If you’re a fan of epic high fantasy, chances are you’ve heard of Brandon Sanderson. One of the most prolific and popular authors in the genre, Sanderson is known for his intricate world-building, complex magic systems, and engaging characters. With so many books and series to choose from, it can be hard to know where to start. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of Sanderson’s best works and help you discover which ones to read first.
Understanding Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere Universe
Before diving into Sanderson’s individual series and books, it’s helpful to have an understanding of the larger world he has created. Sanderson’s Cosmere universe is a vast interconnected web of stories, with many different planets and magic systems tied together by a grand mythology. Each series exists within this shared universe, though they can be enjoyed independently. Understanding the Cosmere can enhance your appreciation of Sanderson’s work, but fear not – you don’t need a PhD in Cosmere studies to enjoy his books.
What is the Cosmere?
The Cosmere is a term used to describe the shared universe in which many of Sanderson’s books take place. According to Sanderson, it is a “hidden epic fantasy series” that connects all of his works. The Cosmere is a vast, sprawling universe, with different planets and societies all connected by a mysterious force known as investiture. Investiture is a magic system that operates differently on each planet but is ultimately connected by the same underlying force. It is the source of all magic in the Cosmere and is tied to the planet’s spiritual realm.
Each planet in the Cosmere has its own unique history, culture, and magic system. For example, Scadrial, the world of Mistborn, has a magic system based on metals, while Roshar, the world of The Stormlight Archive, has a magic system based on the manipulation of stormlight.
Key Concepts and Terminology
There are several key concepts and terms that are important to understand when delving into the Cosmere. Shards are powerful entities that embody certain aspects of the universe, and can be found on various planets throughout the Cosmere. They are remnants of a god-like being known as Adonalsium, who shattered into sixteen different pieces. The Shards are each held by a different person, and their influence can have a profound effect on the world around them.
The Cognitive Realm is a parallel dimension that connects all of the planets in the Cosmere. It is the realm of thought and perception, and is inhabited by beings known as spren. These beings are manifestations of different concepts and emotions, and can be influenced by the thoughts and beliefs of those who inhabit the physical realm.
The Spiritual Realm is the source of all investiture and is tied to each planet in the Cosmere. It is the realm of souls and is where the Shards reside. It is also the realm where magic is most powerful and where the most profound changes can be made.
Understanding these concepts and terminology can help readers to fully appreciate the depth and complexity of Sanderson’s Cosmere universe. Each series and book offers a new perspective on the larger story, and understanding the interconnectedness of the Cosmere can enhance the reading experience.
The Stormlight Archive Series
One of the most beloved and epic series in Sanderson’s Cosmere is The Stormlight Archive. This ongoing series is set on the world of Roshar and features warring factions, complex magic systems, and a cast of characters that will keep you engrossed for hundreds of pages.
The world of Roshar is a unique and fascinating place, full of strange creatures and natural phenomena. The planet is covered in massive, continent-spanning storms that shape the landscape and provide a source of power for the magic system. The magic itself is based on the use of gemstones and the manipulation of light and sound, and it is both complex and deeply integrated into the world-building of the series.
But it’s not just the world-building that makes The Stormlight Archive so compelling – it’s also the characters. The series features a diverse cast of protagonists, each with their own unique struggles and motivations. Kaladin, for example, is a former soldier who suffers from PTSD and struggles with feelings of guilt and failure. Shallan, on the other hand, is a young noblewoman who is trying to uncover the secrets of her family’s past while also grappling with her own inner demons.
The Way of Kings
The Way of Kings is the first book in The Stormlight Archive series and serves as an excellent introduction to Sanderson’s world-building and storytelling. The book follows several main characters, including Kaladin and Shallan, as well as Dalinar, a high-ranking nobleman who is struggling to come to terms with his own past and the role he played in a devastating war.
Throughout the book, we see these characters grow and change as they face incredible challenges and make difficult choices. We also get a sense of the larger conflicts and mysteries that will drive the series forward, including the enigmatic figure known as the “Herald of the Almighty” and the ancient, god-like beings known as the “Shardbearers.”
The Way of Kings is a long book, but it’s worth the investment – the payoff is immense. By the end of the book, you’ll be fully invested in the world of Roshar and eager to see where the story goes next.
Words of Radiance
The second book in The Stormlight Archive series, Words of Radiance, picks up where The Way of Kings left off. The book follows the same main characters, but expands the scope to include new perspectives and plotlines. We also get to see more of the magic system in action, as well as some truly epic battle scenes.
One of the standout features of Words of Radiance is the way it explores the concept of “oaths” – promises made by characters to themselves or others that have real-world consequences. This theme is woven throughout the book, and it adds a layer of depth and complexity to the already rich world of Roshar.
Oathbringer is the third book in The Stormlight Archive, released in 2017. The book continues the story of Kaladin, Shallan, and others as they confront new challenges and discover more about the world of Roshar. One of the major themes of the book is the concept of “legacy” – what we leave behind when we’re gone, and how our actions can shape the world for generations to come.
The book also introduces some new characters and plotlines, including a group of rebels who are fighting against the ruling class of Roshar. This adds a new layer of political intrigue to the series, and it sets the stage for some major conflicts in future books.
With a shocking ending and plenty of action, Oathbringer cements The Stormlight Archive as one of the best fantasy series of the past decade.
Rhythm of War
The most recent book in The Stormlight Archive series, Rhythm of War, was released in 2020. The book continues the story of the previous three books, delving deeper into the world of Roshar and its complex mythology. We also get to see more of the characters’ personal struggles and how they cope with the weight of their responsibilities.
One of the major themes of Rhythm of War is the concept of “mental health” – how characters cope with trauma, depression, and other mental health issues. This is a topic that Sanderson has explored in other works, but it’s particularly poignant in the context of The Stormlight Archive.
Overall, Rhythm of War is a worthy addition to the series, and it sets the stage for some major events in future books. Fans of the series will not be disappointed with this latest installment.
The Mistborn Series
Another popular series within Sanderson’s Cosmere is Mistborn. This trilogy follows a group of rebels seeking to overthrow an evil empire, and features a unique magic system that involves ingesting and burning metals for various effects. Here are the three main books in the original Mistborn trilogy:
The Final Empire
The Final Empire is the first book in the Mistborn trilogy and introduces readers to the world of Scadrial and its magic system. The book follows Vin, a street urchin with hidden powers, as she joins a band of rebels seeking to overthrow the Lord Ruler, a seemingly immortal tyrant. The Final Empire is a fast-paced and thrilling read, perfect for fans of heist stories and epic fantasy.
The Well of Ascension
The second book in the Mistborn trilogy, The Well of Ascension, continues the story of Vin and the rebellion against the Lord Ruler. With more political intrigue and character development, this book delves deeper into the world of Scadrial and sets up an epic finale.
The Hero of Ages
The final book in the Mistborn trilogy, The Hero of Ages, brings the story to a satisfying conclusion. With surprises, twists, and plenty of action, this book will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end.
The Wax and Wayne Series
In addition to the original trilogy, Sanderson has also written a sequel series set in the same world, featuring new characters and set several years after the events of the first series. The Wax and Wayne series currently consists of four books:
Alloy of Law
Alloy of Law is the first book in the Wax and Wayne series and takes place roughly three hundred years after the events of the original trilogy. The book follows Waxillium Ladrian, a nobleman-turned-lawman, and his partner Wayne as they investigate a new threat to the city of Elendel. With a more western-inspired setting and a lighter tone than the original trilogy, Alloy of Law is a fun and engaging read.
Shadows of Self
The second book in the Wax and Wayne series, Shadows of Self, sees Wax and Wayne investigating a series of murders that lead to a larger conspiracy. With a more complex plot and deeper character development, Shadows of Self expands on the world of Scadrial and sets the stage for an epic conclusion.
The Bands of Mourning
The third book in the Wax and Wayne series, The Bands of Mourning, picks up right where Shadows of Self left off. This book delves deeper into the mythology of Scadrial and features several new twists and surprises. Fans of the original Mistborn trilogy will not want to miss this book.
The Lost Metal
The final book in the Wax and Wayne series, The Lost Metal, has not yet been released. However, Sanderson has promised that it will be the grand finale to the entire Mistborn saga.
Standalone Novels and Novellas
In addition to his series work, Sanderson has also written several standalone novels and novellas set within the Cosmere. These books offer a chance to experience Sanderson’s world-building and storytelling in smaller, more contained packages. Here are a few worth checking out:
Sanderson’s debut novel, Elantris, is a standalone epic fantasy story set on the world of Sel. The book follows Prince Raoden, who is cursed with a terrible disease that transforms him into a living corpse. The book explores themes of politics, religion, and the nature of power, and is an excellent introduction to Sanderson’s writing style.
Warbreaker is a standalone novel set on the world of Nalthis. The book follows two sisters, Vivenna and Siri, as they navigate a complex political landscape and a mysterious magic system. With plenty of intrigue, romance, and action, Warbreaker is a great example of Sanderson’s ability to weave together multiple plotlines.
The Emperor’s Soul
The Emperor’s Soul is a novella set within the world of Elantris. The book follows a young artifabrian named Shai, who is hired to restore a damaged emperor’s soul. With a focus on character development and a richly detailed magic system, The Emperor’s Soul is a great example of Sanderson’s ability to tell a compelling story in a smaller package.
Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell
Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell is a novella set on the world of Threnody. The book follows a woman named Silence as she struggles to survive in a dangerous forest haunted by spirits. With a more horror-inspired setting and atmosphere, Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell is a great showcase for Sanderson’s ability to write in different genres.
Whether you’re a longtime Sanderson fan or a newcomer looking to dive into his work, there’s no shortage of great books and series to choose from. From the epic high fantasy of The Stormlight Archive to the heist-style adventure of Mistborn, Sanderson offers a wide range of stories and worlds to explore. By starting with the books outlined in this article, you can discover some of Sanderson’s best work and join in on the conversation among his many dedicated fans.
Who is Brandon Sanderson?
Brandon Sanderson is an American author specializing in science fiction and high fantasy. He is known for his immersive descriptions, imaginative storylines, and unique settings.
What is Brandon Sanderson best known for writing?
Sanderson is best known for creating the Cosmere universe, which hosts most of his novels such as the Mistborn series and The Stormlight series.
Who inspired Brandon Sanderson?
He is said to have been inspired by the work of previous fantasy and sci-fi authors such as David Eddings, Anne McCaffrey, and Robert Jordan.