Welcome back to the Tor.com reread for The Way of Kings. Last week we stepped further into Dalinar’s shadow with a healthy dose of Alethi politics. This week a flashback chapter reveals the origin of Kaladin’s predilection for the quarterstaff and the start of all his troubles with those with lighteyes. And in our second chapter this week, Kaladin gains a bit of respect from some Bridge Four men after a very long day. This is the rise of the Kaladin we’ve been waiting for. It won’t be an easy journey for him from here on out, but it will be much more fulfilling and dare I say inspiring.
Chapter 16: Cocoons
Setting: Hearthstone, approximately 7 1/2 years before current events
Point of View: Kaladin
What Happens: Kaladin is out and about in Hearthstone with Laral. He tells her that his father intends to send him to become a surgeon in Kharbranth. Laral is surprised, as she assumed he was going to become a soldier so he could win a Shardplate or blade and thus become a lighteyes. Tien appears, and the group decides to go lurg hunting. Kaladin and Laral continue to talk:
“It sounds like your father is forcing you to do what he wants, not what you want,” Laral said.
“That’s the way everyone does it,” Kal said, scratching his head. “The other boys don’t mind becoming farmers because their fathers were farmers, and Ral just became the new town carpenter. He didn’t mind that it was what his father did. Why should I mind being a surgeon?”
Tien and Kaladin track down a lurg cocoon and dissolve it in water, forcing the creature out of hibernation. The lurg searches about for insects before spinning a new cocoon, but is teased out again by Tien. Kaladin tells Tien to stop bothering the creature; he catches it on a rock, gives it to Tien to play with later, and then sends Tien in search of another lurg.
Laral goes down the hill to where a group of boys have gathered. Kaladin follows and listens to Jost’s tale of how his father won a Shardblade during battle but was cheated out of it by another soldier. Kaladin unitentionally insults Jost and they have a staff fight over the validity of the story. At first Jost is handily dominating the fight, but Kaladin gets in three powerful blows. Jost is shocked but gets his wits back quickly enough to defeat Kaladin. Kaladin felt a thrill in handling the staff and even in his defeated state he pleads with Jost to teach him how to wield the quarterstaff. Jost rebuffs him saying:
“Can’t. Your fah would kill me. Get those surgeon hands of yours all covered with calluses? Wouldn’t be right.” He turned away. “You go be what you are, Kal. I’ll be what I am.”
Deflated, Kaladin returns home with Tien and learns that Brightlord Wistiow, the patriarch of Hearthstone’s only lighteyes family, is dead; Lirin, Kaladin’s father, couldn’t save him. Lirin tells Kaladin that Wistiow’s last wish was for him to go to Kharbranth to become a surgeon, and that Wistiow left a number of spheres to finance Kal’s education. Kaladin is dismayed that he no longer has a choice, but seems resigned to his fate. He realizes he cares nothing for “Glory [and] honor” of a soldier, yet “that one moment holding the quarterstaff sang to him. A single moment of clarity in an otherwise confusing world.”
Quote of the Chapter:
The hillside here had broken during a highstorm several months back. Shattered, as if it had been hit by the fist of some enormous creature.
Does that description sound familiar to anyone else? Perhaps the Shattered Plains that was broken by a god? I have to think Sanderson chose these words very deliberately to connect highstorms with the destruction found at the Shattered Plains.
The chapter title of course refers to more than just the lurg coming out of its cocoon; the young Kaladin also peeks out from his self-made cocoon when he goes toe-to-toe with Jost.
Nearly all of what happens to Kaladin in his life had its origins in this flashback. First Kaladin gets a brief taste of the Thrill that the Alethi warriors are so well known for as he faced off against Jost with the quarterstaff, but he also mentions a surge of energy. This is also the moment where Laral loses interest in Kaladin, apparently because she wishes to marry a true lighteyes rather than some smart darkeyes boy in the second nahn, although the death of her father may also play some role. Kal seemed to dodge a bullet with that one on his arranged marriage, but it certainly would have been an easier existence for him, if a bit more boring, had he ended up with Laral.
Then there is Syl; the two share a deep connection, but he is often at a loss for how to speak with her. It makes me wonder what he’ll do when he meets a woman who is eligible to him. Shallan, anyone? I know plenty out there think Shallan belongs with one of Dalinar’s son, but Kaladin needs someone to love, too, and as of The Way of Kings that’s not necessarily Syl even though I’m sure their bond will grow deeper. I also think the duality of this world will have to play out more for Kaladin as I don’t think Syl is enough. A weird, but oddly fitting couple could be Jasnah and Kaladin. I could definitely see Jasnah being fascinated by Kaladin and his abilities when they finally meet, which could spark something more. Jasnah seems to have little care about status, but instead values honor and respect, which Kal has in spades.
The last few of pages of the chapter really set Kaladin up for a sad life. Kaladin’s surgeon father, Lirin, is unable to save the most important man in Hearthstone. Many in the town were already wary of Kaladin’s father, but this was the moment where he truly lost them. Not only that, but the lies begin here about the spheres that were supposedly left for Kaladin’s education and will eventually lead to nothing but heartache for the family.
Quite a few places get mentioned including the infamous Origin of Storms, but it was Rall Elorim referred to as the City of Shadows and Kurth called the City of Lightning that really caught my interest. These are places in the far north and west of Roshar, but other than these names we learn nothing at all. With names like that, however, I can’t help but think Sanderson is going to have to show them off at some point.
The Origin of Storms is one of those things that fascinated me from the first time I heard the name, but there are precious few details. Now we see that the Origin is far out to sea and that no one has ever sailed to it and returned alive to tell the tale. We could see a sailing trip there one day (maybe with Yalb, one can dream), or maybe the Origin will somehow come to the Rosharans in a more massive way than the Highstorms. One thought that came to mind is what if the Origin isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If anything the Highstorms spread Stormlight around the world which enables Soulcasting and empowers Shardplate. These storms have also changed the world making the people tougher and the creatures evolve to be tougher themselves. Could this be Cultivation at work winnowing off the parts that won’t be able to faceoff against the Voidbringers?
One interesting new aspect of the Highstorms is the crem, a kind of sediment left behind in the waters. But what the heck is crem exactly and wouldn’t you like to see a chemical analysis of some sort? Is it the remains of a shattered god or something more blasé like soil that’s been so charged/changed by Stormlight in the Highstorms it has become dangerous? Or is just some nasty sediment that isn’t anything special? It seems like some creatures would also digest some crem when they drink the water as they often do this right after a Highstorm and don’t wait for it to settle to the bottom.
Next we see Kaladin become a true leader by example.
Chapter 17: A Bloody, Red Sunset
Setting: The Shattered Plains
Point of View: Kaladin
What Happens: Kaladin and Syl head to an apothecary so Kaladin can purchase antiseptic and bandages for his fellow bridgemen. After some haggling, he pulls out his four marks only to learn that three of them have lost their glow. Worried that Kaladin is trying to pass off fake spheres, the apothecary examines them closely and discovers they’ve merely lost their infusion of Stormlight. Kaladin asks to keep the one glowing sphere.
Kaladin arrives back in the camp and moments later a horn sounds, signaling a bridge run. Kaladin and his fellow bridgemen line up, though many are unprepared. Kaladin notes that there is a standard rotation that all the bridgemen follow: those in front have prime position for the first part of the journey as they can see where they are going, but as they reach their intended plateau they move to the rear to escape the brutal onslaught from Parshendi arrows, sending the newest members to the front. Those in the back are still in jeopardy, but less so than those within easy sight of the Parshendi.
The crew begins their run from plateau to plateau, going over the permanent bridges near the Alethi war camps, but they soon run out and land their bridge between plateaus to let the army pass. Unlike most bridgemen, Kaladin stands to the side while the rest of the crew falls down. He tries to jest with some of the soldiers, but receives little in response. Near the end of the procession, Highprince Sadeas passes by as Kaladin seethes with anger over all the lives Sadeas has thrown away with the bridgemen.
After passing over many plateaus, Bridge Four finally arrives at the plateau across from the one they’ve been working towards, but the Parshendi have already arrived and are preparing to face the arriving Alethi army.
Instead of taking his position at the rear of the bridge, Kaladin takes Rock’s spot in the middle of the five spots in front—known as the deathline. As the Parshendi loose their first volley, Kaladin shouts out Tien’s name and feels “a surge of sudden strength, unanticipated and unexplained.” The first volley takes down the other four men in the deathline, but Kaladin survives, allowing Bridge Four enough time to reach the chasm and land their bridge along with the 14 other remaining bridges. Kaladin is grazed by an arrow as he runs around to push the bridge into final position with the rest of the team. Immediately after the bridge is in place, the cavalry charges across to engage the Parshendi.
Kaladin’s wound is not serious, but he collapses while trying to drag one of the injured bridgmen to safety. Rock comes to his aid and Kaladin tries to go back out on the field to search for the rest of his men; Rock stops him and goes to look for the men along with Teft. Kaladin treats the injured and sets the other bridgemen to various tasks. Gadol, one of the injured, dies saying:
“They break the land itself!” he hissed, eyes wild. “They want it, but in their rage they will destroy it. Like the jealous man burns his rich things rather than let them be taken by his enemies! They come!”
Rock returns carrying another severely injured bridgeman and Kaladin sets to work bandaging and cauterizing his wounds. Traditionally, bridgmen who are too injured to move back to camp are left behind, but Kaladin proposes tying his injured men to the bridge, thus carrying them along. The bridgemen say that Gaz won’t allow it, so Kaladin seeks him out tell him his plan. Gaz makes it clear that he is under strict orders from his superior Brightlord Lamaril. Kaladin threatens Gaz, and then attempts to bribe him with his last sphere, but Gaz comments that it isn’t a enough for the risk:
“And a dun sphere at that.”
Kaladin frowned. He was sure it had still glowed before the bridge run. “That’s your fault. You gave it to me.”
“Those spheres were newly infused last night,” Gaz said. “They came straight from Brightlord Sadeas’s treasurer. What did you do with them?”
Kaladin leaves Gaz standing there as he walks back to his crew. Syl worries that Gaz will send men after Kaladin for threatening him. Kaladin, however, believes that if there was one thing he could count on in regards to men, “it’s their greed.”
Quote of the Chapter:
“People are discord,” Syl said.
“What does that mean?”
“You all act differently and think differently. Nothing else is like that—animals act alike, and all spren are, in a sense, virtually the same individual. There’s harmony in that. But not in you—it seems that no two of you can agree on anything. All the world does as it is supposed to, except for humans. Maybe that’s why you so often want to kill each other.”
“But not all windspren act alike,” Kaladin said... “You’re proof of that.”
“I know,” she said softly. “Maybe now you can see why it bothers me so.”
All spren are virtually the same individual according to Syl. Could spren be the remains of a shattered god? The idea is tantalizing—especially with Syl being a honorspren—and the story alludes to the god representing Honor being broken in the war with Odium/the Voidbringers. The other types of spren could perhaps be Honor’s other facets.
So between this and the last chapter, my theory is that the spren are what’s left of Honor and the Origin of Storms is a very angry Cultivation. I’m more than willing to say I could be wrong about spren, but the more I think about the Origin the more the theory seems to fit. That leaves us with Odium, who doesn’t seem to have a physical representation thus far—though one could argue the chasmfiends and Parshendi are his embodiment(s).
This is the first chapter where a death quote appears in the text as something other than an epigraph. Is this phenomenon normal for the people of Roshar? Listening to people dying while babbling on about the coming Apocalypse? Man, that would be a rough world to grow up in. If so, I would have thought Kaladin would have encountered it at some point working with his surgeon father. So it seems likely that these clues have only been coming in for the last few years, maybe since around the time of Gavilar’s assassination or perhaps even more recently.
Syl seems oddly obsessed with age at the start of the chapter and doesn’t seem to be able to let go of how old the apothecary is. I find this curious because age shouldn’t matter to a spren, as they are seemingly immortal.
This was a very rough day for Kaladin. Keep in mind this chapter follows directly after the events of chapter 14, where Kaladin had his lengthy workout and burned through three spheres of Stormlight. But it all seemed worth it. Kaladin starts to get some men he can almost rely on and who will follow his orders.
Kaladin is also starting to think about the spheres he has been siphoning unknowingly. Too bad he doesn’t know the right questions to ask of Syl. I can imagine her telling him everything about how to use Stormlight if he merely brought up to her that spheres seem to go dun around him inexplicably. But Kaladin is so distracted by saving lives and trying to win over Bridge Four, he isn’t left with time to ponder much of anything else.
Next week we’ll be back with Dalinar as he tries to understand what his dreams mean.
Michael Pye (aka The Mad Hatter) runs The Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf & Book Review where he shares his views on genre books. He can also be found nattering on Twitter or in search of the perfect piece of bacon. He is currently working on an anthology project and is hoping to find a good publishing home for it soon.