Today, we return to The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson where we read an awesome book and learn how to write better from its example. To catch up or review previous parts of this read, see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.
Chapter 15: The Decoy
Summary: After defeating the chasmfiend, King Elhokar and the brightlords retreat to a pavilion to await a bridge crew to help them bypass the destroyed bridge so they can get back to camp. A bout of insults breaks out between Sadeas, Adolin, and Wit. Dalinar nearly has to challenge Sadeas to a duel that would break the vengeance pact for his insults to Dalinar’s youngest son, but Sadeas hastily backtracks. Elhokar goes off to soothe Sadeas’s wounded pride, and Dalinar goes to investigate yet another matter for the king.
Reader Comments: My favorite part of this scene is:
“If the Wit is a fool, then it is a sorry state for man. I shall offer you this, Sadeas. If you can speak, yet say nothing ridiculous, I will leave you alone for the rest of the week.”
“Well, I think that shouldn’t be too difficult.”
“And yet you failed,” Wit said, sighing. “For you said ‘I think’ and I can imagine nothing so ridiculous as the concept of you thinking. What of you, young Prince Renarin? Your father wishes me to leave you alone. Can you speak, yet say nothing ridiculous?”
Eyes turned toward Renarin, who stood just behind his brother. Renarin hesitated, eyes opening wide at the attention. Dalinar grew tense.
“Nothing ridiculous,” Renarin said slowly. (Kindle location 4037, hardcover page 229, paperback page 275)
Though Renarin hasn’t played a big role, I like him a lot. The subtle wits are always fun.
Writer Comments: Sometimes lines that make readers go “Oh!” in pleasure over, whether admiration or awe, come to a writer at once. Sometimes, they take drafts and drafts, weeks, perhaps months to invent. But the thing to remember as a writer is that the reader will never know how long it took. To the reader, those zingers or brilliant bits of poetry come off as natural and instantaneous, so don’t worry if it takes time to polish them to perfection.
Summary: While waiting for the bridge, Dalinar investigates the king’s fear that someone sabotaged his saddle’s girth, which resulted in his horse throwing him during the battle with the chasmfiend. In truth, though Dalinar isn’t certain, the girth does indeed look as though it might have been cut in such a way so that the stress of a man in Shardplate would make it snap. When he shares this with Elhokar, but advises against jumping to conclusions as they need to seek a leatherworker’s keen eye to know for sure, Elhokar shoots him and Adolin a brief look that suggests he suspects them.
Also, Dalinar takes Adolin with him to speak to Brightlord Vamah and then to Sadeas. Adolin learns that, though Sadeas and Dalinar hate each other, they work together to manipulate Vamah and protect the king. As Dalinar explains it, he and Sadeas can never forgive each other for letting Gavilar die, but they took an oath that night that, no matter what came between them, they would guard Elhokar at all costs. Dalinar asks Adolin to respect that. Adolin agrees, but he refuses to trust Sadeas.
Reader Comments: Part of the reason I like this book is because it covers multiple facets of life and this world. We get Kaladin in the lowliest place a man can be, struggling just to stay alive. Then we also get to see the machinations of powerful men. Together, it makes everything seem more real.
Writer Comments: The end of this chapter has a great passage wherein Dalinar offers acknowledgement to Sadeas’s bridgemen, which does great things for the story and Dalinar.
A passage from The Way of Kings came to Dalinar’s head unbidden. ...
I once saw a spindly man carrying a stone larger than his head upon his back, the passage went. He stumbled beneath the weight, shirtless under the sun, wearing only a loincloth. He tottered down a busy thoroughfare. People made way for him. Not because they sympathized with him, but because they feared the momentum of his steps. You dare not impede one such as this.
The monarch is like this man, stumbling along, the weight of a kingdom on his shoulders. Many give way before him, but so few are willing to step in and help carry the stone. They do not wish to attach themselves to the work, lest they condemn themselves to a life full of extra burdens.
I left my carriage that day and took up the stone, lifting it for the man. I believe my guards were embarrassed. One can ignore a poor shirtless wretch doing such labor, but none ignore a king sharing the load. Perhaps we should switch places more often. If a king is seen to assume the burden of the poorest of men, perhaps there will be those who will help him with his own load, so invisible, yet so daunting.
... He turned his mount and clopped onto the bridge, then nodded his thanks to the bridgemen. They were the lowest in the army, and yet they bore the weight of kings. (Kindle location 4285, hardcover page 241, paperback page 290)
So awesome, in my opinion. Yet this passage does two very important things. It may do even more if my hopes that Kaladin was among the bridgemen and saw are fulfilled.
First, the passage establishes the solid goodness of Dalinar’s character. It’s one thing for a powerful man to do great things like save his king’s life or make wise decisions. It’s entirely another thing for that man to acknowledge and comprehend, on some level, the suffering and contribution of those beneath him.
Second, this passage connects the bridgemen and the brightlords in a way the book has not yet done. We can know that Kaladin is a bridgeman in Sadeas’s army, but that’s no great connection. Kaladin can suffer for a lifetime in that army and never really have any impact on Sadeas or even necessarily come in contact with him. However, this moment puts Dalinar, the uncle to the king and a very powerful and noble man, in direct contact with bridgemen and perhaps Kaladin. It, in essence, ties the disparate parts of the story more closely together.
Chapter 16: Cocoons
Seven and a half years before
Summary: Kaladin, at age twelve, roams near the fields with his brother Tien and his lighteyes friend Laral. He has finally confessed to Laral that his father wants to send him away to train to become a master surgeon, and Laral is displeased. She wants Kal to become a soldier, go to war, and win a Shardblade so he can become a lighteyes. Kal isn’t honestly sure what he wants.
A group of slightly older boys stand at the base of the hill, and Laral draws Kal after her to see what they’re doing. But, bafflingly, she doesn’t even attempt to interact with them. She sits down and watches, leaving Kal to converse with the boys, who already think disdainfully of him because they view his life as far easier than their toiling in the fields. Kal accidentally insults one of the boy’s fathers, so he is challenged to a duel with quarterstaffs. Kal has never been in a real fight, and the first few blows shock him with their pain. Then he sees Laral’s disappointment. He drags himself back up, furious, picks his staff up, and attacks. A delicious rush floods him and he get in several good hits. Then he spots the blood on the boy’s hand and hesitates. It costs him the fight, and Laral walks away.
After, Kal begs the boy to teach him to fight, but the boy refuses because Kal’s father would be furious. When Kal returns home, he finds his father sitting in the dark. The citylord, Laral’s father, has died, and Kal’s father couldn’t save him. But one supposed good thing came of it. Laral’s father willed enough spheres to Kal’s father to pay for Kal to train as that master surgeon for sure. It was, in fact, one of Laral’s father’s dying decrees that Kal be trained in such a manner. Now, Kal has no choice but to take the path of a surgeon over a soldier, and he finds it stifling.
Reader Comments: I’m betting Laral had a thing for Kaladin and wanted him to get that Shardblade so they could marry. Kal, however, was absolutely clueless.
Writer Comments: A lot of the tension in this chapter came from the fact that, as readers, we know both Laral and Tien are dead, and Kaladin blames himself. We’re reading about ghosts and wondering, how did it happen? When did it happen? Was this the last day Kal saw them alive? Sanderson doesn’t reveal their death’s yet, but this extra tension amps up the chapter quite a bit.
But Sanderson doesn’t rely on that tension alone. If he did, the chapter would still fall short. Rather, he inserts tension and conflict from other sources: Laral’s frustration of Kal, Kal’s uncertainty about what he should do about his future, the fight with the older boy, and then Kal being forced into a destiny he doesn’t want.
Layers of tension work far better than a single sheet of the stuff.