It began with a young hero, an unknown peasant boy who rose out of obscurity. The boy was an unlikely savior, but something—whether it be fate, prophecy, or God—guided him from birth. Eventually, he came to an understanding of his true power and truer purpose, becoming a leader of men and a champion of virtue.
He was counseled by the best minds of his time, earning companions both wise and quick-tongued. He gathered brave armies to his banner, unifying squabbling kingdoms beneath a single head. He dared to challenge an evil power that all assumed could not be defeated. The evil power itself fell prey to such assumptions and, secure in its own invulnerability, ignored the Hero until it was too late.
Eventually, after numerous conflicts, the fate of the world came down to a single, massive battle between good and evil. The Hero rode at the head of his gathered forces. You know what he looked like—you’ve seen him before. He was tall and proud, with hair that glistened so brightly in the sun that it seemed radiant itself. His jaw was firm, his body muscular and firm, his face determined and wise beyond its years. Yet, at the same time, the Hero’s face retained a bit of its boyish charm, as if to indicate that despite all he had been through, he still remembered the innocence that had guided him so well in his youth. He was confident, but at the same time uncertain of his own merits, and it was this humility that made him such a powerful leader.
The Hero’s forces met those of the Dark One, fighting for final control of the world. The Hero’s armies struggled valiantly, standing firm before foe’s superior numbers. Then somehow, despite the odds and battlefield chaos, the Hero and the Dark One met in single combat.
You can see what happens next. The Hero duels with his enemy. Mighty though he may be, the Hero looks small and weak before the Dark One, who carries with him all the powers of a Demon God. The Hero is like a tiny candle before an oppressive night. Yet his light is a sure one, unwavering and true. The Hero struggles on, fighting a hopeless fight, nearly crushed beneath an overwhelming foe.
You are not worried.
No matter how hopeless the fight seems, no matter how impossible the Hero’s odds, you are not afraid. You have seen this story before. You know the Hero will win; you know that when the odds look the worst, the Hero’s success is most certain. Somehow, he will find a hole in the Dark One’s armor. Somehow, his virtue and power will prevail. You know how the story will end.
Except this time, something went wrong.
Assistant Peter’s commentary: If you’re a Brandon Sanderson fan, this should sound familiar. Not as the scenario that sets up Warbreaker, but the one that sets up Mistborn.
When Brandon shelved Mythwalker in August 2001 because he felt it wasn’t working (one of its issues was that it felt clichéd, but there are other issues that I’ll discuss following later chapters), he planned to get back to it eventually. The next book he wrote was called Mistborn—but it wasn’t the book you all know and love. Instead, it was the book now known as Mistborn Prime, Brandon’s first attempt at writing a short (potentially more marketable) fantasy novel instead of the 250,000-word books like Elantris that he was used to writing. This was followed by Aether of Night and another book called The Final Empire (also now known with a “Prime” designation).
Though Brandon finished those three books, they were all failures for one reason or another. Brandon just didn’t know how to write a shorter book successfully; what he cut out in order to keep the length down ended up sucking the heart out of the narrative in some way. So at that point he decided, “To heck with trying to be more commercial. I’m going to write the book I’ve always wanted to write, and if it never gets published, so be it.”
The book Brandon wrote then was named The Way of Kings, and it was a 300,000-word epic with six major viewpoint characters and a far-flung plot with a massive scope. Yet even that is not the book you now know; it too now bears a “Prime” designation. It was, unlike the previous four books, a problem of ambition. In writing the vast epic that he had always wanted to write, Brandon bit off more than he could chew. He did not yet have the writing skill to pull it off.
The Way of Kings Prime also started a new phase in Brandon’s writing: the age of cannibalization. Brandon started reaching back into previous novels and removing elements that worked in order to fit them into a new story. This was an acknowledgment that the old novels weren’t going anywhere as far as publication goes, so he might as well make use of what good they had to offer.
Yet this too would prove premature in The Way of Kings, because the piece of a previous novel that he used was the seafaring nation of Svorden from Elantris. And when he was almost finished writing the novel, he got a call from Moshe Feder at Tor wanting to buy Elantris. (It had sat on Moshe’s desk unread for a year and a half, so Brandon assumed he would never hear anything.) Moshe wanted to offer Brandon a two-book contract, so The Way of Kings was bundled into the deal. This of course meant that Svorden had to be taken back out of The Way of Kings, but in this case it was a simple matter of changing the name (to Lakhenran, in case you were curious).
But when The Way of Kings turned out to be overambitious, Brandon instead decided to write something different to fill the second slot in the two-book contract. And that brought the age of cannibalization to full boil. Mistborn: The Final Empire pulled huge elements from Mistborn Prime, Final Empire Prime, The Aether of Night, and Mythwalker. The end result shows that Brandon made the right choice: the Mistborn trilogy has been immensely successful.
But there were still elements and characters left over in those books that could be used to tell other stories. Warbreaker follows one of the storylines from Mythwalker that was left when the elements used in the Mistborn trilogy were taken out. More on that in future commentary.
But that is not all that Mythwalker is. Its main character and its magic system have not been cannibalized. What you will read here in the coming weeks is an interesting story in its own right, even though it has problems. And some of you will be frustrated that the story remains unfinished.
So it is probably best to view these chapters just as a window on early Brandon Sanderson, when he tried something and failed. This was the first novel in Brandon’s adult writing career that he started writing but never finished. If you want insight into his creative process, I think this is a great place to look.