Ranking The Cosmere Books (From Worst to Best)
By: Preston Simmons | Written: April 30th, 2021 | Updated: March 11th, 2022
Brandon Sanderson’s career has been nothing short of spectacular. For a normal author, simply completing the last three novels of an already established and beloved series, like the Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan, would have been an incredible achievement on its own. However, Brandon Sanderson is no ordinary writer of fantasy novels. Without question, Sanderson’s greatest writing achievement would come in the form of his Cosmere universe.
Comprised of a staggering list of 22 books and novellas (so far) that are all connected in some way, the Cosmere is undoubtedly an incredible piece of fiction that Sanderson should be praised for accomplishing. His most recent book in the Cosmere, Rhythm of War, released a few months ago to high praise from both critics and readers alike. As there are so many books that comprise the Cosmere universe as a whole, inevitably, some will be better than others. But which would rank in the top half, and which would rank in the lower half for overall quality?
RELATED: Best Cosmere Reading Order!
So, some rules first. Only books that have some Cosmere relation will be added to the list. Therefore, you won’t see any of the Wheel of Time novels, like The Gathering Storm, Towers of Midnight, or A Memory of Light. You also won’t see some of his other books either (sorry Skyward fans!). Though it was more difficult to create than I originally thought it would be, I believe I have completed my list of Cosmere books in order from best to worst. Of course, this list is simply my own opinion. Your own list may be completely different than my own, and I would love to hear from you in the comments on what I got wrong in my list, or what you believe to be the correct order!
So without further ado, this is ranking the Cosmere books by Brandon Sanderson in order from worst to best.
#22 ALLOMANCER JAK AND THE PITS OF ELTANIA
Allomancer Jak and the Pits of Eltania is a short, irrelevant, and otherwise, a completely skippable short story set in the world of Mistborn Era 2. This story is based on the character Allomancer Jak that you can find in the panels on certain pages in the Wax and Wayne novels. It does not build upon the overall Wax and Wayne story and it does not feature anything of importance to the greater Cosmere. All that said, it is a fun read and Jak is hilarious. If you purchase Arcanum Unbounded, read it because it’s a good way to spend 30 minutes.
#21 WHITE SAND
White Sand is the only graphic novel that takes place in the Cosmere. Unfortunately, it’s not one of Sanderson’s best works. It’s not bad, it’s just not that easy to get through. Even though it is relatively short at 160 pages long, at times it feels like a chore to read. The best part about this story, though, is it introduces the readers to Khriss. She’s a mysterious world hopper that has appeared in many other Cosmere books. Seeing her background makes this story worth checking out, but if you don’t know who Khriss is, or just aren’t interested in her character, this graphic novel is another skippable one.
#20 THE HOPE OF ELANTRIS
The Hope of Elantris is another short story by Brandon Sanderson that isn’t quite necessary to read. However, it does give an unexpected point of view of an event that happens in the finale of Elantris. It also works as an epilogue of sorts for the same novel. It’s short, it’s sweet, and it’s free to read with the link provided. Otherwise, this Cosmere story is skippable.
#19 THE ELEVENTH METAL
Neither a novella nor a book, but still a short story in the Cosmere, the Eleventh Metal, follows Kelsier before he becomes known to all as the Survivor of Hathsin. This is the backstory for Kelsier, plain and simple. It is not necessary to read to understand Mistborn better, and it also is not important to the Cosmere as a whole. However, it is well written and worth reading because it is so short and does provide context to the beloved character. How does Kelsier become the mentor that would later train Vin? Read this story to find out.
The one that started it all. Elantris was Brandon Sanderson’s first novel that takes place in the Cosmere. Because it is his first book, it is one of his weakest (which for Sanderson means it is still overall pretty great). This is also the first book that introduces us to the character Hoid, who you will find in different places in the Cosmere books if you look hard enough. This is also the parent story to the Emperor’s Soul, though there is not much connection between the two titles other than taking place in the same world. In addition, until Rhythm of War, this book did not have much significance to the greater Cosmere. With that said, as a standalone, this book is still very much worth reading.
#17 THE ALLOY OF LAW
The first entry to the second era of the Mistborn saga, the Alloy of Law, takes place hundreds of years after the first era of Mistborn. Equal parts steampunk and western, this story is the most modern of all the Cosmere books. There are western-style shoot-outs, car chases, and train heists in this story, all with the magic introduced to us in the original Mistborn Era. This book is fun from beginning to end, though of the three era-2 books, is the weakest. The cast of characters in the story lacks the character-building needed to really feel attached to them. I didn’t really feel a connection to them until the second book, Shadows of Self.
#16 SHADOWS FOR SILENCE IN THE FORESTS OF HELL
Shadow for Silence in the Forests of Hell is one of Sanderson’s darkest works he has written. Devoid of his usual sense of humor or lightheartedness that you would find in most of his other stories, this world, Threnody, is dark and joyless. This novella is a very well-written story with an extremely capable and strong female protagonist. Unfortunately, this story does not have much of an influence over the greater Cosmere universe.
#15 SIXTH OF THE DUSK
Sixth of the Dusk is a great standalone novella that, as of yet, doesn’t add much to the overall universe in comparison to most other Cosmere books. This is a novella that takes place the farthest in the future on the Cosmere timeline, so the events that occur here are yet to play a big role in all the other stories that have been released.
Some of the creatures, called Avians, that are introduced in this novella do appear in other titles like Rhythm of War, but so far nowhere else. As Mistborn era 3 is set to take place in the far future, it’s possible the events shown at the end of this novella will become much more important when those books are written, but as of now, that is not the case. Overall though, SotD is a very well-written, environmentally conscious story in the Cosmere that was a short, but fun read.
Warbreaker is an incredible standalone novel as well as an influential story in the Cosmere (particularly the Stormlight Archive) as a whole. The three main plot lines of Vivenna, Siri, and Lighsong are all compelling alone but masterfully intertwined in Warbreaker. The world and magic system that Sanderson creates here is also one of his most “colorful” to date. It’s a breath of fresh air in a world where a lot of fantasy books are dark and grimy. This book is best read directly before Words of Radiance in the Stormlight Archive.
#13 SHADOWS OF SELF
Shadows of Self was another one I had a difficult time within ranking the Cosmere books. Part of me wants to rank this book higher on the list, as it was probably my favorite in the Wax and Wayne series. It was, by far, the most emotional of the three books. It could even be argued that SoS was the most tragic in the entire Mistborn series. However, in the grand Cosmere universe, this book is not as essential. There is a brief appearance of a world hopper in the novel, but it’s more of a blink and you miss it kind of thing. Overall though, Shadows of Self is a great book in its own right and an incredible addition to Wax and Wayne.
Lift may be one of Sanderson’s most divisive characters in The Stormlight Archive and the Cosmere. She’s childish, brash, and free-spirited in a series filled with characters who are pretty much the exact opposite of her. Some readers hate her while others love her. Edgedancer is a novella all about Lift and her journey as a fledgling Radiant. If you love Lift as a character, you’ll love this novella. If you hate her as a character, you’re more than likely not going to like this story.
Personally, I think Lift is an excellent character that is full of depth that most people who dislike her fail to see. Sure she uses words like “awesomeness,” but it all goes hand in hand with her greater narrative. Edgedancer is a necessary addition to the Cosmere universe because it introduces us to entities that are sure to appear in later Cosmere books.
#11 THE EMPEROR’S SOUL
The Emperor’s Soul is a stand-alone novella that takes place on Sel, the same world as Elantris. This is one of Sanderson’s most self-contained stories that he has written. It doesn’t feel open-ended or sequel-worthy. Shai’s story felt complete. I felt as if I was reading a poem, or observing a painting during my time with the Emperor’s Soul. It is slow but beautiful. Simple in concept, but complex in execution. It is not often that Sanderson is praised for his prose but with this short story, he definitely should be.
#10 THE WELL OF ASCENSION
The Well of Ascension, is not only a great book, but it works as a perfect sequel. For a sequel to be successful, it needs to build upon the narrative created by the first novel while also adding new information to the overall story. What makes a sequel go beyond the word “successful”, is if it accomplishes all of those goals while also improving other aspects of the first book. WoA does all of that and more.
#9 SECRET HISTORY
By far the most important novella tied to the Mistborn Saga, and potentially one of the most important novellas in the greater Cosmere Universe, Mistborn: Secret History, comes it at number nine in ranking the Cosmere books. This story answers many questions that readers had after reading the other Mistborn books. It also brings in other characters that make appearances in other Cosmere novels. Of all the novellas and books that have been and will be mentioned on the list, this one most openly ties together the Cosmere as a whole.
#8 THE BANDS OF MOURNING
Number eight on the list is the third installment in era two of the Mistborn saga, the Bands of Mourning. What made this book so great was the character development of both Steris and Wax. Also, this book introduced us to a few contraptions and organizations that would make other appearances in the greater Cosmere universe.
#7 MISTBORN: THE FINAL EMPIRE
The first entry in the Mistborn saga comes in at number seven. Mistborn: The Final Empire asks the question, “What if the villain won?” and shows us a world in which that occurred. Equal parts a heist and a rebellion story, Mistborn follows Vin as she learns how to use her new powers taught to her by her charismatic mentor, Kelsier. Of the three first-era novels, Mistborn is the simplest story of good vs evil and it accomplishes its goal of creating this new, vibrant world in the Scadrial system. This is another great entry point into the Cosmere for all the first-timers.
#6 THE HERO OF AGES
The epic conclusion to the first era of the Mistborn trilogy, the Hero of Ages, places at number sixth on the list ranking the Cosmere books. This book was very different from the previous two novels in the series for a variety of reasons, all of which were successful. If the first book was a rebellion story, the second book was a political drama, the third book could be considered a war novel. Sanderson brilliantly weaves the storylines of Vin, Elend, and Sazed who each are dealing with their own struggles that arose from the previous book. The Hero of Ages was gripping from beginning to end, containing a finale that had major implications for the Cosmere as a whole.
In ranking the cosmere books, number five on the list wasn’t hard for me to choose. The first novella to make an appearance here, Dawnshard, follows Rysn, a character that only made a brief, but important, appearance in the SA. Even though this is a novella, therefore much shorter than many of his other titles, this one is one of the most important stories in the entirety of the Cosmere. Equally parts funny, endearing, and smart this novella was great from beginning to end. Read this one before Rhythm of War for the best possible experience!
In ranking the Cosmere books, the hardest decision to make was placing the top five. Not because I didn’t know which books belonged somewhere in the top five, but because each and every one of them could be argued as deserving the number one spot. Number four on the list, Oathbringer, could easily be at the number one spot. Dalinar’s storyline is one of my favorites in all of the Cosmere, and with this book, the focus is all on Dalinar. He experiences highs, extreme lows, victories, and defeats. His story is one of the most human in the series, and one of the most tragic. An overall incredible book, a masterpiece, just like the three above it.
#3 THE WAY OF KINGS
Number three on the list goes to the first book in the Stormlight Archive and the first book I personally read in the Cosmere Universe. I was already a fan of Brandon Sanderson for his contributions to the Wheel of Time series, but the Way of Kings solidified him as one of my favorite authors in recent memory.
This book from the first page is instantly gripping, and it refuses to let you go for its 1280 page length. It introduces us to the Roshar system and the variety of intricate characters. It’s also the first time we truly meet a character we occasionally see in other Cosmere stories (though here they go by a different name).
#2 RHYTHM OF WAR
In ranking the Cosmere books, I had to ask myself a few questions. First, Is it well written? Second, is it memorable? Third, is it relevant to the overall Cosmere? Therefore, number two on the list is Rhythm of War, the most recently written story in the Cosmere and the fourth book in the Stormlight Archive. In answering those questions, a massive “YES” should be given to all three. Not only may this be the most well-written book on the list, but it is also one of the most memorable, while also having some incredibly important overall Cosmere implications.
#1 WORDS OF RADIANCE
Coming in at #1 is the second book in the Stormlight Archive, Words of Radiance. This book had it all, from epic battles to amazing one-liners that still, to this day, I get giddy thinking about. Plain and simple, this book is a masterpiece. Every character is expanded upon from the first book, and every plot is compelling, with some truly jaw-dropping moments. This is the best that the Stormlight Archive has to offer so far and the best book in the Cosmere as a whole.
If you can only read one book on this list, go ahead and pick up this one. It is also one of the best series to start with if you are new to epic fantasy books as a whole. It’s worth it. Who knows, it might start you on your Cosmere journey as it did me.
Many of these short stories and novellas can all be found in Brandon Sanderson’s Arcanum Unbounded. It is absolutely worth purchasing for the value it brings to the Cosmere as a whole. The Cosmere books are all incredible reads and are all worth taking the time to check out.
Did I get anything wrong? Leave a comment below to tell me how you would rank the Cosmere books yourself!