Welcome back to the Tor.com reread of The Way of Kings after our brief break for the 4th of July! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday. This week we experience one of Dalinar’s visions for the first time, and learn quite a bit about the way things were in ancient Roshar—even if we don’t understand it all just yet. The second chapter is quite short, but focuses on an important event in Kaladin’s young life that sees him face his first failure as a surgeon as he struggles to save the life of a young girl. Kal is a tender soul no matter the age.
Chapter 19: Starfalls
Setting: The Shattered Plains / Dalinar’s vision in ancient Natanatan
Point of View: Dalinar
What Happens: Soon after Dalinar makes it to the barracks of his camp, one of his Highstorm visions incapacitates him. Dalinar awakens and realizes this is yet another vision, now his twelfth. He finds himself not in the barracks but in an unfamiliar barn with a very scared young girl who calls him father. A creature soon breaks in through the wall of the barn. The creature is a mass of black and unlike anything Dalinar has ever seen. Unable to call forth his Shardblade, Dalinar grabs the girl and tries to hide, but the creature sniffs them out. Dalinar distracts monster by tossing a bag of grain at it, and flees the barn with the girl. He discovers they are in a small settlement, and takes shelter with the girl in a nearby house. A woman (Taffa) in the house refers to Dalinar as “Heb,” and is very relieved to see the girl (Seeli) is safe.
The creature crashes through a window of the house, landing on Dalinar and cutting his face. Dalinar calls for light as he pushes the monster off him and reaches for an iron fire poker by the hearth. He immediately takes a pose in the Smokestance style to face off against the creature and for the first time can make out the monster’s appearance: it has six legs and no discernible eyes, and a vicious looking mouth full of sharp teeth. A second creature climbs into the house as Dalinar injures the first; smoke leaks from its wound. Both creatures approach, so Dalinar blocks them with an overturned table and picks up a table leg to use as a secondary weapon. He stabs one creature with the poker, causing it to deflate like a balloon. Dalinar is bitten by the remaining creature, but soon finishes it off.
Dalinar realizes there are more of these creatures approaching the house, so he asks Taffa to lead them towards the river to escape; he feigns confusion from his injuries to cover his ignorance. More of the black creatures set upon them from multiple directions so they take cover behind a large rock formation. Dalinar fights the creatures as best he can, but is soon overwhelmed and finds himself lying on his back. From this position, he sees a star falling. The star lands and is revealed to be a Knight Radiant in brilliant blue armor with glyphs etched all over. The Shardbearer immediately engages the dark creatures, which abandon Dalinar, Taffa, and Seeli in lieu of this new target. Soon, a woman in Shardplate appears next to Dalinar and heals their wounds, regrowing muscle and skin that had been torn out.
The female Shardbearer soon joins her compatriot and fights off the creatures she refers to as “Midnight Essence.” Unable to hold himself back, Dalinar joins their battle. Afterwards, the Knights express surprise at how well Heb (Dalinar) fights; they tell him he should go to the city of Urithiru, where he may find a place within the orders of the Knights Radiant. The male Knight informs Dailnar that the Midnight Essence are a harbingers of a Desolation. Dalinar asks them what year it is and is told that it is the Eighth Epoch, thirty three seven, which Dalinar finds to be an unfamiliar way of describing dates. He then asks where he is, and realizes this is ancient Natanatan—in his time, this is where the Shattered Plains are located. Pressing the female Radiant for more information, he learns that the Knights’ main city is Urithiru, but they live throughout Alethela (the old name for Alethkar) and travel wherever they are needed to protect others. The Knight again mentions that a Desolation is coming and this is according to Harkaylain.
The female Knight then runs off towards a distant scream. Taffa begins speaking, but her voice is that of the man from Dalinar’s other visions. The voice tells Dalinar, “You have to unite them,” which he has heard many times before. He asks for answers that will help him make decisions, specifically whether or not he should trust Sadeas. The voice answers in the affirmative and advises Dalinar, “Act with honor, and honor will aid you.” Dalinar then wakes from his vision and understands that he must bring the highprinces together somehow.
Quote of the Chapter:
“It is our duty and our privilege,” the woman said, “to stay vigilant for the Desolation. One kingdom to study the arts of war so that the others might have peace. We die so that you may live. It has ever been our place.”
Dalinar stood still, sorting through that.
“All who can fight are needed,” the woman said. “And all who have a desire to fight should be compelled to come to Alethela. Fighting, even this fighting against the Ten Death, changes a person. We can teach you so that it will not destroy you. Come to us.”
Dalinar found himself nodding.
“Every pasture needs three things,” the woman said, voice changing, as if she were quoting from memory. “Flocks to grow, herdsmen to tend, and watchers at the rim. We of Alethela are those watchers—the warriors who protect and fight. We maintain the terrible arts of killing, then pass them on to others when the Desolation comes.”
So there in just a few paragraph explains exactly what the Knights Radiant were setup to do. What the Ten Deaths are still isn’t clear. Are the Midnight Essences part of the ten? The language seems ambiguous in that regard, but it seems likely.
Dalinar’s visions were always the sections I paid the most attention to since I was so sure they would explain this world or at least the history of it. I hardly focused on the negative implications of Dalinar’s visions the first go around, and now focusing on the minutia of the whole work I find Dalinar’s sons’ position much more understandable. Witnessing Dalinar in this state had to be shocking and now a large number of people have actually witnessed one of his fits. Sure they are people of his house, but word will spread and it will only weaken his position.
The connection of the Highstorms and Dalinar’s visions seems to support my earlier theory that the Highstorms are the essence of one of the Gods since the visions are clearly supposed to encourage Dalinar to ready the Alethi. Though the “unite them” might refer to something larger than just the Alethi and may encompass most of the human races against the coming Desolation. The description from the female Knight points to just the people of Alethkar as having the knowledge of warring, but she also mentions that the Knights are meant to ready others when a Desolation comes. Surely the Desolation will harm all the lands of Roshar, so not only will the Alethi have to get their act together, but they’ll have to lead the other kingdoms against the Voidbringers. Also, did anyone catch Taffa’s mention of “Three Gods”? Seems like the ancient people of Roshar knew about the three gods, but that knowledge is now lost. So I wonder if this vision takes place before or after the death of one of the Gods. Calling it Eighth Epoch doesn’t help without some more context or a timeline of some sort. But this vision takes place in an ancient time when Natanatan most likely didn’t contain the Shattered Plains, so it stands to reason this is before one of the gods was killed.
So just how real are Dalinar’s visions? Is he really there juxtaposed in someone’s body from the past, or is it merely a story playing in his mind? He clearly interacts with the vision, so like a time traveler he changes the history somewhat. Heb was surely no warrior like Dalinar and wouldn’t have been able to defend his family as well. The young girl and his wife most likely would have died in the attack from the Midnight Essence, but Dalinar changed that in the vision, at least.
Overall, this was the window into the Knights Radiant we needed at this point. The talk up until this point was about them being a force of good, but that their later actions turned the memory of them sour after they “abandoned the people.” This vision clearly shows them as a group made out to do good through physical intervention and selfless. By the end, the female Radiant makes it clear they need more followers for the upcoming Desolation.
I found it interesting that the Midnight Essences aren’t actually the Voidbringers, though according to the rescuing Radiants they could be one of the Ten Deaths. The Midnight Essence is so different than everything else. In this world nearly everything has developed a hard outer shell while these creatures are basically thick balloons filled with smoke. I wonder if they are created by an order of the Voidbringers. Like the Stonewardens able to make creatures of stone, could there be a version that can create monsters from shadows or smoke? Also, who released them? No clear answers here, and there are no references to these creatures in the rest of The Way of Kings.
Now the Knights Radiant bring up some questions outside of what they have to say. Namely, the fact that having the blades and plate doesn’t seem to effect them the same as they do in Dalinar’s time. First it glows which is easiest to explain since they are channeling Stormlight—which modern wearers don’t do—and also they seem to be able to make their helmets appear and disappear at will, which is handy trick. The biggest thing brought up, though, is the fact that there were female Radiants. This again shows the duality of the Alethi, as she and her partner are clearly a pair. But besides the fact that the Radiants later disbanded, this does nothing to explain why now women are not seen as warriors in society. Even though the female Knight has healing skills, she is still valued as a warrior.
And the male speaker at the end almost is no help at all? Talk about frustrating. It seems likely that the speaker is the fallen God that is hinted about so much.
Chapter 20: Scarlet
Setting: Hearthstone, 7 years ago
Point of View: Kaladin
What Happens: Only two months since hearthstone lost Brightlord Wistiow, five-year-old Miasal suffers a severe compound fracture, which is causing massive blood loss. Kaladin happens to be nearby when she gets in the accident, and immediately begins to staunch the blood flow. He works to create a tourniquet over the wound to slow the bleeding while he determined which arteries had been torn. Soon, Miasal’s father Harl barrels up through the crowd and screams at Kal for interfering. Some of the other male villagers hold Harl back, as they knew Kal was the son of the town surgeon and could help the ailing girl.
Kal works feverishly to close the arteries and uses a hot knife to cauterize them. However, he realizes that the girl has stopped breathing. Harl begs Kal to do something, but he had already done everything he could for the girl; she had just lost too much blood. Harl pushes Kal away from Miasal and clutches her body closely.
A short time later, Kal is sobbing outside of his father’s operating room anguished over Miasal’s death. Kal’s father comes out after having looked over Miasal and tells Kal he did good work, but Kal calls himself a failure. Lirin tries to comfort him by saying he acted well by not freezing up and reacting reasonably to the injuries at hand. Kal isn’t pleased to hear this and says he doesn’t want to be a surgeon any longer. Lirin gives him important advice about what he’ll need to do to face being a surgeon, but Kal can’t see the sense in it.
Quote of the Chapter:
“You have to learn when to care, son,” Lirin said softly. “And when to let go. You’ll see. I had similar problems when I was younger. You’ll grow calluses.”
And this is a good thing? Kal thought, another tear trickling down his cheek. You have to learn when to care...and when to let go...
This advice, had Kal taken it to heart in the way Lirin intended, would have made a very different Kaladin than what we see on the Shattered Plains. Can you imagine a Kal who was able to detach himself from his emotions completely? I certainly can’t and don’t even try to make me. It is Kaladin’s lack of calluses that make him endearing. The fact that he takes everything as a personal lost only goes on to make him stronger—not weaker, as his father intimates. Kaladin, though well-skilled, is not an uncaring person. He cares too much, but it is that emotion which he draws from to go on a live and hopefully do better next time. Kaladin is vulnerable and I wouldn’t want him any other way.
“Scarlet” is one of the briefest chapters in all of The Way of Kings. But its relative small size belies how important of a chapter this is in young Kal’s life. It is emotionally charged for sure. It is perhaps one of the most important turning points in Kal’s upbringing not in regards to what befalls him, but in how he chooses to react to events.
If Kaladin were to sit down with a psychologist in his adult years, this is the episode they would zero in on which developmentally formed who he is today. A giver. A healer. A griever. Someone who wants to be nothing like his father. He does all he can to be a different—though not necessarily better—man than his father. Often Lirin comes off as being somewhat less than good, but he deserves more credit. He truly did what he thought was best for his family at the time. Also, unlike most healers/surgeons, he didn’t expect payment for his services. Sure this comes back to bite him later for a lot of reasons, but if Lirin hadn’t done what he had, Kaladin wouldn’t be the person we know and (most of us) love.
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.