Quite simply, this book is a monster. There is no other way to describe this book. It's simply a beast. My copy is the paperback version, I mean, have you SEEN those? It looks like the pages won't even stay in the binding, it's so thick. It's 1,252 pages. I'll start with this, if you are new to fantasy, or just don't read it as much, don't start here to get a taste for Sanderson. This is the series that he's apparently been planning for years and it shows. If you want a taste of Sanderson without being completely overwhelmed in the world building, then start with Elantris or Mistborn, those are the best for beginners. Besides, everyone should read Sanderson in their life. As I said, though, this book shows the years of planning that was put into it. I usually catch on rather quickly with world building, but I admit I spent the first 50 pages of this book just trying to keep up with the world. It's so vast and there's so much. So, things to look out for so you won't be struggling like I was: the main kingdoms that the book is set in, the terrain is mostly rock. The plants all have the capabilities of retracting in on themselves, the grass 'hides' before it can be stepped on, the crops close up anytime after a high storm. The hierarchy is set through eye colour, those with lighter eyes (known as lighteyes, or Brightlords) are of higher rank. Darkeyes are of lower rank. The Alethi people almost always have black hair - lighter coloured hair means a mixed race. Once again, Sanderson makes an intriguing class system within the worlds of his books. There are quite a few other races in the books that are introduced, but the Alethi are the primary race and all of the main characters are of this race (I think a few of the interlude characters are of different races, though). The world is huge. Seasons pass within a few weeks at a time and at random, the highstorms come regularly and are fairly devastating. It's just brilliant and beautiful this world that he's created. Then there's the magic system. Oh man. If you've ever read a review I've written for any other Sanderson book, you might know that I fangirl hardcore over the magic systems that he comes up with. From Allomancy and Biochromatic Breath, to the latest addition to brilliant systems: Stormlight. In this book, the magic system is kind of connected to the money system as well? That sounds kind of weird but it's actually how it works. The money that they use are these spheres with gemstones in the centre (the rarer the gemstone... ect. that's easy enough to figure out.) and the gemstones hold Stormlight. (If a sphere has no Stormlight it in, then it's considered dun and bad money, though leaving your money out during a highstorm recharges the spheres. craaaazy stuff.) So, with those, comes this method of drawing the Stormlight into ones body and Lashing. Basically, releasing the Stormlight into an object and shifting reality to make it, like, stick? It's complicated, but when it's used in battle it is so cool. That's one aspect of the system, another is the method of Soulcasting. Which is basically taking something and turning it into something else. So, soulcasters are essential for the armies because they can take mundane things like rock and turn them into food (though the food is notoriously bland). Then, the third point to the system were the Shardblades and Shardplates. Swords that were formed of mist and could cut through anything like they were cutting through air, and plates of armour that were seamlessly perfect and charged with Stormlight - giving the wearer superhuman strength. A lot of the culture of Alethkar centred around war, which was a huge point of conflict for a few of the characters in the book. Then the characters, oh man. So, the story followed a handful of characters: Kaladin the surgeon turned soldier turned slave turned bridgeman. Shallan, the artist and aspiring scholar. Dalinar the highprince and warrior questioning his sanity and Alodin, his son. There are other characters who get their own chapters, Szeth the assassin for one (I suppose he's technically a main character as well), and a few other characters. I can just say right off that Kaladin was easily my favourite character and I was always looking forward to his chapters. Kaladin probably had the most difficult life of all of the characters shown. He grew up training to be a surgeon underneath his father, but always held dreams of being a soldier (ahh, what boy doesn't?) in the end, through a series of flashback chapters, you come to learn how he wound up not only a slave, but a bridgeman - men who were forced to carry huge bridged across the plateau's on the Shattered Plains. Frequently the men were forced to charge right at the enemies oncoming arrows, most bridgemen died after only a few bridge runs. The great thing about Kaladin (besides being the typical emotional hero that I do adore. Protect all of the things, Kaladin, all of the things.) was that he had such great progression. We saw every moment of his giving up, to his caring, to his hard work in making the pathetic group of bridgemen into real warriors that could possibly escape the death sentence they had all been given. He was my favourite, by far. Dalinar and Alodin's chapters usually came together. Both lighteyes part of the king's army in the Shattered Plains, fighting against the Parshendi that had Dalinar's brother, the king, killed six years prior. I liked both of them, but at times their chapters were a tad bit dull (ironic because they were in the midst of a war...) Dalinar is busy questioning his sanity as strange visions come to him during highstorms, visions that would tell him to go against everything that the Alethi people stand for. Shallan was my other favourite character. The youngest daughter of a lesser known lighteyed nobleman, she journeys to attempt to become the ward to the dead king's daughter, the famous scholar and heretic Jasnah (who is BRILLIANT by the way), however, Shallan has a few ulterior motives for her reasonings to train underneath Jasnah. Shallan is an artist and just a fantastic character. Once again, Sanderson's female characters are just great.The plot as a whole follows these characters as Alethkar is caught up in a war against the Parshendi - tribesman who bear a resemblance to the docile slave race, the parshmen. A war that has lasted six years. Through all of this, there are hints at another Desolation - scourges that the world had not seen in centuries, not since the fall of the Radiants, a group of people who wielded Stormlight and Shardblades and protected the land from the Voidwalkers. So, as you can see, it's a lot of information to process, but it makes for a truly spectacular book. Every moment of it was brilliant. The only thing that confused me was the gender segregation in the Alethi culture. (It just struck me as... strange, especially coming from Sanderson who is really good about including women in his books in fantastic ways). Only women could read and write, men didn't do that. Men were warriors and farmers, women were scribes and scholars. Men ate a certain kind of food, women ate another. Women also wore their sleeves over their lefthand, their 'safe hand,' as they were called. At first I was bothered by this cultural trait, but as the story went on, I have a feeling that something is going to happen to shatter those social restraints. This is going to be a ten novel series and there is something about the way the culture is set up that just screams that things are going to be changed in a drastic way at some future book. Actually, after I got over my initial bewilderment ("What do you mean, men don't read?") I kind of enjoyed the way the culture was set up, though I do hope that it is changed... come onnnnn. Religion was just another great thing about this book. I mean, I've come to look forward to what great new religion Sanderson would come up with this time. This one holds a fairly monotheistic view for the Alethi people, held by the ardents who once tried to essentially take over the world - but there are undertones of Ancient religions that we have had yet to see.The politics of the book was lovely. The way the highprinces were all underneath the one king, and yet basically acted as kinds in their own right. They were all technically fighting the same war against the Parshendi, but that war had become something of a game, a race to see which highprince could reach the chasmfiends that lived in the Shattered Plains first and claim their gemhearts. A lot of the politics had to do with Dalinar's attempt at uniting the divided princedoms. It was pretty great. This book was so vast and yet it's so obvious that it's only a glimpse of what Sanderson has planned for this series. It was spectacular, brilliant even, I adored every moment of it. Fans of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire would likely enjoy reading this book as they wait for GRRM's next instalment. Basically, it was perfect and I so look forward to the next book.