Let’s Read The Way of Kings ch. 3-4

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

3: City of Bells

So all that business with Kaladin was pretty interesting, huh? I don’t know about you but I’m really jonesing for more of that specific character’s viewpoint.

Kharbranth, City of Bells, was not a place that Shallan had ever imagined she would visit.

Or, you know, someone else. I guess that works too.

Though she’d often dreamed of traveling, she’d expected to spend her early life sequestered in her family’s manor, only escaping through the books of her father’s library.

I feel like I’ve seen this exact same paragraph like fifty times in other books.

But expectations were like fine pottery. The harder you held them, the more likely they were to crack.

Deathless prose.

Shallan is here in Carbranch to find a princess named Jasnah Kholin.

So Kararabarararah is a pretty cosmopolitan place, with lots of Exotic people from all over the world. I wonder what these beguiling fantasy cultures will be like!

Some wore familiar clothing—trousers and shirts that laced up the front for the men, skirts and colorful blouses for the women. Those could have been from her homeland, Jah Keved

[…]

Those single-sheet wraps would mark a man or woman from Tashikk, far to the west

[…]

She’d rarely seen so many parshmen as she noted working the docks, carrying cargo on their backs. Like the parshmen her father had owned

Yep, these are totally not just vague caricatures of real-life cultures with random word generator names! Although there is one  guy who has foot-long “fans” coming out of his eyebrows. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before.

Brightness Jasnah Kholin was one of the most powerful women in the world. And one of the most infamous. She was the only member of a faithful royal house who was a professed heretic

Brightness Jasper Colon seems like a pretty interesting lady, I can see why Shellon came to Carbreath to find her. Scallop is also a “Brightness” by the way, whatever that is.

It turns out Jasnap (now I can’t remember what her real name is) is still in Wherever so Shallan is happy because her long search is over.

We get a little bit of character development for Shallan, all of which furthers her status as Fantasy Women Alpha.

She’d been trained by stern nurses and tutors to hold her tongue—unfortunately, her brothers had been even more determined in encouraging her to do the opposite.

Man I wonder if this proper young lady is going to learn to break out of the confines of her upbringing and Go Wild.

That had established in her what her nurses had referred to as an “insolent streak.”

I’m sure she’s just going to be a fucking rebel.

(I really hate this character archetype, in case you couldn’t tell. It generally indicates that the character is going to be incredibly boring).

They saw her as timid because she didn’t like to argue and remained quiet when large groups were talking. And perhaps she was timid—being away from Jah Keved was daunting.

If Shallan had a theme song it would an EKG flatlining.

She was pale-skinned in an era when Alethi tan was seen as the mark of true beauty, and though she had light blue eyes, her impure family line was manifest in her auburn-red hair. Not a single lock of proper black. Her freckles had faded as she reached young womanhood—Heralds be blessed—but there were still some visible, dusting her cheeks and nose.

Oh poor you

I love it (by which I mean I hate it) when totally traditional western ideals of beauty are cast as undesirable just so the conventionally attractive protagonist can mope about how un-hot he or she is.

Shallan and the sailors on the boat she arrived on have some painfully unfunny banter and then she takes off to look for the princess. She’s at the Conclave apparently, where the “Palaenium” is. The princess is the king’s sister so she’s staying at the big fancy palace.

Shaylor mkabat nour.” The winds have brought us safely. A phrase of thanks in the Thaylen language.

That reminds me of the Alekkian phrase for “many penguins in a tugboat”, dekle aruspicy novercal verbarmedialuna. Gee this is so easy! Although to be fair mine are real words instead of made up nonsense.

The captain smiled broadly. “Mkai bade fortenthis!”

Such sophisticated and realistic fantasy languages, yes indeed.

Why were the Thaylens so fond of mashing letters together, without proper vowels?

I almost have to wonder if this is a joke at the expense of fantasy authors. Which would be funny, if not for the fact that Branderson is still unironically doing the whole bullshit fantasy language thing.

Even a safe city like Kharbranth hides dangers. Keep your wits about you.”
“I should think I’d prefer my wits inside my skull, Captain,” she replied, carefully stepping onto the gangplank.

This character. I do not like this character.

Like all Vorin women, she kept her left hand—her safehand—covered, exposing only her freehand.

Nope, don’t care.

Common darkeyed women would wear a glove, but a woman of her rank was expected to show more modesty

Also don’t care.

The dress was of a traditional Vorin cut, formfitting through the bust, shoulders, and waist, with a

Super don’t care.

Look, I like a well realised fictional world as much as the next person but I can tell when an author is making one of those and when they’re just jizzing useless trivia across the page.

They weren’t pagans here, and writing was a feminine art; men learned only glyphs, leaving letters and reading to their wives and sisters

Huh. Now that’s actually kind of interesting. Naturally if writing is reserved solely for women this would seem to imply scholarship and maybe even political office is also dominated by women while men are stuck to specialized roles in magic as a sort of ecclesiastical class.

Chances of any of this actually leading to a world that isn’t dominated by mens: 0%.

Were the Alethi really fighting parshmen out on the Shattered Plains? That seemed so odd to Shallan. Parshmen didn’t fight. They were docile and practically mute. Of course, from what she’d heard, the ones out on the Shattered Plains—the Parshendi, they were called—were physically different from regular parshmen. Stronger, taller, keener of mind. Perhaps they weren’t really parshmen at all, but distant relatives of some kind.

This is getting into some seriously uncomfortable territory. I really hope the racial essentialism doesn’t actually turn out to be true.

Shallan sets off through the city on a fantasy-taxi thing, taking in the sights of the city which is for the most part generic Exotic Dusty Place With Spicy Food and reads like a mashup of tourist versions of India, the middle east and south-est Asia. Also there are bells everywhere, because why not.

This world has a very unusual system of currency.

Each one was composed of a glass bead a little larger than a person’s thumbnail with a much smaller gemstone set at the center. The gemstones could absorb Stormlight, and that made the spheres glow. When she opened the money pouch, shards of ruby, emerald, diamond, and sapphire shone out on her face. She fished out three diamond chips, the smallest denomination.

Wouldn’t these be way more expensive to produce than the value they represent? How do they even have enough precious gems to go around?

This is exactly the sort of fantasy world-building I hate, where the author has clearly just thrown something into the story because it seems cool or superficially interesting instead of adding to the plot or the setting in any way.

Emeralds were the most valuable, for they could be used by Soulcasters to create food.

conjure

Shallan heads to the Conclave to go find what’s her name.

She raised her freehand in a sign of need, and sure enough, a master-servant in a crisp white shirt and black trousers hurried over to her. “Brightness?” he asked, speaking her native Veden, likely because of the color of her hair.

“Brightness” sounds like the sort of cutesy pet name a parent would give their child, so it’s a bit hard to take seriously as a term of respect.

 He would be of the second nahn, a darkeyed citizen of very high rank. In Vorin belief, one’s Calling—the task to which one dedicated one’s life—was of

Still don’t care.

Shallan’s own chosen Calling is a scholar of natural history, which is why she’s seeking out Jasnah to become her student.

One book she’d read claimed that Kharbranth had been founded way back into the shadowdays, years before the Last Desolation

The Last Desolation was when the Oath Brigade decided to give up oathing, in case you can’t remember.

Wardship to a woman of great renown was the best way to be schooled in the feminine arts: music, painting, writing, logic, and science. It was much like how a young man would train in the honor guard of a brightlord he respected.

If women hold all of the important positions in society apart from being soldiers why is there still a king? Wouldn’t this place be a matriarchy?

Sometimes, she wondered how it had come to this. She was the quiet one, the timid one, the youngest of five siblings and the only girl.

You were a Joss Whedon-style sassy quipster like five pages ago, where’s all this timid and quiet stuff coming from?

The reason Shallan is so desperate to hook up with Jasnah is that her father died recently, saddling the family with enormous debts. No one else knows he’s dead and she’s desperate to keep anyone (especially his creditors) from finding out.

Before we can actually meet this famous scholar it’s time to see what Kaladin is doing.

4: The Shattered Plains

The windspren is unfortunately talking again.

“The others cry at night,” she said. “But you don’t.”
“Why cry?” he said, leaning his head back against the bars. “What would it change?”

MANTAGONIST DOES NOT CRY

CRYING FOR FEMALES

Kaladin becomes concerned when the wagons don’t stop so they can eat the “slop” they’re given twice a day.

So about that, they’ve been travelling holed up in a wagon in the heat for what appears to be a very long time, with only a ladle-full of water once a day and two large spoonfuls of not terribly nutritious sounding “slop” twice a day for food. Since they’re going to be sold for what I presume will be hard manual labour as slaves you’d think the guy transporting them would have more of a vested interest in keeping them alive and reasonably healthy. As it is I’m amazed they’re even still alive subsisting on such a small amount of water in a hot climate.

Turns out they’re lost. The head slaver with the funky name asks Kaladin if he can help get them on the right path since Alethi armies come this way to fight the not-Africans.

“Let me see the map,” Kaladin said. Tvlakv hesitated, then held it up for Kaladin.

Kaladin reached through the bars and snatched the paper. Then, without reading it, Kaladin ripped it in two. In seconds he’d shredded it into a hundred pieces in front of Tvlakv’s horrified eyes.

I think this is supposed to be cool, but isn’t he possibly damning the rest of the slaves to possibly die of thirst and hunger? They might prefer to go on living, you know.

Tvlakv (the head slaver) assumed Kaladin knows the way and is making himself valuable by destroying the map, but it turns out he’s just being petty. You know that’s actually a pretty good idea. Hell you could probably bargain for your freedom that way, surely Tvlakv would rather let one slave free than risk starving to death.

“Long ago? You cannot be older than eighteen years, deserter.”

It was a good guess. He was nineteen.

Nnnnnnope didn’t buy it with Kvothe and I’m not buying it now. Nice try, Branderson.

Tvlakv tries to badger Kaladin into leading them to safety by convincing him he could still one day be free if he just keeps his head down and stays out of trouble but Kaladin is having none of it.

“I’m finished. I don’t care.”

Well, neither do I then. We don’t have any emotional investment in this character, why should I care that he’s given up? It just makes me wish Branderson would kill him off and switch to someone more interesting.

Kaladin hesitated, then sighed. “I don’t know,” he said honestly. “I’ve never been this way either.”
Tvlakv frowned. He leaned closer to the cage, inspecting Kaladin, though he still kept his distance. After a moment, Tvlakv shook his head. “I believe you, deserter. A pity. Well, I shall trust my memory. The map was poorly rendered anyway. I am almost glad you ripped it, for I was tempted to do the same myself.

Then what the fuck was the point of this whole scene?

Some time later a Highstorm rolls through, which scares everyone because of the all the Stormlight and the Stormfather and the Stormwall Storm Storm Storm Stormity Storm Storm.

Sorry, where was I?

The storm dies down, allowing all sorts of interesting flora and fauna to emerge from their hiding places.

Tiny lights rose around the plants. Lifespren.

“Lifespren”? Shouldn’t there be millions of those all over the place?

The windspren comes back and announces that they’re close to a settlement of some kind.

Should he care? It didn’t matter where he was a slave; he’d still be a slave. He’d accepted this life. That was his way now. Don’t care, don’t bother.

recycle

I’ll do it Branderson, I swear to God.

Turns out Tlakv is bringing them to an Alethi army made up of the king’s own regiments. If you recall this is the sort of place Kaladin had wanted to go originally so, like, irony I guess.

The slaves are happy about this since they’ll be subject to Alethi law and required to be paid a meagre wage for their labours. Unless they’re black parshmen of course.

Under previous masters, he’d demanded his wages be given to him. They had always found ways to cheat him—charging him for his housing, his food. That’s how lighteyes were. Roshone, Amaram, Katarotam…Each lighteyes Kaladin had known, whether as a slave or a free man, had shown himself to be corrupt to the core, for all his outward poise and beauty. They were like rotting corpses clothed in beautiful silk.

That’s actually a pretty nice simile. You get a gold star, Branderson! But I’ve taken away 20 already for various reasons so now you have -19.

Kaladin entertains the idea of actually managing to stop moping and start becoming an interesting protagonist. God, I hope so.

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23 thoughts on “Let’s Read The Way of Kings ch. 3-4

  1. Nerem

    This is late but I’m pretty sure their point wasn’t that you NEED graphic sex and language, but rather that anything remotely sexual or language slightly foul is completely missing while extremely graphic violence is ever-present.

    Reply
    1. grayhavens

      He actually fooled me in book one into believing it was adult fantasy, the 2nd book Words of Radiance has brought that to a screeching halt, I don’t know, maybe I was drunk when I read the 1st book, I’ll have to go back and reread it. On 2nd thought, maybe not.

      I had such high hopes for this series, I thought Sanderson had finally turned the corner on all the young adult fantasy he had written before this and was ready to write a complex, realistic, adult-oriented fantasy series. I was really hoping for another song of fire and ice without having to wait 10 years between books because of a lazy author. I thought first book was dark and gritty and no-nonsense so I expected the same here but came away disappointed.

      I feel like his characters are superficial for the most part, he is very good at creating interesting settings and setting up good premises but his characters lack charisma and depth. Kind of like watching Star Wars where Han Solo has been removed from the story. He goes out of his way to increase the good guys likeability but I’ll happily read books without truly likable protagonists as long as their characters are well written and not copy and pasted from a fantasy archetype cliché. It’s about characters feeling like people and not plot pieces. On this last point, though, I do see some improvement when comparing the storylines of WoK to his earlier work.

      Instead of the characters getting more fleshed out and deeper they get dumbed down further in this 2nd book. I enjoyed Shallan in the first book and found her story somewhat interesting.
      But in the 2nd book, Shallan is basically every female protagonist in every Sanderson book, nearly the same character as Vin, Sarene, Siri: The beautiful (but doesn’t know/admit it) and snarky stereotype. Shallan is too much of a smartass for her own good, amazingly talented and special (verging on Mary Sue status) but self- conscious despite all that, etc, etc. It just gets tiresome, especially the childish jokes and banter his main characters slog through.

      Sanderson throws in some really silly plot lines, like a bunch of Assassins that plan to kill the king inviting Kal to their meeting. Can they really be that stupid to invite the king’s guard to one of their meetings and happily give out their identities? Not to be outdone Shallan infiltrates another band of assassins and they are totally clueless, pleeease.

      I feel like the high points of Sanderson’s work are typically the breakneck pace, the action scenes, and his unique magic systems (which typically lend themselves to breakneck pace and awesome action scenes). However, it’s when he has to portray his characters in social settings where his stories start to weaken. His prose is often stilted and awkward that it runs counter to these strengths. I can’t tear through his books at the breathless pace many of the scenes should be able to offer, because every other page I come across a turn of phrase so awful that the whole sequence comes to a screeching halt and all I can do is stop, be reminded I am reading a novel, and laugh. I don’t believe I got through more than 2 pages without hearing the phrase: “Shallan blushes, Kal blushes, Adolin starts blushing, this person blushes, that person blushes” hell, why not have the Chasmfiend blush as well. This is just teenage puppy-love drivel. In one of Sanderson’s many high points in dialogue we get to hear Shallan discuss with Adilon how he “poops” when he’s in his shard plate. While this might be hilariously funny to 12 year-olds, it doesn’t go a long way to add to Sanderson’s bid to be a serious writer, playing to only the most juvenile of audiences who will no doubt give him 5 stars for such witty humor.

      Furthermore, I’m not a huge fan of his prudishness with both sex and language, and honestly it borders on the childish for me, I’m okay with the fade to black, if that’s what an author likes, and I know he has religious beliefs regarding sexuality, but it’s weird to me that his “good guys” are basically all severely sexually repressed or don’t even know sex exists, when romance and sex are such a huge part of human motivation and existence. That he shies so hard away from swearing that he has to invent such laughable phrases as “storm you” that it stretches my ability to maintain immersion in the novel. There’s nothing wrong with avoiding scenes of graphic sex, but at the same time Sanderson happily features un-adulterated graphic violence, so if horrible violence doesn’t warrant a fade to black, but you can’t say “f*#k” or have a character think explicitly about their own body or their own sexual desires, I think that says something unfortunate. This is a personal thing for me and a huge pet peeve of mine. Sanderson seems to be trying to straddle the fence between grown-up fantasy and young adult fantasy and it is at best awkward.

      I expected more of Sanderson and was very disappointed. After reading the 1st book I though he had grown up, but I really think his Morman beliefs have hamstrung him from ever truly writing a serious adult fantasy series.

      Reply
      1. Dave

        Agree with you wholeheartedly on the ‘poop’ comments. That whole conversation doesn’t seem to have any bearing in reality whatsoever. No two people with their perspectives, motives, and concerns would engage in a conversation like that. Shallan is jumping between insipid complimenting to random outbursts without any explanation. It just feels weird.
        As to the adult part, I think you have it all wrong. Anyone can throw in salacious sex scenes, and anyone can throw in swearing of all types, but a ‘serious adult fantasy’ is determined by subject matter engaged in. Sanderson makes attempts at this with discussions about the divinity of God, contrasting battlefield perspectives (Kaladin and Syl’s arguments about killing Parshendi), depression, permanent mental damages from war, etc. I don’t believes it does a good enough job on these grounds to truly be considered adult fantasy, but those are what the adult vs YA fantasy needs to be based on.
        Many authors these days have immature, poorly written books that they inject language and sex into to pretend that it is an adult piece. Two idiot high-schoolers can have sex, but that doesn’t mean they are in a committed, mature relationship. Sometimes I think readers get sucked into this, and will sit back thinking they are reading ‘mature, adult fiction’ when really all the author has done is have EVERY character talk like a sailor.
        You can say that adult fantasy is far more likely to have gritty material based on the subject matter of the book, but it is totally false to believe that sex and language is a prerequisite for adult material.

        Reply
  2. Signatus

    Look, I don’t know anything about slavery aside from what I’ve seen in movies, but this is a trope that always irks me. If your money depends on selling strong and capable working men, I would have assumed the slaver would try to keep his product strong and capable so as to fetch a high price in the market.
    The closest simile I find are working horses and dogs, and good working dogs don’t go precisely cheap. It makes no sense to work your ass off breeding good working lines of dogs and let them starve to death on the way to your clients.

    As for the main character being 19, really? Unless this world has an orbit around its sun closer to Mars, which would mean he’s twice that age, I’m not buying it. I can’t, it makes no sense.
    What’s with authors putting manchildren in strong positions? Maybe I’m just too old, but mature, 30 years old make a far more interesting and believable character than a teenager. Specially when they talk and think like 30 years old men, not 19 years old kids.

    Anyway, not interested about the woman at all, but I did like that concept about knowledge being a woman’s thing, and warrioring being a man’s thing. Pity Sanderson doesn’t seem to be able to pull that concept out and just tossed it in there to show how much different his world is from everything else.

    Reply
  3. Seamus Scanlon (@SeamusScanlon)

    The thing about only women being able to write but all power being in the hands of reminded me to recommend Kate Elliots Crown of star series where noblewomen are taught to read and write but men are only taught to read cause it expected the noblewomen will run the place while the men will lead the troops and have a working penis (although noblewomen can lead troops if they want, men are seen as less valueable). The series is one of the few fantasy series I read that I don’t want to go back in time and smack myself when I re-read it. There is a king at the time but it was cause his elder sister didn’t prove her fertility (all heirs go out on an heirs progress where they have to have a child to be considered for succession) till after their father died so she was ineligible to succed but uses that as the basis go to war for the crown.

    Reply
  4. Fibinachi

    @Braak

    He gets Gylphs. And Gylphs are like words, only not! And so he knows about herbal remedies and potions and poultices and books and how to set a wound and can keep up with new knowledge because… erh… something, and read anatomical texts and follow instructions on brewing potions because, erh… anyway he can measure out the correct amount of things to give someone because… eyeballing it works and stuff. And he can keep track of all the money Kalladin ends up paying him, or getting paid, or something because… he just can, okay.

    Look, do you wanna discuss the nitty gritty sociopolitical details of massively changing the assumed gender bias in the human knowledge fields, or do you wanna read about a planet where emeralds are used as coin decoration and kings who can’t read, write or do rethorics still rule? You can’t do both! That’d be… erh… Sorry, I never really got to study logic, so I don’t know if that’s a contradiction or not q:

    Reply
  5. braak

    If women hold all of the important positions in society apart from being soldiers why is there still a king? Wouldn’t this place be a matriarchy?

    It is possible, and might be kind of interesting, if it was a figurehead monarchy — the king has a largely ceremonial role (or a specific role circumscribed by circumstances, liking leading the army into war or something), and civilization is actually run by a matriachal bureaucracy.

    Any chance of that happening?

    Reply
    1. Fibinachi

      No.

      Men are repeatedly describe as followers of the “masculine patterns”, doing things like fighting, and fighting, and, erh, fighting. Tactics, strategy, fighting, aggression, violence, leadership, fighting. They can’t write (And women have long included small notations in their works that they never read out loud as a measure of commenting upon dictated stories (which I thought was a cool little tid-bit)), they can’t do science, they’re not taught logic, debate, rhetoric, history, philosophy, science or crafts, mathe-fucking-mathics… but…

      It’s still men in charge. Kings, captains, princes. Brightlords all the way through.

      Reply
      1. Fibinachi

        Oh, and plus, despite apparently the Feminine Arts covering the vast sphere of knowledge as dictated to us, everyone who has a craft that is important to the story (Surgeon, Apothecary, Carpenter, Blacksmith, Trader) is a guy.

        Because, you know, it’s so easy to handle major business transactions when you can’t read, write or add numbers together.

        Reply
  6. Austin H. Williams

    “But expectations were like fine pottery. The harder you held them, the more likely they were to crack.”

    Deathless prose.

    Clumsy though this metaphor may be, it could have been much, much more cliché, and given Branderson’s propensities (like basing his heroine off of cardboard cutouts from the Walt Disney Company), he deserves fractional credit for trying.

    Reply
  7. Elspeth Grey

    The whole “women are the ones who write and do science” thing sounds a lot like Sanderson trying to go “look, THIS fantasy world isn’t sexist, women do SCIENCE” while completely failing to understand what a society that isn’t sexist would actually look like.

    Reply
    1. Reveen

      I like how so many writers trying to write a non-sexist society immediately jump to a caste system, as if they really wrap their heads around the idea of equality unless it’s a rigid aspect of their wacky fantasy culture.

      Also related is the weird-ass notion that culture is a inflexible monolith that cannot be broken from as if the Klingons are robots or something.

      Reply
      1. lampwick

        It’s because women are identical to bees, with a queen bee, worker bees, drone bees…. Seriously, this is a model that gets used far more than it should.

        Reply
  8. Reveen

    Well, I like Kaladin’s attitude a bit better than Kvothe’s. Who liked to pretend that he gave a shit when his actions clearly showed he didn’t.

    This is getting into some seriously uncomfortable territory. I really hope the racial essentialism doesn’t actually turn out to be true.

    Wasn’t one of the setting features in Mostborn was that the two castes in society or whatever have clear differences the physiology, including intelligence? Then there was that shit in Rithmatist where First Nations were replaced with ravenous chalk monsters…

    This is gonna hurt, isn’t it?

    Reply

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