Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! Last week, the four highprinces agreed to push on toward the center of the Shattered Plains, while Kaladin had an uncomfortable conversation with Elhokar. This week, Shallan’s map is completed and battle is joined, while Kaladin is again uncomfortable.
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 81: The Last Day
Point of View: Dalinar, Kaladin, Adolin, Shallan, Dalinar
Setting: the center of the Shattered Plains; the Kholin warcamp
Symbology: Kholin Glyphpair, Ishar, Chanarach
IN WHICH the Alethi are surrounded by Parshendi with glowing red eyes; Dalinar issues challenges & marching orders to the highprinces; Navani refuses her orders; the Parshendi begin to sing; the battle plan changes in response.
Kaladin searches out Zahel; he receives an unwanted explanation; he asks about choosing between distasteful options; Zahel gives advice he wishes he’d followed; Kaladin attempts spear practice in the rain; he’s clumsy, and nothing works; he yells at the sky, but his words echo other conversations; he realizes that may be too strong a consequence for failed expectation; the king is Dalinar’s Tien.
Adolin prepares for the initial attack; he charges, and lightning strikes; Sureblood is down, the world stops; Adolin leaps back into battle, leading his men to rally against the Voidbringer Parshendi.
Shallan draws, mapping the entire Plains according to the pattern; a beta reader scout enters with information on the center plateau; Pattern does not like the distant crashing; Inadara does not like Pattern; the sentiment is returned; Renarin is fascinated by Pattern; Pattern is insulting; he worries about the Voidspren; another scout points out an error on the map; Shallan objects and then realizes that a detail which does not match the pattern is Significant.
Renarin is assigned to watch over and help Shallan; he’s uncertain, but goes as ordered; the battle goes poorly against the new Parshendi form; Dalinar adjusts tactics to stop the singing; Shallan and company depart to search for the Oathgate; the Almighty speaks.
Quote of the Week
Out of this chapter, I’m supposed to pick one outstanding quotation??
“That song!” Rlain said. “That song.”
“What is it, man?”
“It is death,” Rlain whispered. “Brightlord, I have never heard it before, but the rhythm is one of destruction. Of power.”
Across the chasm, the Parshendi started to glow. Tiny lines of red sparked around their arms, blinking and shaking, like lightning.
“You have to stop it,” Rlain said. “Please. Even if you have to kill them. Do not let them finish that song.”
Between Rlain’s reaction and the Parshendi glowing with little red lightnings, you know it’s going to get hazardous. Well, okay, you know that anyway, but I still like the sense of dread this conversation evokes.
Also: It’s fascinating that even without access to the new Rhythms, Rlain recognizes the danger inherent in the singing.
Off the Wall
The Unmade are a deviation, a flair, a conundrum that may not be worth your time. You cannot help but think of them. They are fascinating. Many are mindless. Like the spren of human emotions, only much more nasty. I do believe a few can think, however.
—From the Diagram, Book of the 2nd Desk Drawer: paragraph 14
I wonder how reliable Taravangian’s information is. I’d had the impression that there were just a handful of Unmade, but this sounds like he’s including everything we thought of as Voidspren in his definition of Unmade. I suppose that could be valid… If the original spren on Roshar were little splinters of Adonalsium, and the sapient Nahel-bonding spren (and probably many others) are splinters of Honor and Cultivation, it makes sense that the nastier variety which bring about the Listener “forms of the old gods” are splinters of Odium just like the higher-level splinters I’m used to thinking of as Unmade. I still suspect there’s a difference between the levels, though, because I think there’s sufficient evidence that there were a handful of beings (what race/species I won’t guess!) who chose to join with Odium and became the named entities we’ve thought of as Unmade.
If the increased number of POV shifts in a chapter tells you you’re getting close to the climax of the book, you know you’re there now. Four different POV characters in one chapter? We’ve reached the point where everything is happening at once, and the reader needs to be aware that these events are concurrent.
It makes for a very long chapter—and a very long reread post.
The feeling of pending disaster created by those glowing red eyes is worth it solely for the effect on the other highprinces. Roion and Aladar nearly come unglued when they realize Dalinar expected something of this nature. Sebarial, on the other hand, seems as unfazed by the glowing eyes as he is by anything else, despite his open acknowledgement that he’s completely useless in a battle. Everyone recognizes this as validation of Dalinar’s visions.
Navani, of course, refuses to be ordered around, telling Dalinar that he’ll just have to pretend she’s somewhere safe; she’s got work to do. Heh. I love Navani. I wonder if she’s wearing a glove instead of a long sleeve for this work?
Meanwhile, Kaladin grumbles around the camp. He’s so grumpy it even makes him mad when his food tastes good. I do have to wonder just why Zahel makes such a point of explaining the sand washing to him; is this a metaphor, or just world-building? It is notable that, unlike the rain from a highstorm, Weeping-time rain has no crem in it. Why?
One of the best sections of this chapter is the advice Zahel gives Kaladin:
“Have you ever had to choose between two equally distasteful choices?”
“Every day I choose to keep breathing.”
“I worry something awful is going to happen,” Kaladin said. “I can prevent it, but the awful thing… it might be best for everyone if it does happen.”
“Huh,” Zahel said.
“No advice?” Kaladin asked.
“Choose the option,” Zahel said, rearranging his pillow, “that makes it easiest for you to sleep at night.” The old ardent closed his eyes and settled back. “That’s what I wish I’d done.”
Not only does it give us another glimpse into Zahel’s mind, it sets Kaladin up for something he needs to realize: Killing someone because they don’t live up to your expectations is not justifiable. Not only that, but the person whose failure bothers you so much just might be of vital importance to someone else. He’s finally got to the point of recognizing that he has neither the authority nor the wisdom to determine whether the king should live or die—but that it’s his job to prevent murder.
Adolin’s section is full of small noteworthy items: bridgemen who fight though it’s not required, because those aren’t Parshendi anymore; leadership, taking the point position because he’s the best able to survive as well as to inspire; the loss of his Ryshadium (see below); the lightning used by the Parshendi—and the discovery that they can’t actually control it very well. One that I hope becomes a Thing later on is his Shardplate: when he is directly struck by the lightning, not only is he unharmed, his armor is purring and his helm blocks the lightning exactly without dimming the rest of his field of vision. As he notes, this Plate was created expressly for the purpose of fighting Voidbringers, and it still works. I do hope this is explained eventually… and that it keeps working in the meantime!
Most of the interesting parts of Shallan’s POV are covered in units below, but I do need to note this: her ability to see the pattern in the Plains is critical to her effort to get to the center, but the final key is recognizing a break in the pattern.
“That’s wrong,” he said.
Wrong? Her art? Of course it wasn’t wrong. “Where?” she asked, exhausted.
“That plateau there,” the man said, pointing. “It’s not long and thin, as you drew it. It’s a perfect circle, with big gaps between it and the plateaus on its east and west.”
“That’s unlikely,” Shallan said. “If it were that way—” She blinked.
If it were that way, it wouldn’t match the pattern.
And her exhaustion almost made her miss it.
Renarin is also in this chapter.
Actually, there are a couple of things to point out. One is his fascination with Pattern, which in retrospect is likely related to his questions about Glys and his own sanity. The other is his extreme discomfort with the task he’s given: as a full Shardbearer, he’s expected to accompany and protect Shallan. His lack of training makes him unsuitable for the actual battle, but he definitely sees better than Dalinar how his lack of training also makes him an unsuitable guard. I feel sorry for him, but I’m really conflicted about his assigned role. Dalinar meant well in giving him Blade and Plate, and Renarin desperately wants to be a soldier, but he’s just not suited to the task. On the other hand, as a plot device, it has the advantage of putting him in the right place at the right time to set up a domino sequence of revelations. Even as I get irritated at both Dalinar and Renarin for “wasting” the Blade and Plate on someone who can’t fight instead of giving the army another active Shardbearer, I have to admire the realism of the characters, and the way their weaknesses play into the plot that’s being laid out.
Dalinar, meanwhile, keeps busy directing his armies… until the Stormfather starts talking to him.
“I am sorry that you have to die this way.”
Thank you for nothing, you useless reptile.
It was the day of the countdown he had scribbled on the walls without knowing. The last day.
(Note that at this point, Dalinar still thinks he was the one who unknowingly wrote the countdown on the walls.)
He looked across a sea of hopeful eyes. Storms. Were those gloryspren about his head, spinning like golden spheres in the rain?
It’s odd to think of gloryspren in this context; Dalinar doesn’t seem to have any particular sense of achievement, just an impassioned speech to his men to embolden them for the fight ahead. Could this be a case where gloryspren are drawn by the honor others bestow on him?
Though these Parshendi soldiers were sleeker and more ferocious-looking than the ones he’d previously fought, their eyes burned just as easily. Then they dropped dead and something wiggled out of their chests— small red spren, like tiny lightning, that zipped into the air and vanished.
I’m sure y’all picked this up by now, but the subject of the spren bonded to the Parshendi was brought up in the JordanCon Q&A session with Brandon. He refused to address the notion of Parshendi gemhearts; though the question was cleverly phrased to attempt to get him to confirm or deny the idea, he managed to not answer. In answer to another question, he also said that the spren which bond to Parshendi are unaffected by the death of their host, so what we see here is normal—when they die, the spren leave.
The pops continued outside. “What is that?” she asked softly, finishing another plateau.
“Stormspren,” Pattern said. “They are a variety of Voidspren. It is not good. I feel something very dangerous brewing. Draw more quickly.”
Pattern’s clever insult to Inadara, when she insisted on considering him a Voidbringer, was amusing, but only briefly. Somehow, Voidspren just don’t make good joke material.
All Creatures Shelled and Feathered
He finally blinked his eyes clear enough to get a good look. The whiteness was a horse, fallen to the ground.
Adolin screamed something raw, a sound that echoed in his helm. He ignored the shouts of soldiers, the sound of rain, the sudden and unnatural crack behind him. He ran to the body on the ground. Sureblood.
“No, no, no,” Adolin said, skidding to his knees beside the horse. The animal bore a strange, branching burn all down the side of his white coat. Wide, jagged. Sureblood’s dark eyes, open to the rain, did not blink.
Adolin raised his hands, suddenly hesitant to touch the animal.
A youth on an unfamiliar field.
Sureblood wasn’t moving.
More nervous that day than during the duel that won his Blade.
Shouts. Another crack in the air, sharp, immediate.
They pick their rider, son. We fixate on Shards, but any man—courageous or coward—can bond a Blade. Not so here, on this ground. Only the worthy win here…
Once more, this is a scene I simply cannot read without tears. Some readers say they never felt invested enough in the Ryshadium, or in Adolin’s bond with Sureblood, for this to be deeply emotional. Perhaps I have a weakness for magically bonded animals in fantasy, like the dragons of Pern, who also choose their rider. In any case, the death of Sureblood is a punch in the gut for me.
In Oathbringer, I hope for two things related to this scene: to see Adolin grieve this loss, and to learn more about the Ryshadium. They seem to be one of the “imports” among the various Rosharan fauna, but one which has developed a magical component as well.
You Have to Break a Lot of Rockbuds
He hadn’t found the man, though he had broken down and bought some chouta from a lonely street vendor.
It had tasted good. That hadn’t helped his mood.
A small moment of levity in an otherwise intense chapter.
Haven’t We Met Somewhere Before?
Zahel reveals once again that he’s not from around here:
“It’s ridiculously shallow,” Zahel said. “Like an endless bay, mere feet deep. Warm water. Calm breezes. Reminds me of home. Not like this cold, damp, godsforsaken place.”
“So why aren’t you there instead of here?”
“Because I can’t stand being reminded of home, idiot.”
“Home,” of course, we know to be Nalthis—and perhaps particularly the area around T’Telir, which is very like this description of the Purelake climate. One wonders, though… why does he hate being reminded of home? I can think of some possibilities…
He also refers oddly to Hoid, when Kaladin asks if he knows where the King’s Wit is:
“That fool, Dust? Not here, blessedly. Why?”
I have to wonder if the name “Dust” comes as a result of a peculiar method of storytelling he used in Warbreaker, involving colorful dust, sand, etc.
One Worldhopper who has only recently been recognized shows up here, as well:
“Shim and Felt are scouting those,” Lyn said. “Felt should be back soon.”
Again, in the Q&A at JordanCon, someone asked if the Felt in this scene was the same Felt as the man Elend Venture employed in the Mistborn Era 1 books. Brandon confirmed this, leaving us to wonder who recruited him as a worldhopper, and just why he’s serving as a Kholin scout.
There’s always another secret.
Oh, one more… sort of. The scout, Lyn, is based on one of Brandon’s beta readers; the real-life person is something of a cartographer herself, as well as a writer and a fire artist and several other cool things. She’s awesome, and I’m proud to call her a friend.
Ishar: Pious, Guiding; Priest; Bondsmiths; Herald of Luck
There are multiple possibilities, not least that Dalinar is guiding the battle against the Voidbringers, and needs all the luck he can get. My best guess, though, is that Ishar represents the order of Bondsmiths, of which Dalinar is becoming a member. (According to my pet theory, it’s also possible that Ishar is in this chapter in person, as Zahel… but that’s just a theory. We can debate it in the comments, if you wish.)
Chana: Brave, Obedient; Guard; Dustbringers; Fire
Hey, new theory!! Lyn is Chana in disguise! Okay, not really, but it would be fun, and I need a moment of lightness here. In reality, I have no idea why Chana is here, unless her impending Dustbringer is here too. She’s often shown on Adolin’s POV chapters, but here he’s much more soldier than guard. Kaladin isn’t doing any guarding today, except for the chouta. Rlain and the bridgemen? Seems odd to choose a Herald based on such limited screen time. Renarin? He’s doing guard duty over Shallan & Co., but it seems more likely we’d see his “patron Herald” Palah. The only other thing I’ve got is the courage shown by the highprinces in spite of themselves, or the fire the Listeners are using in the form of Lightning.
The way this usually works, now, is that y’all point out the obvious connection I missed. Okay?
“Oh, Almighty!” Roion whispered, looking at those red eyes. “Oh, by the names of God himself. What have you brought us to, Dalinar?”
Very, very Vorin. I really don’t have anything more to say about it, but it was profoundly fitting, in context.
“Excellent deduction,” Zahel said. “Like fresh blue paint on a wall.”
Again with the “colorful metaphors,” Zahel. This would be a Nalthian saying, not a Rosharan one, of course.
There. That ought to keep us busy until next week, when Kaladin returns to his duty and Adolin remembers how to slay rocks.
Alice Arneson is a long-time Tor.com commenter and Sanderson beta-reader. Today she leaves you with these words of wisdom: “It’s like I’ve always said, you can get more with a kind word and a 2×4 than you can with just a kind word.”