Welcome back to Tor.com’s reread of The Way of Kings. This week saw a ton of news in our ongoing coverage of the build-up to the release of Words of Radiance. We previewed an entire interlude chapter, introducing a new character and a whole new kind of Surgebinding. What’s more, the completed manuscript of Words of Radiance came in, and the weight of that 2000 page volume nearly broke my hands.
I’m all a-flutter about the next volume, but the reread calls, anchoring me firmly in the present. Thankfully, the chapter I’m going to cover today is about Shallan, the hero of Words of Radiance. Chapter 48 features a hospitalized Shallan, an apologetic Jasnah, and the deadly return of the jam menace.
Small scheduling note: our plan for the reread during the holidays is for Michael to write next week’s post, and for my next post to be delayed until January 2nd.
Chapter 48: Strawberry
Point of View: Shallan
What Happens: Suspected by Taravangian’s doctors of being at risk of suicide, Shallan sits in a hospital bed under orders not to stress herself. Her arm is in pain from where she cut it to cover up the signs of accidental Soulcasting. She’s sketching to pass the time and distract herself from her own embarrassment. All of her sketches have shown the symbolheads lurking at the corners. She is currently working on a sketch of the strange place she found herself when she Soulcast.
Although no one seems to have found the Soulcaster in her safepouch, and Jasnah hasn’t accused her of Soulcasting, Shallan thinks it unlikely that she’ll be able to stay on as her ward. Her supposed suicide is too perfect an excuse not to make use of. She can learn how to properly use the Soulcaster on her trip home. The details of that process still mystify her.
She is visited by King Taravangian, who expresses deep regret that she had to be a guest in his hospital. She converses pleasantly with him, and asks to be released, but he says that he can’t do that while his surgeons and nurses still think her at risk of self-harm. He suggests that she suspend her training when she recovers, and she agrees, saying she’s been missing her home anyway.
Five minutes after he leaves, Jasnah enters. She actually apologizes for the strictness of her tutelage. Jasnah clearly blames herself for her ward’s supposed mental breakdown. To Shallan’s great surprise, Jasnah has been waiting outside her hospital room ever since the incident. Jasnah gives Shallan a gift: a tome called The Book of Endless Pages. It is a blank text that the Devotary of Sincerity uses as their holy document, symbolizing their eternal and indefatigable quest for more answers. She thinks it is a fine book for Shallan, who seeks truth while holding to her faith.
Shallan is surprised to receive such a religious present from her heretical mentor, but Jasnah claims that there are wise men to be found in every religion, and fools in all walks of life. Shallan realizes abruptly that Kabsal was wrong about the purpose of Jasnah’s research; she wasn’t trying to prove Vorinism false. But then, why was she researching Voidbringers?
Kabsal enters, bearing bread and strawberry jam. Jasnah shames him, saying she would have thought he would “allow Shallan a respite,” given that his “attentions drove her to despair.” Shallan promises that it wasn’t his fault. He offers her the bread and jam, and she comments that she’s never heard of strawberries. Like all food from Shinovar, it’s very rare. Jasnah sticks her hand in the jam and sniffs it, even though she doesn’t like jam.
Kabsal again suggests they have some bread, suggesting that he brought it as a kind of apology for his forwardness. She jokes about the concept: “I’m sorry I drove you to suicide. Here’s some bread.” But she relents, and accepts some bread, giving a chunk to Kabsal and a chunk to Jasnah. Jasnah at first refuses, then relents under Shallan’s insistence, although she treats it as if it’s disgusting. It tastes fine to Shallan.
Kabsal suggests again that Shallan have it with jam, since strawberry jam is so rare. He grows increasingly insistent, but when she opens the jar and smells it the jam is disgusting, smelling like “vinegar and slime.” Kabsal is alarmed, and forces down some of the jam himself before stumbling from the room and falling to the floor.
Shallan begins to feel dizzy. She stands, then falls. Jasnah cries out that Shallan has been poisoned, shouting for a garnet so that she can Soulcast the poison away. Shallan, of course, knows that Jasnah’s Soulcaster is a fake, and asks her to look in her safepouch. Jasnah opens it and gasps.
Shallan has almost faded away when something happens to her: “A flash of warmth burned through Shallan, something inside her skin, as if she had been dumped into a steaming hot cauldron.” She spasms, and blacks out.
Quote of the Chapter:
“I am sorry, Shallan Davar. In overworking you, I may have done the world a disservice and stolen from it one of the great scholars of the rising generation.”
Awwwwwwwwwwwwwww! Jasnah and Shallan are the best. The very, very best. Shallan has gotten in Jasnah’s head, somehow finding all the cracks in her emotional armor.
Bread! I trusted you!
Kabsal has pulled the trigger on his long-running scheme, and it proved most insidious. In the process, he ruined what could have been a very helpful reconciliation of the major influences of faith and scholarship in Shallan’s mind. She and her two favorite people in Kharbranth, putting aside their differences and breaking bread together, all spoiled by the fact that one of her favorite people turned out to be an evil assassin.
Jasnah’s one-sided lack of interest in Vorinism is in great form this chapter. I love how dismissive she is of the idea of trying to prove to the church that their religion is fake. I love even more how she’s finally willing to display vulnerability to her ward. Jasnah is a brave woman, who takes great risks, accepting the potential consequences. She doesn’t seem to be great at coping with unintended collateral damage, however. The amount to which she unbends when seeing her ward in pain, offering her a holy text as a present and opening into an open discussion of faith in nearly positive tones, is a wonder to behold.
Shallan, meanwhile, is still indecisive about the shape she wants her life to take. She has the opportunity to go home and fix her family’s problems, but still doesn’t want to hurt her mentor. She doesn’t want to set aside the opportunity to be a scholar. In a way, this is her naïveté. Shallan doesn’t want to disappoint or hurt anyone, and it makes it hard for her to make productive choices. But at the root of her problem is the fact that scholarship is clearly Shallan’s perfect profession.
The social perception of Shallan as a woman who attempted suicide is a heavy presence throughout this chapter. You can see the gears turning in the minds of every single character who comes to see her. With Jasnah this expressed itself openly, but with Taravangian the displays are subtler. Throughout his discussion of the hospitals he maligns his life work, saying that he would prefer no one have to use them, and discredits the work of scholarship. Consider how he describes the hospitals: “It’s all paid for by the Panalaeum, you know. In a way, even the most obscure and useless record is helping heal the sick.”
Shallan has little choice but to inhabit that perception, and it weighs heavy on her. I think especially because she sees in this deceit the first tastes of her future guilt, over a lifetime knowing that she cheated Jasnah out of her precious Soulcaster.
That’s it from me for this year! I’ll see all of you in the comments, and in 2014.