As far as setting the scene, Sanderson creates this world where seasons last for shorter periods of time. They'll experience winter in a couple of weeks, as well as the other seasons. They have these crazy storms they call Highstorms. Its horrible wind and rain far beyond any regular thunderstorm we might experience. There are different types of creatures running around, and there are these spirit type creatures that are around everything called Spren. There are flamespren, windspren, rotspren, and painspren just to name a few.
For characters, I'll begin with Shallan. She is a young woman who is trying to save her family from ruin. She leaves the comfort of her home (which is pretty big for this sheltered girl) to go and apprentice under the King's sister, Jasnah, who is kind of a historian. Shallan becomes torn between this new life of learning that she loves and the duty she feels toward her family. She is full of witty come backs, and she grows so much in this book. She's pretty incredible.
Next, we have Dalinar. He is one of I think 10 highprinces who rule under Elhokar the King. He is troubled by the assassination of his older brother Gavilar, visions he has during highstorms, and a want to be a better person. He tries to do what he thinks is best for his country but goes under quite a few setbacks along the way. He is a very honorable man which is something I really like about him. He is a little stiff and refuses to bend a lot of the time, but it's not really bad. He is also a very loving father to Renarin and Adolin.
Last I'll talk about Kaladin. He is my favorite character so far in this series. (I think that's quite common with readers.) The book goes into his past where his father was a surgeon and wants Kaladin to not just follow in his footsteps but achieve even more skill then he has. Due to unfortunate circumstances Kaladin finds himself in the army and eventually becomes a slave. As a slave he works as a bridgeman. This is absolute torturous work. Throughout his struggles he learns a lot about himself and others. His role in this book is truly inspiring.
There are many more characters involved in this book who are all important. I only went through the three most prominant. On top of all this crazy world and story, there are many many types of people and different cultures. For one culture its considered indecent for a woman to let anyone see her "safehand" so its always covered with a long sleeve or glove. Its weird if a man can read and write more than simple glyphs. Women are all the scribes and read to the men. There are too many other unique customs to mention.
This book was absolutely amazing. I will read it again. The ending has so many twists that I wasn't ready for even this second time reading it! Sanderson knows how to tell a story, that's for sure. I can't wait to read the sequel. I have it waiting for me at home.