Welcome back to the Way of Kings reread! With the end of part one we get to see the true evolution of a hero from the lowest point in his life. Kaladin shall rise from the ashes of who he was to become something greater. He won’t just be a polarizing warrior, but a great leader, ideal, and the resurgence of honor itself on Roshar. But before that Sanderson gives us the interludes, which are a sort of mini-tour to parts of Roshar we haven’t seen thus far. With the first set of interludes we meet a most unusual fisherman, visit with two of Shallan’s brothers, and see what Szeth has been up to since he killed a king.
The interludes are some of the most unusual chapters in The Way of Kings. At least, they feel more unusual since for the most part they are focused on things going on in the periphery of the story we’ve been introduced to so far. These sections enable Brandon to keep to a limited number of points of view during most of the book, but let the readers see what else is going on in this big wide world in locales that are likely to become very important. The places we mainly visit with Kharbranth and the Shattered Plains are a very small—however important—sampling of Roshar. These sections also serve to introduce character points of view that will most likely be pivotal later on. Yes, I realize Szeth is a point of view in the interludes and he will be getting “his” book in the Stormlight Archive at some point—some point that I hope is soon, as he and the Shin are one of the biggest mysteries in the series outside of the whole Voidbrings and Origin of Storms elements—at least this early on. When we look back at the series a decade or two from now, when the series is well on its way to completion, the Shin angle might just seem trifling in reflection, but for now they and Szeth have a lot to answer for.
Unfortunately, these chapters have no epigraphs, which I’ll miss as they are fun to pick apart, but the quotes are also missing from Kaladin’s flashback chapters so that’s something we’ll have to get more used to.
Now, who’s up for a fishing trip to Purelake?
Interlude I-1: Ishikk
Point of View: Ishikk
After not having too much luck fishing on Purelake, Ishikk returns to the town of Fu Abra and Maib’s house to meet with some foreigners, as well as for a bite to eat. Ishikk bandies words with Maib, a woman who is after him for marriage and has been for a number of years. They both play the game of being in one another’s debt, with Maib giving him food, but Ishikk keeps the scales on his side by giving Maib a rare fish known to alleviate pains in the joints which she suffers from.
Ishikk sits down at a table with a group of three people who he continually refers to as “foreigners.” Ishikk has pet names for each of them. There is Grump, Blunt, and the Thinker. Ishikk finds each of them strange, as they don’t seem to take precisely after any of the Rosharian races he is familiar with, especially around the eyes.
The foreigners have asked him to visit his contacts around Purelake to see if a certain man has been seen anywhere in the area. The man answers to the name Hoid with “white hair, a clever tongue, and arrowlike face,” but he is also known to dye his hair and wear disguises. Ishikk tells them he searched all around Purelake, visiting the towns of Fu Ralis, Fu Namir, Fu Albast, and Fu Moorin, but found no trace of the man they describe. The three foreigners begin to argue amongst themselves after questioning whether he did his job properly and soon depart, with Grump taking up the rear. He is heard to say “‘Where are you Roamer? What a fool’s quest this is.’ Then he added in his own tongue ‘Alavanta kamaloo kayana.’”
Quote of the Chapter:
Oh, he’d heard stories about that sort of life. Nu Rulik send he never had to go to such a terrible place.
Besides, it was probably cold there. Ishikk pitied those who had to live in the cold. Why didn’t they just come to Purelake?
Nu Ralik send that they don’t, he thought, walking up to Maib’s place. If everyone knew how nice Purelake was, surely they’d all want to live here, and there wouldn’t be a place to walk without stumbling over some foreigner!
Foreshadowing much? So war will come to Purelake, or Ishikk will at least go to war. In either case it should make for an interesting and welcome storyline. Ishikk is definitely a fun character to read even if he doesn’t seem very deep. I can’t imagine the Purelakers rising up to fight though, at least as far as Ishikk’s personality lets on. Purelakers seem more apt to take things in stride and wait for the storm to blow over before interceding in some sort of conflict.
Could Ishikk even be a Radiant in waiting for a school not even discussed yet? Of the orders discussed (Lightweavers, Windrunners, Dustbringers, and Stonewards) none seem right for Ishikk. All of the orders though do seem to be related to an element of some kind and we’ve yet to hear about one related to water. Maybe Ishikk could be part of them. A Waterdancer perhaps? Or he could just be a funny fisherman that we’ll never hear from again.
This is a pure Cosmere chapter. I’m not going to go too deeply into the Cosmere aspects, so things will be left fairly vague for the purposes of this reread as I don’t want to ruin the experience of reading Brandon’s other books. Honestly, this chapter is such a Cosmere chapter I think it is part of Sanderson’s grand plan at interweaving an even greater yet subtle story early on that will likely not pay dividends for a long time in coming. Those in the comments can have all the fun they want though picking things apart and naming names.
The broad strokes are that most of the worlds—often called Shardworlds—found in Sanderson’s adult novels are connected and have a grand Theory of Everything, especially in regards to the connections found between the magic and development of life on these worlds including those Roshar, Scadrial (Mistborn), Sel (Elantris), and Nalthis (Warbreaker.) Hoid appears in all of these books in some form. There is/was a God of the Cosmere universe called Adonalsium, who was shattered into pieces, and each world and its people came about under the influence of one or more of these Shards. Each world has its own forces of creation and destruction, with some being more apparent than others, depending on the current state of the world in question.
Each of Ishikk’s “foreigners” is from a different world in the Cosmere. They are world travelers somewhat like Hoid, though we do not know exactly how they accomplish this. The language used at the end of the chapter seems to suggest that Grump is from Sel and Thinker’s scar marks him as being a specific character from Scardial that readers of the Mistborn series might remember. Blunt I’m not sure about at all. Hoid is boldly named and even given the nickname “Roamer,” which seems to nail him pretty well. Why they are looking for him I haven’t a clue, but it probably has to do with trouble, especially since Hoid is involved. The travelers don’t seem to have bad ends in mind for Hoid though so perhaps it is so they can stop something from happening or an incoming battle.
The chapter header image contains the masked man. Only a few chapters show this icon, and this is its first appearance. I keep going back and forth about who it could mean, but I think I’ve settled on it being Hoid, for now. Mostly, I’ve come to this assumption because Hoid appears or is referenced in these chapters in some fashion. And being the masked man seems fitting for someone so enigmatic.
Purelake is a very wide yet not very deep lake where most of the inhabitants are either farmers or fishermen. It seems strange that people would live their lives in water almost entirely—as weird as it seems to Purelakers that most people don’t want to be in the water most of their lives. The fishing metaphors are pretty heavy handed, especially between Ishikk and Maib. They’re playing catch and release with each other though Maib is less focused on the release part, but it appears Ishikk is letting his guard down.
Highstorms leave a trace energy that people bottle up in gemstones, but the land itself and the people also benefit for the continual barraging. Could the curative properties of the fish of Purelake be due to the highstorms? If so what else might be awaiting us in the water and the world at large that has been changed?
It is interesting to see that there are two gods worshipped in Purelake showcasing yet another example of duality. Nu Ralik epitomizing good and the other god Vun Makak is all about spite. Could this be another version of the Odium versus Honor myth altered through the ages? Or even an example of the Herald’s mythology changed?
Interlude I-2: Nan Balat
Setting: Jah Keved, Estate of the Davar Family
Point of View: Nan Balat
On the estate of the Davar family Shallan’s now oldest brother Nan Balat is killing creatures. He is picking at a small crab, tearing their legs off. Torturing the animals provides him a soothing satisfaction though he says he has no desires to hurt people. Balat goes looking for his axehound, Scrat, who is off torturing his own creature. As Balat lets Scrat play he worries about being a coward by letting Shallan be put in charge of ensuring the family’s importance continued through theft.
Balat laments that the Davars are a broken family, with Asha Jushu driven to vice and Tet Wikim to despair along with their oldest brother (the former Nan) Helaran now dead. Tet Wikim runs up requesting his immediate attention to a important problem.
Quote of the Chapter:
Wikim comes running up telling Balat that “We have a problem.”
“How large a problem?”
“Pretty big, I’d say. Come on.”
Argh. This is what we call an agonizing cliffhanger with just enough—barely a sentence—to whet the appetite for a meal a long time coming. In the vernacular of James T. Kirk:
During the whole course of The Way of Kings the “problem” is not addressed again. My guess would be there is a visitor to the halls of the Davar family. Maybe someone connected with the Ghostblood,s or someone who is just demanding to see Brightlord Davar, who is dead, but still believed to be alive by everyone outside of the family. It is an odd thing to add such a cliffhanger this early on, so my hope is Words of Radiance ventures back to Jah Keved for a few more rounds with the Davar brothers.
So how screwed in the head is Balat? Pretty out of whack, but he seems to believe he masks it well. People always underestimate those with disabilities, but let’s not forget the supremely badass Glotka from Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself. In the end I think Balat will surprise us in many ways. At least I hope so if he ends up becoming a focus character. What kind of sadistic bastard will Balat turn into as the series progresses? A pretty sorry one is my bet.
Nan seems to mean, senior brother or it could intimate they are next in line for being called Birghtlord ____. We haven’t found this kind of status signifier elsewhere so it may merely be a Jah Keved affectation, or something that runs across all of the Vorin kingdoms. Tet and Ashu seem to also be other status signifiers for family hierarchy.
The first line tells us precisely what sort of thoughts we should attach to Balat as a character, “Nan Balat liked killing things.” I take this to mean we should not trust this man. There is something not so right with him. He may be crippled, as he says, but above all else he is dangerous. However, he says the whole family is broken and shattered with each left a cripple in their own way. Some baear their scars more easily than the others, with Balat having a cane as a life partner after nearly losing his leg.
This chapter really just raises questions about the Davars and doesn’t clear a thing up. What is the problem at the end? What caused the break in Balat’s leg that left him having to walk with a cane for the rest of his life at such a young age? Most likely it has to do with his father, and may have been the reason Shallan got involved, which led to the elder Davar’s death.
Balat claims only he and Shallan were left unscathed from their father’s temper as the other brothers all developed problems, but he clearly doesn’t understand how his treatment of animals is a small part of him trying to take control over others—something that his father Brightlord Davar always strove to do from the little we’ve heard of him. We get mention of the other two brothers. The oldest Davar brother Helaran is presumed dead, but I wouldn’t count him out too quickly. His death left Balat as the senior son. A very brief mention of the last brother Asha Jushu seems to indicate he’s a bit of a thief or gambler.
Although the chapter is a bit scant it does gives us a different type of land than we’ve encountered before along with some more explanations of the life infesting the world. Scrat, Balat’s pet axehound, is off gleefully torturing an animal just like his master and Balat nearly goes as far as to take the kill away from his hound to pull off the legs himself. An axehound sounds a bit like a giant roach, but at the level of a dog. Now the songling is an interesting create. Songlings are shelled creatures, though the name brings more to mind a bird, but this is Roshar. Songlings beat out noises on their shells/carapaces and seem to do so in tune with others of their kind almost as if they are playing a song as part of an orchestra. It seems to show a certain level of intelligence by even the smaller creatures of the world.
The land of the Davars is rife with vines, which take over most areas, even growing over trees. While most of the world of Roshar is continually battered by large storms, there is still great variation in the regions, just like we would find on Earth. I don’t know why I find that so surprising now that I look back, but I always felt most of the world was more desert and rocky-like than it actually is. The cover had a lot to do with this. Roshar is supposed to be this arid, craggy place, but there is plenty of life to be found everywhere we turn and many ways of living.
Interlude I-3: The Glory of Ignorance
Setting: Ironsway, Bavland
Point of View: Szeth
More than five years since Szeth killed king Gavilar he finds himself a slave to a vagabond named Took. For Took, Szeth is mostly a conversation piece that will enable him to meet people in bars he visits and hopefully be given drinks to keep telling his fabricated stories. Almost like a sideshow. While talking with a local miner Took orders Szeth to cut himself, which he does without protest. When ordered to cut his own throat he says “As Truthless, it is the nature of my suffering to be forbidden the taste of death by my own hand.” The miner is taken aback by how Szeth sounds like a proper Lighteyes with refined speech. Szeth believes that his mannerisms and way of speech are why his many masters over the last five years have not kept him, but it could also be because they suspected he was capable of a lot more and many were uncomfortable not only with having someone learned in their low-presence, but also the possibilities beyond cleaning and heavy lifting.
As Took gets up to leave the miners ask him to stay and tell another story with the offer of a beer. Szeth remembers after the assassination how the Parshendi abandoned him and his oathstone, which he then had to recover and wait along the roadside for someone to come for him to give it to. Szeth mentions he has had a series of owners from the last few years that number in the dozens. Finally no one offers Took more to drink so he leaves with Szeth following. Outside Took stumbles to the ground. As Szeth goes to pick him up he realizes Took is bleed copiously and has been stabbed through the neck.
Men come out of the darkness and rob Took of what meager money he had on the. One comments that Szeth could be valuable as a Shin slave. Another robber notices Szeth’s oathstone and Szeth must now explain that whoever has his oathstone he will obey completely outside of killing himself. Inwardly, Szeth also acknowledges that he is also forbidden to hand over his Shardblade.
Quote of the Chapter:
Perhaps they could sense the truth, that he was capable of so much more than they dared use him for. It was one thing to have a slave of your own. But when that slave talked like a lighteyes and know more than you did? It made them uncomfortable.
Szeth tried to play the part, tried to make himself act less refined. It was very difficult for him. Perhaps impossible. What would these men say if they knew that the man who emptied their chamber pot was a Shardbearer and a Surgebinder? A Windrunner, like the Radiants of old? The moment he summoned his Blade, his eyes would turn from green to pale—almost glowing—sapphire, a unique effect of his particular weapon.
Outside of reaffirming his own abilities are those of a Surgebinder, Szeth also links what he does to the Windrunner order of the Knights Radiant. But does that not necessarily mean he is a Windrunner, especially since he isn’t living up to the honor part? Not likely. Also, could he be a Windrunner if the Radiants are not currently in existence? Can you really be a member of a group if there is no group?
Szeth‘s Shardblade seems to be very special indeed. His eyes change color and glow when he wields it, which isn’t a normal attribute of the Shardblades we see the Alethi wield. The legend is that once taken up by a darkeyes a Shardblade always changes the eye color permanently to that of a lighteyes, which also passes down to the children of the Shardbearer as well. It seems Szeth’s sword is something greater, perhaps the sword of a Knight Radiant? Maybe even one once possessed by a Herald themselves? Doubtful, but you never know. Maybe Szeth taking control of this particular blade is what led to him becoming Truthless.
The fated-to-be-enthralled-by-men Szeth makes his inglorious return. And he is at his most pitiable yet he has refrained from killing for the last five years. We learn that Szeth is now 35 years old and has been a Truthless for 7 years, which means he was a Truthless for about two years when he killed Gavilar. Given the skill level Szeth has with not only his Shardblade, but with his Lashing it stands to reason that he practiced the skills for many more years than just two, so he learned much of what knows before he became Truthless. It begs the question though of how many Shin know how to do what he does? Is it a small sect/school in Shinovar, or is it a larger presence long engrained in Shin society? Do they have many other Shardblades? Do only Truthless have them? The Shin continue to vex me.
The phrasing Szeth uses when asked to cut his throat is very telling. He says “As Truthless, it is the nature of my suffering…” So at least a partial point of being Truthless is that you suffer, so it would seem to mean that being a Truthless in the Shin society is a punishment. Punishment for what?
Szeth’s oathstone also comes up and becomes pivotal. Szeth had to find his oathstone after the assassination as the Parshendi left it when they escaped, which means there is a connection that Szeth can sense between him and the oathstone. Unless it was blind luck, which doesn’t seem likely. He is drawn to it, so what kind of power does it have? What does it contain? A spren perhaps? A magical connection caused by Old Magic perhaps? Some sort of curse placed on him by the Shin?
Szeth reveals he has had nearly two dozen masters since he killed Gavilar. Yet none of them ever got to the point where they would ask him to kill. Each instead decides to pass a very valuable slave to someone else. Szeth, though weary, welcomes this as his penance for the actions he has partaken in. Most of his past masters seemed to be common people, but by the end of the chapter Szeth gets drawn into a darker crowd.
Took mentions a story about the Nightwatcher who stole a sphere that glowed black at night, which seemed eerily similar to the sphere Gavilar gave to Szeth as he lay dying. Szeth left the sphere somewhere in Jah Keved to keep it from his current and future masters so that they wouldn’t take it from him. The Nightwatcher is an interesting element that crops up in quite a few places and seems to be connected to what Rosharans call “the Old Magic.” So this seems like our first lead on what the sphere could be related to: Old Magic. There is also a passage from The Way of Kings (the book Dalinar later reads) that discusses the Nightwatcher and, given Gavilar’s link to The Way of Kings, it stands to reason the sphere works in somehow as well. Did Gavilar visit the Nightwatcher as well? Was this his gift from her? If so then what was his curse? From what little there is to gather about the Nightwatcher it seems that if she grants you a boon you also get a curse. So she is another example of the world of Roshar having a balance.
Next week we begin Part Two, which introduces Dalinar and Adolin.
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.