Welcome back to our read of The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, where we delve into the work of a masterful author to see how great books are made. To catch up or review previous parts, see Part 1 and Part 2.
Chapter 9: Damnation
Summary: Weeks pass and Kaladin still lives in the hell of the bridgecrews, charging the enemy lines unprotected, carrying a massive bridge on his shoulders, and watching his fellows slaughtered around him. But, despite the odds, Kaladin still lives. However, his heart and soul have died. All he can do is run. He has no purpose but to carry the bridge and die. Syl leaves him because she can’t stand to watch him perish inside any longer. Then a boy who looks like Kaladin’s brother, who died years before, is assigned to his bridge and dies. That night, as a high storm rages outside, for the first time in a year, Kaladin cries.
Reader Comments: I truly admire Sanderson’s ability to put a character through hell. Then again, I suppose Kaladin has to lose everything to become something else.
Writer Comments: How a point of view character describes things is a major way to conveys emotion. In this chapter, horrendous things occur, yet Kaladin’s descriptions are not weighty with dramatic displays of emotion. Look at the way Sanderson describes things.
Example 1: “Kaladin charged the chasm, not even flinching as men were slaughtered around him. It wasn’t bravery that drove him; it wasn’t even a wish that those arrows would take him and end it all. He ran. That was what he did. Like a boulder rolling down a hill, or like rain fell from the sky. They didn’t have a choice. Neither did he. He wasn’t a man; he was a thing, and things just did what they did.” Kindle location 2635, hardcover page 149, softcover page 175
Sanderson uses sentence structure here to portray Kaladin’s emotional state and the horror of his circumstances. Even as he describes Kaladin turning into a thing with no natural human reactions, the sentences are broken, incomplete. Short, at times, almost breathless. That and the contrast between the subject (Kaladin turning into a thing that just does what it does) with the implied emotion creates a powerful passage.
Example 2: “His body slumped to the side, lying on a stone outcropping a foot or so above the corpse of the boy. Blood dripped from the tip of an arrow sticking out his back. It fell, one ruby drop at a time, splattering on the boy’s open, lifeless eye. A little trail of red ran from the eye down the side of his face. Like crimson tears.” Kindle location 2641, hardcover page 150, softcover page 175
This description is heart wrenching, even though Sanderson doesn’t use a single word to describe Kaladin’s emotions. We know the horror. We know Kaladin cared about this boy because he reminds him of his brother, and yet, amidst that horror, there is no mention of shock, fear, anguish, anything. There’s a description of ruby drops of blood falling from one corpse to another, splattering on the boy’s lifeless eye, running down like crimson tears. The image is disturbing, and in its lack of emotional reference within the heart of a highly emotioned moment, a deep shock and horror is conveyed. Yet this wouldn’t work if the details, adjectives, and verbs Sanderson uses weren’t what they are. He highlights the horror in gory detail, but he doesn’t do it to revel in the gore. Rather, he picks a detail Kaladin would notice and zooms in on it. This detail works even better because of the inherent symbolism it contains. Kaladin sees the horror and it touches him for the first time in weeks. The image of this is the lifeless eye running with bloody tears. And look at the words Sanderson uses, words that convey weighty, emotional connotations: slumped, corpse, blood, dripping, ruby, splattering, lifeless, crimson tears. Words can convey powerful emotions without once listing an emotional reaction.
Chapter 10: Stories of Surgeons
Summary: Nine years before.
Kal (Kaladin at age ten) helps his father in his surgery when a young woman gets her hand mangled. For all Kal talks of war, he’s highly sensitive and has difficult seeing his father’s patients in pain. Lirin, his father, protests that killing is no way of life, especially for Kal. He wants to send Kal to train as a surgeon in Kharbranth when he’s sixteen.
Reader Comments: It’s always interesting to see favorite characters as children and glimpse where they came from. This chapter is a bit sad because we get to see how Kaladin’s life could have gone. Being a surgeon would have been far better than being a bridgeman.
Writer Comments: Characters should have conflicting inner interests. For Kaladin, his inner conflict involves his instinct to heal versus his desire to fight. Sanderson sets this up early in the novel, from the very first chapter when Kaladin takes Cenn into his force to protect him. He expands on this conflict further when Kaladin tries to save the sick slave, who Tvlakv eventually has killed. Now, Sanderson goes deeper into the origins of the conflict. Both inner and outer conflicts should be developed throughout the story and resolved, preferably, at about the same time, in the climax.
Chapter 11: Droplets
Summary: Kaladin decides to die. The high storm’s rage has dwindled enough to dare stepping out into it, and he rises to walk outside and hurl himself down a chasm and end all his suffering. It’s an “honorable” death for a bridgeman, perhaps the only choice allowed him. On the way, he spots Gaz retrieving spheres (money) he’d left out in the storm to infuse with stormlight. Gaz demands he leave his shoes and vest. Kaladin drops them, not caring. He’s going to die. It’ll be over. He walks to the Honor Chasm and prepares to leap off, feeling the weight of his father’s disappointment.
Just before he steps of the edge, Syl returns, yelling his name and bearing a gift. She presents him with a blackbane leaf, the deadly poison Kaladin had lost earlier in the story. She thought it would make him happy, and when it doesn’t, though it does touch him, she begs him to try one more time to fight and help the bridgemen. With Syl’s encouragement, he agrees. After all, he can’t lose anything more. He hasn’t got anything left.
He returns and informs Gaz, after slamming the man to the ground and pinning him by the throat, that things are going to change. He died in the chasm, and this is his vengeful spirit returned. Bridge Four is his now, and Gaz better stay out of his way. With the promise of a one fifth of Kaladin’s pay, meager though that is, Gaz agrees.
Kaladin returns to the barracks, now bridgeleader and filled with purpose. He wakes every bridgeman and , despite their resistance, learns their names, something he’s avoided doing until then. He holds the names close, repeating them, and plotting to find some way to protect these men.
Reader Comments: Awesome. Simply awesome. I wouldn’t have minded if Kaladin smacked Gaz around a bit more, but the way he rises from the bottom of the darkest pit to this point is well worth watching him endure torment. I’m envisioning great feats from him, perhaps those that will eventually draw the attention of the brightlords and king.
Writer Comments: Turning points are crucial for plots. We’re fifteen percent of the way through The Way of Kings, and this is a major turning point. A few chapters ago, Shallan reached her turning point, wardship to attend Jasnah and be in a position to steal the Soulcaster. But Kaladin’s more dramatic and satisfying shift is what closes off Part One. We’ve seen Kaladin sink and suffer and ached for him to rise above it all. Sanderson pays off reader expectations and hope while at the same time turning the story so it can start on the next part of the plot. Kaladin has gone from beaten down victim to determined protector, and that’s very satisfying.
Summary: Ishikk is a fisherman in the Purelake, a lake spanning hundreds of miles but never reaching a depth more than six feet. Its waters are warm and calm, and its inhabitants build cities on blocks above the water, but low enough to let the water wash over their floors. Ishikk is a fisherman and, because he wanders wide in search of rare fish, a resource for finding other things too. On this particular day, he meets with Grunt, Blunt, and Thinker, the names he attributes to the foreign men who hire him to find a strange man named Hoid. However, like Ishikk’s fishing that day, he’s managed little success. No one has seen this Hoid, though apparently he’s highly valued.
Reader Comments: This is sort of a strange section. Sanderson does a good job of capturing a different mindset in Ishikk, of a culture far different than what we’ve seen so far, and of a way of thinking of the Alethi that’s different. However, I’m not clear on the purpose of this chapter, and I doubt I will be for some time. (Though, according to my husband who has already read this book and almost everything else that Sanderson has written, the man these men are searching for is significant in the larger scope of Sanderson’s works.)
Writer Comments: So what do you do when, as a writer, you need to include something that won’t make sense to your readers at first? You do what Sanderson has done here. He’s spent many, many pages proving his finesse and skill as an author, proving that we readers can trust him. Then he throws us a curveball in this chapter. He gets away with it because he’s proven himself so far and because, by placing the chapter in the Interludes section, he’s assuring us that he knows it’s different but to bear with him. Because he’s already wracked up enough good credit as a writer with his superb Part One, we can give it to him and wait and see how this will all play out.
Summary: Balat is Shallan’s brother, and he likes to kill. Not humans, but animals. He opens this scene pulling the legs off a crab. According to Balat, only Shallan and he of all his brothers, escaped damage from their father when he was alive, yet he continues to tear apart small animals with his bare hands. He worries for Shallan and longs for a solution to their problems that doesn’t involve her going off by herself. Then their brother Wikim rushes in, claiming there’s a big problem.
Reader Comments: I always admire an author who can make somebody twisted both believable and human. Poor Shallan. She obviously has a really messed up family, though they appear to love her.
Writer Comments: It’s easy to write a complex, relatable hero. It’s harder to do the same with a villainous character. Balat isn’t necessarily villainous. I honestly don’t know what role he’ll ultimately play in this series. However, he is dark, broken, and far from “heroic.” Yet Sanderson writes him in such a way that he feels very real and somewhat relatable while still coming off as highly disturbing. While mutilating small animals with his bare hands, his mind ponders over the sister he loves, worries for her, and wishes they could have done better than sending her off on her own. This contrast deepens Balat and helps create the disturbed impression he makes. The key to writing great villains is to love them and make them think that they’re right.