Welcome back to the Words of Radiance reread on Tor.com! Last week some assassins introduced Jasnah to their knives, Shallan made a less-than-usually disastrous expedition to the Shadesmar, and a boat agreed to turn into water. I know you all want those cliffhangers resolved, so this week we’re barreling onward into Chapter 8, in which Dalinar does some politics or something.
Yeah, I mean… I could try to sell that better, but… he’s not exactly happy to be doing it either, you know?
This reread will contain spoilers for The Way of Kings, Words of Radiance, and any other Cosmere books that become relevant. This week is fairly spoiler-light so far, but who knows what horrors will lurk in the comments section?
Chapter 8: Knives in the Back · Soldiers on the Field
Point of View: Dalinar
Setting: The Shattered Plains
Symbology: Kholin Glyphpair, Jezrien
IN WHICH Dalinar reminisces with shame on past plateau assaults; the problem of slavers and bandits is considered and put off; the Kholin and Aladar armies attempt to cooperate under a new system; Adolin leads a battle all on his own; Dalinar tries and fails to convince Aladar by evidence; Dalinar tries and fails to convince Aladar by honor; Dalinar tries and fails to convince Aladar by force; Dalinar’s suggestions easily win Aladar a gemheart he would have lost; Dalinar and Aladar notice that a Parshendi Shardbearer had been watching them the whole time; Aladar wishes he could trust Dalinar, but just can’t; Dalinar returns to camp to find a welcome letter from an old friend.
Quote of the Week:
“I’m done cajoling, Aladar. I’m done asking. When you disobey Elhokar, you mock my brother and what he stood for. I will have a unified kingdom.”
“Amusing,” Aladar said. “Good of you to mention Gavilar, as he didn’t bring the kingdom together with honor. He did it with knives in the back and soldiers on the field, cutting the heads off any who resisted. Are we back to that again, then? Such things don’t sound much like the fine words of your precious book.”
I find Aladar quite interesting to reread. While he brushes off every force of persuasion Dalinar brings to bear, we see later that he was in fact willing to be convinced all along. I think that we might in Aladar have a person who is actually interested in being persuaded by logic and rhetoric. The answers to Dalinar’s various methods of persuasion are obvious, though, and Aladar is not convinced here. He understands his own prisoner’s dilemma, that even if he could trust Dalinar he wouldn’t be able to trust the other highprinces not to stab him in the back. And he knows that, for all that Dalinar is the superior general and has the backing of the king, he has no army with which to compel obedience.
Commentary: I don’t know about you, but after the last two chapters I was not eager to go back to the Shattered Plains. Shallan was sinking into an unknown abyss, Jasnah got unreasonable amounts of stabbed, and we’re back to plateau runs? No thank you! The chapter doesn’t pretend this is any good either; it leads off with Dalinar talking about how much he’s come to hate these stupid things. I KNOW, DALINAR. GET BACK TO BOATS.
Wow, I never thought I’d want to go back to a boat.
I think this is the first chapter of the series that shows us a plateau assault from the perspective of someone not in mortal danger. From watching Dalinar charge into every battle with Plate and Blade in The Way of Kings, you’d think that no Alethi ever watched their soldiers from a safe distance to make command decisions. While it’s clear that Dalinar’s presence on the field is an immeasurable combat resource, one wonders how he got so good at battlefield tactics if that’s where he’s always been during battle. He easily exceeds Aladar’s skill at reading the field, despite the other highprince’s habit of watching battles from a secured command post.
I’ve pointed out before how overloaded everyone’s to-do list is in Words of Radiance, and we see more of that here. The chapter begins with Dalinar going down the list of reasons he now dislikes plateau assaults. They waste life, they are mostly about making money, and they don’t even further the Vengeance Pact, if that’s still a worthy goal. While doing so he adds another problem to his list of goals: the bridge runs incur massive loss of life and bolster a growing slave trade and bandit problem. Dalinar has to put that aside for his more pressing task of convincing Aladar to come into line.
Dalinar’s attempt to lionize Gavilar is an interesting failure of PR. Ostensibly, everyone is at the Shattered Plains to avenge the honor of their fallen king. But in reality what they want is to make money, win honor, and prove their military might. No one puts much stock in Gavilar’s honor because they all remember his campaign for unification, which was clearly carried out along standard Alethi lines. Plenty of bloodshed, assassination, deal-making and betrayal was had. In the end the kingdom solidified only through force of arms and skillful maneuvering. What’s more, the throne can’t make any real claim to a current monopoly on force or rule of law. The king directly commands a smaller force than any highprince, and Dalinar’s current army is the smallest on the Shattered Plains. Meanwhile, back in the homeland, the monarchy doesn’t project enough power to prevent border skirmishes between warlords. The kingdom’s in a sad state.
When Dalinar notices Eshonai, the Parshendi Shardbearer, watching the battle, he feels a rug pulled out from under him. Until then he’d thought of the Parshendi as basically predictable. Because the Alethi have such a simplistic construction of their opponents’ mental states, it doesn’t take much to surprise them. I don’t think much can be said for variety of tactics among the Alethi either, since plateau runs have become completely rote.
The paragraphs in which Dalinar returns to his warcamp and finds a letter from an “old friend” were so vague on a first read. Could any of us have predicted how big of a dick that friend would turn out to be?
All Creatures Shelled and Feathered: How do Ryshadiums work?! Gallant is apparently smart enough to tack and stable himself better than a groom could, and authoritative enough to glare down any groom that would try to hinder him. I want one. I’ll stable him in my tiny apartment and he can do my math homework.
Ars Mechanica: Shardbearers can lend both Plate and Blade to others to fight with them in battle. This is simple for Shardplate, but Shardblades bind to their owners, so are more difficult to parcel out. In order to delegate a Shardblade, its proper owner must will it not to dissolve into mist when he or she releases it. The owner can also pull their blade back into their hand at any time.
This arrangement strikes me as very inconvenient for the borrower. They can’t ever dismiss the blade, so they have to carry the thing around all the time. Shardblades aren’t heavy, but they can cut instantly through almost any material, so they’re more than a little unwieldy.
Heraldic Symbolism: Jezrien watches over Dalinar’s doomed attempts to unite the highprinces under a single banner, his Leading attribute grimly shaking its head. He knows that Gavilar was pretty good at kinging, but Elhokar is less so, and Dalinar is struggling to pick up the slack. Keep trying, Jezrien implies, with his unmoving visage.
That’s it for Chapter 8. I’m packing up and heading to Loncon next week, so I’m glad to be able to leave the reread in Alice’s capable hands as she follows Kaladin deep into the chasms.