Today, we return to our read of The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, where we go through a great story and learn from the author’s example how to write well. To catch up or review previous sections of this read, see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.
Chapter 17: A Bloody, Red Sunset
Summary: Kaladin purchases bandages and sinew and thread with his meager pay. The apothecary he purchases them from is dismayed that his spheres are all nearly dim, but Kaladin talks him into letting Kaladin keep the one sphere still shining with stormlight.
That afternoon, Bridge Four goes on a bridge run. The men still mostly ignore Kaladin, but he fights on to lead. These are his men, and he will do whatever possible to keep them alive. But it’s too late. The Parshendi have already formed lines when Bridge Four gets to the last plateau. So, against all precedent, Kaladin chooses to run at the front of the bridge, the spot where most bridgemen die. The Parshendi loose a flight of arrows. Kaladin feels a surge of energy as the arrows fly and he screams his brother’s name. Miraculously, the arrows miss him.
They get the bridge in place for the cavalry charge, and once more against all precedent, Kaladin keeps coming back to drag wounded bridgemen from the battlefield, though he’s nearly dropping from exhaustion. Then, his bridgemen begin to help, for once truly following orders. The first man, Gadol, who Kaladin tries to save perishes with prophesy on his lips. Kaladin manages to save the rest, but there’s a standing order that all bridgemen must be left to die if they cannot walk.
So Kaladin goes to Gaz as Highlord Sadeas’s men work to get the gemheart out of the pupating chasmfiend, their prize for winning that plateau’s battle. When Gaz resists Kaladin’s wishes to go against orders and bring his men back, Kaladin threatens to kill him and lets him take his last sphere. But the sphere is dead, completely burned out, despite the fact that it glowed brightly that morning.
Reader Comments: Awesome. Every new chapter I read of Kaladin, I like him more.
So I have a theory. Unbeknownst to anyone yet, Kaladin has developed an ability similar to Szeth’s where he can draw stormlight energy and do things with it. Either that or Syl can do it and is helping keep Kaladin alive by doing so. The energy Sanderson mentions Kaladin feeling as the arrows fly toward him could only be magic, but is it from Syl or Kaladin himself? The Parshendi archers noticed it. I’m certain of that, even if they didn’t know what it was either.
Writer Comments: There are so many great things in this chapter, but I’ll only cover two right now.
As Kaladin fights to save his men’s lives, Gadol’s dying words bring an interesting twist to the story.
Gadol spit up blood, coughing. “They break the land itself!” he hissed, eyes wild. “They want it, but in their rage they will destroy it. Like the jealous man burns his rich things rather than let them be taken by his enemies! They come!”
He gasped. And then he fell still, his dead eyes staring upward, bloody spittle running in a trail down his cheek. His final, haunted words hung over them. Not far away, soldiers fought and screamed, but the bridgemen were silent. (Kindle location 4805, hardcover page 270, paperback page 325)
Breaking from the norm signifies importance in the hands of a skilled author. These words come from a dying bridgeman, who Kaladin tries to save on the battlefield. But they are no bridgeman’s words. They have a ring of prophesy and are hardly what your average bridgeman would utter. As such, they are haunting even to the characters witnessing them. As readers, they demand we pay attention. Kaladin and the others might not recognize their significance yet, but we do. And from them, it’s easy to see the growing strength of the connection between Kaladin and Dalinar. Dalinar’s visions demand he “Unite them” before the Everstorm comes, and Kaladin receives a message from his dying bridgeman heralding similar concepts of destruction and coming horror. Slowly, Sanderson is revealing the weave underlying his story by making more and more connections between characters that have never met.
Additionally, Kaladin’s actions are worth note in this chapter. It would be unrealistic for Sanderson to have the bridgemen gladly follow Kaladin. Instead, he veers toward a more realistic turn of events. Words carry little weight, but actions are truly impactful. So what does Kaladin do? How does he begin to earn the trust and respect of the bridgemen? He sacrifices himself. He takes the worst position. He serves them. And, in the end, though utterly exhausted, he fights against all reason and odds to save their lives. By demonstrating respect and care for their lives, he earns something of that sort back. This is the makings of true heroism and greatness. We see it as readers, and the characters around Kaladin see it. Don’t just let your heroes talk. Demonstrate who they are through their actions.
Chapter 18: Highprince of War
Summary: Adolin checks the broken girth of Elhokar’s saddle with leatherworkers who agree it was cut. However, carelessness with buckles could have caused the initial cut. It wasn’t necessarily intentional. After learning this, Adolin goes to Kadash, an ardent, to inquire after his father’s visions. Is Dalinar perhaps going mad? Kadash insists that he will not submit to claims of prophesy and mystical visions. Such is a dangerous path. Rather, he suspects that Dalinar’s visions come merely from his own mind.
Meanwhile, Dalinar visits King Elhokar and urges him to return to Alethkar and strengthen the kingdom rather than wasting time and resources in a Vengeance Pact that is getting them nowhere. Elhokar is incredulous and accuses Dalinar of weakening and sounding like Gavilar near the end. So Dalinar changes tactics. Rather than trying to force unity through retreat, he tries to inspire unity by suggesting Elhokar name him Highprince of War. They argue, but in the end, Elhokar agrees to consider it if Dalinar can prove that the other highprinces will follow him.
Dalinar departs from the king and is on his way back when an unexpected highstorm rolls in. Dalinar and Renarin barely find shelter in a crowded barracks in Dalinar’s war camp before the storm breaks. But that in itself is a great danger because it means Dalinar will have no privacy when the visions hit him. His men will know the rumors suggesting his growing madness hold truth.
Reader Comments: Oh dear on many fronts. I suspect that Dalinar is unintentionally constructing his own undoing. His men will undoubtedly be more sympathetic to his fits and visions, but it will probably still greatly disturb them. Plus, rumors will get out and undoubtedly undermine all Dalinar is trying to build. Elhokar too grows suspicious of Dalinar. Things look like they’re going to get very messy for him.
Writer Comments: Sometimes a few concise phrases carry more weight than lengthy passages. The last two lines of this chapter are:
The storm hit.
(Kindle location 5286, hardcover page 294, paperback page 357)
You don’t get much simpler and more direct than that. This would not have worked early in the book, but now that we understand the idea of highstorms and comprehend the danger of Dalinar’s visions, these two short sentences are all we need to grasp what comes.