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 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 (called The Final Empire in some markets) 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.
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 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.
3: The Way Of Kings
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.
4: Words Of Radiance
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.
5: 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.
8: 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.
9: Mistborn Era 2 (The Wax & Wayne Cycle)
There are four books in this era: The Alloy of Law, Shadows of Self, The Bands of Mourning, and The Lost Metal. We originally had this series split to avoid certain spoilers. After The Lost Metal came out, we thought it best to group all of the Mistborn Era 2 books into one big chunk, especially after a wild ride through the entire Stormlight Archive. Could you read this era right after Mistborn Era 1? Yes, but you’d have to hold on The Lost Metal until after Rhythm of War.
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.
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.
10: Tress Of The Emerald Sea
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 Way Of Kings
- Words Of Radiance
- Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection
- Rhythm Of War
- The Alloy Of Law
- Shadows Of Self
- The Bands Of Mourning
- The Lost Metal
- White Sand
- Tress Of The Emerald Sea
Other Cosmere Content From The QTL Crew
- Please Adapt Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere by Cole Rush at Tor.com
- How Brandon Sanderson’s Elantris Planted The Seeds For Future Cosmere Goodness by Cole Rush at Tor.com
- Damn, That’s Good: Pseudo-Profanity As SFF Worldbuilding by Cole Rush at Tor.com
You Might Also Like…
Are you a fan of big SFF series? Here are a few places to start if you want more beefy books:
- Seven Epic Fantasy Series Worth The Time Investment
- Why You Should Read The Culture
- A Guide To All Things The Witcher
- Why You Should Read Malazan
- Your Guide To The Great Book Of Amber: Part 1 and Part 2
More To Come
The Next Cosmere book set to release is Secret Project #3, coming out in July. We’ll see you then!
44 thoughts on “Welcome To The Cosmere: A Brandon Sanderson Reading Order Guide”
So does this mean his Legion books are non-cosmere?
Yep! Legion takes place on a version of Earth. On Brandon Sanderson’s website, he notes that anything that includes a form of Earth is non-Cosmere. I’ve heard great things about the series, though!
Thanks. I don’t keep up with Sanderson much anymore so I’m not up on what he’s stated on his website about his various series. Appreciate the info.
Of course! Happy to help. I don’t visit the site much either, but defs had to for this piece lol. If you end up reading Legion, get in touch–curious to hear what you think.
I’ve read the first two and have been wavering ever since about the final one. With it being over 5 years now you’d think I’d have made up my mind, sigh.
Anyway, here’s a link to the 2 novella reviews:
Ah, the troubles of being a fantasy reader. So many books, so little time!
Honestly I’d argue for Warbreaker even earlier in the read order. It’s short enough/semi-self contained like Elantris is and would be a decent book to start with compared to reading all of Mistborn first, so that they get a taste if a newcomer to the series would. Which I suppose is why you recommend Elantris to be an early book.
I was also going to mention a few couple separate printed novellas that weren’t listed, but after rereading your list and checking Arcanum Unbounded, I noticed that Emperor’s Soul and Edgedancer are a part of it.
I can get behind Warbreaker early as well. However, I thought it started a tad slower than Mistborn does, thus our slotting it later.
Do you have to read them all for stormlight to make sense? Quality of the other books aside. I don’t have a ton of time and committing to just one epic series is already a lot.
Nope! The Cosmere as it currently stands is written so each series can be enjoyed without the context of the others.
Not that you asked, but if you were to read ONE non-Stormlight book to experience a cool reveal, I recommend doing Warbreaker before Words of Radiance. Again, not required, but can add some flair to the end of WoR.
I’d recommend reading both your wild cards before Rhythm of War, because there are connections to both those worlds referenced in Rhythm of War and that are worth catching as you go through it.
Rhythm is the first book I recognized ties to all previous Cosmere content.
That one tweak stated, Ian’s the thought you’ve put into it. Makes a lot of sense with entry into and through the Cosmere often unclear and subjective.
Solid reading order, recommending SA first to my friend was a mistake, I should have hooked him on the Cosmere through Mistborn, possibly The Emperor’s Soul, and then hit him with the massive epic.
I think its better to read Secret History before you start Wax and Wayne. Is there any reason not to, i.e. spoilers I’m forgetting?
This is a perfectly fine slot! We put it later because reading Arcanum in one go might be preferred for some folks. But your option is equally viable.
great list. as someone who has only read the mistborn trilogy Elantris (which I actually loved), I reckon it would be good to , maybe at the bottom, add a straight list of book titles in the order you recommend just for ease of people not sure which books are in which series :).
Done! Great idea.
Hey there Cole, thank you so much for putting this together! It has helped me plan my reading order for this year, as BS has so much to read. As of yet I have read Mistborn era 1, Elantris and am currently busy with Warbreaker.
I just have a question regarding the new secret project, Tress of the Emerald Sea. Where would you slot this one into the reading order? I heard it can be read as a first entry, but that there are some minor references that are only picked up on after a certain book. Not quite sure which as I don’t want to do too much research in fear of spoilers.
Yo Gijs! We have it at the end of the list here. Reading it first won’t spoil a ton. INstead, you’d emerge a bit confused by certain references, which would go over your head. You have already read (or are reading) some of the more important books to provide context for this one, though. So it’s a matter of preference. Do you want all the references to hit and makes sense? In that case, wait! If you want to enjoy the story as is and fill in some small blanks later, then read it now-ish!
If you were to break apart the arcanum unbounded (as someone who is a massive book hoarder and wants physicals of everything) if it’s not too much work, what order would you read them in regarding your current list, or do you still fill in fits in nicely here. I read to my wife every night and we just finished the rollercoaster of Mistborn Era 1 (oh boy were there tears in the epilogue), and are curious where to go from here! (My wife reaaaalllyyy wants to read Secret History, but I wanna make sure we get the most out of this)
I would read:
Emperor’s Soul after Elantris
Mistborn: Secret History after Mistborn Era 1
Edgedancer after Words of Radiance
Otherwise the rest can go in the order listed here!
Hey there, as someone who just finished the first three Mistborn books this is incredibly helpful, so let me thank you first! However, I think parts of this are outdated, right? The Lost Metal and Secret Project #3 are out by now if I am not mistaken, so how do they fit into this order (should be clear for The Lost Metal at least) and are there more books that we should know of? Thanks again!
Howdy! Both of those books are listed. The Lost Metal and Tress of the Emerald Sea (secret project 1) are both near the end of the reading order. There are spoilery reasons for their appearance so late in the list.
We are actually discussing internally whether to move Mistborn Era 2 later in the order so folks could read them all at once. We may update the post soon to capture that change, if we do make it.
A post on the internet suggested this order of books, which is listed below. What would you do to enhance this list?
Elantris (you can read this any time, but make sure you do so before Stormlight 3)
Edgedancer (Stormlight 2.5)
Dawnshard (Stormlight 3.5)
Stormlight 5 (once it comes out)
Mistborn 4 (Era 2 – 1)
Mistborn 5 (Era 2 – 2)
Mistborn 6 (Era 2 – 3)
Mistborn: A Secret History (takes place during Mistborn 1-3, but from a different perspective)
Mistborn 7 (Era 2 – 4, once it comes out)
For context this post was made 7-8 months ago
This is a perfectly fine order and would be a great alternative to ours. We are actually contemplating editing ours to make it closer to this structure.
hi there! love the list, where would you place the Knights of Wind and Truth in this?
We’ll update this post when it’s out, but my current guess is it will go dead last on the list.
So where would “Mistborn Secret Histories” fit in?
Between Eras 1 and 2 or during Arcanum Unbounded, which contains Mistborn: Secret History.
Hey! so I’ve been following your reading order to read my way through the cosmos, but as I finished The Way of Kings, I noticed that you’ve updated your list and quite significantly changed the order, while the descriptions remain the same, so I’m wondering how to continue, is there a good way to transition into this reading order? or some way of getting the old list so that I can continue that way?
Thanks for the great work!
Howdy! Our main change in this update moved Mistborn Era 2 back so you could read it alongside The Lost Metal. If you were at Way of Kings in our previous order, I recommend you do Warbreaker next, then Words of Radiance. After that, you can resume the order as it is now.
I don’t really get the order. I have read the list and I am confused. I have not read any but would like to read all of them in the future. Could you write the order you have read them Cole? It would be really helpful to me.
Hi Maddie, our full recommended reading order is in the bulleted list at the bottom of the post. Here it is:
Mistborn (The Final Empire)
The Well Of Ascension
The Hero Of Ages
The Way Of Kings
Words Of Radiance
Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection
Rhythm Of War
The Alloy Of Law
Shadows Of Self
The Bands Of Mourning
The Lost Metal
Tress Of The Emerald Sea