Mistborn: Secret History

April 1, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

historyMistborn: Secret History by Brandon Sanderson


I picked this up after finishing The Bands of Mourning, namely because Sanderson plugs it in the afterword of the novel. He stresses that the novella (which is longer than The Big Time by Fritz Leiber, which is considered a full novel, so I’ve totally lost sense of what a novella actually is) spoils the events of the first three books in the series, and also some of the Wax and Wayne books, so it’s intended to be read after The Bands of Mourning anyway. Since it’s difficult to to write about the story without spoiling those books, I’m giving you the spoiler warning now, Stop reading if you’re not caught up with the entire Mistborn series.

This novella feels largely unnecessary. It follows Kelsier after he is killed by the Lord Ruler at the end of The Final Empire, and he transports himself into the Well of Ascension, where his spirit remains bound on Cosmere. This means that he’s able to remain apprised of the broader events that are happening in Luthadel, but it also means that he’s involved with most of the major events of the larger story, too. To me, Kelsier always felt like a character who was only in the story to get the big events moving; he wasn’t a likable character, but his philosophy and involvement with the movement started the chain of events that became the Mistborn series. Now Sanderson wants to tell us that it was Kelsier involved with all of the major events of the series, making the overall story about him, instead of it being about the more interesting characters. In addition, there’s a total lack of characterization when it comes to Kelsier, meaning it’s harder to connect to what story there is in Secret History.

A lot of this novella is just showing Kelsier traveling. It’s not that he’s traveling and having encounters along the way to keep the story interesting; he’s just running from place to place. He does run into people along the way, but there are large portions of the narrative that have us watch him looking at his surroundings. What action does take place usually happens to other people, and it’s stuff that’s already happened in the main series. It’s dull, and pointless even, since the novella is intended for readers who are already familiar with the series, and Sanderson has already built his world and his story in those books.

The largest problem with Secret History is that it lacks story, opting instead to fill in a lot of background detail and answer questions no one was really asking. It reminded me a lot of how George Lucas spent a large part of Revenge of the Sith cramming as many of his characters and plot points into the story to make sure everything fit snugly together. Sanderson makes a big deal in his afterword that this novella took ten years to write, but I’m not sure why; I imagine some random person on the Internet could have written a fanfiction piece that would be about as good as this piece.

Another point that bothered me was that, once dead, Kelsier meets and speaks with God, whom he decides to name Fuzz, because, he says, he has to call him something. It didn’t work for me at all. It’s like Sanderson reached that point in his story, inserted “Fuzz” as a placeholder because he couldn’t come up with a better name, and then forgot to go back to make the replacement. I understand that it represents Kelsier’s irreverence in the face of a god, but every time I picked the story back up and saw Fuzz’s name again, it grated on me all over again.

The first three books in the Mistborn series were never my favorites, despite Sanderson playing with the tropes that make up most modern fantasy fiction. He made his stories less about prophecy and fate, and more about individuals and how they can affect history, but with Secret History, he reverts all of that back into a story about prophecy and fate. It’s disappointing, more so because I know Sanderson can write a compelling story.

The volume of four- and five-star reviews indicate that I’m in the minority when it comes to this novella, but I see it as pointless. It answers questions that didn’t require answers, and answers them with events that make the larger story even less interesting. So not only is it pointless, but it’s also counter-productive. I don’t see why anyone would want to waste the time or money on this story.

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