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Monday, February 24, 2014

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson: Read, Part 16 (Chapters 50-51, I-7 through I-9)

Welcome back to our read of The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, where we work through this bestselling novel and learn techniques from this successful author. To catch up or review previous parts, click here.



Chapter 50: Backbreaker Powder

Summary: Shallan wakes in a private room of the hospital, and Jasnah comes to see her, demanding to know who Shallan was working for when she stole the fabriel. Shallan tells her the truth, at least most of it, about her family situation. Jasnah is furious and disgusted. Not only did Shallan do something wrong in stealing the fabriel, she threw away a promising career. She also reveals that Kabsal had been trying to poison Jasnah. The bread he kept bringing Shallan was poisoned with backbreaker powder, but the jam Shallan always ate with it had the antidote. He’d been trying to get Jasnah to eat the bread without jam, as Jasnah disliked jam. Instead, Kabsal is now dead, and Shallan will be returning home, her future and family lost.

Reader Comments: Oh, surely, there must be something that brings Shallan and Jasnah back together. Otherwise, it’s like Shallan just steps out of the story and had no point being there from the start. Hmm, I’ll have to hurry on to the next Shallan section, but that won’t be for about another 250 pages.

Writer Comments: As a reader, I honestly had no idea that Kabsal was the villain, much less that he was trying to poison Jasnah. Yet, looking back, I see all the clues. Ideally, a reader should be able to guess what’s happening just before it happens. Even if they don’t, though, the reader must be able to look back and see where all the clues were that they missed. Things must make sense. The days of deus ex machina have long since ceased to be a popular story twist. I recommend leaving that sort of thing to the ancient Greeks.

Chapter 51: Sas Nahn

Summary: One year before.

After the battle where he killed the Shardbearer and technically won the Shardblade, Kaladin waits for Lord Amaram. When Amaram comes, he questions Kaladin. Why did he attack the Shardbearer? Why won’t he keep the Blade? Kaladin can’t explain that, if he took the Blade, he would become one of them, and that’s something he most certainly doesn’t want. Further, he’d see the faces of his dead men every time he touched it. Then, with almost no warning, Amaram had Kaladin’s remaining men slaughtered in front of him, takes the Shardblade for himself, and, rewarding Kaladin’s bravery by letting him keep his life, he brands Kaladin as a slave.

Reader Comments: That horrid, double-dealing, things-I-shouldn’t-say-on-a-blog-post man. No wonder Kaladin hates lighteyes. I hope Amaram shows up in a later books and Kaladin gets the chance to truly mess him up.

Writer Comments: This is the culmination, the climax, of Kaladin’s past story. Now, the vast majority of our questions have been answered. We know how and why Kaladin became the man we meet at the beginning of the book. The scene is powerful and emotional. It would be this way regardless, but it’s more so because we’ve had many chapters build up to it and to see where he goes from this point. Never neglect the impact reader foreknowledge can have on their perceptions of a character and scene.

I-7: Baxil

Summary: Baxil helps his mistress sneak into a rich man’s home and carries her tools, which she uses to destroy artwork. He isn’t entirely comfortable with this, but she pays well and she’s incredibly attractive.

Reader Comments: I wonder how these characters will impact things in the future. Though, it is an interesting concept: thieves sneaking into wealthy houses, but not to steal, merely to destroy.

Writer Comments: This scene has, as far as we can tell so far, nothing to do with the rest of the book. What’s the appeal in it then? So Sanderson has to rely on other methods to draw interest. In this instance, he gives us an interesting conceit: thieves who never steal, but destroy artwork. That immediately brings up questions. Who are these people? Why don’t they ever take anything? Why are they destroying art? Plus, he uses the threat that the characters might be caught at any moment.

I-8: Geranid

Summary: Geranid is an ardent on an isolated island. She studies spren. While measuring flamespren, she discovers that their naturally erratic states can be defined when she measures them and writes down her results. If she erases the number, they once more resume their erratic, ever-changing appearance. This discovery could have a huge impact on the way the world thinks of spren and, perhaps, even fabriels.

Reader Comments: Very cool. Sanderson is actually using concepts in quantum physics for his spren. I wonder what implications that will have for Syl or for that guy in a previous section who studies spren and wrote down information about them. What might it mean for Jasnah, Shallan, and the rest? I’m sensing something bigger here, but I don’t know what yet.

Writer Comments: The beauty about speculative fiction, of which fantasy is a part, is that practically anything goes. Here, despite the fact that this book is clearly fantasy, Sanderson can throw science in there too. It makes for a richer world. This fluidity and flexibility is one of the main reasons I love speculative fiction.

I-9: Death Wears White

Summary: Szeth comes to Jah Kaved, to a feast the king holds, and, as ordered, massacres everyone. Between his own Shardblade and his gift of lashings and Stormlight, he defeats three Shardbearers, among them the king, murders huge numbers of guests, and slaughters the vast numbers of guards. And all the while, he weeps. He weeps until an irrational hatred boils in him for the king because the king had to have a feast and vastly increase the numbers of people Szeth must kill. It grows worse when he learns that the king arranged the whole thing as a trap. But the king fails, and Szeth, the embodiment of death, slays him.

Reader Comments: First off, awesome chapter title. It so fits Szeth. Surely, this massacre in Jah Kaved cannot be ignored by those in Alethkar. The fear Szeth will undoubtedly inspire, I’m betting, will be great.

Writer Comments: Szeth always succeeds. In every scene where he has killed, he has triumphed vastly, yet he’s still fascinating to read. Why? Because these chapters aren’t really about Szeth’s triumphs. The triumphs are the backdrop. In actuality, these chapters are about Szeth’s trial as Truthless and how the deeds he must commit are tearing him apart. The reader hopes he will stop, hopes something will save him and all his victims. Yet it doesn’t come, which suggests an even greater scene later. Sometimes, what a scene is actually about is not the most obvious element.

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, swing back by on Friday for further forays into fiction, the speculative, and life.

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