Shallan’s chapters are a bit hit and miss for me overall. I do very much like her interactions with Jasnah, but they aren’t always engaging enough to keep me interested. I think that it is through Shallan and Jasnah that Sanderson has chosen to explore the more abstract discussions of philosophy, religion, and ethics. These topics are discussed in quite a direct way.
But, luckily, we do get some exciting developments to move Shallan’s story along. First there is the mystery of the figures that appear in the portrait that she draws for the king. These are quite confusing and I’m not sure what to make of them. Shallan ponders the possibility that they are an unconscious manifestation, and were this not a fantasy story with mysterious spirits and magical forces, I’d tend to agree. But I’m sensing a subtle theme in this story where the magical world that these characters inhabit isn’t necessarily separate from the characters’ own internal workings. There is something significant about these figures that appear in her drawing, but I’m lost as to their true nature.
There was an interesting scene with Kabsal displaying cymatics to Shallan, demonstrating the natural patterns created by sound and how they correlated to the major cities on Roshar. I liked the theme that Sanderson was going for here, showing a sort of microcosm of the greater macrocosmic metaphysics. However, I’m not sure how effective the scene would have been if I weren’t already familiar with cymatics. Knowing that it is a real property of sound vibration and not something created for the magic of this fantasy world made it more interesting.
In the climax of this part of Shallan’s arc, Jasnah takes Shallan on a little field trip to explore some “applied ethics,” murdering some bad men in the process. This chapter is topped off with Shallan successfully stealing Jasnah’s Soulcaster, her inhibitions dashed by her disgust at what Jasnah just did. What unfolds is a deep discussion about ethics – both in the lesson Jasnah wanted to teach Shallan through her actions as well as internally with Shallan, who struggles with her deception and theft, and with some mysterious event from her past. She apparently committed some atrocity that is haunting her. That was introduced rather abruptly, but I think Sanderson is doing a good job of revealing the complexity of this character in the limited space she has in the book. However, I am enjoying Dalinar’s side-story more than Shallan’s.
I guess the biggest questions at this point are: What in the world are those figures in her drawing? What is the secret to Soulcasting? And what is this new, mysterious tragedy in Shallan’s past that haunts her?
As usual, a lot happens with Kaladin in this section. We come into his chapters with his bridge crew finally falling in line behind him, fully motivated and ready to be led by Kaladin. A combination of him displaying his impressive skills, compassion through healing, and boosting morale with the nightly stew seems to have got the crew on his side. I appreciate the gentle and subtle nature of leadership displayed here. Masculine leadership is often depicted as colder and more animalistic (alpha male-ish) in many stories, but Kaladin finds his ability to lead through his compassion rather than brutality.
I also liked the short perspective we got from Gaz, who we see as a man who is broken himself, put into a difficult position by Kaladin and his own superior. We don’t get the full picture of how exactly Gaz’s superior is squeezing him, but he is humanized a bit by his difficult position being put on display. I almost felt bad for him, despite how he treats Kaladin and the bridge crews.
We are learning little bits about the Parshendi through these chapters, and here we learn about their sort of unified chanting. I keep getting a sense that the Parshendi are unified by a greater consciousness in some way. There is probably some source behind their battle chant.
Kaladin, in an attempt to save his bridge crew and display a safer way of charging with the bridges, trains the crew to do the “side carry,” which will enable them to protect themselves using the bridge (since they are not given shield for protection). We are keyed into an insight from Gaz that Kaladin misses completely – that they are forced to run into the battle unprotected for a reason: to act as bait so that the Parshendi archers will target them instead of the primary fighting force.
When it is time for Kaladin to test his new side-carry approach, it is a great success for Bridge Four, but creates a massive disaster for Sadeas’s army as the other bridge crews attempt to emulate Kaladin’s crew. Not being trained for such an approach, they all fail at the attempt. Further, not having the bridge crews as targets, the Parshendi archers find their targets in the other soldiers. As expected, Kaladin is swiftly punished.
He is hung up to be exposed to a highstorm. I didn’t really expect his life was actually at stake here, since he is the main character and has shown some glimmers of having powers. When he clutched the shining sphere, I sort of expected that it would help him survive the event. Even so, there were some interesting things that happened to him – particularly the appearance of the face in the storm. This makes me feel as though the storms truly are the result of some greater being or intelligence, and Kaladin was greeted by this intelligence in some way.
We get a bit of perspective from Teft here, showing that he recognizes Kaladin’s unusual ability to absorb Stormlight. Teft seems to have a bit more knowledge of what’s going on and is somehow involved in the appearance of these abilities. More mystery to propel us forward.
Through his survival and subsequent quick recovery, he obviously becomes a bit of a legend to his crew, but his own hopes are dashed. All of work in unifying his crew and displaying a new way to carry brides was all an attempt to save them and perhaps show his superiors that these men can be organized and utilized in a more effective way. But he realizes this is all a false hope when he learns that the bridge crews are supposed to serve as fodder for Parshendi arrows.
I must admit, I was a bit disappointed in the arc of Kaladin falling back into despair again. We’d already been here with Kaladin, and to return here made him seem just kind of mopey and pathetic. Luckily, he didn’t stay there for long before he decided he was going to search for one last, foolhardy way to save him and his crew: by training them to fight.
We also get some more development in young Kaladin’s story, seeing his father use the light of sphere to scare off the robbers. This seems like a meaningful moment of learning for Kaladin, but I thought it was undermined by the subsequent revelation that Kal’s father had actually stolen the spheres that the robbers came to take. I feel like maybe I missed something here, but it seems a bit incongruent.
But we have a much bigger character moment with young Kal when him and his father are tasked with saving Roshone and his son in an emergency. There is a moment where Kal’s father can possibly allow the evil Roshone to die, or even speed his death by slicing an artery in his leg. No one would know, and it would solve many issues for Kal’s family. But he takes the high road and saves Roshone, despite knowing that it will probably create more problems for them later on.
Kaladin’s revelation is that he feels as though he could have killed him for the sake of the greater good. He questions his father’s strict code of ethics that claims that one cannot kill to protect, and decides that things are not that simple.
My biggest questions for Kaladin revolve around his stormlight powers, and how Teft seems to be involved. And do they also involve Syl? That seems likely.
I have realized at this point that Kaladin may not play a major role in the story of this particular book. I observed last time that his role seems quite minor and inconsequential to the larger events in the world. I was expecting this story revolving around the war on the Shattered Plains would be somewhat resolved in this book, but given the trajectory so far, I think we’ll continue this story beyond this book, with a slower reveal of Kaladin’s powers and his role in this world.
Themes and Thoughts
There were some grand themes expressed rather bluntly in Shallan’s story. The intricacies of scholarship and recording history, ethics and philosophy, and the relationship of the student and the teacher with Jasnah and Shallan. I think that Sanderson does a good job navigating these topics, but then again, the act of learning about these things is kind of the crux of Shallan’s story. I am still quite interested in them, particularly what Sanderson is painting as the role of the heart in determining right from wrong, truth from shadow. This was a theme both in the religious debate as well as in the ethical debate. Shallan seems to be dancing around the importance of listening to our hearts in these equations, with another argument against doing so being presented in an intelligent way.
We’re still circling the drain of Kaladin’s theme of tying his own self-worth to outer circumstances. He attaches his self-worth completely to his ability to save others, and because of this, his failures cause him to spiral into a deep hole of depression. I am still very interested to see where Sanderson takes this particular string of thought in Kaladin’s story. The role of intention in service is a big interest of mine. Attaching his own self-worth to his success in helping others, does it taint Kaladin’s service?
I hope we get to explore this as Kaladin continues his attempts at saving those around him.