sanderson’s publications provide an excellent glimpse into the writing history of the author who would write Elantris, Mistborn, and The Way of Kings. These two short narratives, each about 75 pages in length and far simpler than anything else he’s written, still bear all the hallmarks of the type of story structure and dialogue tendencies that make the Cosmere novels the best fantasy I’ve ever read, and are a good investment for completionists and those who enjoy the worlds that Sanderson creates.
The better of the two, Firstborn channels the last 50 pages of Ender’s Game with a discussion about the fear of and ability to deal with failure. The story follows a pair of brothers–not altogether unlike Adolin and Renarin Kholin from The Stormlight Archive–whose separation is as near-total as it gets; twenty years apart in age, and further still in ability level, with opposite color hair and no real sense of each other. The elder, a commander of forces with a perfect record has left an impossibly high standard by which the other, a winless graduate harrowed by the family legacy, must live.
The characters are developed first and foremost through the efficient plot through the familiarly excellent climax and thematically solid resolution, and while all else is forsaken for the development of character, the story generates a significant conflict and resolves it satisfyingly, if a but abruptly.
Sanderson’s introduction to this short story clarifies its almost impossible pace: he tells us there that he did not reduce the density of the world, its conflict, or its history for the sake of its length.
This second, marginally weaker story shows Sanderson’s early work as a writer of crime fiction, with a murder occupying the central conflict and its investigation providing all of the context for the eventual resolution of the story. It’s really the first space opera piece that we’ve read by him, but the contains familiar and unfamiliar elements of the genre. Other hallmarks include the investiture of a superhuman power system that goes rather undefined, but plays a large part in the story’s resolution.
That density and pace make it all happen a bit too fast, and the story ended before all of my questions were answered, but Sanderson gives a fascinating look at human motivation, spirituality, and healthy self-concepts that lead to wider heroic questions. Many of his protagonists that follow–Vin and Kaladin being the first two that come to mind–enjoy a similar road to their central place in their respective conflicts.
These stories show a rawer sense of language and story structure, but as they were conceived and written almost a decade and a half ago, this should come as no surprise. What they do illustrate are Sanderson’s early thought processes and interests, and given the impossibly deep world-building and tight, detail-oriented plotting of each Cosmere installment that follow, fans should enjoy having a look at some of his earliest work. If you haven’t read the Cosmere novels, especially The Way of Kings or Words of Radiance, these shorts can wait, but are certainly worth a look while you’re waiting for Sanderson’s next to hit bookshelves.
PRIORITY RATING: 7/10