The Way of Kings is the first book of The Stormlight Archive, the Epic Fantasy series by Brandon Sanderson. The Way of Kings introduces the world of Roshar, with its Bizarre Seasons and Hostile Weather, as well as the cast of characters, including Kaladin, a doctor-turned-Child Soldier-turned-slave; Dalinar, a Warrior Prince who adheres to the old codes of honor; Shallan, a young noblewoman from a house on the brink of ruin; and Szeth, a Human Weapon who accepts any indignity or abuse.The story revolves around The Kingdom of Alethkar, a group of ten princedoms recently united as a single nation under Gavilar Kholin, who managed to force the other nine highprinces under his rule, becoming the first King of Alethkar in centuries. Some years later, Gavilar encounters a mysterious people while on a hunting expedition — a free and independent group of Parshmen, the docile and listless Slave Mooks used by Alethi. Dubbing these people the Parshendi, Gavilar quickly signs a peace treaty with them... and is just as quickly betrayed, when the Parshendi have Szeth assassinate Gavilar on the very night the treaty was signed. Outraged, the Alethi — led by Gavilar's son (and the new King of Alethkar) Elhokar — immediately declare war on the Parshendi. Pursuing them to the Shattered Plains, a group of tightly-clustered plateaus separated by a labyrinth of deep, narrow chasms carved by highstorms, the Alethi settle down to outlast the Parshendi in a war of attrition.The main story picks up after several years of virtual stalemate on the Shattered Plains. Dalinar (Gavilar's younger brother and Elhokar's uncle) is one of the ten highprinces overseeing the war effort. Kaladin is brought into the camp of highprince Sadeas and forced to work as a bridgeman — the physically punishing and suicidally dangerous job of carrying the bridges used to span gaps between plateaus, even in the face of Parshendi archers. Shallan, away from the Shattered Plain, seeks to become a student of the princess Jasnah (Elhokar's sister and Dalinar's niece), a renowned scholar and infamous heretic against Alethkar's primary religion of Vorinism; however, her ulterior motive is to steal Jasnah's soulcaster (the only such artifact known to be outside the control of the Vorin clergy) and use it to save her impoverished noble house. Meanwhile, Szeth travels across Roshar on the orders of a mysterious master, whose orders he is honorbound to obey regardless of how personally loathsome he finds them.The Way of Kings has Kaladin as its focus character; while the book shifts between all four plots, Kaladin's is clearly the primary story, with less focus on Dalinar, Shallan, and Szeth (respectively, from most to least). Each book in The Stormlight Archive is set to have a different "main" character; the sequel, Words Of Radiance, will have Shallan in that role, with Szeth expected to be the third in Stones Unhallowed, and Dalinar to eventually star in Highprince of War.
This book provides examples of:
Abusive Parents: Shallan's father had a horrific temper. Fortunately, he had a soft spot for her, so she only saw it a few times, and he never hurt her. Unfortunately, her brothers were not so lucky. They're pretty screwed up because of it.
Parshendi females, if Dalinar's hypothesis of their battle pairs actually being Battle Couples is right. Sanderson's readings from the second book confirm that yes, female Parshendi are warriors too—and not only that, but Eshonai, the parshendi shardbearer Dalinar fought, is a woman.
Jasnah might also be one, depending on how far her abilities go — she can certainly handle herself fine if she has to.
Although not one yet, Shallan might become one later since she has a shardblade.
Backstory: Kaladin gets the most of it, but other major characters have elements of their pasts revealed that make their motivations and characters clearer. Word of God says that each of the ten books in the series will focus on the backstory of a single character the way the first focused on Kaladin's.
Badass Grandpa: Dalinar might not quite have grandchildren yet, but he's over fifty, has sons who are in their twenties, and is basically a one-man army if he's got his Plate and Blade.
Bavarian Fire Drill: Kaladin pulls one of these near the end when rescuing Dalinar's army. As basically the only one still capable of rational thought at the time, he starts ordering around soldiers who completely outrank him. Up to and including Adolin. It should be noted that he pulled this off despite the fact that, as a slave and a bridgeman, Kaladin has zero social standing and zero right to give orders to so much as the camp prostitutes, much less the heir to another highprince's army.
Big "NO!": Kaladin, whenever someone important to him dies. Most notably Tien.
Chekhov's Gun: All over the place, but especially noticeable in the Distant Prologue, with the Heralds and the Last Desolation. The names of the Heralds themselves are important, and the lost Herald is the most obvious, but even the color of the blood on the ground becomes important later on.
Cliffhanger: The book ends with the Herald that was abandoned at the beginning of the book walking into the capitol of Alethkar and collapsing, possibly dead. According the prelude, the heralds swords would disappear if they died, so he's most likely alive.
Cryptic Conversation: A strange example. When people die slowly, in such a way that they can still speak at the end, they sometimes spout off a cryptic line that no one understands. Taravingian is collecting these, and at least one is a line from the Lost Herald. Another is directly prophetic of an event that happens at the end of The Way Of Kings.
Cynicism Catalyst: Kaladin becomes increasingly reluctant to try to help others, because it always ends badly for them. The death of his little brother Tien is the start of this.
Deadpan Snarker: Shallan, who seems to have the sort of mind which automatically deconstructs every sentence she hears and prepares a witty retort, and the King's Wit, a character whose job it is to provide the royal court with snarky running commentary. Jasnah can also descend into this when her sense of humor shows through her usually stoic countenance.
Determinator: Kaladin, when he's not heart-rendingly depressed.
Due to the Dead: Subverted big time. Kaladin exploits the Parshendi's race-wide Berserk Button by armoring himself in their dead, and attracting the attention of the entire army.
Empowered Badass Normal: Kaladin, sort of. For the first half of the book he doesn't do anything supernatural as far as we can tell, and the nature of his abilities makes it hard to tell if he's doing anything magical at all, but he gradually does more and more obviously supernatural things. It's hard to tell exactly when he starts developing powers, but he certainly didn't have them to begin with.
Emotions vs. Stoicism: Played with; Kaladin believes, teaches and was taught that caring about something or someone gives you a reason to fight harder, while most soldiers tend to favor stoicism over emotions.
Epigraph: These appear at the beginning of each chapter. For the first and last sections, they are quotes from dying people that are collected in Taravangian's hospital. The second section is correspondence from who appears to be Wit/Hoid to an "immortal" - possibly another Shardholder. The third section lists quotes that Jasnah has collected in her research regarding the Voidbringers.
Wit: What of you, Prince Renarin? Your father wishes me to leave you alone. If you can speak and yet say nothing ridiculous, I will leave you alone for the rest of the week. [beat] Renarin: Nothing ridiculous.
Dalinar is a general leading his people in a hopeless war, finding himself disgusted by his people's blind lust for vengeance, struggling to raise his son, also a military leader, in righteousness under those conditions, greatly interested in history, and receiving visions from God. The parallels to Mormon, author of The Book of Mormon, are striking. Not surprising considering Sanderson is an active member of the LDS faith; similar themes are common in his books.
Szeth is more than a dead ringer for an Assassin. Especially at the start of the book when he wears white clothes and makes a deliberately public and spectacular assassination. Between his speed, mobility, unusual abilities, hidden weaponry, and tendency to both feel for his victims and speak with them after dealing the fatal blow, Szeth's introduction could pretty much be ripped straight from an assassination mission in Assassin's Creed, although the precise mechanisms (i.e. Shardblade instead of a Hidden Blade and Surgebinding instead of genetic Assassin abilities) are different.
Extreme Doormat: Szeth-son-son-Vallano. If his master commands anything, he will do it without question, with two exceptions: He will not kill himself, and he will not give up his Shardblade.
Eye Awaken: Kaladin promises to do this after his execution, mainly in the hope that his bravado will leave a legacy. Then he really does it.
Famous Last Words: Roughly around the same time that Gavilar Kholin was assassinated, people around Roshar began spouting cryptic ravings near-death. which are apparently the result of seeing something while at death's door. And someone is recording them, going by the epigraphs. King Taravangian is deliberately killing people to record their last words, though at least one person who was dying in this manner realized what was going on and refused to speak of what he saw.
Field of Blades: This happens for about fifteen seconds when the Knights Radiant abandon their Shards in one of Dalinar's visions, up until the watching soldiers realize the Shards are free to take.
Fictional Document: The eponymousThe Way of Kings is a book derided as borderline blasphemy by modern Alethi, due in part to such silly ideals as making peace with your enemies. Jasnah also peruses plenty of these in her pursuit of information on the true nature of the Voidbringers.
Four Is Death: Before Kaladin turns things around, Bridge Four has the highest mortality rate.
Friendly Enemy: Dalinar and Sadeas were actual friends before Gavilar was assassinated. Now, while they still have respect for one another's abilities and are cordial in person, Sadeas wants to outmaneauver Dalinar however he can, and while Dalinar wants to still like and trust Sadeas, deep down part of him knows Sadeas probably doesn't deserve it. He doesn't.
Genius Bruiser: Kaladin, a skilled surgeon in addition to having enough martial skill to kick all kinds of ass.
Glory Hound: All of the Alethi Highprinces, except for Dalinar.
Gone Horribly Right: Kaladin's "bridge shield" idea works incredibly well. So well, in fact, that the Parshendi ignore them in favor of easier targets, and the other bridges try to copy the idea but make a mess of it. The end results are not pretty. Though later on, the bridge shield maneuver saves the entire team when some Parshendi flank Bridge Four while trying to rescue Dalinar's army.
Gravity Master: Szeth. By the end of the book, Kaladin has begun to develop abilities in this vein too.
Henpecked Husband: Matal, a minor lighteyes. He usually lets his wife do all the talking for him, but when she's not around he's actually pretty reasonable.
Hollywood Atheist: Subverted. Shallan expects Jasnah to be like this, but she's actually a much more sympathetic (and interesting) character. Jansah's atheism is a personal philosophical stance; she'll enthusiastically defend it in an argument, but she doesn't try to force on others.
Hollywood Tactics: Discussed and ziggzagged. The terrain around the Shattered Plains makes it very difficult for the massive Alethi armies to actually pin down the Parshendi for a decisive victory, forcing the Alethi highprinces to establish a "siege" by occupying the western end of the plains (which is the only way out of the region) and whittling down the Parshendi through attrition while fighting over the extremely valuable gemhearts that can be recovered from pupating chasmfiends. However, as time passes, the Alethi tendency to make everything into a competition has led to the highprinces being less concerned with winning the war and more concerned with outdoing each other by winning the most gemhearts. This results in the highprinces essentially fighting in an uncoordinated fashion to inflate their own egos and status, and the way the war is being dragged out puts strain on the whole country.
Holy Hitman: Szeth-son-son-Vallano, Truthless of Shinovar.
Honor Before Reason: Dalinar's rivals accuse him of this; also what binds Szeth to what's essentially slavery.
Humanoid Abomination: The things that appear in Shallan's drawings, which look like human figures but wearing stiff cloaks made of metal and whose heads are shaped like strange symbols. Jasnah apparently is more familiar with them (they are somehow connected to Soulcasting) and Elhokar is seeing them in mirrors as well....
I Am a Monster: King Taravangian agrees he is when Szeth calls him out on it.
If I Wanted You Dead...: A rare hero-on-hero example. At the end of the book, Dalinar says this to King Elhokar almost word-for-word after delivering a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown to prove his loyalty. By showing that he could kill him if he wanted, but leaving him alive, he shows that he doesn't want him dead at all.
Elhokar: So you're not going to kill me? Dalinar: Storms, no! I love you like a son, boy.
Important Haircut: Important shave, actually. When Bridge Four pools their money to buy Rock a razor to thank him for the cooking he does for them, he not only uses it for himself, but also acts as an impromptu barber for the rest of the crew. This marks an important turning point, where the bridge crew have started to feel like people again.
Laser-Guided Amnesia: Dalinar was cursed so that he can no longer remember his late wife. Even to the point where he can't quite make out her name when other people say it.
Last Request: Before he dies Gavilar gives his assassin a dark-glowing sphere of unknown origin and nature, to keep away from "them", and a cryptic message for his brother. Szeth obliges in taking the sphere and leaving the message because he believes the last wishes of the dying are sacred. The cryptic message causes even more confusion when it is found, however, because Szeth leaves it as though Gavilar himself wrote it yet in Alethi culture only women write and read.
Meaningful Echo: Each of Szeth's chapters begin the same way: "Szeth-son-son-Vallano, Truthless of Shinovar, <the rest of the sentence>."
Kaladin originally didn't like his name because it sounded too close to a lighteyes name (which are frequently one syllable off from being a palindrome), but he gets over it. This mirrors his later hatred of lighteyes (including his refusal to become a shardbearer, because doing so would make him a lighteyes), but eventual reconsidering. The end of The Way of Kings also sets him up as Dalinar's Number Two — the next best thing to a lighteyes, without actually being one.
Given that Word of God says the Almighty is named Honor, Honor Chasm could have an entirely different meaning.
Metafictional Title: The namesake book is something between a holy book, philosophy, and a chivalric code.
King Taravangian. According to Word of God, this is not a true example. Taravangian's intelligence actually changes randomly from day to day. This is probably a curse or boon from the Nightwatcher. So in the scene with Jasnah and Shallan, he's not obfuscating anything, he's actually an idiot that day.
Also Wit, though in his case it's more that he appears to refuse to take anything seriously than that he's stupid.
Peace Conference: The prologue to The Way of Kings is on the day of one. It doesn't end well.
Phrase Catcher: Everyone ends up calling Kaladin "Stormblessed" sooner or later, although he never says it himself.
Spooky Photographs: Not really photographs, but Shallan's drawings of the symbol heads certainly fits the trope.
Stable Time Loop: Maybe. Can Dalinar alter the past in his visions, or are they just a sort of interactive memory?
To Be Lawful or Good: Kaladin and Szeth both face this question, and go to Honor Before Reason lengths to uphold their choice. Kaladin chooses good, which initially gets his squad killed and himself branded a slave, while Szeth chooses lawful, performing horrible acts under orders simply because he swore to follow whoever holds his oathstone.
The Tower: Used metaphorically in two different ways: First, the Tower is one of the glyphs (along with the Crown) that makes up Dalinar's House symbol. In this sense it probably represents power. Second, it's the name given to a large plateau in the Shattered Plains, so named because it's tilted and rises up on one side. The name here represents calamity, as no Alethi assault on the Tower has ever succeeded. This is definitely true as of the end of the book.
The Unpronounceable: Numuhukumakiaki'aialunamor. Most would prefer "Rock" too. Oddly enough, his name actually translates to "Rock". Several different kinds of rock, specifically all the different kinds of rock his father discovered before he was born. And it's a poem. Poems-as-names is typical for his culture.
Syl telling Kaladin "I am honorspren". It explains two major questions — why she's different from other windspren and the nature of her relationship to Kaladin — and provides a whole new perspective on things in three words.
And then this, together with Dalinar's realisation a few lines earlier that the words he has been hearing were a recording, and not an interactive conversation as he had assumed.
Almighty: I am... I was... God. The one you call the Almighty, the creator of mankind. And now I am dead. Odium has killed me. I am sorry.
Jasnah and Shallan realise that the Voidbringers are the parshmen.
All the more dramatic because it has not yet been explored, but Shallan (when required to give up a secret truth) revealing—to the reader at least—that she killed her father.
You Just Told Me: Kaladin gives Teft an order in military jargon, to which Teft responds appropriately for a sergeant, revealing some of his hidden backstory