Follow TV Tropes


Literature / The Cosmere

Go To

"There's always another secret."

Warning: This page assumes that you are familiar with the Cosmere, and will contain no spoiler tags.

The universe occupied by many of the works of Brandon Sanderson. Due to his desire to create an epic length series without requiring readers to buy a ridiculous amount of books, he hid connections to his other works within each book, creating a "hidden epic".

Long ago, a mysterious being called Adonalsium existed on a world known as Yolen. Sixteen Yolish people attacked Adonalsium, and it shattered into sixteen Shards, each bearing immense power. By taking up these Shards, those sixteen people were able to create new worlds, sometimes working in tandem, populating them with people and powering different types of magic. However, over time they came to be molded to the Intents of the Shards. Now, a mysterious man from Yolen called Hoid travels between the Shardworlds, while the people of those worlds rise to become heroes, sometimes coming into contact with the Shards.


There are currently sixteen Cosmere books: eleven full length books and five novellas, along with various short stories and comic books. These detail the adventures of the people on the Shardworlds created by the people who took up the Shards of Adonalsium.

    Cosmere works 


Tropes featured across the entire Cosmere are:

  • All There in the Manual: Many facts of the Cosmere - even names of most planets - are only available through interviews with Brandon Sanderson (and because clever fans thought to ask said questions). Thankfully, he's very open as long as they don't spoil future books too much.
    • The anthology ''Arcanum Unbounded' includes a lot of the information on the planets that was previously only available via looking through old interviews as well as some bits and pieces of new information in the short essays that preface the collection of stories from a given world.
  • Ambiguously Brown: The easiest way to spot a Worldhopper is when the local characters can't figure out what ethnicity they're supposed to be.
  • Another Dimension: The Spiritual Realm and the Cognitive Realm, as opposed to the normally-written Physical Realm. Also, the Beyond, which even the Shards cannot influence.
  • Anthropomorphic Personification: The Shards, as they are all facets of Adonalsium and thus represent parts of him. The currently known Shards are: Honor, Odium, and Cultivation on Roshar; Ruin and Preservation (combined to form Harmony) on Scadrial; Endowment on Nalthis; Devotion and Dominion on Sel; Autonomy on Taldain; Ambition near Threnody.
  • Anti-Magic: Aluminum and some of its alloys have odd effects on many magic systems. Introduced in Mistborn, where its use in Allomancy (which, along with its Feruchemy and Hemalurgy effects, is one of the few ways it can be affected by Investiture at all) is that a Mistborn burning it eliminates their remaining metal stores, it cannot be sensed or affected by Iron or Steel Allomancy, blocks emotional Allomancy, generates no atium shadow, can shield an area from an Allomantic time bubble, and interferes with Feruchemical healing and pewter allomancy, acting as a sort of Investiture sink. In Sel's Rose Empire it's known as Ralkalest, and cannot be altered by Forgery, an Allomancer could burn it to heal from the damage a Threnody Shade does, it cannot be Awakened and Nightblood's sheath is made of it, Voidspren cannot sense the use of Stormlight through it, and while a Shardblade could cut through it with force if it's thin enough, they can't cut it like they could other inanimate objects.
  • Arc Number:
    • 10 and 5 for Warbreaker and The Stormlight Archive.
      • There are also 10 Shardworlds (planets with Shards), so the number 10 may have a more universal significance.
    • 16 for Mistborn, and for the Cosmere as a whole, as that's the number of metals in Metallic Arts, as well as number of Shards.
    • 3 as well, due to it being the number of realms.
    • 9 pops up a lot in Oathbringer, seemingly as Odium's number to better contrast Honor's "holy number" of ten.
    • Specifically, each shard seems to have a number. 5 for Endowment, 9 for Odium, 10 for Honor, 16 for Preservation
  • Arc Words:
    • "Adonalsium".
    • "There's always another secret".
  • The Cameo: The worldhoppers in general cameo in works set on other worlds than they come from, like Khriss and Nazh (Taldain and Threnody, respectively, but seen everywhere), Felt and Demoux (both from Scadrial, both later seen on Roshar), Vasher and Vivenna (Nalthis, also on Roshar), Galladon (Sel, also on Roshar) or Hoid (Yolen, seen everywhere).
  • Crisis Crossover: The Stormlight Archive is shaping up to be this, with direct references to the Cosmere and various Shardholders and Shardworlds, a direct danger to the entirety of the Cosmere, and a collection of planar champions from various other Cosmeric series coming to Roshar after Hoid. Word of God even refers to it as "the big epic".
  • Deity of Human Origin: All true gods of the Cosmere are people who took up one-sixteenth of Adonalsium's power.
  • Dimensional Traveler: Various characters, by way of the Cognitive Realm. Hoid is the most prominent, with the group of Seventeenth Shard members in The Way of Kings being close behind. On the whole, they're called worldhoppers.
  • Earth Is Young: Most of the worlds (or at least life on those worlds) are implied to be very young, with estimates between five thousand to ten thousand years. This is because after the original human homeworld was destroyed by the death of Adonalsium, the god-like Shards spread throughout the Cosmere to terraform worlds of their own. Though how this worked is not examined in depth, there are some theories: Roshar is heavily implied to have had life before Honor and Cultivation brought humans, while Scadrial was almost certainly just a dead rock before Ruin and Preservation arrived (Kriss even believes that the shards actually created the planet wholesale). Word of God is that Scadrial had no fossil fuels before the new god, Harmony, put them there during the Catecandre, as He knew they would be necessary for technology to advance at a reasonable rate. Since Harmony left behind a book detailing his experiences in reshaping the world, it's most likely that the people understand exactly how old their world is, making Scadrial unique in this respect and dodging the Unfortunate Implications of a god implicitly lying by adding fossil fuels to a young world.
  • Eldritch Location: The Spiritual Realm is timeless and holds the souls of everything that exists - not to mention that it's the same everywhere. It's been noted that there is no such thing as distance in the spiritual realm, it essentially exists the exact same way at every point of the Cosmere.
  • Everything Talks: In the Cognitive Realm, as everything that exists has a reflection there and some limited sapience, although it's arguable whether all really is alive or if it's just how Soulcasters "read" souls of objects.
  • Fantasy Pantheon: The Shards, and their Vessels to a smaller degree.
  • Functional Magic: Each Shardworld has at least one type of magic, each of which follow their own defined rules and the overarching rules of Investiture.
  • The Dark World: Shadesmar is this to the entire Cosmere. It's not evil though. Just a world formed by the cognitive perceptions of all living things.
  • Death World: First of the Sun has jungles that are extremely dangerous even to people who know of all the threats in them. Khriss mentions that no investigation crew sent there has ever returned.
  • God: Several stories have made reference to "The God Beyond" and there's even a shrine dedicated to it in Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell. Sanderson has said that this refers to belief in a higher power that has nothing to do with Adonalsium.
  • God Is Dead: Happens whenever a Shard's holder dies (Devotion, Dominion, Preservation, Ruin, and Honor are the ones we know this happened to), and most likely happened to Ambition and earlier, even Adonalsium.
  • God Is Evil: Odium, Ruin, assumed Dominion, and presumably a couple more Shards.
  • God Is Inept: All that one needs to do to become a Shardholder is to kill your predecessor, and gaining control of a Shard does not provide any knowledge of how to use its power, or how the power should be used. At times, it shows - many of Scadrial's problems in the first trilogy can be traced back to the Lord Ruler's mishandling of the power of Preservation, and one of his primary goals was to survive long enough for the Well of Ascension to refill so he could get the power back and try to fix his mistakes.
  • Godly Sidestep: While we know about Adonalsium and the sixteen Shards, whether there is an omnipotent god above them is a matter of debate both in and out of universe. Sanderson's confirmed that an answer exists, but he doesn't intend to reveal it.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: As of The Stormlight Archive, it looks like Odium is shaping up to be this, having caused major problems in Sel prior to Elantris and being feared as a very dangerous figure for the whole of the Cosmere.
    • Hoid's distaste for the shard of Autonomy hints that they might not be too friendly either.
  • Humans Advance Swiftly: Compared to most of the shardworlds of the Cosmere, the humans of Scadrial advanced fairly quickly (partly because, after the Final Empire ended, Harmony's knowledge helped kickstart technologies that existed but had been suppressed by the Lord Ruler, as well as a lack of major threats like on Roshar). Kriss even believes that if the Lord Ruler hadn't kept things stagnant for centuries, they might have become just as advanced as the worldhopper hub Silverlight, if not more so.
  • Hyperspace Is a Scary Place: The Cognitive Realm, which serves as the Cosmere's Hyperspace, is very dangerous for most people, thanks in no small part to the fact that it's insanely alien compared to the Physical Realm. The most notable consistent feature is that land and sea are inverted there (i.e. what's solid ground is a fluid or fluid like substrate which can drown or suffocate living beings and seas are solid obsidian-like rock). While it's somewhat benign on Scadrial (albeit it's mostly been seen from the perspective of somebody who was not alive and thus interacted with it differently than living people would), on Roshar the 'seas' are made of beads that represent the 'souls' of individual objects and seem to cling to people and work their way into orifices increasing the risk of drowning, and one also has to contend with spren, some types of which are apparently very dangerous, and as of Oathbringer cognitive shadows in the service of Odium. Word of God implies that on Sel, where the death of two Shards unleashed a wild storm of Dor, it's even worse, thanks to Odium dragging the power of Devotion and Dominion there from the Spiritual Realm to keep anyone else from taking it up. The word "plasma" has been used.
  • Inn Between the Worlds: The city of Silverlight is a worldhopper colony existing in the Cognitive Realm, where most travellers between the worlds rest, travel through or even settle down and raise families.
  • Kudzu Plot: Every time some question about underpinnings of the Cosmere is answered, it seems to raise even more questions, to the point that Kelsier's statement about secrets is most fitting thing to top this page with.
  • Literal Split Personality: Each of the Pieces of God known as the Shards represents an aspect of Adonalsium, like his Honor, Ambition, etc.
  • Made of Magic: Everything, apparently, as Word of God indicates that everything in the Physical Realm is made of Investiture in solid form.
    • More notable examples includes atium and the other god metals, which are the powers of a shard in condensed physical form.
    • The Shardblades are spren who have taken physical form in a similar manner, the Honorblades being sprenless, but created directly from Honor's power.
  • Magically Binding Contract: Some Shards and some spren are unable to break oaths, particularly those relating to Honor, as even Odium could not break a oath with either him or a valid representative of him. This is presumably the reason Odium has been trapped on Roshar for so long.
    • Subverted somewhat by Preservation, as he had no problem betraying his deal with Ruin. However, he didn't technically break the deal - he promised that Ruin would be able to destroy the world, but not when he would be able to do so.
  • Mana: Investiture, the energy that powers all forms of magic across the Cosmere. It comes from the Spiritual Realm and is actually finite, though most forms of magic don't use it upnote .
  • Magic A Is Magic A: Due to Brandon Sanderson and his love for this trope, most worlds have their own rule-based magic systems in accordance with an overall theory known as "Investiture", along with a secondary theory known as "Realmatic Theory" to explain the Cosmere itself. Basically: everything that is is powered by Investiture. On major Shardworlds - that is, world with Shards on them - Investiture can manifest in people via a Focus, which is the primary "carrier" of Investiture - for example, metal for Scadrial, Form for Sel. To be able to use it, you have to be Initiated - on Scadrial it's via snapping, on Roshar it's via oaths, and on Nalthis it's enough to be born. The detail vary depending on world. On minor Shardworlds - that is, Shardless ones - it's natural life (worms on First of the Sun, bacteria on Ashyn) that carry Investiture and have Investiture-related effects.
  • Magic by Any Other Name:
    • Almost nowhere is magic called "magic" - on Sel it's called AonDor, on Nalthis it's Awakening, on Scadrial it's the 3 Metallic Arts (Allomancy, Feruchemy, and Hemalurgy), on Roshar it's Surgebinding, Voidbinding and Soulcasting. Even interdimensional scientist Khriss uses "Investiture" to talk about different magics, though she does use "magic" in her notes in the "Arcanum Unbounded" collection. Generally, "Investiture" is used by more Cosmere-aware characters as an umbrella term to refer to magical practices or energy.
    • Averted with Roshar's Old Magic, which is called just that, likely to indicate how mysterious it still seems, but it is hinted that it is of the Shard of Cultivation.
  • Magitek: Present on some Shardworlds.
    • On Sel, Elantrians filled their city with various AonDor-operated appliances, like lights and teleporters to move around Elantris.
    • On Roshar, Stormlight-powered fabrials are used to make food, materials and more esoteric mechanisms, like emotion sensors, heaters, and dehumidifiers.
    • On Scadrial, the Southerners base their entire tech on the Metallic Art of Feruchemy - medallions keep them warm, let them use airships - not to mention they let their airships fly, by de-weighting them - and work as universal translators, while cubes are weapons and power plants for airships.
  • Meta Origin: The Shattering of Adolansium, which created the Shards and led to settlement of Shardworlds, leading to creation of magic systems and the possible Big Bad, Odium.
  • Multiple-Choice Future: Some entities have the power to see into the Spiritual Realm, a Place Beyond Time and Space where Connections into the past and future are tangible. The Shards, Pieces of God who exist primarily in the Spiritual Realm and have the Super Intelligence to process all those Connections, can use that to project potential futures to a greater or lesser degree: it seems to be a matter of incredibly complex, highly interdependent probability distributions rather than a definitive image of the future.
  • Mundane Utility: Pops up all over the place. Metalborn use their powers to ease everyday life, Forgery is used to make cheap objects look expensive and Soulcasting lets you build from wood and then turn it into stone.
  • Offscreen Afterlife: The Beyond, which is where humans and beings with souls similar to humans at least apparently go after death. It's nature isn't known even to the Shards, and Brandon Sanderson has said he has no plans to reveal anything about it and it's basically up to the reader's imagination what it is, or even if it truly exists at all.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Dragonsteel, taking place on Yolen, will include them. They are apparently capable of shapeshifting and intelligent, as Sanderson calls them one of "three sentient species" of Yolen.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: After death, a person manifests in the Cognitive Realm for a while before disappearing into the Beyond, a place outside of the three realms. Those with a lot of Investiture (magic energy) linger far longer as Cognitive Shadows, souls stuck within Cognitive Realm due to their Investiture anchoring them. Individuals who have previously held shards or been exposed to them in close proximity for a while seem to be able to stay like this indefinitely, but can still pass on if they wish to.
    • Examples of this include the shades of Threnody as a result of Ambition and Odium's battle, the Stormfather of Roshar, and Kelsier, who anchored himself using the Well of Ascension after dying. Some believe that the God Beyond is Adonalsium's Cognitive Shadow.
  • Our Souls Are Different: They're Spiritual constructs containing connections, memories and more.
  • Personality Powers: Played With, but apparently which of the 16 slayers of Adonalsium got which power wasn't a coincidence, like the Jerkass Rayse becoming Odium, literally divine hatred incarnate. In addition, the exact way the Intent of each shard is manifested is "filtered" by the bearer's personality (like Ati, who was kind and generous before becoming Ruin, viewing the destruction of the world as a Mercy Kill that gave existence meaning), and said Intent influences the Shard more and more over time until they are incapable of acting in a way that doesn't relate to it (Honor can't backstab, Preservation can't destroy, etc.).
  • Pieces of God: The Shards of Adonalsium. On a further level of pieces, Splinters of those Shards if Splintered by another.
  • Planetary Romance: Between the Science Fantasy and the heavy magic on low-technology worlds it tends to land solidly in this zone. A good example of the kind of thing we're dealing with is the world of White Sand. On the ground, we know it as a planet with one side a desert in eternal daylight and the other a glowing, exotic jungle in eternal night. Sandmasters shape the sand, transform it to water, and everyone fears the exotic sandworm-like creatures from the depths. From a larger perspective? It is a tidally locked planet at the lagrange point between a Blue Supergiant and a Black Hole, with the Black Hole surrounded by a nebula that transmutes its radiation to ultraviolet light. And the the sheer improbability of all this, not to mention the perfectly circular continents, are all due to the direct influence of a god.
  • Power Glows: Investiture in larger quantities, and purer form, glows.
    • The users of the Metallic Arts often subvert this, with several even being assassins in the dark. People using Bands of Mourning, however do start to leak glowing steam due to all the power involved.
    • Shardpools - physical manifestations of a Shard's "body" - are vaguely glow-ey.
    • Both Stormlight and Breath glow white, although it's more pronounced with Stormlight.
  • Red and Black and Evil All Over: Split up somewhat, but of the two clearly villainous Shards so far, Ruin's power manifests as wave of black, and Odium's calling card is red eyes.
  • Samus Is a Girl: Between Word of Radiance in 2014 and Arcanum Unbounded in 2016, the readers have been left to assume that Bavadin was a man. Not really, as it turns out.
  • Science Fantasy: Varying by the book, but definitely present overall. Worlds that develop long enough tend towards Sufficiently Analyzed Magic and Magitec combined with a high level of technology, and Sixth of the Dusk actually revolves around the interactions between the native humans of a minor shardworld and genuine Space Explorers. Word of God is that the Mistborn series will end in a primarily sci-fi setting.
  • Shout-Out: Yolen is undoubtedly named after Jane Yolen. "Adonalsium" might be a tweak on "Adonai," one of God's names in The Bible.
  • Single-Biome Planet: Almost entirely averted - planets like Roshar, Scadrial or Sel are geologically versatile. Even the desert planet Taldain has a completely different other side. The few actual examples of the trope are justified, such as the fire planet Ashyn which is closer to the sun than Roshar in the same system.
  • Subspace or Hyperspace: The Cognitive Realm, also known as Shadesmar, which connects the different Shardworlds and is how individuals move between them. Its application for FTL travel comes from the fact that in interstellar space, there is nothing (or very little compared to a planet) - and therefore nothing to have a Cognitive aspect and fill up the Cognitive Realm - space is greatly compressed, to the point that moving from one end of the planet to another can take longer than moving from one planet to another.
  • Sufficiently Analyzed Magic: Each book in the Cosmere (except the first edition of Elantris) has an appendix "Ars Arcanum" that makes a summary of the magic system of that world as it is known by that point in the series. According to Word of God, these appendices are in-universe documents, which means someone is compiling them. The actual analysis varies within the stories themselves, from scientific theories such as those revolving around BioChroma to entire libraries devoted to the study of the magic system like the one in the city of Elantris, to simple listings of general capabilities like those of Surgebinders.
  • Supernaturally Validated Trans Person: Supernatural healing works by altering the patient's physical body to match their spiritual 'ideal self'. Word of God says that a transgender person could change their body to match their gender, but this is yet to be seen in the books.
  • Top God: The mysterious God Beyond, speculated to be a Cognitive Shadow of Adonalsium. All that's known about it is that it's known all over the Cosmere and resides Beyond, where the Shards cannot go.
  • The 'Verse: Complete with overall theories of magical systems and the organization of the cosmos.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: A lot of current knowledge of the Cosmere comes from fans picking things up, analysing them, overanalysing them and asking all the right questions.
  • Wham Episode:
    • The Way of Kings for the overall Cosmere arc. The connections between the Shardworlds are acknowledged, Hoid gets a larger role, a group of characters from other books appear on a hunt for Hoid, we get introduced to Shadesmar, the Cognitive Realm, and we find out that there is a guy going around and killing Shards.
    • Secret History not only introduces casual readers to Realmatic Theory levels of Cosmere, it also throws us a venerable bucketload of additional information, name-drops four different worlds and hints at connections between them, introduces Khriss and Nazh properly, reveals more about Hoid and gives more tantalizing hints of what's to come.
    • The Bands of Mourning has two Shards almost interacting, starting to bring the Mistborn series' scope from purely planetary to Cosmeric.
  • World of Snark: Nearly to the point of it being entirely within reason that invested snark could exist. Hoid, who literally took a job as a professional Deadpan Snarker, is a standout example.
  • Wrong Context Magic: What happens when a worldhopper uses a magic system not native to the world they're on. Hoid is by far the biggest example of this, given all his confirmed abilities.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: