Book Review: The Sunlit Man (The Cosmere) by Brandon Sanderson

Book Review: The Sunlit Man (The Cosmere) by Brandon Sanderson

This review is a copy of the transcript of my video review of The Sunlit Man.

Cover art illustrated by Kudriaken

The Sunlit Man by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Series: The Cosmere

Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Epic fantasy

Word Count: 103,000 words

Pages: 447 pages (Kindle)

Published: 1st October 2023 by Dragonsteel Books (Kickstarter) & 10th October 2023 by Tor Books (US Ebook)/Gollancz (UK Ebook)

The Sunlit Man is a detailed exhibition of the bright future of Sanderson’s vision. Sooner or later, fans of the Cosmere must not miss reading this dedicated tribute novel from Brandon Sanderson to his readers.

“Ideals are like statues in the wind. They seem so permanent, but truth is, erosion happens subtly, constantly.”

Here we are. It has been one year and a half since Sanderson broke the record for the number one most-funded Kickstarter campaign with his four secret projects announcement. Today, The Year of Sanderson is over. The fourth and final secret project, The Sunlit Man, is here. And it has been read. My 2023 reading year has been sunnier thanks to the existence and anticipation of each secret project novel. To recap, after experiencing a drought of Cosmere novels since the release of Rhythm of War in November 2020, we have, in return, been blessed with four new Cosmere novels since November 2022. Yes, four Cosmere novels in less than a year. The Lost Metal, and three of the four secret project novels: Tress of the Emerald Sea, Yumi and the Nightmare Painter, and finally, The Sunlit Man. Where did The Sunlit Man rank in my excitement level? It was my second most anticipated secret project, immediately after Yumi and the Nightmare Painter. As a diehard fan of the Cosmere universe and The Stormlight Archive, it is imperative for me to read every book related to the series. Even if or when the story does not take place on Roshar, like this one. This is why The Sunlit Man was my second most anticipated secret project and the result? Well, honestly, I have mixed feelings about it. Let’s talk about it. And I will start by discussing some required reading first. And then, I will move on to talk about the parts that did not work with me first because I want to end this review on a more positive note.

“Nomad and the sky weren’t currently on speaking terms. But they’d been intimate for some time in the past, and he still knew his way around her place.”

If you haven’t been paying attention, Sanderson has mentioned that starting from The Lost Metal, many new book releases in the Cosmere universe will no longer put the Cosmere interconnections as Easter Eggs. And I believe that circumstance has been applied to The Sunlit Man. When Tress of the Emerald Sea and Yumi and the Nightmare Painter came out, the reading suggestions and guidelines for Sanderson’s Cosmere changed among reviewers. I’m not here to question or discuss any of those reading guides, but I do agree strongly that Tress of the Emerald Sea and Yumi and the Nightmare Painter can be read, and highly enjoyed without reading any other Cosmere books first. I have seen other readers reading any one of these two books as their first Sanderson novel and loving the heck out of them. But for The Sunlit Man, I do not think the book can be enjoyed without doing some required reading first. I cannot see it. As Sanderson said, this one is written for the fans of the Cosmere who have been there with him throughout his career. And the myriad of Cosmere terminologies and connections reflected that. My recommendation is this: do not read The Sunlit Man until you read at least all of The Stormlight Archive books, including Dawnshard novella. This isn’t merely to understand what the main characters frequently talk about but also to enhance your reading experience. I probably would have rated this book 2.5 or 3 stars if I hadn’t read all the books available in the Cosmere first. No kidding. I am caught up to the Cosmere, and even then, there were some frustrating parts caused by missing information and context that I, and everyone, can’t attain yet. Because, well, the books where the events the characters and I’m referring to aren’t published yet.

“But he could still hear. And somehow, in shutting out the light— there within the blackness of his own design— he felt something. Something of the person he’d once been. Words once spoken. In a moment of glorious radiance.”

The Sunlit Man is a story about Nomad. Years ago, he had comrades in arms and a cause to believe in, but now the man who calls himself Nomad knows only a life on the run. Forced to hop from world to world in the Cosmere whenever the relentless Night Brigade gets too close, Nomad lands on a new planet and is instantly caught up in the struggle between a tyrant and the rebels who want only to escape being turned into mindless slaves—all under the constant threat of a sunrise whose heat will melt the very stones. Unable to understand the language, can he navigate the conflict and gain enough power to leap offworld before his mind or body pays the ultimate price? That’s the premise of the novel.

Like the previous three books, there is a new storyline to tackle on this planet named Canticle, and it could make The Sunlit Man a standalone novel. But in my definition, it is not. As I said, it is possible to read Tress of the Emerald Sea and Yumi and the Nightmare Painter without reading any other Cosmere books first. One of the main reasons behind this is that the main characters in the new planet are new characters in the Cosmere. We haven’t seen them before in any other books. These books were their first appearance. Nomad is a supporting character in The Stormlight Archive. He has been there since the beginning of the series. The Sunlit Man takes place after the events of the unreleased book 5 of The Stormlight Archive. We don’t know how long exactly, but my point is this. His character’s background and many parts of his characterizations and development can be read in The Stormlight Archive. Not in The Sunlit Man.

“The winds made him remember who he had been: a man who would have died before treating people as he’d done today. No, the storm did not offer him refuge. As much as he liked the rain— as much as it felt right to him— the memories were too painful.”

In The Sunlit Man, the plotline and the significant character development are driven by Nomad’s determination to redeem himself over a supposedly horrible set of events we cannot read yet. And hearing Nomad saying he’s not the same man as before or he is stressing over key events he vaguely referred to repeatedly became seriously repetitive and annoying after a while. No, Nomad. I do not know what you’re talking about. The book hasn’t even been written yet. The book has not been published yet! Other than Nomad, there is another main character, Auxiliary, who is always together with Nomad. And again, for the same reason, because I couldn’t tell who he was or because the details of his origin are not written yet, it was difficult for me to feel invested in Aux’s predicament and struggle.

In most situations, I probably would not have minded withholding information up to this level. But it’s a different situation when the main character constantly refers to the event. It truly felt like I was missing, at least, a book I should read first. Technically, yes, I did. Everyone does. Having The Sunlit Man taking place decades after The Stormlight Archive 5 is the biggest reason why my enjoyment of it increased and decreased. It felt like Sanderson was telling us some events we should know have happened without showing them yet. Because of this, the pivotal moments did not feel earned or satisfying enough, which usually isn’t the case with Sanderson’s books. Usually, with Sanderson’s books, this kind of scene could make me skip a heartbeat with their immense impact. Here, I was like, “Ooohhh, that was cool.” And then, I move on to the next page. Fortunately, there were stunning interior illustrations to stamp these scenes in my mind more vividly. But more on this later. Let’s talk about the pacing.

“He put his hands to his skull, digging his fingers into the skin. How could he run so hard and never get anywhere? The journey was supposed to be the important part, wasn’t it? Why, then, was he so miserable?”

If you have read the previous three secret projects, you will know Sanderson employed an experimental voice or storytelling in his books. All four novels felt distinct from one another. And I loved Tress of the Emerald Sea and Yumi and the Nightmare Painter, but I couldn’t get with The Frugal Wizard. In this case, the tone and writing style in The Sunlit Man is undoubtedly more attuned to the mainline Cosmere novels, but the pacing is experimental. In The Sunlit Man, Sanderson intentionally utilizes breakneck pacing with non-stop action after action after action. And because Sanderson is already very limited in the character development of Nomad and Auxiliary because he MUST NOT spoil readers on the events that happened in The Stormlight Archive 5, this breakneck pacing made it even more challenging to care and feel invested in the character’s journey. There were not enough calm moments to develop the characters. The supporting characters, Elegy and Rebeke, felt forgettable and uninteresting. It is true I have read all the books in The Stormlight Archive, and again, Nomad has been there since The Way of Kings. However, most of Nomad’s inner struggle and conflict here relies on overcoming the events we haven’t read yet. But as a precious character in The Stormlight Archive said, despite not knowing the details of the events that transpired, moving forward with the book is the only path I have left for now.

“Conquest doesn’t remove countries… It removes lines on a map. Unity requires something else.”

That summed up my thoughts on the elements that did not click with me in this novel. I know. I know. I have been quite negative in my review so far. But rest assured, it is not all disappointing. My opinion is an unpopular opinion. And remember, most of the issues I had lie in the fact that I felt like I skipped reading some necessary books to read first before reading The Sunlit Man. I am 90% sure I would love The Sunlit Man more when I reread the book in the future after I read book 5 of The Stormlight Archive, and more new books in the universe. For now, what did I love about The Sunlit Man? The benefit from all of these? The compelling element of mysteries and questions raised based on what occurred were absolutely there. No doubt about it. And with Sanderson explicitly holding out information to not spoil the events of the unreleased or unwritten books, my excitement for the release of Knights of Wind and Truth, the tentative title for Stormlight Archive 5, has soared dramatically. This book works absolutely well as a teaser to make fans of the Cosmere and The Stormlight Archive exponentially more excited for the upcoming book 5 in November 2024. I was so stressed over not knowing the intricacies of what the hell had happened.

“That depended. In Nomad’s experience, it wasn’t when life was utterly terrible that people rebelled. It instead happened when life improved to the point that people had time to think, time to wonder. The capacity to imagine.”

And, of course, it goes without saying it was wonderful to visit a new world in the Cosmere universe. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to assume that, as time goes by and we have more books out in the universe, the future quality of Cosmere books will be bright. That said, the accessibility of the upcoming Cosmere books will, understandably, not be friendly to newcomers to the Cosmere. It has become a constant debate and question to ask where to start with reading Sanderson’s books? This past year, it has become more complicated and filled with nuance. Take The Sunlit Man, for example. As Sanderson said, this is a book written for the fans of the Cosmere, and as a fan, I am thrilled with all the inclusions of the terminologies and magic from other worlds I’ve read. Adonalsium. Hoid. Scadrial from Mistborn. Sel from Elantris and The Emperor’s Soul. Nalthis from Warbreaker. Roshar from The Stormlight Archive. Threnody from Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell. Or even those without any dedicated book yet, like Yolen. All of these played a part in The Sunlit Man, and I loved them all. It felt like Sanderson took us on a quick nostalgic trip regarding what we have known about the Cosmere, and my excitement for the future of this universe burns powerfully. Even though I am not satisfied with the missing information, the known callback to scenes, moments, and characters from the books available and already published in The Stormlight Archive was awesome. It made me realize I should pay more attention to Nomad when I reread The Stormlight Archive next year. Despite some of my criticisms, it is impossible to deny that the big moments in the final quarter of The Sunlit Man, accompanied by the colored artworks, were badass.

“Because… sometimes it’s not about you individually. Sometimes it’s about being a symbol. Sometimes you just adopt the name you’re given because it inspires people. I’ve seen it happen. Didn’t think it would happen to me.”

Finally, it is time to review the production value of The Sunlit Man Dragonsteel edition. Unlike the previous three secret projects, where one artist was tasked with illustrating both the cover and interior arts of one novel, Sanderson and the Dragonsteel team hired three artists to provide their skills for The Sunlit Man. First, we have Kudriaken, the cover artist. In my opinion, out of the four Secret Project novels, this is my favorite cover art. The red background, Nomad with his sword in the center, gold foiling, and black sprayed edges are a combination tough to beat. And at the back of the book, we have Elegy in the center with no text to disturb the artwork. Loved it. Ernanda Souza is in charge of the 6 fully colored illustrations. They are the front and back endpapers, and then 4 more interior arts. All of them look phenomenal. Souza captured the crucial scenes and elevated them with her vivid artwork. Without her contribution, I do not think these scenes would have such a strong effect on me. And the last artist, Nabetse Zitro, illustrated the other 11 black-and-white interior arts. This is where I felt underwhelmed. Zitro is an incredible artist. Look at his portfolio, and you will realize they are mind-blowing. The interior artworks in The Sunlit Man reflected only a fraction of Zitro’s usual high standard. It is unfortunate, but I honestly think the overall production value of The Sunlit Man Dragonsteel edition, priced at $40, is still superior to many other fantasy books in the same price range.

Overall, though still great and incredible in some sections, my rating for The Sunlit Man will have to be 3.5 stars for now. This makes The Sunlit Man, just like Elantris, the lowest-rated Cosmere novel for me. Fortunately, although The Sunlit Man was not as impressive as Tress of the Emerald Sea or Yumi and the Nightmare Painter, I have faith that my reading experience of it would improve so much in the future. Plus, 3.5 stars is still a good rating in my definition. As a concluding installment to The Year of Sanderson, The Sunlit Man is a fitting novel that allows readers of Cosmere to trace the past we had and experience the future of the universe. I want to thank Brandon Sanderson, Isaac Stewart, the entire Dragonsteel team, and all the artists—Howard Lyon, Steve Argyle, Aliya Chen, Kudriaken, Ernanda Souza, and Nabetse Zitro—involved in the creation of the four secret project novels. Now, the wait for Knights of Wind and Truth continues. Journey before destination. Let me end this review with a passage of gratitude and parting words from Sanderson.

“This is one of my last chances to talk to many of you about the wonderful event that was the Kickstarter, so let me take an extra moment to tell you why I dedicated this book to you, the fans. I sincerely believe that books don’t live until they’re read. While I think I’d write even if nobody was reading— it’s who I am— I thrive because I know the stories are being brought to life by all of you. In this, stories are a special kind of art, particularly ones written down. Each of you imagines this book, and its characters, a little differently— each of you puts your own stamp on it, making it yours. I don’t think a story is quite finished until that has happened to it— until the dream in my head has become a reality (even if briefly) in yours. And so this book is yours, as are all of them once you read them. Thank you so much for bringing life to my work, and to the Cosmere.”—Brandon Sanderson

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One thought on “Book Review: The Sunlit Man (The Cosmere) by Brandon Sanderson

  1. Spot on! I’m starting to lose Interest in Brandon’s books. When I see a familiar word that is out of context with the book I am reading, I feel disconnected. Like Roshar. I know I should know the word, but I cannot remember where. I leave the book and have to search through Google for a reference. Same thing happened in the last Wax and Wayne book. Except X100. I finally got my wife to read Brandon’s books. She loved The Reckoners and Elantris (my favorite!). Then she devoured Mistborn series and I convinced her to try Wax and Wayne. She just finished book 3 and I’m going to have to tell her to just ignore new names and powers since they are from other books. I’m getting older and it’s hard to remember all the cross references, especially ones that haven’t been published yet!

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