Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! Last week, Shallan probed, Adolin fought, and Kaladin stood. This week, the probing and the fighting escalate, and Kaladin lands. Like meteors do.
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.
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Chapter 85: Swallowed by the Sky
Point of View: Dalinar, Shallan, Dalinar, Adolin, Dalinar, Adolin
Setting: the Central Plateau
Symbology: Kholin Glyphpair, Nalan, Palah
IN WHICH Dalinar receives Shallan’s message in the increasing storms; Aladar won his plateau; Dalinar orders everyone to Shallan’s plateau; a tent collapses as Adolin crashes through on his back, severely damaged Plate leaking Stormlight; the Assassin follows.
… Shallan searches frantically for clues to the Oathgate mechanism; Renarin writes zeroes; “It’s come. We’re dead.”
… Dalinar holds his bleeding son, speaking farewell words of love and guidance; he stands to confront the assassin, seeking answers; the Assassin is more mad than calm; Dalinar’s Blade forms just in time to block Szeth’s.
… Adolin attempts to rise; with the help of Skar and Drehy, he begins to remove his battered Plate so that he can help Dalinar; he freezes, watching his father fight.
… Dalinar fights for Gavilar, as he wished he had seven years ago; his instincts lead him well, but it’s not enough; he finally realizes that Gavilar’s death was not his fault; Roion attacks the Assassin.
… Adolin, unarmored, runs toward his father; Roion is hurled into the sky; Adolin vainly fights the Assassin, as Roion descends and dies; Adolin and Dalinar, with accompanying bridgemen, charge and hope for luck; hope is unfulfilled, and the Assassin touches Dalinar; he, too, hurtles into the sky, and Adolin attacks again; as the Assassin turns to finish him, Dalinar descends slowly from the sky, streaming white Light; Kaladin crashes in like a comet to claim the sky, the winds, and Szeth’s life.
Quote of the Week
Dalinar did not fight for his life. His life hadn’t been his own for years.
He fought for Gavilar. He fought as he wished he had all those years ago, for the chance he had missed. In that moment between storms—when the rain stilled and the winds drew in their breaths to blow—he danced with the slayer of kings, and somehow held his own.
But he did not win.
Finally, Dalinar twisted away from a strike but was unable to move quickly enough. The assassin rounded on him and thrust a fist into his side.
Dalinar’s ribs cracked. He grunted, stumbling, almost falling. He swung his Blade toward Szeth, warding the man back, but it didn’t matter. The damage was done. He sank to his knees, barely able to remain upright for the pain.
In that instant he knew a truth he should always have known.
If I’d been there, on that night, awake instead of drunk and asleep… Gavilar would still have died.
I couldn’t have beaten this creature. I can’t do it now, and I couldn’t have done it then.
I couldn’t have saved him.
It brought peace, and Dalinar finally set down that boulder, the one he’d been carrying for over six years.
I’ll… just leave that there.
Off the Wall
But who is the wanderer, the wild piece, the one who makes no sense? I glimpse at his implications, and the world opens to me. I shy back. Impossible. Is it?
—From the Diagram, West Wall Psalm of Wonders: paragraph 8
(Note by Adrotagia: Could this refer to Mraize?)
The logical first reaction is that of course this refers to Hoid, which probably means it doesn’t. There are other possibilities: Taln (or the person who calls himself Taln), Iyatil, Zahel… and, of course, Mraize. There’s just not enough information to be confident; the only real question is whether Brandon is dangling a truth in front of our noses, or whether this is another misdirection.
In looney-theory territory, I think it would be fun if this referred to Zahel-who-is-actually-one-of-the-Heralds-Returned, but I rather doubt it.
You could just about get whiplash, trying to recap this chapter. The trademark Avalanche is reaching its peak, and the frenetic pacing of the text really reflects that. The chapter isn’t even all that long (9 pages in the HB), but there are six separate POV sections—mostly shifting perspectives between Adolin and Dalinar as they try to stop Szeth. It’s perfect, because all this action builds and builds and builds to a moment of hopeless anguish, transformed to breathless bewilderment, shattered by Kaladin’s meteoric arrival.
Shallan has one short section; let’s look at that first. Aside from Renarin’s revelation as the one who sees the future (see Ars Arcanum below), mostly this consists of Shallan getting frustrated by the lack of information: all available writing is in the Dawnchant, and they failed to bring an expert along. (Well, they did, but Navani is still on the other plateau with Dalinar.) Pattern urges her to look for a pattern, but until she finds that, all she’s got is that The Knights Radiant are the key. So for now we leave her standing puzzled in the center of the Oathgate. She’s almost there…
Back to the battle. Along with the aforementioned frenetic pacing, I was stunned by the poetry of this chapter. Once again, I shall have to quote a lot, because Brandon writes Climax superbly.
“Aladar has won his plateau! Apara was just composing you a message.”
“Really?” Almighty bless that man. He’d done it.
It’s a magnificent echo of the stirring speech Dalinar gave Aladar a couple of chapters ago: “If you survive this day, you’ll be known as one of the greatest men of our generation. Go to your men, Aladar. Lead them. Be a champion.” If you recall, Aladar gaped at Dalinar for a moment, then saluted like he meant it… and he did. This made me happy. Something went perfectly right. Thank you, Aladar.
Dalinar sends word that they are all to make for Shallan’s plateau, but in the middle of it, Cael points behind Dalinar:
“Sir, have you seen that?”
He turned, looking back toward the west. Red light flashed, lightning coursing down in repeated blasts. The sky itself seemed to spasm as something built there, swirling in an enormous storm cell that was rapidly expanding outward.
“Almighty above…” Navani whispered.
Amid flying tents and battle reports, the Everstorm builds. The rain gets heavier, then lighter, then heavier; the wind gusts; more tents shake. Dalinar sends Navani to help Shallan, and orders Roion to lead his men to that same plateau, and then…
Adolin crashed through the tent’s fabric and skidded along the stones on his back, his armor leaking Light.
“Adolin!” Dalinar shouted, dashing to his son.
The young man was missing several segments of his armor. He looked up with gritted teeth, blood streaming from his nose. He said something, but it was lost to the wind. No helm, no left vambrace, the breastplate cracked just short of shattering, his right leg exposed. Who could have done such a thing to a Shardbearer?
Not so much poetic as fearfully descriptive. Last time we saw Adolin, he was missing his helm as well as his left vambrace and gauntlet, and his breastplate was heavily damaged from his battle with Eshonai, but he’d won that when he sent her tumbling into the chasm—but then he met up with Szeth. Now it’s worse.
The scene cuts to Shallan, then back to this:
Dalinar knelt beneath a fracturing sky, holding his son.
Ahhh… I’m sorry, but I have to stop and wipe my eyes again. That has to be one of the most stunning lines in this book. And that’s saying something.
“When you take the princedom, son,” Dalinar said, “don’t let them corrupt you. Don’t play their games. Lead. Don’t follow.”
“You’ve been taught well, Adolin,” Dalinar said, eyes on that assassin. “You’re a better man than I am. I was always a tyrant who had to learn to be something else. But you, you’ve been a good man from the start. Lead them, Adolin. Unite them.”
This is nearly perfect in the way it shows (to my way of thinking) the relationship between Dalinar and Adolin from Dalinar’s perspective. There’s the deep, abiding love of a father for his son, and a certain amount of instinctive protectiveness when his son is injured. But there’s also the strong, confident respect and trust of one man for another: this son of his is a grown man, and a good one. For years now, he’s been entrusted with military leadership, and has been actively involved in planning sessions. He’s proven himself. At the core, Dalinar has no fear of trusting Adolin with the princedom and all it entails. He stands up to face what amounts to certain death, rock-solid in the knowledge that his son is fully capable of taking his place as highprince.
(Whether he’s correct or not… remains to be seen.)
Oddly, or not really, the first thing Dalinar does when he faces the small, overly calm Assassin is to ask questions. He wants to know… why did they kill Gavilar? Why?
“I am Szeth-son-son-Vallano,” the man said. Harshly. “Truthless of Shinovar. I do as my masters demand, and I do not ask for explanations.”
Dalinar revised his assessment. This man was not calm. He seemed that way, but when he spoke, he did it through clenched teeth, his eyes open too wide.
He’s mad, Dalinar thought. Storms.
Well, clearly Dalinar’s not going down without a fight, and he’s been in the process of summoning his Blade, so when Szeth strikes, the blow is deflected.
The assassin spared a glance for Dalinar’s weapon, then smiled, lips drawn thin, showing only a hint of teeth. That eager smile matched with haunted eyes was one of the most evil things Dalinar had ever seen.
Ouch. That’s… painful. Shifting to Adolin’s POV:
Father was fighting Szeth. Bless the man for listening to reason and bonding that madman’s Blade.
A moment of humor! In the midst of all the love of a son for his father, there’s another flash of friendship and respect: apparently Adolin had to do some vigorous persuading to get Dalinar to bond that Blade before hiding it for Amaram to find. But Dalinar is fighting the assassin, and Adolin does not want to rule the princedom just yet. He just needs to get out of the remaining bits of Shardplate so he can go help, and those bridgemen are always there when he needs them. “You two,” Adolin said, “are getting a storming raise.” I love Adolin.
And then it gets serious again:
He spared a glance for what Dalinar was doing, and froze, hands on the straps for his breastplate.
His father… his father moved beautifully.
That always gives me shivers.
Now, reread the QOTW, which may be one of the most gorgeous battle scenes ever written. Not only does Dalinar move beautifully, he moves by instinct, holding his own against a Surgebinder despite his earlier injuries. In the end, though, it’s just not enough, and (in a twist I absolutely did not anticipate) that’s a good thing. While I agree that there’s a certain amount of blameworthiness in lying drunk on a table while your brother is assassinated, there’s also certain amount of honest and commendable humility in realizing that some things are beyond your ability to control.
I couldn’t have saved him.
It brought peace, and Dalinar finally set down that boulder, the one he’d been carrying for over six years.
Pretty sure I cried when I read that.
Going on, an unexpected figure distracts the Assassin from Dalinar for a moment:
Dalinar expected it to be Adolin, perhaps one of the bridgemen.
Instead, it was Roion.
That blew me away. The careful one, the cautious one, the one who felt a bit defensive about being called a coward… He rushed the Assassin with nothing but a side sword and a handful of soldiers. Against a Surgebinder with an Honorblade. Roion, you’ll always be a hero in my book. You gave it all.
And again, the juxtaposition of words, events, repetitions, contrasts, contradictions, POV shifts… it’s such superb wordsmithy. The scene goes crazy. Roion hurtles up, screaming; Szeth kills a dozen soldiers; Roion still screams from above; Adolin jumps in with dueling moves; Szeth bats his attack away like a child’s; Roion screams until he hits the ground; Szeth starts Lashing objects around; Adolin fights by instinct; he can’t beat this thing; he’s surrounded by bridgemen; Dalinar is, too; they’re going to try to mob the Assassin; Lead them, Adolin. Unite them; Szeth Lashes himself up, then down, knocking Adolin over like a toy, killing a pair of bridgemen, healing his few wounds in moments; they’ve never had a chance against this thing; they’re going to go down fighting…
“Father…” Adolin whispered.
The assassin parried the thrust, then placed his hand against Dalinar’s chest.
The highprince, suddenly glowing, lurched up into the dark sky. He didn’t scream.
The assassin lowered his Blade, then started to walk away.
“Bastard!” Adolin spat, dashing after him. “Bastard!” He could barely see for the tears.
The assassin stopped, then leveled his weapon toward Adolin.
Adolin stumbled to a halt. Storms, his head hurt.
“It is finished,” the assassin whispered. “I am done.” He turned from Adolin and continued to walk away.
Like Damnation itself, you are! Adolin raised his Shardblade overhead.
The assassin spun and slapped the weapon so hard with his own Blade that Adolin distinctly heard something snap in his wrist. His Blade tumbled from his fingers, vanishing. The assassin’s hand slapped out, knuckles striking Adolin in the chest, and he gasped, his breath suddenly gone from his throat.
Stunned, he sank to his knees.
At this point, you just know it’s over, it’s hopeless. Adolin and Dalinar are both going to die right here, and you’re too stunned to cry, and… and…
He blinked as he made out something glowing in the air, drifting down, like a leaf. A figure. A man.
The highprince fell slowly, as if he were no more weighty than a cloud. White Light streamed from his body in glowing wisps. Nearby bridgemen murmured, soldiers shouted, pointing.
Adolin blinked, certain he was delusional. But no, that was Dalinar. Like… one of the Heralds themselves, coming down from the Tranquiline Halls.
Before we continue, let me just say that for a moment, I hoped that this was Dalinar’s own power—that he really was like one of the Heralds—or at least a Radiant. Turns out, of course, that I was wrong, but also right. Huh.
Into this silent, frozen moment:
And then, like a falling star, a blazing fireball of light and motion shot down in front of Dalinar. It crashed into the ground, sending out a ring of Stormlight like white smoke. At the center, a figure in blue crouched with one hand on the stones, the other clutching a glowing Shardblade.
His eyes afire with a light that somehow made the assassin’s seem dull by comparison, he wore the uniform of a bridgeman, and bore the glyphs of slavery on his forehead.
The expanding ring of smoky light faded, save for a large glyph—a swordlike shape—which remained for a brief moment before puffing away.
“You sent him to the sky to die, assassin,” Kaladin said, Stormlight puffing from his lips, “but the sky and the winds are mine. I claim them, as I now claim your life.”
Still going: Day Zero.
“I can see it,” Renarin answered feverishly, his voice echoing in the chamber. Ardents who had been studying part of the murals looked up at him. “I can see the future itself. Why? Why, Almighty? Why have you cursed me so?” He screamed a pleading cry, then stood and cracked something against the wall. A rock? Where had he gotten it? He gripped the thing in a gauntleted hand and began to write.
Shocked, Shallan took a step toward him. A sequence of numbers?
“It’s come,” Renarin whispered. “It’s come, it’s come, it’s come. We’re dead. We’re dead. We’re dead…”
I don’t know about y’all, but this was the moment I realized that Dalinar hadn’t written the countdown –Renarin had. So he’s been bonding Glys ever since … well, since sometime before Chapter 4. And this (plus recent discussions) has made me think about Renarin again.
All his life, he’s been the odd duck chicken, the one everyone thinks is just a little creepy, because his social interactions aren’t “normal” for Alethi. Hey, he probably thinks of himself as slightly weird, because he can’t be like everyone else. He finally has a set of Shards, though the Blade screams every time he summons it—but since he’s always been the weird one, he assumes that’s just his own personal problem, too. On top of that, he’s seeing the future—which is supposed to be a thing of evil, so he really doesn’t dare tell anyone: his family has enough stress, the rest of Alethkar already thinks he’s “icky” and he doesn’t need to add “anathema.” So, as usual, he bore it alone and tried not to be a burden… but now it’s all getting to be Too Much. Poor kid.
I think the reason I most Renarin to really be a Truthwatcher is that I want something to be right for the guy, finally. I want something good that’s uniquely his contribution, you know?
This is the third chapter (I think) with Navani’s fabrial floodlights, but it’s the first time I’ve wondered: If this is a fabrial which uses spren trapped in gemstones, powered by Stormlight, does it somehow give more light than mere Stormlight-infused gemstone lanterns? From the descriptions, I’d have to say it does, but… How does that work?
Also, the mysterious Oathgate is mysterious.
I can readily see Palah here foreshadowing the revelation of Renarin as a Truthwatcher, since this is the first time we find out that he’s seeing the future, and has been the one writing the countdown on the walls. So is Nalan here to foreshadow his appointment of Szeth as a Skybreaker? ‘Cause that’s all I’ve got for Mr. Just-Confident-Judge-Skybreaker-Herald of Justice. That, and maybe Szeth’s confidence. Got any other suggestions?
There. That ought to keep us busy until next week, when plot arcs briefly join before splitting again between sky and plateau.
Alice Arneson is a long-time Tor.com commenter and Sanderson beta-reader, if you count seven years as “long.” Hard to believe it’s only seven years.