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Monday, January 27, 2014

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson: Read, Part 12 (Chapters 33-36)

Welcome back to our read of Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings, where we follow a great story and learn from a successful writer on how to compose a novel.

To review or catch up, see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, and Part 11.



Chapter 33: Cymatics

Summary: Shallan has been carefully observing Jasnah to see how she uses the Soulcaster for clues about how to use it herself after she steals it. When she returns from examining her sketched notes and sneaking a peek at one of the books Jasnah was reading, she finds Kabsal, the ardent who often converses with her, waiting. He’s brought jam, Shallan’s favorite food, and bread and confesses concern in the safety of Shallan’s soul as the ward of a heretic. Despite this, she likes him a great deal, far more than a young lighteyes lady should like an ardent. Kabsal shows her what he believes is proof of the Almighty, cymatics, the science of finding symmetry in all things. When Jasnah enters, she rudely drives him away and asks Shallan if he has yet asked her to steal Jasnah’s Soulcaster. For a moment, Shallan is terrified that Jasnah suspects her real plan, but Jasnah tries to soothe her by sympathetically stating that Kabsal isn’t interested in Shallan the way she thinks, that he’s just wanting to use Shallan to get to her.

Reader Comments: Wow, Jasnah’s form of sympathy is harsh. Still, I can’t entirely blame her for her reaction. Apparently, many people are after her Soulcaster, which probably means Shallan is going to have a much more difficult time stealing it.

Writer Comments: Much of this chapter contains a long discussion between Shallan and Kabsal about religion and philosophy. While their banter is certainly amusing, it isn’t filled with quite enough tension to make it stand alone. Instead, Sanderson uses a series of physical actions to create an underlayer to the scene which suggests a deep interplay of conflict and tension. There’s Shallan’s attraction to Kabsal; the sharing of food; Kabsal’s demonstration of cymatics using a metal plate, sand, and a music bow; Kabsal taking Shallan’s hand; and then Jasnah’s marching into the room. By themselves, neither the conversation nor the series of subtle interactions been as effective, but when paired together, they create a more dynamic scene. Characters exist in multiple arenas simultaneously: the verbal, the physical, the mental, and the emotional. A scene is not fully dynamic without the characters engaging in all these arenas.

Chapter 34: Stormwall

Summary: Kaladin wakes. He’s hung by his ankles from the easter outer wall of the barrack, and a highstorm approaches. Syl and three of his men explain that Sadeas executed Lamaril and sentenced Kaladin to this fate for the Stormfather’s judgment. In truth, they all know he’s going to die. No one survives highstorms unless they’re well protected. But Kaladin takes a gamble and tells his men that, when the storm is past, they should come out and look at him. At that point, he’ll open his eyes and prove that he still lives. They retreat to the shelter of the barrack, and Kaladin watches as the stormwall approaches, a massive wall of water, wind, dirt, and rocks hurtled through the air at horrific speed. Then, it hits him.

Reader Comments: I’m fairly certain Kaladin has to survive, probably because of his knack for utilizing stormlight. It will be very interesting to see how Sadeas handles him then because, if Kaladin survives, it will mean his actions were not in the wrong.

Writer Comments: The way other characters treat, react to, and speak about another character is just as illuminating as anything else. In this scene, Syl and Kaladin’s men treat him with unwavering loyalty and admiration. That says more about Kaladin and what he’s accomplished than Kaladin could ever say about himself. Be mindful of how other characters react to your protagonist. What does it say about your hero?

Chapter 35: A Light by Which to See

Summary: The storm hurls Kaladin around. Syl tries to help him, but his body is still beaten and frozen. Then a complete darkness sweeps over him, and in it, he sees a broad, smiling face. The sphere in his hand ignites. The darkness moves past, and he falls unconscious.

Teft, one of Kaladin’s men, goes out at the end of the highstorm and finds Kaladin’s shredded body hanging from the barrack. Then Kaladin’s eyes pop open and he releases the sphere to the ground, dull, robbed of Stormlight. Two impossibilities have occurred: Kaladin survived and a sphere was dull at the end of a highstorm.

Reader Comments: I wonder who the face was. The Stormfather? I wonder how Sadeas is going to react. Gaz too.

Writer Comments: Sanderson uses Teft as the second POV (point of view) character in this chapter. Teft is an ideal choice because Kaladin surviving the storm is a testament to faith, and Teft is the one character who believes but also doesn’t. He’s the one character that embodies this conflict. When choosing POV characters, their perspective should add to the conflicts of the scene.

Chapter 36: The Lesson

Summary: At last, Jasnah trusts Shallan enough to have the Soulcaster within Shallan’s reach in the bathing chamber. Shallan finally has her chance to switch her father’s broken Soulcaster for Jasnah’s working one. But she can’t bring herself to do it.

Reader Comments: Yes! I’m so glad she isn’t going to go through with it. I don’t know what she’ll do about her brothers, but I’m glad Shallan made this choice. Though I’m in favor of a character choosing to sacrifice and doing difficult things to save their families, this would have lowered Shallan in my eyes somehow.

Writer Comments: The whole of the scenes relating to Shallan have been building up to this moment. This is Shallan’s midpoint, the point at which she realizes she cannot bring herself to commit the crime she has been intending all along. Something must change now. This means that all of Sanderson’s main characters have now reached their big turning point, and now we know the story will truly shift.

Summary: As a hands on experience of philosophy, Jasnah takes Shallan out into the city at night and into a dark alley where footpads have been known to murder people lately. Shallan is terrified, especially when the footpads appear and attempt to kill them. But Jasnah uses her Soulcaster to turn the first to fire, the second to crystal, and the last two to smoke, effectively ending their lives and preventing their potential future murders.

Shallan is horrified. Not only did Jasnah practically invite these men to come for them, but she killed them with a devise meant to be holy and in a cold manner. She confronts Jasnah, but Jasnah will not relent that her decision was right. She insists Shallan consider the philosophical questions the incident raises. Did she commit evil, or was she a hero? Shallan realizes that it isn’t the killing of the men that so troubles her but the callousness with which Jasnah took their lives. She is disgusted and determines then and there that Jasnah does not deserve to have a Soulcaster, not when she uses such a holy thing to kill. Jasnah challenges Shallan to be ready to make difficult choices, even when it sickens her to do so, so Shallan does. She switches the Soulcasters that night, and Jasnah doesn’t notice.

Reader Comments: Whoa, now I’m totally okay with Shallan taking Jasnah’s Soulcaster. The questions the scene raises are intriguing, but I very much see and sympathize with Shallan’s perspective. I imagine it won’t be long before Jasnah realizes something is up. Hopefully, Shallan can weather the storm that is likely coming.

Writer Comments: Manipulating reader emotions and perception is one of the main tasks of a writer. In one chapter, as a reader, I went from agreeing that Shallan shouldn’t steal the Soulcaster to supporting her in the theft. But how did Sanderson do that? It’s simple. He unwound Shallan’s motivations, observations, and emotions in such a logical, realistic way that they were easy to sympathize with. Additionally, at no point does he make Shallan wrong. Her motivations are noble in the theft and noble when she chooses initially not to steal from Jasnah. Because we cannot point to Shallan’s actions and insist beyond any doubt that they are wrong and can, in fact, see how they are right, despite their moral grayness, Sanderson effectively leads us in the manner he wishes.

Thank you for joining me for today’s chapters. We’ll resume The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson next Monday. Until then, join me Friday for further forays into fiction, the speculative, and life.

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