Surprise, faithful rereaders! The Way of Kings reread is back, and I’m back with it. This week I’ll cover Chapter 30: Darkness Unseen. Kaladin drills his bridgemen while innovating new ways to keep them safe, while Gaz watches unhappily. Yes, that’s right, this chapter features Gaz as a viewpoint character. If you’re curious about what our least-favorite one-eyed foul-tempered bridge sergeant has to say, please, read on.
Chapter 30: Darkness Unseen
Setting: The Shattered Plains
Points of View: Kaladin, Gaz
What Happens: Kaladin leaves the barracks at daybreak, his bridgemen walking behind him. He has recruited them all, even if the last straggler was probably convinced by Rock and Teft’s threats instead of Kaladin’s morale-building, and has begun training their bodies and drilling them to run together. As he runs them through their stretches and exercises, soldiers watch and laugh. Gaz looks on as well, far less amused.
Ever since he lost his eye, Gaz has been haunted by the darkness of his half-blindness. He is convinced that something is lurking there: “Spren that would drain his soul from his body? The way a rat could empty an entire wineskin by chewing the corner?” He looks left to scatter the darkness and sees Lamaril, his direct superior.
Lamaril waves him over and Gaz pays him a bribe of a topaz mark, only half what he owes his boss. Lamaril has some kind of hold over Gaz, and is using it to extort him. Lamaril tells him that Kaladin is a problem, that men with that much initiative are rarely satisfied with their lives. He places Sadeas’s edge at risk by not sticking to his position in the structure.
Gaz privately doubts whether the bridgemen actually understand their place in Sadeas’s plans. Thye’re really nothing more than live bait for the Parshendi. Gaz hates himself for being part of this, but that’s just another reason for self-hatred in a long list.
He offers to get Kaladin killed, but Lamaril says no. They can’t risk martyring him. Instead he has to arrange for Kaladin to die on a bridge run. Gaz agrees, secretly terrified that without Kaladin’s bribes he will never keep ahead of his own payments to Lamaril.
He watches Bridge Four run by, still amazed by the spectacle of a bridge crew practicing. He believes this shouldn’t have been possible, especially not through Kaladin’s empty promises of protection. Dreading becoming a bridgeman himself one day, he continues to watch, the darkness waiting for him.
Kaladin leads his crew through a bridge placement exercise, giving them infrequent, hard-earned praise. They are shaping up, and the practices are undeniably helping; in the past two weeks only two bridgemen have died, with only two more being wounded. Still, that’s too many. The wounded are dragging on Kaladin’s resources, and he can’t stand to let anyone die at all.
Syl flies to him, reporting that Gaz and Lamaril had been talking. She doesn’t trust their tone or expressions. Kaladin doesn’t trust the situation because Lamaril is a lighteyes, but is aware that he can’t do anything about it.
As he and Syl talk about the nature of soldiers and carpenters, revealing how much better she’s getting at observing humans, Kaladin runs his hands over some smoothed makam wood. It’s strong and lightweight, perfect for shields, and he wonders again why the bridge crews aren’t allowed any kind of protection. He realizes that he could use the bridge itself as a shield, and sets his plan in motion.
Kaladin begins drilling his bridgemen, who he’s come to think of as soldiers, in carrying the bridge in new, strange positions. It’s not easy; the bridge is intricately designed to be carried normally, and Kaladin isn’t ready to explain his plans to his men yet. Before the drills begin, he meets with the four men he’s chosen as his sub-squad leaders, Rock, Teft, Skar, and Moash, to brief them on the procedure.
After the briefing, Moash stays behind to ask why he’s a sub-squad leader. Kaladin says it’s because he resisted his leadership longer than anyone else, and because he’s capable, intelligent, and strong-willed. Moash replies that, while this is alright, he still doesn’t trust Kaladin. He’s only obeying him because he’s curious.
Gaz watches dumbfounded as Bridge Four practices carrying the bridge to the side. He calls Kaladin to him and demands to know what is going on. Kaladin is terse and cagey, and Gaz struggles not to be intimidated by the bridgeman towering over him. Eventually Kaladin explains that they’re working on learning how to carry the bridge in other positions, to shift the weight distribution in case half a crew dies.
This perks Gaz up. He encourages Kaladin to make a bridge approach carrying the bridge that way, hoping the awkward, exposed position will get the crew killed.
Quote of the Chapter:
Lamaril shook his head. “Bridgemen exist for one purpose, Gaz. To protect the lives of more valuable men.”
“Really? And here I thought their purpose was to carry bridges.”
Lamaril gave him a sharp look. He leaned forward. “Don’t try me, Gaz. And don’t forget your place. Would you like to join them?”
Wow. This chapter in general, and this scene in particular, does a wonderful job of turning my impression of Gaz around. Yes, he’s a petty, small-minded, cruel man, and I think he would have been even in good circumstances. But he doesn’t have good circumstances. He’s being extorted by his direct superior, he’s in danger of ending up on a bridge, and he’s being haunted by the loss of his eye. You have to feel some sympathy for him here, especially because he can’t quite hide how much the structure of the bridge crews is tearing him up inside.
Commentary: The side-carry method that Kaladin is developing here will be crucial to his arc in this part, and despite that, I think it’s by far the least interesting element of the chapter. It’s innovative, clever, and shows how much he’s able to get his men to try, but it wouldn’t even be possible without the transformations he’s putting his men through. Bridge Four is no longer the mob of apathetic sad sacks waiting around to die that we used to know. They now run together, work to improve themselves, eat together, drink together, and laugh together. They’re evolving through Kaladin’s leadership, and it shows how ambitious Kaladin is that he knows this can’t be enough.
Syl is evolving in parallel. She understands facial expressions better, and is interpreting and intuiting human emotional responses with increasing accuracy. She likens this process to “remembering” things she used to know about humanity, which is fascinating, but it’s not the focus here either.
The undeniable focal point of this chapter is Gaz. He represents many aspects of the military experience. He’s caught between men who hate him and superiors who scorn him.
He’s scrounging money from below while trying to pay his debts to his superiors. He’s also interesting for the way he represents disability.
Gaz comments that he would rather have lost a hand or an arm than his eye, which is very unusual from an Alethi perspective. It seems like Gaz would have preferred a kind of disability he can navigate around, even though it would significantly reduce his martial capacity, to the darkness that he is always reminded of.
It probably doesn’t help him at all that his blindness is attracting some kind of magical madness. I passed over it in my initial reading, but now that I’m watching for it I can’t find it in myself to believe that his description of some spren waiting to eat his soul is anything but a massive hint that something’s off. Theories about Gaz abound, and we’ll get a few more hints about him later in the book. For now it’s enough to read him as someone who is mentally and emotionally compromised, and knows it. In a series full of tortured heroes, he’s a necessary counterpoint.