Welcome back to the Stormlight Archive Reread on Tor.com! It’s good to be back, everyone. The Way of Kings lies complete behind us, and Words of Radiance stretches out before us, ripe with unexplored potential. We’re beginning the reread in the most logical way: with the Prologue! Hopefully you’re all ready for our one and only Jasnah Kholin point of view chapter.
In case you missed our introduction post, Alice Arneson and I have changed up a number of things about the reread format. This reread will contain spoilers for The Way of Kings, Words of Radiance, and any other Cosmere book that become relevant. Enjoy!
Prologue: To Question
Point of View: Jasnah Kholin
Setting: Kholinar, Six Years Ago
Symbology: Shadesmar Icon, Battar
IN WHICH a princess prefers the company of assassins, despite her father’s recommendations; shadows prove troublesome; a palace disintegrates in favor of another world entirely; hostile diplomacy is opened with spren; an appointment is kept; a killer is hired, but not for killing; strangers pass by unrecognized, discussing lordly blades; screams replace drumbeats; magic is witnessed; His Majesty Gavilar Kholin, King of Alethkar, First of his Name, is killed; and an expected peace gives way to war.
Quote of the Week:
He glanced at her. “Ah, Jasnah. Retiring so early?”
“It’s hardly early,” Jasnah said, gliding forward. It seemed obvious to her that Gavilar and Amaram had ducked out to find privacy for their discussion. “This is the tiresome part of the feast, where the conversation grows louder but no smarter, and the company drunken.”
“Many people consider that sort of thing enjoyable.”
“Many people, unfortunately, are idiots.”
Her father smiled. “Is it terribly difficult for you?” he asked softly. “Living with the rest of us, suffering our average wits and simple thoughts? Is it lonely to be so singular in your brilliance, Jasnah?”
What a fascinating snapshot this is. We see here almost everything we need to know to understand Gavilar Kholin’s parenting style, at least as far as Jasnah is concerned. I suspect he interacted differently with Elhokar. It seems to me like Jasnah models her interactions with Shallan on how her father treated her, up to and including the matchmaking. Thoughts?
Commentary: I admire the extent to which this prologue mirrors the prologue of The Way of Kings, starting with their names. TWoK opened with “To Kill,” WoR with “To Question.” Are these two actions emblematic in some way of the plot of their respective books? While Words of Radiance is driven forward by Shallan’s curiosity, I’m not sure how much the purpose of TWoK was “to kill.” Perhaps the purpose of these chapters is to establish Szeth and Jasnah. Both are enigmatic figures with more access to the world’s magic who we don’t get to spend much time with.
I wonder if Sanderson plans to revisit the assassination of Gavilar again in later books. There are still a few interesting perspectives from which to view that event. Consider the possibility of seeing that night through Amaram’s eyes, or Sadeas’s, or Elhokar’s. If Sanderson keeps returning to this well, I would expect the fifth book to explore the assassination from Gavilar’s perspective. I’d find that really interesting.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Jasnah would work as a spymaster for house Kholin. She’s the cannier of her father’s children, if not quite the more suspicious, and her drive to ferret out the truth dovetails with the skillset necessary for the role. Of course, this is Alethkar, and everything is too dysfunctional for her to be asked to do that job. Instead she’s spying on her sister-in-law, with an option on future killings. She hasn’t got any official support, and that’s crucial to the action of this chapter. Jasnah is juggling a few too many unknowns; the sense of the scene is that if Jasnah could have devoted her full attention to Szeth, or to the strangers in the hallway, or to Gavilar and Amaram, she might have solved one of these mysteries. As it is, they all slip through her fingers.
Sprenspotting: These inky-black sword-having shadowspren have some serious style. We haven’t confirmed what kind of spren Jasnah is bonded to, but I am relatively confident that the swordsman who bows to her is indeed Ivory. That challenge giving way to respect strikes me as the formation of what will become her nahel bond.
It seems like the preferred method of testing the worthiness of a potential Elsecaller is to just drop her in the ocean and see if she drowns. Unlike when Shallan first visited the Shadesmar, none of these spren communicate to Jasnah what she has to do to survive. Presumably, a Surgebinder with the capacity to become a primary liaison to the Shadesmar will figure it out.
Ars Arcanum: Jasnah’s intuitive understanding of the Shadesmar is much better than Shallan’s. She understands immediately that each sphere is a plan for an object in the real world, and that she can use one to form a structure out of others. She doesn’t yet understand the Stormlight exchange, but we see the light go dark and she feels the energy leaving her as she shapes the Shadesmar to her will.
She also sees Szeth do his best Windrunner impression, running down the walls after murdering her father. Her defensive obsession with his Surgebinding drives years of research. However, we’re already seeing hints that what she’s seeing is different from what she did. The mysterious strangers mention Szeth using “[their lord’s] own Blade,” and by the end of the book we’ll know what they mean.
Heraldic Symbolism: Battar, the Herald of Wisdom, is the patron of the Elsecallers, Jasnah’s order of the Knights Radiant. I assume that’s why she gets special attention in this chapter, to the exclusion of either of the Heralds who appear in the flesh. We can say with certainty that the man with the scar is Nale, and I’m fairly certain that his companion is Kalak. He isn’t Jezrien, who they discuss, or Talenel, who is still chillin’ in Damnation. The only other male Herald this could be is Ishar, who is depicted as an old man with a long beard. I don’t think this youngish-looking, nervous man fits as Ishar nearly as well as the man we saw in the Prelude to The Way of Kings.
The two of them are discussing Shalash, who they call “Ash,” the Herald of Beauty. Seems like they’re pretty concerned that one of their own is going around destroying images of her own face. And, I mean, if you walked into your friend’s house and found out that she’d cut her face out of all her family photos… wouldn’t you be concerned too?
Shipping Wars: Turns out Gavilar shipped Jasnah x Amaram. Oh, bless his poor dead heart. I know it would’ve been good for your politics, but JasnAmaram is leaking every which way. Even if he weren’t an awful evil hypocrite who Jasnah would rip to tiny shreds, I’m pretty sure neither of them is interested.
But, uh, if that’s the ship you’re into, don’t let me dissuade you. Bonus points to the first cogent defense in the comments.
Well, that’s our new format! I hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it. Next week the inestimable Alice Arneson will take the first step in her reread career by covering Chapter 1. Be kind to her, reread fans! In the meantime you can read Brandon Sanderson’s answers to your insightful Stormlight questions.
Carl Engle-Laird is an editorial assistant at Tor.com, where he acquires and edits fiction both for the Tor.com Originals program and for Tor.com: The Imprint. You can follow him on Twitter here. If you ask nicely he might even tell you how to find his Brooklyn Nine-Nine podcast.