Welcome back to our read of Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings, where we’ll take apart his story to see how a skilled author constructs a successful book.
To catch up or review previous segments of this read, see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, and Part 7.
Chapter 23: Many Uses
Summary: Teft and Rock, the two bridgemen Kaladin persuaded to help him save the wounded bridgemen, gather knobweed while Kaladin secrets it away in the wagon where he also loads the stones the other bridgemen must gather. Syl, whom Rock can, for some reason, see, makes their search vastly more productive.
Later, the three of them squeeze out the knobweed milk by the light of the moons, beside the chasm where Kaladin nearly killed himself. They talk of how they became bridgemen. Sadeas acquired Rock when Rock’s lord lost to Sadeas in a duel for his Shardplate. When Rock put dung in Sadeas’s dinner in vengeance, he was sentences to be a bridgeman. Kaladin merely confesses that he killed someone, and when he refused the reward his brightlord offered, he was made a slave.
Reader Comments: I like Rock, and I have a feeling that Kaladin is going to get in massive amounts of trouble for what he’s doing. Odds are, when the bridgemen recover, he’ll be punished, insane as that might seem.
Writer Comments: A character brings a mood to a place, and that impacts how it’s described. It can be quite illuminating to show a certain place twice, once when the character was in one state of mind, and a second time after a change has overcome the character. Sanderson does this with the Honor Chasm. The first time Kaladin comes in utter dispair, practically crushed, and ready to kill himself. This time, he comes with the closest he has to friends and spends his time working to help others and laughing. The contrast isn’t to highlight the specific setting, it’s to highlight Kaladin’s change. The way a character perceives or experiences a setting can help a reader see how deep and true a shift in him actually is.
Chapter 24: The Gallery of Maps
Summary: Dalinar approaches Highprince Roion about them trying the first joint plateau assault of the war. But Roion is suspicious of Dalinar and demurs by claiming he needs to think it over. Dalinar realizes that it might not have been the wisest idea to approach the weakest of the highprinces.
Right after Roion leaves, Adolin comes to warn Dalinar that Sadeas, the new Highprince of Information, wants to question Dalinar’s grooms, who tended the king’s horse before the saddle strap broke and sent Elhokar on his latest fear of assassins. By the end of the conversation, Adolin unleashes his full opinion of his father’s visions and current decisions. He claims Dalinar is inventing everything, not intentionally, but to rationalize a madness. He yells at Dalinar, and Dalinar insists he go.
Reader Comments: Uh-oh, Adolin sounds like he might turn into a big problem for Dalinar. Perhaps he’ll be one of those misguided heroes who turns unintentionally villainous. I wonder if Renarin will be Dalinar’s true strength, though Dalinar can’t see it. It would be poetic if Dalinar’s weakest son proves to be his greatest support and his strongest son proves to be his Achilles heel.
Writer Comments: Dalinar is supposedly extraordinarily skilled in war. but right now, he’s trying to maneuver through a game of diplomacy and politics, neither of which he has shown any true aptitude for. No character, especially protagonists or major supporting characters, should excel at everything. Further, what the characters in a story are trying to achieve should be something they must struggle for. Otherwise, there isn’t enough to make an interesting story. Fiction is built on conflict, and conflict is boring if the struggle to triumph is easy or swift.
Chapter 25: The Butcher
Summary: Seven years before...
After Brightlord Wistiow dies, people in Kal’s hometown speak poorly of Kal’s father. Such talk angers Kal, and after talking to his mother about it, he begins to understand better the place his father elected to serve in life and the two options Kal himself has. Kal can take the surgeon’s path, which means he will help many but be isolated and have no comfortable place in society. Or he can become a soldier and have a clear place in life, one where he belongs.
Then the new citylord, Roshone, arrives. Kal and his family gather with the rest of the town to hear the citylord’s first speech, but it’s a shocking first meeting. Roshone steps from his carriage, surveys the crowd, and walks away. Lirin, Kal’s father, calls to him in greeting and asks to show him the town, but when Roshone learns who Lirin is, he speaks scathingly. Lirin, in his estimation, is the surgeon who let his predecessor, Brightlord Wistiow, die and landed Roshone in the undesired part of the realm. When asked what he thinks of Roshone, Lirin describes him as a roll in a dice game called breakneck, a roll which is neither an outright win or loss, but determined by the other rolls. A roll called the butcher.
Reader Comments: Let me first say, that chapter title is quite grabbing. It’s visceral and immediately made me wonder who was going to die. Of course, it’s actual meaning was quite different, but it grabbed me all the same.
And secondly, wow, Roshone is a jerk. What do you bet he plays a part in Kaladin ending up enslaved? Maybe he’ll also play a part in Kaladin’s decision to go soldiering.
Writer Comments: Instead of looking at characters, plotting, or tricks to storytelling, like I often do in this section of these reads, let’s turn to world building.
Especially in fantasy, world building is huge. Without it, a fantasy would hang limp like an empty garment. Yet establishing a world that doesn’t exist, particularly one that is quite different from what readers know, must also be subtle and as pervasive is air. Readers need to have enough understanding of the setting to picture a fully realized world, but a writer mustn’t weigh down the story with tedious description and explanation. It’s a difficult balance to find.
Here’s an example of Sanderson’s world building from this chapter. It’s a simple, small piece of his world, but the pictures readers build in their minds are composed of simple, small pieces.
"his mother stood on a stepladder at the side of the town hall, carefully chipping at the eaves of the building. ...
The objects of her attention were a set of icicle-like pendants of rock that had formed on the edges of the roof. Highstorms dropped stormwater, and stormwater carried crem. If left alone, crem eventually hardened into stone. Buildings grew stalactites, formed by stormwater slowly dripping from the eves. You had to clean them off regularly, or risk weighing down the roof so much that it collapsed." (Kindle location 6546, hardcover page 361, paperback page 442)
The reasons this bit of world building works is because it’s brief and it comes in the immediate action of the story. Too, Sanderson clearly put a lot of thought into the mechanics of his world, how one thing would effect another and another and so on. This gives a sense of reality, and because he gives it to us logical piece by logical piece, it’s easy to grasp. Like most authors, he probably has loads of information on his world that we haven’t seen, but it’s not an author’s job to explain everything. It’s an author’s job to give just enough for the reader to understand and picture the story at that moment and no more.
Thanks you for joining me for today’s chapters of The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. We’ll resume this read next Monday. Until then, swing back by on Friday for further forays into fiction, the speculative, and life.
Have a happy and safe New Year!