Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! Last week, we checked in briefly with Bridge Four before joining Kaladin and Shallan for further adventures in the chasms. This week, they have to deal with the chasmfiend before they can get ready for the highstorm, which doesn’t leave much time for either activity.
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 72: Selfish Reasons
Point of View: Kaladin, Shallan
Setting: the Chasms
Symbology: Pattern, Talenel, Kalak
IN WHICH Shallan’s Blade fails to scream at Kaladin; he takes the Blade and leaps out to face the chasmfiend, leading it away from Shallan; he thinks this must be what a Voidbringer looks like, then is too busy staying alive to think any more; he’s frustratingly slow without Stormlight, but still scores several hits on the chasmfiend before getting a severe leg wound; just before it finishes him, Shallan distracts it with an Illusion of herself; Kaladin tries and fails to pull in some Stormlight; Shallan distracts the chasmfiend with a larger-than-life Illusion of Kaladin, giving him time to position himself; Kaladin thrusts the Blade up through the chasmfiend’s mouth and into its brain, killing it. Shallan moves in to find Kaladin trapped, half-inside the beast’s mouth; she summons her Blade and cuts him loose, but is appalled at his condition; his leg reminds her of Balat, but she follows his instructions to bind his wounds with pieces torn from her dress; once done, they still have a highstorm to face, so Shallan uses her Blade to cut a ladder into the chasm wall and a tiny cave for them to shelter from the worst of the storm; Kaladin is resigned to letting the storm wash him away, knowing that Shallan will be (relatively) safe, but she insists that he make the effort; she makes it up to the cubby and he is almost there when the stormwall hits.
Quote of the Week
Kaladin struggled to his feet. The monster stopped smashing against the ground and with a trump surged toward him. Kaladin gripped the sword in two hands, then wavered. His leg buckled beneath him. He tried to go down on one knee, but the leg gave out completely, and he slumped to the side and narrowly avoided slicing himself with the Shardblade.
He splashed into a pool of water. In front of him, one of the spheres he’d tossed shone with a bright white light.
He reached into the water, snatching it, clutching the chilled glass. He needed that Light. Storms, his life depended on it.
The chasmfiend loomed above. Kaladin sucked in a breath, straining, like a man gasping for air. He heard… as if distantly…
No power entered him.
Pretty sure I expected him to at least get a trickle here, the first time I read this. And it almost broke my heart that it didn’t happen. In retrospect, though, this is at least a hint that she’s still there somewhere.
This is such a great chapter. Well, a great sequence, it’s just broken up into chapters.
Whether it’s the shared danger, or a bit of clearing the air from the previous chapter, Kaladin finally relaxes (if that’s the right word!) into the verbal fencing. It’s not like he can’t do it—we’ve seen him sparring with words ever since the beginning, whether it was with Tvlakv, Syl, the bridgemen, or during his flashbacks. He’s just always been too stiff with Shallan to ever take part. So there are some great sections of dialog—banter mixed with information mixed with… just normal conversation. (Well, normal considering the setting, anyway!)
As noted above, I really almost expected Kaladin to get his powers back in this chapter. He fought with all he had to protect someone he wasn’t even sure he liked; despite his excellent instincts, there’s only so much an unenhanced human should be able to do against a chasmfiend. If ever there was a battle that ought to be rewarded by a level-up, this seemed like it… but there’s nothing. He has to fight it with nothing but human skill… and a Shardblade he doesn’t understand. Luckily, the Blade understands him!
In fact, I suppose I should be bothered by the fact that, even with the Blade and with Shallan’s Illusions to distract the beast, he actually killed a chasmfiend—something that took the best combined efforts of Dalinar, Adolin, Elhokar, and Sadeas to do. There are two justifications I set against that, though: One, the relatively close confines keep the chasmfiend from making full use of its normal agility and speed. Two, see Sanderson’s Zeroth Law: Err on the Side of Awesome.
There were so many things I want to quote, because I love the things that are happening here. I’ll limit myself to
Falling stone made a beating sound on the dead chasmfiend’s armor. “You’re doing great!” Kaladin called up to her. “Keep at it!”
“When did you get so peppy?” she shouted.
“Ever since I assumed I was dead, then I suddenly wasn’t.”
“Then remind me to try to kill you once in a while,” she snapped. “If I succeed, it will make me feel better, and if I fail, it will make you feel better. Everyone wins!”
“Done?” Kaladin called up from the chasm floor.
“No,” Shallan said, “but close enough. I think we might fit.”
Kaladin was silent.
“You are coming up into the hole I just cut, Kaladin bridgeboy, chasmfiend-slayer and gloombringer.” She leaned over the side of the chasmfiend to look at him. “We are not having another stupid conversation about you dying in here while I bravely continue on. Understand?”
“I’m not sure if I can walk, Shallan,” Kaladin said with a sigh. “Let alone climb.”
“You’re going,” Shallan said, “if I have to carry you.”
He looked up, then grinned, face covered in dried violet ichor that he’d wiped away as best he could. “I’d like to see that.”
And finally this:
He looked up at the ladder cut into the rock. “You’re really going to make me climb that.”
“Yes,” she said. “For perfectly selfish reasons.”
He looked to her.
“I’m not going to have your last sight in life be a view of me standing in half a filthy dress, covered in purple blood, my hair an utter mess. It’s undignified. On your feet, bridgeboy.”
When Kaladin first had the idea to use the Shardblade to cut out the cubbyhole and the ladder to get to it, he probably did have the idea of “saving ourselves.” But I can’t help wondering if it was at the point where he started cheering her on, when he concluded that he was never going to make it, and he needed to keep faking it long enough for Shallan to make the preparations that would keep her alive.
Of course, he reckoned without Shallan’s stubbornness…
While I realize that your mileage may vary, I feel that Sanderson did a believable job of taking these two young hotheads and bringing them from yelling at each other to cooperation, and even to mutual concern and aid for one another, even given the short timeframe. Somehow, it just works for me.
Also, as was pointed out last week, Kaladin has definitely progressed toward the next Ideal, though he doesn’t know it yet. He’s now willing to fight for and protect someone he very recently loathed, all while still feeling ambivalent toward her. This is the Kaladin I love: the one who will do everything in his power to protect, even to the point of willingly sacrificing his life for someone else to live.
T-minus nine days and holding…
Well, this chapter answered a question I asked two weeks ago.
The chasmfiend’s head lay nearby, massive eyes cloudy. Spren started to rise from it, like trails of smoke. The same ones as before, only… leaving?
I’m almost positive this is Significant; I just don’t know how. Are they leaving because it doesn’t need them any longer, or because whatever drew them in the first place is now gone? Or is it both?
All Creatures Shelled and Feathered
“Smells awful in here,” Kaladin said weakly. “Almost as bad as you do.”
“Be glad,” Shallan said as she worked. “Here, I have a reasonably perfect specimen of a chasmfiend—with only a minor case of being dead—and I’m chopping it apart for you instead of studying it.”
“I’m eternally grateful.”
“We actually killed the thing.”
“Sad, I know,” she said, feeling depressed. “It was beautiful.”
Oh, Shallan. I keep trying to understand the depth of fascination which would lead her to call a critter like this “beautiful,” and how she could be so enthralled with it that she could set aside the terror of the situation to admire it. I’m sure there are people who can relate to this, but… I’m not really one of them.
I’m more in line with Kaladin’s reaction:
Looking up at the rearing, alien silhouette before him—with its too many legs, its twisted head, its segmented armor—Kaladin thought he must know what a Voidbringer looked like. Surely nothing more terrible than this could exist.
Back in TWoK, Jasnah sent Dalinar a picture from an ancient book which depicted a chasmfiend and called it a Voidbringer. Her evaluation at the time was that the artist, not knowing what a Voidbringer really looked like, had simply drawn the most horrific thing she knew of. This could either be reinforcement of that idea, or they could both be foreshadowings.
Lots of Arcanum happening this week, starting with Shallan’s Shardblade. Now that we know about the Blades, it’s funny to read Kaladin’s thoughts; the first time around, though, this was Foreshadowing of the kind that you don’t even notice until it comes around behind and smacks you in the back of the head… many chapters later.
At least this told him one thing—Shallan wasn’t likely to be a Surgebinder. Otherwise, he suspected she’d hate this Blade as much as he did.
Makes perfect sense, as long as you don’t know what Blades are really made of, and what the difference is between this one and all the rest. There are also a couple of other hints dropped about this one being different, primarily to do with the patterns (Patterns!) which glow along the Blade. Kaladin notes it, but only thinks that he’s never seen one in the dark before. Hah!
There were some other, sadder things about this, though.
The screech he had heard in his mind when fighting alongside Adolin did not recur. It seemed a very bad sign to him. Though he did not know the meaning of that terrible sound, it was related to his bond with Syl.
Yes, it was related… Although he’s wrong about why this one doesn’t scream, he’s quite right that he only hears it from other Blades because of Syl. This, and the QOTW, just make me sad. (Fortunately for me, they also make the later resolution that much sweeter!)
The last one I have to quote (on this subject) is this:
He hesitated, regarding his face reflected in its metal. He saw corpses, friends with burning eyes. He’d refused these weapons each time one was offered to him.
But always before, it had been after the fight, or at least on the practice grounds. This was different. Besides, he wasn’t choosing to become a Shardbearer; he would only use this weapon to protect someone’s life.
Oddly enough—or maybe not—he will also finally acquire his own true Blade only when he needs it to protect another life.
Back to the arcane action… I remember thinking it was a little selfish of Shallan to insist on retrieving her satchel just so she wouldn’t lose all her drawings again—unless there was some significance to it. Which, of course, there was, and in the heat of the moment, Kaladin noticed and then forgot things. Shallan turned herself and her clothing black, to hide in the shadows—just like she did in “Taln’s” monastery cell—though of course Kaladin didn’t get to see that at all. Then she sent out the Illusion of herself, which Kaladin thought “echoed oddly” but (I suppose reasonably, in the circumstances) didn’t dwell on. I’m more surprised that he didn’t wonder about the Illusion of himself; he only thought briefly “What had he done? How had he done it?” and then apparently forgot about it. Again, I suppose it’s more or less reasonable for him to think it was something he had done inadvertently; he’s not very well educated on the various Radiant skillsets, and he’d just got what seemed convincing proof that Shallan was definitely not a Radiant. If anything, he’d gotten more accustomed to strange things happening and figuring out what he’d done later, so, okay, this could have been more of the same. It wasn’t, but it could have been.
Oh, and one more thing:
She started climbing them. Standing on one and clinging to the highest one, she summoned the Blade again and tried to cut a step even higher, but the thing was just so blasted long.
Obligingly, it shrank in her hand to the size of a much shorter sword, really a big knife.
Thank you, she thought, then cut out the next line of rock.
In retrospect, it’s so obvious! First time through, though, I was flabbergasted by that one. The whole Blade changed size for her convenience. How did it do that?? Yet another hint dropped.
Talenel, the soldier: dependable, resourceful. Wow, that’s got just a few applications here! Between the fighting, the distractions, and the clever carve-out-a-cave-with-your-Shardblade notion, these two would make Talenel proud.
Kalak, the maker: resolute, builder. This is a little less obvious, but there was certainly a great deal of resolute effort to avoid dying by either of two encounters which are generally expected to be fatal.
Okay, I’ll point it out. Right at the beginning of the chapter, Kaladin shows a certain awareness of Shallan’s physical presence:
He was suddenly aware of her pressed against his back. Holding him, breath warm on his neck. She trembled, and he thought he could hear in her voice both terror and fascination at their situation.
While I personally don’t find this a very solid foundation for an actual romance, it’s there. Make of it what you will. I know, you always do… :)
There. That ought to keep us busy until next week, when we return to the Davar home for the last time, in Shallan’s final flashback chapter. See you in the comments!
Alice Arneson is a long-time Tor.com commenter and Sanderson beta-reader. She is currently fighting off a cold, so if things don’t make sense, cut her some slack. They made sense when she wrote them… for some definition of the word “sense,” anyway.