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Monday, January 13, 2014

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson: Read, Part 10 (Chapter 28, I-4, and I-5)


Today, we return to Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings to experience a great story and learn from it as writers. To catch up or review previous segments of this read, see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, and Part 9.

Enjoy!

SPOILERS!

Chapter 28: Decisions

Summary: Dalinar is far wearier than usual. Even Adolin sees it and is bothered that Dalinar keeps pushing him into the lead. In truth, a great decisions weighs on Dalinar. After losing the Thrill in battle and being told that he’s going mad, he’s beginning to wonder if his remaining a highprince is, perhaps, more damaging than it is productive. The last thing he wants is to undermine the kingdom unintentionally like Gavilar did at the end.

When the last highprince sends word that he will not join Dalinar on a joint plateau assault, he sees no option left for uniting the kingdom. Too, Dalinar wonders, why didn’t the Radiants make Shardplate or other tools to help the common man? Why must it all be about war? So to help himself think, he takes his war hammer and Shardblade, sends away his darkeyed workmen, and breaks up the stones they were cutting to build a latrine. People stare, but Dalinar doesn’t care. He’s too burdened with other things: the decision of whether or not to step aside and let Adolin take charge. Navani (his sister-in-law, window of King Gavilar, the woman he obviously loves) comes to ask why he missed their meeting. Then he receives news that a message is waiting from Jasnah, his niece.

Reader Comments: This is a complex chapter. It sort of mirrors what Dalinar is dealing with. The tangle of Alethi politics and psychology, the confusing mesh of the visions, the past, and the stalled present. It was rather difficult figuring out how to summarize it, and this is only the first part of the chapter. I really hope Dalinar doesn’t abdicate. I think that would prove a mistake.

Writer Comments: For all the subtleties and complexities of this chapter, it also contains symmetry. To give a book a unified feeling, an author needs to include balance, mirroring, and symmetry. In this case, Sanderson creates likeness between Dalinar and Kaladin. Both struggle with similar issues.

  • Both desperately seek to unify those around them for a greater purpose, Dalinar to fulfill the visions and counteract what he sees and Alethi weakness, Kaladin to save lives.
  • Both struggle with their identity. Kaladin finds himself thrust in a role far from what he ever imagined, and yet, if he doesn’t grasp opportunity and redefine himself, become something greater than what he was, men will more likely die. Dalinar finds himself at a precipice, trying to do the right thing, but seeing all he wants to protect crumbling. Who is he now? Who ought he be?
  • Kaladin is rising strength. Dalinar is falling.
  • Kaladin is youth. Dalinar is age.
  • Both possess a rare knack for combat.
  • Dalinar is a lighteyes taking up some darkeyed characteristics like laboring. Kaladin is a darkeyes with some lighteyes traits like his speech and his name.
  • Both actively pursue honor and virtue, even while they fight for what’s needed.
  • Both struggle with being condemned and reviled. Yes, Kaladin may have a few men who now respect him, but his superiors and even some of his men still think him quite mad. Dalinar is beloved by his sons, respected by his sister-in-law and niece, loved by his men, but all around him are those who seek to undermine him, who distrust him, and who see nothing but a man going mad and becoming weak.
  • Both face unnatural things that are changing their lives. Dalinar’s visions are tearing his life apart, even while they try to guide him. Kaladin has an ability with stormlight that is beginning to reveal itself, though he isn’t yet aware of it. It both protects him and puts him in greater danger because it will undoubtedly make him a target and further separate him from those he wishes to save.
  • And both of them bear great regrets about their part in the deaths of their beloved brothers: Gavilar for Dalinar, Tien for Kaladin.

Symmetry in fiction and between characters is both making them deal with similar issues, infusing them with the same themes, and highlighting where they are opposite. It allows an author to explore a theme in greater detail and from different angles. It also, as I said before, provides a sense of unity within the story.

Summary: Dalinar, Navani, and Adolin gather with Dalinar’s clerks to read Jasnah’s message. Through magically bound reeds/pens which writes out what the other has written, Jansah and Dalinar converse. Dalinar urges Jasnah to return to the Shattered Plains swiftly. Jasnah insists her research is crucial but that she will come eventually. She also asks Dalinar about the first time he met the Parshendi, wonders that they didn’t possess Shardblades then. She also shares a picture she found in an ancient book showing a chasmfiend, but the book calls it one of the terrifying Voidbringers. All in all, their conversation is somewhat vague and full of hints because they cannot trust everyone listening in, like the clerks.

After, Navani manages to get Dalinar alone, a position that makes him very uncomfortable. She presses to know the reason why he wants Jasnah back so much, and he confesses that he will be abdicating. Navani insists this is a terrible mistake, but Dalinar refuses to discuss it. Instead, he sends her away and sinks to the floor, sick to his stomach but determined to inform Adolin of his decision in the morning. It is, in his mind, for the best.

Reader Comments: I really, really hope something stops Dalinar from abdicating. Adolin is going to be really upset about this, especially because he’ll view Dalinar’s decision as partially his fault. I also wonder if, whatever research Jasnah is doing, will change Shallan’s mind about her purpose. As far as I know, Shallan still intends to steal Jasnah’s fabrial to save her family, but I wonder if she will soon discover greater reasons to stay and, essentially, abandon her family. After all, a coming Desolation would certainly throw life in a different perspective. I’m willing to bet Shallan and Jasnah are the first to suspect what’s coming.

Writer Comments: Love subplots are frequent in fiction. The Way of Kings has one between Dalinar and Navani. However prominent the love story, all successful romances have one thing in common: They involve denied desire. In this, the denial can come from self-denial, a great distance separating the lovers, social interference, or anything that keeps the two apart. The unfulfilled desire is what infuses romance with tension and intensity. In this case, Dalinar creates the denial by adhering to honor and propriety, both of which won’t allow him to acknowledge, much less do anything about, his feelings for Navani.

Interludes:

I-4: Rysn

Summary: Rysn is the apprentice of a merchant, Vstim. They travel to the lands where the Shin live, a strange place with soil and grass, where the highstorms never reach. She observes a trade between Vstim and one of the Shin farmers, a man of great respect, for among the Shin, farmers are highly valued and warriors are slaves. During the course of their conversation, Vstim attempts to bargain for another Shin slave because the one time he managed one seven years before, it turned out to be an excellent bargain. But the Shin farmer insists that the slaves cannot be bought and the one he gave to Vstim was an odd exception because he was Truthless.

Reader Comments: So the Shin that Vstim acquired seven years ago was Szeth, the Truthless warrior/Stormlight wielder who assassinated King Gavilar and began the string of events that created the story itself. Interesting.

Now, with what Rysn learns of the Shin’s focus on honesty, I’m going to venture a guess at what Truthless means. I wonder if Szeth lied or cheated someone in the past and thus earned the condemned title. It would make sense based on the little we know so far. Though, Szeth seems awfuly tragic to me. I’d bet he lied out of desperation or to save someone else.

Writer Comments: This chapter isn’t about Rysn or Vstim. It’s about Szeth. Though Szeth is never present, never named, only alluded to, the whole chapter educates the readers about the Shin and lets us in on how Szeth started the journey that culminated in becoming Gavilar’s assassin. There’s a great lesson in this. A character does not need to be present on the page to have things revealed about him. In fact, it can be just as interesting, sometimes even more so, if information is revealed through other characters and their actions.

I-5: Axies the Collector

Summary: Axies wakes up, bruised and naked in an alley after being robbed. An old beggar at the alley’s mouth informs him that he owes rent for sleeping there that night and reparations for destroying a temple. Apparently, the crazed beggar had built a city out of decaying tubers, some of which Axies squashed when his assailants pitched him into the alley. However, Axies takes it all in stride, plays along, and even manages to get a blanket from the beggar to wear so he won’t be hauled off to prison for indecent exposure. Then he goes off to see an enormous spren that emerges from the city’s bay like clockwork every morning. Axies is a scholar, one determined to learn about and catalogue every spren in existence. However, after the spren disappears, a group of boys run by and steal his blanket. The city guard hauls Axies off to prison, but at least, that give him the opportunity to look for captivityspren.

Reader Comments: I like Axies. He has such a cheerful perspective on the world, such an acceptance of whatever comes. I hope he makes future appearances in the book or other books in the series; though, I’m not sure how many of these interlude characters Sanderson intends to reuse. Szeth has been an interlude character, as has Shallan’s brother, so perhaps at least some will return.

As an aside, my summary of this chapter really didn’t do justice to how wonderfully funny and heartening it is. You’ll just have to read it yourself to really grasp its magic.

Writer Comments: Most scenes in this book are desperate, heavy, and serious. However, this scene, while the circumstances are certainly unpleasant, is humorous. Actually, I found it the funniest part of the book so far. Sometimes, especially in the midst of a lot of dark, weighty material, it’s good to have something levity and refreshment. It can be good to remind readers of the positive and finding cheerfulness. All stories have a certain mood, but a careful, conscious contrast can go a long way.

Thank 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, join me Friday for further forays into fiction, the speculative, and life.

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