Kaladin Kaladin Stormblessed is a slave who has lost all hope that his own life has meaning. He was destined to inherit the role of town surgeon from his father but due to the cruel vengeance of a jealous and malicious lord, he and his brother, Tien, were instead conscripted into the army. While in the army, his brother Tien is killed, an event which devastates Kaladin. Feeling he cannot return home to face his parents, he instead puts his entire heart into spear training and into protecting his own squad of soldiers. He employs his talents as a surgeon to help the wounded on the battlefield and his men respect and admire him for his sense of honor and his compassion. One day, distressed and enraged that the lives of some men in his squad were so cruelly and heartlessly cut down, Kaladin does the impossible – he kills a bright-eyed man who was wearing a shardplate and bearing a shardsword. In this world, shardplate is self-repairing armor powered by stormlight gemstones (gemstones that have been “energized” by the powerful storms that sweep the lands) that enhances its wearer's speed, agility and power as well as makes him almost invincible. A shardsword is a weapon that can be summoned from mist and can cut through any physical inanimate object and cut a person's soul from their body (killing them without “bloodshed”). There exist only a few shardplates and swords in the world and only the most high-ranking bear them. It is therefore astonishing that Kaladin as able to bring down a man armed in this way.
In the land of Alethkar where this story is set, light-eyed people (called bright-eyes) are higher “caste” and take up important positions in society (King, Commander, Lord) whereas dark-eyed people are of lower caste and take upon all the more menial jobs. Even lower in the caste are a people called the Parshmen, who are regarded by everyone as docile, mute, mule-like servants who are barely even human. Kaladin is dark-eyed but his family is one of the higher-ranking dark-eyes due to his father's skill as a surgeon. When Kaladin kills the man wearing a shardplate, he can claim full right to become the next owner of the shardplate and shardsword. Wearing a shardplate reputedly changes a person's eyes to lighter colors so that they can join the ranks of bright-eyed society. In the past, Kaladin had always looked up to certain bright-eyed lords because he thought they were romantic symbols of nobility, honor and justice but after experiencing the war and watching the nobles carelessly throw their soldiers into the fray without thought for the lives lost, Kaladin feels bitter and angry. As a result (and to everyone's shock) he does not claim the shardplate and sword. Kaladin is betrayed once more when his own bright-eyed lord kills all witnesses and puts him into slavery so that he can claim the shardplate and sword as his own.
Kaladin is sent to the Shattered Plains – the border of Alethkar and Parshmen territory. The Shattered Plains is as it sounds like – a field of plateaus and chasms where creatures like chasmfiends (giant, shell-covered and many-legged creatures) roam. In the recent history of Alethkar, the Alethi King was assassinated and the Parshmen claimed they orchestrated the whole affair, prompting a decades-long war between Alethi and Parshmen. The “wild” Parshmen are total opposites from the domesticated ones that are found in Alethkar. These “wild” Parshmen are skilled warriors who grow their own organic armor and leap from plateau-to-plateau to meet the Alethi battalions in battle. The Alethi have a goal of not only battling the Parshmen but also of killing the chasmfiends who bear great gemhearts that can be used to fabricate stormlight powered magical items as well as used as currency in Alethkar. Each time a scout spots a chasmfiend appearing on the plateau to “pupate” (form a hard protective shell to wait for a storm to arrive), they alert the nearest Alethi lord and it becomes a race between the Alethi and the Parshmen to see who can get to the chasmfiend first. In order to cross the chasms effectively, slaves like Kaladin are turned into bridgemen, or men that must carry and place bridges across chasms to allow the army to cross. This is the most dangerous and difficult job a slave in the army can get, as the bridgemen are not given any armor and must not only carry the bridge for miles but must also face an onslaught of Parshmen arrows when they arrive at the last chasm before the battlefield plateau. Bridgemen are known to drop likes flies and the bright-eyed lords do not care.
By some miracle, Kaladin keeps surviving each bridge run, though he often feels like there's no point in living. A curious “spren” (spirit-like creature of air) appears and befriends Kaladin, helping him climb out of his own depression and despair and take on the mission of finding ways to keep his own crew of bridgemen alive. Usually, between bridge runs, the bridgemen are so resigned to their fate that they don't bother trying to do anything. There is a distinct lack of discipline and hope among the bridgemen. After contemplating suicide and living a dazed half-life himself, Kaladin comes to the conclusion that no matter what, life is noble and that he must do his very best to save lives, even when it seems pointless. Slowly, he earns the respect of his “squad” and he teaches them discipline and through that, the bridgemen feel hope again. The higher-ranking light-eyed officers of the army hate Kaladin because they think he is sowing insubordination by behaving above his rank and they try all sorts of ways to kill him. They send his squad to do chasm-duty, which is a dangerous job that bridgemen sometimes have to do in-between bridge runs. It entails climbing down to the bottom of the chasm where chasmfiends lurk and scavenging useful materials from the dead bodies that wash down from the battlefields during storms. Each time his superiors try to squash him down, Kaladin finds a way to show they can't squash his spirit.
While doing chasm duty, Kaladin learns that the fact that he often survives bridge runs may not simply be due to luck. He discovers that he has the power to use the stormlight from energized gemstones to, not only enhance his own abilities, but also perform miraculous feats like walk on walls and direct the trajectories of enemy arrows. His friend the spren thinks he's destined to do something special but because she's only a spirit creature of air, she can't quite remember what. Spren are spirit-like creatures that appear everywhere - in the rain, the wind etc. – and they also often appear in response to human emotions like anticipation, pain, fear etc. No one in Alethkar thinks much of them, but Kaladin's spren is something special because it takes on the form of a woman and stays with him whereas most spren are amorphous and transient. Eventually, it is revealed that the spren is an “honor” spren and that somehow Kaladin's powers are related to the fact that he embodies the ideal of “honor” so well that the honor spren was able to keep her form and perhaps facilitate Kaladin's absorption and use of the stormlight.
Kaladin vows to use his new-found powers to help his bridge crew escape slavery. One day, however, his bridge crew is involved in a major battle. Usually, Alethi lords fight battles on their own because they want to claim the gemhearts for themselves. This time, however, two Alethi lords – Kaladin's own lord and another high-ranking lord – have joined forces to assault a major plateau that has, in the past, always been won over by the Parshmen. Kaladin witnesses his own lord betraying the other lord by withdrawing his men mid-battle – including commanding the withdrawal of the bridges, effectively stranding the other lord on the plateau. Kaladin normally hates the bright-eyed lords however this particular lord saved Kaladin and the lives of his bridge crew, once. Kaladin activates his stormlight powers and together with the brave members of his crew, disobey the commands of their own lord to lay down their bridge and allow for the other lord to retreat to safety. The other lord – called Brightlord Kholin – is immensely grateful. Kaladin admits that though most lords only show a flimsy façade of nobility, Kholin actually strives for the ideals of justice and honor. The Brightlord Kholin doesn't want to fight in the war but does so in the hopes that he can one day unite all the lords of Alethkar, who are squabbling and betraying each other for their own petty goals. The day's incidents are just one of many that corrupt the honor and justice that the bright-eyes are supposed to embody. Kholin thinks that some greater darkness or evil is approaching Alethkar and that all the lords must unite their army in order to fight it. The Brightlord Kholin sacrifices his shardsword to Kaladin's master in order to “buy” the lives and freedom of Kaladin and the entire bridge crew.
The story ends with Kaladin and his bridge crew-turned-soldiers joining Kholin and preparing for the imminent attack of an unknown and dark force that will soon ravage the lands.
Best part of story, including ending:
I really like the creative world-building in this story, specifically the use of "stormlight" to power the magical armor and swords and enhance a person's agility. I thought Brandon Sanderson did an excellent job creating a wondrous and mystical world based around the stormlight that was very detailed, logical and integrated into the very culture of the people that live in this world.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene was when Kaladin disobeys his master and saves Brightlord Kholin and his army when he has been betrayed and left to fight a losing battle. It was a very epic scene where Kaladin discovers just how much power he can activate within himself, especially when he is acting out of a sense of preserving honor and justice.
Opinion about the main character:
I like that Kaladin rejects pretension and false hope. His suffering as a slave turned him into a true philosopher and refined his goal in life into one that is pure and strong: to save those who are weak and can't defend themselves. I really admire Kaladin's ability to pull himself out of the deep soul-less life he could have led into a life of meaning and hope, becoming an inspiration to his men.