SALT LAKE CITY — Utah author Brandon Sanderson wanted to know what would happen if the bad guy won.
“What if Frodo (from 'Lord of the Rings') had gotten to the end of the long journey through Mordor and the Dark Lord Sauron said, ‘Hey, that’s my ring. Thanks for bringing it back,” Sanderson said in an email interview.
“I was really intrigued by the idea of a world where the Dark Lord had won,” he said.
The concept became the foundation for one of the most influential fantasy series in the last several decades.
“'Mistborn' takes place a thousand years after heroes went on that sort of epic journey, but failed,” said Sanderson. “Now the story’s about a gang of thieves who decide they’re going to rob the Dark Lord.”
The “Mistborn” series will eventually consist of as many as 13 books — three trilogies and one tetralogy. The first series, which has a traditional fantasy setting, was completed a decade ago when Sanderson's publisher, Tor Books, released "Mistborn: The Hero of Ages" in October 2008. The second series takes place generations later in a Wild West setting. The third series will take place in a contemporary setting and the fourth series will transition far into the future and mix together fantasy and sci-fi.
The novels have been a hit with fans in large part because of Sanderson’s unique approach to magic. The Utah author has developed a series of rules for magic in which the focus is not on a mystical hocus pocus in which anything goes, but rather a world in which there are known rules governing the magic.
This unique focus allows readers to sympathize with the books' heroine, Vin, as she moves from situation to situation. Readers are more aware of the dangers she faces when the rules of magic limit her ability to fight or run away and are more inclined to feel anticipation when the rules suggest she is about to experience a new level of magical power.
“It grounds us in a sense that this is a world that really could exist,” said Devi Pillai, associate publisher at Tor Books, in an email interview. Pillai has admired Sanderson’s work from those early days.
“When Brandon’s debut novel, ‘Elantris,’ appeared in 2005, I was an editor at Orbit and I was overcome with jealousy that I hadn’t seen this amazing writer first,” she said.
“Once you fall into his storytelling, you want to stay there forever,” she continued. “This is what gives his work its profound appeal and its robust staying power.”
Sanderson is humbled by the widespread acclaim the series has received over its first decade. He also looks back fondly upon the relative freedom he had as a new author writing “Mistborn.”
“It’s very nostalgic for me to remember sitting and working on those books without any real deadlines or pressure,” Sanderson said.
“There was a nice emotion there where I knew I was a professional, knew that I was getting published and ‘Elantris’ would be coming out, but also not yet having the chaos that can come with the success I have now,” he said.
Success has a way of changing people for the worse, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with Sanderson.
“If I could tell fans one thing about Brandon, it’s this: He’s the real deal,” said Isaac Stewart, a personal friend of Sanderson and a renowned fantasy book artist in his own right. “He’s the kind of person you want your kids emulating. He is one the best people I have ever known.”
Stewart believes Sanderson’s personal attributes contribute to an uplifting tone that sets his books apart.
“The trend (in new fantasy novels) seems to have been toward grittier and darker fantasy. That’s not to say there’s not a place for fantasy like that, but I do find Brandon’s hopeful outlook on the world refreshing,” Stewart said. “Even during the darkest parts of his books, there’s usually a light in the darkness that the characters can cling to.”
Fans can likely expect a similar theme of hope as Sanderson moves on with the series and its significant changes in the setting.
“I’m very excited by the idea of exploring the future of the ‘Mistborn’ world,” Sanderson said. “I love mixing technology and magic together in interesting ways. I think the next series is going to take some really interesting steps in that direction.”4 comments on this story
As for how Sanderson’s work will be viewed when the next books are released as well as how the whole series will hold up in years to come, Stewart places Sanderson among the great writers.
“If (J.R.R.) Tolkien was sort of the Shakespeare of fantasy," Stewart said, "I hope that someday Brandon is regarded as the Victor Hugo or Charles Dickens.
“I hope readers outside of the fantasy community will also find the value in his stories and feel their lives are better for having read them.”