Reviewing the biggest Kickstarter ever: Sanderson’s Secret Projects and the Journey from ‘Tress’ to the ‘Sunlit Man’!
In March 2022, Brandon Sanderson shocked the publishing world with the most successful Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign in history, for four novels he wrote in secret during the COVID-19 pandemic. With premium hardcovers, ebooks, and audiobooks available to crowdfunding backers in 2023 on January 1, April 1, July 1, and October 1, the second ebook will be available here in wide release on April 11, and is now available for preorder.
Those are not my words but those of every media outlet when my favorite Fantasy-Novelist’s Kickstarter titled ‘Surprise! Four Secret Novels by Brandon Sanderson’ blew past $20M in the first 72 hours to become the most-funded Kickstarter of all time. As of September 29, 2023, this Kickstarter has been backed by 185,341 backers who pledged $41,754,153 to help bring this project to life.
This is a remarkable amount for any author. In the past, I have only seen Kickstarter becoming the launchpad for many tabletop games, tech gadgets, and other tech-related products. For an author to surpass so many other highly-pledged Kickstarters and place their books at the highest rung of the ladder is truly inspirational for all budding authors and artists out there!
As a Sanderson fan, who fell in love with his novels right from the first book of the Mistborn Trilogy, I felt out-of-the-cosmere when I realized Sanderson was publishing not one, not two, not even three… but four novels in 2023 — officially, making 2023 ‘The Year Of Sanderson’, and rightly so! Every secret novel (out of the four) was to be released, every three months, starting from January up until October. The names of the novels along with their covert art were kept a secret too for the readers until the book was officially released.
I can’t tell you how long I have waited to write this article. I thought I would write a review for Tress, but ended up waiting to see what’s more in the Cosmere… then came The Frugal Wizzard, which made me take some more interesting notes for review, finally I was about to burst after Yumi came out but somehow stayed calm for another two months waiting for… Sunlit Man! And now that, all four have come out, I am glad for other Sanderson fans as well as myself — I can finally rant my heart out for these Novels!
Let’s go in chronological order and I will make sure to provide the official synopsis for each novel so no one is lost (also, you don’t need to worry if you don’t know the Cosmere that well as Sanderson has written them as standalone novels).
1. Tress of the Emerald Sea (Cosmere)
The only life Tress has known on her island home in an emerald-green ocean has been a simple one, with the simple pleasures of collecting cups brought by sailors from faraway lands and listening to stories told by her friend Charlie. But when his father takes him on a voyage to find a bride and disaster strikes, Tress must stow away on a ship and seek the Sorceress of the deadly Midnight Sea. Amid the spore oceans where pirates abound, can Tress leave her simple life behind and make her place sailing a sea where a single drop of water can mean instant death?
What I loved about this Novel
The fairy-tale-like feeling. The book starts just like every fairy tale — a princess stranded on an Island, separated from her lover. Except, Tress is no princess and she isn’t helpless. She does find it difficult to escape the Island when her lover goes missing but she does overcome it and goes out of the way to save him. As a reader, I could feel the mental turmoil Tress goes through during the entire ship journey — deciding who to befriend, persevering to be a part of the pirate ship, surviving the dark sea, and wondering if she would ever be the same shy girl again after the deadly journey. The emotions are so well portrayed that you would feel you are on this journey with Tress all along.
Also, this book is in Hoid’s voice — our quirky, funny, awesome Hoid. He loves hopping across different planets in the Cosmere and now he has landed on Tress’s planet and more specifically, into a problem — He has been bewitched and can’t speak clearly. He ends up doing crazy stuff now and then but appears as the Classic Saviour towards the end. Gosh, it was so good to see him appear that way. As someone who went through all the other Cosmere novels except the Stormlight Archive, it was great to see Hoid present throughout the book instead of making small cameos.
What I wished to see more
This is going to be difficult because I have so little to add to this great story. Tress seemed perfect in her story. We could see her transformation so vividly right through the pages. I would love to read more about Tress. Unlike, other Cosmere heroes she doesn’t embark on a journey to kill some tyrant or topple any system. She just fought to be united with Charlie again. I wonder how she will connect to other heroes in the cosmere who are more of the fighter type. Guess, we will just have to wait and read.
My Rating: 4.5/5
2. The Frugal Wizard’s Handbook for Surviving Medieval England (Non-Cosmere)
A man awakes in a clearing in what appears to be medieval England with no memory of who he is, where he came from, or why he is there. Chased by a group from his own time, his sole hope for survival lies in regaining his missing memories, making allies among the locals, and perhaps even trusting in their superstitious boasts. His only help from the “real world” should have been a guidebook entitled The Frugal Wizard’s Handbook for Surviving Medieval England, except his copy exploded during transit. The few fragments he managed to save provide clues to his situation, but can he figure them out in time to survive?
What I loved about this Novel
This book was a deep spiral… into my subconscious. Especially, anyone who has experienced the imposter syndrome or faced multiple rejections at some point in their life would love this book. It draws a great character sketch of our protagonist who feels unsure and not-so-ready to face and fight his past to defeat his enemies in the present… in an alternate dimension. Again, Sanderson does a wonderful job of bringing the emotions and thoughts of his character on paper. I might have made it sound very grey, but no worries, our hero finds his way out eventually (it’s not so grey at the end).
There are a bunch of things you will wonder about our world while reading this book. Since it’s based in an alternated dimension on Earth — lots of conventional ideas are challenged. There was this great epiphany when the people in the alternate dimension (belonging to medieval times) were amazed to see our hero… draw. Like literally just, draw and sketch. It blew their minds to see 2D figures. I love such kinds of books that challenge the reality of some things we consider so normal and meh.
What I wished to see more
This was my first non-cosmere novel of Sanderson. It was a great read but the story left me hanging towards the middle of the book. I wasn’t thrilled to keep on reading like I usually do for other cosmere novels. At some point, the over-contemplation of the protagonist through me off board. However, the book did pick up towards the end but again, the ending didn’t seem so great.
The world-building in this book didn’t seem as great as some of the other standalone cosmere novels like Elantris (I have no idea why everyone says Elantris is his weakest book, I love it).
My Rating: 3.5/5
3. Yumi and the Nightmare Painter (Cosmere)
Yumi has spent her entire life in strict obedience, granting her the power to summon the spirits that bestow vital aid upon her society―but she longs for even a single day as a normal person. Painter patrols the dark streets dreaming of being a hero―a goal that has led to nothing but heartache and isolation, leaving him always on the outside looking in. In their own ways, both of them face the world alone.
Suddenly flung together, Yumi and Painter must strive to right the wrongs in both their lives, reconciling their past and present while maintaining the precarious balance of each of their worlds. If they cannot unravel the mystery of what brought them together before it’s too late, they risk forever losing not only the bond growing between them, but the very worlds they’ve always struggled to protect.
What I loved about this Novel
This book is an anime written in 400 pages. And that’s what I love about it. I am not a huge anime binge-watcher but I have loved the theme and story of almost all the ones I have watched. Sanderson himself wanted to write this one like an anime and he nailed it. Yumi and the Painter’s world is so beautifully portrayed — the magic of Hion lines, the spirit-calling procedure by laying stones one atop the other. The chemistry building between Yumi and the Painter is even more amazing. The dramatic storytelling — Yumi’s misunderstandings about the Painter’s World, Painter’s loneliness and his estranged friends, Yumi’s makeover, and the climax, will keep your eyes pinned to the book until you reach the very last word.
Again, the story is narrated by our favorite storyteller— Hoid. Just like last time, he is in trouble again. This time he’s just plain frozen. But there’s not a single scene involving Hoid (physically) that will fail to amuse you. Boy, I wish Hoid has some good luck on his next Cosmere hop.
What I wished to see more:
Yikes! Again, I am at a loss for words. Everything in Yumi and the Painter’s world seemed so perfect. Maybe, I would have loved to see the ending being not so jolly. While I enjoyed, the anime-like flavor of this novel, I was half-expecting it to end in a sad tone for one of our heroes. For some reason, I felt the whole story was building up to it. Nevertheless, I am happing it ended on a good note.
My Rating: 5/5
4. The Sunlit Man (Cosmere)
Running. Putting distance between himself and the relentless Night Brigade has been Nomad’s strategy for years. Staying one or two steps ahead of his pursuers by skipping through the Cosmere from one world to the next.
But now, his powers too depleted to escape, Nomad finds himself trapped on Canticle, a planet that will kill anyone who doesn’t keep moving. Fleeing the fires of a sunrise that melts the very stones, he is instantly caught up in the struggle between a heartless tyrant and the brave rebels who defy him.
Failure means a quick death, incinerated by the sun…or a lifetime as a mindless slave. Tormented by the consequences of his past, Nomad must fight not only for his survival — but also for his very soul.
What I loved about this Novel
I had been warned — don’t read this novel without finishing Stormlight Archive first. Did I listen? Absolutely Not! I just went ahead and took in the spoilers because here’s the thing — I don’t expect my mind to remember them by the time I read the 1000 pages+ ‘The Way of Kings’. It’s been a day since I finished this last Secret Project and I am so glad I read it. Nomad’s story seems like the classic lonely adventurer story infused with Sanderson’s sci-fi magic. It does the job pretty well with building a new world along with some great chemistry between the characters.
If you have read Stormlight, you might have more context about Nomad’s journey otherwise you are going to be like me — enjoying the great banter between the hero and his valet. Auxillary, the hero, was so good in this book. So good that I don’t want Jarvis as my AI Assistant anymore. Aux it is! The long quirky names of the people of Canticle were amusing especially: Adonalsium-Will-Take-Remeber-Our Plight or something of that sort. For some reason, I didn’t find Hoid making a cameo in this Cosmere novel… or I think I just missed it somehow.
What I wished to see more
Since I don’t have enough context from the rest of the novels in which Nomad’s journey takes place, I am not sure if I am the right person to add in anything. I wished Nomad had left some sign for the people of Canticle towards the end but no worries! I trust Sanderson will somehow bring and link everything together in future cosmere novels. Also, did we just get a sign of Mistborn Series Three from this book? Scadrians researching Canticle— seems like science has progressed far on Scadrial. Can’t wait to read more on this.
My Rating: 4/5
That’s been my review of the four Secret Projects. It’s been such a great year for us Sanderson fans. Both Sci-Fi and Cosmere lovers have even more reasons to fall in love with Sanderson’s work.
I would like to take a moment to not just thank but also congratulate Brandon Sanderson on this out-of-the-world Kickstarter and the great success of ‘The Year Of Sanderson’. Also, kudos to the great illustrators who brought the lives of Tress, Frugal Wizard, Yumi, and Sunlit to life! The illustrations were amazing and so refreshing.
While I am glad I read all four secret projects this year itself without worrying about the spoilers in the last book, I can’t wait to read more. I am right now in the middle of ‘The Way of Kings’ which is the first book of Stormlight Archive. It’s been 4 months now and the book has been a slow-read for me, with tons of new characters and magic systems to take in. However, the fourth Secret Project — The Sunlit Man, with all of its spoilers, somehow is now acting like a catalyst in this Cosmere journey for me. I am more excited to read Stormlight and discuss it with others like I did for Mistborn. So for that, I am grateful for these Secret Projects!
What about you all? Have you read any of these Secret Projects yet (not so secret anymore)? Or have you decided to start on any after reading this article? Let me know about that in the comments below.
Also, if you are looking forward to buying any of the four novels from ‘The Year of Sanderson’, consider buying them from the link below — you would be getting them from Amazon at no extra cost and would also be able to support me:
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