In today’s chapters of The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, we hit the midpoint of the story where things begin to change. Below, you’ll find insights into writing as we explore Sanderson’s epic fantasy.
To catch up or review previous parts of this read, see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, and Part 10.
I-6: A Work of Art
Summary: Under his new master, Makkek, Szeth has become a petty assassin, eliminating those who stand in Makkek’s way while he rises in power in the criminal underworld. Szeth’s only comfort is that Makkek hasn’t realized what he’s fully capable of. One night, Makkek sends Szeth to murder Gavashaw, his newest rival. But someone has beaten Szeth to it. He finds Gavashaw’s head on a plate and a masked and shadowed figure waiting for him. The figure presents him with Makkek’s head and reveals that he now possesses Szeth’s oathstone. On the table beside Gavashaw’s head lies a list of names Szeth is to assassinate in a similar fashion to the way he killed King Gavilar. Szeth is horrified, for the list contains the names of six highprinces, a Selay gerontarch, and the king of Jah Keved. Their assassination will plunge the world into chaos and pain that it has not known in a very long time. Szeth’s worst nightmare has come to pass: He has fallen into the hands of someone who understands his full potential and desires to use it to attain true power.
Reader Comments: Holy smokes! I have a feeling Szeth just ended up in the hands of the true villains of the setting. I have no doubt he’ll follow through on his orders, but I really, really hope something manages to cause him to break free from his oathstone. This is going to destroy him.
As a possible theory as to the future story, perhaps, when he goes to murder highprinces--Ooo, maybe Sadeas could be among them--he’ll encounter Kaladin. Maybe, by that point, Kaladin will have figured out his powers, which I suspect are the same as Szeth’s, and he and Szeth will come face to face. That could get very interesting.
Writer Comments: What is a character’s worst nightmare? An author should know it and, ideally, bring it to pass in some form. In Szeth’s case, his worst nightmare is for his oathstone to fall into the hands of a truly intelligent and power hungry man who will use him for the things he most dreads. It has now come to pass. When a character confronts their worst fears, the reader gets to see their true colors and the character is forced to grow. It is through such circumstances that heroes truly come into their own.
Part Two: Dying
Chapter 29: Errorgance
Summary: Via spanreed, Shallan secretly converses with her brothers about the progress of stealing Jasnah’s soulcaster. Apparently, the situation at home grows worse. Their father’s creditors are becoming more adamant, and her brothers won’t be able to hold them off much longer. Additionally, the highprince draws near his death, and issues of succession are stirring.
When her other brothers depart, Nan Balat speaks to Shallan alone and confides that their father’s steward, the only man they knew who could use the soulcaster, has died. After, other men came, demanding the soulcaster and knowing the secret that their father had died. As far as Nan Balat can tell, their father had been caught up in some dangerous scheme, and now, Shallan’s success is even more crucial. Not only will the creditors destroy them if she fails, but these strange and dangerous men will undoubtedly want reparations.
Reader Comments: Yikes! But, naturally, things have to get worse. I’m willing to bet that these men are somehow tied to whatever forces are behind either Gavilar’s murder or these men who now command Szeth. Perhaps they are one and the same. At the least, they are probably tied together in some fashion. Perhaps these dangerous behind-the-scenes entities will ultimately be the force that brings all these divergent story lines together.
But the most intriguing thing I found in this section was the relationship between Shallan and Nan Balat. Despite Nan Balat’s psychopathic nature, he clearly loves and feels concern for Shallan. Though, I do fear what he might do if she ultimately decides to betray her brothers, even for a greater purpose.
On the other hand, it is suspicious that Nan Balat felt his brother had to be out of the room before he could confide everything to Shallan. I wonder what nefarious things created that situation.
Writer Comments: We are nearing the halfway point of the book, a time when things change. Sanderson is raising the stakes for everyone. Szeth’s new master places him on a more dangerous playing field, which might ultimately help destroy the world as they know it. Shallan, similarly, has even more motivation to save her brothers, and perhaps less time. Her list of enemies is growing, her list of obstacles increasing. Additionally, she now has herself to contend with, for she would dearly love to remain with Jasnah and become a true scholar.
Summary: Later, Jasnah has Shallan studying books relating to King Gavilar’s murder and quizzes her on their scholastic value. Shallan is frustrated at the “errorgance” of the authors. While they work, King Taravangian pays them a visit and requests a demonstration of Shallan’s artistic talents. She draws him with her charcoals, but while she works, Jasnah and the king discuss Jasnah’s heretical beliefs, a topic that distracts Shallan from her work. When she finishes, the picture is good, but something alarming has crept into the work. While her hands sketched of their own instinctual accord, she drew two disturbing and cloaked figures behind the king that she didn’t see with her eyes. The image so distresses her that she begs the king’s forgiveness, citing her distraction in their conversation to excuse a clumsy portrait and refusing to show her work. Instead, she promises him a much better sketch later that day.
Reader Comments: So what other abilities does Shallan have that she’s ignorant of? Let’s see, of our main characters, Szeth and Kaladin can draw and use Stormlight, Dalinar has visions, and now, perhaps, Shallan is developing her own ability. Is it prophetic? Do those figure represent something dark to come to the king, perhaps an omen of death? Are they some sort of spren? Do they relate the the Voidbringers or a coming Desolation? Undoubtedly, Shallan will see more of them or more of something similar. I have a feeling her life is about to get much more complicated.
Writer Comments: All characters should have a main goal that they seek after during the course of the story. They should also have other conflicting desires. Shallan, for example, has a goal to steal Jasnah’s soulcaster to save her family. However, she dearly desires to stay and study with Jasnah, a wish that cannot come to fruition if she achieves her goal.
Similarly, Jasnah, though a more minor character, has her own goals. I don’t believe for a moment that she isn’t using Shallan in some capacity to help her uncover the truth behind Gavilar’s death and what’s really going on in the world. As Jasnah’s point of view hasn’t come up, readers can only guess at her true motives based on other characters’ observations, in this case, mainly Dalinar’s. But with regard to goals and motivations, everything about a character should relate to their main goal in some fashion by either advancing it or being an obstacle to it. Jasnah has Shallan studying Gavilar’s death while she herself studies far more ancient texts relating, it appears, to the Heralds and the last Desolation. Perhaps Shallan will not prove that useful in aiding Jasnah’s search, but Jasnah clearly isn’t giving up on the possibility that Shallan may either discover or realize something new.
Chapter 30: Darkness Unseen
Summary: At last, Kaladin has the whole of Bridge Four following his orders and practicing with the bridges. He’s constantly innovating, trying to find ways to keep them all alive on the bridge runs. However, Lamaril, Gaz’s superior, isn’t impressed. He orders Gaz to make certain Kaladin dies on a bridge run. After all, they can’t have anything encouraging rebellion among bridgemen. When Kaladin gets the idea to run with the bridge carried to the side, Gaz sees it as an opportunity to get rid of Kaladin. Gaz doesn’t know Kaladin hopes to run that way as a means to provide his men with some form of shielding, but Gaz dearly hopes it will result in many more Bridge Four deaths, including Kaladin’s.
Reader Comments: This chapter involves Gaz’s first point of view scene. Man, I wish I could still hate his guts as much as I did before. He’s still slimy, but I feel bad for him now. I wonder if that means Sanderson is going to turn a bit into a George Martin with a slightly smaller death toll and more characters with moral fiber.
Writer Comments: Sympathy with a character is the main ingredient to encourage a reader to identify with him. In this chapter, we learn what the loss of his eye has done to Gaz. He constantly fears the dark where he can no longer see and where he fears danger lurks. Too, we learn that he hates his job. He hate the way the bridgemen are used, his part in it, and some part of him admires Kaladin’s work. But he’s afraid because, if he doesn’t make his superiors happy, he will end up carrying one of those bridges into battle. Make your characters human. Give readers reasons to sympathize and identify with them.
Chapter 31: Beneath the Skin
Summary: Six years before...
Since the new citylord came, Kal’s family has become miserable. Now, no one will donate anything for the healing his father gives them, and Kal’s father stays up late one night drinking the strongest wine available. Though Kal studies for the entrance exams to become a surgeon, he secretly plans to join the army in five months when he turns fifteen. At least, that’s what he’ll probably do.
Men come to the door and try to break in, but Kal’s father opens it first. They demand the spheres that the previous citylord gifted Kal’s father. However, angry, Kal’s father thrusts the burning bright light of the spheres toward them, allowing Kal to see that they are men of the town who his father has healed and they’ve known all their lives. Kal’s father challenges them to bleed him, one of their own, and they flee.
Reader Comments: Yep, this is definitely building to something big, but I don’t yet know what. My theory that Kal might accidentally kill the lighteyes girl in the previous flashback chapters looks unlikely now as she isn’t even present any longer. But I’m certain he’ll get into some sort of serious trouble from previously alluded to material.
Writer Comments: Kal’s father, Lirin, repeatedly claims that there are only two types of men in the world: those who take life and those who save it. He also claims that killing to save life is just another way of taking it. Such concepts are partially what creates Kaladin’s inner struggle. However, Sanderson chooses to have Lirin actually live by those words. This scene is a great example. When faced with his own neighbors who intend to rob and hurt him, Lirin uses no violence, but thrusts before them what they desire and, in so doing, illuminates the darkness of their intentions and causes them to flee. Whether you or any of the characters actually subscribe to Lirin’s beliefs, the fact that Sanderson writes Lirin so that he lives by his beliefs grants him validity as a character, and it’s a big part of why Kaladin later struggles. Beliefs truly lived speak much more loudly than beliefs merely spoken, and that can create truly interesting conflict for characters, both who ascribe to those beliefs and who wish to challenge them. It’s a more powerful statement. How your characters chose to live in relation to how they speak reveals much of their true nature.
Chapter 32: Side Carry
Summary: While on duty, Bridge Four is called to make a plateau run to The Tower, the one plateau the Alethi have never won a genheart. It’s a long run, and when they reach the last plateau before the assault, Kaladin realizes that it will be horrible for the bridgemen. The Parshendi are already there, and Bridge Four’s numbers are so low that, even losing a single man could severely harm their ability to make the run. Despite the fact that they’re not ready, he orders his men to try the side carry, informing them that they will use the bridge as a shield. It works. Bridge Four doesn’t lose a single man. No one even gets injured. Kaladin’s bridge is even faster than the others. But other bridges, desperate to survive, attempt the same maneuver without having practiced or prepared for it, and they die in droves. This results in the entire army’s charge collapsing and having to be reassembled haphazardly in mid maneuver. Essentially, it completely undermines Sadeas’s strategy and results in the loss of the battle.
But Kaladin’s men are overjoyed. This will change bridge runs forever, they think. But Kaladin is enough of a tactician to realize the truth. This only means major, brutal repercussions. The only thing he can do is hope he can prevent all of Bridge Four from suffering. Lamaril and Gaz come with a group of spearmen, and some of Kaladin’s men step forward to defend him. He orders them down, a true feat in and of itself, then makes a deal with Lamaril: If they don’t kill him, he’ll vouch that Lamaril and Gaz were completely ignorant of Kaladin’s plans and thus should be spared punishment. So Lamaril has Kaladin beaten instead. As the spearmen begin to hit him, his pouch of spheres breaks onto the ground, and his spheres spill out, their light completely gone.
Reader Comments: Yep, Kaladin can definitely use Stormlight. I wonder if his eyes glow and the Parshendi see it. And, wow, Sadeas is going to be absolutely livid. Still, I love seeing Kaladin succeed and his men defend him.
Writer Comments: This chapter involves an interesting but useful trick of having a character’s success cause greater problems. It’s useful as a writer because readers like to see heroes succeed eventually, but the story’s stakes must continue to increase. This method accomplishes both simultaneously. It also incorporates logical consequences. After all, no success is a success for everyone, and that can be felt throughout a story if done right.