Let’s Read The Way of Kings ch. 5-6

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

5: Heretic

Shallan encounter Jasnah Kholin the kewl heretic scholar-princess and is bowled over by her hawtness.

Shallan had not expected Jasnah Kholin to be so beautiful.
It was a stately, mature beauty—as one might find in the portrait of some historical scholar. Shallan realized that she’d naively been expecting Jasnah to be an ugly spinster, like the stern matrons who had tutored her years ago. How else could one picture a heretic well into her mid-thirties and still unmarried?

So we’ve got an attractive “older” (by the standards of this world at least) woman who seems quite cool and interesting. Is Branderson going to fuck this up somehow? I’d say there’s a 50/50 chance.

She had a squarish face and discriminating pale violet eyes.

Such evocative descriptions.

On her freehand was a distinctive piece of jewelry: two rings and a bracelet connected by several chains, holding a triangular group of gemstones across the back of the hand. A Soulcaster—the word was used for both the people who performed the process and the fabrial that made it possible.

But is it a +5 Soulcaster of The Whale?

The Soulcaster looked identical to the one she and her brothers had found in the inside pocket of her father’s coat.

Intrigue! I guess. Was he not supposed to have one for some reason?

There’s a fancy chandelier that Shallan looks at while Jasnah McAwesome is busy talking to some old guy.

More than that, however, Shallan was impressed with the symmetry of the design and the beauty of the pattern of crystals hanging at the sides of the chandelier.

Because she’s an artist, you see.

Actually about that. We’ve gotten more than one scene now where Branderson tries to show how arty Shallan is. I’m an “artist” myself in the sense that I draw and stuff and I’ve often seen authors try to write from an artists point of view and not really succeed at it a whole lot. Specifically in this case we see that art appears to be more or less the sole filter through which she sees the world; she can’t look at anything remotely interesting without wanting to whip out her sketchpad and dash off a drawing.

It’s true that arting it up for a prolonged time does legitimately change the way you see the world, to the point of conferring a sort of “art vision” where you look at something and spontaneously envision a drawing or a painting in your head, and I’ve certainly had times where I’ve seen an interesting looking whatever and wanted to draw it; but no one I’ve ever met goes around doing that constantly because that shit takes concentration and you’d exhaust yourself pretty quickly. Nor do I know anyone for whom art is their sole defining characteristic, the alpha and omega of their existence. In fact even very passionate artists don’t, in my experience, tend to think of it that way. It’s just something they do, like eating.

Anyway, it turns out the old guy Jasnah has been talking to is the king. Awkward.

“Of course, Brightness,” the king said. He seemed to defer to Jasnah. Kharbranth was a very small kingdom—just a single city—while Alethkar was one of the world’s most powerful. An Alethi princess might well outrank a Kharbranthian king in real terms, however protocol would have it.

Wait I’m getting my stupid fantasy politics mixed up. Oh well it’s probably not important.

After Kharbranth, I was going to forgo leaving you notes, as I’d presumed that you’d have given up. Most do so after the first few stops.”

Most? Then it was a test of some sort? And Shallan had passed?

Oh God, I know where this is going.

“Yes indeed,” Jasnah continued, voice musing. “Perhaps I will actually allow you to petition me for a place as my ward.”

No for fuck’s sake we know she’s going to become her student, let’s just cut to the chase. Remember when Rothfuss pulled this bullshit? Remember, the secret test that (woah surprise) turned out to not be a secret test and then he ended up becoming Elodin’s student anyway in the next book.

“No tantrum,” Jasnah noted. “That is a good sign.”
“Tantrum, Brightness? From a lighteyed woman?”
“You’d be surprised,” Jasnah said dryly.

Because they’re giiiiiiirls see, women have tantrums while men grimace and stare off into the distance with flinty-eyed determination.

You know sometimes I wonder if male fantasy authors aren’t actually as bad with gender stuff as I think and I’m just seeing problems where they pfffffft no.

Jasnah starts giving Shallan a test while they walk through the halls.

“The glyphwards that I paint are regarded by those who know me as quite impressive.”
“Glyphwards?” Jasnah said. “I had reason to believe you wanted to be a scholar, not a purveyor of superstitious nonsense.”

….. bu glyphs do stuff, we’ve seen them doing stuff.

“I have kept a journal since I was a child,” Shallan continued, “in order to practice my writing skills.”
“Congratulations,” Jasnah said. “Should I need someone to write a treatise on their stuffed pony or give an account of an interesting pebble they discovered, I shall send for you. Is there nothing you can offer that shows you have true skill?”

Hey don’t diss stuffed ponies, plush toys are rad. Look at this awesome penguin:


“Ignorance is hardly unusual, Miss Davar. The longer I live, the more I come to realize that it is the natural state of the human mind. There are many who will strive to defend its sanctity and then expect you to be impressed with their efforts.”

Can Jasnah be the main character now? She seems pretty cool.

“I can speak with skill about geography, geology, physics, and chemistry.

For my thoughts on science in fantasy settings see roughly half of the Kvothe posts.

Shallan is feisty so she gets irritated by all the questions and makes a fairly tame dig at Jasnah couched in respectful politeness.

Shallan winced. Her time spent with the sailors had loosened her tongue far too much.

Oh, you’re such a scamp.

A recent Highstorm apparently caused part of the roof to collapse, blocking their passage down the poorly-described corridors. The city itself is protected from storms (OR IS IT?) but the mountain most of it is cut into can still experience storms on the other side, causing cave-ins.

They don’t have a Shardblade to cut away the rock so Jasnah is going to use her “focal stone”, whatever that is. How many different magical artifacts have we gotten to now? Like ten? And we’re only on chapter five.

Oh and apparently the king’s grand-daughter is trapped behind the cave-in, Everyone seems remarkably calm about this.

Jasnah uses her soulcaster thing to make the stone vanish into smoke.

Jasnah had transformed the boulder into smoke, and since smoke was far less dense than stone, the change had pushed the smoke away in an explosive outburst.

I guess the magic in this world (or at least this particular type of magic) works kind of like alchemy from Fullmetal Alchemist.

Nine out of ten Soulcasters were capable of a few limited transformations: creating water or grain from stone; forming bland, single-roomed rock buildings out of air or cloth.

Holy shit, do you have any idea how valuable that would be? You could use it to create housing from literally thin air. It’s doesn’t matter how small or basic it is, you would be richer than God with that power. Create tons of property and sell it for 100% profit, or if you’re feeling altruistic head into the nearest slum and start making free buildings for everyone. And what’s this “single-roomed” stuff, why couldn’t you make a bunch of them right next to each other and knock holes in the walls for doors?

A greater one, like Jasnah’s, could effectuate any transformation. Literally turn any substance into any other one.

So why not just make a huge sack of gold out of air, sell it and be rich for the rest of your life? No one in these stories ever uses their incredible powers for obvious applications. What about ending hunger in the city? Just head to the nearest beach and turn all the sand grains into hot dogs or something. Maybe there’s a limit to how much she can use it or something.

Anyway, the king gets his grand-daughter back.

The king pulled the girl into his arms. She was too young to have a modesty sleeve.

Something about this concept really weirds me out but I can’t tell what it is.

Jasnah decides not to accept Shallan, refusing to consider her skill in drawing since she considers art a frivolity. Look, Branderson, we fucking know she’s going to accept her eventually or you would never have introduced the character, just get on with it.

She wanted to cry. That was what she probably would have done if she’d been that same child she had been six months ago.

There is nothing wrong with crying. I absolutely hate this attitude.

Six months ago, she had explained a desperate plan to her brothers. She would apprentice herself to Jasnah Kholin, scholar, heretic. Not for the education. Not for the prestige. But in order to learn where she kept her Soulcaster.

And then Shallan would steal it.

Huh. Didn’t see that coming.

6: Bridge Four

Charcoal rubbing of a map of Sadeas’s warcamp as used by a commom


Tvlakv releases all of the slaves at the army camp so they can begin their new life of being slaves at the army camp.

Everyone told stories of that night, the night when Parshendi tribesmen had murdered King Gavilar.

But tons of people saw the assassin guy, didn’t they? I know he was wearing white and all, but how does that turn into “tribesmen“, plural?

Soulcasters couldn’t be used to create every shelter.

I guess those building-making soulcasters aren’t so useless after all.

Kaladin is all dissappointed because the soldiers look very undisciplined and disorganized, whereas he had expected a shiny elite fighting force. I think it’s a bit much to expect the place to still be good as new after six years of constant fighting, but I guess Kaladin doesn’t know any better.

Odd, to look forward to latrine work or labor in the hot sun. Kaladin hoped for something else. Hoped. Yes, he’d discovered that he could still hope.

Well that’s a relief, guess I should move the epub out of the recycle bin.

Tvlakv spoke with an important-looking lighteyed woman. She wore her dark hair up in a complex weave, sparkling with infused amethysts, and her dress was a deep crimson. She looked much as Laral had, at the end.

Wait, do we know who Laral is? I’m losing track of all of these characters.

The woman Tvlakv (I look forward to never having to type that again) is selling them too is impressed with Kaladin’s thewfullness, so Kaladin tries to convince her to take him on as an indentured soldier in her brightlord’s army. Unfortunately Tvlakv tells her he was a deserter. Guess ripping up that map wasn’t such a great idea after all.

“Those ten,” the noblewoman said, raising her rod to point at Kaladin and the others from his wagon. “Take them to the bridge crews. Tell Lamaril and Gaz that the tall one is to be given special treatment.”

Well, that sounds nice! What a relief.

Or not. The bridge crews are guys who lift wooden bridges to chasms so the soldiers can cross to attack or defend, often getting killed by incoming forces.

Around fifty barracks, with—perhaps—twenty or thirty men in each…that would make nearly as many bridgemen in this army as there had been soldiers in Amaram’s entire force.

If only these downtrodden men had a reluctant world-weary leader to grudgingly inspire them while rediscovering his pride.

For once we get some evocative descriptions as Branderson does a pretty good job conveying what a miserable and exhausting job carrying the heavy bridges is. Kaladin is out in the center of the bride, where the structure itself blocks his view, and quickly realizes that his months of travelling in poor conditions has taken more of a toll on his body than he thought.

It kind of seems like draw-bridges would be a way more efficient way to do this, but I guess they’re worried about the enemy sabotaging them.

The next hour was torture.

Wouldn’t it be a better idea to leave the bridges somewhere close to the chasms so  the bridge crews could get there more easily? I mean presumably the enemy can’t cross the chasm and steal the bridges, hence the need for them in the first place.

kaladin is exhausted when they finally arrive and push the bridge into place, but he makes himself get up and stretch to avoid cramping.

That training…it belonged to another man, from another time. Almost from the shadowdays. But while Kaladin might not be him any longer, he could still heed him.

For some reason I can’t help but picture this being the first line to a musical numbers involving all of the bridge crew.

Unfortunately this is just the first of many chasms they have to cross.

They jogged across the plateau. At the other side, they lowered the bridge again to span another chasm. The army crossed, then it was back to carrying the bridge again.
They repeated this a good dozen times.

How far away is the camp from the front lines? It took them an hour to get to the first chasm, even assuming the other distances are considerably shorter they must be miles from where thr fighting is. And wouldn’t the bridgemen be dropping like like flies from this?

They finally make it to where the battle is going down.

A few anticipationspren—like red streamers, growing from the ground and whipping in the wind—began to sprout from the rock and wave among the soldiers.


Why weren’t there exhaustionspren wafting around the bridgemen? Kaladin hates Gaz, the man driving them forward, so shouldn’t there be hatespren coming out of him?

Turns out there’s one more chasm between the soldiers and the enemy forced, and the bridgemen have to lay their bridge down while under heavy fire.

The Parshendi.

They weren’t like common parshman workers. They were far more muscular, far more solid. They had the bulky build of soldiers, and each one carried a weapon strapped to his back.

So, wait, are they a different species from each other? Are the Parshendi and the Parshmen even supposed to be human, or are they like orcs or something?

So they’re running to the chasm while being fired at by archers; given the bridge itself is protecting them from above it seems like you could fairly easily ensure the bridgemen were safe by having guys with shields in front of them. I know the bridgemen are slaves and not considered valuable, but if they get killed the soldiers are going to have to lift the bridge into place themselves. Hell you could even just arrange to crouch and tilt the bridge downward every time a volley of arrows came in.

Lots of bridgemen die in the effort to get the bridges into place, which bothers Kaladin greatly. His deal seems to be that he really wants to save people due to some sort of tragedy in his past, but he always fails at it. This is the kind of backstory I tend to associate with angsty anime characters in shows aimed at teenagers.

Kaladin collapses and spends a few hours unconscious, until his windspren friend wakes him up just as the soldiers are getting ready to depart.

“A name,” the windspren said, her voice distant. “Yes. I do have a name.” She seemed surprised as she looked at Kaladin. “Why do I have a name?”

She better not be like the soul of his dead little sister or something.

“A name,” the windspren said, walking through the air to stand beside his face. She was in the shape of a young woman, complete with flowing skirt and delicate feet.

I don’t know why the book keeps mentioning that she’s in the form of “a young woman” when as far as I can tell she always looks like that.


Or “Syl” for short, apparently.

It appeared that he’d been wrong. There had been something more they could do to him. One final torment the world had reserved just for Kaladin.

And it was called Bridge Four.

War is hell, man



14 thoughts on “Let’s Read The Way of Kings ch. 5-6

  1. dollsgarden

    The only Branderson novel I’ve read so far was Elantris, his first one. The male lead was a young man, who was a great and wise leader nevertheless and who lost all hope in the beginning and slowly started to regain it and continue to be awesome. The female lead was a young woman, who was a great and intelligent ambassador nevertheless and who was both naive and cutesy as well as capable and feisty and who liberated herself from the boundaries of her society.

    WTF, Branderson?! Why are you recycling all this stuff? I’ve already read it, do you really think it was so great I’d read it a second time?!

    Especially the female lead thing irks me. It goes down to little details like that the Elantris one tried to paint all the time but was just s0000uuuuw clumseeeeh but it was s000000uuuuw kyooooot and her family called her “style” the “school of artistic misdirection” or something. Everyone raved all the time just how intelligent and insightful she was when in reality everyone around her just failed to jump to obvious conclusions and all the other women were just really dumb stay-at-home housewives. She was unbearably childish at times, like when she wanted to help the outcasts in the cursed city and the leader told her what they needed, she brought them some kind of junk (like when he asked for nails she brought them crates full of bent ones, or when he asked for foods like fish she brought them barrels of rotten ones) on the base of her not liking him. And while everyone and everything else was named Raoden, Shaod, Reod, Roial, Iadon, Shuden, Hrathen, Aon, Ien, Kae, Kaise, Seon, Eon and similar clusterfucks of too many vowels because Branderson obviously can’t be bothered to make up fantasy languages that actually make sense, her name was Serena, Sarene or something very similar and just stood out like a sore thumb. Because she is speshul and you wouldn’t notice if it weren’t for her name.

    I also see how Shallan’s artistry itches you. I, as a fellow artist, can relate very well. (To you, that is, not to her.) I have my sketchbook with me at all times and if something strikes me as interesting for whatever reason, I dash off a quick drawing of it, but it is far from perfect (sometimes to the point of being elusive for others) and while I think having a certain gaze for interesting sights goes hand in hand with being an artist, I don’t always walk around and go “Oooooh, this might make a perfect painting in this composition, with that lightning, and should I rather just draw it with coloured pencils or paint it with watercolours”, or whatever. I have the weird feeling that Branderson might be an “artist” himself and is one of the guys who are totally astonished when their publisher tells them: “Uh, dude, these drawings you included… we’d raaaather not use those ^^;”

    To be fair, I didn’t hate Elantris. It left me rather underwhelmed because the premise sounded really cool to me, the writing style was nothing special, especially since the book I read immediately before was the last of Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy, the cliches were strong, there were one or two jarring dei ex machinae, but it didn’t leave me bored out of my skull. Seeing Branderson actually getting worse stuns me. Is this some sort of “appealing to the crowd” thing? If yes, what pride does the man take in being a writer? If you only write what other people want you to, you’re not a writer, man, you’re a typewriter!
    I didn’t even really hate Serena or whatsername, I just thought she could have been so much better, had she been better executed. She was less boring than Raoden, the male lead, in any case, and her moping, if she exercised in it, at least had a reason, even if it boiled down to cliched ones.

    I sort of only wrote this to express my hatred for the “feisty females”. You’re not strong characters, or cute, or intriguing, or whatever. I’ve had dozens of girls in my classes who thought they were special and feminist because they wore Doc Martens boots and knew all the ragefaces and at the same time shunned me because I was such a freak for not wearing shoes and listening to Irish punk. These characters sort of are like this. They lather themselves in their own supposed uniqueness and at the same time degrade everyone who does things differently from them and refuses to acknowledge their uniqueness. They’re making themselves better by making others worse. They don’t grow, or at least not much, they just make themselves look bigger by being louder and more influential. It’s like they’re saying: “Feminism? It’s all about me me me me me me!!!”

    By the way, the word “feisty” was originally used to describe smelly little dogs, especially strays, and it is etymologically related to the word “fart”.

    And also, I love the plush penguin ;^;

    1. Satu

      “I’ve been pruning it back at every opportunity for more than a year. I’d spend weeks trimming superfluous words and phrases, extra lines of dialogue, slightly redundant description”

      “Then a month later I’d realize I needed to add a scene to bring better resolution to a plot line.”

      Really, Rothfuss??? REALLY? ARE YOU F….ING KIDDING ME??? This is so not even funny anymore.

  2. Al

    The spren thing is one of the most obvious influences of videogames, and funnily they fill the same function here – old video games used to have to use little bursts of color and light to communicate the weight of impacts the limited graphics weren’t able to, and here we have spren communicating things Sanderson isn’t actually able to evoke with his stilted writing.

  3. braak

    “So why not just make a huge sack of gold out of air, sell it and be rich for the rest of your life?”

    Well, is she not rich, though? She seems pretty rich.

    1. Signatus

      Well, if people could do that, gold would be pretty much worthless. Anyways, it doesn’t make much sense that emerald balls are the most valuable because it can be crafted into food. Food is not a really expensive resource, albeit the most valuable, in our world. Wouldn’t make much sense for them to be the most valuable.
      Even if that was the case, if emeralds are abundant enough that they can be used as coins, and food can be crafted from them, I believe they would be used to make food to feed your people (a full stomach usually means social peace), and there wouldn’t be much place for farming at all.

      I don’t know, maybe I’m thinking too much into this.

  4. Signatus

    “Nine out of ten Soulcasters were capable of a few limited transformations: creating water or grain from stone”

    I’m going to make a stop here and say… that makes no fucking sense. I could understand transforming, I don’t know, apples into pears, as they are sort of similar. Water into oxigen. That would be a simple transformation, but, food and water from STONE? You kidding?

    1. Aaron Adamec-Ostlund (@AaronAO)

      Yeah, those limited transformations seem to be the most useful ones of all. Perhaps most Soulcasters just don’t feel the need to master anything else. I would love to see a Soulcaster who could only make one room buildings fight. Just imagine how crazy that could get. But this is serious epic fantasy. At least it doesn’t seem to be veering into grimdark yet.

      Also I heard that the book series apparently has a lot of similarities to the Book of Mormon, following very closely some sort of faux biblical story in part of the book.

  5. Andrea Harris (@SpinsterAndCat)

    I really hate the character that’s a teacher/mentor/employer but who is “quirky” (that is, an unpleasant jerk) and who refuses to take on the protagonist as a student/charge/employee until they’ve jumped through a series of arbitrary hoops. I mean, I know where the trope comes from, but I’m not really interested in the author’s problems getting into a prestigious school or getting a job. Whatever, I can see that the character adds drama to a story but it just bores me. I don’t think I like epic fantasy after all.

  6. Austin H. Williams


    Because Minecraft creepers have always been our ideal of feminine beauty…
    “On her freehand was a distinctive piece of jewelry: two rings and a bracelet connected by several chains, holding a triangular group of gemstones across the back of the hand.”

    Is it on her left hand? IS SHE THE HERO OF TIME!?!

    Also, can’t help but feel like this will be some sort of level-up item for the character later on, after they’ve gotten the appropriate plot tokens, of course.

    Regarding Shallan arting all over the place, I’d say this is more or less in step with most of Branderson’s characterisation (and, frankly, the characterisation for most genre writers) – a character is not a collection of habits, tics and traits, they are a job. They aren’t defined by who they are, simply what they do and what they’re a placeholder for.


    “I had reason to believe you wanted to be a scholar, not a purveyor of superstitious nonsense.”

    … bu glyphs do stuff, we’ve seen them doing stuff.

    Ah, and another thing that makes me throw books against a wall? Flat-earth atheism.


    “Ignorance is hardly unusual, Miss Davar. The longer I live, the more I come to realize that it is the natural state of the human mind. There are many who will strive to defend its sanctity and then expect you to be impressed with their efforts.”

    Okay, wow. A line that I like. Didn’t see that coming.





    This is the kind of backstory I tend to associate with angsty anime characters in shows aimed at teenagers.

    I don’t doubt that you’re too off the mark from the target demographhic…


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