Come one, come all to the Cosmere! That’s right folks, after years of Brandon Sanderson reviews and discussions, we’re finally laying down the law. Today, one and a half Brandon Sanderson experts (Andrew and Cole, respectively) shoulder the Herculean task of telling YOU the ideal Brandon Sanderson reading order.
A few clean-up notes before we dive in:
- This is a Cosmere guide. You won’t find non-Cosmere works like Skyward or Alcatraz & The Evil Librarians here.
- The two Wild Card picks at the end of this post can go anywhere in your reading order (with one caveat).
- We’ve avoided spoilers, but if you want to go in as blind as a bat, just read the headers!
And now, at long last, The Quill To Live’s recommended Cosmere reading order.
What Is The Cosmere?
Think the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but for Brandon Sanderson’s fantasy books. Many of the author’s novels take place in a shared universe and tell stories of the people and civilizations of that universe’s planets. Many Cosmere fans expect these worlds to discover one another (or be united by a mysterious force) in an Avengers-style crossover series.
For a full primer, check out Brandon Sanderson’s post about the Cosmere.
1: Mistborn Era 1
The first Mistborn trilogy has it all. A balanced and relatable main character. A ragtag, quip-filled heist crew. A powerful tyrant. A well-defined magic system. A crisis of faith. Stunning action sequences. Horrifically deformed magical beings. A cute doggy.
Mistborn and its sequels—The Well of Ascension and The Hero of Ages—pack a combined punch that rivals the best fantasy trilogies out there. We follow Vin as she blossoms from decaying street-dweller to capable and confident protagonist. Her journey, spurred by the marvelous characters peppered throughout the trilogy, make this our easy first pick for Cosmere rookies.
Mistborn era one is a fun, self-contained tale that still has Cosmere-spanning impacts. It’s easy to latch onto, and the three-book narrative will please plenty of longtime fantasy readers.
Dip your toe into the world of ash and mist, get familiar, then strap the hell in for twists and turns that have Cosmere-spanning implications.
2: Mistborn Era 2 (The Wax & Wayne Cycle), Books 1-3
The still-in-progress Wax & Wayne Cycle is expected to conclude with The Lost Metal, which releases in November 2022. For now, readers have three Mistborn Era 2 books to enjoy: The Alloy of Law, Shadows of Self, and The Bands of Mourning. Note that The Lost Metal is part of Era 2, but we strongly recommend you save it for later.
Era 2 picks up 300-ish years following the events of The Hero of Ages, which makes it a perfect second step in your journey. The world has advanced to a Western civilization on the cusp of mass industrialization. That’s just a fancy-schmancy way to say: GUNS & TRAINS BABAY PEW PEW PEW!
For real, though, the advent of firepower in a world of Allomancers adds a fun, interesting dynamic to the story. Mistborn’s second era feels like a more focused narrative, but the raucous characters give it a comedic flair.
Enter The Stormlight Archive, Brandon Sanderson’s protagonist-filled epic fantasy magnum opus. Part of the reason we recommend you finish the Mistborn series first is to clear your schedule for the rollercoaster you are about to ride.
If you’re even slightly inclined towards epic fantasy, be prepared for a world-shattering experience. Sanderson welcomes you to Roshar, a massive, brutal world replete with magical militaries, raging storms, and political machinations that’ll fuel jaw-dropping twists. And it’s only the first book in a 10-book series.
Stormlight is a top-tier fantasy series filled with massive volumes. With Mistborn and possibly one of our wild card picks behind you, you’re ready for a journey into Sanderson’s most fulfilling read.
You’re gonna have Stormlight whiplash. Once you scrape your jaw off the floor and reassemble the shattered pieces of your brain, take a breather and enjoy a different type of Cosmere tale.
Warbreaker deploys a colorful new magic system with high stakes. It also is the start of some of the Avengers-style Cosmere crossover we mentioned above. It’s not required to read Warbreaker before Stormlight 2, but you will enjoy Radiance more if you do.
Murmurs of a possible sequel abound, but with Wax & Wayne book four, Stormlight 5, and myriad other Sanderson follow-ups on the way, it’s unlikely to come to fruition for a long while. For now, consider Warbreaker a refreshing standalone Cosmere pit stop.
Back to The Stormlight Archive you go! And we doubt it’ll take much convincing. Sanderson continues the story, this time giving much of the spotlight to Shallan.
There’s not much else we can say here other than that Words of Radiance will give you more. More Stormlight, more Shallan, more Kaladin, more magic, more surprises.
6: Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection
Here, Sanderson offers a charcuterie board of sorts. Arcanum Unbounded includes various Cosmere stories spanning his many series. This is the ideal place to read Arcanum Unbounded because Arcanum contains spoilers for multiple books earlier in our reading order and set up for multiple books after.
Arcanum Unbounded contains a few Elantris-related goodies, an excerpt of White Sand (more on that below), Mistborn: Secret History, and many other stories. Edgedancer is also included, bridging the gap between Words of Radiance and Oathbringer.
Easter eggs and Worldhoppers aside, this is the first true collection that connects the Cosmere’s disparate systems. It is also an absolutely gorgeous book and looks even better in its large hardback form.
From here onward, it’s all Stormlight Archive all the time. That is, until new Mistborn or Elantris books pop up.
For now, enjoy the in-depth continuation of Dalinar’s tale, replete with new details about shardplate and shardblades, plus more from our ever-growing cast of characters.
Here we have another interstitial novella that starts to thin out the boundaries between Roshar (the world of Stormlight) and the rest of the Cosmere.
Wild Card 1: Elantris
Brandon Sanderson’s first published novel is great. But his other works are excellent. For this reason, Andrew and I disagreed where to place Elantris firmly in the reading order.
You could read Elantris first, but you would start off disappointed. On the other hand, it’s not as fun to read Mistborn then jump into what is arguably a worse book.
For those reasons, slot Elantris into your Cosmere reading order wherever you’d like, though we recommend making it your first or second Sanderson outing. There’s a lot of fun to be had in the fabled fallen city.
Note: Though you can place it almost anywhere you want, we strongly recommend reading Elantris before you jump into Rhythm of War.
Wild Card 2: White Sand
This three-volume graphic novel series set in the Cosmere earns a preview in Arcanum Unbounded, which is why we place it here. If the excerpt from Arcanum proved interesting to you, pick up White Sand right afterwards.
Truthfully, we don’t have a strict slot for White Sand in our reading order. Go for it whenever you feel like it’s time, maybe after a beefier volume when you want a quick win. It’s best enjoyed before Rhythm Of War.
We reach the end…for now. Rhythm of War is the most recent core Stormlight novel. Once you finish this gargantuan tome, you’re all caught up on Stormlight, and you have one Cosmere-connected book to read to finish off everything that’s currently available.
10: The Lost Metal
Mistborn Era 2 concludes with The Lost Metal. It might seem odd to split the series up like this, but there’s a good reason for it. The Lost Metal is by far the most Cosmere-aware book in any of these series. You will enjoy it most if you catch up on everything else before you dive in. We won’t spoil why, exactly, but we hope you’ll trust us on this one.
The first project from Brandon Sanderson’s record-breaking Kickstarter is out, and we put it at the end of this list. You could read it earlier, but you’d miss a lot of the references and Cosmere-aware tidbits. If you’re reading the Cosmere for maximum immersion or simply don’t want to miss key references, Tress should be last on your list. It uses a magic system hinted at in The Lost Metal, and there are about one thousand other references you’ll need some baseline knowledge to understand.
Full Cosmere Reading Order
Just want a list of the books in our suggested order? Here it is!
- Mistborn (The Final Empire)
- The Well Of Ascension
- The Hero Of Ages
- The Alloy Of Law
- Shadows Of Self
- The Bands Of Mourning
- The Way Of Kings
- Words Of Radiance
- Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection
- White Sand
- Rhythm Of War
- The Lost Metal
- Tress Of The Emerald Sea
More To Come
The Next Cosmere book set to release is Secret Project #3, coming out in July. We’ll see you then!