65 pages 2 hours read

Brandon Sanderson

The Way of Kings

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2010

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Summary and Study Guide


The Way of Kings (2010) is the first book in Brandon Sanderson’s ongoing epic fantasy series, The Stormlight Archive. The Way of Kings won Best Novel at the 2011 David Gemmell Legend Awards for fantasy literature and is considered an exemplary and influential entry to the epic fantasy genre. DMG Entertainment purchased the rights to a film adaptation of The Stormlight Archive in 2016, and Arcturus VR released a videogame adaptation of the novel in 2018.

Sanderson is a contemporary American fantasy and science fiction author, whose best-known works include The Mistborn, The Reckoners, Skyward, and the Alcatraz series. Sanderson received a BA in 2000 and an MA in English in 2004 from Brigham Young University, where he now periodically teaches creative writing courses. Sanderson’s first published work is the novel Elantris (2005), followed by the Mistborn series. In 2007, Sanderson was chosen to complete the last three novels of Robert Jordan’s acclaimed fantasy series, Wheel of Time, which was adapted into a TV series by Amazon in 2021.

The current study guide uses the Tor 2011 mass-market paperback edition of the novel. Please be advised that The Way of Kings includes graphic depictions of injuries and death, including death by suicide.

Plot Summary

On the continent of Roshar, on a planet of the same name, events called Desolations periodically reduce humans to a Neolithic stage of development and population. In the Roshar religion, Vorinism, the Almighty sent 10 Heralds to help humanity. These divine messengers formed the Knights Radiant, warriors with magical abilities, to protect humans from Voidbringers, the monsters who cause Desolations. According to Vorin teachings, the Heralds and Knights betrayed their oaths and deserted mankind, exhausted by cyclical war and suffering.

Thousands of years after the last Desolation, the people on Roshar are reluctant to believe that a new cataclysmic event might soon take place. Several characters from different countries and social strata become aware of the looming danger and develop the ability to channel stormlight, a kind of radiant energy, which helps them perform magic. The narrative rotates between their points of view as they are slowly drawn together at the Shattered Plains, where the most powerful nation on Roshar, Alethkar, is engaged in a long war with the mysterious Parshendi people. The main characters include Kaladin, a surgeon’s son who becomes a soldier and later a slave; Shallan Davar, a young aristocratic woman set on saving her family from financial ruin; Dalinar Kholin, a fierce warrior and the current Alethi king’s uncle; and Szeth-son-son-Vallano, an outcast of the Shin nation cursed to obey whomever possesses his Oathstone.

An unknown Parshendi orders Szeth to assassinate Gavilar, the King of Alethkar. Devastated by his brother’s death, Dalinar vows to destroy the Parshendi. After six years of pointless fighting, he begins to doubt the war effort and the ways of Alethi society as a whole. His change of heart is inspired by an ancient text, The Way of Kings, which Gavilar had become interested in before his death. The book refutes the aggressive and competitive Alethi culture. Additionally, Dalinar experiences strange visions that warn him of coming danger and compel him to unite his people. Dalinar’s visions also challenge traditional Vorin teachings, placing him in a politically sensitive situation and making his attempts to unite the Alethi Highlords seem hopeless.

Meanwhile, Kaladin, a gifted young warrior, is betrayed by his commander and made a slave. Kaladin becomes a bridgeman on the Shattered Plains, whose job is to help the army cross over the chasms separating individual plateaus on the Shattered Palins by drawing enemy fire. A spirit, called a spren, inspires Kaladin to be a better person and to help those around him. Kaladin becomes the crew leader and finds ingenious ways to help his men stay alive. At the same time, he begins to develop the ability to absorb stormlight, which gives him special powers such as walking up walls. At the end of the novel, the bridge crew saves Dalinar and his remaining troops from a trap set by another Highprince. As a reward, Dalinar buys all the bridgemen and liberates them.

Shallan seeks to gain the confidence of Jasnah Kholin, Gavilar’s daughter. Jasnah is a renowned scholar, who also possesses a Soulcaster, a powerful magical artifact that allows her to transform objects. Shallan plans to steal the Soulcaster in order to help her family prevent bankruptcy. The young woman succeeds in substituting the Soulcaster with a broken one, but after being poisoned by an assassin she reveals her deception so that Jasnah can save her life with magic. Afterward, Shallan realizes that Jasnah does not actually need an artifact to perform magic and that Shallan herself has a similar ability. The two women reconcile, and Jasnah confides in her protégé that the Voidbringers are most likely the Parshendi. The two women decide to travel to the Shattered Plains in order to seek answers and prevent the Desolation.

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