Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! Last week, Kaladin and Shallan escaped from the chasmfiend by leading it to the corpses where they fell from the bridge, then began the trek back anew, sniping at each other most of the time. This week, we glimpse Teft’s past before we return to a very gloomy Kaladin, an intent Shallan, moments of stunning openness, and the return of the chasmfiend.
This reread will contain spoilers for The Way of Kings, Words of Radiance, and any other Cosmere book that becomes relevant to the discussion. The index for this reread can be found here, and more Stormlight Archive goodies are indexed here.
Click on through to join the discussion!
Chapter 71: Vigil
Point of View: Teft, Kaladin
Setting: Edge of the Warcamp, the Chasms
Symbology: Spears, Ishar, Vedel
IN WHICH Teft, Sigzil, and Renarin sit near the edge of the warcamp, keeping watch for Kaladin; Teft reluctantly but compulsively tells the story of his family, the Envisagers, and his own betrayal of them; Dalinar approaches; though Teft and Sigzil are defensive about what they’re doing, Dalinar merely enjoins them not to skip meals and not to try to wait through the highstorm. While Shallan draws her map, Kaladin chastises himself for getting lost and calls ineffectually for Sylphrena; he ponders his involuntary animosity toward Shallan; Syl’s scream still haunts him; Shallan insists on drawing a picture instead of just sketching a map; when he comments on her accuracy, she admits that she underplayed her memory skills; observation and exploration indicate that the plateaus surrounding them are the mirror image of a group farther north; Kaladin says that the Plains are symmetrical, though he says he saw it in a dream; Shallan recognizes that cymatics may be involved, and realizes that she knows exactly where the Oathgate is; getting this information back to the warcamps becomes even more important than mere survival; she takes the lead, and while Kaladin smiles and jokes with her about their directional skills, he blames himself for failing; they walk as fast as they can, but Shallan has to keep stopping to update her map so they don’t get off track again; now within range of Dalinar’s scouts, Kaladin periodically shouts for help; he also calls for Syl, but there is no response, and he can’t feel the Stormlight in his sphere; as they continue, Kaladin claims that it’s all his fault; Shallan tries to be optimistic, but Kaladin is gloomy; Shallan reveals her bone-deep understanding of brokenness and crushing guilt; Kaladin finally comprehends that he’s not alone, and though drained, he feels better; Shallan starts a “think-positive” verbal fencing match, but Kaladin isn’t very good at it; they stop again to update the map and shout for the scouts, but this time the answer is the sound of the approaching chasmfiend; they squeeze into a crack where the chasmfiend can’t reach them, but it settles down to wait them out; Shallan is fascinated by its apparent intelligence, but the approaching highstorms means they can’t afford to wait it out; Kaladin prepares to rush out and “distract” it while Shallan escapes the other way; Kaladin acknowledges that Adolin is a good person, and asks her to apologize for him; Shallan asks him to “at least take this”—and summons her Shardblade.
Quote of the Week
“You still think I’m too optimistic, don’t you?” Shallan said.
“It’s not your fault,” Kaladin said. “I’d rather be like you. I’d rather not have lived the life I have. I would that the world was only full of people like you, Shallan Davar.”
“People who don’t understand pain.”
“Oh, all people understand pain,” Kaladin said. “That’s not what I’m talking about. It’s…”
“The sorrow,” Shallan said softly, “of watching a life crumble? Of struggling to grab it and hold on, but feeling hope become stringy sinew and blood beneath your fingers as everything collapses?”
“The sensation— it’s not sorrow, but something deeper— of being broken. Of being crushed so often, and so hatefully, that emotion becomes something you can only wish for. If only you could cry, because then you’d feel something. Instead, you feel nothing. Just . . . haze and smoke inside. Like you’re already dead.”
He stopped in the chasm.
She turned and looked to him. “The crushing guilt,” she said, “of being powerless. Of wishing they’d hurt you instead of those around you. Of screaming and scrambling and hating as those you love are ruined, popped like a boil. And you have to watch their joy seeping away while you can’t do anything. They break the ones you love, and not you. And you plead. Can’t you just beat me instead?”
“Yes,” he whispered.
Shallan nodded, holding his eyes. “Yes. It would be nice if nobody in the world knew of those things, Kaladin Stormblessed. I agree. With everything I have.”
He saw it in her eyes. The anguish, the frustration. The terrible nothing that clawed inside and sought to smother her. She knew. It was there, inside. She had been broken.
Then she smiled. Oh, storms. She smiled anyway.
It was the single most beautiful thing he’d seen in his entire life.
This scene does it to me every time. I’m sitting here with tears running down my face. Again. You’re not alone, Kaladin. You’re not alone.
Storms, this was a long chapter! One of my favorites, but it’s long—and it’s packed full of Stuff We Must Discuss, too! Once again, I’ll have to assign some of the discussion point to the commenters, or this will be a novella in itself. Please—there’s a lot I didn’t even touch, so please bring it up in the comments.
For starters, Teft. He’s out there watching for Kaladin, to the exclusion of pretty much everything else. I can’t help wondering if he’d come completely unglued if Kaladin had died; he seems to have pinned sanity and all on Kaladin’s powers. Then again, given his story of the Envisagers, it makes sense, though it’s hard to say whether knowledge of Radiants returning would make him feel better or worse about having betrayed the Envisagers to the citylord way back when.
I have to wonder if there was a connection between the Envisagers and any of the current secret groups trying to bring back the Heralds/Radiants. They had rather an odd way of going about it—put your life in real mortal danger, in the hopes that you would display superpowers at the last second?—but I can’t think it’s any weirder or stupider than trying to bring back the Voidbringers as a way of forcing the Heralds to intervene.
Back to Kaladin and Shallan, then: Kaladin spends the first chunk of the chapter kicking himself around for failing in all manner of things over which he had no control, in an ironic contrast to the previous chapter where he blamed Shallan for things that were mostly results of his own choices and nothing to do with her. *sigh* Kaladin, dear, I love you very much, but sometimes you can be amazingly contrary.
Moving on, this bit was very interesting, and also raises questions:
…He shouldn’t let her provoke him so. He could hold in the retorts against other, far more annoying lighteyes. Why did he lose control when talking with her?
Should have learned my lesson, he thought as she sketched, her expression growing intense. She’s won every argument so far, hands down.
He leaned against a section of the chasm wall, spear in the crook of his arm, light shining from the spheres tied tightly at its head. He had made invalid assumptions about her, as she had so poignantly noted. Again and again. It was like a part of him frantically wanted to dislike her.
So is that part of an instinctive Windrunner-vs.-Lightweaver attitude reflecting the antagonism of their spren, or is it a psychological reaction to… Adolin’s fiancé? A lighteyed woman? A pretty woman? Or is it something else?
Meanwhile, Shallan is so focused on her scholarship that she’s completely oblivious to Kaladin’s angst-ridden pacing. It’s almost comical; he finally ceases active hostility, and she doesn’t even notice that they’re carrying on an actual conversation. She’s busy trying to solve a puzzle, and she automatically draws him into the process like an extra brain.
The moment where she stops teasing him and goes serious, when she lets him really see how much she does understand what he’s gone through… that has to be one of my very favorite scenes ever. As noted, even after all this time, I cannot read that passage without getting teary, and the effect on Kaladin is beautiful. Just knowing that someone else gets it is enough to change his whole demeanor, and it’s the turning point he’s been needing to reach.
And then the chasmfiend shows up, and things get crowded real fast. The mental image of that huge eye watching them from above? Officially uncomfortable.
Kaladin is wonderful here, and I think it’s the earlier conversation that frees him to do what he does next. As he points out, Shallan has (a) the ability to find her way back, and (b) information Dalinar needs. He, on the other hand, has neither of those—but unlike Shallan, he has something resembling a fighting chance to distract and maybe, maybe even escape from the chasmfiend. So he does what he does at his best: he identifies the plan with the best chance of success, and puts it in place without fear of personal consequences. In the process, he takes a huge step forward: he acknowledges that lighteyed people are, oddly enough, people, and that his attitude toward Adolin was based on prejudice against lighteyes.
I’ve been fighting with how to express this concept for… longer than I care to admit, and it’s nearly 2:00 a.m., and I can’t find a way to do it without someone misinterpreting what I want to say about it. So I’ll just say it.
Kaladin has been in a blue funk for a long time, his thinking twisted by a combination of personality, circumstance, and malice, to the point that despite amazing positive experiences, his negative mental state placed unbearable strain on his Nahel bond. He has created superfluous enmities for himself because he needed someone to blame, while at the same time blaming himself for things he could not have changed. And in one lightning moment, facing the realization that he wasn’t the only one who was broken, but also that there were other ways to deal with it—in that moment, I believe, he let go of his obsessive need for a culprit, and his whole world got brighter. (He’s not fully recovered yet, as we’ll see in a few chapters, but he’s heading up instead of down, finally.) Momentarily free of the bitterness that has colored his outlook, he’s able to accept another human being (in this case, Adolin) on his own merits rather than holding him responsible for every real or imagined wrong done by lighteyes. Whether that changes anything outside himself is debatable—but it changes him, and it’s a beautiful thing to behold.
And then Shallan offers him a Shardblade.
This is, of course, the same day as the previous chapter, and there are still nine days left in the countdown.
The spren are mostly notable by their—or rather, her—absence, as Kaladin continues to worry about Syl and still can’t access Stormlight. One fun little note, though, is that when Kaladin overhears Shallan apparently carrying on a conversation, he begins to suspect something.
Still, Syl had seen several strange spren about.
Despite her best intentions, Shallan just can’t keep her skills hidden—and it’s just as well. In order for her to recognize the reflected image, to trigger Kaladin’s memory of the symmetry of the Plains, to connect that symmetry to Kabsal’s lecture on cymatics, to register the location of Stormseat and the Oathgate… the whole sequence depends on her extraordinary memory and Kaladin’s recognition of the accuracy of her drawings.
Incidentally, in case anyone else was wondering: I couldn’t remember whether Kaladin had seen the symmetry during his flight or during his highstorm vision, so I looked it up. Turns out, it’s both—when he was flying and saw the pattern, he remembered seeing it previously, in a dream. Now you know.
Ishar: Pious/Guiding, Priest. I’m going with “guiding” here—as in, Shallan understanding the symmetry of the Plains and the significance of that symmetry, and realizing that it will lead her to the Oathgate they so badly need to find. Vedel: Loving/Healing, Healer. I’m thinking this has to do with the effect of the QOTW conversation on Kaladin—that life suddenly seems brighter, the way Tien used to make it.
Kaladin felt like one of the ten fools. Actually, he felt like all of them. Ten times an idiot. But most specifically Eshu, who spoke of things he did not understand in front of those who did.
Heh. Love this line. I would also love to know more about the rest of the ten fools, but I suppose we’ll get there in time.
There. That ought to keep us busy until next week, when Kaladin has to risk touching a Blade in order to have a fighting chance to rescue them both from the chasmfiend.
Alice Arneson is a long-time Tor.com commenter and Sanderson beta-reader, and she had a great time at the signing last night. If you see a young Mistborn on Brandon’s blog or twitter feed, it just might be her daughter.