Way of Kings Read Along (Chapters 1-3)
Hey there my WOK Readalongees,
Firstly, I want to thank each and every one of you who has decided to commit and join me on this journey through one of the decade’s finest fantasy books. Whether you are simply following this readalong to catch yourself up and jog your memory ready for Brandon Sanderson’s Words of Radiance, due out in March, or picking the book up for the first time (how I envy you!) I am going to do my very best to ensure this readalong enhances your experience reading the book and hopefully leaves you with a better understanding of the world and characters Sanderson has created. Additionally, I want to create a permanent resource that people can refer back to in years to come that will work, essentially, as chapter summaries and discussion points that can be quickly read to prepare you for subsequent books.
So, how will this work? Well, each week I will be recapping the chapters we’ve read, making notes highlighting important concepts and raising questions for you guys to answer and give your thoughts on. I’ll aim to cover around 125 pages of the book a week. In addition, I will be digging around Brandon’s numerous interviews & articles, trying to find answers to any questions we can’t answer ourselves.
Because time is of the essence if we are to finish this soon enough to join in with the buzz surrounding Words of Radiance, I’m going to keep the actual recapping as brief as possible and put emphasis on discussion rather than me theorising on Brandon’s meaning and the science behind certain concepts… I hope you will agree that this will likely be more rewarding anyway. Oh, and I also had the good fortune of interviewing Brandon about The Way of Kings (in person, no less!) when it first came out a few years ago, so I will be sharing videos from way back then too.
If you guys want me to let you know each time we make a post on here and to join our special Way of Kings Readalong Twitter list, please leave your Twitter address in the comments section below with your answer to any questions and I’ll add you to the list and let you know once we make a new post
So, moving on to the reason you are here: The Readalong! Gollancz were kind enough to provide the first three chapters of the book in PDF format last week. If you’ve read them, I’m about to discuss them! If you’ve not, well, you better head over and read them quickly and then come back when you’re done! Oh, and if you’re still to pick up the book and didn’t enter our competition, Gollancz are offering the ebook at just £1.99 to celebrate this readalong (pick it up here!).
Our first view of Sanderson’s world is through the eyes of Kalak. Kalak is one of ten immortal beings who wield powerful swords and take a God-like status above the humans and Radiants during the times of ‘Desolation’, a cycle of wars against ‘the enemy’ that have been repeating for millennia.
As he walks across the desolated plains in the aftermath of the most recent battle, he sees a dying thunderclast and considers how many times these giant beasts have killed him. Kalak seems grateful for not having been killed this time round. He is elusive on the details, but it seems that should one of his kind die during the ‘Desolation’, they are sent to a place of pain and fire until the time the next ‘Desolation’ begins.
When Kalak arrives at the large rock where he’d arranged to meet the other nine of his compatriots, he finds just one, Jezrien, waiting for him. Kalak’s first thought is that the others had died, but Jezrien explains that only one had actually died; the rest have walked away. Kalak notices that their seven beautiful swords have been slammed point first into the ground (if they had died the swords would have disappeared with them).
Jezrien explains that they have decided to end the ‘Oathpact’, for “Ishar believes that so long as there is one of us still bound to the Oathpact, it may be enough. There is a chance we might end the cycle of Desolations.”
Although Kalak hesitates, he eventually agrees for what seem to be selfish reasons: he cannot return to the place of fire and pain that awaits him between Desolations. Leaving isn’t without consequence: the humans will be without their ‘deities’ and the member of their group who did die, Talenel, will be forever trapped in that place of nightmares.
Kalak leaves and promises not to seek any of the other swordbearers, taking false comfort in Jezrien’s words that “We tell [the people who see us as deities] that they finally won. It’s an easy enough lie. Who knows? Maybe it will turn out to be true.”
The Heralds: Beings that formed an ‘Oathpact’ to protect the world during the Desolation. There are ten of them that appear at the time of each Desolation. Each wields an ‘Honourblade’ that is even more powerful than the Shardblades that feature extensively within this novel. Between Desolations they are trapped in a place reminiscent of hell where they are tortured. If a Herald dies whilst fighting in a Desolation they are instantly sent to this torturous place, if they survive they are expected to voluntarily return. In a few chapters time, Kaladin reveals his belief that it is the Heralds that chose the ‘Brightlords’, marking them as rulers.
Voidbringers: Huge beasts that have skin as hard as stone. Steel is useless against them. In the next chapter it is revealed that they can store energy indefinitely, but when humanoids absorb it, energy begins to leak from them rapidly.
Before the Prologue we are shown a map of a continent with cracks through it – it was created by His Majesty Gavilar Kholin’s royal surveyors and is dated 1167. We are also shown the first of many diary-like entries.
The Prologue takes place 4,500 years after the prelude. Szeth-son-son-Vallano, Truthless of Shinovar, is at a feast which is celebrating the signing of a treaty between the Parshendi and Alethi. Despite the Parshendi seeming to be enjoying themselves, Szeth knows that very soon the Parshendi will turn their back on the treaty and, on their behalf, he will kill the Alethi’s King.
Szeth is dressed in clothing of the Parshendi tradition and, despite being an assassin, most view his kind as docile. Observing the celebrations around him, Szeth sees the King’s brother, Dalinar Kholin, and his son, Elhokar Kholin, at the forefront of celebrations with the Parshendi and finds it hard to believe his ‘masters’ are set to break the treaty they made just hours ago.
Leaving the room, on his way to kill the King, Szeth admires the statues of what should be the ten Kings of Vorin theology. However, one statue, Shalash, has been removed; leaving only nine. Szeth is soon stopped by two guards, it is noted that they have dark eyes and are therefore not allowed to wield blades; instead they hold spears. Szeth absorbs the Stormlight from the torches he just passed and uses the energy – which illuminates his skin – to ‘lash’ himself to different points of the room. Szeth can bind people or objects to different surfaces; essentially he can manipulate the direction of gravity. Szeth summons his Shardblade and kills the guards; the one he kills with the Shardblade dies strangely, the blade doesn’t actually cut them, rather it passes through them and leaves the guard with smoke pouring from his eyes – it is said the blade severs the soul.
Szeth has been told to be seen, the Parshendi want the Alethi to know it was them who assassinated the King despite the treaty. After killing many more guards using his powers, a figure steps out from the king’s quarters wearing glistening blue armour of smoothly interlocking plates (Shardplate). The King bolts as the Shardbearer steps into Szeth’s path.
Szeth works out that the Shardbearer is in fact the King, the man who bolted was a decoy. After an intense battle, Szeth manages to defeat him by causing the balcony they stand on to collapse and lashing himself to the wall. As the King lies dying from the fall, he manages to coax from Szeth that it was the Parshendi that had him killed – he is confused by this revelation. Quickly the king pulls a crystalline sphere tied to a chain from his pocket and tells Szeth that ‘you must take this. They must not get it.’ The King is taking advantage of the fact that Szeth, as a Truthless, sees a dying wish as something sacred. He also tells him that he must tell his brother that, “he must find the most important words a man can say…” Before leaving, Szeth writes the King’s message to Dalinar in blood on the wall.
Parshendi: Dismissed as savages by civilised Kingdoms. Men with skin of black marbled with red. They are cousins to ‘Parshmen’, Parshendi meaning roughly ‘Parshmen who think’.
Alethi: Have a natural nobility to them, even when drunk. The men are tall, well built and dressed smartly in silk coats elaborately embroidered with silver or gold. The women are beautiful, wear tight silk dresses that are brightly coloured to contrast with the men. The women have dark black hair and wear gems enhanced with Stormlight.
Truthless: people of Shinovar who must work as a slave to anyone who holds their ‘Oathstone’. They must follow the command of their master in all things except committing suicide or handing over their Shardblade.
Technology: Lighting is created by using sapphires to infuse ‘Stormlight’ and scholars are said to be close to creating new Shardblades. Szeth believes that if this is the case the Alendi will easily take over even the most distant countries.
Shardblades: Slice through the soul of people and can cut through any inanimate object, including stone. They were first carried by the Knights Radiant, gifts from their god that allowed them to fight the Voidbringers.
Shardbearer: Anyone can wear Shardplate or wield a Shardblade. A Full Shardbearer means that a person owns both. In addition to the armour being almost impenetrable and the blade being able to cut through almost anything, by having either in your possession, your strength, agility, speed and stamina are all increased (think World of Warcraft / Final Fantasy type items x 10!).
Jezrien’s Plan: It seems that man did indeed believe that they’d won against the Voidbringers all those years ago. However, without the ‘enemy’ to fight, they picked up the Shardblades and began using them to fight against common soldiers.
Five years later, Cenn, a 15 year old Alethi, is a new recruit on the field of battle, fearing for his life. He has recently been moved to the front lines and is surrounded by dark-eyed men dressed just like him in a leather jerkin, knee-length skirt, steel cap and breastplate – most have spears or bows. In the distance, Cenn sees lighteyes sitting atop horses and, for the majority, donning full armour. Nearby soldiers reassure Cenn that he will be fine, that because he is in the squad of ‘Kaladin Stormblessed’ he shall not die this day. Moments later Kaladin arrives and it becomes obvious that he has paid people off to get Cenn on his squad and away from ‘Gare’.
The battle the men are involved in is a border skirmish resulting from a dispute over land from another Alethi Princedom. Dallet tells Cenn that their aim, as a squad, is to prove themselves, to fight so well that they are called upon to be sent to the Shattered Plains to battle the Parshendi. That is where the King is, seeking vengeance for the murder of his father five years earlier.
Kaladin and his men strategise, Cenn is amazed to see that the majority of them look confident and are even smiling; apparently Kaladin is ‘lucky’. All the same, Kaladin asks Dallet to look after Cenn when the battle begins as he will not know the ‘signs’. When the battle begins it is apparent that Kaladin has trained his men to use advanced battle tactics that ensure his squad stays alive – much like the Romans, he uses a system of prioritising defense and awaiting opportunities to attack.
Despite reluctance from his squad, when Kaladin spots an enemy lighteyes he tells his men to get ready to take him down off his horse – he feels that this will be their chance to prove themselves ready for the Shattered Plains. Kaladin strikes him in the eye with a throwing knife and he quickly falls from his horse. While Kaladin engages in battle, Cenn, now injured, asks Dallet why he paid for him. Dallet tells Cenn that Kaladin likes to protect the smaller recruits – he believes this is because they remind him of someone.
Suddenly, a Shardbearer appears on the field holding his Shardblade and in full armour. Cenn knows that the battle is over – no one can fight a being who wields that much power.
It is 8 months later and the fallen Kaladin is caged in a wagon with masses of other slaves. The slaves are dirty, fight each other for food and are subjected to regular beatings. Kaladin has isolated himself from the rest of them and it has earned him a bit of mystique – the other slaves are interested in him. In addition, he has been branded with a glyph reading ‘Dangerous’. It came as a result of Kaladin’s ten escape attempts in the eight months he has been in capture; rather than being ‘lucky’, Kaladin now considers himself unlucky – everyone he has attempted to help has ended up hurt. He ended up in this predicament as a result of killing a lighteye or, rather, the lighteyes that he didn’t kill.
On one of the rare occasions he is let out of his cage, Kaladin grabbed some blackbane – a poisonous leaf. He considers now whether he took it to use for himself if things get too bad or whether some part of him intends to give it to the slave master, Tvlakv, for revenge.
Kaladin has noticed a Windspren, a devious little spirit that is a kind of translucent bluish-whitish blur, has been following his cart around for a few months. This is most unusual and when the spirit suddenly takes the form of young woman – just a handspan tall – and says his name, Kaladin decides that this isn’t a typical Spren. Spren are unintelligent, certainly not able to communicate or learn someone’s name. Kaladin asks whether any of the other men heard the Spren speak, none of them did and so Kaladin wonders whether he is going mad. The Spren asks Kaladin why he doesn’t fight anymore. When Kaladin asks her why she cares she says that she doesn’t know why, but she does. Kaladin tells her that he failed, that Cenn, Dallet and all those he sought to help are dead and their blood is on his hands.
A slave who has been coughing for the entire journey is finally looked at by Tvlakv. Kaladin’s father once told him how to cure the Grinding Coughs, simply a bit of extra water every few hours. Kaladin tells Tvalkv who removes the slave from the cage and, just as Kaladin thinks perhaps he has saved someone, one of Tvlakv’s men, Bluth, strikes the coughing slave on the head and kills him. When Kaladin screams at the slave master, Tvlakv says he did it to stop the rest of them getting sick (resulting in him losing his profits from their sale). Kaladin says he was past the spreading stage, but it is obvious Tvlakv doesn’t care.
Shallan Davar of Veden arrives at Kharbranth, City of Bells. She is pale – at a time that Alethi tan is seen as the mark of true beauty – and has bright blue eyes with red hair – not a lock of the ‘proper’ black. Shallan has come here to find Princess Jasnah Kholin, who she has been trailing for six months.
Upon getting off the boat, Shallan is amazed at how large the city is, how many colours there are and the multitude of nationalities, as well as the sheer number of people. Because the city has docks open to all ships, and it asks no questions about nationality or status, people flock to it. Looking around, Shallan finds it hard to believe that the docile-looking Parshmen slaves can possibly be so closely related to the Parshendi who are at war with the Alethi people on the Shattered Plains.
It is revealed that Shallan has been sent to the city by her four brothers. Although she has enjoyed the trip, the reality is that her family’s survival rests upon her shoulders. Shallan’s father owed a lot of money to a lot of houses – his reputation and experience in convincing his creditors to give him more time to pay them had just about allowed him to retain his comfortable life. Unfortunately for Shallan and her brothers, though, her father suddenly died. So far they’ve been able to keep it a secret, but as soon as word gets out, Shallan knows the family will be declared bankrupt and forced into slavery to pay off their debts or, perhaps even more likely, assassinated by the disgruntled creditors. The family’s plan to save themselves involves Shallan getting close to Jasnah by becoming her ward.
Currency: Alethi currency is in the form of beautiful glass spheres, each a little larger than a person’s thumbnail with a much smaller gemstone set at the centre. The gemstones (ruby, diamond, emerald and sapphire) absorb Stormlight, making them glow. Diamond chips are the smallest denomination, emeralds are the most valuable (they can be used by Soulcasters to create food). Although the glass part of the spheres are the same size, the gemstone at the centre determines the denomination. A chip has just a splinter of a gem in it, five chips make a mark (the medium denomination of a sphere). Typically, spheres are infused and, as such, they emit a fair amount of light – a mark more than a candle. Those that aren’t infused are often considered fake until proven otherwise.
1. One of the big strengths in this novel is the Prelude. As epic as the book gets, we know that it can get even more epic with any return or mention of beings that are looked upon as Gods. What are your thoughts on the Heralds and of Sanderson’s Prelude?
2. We’ve met three of the main Point of View Characters so far (Kaladin, Shallan and Szeth). Which is your favourite and which do you want to spend more time with?
3. Szeth is a pretty scary man to have on your back, right? Have you spotted any weaknesses in him? If it makes it any easier, if you heard he was after you, what would be your strategy not to end up like one of the many guards or the King?
4. If you were called up to the Shattered Plains (you will find out more about this place later), which would you prefer to take with you, Shardplate or a Shardblade?
5. Sanderson is widely regarded as one of the finest World Builders and Magic System creators actively writing today. In your opinion, having only read 5 chapters, but having been thrown numerous concepts, do you agree? And, if so, what is it about his style and explanations that have enabled him to earn him this reputation?
6. Finally, it is rare in a fantasy novel that we are treated to pictures, but Sanderson really complements this book with some beautiful images that he INSISTED were published. What do you think of Sanderson’s decision to do this? Did you appreciate seeing creatures such as the Skyeel in diagram form or would you have preferred to use your imagination?
See you next week where we’ll be reviewing up to Chapter 8!