Among fantasy fans, there are many who worship at the alters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, and George R.R. Martin. But with 2010’s The Way Of Kings — the first in a ten book series called which, like his Mistborn series, is set in The Cosmere — writer Brandon Sanderson added his name to that list in the minds of many readers. Though in the brief interview that follows, Sanderson explains, among other things, why you need not worry about The Cosmere or publication order when you read The Way Of Kings or its just published sequel, Words Of Radiance.
For those unfamiliar with The Stormlight Archive series, can you give us a short synopsis of what it’s about and how book two, the newly released Words Of Radiance, fits into the larger story?
I have no good one-liner on what The Stormlight Archive is about. I have great pitches for most of my other series, but I have a devil of a time explaining The Stormlight Archive because it’s about so many things. The Stormlight Archive is about the power of the divine put in the hands of men, what they do with it, how they interact with one another, and what the right way to use power and authority is. That’s a very vague description, but it’s what the core and the soul of the series is to me.
Now, you can go look at the books and say it’s about three people, or it’s about ten people, or it’s about twenty people. Who is it about? Is it Kaladin’s story? In a way it is. It’s a story of a young man who is trained as a surgeon, who is forced into war and finds out he’s really good at killing people, and he has to put aside his training from his father to protect people and instead kill them, walking that line and deciding, “Can I fight in order to protect?” That’s his story. That’s a little piece of it. It’s also Dalinar’s story, where Dalinar is tasked with restoring ten orders of knights, when he doesn’t even understand who they were, and tries to delve into who they were and what happened to them.
You’ve said that The Stormlight Archive will be a ten book series, which will be split into two series of five books each. Without giving anything away, of course, how much of the series do you have figured out?
I am an outliner, very naturally. I can’t start a story unless I know how it’s ending. So I have the ten books worked out in my head. I’m very sure that it’s ten books, and know what I’m doing in each one.
As the writer of a fantasy series, you’re legally required to be influenced by J.R.R. Tolkien and Robert E. Howard. But I’m curious as to what non-fantasy writers and books you see as being an influence on your work?
The main non-fantasy work that I often reference is [Victor Hugo’s] Les Misérables, because I love its ability to depict heroism and villainy in various lights while making the characters noble yet real.
The Stormlight Archive is set in what you call The Cosmere, which is also the setting of your Mistborn series. What was the inspiration to create this all-encompassing universe and what has it added to your novels that wouldn’t have been there if they were all set in their own worlds?
Back when I was still trying to get published, I would write the first book in a series and then send it out to publishers and agents. I decided early on to not write sequels while still in the process of finding a publisher. If I can’t sell book one in a series, why would they buy book two? So I wrote a lot of first books in series. At some point, I was inspired by Michael Moorcock’s Multiverse, and the way Isaac Asimov eventually connected his Foundation novels and robot novels, to write a “stealth” series into the background of my novels.
All of The Cosmere stuff, the interconnection between my books and all these wonderful little things, are right now mostly Easter eggs. Which means that if you spend the whole book only worried about The Cosmere, you’re going to miss the beauty and fun that is the book that you’re taking part in. I often say to people not to worry if you read them “out of order,” because it’s all Easter eggs right now. Don’t worry and stress if you miss something about The Cosmere, because while someday that might be important, you first need to enjoy the book that you’re taking part in.
Finally, you’ve written quite a few books aside from the two in The Stormlight Archive series. If someone read and enjoyed The Way Of Kings and Words Of Radiance and wanted to read other books of yours, which novels or series of novels would you recommend they read next and why?
I would probably give them the Mistborn series [2006’s Mistborn: The Final Empire, 2007’s Mistborn: The Well Of Ascension, and 2008’s Mistborn: The Hero Of Ages], because it is so tight as a trilogy, done and finished. If people are reading Stormlight they want something expansive, and Mistborn is the most expansive of the other projects I have.