Welcome back to The Way of Kings reread on Tor.com. Last week we finished chapter 28, and with it completed our reread of Part Two: The Illuminating Storms. Next week we’ll move on to the Interludes before starting Part Three the following week, but for now there’s one aspect of this Part that we’ve been putting off covering until now.
So, to wrap up The Illuminating Storms, I’m going to analyze the mysterious letter that the chapter epigraphs present in fragments. This series of epigraphs is extremely heavy in cosmere information, and in unpacking it I’m going to refer to knowledge that some may consider spoilers for Sanderson’s other novels, so proceed carefully. I’ve collected the entire letter for all of you, so let’s get going.
Old friend, I hope this missive finds you well. Though, as you are now essentially immortal, I would guess that wellness on your part is something of a given. / I realize that you are probably still angry. That is pleasant to know. Much as your perpetual health, I have come to rely upon your dissatisfaction with me. It is one of the cosmere’s great constants, I should think.
Let me first assure you that the element is quite safe. I have found a good home for it. I protect its safety like I protect my own skin, you might say. / You do not agree with my quest. I understand that, so much as it is possible to understand someone with whom I disagree so completely.
Might I be quite frank? Before, you asked why I was so concerned. It is for the following reason: / Ati was once a kind and generous man, and you saw what became of him. Rayse, on the other hand, was among the most loathsome, crafty, and dangerous individuals I had ever met. / He holds the most frightening and terrible of all of the Shards. Ponder on that for a time, you old reptile, and tell me if your insistence on nonintervention holds firm. Because I assure you, Rayse will not be similarly inhibited. / One need only look at the aftermath of his brief visit to Sel to see proof of what I say.
In case you have turned a blind eye to that disaster, know that Aona and Skai are both dead, and that which they held has been Splintered. Presumably to prevent anyone from rising up to challenge Rayse.
You have accused me of arrogance in my quest. You have accused me of perpetuating my grudge against Rayse and Bavadin. Both accusations are true. / Neither point makes the things I have written to you here untrue.
I am being chased. Your friends of the Seventeenth Shard, I suspect. I believe they’re still lost, following a false trail I left for them. They’ll be happier that way. I doubt they have any inkling of what to do with me should they actually catch me. / If anything I have said makes a glimmer of sense to you, I trust that you’ll call them off. Or maybe you could astound me and ask them to do something productive for once. / For I have never been dedicated to a more important purpose, and the very pillars of the sky will shake with the results of our war here. I ask again. Support me. Do not stand aside and let disaster consume more lives. I’ve never begged you for something before, old friend. I do so now.
I’ve combined the epigraphs into paragraphs in the way that made the most sense to me, but it’s possible that you guys will disagree. To facilitate disagreement, I’ve marked where each epigraph ends with a slash, excepting those epigraphs that naturally end paragraphs.
The first issue that comes to mind is uncovering who wrote this letter, and to whom was it sent. The text presents strong evidence that Hoid is the author of this letter. The Seventeenth Shard, as represented by the strange people at the Purelake, are hunting him, after all, and he is probably the most cosmere-literate person Sanderson has revealed to us yet. The identity of the letter’s recipient is much more mysterious. It’s very possible that Hoid is writing to someone we haven’t met or even heard about yet. To round up what we do know: his correspondent knows about the cosmere, and recognizes the names of those who took up Shards. The recipient of the letter is immortal (at least according to Hoid), and has close ties to the Seventeenth Shard, an organization of people who travel between Shardworlds. He or she may even be able to order the Seventeenth Shard around.
It’s possible—and perhaps even likely—that this person holds a Shard. All of the people Hoid mentions do: Ati is Ruin from the Mistborn series, and Aona and Skai are Devotion and Dominion from Elantris. If this person holds a Shard, then I doubt he or she is Honor. We find out later in the book that Tanavast, who holds Honor, was killed by Rayse when that Shard was splintered. The letter could be from a long time ago, but since I believe the “false trail” Hoid left for the Seventeenth Shard hunters led them to the Purelake, I suspect the letter was sent recently. He may have sent the letter to the past, but I’m putting that possibility aside for now, because it’s a bit crazy. It’s more likely that he’d be writing to Cultivation, the other Shard owner on Roshar, since she is probably alive—but I don’t think she’d needs to be warned about Rayse, having seen what he did to Honor. Nor does this feel like a letter to her.
That was all a long-winded way of saying that I’m stumped. The intended recipient of this letter could be basically anybody, and I’m not satisfied with any of my potential candidates listed above. Do you have anyone else in mind? I’ll be looking forward to hearing in the comments.
To understate a bit, Rayse seems like bad news. He has what must surely be the highest god-level-being kill count in the universe. Rayse has three confirmed kills at this point, which is a lot when you’re talking about a species with only 16 individuals. He also seems to have the most terrible Shard of all, and on this point I see no reason to second-guess Hoid. Odium is a Shard of hatred, and seems to bring with it bloodlust, constant warfare, and a proliferation of the worst and most harmful ways in which societies and kingdoms interact. Combine this with someone who already seems to be huge jerk, and it’s not hard to see why the normally passive and observational Hoid would feel like he has to give things a nudge.
I think it’s no secret that Odium is going to be a major antagonist in the Stormlight Archive. I would declare him THE main antagonist right now, without any hesitation, if I weren’t so used to Brandon Sanderson complicating his own plots. After all, I never expected the Lord Ruler to be anything less than the Big Boss of the Mistborn series, and look where that got me. But here it seems like Sanderson is setting Odium up to be much more than a local threat. Rayse has had a cosmere-spanning impact, and has killed multiple shards. He may be a cosmere-wide threat.
While putting the letter together, I realized for the first time how often Brandon Sanderson managed to make these epigraphs acutely relevant to the chapters they precede. My favorite example of this is the epigraph to Chapter 15: The Decoy: “You do not agree with my quest. I understand that, so much as it is possible to understand someone with whom I disagree so completely.” Chapter 15 is when Sadeas and Dalinar’s shared backstory is revealed, when we come to understand how these bitter rivals work together, and what drove them apart in the first place. Dalinar and Sadeas share a common goal, unlike Hoid and his correspondent, but they are divided by a complete difference in nature. This attempt at understanding, and almost respect, even in the face of total disagreement is present in both the epigraph and the chapter.
Usually it’s subtler than that, but more often than not I would read the epigraph and think to myself, heh, this resonates well with the chapter it introduces. I like little tricks like that. You don’t have to notice them to have them work, either. The epigraphs prime the reader to experience the story in a different way.
That’s it for Part Two! Check back next week for the interludes.