On this Cyber Monday, we resume our read of The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, where we go through a great story and learn how a skilled writer puts it together.
Today, we’re only covering four chapters rather than the five I’ve usually done on this book. I’ve found I don’t have the time to devote to five whole chapters a week for a detailed read like this, much as I’d love to. So instead of forcing five chapters each week and risk not giving them the attention they deserve, I’ll be aiming for however many chapters come to around fifty pages.
The Glory of Ignorance
Summary: Since assassinating King Gavilar, Szeth has been passed from master to master, performing the most base and menial tasks, but at least, he hasn’t been required to kill anyone else. When his current master is killed by footpads, he becomes the property of one of the thieves.
Reader Comments: Szeth is such a sad character. I’d love to learn how he ended up as one of the Truthless. He’s also hidden the sphere Gavilar gave him upon his death, so I imagine that will play a part later. It’ll be interesting to see how Sanderson weaves all these plots together.
Writer Comments: There are many ways to demonstrate the complexity and inner workings of a character without going into long internals or explanations. In this section, Sanderson does so in two main ways that work very well.
- He uses Szeth’s physical reactions to signal his internal feelings. Until called upon, Szeth sits motionless and quiet. His meek manner contrasts sharply with his circumstances of filth and cruel subjugation. But there are times when his true feelings slip through. He sighs when his master falls down, presumably drunk. For all he has made himself content as he can with his life because he hasn’t had to kill anyone else, he is weary of it. Szeth doesn’t have to tell the readers any of this, but it’s clear because of his physical reactions.
- Sanderson drops short phrases to indicate what Szeth’s feeling without actually naming his feelings. Szeth describes his dirty, demeaning conditions, but at least no one has asked him to assassinate anyone else. The fact that that last is what he hangs his perspective on says far more than if Sanderson had tried to describe it in depth.
Part Two: The Illuminating Storms
Chapter 12: Unity
Summary: Adolin, the son of Dalinar, who was brother of the assassinated king, rides with the royal party to a hunt, not because he wants to hunt, but because he doesn’t trust Highprince Sadeas and because he’s determined to protect his father’s honor. Apparently of late, Dalinar has been going mad, or so it would seem. When the highstorms come, he convulses and raves incoherently. Rumors are spreading, and Sadeas apparently has no problem taking verbal shots at Dalinar as a result. Only Adolin’s younger brother, Renarin, keeps him from foolishly challenging Sadeas for his father’s honor.
Reader Comments: So Dalinar might be going mad, Dalinar who lay drunk while his brother was murdered. Hmm, this could lead to some interesting character development.
Writer Comments: Very little happens in this scene, but it sets up a great deal. While the obvious events of this point in the story is the hunt, Adolin sets up for the reader the deeper, truer conflict: the suspicions that the unity among armies to avenge Gavilar’s death are only skin deep. In truth, dark forces swirl, and it’s through young Adolin’s eyes that we first glimpse them. Why does Sanderson choose Adolin? Because Adolin cares. Because Adolin notices. Because Adolin gives us both a sympathetic view of Dalinar and a condemning one, and that makes him all the more interesting. Also, Adolin confirms reader suspicions that Sadeas is not a good man. After all, it’s in Sadeas’s army where Kaladin is a bridgeman and men’s lives are so carelessly, wastefully tossed away. Seeing how Sadeas is in person through Adolin’s eyes further paints him as villainous.
Summary: Unite them is the phrase that keeps going through Dalinar’s mind, a phrase commanded of him in the vision he had during the highstorm. Unite them and bring peace before the Everstorm comes. Only, Dalinar has no idea how to do this and knows too well that, if he breathes a word of his visions or the fact that he thinks they’re from the Almighty, no one will believe him. All this churns through his head as his nephew, King Elhokar, challenges him to a race to a high stone formation so they can see the way to the hunting ground. Dalinar almost wins, but when he hesitates at the last second, Elhokar triumphs, one of very few victories the king has known of late. Elhokar insists anew that someone is trying to kill him, and while Dalinar indulges him, he thinks it unlikely. Then, Dalinar almost tells the king of their need to leave the Shattered Plains and seek peace, but that would be foolish.
Reader Comments: This bit from Dalinar’s perspective totally changes my opinions of him. Until now, he’s either been the drunken brother, who wasn’t there when his king died, or the mad father, who’s losing his warrior’s edge. But Dalinar himself, despite all other impressions of him, is a noble man. He doesn’t need to seek attention or glory. He is a faithful servant to his beloved nephew the king and a haunted man. Do I believe his visions are true? Absolutely. In fact, I’m starting to suspect, with this reference to the Everstorm, that the cycle referenced in the prelude is about to restart, and all the world hasn’t a clue, that this war the Alethi fight will turn out to be utterly insignificant compared to what’s coming. The question I have now, aside from wondering if I’m on the right track, is whether or not the Heralds will return somehow to fight. I’m worried they might not and that the one Herald they left in Damnation will come out seeking vengeance. That could be really bad and interesting.
Writer Comments: Naturally, there can be no better glimpse of a man than going straight into his own mind. That’s what a POV (point of view) does. It takes the readers straight into the character’s head and reveals the real person behind whatever else he may show the world. As Sanderson does here, you can drastically alter a reader’s perspective by carefully selecting who you use as POV characters.
Summary: Far too slowly for Elhokar’s liking, they all reach the viewing plateau adjacent to the hunting plateau. Dalinar mentions to Adolin they need to leave the Shattered Plains where the highprinces scrabble for prestige and in competition rather than truly uniting, and Adolin is alarmed and begs his father not to say anything to the king. Before more is said, Wit, the man the king uses to insult others rather than lowering himself to do so, arrives. Adolin likes him a great deal, but Dalinar quickly gets his back up when Wit starts in on Renarin, who is physically weakened by a blood condition, but as Wit rides off, he murmurs to Dalinar that Renarin is not nearly as fragile as Dalinar thinks.
At last, they reach the viewing plateau and watch as the initial hunters drag bait--hog carcasses--over the side of the plateau to draw the enormous chasmfiend up for the true hunt. But something goes wrong. The chull, a enormous crustacean-like beast of burden, pulls away from the plateau’s perimeter, dragging an empty rope that should hold the bait. Then the chasmfiend rises onto the viewing plateau where hundreds wait practically defenseless.
Reader Comments: Dalinar must really trust Adolin and Renarin to share his highstorm visions and his desire to leave the Shattered Plains. And I like Wit. Normally, I’m not a big fan of jesters of any sort, but Sanderson’s version, of a man who is not so much entertainment but one who insults where the king doesn’t allow himself the privilege, is far more interesting. I wonder if he’s perhaps Hoid, the character that those men were looking for in last week’s chapter about Ishikk.
Writer Comments: Metaphors and images can be subtle, yet powerful. They can deepen a story and strengthen it. In this case, the Shattered Plains is a metaphor of the Alethi, perhaps even of the whole world. Despite the fact that the Alethi are united in vengeance, they are fractured in truth. The whole world Sanderson has created is barely holding together because he’s setting things up for some great fall, where those tenuous seams will rupture. Metaphors and images are powerful, but if a writer tries too hard to include them, they can come off as forced and false. The best metaphors and images spring from what’s already on the page. It’s the author’s job to spot them and polish them to perfection.
Chapter 13: Ten Heartbeats
Summary: It takes ten heartbeats to summon a shardblade. Ten heartbeast in which Dalinar must run and watch as the chasmfiend kills. But at last, his blade forms from mist in his hand and he and Adolin attack, trying to distract the chasmfiend from Elhokar who seems determined to antagonize it. In turns, they cut out seven of its fourteen legs, but still it does not fall. Elhokar’s saddle girth breaks and sends him sprawling, but still he defies the beat and fights on. Sadeas shoots massive arrows into the creature, but it ignores them. Then against the beast’s four destructive claws, Adolin fights to preserve the life of the king, and Dalinar races, having been knocked from his horse, his shardblade reforming in his hand. He races because there are only two things he can preserve to make up for not saving his brother’s life: Gavilar’s kingdom and Gavilar’s son, Elhokar.
Reader Comments: So here’s the high action. Elhokar is going to get everyone killed one of these days, and I have loads of sympathy for Dalinar’s frustration trying to curb him. Perhaps now, Adolin will gain a bit more pride in his father, now that he sees him in battle.
Writer Comments: Until these last two chapters, Sanderson did not change POVs mid-chapter. Rather, he’d stick with a single character all the way to the end of a chapter. So why now might he switch this practice? Unlike Kaladin and Shallan, who both have very clear cut goals, the world where Dalinar and Adolin reside is far more complex and less clear. For that, multiple perspective can be helpful. But also, Dalinar needs two perspectives for the reader to comprehend him fully: his own internal perspective revealing his true self and the perspective of the outside revealing the impact he makes on the world, similarly to what the POV of Cenn did for Kaladin in Chapter 1. Adolin’s POV in these chapters, which we will return to in the next section of this chapter, serves as an alternate lens through which to view Dalinar.
Summary: Adolin is stunned, but manages to rise and summon his shardblade again. Before he can leap once more to the king’s rescue, Dalinar races to them and catches the massive chasmfiend’s claw just before it crushes the king. He holds it, fighting the massive beast with his own strength enhanced by his shardplate. Adolin cuts another leg, and at last, the beast falls. Elhokar slays the prone chasmfiend and rips free its heartstone, a grisly emerald the size of a man’s head.
Reader Comments: Yep, Adolin is starting to appreciate his father. Good. Elhokar could use a good shaking though. Too bad Wit can’t give him a biting reprimand.
Writer Comments: Sensory description enriches a world and story, especially description that isn’t just reliant on sight or sound. In this section, Sanderson has a great one based on scent, “He smelled something moldy. Greatshell blood,” (Kindle location 3648, hardcover page 208, paperback page 249). How direct yet vivid! Can’t you just smell it? Blood that has a scent like mold. What unique sensory details can you include in your story?
Chapter 14: Payday
Summary: The morning after the highstorm, Kaladin rouses Bridge Four early, far earlier than they’re accustomed. Sleeping in, after all, is one of the rare luxuries bridgemen get. The bridgemen of Bridge Four are sullen and resistant, so Kaladin literally hauls one over his shoulder and deposits him into the sunlight. That’s all it takes to get the rest moving. He gives orders that, from now on, they will train. The reason the bridge runs are so difficult is because they laze around between them. However, Kaladin has no real authority when they’re not on a bridge run, so they laugh and walk away.
Because Gaz makes his task of running the bridgemen more difficult, Kaladin demands his pay for the week and gives Gaz his 20% with a stern reminder that unless Gaz makes sure he stays out of Kaladin’s way or if Kaladin dies, the money stops coming. Then Kaladin practices running with a massive board, eventually intended as part of a new bridge, in the lumberyard. He draws a lot of attention, but still hasn’t gotten anywhere with the other bridgemen. But somehow, he has to earn their respect enough so they will give him authority over them so that, hopefully, he can prevent any more of them from dying.
Exhausted afterwards, he collapses in secret in an alley. Syl comes and shares with him that she’s glad he didn’t lie to Gaz and withhold the money he’d promised. It disturbs her that she now knows what lying is, among other things, including death. Day by day, she becomes more aware and seeks Kaladin to help her make sense of it. Like him, she’s afraid to return to what she was, but also terrified to know what she is becoming.
Reader Comments: Yay, Kaladin, my favorite character! Syl is also awesome. I’m really hoping Kaladin gets some success soon, but I have a feeling he’s going to have to work brutally hard to get it.
Writer Comments: You may have noticed that Sanderson makes up a lot of his own words for this book: highstorms, windspren, rockbuds, chasmfiends, shardplate, shardblades, and many more. Making up names and words is pretty common in fantasy, but it must be done carefully. The words Sanderson has made up here are related closely enough to real words that we can get a pretty good idea of their meaning. A highstorm is obviously a storm, and the description of it easily explains the “high” part. If you make up words for your fiction, try to make them easy to follow and remember rather than throwing a random collection of letters together to describe something that could be perfectly well described with real words.