Welcome back to The Way of Kings reread here on Tor.com! Again we’ll just be tackling one chapter this week as there is a lot to dip into here. Last week we saw the imbalance of lighteyes versus darkeyes was at an all time high with Roshone hurting Lirin and his family as much as he could. Kaladin stepped-up and joined his young brother Tien in becoming a soldier, and as a result that would cement his future.
This week we follow that major event with another: Shallan’s visit to Shadesmar and the official unveiling of the symbolhead creatures. Get your Shardblades ready as we have a lot to mow down.
Setting: Kharbranth, the Conclave
Point of View: Shallan
What Happens: Shallan studies the account of King Gavilar’s first meeting with the Parshendi; it turns out Dalinar was the first to encounter them.
Tomorrow is the day that Tozbek is supposed to pull into port and soon after depart with Shallan aboard.
Shallan creates the pretense of looking for a book referenced in the volume on the Parshendi when she really wants to look for more info on what Jasnah seems so interested in: the Voidbringers. Shallan spends the next couple of hours in the bowels of the Palanaeum after pulling out any book that mentions the Voidbringers.
Some of the tales suggest that the Voidbringers were akin to a spren and that they could invade the soul of person and turn them evil. Even after all the research, Shallan has no conclusions of her own and questions again why Jasnah is so interested in a topic that has no apparent use. Shallan leaves the books where they lay and heads off to get the volume she originally came for only to run into Brother Kabsal.
Shallan comments that she is amazed by how large the Palanaeum is (57 levels) and that it must have been a lot of work to create, but Kabsal explains that the main shaft was present long before the Kharbranthians cut out the rooms for the books. Kabsal also says it was likely the Kharbranth was another city like Kholinar in that it was created by the Almighty. Shallan mentions the Dawnsigners as possible architects, but Kabsal dismisses the idea, saying the Dawnsingers “were healers, kindly spren sent by the Almighty to care for humans once we were forced out of the Tranquiline Halls.” Shallan equates them to the opposite of the Voidbringers, which Kabsal agrees is a somewhat close comparison.
Shallan reveals to Kabsal that Jasnah came to Kharbranth to specifically study the Voidbringers. She presses Kabsal for information about the Voidbringers, but he is reluctant, saying it has to do with the failures Vorinism has been involved in such as the Hierocracy and the fall of the Radiants. He calls them “our shame.” Eventually he goes on to say that the ardents believe the Voidbringer were real and were akin to “a scourge and a plague” that visited horrors upon humanity at least 100 times. “They were creatures of terrible destructive power, forged in Damnation, created from hate.”
This leads to a short discussion on how the Almighty is a force of good, and the Voidbringers exist to balance the scales; it is now up to humanity to increase the good in the cosmere. Kabsal adds that Voidbringers “were an embodiment of evil” and that the Knights Radiant defeated them in the Last Desolation (also known as Aharietiam). After the Heralds won, the Voidbringers went back to the Tranquiline Halls, but the Heralds followed them in hopes of pushing them out of heaven as well. Thus ended the Heraldic Epochs.
Shallan presses for more, and Kabsal theorizes that the only reason Jasnah is studying the Voidbringers is to disprove that they ever existed and thereby weaken the church of Vorinism. Kabsal wishes Jasnah would just leave the ardentia alone, as he feels they are not threat to her (or anyone) because they act in obedience to the citylords and warlords of Roshar.
As they walk, Shallan informs Kabsal that she would be leaving the next day to return to her family. Kabsal seems to believe that her father is ill. He asks if she would sketch him before she leaves, and Shallan realizes she has not sketched Kabsal yet, despite spending so much time together. She grabs his hand and rushes him down the hallway. She realizes what she’s done and hurriedly drops his hand, at which point Kabsal confesses his romantic interest in her.
Shallan panics, realizing that though she is fond of Kabsal, she doesn’t return his love. He even offers to accompany her back to Jah Keved, basically offering to leave the Ardentia for her. But Kabsal can tell from the look on her face that Shallan won’t taking him up on his offer.
Shallan apologizes for being dishonest with Kabsal, but he asks again for the sketch. They finally reach the top of the Palanaeum to the Veil, where Shallan had left her sketch book. Jasnah is there, as is a basket of bread and jam Kabsal had clearly left there.
Shallan quickly sketches Kabsal and gives it to him. He tries to give her a broam for payment, which she refuses. He then insists on paying for a second sketch of them together. She agrees and borrows a mirror from Jasnah to get the Memory framed in her mind properly. As she begins the sketch, her “anxiety about the Soulcaster” comes to the fore of her mind, and she thinks of staying in Kharbranth to continue her studying after giving the Soulcaster to Tozbek to return to her brothers.
As Shallan finishes the drawing she notices that she’s included a figure in the background standing behind Kabsal that has the outline of a body, but some sort of symbol in place of where its head should be. Shallan is upset and feels she is losing her mind. She runs from the room, away from Kabsal and Jasnah. As she waits for the lift to take her down, she takes a memory of Kabsal standing in the doorway looking after her and quickly sketches it, only to see more of the symbolheads above him.
She rushes to the main cavern where she again takes a Memory and begins sketching, only this time she draws five figures with symbols for heads; they seem to be following her. She runs to her room, locks the door behind her, and continues drawing. The creatures are now mere inches away from her. Shallan reaches out and feels something, even though she can’t see anything. She tries to bring out the Soulcaster to use against them, but thinks better of it and remembers her other weapon:
I can’t use that. I promised myself.
She began the process anyway. Ten heartbeats, to bring forth the fruit of her sin, the proceeds of her most horrific act. She was interrupted midway through by a voice, uncanny yet distinct:
What are you?
She answers that she is terrified. Soon after, the room around her changes and she finds herself in a place with a black sky and a small white sun. All around her are beads—a sea of tiny glass beads. She grabs one and hears a voice say “You want me to change?” The voice is different than the one she had heard in her room just moments before, and seems to come from the bead itself.
I’ve been as I am for a great long time, the warm voice said. I sleep so much. I will change. Give me what you have.
“I don’t know what you mean! Please, help me!”
I will change.
Shallan feels extremely cold as if the heat has been pulled out of her. The bead in her hand becomes warm and she drops it. She falls back and finds herself returned to her room. A goblet near her has melted into blood—one of the ten essences. Shallan has just Soulcasted. Startled, she knocks over and breaks a glass water pitcher.
Shallan wonders if the symbol-head creatures caused her to Soulcast, but she had seen them long before she had the Soulcaster in her possession. She then hears Jasnah’s voice outside her door. Knowing that she doesn’t have time to hide the blood, Shallan hides her drawings and then takes a shard of glass from the broken pitcher and cuts herself. Jasnah barges into the room and calls for help when she sees. Shallan thinks, “This [...] will not end well.”
Quote of the Chapter:
“Suffice it to say that the Almighty’s pure goodness created the Voidbringers, but men may choose good without creating evil because as mortals they have a dual nature. Thus the only way for good to increase in the cosmere is for men to create it—in that way, good may come to outweigh evil.”
Commentary: This chapter dropped quite a lot on our heads. It starts innocuous enough with what seems like this was going to be another academic type chapter with Shallan and Jasnah debating only to see it turn into Shallan and Kabsal “breaking up” then again changed into Shallan gaining a few admirers and exploring the cognitive realm of Shadesmar. Like I said, this is quite a packed chapter so let’s try to unpack it a bit.
Right off the bat in the epigraph we get the first mention of Blightwind, which sounds like another of the Ten Deaths. But they are also called the Unmade. The more I read the more convinced I am that the Ten Deaths are the reverse of the ten orders of the Knights Radiant. Then we finally get to a strong lead about the Parshendi. The biggest standout from Shallan reading Gavilar’s account of meeting the Parshendi is: “Where is their music?”
The Parshendi have no memory of their cousins the Parshmen. They seem to be different forms that are changed by something, which now seems even more likely to be the music that the Parshendi referred to. This music seems to imbue or curse them with a connection to Voidbringers. The song of belonging? The song of the Void anyone?
Shallan questioned why Jasnah assigned her to reading about these events given Jasnah had lived them. Jasnah said it was simply to give it “a fresh perspective” and maybe happen upon “details I’ve missed.” Jasnah seems to be preparing Shallan for a lot and after this chapter she’ll have to accelerate that training. Even at the start of the conversations Shallan was willing to admit to herself that whatever Jasnah was studying, “it was something big.”
Yes, Jasnah is on to something big, but it seems like Shallan will provide that breakthrough at some point. And finally Shallan bluntly asks: “What is Urithiru?”
Which Jasnah easily describes: “Urithiru was said to be the center of the Silver Kingdoms, a city that held ten thrones, one for each king.”
Urithiru was abandoned a long time ago, before even the Radiants disbanded. It was interesting to see Shallan theorize that the city was in Natanatan, but Jasnah was quick to cut that out as a possibility as well as the Shattered Plains. But maybe, just maybe Jasnah is not always right. I still feel Urithiru is/was most likely somewhere in or near the Shattered Plains though Jasnah is very clear she does not believe that is where it is despite the Parshendi having advanced weapons. As of right now I can’t see why Jasnah so sure. Many Alethi mention that the Shattered Plains has never been fully explored by them and that they haven’t even seen where the Parshendi stay in the Shattered Plains. What if that is the enclave that the Parshendi house themselves in? In the very remnants of the Silver Kingdoms and their center of power. It feels right that their is an ancient lost city that probably holds a lot of secrets, which means we’ll hopefully get to explore it at some point in the Archive.
Now we move on to the main event: Shadesmar and the symbol heads. The wildest use of Shallan’s drawing skills seems to come out when she loses herself in thought, which is akin to Kaladin losing himself in a kata. She draws feverishly only to draw the attention of the symbol heads in the Conclave.
It seems clear to me that the symbol heads are some form of spren. When Shallan answered the symbol head’s question with a true statement it seemed to activate something giving her the ability to go to Shadesmar and therefore Soulcast. The symbols on the so called symbolheads themselves—and I’ll bet money on this—are the 10 basic glyphs. Don’t we all wish Jasnah had forced a glyph lesson on Shallan? And it definitely seems likely that these are the same creatures that Elhokar sees at night lurking.
The symbolheads seems to like asking questions and observing. The voice Shallan heard in her room in an earlier chapter seemed to be the same voice that activated Shallan in some way. It gave her a connection to Soulcast in a similar way that Syl seeks out honor (she’s been known to buzz Dalinar as well) the symbol heads seem to be attracted to something as well. It seems possibly that they like the honesty in some way, which is connected to the sixth essences, Shash. Shash consists of two attributes with Creative being the first, which embodies Shallan to a good degree with the secondary being Honest. I should also mention Shash’s body focus is blood, which we see in this chapter—another sign that we’re on the right track. I also want to place an early bet that Jasnah will be part of the Palah essence order of the Radiants.
This would technically be our second visit here after Kaladin’s brief glimpse during the highstorm incident with the giant face. With Shallan we get a more coherent view of Shadesmar and get to find out the purpose of all the beads. First off how panicked would you be if all of a sudden you just feel into a sea of beads? As someone who isn’t a good swimmer I would have freaked and go under within seconds.
The sphere Shallan grabbed and held in Shadesmar wanted to do her bidding. To become what she willed. Now did Shallan miraculous chose a sphere that was the essence of a goblet in her room (unlikely to me) or could she have chosen any beads and used it to change the goblet? My bet would be the latter. Shallan by giving the bead the energy it asked for had to use that energy once she returned from Shadesmar and it merely went into one of the first objects at hand.
Like Kaladin, Shallan only brought one infused sphere with her into Shadesmar. Now what could someone who is properly equipped with a lot more Stormlight do while there?
Michael Pye (aka The Mad Hatter) runs The Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf & Book Reviewwhere he shares his views on genre books. He can also be found nattering onTwitter or in search of the perfect piece of bacon. He is currently working on an anthology project and is hoping to find a good publishing home for it soon.