Chapter 3 introduces us to what seems to be another of the main characters, a young woman in the mist of long journey chasing a woman named Jasnah Kolin, the sister of the current Alethi king (and I suppose the one who was assassinated in the prologue). Her journey lands her in Kharbranth, a city-nation with some unique architecture and some cultural attachment to bells.
I think something exemplified in how this story begins is how skilled Brandon Sanderson is at picking the right place to start his story arcs. Beginning too soon can be boring, beginning too late can be disorienting. Beginning in the middle of a story, in media res, is a tricky thing to work out, but he does it well.
Sanderson’s tendency to spend a lot of time in his characters heads helps this though, as we have a lot of opportunity to learn about the events leading up to this point as Shallan ponders the journey. Slowly, we learn that she is seeking out the king’s sister in an attempt to become her ward—for her own deceptive purposes, it turns out.
These chapters are packed full of rich world-building, from the details of cultures and architecture to history. Sanderson cleverly uses Jasnah’s “interview” of Shallan, essentially a test of knowledge, to reveal some bits of history and show various aspects of this dominant Vorin culture. I especially like how Sanderson turns some gender roles on their head. There does seem to be a rather strict divide in the gender roles, but they are quite variant from our own society. For instance, things like writing, logic, and science are described as “feminine arts.” Men reading even seems to be looked down upon. Though as expected, more physical tasks (such as combat or labor) seem to be relegated to the men.
He also does a fantastic job of connecting everything in this world with the unique circumstances of the world, specifically how things all seem to be built upon the adaptation to these violent highstorms that ravage the world. The culture and architecture of Kharbranth are intertwined with this adaptation, and nearly all of the biological life and landscape seems to be shaped by this. Knowing Sanderson, there is probably much more to these storms than we know at this point. They are taken as a fact of life by these people, but something tells me that they’ll play a significant role in the lore.
Our introduction to Jasnah doesn’t paint her in a very positive light. She seems cold, entitled, and harsh towards Shallan, though it seems that this could be a result of her circumstances and a necessity in her great success. She seems to be known far and wide for her incredible scholarship, but is also infamous due to her atheism.
Which is another aspect I like about Sanderson’s work. Knowing that he is a Mormon (which, I assume, requires great dedication to religion and faith), I am impressed with how he handles the topics of religion and atheism. That’s not to say that I specifically think religious people can’t depict the tension of religion vs. atheism well, but that it is impressive to me when any person—religious or atheist—handles such topics with the nuance that Sanderson does, and paints the “opposite” view with respect and knowledge of the position.
We are also introduced to another character who I feel will become more important later in the story, Brother Kabsal. I loved the dialogue between him and Shallan and look forward to his interactions later in the story.
I started out a bit lukewarm towards Shallan, but as we learned more about her character and her motivations, I softened up a bit more towards her. The reserved-but-witty demeanor didn’t work for me alone, but then when we figure out about her family’s struggles, her father’s backstory and demeanor, her self-taught nature, and the real reason she is pursuing wardship with Jasnah, she became more complex and sympathetic for me.
Her goal of stealing Jasnah’s Soulcaster seems difficult and dangerous, and predict that Shallan will probably be quite taken with Jasnah and find more difficulty in accomplishing her task once she grows to know the person.
Other small notes: I loved the depiction of Jasnah using the Soulcaster and can’t wait to see more of that in action. I’m eager to figure out what these memories that haunt Shallan are, that seem violent and maybe connected to her father’s death. And I’m betting that her ability to retain memory and draw it will be connected to magic in some way.
Kaladin goes through a pretty intense story arc just in this first part of the book. He really began his descent at the end of his last chapter, where the murder of the slave he attempted to save broke him.
This slow travel in a slave caravan with this broken man allows for a lot of introspection as well as opportunity to depict the landscape. As I said earlier, it’s fascinating how the life on this world has all evolved and adapted to the unique circumstances of the environment.
One interesting note is Kaladin’s musings about the sentience of the storms, and their connection with the windspren. It’s seems no coincidence that Kaladin interacts with a sentient windspren (supposedly an unheard-of thing), and then the story hints at a sentience behind the storms and how they interact with windspren. Having experienced Sanderson’s foreshadowing and build-up before, I would bet that all of the various spren as well as the storms are going to really be a key factor in the greater story. I think we will learn a lot more about their nature later on.
We also get a sense of the culture once Kaladin and the slave caravan arrives at its destination in the Shattered Plains. Slaves and lower castes seem to be treated with varying degrees of respect and humanity, but the horror of what Kaladin experiences as part of the bridge crew is testament to the poor treatment of humans in this society. Sanderson did a great job depicting how this culture and caste system can treat people worse than animals and views them as completely expendable.
Kaladin’s upturn in the arc, near the end of Part 1, was a bit anticlimactic for me. I did think it was a touching moment when the windspren brought him the leaves to cheer him up, but I have so many questions about her and the circumstances that landed Kaladin here that I was left kind of shrugging.
And I really do have a lot of questions.
How did Kaladin end up a slave? There is a hint that his highlord betrayed him, but no real explanation.
What are they doing on the Shattered Plains, fighting the Parshendi? Why don’t they use more logical battle tactics? Why does it seem to be more of a game than a war? Even Kaladin struggles to understand. I suspect that whatever the answer is, it is related to the assassination in the prologue. It was intended to start a war with the Parshendi, and so the fact that the war that followed seems to have some hidden agendas makes sense.
What is up with Syl, the windspren?
And how did Kaladin end up as a soldier, after such intense training from his father as a surgeon?
These questions help build the mystery and compel me forward in the story, but I must admit that I’m feeling quite lost in Kaladin’s story. I hope that we find some answers soon in Part 2.
I thought these were a neat way to help flesh out the world and create some backstory.
The first one, with Ishikk, didn’t seem very relevant to the rest of the world/story, but it was a really cool snapshot of another culture in this world. However, there was one big thing here that grabbed my attention.
These foreign men who hired Ishikk are looking for a person named Hoid. I recognized that name from Warbreaker. He was a master storyteller that gives a presentation of the history of that world. It’s a completely different world than this one (at least, to our knowledge). Understanding that Sanderson’s work is all connected in the same universe, there has to be something more here, but it is quite confusing.
We get an interlude with Nan Balat, Shallan’s crippled brother. She mentioned him during her flashback in which he seemed to receive the injury that crippled him. There was a whole lot of substance to this one, just shining a bit of light on Shallan’s backstory and showing that Balat is a bit…disturbed. His killing of small animals makes me think of a psychopath, but he seems to be a more complex character.
The final interlude with Szeth was most interesting for me. We learn what happened with the assassin from the prologue and get to understand his nature. We knew he was instructed to kill the king, but we didn’t know exactly what was compelling him. While we don’t know exactly how he ended up in his situation, or what compels him to hold to his pact, but it seems he is being punished by being a Truthless. He must obey anyone who holds his Oathstone.
I love this dynamic of him being passed around by petty men as a sort of menial slave, without them realizing just exactly what he possesses. Based on the prologue, it seems as though he might be one of the most powerful people we’ve met so far, being able to use Stormlight for magic and also having a Shardblade. I hope we see him have his own arc that takes him beyond his Oathstone and unleashes his power again.
Themes and thoughts
I got a big sense of social hierarchy in these chapters. People in powerful positions having control over others, the fate of the lesser in the hands of those in higher social positions. Shallan’s entire family and house faces collapse based totally on the whims of a more powerful woman who doesn’t even know the real truth of the situation. Kaladin, once a citizen and talented soldier, now has perhaps one of the worst slave jobs a person could possess. His life was in the hand of his sergeant completely, who tried his best to get Kaladin killed. And then again with Szeth’s interlude, he is bound by some oath to obey people who hold his stone, with only a couple of real restrictions. He even cuts his own arm simply so that his master can show how far he’ll go.
I’m getting a sense of a more vague theme dealing with religion, spirits, and a growing underlying current in the story. Religion plays a rather direct role in some of Shallan’s interactions—she constantly remarks on Jasnah’s atheism, and the tension it causes with the religious authorities. But then Kaladin is now interacting with a spirit in ways unheard of, and senses a sentience in the storm. I get the sense that the highstorms have a connection to the prelude piece with the Ten Heralds, who have since disappeared and become known as gods. Perhaps this is even connected to the caste and social hierarchy, as there is talk about the fallout from the disappearance of the heralds. There will probably be a lot to dig into here.
I’m eager for a lot of these pieces to start coming together, but this is a long book and an even longer series. I am sure I’ll have many, many more questions before I get any adequate answers. But I’m engrossed so far.