Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! Last week, a tentative expedition to observe a chasmfiend chrysalis and gather information ended in an unexpected Parshendi sighting and a collapsing bridge. This week, Kaladin and Shallan find themselves the only two who somehow survived the fall, with one day to make their way back through the chasms to the warcamp before the next highstorm hits. No pressure, though.
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 69: Nothing
Point of View: Kaladin, Shallan
Setting: the chasms
Symbology: Pattern, Jezrien, Shalash
IN WHICH Kaladin falls; Syl screams; Kaladin gets a rush of Stormlight and hits the bottom; he wakes, hurting but alive; Shallan Davar appears around a corner, and they scare the daylights out of one another; she explains the bridge’s emergency latch; they search the bodies nearby, but no one else survived the 200-foot fall; Kaladin mendaciously credits windspren for protecting the two of them, though privately he wonders how he saved her as well as himself; they confirm that neither Dalinar nor Adolin are among the corpses; however, there are dead spearmen and Parshendi, verifying that there was a skirmish of some sort; they determine that a highstorm is due the following night, and that they should try to get back to the warcamps through the chasms; Shallan reflects on the fall, and Pattern’s speculation that the Stormlight had somehow kept her alive; she assumes that somehow she’d inadvertently saved Kaladin, too, and is grateful that he’s superstitious enough to believe the folktales about the windspren; as they trek through the chasm, Shallan can’t keep from noticing the beauty of the plant life here in the chasm; Kaladin is less than chivalrous, but finally takes Shallan’s pack of waterskins while she carries her satchel; Shallan tries to be pleasant—if snarky—and Kaladin snarls back; they snap back and forth and toss accusations at each other, getting louder and louder until they hear a noise that puts a stop to it: the sound of an approaching chasmfiend; they run.
Quote of the Week
“Storms,” she said, hurrying to catch up. “That was supposed to be lighthearted. What would it take to make you relax, bridgeboy?”
“I guess I’m just a… what was it again? A ‘hateful man’?”
“I haven’t seen any proof to the contrary.”
“That’s because you don’t care to look, lighteyes. Everyone beneath you is just a plaything.”
“What?” she said, taking it like a slap to the face. “Where would you get that idea?”
“To whom? To you only? When have you seen me treat someone of a lesser station like a plaything? Give me one example.”
“When I was imprisoned,” he said immediately, “for doing what any lighteyes would have been applauded for doing.”
“And that was my fault?” she demanded.
“It’s the fault of your entire class. Each time one of us is defrauded, enslaved, beaten, or broken, the blame rests upon all of you who support it. Even indirectly.”
“Oh please,” she said. “The world isn’t fair? What a huge revelation! Some people in power abuse those they have power over? Amazing! When did this start happening?”
I really do like Kaladin. Honest, I do. But this particular attitude annoys me no end and makes me want to pound on his head. Honestly, how can his imprisonment possibly be construed as an example of her treating people of lesser station as playthings? Later in the conversation he brings up the boots, which she acknowledges as a fair point, but her point is much stronger: he’s looking for excuses to do what he wants to do and blame someone else for “making him” that way. Which is the whole root of what’s going on with him right now.
This really launches the worst stretch of Kaladin’s arc, in my mind. He no longer has access to Stormlight, or to his constant companion, confidant, adviser, and sense of humor. Arguably, with the loss of Syl’s company, his sense of perspective—already skewed by imprisonment—suffers almost irreparable damage.
If you were following the discussion this past week, a very cogent statement was made regarding the Windrunner bond. To boil it way down, the synergy between the behavior and the relationship is one of constructive interference—but it goes both ways. The desired behavior reinforces the budding relationship, and the strengthening relationship reinforces the desired behavior, and it’s just not possible to have one without the other. But “constructive interference” can be a two-edged sword—when the results are undesirable, it’s also known as a vicious cycle.
Allow me to tell a story, completely unrelated to epic fantasy. Many years ago, I was working on an aerospace project, and we got word that the test flight was returning in… interesting condition. When the aircraft came in for its landing, the guys in the control tower burst out laughing and asked the flight crew incredulously what on earth they’d done with their tail. The flight crew was baffled—they hadn’t known anything was wrong, though the rudder had seemed a bit sluggish on the way in. Turned out that in the testing, the last event in the kick test had set up a harmonic oscillation in the rudder that essentially tore the tail off. (Let me tell you, it’s a weird feeling to look at a 707 whose tail fin appears to have been ripped away like a piece of paper. From then on, the call sign for the aircraft series was “Gecko”—because how many airplanes can still fly with 1/3 of a tail?) But the point is, this test has been done with dozens and dozens of aircraft; this one was structured a little differently, and when the rudder was kicked under certain conditions, instead of coming back to a center balance, each flip of the rudder created further momentum, until it was flipping back and forth so hard the metal couldn’t take the strain, and it tore apart.
I’m sure you can see the analogy. When things were going well, every honorable thing Kaladin did reinforced his bond with Syl, and as she got stronger, his powers and his ability to do honorable things increased. But when things went badly, each vengeful impulse tore at the bond, weakening it; the less she could influence him, the more his instincts turned from honor to vengeance. Finally, it’s torn, and there’s no more Stormlight. No more tiny piece of a god to tweak his nose when his thoughts turn sour. No more Windrunning, no more incredible healing, no more Kaladin Stormblessed.
This is, of course, the same day as the previous chapter. The countdown is at ten.
I have to start this with a series of quotations:
Syl screamed, a terrified, painful sound that vibrated Kaladin’s very bones. In that moment, he got a breath of Stormlight, life itself.
WHAT HAVE YOU DONE? The distant voice sounded like rumbling thunder.
I got some Stormlight right at the end, he thought. I survived. But that scream! It haunted him, echoing in his mind. It had sounded too much like the scream he’d heard when touching the duelist’s Shardblade in the arena.
The following is speculation, of course, but I have suspected that what happened here was Sylphrena voluntarily spending her last remaining Physical connection to grant Kaladin the Stormlight he would need to survive and heal from the fall. Without sufficient autonomy to determine for herself what “honor” looks like, she had yet enough autonomy to make the choice to sacrifice herself to save his life. I think that the rumbling-thunder-voice is the Stormfather speaking to Syl in the Cognitive realm, because he doesn’t think the outcome was worth the price.
However… I feel like I’m missing something; I can’t quite put my finger on some elusive piece. Why did her choice have a result so similar to the Recreance? Or am I wrong? Did Kaladin manage to pull the Stormlight through her, against her will, and destroy her Physical presence in the process?
Gah. I’m missing something; I think there’s something about this event that should give us a clue as to what really happened at the Recreance. What we’ve actually been told so far came from either handed-down tradition (in-world “Words of Radiance”), or the external observation of a soldier (Dalinar’s vision). I think there’s a hint in here of the spren’s perspective on what the Recreance was about, and I can’t tease it out.
Help a girl out here, folks. Pummel this around and see if you can get hold of a thread to pull.
And having now mixed my metaphors into a muddy brown paste, let’s move on, shall we?
All Creatures Shelled and Feathered
Trust Shallan to get distracted by the local flora at a time like this! To be fair, though, this would be a unique experience for her. Kaladin has been in the chasms many times before, and besides, he’s not that interested in plants unless he can use them (see: knobweed). Given Shallan’s interests, of course she’s going to be fascinated: while some of these plants are varieties of plants she’s known elsewhere, some may be unique to the chasms. It’s a good thing she has her Memories, because there’s really not a lot of time for study just now.
It’s notable that Pattern could only speculate as to how the Stormlight was able to preserve Shallan despite a fall of 200+ feet. As she says, it proved how little she—or he—knew about her abilities. It doesn’t help matters to have a false data point, either; she’s trying to not only account for saving herself, but for somehow saving Kaladin as well.
It does make me wonder, though. What are the mechanics of an event like this? Did she fall and then heal? Or did the Stormlight somehow protect her from injury in the first place? The same questions should probably apply to Kaladin, but I can at least think that Windrunner reflexes would let him use Stormlight to slow the fall, and then heal himself from whatever other injuries were sustained. But what does a Lightweaver have in that regard? She’s got Illumination and Transformation; how do those help? Or… is it like the explanation in the (officially not-yet-canonical) Jasnah excerpt, where someone holding enough Stormlight will just immediately and automatically heal from any injury short of a crushing blow to the head?
The Heralds for this chapter are, appropriately enough, those associated with the respective Orders of our two would-be (or wouldn’t-be) Radiants: Jezrien for the Windrunner and Shalash for the Lightweaver. Suitable, since it’s only their bonds that allowed them to survive. They’re also singularly apt in the roles these two take, however faulty their execution: Kaladin takes the lead (though he doesn’t do much protecting), while Shallan is both bluntly honest and determinedly artistic despite the desperate situation.
And thus begins the series of events leading to the Kaladin/Shallan ship—a ship which I most fervently disavow. While the trope of “they fight and fight and all of a sudden they’re in love” is a staple of romance novels, and is not infrequently seen in fantasy, it’s hard to write believably, IMO. This is one (of many) reasons that I really hope Sanderson doesn’t decide to bring Kaladin and Shallan together; all wishful fanfic aside included, it would be bloody awful trying to make these two complement one other while maintaining both continuity and any semblance of credibility.
There. That ought to keep us busy until next week, when these crazy kids have a narrow escape from a nightmare.
Alice Arneson is a long-time Tor.com commenter and Sanderson beta-reader. Believe it or not, she used to be an engineer, which is how she realized that she loved writing. Go figure.