Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! Last week, Rlain spoke with Dalinar about the changes which had come to his people, and his fears for them. This week, the highprinces decide to press on toward Narak, while Kaladin answers Elhokar’s questions with merciless honestly.
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 80: To Fight the Rain
Point of View: Shallan, Kaladin
Setting: The Shattered Plains, the Kholin Warcamp
Symbology: Spears, Jezrien
IN WHICH Shallan climbs a hill and sees a city; the highprinces discuss their options; Shallan contributes her opinion; the decision to push on is agreed; Dalinar grills Shallan on the Oathgate; Kaladin walks the camp, hating the rain and regretting his choices; Elhokar awaits him at the barrack; the king speaks frankly, seeking Kaladin’s advice on being heroic; Kaladin cannot help him, but also speaks frankly; Elhokar apologizes for his treatment of Kaladin after the duel, and admits his fault in ruining the plan; he leaves.
Quote of the Week
“It’s here,” she said.
Gaz scratched at the socket beneath his eye patch. “Rocks?”
“Yes, guardsman Gaz,” Shallan said. “Rocks. Beautiful, wonderful rocks.”
In the distance, she saw shadows draped in a veil of misty rain. Seen together in a group like this, it was unmistakable. This was a city. A city covered over with centuries’ worth of crem, like children’s blocks dribbled with many coats of melted wax. To the innocent eye, it undoubtedly looked much like the rest of the Shattered Plains. But it was oh so much more.
It was proof. Even this formation Shallan stood upon had probably once been a building. Weathered on the stormward side, dribbled with crem down the leeward side to create the bulbous, uneven slope they had climbed.
I can’t even begin to explain why I love this passage so much. It has something to do with the moment of proof, of vindication that Jasnah’s (and now Shallan’s) theories and extrapolation were correct. From the reader’s perspective, their correctness was inevitable, of course. Still, this moment when Shallan sees the confirmation, is totally gratifying after all the mixture of conviction, skepticism, and anxiety over the probable location of Stormseat. She still has to find the Oathgate, of course, but this is pretty strong evidence that she’s close.
(It also reminds me irresistibly of the scene in C. S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair, when Jill, Eustace, and Puddleglum look out the window of the castle and realize that they had walked right through the city they were seeking without recognizing it. Fortunately, unlike Jill, Shallan recognizes it before she gets there.)
Off the Wall
You must become king. Of Everything.
—From the Diagram, Tenets of Instruction, Back of the Footboard: paragraph 1
Heh. After last week’s discussion, now I can’t help reading that in poetic rhythm. It’s iambic, though not pentameter, and I’ve not studied poetry enough to tell you what it is (I’ll leave that to our resident experts) but it does have a rhythm if you read it that way.
Anyway… Before I considered the implications of the inverse relationship of intelligence and compassion in Taravangian’s make-up, this didn’t sound so bad. Now, it gives me the heebie-jeebies. A man this unstable, with these wild swings of competence, set up as king of the whole world? This does not seem wise.
Well, this is our last deep-breath chapter. This is the one where the last of the planning and maneuvering takes place; next week things begin to get noisy. On that note, I found this an interesting insertion:
These winds were unusual for the Weeping, which was supposed to be a period of placid rainfall, a time for contemplating the Almighty, a respite from highstorms.
Contrasted to Kaladin’s feelings, it once again shows up the marked dissimilarity in their attitudes toward the Weeping and the highstorms, only part of which can be attributed to their upbringing. Kaladin hates the Weeping as being a gloomy time with no highstorms; Shallan sees it as a respite from them. I don’t know if it’s intentional, but the difference seems to reflect the contrast in their Radiant Orders as well as their personalities.
Moving right along… Things really are starting to get tense. The highprinces are meeting in one of several identical tents, to make it difficult for an enemy strike team to take them out. The armies have been skirmishing for the last couple of days, with the Parshendi apparently attempting to steer them away from the center. Soldiers are nervous, as the familiar enemy has been replaced by red-eyed nightmares from ancient legends. It’s now necessary to decide whether to prepare a defensive entrenchment, or continue to advance on the Parshendi’s home plateaus. And it’s reached the point where, though no one will quite say it out loud, it’s too late to attempt to retreat back to the warcamps. They are committed, one way or the other. They have to fight… and either win, or find Shallan’s anticipated escape route through the Oathgate.
“Tomorrow is the last day of the countdown,” Dalinar said. “Scribbled on the walls during highstorms. Whatever it is, whatever it was, we meet it tomorrow— and you are my backup plan, Shallan Davar. You will find this portal, and you will make it work. If the evil overwhelms us, your pathway will be our escape. You may be the only chance that our armies— and indeed, Alethkar itself— have for survival.”
No pressure, though.
Speaking of escape routes, Nazh seems to have acquired a copy of Shallan’s map. I have to wonder if he’s tagging along with the expedition, making like a cartographer. He was disguised as an ardent near the beginning of the book, chased out by Rock for trying to get a good look at the Bridge Four tattoos; perhaps he’s still hanging around.
It’s also worth mentioning that the final comment on this map was the clue that identified Nazh’s home planet for us: he’s from Threnody, the world of Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell. Also, there are limits to his attention to detail. Heh.
Meanwhile, back at the warcamp, Kaladin continues to be stubborn. As much as I like to rag on him for being a grump (as well as for some very poor decision-making!), I’m really proud of him here. While it would probably be better for his leg if he stayed off it longer, it’s definitely better for his mind to fight—the rain, the depression, the pain, the wound, his grief… He’s got a lot to fight, and if he took the easy way and gave in on just one facet, I think the rest would follow and he’d collapse completely. Continuing to fight is keeping him sane, and in my opinion, all of those individual battles work together to keep his mind functioning so that he’s able to reason through to his eventual epiphany.
One near-term effect is that he’s beginning to be more honest with himself, as he considers the people who are out on the Plains without him. In this moment, he muses on what might have happened had he been willing to be a Windrunner openly.
He had been so close to revealing what he could do…
You’d been thinking that for weeks, he thought to himself. You’d never have done it. You were too scared.
He hated admitting it, but it was true.
Yes, it was true, and it’s part of what damaged his bond with Syl so badly. For a Windrunner, it seems, acting based on irrational fear is not a tenable option.
The flip side does, however, have one potential for disaster: being more honest than diplomatic can be dangerous when dealing with kings. It turns out relatively well for Kaladin, despite his lack of tact; Elhokar was apparently already in a self-flagellating mood, and didn’t get as angry as he could have. (Not that I’m faulting Kaladin’s response, mind you; even kings shouldn’t ask questions if they aren’t willing to hear truthful answers.) For Elhokar’s sake, I’m not sure what the wiser approach would have been. He’s willing, for the first time, to admit that the dueling fiasco was his own fault, brought on by his envy and resentment, so that’s good. However, Kaladin’s bluntness may also be, at least in part, to blame for the drunken state in which he finds the Elhokar later.
I think this scene may be the first time I began to hope Elhokar does form a Nahel bond; while he doesn’t handle it with grace, he does admit to his (serial) failures and is willing to seek advice, even from a darkeyes. It’s just a flash, but a flash of humility could be a wonderful thing for him.
Two days after Chapter 79, this is the last day before Zero Hour.
The only direct mention of spren is the rainspren, which Kaladin dislikes and considers creepy—but both reactions are probably associated with his dislike of the rain.
Something I find more interesting, though, is something we’ve discussed before; now is the time to dig into it.
“When you came, the shadows went away.”
“I saw them in mirrors, in the corners of my eyes. I could swear I even heard them whispering, but you frightened them. I haven’t seen them since. There’s something about you. Don’t try to deny it.”
The obvious connection of Elhokar’s “shadows” is to Shallan’s earlier views of the Cryptics. This has led many of us to assume that Elhokar is a Lightweaver candidate; it has also led many to push back against that idea because they can’t conceive of Elhokar as a viable candidate for any Radiant Order, and there’s no observable connection to Lightweaving.
In defense of the Cryptics theory, I have to point out two things. One is his description of them (TWoK Chapter 58): “I see their faces in mirrors. Symbols, twisted, inhuman.” That sounds very, very like Shallan’s early glimpses of Pattern & Co. It’s hard not to find this a compelling argument. The second is that while we don’t see Elhokar being artistic or creative in the usual ways—those are feminine roles in Vorinism, anyway—we do see a noteworthy ability to lie to himself, as well as a reasonably well-developed ability to play a role when it’s demanded of him. Specifically, he does his best to play the role of King, even though he himself knows he’s not really doing a very good job of it. These aspects may be enough to attract the attention of the Cryptics, though they have clearly not done much to create a Nahel bond with him.
On the other hand, as we’ve learned more about spren and how Realmatics functions on Roshar, it’s also worth noting that there are a great many spren on this planet, and of varying levels of sapience. Next week’s Diagram quotation, which is the next thing you see when you turn the page after reading Elhokar’s departure from Kaladin’s quarters, is about the Unmade. It declares that “many are mindless. Like the spren of human emotions, only much more nasty.” Could there be another variety of spren, a lesser-Unmade variety, which might be described in terms similar to the Cryptics? In other words, have there been Odium-spren hanging around Elhokar, which were driven away by the presence of a Windrunner?
The Windrunner repellent effect is certainly not conclusive, since we know that honorspren and Cryptics are somewhat at odds. If Elhokar had ever seen Pattern, or if Shallan had ever seen the creatures hanging around Elhokar, we’d have gotten immediate clarification. For now, it remains an open question—but one very worth consideration.
Clearly Navani needs to invent a spyglass with a built-in drying fabrial. Foggy lenses are a drag.
Jezrien stands alone on this chapter. My best guess is that in the first half, Dalinar is displaying the leadership of a general and a king; in the second half, Kaladin the Windrunner faces Elhokar the King. Jezrien-symbols everywhere!
I’ve made no secret (duh!) of the fact that I vastly prefer the Adolin-Shallan ship to the Kaladin-Shallan version. However, there are some interesting mentions in this chapter that I’d like to examine in more detail, and consider the motivations for the trio’s relationships.
Shallan’s interest in Adolin has several aspects. First, he’s simply a much higher-status match than she could ever have hoped for, prior to her father’s death. However you might feel about it IRL, in this society, that matters for most people. Previously, she would have expected to marry for the sake of her family—either someone slightly above her station, in hopes of elevating the family with her, or someone below her station, as a reward or bribe to keep creditors from being obnoxious. To then find herself betrothed to the most eligible bachelor in Alethkar, near in line to the throne? It’s like a fairytale.
Second, she finds him physically attractive. While this tends to be somewhat lower on the scale of importance for women than for men, it certainly adds to the fairytale sensation.
He pushed up his faceplate. Storms… he looked so good, even when you could see only half his face. She smiled.
Third, he finds her interesting. This, my friends, is a powerful draw. For a girl who has been isolated most of her life, essentially brought out for display and then locked away again, with little chance to develop friendships beyond her own family, this has to be amazing: the handsome prince likes being with her. She elicits candid reactions from someone very practiced in the social game that is courtship, and he enjoys it. She has a lot of reason to stick with this betrothal.
Adolin’s interest in Shallan also has multiple aspects. The first thing we heard from him about it was that it was kind of a relief to have someone else arrange his betrothal. IMO, he hasn’t really cared all that much about any of the individual women he’s courted, but at the same time he feels like the constantly failing courtships are a bad thing, and it must be his fault. (Well, it is his fault—but I don’t think he’s entirely made the connection that he’s not going to do a very good job of courting someone if he doesn’t actually care about her as a person.)
Second, she’s so different from all the other girls he’s courted that she actually gets his full attention. She looks different—she’s shorter than the Alethi women; she has fiery red hair and fair skin instead of black hair and tan skin. She acts different, too; she doesn’t exactly know how the whole courtship thing is supposed to work, she hasn’t practiced it, and she’s just too spontaneous to color within the lines anyway. For someone who’s jaded by an endless parade of women who follow all the same social formulas of appearance, fashion, and behavior, she’s a breath of fresh air. She makes him smile just by being there.
He saw her, and gave her a quick smile before clinking up to the table.
She also doesn’t demand his attention whenever they’re in the same vicinity; she seems to think they both have things to do besides courting, and sometimes those things are more important. She’s perfectly happy to share a quick smile and then get on with the task; from what little we saw of his other relationships, I have a feeling that’s rare. For the first time ever, he’s courting a woman who expects to work alongside him and who can function just fine without obsequious attention.
Kaladin’s interest in Shallan is, I think primarily focused on two things. One, she has something he strongly associates with Tien: she can smile, and make him smile, even in the midst of trying circumstances. Tien could always cheer him up just by being his cheerful, smiling self; now that he’s gotten to know her, he sees something of that same character in Shallan. And like Tien, she can make him smile just by thinking about her.
He splashed through puddles of water, and found himself smiling because he wore the boots Shallan had stolen from him.
I never did believe she was a Horneater, he thought. I need to make sure she knows that.
He never had a sister, but this is so sibling-esque it kills me. The other thing I’m seeing that attracts him is her sense of word-gaming. While it may not exactly match his own, it’s close enough to the word-play he had with his mother to feel familiar and nostalgic.
In other words, much of her appeal for him is rooted in things that make him feel the way he used to feel at home, before Roshone’s bitterness tore his life apart.
And… she’s beautiful. Oh, yes. That is not insignificant.
So… what about Shallan’s interest in Kaladin? This is the one we have the least to go on, but there are certainly a few clues. One is, of course, that he’s got the quick-witted repartee she enjoys but so rarely gets to share. She’s accustomed to being the clever one, and hasn’t had many opportunities for verbal sparring with anyone up to her standard. Wikim used to keep up with her, sometimes; I suspect that her father used to, long before that—but that’s only guessing. Kabsal was clever and quick-witted, and she certainly enjoyed that aspect of their relationship. Beyond that, she hasn’t had many others who could keep up with her. Jasnah, of course, could have completely outdone her, but she was too focused and intense.
The other observation Shallan has made about Kaladin, and which I’m not convinced was justified at the time, was the sense of stability and confidence he projected. This is not something she’s had a lot of in the past seven years, though she probably did before that. Once upon a time, her father gave her all the security and assurance she needed… but with her mother’s death, that eroded, leaving only the longing for something permanent.
Finally, it’s worth noting that Kaladin and Adolin have a firm respect for one another, and are developing a strong liking as well, whether they’ll admit it to anyone else or not. This will probably play into the shipping as it proceeds; Kaladin has already rejected the idea of swiping Adolin’s girlfriend once, based on his liking for Adolin and the way they seem to be good for each other.
Where all this will go in the next book, I don’t know. Some things will change for the better—like maybe Kaladin becoming as stable and confident as he appeared—while others may deteriorate. Having done all this analysis, I find myself thinking that as Radiants working together, I’d really prefer to see Shallan and Kaladin develop a sibling-like relationship, and leave the romance to Shallan and Adolin. I prefer it, and the way things are set up, it could go that way. Or… it could go several other ways. I guess I’ll wait and see…
Okay, y’all can rip that apart in the comments for a while, and next week the battle of Stormseat begins. It’s a long chapter, so come prepared!
Alice Arneson is a long-time Tor.com commenter and Sanderson beta-reader; today, she leaves you with these words of wisdom: “Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy, and taste good with ketchup.”