This week’s chapters introduce us to two very important locations along with a major character point of view: Shallan. Shallan’s gives us her virgin view of Kharbranth and Kaladin arrives at the infamous Shattered Plains. Both sections feel all too brief, especially Shallan’s arrival in Kharbranth. In many ways Shallan’s character will have the most chance to surprise us readers as things go. She was definitely the most surprising for me. Kaladin’s path seems straightforward and even Dalinar’s road, though a bit twisty, is discernible, while Shallan could really become anyone.
Chapter 3: City of Bells
Setting: Kharbranth, also known as the City of Bells
Point of View: Shallan Davar
After 6 months of sailing with trader and family friend Tozbek aboard his ship Shallan Davar has arrived at the free island city of Kharbranth. She has finally tracked down Jasnah Kholin, sister of the current king of Alethkar and daughter of the late King Gavilar. Shallan hopes to become Jasnah’s ward. She is brought through the city by a guide to the Conclave, where Jasnah has been staying. At the Conclave Shallan is lead inside by a servant to await Jasnah. Shallan laments the death of her father and considers her family’s needs for them to forge a connection with Jasnah in some sort of scheme to save the family name and territory that seems to go beyond simply becoming her ward.
Quote of the Chapter:
One book she’d read claimed that Kharbranth has been founded way back into the shadowdays, years before the Last Desolation. That would make it old indeed. Thousands of years old, created before the terrors of the Hierocracy, long before—even—the Recreance. Back when Voidbringers with bodies of stone were said to have stalked the land.
There are a few important things of note in this passage. First, the Recreance is mentioned without any context, but this turns out to be one of the most important days in the history of Roshar, being the day that the Knights Radiant disbanded, leaving mankind to defend itself. Secondly, the Hierocracy, which was a period of religious zealotry wherein the Vorin church tried to seized complete power over the population and dictate their way of life. Lastly, the Voidbringers are described as having bodies of stone, which does seem to gel with the theory that they are the Parshmen in some form, since they are also described in multiple places as having marble-like skin. It still doesn’t feel that simple to me, though.
To me, of all the main character views, Shallan is actually the most interesting. Sure, Kaladin sees the most action and has a huge amount of emotional ties developed with him. Dalinar’s flashbacks reveal the “true” history of the world. But Shallan’s reasons for being involved in the story stand on their own so well and she is the most adaptable of the three. Dalinar and Kaladin try to live up to their own ideals while Shallan is still figuring out who she is and, beyond that, who she can become. Her story would have been just as enthralling if she had a novel all her own. Above all, her revelations were the most surprising, even beyond those of Dalinar.
Shallan is seemingly lost in the world after chasing Jasnah around, but she has a plan. A plan that as of this moment seems so mundane compared to what she’s actually getting on about. While there are certainly clues that just becoming Jasnah’s ward isn’t all she is up to, at this point the planned theft along with her hidden, ahem, abilities aren’t even a glimmer of a possibility. It is plain to see that she is willing to do anything to save her family. Through the story, she develops from a naive young girl into a woman who will become a force to be reckoned with, especially if Jasnah has anything to say about it. Also, am I the only one that gets a sense that fireworks will ensue when Shallan and Kaladin meet? Those two are the future of this world while Dalinar and Jasnah are trying to unearth the past.
Kharbranth itself is a unique setting and one of the most ancient cities in Roshar. It is very much a trader’s city, welcoming all the races as equals, or at least a close approximation. The city is situated in a rock dugout surrounded a sheer stone cliffs on most sides, which protects it during highstorms. Kharbranth is also known as the City of Bells, as it has bells that were perhaps once used to warn of impending highstorms though this is doubted by Yalb who is accompanying Shallan up to the Conclave. Which makes me wonder, could the highstorms be worsening as the desolation approaches? Were the bells once useful as a warning device, or did they have some other purpose? Could they have been magically enhanced at some point to ward off storms, but the people of Roshar have lost that knowledge as they have lost so much else? Incantation of the Windrunner’s ideals seems to be a step for using their abilities; could these bells be connected to another order of the Knights Radiant? One we haven’t yet seen? If one order uses sound in some way, it stands to reason another could as well. There have been mentions of the Dawnsingers, which seem to be musical in nature too. So why not a physical manifestation of music such as a bell to ward off evil/highstorms?
This brings me to the first mention of the Palanaeum, known as the oldest library in all of Roshar. It is a closely guarded building that few can gain entrance to, without paying a heavy cost. But these fees are used to fund what looks like a very humanitarian effort of paying the costs to run free hospitals on the island. Taravangian is barely mentioned, even though he is the king of Kharbranth. A lot of the instances of Taravangian appearing or being discussed are very limited though, which goes on to support his very mysterious nature.
Shallan encounters many races on the island, some of whom are completely unknown to her, such as men with braided beards that looked rod like. She also sees bluish men from Natanatan who are hardly ever mentioned again. This does show the variety of human life on Roshar, though. She also pays special mind to the parshmen. “Were the Alethi really fighting parshmen out on the Shattered Plains? That seemed so odd to Shallan. Parshmen didn’t fight. They were docile and practically mute. Of course, from what she’d heard, the ones out on the Shattered Plains—the Parshendi, they were called—were physically different from normal Parshmen. Stronger, taller, keener of mind. Perhaps they weren’t really Parshmen at all, but distant relatives of some kind.”
So, just how are the Parshendi related to commonplace Parshmen? The Parshendi could merely be awakened Parshmen who have been given more strength and a couple other attributes that make them better warriors than the normal Parshmen. Or are they a different race? And are one or both related to the Voidbringers? Jasnah theorizes that the Parshmen may be the Voidbringers themselves, but that has never sat right with me. It just seems too mundane. I certainly agree that they could be the vanguard of the Voidbringers, but I have doubts that they themselves are the Voidbringers. If anything it feels like the Parshendi are preparing the Alethi for something larger. Hardening them for the Desolation perhaps?
We also get our first peek at Shallan’s journal images, which are exquisite and help visualize these creatures enough to let our imagination fill in the gaps about this world. The nature of the skyeels themselves is a mystery to Shallan. How do they fly? They are followed by some kind of spren that sailors call luckspren, which could be a byproduct of their flight or the very reason it is possible. Which brings up the idea that the animal life of the world has been changed by whatever magical forces exist, which includes the spren themselves.
Shallan’s traveling by boat while doing her drawings feels very apropos. Shallan’s journal harken back to something Darwin would have done on his journey aboard the Beagle. We’re entering the age of discovery in Roshar, or at least an age of re-discovery. Jasnah is at the center of that rediscovery and Shallan joins her at a crucial point in her research. Now Shallan just needs to convince Jasnah she needs her.
Now we move on to Kaladin, as one of his dreams comes true at the worst possible time.
Chapter 4: The Shattered Plains
Setting: Tvlakv’s slave caravan near the Shattered Plains
Point of View: Kaladin
The windspren following Kaladin around asks him why he doesn’t cry like the other slaves, to which he responds that crying wouldn’t change anything. Kaladin’s slave caravan stops, and the leader Tvlakv and his associates confer about which direction to head based on a map. They are lost, but they think Kaladin might be able to direct them, assuming he had been to the Shattered Plains before when he was with the Alethi army. Tvlakv gives the map to Kaladin, who tears it to pieces. Tvlakv wants to punish Kaladin, but the mercenaries aren’t willing to go after him. Tvlakv and Kaladin then go on to have a discussion concerning Kaladin’s past. Tvlakv seems to know how Kaladin became a slave even though the official story is that he deserted.
As a Highstorm ends the slave wagons are uncovered early to wash off the slaves, as they’ll be brought to market soon and sold to the highest bidder. Kaladin’s windspren continues to chat with him as they go. At the end Kaladin realizes he sees the Alethi army in the distance and that he has finally arrived at the infamous Shattered Plains.
Quote of the Chapter:
“I’m dying, aren’t I? Healer, why do you take my blood? Who is that beside you, with his head of lines? I can see a distant sun, dark and cold, shining in a black sky.”
Right away the epigraph gives us a direct clue about the origin of these quotes, soon after glimpsing their city of origin. Their treacherous nature was given away much earlier than I had initially thought, and mentioning a person with a lined head again is a potential nod towards Taravangian, as he is one of the few “older” people we meet more than once. In fact, the epigraph and its chapter are surrounded by two Shallan chapters connected to Taravangian.
I love this chapter because the natural life on Roshar finally gets to shine. Sanderson unveils more information about the flora and fauna of Roshar, including a description of farming techniques. I know that sounds dull, but this is such an alien world that I want to know every aspect of life on it. One part of Roshar I couldn’t remember after reading The Way of Kings for the first time was what anyone really ate. Kaladin, for his part eats, mostly slop. Feasts and meals are discussed, but not with much detail, and given the harshness of the continent I kept thinking most were just eating chull and tuber vegetables of some sort. This chapter though describes the grain that seems to be one of the basic foods of Roshar: lavis. Which ends up budding into large polyps that once ripe can be cracked open for the grain inside. It’s also interesting to note the seeds of the lavis must be weighted down by stumpweight sap, which, judging by the name will keep the seeds from flying off during a Highstorm.
Life emerges after the highstorm, with all sorts of crustaceans, insects, and rockbuds bursting forth from their protective habitats. Nearly every type of lifeform seems to have developed armor of a sort to deal with the harshness of living on the land, except for humans. Well, there are also the skyeels from the last chapter, but one would think they can feel a storm coming on like a bird and fly off the other way. Lifespren even come out, which I find to be one of the odder spren since one would think they would surround everybody in Roshar most of the time, not just after a storm.
This chapter is also a continuation of “depressive Kaladin,” but Syl isn’t helping matters much by asking him why he doesn’t cry like the others. If that was supposed to be a comforting question, she failed miserably. It does show her taking a deeper interest in Kaladin instead of just floating around. It is also the first sign of her putting her serious hat on.
To come to the Shattered Plains was once Kaladin’s dream. He wanted to fight a worthy enemy and make a name for himself. To one day save lives. That’s what he wanted. How many shattered dreams can one man have? Kaladin’s life is really a series of unfortunate heartbreaks. There are the heartbreaks over his family, his friends, and his fellow soldiers. Along with the very reasons why Kaladin became a slave and the betrayal that came with it. But he hasn’t reached his last straw, even though he expresses in this chapter that he’s done fighting.
Kaladin’s discussion with Tvlakv is the most interesting thing in the chapter outside of the epigraph. In it we learn Kaladin’s true age: 19. Which makes him quite young by the standards of our world, but in Roshar he was able to join Amaram’s army when he was only 15 years old. At this point in his life he has more than 3 years experience in the military—if you subtract his slave time so far—not an inconsequential length of time, given the life expectancy of troops we later see in the Alethi army, which seems on the low side unless you’ve got Shardplate. Even then, nothing is assured.
Kaladin is, in many ways, the ultimate altruist. Kaladin is so good he even tries to justify the existence of Tvlakv, a slave merchant, and goes so far as to say “I almost find myself liking him.” How anyone can like someone selling you into servitude even a little bit is beyond me. But Kaladin sees the good in almost anyone, without even trying. With Tvlakv, Kaladin appreciates the honesty he is given in their discussion. Kaladin’s true actions which caused him to become a slave may not be common knowledge, but at least they exist in whispers—even if those are just the whispers of other slave merchants. Someone knows, and that’s important to Kaladin down deep. Tvlakv tries in vain to tell Kaladin there is still hope for him to have a life beyond slavery if he gets the right master and does what he’s told. Kaladin is still the dour one though, telling him “I’ll never be free of these brands, Tvlakv.”
Kaladin is truly marked for life. As the story progresses, I wonder if Kaladin will be given a chance for his brands to be removed by Soulcasting or some other magical means and whether he would take it? Somehow I think he’ll keep them and eventually turn them from being a brand of dishonor into a mark of honor for all he has overcome. They’ll be permanent reminders of what he has lost and what he’ll eventually gain. And I still like the theory that the shash mark will/does empower him somehow.
In next week’s post Carl Engle-Laird will be joining the reread by trading off weeks with me. He has a wealth of knowledge about Sanderson’s work, along with many theories. Next week he’ll cover chapters 5 and 6, which are some nice and juicy chapters.
Michael Pye (aka The Mad Hatter) runs The Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf & Book Review where he shares his views on genre books. He can also be found nattering on Twitter or in search of the perfect piece of bacon. He is currently working on an anthology project and is hoping to find a good publishing home for it soon.