Ranking Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere Books

Brandon Sanderson is a titan of the fantasy genre, one of the most innovative and popular writers and one of my favourite authors. I was thinking about his books lately and for fun I started comparing them and trying to rank them. On the one hand, this was easy because most of his books take place in different worlds with settings and plots that you are unlikely to confuse (unlike some authors who write books in one long series and all the books get muddled together in my head). On the other hand, Sanderson doesn’t write bad books, only books that are not as fantastic as his best. Sanderson at his worst is still one of the best fantasy writers. That’s why this list will start with the best, because there isn’t any bad. I gave the top 9 books 5/5 and the last 3 still got 4/5, so it’s all quality.

It should go without saying that this is merely my personal opinion and everyone probably has their own rankings. This is not an objective ranking of quality and there’s going to people who feel the books at the bottom should be at the top and vice versa. There was tough competition, especially at the top of the list and there is very little between some of the books.

  1. The Way of Kings

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Perhaps it is because this is the first Sanderson book I read, but this one edged its way to the top of the list. There is fantastic world building, a brilliant plot and some of the most fascinating characters I’ve ever read. What makes it the best and top of this list is Kaladin, who is my number 1 favourite Cosmere character and probably my favourite in all of fantasy. His journey from the depths of misery and despair, as he builds hope in the Bridge 4 crew, is one of the best plotlines I’ve ever read. It shows one of Sanderson’s key strengths, the ability to create dark and dangerous worlds without becoming melodramatic or gritty just for the sake of it. The struggle to overcome this is really uplifting and inspirational.

The other characters too are fantastic and there are too many to mention, but Shallan deserves special attention. I especially enjoyed how she wasn’t merely a hopeless orphan, but plans to do something about her problem. Stealing a soulcaster isn’t exactly an honest thing to do, but it is daring and exciting. What nudges Way of Kings ahead of Mistborn is that while Mistborn describes a country, Stormlight describes a whole world. The setting is just so in-depth with a rich history and culture.

  1. The Final Empire

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Sanderson is rightly famous for his amazing characters, detailed magic systems, brilliant world building and excellent plots (all of which are present in this book) but what I really think makes him special is the premises he uses for his books. In this book, Sanderson asks an intriguing question, what if the Dark Lord won the final battle? The final battle between good and evil is such a common feature of fantasy novels that it’s surprising no one has ever wondered what would happen if the evil side won. There are other importance questions like how do you launch a revolution in a slave society and what are the best methods, do you destroy the ruling class like Kelsier believes or try to work with them like Elend believes? Trying to undertake a revolutionary heist in such a world makes for a great story.

Mistborn also has some of Sanderson’s best characters like Kelsier and the crew, but most of all, Vin. Her journey from abused street orphan to powerful allomancer and undercover noblewoman is fascinating and kept me hooked. There is also another classic feature of a Sanderson novel, a mind-blowing ending that puts everything into a new perspective.

  1. Words of Radiance

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There are a lot of incredible moments in this book, from the battle scenes to the growth and development of the characters (and their knowledge). There’s no denying that the Stormlight Archive puts the epic in epic fantasy. Kaladin is still my favourite but this is Shallan’s book. She grows a lot as a character and it was a joy to read her being witty and intelligent. One feature of this book, but Sanderson’s writing in general, is that he writes proactive characters who actively try to solve problems. There are amazing characters as usual and intense emotional moments, from the potential loss of Syl, to Shallan and Kaladin being trapped in the chasm, the battle during the storm and culminating in saying the words of the oath.

  1. Well of Ascension

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Many fantasy books involve a revolution or war against an evil enemy, but few ask what happens next? What do you do after you defeat the Dark Lord? We all agree that a slave society is wrong, but what do you replace it with? Sanderson uses skill to show it’s not enough to kill the King, that alone won’t solve all the problems. Elend’s and Vin’s struggles with the weight of leadership and the difficulties in building a new society, shows a realism often forgotten in fantasy. The ending is one of the most incredible and mind-blowing I’ve ever read.

  1. The Hero of Ages

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Many fantasy books deal with an evil force bent on destruction, but few make the threat as convincing as Ruin. I genuinely felt the mounting sense of despair at the seemingly unstoppable destruction of the world. It does lose some points for Sazed being moany and whiny for most of the book and his “atheism” is too melodramatic to be convincing (although his plot is redeemed by the payoff at the ending). It was good to see Spook become a main character in his own right and see him struggle with the challenges of leadership. But that doesn’t compare with the dream team of Vin and Elend.

  1. Arcanum Unbounded

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This series of short stories shows Sanderson’s skills at creating new worlds and incredible, yet believable settings. The Emperor’s Soul is some of Sanderson’s best writing and stands tall with his best novels. Sixth of Dust is also incredible, especially for its examination of the clash between colonialism and indigenous societies without romanticising either or falling into the noble savage trap. Shadows for Silence is another great example of Sanderson creating an intriguing premise executed with great characters and a page-turning plot. Allomancer Jak is a funny parody of 19th century adventure stories and a nice way to pass the time. Edgedancer starts poorly and Lift deeply frustrated me (am I a grumpy old man or is she more annoying than funny?) with the contrived difficulties. It eventually gets good, but it takes a while. The Secret History is the only one I didn’t like, I hate the trope of bringing back dead characters. Especially when there’s not much of a plot, instead it’s mainly just a teaser for other stories and hints that might be significant down the road.

  1. Shadows of Self

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I’ve rarely been as amazed as by the jump in quality between the 1st and 2nd book in the 2nd era of Mistborn. I was underwhelmed by the first one, but I was really impressed at the character development in Shadows. The plot is a lot more interesting, the world is more engaging and the characters just clicked and became smoother and more natural. Steris in particular completely changed, she went from a nuisance side character to a well-developed and interesting person in her own right. Wayne became less annoying his jokes actually became funny and I even wamered to Wax. I haven’t been as stunned by such an ending since the Well of Ascension.

  1. Elantris

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This is Sanderson’s first published novel and it’s a bit rougher than the others. I can see some elements were taken and reworked into Stormlight Archives. Some parts are a bit too easy and convenient but it’s still a solid story with an excellent premise and setting. It’s hard not to be impressed and inspired with how Raoden and Sarene overcome their challenges and who doesn’t love a happy ending?

  1. The Bands of Mourning

 

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This further developed the character growth in Shadows and shows how Sanderson has successfully created a gang of memorable characters. The outsider perspective chapter in the hotel is one of the funniest scenes Sanderson has written and shows how well together he has woven the various quirks of the gang. Once again, the plot is engaging and exciting, and the ending took it in a new direction that I’m not quite sure of. I wouldn’t say this weakened the book, but it doesn’t quite have the same power as the others.

  1. Oathbringer

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Oathbringer isn’t a bad book, but it fares poorly in comparison with the two preceding Stormlight books. The love triangle is the only part that’s actually bad, but there is a general feeling of middle book slog. At times it is repetitive, such as Dalinar’s flashbacks and his attempts to organise meetings and some sections drag with little payoff, like most of the section in Kholinar and with Azure. Other parts are underwhelming, like finding out the Spiritual Realm is pretty ordinary and similar to the Physical Realm.

The focus is much more on Dalinar, who I don’t find as interesting, but it’s the underuse of Kaladin that really annoyed me. He’s the best character yet he’s hardly in the book and his relationship with Shallan was poorly handled (her “jokes” were cringey and childish). There is a strange lack of interaction between the characters and even the side-characters are oddly compartmentalised, Kaladin’s friends only talk to Kaladin, Shallan’s people only deal with her etc. Shallan’s mental issues are at times masterfully written, although they somewhat undermine her character development in the previous books and the ending isn’t well handled. That being said, it is still a good book and I’m happy to have another addition to one of my favourite fantasy series.

  1. Warbreaker

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The question “what would it be like if the gods lived among us?” is a great premise, but unfortunately the execution isn’t quite as good. Lightsong has his moments, but he’s not as captivating as some of Sanderson’s other characters. The character of Blushweaver is the only bad character Sanderson has written and feels like getting hit over the head with the Bible. There’s a lot of clunky writing about how she can’t be trusted because she is seductive and promiscuous, and the only time she is complimented is when she dresses modestly and “respects herself”.

I found it very hard to engage with Vivenna’s plot, which does end well, but it’s a slog to get there. You know what I hate most about a mercenary? Constantly repeating the same catchphrase. But Siri’s plot more than made up for this and her relationship with the God King is genuinely charming. There is still great world building and the payoff makes the story worthwhile.

  1. The Alloy of Law

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Maybe I don’t like Westerns enough to enjoy this book. This felt like Sanderson had a checklist of Western clichés and was just ticking them off. There’s a fight on the roof of a train for no particular reason other than that’s what people do in Westerns. It didn’t seem plausible for the Mistborn world to experience industrialisation the same way as 19th century America did and it felt forced to fit the Wild West theme. The characters are decent but they don’t really click and feel like rough drafts. Wax is too uptight, Wayne is just annoying who jokes don’t really land and Miles is a clichéd villain.


I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling very tempted to reread the entire Cosmere series again. I enjoyed every single book in this series and even Alloy of Law is only bad in comparison to the 1st era of Mistborn. How would you rank the books? Which is your most and least favourite? Unfortunately, it’s too complicated to create a poll with all the options, but here’s a poll ranking each series in the Cosmere.

13 thoughts on “Ranking Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere Books”

  1. I really liked Elantris. A lot. The book had a great roll to it.
    Warbringer. Well thank-you Mr. Sanderson.
    The rest of your ordering stands well with me.
    I still haven’t finished the steampunk-ish story line, I tried! Not my genre.

  2. Alloy of Law is one of my favorites. He is absolutely using every western cliche and that’s part of the fun. I recognize it doesn’t have the depth of some of his other books, but it was such a fun read – probably the book I would most likely read repeatedly just for enjoyment.

  3. Do you know who Azure actually is? You mention her real name elsewhere in the blog. Also, minor detail: it’s the Cognitive, not Spiritual, Realm that they visit in Oathbringer.

    1. Yes I know she’s Vivenna, but that doesn’t hold much significance other than as an Easter Egg. It’s a wink to people who’ve read Warbreaker, but it doesn’t do anything for the plot of Oathbringer. Considering the amount of time spent with her, there was no payoff.

      1. It does plenty for the plot. You must not be paying attention, or you’re unaware of the implications. Calling it an Easter egg is lazy and dismissive.

  4. Pretty much disagreed with most of the rankings here. No disrespect, just a difference of opinion and personality I guess.

  5. Thanks for the list I found it an I interesting read. I personally would rank the stormlight series in the exact opposite order. Personally I have read so many books about the 16-20 year old brooding hero that I found kaladin mildly irritating. Where as, Dalinar the reforming tyrant was a refreshing perspective and I thoroughly enjoyed his flash backs. On a side note, I had never heard of The Final Empire and now look forward to reading it. Thank you for your article!

  6. Nice list. Thinking about it makes me realize how hard it is to put any of his books on the bottom of a list like this because I really love them all. I think my ranking would be quite different after the first few though. Something like:

    1. The Way of Kings
    2. The Final Empire
    3. Words of Radiance
    4. Well of ascension
    5. Oathbringer
    6. Hero of ages
    7. Shadows of Self
    8. Bands of Mourning
    9. Alloy of Law
    10. Elantris
    11. Warbreaker
    12. Arcanum Unbounded

    I’m not the biggest fan of short stories in general, and while some of the ones in Arcanum unbounded are great (Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell most notably comes to mind) the bottom slot had to go to something… While I agree that Alloy of Law is the weakest of the Mistborn series I still loved it. I’m a big fan of westerns which probably helped but I also went into it completely blind after mistborn so I had no idea about the setting change until I was in it. My excitement at that may have colored my bias a bit in favor of the 2nd era mistborn novels in general.

  7. Sanderson is my all time favorite writer(I’ve even paid to meet him). I love not only every book on this list, but I thoroughly enjoyed every book and novella he’s ever written. That being said, Elantris was my least favorite of his works and I wouldn’t be on my list. But I absolutely agree with Stormlight being the best. So much so that I have a tattoo of Pattern on the front of my shoulder. If that’s not the ultimate endorsement, idk what is lol

  8. I hate to do this, but isn’t the Wax and Wayne books set in somewhere more analogous to Victorian England than the Wild West? That’s the sense I got anyway. Been a while since I’ve read the books to be fair.

    1. Well it’s both as both the Wild West and the Victorian Age occurred in the late 19th century. So the Roughs are the Wild West and the cities are similar to cities in America or Britain during the Victorian Age.

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