Welcome back to The Way of Kings reread here on Tor.com. I can’t believe the end is in sight already. We’re in the home stretch, covering the first two chapters of Part 5: The Silence Above.
This week, Shallan deals with the repercussions of her actions up till now, and Szeth finds out who has been pulling his strings—it is quite a surprise for first time readers, and even with repeated readings it is still shocking that a man seen as so kindly could be otherwise. Then again a running theme to The Way of Kings is that nothing is necessarily as clear as it seems. Distance, point of view, and time all distort.
Now it’s time for Columbo—I mean—Shallan the Detective and the case of the melting bread!
Chapter 70: Sea of Glass
Point of View: Shallan
What Happens: Shallan lies in her hospital bed feeling sorry for herself. She especially regrets everything she’s done to Jasnah. The death of Kabsal keeps weighing on her, though considering what he had done, she shouldn’t be bothered. She’s just grown fond of him.
Thinking of Kabsal brings back the memories of the infamous jam and bread—the poisoned bread, which Jasnah had eaten without the anidote-laced jam. Shallan starts in surprise, realizing that Jasnah should be dead. She draws Jasnah inspecting the jam while the strange symbol creatures hover nearby. She continues to ignore them and instead inspects the drawing, noting that Jasnah did stick her finger in the jam jar and sniffed it, but never ate any or told them it had spoiled. She draws another image of Jasnah eating the bread with a distinctly distasteful look upon her face and it seems as if the bread were melting.
Shallan leaves the hospital in just her robe without encountering any interference. She makes her way to the Conclave and Jasnah’s alcove, though Jasnah makes it known Shallan is not welcome and threatens to call the guards. Shallan pointedly tells Jasnah that the Soulcaster Jasnah has is fake and has been all along, unless it was some sort of decoy.
Shallan then shows Jasnah the drawing of the odd place she visited when she first Soulcast. Jasnah is taken aback, and wants to know what book had described that place so well that Shallan could draw it. Shallan explains that it wasn’t from a book, but from her own experience the night she Soulcast her goblet into blood. Shallan then says:
“There is no fabrial, is there, Jasnah? There’s no Soulcaster. There never has been. You use the fake ‘fabrial’ to distract people from the fact that you have the power to Soulcast on your own.”
Jasnah remains quiet while Shallan explains that she can also Soulcast without the aid of a fabrial. She claims Jasnah knew Kabsal was an assassin trying to poison her, but with the jam not the bread. When Jasnah had examined the jam she Soulcast away the antidote. And when Jasnah tried the bread, she Soulcast that as well, which explains why she didn’t get sick. But Jasnah did this without a Soulcaster; Shallan reveals that she stole Jasnah’s Soulcaster the night Jasnah killed the men, which visibly surprises Jasnah.
Jasnah still doesn’t believe her, so Shallan calls upon one of the symbol head creatures. The creature demands a truth in exchange for sending Shallan back to “that place.” Shallan fulfills that request by admitting she killed her father. Suddenly Shallan finds herself falling into a sea of glass beads before being lifted up to a raft Jasnah creates from the beads. Jasnah calls her an “idiot girl” and then pushes her through some sort of flame only to end up back in the alcove. Jasnah, clearly still angry with Shallan, tells her how dangerous it is to go to Shadesmar with just one dim sphere.
Shallan says she wants to join with Jasnah on her research:
“I want to know, Jasnah. I want to be your ward in truth. Whatever the source of this thing you can do, I can do it too. I want you to train me and let me be part of your work.”
Shallan also apologizes for stealing from Jasnah, and insists that she very much cherishes what Jasnah has to offer through her studies. Shallan could be someone Jasnah confides in. She knows she made mistakes and that she’ll make more, but with Jasnah she could learn much and hopefully not make as many.
Jasnah tells Shallan that she must never lie to her or steal from anyone ever again. Shallan promises. Jasnah then shares with Shallan her notes on the Voidbringers.
Quote of the Chapter:
“What am I?” Shallan whispered. “Truthfully?” It was a day for confrontation. She felt strangely strong, steady. Time to speak it. “I’m a murderer. I killed my father.”
As if we needed the confirmation, but it is still rather nice to have. I thought this fact would be held on to for a later volume. Yet what does this truly answer? We don’t know the how or why she killed her father. Presumably with her Shardblade, but thinking about the Shardblade just leads to more questions. And now that we’re talking about her father she doesn’t seem particularly remorseful for having killed her father though she is remorseful that her actions had something to do with the weakness of her family’s position. Yet her father lead the way to the family’s downfall with all the debts. He must have been a horrible, horrible man.
One thing you can say about Shallan is that she doesn’t give up easy. This seems to be a trait common among all of the main points of view. Dalinar is motivated by honor and Kaladin by the appreciation for life. Shallan on the other hand takes the someway more selfish angle to it all. She came to Jasnah because of her family, but she wants to stay for herself. She wants to believe in herself knowing that she’ll make mistakes.
Shallan is certainly a woman of extremes. To prove that Shallan knows about Shadesmar she goes there in front of Jasnah. And as Jasnah intoned that wasn’t the smartest of plans, but it was audacious to say the least.
I don’t think it was that Jasnah didn’t believe that Shallan knew about Shadesmar and Soulcasting without a fabrial. She just saw the danger in admitting what she was and could do. Jasnah is a very guarded person in many respects. and she just survived an assassination attempt. Jasnah doesn’t let people in. Shallan is forcing her way in just like when she first met Jasnah and this time hopefully for keeps.
Now the question comes down to does Shallan appreciate how much Jasnah has changed her life in such a short span of time? Yes, but she’ll only feel more indebted to the worlds Jasnah has revealed to her as she grows.
Unlike Kaladin, Shallan isn’t one to stew to long about her lot in life. She’s become a change maker. An influencer, which is a role that will only broaden for her as the series progresses. Sure Kaladin will change things, but he does so reluctantly. Shallan goes all in more times than not. Now she’s on the trail of the Voidbringers…
Chapter 71: Recorded in Blood
Point of View: Szeth
What Happens: Szeth is in the City of Bells to finish off the last names on his list of targets. He’s working as a porter in order to get the lay of the land and workings of the city. He is to kill king Taravangian, who is well-loved for his acts of charity, including building hospitals and paying to staff them. Szeth is already regretting what is to come.
For this particular mission, Szeth is specifically commanded not to kill anyone else when he confronts Taravangian; he is to kill the king as quietly as possible while delivering a message he has to make sure the king hears. While in the larder of the palace, Szeth obtains permission to go to the privy. Once alone, Szeth uses his Shardblade to cut a hole in the rock floor and uses a half Basic Lashing upwards on the rock so it floats above rather than make any noise. He then jumps on the rock after using a Lashing to change his own weight so he can slowly descend atop the rock. Szeth finds himself in a much fancier privy meant for lighteyes.
Szeth changes into a servant’s outfit and goes into the hallway after dismissing his Shardblade. Szeth knows exactly where the king will be. He approaches a door with two guards and makes quick work of them, but does not kill them. He kicks open the door and finds a man sitting cross-legged on the floor staring out a window in the opposite direction. Szeth delivers his message:
“I have been instructed to tell you that the others are dead. I’ve come to finish the job.”
The man does not acknowledge him at first. Then Taravangian asks him if he killed his guards while also naming Szeth as Szeth-son-son-Vallano. He praises the good job Szeth has done killing so many of Roshar’s leaders and creating chaos, then asks:
“Was this your destiny? Do you wonder? Given that monstrosity of a Shardblade by your people, cast out and absolved of any sin your masters might require of you?”
Szeth insists he isn’t absolved by any means and that he feels each death upon his soul. He kills, but his punishment is to “bear the sins” and be Truthless. Taravangian counters that Szeth knows many more truths than the rest of the Shin. Szeth determines this king isn’t as feeble as most believe—he is cunning. Tarvangian then pulls out Szeth’s Oathstone, revealing himself to be Szeth’s unseen master. Tarvangian had put his own name on the hitlist in case Szeth was captured and the list discovered, but now he orders Szeth to not kill him.
Szeth wants to know if this was all about vengeance. The king says it wasn’t, but was rather about stability. Szeth is bewildered that killing all of these leaders could be considered stabilizing anything. Taravangian indicates these things must be done so that things can be made stronger in the long run.
Taravangian then quotes a Shin proverb in its original language, which shocks Szeth. He leads Szeth down a stairwell to a secret room containing hundreds of beds of the sick and infirm; rather than helping the patients, they are slowly draining the blood from them. The horror of it hits Szeth, and Taravangian says they do this only to the sickest people, but they do occasionally pull in others who won’t be missed. Anger rises in Szeth to the point where he nearly kills Taravangian, but he is reined in by his oath and a word from the king.
Taravangian’s hands aren’t clean; he tells Szeth that he has bled out many people himself over the years. One of the nearby “patients” shouts out something about the Stormfather and then dies. The king explains that they are killing these people to record their death quotes, which began appearing seven years earlier when Gavilar first went to the Shattered Plains. These words, King Taravangian claims, will help save the world.
Szeth calls him a monster, which is a label the King readily accepts, claiming “I am the monster who will save this world.” Taravangian then adds another name to the end of the list: Dalinar Kholin. He says it is to be done “brutally” and soon before Dalinar can unite the Alethi highprinces.
Quote of the Chapter:
“Sometimes,” Taravangian said, “you must tear down a structure to build a new one with stronger walls.”
Somehow I don’t think Taravangian is being as altruistic as he makes himself out to be. He acts as if all this killing was for the greater good. But who’s good? His motivations are far from clear. Right now I’d consider him an agent of Odium. The killing of Roshar’s leaders is one things, but all this blood letting and murder in his own house is too hard to choke down as anything that can be colored in any light other than horrible.
So the mysterious boss that has been pulling Szeth’s strings is none other than Taravangian who I like to affectionately call Mr. T., partly out of humor and partly because I’ve always felt Taravangian is purposely too ostentatious of a name. Sanderson has always been good with naming. He nails the names of the Alethi Brightlords well with them coming off as regal, but not too grandiose, but “Taravangian” seems a bit much.
Really, this chapter made me think of him as a James Bond villain. “No, Mr. Kholin, I expect you to die!” Only he is missing the whole villain laugh. That’s more a Sadeas thing.
Mr. T. unveiled the story behind all the death quotes in the epigraphs, which is all kinds of horrible. He is so forthright with the evil work he does yet defends it saying it will save people without any real explanation as to how. More interesting was the fact they began when Gavilar went out to the Shattered Plains, which coincides with his meeting of the Parshendi. Like when Kaladin uttered the Words this meeting somehow unlocked something in the world. Gavilar knew something or did something while he was there. One fact that has been given little credit is that Gavilar did unite the Alethi already in his own fashion and before the Parshendi decided to assassinate him he was bringing them into the fold as well. What still doesn’t make sense is what the Parshendi’s motivations for killing Gavilar right after a pact was being signed. What was Gavilar planning that turned the Parshendi against him?
Now how many of your wished that Szeth would have taken that swing at Mr. T. when he held himself back? I going to guess most of you. Even on this reading I was hoping Szeth would slice off his head. Would all of his plans and agents fall out of sorts, or is the network trying to prevent anyone from preparing for the Desolation so embedded in society it would merely be a hiccup for them to recover? And now I question whether they are trying to stop people for preparing for the Desolation versus trying to prevent the Desolation in the first place though some loopy logic. Clearly the latter isn’t going to happen since a Herald is only a few chapters away from proclaiming the Desolation has come. Like it or not the Desolation will not be held back. Too much else has already happened.
Szeth seems to be deteriorating mentally; all of these murders are weighing on him (he now hears their screams), yet he still hasn’t reached his real breaking point. Szeth has also grown used to walking on stone, something he considered utter abhorrent when we first met him. Now it is a common—if unpleasant experience for him. But after you killing dozens of people, walking on stone seems a trifle pain to go through. The back and forth about Szeth’s actions being absolved was enlightening as Mr. T. believed Szeth does what he does without anything weighing on his conscience while Szeth said it is the exact opposite. His “punishment” seems not only a heavy price for him to pay, but even larger for those he dispatches. The Shin ideology on this issue seems out of place with what little we know of their society. Szeth had to uncovered something that turned him into a Truthless.
And now Szeth is being sent to the Shattered Plains for Dalinar. Hopefully, Kaladin can be the man the Alethi need to stop him finally.