By Adam Fortuna
My first Brandon Sanderson book was Mistborn. In 2014 a coworker of mine (Adam Rensel) mentioned that every year he’d re-read the entire trilogy. I was curious and decided to see why he was such a big fan of the author and the series.
A year later I’d read the original trilogy, The Way of Kings + the newly released Words of Radiance, Steelheart and more. I was patiently awaiting the next book in multiple series. Sanderson had hooked me.
At the time I was living in Orlando, Florida working at a startup called Code School teaching people how to code. That startup was acquired by a company here in Salt Lake City, and my wife and I moved across the country.
What I didn’t realize is that we would move 4 blocks from where Dragonsteel is held. 🐉⚔️
2023 was my first year attending, and purely as a Sanderson fan. I didn’t even end up mentioning Hardcover to anyone – it seemed too self-promotional. Instead I geeked out with other Cosmere fans, embraced theories, studied lore and lost (badly) in trivia.
I’ve always loved reading write-ups by people who attend nerdy conferences and wanted to share my experience going to my first Dragonsteel as a Sanderson fan who’s read every one of his books (except the White Sand graphic novel which I picked up this year. 😉).
Dragonsteel 2023 was held at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, UT. It’s a large-ish convention center that alternates between comic book cons and multilevel marketing gatherings. We were there just recently for FanX, our largest convention. The actors strike was still happening, so the panelists couldn’t talk about much. I was happy to attend a convention where the actual authors would be able to talk. 😅
Let me set the stage for what you see when you make it into the convention.
Registration – Exactly what you’d expect. Pickup your badge – or later on pickup your copy of Defiant.
Dragonsteel Store – I was expecting a typical convention store with shoppers on one side and cashiers on the other, but no. They decked out an entire room as a browsable store (with Dragonsteel shopping bags)! The entire weekend up until the release party the line to get in was loooong, but it moved fast. I didn’t get a picture of the space, but I see why people were lining up. I picked up a Doomslug Christmas Sweater. 🐌🧥
Exhibit Hall – Roughly ~80 vendors if I had to guess. Split between 40 authors, 25 with various nerdy goods (dice, figures, custom creations), and a few bookstores and fan groups – including The Silverlight Guide to the Cosmere podcast.
I talked with a bunch of authors, picked up some books and admired the unique goods made by super fans.
Game Room – When I say game room, you might imagine a small area with a few tables. Instead, imagine this as an entire convention hall. There were a dozen areas to participate in the live action role playing game based on Skyward (more on that later). You could pick up board game in a dozen other tables, or join a game looking for players on one of the 50+ gaming tables. Join an RPG one-shot or play some Magic: The Gathering. Also some more stores, places to win prizes (I won a pair of Doomslug socks to match my sweater 😂).
Programming Rooms – Lastly there were 4 rooms for talks. One was the massive Roshar hall where Sanderson gave his speech(es). I spent a lot of my time in 155 – Scadrial where theory and Cosmere discussion was focused.
All around the common area, you’d see these propaganda posters to enlist and join the fight to defend Evershore. If you’ve read the Skyward Series, these will make sense. The convention was set to end with the book release of Defiant and having a game playing out all around helped set the mood for the book. (It’s next on my Want to Read list! No Spoilers please! 🙈🙉)
I signed up as a Scout for the Skyward-themed role playing game. I’ll be honest, I struggled a little bit with what to do, but the information booth was very helpful.
The goal of the game was to complete a series of four tasks. Each of them had multiple parts. I didn’t complete them, so don’t quote me on this 😅
Find 4 Taynix (slugs) during panels & presentations – This one was simple enough. During each panel they would hold up or show a taynix. You needed to attend 4 panels and capture pictures of them.
Find 8 Reality Icons – Without spoiling Cytonic, let’s jsut say reality icons keep you grounded in reality. There were 32 of these that you could collect, although the number was really 33, due to Sanderson having #0. You found these by asking someone working, volunteering or exhibiting at the con for theirs.
Scan 4 Delvers – Hidden throughout the convention were (supposedly) Delvers with QR codes you could scan. I kind of forgot about this one and I didn’t end up finding or scanning any.
The Hard One – The last challenge I didn’t even start. A post in r/brandonsanderson explains more what this one involved. It sounds like it took a group effort to figure this one out – which sounds like a fun adventure!
I don’t know for sure what the award was for completing this. I think it gave you more raffle tickets to win prizes. I appreciated the theming, and seeing people randomly having talks with staff asking for reality tokens. For a moment I felt like I was in the Nowhere. 😂
My favorite part of conventions is going to talks by people that know a ton more about the fandom than I do. Even though I’ve read every Sanderson book, what I don’t know could (and does) fill a wiki. Here are some of the panels I went to and a few takeaways from each.
Griff and Alex from the The Silverlight Guide to the Cosmere recorded a live episode to kick things off! In between encouraging people to pickup raffle tickets (Griff and Alex: let me know if that podcast guest option has been claimed 😂), they focused on a few Cosmere related questions:
As with a lot of the con, it was a spoiler heavy talk. I get the feeling that most panels assume that you’ve read every single Sanderson book. If you’re thinking about going next year, keep this in mind!
Over a decade ago when Lost was airing I would listen to podcasts and fan theories each week between episodes. No one but the author knew what was going to happen, so I couldn’t be spoiled! The Cosmere fan sphere reminds me of this. People have exciting and interesting theories – and some of them will no doubt be correct.
I wasn’t sure what to expect in an “opening ceremony”. Maybe a few comments about the convention and a general “hello”.
Before the official start time, The Science of Magic: Tress of the Emerald Sea w/ @MarkRober was playing while people got seated. Once it was time, about 20 members of the Dragonsteel team came out and started singing. 😂
As a huge musical fan, I loved this. I wasn’t expecting a musical tribute to the fun and excitement of going to a fan convention. They recorded a Cosmere/Con themed adaptation of “One Day More” from Les Misérables with lyrics adjusted for the event.
I was cracking up – as was the entire team. I immediately posted it to the Hardcover Discord to others to join in the fun. 😂
We juuuust had a discussion about Romantasy in the Hardcover Librarians group. We’re working on a “2023 Year in Books” project where we’re highlighting the most read book throughout the year – grouped by month, genre, and many many more (it’ll be long 😅).
The question was if we should include romantasy books in the “most read romance” section. In this case, we decided to split up the two and only use books where the main genre was romance.
I only caught the last few minutes of this this one after the welcome ceremony, butI had fun listening to Piper J. Drake host a session of “smash or pass” with Tricia Levenseller, Jessi Honard, and the rest of the panel asking romance tropes and seeing if they were all in or all out.
I’ve never known where the different Cosmere books take place timeline-wise. With stories happening on different words, you can’t base time on technological advancement alone. This panel dug into that question to understand where each book belongs compared to the rest.
Unfortunately I had to head out to check out the Stormlight Archives costume gathering (photos below). One thing that I found fascinating was where The Sunlit Man is theorized to be placed here. 🤔 Could it be considered a Skyward prequal?
It’s been a while since I read Cytonic & Evershore (Skyward #3 & #3.1), and I wanted a refresher on the series before jumping into Defiant. They did a complete recap of the entire series so far – including the novellas.
One of my favorite moments was when one of the panelists wasn’t sure on a plot point and a 10-year-old girl in the audience answered in great detail. 😂
How do you host a book club for a few hundred people? By making it a contest! Each of the four panelists was asked a series of questions about the book – all opinion based. For example: what was the most romantic moment? What was Hoid’s best quote?
For each one the audience would vote on the best and everyone else would have clothes hung on them (if you’ve read Yumi, you’ll recognize the significance of a coat rack. 😂)
Trivia was conducted using Cahoots – an online system where a series of questions are asked and everyone has a few seconds to answer each. After 40 or so questions the highest scorer got to go up front and participate in a game of Jeopardy!
I joined the first round and verrrrry quickly realized I wasn’t going to be in the top 15 – and would be lucky to be in the top 50% 😅. The questions were tough!
I’ve never had a good grasp on what Hoid is capable of. He’s always been a bit of a mystery, with each appearance only adding to the questions.
This panel focused on what Hoid is capable of what magic systems from different books he has access to and what might his motivation be?
One takeaway that stuck with me is how Hoid has magic luck – which is why he happens to be in the right place at the right time to meet all the main characters from each story.
I wasn’t sure what to expect in a 2-hour Q&A. Sanderson went out on stage, completely alone, and answered rapid fire questions from the audience the. entire. time.
Of the 100 questions he was asked, there were only about 10 or so that he refused to answer – sighting “read and find out” – meaning the answer will be revealed in a future book.
There were two answers that stuck with me.
#1: Hoid dated a dragon. Dragons live much of their lives as humans and can shape shift to dragons, but have children in their human form. Sanderson wouldn’t say who the dragon was (or if we’d even met them yet), but did mention “not to look in the Stormlight Archives” for them.
#2: We’re going to see more super structures (like Evershore) but even larger. Sanderson teased an idea for the “Grand Apparatus”. What it is (and if he decides to keep the name) is to be determined.
The last event of the convention was the Defiant Release Party. Taking place in the largest convention hall, Sanderson and his wife gave an update on Dragonsteel (the company), next years convention, a keynote then a Spoiler-free Q&A.
There were three major Dragonsteel announcements:
1) Announcing the Words of Radiance leather bound kickstarter set for the end of March (which will come with a Syl!).
2) The intention to build a physical bookstore in the next few years! This wouldn’t just be a bookstore but an event space, a cafe, space for book clubs and even additional space for other vendors (game store anyone?).
3) Next Years Dragonsteel will be held here in SLC again on December 5-7 2024 with the last day being the launch of The Stormlight Archies Book #5 (!) on a Saturday night.
Sanderson’s keynote was one of my high points from the convention. He talked for about half an hour about the current state of the Cosmere.
Somehow this conversation was spoiler free – but it did talk in terms of entire story arcs. Last year the Mistborn: Wax & Wayne saga wrapped up. On the day of his talk The Skyward series wrapped up. In December of 2024 the first half of The Stormlight Archives will wrap up.
We’re getting to a point in the Cosmere where the next series of stories won’t be expanding on the current stories, but time jumps and new stories altogether.
He related this to being a kind of liminal space in the Cosmere timeline.
One of the stories he told was how difficult it was to write Shadows of Self (Wax & Wayne #2). He’s started writing it, but was called away to finish The Wheel of Time series. When he want back to Shadows, he had trouble getting back into it. To help get back into the mindset of the characters, he skipped forward to The Bands of Mourning (Wax & Wayne #3). After flexing that muscle he was able to go back to Shadows and finish it.
A takeaway was to always leave yourself runway. If you finish a chapter of a book don’t just stop there. Use that moment and write a few more pages into the next chapter! Between sessions you’ll make progress in your mind and when you sit back down you’ll have a place to take off from.
I was exhausted by this point and decided to head out before the full Q&A. Before I did Sanderson announced the next book after Stormlight #5 would be a White Sand novel (!). If you check out the timeline above, you’ll see why this could be very interesting for the overall Cosmere.
I’m such a huge fan of seeing people in costume at conventions. I’ve dressed as anime and sci-fi characters a few times for cons, and loved just walking around and admiring the work people put into their looks.
Brandon Sanderson also would give each person in costume who he encountered a special pin! If you’re on the fence about dressing up next year keep this in mind!
One of the last things I checked out was the virtual reality experience: M-Bot’s Adventure.
After putting on the headset you’re taken to Skyward Flight School. Something goes wrong and it’s your job to get back to where you started.
It’s not an interactive experience with controllers, but it was fun to look around 360 degrees and experience a set story. Honestly, they had me at “virtual reality experience”.
One of my favorite things in the expo hall was The Lightweaver Foundations Christmas ornaments. The secret project ones were gorgeous, and I have a tinge of regret for not picking up all of them.
This is my first Dragonsteel but I already can’t wait for the next one. There are a lot of parts of that I missed or skipped out on. I don’t tend to keep physical books, so acquiring signed copies wasn’t important to me, but if that’s your goal there are many options to get a signed copy.
The entire volunteer team and Dragonsteel team was extremely helpful and welcoming. When I first arrived and was looking for the game area, a volunteer walked me down to the game area and gave me instructions on how to get started. I think without that I might not have joined the resistence!
I had fun chatting with various people I ran into, but I didn’t join any organized talks. Next time I’d like to get to know more people ahead of time rather than rely on meeting people there. I’ve since joined the 17th Shard Discord and will have that handy for next time. 😉
One down note would be food. the food options in the venue aren’t great. I lined up for a BBQ brisket sandwich the first day, but by the time I got up there it was BBQ brisket nachos. I walked to the City Creek Mall Food Court and to Subway for my meals after that.
I also didn’t play any games! I would have loved to sit and play something and make some friends. It was a tough decision between that and attending panels (or just taking time to relax and recover).
If you’re planning to go next year hit me up on Discord (either Hardcovers or the 17th Shard)! I’d love to meetup in person with more people next time.
Here’s me with some slugs.