Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! Last week, we spent a somber evening in the Davar home for the last of Shallan’s flashbacks. This week, we’ll finally get Kaladin off that cliff he’s been hanging on, as the final highstorm before the Weeping goes surreal on our young protagonists.
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 74: Striding the Storm
Point of View: Kaladin
Setting: In a cubby, In a chasm, Excavated with a Blade…
Symbology: Spears, Vedel, Palah
IN WHICH Kaladin is pulled to safety; the storm pounds the plateaus and the water rises abruptly; bodies float by; strange things are seen in the storm; stories of past traumas are exchanged; the Stormfather comes; a Realization occurs; Kaladin is condemned; spheres are now charged, and silence falls between the two; the storm ends, and sleep descends.
Quote of the Week
“Syl,” Kaladin said, looking back to the face. The plateaus in front of him had vanished. It was just him and the face. He had to ask. It hurt him, but he had to. “What have I done to her?”
YOU HAVE KILLED HER. The voice shook everything. It was as if… as if the shaking of the plateau and his own body made the sounds for the voice.
“No,” Kaladin whispered. “No!”
IT HAPPENED AS IT ONCE DID, the Stormfather said, angry. A human emotion. Kaladin recognized it. MEN CANNOT BE TRUSTED, CHILD OF TANAVAST. YOU HAVE TAKEN HER FROM ME. MY BELOVED ONE.
The face seemed to withdraw, fading.
“Please!” Kaladin screamed. “How can I fix it? What can I do?”
IT CANNOT BE FIXED. SHE IS BROKEN. YOU ARE LIKE THE ONES WHO CAME BEFORE, THE ONES WHO KILLED SO MANY OF THOSE I LOVE. FAREWELL, SON OF HONOR. YOU WILL NOT RIDE MY WINDS AGAIN.
Oh, agony. I think it was this point where I slowly, reluctantly, began to believe that she really might be gone for good—although my response in the beta read was on the order of, “No. I refuse to accept this. Syl is not dead. She can’t be.” The “weeping” Kaladin had heard still gave me hope, but this… this is the Stormfather saying that it’s all over. I think it was also here that I began to wonder if Kaladin was going to die by the end of the book. Without Syl to make him a Radiant, what forward path did he have?
This is another chapter where I’m having to forcibly restrain myself from copying whole pages of text, because there are Important Things to be noted. Such as this:
A crash of thunder, accompanied by a blinding flash of light, sent him stuttering. Shallan pulled more tightly against him, fingers digging into his arm. The light left an afterimage in his eyes.
Storms. He could swear that afterimage was a face, horribly twisted, the mouth pulled open. The next lightning bolt lit the flood just outside with a sequence of crackling light, and it showed water bobbing with corpses. Dozens of them pulled past in the current, dead eyes toward the sky, many just empty sockets. Men and Parshendi.
So, two things. One, What is with that afterimage? That’s creepy. And, as noted, surreal. I can only surmise… and I can’t even make a coherent statement about the potential answers. I just hope we learn someday.
And two: What’s with the bodies? I assume that these are the corpses from the most recent fighting, the day they fell into the chasm. I also assume that the empty eye sockets mean that those people were killed with Shardblades, which means Eshonai had to have been involved. But I thought they weren’t doing that any more, unless there are other Parshendi out there that no one knows about. I’m so confused…
Then there’s this bit:
Light came from above, too steady to be lightning. Something was glowing on the plateau. Something that moved. It was hard to see, since water streamed off the side of the plateau above, falling in a sheet before their refuge. He swore he saw an enormous figure walking up there, a glowing inhuman form, followed by another, alien and sleek. Striding the storm. Leg after leg, until the glow passed.
As Alcatraz would say, “Gak!” What. Are. These.
I can’t quite tell from the description if there are two huge beings with multiple legs, or multiple bipedal forms, or multiple beings with multiple legs. Either way, GAK! I have no informed opinion on what these might be, other than perhaps some of the Unmade. I don’t know if that even makes sense, but it’s the only thing I can think of. The Heralds are normal-sized people, and all the other humanoid species we’ve met on Roshar seem to be roughly the same size. So what are these enormous glowing figures?
The odd thing is that I don’t actually remember wondering about it too hard on previous reads—I would note them, but then forget about them in the avalanche of Things Happening. I even went back to look in the beta discussion—we were all so caught in the Stormfather conversation that we didn’t even mention this. A question to ask Brandon, I guess.
Moving right along: We all know the stories that Kaladin and Shallan tell one another, but this is the first time either of them have told the story to anyone who didn’t live through it with them. (Side note: I love the way they need the conversation when it’s all darkness and lightning, but once Shallan’s sphere is recharged and they have a steady light, the need to talk fades away. It’s very real.)
Kaladin is habitually careful: he doesn’t ever say that he killed the Shardbearer, because that’s gotten him in trouble before; and he doesn’t talk about Syl because he’s used to keeping her a secret, and because it’s a painful subject right now. So he tells Shallan enough to understand most of where he’s been. She reciprocates:
“My father was a violent, angry man,” Shallan said. “A murderer. I loved him. And I strangled him as he lay on the floor, watching me, unable to move. I killed my own father…”
And finally Kaladin understands something that he’s never really grasped before: it could have been So. Much. Worse.
Kaladin had thought his life terrible, but there was one thing he’d had, and perhaps not cherished enough: parents who loved him. Roshone had brought Damnation itself to Hearthstone, but at least Kaladin’s mother and father had always been there to rely upon.
What would he have done, if his father had been like the abusive, hateful man Shallan described? If his mother had died before his own eyes? What would he have done if, instead of living off Tien’s light, he had been required to bring light to the family?
Incidentally, given the wording of that last paragraph, I have to wonder what Shallan actually told him about her mother’s death. Clearly not that she herself had killed her mother in self-defense… so probably one of the various stories her father had given. Anything but the truth, on this subject.
For what it’s worth, I don’t believe that killing her father was ever part of the experience she locked up in the “Never Remember” part of her mind. For one thing, there’s no way to pretend to her three brothers (or the fiancée) that she didn’t do it. For another, she’s quite a bit older now, and has lived with enough horror that this doesn’t send her catatonic. So, while I’m sure she hasn’t talked about it with anyone outside those four people, I don’t think she did the selective amnesia thing with this. She deliberately avoided thinking about it, yes, but it didn’t send her into a blank stare when the thought crossed her mind.
And then Stormfather shows up.
This is the last highstorm before the Weeping begins. The countdown is rapidly winding down; as has been the case for the last month of reread, there are only nine days left! Umm… Yeah.
Creepy spren: “red and violet and reminiscent of lightning.” Are these stormspren? I assume so—or perhaps stormspren and another, related spren. In any case, these just cannot be a good thing, all out and about in the highstorm. And another thing: what’s with the chanting out there in the storm? My first thought was the Parshendi, but why on earth would they come most of the way across the Plains, nearly to the warcamps themselves, to bond their stormspren? Are they out here doing maneuvers? Or is the chanting being done by those other… things?
Also, hello, mighty one. Who’s the biggest spren of all?
“Stormfather,” Kaladin said. Some named him Jezerezeh, Herald. This didn’t fit what Kaladin had heard of any Herald, however. Was the Stormfather a spren, perhaps? A god? It seemed to stretch forever, yet he could see it, make out the face in its infinite expanse.
All Creatures Shelled and Feathered
Okay, that’s one big ugly.
Also, I still need to ask Brandon about these spren, which seem to connect the skyeels, the santhidyn, and the chasmfiends. The more I think about it, the more I think they have some kind of anti-gravitational effect; the only problem is that I’m still used to thinking of spren as being drawn to things, not causing things. Are there some spren that do one, some do the other, and some do both? Or are these “anti-grav spren” more closely related to the bonding spren—i.e., do they grant a limited Surgebinding to these creatures? How much intelligence is actually required for a bond like that?
Kaladin finally puts it together and recognizes that Shallan is a Surgebinder. We’re not told exactly what makes it all click for him, but there have been inexplicable phenomena galore. Most recently, she managed to pull him up to the cubby with a strength that simply doesn’t match her size—and then of course there’s the sphere that suddenly went dark. The storm prevents him from arguing with her when she claims she must have dropped it, but apparently he didn’t forget after all.
It must be an odd feeling. He had thought himself alone, and had become accustomed to crediting his Surgebinding for every odd thing that happened, from things unexpectedly sticking together, to not dying when he fell several hundred feet to what should have been his death. In Chapter 72, he even assumed that the giant-Kaladin-Illusion was something he had somehow done. Then Shallan does something he was used to doing: she gained sudden, impossible strength and a sphere went dun… and it sinks in. None of it was his own doing; she survived the fall on her own, and her skill made it possible for him to kill the chasmfiend.
He even confirms her Radiant status with the Stormfather… but in a wrenching counterpoint, just as he learns he wasn’t alone as a Radiant, he also learns that he’s not a Radiant any longer. Not only did Shallan do all that on her own—he will apparently never do anything like it again.
I’m not quite sure why Vedel and Palah grace this particular chapter… but then, I’m not sure who I think would make any more sense. So Vedel the Healer and Palah the Scholar watch over the exchange of histories and the revelations of pain and heartache. Kaladin and Shallan have to come away from this with a greater understanding of one another, and probably the world at large and their small place in it. (Well, okay, Radiants aren’t exactly a small part of what’s coming, but setting that aspect aside for a moment…) A couple of young people from the backwaters of their respective nations are not normally going to be all that significant on the world stage. Their sorrow, however, is substantial to them personally, and it’s a bit of a stunner to realize that other insignificant people also suffer and mourn. Sometimes a person needs this kind of lesson to realize that he’s just not such a special snowflake after all… and sometimes he needs it to realize that he’s not alone. This situation, I think, may be both—for both of them.
And here’s another couple of arrows for the shipping-war ballistas.
With his hands around her waist, hers around him, it was as close as he’d held a woman since Tarah.
I really, really want to know more about Tarah someday. Then, later, there’s this one.
For now, he wanted to think—though he was still glad for her presence. And aware of it in more ways than one, pushed against him and wearing the wet, increasingly tattered dress.
His conversation with the Stormfather, however, drew his attention away from that sort of thought.
My take on this is that, oh surprise, Kaladin is human. He’s physically aware of this sopping-wet woman wearing, as she phrased it earlier, “half a filthy dress”—though it’s probably slightly cleaner by now, her right sleeve and the bottom part of her are making bandages for Kaladin. Anyway, he could hardly be unaware of her, but at this moment, he has something far more problematic on his mind, and his attention is elsewhere.
I do understand the argument, as well as the wish and/or expectation some people have, that this night of shared danger, backstories, and physical proximity could naturally serve as a starting point for mutual romantic interest. I just… don’t think there’s much argument that it does. Certainly they show signs of awareness later—but they also each have other priorities which, IMO, turn this into a passing attraction. Your mileage, of course, may vary.
There. That ought to keep us busy until next week, when Dalinar’s preparations for the Big Expotition are disrupted by the return of our two wanderers: soggy, dirty, but alive.
Alice Arneson is a long-time Tor.com commenter and Sanderson beta-reader. She is very much looking forward to her first JordanCon, where she will be one of the Sanderson Track panelists. Y’all should come. It’ll be fun.