Welcome back to The Way of Kings reread here on Tor.com. This week’s chapters are interesting counterbalances in Kaladin’s life. In the first, Kaladin witnesses how cowardly and mean the town folk of Hearthstone can truly be, caused by a mere sentence from a Brighteyes and thus sowing his hatred of the upper class. Even with that unpleasantness, Lirin finally shows some backbone and basically tells a mob to “come at me, bro.” And in the second chapter, Kaladin’s plans come to fruition...
Chapters 31: Beneath the Skin
Point of View: Kaladin
What Happens: Kaladin is with his father studying while his father is drinking. Lirin tells Kaladin that he should stay in Kharbranth after his training instead of returning to Hearthstone or another “tiny, backward, foolish town.”
The winter is particularly harsh for Kaladin’s family, as everyone from town has stopped donating to Lirin for his healing services after an offhand remark from Brightlord Roshone.
Kaladin encourages Lirin to use the spheres they had saved for his education, but Lirin insists this is what Roshone wants—to make them spend the spheres from the previous Brightlord. Kaladin returns to his studies, but is distracted by a rock Tien had left. His thoughts wander to Tien’s new chosen career of carpentery (instead of surgeon), and his own choice soon either to become a surgeon or to join the army.
A small group of people arrive at the house, bent on taking Lirin’s spheres. Both Lirin and Kaladin can see these are no highway robbers, but locals claiming they intend to give the spheres to Brightlord Roshone. Lirin places the bowl of spheres on the table and dares them men to take them, saying:
“You’ve threatened violence against me. Come. Hit me. Rob me. Do it knowing I’ve lived among you almost my entire life. Do it knowing that I’ve healed your children. Come in. Bleed one of your own!”
The men fade back into the darkness saying nothing, leaving Lirin and Kaladin alone.
Quote of the Chapter:
“When men perceive the world as being right, we are content. But if we see a hole—a deficiency—we scramble to fill it.”
This is a rather important but harsh lesson for young Kal to learn, as are most of these flashback episodes we’re shown. Those who are weaker try to make those who are strong even stronger by pleasing them any way they can. These lessons are shaping Kaladin in the man we know—someone who wants to standup for those who are weaker against the powerful.
Commentary: A sad yet oddly inspiring chapter in its own way. Roshone is putting Lirin’s family through hell simply for malice. The very town has turned against Lirin yet they still have the gall to use Lirin’s skills. Lirin is in such an odd position. He’s lived in Hearthstone it seems most, if not all of his life yet he is seen as an outsider but he wants to belong yet accepts maybe too readily that he doesn’t. He has the knowledge to both acknowledge that most of the town folk are wrong about many of their assumptions and actions, but is honest with himself enough to grok that this is just the way of things in small towns. In other words its like high school where the ignorant and jerks rule all too easily.
Still there is an odd positivity shown in this chapter. At least a moment that helps form Kaladin in a meaningful way. Kaladin witnesses Lirin standing up to a literal mob seeking to rob them. Young Kal has often talked about how his father seems full of excuses for people, but Lirin has his own bravery of a sort. Usually, it is limited to his willingness to help others medically, but after a little hero juice Lirin seems willing to go toe-to-toe with his neighbors. Or he could just be smart enough to know how to turn them back without raising his fist. In either case, however horrible it is for Kaladin to see his neighbors turn against him it shows him that even one person can make a difference. Kaladin’s dislike of bullies can probably be traced back to this moment.
Kaladin is also a thinker, which he gets from his father. Here we see Kal studying human anatomy—and he isn’t just memorizing the information for his intended education as a surgeon, but also studying what the weaknesses are in the body that he could use in a fight if need be.
I had forgotten Tien was to be a carpenter. Sanderson paints Tien in such fashion that he comes off as more of an ideal innocence than a fully fledged character. Tien signifies a lot of things to Kaladin. To young Kal, Tien means happiness and joy. To bridgeman Kaladin, Tien is regret and hope wrapped together. It cuts deep when Tien is lost because he is so relatable to that precocious boy most have known in their life at some point. All life that was cut short needs to be repaid, which is why Kaladin fights so hard for Bridge Four. It is a debt that can never truly be paid.
Regret, though, is something Lirin is instilling in Kaladin too. And regret is all too familiar to adult Kaladin as we see in the next chapter. While Lirin taught Kaladin regret, Tien was all about teaching him hope.
Chapter 32: Side Carry
Setting: The Shattered Plains
Point of View: Kaladin
What happens: Bridge Four practices the side carry with their bridge—they are still rough at working together, but they’ve clearly improved. Kaladin breaks off from overseeing the training, leaving Rock in charge as he sees Gaz with newcomers that will fill-out the various bridge teams.
Gaz quickly assigns the men to different teams, but neglects to give even one to Bridge Four, despite their numbers being down to 29 men from the standard 40. Gaz tells Kaladin he doesn’t need any men, as Bridge Four has hardly lost anyone on the recent bridge runs. As Gaz walks away, Kaladin grabs his arm. They stare at each other briefly before Gaz concedes and tells Kaladin he can have one man from the lot.
Kaladin scans the group for a tall bridgeman, and one of the recruits shouts out to be picked—a Herdazian with one arm who claims to be a great fighter, having beaten three drunk men with only his one arm. Kaladin knew immediately that the Herdazian would “make a terrible bridgeman” and probably would be used as arrow fodder towards the front on his first run in most other bridge teams. But Kaladin recalls something about Tien that pushes him into accepting the Herdazian as his new bridgeman. Gaz is shocked by Kaladin’s selection, but Kaladin simply walks off with the Herdazian, whose name is Lopen. It’s clear that Lopen has no clue what bridge duty entails, and that he likes to talk an awful lot.
Kaladin leads Lopen over to his bridge team as they are taking a break from training. Even the five injured bridgemen mingle among them. Kaladin sends Lopen into the barrack for his sandals and vest, and Rock comments that Gaz must have stuck them with the new one-armed bridgeman. Kaladin ignores Rock, not wanting to admit he had chosen Lopen. There is a call for a bridge run, and Bridge Four quickly snaps into action—unlike the other crews that often ran around confused. Kaladin orders Lopen to fill the waterskins and follow behind the crew as soon as he could.
Bridge Four is the first to arrive, with the troops still gathering at the disembarking point to the Shattered Plains. Lopen soon catches up, carrying a litter filled with waterskins along with Dabbid and Hobber. When the bridge run begins, Bridge Four’s hard training paid off—though still tired, the men have the strength and stamina to carry on, and the water stops between each bridge also seem to enliven them.
Sadeas’ forces travel for hours over the plateaus of the Shattered Plains. Kaladin knows this allows a greater chance of the Parshendi beating them to their intended platform—the infamous Tower, from which no Alethi forces have ever recovered a gemheart. Kaladin worries, but decides they will attempt the side carry maneuver despite objections from the squad. He tells the men to trust him, and that they’ll use the bridge as a shield upon their approach.
Kaladin sees Gaz speaking to Brightlord Lamaril as they begin the side carry, but they both seem content to leave Kaladin and the team to their folly. Bridge Four makes good time across the plateau despite the odd angle and approach. The Parshendi shoot volleys of arrows at Bridge Four, but they land harmlessly against the side and top of the bridge. After a few zig-zag movements across the field, they arrive at the chasm’s edge and slide the bridge into place.
Kaladin then realizes the Parshendi were no longer targeting his crew, and notices the chaos behind them. Many of the other bridge teams were already down, having attempted to angle their bridges like Bridge Four. Some of the other teams managed to drop their bridges in place, but many had been cut down by the Parshendi while others lost control of their bridges while attempting unfamiliar maneuvers. The cavalry finally starts to cross the chasm, but due to many mislaid and missing bridges they cannot make an effective charge against the Parshendi forces. Kaladin briefly considers trying to help some of the other bridges, but he knows it is too late.
Kaladin is pulled back behind cover, his men congratulating him on the success of his plan. But Kaladin admits he has “completely undermined our assault”—the cavalry that had made it across weren’t enough to push the Parshendi back and they were being broken up and picked off in smaller groups. Before this point, Kaladin didn’t realize what effect his plans for one bridge team would have on a major assault such as this. Bridge Four forced the Parshendi to focus on the other teams, but also succesfully got ahead of all the other teams.
Kaladin sees Gaz, Lamaril, and some spearmen approach Bridge Four. His men stand to defend him, but he tells them to leave and get back to camp safely. Whatever happened, he knows he deserves the repercussions. As Gaz approaches, Kaladin steps out and is quick to admit that the failure of the assault was his doing, but he didn’t know it would happen—he was just “trying to survive.” Lamaril coldly explains, “bridgemen aren’t supposed to survive.”
Kaladin says if they leave him alive, he will admit fault to their superiors, but that if they kill him it will look like they are trying to cover something up—many soldiers had seen Gaz and Lamaril taking as Bridge Four started their side carry and didn’t move to stop them.
Lamaril orders Kaladin beaten, but not killed.
Quote of the Chapter:
Kaladin watched, really watched. He’d never studied the tactics and needs of the entire army in these assaults. He’d considered only the needs of his own crew. It was a foolish mistake, and he should have known better. He would have known better, if he’d still thought of himself as a real soldier. He hated Sadeas; he hated the way the man used bridge crews. But he shouldn’t have changed Bridge Four’s basic tactics without considering the larger scheme of the battle.
Consequences. They can bite you in the storming rear.
Commentary: Wow, two very sad chapters in a row. Kaladin shoots and scores only to get fouled out the next moment from ref Lamaril. And here I thought things were looking rosy for Kaladin for a minute there. No such luck as we’ll soon see Kaladin’s punishment meted out in a very raw fashion.
No matter how hard Kaladin tries he just can’t quit being too honest, but that is what Syl finds so intriguing about him. Now he has a new partner in crime with Lopen who knows just how to get things done. But like the episode with villagers trying to rob Lirin this too is an important lesson for Kaladin to know for the future. He’ll go on and think at a larger scale, which will one day win him everything surely.
The Parshendi continued to chant, somehow knowing— without orders—when to draw their bows.
Can we get Words of Radiance yet just for the promised Parshendi perspective? What does the singing signify to them? Merely a way for them to time troop movements or something deeper? Gah, I need to know just how they think.
We haven’t talked about the epigraphs much from the third section, but this feels like the right place though I’ll be jumping ahead slightly with some other epigraphs in forthcoming chapters. First though this chapters epigraph:
“They lived high atop a place no man could reach, but all could visit. The tower city itself, crafted by the hands of no man.”
Many of the epigraphs we’ve seen so far in this section and most in the next few are from Jasnah’s research notes on ancient times. The epigraph from this chapter I’ll note mentions a ”tower," which to me suggests a connect to the Shattered Plains’ so called Tower plateau. This epigraph and the one from chapter 35 seem to support this theory. The epigraph from Chapter 35 also discusses Urithiru and how it was placed as far west as possible to be near Honor. This seems to intimate that yes, Honor is the Origin of Storms in some fashion, but also that the Shattered Plains was at one time the location of the city of Urithiru, which was destroyed at some point possibly during a Desolation.
Urithiru may be one of the Dawncities, perhaps the last built by the Dawnsingers. In further support of this are the drawings of some famous cities of Roshar on page 498 (hardcover edition) depicting their shapes. They appear to be very organic looking as if they were grown. Very close to the shapes of snowflakes. Even by the technology of Roshar today engineering at this level is beyond them.
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.