Sixth of the Dusk
Dragonsteel Entertainment, 2014.
Where does Brandon Sanderson get all his ideas?
The prolific fantasist delves deeper into his “Cosmere”, the overarching universe where all of his work is set, for this novella, originally published as part of the anthology Shadows Beneath. Put together with his fellow members of the “Writing Excuses” podcast, the anthology also includes short stories from Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal and Howard Tayler, as well as first drafts, work-in-progress notes and other bonuses that show how these award-winning writers reach their final drafts.
Sixth of the Dusk is set on the dangerous isle of Patji, where the titular trapper hunts magical birds to sell to the more advanced homeislers. Patji is so incredibly dangerous that Sixth has a special pet bird that shows him every possible way he could die at any moment — and those moments are constant.
On one of his forays to the island, Sixth discovers a massacre has occurred. An expedition of homeislers has visited Patji, hoping to discover why only the birds from the island possess magical powers. Sixth assists a survivor, Vathi, as they attempt to survive the night and reunite her with the rest of the expedition. Along the way they discover the secret behind the source of magic as well as the ultimate goal of the more technologically advanced homeislers and the even more advanced alien race, the Ones Above.
In some ways this story reminded me of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s novel, Roadside Picnic, but almost in reverse. That Russian sci-fi classic told the story of humans venturing into a treacherous zone where an alien race had visited, leaving dangerous and wondrous detritus for humans to puzzle over. In Sixth of the Dusk the more advanced races are puzzling over the dangerous and wondrous items recovered by the humans.
Little is revealed of the world or the magic – a rarity in Sanderson’s writing. We get glimpses and introductions, but only the ending teases how this story (and the world it is set upon) fits into Sanderson’s larger Cosmere. No doubt everything else is meticulously planned out — this IS Brandon Sanderson — but as yet it is merely a taste.
It is a nice taste though, and I’m looking forward to Sanderson delving more into this hostile world on the cusp of a fantastical future.