Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! Last week, Shallan came to a sobering realization about the gentle disposition of the Ghostbloods and her preparedness to interact with the organization. This week, things lighten up as her next date with Adolin goes unexpected places, and meets unexpected people.
This reread will contain spoilers for The Way of Kings, Words of Radiance, and any other Cosmere book that becomes relevant to the discussion. The index for this reread can be found here, and more Stormlight Archive goodies are indexed here.
Click on through to join the discussion!
Chapter 55: The Rules of the Game
Point of View: Kaladin
Setting: The Warcamps & Outer Market
Symbology: Spears, Joker, Shalash
IN WHICH Kaladin sets himself to accompany Adolin and Shallan on their date, to Adolin’s exasperation; the carriage driver is—“You!” and Kaladin joins him cautiously; Wit and Kaladin trade smart remarks, in an exchange which Kaladin clearly loses; Wit drops a hint that he knows about Kaladin’s Surgebinding; as they arrive to pick up Shallan, Adolin discovers that the carriage driver is—“You!” and is suspicious; Shallan emerges and realizes that the extra man standing there is—“You!” and hugs him; Kaladin rides in the carriage with Adolin and Shallan, with a running internal monologue about the superficiality of lighteyes; Shallan gives Adolin the details of the dueling scheme she’s developed; it becomes clear that it might well work, but only because it’s such a lighteyed sort of game; they visit a menagerie in the Outer Market, where Shallan is fascinated, Adolin puzzled, and Kaladin bored; Kaladin admits to Syl that he’s almost ready; Dalinar arrives, and makes an announcement that sets Kaladin back to zero.
Quote of the Week
“It’s just a duel,” Kaladin said. “A game.”
“This would be different,” Adolin said.
“I don’t see why. Sure, you might win his Shards, but his title and authority would be the same.”
“It’s about perception,” Shallan said. “Sadeas has formed a coalition against the king. That implies he is stronger than the king. Losing to the king’s champion would deflate that.”
“But it’s all just games,” Kaladin said.
“Yes,” Adolin said— Kaladin hadn’t expected him to agree. “But it’s a game that Sadeas is playing. They are rules he’s accepted.”
The chapter starts out on a rather sour note. Kaladin has decided to take Teft’s questions about Shallan seriously, and given the possibility that she could be an assassin, he’ll do the guarding himself. He is, however, extremely grumpy, and seems determined to take out his acid mood on Adolin. Lovely way to start a date.
Of course, everything goes a bit wonky when the carriage driver shows up. Heh.
This line really jumped out at me this time around: “Something just felt off about this Shallan Davar.” Adolin keeps saying exactly the same thing about Kaladin… which may well be one of the best reasons to suspect that he will become a KR of some description.
The central discussion, of course, is the scheme to get Sadeas into the dueling arena. Interestingly enough, when Shallan brings up the subject of the duel, Adolin assures her that it’s okay to talk about it in front of Kaladin; since he’s saved Adolin’s life twice and attends all the secret meetings, there’s no point in being coy. It’s also crystal clear that at this point, Adolin is expecting a two-on-one duel. He fully expects to win it, too.
It’s delicious (and deliberate) irony that the plan is actually a direct copy of something Sadeas did many years ago, but that it’s not something he can see coming, because the only set-up it needs is a spectacular win. It’s good to note that, although Shallan and Adolin fully believe it can work, and even convince Kaladin of the same, Shallan still insists that Navani and Dalinar need to examine the idea and approve it. As we’ll see later, they will do so—and neither of them caught the loophole in Adolin’s challenge either. But we’ll talk about that next week.
You know the worst part of this chapter? Things are starting to get better: Kaladin concludes that Shallan isn’t an assassin, the three of them almost behave like human beings to one another, Shallan has a great time sketching the menagerie, and Kaladin cheers up by thinking about flying. So much so, in fact, that he’s just about ready to (I think this is what they meant) tell Dalinar about becoming a Windrunner. Things are right on the brink of a big step up… and then at the very end of the chapter, Dalinar and Amaram show up and make an announcement that destroys it all.
Amaram, the wretch, doesn’t have a clue what the ancient oaths actually mean. Or if he does, he doesn’t care if he’s forsworn on the spot.
This chapter takes place the day after the Elit duel and Shallan’s meeting with the Ghostbloods.
All Creatures Shelled and Feathered
Quite the assortment of critters in today’s line-up!
Sarpenthyn—“little more than a lump of flesh with two bulbous eyes and four long tentacles.” Kaladin and Adolin both think it’s about the ugliest thing ever, but Shallan is wide-eyed and thrilled. She reaches in and grabs one of the tentacles to see if it’s warm or cold, and starts sketching, disgusted at the lack of scholarship when the identification plaque calls it “Devil rock captured in Marabethia. The locals claim it is the reborn vengeful spirit of a child who was murdered.”
Skyeels—Not a lot of information here, but we have all the sketches from TWoK for them.
“Some kind of chull-thing”—A rather uninformative grunt from Kaladin, who thinks it should be perfectly happy in its cage, where it’s at least safe from predators. Syl feels sorry for it.
The Colorful Chicken—presumably a parrot, it has “red, blue, and green feathers. She dug out colored pencils to do that sketch. Apparently, she’d missed a chance at sketching one of these a long time ago.” Nice little shout-out to the “Middlefest” flashback, the same day as the talk which earned Wit that enthusiastic and unexpected hug.
Whitespine—This one is the most interesting, all around. “The square face showed sharpened mandibles— like teeth, only somehow more vicious— and a pair of long, toothlike tusks that pointed down from the upper jaw. The stark spikes running from the head along the sinuous back, along with powerful legs, were clues as to what this beast was.” This particular specimen seems too small and apathetic to justify the stories, but both Kaladin and Adolin have seen what they can do to a human body, when in the wild. Shallan comments that “They don’t do well in captivity. This one probably would have gone dormant in crystal long ago, if it had been allowed. They must keep dousing it to wash away the shell.”
Someone who is more of a biologist than I am should talk about this. Just the concept sounds cool to me: something that goes dormant in crystal when it can’t move enough, but can be kept from doing so by dumping water on it.
And just because I can, I shall add another beast to this list:
Amaram—parading around in a bright yellow-gold cloak with the double eye of the Knights Radiant emblem in black on the back.
Haven’t We Met Somewhere Before?
Yep, Hoid is back in town, as annoying as ever. I found it highly amusing that for all the arguments about Kaladin being a better match for Shallan than Adolin because he’s more witty, he could barely figure out what Wit was saying half the time. Not that this stops Kaladin from sourly thinking that Adolin isn’t very good at cracking jokes to amuse his betrothed; humility is not one of Kaladin’s strong suits.
Hoid is just as fun as ever, or more so, but you have to go read the conversations to get the enjoyment. There’s no way I can adequately summarize it here! (Seriously, go read it again. Hoot.) However, there are a few details brought up in his exchanges that I want to highlight.
IIRC, we’ve had some other hints that Wit’s flute—which Kaladin forgot about when they left Sadeas’s bridge barracks—is perhaps more than an ordinary flute. Certainly, we have a WoB that Sadeas had it, and that Wit really wants it back. Where it is now… well, it could be in Urithiru, or it could be at the warcamps if it got left behind with unimportant stuff.
Wit drops a hint—and scares the living daylights out of Kaladin—that he knows about Kaladin’s Surgebinding. “I wouldn’t want you to go flying off on me.” Kaladin picks up the hint, obviously, but can’t figure out what to do with it. After a bit of verbal sparring, he asks what Wit wants of him; the answer sets up a scene several chapters downstream, where Kaladin tells him a story…
There’s also this lovely little tidbit:
“I’m a soldier, not a musician,” Kaladin said. “Besides, music is for women.”
“All people are musicians,” Wit countered. “The question is whether or not they share their songs. As for music being feminine, it’s interesting that the woman who wrote that treatise—the one you all practically worship in Alethkar—decided that all of the feminine tasks involve sitting around having fun while all the masculine ones involve finding someone to stick a spear in you. Telling, eh?”
First, I love the observation that “All people are musicians; the question is whether or not they share their songs.” That’s downright profound, it is. As for the tradition of men’s vs. women’s arts… while it’s possible that Wit is just yanking Kaladin’s chain for the fun of it, I think this is for real, at least within a range of interpretation. It’s at least a highly diverting interpretation, and quite possibly an insight into the past politics of Vorinism.
The second-best thing about this whole scene with Hoid is the way everyone looks at him and exclaims, “You!” Especially the first time you read it, it’s hilarious.
The first-best thing, though, is everyone’s reactions to Shallan’s reaction:
She suddenly started, eyes widening. She pointed at Wit with her freehand.
“You!” Shallan exclaimed.
“Yes, yes. People certainly are good at identifying me today. Perhaps I need to wear—”
Wit cut off as Shallan lunged at him. Kaladin dropped to the ground, reaching for his side knife, then hesitated as Shallan grabbed Wit in an embrace, her head against his chest, her eyes squeezed shut.
Kaladin took his hand off his knife, raising an eyebrow at Wit, who looked completely flabbergasted. He stood with his arms at his sides, as if he didn’t know what to do with them.
“I always wanted to say thank you,” Shallan whispered. “I never had a chance.”
Adolin cleared his throat. Finally, Shallan released Wit and looked at the prince.
“You hugged Wit,” Adolin said.
“Is that his name?” Shallan asked.
“One of them,” Wit said, apparently still unsettled. “There are too many to count, really. Granted, most of them are related to one form of curse or another. . . .”
“You hugged Wit,” Adolin said.
Shallan blushed. “Was that improper?”
“It’s not about propriety,” Adolin said. “It’s about common sense. Hugging him is like hugging a whitespine or, or a pile of nails or something. I mean it’s Wit. You’re not supposed to like him.”
I can never quite decide whether I think it’s funnier that Wit doesn’t know what to do, or that Adolin compares Shallan’s action to hugging a whitespine. Either way, that whole scene just delights me to the bottom of my socks.
“She’s far too young for me, child,” Wit said.
“That’s right,” Adolin said with a nod. “Stick to women your own age.”
Wit grinned. “Well, that might be a little harder. I think there’s only one of those around these parts, and she and I never did get along.”
Personally, I believe that to be an unmistakable reference to the holder of the Shard Cultivation.
Another chapter where the Herald icons are fairly transparent: the Joker is always there when Wit plays a large role, and Shalash can variously be associated with Wit’s Lightweaving, Shallan’s Lightweaving, or Shallan herself.
Words of Radiants
The considerable abilities of the Skybreakers for making such amounted to an almost divine skill, for which no specific Surge or spren grants capacity, but however the order came to such an aptitude, the fact of it was real and acknowledged even by their rivals.
—From Words of Radiance, chapter 28, page 3
This is from the same page as the Chapter 54 epigraph, and sounds very much like it could be the following sentence. I could be wrong, of course, but I take this to mean that the unique ability of the Skybreakers is the capacity to accurately determine guilt and innocence.
Okay, I laughed all the way through this chapter, with Shallan and Adolin all flirty and Kaladin all sour and cranky. I seem to remember thinking on my first read that Shallan was trying too hard again, and I kept expecting it to rebound on her. Luckily, subjects of real interest turn up before it gets too nauseating.
I don’t know if I thought this the first time through or not, but even worse than Shallan’s overplaying her role, Kaladin was being an absolute toad. Inwardly or outwardly, his antipathy toward lighteyes was way more annoying than Shallan’s somewhat obvious flirting. He’s so bad that not only does Syl accuse him of being so sour she can practically taste it, he even has to admit to himself that he
“wasn’t giving those two enough credit. They might ignore him, but they weren’t actively mean to him. They were happy and pleasant. Why did that annoy him so?”
I’m clearly starting to get paranoid and read too much into things these days, because that phrasing—“Why did that annoy him so?”—seems to carry hints. Hints of what, I don’t know for sure. Self-awareness? Attraction? Interference by Odium-spren? I shall choose to settle on the idea that Kaladin is finally starting to recognize his own unfair prejudice against others merely because they are lighteyes. That interpretation at least has the benefit of leading up to his choices in the upcoming chapters and his change in attitude toward Adolin, if not lighteyes in general.
Favorite line of the whole chapter:
If she was some kind of con woman, she wasn’t after Adolin’s life. Just his dignity.
Too late, Kaladin thought, watching Adolin sit back with a stupid grin on his face. That’s dead and burned already.
Aside from the way this makes me giggle like a teenager, I did note the phrase “dead and burned” as opposed to our “dead and buried.” On Roshar, or at least in Alethkar, if you weren’t important enough to be Soulcast into stone when you died, your body would be burned, not buried.
There. That ought to keep us busy until next week, when… when… when… Oh, my peeps, it’s coming. Next week: Whitespine Uncaged. The. Big. Duel.
Alice Arneson is a long-time Tor.com commenter and Sanderson beta-reader. She’s also part of the facebook group “Storm Cellar—Brandon Sanderson Fans” which y’all are welcome to join for more generalized conversation.