The Stormlight Archives Redux, As the Series is Two Books In

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Borrowed from brandonsanderson.com

As we’re in the middle of the holiday season, this is a good time for a more rambling post. Earlier this year, I read Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance, the first two installments in The Stormlight Archives epic fantasy series. (For those not already familiar with the series, the posts on those books will make far more sense, and this one will contain spoilers.) I loved both books to death, enough that I did for them what I almost never do for any book–I reread them.

The experience of rereading such a rich series was illuminating and different enough that I wrote down a lot of the assorted thoughts that occurred to me, mostly about the first book from the perspective of knowing what happens in the second one. And here they are, standing proof of how deeply this series has captured my imagination:

1. Kaladin is never going to stop pulling on my heartstrings, is he? How the poor guy suffers.  

2. On my first read-though, I had assumed that whatever was keeping Kal alive was more…extensive, than just healing abilities. It felt like the world was bending over backwards to keep him alive. Not only did he survive terrible wounds, but how many people could have killed him, then chose not to? Amaram, for starters. Then several slavers killed everyone else involved in the rebellions he organized, but not him. Now, I see that they were probably afraid of him, that they saw something powerful in him. Maybe he’d even inadvertently taken in stormlight and those people sensed something imposing about him. But in my first read though, I totally thought that there was something more direct affecting them, making them choose differently than they might have.

And there’s also the bridge runs. The arrows never more than grazed Kaladin. He should have been dead dozens of times over, but for some reason, he never received more than shallow cuts. I assumed this was a passive thing that just happened to him–again, by reality twisting itself into knots to save him, or something–and I was wrong. He must have been subconsciously affecting where those arrows were drawn to.

It’s so weird to read these scenes again, and have my prior interpretation of them juxtaposed with my current knowledge.

4. I note that Teft gave Kaladin a sphere before the latter was left out in the highstorm. Knowing what I know now, it seems that he likely learned that tradition from his family (which he hates). So one one hand, we’ve got the sensible thing of giving someone who’ll be in a dangerous situation a way to survive if they manifest powers, and this was totally necessary for the story. But it’s also interesting that Teft still carries out this tradition. Given that he hates everything his family stood for.

5. It’s odd to note how the instances where Shallan or her brothers mention others of their family being broken went kind of over my head during my first read. I was thinking ‘oh, what happened’ simultaneously with ‘but it couldn’t be that bad’. (Yes it could.) When Shallan thinks to herself that she’d done worse than she’s contemplating doing, I compared that to what I knew of her morality–rather strong and somewhat naive–and figured she was being overly hard on herself over something that wasn’t so bad.

It never occurred to me that Shallan’s ideals about what right and wrong should be might clash with the situations she had found herself in before. And it didn’t occur to me that when she was making judgements about morality, that she was condemning herself in the process. Seeing the complexities in her character for what they are actually make her a far more interesting character on reread.

As for her sense of humor. In this book, sometimes it’s annoying, and sometimes it’s clever. It’s more annoying when she’s overly literal on purpose or when she carries the joke too far. But Jasnah does explicitly point out to her that it’s like she says the first passably clever thing that comes to her mind, instead of packing a powerful punch with it. And her humor does improve in the second book–I don’t remember being annoyed by it at all, then. So she’s evolving there, which is nice.

6. It’s now dawning on me that Evilya–Shallan’s sister-in-law to be–is an absolutely amazing person. Despite being aware that there was something wrong in Shallan’s family, she still pursued her courtship with Balat. And then, she was there that night when Balat was crippled by his father, when Shallan killed that father. She was there when Shallan poisoned then strangled the man while singing him a lullaby. She saw their step-mother’s body after she was murdered, in all likelihood.

How did she not end up running away in the other direction at the first opportunity?

But no, instead she stayed long enough to realize that the family was likely doomed–their father’s debts combined with his lack of friends and excess of enemies practically guaranteed that–and then that some incredibly shady, dangerous people were asking them for their father’s soulcaster. Which was broken. And instead of running then, she tied her fate to theirs by participating in the ambitious and probably futile plot to desperately try to do anything to save them. What. The.

7. It’s interesting how Jasnah’s philosophy lesson–as powerful now as it was during my first read–demonstrates the contrasts between her and Shallan. Jasnah didn’t just kill those men in self-defense, although she did that too. But she sought them out with the expectation that they would do as they’d done before, and try to attack her for being in the wrong place at the wrong time (or the right place at the right time, as it were.)

What would Shallan have done, if she’d heard about what those men were doing?

Now that The Words of Radiance is out, we know what she has done. When threatened by a group of deserters, her solution was to appeal to their better nature and give them the chance to change. And it worked, because they had wanted to believe they could be better people than circumstances had forced them to be. Jasnah likely would have felt perfectly justified in killing them. Not that that’s necessarily unreasonable–most people can’t be Shallan, and Shallan’s way is personally riskier–but that’s an illustration of the differences between the two of them.

Jasnah sees things as they are, while Shallan sees things as they could be.

Shallan has killed people, of course. Of the three instances of having done so, two were a case of immediate self-defense. She hadn’t deliberately put herself in kill-or-be-killed situations, but ended up in them anyway. The third is more interesting. Shallan spent years trying to help her father, to make him become a better man rather than a worse one. And during those years, she watched him deteriorate despite her efforts. Only when he reached a certain point did she decide that she couldn’t help him, and that she had to kill him.

Going back to the philosophy lesson, if Shallan were in Jasnah’s position then, she’d probably chose to deal with those men using more creative options. She wouldn’t see the situation as, either kill them or allow them to continue being a threat. A princess of a powerful nation who also had strong soulcasting abilities, like Jasnah, had other options.

She could have leaned on the man who’d been ignoring the king’s orders, to get those men into custody, for one. And in fact, she did nothing about the corrupt police force who allowed these things to happen, whereas there would always be more thugs to go around. How effective other solutions might be is up for debate, but it’s easy to imagine Shallan trying a different approach, given her variety of problem-solving skills. Knowing more about Shallan from book two makes me appreciate far more how this scene illustrates the differences between the two characters.

8. It’s interesting to see how easily Kabsal could have accidentally killed Shallan, in retrospect. He sometimes delivered bread and jam to her, and wasn’t always there when she ate it. Sure, he played the game of always having a new type of jam and something in particular to say about it. But he couldn’t guarantee that she wouldn’t choose to munch on the bread at some point, without having the jam at the same time. Unless not every basket he gave her was poisoned? But then, his hope was that Jasnah would eventually try some of Shallan’s bread, so it doesn’t make sense not to poison it.

So while it’s true that he probably cared about her–and I think the author confirmed this–he also seemed to have accepted her potential death as acceptable, if unfortunate.  

9. Sigzil being one of the Worldsingers…makes me very curious about how much he knows. Being apprenticed to Hoid is one thing–Hoid is excellent at withholding information. I originally misremembered the name as also belonging to the Worldbringers of the Mistborn series, but I was wrong there. Still, Hoid is involved, so who knows?

10. Kaladin and Adolin meet for the first time! Adolin couldn’t have known any better given societal standards, but Kaladin does have a point. Kaladin isn’t under Adolin’s direct authority, and the only thing placing him under that authority at all is the class system. So while there’s a good chance a random low-ranked darkeyes would obey an order from a lighteyes who gave him a coin, that isn’t guaranteed.

It would have been a sign of basic respect had Adolin waited for confirmation from Kaladin that he would take the payment and do as asked–taking the job, so to speak. Sure, Adolin hasn’t met a darkeyes with Kaladin’s combo of pride without self-preservation yet, but that doesn’t excuse acting like Kaladin–or anyone else–doesn’t have a choice but to do as paid to do. We get far more focus on Kaladin’s changes with this respect than Adolin’s, so it takes more reading between the lines to figure where Adolin learns and what he gets wrong, but it’s still there if I look.

11. Jasnah says she isn’t good with flesh or blood when it comes to Soulcasting. Shallan had previously noted that Jasnah had mostly Soulcast into smoke, crystal, or fire. That raises an interesting question about Soulcasting…Is it possible for one person to attain complete mastery of all its elements, as with Lashings, and Jasnah just isn’t there yet? Or does each person have unchangeable affinities for certain elements, and will never attain equal mastery of all the elements? I’d say it’s a pretty good guess to imagine that one of Shallan’s natural affinities is for blood, as that’s the first thing she ever Soulcast, and entirely by accident at that.

12. There’s something oddly compelling about Dalinar and Sadeas’ relationship before Sadeas goes all ambition-crazy and turns on everyone. When they’re still working together despite their resentments, and both still dedicated to keeping the son of the man they both loved alive. And that scene after Sadeas potentially setting up Dalinar for attempting to assassinate the king is built up, when Sadeas dramatically exonerates Dalinar and the two argue about their differences…it’s very powerful, even on the second read-through, when Dalinar says, “Ally with me.” Seriously, I can’t help feeling that the words sound like a surprise marriage proposal. Weird, knowing what I know will happen, but the quote still packed a punch the second time around.

13. Dalinar sure does try, but he’s not actually good at this forging bonds thing, is he? At least, not amongst the highprinces. Every attempt has been a colossal failure. If running a tight ship on his army and having loyal men counts, then I guess he’s done that. But he’s way better at uniting people he has power over than those he doesn’t. No wonder Wit called him a tyrant.

I’m still not entirely sure what it is that makes him Bondsmith material. Is the force of the desire alone enough? I’m sure actually succeeding is in his future, but he doesn’t have many victories. Bringing together the Radiants isn’t as impressive when half of them are his family members, and Jasnah’s been ignoring him this whole time. Winning Kaladin over was no mean feat, sure, but I’m not convinced he’s actually won over Shallan, yet. In fact, it’s likely that he and Shallan are heading towards a collision with respect to their moral philosophies, provided he ever gets a clue about half of what Shallan’s up to.

14. Here’s a detail that doesn’t quite seem to fit with the story as I’ve pictured it thus far–Sigzil says that Jezrien is the Stormfather. But Jezrien was a man, wasn’t he? And the Stormfather is a spren. Is Sigzil’s information incorrect, part of myth, or is there more going on?

And so ends my rambling reread thought process. Given my nigh-obsession with the series, I’ll likely do something like this once every new book comes out–but as the books are projected to come out once every two years, that isn’t exactly going to be a common occurrence.

Happy holidays, everyone, and see you all in the new year!

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