If you were to ask me to list off my favorite authors from the top of my head, one of, if not the first, names I’d throw down would certainly be Brandon Sanderson. Which is strange when you think of it. Including this novella, I’ve read but three of his works. But that, to me anyway, is paramount to my appreciation. Brandon Sanderson is a legend at worldbuilding, a master of fantasy literature, an author that stands on par with George R. R. Martin in terms of quality, and one who stands in a field all his own in terms of sheer output. The guy releases a handful of books and shorts a year. Some of those being giant 1000 page tomes. Sixth of the Dusk is a novelette, part of the Shadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses Anthology.
So how does Sixth of the Dusk stand? In terms of worldbuilding, for a story this short, there is no comparing it to anything else. The short takes place on the tenth planet of Brandon Sanderson’s expansive Cosmere (the universe that most of his many series and works take place in) entitled First of the Sun. It’s a minor Shardworld, something not even touched on in the narrative, but the effects of its strange magical presence is both imaginative and terrifying. What we learn about the planet isn’t much, but every page of this novella unfurls a world sprawling with life and death.
We aren’t told if there are any major land masses on First of the Sun, but we do learn of two island masses, the Eelakin Islands – the homeisles of the Eelakin people, and the Pantheon, a group of islands revered by the Eelakin due to their cognitive magical properties. The greatest of these Pantheon islands, Panji, is where Sixth of the Dusk takes place. It’s also the most dangerous. Unique to this island is the fact that many of the living creatures have telepathic capabilities, throwing thoughts around or mental images.
One such creature, featured prominently, is a special breed of Aviar (bird with powers), and is named Sak, by his owner (and main character of the novella) Dusk. He is capable of showing the holder portents of their impending death, literally throwing out a mental image of the holder’s dead body in any number of precarious scenarios (of which there are infinite possibilities on Panji). Mental magic systems aren’t unheard of. Robin Hobb is no stranger to them certainly, but this short raises the bar of strange ever so slightly.
The title Sixth of the Dusk refers specifically to the novella’s protagonist. He was the sixth born in his family, and at dusk. It is an Eelakin naming tradition, native to this planet. We find his name actually refers to the dusk of his kind, something that heavily influences the narrative of the story. Change is inevitable, essentially. I found that Dusk’s narrative arc was too contrived, too stark for the time allotted in the story that it didn’t feel altogether natural.
I feel that the story faces the dilemma that it’s literally just a story to further the Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere, and from what I’ve read, this is the first attempt at really bridging the many worlds with the idea of The Ones Above coming down to change the lives of the people on the small planet, and thus one of the most instrumental if Sanderson ever plans to fully throw a crossover story. As a story by itself, it doesn’t hold up entirely, thus the 7.3 score I gave it. But it is a worthy addition to his arsenal of stories. I hope you all get a chance to dive into it. But I now have an entirely new goal of catching up on the rest of Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere work in the coming year, starting with his Mistborn series.