Hello once again, my fellow Readalongees.
I hope that by now you have managed to secure a copy of Brandon Sanderson’s Way of Kings (still just £1.99 as an ebook until the 3rd March) and that you’re managing to keep up with us as we move into the second week of this readalong. This first quarter of the book has seen heavy emphasis on the building and shaping of the two main characters, Kaladin and Shallan, and the masterful construction of the world of Roshar. The most important thing to know at this point is that upon this world are two great races, the Alethi and the Parshendi, who have been fighting a war for so long now that – despite it once looking like a treaty might have been a possibility – it has become an accepted part of life, something unlikely to end anytime soon. Of our two main characters, one finds himself right in the midst of this war and the other finds herself in the relative safety of a faraway town with more personal matters on her mind.
The following are our summaries for Chapters 4 to 8. Next week we will get a bit more ambitious and work our way through to chapter 14. Below these Chapter summaries you will find this week’s questions.
The Windspren asks Kaladin why he doesn’t cry like the rest of the slaves, and Kaladin replies that it won’t change anything. Looking at the sun, Kaladin realises they should have stopped for food by now and, judging by Tvlakv’s demeanour, they must be lost. Knowing he has been to this area before, Tvlakv demands Kaladin help him. Kaladin asks to see the map and upon being handed it tears it to shreds. Tvlakv now sees Kaladin as invaluable, thinking he is the only one who has experience of the area. Kaladin reveals that he actually has no idea where they are.
Kaladin is 19 and his experience in life has left him feeling that vengeance is a pointless pursuit… However, when Tvlakv mentions Brightlord Amaram feelings rise in Kaladin that leave him thinking about how, if he did ever run into Amaram, he’d ‘gut him … twist his head right off his neck’. Kaladin realises that if Tvlakv knows about Amaram then he must know that he didn’t earn his brand for deserting. Tvlakv admits he does indeed know, but that he and Kaladin will continue to pretend that is exactly what it is for, because the real reason he got it will make it difficult to sell him. Although Tvlakv is a bastard, Kaladin curses himself for actually quite liking him… liking him will leave him feeling guilt once he kills him.
A storm is coming and the other slaves are terrified for they think that the most violent storms are haunted by the Stormfather, the shades of the Lost Radiants, or the Voidbringers. Although Kaladin believes things walk the storms, he isn’t scared of them.
Once the storm has passed, the slave wagons quickly arrive at their destination: The Shattered Plains. Kaladin is stunned by the thousands upon thousands of soldiers that cover miles upon miles of stone; he even sees the barracks of Soulcasters. The banners reveal this to be the army of King Kholin. The rest of the slaves think that if they are set to work for the King that they shall inevitably be given wages, that their lives will be good and they will one day be able to buy their freedom. Having known many lighteyes, Kaladin is less sure… he has found them all to be corrupt, all have found ways to avoid paying him and treated him poorly. Kaladin looks at the plains as an opportunity to pick up a spear once more, to fight.
The Shattered Plains: An enormous riven plain of rock—so long you can’t see the other side—that was split and cut by sheer chasms, crevasses twenty or thirty feet wide. They were so deep that they disappeared into darkness and formed a jagged mosaic of uneven plateaus. Some large, others tiny. The expansive plain looked like a platter that had been broken, its pieces then reassembled with small gaps between the fragments.
Spren: Different Spren are attracted to different essences/elements. Translucent-blue Windspren flitter after (or with) the high storms, whilst glowing green Lifespren hover around plants.
Shallan finally catches up to Jasnash and is amazed at how beautiful she is. Being unmarried at her age, Jasnah had expected her to be ugly and undesirable… It quickly becomes clear though that her being single is likely her own choice and down to the fact she is abrupt and rather intimidating.
Jasnah is talking with Taravangian, who Shallan knows as the king of Kharbranth. Shallan notices that although they follow the ritual of a King being above a Princess (as Jasnah is), because Jasnah’s kingdom is larger and therefore more important, the King talks up to Jasnah. The King is asking for Jasnah’s help, because his granddaughter has found herself trapped in a room due to a part of the building collapsing during the highstorm.
On their way to the King’s granddaughter, Jasnah allows Shallan to put forward her case as to why Jasnah should take her on as her ward. Shallan is fairly confident she has the necessary skill, but it quickly becomes evident that Jasnah’s expectations are extremely high (Shallan comments that she seems to want an already accomplished scholar). The majority of questions Jasnah asks Shallan she stumbles on and the area that Shallen is most accomplished in (art), Jasnah has no interest in or respect for.
Jasnah uses her soulcaster (which is in the form of a bracelet with specific gems) to turn the huge rock into smoke, allowing the King’s daughter to run free. This process is known as soulcasting and it is the art of changing one substance into another (reminds me a bit of Fullmetal Alchemist – if you’ve ever seen that?). In return for saving her, the King agrees to allow Jasnah access to the Palanaeum (the most extensive library on Roshar).
Jasnah then turns to Shallan and tells her that she cannot take her on as her ward – that she does not possess the necessary skill. Despite this, Shallan, now having seen the power of the Soulcaster, knows that she can’t give up; that this device is the key to saving her family’s status. She has to steal it.
Stormcasting: the ability to change one substance into another. It requires a ‘soulcaster’, which are extremely rare and expensive. Their power seems to vary, but Jasnah’s is particularly powerful, based on what we are told by Shallan.
Now at the Shattered Plains, Tvlakv takes the slaves to a woman who buys them to serve in Highprince Sadeas’s army. For a moment, Kaladin thinks he is there to fight and begs the woman to let him take up a spear. Tvlakv interjects, though, telling her that Kaladin is a deserter and not to be trusted under any circumstances.
Instead, Kaladin finds himself assigned to a bridge crew. Basically, when a call is made that the Parshendi enemy have been spotted, it is the job of the bridge crew to rush ahead and lay down bridges over the large chasms that give the Shattered Plains its name. Of course, being at the forefront of the army and running directly into the enemy’s line of fire means that a huge proportion of bridge men are killed on each run by archers. The bridges are so heavy and their superiors, such as the one-eyed Gaz, push them so hard that it is also not unheard of for bridge men to die of exhaustion.
On his first run Kaladin upsets Gaz, who decides to put him at the front of bridge four. They arrive at their location ahead of the army and are met by a swarm of arrows. Kaladin is the only man from the front row to survive the onslaught.
After collapsing and eventually coming to, Kaladin notices that the windspren that had been following him has taken the form of a young girl. Spren are not meant to have any form of intelligence, so when it slaps him and tells him that he needs to get up and rejoin the army or he will be left behind he is shocked. When Kaladin asks the Spren its name it is as shocked as Kaladin is to realise that she does indeed have one – she is Sylphrena, or Syl for short.
It is revealed that as much as Shallan’s House’s prosperity in years gone by was down to her father’s political savviness, it was equally down to the fact that he owned a Soulcaster. Although he had legitimately found several important marble deposits on Davar lands, her father had illegally used his forbidden Soulcaster to create new deposits at a careful rate. That was until the evening that the Soulcaster was broken and they could no longer make it function.
As the debts mount up, Shallan and her brothers predict that they have less than a year before the missed payments become so high that they’ll have little choice but to reveal their father’s death. Shallan has just this amount of time to become Jasnah’s ward, replace her broken Soulcaster (which she keeps on her person) with Jasnah’s working one and flee back to her homeland to restore their wealth.
There is a strange flashback where Shallan is considering how strange it is that she took over managing the finances after that day… After that incident… ‘Memories attacked her. Nan Balat bruised, his coat torn. A long, silvery sword in her hand, sharp enough to cut stones as if they were water. No, Shallan thought, her back to the stone wall, clutching her satchel. No. Don’t think of the past.’
Shallan follows Jasnah to the Palanaeum where there are seven hundred thousand separate texts. Because you must pay to enter, Shallan sits outside in Jasnah’s alcove and draws pictures of people and animals she has seen. The description of her drawing makes it sound almost supernatural, as though she is capturing her subject’s very soul in her work.
Shallan writes a letter to Jasnah expressing her intent to continue fighting to be taken on as her ward. Just as she finishes, an Ardent, Kabsal, looking for Jasnah, arrives at the alcove and asks if he can wait within it with Shallan. The Ardent – a servant of the almighty – is unlike other Ardents she has met. He is witty, down to earth, young and attractive. After much joking (and perhaps flirtation?) the Ardent gives up waiting and asks if Shallan will tell Jasnah that he called upon her. Shallan is surprised an Ardent has reason to speak with a heretic. Kabsal explains that he wants to at least try converting her.
Darkeyes and Lighteyes: It is revealed that Shallan once drew a Darkeyed man and that it left her father furious. The political differences between the two races seem to share similarities between black/white racial groupings in 1930’s America (think To Kill a Mockingbird).
Shallan: The only daughter, the last memory of Brightlord Davar’s beloved wife.
Jasnah: Not one to be cowed, she was a woman to the bone, master of the feminine arts, but not by any means delicate. A rationalist, a woman with the audacity to deny the existence of the Almighty himself based on her own reasoning.
The Almighty: ‘He Who Transforms’ harnesses the power of change itself and created Roshar. He has another name, allowed to pass only the lips of Ardents: Elithanathile. The Almighty’s glory is such that any who look upon him would immediately be burned to ash.
Ardent: Servants to and representatives of the almighty. They are forbidden to have possessions and most often are elderly men. They travel his lands and visit the villages, ministering to the people, helping them reach Points in their Glories and Callings.
Logicspren: In the form of tiny stormclouds, they are attracted to great arguments.
Creationspren: Of medium size, as tall as one of her fingers, and they glow with a faint silvery light. They transform perpetually, taking new shapes.
An unhappy Jasnah arrives at the alcove Shallan is sitting in. Initially she tells Shallan to leave, but after reading her note she sends a servant to fetch her and tells Shallan that she is impressed that she is self-taught and does actually appreciate her persistence to a degree. Jasnah tells Shallan that as a result she is willing to allow her to petition again in the future, but first she must return home and learn more about history and philosophy.
As Jasnah retires, Shallan considers that she has just been told that she will be accepted at a later date. To be the ward of a Kholin – a most prestigious house – and of Jasnah – the finest living scholar – would ensure her future, likely seeing her married to the son of a highprince. However, Shallan cannot wait for that ‘later date’. Realising that her plan could well fail, Shallan wonders if perhaps her only chance is to abandon the family estates and seek asylum.
It is revealed that before she left, Shallan had come across a strange collection of maps in her father’s study. He never revealed what they were and Helaran – her older brother who seemed to know about them – disappeared a year ago and was proclaimed dead by her father.
Shallan runs into Yalb, who has just cheated four guardsmen out of 80 chips. Yalb is surprised to hear that Jasnah rejected Shallan, for he and the other sailors all think she is perfect. He convinces her that she needs to keep trying and an idea forms that relies on her finding a book merchant who is open throughout the night.
Shallan finds a book seller and asks him for a number of history and philosophy books. He is surprised at Shallan’s choices and, after being disgruntled by his suggestion that maybe she take a romance novel instead, she remarks that: ‘The body needs many different foods to remain healthy. And the mind needs many different ideas to remain sharp.’ One of the books Shallan picks up is by a Shin philosopher, Shauka-daughter-Hasweth. Shallan finds it strange that people who live ‘in mud and worship rocks’ could have any notable philosophers.
Returning to the alcove she sat in earlier, Shallan begins to read the books she has just purchased. Jasnah quickly arrives and rather than being angry is impressed that Shallan has such a good selection in front of her. She tells her that she knows her father has enemies and believes she wants to be her ward in order to marry well. She asks to see what is inside her bag and sees Shallan’s drawings, which reveals to her that Shallan ‘pursues scholarship in her free time for its own sake’ and that impresses her to the extent she offers her a room and tells her that she will make use of her: dividing her time between helping Jasnah and studying what she is ignorant of.
Ancient Shin: Seen by Shallan as a distant land where people lived in mud and worshiped rocks.
Safehand: Brandon never fully explains the safe hand, but he did go into great detail about it in a recent Q&A, here is his response to someone asking about it:
“There will be more explanation in-world as it comes along, but it’s for much the same reason that in some cultures in our world you don’t show people the bottoms of your feet, and in other cultures showing the top of your head is offensive. It’s part of what has grown out of the Vorin culture, and there are reasons for it. One of them has to do with a famous book written by an artist who claimed that true feminine pursuits and arts were those that could be performed with one hand, while masculine arts were those performed with two hands, in a way associating delicacy with women and brute force with men. Some people in Roshar disagree with this idea, but the custom has grown out of that foundational work on masculine and feminine arts. That’s where that came from. One aspect of this is that women began to paint one-handed and do things one-handed in upper, higher society. You’ll notice that the lower classes don’t pay a lot of attention to it—they’ll just wear a glove.
As a student of human nature and of anthropology, it fascinates me how some cultures create one thing as being taboo whereas in another culture, the same thing can be very much not taboo. It’s just what we do as people.”
Feminine Arts: music, painting, writing, logic and science.
Burning of prayers: We see Shallan write a prayer on a piece of paper. She intends to burn this later. This seems to be a practice among their people that allows them to say thank you to their God.
Lifespren: lazy specks of green dust. We see them floating among plants.
Painspren: appear when Shallan is emotionally distraught. They ‘crawl’.
Flamespren: dance on burning logs.
An emerald broam: the largest denomination of sphere, worth a thousand diamond chips. Shallan has 8 of them left (she has spent far less than 10 in her 6 month-long trip so cannot justify the book maker’s request for 10 emerald broams for the history and philosophy books she asks for).
1. What do you guys think about the Spren? Do you have any theories on the physics of how they function? Will they come to have a deeper meaning as the series progresses?
2. How much do you feel you know about the Roshar, the Parshendi and the Alethi at this point? Are there any big questions you have that you’d like answered?
3. Following on from that: When you think about it – not a massive amount has happened in this novel so far and there has been a ton of worldbuilding. Typically, this is suicide for a first book, but I’ve not spoken with a reader yet who has even begun to struggle getting through Way of Kings. What is it about Sanderson’s writing that makes it so damned readable?
4. The memory of Shallan holding a sword over ‘Nan Balat’ is an interesting one. It sounds like a Shardblade (being able to cut through stone). If you’ve read the novel, please ignore this question. If you haven’t what did you think of this memory?
5. What did you guys think of the Ardent?
6. Finally, by the end of chapter 8, Shallan has earned her place as Jasnah’s ward. Do you think this plan was really the best way to get hold of Jasnah’s Stormcaster? Do you think it would have just been easier to pay someone to steal it or do you think that Shallan’s family have done the right thing, that Jasnah is too smart to let an outsider steal it from her?
We’ll see you back here next week for Chapters 9 through 14 (including the three interludes!).