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Monday, March 31, 2014

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson: Read, Part 21 (Chapters 65-67)

Welcome back to this read of The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, where we look at how a successful author crafts a great story. To catch up or review previous parts of this read, click here.



Chapter 65: The Tower

Summary: Dalinar and Sadeas assault The Tower together, using their two armies to surround the Parshendi and drive them against a cliff. At first, it works beautifully. Dalinar even feels the Thrill. Until he sees the youthful face of a Parshendi and hesitates, his conscience and the nausea hitting hard. Then another army of Parshendi come, surrounding Dalinar’s forces, and Sadeas retreats, taking his army and bridges with him, abandoning Dalinar on the plateau to die.

Reader Comments: That horrible, selfish, cowardly git! Now, I want Sadeas to die in a long and painful manner. How horrible and painful only depends on whether or not Sadeas set this up to get rid of Dalinar or if he’s just running because he has the courage of Jello.

Writer Comments: I want to address two things in this chapter regarding the writing itself.

1. The battle went so smoothly that I knew something bad was going to happen, and Sanderson indeed delivered. I expected the second Parshendi army, but not Sadeas’s betrayal. Yet Sanderson set both up. He brought the action to a point of near victory, then hurled a bomb into the midst of his heroes. Until that final victory, heroes should not succeed too much. Small victories are fine and even good, but so near the end of the book especially, victory should be a true struggle to achieve. Otherwise, it isn’t satisfying.

2. Sanderson has a beautiful, masterful few paragraphs here as Kaladin and Bridge Four rush the plateau to set the bridges. Its construction is key to this chapter.

Kaladin danced with the wind.
Arrows streamed around him, passing close, nearly kissing him with their painted scragglebark fletching. He had to let them get close, had to make the Parshendi feel they were near to killing him.
Despite four other bridgemen drawing their attention, despite the other men of Bridge Four behind armored with the skeletons of fallen Parshendi, most of the archers focused on Kaladin. He was a symbol. A living banner to destroy.
Kaladin spun between arrows, slapping them away with his shield. A storm raged inside him, as if his blood had been sucked away and replaced with stormwinds. It made his fingertips tingle with energy. Ahead, the Parshendi sang their angry, chanting song. The song for one who blasphemed against their dead.” (paperback page 1116, hardcover page 895, Kindle location 16300)

Not only is this passage darkly lovely, it serves an important purpose. It sets mood. This chapter is a blend of glory and dread. Sanderson contrasts that with his word choice. In the midst of death and danger, he uses words like “danced,” “kissing,” and “song.” The beauty of the images mirrors the false victory and joy felt through much of the scene. The dark words, “skeletons,” “slapping,” “blood,” “sucked,” “blasphemed,” and “dead” mirror the horror of the chapter, the slaughter of youths (perhaps women), the destruction, the loss of life, the betrayal. Sanderson uses his language to deepen and highlight the events of the scene, which in turn make the writing that much stronger.

Chapter 66: Codes

Summary: It is indeed betrayal, one, in Kaladin’s view, far worse than when Amaram betrayed Kaladin. As Dalinar and Adolin fight, exhausted and with no hope, things fall into place with their relationship and Dalinar. Adolin yells at his father for trusting Sadeas when he shouldn’t have, but he also refuses the idea that the dreams and codes are false. Despite the fact that they’re about to meet their deaths, he would not have his father any other way. This confession strengthens Dalinar and makes everything click. His doubt and guilt fade. It’s how he lived his life that matters, and that’s what the codes and dreams were about, and he too would have it no other way. His only regret now is that he will leave Renarin as highprince, unprepared and surrounded by enemies.

Reader Comments: There’s an utter awesomeness to this. Dalinar is going to die--or so it seems. I’m not giving up on something happening to change that--but he dies with honor. This is, perhaps, my favorite thing to see in stories, men and women who, despite the cost, retain and choose honor and goodness, though it may mean their deaths.

Writer Comments: The last word of this chapter is “farewell.” It’s a gut wrenching word. It truly makes it sound like Dalinar is going to die. He’s bidding his youngest son farewell, but in a way, he’s also bidding the reader goodbye. And that’s gripping. How a story, chapter, or even paragraph ends is just as important as how it begins.

Chapter 67: Words

Summary: Exhausted, Bridge Four lags behind Sadeas’s retreating army, and for the first time, Kaladin sees a real chance for freedom. He convinces Matal, the lighteyed commander of the bridges, to let them follow at their own pace so they don’t slow the army down. In truth, Kaladin plans to flee instead, letting the army believe that the Parshendi slaughtered them. With their bridge, they could do it. At last, they can be free.

But something inside him won’t let him do it, even as he orders his men to prepare. To his shock, Syl stands beside him, for the first time, as large as a real woman, and her gaze is fixed upon The Tower, horrorstruck at the betrayal and destruction. She informs Kaladin that, at last, she remembers what type of spren she is, an honorspren.

And Kaladin realizes what he must do. He screams and shouts at it. He owes Dalinar nothing! He will not kill his men to save a lighteyes. But he will. He must. Because he has to. Because it’s right. And his men know it and courageously, willingly follow.

Alone, Bridge Four charges the chasm. They have no army to protect them. They’re up against a Parshendi army larger than any they’ve ever faced. And death certainly waits for them. Parshendi archers loose at them from multiple sides, and only by using the side carry technique and Kaladin using the last of the Stormlight do they manage at all. But to save them all, Kaladin releases such a large burst of Stormlight that he glows like the sun and is drained to near immobility.

Teft and the others drag him off and proceed without him. He lies, immobile in a hollow and remembers the moment his brother, Tien, died, the moment he failed to save him. He blinks and comes to the present battlefield. He cannot let it happen again. Despite his exhausted body, he pushes to his feet and, at last, picks up a spear.

Determination takes him back across the plateau. He charges across the bridge, which hasn’t reached the other side yet, and leaps. As he does so, he breathes in the Stormlight from the gems woven into the Parshendi’s beards. He lands in a crouch.

Syl had spoken as he charged, urging him to remember the words. And at last they come, words he didn’t know but which now come, words of a second ideal of the legendary Knights Radiants, “I will protect those who cannot protect themselves.” Upon these whispered words, thunder cracks and light bursts from Kaladin, slamming into the Parshendi lines. Some of the Parshendi flee, and others rush to fight. Kaladin meets them in a deadly storm.

Reader Comments: This may be the coolest moment I’ve ever read. Need I say more?

Writer Comments: Take a moment and consider the sheer number of chapters devoted to this battle. This one battle has received more words and chapters than any other part of the plot. That’s because it’s in the climax of the story. If you take a look at the number of pages devoted to the final thrust or climax of a story, it may surprise you. In my experience, it tends to be at least a tenth of a book, often more. It takes a lot to bring together and tie up all the story’s threads and to do so in a way that’s satisfying.

Thank you for joining me for these 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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