Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! Last week, Dalinar was forced to play politics, acknowledging his visions and drumming up support for his upcoming expedition. This week, he takes a smaller force out on an exploratory mission… which takes an abrupt downward turn.
This reread will contain spoilers for The Way of Kings, Words of Radiance, and any other Cosmere book that becomes relevant to the discussion. For the time being, though, The Bands of Mourning and the surprise novella are off limits for the WoR reread. Let’s give people a chance to catch up without risking spoilers for a while. 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 68: Bridges
Point of View: Kaladin
Setting: the Shattered Plains
Symbology: Spears, Palah, Kalak
IN WHICH Team Kholin heads out on the Shattered Plains on an expedition, ostensibly to observe a chasmfiend chrysalis; Kaladin tries and fails to draw in Stormlight, and has a small altercation with Syl about it; he converses for a few minute with the bridgemen, Dalinar, and then Adolin; he repeats the failure and altercation routine, with perhaps a slightly better understanding; as Shallan sketches an unfolding mobile bridge, Kaladin recognizes one of the carpenters, but can’t place him; he is approached by Moash, who informs Kaladin that the assassination attempt is almost ready, and Kaladin’s betrayal will be super simple and easy; Kaladin is gladly distracted by Adolin, with conversation about the Assassin in White, women, and an attempt to figure out Kaladin’s powers; Kaladin admits nothing, but the two share a momentary camaraderie all the same; they attend Shallan as she sketches; Adolin teases Kaladin goodnaturedly, but Kaladin’s return is rather barbed, and Shallan catches it; she has Adolin slay the rock for her, revealing the oddity of the stone under the crem build-up; after Adolin wanders off, she censures Kaladin for his ungracious attitude and his attempt to shift the blame onto Adolin; he can’t answer her reproaches, and stomps off to join Bridge Four, carrying their bridge out across the Plains; near the farthest reach of the planned excursion, Kaladin converses with Dalinar about a feasible way to use the more mobile bridges without making the bearers so vulnerable; he watches Dalinar recrossing the last bridge in response to a call, and suddenly recognizes the carpenter as belonging to Sadeas; he charges screaming toward the bridge and Dalinar, causing Adolin to abandon Shallan in the middle of the bridge as he, too turns to run toward whatever danger Kaladin has spotted; too late to stop the carpenter, Adolin reaches Dalinar at about the same Kaladin reaches Shallan, and the bridge collapses.
Quote of the Week
“Yes,” Kaladin said. “He’s always so munificent to all of the little darkeyes who flock around to worship him.”
Shallan snapped her pencil against the page. “You really are a hateful man, aren’t you? Underneath the mock boredom, the dangerous glares, the growls— you just hate people, is that it?”
“What? No, I—”
“Adolin is trying. He feels bad for what happened to you, and he’s doing what he can to make up for it. He is a good man. Is it too much for you to stop provoking him?”
“He calls me bridgeboy,” Kaladin said, feeling stubborn. “He’s been provoking me.”
“Yes, because he is the one storming around with alternating scowls and insults,” Shallan said. “Adolin Kholin, the most difficult man to get along with on the Shattered Plains. I mean look at him! He’s so unlikable!”
She gestured with the pencil toward where Adolin was laughing with the darkeyed water boys. The groom walked up with Adolin’s horse, and Adolin took his Shardplate helm off the carrying post, handing it over, letting one of the water boys try it on. It was ridiculously large on the lad.
Kaladin flushed as the boy took a Shardbearer’s pose, and they all laughed again. Kaladin looked back to Shallan, who folded her arms, drawing pad resting on the flat-topped cut rock before her. She smirked at him.
I don’t really have anything particular to say about it. I just like this conversation. Shallan can sometimes be grating with her snark, but in this case it was well-deserved, IMO.
There’s a lot of disparate stuff going on in this chapter, though most of it is merely setting the stage. The growing friendship between Adolin and Kaladin is fun to watch, at least until Kaladin starts taking his frustrations out on Adolin. It’s also rather fun to watch Kaladin’s embarrassment when the scouts tell Dalinar about the glowing man who was flying around out here a while back.
In a minor foreshadowing moment, Shallan is fascinated by the rock formations and asks Adolin to “slay this moss” for her—revealing that there is more to the random landscape than others assumed. It is indeed, as she had suspected, the ruins of ancient city. This will come into play again, but not for a while; one of those tidbits that you just have to tuck in your pocket for later, and hope you don’t lose it.
The main focus of the chapter, though, is the attenuation of the bond between Kaladin and Syl, setting up the disaster to come. Three times in this chapter, Kaladin attempts to draw in Stormlight, only to find that it won’t obey him. Harking back to the conversations in the comments a couple of weeks ago, this is where Kaladin finally starts trying to figure out what’s wrong with his bond. Too little, too late—and in the wrong direction, besides.
In all fairness to Kaladin, there’s a certain drawback to being the first Windrunner in centuries (or millennia, whichever it is): there’s no one to train him, no one to teach him the precepts, except for the lone spren who is attempting to reestablish the Order and whose effective intellect is strongly dependent on his following the precepts he’s supposed to be learning. It’s not entirely his fault that he doesn’t get it right, and I understand that.
Be that as it may, it’s bizarre to watch his thought processes, from the vantage point of those who know more than he does about the Nahel bonding. For one thing, there’s his assumption that the powers he’s been learning are his powers. He blames himself for losing bridgemen because he didn’t accept his powers soon enough. Then he blames Syl for capriciously withholding his powers when he doesn’t behave the way she wants him to. And… that’s what I want to explore today.
Sylphrena is a spren, not a human; she doesn’t get to rationalize and assimilate concepts to come up with her own understanding of honor the way Kaladin does. The way I see it, there are two possible sources for Syl’s “stupid, simplistic morality.”
1) She is a Splinter of Honor, and as such her standard of honor is, in a real sense, the definition of Honor in the entire Cosmere. The intent of a Shard of Adonalsium could, I think, be accepted as the definitive version of an attribute.
2) She is a spren, the physical manifestation of a Cognitive Ideal. This could possibly be characterized as either a) the general Rosharan ideal of Honor or b) Kaladin’s own ideal of Honor.
It’s even possible that more than one of these come into play. What’s not remotely part of the picture, though, is that any of it is her own capricious or simplistic definition.
Whatever the source, she is irrevocably defined by a power not her own, and she is bound to precepts beyond her control. When Kaladin behaves in ways that do not conform to the Ideal—whether that’s the Shard’s Intent, the Vorin idealization of honor, Kaladin’s own understanding of honor, or some combination—she has no choice and no power over what happens to the bond. Kaladin’s decisions violate the precepts which give her strength and sentience in the Physical Realm, resulting in her reversion toward a simple windspren and in his loss of access to the Surges the growing bond had given him.
He explains it to himself by assuming that the problem is having made two mutually-exclusive promises; I think he’s wrong. His first promise to Dalinar, to guard and protect the Kholin family (including the king), was in line with the precepts of Honor and with the Windrunner’s Ideal of protecting those who cannot protect themselves. The second promise, the one causing the problem, is not merely in conflict with the first; it’s in conflict with the Ideals he’s already spoken—and that’s the real issue.
When he offers support to the assassination of the king, it is a direct violation of both the First and Second Ideals he’s spoken so far. He rationalizes it by telling himself it’s about justice and honor, since the king is responsible—through indifference or incompetence—for the deaths of many people, and therefore needs to be removed. The problem is that Windrunner Ideals aren’t about punishing people for past actions: they are about protecting people now. He doesn’t have the authority to look back and deal out his own vigilante “justice” for the past; even in the heyday of the Knights Radiant, that would have been a task for the Skybreakers, not the Windrunners. The fact that there are no qualified Skybreakers (that we know of) doesn’t change the fact that the Windrunner Ideals simply don’t give him that option.
Kaladin’s loss of power, then, is not a matter of short-sightedly making conflicting promises. It’s a matter of making a promise which conflicts with the Ideals he’s sworn to, and moreover one which leads in a direction away from the next Ideal he needs to pursue. If he were honest with himself, he’d recognize that the assassination is not about protecting anyone. Given the current situation, Elhokar’s ability to further endanger people through the aforementioned indifference and incompetence is severely curtailed. With both Dalinar and Navani on hand, to say nothing of his other wise generals and advisors, the chances of a repeat of anything like “the Roshone affair” are slim. This isn’t about prevention or protection; it’s about revenge.
As I said, it’s tough on both of them that Syl can’t remember things until Kaladin progresses, and it’s hard for him to progress without more guidance. However, his accusation that Syl would “yank his powers away every time he did something that risked offending her” is inconsistent with his own experiences. It may, to some extent, be understandable in a human being; that doesn’t necessarily make it either right or justifiable.
Well, that’s enough to be going on with; I hope it makes some sort of sense. If not, I’ll have to try to sort it out in the comments!
This takes place the day following the feast of the previous chapter; there are ten days left of the countdown.
All Creatures Shelled and Feathered
Shallan really, really wants to see a chasmfiend up close and personal. Well, she’ll get her chance, but not this week.
By my best guess, Palah reflects Shallan’s researches and studies. I’m not quite sure what to think about Kalak, though. Maker? Resolute/Builder? Willshaper? I’m kind of at a loss here.
Adolin and Shallan are so very cute. Each of them is so worried over how to keep the other interested, and there’s approximately zero chance of either of them losing interest.
Also, I really want to know a little more about Tarah, and the mistakes Kaladin made with her.
There. That should stir up enough of a hornets’ nest to keep us busy for a while. Next week, we’ll return to watch the effects of the bridge collapse. Fun fun fun!
Alice Arneson is a long-time Tor.com commenter and Sanderson beta-reader. She hopes you have all had a chance to read The Bands of Mourning and have discovered the prize at the end of the book. Do everyone a favor, though, and keep those discussions to the respective spoiler threads for a month or so yet.