The book seems to be reaching its climax, so we get a lot happening with our characters this time. Dalinar’s various story elements seem to be reaching a crescendo, with more visions, new battle tactics with Sadeas, abdication (and backing out of abdication), and his relationship with Navani moving forward.
Being a sucker for world-building, his visions are really what drew me in the most. His first vision was especially interesting, though somewhat confusing. He seems to have relived what has been referred to as the Day of Recreance, or when the Knights Radiant abandoned humanity. Since Shardblades and Shardplate have been so rare in the story up to this point, it was a bit breathtaking to witness the hundreds of Radiants abandon all of their Shards and leave, leaving them for the common people to fight over. I felt Dalinar’s despair and confusion in this scene. It really makes me wonder what sparked this abandonment.
Dalinar’s second vision was also quite interesting, not necessarily for its content but rather for its implications. He has a vision of interacting with the author of the ancient book he is obsessed with, the Way of Kings. They are surveying the damage done to the world by a recently-ended Desolation. The massive destruction is horrifying and chilling. Dalinar seems a big confused by the vision, since the man scoffs at the idea of writing the book that Dalinar knows he writes. The important aspect, though, is a phrase that Dalinar says during the vision that Navani recognizes as being from an ancient text. They feel that this lends legitimacy to his visions and they now have a basis for investigating them to try to find their source.
We learn a little bit about what’s been referred to as the “Old Magic,” seemingly confined to an entity called the Nightwatcher who grants wishes at the cost of a curse. We learn that Dalinar went through this and was cursed by losing the memories of his wife. There are a lot of questions here, like why did Dalinar seek out the Nightwatcher, and what’s the deal with his wife? Is there a big secret hiding behind his blurred memories of her?
The war on the Shattered Plains evolves and we learn a bit more about the Parshendi, as Dalinar and Sadeas form an alliance begin to fight together after Sadeas clears Dalinar’s name in the hunt for the king’s assassin. There is an incredible action sequence where Dalinar saves Sadeas’s life, ensuring that the wartime bond between the two is cemented. Dalinar discovers that some of the Parshendi seem to actually be women – perhaps the fighting pairs of Parshendi are even mated pairs. We also glimpse some puzzling tactics once the Parshendi start matching the two human armies with an extra army of their own, causing Dalinar (and me) to question why they hadn’t utilized larger armies to begin with.
And, finally, Dalinar both decides to abdicate the head of his house to Adolin and then changes his mind later, feeling more confident in his ability to remain sane in the midst of his transformative visions. And him and Navani also kiss, which appears to be quite scandalous.
I’m really looking forward to reaching the climax of Dalinar’s story in this book. I hope we get some answers about where the visions are coming from, what the story is behind the Parshendi, and what the endgame is for the war on the Shattered Plains.
Kaladin’s story is especially exciting at this point, as he begins to learn about his powers, trains the bridgecrew, receives a story from Hoid, and finds a new tactic of survival on the battlefield. He also has a climax of his own inner character journey here that I found incredibly compelling.
Perhaps most significant for him is his revelation that he can use stormlight, and now he struggles to figure out exactly how it works. Initially, Teft causes him to absorb it by attempting to punch him, but Kaladin fails to recreate the effect later. We eventually learn that it is “breathed” in as one draws their breath. He already uses this ability to help set up a supply stash from the chasm. It seems that in this book, he will barely begin to understand and harness this power for himself.
His training of the bridgecrew continues on with more obstacles, as they are now forced to be on bridge duty every day and chasm duty every night. But otherwise, it seems like the actual training is going smoothly as the men whip into shape rather quickly.
We get a display of Kaladin’s great cleverness as he tests out a new way to defend the bridgecrew by cutting off the Parshendi exoskeletal armor and stashing it to pick up on the way to a battle. He discovered that Shen departed from his normal docile self and became angry whenever they handled Parshendi bodies in the chasm, so Kaladin observed the Parshendi armies and saw similar behavior. He theorized that if he desecrated their dead bodies and wore them as armor, he could draw their fire away from the bridge.
And we get a couple more Kaladin scenes that I absolutely loved. One was a discussion he had with Teft about the nature of their social hierarchy and government. Teft seems to have some spiritual loyalty to the Radiants, feeling as though they’d be better rulers than the lighteyes. Kaladin displays his grand cynicism here, saying, “Men in power always pretend to virtue, or divine guidance, some kind of mandate to ‘protect’ the rest of us. If we believe that the Almighty put them where they are, it’s easier for us to swallow what they do to us.”
This man has been so ultimately disillusioned and mistreated in life that he basically mistrusts any sort of governance or social hierarchy, and you really can’t blame him. Sanderson did an incredible job of creating a consistent character in Kaladin. His experiences are presented so expertly to build him into the character he is, and I can truly understand why he feels the way he does. What makes this perspective even better is that we are allowed to see life through Dalinar’s eyes as well. He’s of the ruling class that Kaladin hates, but he is such a sympathetic (and seemingly honorable) character that it challenges Kaladin’s views and makes us ponder the social structure of this world.
And finally, Kaladin meets Hoid, AKA Wit. The first layer of intrigue for me is just the character of Hoid. In Warbreakers, he was a very minor character who we knew simply as a storyteller. He plays the role of storyteller here, but reveals a deep connection to Sanderson’s larger universe, and plays a crucial role in giving Kaladin a nudge to push him into a true personal revelation.
The story itself was compelling and tragic, but the connection it had to Kaladin’s personal struggle was perfect. I have been deeply interested in this internal struggle with Kaladin, how he has fractured his own psyche between the wretch and the man who helps people, how he externalizes responsibility for his experiences through the concept of being cursed, how his bitterness and despair create such an instable basis for his psyche. At any moment he seems prone to fall into a pit of despair, and I have been hoping that Sanderson would address how all of these things are related. I was so connected to Kaladin as he returned to the camp after listening to Hoid tell his story, as Kaladin began to realize how his internal perspective has created this instability within him and begins to run faster and faster to greet his bridgecrew. My own heart was racing as if it were an action sequence when Kaladin begins to understand that he’s been avoiding responsibility by pitying himself as a cursed man. His perspective shifts in on itself as he has an awakening of self-realization.
And what I love most about this is that it was brought about by a story. Obviously the story itself is not responsible for Kaladin’s shift in perspective, but it acted as a catalyst for his growth. We’re seeing a similar theme in Dalinar’s story with the book he has become somewhat obsessed with. It’s these moments of storytelling that make me feel like Sanderson is a truly talented weaver of stories.
Themes and Thoughts
I see a big theme of responsibility in these chapters. Dalinar struggles with the responsibility he has to his house and his family, trying to figure out if abdicating would be the right thing to do. Through is vision, we see the Radiants abandoning what we understand as a massive social responsibility granted to them by the Heralds. And Kaladin has a lighting flash of realization when he understands the power he has by taking responsibility of his own life instead of projecting it outward. I found it all truly compelling, and am loving the depth of these themes.
Beyond the themes, the story itself is continuing to grow in interest and mystery. I think that in a story like this, it’s a delicate balance of leaving enough mystery to compel the reader forward while giving them enough to be satisfied. I do think Sanderson strikes a decent balance, but perhaps he skews just slightly toward being too mysterious. I do feel quite lost at times regarding the larger story. It’s not that I don’t think the mysteries are interesting, it’s just that there are so many questions about so many aspects of the story that it can be almost distracting at times. I don’t feel like I have much of a solid ground to stand on. The world building itself is solid, but there is a constant sense that the solidity is more of an illusion covering up the deeper workings of this world, and understanding that it is illusion is not as satisfying as getting to the deeper truths.
And with one more part to this book club, I really hope that at least some of those deeper truths come out before the end.