It’s interesting to see how cover art evolves over the course of a book series. Does it get more complex? Or does it become simpler? Do the covers gain more meaning and significance or less? Watching that evolution unfold is one of the more fun and interesting parts of analyzing book covers like this.
The Stormlight Archive has had an interesting evolution. The covers of Words of Radiance, Oathbringer, and Rhythm of War are all fairly simple. The covers for Edgedancer and Dawn even more so. There are an abundance of details, but it’s pretty easy to figure it all out.
And then there’s the cover to the first book, The Way of Kings.
Of all the covers in the series, this one is the most vague of the lot. None of our main characters are standing front and center, staring the frame down. It doesn’t seem to be depicting any one event, such as the cover of Words of Radiance or Oathbringer. Rather, it’s more an introduction to the world of Roshar itself. A little primer for what to expect.
Let’s go over the obvious details before we get into theorizing. Firstly: the setting. It’s pretty obvious that this is meant to depict the Shattered Plains. If the obvious clues of the massive chasms and lifeless rock formations weren’t enough, you can see what is most likely rockbuds, the only thing said to grow atop the plains, behind our figure in the red cloak. Given that the plains are the primary setting for this book, it’s a pretty big no-brainer.
The same can be said about the massive storm in the distance. If you’ve read any of these books, you know what that is. Highstorm. The massive, boulder-throwing hurricanes that sweep across Roshar every few weeks or so. Here, it is presented as this massive, powerful thing that almost swallows the sun and dwarfs the two characters. This tells us one thing: no matter how powerful these two may be, what with their Shards, they are both small and insignificant when compared to that storm.
Also, you can see the thin sliver of one of the moons off to the right-hand side. That’s not especially significant, I just liked that little attention to detail.
Now, let’s get into the big question: who are these two characters?
At first, you might assume the dude in the forefront to be Dalinar Kholin. That would make sense, as he’s the most prominent Shardbearer in this book.
However, that falls apart really quickly. The banner they carry is yellow with a red crab-like emblem, not at all like the Kholin blue that Dalinar flies. His cloak doesn’t match up either. Not only is it red, but the elaborate markings are too ornate and frivolous. Given how Dalinar refuses to even paint his Shardplate and how strictly he follows the Codes of War, it’s safe to assume that he wouldn’t wear this. On top of all that, the Shardblade they hold doesn’t match the description of Oathbringer, Dalinar’s blade, at all. Hence, it’s safe to say that this isn’t Dalinar.
If I had to guess, I’d hypothesize that this is actually Eshonai. The red cloak and yellow banner seem much more fitting for the Parshendi than they do for any of the humans. On top of that, she’s pointing her blade in a salute, just as she does after the final battle at the Tower in the book. It’s a flimsy theory, I’ll admit. But it makes more sense to me than that being Dalinar.
That begs the question: who is the other figure? The one in the far-distance?
We don’t have nearly as many details to work with here as we do with the first figure. But we do get some clues as to their identity.
First: the weapons. They’re holding a massive spear in one hand with a shield slung over their back. This immediately tells us that this person is a soldier of some kind. Perhaps an ally to the other figure? Or, more likely, an enemy?
Second: the clothes. It’s hard to make out, given how far away the figure is and how small they’re drawn. But they’ve got a faintly ragged look to them. Like their clothes have seen better days. That, or they’re wearing something over their clothes. Some kind of armor, perhaps.
Which leads to my theory. Spear, shield, and clothes/maybe armor? Not to mention how maybe-Eshonai is saluting them across the chasms? There’s a strong possibility that this person is our main character, Kaladin Stormblessed.
Although, admittedly, it’s impossible to tell for certain. We can’t make out his dark Alethi locks of hair or the scars on his forehead. Not to mention how there isn’t a spren floating about him. This could very well be anyone.
But if I were a betting man (which I shouldn’t be, my gamblers instincts are absolutely terrible), I’d bet pretty heavily on that being Kaladin.
This is one of my favorite book covers. It’s vague enough to leave you thinking and provides enough details to lure people in. It hints at everything you need to know. Shardblades, Highstorms, the setting, everything that might grab a newbies attention.
Except for spren. And Surgebinding. But those are a little too spoilery to put on the cover of the first book.