His works are famous for their strict and innovative rules-based magic systems. Often quoted for his First Law: "An author's ability to solve conflict with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic."
He has released thirty novels since his 2005 debut Elantris, plus fifteen novellas and a number of short-stories. The Stormlight Archive in particular are enormous Doorstoppers which are published at a similar rate to his shorter books (which are generally 500-600 pages themselves). He plans to be even more prolific in the future, having at least 27 more novels plannednote .
He also heartily embraces New Media to the point of providing his own blog, participating extensively in fan forums, releasing several ebook test balloons, and making his own write-your-own-novel Podcast Writing Excuses, co-moderated by his friends Howard Tayler (writer and artist of Schlock Mercenary), Dan Wells (author of the I Am Not a Serial Killer horror trilogy), and Mary Robinette Kowal (author of Shades of Milk and Honey and numerous short stories). He also cofounded an audiobook company, Mainframe, with Max Epstein, with their first project, The Original, being released in 2020.
In 2022, Sanderson revealed that he had written four secret novels during the pandemic, launching a Kickstarter to fund them. Within a few days, it became the most successful Kickstarter of all time.
Original works by Brandon Sanderson
- The Cosmere
- Mistborn: The Original Trilogy
- Wax and Wayne, a sequel series set 300 years after the first Mistborn trilogy.
- "The Eleventh Metal", a prequel story to Mistborn: The Final Empire, detailing Kelsier's Mistborn training. This story is included in the Mistborn Adventure Game book.
- Allomancer Jak and the Pits of Eltania. A preview is here. Included in the Alloy of Law supplement to the Mistborn Adventure Game.
- Mistborn: Secret History is a companion piece to the original trilogy, taking place mostly during the events of the second and third books.
- Warbreaker, available for free as a sample ebook on Sanderson's website.
- The Stormlight Archive
- "Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell", a novella originally published in the Dangerous Women anthology.
- Tress Of The Emerald Sea, a standalone novel crowdfunded on Kickstarter.
- "Sixth of the Dusk", a short story, found in the Shadows Beneath anthology.
- White Sand, a graphic novel adapted from one of his unpublished works.
- The Way Of Kings Prime, an Alternate Universe version of The Way of Kings, written before Mistborn, that is not considered canonical but was released by the author as a free download in July 2020 to give a look at What Might Have Been.
- The Alcatraz Series, notable in that while they're aimed at the Middle Grade (4th-8th grade) audience, they still have his signature cool new magic systems, philosophical digressions, and a decidedly snarky sense of humor.
- The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds, a series set in a modern day setting; has been optioned for a TV series based on it.
- The Rithmatist, a Clock Punk YA novel featuring chalk-based Geometric Magic.
- The Reckoners Trilogy, a post-apocalyptic YA novel about superpowers that only villains can receive, and the Cape Busters who work to assassinate them.
- Snapshot, a short story set in the Reckoners universe, but unconnected to it otherwise.
- Skyward, a science-fiction series set in the universe of Defending Elysium.
There are also a number of short stories available (mostly on his website) for readers to enjoy. These include tie-ins to his larger works as well as stand-alone short stories in both science fiction and fantasy. Cosmere stories are listed above.
- "Centrifugal": Written when he was a high school senior for a writing contest, it is one of the first stories he ever wrote.
- "Defending Elysium", a standalone SF story.
- "Firstborn", a standalone SF short.
- "I Hate Dragons": Both the original and the extended version of a story used for one of his Writing Excuses podcasts.
- "Dreamer", a horror short story found in the Games Creatures Play anthology.
Collaborations and Tie-Ins
- The last three volumes of The Wheel of Time — The Gathering Storm, Towers of Midnight and A Memory of Light — a series previously left unfinished by Robert Jordan when he died.
- Infinity Blade: Awakening and Infinity Blade: Redemption, interquels to the Infinity Blade series; set between the first and second game and second and third game respectively.
- "Heuristic Algorithm and Reasoning Response Engine", a short story co-written with Ethan Skarstedt for the Powered Armor themed Armored anthology.
- "Children of the Nameless", a Magic: The Gathering novella taking place in Innistrad and introducing a new Planeswalker.
- The Original, co-written with Mary Robinette Kowal and released as an audio original.
- Dark One, a graphic novel that Sanderson co-wrote with Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly.
Tropes common in Brandon Sanderson's works:
- Action Girl: Several, Vin of Mistborn: The Original Trilogy being the most dramatic, although Vivenna of Warbreaker is an Action Girl in training, Sarene has moments, and Jasnah of The Stormlight Archive can kick serious ass if sufficiently motivated.
- After the End: Used in Elantris (where it's just the titular city), Mistborn: The Original Trilogy (where the whole world is post-apocalyptic), The Stormlight Archive (where The End just keeps coming in a cycle of Eternal Recurrence), The Reckoners Trilogy (civilization was destroyed by superhumans), Skyward (where a human galactic civilization has gone nearly extinct)... there's a lot of this going around.
- Arc Number: Four and derivatives (eight, twelve, and especially sixteen). Certain Shards also have numbers associated with them (10 for Honor, 9 for Odium, 16 for Preservation).
- Author Appeal:
- Boy, does Sanderson ever love his fantasy cities. Almost all of his works, Cosmere or otherwise, take place in or around a particular city or cities, with the notable exception of Way of Kings, where much of the action happens on the battlefield (but there's still a subplot that takes place entirely in the city-state of Kharbranth). He has stated this was a deliberate choice to differentiate himself from Robert Jordan and other fantasy stories of that time which usually had the characters travel the world extensively.
- The idea of ascending to godhood. It happens to many characters in his books, all in different ways.
- For that matter, religions in general. Most of his created settings include intricate theologies, most of which represent a partial or flawed version of the real metaphysical truth. The way people struggle with and interpret (and reinterpret, and misinterpret) their faith is a constant theme.
- Lofty ideals, and the demoralising difficulty of living by them in a Crapsack World full of moral no-win situations.
- Character Development: No flat characters here; Sanderson makes certain that every POV character and important non-POV characters get their own arc.
- Chekhov's Armoury: Oh lord, yes. Sanderson absolutely loves to use lots and lots of Chekhov's Guns.
- Death by Cameo: None yet, but has stated that if there is ever an adaptation of his works, he would like to be a mook killed by his characters, as revenge for him killing off so many characters.
- Deconstructor Fleet: As seen throughout this page, Sanderson loves zig-zagging, deconstructing, subverting, and otherwise Playing With tropes to an almost George R. R. Martin extent (though Sanderson's approach is significantly less cynical). Perhaps the most noteworthy example is Mistborn, where each novel in the original trilogy is a Genre Deconstruction of a major fantasy trope (see Playing with a Trope below), but deconstructions are present throughout his work. The Decon-Recon Switch sometimes occurs as well.
- Disc-One Final Boss: The character who is initially presented as the Big Bad is almost never the actual Big Bad in his works, and they may not even be that villainous, period.
- In Elantris, Hrathen looks like the Big Bad, but hes actually an Anti-Villain. The real villain is his treacherous, fanatical Dragon-in-Chief, Dilaf.
- In Mistborn: The Original Trilogy, the Lord Ruler is initially presented as the Big Bad, but he's actually only as bad as he is (that is, an oppressive mass-murderer instead of a xenophobic Jerkass) because the real Big Bad, Ruin, has been toying with his mind while TLR's been keeping him imprisoned.
- In Warbreaker, perhaps the most extreme example, God King Susebron is built up as potentially worse than the Lord Ruler, but he's actually a perfectly kind and friendly figurehead. His secretary Bluefingers is the villainous mastermind.
- In The Way of Kings, the Parshendi initially appear to be the villains, but Words of Radiance shows them to be sympathetic figures and, at the end of the book, theyre all but exterminated - all part of the plan of the real Big Bad, Odium.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Characters will go through hell, sometimes literally, but it ends well.
- Evil Overlord: Elantris and The Reckoners Trilogy play straight, Mistborn: The Original Trilogy deconstructs, Warbreaker subverts, and Dark One deconstructs/subverts it even further.
- Fourth-Wall Observer: In The Way of Kings, Hoid states that "I began life as a thought, a concept, words on a page." This ties in with his being a recurring character that helps tie the various book series of the Cosmere together.
- Functional Magic: Sanderson is very fond of inventing new magic systems, giving them clearly defined rules and ensuring they have a logical place in their respective settings. The Mistborn series, for instance, features three different magic systems, with the most important one, allomancy, working by having the user imbibe certain metals or alloys and then "burning" them to affect their own bodies in esoteric ways.
- Gambit Pileup: Intricate plotting and scheming is pretty common in all his works, with Warbreaker being the most extreme example. This has lead to the coining of the phrase "Sanderson Avalanche" where he somehow manages to bring all these massive gambits to, generally, satisfying conclusions in a very small space. The last few chapters of a Sanderson book tend to move at breakneck speed. This may have contributed to his selection as the author to untangle The Wheel of Time's notorious Kudzu Plot.
- A God Am I: Used in all his works; he's admitted up front that the idea of divinity fascinates him.
- Guile Hero: Sanderson is fond of clever characters, and many of his heroes rely as much on their wits as their physical abilities.
- Magic A Is Magic A: Sanderson is fond of inventing new magic systems, and is careful to define them clearly and keep their use consistent. He has formulated what he calls Sanderson's First Law to describe the importance of maintaining this trope, and it is defined as follows:"An author's ability to solve conflict satisfactorily with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic."
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Given the high ratio of Guile Heroes in Sanderson books, it's perhaps unsurprising that this tactic is frequently employed. He's especially fond of having female characters thrust into strange court settings do it, but King Taravangian probably takes the cake for how well he plays everybody.
- Our Gods Are Different: The Shards of Adonalsium. Each Shard embodies an aspect (Honor, Preservation, Ruin, Odium, Cultivation, etc.) of the now-shattered Adonalsium, and holds a portion of its former power; the Shards also act as the source of the Cosmere's various magic systems. Shards and their holders have significant power to alter reality, but are limited by their aspect in how they can supply their magic. Preservation gifts you magic while Ruin steals magic from another with some fraction of the magic ruined. They are also limited to some extent in what they can do with their magic. Cultivation, who presumably cares about cultivating things for the future, is better at seeing the future than Honor, who cares about honor in the present.
- Parents as People: Parents vary from decent to vile, but even the best ones tend to have notable flaws — at least those that are still living.
- Perfectly Arranged Marriage: Elantris play this one straight. Warbreaker plays with it somewhat bizarrely: the King technically breaks his agreement by sending the wrong daughter to marry the foreign king, but then she turns out to be perfect for him! Wax and Wayne is a double subversion. And in Words of Radiance, a betrothal is arranged between Shallan and Adolin, and they both think it's a great idea, to the surprise of pretty much everyone, and get along pretty well with each other, despite both of them having a tendency to offend just about everyone else they meet. In fact, it seems as if the only arranged marriage that didn't work out was between Elend and Shan Elariel of Mistborn; judging by how Shan tried to kill Elend.
- Playing with a Trope: Sanderson loves taking the typical tropes of High Fantasy and putting unique spins on them. In particular, Mistborn: The Original Trilogy is a Genre Deconstruction of said genre with a major trope played with in each book. The first assumes that the evil overlord won in the past, with the second book playing with the idea of Prophecy, and the third with The Chosen One. Warbreaker explicitly has reversals of expectations (for both characters and the reader) as a theme, and so deals heavily in subversions.
- Princess Protagonist: It's been observed that he's rather fond of strong female leads of the royal persuasion. Sarene, Siri, Vivenna, Jasnah, Bastille, and Feotora are the most noteworthy.
- Real Women Don't Wear Dresses: Averted—all of his major female characters are feminine to a greater or lesser degree, and all end up Badass in their own way. Several character struggle with how to balance their views of themselves and outside expectations.
- Rousseau Was Right: Most major characters in Sanderson's works have sympathetic motivations for their actions, though he'll usually throw in at least one really evil person for variety's sake. He stated in an interview that he doesn't think of any of his novels as having villains, just characters who, for varying reasons, made the wrong decision(s). This is most obvious in Warbreaker, whose Big Bad and The Dragon are both given sympathetic backstories and motivations, and whose most evil character is essentially hired muscle rather than a villain in his own right. Taking this into account, this just makes one of his Annotations calling the Big Bad of Elantris, Dilaf "an evil man" all the more meaningful. However, even that one has a Freudian Excuse.
- Royals Who Actually Do Something: Noble prottagonists in most of his Novels are actively involved in helping their homes. Warbreaker in focuses on two princesses doing their best to save their kingdom, and Highprinces and their families in Stormlight Archive are actively involved in things like warfare and research. That said, they may not be doing the right thing - the same Highprinces form the obstacles the protagonists are struggling to overcome for three books.
- Signature Style: Sanderson is best known for his intricate, self consistent magic systems. His works also tend to contain lots of political intrigue that ultimately results in chaos, Well Intentioned Extremists, large quantities of snark, and characters becoming gods. Doing the right thing will usually be portrayed as Difficult, but Awesome, and characters will be able to earn a happy ending. Wow will they earn it.
- He is into Powergaming. Said magic systems will almost always be used in unusual, game breaking ways, and any seemingly 'useless' abilities will always be proved extremely effective and plot important before the end.
- In each new world he creates, expect an early scene with an experienced (usually male) character on a solo mission. The scene will have little dialogue, if any, and will contain a great deal of detail about the local magic system and its use.
- Troperiffic: As the rest of this page shows, Sanderson likes his fantasy tropes. He also likes doing things to them.
- The 'Verse: Elantris, Mistborn, The Stormlight Archive, Warbreaker, and several unpublished novels are in the one universeThe Cosmere (individual planets are known as Shardworlds). Much of what is known about the Cosmere comes from Word of God, and the hints about it in the books themselves tend to be less than obvious. A recurring character called Hoid has appeared subtly as a beggar, an informant, a storyteller, and (most notably) the king's Wit. Hoid's exact importance, motive, and true role is unknown, but he can definitely travel between worlds and knows more about the Cosmere than most other characters. He is, according to the glossary of the third novel of Mistborn: The Original Trilogy, "A mystery yet to be solved." It is pretty much confirmed he was there at the shattering of Adonalsium as well, which means he must be thousands of years old. Brandon has confirmed that Hoid uses Shadesmar, an alternate plane of reality also called the cognitive realm, to travel from world to world, and that he has some way of both slowing down time and living longer than a normal human should. He will play a major role in the Stormlight archives, and many more hints were dropped down in the second book.
- Mistborn: Secret History is the first published book that really dives into the fact that all of these books take place in the same universe, giving a good deal of information on the different realms and the existence of people traveling between them.
- Trolling Creator: Brandon has a long history of answering fan questions with answers that are correct From a Certain Point of View, which then spawns all manner of Epileptic Trees theories in the fandom. And then there's the infamous Rosharan secret societies question. When a fan asked, hypothetically, which secret society Kelsier would like to join, he said Kelsier would be drawn to the Ghostbloods and would end up running the outfit inside of a year. And then at the end of Rhythm of War it's revealed that this was not hypothetical at all as Thaidakar, the shadowy leader of the Ghostbloods, is Kelsier!
- Wham Episode: It's so common for the last few chapters of every book to be one Wham after another, to the point where fans will call this part of the book "the Sanderlanche."
Short Story tropes
Jason Write is a psychic member of the Phone Company, humanity's only source of FTL communication. He arrives at Evensong, the farthest human space habitat, for a routine pickup, to find things aren't as simple as they seem.
- Almighty Janitor: All light speed communication is handled exclusively by a phone company, without anyone else on Earth knowing how it is done.
- Broken Pedestal: At the end of the story, Jason is utterly disappointed in the aliens he's been looking up to as morally better than humans, since they've proven not to be. He vows to free humanity from their stifling influence.
- Bluff the Eavesdropper: Jason and his handler, Lanna, work out right off the bat their communications are being tapped. They have prerecorded conversations just to mislead the eavesdropper, at least until they learn who he is. Afterwards they just cut the signal.
- Handicapped Badass: Jason Write is completely blind but definitely not someone you should mess with.
- Hidden Elf Village: Inverted: the galaxy at large is the elf village and our Solar System is kept isolated so we don't wreck it. (Only the Phone Company knows this reason).
- Humans Are Superior: Played with. Human technology is far in advance of all other races but it is our reliance on technology that is keeping us from being truly civilized. To keep the alien races safe from us the Phone Company has suppressed this information, letting humanity as a whole believe that alien technology is superior and that we are not ready for it yet. In the end however, it is revealed that the alien races are not so morally superior to our own after all.
- Insufficiently Advanced Alien: Since FTL travel and communication rely on Psychic Powers rather than technology, it is perfectly possible for a race to have interstellar travel before they invent the wheel. (This is explicitly stated to have happened at least once). In total, humans are several orders of magnitude more technologically advanced than any other race.
- Intangibility: Jason teleports himself right up to Edmund with his hand phased into his chest then crushes his heart and phases his hand out again.
- Mission Control: This is Lanna's job - we only get to see her in person after Jason gets back to the base.
- Psychic Powers: Mind over Matter and Psychic Teleportation, but not Telepathy.
- Sealed Evil in a Can: Humanity. The Phone Company refuses to release the secret of FTL travel in order to keep humanity locked up in our own solar system, where we can't hurt anyone else. In the end, Jason learns that the aliens are just as evil, and prepares to release the secret of FTL travel.
- Secret Relationship: Jason and Lanna are married. He prefers to keep his personal life personal, and she has a mischievous streak and enjoys pretending.
Dennison is a military commander, trying in vain to be as strong as his brother.
- Aloof Big Brother: Varion is a perfect military leader, extremely confident and arrogant, while his younger brother Dennison is hopelessly incompetent. The one time they actually meet, Varion isn't too friendly.
- Cain and Abel: Varion wants to defeat his brother, especially because the latter is his clone.
- Driven to Suicide: In the final battle, Varion kills himself when he thinks he is losing.
- Tomato in the Mirror: When he meets Varion, Dennison learns that he is a clone of Varion.
- Youngest Child Wins: It turns out that Varion wants to take over the empire. It's up to Dennison to stop him.
Skip has the magical talent of smelling incredibly delicious to dragons, and a separate one of automatically hearing the punctuation and spelling in a spoken sentence. His life is not a pleasant one.
- Blessed with Suck: The protagonist, Skip, has the magical talent (or knack) of smelling incredibly delicious to dragons. He also has the far less dangerous, yet pretty useless, talent of hearing the punctuation and spelling in a spoken sentence.
- It Will Never Catch On: Skip wants to use his second talent to write a book defining the correct spelling of words.
- Medium Awareness: Skip can hear spelling and punctuation in spoken words.
- Our Dragons Are Different: These dragons are intelligent and actually quite articulate. They eat humans, mainly because they apparently can't digest anything else, but only need to eat once every few months. They also have two stomachs: one for digesting humans and one for carrying things in.
- The Last of These Is Not Like the Others:Skip: Just today, I've heard the word dragon spelled 'dragoon,' 'daragon,' 'dragen,' 'deragin,' and 'blarsnaf.'
Sorceress: Er... 'blarsnaf?'
Skip: That was from Pug the cook. He speaks Lukarvian.
- Serious Business: Apparently, shortly before the story started a misspelled word resulted in fourteen thousand deaths (it was in a peace treaty).
- World Shapes: This story takes place on a cubic world. Three of the six faces are known to some degree.
- Dawnface's inhabitants are capable of becoming sorcerers, harnessing the magic of the cube to their will.
- Sixthface is the face from which all the protagonists (except the Sorceress) hail. Its inhabitants can't use sorcery, but have random magical gifts called "knacks".
- Drakeface has lots and lots of dragons.
A short story taking place near the climax of Elantris, outside the perspective of the three viewpoint characters from that book.
- Big Damn Heroes: Dashe is returned to consciousness by the restoration of Elantris, and saves Marisse from dying.
- Fandom Nod: The character Marisse is named for a student of Sanderson's then-future wife as thanks for her incredibly in-depth Dragonology style book about Elantris.
- Flashback: The majority of the story is told as one describing what Ashe was doing for the majority of the climax of Elantris.
- Framing Device: The entire thing, barring the very beginning and end, are Ashe's story in most of the climax of the main novel, told from Marisse's point of view.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Dashe is briefly turned to a Hoed in pain after giving himself to give Marisse and the children time to escape the massacre of Elantris.
- Improbable Infant Survival: In order to balance out Karata's Heroic Sacrifice, Sanderson opted to have all of the children saved in Elantris survive the end of the book.
- Just in Time: Elantris is restored just before Marisse is turned Hoed. Therefore...
- Lodged-Blade Recycling: Justified. Dashe, having been impaled with a sword, was restored and healed completely by the restoration of Elantris. He takes the sword that is presumably on the ground at that point to kill Marisse's assailant.
- P.O.V. Sequel: The story takes place around the time of the invasion of Arelon.
- What Could Have Been: This part of the story was nearly in the novel itself, albeit without Marisse's inclusion and told from Dashe's point of view instead at the time of the flashback.
A prequel story to Mistborn The Final Empire, covering Kelsier's training as a mistborn.
- Cold-Blooded Torture: Lord Shezler inflict this upon his Skaa in an attempt to make them Snap so he can test new metals on them.
- Heroic BSoD: Kelsier has been feeling increasingly lost, despite becoming a mistborn, out of grief for Mare and because he does not know what to do or who he is anymore.He didn't know what to do. He hated that. He'd always known what to do. But now...
- He's Back!: At the end of the story he has the epiphany he needs and his focus returns.Kelsier: Anyone can die. Anyone.
- Super Hero Origin: Where Kelsier first starts to become the hero known as The Survivor of Hathsin.
A story from an anthology, following the technology behind mechas.
- Bolivian Army Ending: The story ends with Karrin cutting open H.A.R.R.E. desperately trying to rescue Karith. It's left unclear whether he survived his wounds or not.
- Bug War: Inverted. The humans and the bugs are on the same side.
- Combining Mecha: Inverted. The mechas of the story start off combined with their air support in order to enter battle from orbit but have to separate before they can actually fight themselves. The agile airships also require the mechas as heatshields to be able to withstand re-entry.
- Easy Amnesia: H.A.R.R.E. is stated to recently have taken enough damage that his AI had to be restored from some kind of backup, causing him to lose a lot of the experience he should have had from hundreds of drops with Karith.
- Grew Beyond Their Programming: Karith's personality starts to rub off on HARRE's programming. Despite orders and programming to the contrary HARRE chooses to continue his pilot's heroic Last Stand instead of attempting to save his life by returning to base.
- Initialism Title: Inverted. The title reveals what the acronym HARRE actually stands for.
- Reassignment Backfire: Karith has just transferred from an elite RGK first-strike unit to a much less dangerous advisory role to keep himself safe for his wife and new baby. Then he and Karrin drop in on a boiler infestation that proves to be several years ahead of where it should be on the development tree.
- Robot War: The various other races of the galaxy vs. the boilers.
- You Shall Not Pass!: Karith's plan is to throw himself at the Boiler army and inflict as much damage as he can to slow their advance into civilian areas.
Kairominas the First of Alornia, Keeper of the Seventeen Lanterns, Master of Ultimate Lancing, Slayer of Galbrometh, rules over his world completely. It took him hundreds of years, but he conquered it with his own might and strength. He is the undisputed lord of all he sees.
Then his tenders call to tell him he needs to go on a date.
- Artificial Intelligence: The machineborn population of the states are these.
- Anti-Villain: Sophie. She is directly responsible for the suffering of millions of machine born in her home state, once she destroyed the utopia she created. But what she's railing against is the artificial nature of Liveborn existence. None of this is true, since she's an android with a false history, but she certainly seems to believe it.
- Applied Phlebotinum: Amusingly Lampshaded when Kai realizes that a Border State containing valuable Unobtanium and a dangerous but potentially recruitable Proud Warrior Race exists for no purpose other than to be something for him and two other Liveborn to fight over.
- Artificial Human: Sophie.
- Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: Kai and Sophie's date is interrupted by an attack by a giant robot sent by Kai's nemesis. It's a distraction from the actual attack, Sophie.
- The Bad Guy Wins: Kai's nemesis plans to drive Kai to despair by shattering his illusions about the nature of reality and then having the woman he's fallen in love with kill herself. It works perfectly. Subverted because in the end, Kai is probably better off for it. That was NOT the intention.
- Battle Couple / Fire-Forged Friends: Kai and Sophie by the end. Exactly as planned.
- Bittersweet Ending: At the end Kai feels horrible, but he has learned a lot and is going to start coming out of his isolation.
- Brain in a Jar: All the Liveborn, including Kai, are brains put inside a simulation that is perfectly suited to them but still challenging. They are informed of this when they turn fifty years old.
- Deconstruction: Of the Lotus-Eater Machine trope, raising questions of whether keeping people trapped in a blissful illusion could possibly be the right thing to do. The story doesn't deliver a conclusive answer either way.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Kai provoked the feud with his nemesis by treating him dismissively once. He retaliated by committing genocide against a machineborn population and then starting a campaign against Kai that ultimately culminates in Sophie's suicide.
- The Ending Changes Everything: Sophie is actually an android designed by Kai's nemesis to make him fall in love with her, make him question the nature of reality in a way that will break his suspension of disbelief, and then kill herself once she's sure he loves her.
- Changed even further by a deleted scene that was meant to be the ending of the story and according to Word of God is still has some canonicity, if only in the background, that shows that Melhi's real name is Sophie, and everything Sophie said was true, even if the Sophie that 'died' was a program based on the real Sophie.
- Functional Magic: Lancing. While it only functions in Kai's state or Border States he touches, it grants near-omnipotence therein.
- Genre Savvy: Sophie is this about the nature of their artificial world: namely, that it's constructed like a video game to keep the inhabitants happy and challenged.
- God-Emperor: Not too much emphasis is put on it, but it's part of Kai's title. He still swears by something called "the Lords," though, so it's not clear if he's the only religion left, or even worshiped at all. Most likely it's just an Appropriated Appellation, since the world was literally created for him.
- Heel Realization: Kai has one in the midst of the attack against him in a Noir-themed state during his date with Sophie. His lancing has been hacked to let him draw power from heat, which lets him sense the thousands of machine-born people hiding in terror in their homes. He realizes that they've been consigned to live in a world of eternal darkness and rain just so they can be pawns in power games between liveborn that are literally meaningless.
- Heroic BSoD: Kai is in one in the aftermath of the attack, but the story ends as he begins to come out of it.
- Humans Are Special: Kai believes this, in contrast to Sophie's view of machineborn. In summary, he sees them as people and is honestly friends with some but still thinks he's more important. By the end of the story, he's had a Heel Realization about this attitude.
- I Hate Past Me: Sophie's attitude toward her past, more idealistic self. One reason she gives for sleeping with Kai is that as a feminist she'd be horrified by having sex with someone who had a harem.
- Invincible Hero: In Universe, what the situation becomes for the players if they realize that, in fact, they can't lose to Machine Born or ultimately fail their tests.
- Just a Machine: Sophie is dismissive of Machineborn, which Kai finds a little horrifying, considering it essentially Fantastic Racism. Then again, he has some of this attitude himself: he considers machineborn people, but still considers himself better and more important. He even casually considers rewriting the personality of one to be more agreeable. He realizes his hypocrisy by the end.
- Lost World: Apparently there always is one somewhere in Fantasy themed worlds to provide a new challenge once things have gotten too stable.
- Manchild: The Liveborn as a rule. They are universally immortal conquerors and other world leaders who scratched and clawed their way to the top of the pyramid. They tend to be extremely arrogant, as well as largely petty and self-centered. Presumably the only reason they aren't worse is that they aren't informed of their special status until they are 50, giving them decades of life as an exceptional but still 'ordinary' citizen.
- Film Noir: The state Kai and Sophie's date happens in has a distinct Noir atmosphere, though more focused on politics than might be expected.
- Not Distracted by the Sexy: Kai, when disaster strikes right as things are starting to heat up between him and Sophie.
- Rage Against the Heavens: Any rebellion against the people monitoring the simulation is essentially this, since they apparently can and will change anything about it to force you to comply if they have to. Sophie has been doing this for a long time now.
- Reality Warper: What hacking amounts to, since the world is a simulation. Kai isn't very good at it, but Sophie and Kai's Nemesis are. This is because Sophie is an android programmed by said Nemesis.
- Sci Fi Ghetto: In Universe. It seems to be common for liveborn from more 'serious' states to look down on those from fantasy worlds as immature and unsophisticated. Since the states are created explicitly to be perfect for their liveborn it has an air of Condescending Compassion that a fantasy state is all they are able to handle.
- Showy Invincible Hero: What the world designers are going for with their 'just hard enough to make you work for it' design.
- Sour Supporter: Kai has one, who he keeps because (aside from the fact that hacking his personality would be too difficult) he needs someone to argue with him.
- Sufficiently Analyzed Magic: Lancing. Kai understands what he's doing to the point that he describes getting rid of a stain by first splitting the water into hydrogen and oxygen and then denaturing the pigments.
- Utopia: Sophie achieved this, or something close to it, in her world. They'd solved war and a number of social issues, and were working on the rest. Then things went bad.
- Victory Is Boring: The Wode work hard to avoid this for the Liveborn, making sure that they always have some kind of worthy challenge to occupy their attention. They can still come to suffer from it if they realise that it's impossible for them to actually fail, though.
- What Measure Is A Nonhuman: The major focus of the story is on how creating a seemingly perfect world for liveborn humans has created a system of slavery and oppression for uncountable machineborn, and Kai's changing attitude about this.
- Willing Suspension of Disbelief: In Universe, Kai and presumably others actively avoid thinking about the way their world is constructed.