Within the realm of contemporary science fiction and fantasy, there are few who have made as big an impact as Brandon Sanderson – a writer known for his in-depth world-building, focused view of writing, and overall mastery of the craft.
Many of Sanderson’s works are incredibly popular, with perhaps the ‘Cosmere’ series being the most notable.
However, with such a wealth of books, it can be difficult for new readers to know where to possibly begin.
So this begs the question: what is the definitive reading order for Sanderson’s ‘Cosmere’ series?
What Is The Cosmere Universe?
Within much of Brandon Sanderson’s writing, the stories take place within the same Cosmere universe.
This is exactly what it sounds like – the same literary universe, with each of his books taking place on a different planet or realm within said space.
This can be confusing for many reasons – namely because the ‘Cosmere’ itself doesn’t refer to a specific collection of books within his back catalog, with his entire back catalog, and the individual, isolated series’ within, taking place in the universe instead.
How Many Books Does This Include?
At the present moment in his literary career, there are 30 books and publications that are considered to exist within Sanderson’s Cosmere universe.
These include novels, short stories, and graphic novels – each of them fairly different in their essence, and located in different parts of the vast universe that Sanderson has created.
Cosmere: The Definitive Reader Order
For the benefit of this article, we will follow the reading order prescribed by Sanderson himself.
In this order, which is separated into specific series’, Sanderson purposely didn’t include any of the stand alone novellas or graphic novels – which suggests they can be picked up and read at any point throughout.
So, without further ado, let’s get started!
This is the first suggested series within the universe and consists of 8 books and associated novellas that Sanderson himself recommends reading first.
- The Final Empire
- The Well of Ascension
- The Hero of Ages
- The Alloy of Law
- The Eleventh Metal (short story featured in Arcanum Unbounded)
- Shadows of Self
- The Bands of Mourning
- Mistborn: Secret History (novella)
- The Lost Metal
- The Emperor’s Soul (novella)
The Mistborn saga itself tells the story of a group of ‘allomancers’ – that is, magically imbued individuals who can manipulate metal – as they band together and embark on a secret mission to overthrow the dystopian empire of their homeworld.
The Mistborn saga itself is separated into three distinct trilogies (so far) that are set over different time periods.
The first takes place in a more medieval time akin to classic fantasy, the second is set in a more ‘wild west’ setting, and the third is being set within an early computer society that has technology similar to the 1980s.
- Fresh and exciting
- Good pacing
- Relatable characters
- Fantastic world-building
- Varied characters
- Occasionally ‘wooden’ prose
Next on Sanderson’s list, we have the Elantris trilogy, composed of two novels and a short story that bridges the gap in between.
The Elantris trilogy tells the story of three main characters: Prince Raoden of Arelon, Princess Sarene of Teod, and a priest known as Hrathen of Fjorden.
After Raoden is afflicted with an ancient transformation curse known as the shaod, he is exiled to the city of Elantris, just mere days before he is due to be married to Sarene.
As Raoden fights murderers and thieves to escape the city, Serene must fight the internal politics at play, as well as help a mysterious priest on his mission to convert the entire region of Arelon to the religion of Fjorden – something that could result in oblivion if not carried out.
- Strong characters
- Well written villains
- Strong world-building
- Poorer written style
- Weaker storyline
The Stormlight Archive
The next section of reading is known within Sanderson’s universe as the Stormlight Archive, and this forms the last section of the list in this definitive reading order.
- The Way of Kings
- Words of Radiance
- Edgedancer (novella)
- Dawnshard (novella)
- Rhythm of War
The Stormlight Archive is focused around the planet Roshar (also the name for the main continent), and its people – the Rosharans – people separated by race and class across a diverse and hostile land.
Those who live in the barren main continent are exposed to harsh weather and storms and have limited contact with plants and food.
Whereas those on the more affluent lands of Shinovar have abundant food and plant life and are protected from most of the weather – allowing society to become more developed.
The Stormlight Archive sees various disparate characters from all around the planet who embark on their own stories within the hostile and unpredictable world they live in.
It is for this reason that the series is not strictly linked – in the sense that it does not really follow on directly from one another.
However, being set on the same planet and land masses, there are cultural similarities and recurring ideas.
- Strong characters
- Neatly honed world-building
- Slow burning series
What About The Omitted Publications?
As mentioned, there are several graphic novels and stand alone novellas that were not added to Sanderson’s definitive reading order – with the author himself deeming them readable at any order throughout the series.
- Allomancer Jak & The Pits of Eltania (featured in Arcanum Unbounded)
- Shadows For Silence in the Forests of Hell (featured in Arcanum Unbounded)
- Sixth of the Dusk (featured in Arcanum Unbounded)
- White Sand: Volume 1 (graphic novel)
- White Sand: Volume 2 (graphic novel)
- White Sand: Volume 3 (graphic novel)
- Tress of the Emerald Sea
These are all considered to be either stand alone novels and novellas, or are graphic novels that are much easier for readers to dive into and tackle in whatever order they choose, and as such, they were not included on the main list.
- Can be read in any order
- Are accessible
- Stand alone (while still being canon)
- Add to the world-building of the Cosmere Universe
- Aren’t linked to main stories
Why Is This Order Considered The Best?
This order is considered the best because, as Sanderson himself stated upon its compiling, it is as close to chronological order as possible for a series that has a lot of time jumps and changes of setting.
It also means that fans can enjoy characters and locations within a series of books, without then having to abandon them and pursue other books set in totally different locations.
This also means that people can engage more with the story, and follow them through to their natural conclusions within their respective series.
What Are The Common Themes?
While Sanderson has created a large and expansive universe full of different characters, planets, and threats, there are certain themes that he includes throughout the series.
Within the Mistborn series, Sanderson explores the themes of corruption, power, and the ways that it can corrupt people despite their good intentions.
This notion of all-consuming power is also explored through the allomancers themselves – beings who control metal – and the way they use their power to overthrow the tyrannical regime.
This once again tackles corruption and power – specifically within the politics and regime of Arelon, which the primary characters call home.
Raoden is exiled by a discriminating, underhanded regime, Sarene finds herself at war with the bureaucracy of the system, and the priest trying to save the realm faces continual opposition from all fronts.
There is also a theme of transformation within these novels – namely involving the characters growing from one thing to another based on their respective journeys.
In the Stormlight Archive, we see a planet that is ravaged by corruption – namely in the case of class division and a disparity of wealth and resources.
There is also a recurring theme of ordinary heroes rising to the challenge to combat the flawed status quo and restore justice and fairness to their world – relating to the ‘hero’s journey’ fantasy motif, as well as Sanderson’s wider universe.
And there we have it, everything you need to know about Brandon Sanderson, and the perfect order for you to read his ‘Cosmere’ series of books.
Generally, the size of the series can be daunting to many. However, for the best experience, be sure to follow this reading order!
Frequently Asked Questions
Can They Be Read In Any Order?
While not recommended for newcomers to Sanderson’s work, the series is composed of stand alone stories that can indeed be read in any order.
Are There Other Reading Orders?
The Cosmere series can actually be read in a number of ways. This includes publication order, series order, or chronological order.
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