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Monday, February 10, 2014

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson: Read, Part 14 (Chapters 42-45)

Welcome back to this read of The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, where we learn writing trips form one of the biggest names in the fantasy genre right now. To catch up or review previous parts of this read, click here.



Chapter 42: Beggars and Barmaids

Summary: Shallan informs Jasnah that she believes Jasnah killing those men was both legal and right; however, it was far from moral because of her intent. Jasnah naturally disagrees, but as a reward for Shallan’s perceived progress, she gives her the rest of the day off. Shallan uses that time to keep trying to make the Soulcaster work and failing. When a maid comes to clean their rooms, Shallan uses the opportunity of her cleaning Jasnah’s bedchamber without permission as an excuse to go snooping in hopes of finding clues about how to work the Soulcaster. Instead, she finds notebooks full of notes on Voidbringers, a puzzling topic for Jasnah the heretic to study.

Reader Comments: So my current theory, which will undoubtedly change as more of the story is revealed and as my theories tend to do, is that Shallan will realize why Jasnah is researching Voidbringers. Which brings me to my other theory that I’ve held for several chapters: Jasnah believes a Desolation is coming and wants Alethkar to be prepared, especially as there are no Knights Radiant left to defend the people. In discovering this, Shallan will realize that there are bigger things to worry about than her family’s safety. She will then turn from her brothers, who will undoubtedly hate her for it, and throw in her lot to help save the world.

Additionally, there is a voice that speaks to Shallan when she’s alone in her room, trying to use the Soulcaster. It asks what she is? I wonder if that voice is related to those figure she saw when she first tried to sketch the king. Shallan has dismissed the voice as her imagination, but I certainly haven’t.

Writer Comments: Sanderson is leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for Shallan to follow, using them to nudge her character in the direction he wishes. I don’t truly know what that ultimate direction will be, but he nudges her bit by bit. Jasnah’s killing the murderers nudged her to take the Soulcaster after all. Jasnah researching Voidbringers prepares Shallan to face what is likely coming later in the story. Sketching those dark figures and hearing that voice in her room help nudge Shallan toward a darker fate, whatever that turns out to be, and give her something outside her family to worry about. Authors must guide their characters through external events and other characters toward the ultimate climax of the story, and that is done by leaving little bread crumbs along the way.

Summary: Kabsal comes with jam again and take Shallan out on a picnic in the garden. She has a wonderful time, realizing that there really is something between them. Kabsal even suggests he might leave the ardentia for her. In the course of the conversation, she manages to ask him how Soulcasters work, but his answer doesn’t satisfy. What he has heard of them doesn’t fit with her personal experience. She is treading dangerous waters and very well aware of it.

When she returns to her room, she finds a letter waiting for her from the captain of the ship that first took her to chase after Jasnah. They will come collect Shallan in one week. Shallan determines to be on the ship, but it breaks her heart to do so. She loves the life she’s leading, studying, debating with Jasnah, Kabsal, laughing. She loves the parts of her life that she feels are lies, but she must save her family.

Reader Comments: Something must happen before Shallan leaves. Otherwise, it removes her from the story. Unless, she’s going to be there when Szeth tries to assassinate the king of Jah Keved and the Soulcaster and/or her Shardblade will put a new spin on his existence. I don’t believer her capable of defeating Szeth in combat, but she might shine new perspective on his life.

Still, I think I’d rather see her go with Jasnah to the Shattered Plains and fight for something better. She certainly would not appreciate the way Sadeas uses his bridgemen.

Writer Comments: Until Shallan discovers the note from the ship’s captain, readers had no idea she’d even contacted him. Instead, Sanderson gives a very brief explanation that she had previously sent a letter inquiring about his whereabouts. That’s all it took. A scene detailing her sending the letter would have been tedious and unnecessary. This is an example of where telling is better than showing. Shockingly, they do occur.

Chapter 43: The Wretch

Summary: Kaladin wakes to dread, and when the new brightlord who will oversee the bridgemen arrives and proves to be even harsher than Lamaril, Kaladin sinks to true despair. Bridge Four has now been assigned chasm duty every day. Every day, they will be sent into the chasms to face potential chasmfiends and rot to scavenge over corpses.

Everyone can see something is wrong with Kaladin. Syl, Rock, and Teft all try to cheer him, but it doesn’t work. Kaladin’s mood and snapping at the bridgemen that there is no hope brings all of them lower. He walks off into the dark, a saying from the Lost Radiants in his head: Life before Death. Strength before Weakness. Journey before Destination. And then it hits him. There is one last thing he hasn’t tried.

He returns to his men and suggests that they escape. Down in the chasms where no one watches them, he can train the men to use spears and fight. Then, they can attack a guard post and flee. Sadeas will almost certainly hunt them down, but it’s at least something. His men agree to try.

Reader Comments: Why is it that I don’t think this is going to work out quite the way Kaladin thinks? Much like what’s happening with Shallan, I worry that his success will pull him away from the main story, which is why I think something will change to alter his goals or at least how he defines them.

Writer Comments: The Lost Radients, or the Knights Radiant, have now come up in every main POV (point of view) character except Szeth, and I could be wrong because they might have come up with him too. Regardless, this is yet another example of bringing the same elements into the divergent aspects of the story. It binds the whole more tightly together. Dalinar, Shallan, Kaladin, and Szeth are asking similar questions and facing similar struggles. Now, too, they are reaching for similar aid, those great things of ancient times for guidance. Dalinar the visions of old. Shallan a devise with its origins in ancient days. Szeth with powers rarely known in modern times. And now, Kaladin standing on a concept barely understood but borne by fallen heroes of long ago.

Chapter 44: The Weeping

Summary: Five years before...

During the weeks of dreary rain called the Weeping, Roshone, the citylord where young Kaladin lives, exacts his revenge for the death of his son. Amaram, the general left behind by Sadeas when the bulk of the army marched off to the Shattered Plains, comes to recruit new soldiers to defend their borders. First, he asks for volunteers, but there aren’t enough, so it is left to Roshone to determine who will be conscripted. Among them, is Tien, Kaladin’s innocent, gentle little brother. Kaladin’s family is stunned, but there’s nothing they can do to stop it. But there’s one thing Kaladin can do. He volunteers and swears to his parents that, in four years, he will bring Tien home alive.

Reader Comments: Oh, this is painful because I know Kaladin fails. I know neither Tien or Kaladin come home and that Tien dies, the first of those who Kaladin fails to save. This is the beginning of the soul crushing journey he undertakes that eventually leads him to Bridge Four. It isn’t as dramatic as I expected, but it is innately logical and gut wrenching.

Writer Comments: Sometimes, the most powerful events of a story are subtle. This moment, when Kaladin volunteers for the army to protect his brother, is one of the most powerful moments in the book so far. Yet, it would not have such power were it not for the many pages Sanderson has spent building up the relationships, showing the destructive path this choice will result in, and making us care. It is a simple, small thing that Kaladin does here, but we understand the emotional consequences and what Kaladin is about to lose. Such subtleties work best when an author carefully nurtures the elements that create them: sympathy for the character, emotional connection, a concept of the cost. The moment works so well because Kaladin sacrifices, which generally is appealing to readers, but it works even better because, as readers, we understand the emotional carnage about to take place and wish Kaladin could escape it. Yet the act is noble, and for that, we cannot truly wish him on another course.

Chapter 45: Shadesmar

Summary: Tomorrow, Shallan will leave for home with the stolen Soulcaster, but until then, she plays up her ruse, finding it peculiar that her studies suggest King Gavilar began expressing uncharacteristic interests when he met the Parshendi for the first time and after. She also questions Jasnah about some of the things Jasnah has been researching but doesn’t get complete answers. So, under the pretext of needing to get another book, Shallan goes in search of her own answers and finds little.

Kabsal finds her, however, as her absence is being noted, and she questions him about Voidbringers. He gives her some insight but insists that Jasnah researches them to prove their non-existence and thus disprove the Almighty, something that angers him a great deal. But Shallan isn’t certain it’s that simple a reason.

However, Kabsal give her something else to worry about. It becomes very plain that he’s in love with her, though he doesn’t say it, and Shallan confesses that she’s leaving the next day. She won’t tell him why, so he guesses that her father is sick and offers to leave the ardentia for her. By her expression, he realizes that wouldn’t be a good idea and asks if he can at least have a portrait she draws for him. She agrees.

But when she’s drawing a picture of him and her together, as he requested, once more those dark, unnatural figures appear in her drawing. It frightens her and she flees. Her hand keeps drawing other pictures. Picture after picture of the creatures coming toward her, gathering in numbers, closing on her. She panics and closes herself in her room, but still she must know. She draws one more picture showing them almost touching her. She thinks to use the Soulcaster as a weapon, but she doesn’t know how to use it. Then she starts to summon her Shardblade, but before she can fully call it, a voice interrupts, once more asking what she is. She answers that she’s terrified.

A moment later, she finds herself in another world, perhaps another plane, where there’s a sea of beads and she can barely stay afloat. A voice talks to her and says it will change for her. Then she falls back to her bed in her own room and somehow transforms things into blood. Despite all her previous failed efforts, she Soulcast things in her room to blood without having put the Soulcaster on, and the blood is running toward the door. Jasnah comes, calling to her, concerned. In moments, Jasnah will see and realize that Shallan stole the Soulcaster, so Shallan takes a piece of glass and shallowly slits her wrist to explain all the blood. Then she lies down and pretends to have lost consciousness. Jasnah enters the room and is horrified and calls for help.

Reader Comments: Oh dear, Shallan has just gotten herself in way over her head. The surgeons will surely realize that Shallan didn’t lose enough blood to explain how much was in her room or her unconscious state. I have a feeling that, despite Shallan’s efforts to hide the pictures, Jasnah will discover them, and at some point, explanations must come out.

Also, Shallan clearly has some sort of ability. Perhaps she can Soulcast without a Soulcaster. Perhaps she can see things. It’s certainly eerie. I’m also willing to bet she misses her ride home as a result of all this. Whether or not she sneaks the Soulcaster onboard the ship in some sort of package, however, might be another story.

Writer Comments: There are many things that happen in this chapter, most of them beyond making sense, and yet Sanderson supplies no explanations. Why? Because explanations would ruin Shallan’s reactions. Shallan doesn’t understand what is going on, so neither do the readers. Because Sanderson has chosen to tell The Way of Kings from a close third POV, he can only give us what each POV character understands and experiences. In this, Shallan doesn’t understand, so we get her very visceral experience, and it results in a very compelling, frightening scene.

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

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