Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! Last time, Kaladin seemed to be fighting depression, Shallan hid in the darkness while Amaram attempted to interview Talenel, and as a result of her work she was welcomed into the Ghostbloods. This week, we go back in time again, as Shallan tries to make a difference for her family.
This reread will contain spoilers for The Way of Kings, Words of Radiance, and any other Cosmere book that becomes relevant to the discussion. The index for this reread can be found here, and more Stormlight Archive goodies are indexed here.
Click on through to join the discussion!
Chapter 65: The One Who Deserves It
Point of View: Li’l Shallan
Setting: Davar Estate, Jah Keved
Symbology: Inverse Pattern, Palah, Vedel
IN WHICH Shallan marvels at the concept of freely choosing one’s own role; encouraged by the thought, she begins to take action and develops her plan for Balat, Eylita and Malise to get away from the danger and gloom of the Davar estate; as she cares for Malise’s injuries, she reveals her plan for them to escape; Malise is doubtful and bitter.
Quote of the Week
“If I go,” Malise whispered, “and Balat with me, who will he hate? Who will he hit? Maybe you, finally? The one who actually deserves it?”
“Maybe,” Shallan whispered, then left.
This conversation always makes me wonder… Does Malise know anything about the past? Does she know that Shallan, and not her father, killed the previous Lady Davar? If she doesn’t, why does she think Shallan is the one who actually deserves it? Shallan’s “infractions” for the past 15 months or so have been minimal, in order to avoid anyone else being hurt in her name. Does Malise see indications that Lin turns any developing anger at Shallan toward herself and/or Balat? Or does she just think it’s unfair that Shallan apparently never gets in trouble?
I’ll probably never know.
Oddly—or perhaps not—I find the section from Jasnah’s book and Shallan’s response to be the most compelling aspect of this chapter.
I say that there is no role for women—there is, instead, a role for each woman, and she must make it for herself. For some, it will be the role of scholar; for others, it will be the role of wife. For others, it will be both. For yet others, it will be neither.
Shallan’s reaction strongly demonstrates the differences between their personalities and their backgrounds:
Highlady Kholin talked about the nobility of choice, as if every woman had such opportunity. The decision between being a mother or a scholar seemed a difficult decision in Jasnah’s estimation. That wasn’t a difficult choice at all! That seemed like a grand place to be! Either would be delightful when compared to a life of fear in a house seething with anger, depression, and hopelessness.
Not to diminish Jasnah’s work to free herself from the tyranny of Expectations, but it makes me itch just a little to smack her upside the head and remind her that she’s had it pretty easy, all in all. And of course, the same question comes in other flavors: not merely whether a woman should have the freedom to choose her place, but a darkeyed farmboy, or a lighteyed artist, or… you could supply plenty of other examples, amiright? For that matter, a highprince’s sons are pretty restricted, too.
The thing is, as nice as Jasnah’s ideology sounds, there are things I don’t think she understands. Or she doesn’t accept them, maybe. People don’t function that way very well, and societies even less so. One reason, I suppose, is that people as a whole are too ready to believe that they have no power to choose. More importantly, though, many people actively and deliberately accept the responsibilities they were born into, and however unhappy they might be in their work, they stay because other people—family—depend on them. (Jasnah doesn’t actually have that kind of experience…) Still and all, people tend to like to know where they’re supposed to fit. Then if they’re unhappy, they can blame it on whatever superficial factors keep them there, without having to actually make the choice and the related sacrifices to do something they claim they would rather do.
One philosopher I know has said that we always choose what we most want, and on the whole I believe he’s right. Many a morning I thought what I most wanted was to stay in bed, certainly way more than I wanted to get up, put my face on, and get dressed… but it turned out that I wanted a paycheck more than I wanted the extra sleep. I chose the thing I wanted most overall, not merely for the moment; I think the same can be said of all choices we make. Unfortunately for Jasnah’s philosophy, what people mostly want is to be accepted and approved by society, or their chosen subgroup of society.
And… I’m about to stray into social criticism, so we’ll head that off now.
There are, however, things that we could all learn from her ideals:
Do not mistake me in assuming I value one woman’s role above another. My point is not to stratify our society—we have done that far too well already—my point is to diversify our discourse.
This is an area where I think our modern society fails miserably. And… I have so much to say about it, that I’m not going to say anything at all. Just that we need to stop with the idea that someone is “wasting his/her life” by making a choice that doesn’t appeal to our own priorities.
Moving on with the story… It strikes me again that Shallan doesn’t realize what is behind her father’s “self-control” toward her. She honestly thinks it’s because he loves her so much that he restrains himself for her sake—a Moral Event Horizon of sorts, perhaps. While I do think that was his original position, it doesn’t appear to have ever crossed Shallan’s mind that her father is afraid of her. He knows, if she doesn’t, that if he threatens her to the point of injury or death, she could pull a Shardblade on him. Deep down, of course, she knows she could do that—but she’s never made the connection from her Blade to her father’s fear-instilled self-restraint.
Speaking of her father, this rather gives me the shivers:
He looked up as she walked back into the feast hall. She set the cup before him, looking into his eyes. No darkness there today. Just him. That was very rare, these days.
Even with “no darkness, just him,” he’s pretty scary by now. He’s been twisted and wrung out so hard. I still feel sorry for him, but he’s gotten bad. Right here, he’s trying hard to rationalize what he’s doing when the darkness is there, but the fact that he’s trying to justify his earlier actions is… creepy. “No one will listen. The litter was all runts anyway.” It’s all someone else’s fault. Pretty sure he knows it’s not, though, or he wouldn’t have to try so hard.
Poor Balat. This was just too much. He’s back to… well, not quite to where he was, reveling in the violence of the axehound fights, but back to petty cruelties against small critters. He doesn’t have the backbone to stand up to his father, and he doesn’t have the skill to do it even if he did have the spine. All he can do is shiver, tear apart cremlings, and hope his little sister can figure it out for him. He’s not someone I can like, but I do feel sorry for him.
Then there’s Malise. At this point, I feel sorrier for her than anyone. She’s been in this family for two and a half years now, and she’s done her level best to make it work. She’s tried to be a decent mother and wife, in a very strange situation. Now she’s got a broken arm and assorted minor injuries, her husband apparently hates everyone but his young daughter, and her only hope is for that daughter to create a way for her to escape.
What a broken, irrational household.
This is the same day as the previous flashback in Chapter 61, and takes place just a few hours later. For the record, Shallan has recently turned sixteen.
Okay, we don’t actually see Pattern in this chapter, but Shallan “sees” his light blazing from behind the painting which covers Father’s strongbox. It’s a pretty potent visual: she finds it blindingly bright—and yet she still can’t get past “not since… not since…” when she thinks of how long it’s been since she entered this room.
Palah, I believe, represents Jasnah’s scholarship as displayed at the beginning of the chapter. Quite possibly, also, she reflects the “learning” Shallan does in this chapter (and will further in a year or so), as well as the “giving” aspect of Shallan’s planning for Balat and Malise to escape, knowing she will remain in this “house seething with anger, depression, and hopelessness” when they leave. Vedel usually represents healing, which is appropriate to Shallan’s ministrations to Malise; she also denotes loving—which, again, fits the planning for everyone else to escape even though she can’t. Or won’t.
Sigh. Now I’m gloomy too. Maybe rejoining Kaladin in prison will cheer me up.
Oh, hey, next week does get better, because Kaladin’s imprisonment is over! Yay!! Come back next week and we’ll have a happy dance party and smile again!
Alice Arneson is a long-time Tor.com commenter and Sanderson beta-reader, who is snickering freely about the fact that there is a new Sanderson book coming out in less than three weeks, and another three weeks after that. Ain’t it fun, being a fan of such a prolific writer?