Shallan graces us with her presence with two chapters this week which is really just one long one with barely a breath between them. I’m only just now realizing how close in time many of Shallan’s chapters are to each other while Kaladin’s have always felt more distant from one another. This changes somewhat as the story progresses with longer gaps, but it does make Shallan’s storyline at least feel a bit quicker to start, while Kaladin’s drags at times towards the beginning. A few exciting things happen in these chapters that were definitely very subtly done, but they show how deeply Sanderson has thought about every little thing in this world. There is also something that is not so subtly done. Spoilers abound and all that.
Chapter 7: Anything Reasonable
Setting: The Palanaeum, Kharbranth
Point(s) of View: Shallan
Shallan laments that her family needs to regain the ability to Soulcast and the only way to do so is to gain access to Jasnah’s fabrial. Shallan is trying to gain an audience with Jasnah, who is currently inside the Palanaeum after having rescued Taravangian’s granddaughter. Shallan is denied entrance to the Palanaeum itself due to the high admittance fee, but requests to wait inside Jasnah’s reading alcove, which is outside of the collection areas.
To relax, Shallan immerses herself in drawing in her notebook. Afterwards she decides to write a letter to Jasnah using as much logic as she can to again argue for wardship. Soon after finishing the letter Shallan is joined by Brother Kabsal, who is an ardent in the Vorin Church. He is impressed by her illustrations and after some friendly discussion about Shallan’s homeland, Jah Keved, he helps lacquer her drawings to preserve them. Before he leaves Shallan realizes that he has mistaken her for part of Jasnah’s coterie. After explaining the error to Kabsal he leaves, asking her to tell Jasnah of his wish to have an audience with her.
Soon after. Shallan gathers her things to leave and is seen by Jasnah, who looks none to pleased by Shallan’s presence in her alcove.
Quote of the Chapter:
I’m pulling out two this week because they’re pretty important.
It still felt odd to her that she been the one to take charge after… After the incident… After…
Memories attacked her. Nan Balat bruised, his coat torn. A long, silvery sword in her hand, sharp enough to cut stone as if they were water.
So Shallan’s presumed Shardblade is not even hinted at but actually shown this early on. At this point if it were your first read this wasn’t necessarily a dead giveaway, but what with that mention of it being sharp enough to cut stone as if they were water it leaves little doubt. The question now is how did Shallan receive the blade? Did she get it from her father or did she somehow materialize it from Shadesmar perhaps?
Shallan had never known enough to be suspicious of that wealth’s origins. Every time the family had exhausted one of its quarries, her father had gone out with his surveyor and discovered a new one. Only after interrogating the surveyor had Shallan and her brothers discovered the truth: Her father, using his forbidden Soulcaster, had been creating new deposits at a careful rate. Not enough to be suspicious. Just enough to give him the money he needed to further his political goals.
Nobody knew where he’d gotten the fabrial, which she now carried in her safepounch. It was unusable, damaged on the same disastrous evening that her father died.
Shallan finally comes out with what her father was up to, at least in regards to her broken Soulcaster. I can’t wait for Words of Radiance so that we can finally get Shallan’s full back-story, as it should fill in most of the events that lead to her father’s death. But why was her father just creating marble? Why not gold? Maybe that would have been too conspicuous if his region wasn’t known for having gold, but they had already been mining marble for generations. And what are were his political goals? It is said time and again how unpopular her father was, so he probably needed more money than usual to grease whatever wheels he was after.
Again, the epigraph seems to support the Voidbringers being related to the Parshendi, “They bring the darkness when they come, and so all you can see is that their skin is aflame.” Parshendi they always have red skin mixed with white or black. We shall see, but there do seem to be a lot of mounting red herrings pointing to them.
We get to explore the Veil portion of the Palanaeum. The Palanaeum always intrigued me. Maybe it is just my fascination with books and libraries, but it is surely a very special and ancient place. At one point it is mentioned that the walls of the Palanaeum, including the area known as the Veil, have been there since before the founding Kharbranth and may have been cast by the Dawnsingers themselves, which places it in—if not before—the era of the Heralds. So it is very old indeed, and most likely an official Dawncity.
It seems likely that, due to the large collection of over 700,000 books, Taravangian may have access to ancient knowledge about past Desolations and the impending one. Whether he is trying to hasten or inhibit its approach is another ball of wax.
Also of interest is the name Palanaeum itself, which would seem to suggest a root name connection to the number 5 and essence Palah. Palah is also one of only a couple essence numbers that is connected to a not-yet-officially-named Herald. For 5 we’ll just call them Palah for now. The Palah essence is also associated in the Ars Arcanum with learning and giving, so again that seems to support the Palanaeum being connected to Palah in some way as it is a place of learning and giving of knowledge. Even if access to that knowledge now costs 1,000 sapphire broams.
This chapter we get to learn a bit more about what Shallan is capable of and what has driven her to Jasnah. Shallan all too briefly explains how her father kept the family wealthy in the years leading up to his demise by Soulcasting marble in local mines he owned. Her father had apparently been up to something and is connected with a secret group who we’ll get into later.
Shallan’s drawings seem almost magical. She is able to pull the essence from people, from the world and imbue it into her art. Is this a natural ability of all those who can naturally Soulcast? Or does this have to do with the second ability of whatever Knights Radiant group she may eventually be part of? The Lightweavers are known to use Soulcasting, but there is always a second ability shared in each group and Shallan’s illustrating skill may be evidence of it. Her art seems to be supernaturally good, as everyone comments on it. The manner in which her drawing of Kharbranth is described as “she had copied her Memory onto the page,” which is very telling. Note that the M in Memory and Memories is capitalized in the text a few times in this chapter, which does show it was given importance. Further, it states “When she collected Memory of a person, she was snipping free a bud of their soul, and she cultivated and grew it on the page.” What else could this power enable Shallan to do? Creationspren are soon seen as well once she gets deep into drawing. Later in the chapter Shallan also takes a “Memory” of Kabsal so that she can later sketch him.
Note it also says Creationspren have a silvery light. This might be a stretch, but the sword Shallan mentions earlier is described as silvery as well. Is this another connection to her possible Knights Radiant group? Some other Shardblades are described as blue, red, or even flamelike, but that’s not clear whether in just form or form and color. But there does seem to be some sort of correspondence of color for each Knights Radiant group.
Also, in an earlier post I discussed the lack of exploration about what would happen were one to touch a spren, but on this I was wrong as was rightly pointed out in the comments. In this chapter Shallan mentions she ignored spren when she was drawing. “They weren’t substantial—if she moved her arm through one, its figure would smear like scattered sand, then re-form. She never felt a thing when touching one.” So spren can be affected by people, but outside of Syl none seem to affect people directly very much.
Another interesting passage came up when Shallan began drawing Jasnah:
Shallan was back in that hallway again, watching something that should not be: a heretic wielding one of the most sacred powers in all the world. The power of change itself, the power by which the Almighty had created Roshar. Elithanathile. He who transforms.
So the creator god—or at least one of the creator gods—of Roshar is given a name: Elithanathile. That seems like a very Latinized or archaic form of the god’s name though. Tanavast is the name of the Shard holder of Honor, and you can kind of pull part of that out of Elithanathile with the “thana” part, but this could be more evidence of knowledge and names being changed over time.
Kabsal seems like so much more of a sleaze looking back. He’s putting on a classic “nice guy act,” but I could just be projecting how I saw him in the end. The question remains whether his intentions from the beginning were merely to gain an audience with Jasnah or gain knowledge of Jasnah through some intermediary such as Shallan. Kabsal mentions visiting Shallan’s homeland of Jah Keved on two occasions, which does move in sync with what we know about Shallan’s father having connections to the Ghostbloods since Kabsal is part of them as well. I believe this is also the first connection to the web of the Ghostbloods, though their mission still is a mystery. Of the few people we’ve heard of connected to the Ghostbloods the two prime examples of Shallan’s father and Kabsal certainly don’t put them in a good light. One a poisoner and the other a violent man who beat his children and was known for his temper. If those are the envoys they employ this is obviously a group not to get on the bad side of. I also have a feeling that the Ghostbloods might have been founded by the Herald Shalash. Firstly, her essence has to do with blood. Secondly, there are a few reference to her or someone who seems to be her defacing statues of Shalash, and hers was the statue missing in Gavilar’s castle at the beginning of the Prologue. Now let’s say she started the Ghostbloods; some would think that would put them on the side of honor, but what if all the Heralds aren’t on the same page after thousands of years and some want the Last Desolation to happen?
Chapter 8: Nearer the Flame
Setting: Kharbranth in the Palanaeum and the city proper
Point(s) of View: Shallan
Shallan is confronted by Jasnah for intruding into her reading alcove uninvited. Jasnah sends Shallan away. As Shallan tries to compose herself in the hallway she is summoned back in by one of Jasnah’s helpers. Jasnah apologizes to Shallan for being so brusque with her and motions to the spheres Shallan left, which Shallan had forgotten about. Shallan mentions Brother Kabsal’s visit to Jasnah.
Shallan then asks Jasnah about the letter she left, which Jasnah had not seen. Jasnah finally reads the letter Shallan wrote to her to make her case for being taken on as a ward. Jasnah comments that Shallan being self-taught is “remarkable” all on its own, and if Shallan were to study more about history and philosophy Jasnah would most likely take her on as a ward, but at a later date.
Shallan realizes that while this is good news she does not have the months to study and impress Jasnah again as her family is in need now. Shallan leaves the Palanaeum and the Conclave to find Yalb, who had waited for her outside longer than expected. Yalb had been gambling with members of the city guard while he waited and easily winning by cheating. Shallan is preparing to leave Kharbranth to return home. She tells Yalb she tried twice to convince Jasnah. Yalb counters that you must always try three times for something you truly desire. Shallan takes this to heart and comes up with a plan. Yalb finds a bookstore for her at her request. She aims to purchase the books Jasnah mentioned earlier. The bookstore merchant acts condescending to Shallan and she makes it known she isn’t pleased. After Shallan is presented with many books she makes her selections but is taken aback by the cost. Yalb soon enters the store and pretends to be an assistant from a rival bookstore and helps get the costs down for the book considerably, which helps Shallan with her quickly dwindling funds. Shallan meets with Yalb down the street from the bookshop and as thanks gives him the drawing she did of him and also takes a Memory of him now so that she can make another of him to add to her collection.
Shallan returns to the Conclave and the Veil specifically with hopes to immerse herself in the words and try to impress Jasnah before she leaves Kharbranth. She asks for a reading alcove near Jasnah’s so that she can begin studying and hopefully keep on eye on Jasnah. Jasnah soon after visits Shallan telling her she bribed the servants to tell her if she returned. Jasnah guesses at Shallan’s plans and also for the reasons she wants to be her ward. Jasnah believes Shallan wants to become her ward so that she can marry well and help protect her family’s position.
Jasnah looks through Shallan’s belongings and comes across Shallan’s drawings which seem to impress Jasnah. Jasnah appreciates the fact that Shallan goes to the trouble to work on sketches of the plants and animals of Roshar independently and with such detail, saying “You pursue scholarship in your free time for its own sake. It is perhaps the best argument you could make on your own behalf.” And with that Jasnah offers Shallan a room at the conclave and to begin assisting her with her research when Shallan isn’t studying. Shallan feels relief. Yet this is just the first step to her plan to help her family.
Quote of the Chapter:
“So that’s it? You’re going to give up?”
“I did try to persuade her,” Shallan said, blushing. “I went to her a second time, and she rejected me again.”
“Two times, eh? In cards, you always got to try a third hand. It wins the most often.”
“But that’s not really true. The laws of probability and statistics—“
“Don’t know much blustering math,” Yalb said, folding his arms. “But I do know the Passions. You win when you need it most, you see.”
The Passions. Pagan superstition. Of course, Jasnah had referred to glyphwards as superstition too, so perhaps it all came down to perspective.
Try a third time… Shallan shivered to consider Jasnah’s wrath if Shallan bothered her yet again.
An idea sparked in Shallan’s head.
If it were not for Yalb’s intervention, Shallan would have given up on becoming Jasnah’s ward and we’d have a much less interesting story for it. I wish Shallan would have found some way to keep Yalb, my favorite Thaylen, around, perhaps as her personal servant. She certainly could have used the help to make her way in the city later on. Plus, I’m sure it would have lead to a lot of other interesting exchanges between the two.
“The Passions” (note the capital P) seems to mean in your hour of greatest need you’ll win, and Shallan’s need to become a ward is certainly of importance to her and her family. Whether they deserve that saving is still to be determined. Also, this is another mention of glyphwards, which someone like Jasnah has treated as nonsense, but I do wonder if they contain some power, especially if connected to Stormlight. Symbols do seem to have some sort of importance in this world as we will see some Shardplate and Shardblades with glyphs on them.
It is amazing to think that the first four chapters from Shallan’s point of view all occurred in the same day. A very important day in her life, though. This is quite different from Kaladin’s, which are spaced days apart at least. In the end it is Shallan’s hobby of drawing that saves her from going home and leads to her being accepted by Jasnah, along with her tenacity and a nudge from Yalb at just the right moment. Shallan’s sword is again alluded to as being “ten heartbeats away,” which if you weren’t convinced from the last chapter that is some sort of Shardblade this again confirms it.
Shallan’s horrified reaction to Yalb’s gambling antics is now even more surprising, but shows how much she is changing. A proper lady in this society does not think well of swindling a few city guards, but is her stealing Jasnah’s Soulcaster any less wicked than Yalb winning a few spheres? Or do the ends justify the means for her? Shallan is becoming her own little philosophical conundrum.
The society does have some unusual customs, such as women wearing a glove on one hand—their safehand. Then there is the custom where most men cannot read and think it odd if they could, while women are there to be the scholars and readers. But in an odd way this sets men and women up as a team, as demonstrated by the booksellers. The woman handles the reading and finding books while the man negotiates the sales. Women have a large role in government while the men of the Alethi are more interested in the physical acts and strategy or war. As we’ll later see, the Parshendi fight in pairs of a man and a woman. There is a duality to this world. Knights Radiant versus the Voidbringers. Good versus Evil. Each group of Knights Radiant seems to have two types of abilities. Also, there are an equal number of male and female Heralds. There is balance in the world.
What could the “strange collection of maps” from Jah Keved be that Shallan is referring to? Could the maps be the ones of the Shadesmar, or perhaps maps of the old divisions of Roshar seen in the end papers? Shallan already admitted in the bookshop scene that she never knew there were five Vorin Kingdoms as there have been four Kingdoms for hundreds of years. Also, in the bookstore scene Shallan refers to the Shinovar as a place “where people lived in mud and worshipped rocks.” She doesn’t seem to think this in a nice way, and most Alethi seem to think them savages for living in an area where you can grow food such as strawberries. And why do they worship rocks? Is it just the veneration of nature? Or do rocks contain something else?
There is also a mention of Shallan’s brother Helaran who went missing a year ago on some mission related to her father’s work and is presumed dead. I think it is a bit early to presume anyone who died off page dead, so expect him to crop up—that is if he hasn’t already under some other name.
It is little cultural things like the practice of writing down a prayer and then burning it that really help to immerse yourself in the world. But what does burning have to do with having your prayer answered? Is that how the Vorin see their prayers reaching the almighty?
Nomon, the middle moon is mentioned. And this is the first time—I believe—we’re told this world has 3 moons orbiting. The moons are interesting in that each has a different color and one is even green, which begs the question; is their life on any of the moons? Or do they have something to do with Stormlight energy?
Shallan is now in with Jasnah, and will continue to fall deeper into her Veristitalian rabbit hole.
Next week we’ll cover two back-to-back Kaladin chapters.
Michael Pye (aka The Mad Hatter) runs The Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf & Book Review where he shares his views on genre books. He can also be found nattering on Twitter 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.