Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! Last week we left Shallan’s soulcast
boat water to return to the Shattered Plains (much to Carl’s unexpected chagrin), watching Dalinar trying to play politics on a plateau run, with limited success. This week we’re back in the chasms with Kaladin and company, talking about spren and rites of passage.
This reread will contain spoilers for The Way of Kings, Words of Radiance, and any other Cosmere books that become relevant. Be warned! There’s nothing in the post, but the comments are a wilde beastie, full of unpredictability and occasional rotspren.
Chapter 9: Walking the Grave
Point of View: Kaladin
Setting: A chasm near the Kholin warcamp
Symbology: Spears, Nalan
IN WHICH a group of bridgemen reenter the chasms as an unofficial initiation; an exceedingly messy grave is observed and poked about in; many spren are discussed; Kaladin’s irrational fears are addressed but not solved; hints are dropped; and theories are triggered. (Oh wait—that’s the commentary, not the chapter.)
Quote of the Week:
“You,” Syl said. “You’re going to need to become what Dalinar Kholin is looking for. Don’t let him search in vain.”
“They’ll take it from me, Syl,” Kaladin whispered. “They’ll find a way to take you from me.”
“That’s foolishness. You know that it is.”
“I know it is, but I feel it isn’t. They broke me, Syl. I’m not what you think I am. I’m no Radiant.”
“That’s not what I saw,” Syl said. “On the battlefield after Sadeas’s betrayal, when men were trapped , abandoned. That day I saw a hero.”
This is the core of most of Kaladin’s conflict in Words of Radiance. He doesn’t quite believe he’s becoming a Radiant; he doesn’t believe he can be a hero. Further, he not only can’t bring himself to trust a lighteyes, he’s convinced—against all evidence and logic—that if they see him becoming a Windrunner, there will be a way it can be taken away from him. Oh, the irony… It will, of course, be taken away from him. By his own stubbornness, bitterness, and secretiveness, he will reach the point where his bond is stretched to the breaking point, and he himself will turn Syl away. This is one of the places where I want to reach into the book and either slap him or hug him. Better yet, both—but that slap would be a doozy! (My whole arm aches just thinking about it…)
Commentary: Poor Carl. I get all the good chapters! This one is loaded—not with action, but with hints and peeks and insights, mostly about spren. I’ll save that for Sprenspotting, but there’s other stuff here too.
We see progress with the bridgemen; Teft has apparently set up the twenty crews, with two potential leaders for each. Unfortunately, they don’t see themselves as leaders yet. Storms, they don’t even see themselves as soldiers yet! They’re still just bridgemen, and not even special Bridge Four men; just plain, ordinary, beat-down, run-down, lowest-of-the-low bridgemen. The idea of entering the chasms, walking the grave, as a rite of passage… that is both weird and inspired. It makes sense. I think.
Speaking of the chasms, we talked about this on the spoiler thread a bit. Is Sadeas the only one salvaging in the chasms? Or only those who follow his lead in bridge-running? Granted that there’s a lot of debris to sort through (making it a perfect job for grinding people down and a lousy one for treating people well), it seems like there are a lot of valuable spheres lying around down there, and a fair pile of weaponry that could be recovered. Dalinar seems to have made no effort at all to reclaim any of it.
(Also, if this is where all the bodies from all the battles wash up after a highstorm, doesn’t it stink down here? And doesn’t that smell rise? I want to know why the warcamps don’t reek of decay.)
Syl’s frustration with not knowing what she knows is not only hilarious, it’s painful. She knows about Cryptics, but she doesn’t know what she knows about them. She knows it’s vital that the Radiants be refounded, but she doesn’t know quite why, or how. Still, I loved the hint:
“There are others like you,” Syl whispered. “I do not know them, but I know that other spren are trying, in their own way, to reclaim what was lost.”
I am also extremely frustrated with it (insert visual of me yanking my hair out to the sides), because it’s another case where we know more than the characters who need to know what we know, and we’d really like them to figure it out NOW ALREADY, but of course that isn’t going to happen because a) there wouldn’t be much of a story and b) it wouldn’t be realistic inside the story for them to know what we know. (That’s… really quite a sentence, yes? No. Ouch.) We need the Knights Radiant to be refounded soon. We need them to develop their skillsets very, very quickly. We need them to find each other and work together. We need them to do it before everything goes down the big swirly, but the swirl is picking up speed faster than they are.
And… we’re back to slowly building the bridgemen into soldiers and bodyguards. SANDERSOOOON! (There’s definitely a love/hate thing going on up in here.)
At least they found a good Windrunner training ground.
Sprenspotting: The list of spren we see or hear about in this chapter is impressive: gloryspren, dangerous stormspren like red lightning, Cryptics, rotspren, lifespren, spren like living lights in the air, windspren, honorspren, other Radiant-making spren, Stormfather. There are questions, too: why can’t spren attract spren, could a spren have made the Stormwatch glyphs, where did Syl (and the rest of the spren) come from before entering the physical realm?
So. Syl’s pout is absolutely hilarious:
“Has it ever struck you as unfair that spren cannot attract spren? I should really have had some gloryspren of my own there.”
As I recall, we had an extended discussion on gloryspren in the spoiler thread, too. FWIW, I’ve decided that whatever attracts them—whether it’s a feeling of accomplishment, a definite accomplishment, the adulation of others, or what you will—they are rightly called gloryspren because that’s what the Rosharans call them.
(It’s like the debate over why Tolkein-the-great-philologist would use such a boring, ordinary name as “Mount Doom.” In truth, he had other names for it, like Orodruin and Amon Amarth, but the ordinary people simply called it Mount Doom—as ordinary people are wont to do. We misname or over-simplify things all the time. It’s easier, and sometimes far more descriptive of our understanding than a more technically correct term.)
In any case, Kaladin gets gloryspren because Teft has become a real leader, and poor Syl gets none because she’s a spren. Anyone want to take bets on whether that will change as she and Kaladin develop their Radiance? She seems to be gaining mass, becoming more strongly a part of the physical realm; will she someday be so physically present that she can attract spren, too?
This is our first glimpse, albeit secondhand, of stormspren. “Spren like red lightning. Dangerous spren. Spren I haven’t seen before. I catch them in the distance, on occasion. Stormspren? Something dangerous is coming….” I don’t think I caught the significance of this the first time through; not until the later references to red lightning illuminated it. Well, that discussion can wait for the Interludes.
And then there’s this, which almost made QOTW:
She nodded, alighting in the air and settling down, her legs crossed at the knees as if she were primly seating herself in an invisible chair. She continued to hover there, moving exactly in step with him.
“Giving up all pretense of obeying natural laws again, I see,” he said.
“Natural laws?” Syl said, finding the concept amusing. “Laws are of men, Kaladin. Nature doesn’t have them!”
“If I toss something upward, it comes back down.”
“Except when it doesn’t.”
“It’s a law.”
“No,” Syl said, looking upward. “It’s more like . . . more like an agreement among friends.”
Oh, my. My poor brain might be breaking right there. It implies, at least, that from Sylphrena’s perspective, physics on Roshar is more subject to the spren than I had expected. Does this mean that the Surges are always controlled by the spren, or is it merely that the spren can affect them whenever they want? Which is cause, and which is effect?
It’s also giving me ideas about the pairing of spren. I’m looking at my chart of Orders and Surges, and I’m thinking. (A dangerous pastime, I know.) If honorspren are linked to windspren, it seems logical that highspren would be linked to gravityspren; the Dustbringers major spren will be linked to the minor decayspren or possibly rotspren; etc. But now I have an even better idea. What if the major spren (for lack of a better term—the bonding spren like Syl, Glys, Ivory, Pattern, and Wyndle) are actually linked to two minor spren—the ones that control the Surges for that Order? So Syl, an honorspren, would have a connection to windspren (Adhesion) and gravityspren (Gravitation); the highspren would connect to gravityspren (Gravitation) and decayspren (Division); Wyndle would have a connection to the spren for Friction (maybe heatspren?) and lifespren (Progression); Glys to Lifespren (progression) and Creationspren (illumination)… Whatcha think? By this theory, it would perhaps take both windspren and gravityspren to form Kaladin’s Plate. I sure can’t prove it, but it makes a certain amount of sense to me in that it provides a rationale for one type of spren (e.g. honorspren) to grant control of two Surges.
One last question for you on spren:
Syl landed on the side of the pool, looking like a woman standing on an ocean’s shore. Kaladin frowned, leaning down to inspect her more closely. She seemed . . . different. Had her face changed shape?”
What’s with that? A fleeting change so subtle he wasn’t sure if he’d imagined it, which says to me he obviously hadn’t imagined it, and it’s significant somehow. Thoughts? Speculation?
Heraldic Symbolism: Nalan: Just / Confident. Judge. Why is he here? I’ve got nothing tonight… You? (Heh. Maybe it’s that “opaque gas, smoke, fog” thing rising from the rotting mess in the chasm.)
Finally, can I get a big cheer for the team at Tor.com, who manage to get these posts up on time even when I submit them at past midnight PDT? They still have stuff to do after I upload it—and they keep managing to do it in spite of my crazy timing. (The summer of the flu and the walking pneumonia… This stuff is killing my concentration!)
Alice Arneson is a long-time Tor.com commenter and Sanderson beta-reader. She has been a fantasy lover since the age of eight, when her third-grade teacher loaned her his copy of The Hobbit. (Thanks, Mr. Hamilton!) She’s also a full-time wife & mom with degrees in engineering, literature, and chemistry. Nice combination, eh?