Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! Last week we witnessed the thoroughness of Sadeas’s bad crazy and saw a bunch of politics being planned and executed. This week we take a break from all that by visiting Shallan, who is peaceably pursuing scholarship on the Wind’s Pleasure, a place where nothing could possibly go wrong.
This reread will contain spoilers for The Way of Kings, Words of Radiance, and any other Cosmere books that become relevant. This week also contains spoilers for Raiders of the Lost Ark. BEWARE!
Chapter 6: Terrible Destruction
Point of View: Shallan
Setting: The Wind’s Pleasure, off the Coast of the Frostlands
Symbology: Shadesmar Icon, Shalash
IN WHICH A chilly Shallan studies her spren; Pattern fails to comprehend the difference between food and destruction; Shallan remembers greenery, far too vividly; Yalb shows off for the new kid and inquires about colors; Pattern and Shallan discuss lies; Shallan luxuriates in scholarship; dun spheres are discovered; Jasnah’s exhaustion is observed; surgebinding, essences, orders are pondered; Shallan demands to be included in Jasnah’s struggles; Voidbringers and parshmen are worried about; Urithiru requires finding; the Hierocracy is badmouthed; Shallan is given a copy of Words of Radiance to
reread; and sleep is interrupted by screams, shouts, and smoke.
Quote of the Week:
“You like lies?” Shallan asked.
“Good lies,” Pattern said. “That lie. Good lie.”
“What makes a lie good?” Shallan asked, taking careful notes, recording pattern’s exact words.
“Pattern, those two are opposites.”
“Hmmmm… Light makes shadow. Truth makes lies. Hmmmm.”
I love this concept. Light creates shadow in the spaces it is blocked from shining, and truth can make lies in the spaces left out. It sounds like Pattern is describing lies of omission, lies made up of truth with bits left out, but I think you can go further with the concept. The surge of Illumination makes illusions out of real images. Shallan always has an easier time Illuminating after she’s done a sketch, created an image to reify. Pattern also loves abstractions, words and phrases that are truer than they are real.
Also I just love Pattern. Expect a lot of him in this section.
Commentary: The Shallan chapters in Words of Radiance are rich and layered. Like with Kaladin in The Way of Kings, her powers are manifesting around her in ways she doesn’t yet understand. More importantly, however, at all times she’s struggling to suppress her past, as Pattern tries to draw it out of her. We discover in Chapter 6 that Pattern has been with her for a long time. He was with her back in Jah Keved, which means we’ve never had a Shallan chapter that he wasn’t watching. Pattern needs Shallan to remember what happened, but she’s trained herself to recoil in horror from her past.
Shallan’s self-deception is aided by Yalb and the mysterious new kid. Never trust a pointless side character, especially in a Sanderson book. They’re either a distraction or a threat. It strikes me as strange that Jasnah and Shallan wouldn’t have been aware of Tozbek bringing on new crew at Amdatlyn. Wouldn’t Jasnah have vetted this guy? Maybe she really is too exhausted by her studies, but it seems out of character for the Alethi spymistress to let this assassin on board her ship during such a dangerous and important mission.
It’s sweet and tragic how much Shallan loves being a scholar. To her, scholarship was this impossible dream from her childhood, and now she’s living it. Sweet summer child, I wish you could live that dream uninterrupted, but this is no era for peaceful scholarship. You live in the age of action scholarship. So put on your Indiana Jones fedora and get out there.
The ongoing discussion about what to do with the parshmen continues to squick me out. Jasnah has a lot on her mind, but I wish she’d give a little bit of thought to what will happen once she convinces the Alethi that their slaves are conspiring to overthrow them. She’s worried about the economic consequences, and not about the possibility that she’ll incite genocide. Eventually Shallan starts thinking about this, but until then I’m going to stay squicked. It doesn’t help that I’ve been reading an ARC of Kameron Hurley’s Mirror Empire, which deals with very similar issues.
What I do like about that discussion is how Jasnah’s scholarship leads her to incorrect conclusions. We discover later how it is that the Parshendi can sing in unison no matter how far they’re separated; they all have access to the same Rhythms, which seem to all go forward in unison. This is a terrible substitution for telepathy.
Sprenspotting: We see again how exhaustionspren and fearspren can betray emotions that humans try to hide. We also learn more about “Liespren,” or “Cryptics” as they preferred to be called. Pattern is suffering from that post-bond amnesia thing that we’ve seen Syl fighting. What’s more, he’s the only spren we’ve seen who just can’t be invisible. Liespren: pretty bad at deception, actually? Most interesting to me is this section:
In her quarters, Pattern moved up the wall beside her, watching without eyes as she searched for a passage she remembered, which mentioned spren that spoke. Not just windspren and riverspren, which would mimic people and make playful comments. Those were a step up from ordinary spren, but there was yet another level of spren, one rarely seen. Spren like Pattern, who had real conversations with people.
The Nightwatcher is obviously one of these, Alai wrote, Shallan copying the passage. The records of conversations with her—and she is definitely female, despite what rural Alethi folktales would have one believe—are numerous and credible. Shubalai herself, intent on providing a firsthand scholarly report, visited the Nightwatcher and recorded her story word for word…
Interesting that they rank spren as superior when they can talk, but my biggest takeaway from this section is that I really want to read a novella about Shubalai going to study the Nightwatcher.
Ars Arcanum: Shallan is Illuminating! Pattern pushes her to remember their first encounter, and by doing so Shallan creates an illusion of her garden. It seems like she only turned the boards beneath her green, rather than making a full illusory garden, but that’s a big step in the direction of Illumination. Plus, we get to see her singing that old familiar song, “Why did all these spheres go dark?”
Heraldic Symbolism: Our Herald this week is Shalash, the Herald of Beauty, who is associated with Creativity and Honesty. Shallan is named for Shalash, and she certainly embodies creativity. I think that Shalash is the Herald for this chapter because we’re seeing how creativity and honesty exist in co-productive opposition.
“Passions!” Yalb said. “That fellow is as dun as two spheres made of mud.”
Yalb! That is RUDE!
That’s it for this week! Apparently next week’s chapter will have screams, shouts, and smoke. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m guessing it’s Jasnah’s surprise birthday party. Maybe they should have used fewer candles.
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.