The Way of Kings Reread: Chapters 21 and 22

Welcome back to the Way of Kings reread on Tor.com. This week I’m covering chapters 21 and 22, which means that after an incredibly long time I get to return to Kaladin’s viewpoint. I hope he’s been doing well in my absence. In addition, Wit barrages us with lame humor, Sadeas pulls a dastardly scheme, Dalinar and I agree on the excesses of Vorin culture, and a certain Queen Mother rears her well-coiffed head. All this and more awaits you, so let’s get to the reread.

Chapter 21: Why Men Lie

Setting: The Shattered Plains

Point of View: Kaladin

What Happens: Kaladin wakes up intensely sore, but forces himself out of bed and walks out of the Bridge Four barracks, where several bridgemen are watching him. He checks on the wounded from the last run, who haven’t attracted rotspren yet. Leyten is on the edge of death, Hobber is awake and thanks him, and Dabbid is staring catatonically. Kaladin diagnoses him with battle shock. Kaladin knows that without antiseptic the bridgemen are easy prey to infection and death.

Kaladin stretches and then goes to the lumberyard to resume his bridge-carrying exercises. He’s not able to run with the bridge right now, but he jogs when he can and tries to maintain a brisk walk when he can’t. Many bridgemen watch him with open hostility, and none of his own crew joins him.

Syl lands on the plank and tells Kaladin that people are talking about him, speculating that he’s gone mad. They discuss what madness is, whether it’s just noticeable deviation from the mental average. Syl asks why men lie, and whether it’s a kind of madness, but Kaladin doesn’t think so, since everyone lies. Syl says Dalinar has never lied. Kaladin quashes that argument: “He’s a lighteyes. That mean he lies.”

This quiets her for a little while, but after some prompting she mentions hearing talk about a time without lies. Kaladin says there are stories about the Heraldic Epochs and the honor that persisted there, but he thinks that’s just a story people tell to make themselves feel better. He says you can’t trust anyone with power, you can only give it to lighteyes, let it corrupt them, and try to stay as far away as possible. Not exactly advice he’s been able to follow himself.

After his run, Kaladin is accosted by Gaz. He’s received orders from Sadeas by way of Lamaril: Kaladin won’t be strung up, but the wounded bridgemen will be forbidden food or pay so long as they can’t work. Kaladin curses the highprince, but accepts the order not to try to get extra food for the wounded. He tries to come up with a plan to get extra food and antiseptic. Without either, his wounded soldiers will die.

Kaladin returns to Bridge Four, and asks for them to pool their resources to buy medicine and food. Most of them laugh in his face, but afterwards Rock, the huge Horneater, approaches him. He volunteers to give up some food for Hobber, and says that because Kaladin saved his life by switching places with him on the last run and because he can see Syl (a “mafah’liki”), he’s willing to help Kaladin. Bridge Four only lost eight men in the last run, far fewer than most other bridges, and Bridge Four never loses the fewest men.

Suddenly, Kaladin comes up with a plan. He goes to Gaz and requests a duty change, to switch Bridge Four to rock-gathering duty, one of the worst jobs there is. He and Rock recruit Teft to help them, and he begins to lay out his plan. It involves “a reed that grows in small patches outside the camp.”

Quote of the Chapter:

Beside Gaz, Bridge Three’s leader shot Kaladin a scowl. The way the other bridgemen had been treating him suddenly made sense. They were perturbed to see Bridge Four come out of a battle in such good shape. Bridge Four was supposed to be unlucky. Everyone needed someone to look down on—and the other bridge crews could be consoled by the small mercy that they weren’t in Bridge Four. Kaladin had upset that.

This makes me wonder how Bridge Four developed. I see a couple of options. It could be part of Sadeas’ original plan for the bridges, supporting his callous program with a miserable set of scapegoats so that the rest of the bridgemen won’t mutiny or roll over and die. I think this is giving Sadeas too much credit, though. Another option is that his low-level officers dreamed up Bridge Four. This is more likely, since those officers are closer to the bridges, see and understand the bridgemen better, and have the most to lose from a mutiny. I think the most likely situation, however, is that the bridge team’s reputation developed naturally. Bridge Four had a couple terrible runs in a row and started to develop a reputation as the worst of the worst. The lower-level officers realized this and encouraged it by continuing to staff the bridge with the dredges. And so, a legacy of despair began.

Commentary:

I’d like to begin by saying how nice it is to come back to Kaladin at last. I haven’t covered a Kaladin chapter in months! And what’s more, he’s back to trying to lead. Kaladin’s leadership tactics aren’t exactly met with instant acceptance here, but he’s making huge inroads. Rock and Teft are clearly regenerating their personhood quickly through their association with Kaladin. Not only has he gotten them to reject death once again, he also has them caring about each other’s names and accepting goals beyond the limits of their own self-interest.

This may hurt my general Stormlight know-it-all cred, but I have no idea what’s up with Rock. He sees spren when they don’t want him to, which seems to imply an unusual relation between the Horneaters and spren. There’s definitely a culture of respect for spren at play here. I hope we learn more about this sooner rather than later.

Kaladin and Syl’s discussion of madness leaves me scratching my head. Yes, defining madness is psychologically and philosophically difficult, but to claim that being mad just means deviating from the psychic average of your community seems… reductive. Especially from Kaladin, a trained medic who regularly recognizes and diagnoses soldiers with “battle shock.” This ailment is a clear stand-in for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a non-inherited psychological condition with a discernible cause and obvious effects. All that being said, I suppose Kaladin’s weird definition of madness isn’t that out-of-place in a conversation where he also opines that all lighteyes are liars. His heart’s in the right place, but Kaladin is still essentially an angry young man with angry-young-man opinions.

Not that Sadeas isn’t callous lying scum. He totally is! Kaladin nails his psychology here: “He wants the other bridgemen to see the wounded suffer and starve. He wants it to seem like he’s doing a mercy by leaving the wounded behind.” What’s most amazing about this is how Gaz react; by falling silent. He knows! He realizes how low the value is on bridgemen, and he realizes he’s not that high above them himself.

 

Chapter 22: Eyes, Hands, or Spheres?

Setting: The Shattered Plains

Point of View: Dalinar

What Happens: Dalinar and his sons attend a feast in Elhokar’s feasting basin, a lavish artificial lake full of dining islands where lighteyes compete in duels, the men with blades, the women with paintbrushes or songs. Dalinar heads to the men’s segregated dining island, scornful of his class’s frippery and waste.

Wit is perched on a high stool at the entrance to the dining area, insulting each person who walks by, although he gives Dalinar a pass. Dalinar engages with him, and learns that everyone is talking about his talk of abandoning the Vengeance Pact, despite Dalinar’s expectation that he had spoken to the king in confidence. Dalinar thanks him for the warning and turns to go, and Wit resumes his stream of insults, concluding with a name that catches Dalinar totally off guard: “Ah, and is that Lady Navani behind you? How long have you been back at the Plains and how did I not notice the smell?”

Dalinar is shocked. Navani, the king’s mother, his brother’s beautiful widow, is not supposed to be here, and he’s not prepared to face her, or his feelings for her. Society dictates that she now be treated as his sister, and on top of that he feels that loving her is a betrayal of his own wife. “Dead these ten years, wiped by his foolishness from his mind. Even if he couldn’t remember her, he should honor her.”

Dalinar takes refuge at his segregated dining table, and is presented with a dinner of imported peppered chicken. As he eats it he watches the competitions, and sees Navani gathering a group of important women to show them some kind of fabrial. As he observes it, she notices him, and flashes him a smile.

Adolin approaches, concerned by the rumors he’s been hearing. When Dalinar confirms them he groans, but Dalinar asks his son to trust him, and confides that he’s already trying a different strategy: winning the war. Adolin agrees that this is a good plan, but asks him to do something about the rumors. An official refutation isn’t good enough for Adolin; he wants his father to duel their detractors, or failing that to let him duel in his father’s place. Dalinar refuses both options, not just because the Codes forbid it, but because of a lesson from The Way of Kings:

“There’s a passage about the nature of forcing people to follow you as opposed to letting them follow you. We do too much forcing in Alethkar. Dueling someone because they claim I’m a coward doesn’t change their beliefs. It might stop them from making the claims, but it doesn’t change hearts. I know I’m right about this. You’ll just have to trust me on this as well.”

Adolin accepts this, then sees his aunt approaching. Dalinar realizes that he’s critically miscalculated; his dinner has been consumed, and there’s no longer any social boundary preventing Navani from approaching him. She arrives, and they talk about Adolin’s courtship tendencies, to the young man’s chagrin. Adolin hurries away to tell Renarin she’s returned, leaving Dalinar alone with his sister-in-law.

Navani gets a chair set up for her within speaking distance of the king’s table and tells Dalinar they have a lot to discuss. The Vedens have perfected their “half-shard” technology, shields that mimic Shardplate’s ability to stop a Shardblade. She realized that leaving the warcamps had been a political mistake, as the warcamps are more central to the kingdom than the capital, and Elhokar’s wife is more than capable of governing in his absence, which is good, because Navani knows her son isn’t doing a very good job ruling. They argue over this for a while, before Dalinar asks him for her third reason. “She smiled a violet-eyed, red-lipped smile at him. A meaningful smile.” Gulp. Navani asks to talk with Dalinar in private, to get a sense of things in camp. Dalinar feebly protests, but she wears him down.

Then Elhokar makes an announcement: He is appointing Sadeas as Highprince of Information, and tasking him with figuring out who cut his saddle girth. Navani is mostly all right with this, until Dalinar explains that the strap snapped on one of his hunts, while the king was under his protection, and that he had been tasked with investigating it. “‘You still argue he isn’t a bad king?’ Navani whispered. ‘My poor, distracted, oblivious boy.’”

Dalinar confronts Elhokar, asking why he let Sadeas be Highprince of Information but didn’t make Dalinar Highprince of War. Elhokar explains that this is a way to ease the highprinces into the idea. Sadeas said it would be better to start with something less threatening. Yes, Sadeas suggested this appointment, why do you ask, uncle? Elhokar is confident that Sadeas will vindicate Dalinar in his insistence that the king’s in less danger than he claims.

Dalinar is far less convinced that Sadeas is going to vindicate him.

Quote of the Chapter:

“Wit,” Dalinar said, “Do you have to?”

“Two what, Dalinar?” Wit said, eyes twinkling. “Eyes, hands, or spheres? I’d lend you one of the first, but—by definition—a man can have only one I, and if it is given away, who would be Wit then? I’d lend you one of the second, but I fear my simple hands have been digging in the muck far too often to suit one such as you. And if I gave you one of my spheres, what would I spend the remaining one on? I’m quite attached to both of my spheres, you see.” He hesitated. “Or, well, you can’t see. Would you like to?” He stood up off his chair and reached for his belt.

First of all, groan. Second, this is Wit at his very most Shakespearean. This speech could belong to any of Shakespeare’s fools. It’s full of philosophically revelatory puns and stupid body humor.

Now that I’ve read this speech three or four times, though, new depths are revealing themselves to me. In compact succession Wit manages to problematize Dalinar’s sense of self (Eyes/I’s), poke fun at the rigid, caste- and gender-based norms of Dalinar’s society which are so prominently on display in this chapter (Hands used for labor and covered in muck both physical and social not being fit for a highprince), and the extravagance of lighteyes wealth, plus a balls joke for good measure.

Commentary:

Vorin lighteyes culture is so weird, you guys.

In this chapter we learn that Vorin men and women are expected to eat and enjoy different cuisines entirely. Men eat very spicy food, women eat very sweet food, and ne’er the twain shall meet. Not only that, but lighteyes men and women don’t eat at the same table. That is incredibly inconvenient!

What actually weirds me out the most about this is the fact that the male/female cuisine divide persists at Kaladin’s social level. This means that even those who aren’t particularly well-to-do are expected waste hours preparing two separate meals every night. This is another indication of how Vorinism has been structured to ossify the cultural practices of the ruling class.

On top of that we have the incredible extravagance of the ruling class. They made a lake to have parties on! They have art duels! Everyone is dressed in lace in a time of war! They’re even eating chicken! This last may seem mundane, but it isn’t at all. The Shattered Plains are about as far east as people go on Roshar, and chickens only live in Shinovar, on the far western end of the supercontinent.

This chapter introduces us to Navani Kholin, widow to Gavilar, would-be lover of Dalinar, and generally terrifying social presence. I really like Dalinar. He’s maybe my favorite character. And I also really like Navani as a brilliant scientist and powerful social force. There are aspects of their relationship that I’m ambivalent about, however. I like Dalinar’s internal conflict between doing what he knows he wants and honoring what society demands, and I like how that conflict helps reveal the nonsensical nature of those demands. And in a way, I find Navani’s ongoing pursuit of Dalinar to empower her. But I also feel like his perception of her as a predatory force in his life is a problem.

What I do love is the way the Dalinar/Navani romance plot interfaces with Dalinar’s guilt over forgetting his wife. Dalinar believes he loved her, that he was devoted to her, but that is based entirely on his self-image and the testimony of his family and friends. He doesn’t have any vestige of her to remain loyal to, but he badly wants to. Whether for the sake of his children or for the preservation of his public image, or perhaps simply because he doesn’t want to see himself as someone who would betray her, Dalinar is struggling to maintain his loyalty to a woman whose face is a blank to him, whose name he can’t remember, who no longer has any presence in his mind at all.

Navani does provide us with another glimpse of fabrial technology. Roshar is actually in the middle of something of a scientific renaissance. Vedenar is getting close to reproducing Shardplate, Navani and her cohort are doing incredible things with fabrials, inventing things like spanreeds that enable near-instant communication at a great distance, and all of this before the magic has begun to reenter the world. I wonder whether the powers that Jasnah, Shallan, Kaladin and Dalinar reintroduce will meld with this technological progress or compete with it. With Sanderson, I’m willing to bet on the latter.

Sadeas completely and totally outplayed Dalinar here. True, it isn’t exactly as bad as Dalinar suspects, but it’s nevertheless chilling how easily Sadeas maneuvered Dalinar’s request to his own advantage. And I agree with Dalinar, Highprince of Information is just as threatening a position as Highprince of War.

That’s it for this week, but you should keep an eye out for more exciting Sanderson news and content on Tor.com in the coming week. Until then, I’ll see you all in the comments!


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

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