Welcome back to the Way of Kings reread on Tor.com! Last week we covered the interludes between Parts One and Two, and this week we’ll be diving into Part Two: The Illuminating Storms, which introduces Dalinar and Adolin as viewpoint characters, and continues Kaladin’s storyline. It draws the focus back from the small-scale, deeply personal conflict that Kaladin was experiencing in order to focus on Alethi affairs of state and the policies by which the war against the Parshendi is being waged. It also introduces Wit, which issues in not only a host of Brandon Sanderson Cosmere connections, but also a number of jokes ranging from excellent to terrible. Let’s dive right in.
Chapter 12: Unity
Setting: The Shattered Plains
Points of View: Adolin and Dalinar
What Happens: Elhokar Kholin leads a hunt for a chasmfiend into the Shattered Plains. Accompanying him are Highprince Sadeas, Highprince Vamah, and Highprince Dalinar, as well as Dalinar’s sons Adolin and Renarin and a number of his soldiers. Elhokar, Dalinar, Sadeas and Adolin are all dressed in Shardplate, magical armor that offers great protection and also massively enhances the wearer’s strength, speed and dexterity. Most Shardbearers paint and decorate their plate; of those in the procession, only Dalinar keeps his plate unpainted. On him the Shardplate doesn’t look like a costume, it looks like a tool, and he looks like a soldier.
Adolin watches his father, knowing that he’s thinking about the visions that have plagued him during highstorms. He discusses his father’s recent episode with his brother Renarin. The brothers have to face the fact that their father may be going mad. To make matters worse, other Highprinces have begun to mock Dalinar, saying that he never hunts gemhearts or goes into battle unless he is ordered to by the king. Sadeas, in response to praise from his king, complains that the competition for gemhearts has grown unexciting, “as some people don’t seem interested in participating. I guess even the best weapons eventually grow dull.”
Adolin grows angry, and considers challenging Sadeas to a duel, when Renarin warns him off. Adolin had begun subconsciously summoning his Shardblade. Renarin distracts him with talk of the hunts, which bore Adolin, and by discussing Adolin’s recent romantic misadventures. Not really wanting to talk about how he’s screwed up his courtships, Adolin pulls up next to his father.
The words from his visions, “Unite them,” whisper in Dalinar’s mind as he rides alongside the king. Elhokar is growing anxious, wanting to reach the hunting ground, but Dalinar says they’re still a few plateaus away. He mentions that if they had a vantage point they might be able to see the pavilion, which gives Elhokar the bright idea of racing his uncle to the top of a nearby rock formation. He spurs his stallion to a gallop, leaving Dalinar behind.
With a curse, Dalinar takes chase, leaving Adolin in command. Despite how ill-thought-out this competition is, Dalinar can’t deny how good it feels to charge freely after his nephew, the wind in his face. He decides to give the king the best race he can. Gallant, his Ryshadium stallion, is more than a match for the king’s horse, and he quickly outpaces Elhokar. Reaching the base of the rock formation, Dalinar throws himself from his saddle and begins to climb. Elhokar quickly follows, and the two race to the top.
As he climbs, the Thrill of contest rises within Dalinar, and he savors it as a worthy substitute to the Thrill of battle. Dalinar’s lead drives Elhokar to climb foolishly and to push himself into ill-thought-out maneuvers, but Dalinar maintains his narrow lead. He is very nearly at the top when the words enter his mind again: “Unite them.” He hesitates, and Elhokar pulls himself up to the top of the spire.
Uncle and nephew gladly catch their breath on the top of the rock formation, gloryspren rising around the king as he savors his victory. Dalinar observes his nephew, almost too handsome, so similar in appearance to his father Gavilar. They observe the Shattered Plains below them, and Dalinar feels as if he’s taken in this vantage point before, but the feeling quickly passes. Elhokar points to their destination in the distance, and they observe the cloth pavilion a few plateaus away.
Dalinar and Elhokar share a brief, pleasant exchange about the thrill of the race, but when Dalinar mentions how it reminds him of Gavilar, Elhokar’s mood sours. Dalinar mentions how it must have seemed foolish for them to run out ahead in a war zone, and Elhokar brushes away his concerns, as the Parshendi haven’t sent sorties this far in years. Dalinar counters that he seemed worried about his own safety two nights ago, but Elhokar responds with annoyance that he has no reason to fear enemy warriors that he can fight with blade in hand, and every reason to fear assassination. Dalinar can’t reply to this, but he confirms that his investigations did not reveal any traces of trespassers on Elhokar’s balcony or any other signs of watchers in the night. Elhokar remains dissatisfied.
A silence grows between them, and Dalinar realizes the source of the faint familiarity. He did stand on a rock formation like this, but it was during one of his visions:
You must unite them, the strange, booming words had told him. You must prepare. Build of your people a fortress of strength and peace, a wall to resist the winds. Cease squabbling and unite. The Everstorm comes.
Dalinar tries to broach this subject with Elhokar, but can’t think of a way to make it seem anything but foolishness. He suggests they return to the others.
Adolin waits for scout reports and considers how to handle his love life. He is trying to determine how to frame his falling out with Rilla, his previous object of affection, to Janala, his current pursuit, when one of his scouts interrupts him. All is prepared, and there have been no sightings of the Parshendi. Adolin orders more scouting, then watches Elhokar leap from the rock formation, Dalinar climbing down and then leaping as well, but from a safer altitude.
Adolin can’t help but think that his father has been choosing the safer route more often recently. He watches the lighteyes from Sadeas’ and Vamah’s party, sheltering in palanquins and wearing loose, informal clothing, and wishes that the Alethi War Codes didn’t command that he remain in uniform on a hunt. No one but Dalinar Kholin, and, as a result, his sons, had followed those Codes in centuries.
Adolin passes a couple of sycophants mocking his father, and again begrudges the Codes, which prevent him from challenging a man to a duel while he’s on duty or in command. He can’t duel everyone who speaks against his father, and, more problematically, he can’t entirely deny the truth in what they say. Because Elhokar acts like a highprince of the Kholin princedom, Dalinar can’t act as a ruler in his own right, and instead bends to Elhokar’s wishes and dedicates himself to protecting his nephew.
Adolin decides to give the king a report, and joins Sadeas, staring at him defiantly. Elhokar seems bored by the scout reports, and Adolin also thinks how strange it is that Elhokar fears assassins so deeply but doesn’t take scouting seriously. Elhokar suggests riding ahead of the vanguard, but Dalinar complains that that would make him bringing his troops along pointless. Elhokar agrees to wait for the army to cross.
After this, Adolin joins his father, who stands staring towards the Origin, where highstorms begin, Renarin beside him. Adolin says that perhaps they should finish the tedious hunt quickly. Dalinar tells him how much he used to look forward to greatshell hunts, and they suss out the details of the hunt, which Adolin finds boring and Dalinar considers to be part of a grand tradition. Renarin brings Adolin’s love life into it, which Dalinar proves to be politely bemused and befuddled by.
To change the subject, Adolin points out how strange it is that the king insisted on joining this hunt, considering how paranoid he is. Dalinar explains the king’s motivations as best he can:
“He worries that his subjects see him as a coward because of how much he fears assassins, and so he finds ways to prove his courage. Foolish ways, sometimes—but he’s not the first man I’ve known who will face battle without fear, yet cower in terror about knives in the shadows.”
Adolin realizes that his father is right, and that his wisdom is deep and true. Then Dalinar says that his nephew is a good man, and could be a strong king, if Dalinar could only figure out how to persuade him to leave the Shattered Plains. Adolin is shocked as Dalinar explains how he wants to heed his visions, but doesn’t believe he can unite Alethkar here. Adolin can’t believe what he’s hearing, and tries to push him back, suggesting that instead of asking for a retreat, Dalinar push for an attack, to make a decisive victory instead of a prolonged siege. Dalinar ends the discussion.
As Adolin goes to continue his scouting, he longs to see his father as the warrior he used to be, thinking that so many things had changed with the death of King Gavilar. Not only had Dalinar grown more serious, more cautious, and more committed to the Codes, his relationship with Sadeas had also degraded.
His work completed, Adolin rejoins Dalinar and Renarin, and they are accosted by the King’s Wit. A tall, thin man with dark black hair and a coat to match, Wit is a weapon of the king, tasked with insulting those that the king can’t afford to personally offend. He makes light of Adolin’s womanizing, forcing him to admit his recent misadventures. Wit laughs, then moves on to Renarin, who has decided that anything he says will lead to mockery. Wit begins weaving a bawdy tale about Renarin seducing two of a trio of sisters, forcing a flustered reply from the young man. This does not please Dalinar, who suggests that Wit reserve his mockery for those who deserve it. Wit says that’s what he was doing:
“Those who ‘deserve’ my mockery are those who can benefit from it, Brightlord Dalinar. That one is less fragile than you think him.”
Wit leaves, and the Kholin men join the king, to be briefed by the day’s huntmaster, Bashin. To bait the chasmfiend, Bashin has been pouring hog’s blood into the chasm and having chulls drag carcasses over the edge. He anticipates it will take two or three hours for the chasmfiend to take the bait. Bashin suggests that, once the beast arrives, they weaken it with arrows, and go for the legs to bring the chasmfiend down. At that moment, he notices a chull bleating in distress. It pulls away from the chasm, and Dalinar realizes that there ought to be bait at the end of its rope.
Something dark—something mind-numbingly enormous—rose out of the chasm on thick, chitinous legs. It climbed onto the plateau—not the small plateau where the hunt was supposed to take place, but the viewing plateau where Dalinar and Adolin stood. The plateau filled with attendants, unarmed guests, female scribes, and unprepared soldiers.
Quote of the Chapter:
“Your Majesty,” Dalinar found himself saying. “I…” He trailed off as quickly as he began. What could he say? That he’d been seeing visions? That—in defiance of all doctrine and common sense—he thought those visions might be from the Almighty? That he thought they should withdraw from the battlefield and go back to Alethkar?
Dalinar is in an even more difficult position here than it seems. Not only does he have to fear that he’s going crazy due to his intense dreams, he agrees with the sentiments those dreams express. He has the clarity of vision to realize that the highprinces aren’t united, and that this war of vengeance is, if anything, driving them further apart. But not only does he risk seeming crazy if he reveals his visions, he also risks being denounced as a heretic. Attempting to tell the future is deeply stigmatized in modern Vorin culture. It is evil and heretical. There’s really very little he can do.
By the standards of The Way of Kings, this chapter is immense. Preceded as it is by the three brief interludes, and twice as long as Chapter 13, Chapter 12 sprawls, like a behemoth. The chapter has a lot of work to do: at the beginning of Part Two we’re introduced to Dalinar, Adolin, Renarin, Elhokar, Sadeas, Wit, and the ongoing state of Alethi politics. That’s so much to cover that I’m going to have to do it systematically, topic-by-topic.
Before we get into that, though, I should say that Michael and I have been thinking about it, and have decided that the best way to cover the letter-fragments that make up the epigraphs to Part Two is to put them all together and cover them as a whole once this part is over. As such, we won’t be discussing them week by week.
Let’s start with Dalinar, for the simple reason that I really missed Dalinar. In my opinion he forms the principled core of the novel. He’s not more honorable than Kaladin is, but he is in a position where he is constantly tested, tempted to take the less honorable but politically expeditious route, and his choice not to has meaningful political consequences. His viewpoint takes up a surprisingly small percentage of this chapter, but his most salient qualities are immediately apparent. Dalinar is a rigid, principled, and stalwart man, a thorough thinker who takes a long time to come to a decision, perhaps because when he does take action he commits himself totally. Dalinar has changed a tremendous amount since his brother’s assassination, under pressures both internal and external. His guilt has driven him to accept the Codes, which he holds to despite how outmoded and archaic they seem to his contemporaries, while his visions drive him to political action, while forcing him to question himself at every turn. Dalinar is a huge bundle of mysteries, and I look forward to tackling them in depth.
At this early point in his arc, we mostly see Dalinar through the cipher of his son, Adolin, whose points of view are interspersed with his own. I like Adolin, and think he has the potential to be a great person, but in this chapter he comes off as shallow and vulnerable to the pressures of his society. He idolizes his father, and for good reason, and does his best to uphold his father’s vision of right conduct. That being said, the man he really wants to know is not the Dalinar who is now present, but the Blackthorne, the famous warrior that all Dalinar’s contemporaries remember, scourge of many battlefields. This preference is, I believe, a warning from Sanderson to his readership. Dalinar is not going to be that kind of hero. Adolin is also the kind of person who can’t emotionally commit to a woman and makes up for this by serial womanization. That, and his Calling is dueling. I find this to be the silliest thing possible. Who decides that dueling is their purpose in life during wartime?
One thing that I realized only after rereading, and which I’d like to talk more about when it becomes relevant to the chapters at hand, is that while Dalinar can’t remember his wife, Adolin never bothers to think about his mother. I wonder what that says about him?
Adolin’s younger brother Renarin is a fascinating figure in the text. He has a “blood weakness” which prevents him from undergoing martial training. Off-hand I can’t recall whether this is supposed to be hemophilia or some kind of nervous condition, but either way it puts a terrible social disadvantage on him. Renarin cannot prove his worth in battle, cannot participate in the masculine arts at all. He seems to be a sensitive, introverted, and thoughtful man, one who could be capable of great scholarship if that was permitted to men outside the Ardentia. It’s possible he will end up an Ardent, but I somehow doubt that. I would look to him as one of the testing points of Alethi’s gendered norms, going forward. In the meantime he will continue to fuel Dalinar’s overprotective qualities, which will in turn keep him introverted and repressed.
In that way, Renarin is a mirror to Elhokar, another target of Dalinar’s over-bearing ways. Elhokar is the son of a conqueror, and as such is in one of the historically weakest possible positions of rule. Empires united through conquest either last for a very long time or fall to pieces over the course of the first successor to the conquering king. Dalinar is sworn to maintain his brother’s empire, but as such never really thinks of it as belonging to his nephew. Elhokar’s nature doesn’t help. He is understandably paranoid, which makes him seem weak. He is also very prone to suggestion when it comes to prolonging the Vengeance Pact, making him manipulable by Sadeas. There is another aspect to Elhokar’s paranoid fear of assassination beyond the death of his father, but that is not revealed until much later. For now it’s best to focus on Elhokar’s overwhelming but misguided attempts to prove himself, which are neatly laid out by Dalinar.
Dalinar’s fellow highprinces seem to have figured out how to handle Elhokar much better than he has, and none is more expert at this than Sadeas, the one time friend of Dalinar. Sadeas is framed here as a soft, preening man, an ugly man, one who surrounds himself and the king with sycophants and snivelers, who delights in pointless games and who can be trusted only to take care of himself. This is Adolin’s opinion, which he holds strongly, and it’s notable that Dalinar’s viewpoint never really touches on Sadeas in this chapter. Adolin’s impression of Sadeas is only partially correct. Sadeas does like playing politics, does enjoy the games of court, but there are other layers to him, layers of competence and purpose that tie him to Dalinar’s own purposes. Trying to dig through the layers of his identity is one of the most important narrative games of The Way of Kings. We, of course, also know Sadeas as the one who makes Kaladin run bridges, the one who runs an untidy warcamp. We have plenty of reasons not to trust him.
Then there is Wit. On my first read I wondered who Wit was initially, but was still surprised as his true identity began to be played out. I think that his silly insults act as a partial smokescreen to his larger significance.
Let’s discuss the state of Alethi politics. Elhokar has relocated the center of power from Kholinar to the Shattered Plains, and in doing so has put his entire country on a war footing. This could be a good idea, a strong way to unify the highprinces to a common purpose, but it has backfired. The “war” is really just another competition, driving the highprinces apart and perpetuating their tendencies towards rivalry rather than cooperation. Not only do the Shattered Plains prevent them from launching a unified assault, it drives them to hope for their fellows to fail while they succeed.
But is Dalinar’s solution to retreat the correct one? Adolin suggests that he push for a bolder attack instead, and that makes some sense, as well as playing into Dalinar’s legendary reputation, but can it work? If Dalinar had succeeded in convincing Elhokar to pull out of the Shattered Plains, would he have been able to hold the highprinces together? What would have united them? There is no integration of armies at all, and only a couple of centralizing powers held by the king. This is mostly irrelevant, as Dalinar’s opinions are so massively unpopular, and he is so bad at playing politics, that his subtle maneuverings could never gain traction. He needs to strongarm his message into action, which is exactly what he seems poised to do by the end of The Way of Kings.
Next week, we resolve the massive cliffhanger of the looming chasmfiend. Heh heh heh.