Welcome back to The Way of Kings reread on Tor.com. All of us here at Stormlight Central hope that you had a wonderful holiday season. My first new year’s resolution is to blast through to the end of Part Three!
This week I’m covering chapters 50 and 51, with a brief word on the epigraphs. We’ll see Jasnah lay the smack down on Shallan and reach the end of Kaladin’s backstory chapters. You’d better hope that your holiday was a happy one, because there’s no joy in Roshar in these chapters.
Chapter 50: Backbreaker Powder
Point of View: Shallan
What Happens: Shallan awakens to find that, although she expects to be burnt from “toes to ears,” she’s practically perfectly well. Only the earlier cut remains. A nurse arrives, which means she’s in a hospital, in what proves to be a guarded room. The guard doesn’t answer her request to know if Kabsal is all right, and once Shallan remembers that she revealed herself as a thief, she spends a truly miserable half-hour waiting for punishment.
Jasnah arrives, obviously deeply angry, and demands to know what devotary she was working with. Shallan protests that she was only working for herself, trying to honor her dead father’s debts. Jasnah points out how foolish this is; if she had succeeded, she would have brought down the wrath not only of “the entire ardentia, but Alethkar.” Jasnah says she’s having Shallan put on a boat for Jah Keved in the morning.
She also explains that Kabsal is dead. He ate the bread that he had laced with backbreaker powder, but without the jam as antidote he had no chance to survive. Jasnah says he was playing Shallan the entire time.
For a moment, Shallan hopes that she can get Jasnah to explain the strange things she saw, but her mentor’s cold rage dissuades her. Jasnah leaves her after saying how very disappointed she is:
“You might not have escaped with my fabrial, but you have thrown away a very promising career. This foolish scheme will stain your life for decades. No woman will take you as a ward now. You threw it away.” She shook her head in distaste. “I hate being wrong.”
Shallan sits in her hospital room, alone.
Quote of the Chapter:
“Protecting them does you no good. Eventually, you will tell me the truth.”
“It is the truth,” Shallan said, looking up, feeling a hint of defiance. “It’s why I became your ward in the first place. To steal that Soulcaster.”
“Yes, but for whom?”
“For me,” Shallan said. “Is it so hard to believe that I could act for myself? Am I such a miserable failure that the only rational answer is to assume I was duped or manipulated?”
Shallan reaches the peak of her shame/defiance combo here, trying to feel like she was at some point in control of any part of her life. It goes over predictably poorly with Jasnah.
Shallan is subject to nested layers of restraint and rejection in this chapter. She’s locked in a room, both a prisoner and an invalid. The scope of her world has shrunk to that room, and she’s threatened with being taken directly from it to a boat that will take her home, where she will once again be an orphaned young lady from a house with no influence, no money, and no prospects. Jasnah has pronounced the death of her career and the end of her enjoyment of her mentor’s trust. On top of all that, her would-be boyfriend is dead from bad-at-assassination. Yes, that’s a real cause of death, shut up. This means he, uh, probably wasn’t her true love or anything.
Shallan has always been separated from the people around her by lies. The people who she thinks she can be somewhat truthful with, her family, are all in Jah Keved, and she keeps secrets even from them (I’m looking at you, Shardblade). She’s been trying to run a con on the person she respects the most, and if not for the person she thought she was falling for, she would have succeeded. Now it’s all caught up with her.
Since we can’t reach into the pages and give her a big hug, I think we should leave Shallan alone with her grief for a little while. Maybe Kaladin is having a better time of it.
Chapter 51: Sas Nahn
Setting: Alethkar, Amaram’s Warcamp, One Year Ago
Point of View: Kaladin
What Happens: Kaladin waits to be seen by Amaram, with his four surviving men. He wonders if he was a fool for giving away a Plate and Blade and ponders why saving Amaram’s life is considered worth the lives of his men. He thinks on Amaram’s reputation and demeanor, how he demands that his men be treated with respect, but allows his men to treat those under them like slime. He remembers that the highmarshal let Tien die.
Amaram enters, accompanied by one of his stormwardens. He compliments Kaladin’s bravery, leaving the young man at a loss for a response. Kaladin reminds him about the events of Hearthstone, but they don’t seem to register on Amaram. He asks why Kaladin refused the shards, and isn’t content with Kaladin saying that he just didn’t want them. Kaladin insists again that they be given to his best man, Coreb, who will take care of the survivors once he becomes a lighteyes.
Amaram looks at Coreb, then has him and all of Kaladin’s other soldiers killed.
Kaladin curses Amaram again and again, while the lighteyes explains that he needed a story for why he was taking the Shards for himself. As the best-trained wielder of the Shards, he thinks he could save thousands of lives. He couldn’t have just asked for them, as rumors would have spread, and in the end Amaram isn’t convinced that Kaladin wouldn’t ask for them back. He says that this is what must be done for the good of Alethkar. Kaladin is less than pleased with his rationale:
“It’s not about Alethkar! It’s about you! Storm it, you’re supposed to be better than the others!” Tears dripped from Kaladin’s chin.
Amaram looked suddenly guilty, as if he knew what Kaladin had said was true.
Amaram tells his men to brand Kaladin “sas nahn,” a slave’s mark. He says this is an act of mercy. In exchange for Kaladin saving his life, Amaram will spare Kaladin’s. He seems to feel guilty for a moment, then leaves the tent. The branding iron descends, and Kaladin screams in agony.
Quote of the Chapter:
“…why Thaidakar would risk this?” Amaram was saying, speaking in a soft voice. But who else would it be? The Ghostbloods grow more bold. We’ll need to find out who he was. Do we know anything about him?”
“He was Veden, Brightlord,” the stormwarden said. “Nobody I recognize. But I will investigate.”
There are many who suspect that the nameless Shardbearer Kaladin killed in this battle was Shallan’s brother, Helaran. This is some of the evidence they point to. Whether he was or not, this passage raises a ton of questions. Are the Ghostbloods trying to kill Amaram? What makes him so special? What’s up with stormwardens anyway?
I don’t think any of us actually expected things to go better for Kaladin.
Kaladin gets an up-close lesson in the heroic reasoning of Alethi lighteyes. Watching Amaram justify his slaughters is sick, although in my mind it takes a backseat to the persistent Alethi belief that slavery is some form of mercy, as compared to execution. The thing that really surprises me about this chapter is how much Amaram buys into his own hero narrative. When Kaladin tells him that he’s supposed to be better, it strikes deep. He knows what people think of him, and he actually wishes it were true. It seems like he doesn’t really believe he’s morally superior to other lighteyes, but on the other hand his justification for his disgusting actions are all based on saving thousands of people with the force of his virtuous swordplay.
He’s such a tool. Really, I can’t even.
I think that this chapter Kaladin turning his hatred for Amaram and other deceitful lighteyes into a shield against his own guilt. He started the chapter unsure whether he and Amaram were any different. They both made decisions that led to the death of his men. They both failed to save Tien. But Amaram marks Kaladin indelibly, physicalizing his hatred of the ruling class, and by doing so he draws a divide that lets Kaladin function. His hatred is a survival mechanism. I bet we’ll see it become a hindrance in the future, though.
The epigraphs to Part Three were all excerpts from Jasnah Kholin’s research journal. They contained a wealth of information about her investigations into the Voidbringers, and a careful reader should be able to pick up plenty of clues that lead in the direction of the big Voidbringer reveal. I want to remind readers that we have to be cautious not to accept the first answer made available to us. Things are rarely as simple as they seem in a Sanderson novel, and we have so many books left ahead of us.
Speaking of books ahead of us, I have a confession to make: I spent most of the break reading and rereading the final manuscript of Words of Radiance, in preparation for some of our upcoming promotional material. As such, I’m going to have to take a less speculative approach to my articles in the immediate future. Just assume that, whenever you speculate about what might happen in Words of Radiance, I am stroking my chin appreciatively somewhere. The book is great, and I know you’re all going to love it.
Next week Michael will cover Interludes 7-9.
Carl Engle-Laird is an editorial assistant for Tor.com, where he acquires and edits original short fiction. He is also Tor.com’s resident Stormlight Archive correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter here.