Welcome back to The Way of Kings reread here on Tor.com. This week we’re covering chapters 34, 35, and 36; the first two are really just one chapter with no real break and for that reason I’ve also combined the commentary for chapters 34 and 35.
These are some monumental chapters in terms of importance to the narrative of both Kaladin and Shallan, and certainly live up to the section title: Dying. Kaladin must face a Highstorm to decide whether he lives to see another day. Shallan learns a very callous lesson from Jasnah and finally accomplishes her very long game.
Chapter 34: Stormwall
Setting: The Shattered Plains
Point of View: Kaladin
What Happens: Kaladin groggily awakens and realizes he is strung up upside-down against the side of Bridge Four’s barrack. Syl is with him. He takes account of his injuries at the hands of Lamaril’s soldiers—he has a few bruised, if not broken, ribs along with numerous cuts, a swollen eye, and an injured shoulder.
Syl tells Kaladin she got a small bit of revenge against one of the soldiers who hurt him by tripping him repeatedly. She also informs him that Lamaril was executed by Sadeas personally (a lighteyes had to be shown taking responsibility for the failure), and that Gaz apparently survived unscathed.
Sadeas orders that Kaladin will be left out to face an oncoming highstorm—the Stormfather’s justice will decide if Kaladin lives or dies. Kaladin has been outside during highstorms in the past, but always with some semblance of cover—tied to the barrack, he will be exposed to this highstorm’s full force.
Syl leaves briefly and returns with Rock, Teft, and Moash. They tell Kaladin that all of Bridge Four made it back to camp, but that more than 200 bridgemen were lost during the battle. Kaladin knows all their deaths are his fault, regardless of his intent.
Rock assures Kaladin that they will remember him and continue to function as a unit (eating together, practicing maneuvers, etc.), as Kaladin taught. Kaladin asks the men of Bridge Four to come out after the highstorm—if he lives through it, he’ll open his eyes. As the men leave, Teft gives Kaladin a sphere “for luck” to hold during the storm.
Kaladin and Syl are left alone to await the storm, which is quickly rushing towards them.
Quote of the Chapter:
“Tell them,” Kaladin continued, voice firmer, “that it won’t end here. Tell them I chose not to take my own life, and so there’s no way in Damnation I’m going to give it up to Sadeas.”
Defiant until the last. That’s our Kaladin.
Chapter 35: A Light By Which to See
Setting: The Shattered Plains
Points of View: Kaladin and Teft
What Happens: Kaladin is cold. The rains and debris from the Highstorm are battering him around. He is blown from side to side by the strong winds, yet his tether holds. Syl instructs Kaladin to grab the roof when he is blown near it; he manages to catch it while still holding on to the sphere Teft gave him. Kaladin starts to slip and grabs for the ring he is tied to.
Kaladin thinks he sees Syl trying to bend the winds around him. Suddenly Kaladin sees blackness and thinks he is briefly somewhere else, where he can stand free of the storm and his injuries. A large face in the darkness wseems to be smiling at him. Kaladin feels a jolt of electricity from the sphere, which now glows brightly. When Kaladin looks back up, the face is gone and only darkness remains.
Kaladin sees a flash of lightning and is thrust back into the storm, though it has abated somewhat. Kaladin looks again at the still glowing sphere in his hand and passes out.
As soon as the storm ends, Rock, Teft and most of Bridge Four head out to check on Kaladin. They find him still hanging from a ring, with cuts all over his body. They think he is dead, but Kaladin opens his eyes (although he is still unconscious) and drops the sphere—Teft notices the sphere is dull, which surprises him, as spheres left out during highstorms are always infused with energy.
Quote of the Chapter:
In that darkness, an enormous face appeared just in front of his. A face of blackness, yet faintly traced in the dark. It was wide, the breadth of a massive thunderhead, and extended far to either side, yet it was somehow still visible to Kaladin. Inhuman. Smiling.
Kaladin takes a brief trip to another realm. But whose face was that in the sky? I have a lot of theories—perhaps one of the Heralds (Jezrien a.k.a. the Stormfather), Honor, or maybe even the face-changing spren in Kasitor—but this is again something without a clear answer though surely it will be addressed in the future.
Commentary (for chapters 34 & 35): What an emotional couple of chapters. The emotions coming from Kaladin and his compatriots is unmistakable. Even more though you feel right there along side Kaladin as he meets the storm being tossed to and fro. And the men of Bridge Four are now like brothers. They care for one another if not for the sake of belonging for the sake of what Kaladin tried to do. He showed them there was a different way to live. A way that left them open to the good things. Shades of Tien’s influence if ever there were any.
Syl’s connection to Kaladin is deepening and right at the point where he goes through unbelievable pain. She feels cold. She accepts a lie from Kaladin, which shows she can understand their need sometimes. Warrior Syl also comes out to play for a bit as she tries to push aside the worst of the storm Kaladin is facing.
And how about that little sphere that could? No matter what Kaladin wouldn’t let go of it. If he did he would have been giving up. The question I was left with is was it Teft’s plan all along to leave that sphere with Kaladin to see if he could pull Stormlight into himself? Teft’s background starts to creep out from here on out and he knows more about the Radiants than your common Alethi. Teft knows things and when he starts sharing Kaladin’s whole world will open up.
Chapter 36: The Lesson
Point of View: Shallan
What Happens: As Jasnah bathes, Shallan studies King Gabilar’s account of his first meeting with the Parshendi in the Unclaimed Lands. The book was recorded by Jasnah, who added various footnotes to the accounts.
Shallan’s mind wanders to her hidden fabrial, and to Jasnah’s which is sitting out. She sees a chance to make the switch, but as Shallan stands, Jasnah looks as though she knows Shallan’s intentions.
Shallan asks what motivated the Parshendi to kill Gavilar. This leads to a discussion about what Gavilar wanted from the Parshendi that would involve a treaty between the Alethi and Parshendi. Gavilar likely wanted the Shards that he believed the Parshendi held, though what the Parshendi truly wanted out of a treaty remains a mystery. Jasnah has her suspicions about the motivations of the Parshendi, but she doesn’t share them with Shallan. Jasnah admits the gemhearts found in the Chasmfiends of the Shattered Plains could be involved, though.
As Shallan again considers switching the Soulcasters, Jasnah praises the progress of Shallan’s studies. Defeated, Shallan turns away from the Soulcaster. Jasnah senses something is wrong and tells Shallan that a hands-on philosophy lesson is in order. Shallan protests, but Jasnah insists that philosophy is important “if you’re going to be involved in court politics. The nature of morality must be considered, and preferably before one is exposed to situations where a moral decision is required.” Jasnah dries off and dresses quickly (also putting her Soulcaster on) and escorts Shallan out of the Conclave to the Ralinsa and on to a rough looking roadway. As they walk, Jasnah pulls back her glove slightly and reveals her Soulcaster, its light and her wealth shown for all to see on the darkened street. Jasnah informs Shallan that this street has become notorious of late—many theater-goers have been murdered and robbed, yet the city watch has done nothing. Shallan is clearly concerned and wishes to go back, but Jasnah heads into the dark alley and Shallan reluctantly follows.
The light from Jasnah’s Soulcaster glints off the knives of four waiting men. As the first of the men approaches to attack, Jasnah touches his chest with her hand; a moment later the man turns into fire. He isn’t engulfed in flames, but rather the man’s very essence was changed into fire. An outline of his screaming form is seen briefly before it dissipates.
The other three men attempt to run away, but one falls. Jasnah reaches out to him and at her touch he becomes a solid form of quartz. The other two men run in the opposite direction, but Jasnah’s hands erupt in lightning and the men disappear in a cloud of smoke.
Jasnah calmly leaves the alley with Shallan nervously following. Shallan is aghast, as it is forbidden for Ardents to use Soulcasters on people. And Jasnah dispatched two of the men from a distance, which is unheard of; Soulcasting always requires direct contact.
Jasnah calls for a palanquin to take them back to the Conclave. On the ride back, Shallan and Jasnah argue about Jasnah’s Soulcasting. Jasnah insists it was the right thing to do, as the men would have killed more people, and that this also pays Taravangian back a little for the kindness he has shown her. She goes on say:
“Am I a monster or am I a hero? Did I just slaughter four men, or did I stop four murderers from walking the streets? Does one deserve to have evil done to her by consequence of putting herself where evil can reach her? Did I have a right to defend myself? Or was I just looking for an excuse to end lives?”
Shallan is at a loss to answer, so Jasnah assigns her more research to discover an answer. As she helps Jasnah undress for the night, Shallan finds the courage to finally switch her broken Soulcaster for Jasnah’s, feeling that Jasnah had no right to it after her actions tonight.
Quote of the Chapter:
Was it possible to do something horrible in the name of accomplishing something wonderful?
Shallan’s past misdeeds are again alluded to, but it seems after she witnesses Jasnah’s act that her own actions of the past aren’t nearly as bad. At least in the moment though we know Shallan can vacillate. I wonder if Shallan’s arc will eventually be summed up by this one sentence? She is definitely troubled by whatever she did, but she doesn’t seem truly anguished over it. She is more anguished by the fact that whatever she did helped facilitate the current troubles her family is in.
This line also reminds me of Kaladin’s role. He too did something he thought was right only to discover his attempt at saving the lives of Bridge Four cost the lives of over 200 hundred other bridgemen. Similar things could be said of Dalinar in later chapters as his desires to live to the code and be moral cost the lives of many men.
Commentary: Reading this chapter more in-depth makes me appreciate Shallan and Jasnah all the more. They are the characters that actually inform us the most about the past of Roshar despite Jasnah’s noncommittal attitude on most matters. This is something I probably didn’t appreciate so much during my first read-throughs as I was always in a rush to get back to Kaladin, which is understandable since he is the heart of The Way of Kings.
Not that I’d enjoy having Jasnah as my teacher. Turning a man into fire? What she really did was forbidden. Ardents are the main users of fabrials and from what little we’ve been told they aren’t used in combat situations. But why is that? Wouldn’t a battle go much quicker if you can turn your opponents into a whiff of smoke? Though as Shallan mentions traditionally Soulcasting could only be done with physical contact and Jasnah displayed skills with range. We later learn what Jasnah is doing isn’t quite fabrial dependent, but more related to the abilities of the Radiants. It certainly begs the question of how she developed these abilities and how much her father knew.
Jasnah is so much a mystery and Shallan seems so certain something bad happened in her past given her palpable hatred of the men she callously murdered. Though Sanderson hasn’t said it I could see point of view chapters in Jasnah’s future. But really couldn’t Jasnah have taught this particular moral lesson in a less haunting way?
Shallan finally stole Jasnah’s Soulcaster! Which is its own philosophical argument. Was it right? Greater good and all that. As we’ll see the Soulcaster is more of a red herring than anything else. Shallan just really didn’t know what she was getting herself into while trying to get in with Jasnah.
It was quite interesting to see how the relationship of recorders works with such added commentary. It does bring into question the authenticity found in modern Vorin writings a great deal. Especially, given how ardents are more known for suppressing certain knowledge. It seems Sanderson wants us to question what we’re told about the past.
Shallan’s and Jasnah’s discussion about the Parshendi allowing the Alethi to hunt the chasmfiends unveiled the fact that there were other greatshells called the lanceryn that also had gemhearts.
“When the lanceryn died off during the scouring of Aimia, we thought we’d seen the last gemhearts of large size. And yet here was another great-shelled beast with them, living in a land not too distant from Kholinar itself.”
This seems to be a connection to our tattooed friend, Axies the Collector as there are few mentions of the “scouring of Aimia,” which doesn’t seem to have occurred too deep in the past. Could the scouring have had to do with the harvesting of gemhearts like the Alethi are so engrossed with currently on the Shattered Plains.
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.