The Hero of the story so far, and one of several viewpoint characters, Kaladin started as just your average son of a middleclass citizen. His father was a Surgeon, which is very high up for a Darkeyes. Then he joined the military to protect his brother. After he became a slave, he winds up in the ownership of Highprince Sadeas and decides to try one more time. He vows to protect his bridge crew.
The Ace: From the point of view of most others around him.
Broken Ace: From his own point of view, and those who know him well.
Author Avatar: Probably not to any great extent, but he shares at least one important bit of background with his author—both of them had parents who wanted them to go into medicine, but they ended up doing something else.
Badass Normal: In the flashbacks we see him kill a Shardbearer with nothing but natural skill and a little luck.
Failure Knight: He fails to protect his little brother, which drives him to try to protect anyone else he ever deems to be his responsibility (his spear squad, Bridge Four). His reaction is generally not pretty.
Good Angel, Bad Angel: If Syl acts as his Good Angel then the aspect of himself which he calls 'the Wretch' (representing his apathy) fulfills the role of Bad Angel.
Gravity Master: Unconsciously. He's constantly and unknowingly drawing arrows away from him and his bridge team, and pulling them into the bridge. Later on, he pulls dozens of arrows directly into his shield, though the raw force behind that many arrows hitting it throws him through the air. Not got the hang of running up walls yet though.
Honor Before Reason: Defining character trait, particularly when he refuses to take the Shardblade and Plate from the Shardbearer that nearly killed Amaram.
Hurting Hero: After all the crap he's been through, its no surprise.
I Shall Taunt You: He deliberately crafts armor from Parshendi carapace and makes a shield covered in Parshendi bones to draw their arrow fire. It works spectacularly.
Knight in Sour Armor: He's utterly convinced that the lighteyes are all corrupt and selfish bastards. Dalinar finally breaks him of this when he gives up his Shardblade for all of Sadeas' bridgemen.
Power Glows: He has to consciously reign in his Surgebinding because of the glow it emits once he realizes the extent of his powers.
Praetorian Guard: At the end of The Way Of Kings, Dalinar places him in command of a new royal bodyguard to protect Elhokar, and Bridger Four and many of the other bridgemen form the new guard, trained by Kaladin.
Took a Level in Badass: Repeatedly, over the book, until he finally starts fully manifesting his Surgebinding.
Walking Disaster Area: Lampshaded constantly throughout the book. Eventually justified upon the revelation that Syl is an Honorspren and has been giving Kaladin unconscious Surgebinding powers.
Highprince Dalinar Kholin, "The Blackthorn"
The second major character of the first book, one of ten Alethi highprinces, fighting a war with the nominal aid of the other highprinces to avenge the assassination of his brother, the former king. Once renowned for his raw martial prowess, he is now plagued with doubts about his people's culture and the war they are fighting, and also by strange visions that seem to be of the distant mostly-forgotten past and which contain hints of a dark future that may be in store.
The Fettered: Adheres to his chosen code of conduct despite ridicule from his rivals and complaints from his son, and he goes so far as to give up his Shardblade to keep his promise to Kaladin and Bridge 4 to free them.
Laser-Guided Amnesia: Due to seeking the Old Magic, he has no memory of his wife other then the fact she existed, and can't even hear her name properly when it's spoken. It has not yet been revealed whether this was the wish or the price.
Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Dalinar is an interesting study of the concept. In his youth he was very cynical, but Gavilar's death prompted him to become an idealistic proponent of the Codes of War and the concepts in The Way of Kings. However, by the end of the first book, he's come to realize that this won't work to unite the highprinces, because the Alethi highprinces are selfish and refuse to act for the greater good. Dalinar decides to cut a middle ground, forcing the highprinces to work together through blunt force; in his own words, he is treating them "like children" because they do not know any better.
Word of God: Dalinar was the first character Sanderson came up with for the series, and he "is the soul of the series, for me."
The third main viewpoint character in the first book, a young woman undertaking a desperate plan to save her family from destitution. She takes up a wardship with Jasnash Kholin to steal her Soulcaster, but finds this difficult as she begins to enjoy learning.
Heroic BSOD: After Jasnah learns that Shallan stole her Soulcaster. She manages to snap out of it by part 5 of The Way of Kings.
Hidden Depths: According to Word of Brandon, the scene with her counting to ten heartbeats "means what you think it means". A shardblade takes ten of the owner's heartbeats to summon. The scene means she has one, each of which are considered priceless and rare. Given her culture's sharply defined gender roles, it's practically unheard of for a woman to have one, much less someone with the image she tries to present in public.
Lonely Rich Kid: Her father sheltered her a great deal, she didn't get out much until the events of the story.
Non-Action Guy: Shallan does not do confrontation, of any kind, despite possessing a Shardblade, and killing her father.
Parental Favouritism: She was the only child in the family that her father never abused and rarely got angry with.
Photographic Memory: She can remember any scene perfectly with a bit of effort and a blink, and then forget it later, after sketching it. This is initially presented as an acquired skill, but her ability to sketch invisible creatures unconsciously suggests it is more supernatural in nature.
Self-Made Orphan: Apparently being her father's favorite didn't stop her from somehow killing him, though she still feels guilt about it.
Szeth-son-son-Vallano, Truthless of Shinovar
"What am I? I am....sorry."
The Assassin In White sent to kill the former Alethi king, gets several viewpoint sections of his own throughout The Way Of Kings. His title of "Truthless" is never quite explained, though it is later implied that he was given his Shardblade by his people. Despite his talents, Szeth hates hurting people, and hates himself even more for his talents at doing the same.
Apologetic Attacker: Hates killing, and cries as he does. In the prologue, he actually does apologize before attacking.
The Combat Pragmatist: Even in uses of his magical powers, he doesn't fight fair. Special mention goes to the time when he killed a Shardbearer by destroying a balcony beneath him.
Cool Sword: A master with his Shardblade, and refuses to part with it.
Expy: Of anime ninja. Most evident in the chapter where he's the assassin of a crime lord wannabe, and wears the classic black outfit, combined with his big, anime-esque Shin eyes.
Also a clear expy of the various protagonists of Assassin's Creed. His physical description might as well be one of Ezio Auditore, and his occupation, needless to say, fits as well.
Extreme Doormat: He will do anything the person who holds his Oathstone orders, except commit suicide or give up his Shardblade. This is actually cultural. Shin "warriors" are treated like slaves, with Shin culture greatly favoring farmers and craftsmen and elevating them to the rulership positions of society, and soldiers being slaves that are conditioned to view themselves as having little value and to obey whoever possesses them.
The Fettered: Bound to follow the orders of whomever holds his Oathstone. He has only two limits: he will not kill himself, and he will not give up his Shardblade. But anything else his master commands - anything - he will immediately carry out, no matter how much he hates it, even if it will sow war and chaos and kill hundreds of thousands of people. Even if he's standing next to a horrible monster who is deliberately killing people in front of his own eyes, Szeth will not act against them.
Gravity Master: The thing that makes him so deadly, since nobody else understands his abilities or how to counter them.
Hitman with a Heart: He hates killing, but that is the task that he is best at, and he has countless masters willing to use his powers.
Honor Before Reason: Because he's a Truthless, he has to do whatever his masters tell him and can't take his own life. At several points in The Way of Kings he has a strong desire to act, but can't because he is a Truthless.
Professional Killer: His entire role as a warrior from Shinovar, along with his Surgebinging abilities and Shardblade.
The Kholin Family
Dalinar's elder son and heir. Worries throughout the novel over his father's visions. He has a love for dueling (in fact, it's his religious Calling) and doesn't take well to his father's insistence to follow the Codes.
Ret Gone: But only for Dalinar, who has lost his memories of her and cannot hear her name when spoken.
"That's errorgance, wouldn't you say?"
Niece of Dalinar Kholin, and sister of the current reigning king of Alethkar, a famous scholar and an infamous heretic. During the events of The Way of Kings, she remains in Kharbranth, studying something. She is very dedicated to her research, and belongs to a somewhat obscure order of historians that search for the truth in history.
Badass Bookworm: She uses Soulcasting to great effect against some random thugs resulting in three of them being vaporized and one Taken for Granite... and then orders Shallan to treat her actions as a problem for research into ethics.
Flat Earth Atheist: Shallan initially assumes her to be this, actually averted, while she can be brusque and somewhat of an Insufferable Genius at times, she's a genuinely good person who shows tolerance and respect for Shallan's religious beliefs.
Not So Stoic: Generally very calm and emotionless. Then Shallan is put in danger when she stabs herself in the arm, and later ingests poison. Notably, Jasnah thinks she bears a portion of the blame for both events. Jasnah is suddenly a lot less emotionless.
Oh Crap: In part five of The Way of Kings, when Shallan shows her the picture of Shadesmar. Shallan decides to take a Memory of her expression because of Jasnah's usual temperament.
The current king, replacing his father Gavilar. Elhokar is a paranoid and foolish king, but his suspicions seem confirmed when it turns out that someone cut his saddle strap in a bungled attempt on his life. Dalinar makes it his goal to support him.
Neck Snap: Subverted. Dalinar could have done this to him, but he was just proving that he was loyal to Elhokar even though he could kill him whenever he wanted.
Oh Crap: When Dalinar starts to beat him at the end of The Way of Kings.
Someone really was trying to kill him when they cut the strap. Not really, since he faked it. But he wasn't the one to remove the Stormlight from his Shardplate.
His fears regarding seeing assassins in the corners of his eyes are partially correct. They're actually truthspren like the ones Shallan sees.
Puppet King: More or less, considering the highprinces basically do whatever they want. By the end of the book, Dalinar is taking steps to slap the highprinces down and make Elhokar more than a puppet.
The deceased king of Alethkar. The Parshendi sent a Shin assassin to kill him on the night they were signing a treaty with him. He had a great deal of knowledge, but is unfortunately dead.
The most powerful and successful of the Alethi highprinces, and a direct rival to Dalinar. Unlike Dalinar, Sadeas does not possess a Shardblade, but he makes up for this with exceptional cunning and clever - if costly - combat tactics, such as the use of bridgemen. Adolin strongly suspects him of trying to undermine or eliminate Dalinar, but Dalinar views Sadeas as more of a friendly rival who is upholding the typical Alethi concept of viewing everything as a competition, and believes he can be reasoned with.
Anti-Villain: Presents himself as one when he betrays Dalinar, saying he did it to remove a dangerous influence on Elhokar and to help unite the Alethi highprinces. It's not clear if he honestly believes it or is spouting more bullshit.
Archer Archetype: Not by choice. Without a Shardblade, Sadeas can't take full advantage of the speed and power that his Shardplate offers him in close combat, and instead uses a massive, extremely powerful bow that can only be used with Shardplate.
Cool Sword: Is given Oathbringer by Dalinar in exchange for the freedom of every one of his bridgemen.
Drop the Hammer: The other weapon Sadeas relies on is a massive warhammer common among Shardbearers without a Shardblade.
Friendly Enemy: With Dalinar. Doesn't stop him from betraying Dalinar.
Green-Eyed Monster: Sadeas desperately wants a Shardblade; Dalinar uses the opportunity to take one from a Parshendi Shardbearer to convince him to go along with the joint-plateau plan. Later on, Dalinar buys all of Sadeas' bridgemen with his Shardblade.
Heroic Sacrifice: Attempted, at least. In the book's intro, he is actually the one wearing King Gavilar's robes when Szeth shows up, intending to draw the Shardbearer away from Galivar, who is dsguised as a Shardbearer bodyguard.
Magnificent Bastard: In-universe. Dalinar realizes he's been brilliantly outmaneuvered when Sadeas uses his own warnings to the king to maneuver himself into being named Highprince of Information. Later on, Sadeas warms up to Dalinar and seems to be interested in his ideas about the Codes, and works with him on joint-plateau assaults. This sets up his ultimate betrayal.
Manipulative Bastard: Sadeas knows how to twist people around, especially other highprinces. He's less effective against lower-ranking troops, and someone like Kaladin is confounding.
My Master, Right or Wrong: Sadeas is ultimately loyal to Elhokar, and will do whatever it takes to protect his king, alongside Dalinar.
Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Sadeas and Dalinar do not get along, but they'll put aside their differences to protect Elhokar.
Ungrateful Bastard: Dalinar saves his life when his army is flanked by Parshendi. Sadeas promptly betrays him on their next joint outing to the Tower.
We Have Reserves: Sadeas thinks nothing of the deaths of the bridgemen; in his observation, the bridgemen's deaths due to being unshielded and unarmored are better than the deaths of "real" soldiers who would die if the Parshendi didn't specifically target the vulnerable bridgemen.
Although the highprince with the best archers of the Alethi forces, Roion has earned the fewest gemhearts.
Jerkass: Though less so as he stays with Bridge Four long enough.
His one point-of-view chapter indicates that he has as much contempt for himself — if not more — than for the bridgemen under his watch.
The Neidermeyer: Kaladin quickly picks up on this, though it's not entirely unjustified, seeing as bridge crews aren't meant to amount to much anyway, and are expected to die early.
The Nicknamer: Calls Kaladin "Lordling", but only to be an asshole.
Put on a Bus: The Alethi remove him from bridge crew authority essentially for growing soft on them.
The lord Kaladin formerly served under.
Cool Sword: His Shardblade, which he stole from Kaladin.
Dark Secret: He never earned his Shardblade. He stole it from Kaladin and sold him to slavery on a false charge.
Reasonable Authority Figure: Subverted. Kaladin thought he was this for a long time, but when Kaladin refuses the Shardblade he won, he promptly has his spear team killed and Kaladin himself Made a Slave so he can have the Shardblade himself.
A new boy in Kaladin's squad.
Decoy Protagonist: Dies in the introductory chapter for Kaladin, though this isn't made apparent until the end of Part 3 of the first book.
The king of the small city-state, Kharbranth. He is thought somewhat dull by his peers. However, he is well-liked due to funding hospitals throughout the city for those who can't afford medical care.
The Chessmaster: Taravangian is much smarter than he appears, as shown by the multiple levels of backup plans and the specificity of his orders to Szeth. It is also implied that he has other pawns in the waiting.
I Am a Monster: Szeth calls him one, and he doesn't object to it at all.
Taravangian:Yes, but I am the monster who will save this world.
Obfuscating Stupidity: Zigzagged Trope. Most of the other lighteyes in Kharbranth consider Taravangian somewhat slow and unskilled at politics. In reality, he is at the head of a large conspiracy which has resulted in the deaths of many nameless citizens just to harvest information, and the killings of several very important foreign dignitaries. However, according to Word of God, he used the Old Magic at some point, with his IQ changing at random each day, making this either played straight or averted depending on when people see him.
A member of the Ardentia. He believes in Vorinism, and has made it his mission to convert notorious heretic Jasnah Kholin to its teachings. Along the way, he becomes friends with Shallan Davar.
The ten Heralds were warriors of the Almighty, chosen to aid mankind during the Desolations. However, they abandoned their duties after many times having to return to Damnation, shattering the Oathpact.
Two female Heralds are left unnamed by the end of the first book; the Herald of Learned and Giving, and the Herald of being Brave and Obedient.
No Name Given: We haven't learned their names by the end of The Way of Kings.
Beings of Magic
A mysterious Spren who follows Kaladin throughout his enslavement. Usually taking on the appearance of a young woman she attempts to encourage Kaladin and keep him from giving up hope.
Anthropomorphic Personification: All spren appear to be this to some degree. Though initially believed to be a simple windspren by Kaladin Syl is in fact an Honorspren; spirit of oaths, promises and nobility. She even notes by implication that spren are attracted to whatever it is they are named for, rather than that they cause it.
Familiar: Shares a bond with Kaladin through which she gains greater sentience and he gains surgebinding abilities. If the bond is severed, as Kaladin can choose for her to do if he asks, both boons are lost.
Multicolored Hair: A person’s hair color is so defined by their origin that people of mixed race have proportionately different colors in their hair.
Fantastic Caste System: Many different cultures have different caste systems. People in the three Vorin kingdoms are divided into Brighteyes and Darkeyes, on the Peaks people are divided by birth order and Parshendi are able to change their caste by shifting into different forms (eg battle-form, mating-form, etc).
A warrior race, and the ethnicity most of the viewpoint characters belong to. They are ruled by ten Highprinces, who were recently united (in theory) by a king.
Blood Knight: When in battle Alethi (or at least Brighteyes) feel a battle lust known as the Thrill.
A merchant people from the island nation of Thaylenah. They practice Alethi Vorinism, and are known for their long eyebrows.
Unusual Eyebrows: Thaylen eyebrows are so long that they are tucked behind their ears.
Mountain-dwellers who believe that the order of your birth should determine your place in life. They also like loud, drunken singing.
Foreign Queasine: Horneaters are so called because they eat the horns and shells of the things they catch, Ukalaki have very strong teeth. A common gibe is to accuse them of putting rocks in their food too.
A strange people from beyond the western mountains, where highstorms barely reach. Their land is more similar to Earth ecology than the rest of the continent, and they believe that bare stone is sacred and should not be trod upon.
Proud Merchant Race: Inverted. The Shin are an extremely humble merchant race, no word on how proud they are of this fact though.
Reluctant Warrior: Fighting is thought to be an extremely lowly position, as opposed to in Alethkar.
A "cursed" race known for being somewhat jovial despite the hate they receive from everyone else. Also have minor shapeshifting powers.
Curse: Mention is made of the “Curse of Kind,” but no details on what this is.
Human Shifting: Are able to alter their physiology at will, changing both their appearance and the functionality of their organs, as well as taking away headaches at a thought.
Fantastic Racism: Persecuted by other races under the belief that they are voidbringers due to their odd biology/shadows (though it is possible that they are voidbringers).
The Parshmen are a slave race of marble-black skinned humanoids who have no will of their own and will follow any orders given. The Parshendi, on the other hand, are a Proud Warrior Race who don't consider the Parshmen the same race.
Bizarre Human Biology: They can jump across chasms, and grow carapaces for armor from their skin, in the case of the Parshendi.
Devil in Plain Sight: Unconfirmed. All of Jasnah's research points to the Parshmen/Parshendi being the mythical Voidbringers, but even she recognizes that it's not a sure thing.
Hive Mind: Parshendi always sing in unison even when out of hearing range of one another. All their thoughts/emotions follow different songs that they tune themselves into. The difference between Parshmen and Parshendi is that Parshmen cannot sense the songs and so cannot tune their thoughts.
Slave Race: The Parshmen, who are apparently unable to live without being told what to do.