Review Secret Project #4: The Sunlit Man

In March 2022, author Brandon Sanderson announced – in what has now become quite the iconic YouTube video – that he had secretly written five books. He decided to offer four of those Secret Projects in a non-traditional way, through self-publishing funded by the most successful Kickstarter campaign ever.

Since Brandon Sanderson is one of my favorite fantasy authors, I decided to support this campaign in order to get my hands on the super deluxe editions of these books.
But before the physical copies reach their new owners, a digital copy is sent to campaign backers every first day of a new quarter (January 1 – April 1 – July 1 – October 1), so that everyone can access the new stories at the same time.

For the previous three quarters I refer you to the following posts:

  1. Review Secret Project #1: Tress of the Emerald Sea
  2. Unboxing Secret Project #1
  3. Review Secret Project #2: The Frugal Wizard’s Handbook for Surviving Medieval England
  4. Unboxing Secret Project #2
  5. Review Secret Project #3: Yumi and the Nightmare Painter
  6. Unboxing Secret Project #3

And now, we have come to the end of my year of Sanderson with the fourth and final Secret Project.

This last Secret Project is the first one that I deliberately did not read immediately upon receipt. My experience with Yumi had taught me that if my reading mood is not ideal, I should not force myself to read a book, no matter how much I had been anticipating it. This also makes this The Sunlit Man the first of the Secret Projects that I received physically before reading it. You could previously see my unboxing here.
This also makes this the first Secret Project that I could experience for the first time through the beautiful edition with its illustrations.

Brandon Sanderson – The Sunlit Man ★★★★

Genre: Fantasy

Years ago he had comrades in arms and a cause to believe in, but now the man who calls himself Nomad knows only a life on the run. Forced to hop from world to world in the Cosmere whenever the relentless Night Brigade gets too close, Nomad lands on a new planet and is instantly caught up in the struggle between a tyrant and the rebels who want only to escape being turned into mindless slaves—all under the constant threat of a sunrise whose heat will melt the very stones. Unable to understand the language, can he navigate the conflict and gain enough power to leap offworld before his mind or body pay the ultimate price?

Nomad woke up among the condemned.

The Sunlit Man throws you into the story from its first sentence, which really sets the tone for the rest of the book. This is one fast-paced, action packed adventure that took me some time to get into, because we are once again quite literally dumped into this new world, that we need to figure out along the way, together with our main character.

This book takes place in the Cosmere, Sanderson’s fictional universe that interconnects many of his stories, but on a planet we have not yet seen before.
What is immediately clear is that our main character has travelled there from another planet we are familiar with (by the use of the word “Storms” as a curse) and that a lot of time has passed from when we last saw that planet, because the magic has evolved to be more of a science than anything miraculous. So this book actually turned out to be much more sci-fi than I had anticipated, leaning very much into the thought that magic is just a science we have not yet figured out.

The sunlight reached him. An incredible, intense, burning light. Prisoners burst into flame, screaming.

Now, about this new planet, in typical Sanderson fashion, it was once again brilliantly conceived revolving around the very simple thought “what if direct sunlight were deadly?”.
Around this question, an entire society, ecosystem and magic system are constructed that left me once again in awe of this man’s imagination. This singular aspect of this world also made for a rather darker tone in story, with even the magic being rather gruesome to achieve.
What was also impressive was how magic systems of different Cosmere planets were being blended, while explaining the science behind it. This shows how thoughtful Sanderson creates his world, fully developing the magic and grasping how it works. It’s incredible to see the amount of forethought and to see it all come together.
So yes, for me, the world and magic were once again the biggest point of intrigue, propelling me through the story.

We wear away. Ideals are like statues in the wind. They seem so permanent, but truth is, erosion happens subtly, constantly.

What was somewhat disappointing however was the character work.

On the one hand we have our main character Nomad, who we should clearly recognize from another book.
Now, I must confess that I did not figure out who he was on my own and once I looked it up, I did not really have a big WOW moment, but was rather confused as I had a hard time reconciling both characters as being one and the same. This turned out to be intentional, as it is meant to serve as a foreshadowing for things to come.
Many years have passed and some big events clearly have taken place, resulting in the changes in our character. When I found out who he was supposed to be, I first feared that I had spoiled myself for the only Cosmere book I have not yet read, but then it became clear that we are not meant to understand what has happened, since those events have not yet been told. But at the same time, because my memory isn’t very good, I couldn’t help but think that I had forgotten something crucial from previous books.
It’s a bit dual, since I am a fan of interconnected stories and I usually really enjoy foreshadowing and little easter eggs, but here it didn’t really work for me since it ultimately distracted me too much from the story at hand, than serve as a cool additional layer that those in the know can enjoy.

On the other hand, I felt that most of the side characters were a bit too flat for me to really feel involved. Especially the villain was too one-dimensional, which almost made him feel like a caricature.

Sometimes, asking the questions is enough. Because it has to be enough. Because sometimes, that’s all there is.

As for the plot, this was just straight up fun.
A true adventure story taking place in a truly intriguing world, which we figure out together with our hero in a science filled exploration. The final showdown was in typical Sanderlanche fashion, however since I felt little engagement with the characters, it left me a bit detached.

So, all in all, a rather entertaining read, but not without its flaws. Also, I do think people unfamiliar with the Cosmere will feel even more removed than I did. This book is clearly written for the fans, as Sanderson indicates in his postscript, and in my opinion will become more enjoyable on reread and when all of the Cosmere is revealed.

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