This week brings us to Chapters 1 and 2, which set up the predicament for who I’d certainly call the star of The Way of Kings. Sanderson has said that each book will be from many different character perspectives yet that there will be a special focus on one character per book that will consist of flashbacks of their life. In the case of The Way of Kings, we can all agree that Kaladin is that focus, especially since Kaladin is the main point of view in nearly 40 chapters. Spoilers abound below. Yada yada. Read at your own risk. And watch the comments. They’re a hotbed of spoilers.
Chapter 1: Stormblessed
Time: Approximately 4,505 years after the departure of the Heralds and about 5 years after the death of King Gavilar.
Setting: A battlefield somewhere along the borders of Alethkar.
Point of View: Cenn
Cenn, a very young warrior just out of training, is thrown into his first real battle, a land dispute between two brightlords of Alethkar of which he is on brightlord Amaram’s side. Cenn finds himself mysteriously transferred to Kaladin Stormblessed’s spear squad right before the battle after being bought from another squad. Cenn quickly discovers that Kaladin is no ordinary soldier; his group has the fewest casualties, and it all seems to be because of Kaladin. Kaladin hopes to distinguish his squad so that they can be transferred to the Shattered Plains to fight in the war against the Parshendi. Cenn is shepherded through the battle by Dallet, a long-time member of the squad. Near the end of the battle Kaladin rescues Cenn and then spots an enemy battalionlord, who he takes down easily. Abruptly, the chapter ends as a Shardbearer is seen charging towards them on horseback.
Quote of the Chapter
“For a moment, Cenn thought he could see something surrounding the squadleader. A warping of the air, like the wind itself become visible.”
This is the first view of what Kaladin is capable of, and how he is on the path to becoming part of the Knights Radiant. And reading this again it is clear from the beginning Sanderson has set him on the path of a Windrunner, which isn’t something I picked up on at all in my first read-through.
That was certainly a quick one. Yet, this is the chapter that introduces us to the character who is the heart of The Way of Kings, and possibly the heart of the series that is to come. Namely, Kaladin, aka Kaladin Stormblessed, though he eschews that moniker, especially after this chapter.
Despite there being a couple nice tidbits, this section is on the forgettable side, and feels a little awkward. We get fleeting mentions and views of Kaladin, but not much else. This could all be because I’ve always felt this chapter is a bit of a misdirection by Sanderson.
Focusing on Cenn is the biggest reasons I find this chapter forgettable since it is from a POV we won’t see again and don’t really get to know anything about, other than that he reminds Kaladin of someone from his past. Cenn is just cannon fodder, and the worst part is he knows it.
Cenn is supposed to give us our virgin look at Kaladin. Someone who could be easily awed by what he witnesses, which is exactly what happens. The battle is meaningless to almost everyone involved, even the warriors dying for it. Also, right when it seems like we’re going to get a good fight between Kaladin and a Shardbearer, it cuts away. But this battle leads directly to Kaladin being cast down as a slave, and left me aching to know exactly what went down. So there is the misdirection of who to focus on and how Kaladin became a slave, which actually doesn’t get cleared up for quite a few chapters. This is just the first sign of Sanderson trying to play with the narrative through changing perspectives. That’s a game he plays quite well, overall.
If there had not been a Prelude and a Prologue I don’t think this chapter would have been nearly as strong a start to the story. It wouldn’t have started on such a grand scale as the Prelude did, nor is this battle anywhere near as riveting as Szeth unleashing his skills in the Prologue. It does show the harsh realities of war very readily, and establishes how virtuous—or should I say honorable—Kaladin is from the outset. He buys weak-looking soldiers just to save them. He stands in front of his own troops during onslaughts and is willing to take on six men by himself. Overall, I wonder if the story would have been better served and more powerful by meeting Kaladin in chapter 2, when he is already beaten down, and treated this chapter as a flashback immediately afterwards.
Kaladin’s hatred of those with lighteyes is already apparent. Yet, at this point in his life, he still believes there are some honorable lighteyes, but regrettably they are all at the Shattered Plains with the other worthy warriors. This isn’t a belief he holds on to for very long, but it is one that will shake him with its loss.
This all starts a bigger discussion on the radical class division in The Way of Kings, something that is likely to keep popping up. The lighteyes are at the top because, supposedly, the Heralds chose them as leaders and “marked them for rule.” Darkeyes are below them, with the Parshmen even further below, treated more as cattle.
Kaladin wants to earn his honor, while Shardbearers are largely lighteyes who have inherited their place in the upper echelons of society. But have the Alethi lost their way? They claim to be the chosen of the Heralds and destined to rule. But should one’s eye color determine who should lead? Or should leaders be those who show themselves to be virtuous or heroic through actual deeds of valor?
In many ways, Kaladin is the ultimate deconstruction of the hero archetype, but he isn’t the lost prince. He comes from humble beginnings with lofty, but seemingly realistic goals, if everyone else would just play fair. Kaladin learns all too quickly that life isn’t fair, especially on this inhospitable world. Sanderson isn’t a grey area writer. He comes down heavy on Good versus Evil. Kaladin illustrates the hallmarks of a good hero, but we don’t yet understand who the evil side truly is. Kaladin is a man of extremes. When he believes in something he’ll do anything to make it reality.
In terms of world-building, I’ve always found that one of the facets we don’t get to explore enough for my tastes in The Way of Kings is the indigenous life, such as the rockbud first mentioned in this chapter, which draws its vines back into its shell. The creatures, including the vegetation, have grown armor to protect themselves from the hostile environment and the massive storms. It seems like everything in Roshar has a tough outer layer except for the humans. They are the part that doesn’t seem to be made to live in this world. Roshar is a world where humans are more like the aliens who have invaded. Or could it be that the environment has been twisted so much by the massive storms for so many thousands of years that everything except humans have adapted? The parshendi certainly seem built for the world.
Spren remain plentiful in this chapter; we encounter orange painspren and purple gooish fearspren. And so starts my major problem with most spren. They are everywhere. Hardly anyone is curious about them. They’re just there. Like a bug you can’t swat away.
So, now we’ve met purposeful Kaladin. Let’s move on to depressed Kaladin, who is arguably a much more interesting character.
Chapter 2: Honor is Dead
Time: About 5 years after the death of King Gavilar. 8 months after the last chapter.
Setting: A slave caravan
Point of View: Kaladin
Kaladin, now a branded slave, is traveling in a slave caravan destined for the Shattered Plains. He has been a slave for 8 months and has tried to escape many times, each time being recaptured. His constant escape attempts have lead him to be branded on the forehead with the shash glyph, in addition to the other marks normal slaves receive. The shash mark means he is dangerous. When the other slaves tell stories of how they became slaves, Kaladin states simply “I killed a lighteyes.” One of the slaves also approaches him about trying to escape, which Kaladin rebuffs.
Kaladin notices a strange windspren that seems to be following him. No one else can see or hear the windspren, and he questions whether he is finally going mad. Surprisingly, this spren takes the shape of a woman and speaks to Kaladin. The spren asks questions, many questions, and seems to be aware of Kaladin’s responses.
Near the end, one of the slaves is sick and it appears Kaladin knows how to treat him. Nevertheless, the slave driver kills the slave, to prevent him from getting the rest of the slaves sick. Kaladin has secretly collected poisonous leaves, but he loses most of them in a fit of anger after witnessing the death of his fellow slave.
Quote of the Chapter
“Ten orders. We were loved, once. Why have you forsaken us, Almighty! Shard of my soul, where have you gone?”
Yes, this is the epigraph to the chapter, but it is too juicy not to go into. This is the first firm confirmation that there are ten orders to the Knights Radiant to go along with the ten Heralds. The number ten actually rears its head a second time in this chapter. Kaladin tried to escape on ten separate occasions. And now he has given up hope. It makes me think there might have been ten Desolations before and the Heralds left after tenth, but that is entirely a guess. I’d also guess that Sanderson will never tell us exactly how many Desolations have happened before.
Honor rears its head again, starting with the chapter title “Honor is Dead.” The chapter pulls no punches about what has happened to Kaladin.
That was a rough chapter. Not rough to read in terms of the quality of the writing, but in the sense that it was depressing. This is the first emotionally impactful chapter showing Kaladin’s anguish, which is so palpable. He is tired and broken inside, even more than on the outside. This is a tone you have to get used to, as it lasts at least the first third of the novel. Though it makes you appreciate all he’ll go on to achieve in The Way of Kings and in future installments. There isn’t a harder-working man than Kaladin in all of Roshar. Nor a more natural leader; he even surpasses Dalinar in many ways. But we see him early on at a point in his life where he has literally failed at everything he hoped to achieve.
To balance Kaladin out, we get to meet Syl, who is nameless at the moment though she is remembering bits of what she might have been. From the outset Syl has a playful and curious personality. Yet she has some motherly aspects as well. Syl originally gave me a very “Fairy Godmother” vibe, since we really aren’t let into what the precise nature of spren are. Even so, Syl is clearly no ordinary spren. She has an awareness about her that is child-like, but she grows so much along with Kaladin. Also, how many of you missed this foreshadowing line during your first read:
He’d hoped that this one had gotten bored and left, but as Kaladin tried to toss his wooden bowl aside, he found that it stuck to his fingers.
That’s a Lashing, I tell you. A Lashing! Or at the very least the same effect as on, showing that Syl can channel this power/ability to some degree, even early on. This passage is prefaced by Kaladin mentioning that windspren are known to play tricks on people, so when you first read this line you think it might be a natural act of the spren, but in reality we never see any other spren do anything remotely like this. Though Kaladin also mentions some spren can talk, but that they don’t appear to be aware.
Some interesting thoughts do come up later with Jasnah about spren, but until then they appear to be simple spirits, since they cannot interact with the world very much. It is never mentioned what would happen if you tried to brush a spren away. If you got cut, would you really want all those painspren or rotspren surrounding it? Later it is brought up that you can make rotspren clear away from a wound by using water, but still nothing is ever mentioned about actually trying to touch them. Were I a child in this world I could see my days filled with running around trying to “catch” spren like I did fireflies.
Can I just say I love the “storm you” swear? It is just too funny, especially considering swearing isn’t really part of Sanderson’s books.
Kaladin has given up on himself, but he hasn’t given up on trying to save others. He could have easily not intervened at all with the sick slave, but his conscience, his honor, wouldn’t let him abstain from helping anyone if it is within his means. His lessons from his father keep coming up, but it pains him to use them. For two reasons: because it reminds him too much of what he and his family lost, and his failure to save his friends. He is at the razor’s edge, ready to finally fall. This is all the more evident during his interaction with his fellow slave, who asks him to take him with him when he escapes. Kaladin seems resigned to his fate.
Even though Kaladin seems to wants to use the blackbane leaves on the slave trader, I always saw this as Kaladin contemplating his own death; Wanting to commit suicide to end his torment because of his continual failures. Showing just how desperate he has become. If Syl were not there he might have taken it to that level. She provides a distraction for him and a puzzle to solve. And, in some small way, hope. Life seems to mean so little to so many people that inhabit this world it is almost laughable. Kaladin, on the other hand, has supreme belief in trying to save all the lives he can. For now he has to rediscover a purpose, a purpose that will take some time for him to find again.
Kaladin briefly talks about why he is a slave, mentioning that he killed a lighteyes, but going further by saying that he’s really there because of a lighteyes he didn’t kill. Kaladin feels the betrayal so deeply. But was giving up the chance at shardplate and shardblade the very thing responsible for drawing Syl to him? Was that the make-or-break moment that made his honor irresistible to an honorspren. Or was she already about.
After trying to escape from slavery many times Kaladin was branded with the shash glyph. An interesting thing about shash is that it is also mentioned in the Ars Arcanum in the back of the book as one of the ten essences, specifically number six. It is described as having to do with blood and lends the users the abilities of creativity and honesty. In further referencing the Ars Arcanum, Kaladin reminds me most of Jes, which is essence number one, and is related to wind. This essence lends the attributes of protecting and leadership that directly nails who Kaladin is. Yet I wonder at the further significance of Kaladin being giving the shash glyph. He is certainly forced to be creative, innovating more the longer he is a bridgeman, but that could just be his leadership qualities. A good leader is not only an inspiration to those he commands, but also a good tactician.
Next session we meet Shallan.
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.