The Way of Kings Reread on Tor.com

The Way of Kings Reread: Chapter 18

Welcome back to Tor.com’s reread of The Way of Kings. This week I’m covering Chapter 18, another Dalinar and Adolin chapter. The Mystery of the Saddle Strap continues, we learn a bit more about Vorinism, explore the relationships between Dalinar and his sons, and I go on a tirade about dueling, all as a highstorm looms on the horizon. I’ve also got some tentative news about Words of Radiance for all of you, and a full detail map of the Alethi warcamps below the cut.

First, Words of Radiance. After last week’s reread some of you percipient readers noticed that Amazon.com has changed the release date for book 2 in the Stormlight Archive to January 21st. I’ve asked around the Tor offices, and can say that the book is currently scheduled for that date. Feel free to update your calendars, with the understanding that the release date could still change in the future.

 

Chapter 18: Highprince of War

Setting: The Shattered Plains

Points of View: Adolin and Dalinar

What Happens: A pair of leatherworkers confirm for Adolin that the king’s girth strap was indeed cut, to his great surprise. Before he can hear more, Adolin is interrupted by his most recent girlfriend, Janala, who doesn’t consider their romantic walk to be much of a walk so far. One of the leatherworkers tries to help placate her, and the other reasserts that this was no simple tear, and that Adolin should be more careful. The leatherworkers agree that tears like this can be caused by negligence, and that while it could have been cut intentionally, they can’t think why anyone would do that.

Adolin and Janala return to their walk, but Adolin doesn’t really pay attention to his companion. She asks him if he can get his father to let officers abandon their “dreadfully unfashionable” uniforms once in a while, but he’s not sure. Adolin has begun to understand why his father follows the Codes, but still wishes he wouldn’t enforce them for all his soldiers.

Horns blare through the camp, interrupting them and signaling a chrysalis on the Shattered Plains. Adolin listens for a follow-up that would call them to battle, but knows it isn’t coming. The plateau in question is too close to Sadeas’s warcamp for Dalinar to contest it. Sure enough, there are no more horns. Adolin leads Janala away to check something else out.

Dalinar stands outside Elhokar’s palace, his climb to the elevated structure interrupted by the horns. He watches Sadeas’s army gathering, and decides not to contest the gemheart, continuing to the palace with his scribe. Dalinar mostly trusts his scribe, Teshav, although it’s hard to trust anyone. Some of his officers have been hinting that he should remarry to have a permanent scribe, but he feels that would be a cheap way to repay the wife he doesn’t even remember. Teshav reports on Adolin’s investigations, which has turned up nothing so far. He asks her to look into Highprince Aladar’s talk of a vacation to Alethkar, although he’s not sure whether that would be a problem if true. He’s torn between the potential that Aladar’s visit would bring some stability back to their homeland and the fear that he needs to keep the highprinces where he can watch them.

He also receives reports on the king’s accounts. No one but he and Sadeas have been paying taxes in advance, and three highprinces are well behind. In addition, some are considering moving farmers to the plains to alleviate the price of soulcasting. Dalinar is strongly against this, emphasizing that the histories he has had read to him prove that “the most fragile period in a kingdom’s existence comes during the lifetime of its founder’s heir.”

Keeping the princedoms together as one nation is of primary importance to Dalinar, not just to honor Gavilar’s dream, but also because of the command that haunts his dreams: “The Everstorm comes. The True Desolation. The Night of Sorrows.” He has a missive drafted in the king’s name to decrease the cost of Soulcasting for those who have made their payments on time. Tax loopholes may not be his strong point, but he’ll do what he has to keep the kingdom together. He also commits another battalion to suppressing banditry in the region, raising his peacekeeping forces to a quarter of his total army, and reducing his capacity to fight in the field and win Shards.

Dalinar talks to Renarin about his unwise actions during the chasmfiend hunt, but quickly sees how low his son’s self-esteem is. Renarin can’t fight or train to fight because of his blood sickness, and is incapable of continuing his father’s legacy of excellence in combat. Despite this, he wholeheartedly supports his brother, which Dalinar knows he would have trouble doing himself. He had been bitterly envious of Gavilar during their childhood.

Dalinar tells Renarin that they should start training him in the sword again, and that his blood weakness won’t matter if they win him a Plate and Blade. He is willing to loosen up a little, sometimes, if it will mean his son’s happiness. After all, he knows too well how Renarin feels:

I know what it’s like to be a second son, he thought as they continued walking towards the king’s chambers, overshadowed by an older brother you love yet envy at the same time. Stormfather, but I do.

I still feel that way.

The ardent Kadash warmly greets Adolin as he enters the temple, to Janala’s disparagement. While less smelly than the leatherworkers, this is clearly no more romantic a destination for their walk, despite Adolin’s feeble protestation that Vorinism is full of “eternal love and all that.” She doesn’t buy it and storms out, but at least the ardent agrees with Adolin!

Kadash asks if Adolin’s come to discuss his Calling, dueling, which Adolin hasn’t been making progress on lately. Adolin hasn’t. He wants to discuss his father’s visions instead, out of fear that Dalinar’s going mad, and hopes the visions might conceivably be sent by the Almighty.

Kadash is disturbed by this talk, and says that talking about it might get him in trouble. He lectures Adolin about the Hierocracy and the War of Loss, when the Vorin church tried to conquer the world. Back then, only a few were allowed to know theology. The people followed the priests, not the Heralds or the Almighty, and no layman was in control of his or her own religious path. They also promoted mysticism, claiming to have received visions and prophecies, even though that is heresy. “Voidbinding is a dark and evil thing, and the soul of it was to try to divine the future.” It was later discovered that there had been no true prophecies.

Kadash’s conclusion is that Dalinar’s visions are probably the product of the death and destruction that he’s seen in battle, rather than being sent by the Almighty, but will not go so far as to call Dalinar mad. Adolin reluctantly accepts this, and Kadash tells him to go see to Janala. Adolin does so, but figures that he probably won’t be courting her for very much longer.

Dalinar and Renarin reach the King’s chambers, passing Highprince Ruthar, who is waiting for an audience. They are admitted immediately, annoying Ruthar. Elhokar is staring towards the Shattered Plains, wondering if the Parshendi are watching him. He and Dalinar discuss why the Parshendi killed Gavilar. Dalinar still wonders if it was a cultural misunderstanding, but Elhokar says that the Parshendi don’t even have a culture, and cuts the conversation off.

Dalinar broaches the difficult subject of how long they will continue the war, weathering the backlash that follows. He argues that the war is weakening them, as Elhokar contests that they are winning the war, that this strategy was Dalinar’s in the first place, and that Dalinar has lost his courage entirely.

Finally, Elhokar asks his uncle whether he thinks him a weak king. Dalinar denies it, but Elhokar pushes further.

“You always talk about what I should be doing, and where I am lacking. Tell me truthfully, Uncle. When you look at me, do you wish you saw my father’s face instead?”

“Of course I do,” Dalinar said.

Elhokar’s expression darkened.

Dalinar laid a hand on his nephew’s shoulder. “I’d be a poor brother if I didn’t wish that Gavilar had lived. I failed him—it was the greatest, most terrible failure of my life.” Elhokar turned to him, and Dalinar held his gaze, raising a finger. “But just because I loved your father does not mean that I think you are a failure.”

Elhokar says that Dalinar sounds like Gavilar, towards the end, after he began listening to The Way of Kings. He frames this as a weakness. Dalinar reframes his own argument; instead of retreating, push forward. Unite the armies around a new goal, defeat the Parshendi once and for all, and go home. To do this, he asks Elhokar to name him Highprince of War, an antiquated title for the Highprince who could command the combined armies of all the others. Elhokar ponders this, but thinks that the others would revolt and assassinate him. And when Dalinar promises he’d protect him, Elhokar says that he doesn’t even take the present threat to his life seriously. After further back and forth, their discussion grows heated:

“I am not getting weak.” Yet again, Dalinar forced himself to be calm. “This conversation has gone off the path. The highprinces need a single leader to force them to work together. I vow that if you name me Highprince of War, I will see you protected.”

“As you saw my father protected?”

This shuts Dalinar up immediately. Elhokar apologizes, but asks why Dalinar doesn’t take offense when wounded. Eventually they reach a compromise. If Dalinar can prove that the highprinces are willing to work together under him, then Elhokar will consider naming Dalinar Highprince of War.

Dalinar leaves, pondering who to approach. Renarin interrupts his thoughts in a panic; a highstorm is approaching quickly, and Dalinar is exposed. They race back to the Kholin warcamp, and make it just ahead of the stormwall, but not to Dalinar’s own barracks. They have to take shelter in infantry barracks near the wall. As the storm hits, Dalinar’s vision begins.

Quote of the Chapter:

“You are right, of course, Father,” Renarin said. “I am not the first hero’s son to be born without any talent for warfare. The others all got along. So shall I. Likely I will end up as citylord of a small town. Assuming I don’t tuck myself away in the devotaries.”

Maybe I’ve said this before, and am just endlessly repeating myself, but things are really hard on Renarin. He can’t be a warrior, and not only does the culture he lives in proclaim fighting to be the highest spiritual good, his father is perhaps the most famous warrior of his generation. Renarin is something of a mirror to Elhokar, who is also struggling to live up to his famous father’s name, but with an apparently insurmountable obstacle. This chapter leads me to believe that his “blood weakness” is some kind of epilepsy, as he’s described as being prone to fits during times of high stress. He’s so clearly internalized that weakness as a personal failing, and this quote shows how much that wound is festering in him.

Commentary

This chapter taught us a whole bunch about Vorinism, not only structurally and dogmatically, but also historically. There’s a ton of info to unpack, but I want to start with the thing that irks me the most of all about Adolin, above everything else, forever.

HOW DO YOU DEVOTE YOUR ENTIRE LIFE TO DUELING?! Check this nonsense out:

Adolin grimaced. His chosen Calling was dueling. By working with the ardents to make personal goals and fulfill them, he could prove himself to the Almighty. Unfortunately, during war, the Codes said Adolin was supposed to limit his duels, as frivolous dueling could wound officers who might be needed in battle.

Let me get this out there before I continue: I am all about self-improvement. I am all about setting goals and striving to meet them. But dueling? Really, Adolin? You can’t think of anything better for the ultimate spiritual expression of your entire life than getting offended by other people making snippy comments and then smacking them with a sword until they’re sorry? That is just the worst, except for the even worse fact that you exist in a culture that thinks this is awesome, and a totally valid use of your religious drive.

Dear Almighty, it’s Adolin here. I just wanted to let you know that I’ve been working really hard this week. I think I’ve managed to get even more easily-offended, and it shows! I beat up three other members of your religion because of minor things they said, and proved how incredibly macho I am by use of a stick. I know that in doing so, I have come closer to a true and meaningful understanding of Your Divine Self, and look forward to smacking more people around later.

By contrast, Dalinar’s calling is leadership. With an example like that, how did Adolin screw this up so much? Adolin is also a pretty terrible boyfriend. Hmph.

Now, Vorinism.

Vorinism in its current form is an interesting religion because it’s entirely centered around achieving goals you set for yourself, optimizing a specific ability, and using that to form your own, personal, barely-mediated relationship with the Almighty. It’s a heavily hands-off religion, with ardents functioning not as prayer-leaders or determiners of doctrine, nor as keeper of arcane knowledge, but as guides along your path of self-actualization. This is a pretty nice way to structure things, in my opinion, but in practice the structure of callings is still a heavy determining factor in Vorin cultures. Being a soldier is, doctrinally speaking, the highest Calling, because soldiers are needed to fight alongside the Heralds and take back the Tranquilline Halls. Farmers are next after this, because without farmers everyone is hungry. Very practical. But what this means is that Vorinism enforces warlike tendencies. Soldiers can only achieve their callings during times of war. What’s more, this religion has an inherent bias towards menfolk, as women aren’t allowed to be soldiers.

The reason the ardents are so weak now, and are actually kept as property, is that Vorinism used to be very different. The priests made a bid to control everything outright, and this caused what seems like a global war. Now, ardents are kept very low. They can’t own property, inherit land, they have to shave their heads, and they’re owned by powerful lords. They do not establish doctrine, they just guide others. As we’ll see later, however, the ardentia has found ways around this, and still expresses a lot of political influence.

The Mystery of the Saddle Strap continues to “unfold,” even though they haven’t actually discovered everything. Dalinar and Adolin are being extremely thorough, and it’s a shame that there’s nothing there for them to actually figure out, because I think they’d have gotten there. I do really like the father-son detective team, though.

I find the entire structure that spawned the Highprince of War very interesting. It seems that, in times past, the highprinces functioned analogously to the Cabinet of the United States. This kind of purposeful federalism, where each of the states of the nation is geared towards a specific function, is very easy to analogize to Vorin Callings. It functionalizes people, but also does a lot to force the highprinces to work together. When they have different, mostly non-overlapping functions, there is more reason to cooperate and less reason to feud. Not no reason to feud, of course. That would be way too optimistic and idealized.

In trying to resurrect this system, Dalinar has set himself a pretty big challenge. The highprinces do not want to be subordinate to anyone, with the possible slim exception of Elhokar, and Dalinar is not popular among them. Elhokar’s challenge is probably intended to keep Dalinar busy on a fruitless task.

We are also treated to a view from the highest point of the camps, as well as an artist’s depiction of the camps. They look pretty cool, but make it immediately obvious how strictly separate the armies are. This is not a good formula for a successful war.

The Way of Kings Reread Brandon Sanderson Alethi Warcamps

That’s it for this week. Next Thursday is July 4th, which is a holiday here in America, so we’ll be pushing the next post by Michael back a week. I’ll have a follow-up article to my ecology primer on July 5th, though, so there will be some relief to your Way of Kings cravings. The article is a little far out there, so I hope it will keep you entertained.


Carl Engle-Laird is the fiction assistant and resident Stormlight Archive correspondent for Tor.com. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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