Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn spans two separate series that take place over several centuries. The original trilogy follows Vin, a street urchin with Allomantic powers, or the ability to turn ingested metals into all sorts of magic. Some Allomancers can burn only one metal, but as a Mistborn, Vin can burn them all. Steel allows her to push on metals, while iron allows her to pull upon them. Pewter can make her stronger physically, and so on.
Given the complicated nature of Sanderson’s magic system, it’s little wonder that Vin needs help in mastering her powers. That’s where Kelsier comes in: As a Mistborn and the leader of a crew who recruits Vin, Kelsier recognizes Vin’s potential and cultivates it.
In many ways, Kelsier appears to be a classic fantasy figure, especially within Sanderson’s canon. Like Kaladin in The Stormlight Archive, Kelsier manages to escape slavery and discover vast power. Kelsier then uses his power to foment resistance against the empire’s tyrannical Lord Ruler, which eventually leads to a faceoff between what ought to be the hero and the villain. The truth, of course, is more complicated than that, and that’s where Mistborn: Secret History comes in.
If you haven’t yet read the original Mistborn trilogy or The Stormlight Archive, be warned that this article will contain spoilers about both series. If you’ve already devoured those works and are eagerly awaiting The Knights of Wind and Truth, this article can help you learn a little about Secret History and understand how it fits into the Cosmere.
1. Where can you read Mistborn: Secret History?
Mistborn: Secret History
The 155-page novella is sold individually in both print and digital formats. If you prefer to listen to the audiobook, Secret History is included in Sanderson's Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection, which also offers eight other short stories, including two more in the world of Mistborn.
2. When and where does it take place?
Mistborn: Secret History begins (last warning for spoilers) in the moments before Kelsier's death at the hands of the Lord Ruler. The novel then acts as a companion for the original Mistborn trilogy. While Vin, Elend, and the rest of the gang battle against Ruin in the Physical Realm, Kelsier does what he can to oppose the god in a place called the Cognitive Realm, which is coloquially called Shadesmar.
The novella thus runs the length of the original trilogy, beginning during the middle of The Final Empire and ending around the same time as The Hero of Ages.
3. What is Shadesmar and why should you care?
Shadesmar is something of an inversion of the Physical Realm, where land becomes sea and sea becomes land. Living people cannot be easily contacted by those in the Cognitive Realm (something that proves to be a perpetual source of frustration for Kelsier throughout Secret History).
Importantly, readers have already seen Shadesmar in other tales of the Sanderson Cosmere. Point-of-view characters in The Stormlight Archive like Shallan, Kaladin, and Adolin all travel through Shadesmar, as do Warbreaker's Vivenna and of course the world-skipping Hoid, whom Kelsier calls a drifter in Secret History.
Because it is a place based in the spirit, rather than the physical, Shadesmar offers characters passageways between worlds. That creates opportunities for godly interference—something you see in both Secret History and the Western-themed Wax and Wayne Series—as well as for people of ambition to create ambitious organizations like the Ghostbloods, which work from the shadows of multiple worlds.
We see the influence of the Ghostbloods in The Stormlight Archive, like when they recruit Shallan into their service. We also see it distinctly in later books of the Wax and Wayne Series, as members of the Ghostbloods try to stave off another world-ending threat. As leader of the Ghostbloods, Kelsier has his hand in all sorts of mischief and is positioned to figure prominently in Knights of Wind and Truth.
One thing that Sanderson makes clear is that Shadesmar is not the land of the dead. How Kelsier, sometimes known as The Survivor, managed to survive even his own death and remain in Shadesmar is explained in Secret History and an important point for the future of both The Stormlight Archive and Mistborn.