Welcome back to The Way of Kings reread here on Tor.com. This week’s post is brought to you by jam. Do you like jam? Do you have a favorite jam? Do you know what that preference says about you? Are you ready to accept the message of jam into your life?
Yeah, Kabsal is back, and he’s just got a whole bunch of crazy to unload on us, so buckle down and get ready for Chapter 33.
Chapter 33: Cymatics
Point of View: Shallan
What Happens: Shallan walks through the Palanaeum, admiring its size and beauty, and the amazing quantity of emerald broams that light it. She is accompanied by her parshman servant, who lights the way for her and carries a basket of her books. Shallan longs for a precious hour of free time, granted to her by Jasnah to pursue her own studies. She has seen how lacking the books in the Palanaeum are; few are written by authors with proficiency in words, illustrations, and science. She wants to fill this absence with her own work.
Shallan reminds herself again that she isn’t in Kharbranth to become a great scholar. Focusing on the plan to steal Jasnah’s soulcaster is growing more difficult for Shallan, but she’s become Jasnah’s bathing attendant.
Shallan repairs to a stone chamber full of books, dismissing her parshman attendant, then dives into the stacks. She looks through her sketches of Jasnah Soulcasting and compares the image of Jasnah’s Soulcaster with the mended but useless Soulcaster she brought from home—she thinks about how Soulcasters work and how she doesn’t know how to use one herself.
She’s interrupted by a light shining through nearby bookcases, originating from a lantern carried by an old female ardent. The old woman passes without noticing Shallan, but the younger woman is panicked nevertheless, and returns to the task Jasnah set her to.
Jasnah sent her to retrieve and read “Dialogues, a famous historical work on political theory.” But this room also contains the text Jasnah was reading when Taravangian visited them, Shadows Remembered. Shallan’s curiosity overcomes her diligence and she pulls the book from the shelf, paging through it, only to discover that it’s nothing more than a collection of tales for children. The first one she reads discusses Voidbringers. This is confusing to say the least; Jasnah is a serious Veristitalian scholar, who “constructed the truth of what happened in the past.” Why was she reading children’s horror stories?
Shallan returns to the alcove to find that, where she expected Jasnah to be waiting, there was instead Kabsal. The young ardent is reading an art book, and only notices Shallan when she greets him. He has brought bread and jam, Shallan’s favorite foods, and the two share jam and banter about a jam-based personality test he recently came across. Yeah, really. Kabsal’s status as an ardent means he can eat sweet, feminine food, and that Shallan feels safe spending time with him practically unchaperoned. It doesn’t, however, mean that she respects his jam-inspired opinions about her personality.
Shallan has been growing fond of Kabsal, “thinking of him in ways that would better have been avoided.” He’s far from her typical conception of an ardent, young, vital, and handsome. As they keep talking, she lightly complains about the tedium of her studies, but when he seems concerned she emphasizes that Jasnah is in fact a very kind and inspiring mistress.
This doesn’t reassure Kabsal all that much. He is concerned for her soul; other wards who apprenticed under Jasnah have been led astray by her heretical ways. He questions her choice of Devotary, suggesting that she might switch to his own, before launching into the “proof” of the Almighty that he’d originally hoped to show Jasnah. His proof is based on the shapes of the major cities of Roshar—Kholinar, Vedenar, Akinah, and Thaylen City. Their underlying patterns are perfectly symmetrical, which makes them holy to Vorinism. Shallan questions this as proof; the wind and the water can produce symmetry, and it’s totally possible that the designers of these cities sought out symmetrical places to build and then designed their cities to be holy on their own.
Kabsal is prepared with a response. He pours sand onto a sheet of metal and then draws a bow across it, producing a pure pitch and vibrating the sand into patterns. He plays four notes, creating four patterns that perfectly match the plans for the cities. He calls this process “cymatics. The study of the patterns that sounds make when interacting with a physical medium.” The legends tell that both language and the alphabet were given to Roshar by the Dawnsingers, a holy gift, and that both are symmetrical.
He finishes his lesson just in time; Jasnah has arrived. She asks him if he can produce a pattern for Urithiru as well, and when Kabsal protests that Urithiru is a fable, she says that “one would think that your type would be used to believing in fables.” Kabsal flees.
Shallan turns on Jasnah, pointing out how rude that was, but Jasnah isn’t concerned. She is convinced that Kabsal already has a fixed opinion of her, and in any case isn’t interested in being civil towards the ardent who’s trying to turn Shallan against her. She asks Shallan if he’s asked her to steal her Soulcaster yet.
Shallan is shocked, thinking she’s been found out, but recalls herself in time. She says he didn’t ask her to do that, but Jasnah is sure he will in time.
Quote of the Chapter:
There were ardents and servants to fetch volumes, of course, but Jasnah thought it important for Shallan to practice doing it herself. Apparently the Kharbranthian filing system was now standard for many of Roshar’s libraries and archives.
I basically just want to take this opportunity to point out that, hey, academia has advanced far enough on Roshar that they’re implementing a standardized categorization system for books. That’s pretty damn advanced, especially in contrast to the apprenticeship system that still seems to be the dominant form of training new scholars.
The epigraphs remain interesting and ominous:
“They changed, even as we fought them. Like shadows they were, that can transform as the flame dances. Never underestimate them because of what you first see.”
Brandon Sanderson has read a passage from Words of Radiance that illuminates this particular epigraph and makes it particularly interesting. This could be describing the strange and terrible smoky monsters that Dalinar battled in one of his visions, but I think the reading gives us ample reason to suspect otherwise.
Isn’t it awesome that the city of Kharbranth has vested almost its entire treasury in the Palanaeum? Taravangian uses his city as a vertically-integrated charitable (cough cough) endeavor, with the library as his primary way of funding his operations, and as part of that he has literally placed all his spheres in that basket. Not for this city a currency kept uselessly in huge vaults! We will use our spheres to light the path to knowledge. It brings a tear to your eye.
Shallan is settling in to the drudgery of research and scholarship. Sorry kid, not every day can be sketching skyeels and finding new and exciting plants to describe. In fact, it doesn’t seem like any day can be that. Despite the tedium of her work, she’s growing to love the idea of herself as a scholar more and more, which speaks well of her future in the field. If she had a future, that is.
One of the sad casualties of this series’ epic pacing, I’m sure, will be the fact that even after Shallan’s familial commitments are tied up she won’t be able to become an established scholar in her own right. Saving the world makes it so hard to maintain an active publication schedule. Plus, if there is a global revolution or world-shaking invasion or something like that, the academic apparatus will probably be disrupted. Maybe she’ll get her happy ending, though, with plenty of time to travel the world and draw and describe and science every available plant and animal. Oh, pretty dreams.
Kabsal’s idea of proof is… well, the information being provided is at least fascinating. Let’s accept that these rock formations are indeed identical to the patterns created when sound is passed through a medium. Can we take this to mean that, at some point, a single, pure, and also extremely powerful note smashed into the rocks where Kholinar came to be built? Can we imagine a different reason for this pattern to exist? Maybe this means there were some people who could reshape stone through sound, in the ancient past. I’m totally fine with calling such ancient magic-users “Dawnsingers!” Possibly this power was even granted by the Almighty.
That being said, the vigor and zeal with which Kabsal presents this evidence is not compelling in the least. He has found evidence to corroborate his biases, and expects it to convince skeptics who are used to rigorous application of evidence and proof. Kabsal seems to be an expert in magical thinking. He also believes in jam. He believes in jam so much. Palates of Personality is just… it’s not good. It’s not a good title, and it’s not good thinking. Kabsal is clearly susceptible to the Forer effect. I don’t blame Jasnah at all for chasing him off.
(P.S. I was tempted to make a tinfoil hat joke, then I remembered that, in Alloy of Law, it’s established that tinfoil actually does block emotional allmoancy. SANDERSON!!!)
There are two interesting things about Shadows Remembered that I want to point out. First, at one point Sanderson wanted to use in-universe book names for more of his Stormlight Archive books. I’m surprised Shadows Remembered wasn’t in contention to be the title of Words of Radiance. Second, apparently this book contains children’s tales for darkeyed kids, specifically. That’s fascinating, because as I may have pointed out before, Vorin practice is much more rigidly formalized at the upper echelons of society. Folk knowledge and superstitions proliferate among the lower classes. Shallan can be seen instinctively disregarding Shadows Remembered because it contains lower-class knowledge, but I bet that if you were looking for information about the distant past that had been preserved through legend and myth, darkeyes culture would be a better place to search than lighteyes culture.
That’s it for this week. A storm is brewing on the horizon, though. Check back next week to see it strike.