Welcome back to the Words of Radiance reread as we begin Part I: “Alight.” Today’s post covers Chapter One. This is Shallan’s book, and we start with her, a few days after the big confrontation with Jasnah in Kharbranth (The Way of Kings, Chapter 74). As promised, they have taken ship to get to the center of it all, shifting their search for truth to the Shattered Plains.
This reread will contain spoilers for The Way of Kings, Words of Radiance, and any other Cosmere book that become relevant.
Chapter One: Santhid
Point of View: Shallan Davar
Setting: The Wind’s Pleasure, in Longbrow’s Straits
(between the Frostlands and Thaylenah)
Symbology: Shadesmar Icon, Paliah
IN WHICH seafaring is undertaken; Shadesmar is drawn; an odd Pattern is observed; extinct creatures are not extinct; a great idea is argued but abandoned; the Cognitive Realm is explained; spren are discussed; solutions to House Davar’s problems are proposed (ahem!); the big secret of Power is explained; a great idea is retrieved and enacted; and Shallan takes a dip.
Quote of the Week:
“There is a secret you must learn, child,” Jasnah said. “A secret that is even more important than those relating to Shadesmar and spren. Power is an illusion of perception.”
“Don’t mistake me,” Jasnah continued. “Some kinds of power are real— power to command armies, power to Soulcast. These come into play far less often than you would think. On an individual basis, in most interactions, this thing we call power— authority—exists only as it is perceived.
“You say I have wealth. This is true, but you have also seen that I do not often use it. You say I have authority as the sister of a king. I do. And yet, the men of this ship would treat me exactly the same way if I were a beggar who had convinced them I was the sister to a king. In that case, my authority is not a real thing. It is mere vapors—an illusion. I can create that illusion for them, as can you.”
“I’m not convinced, Brightness.”
“I know. If you were, you would be doing it already.”
Does this play into last week’s discussion about Jasnah’s relationships with Gavilar and Shallan as reflections? It is certainly an eye-opener for Shallan, as she begins to consciously deal with the importance of perception, and that it doesn’t necessarily match reality. While I don’t think Jasnah had Lightweaving in mind during this conversation, Sanderson almost certainly did. A large part of this book concerns Shallan’s development, both magical and non-magical, of the illusion of perception.
Stormwatch: The date is Tanatashah 1173 (a.k.a. 1173090605), the day following the highstorm in The Way of Kings, Chapter 75.
Commentary: Although there’s a relaxed feel to this opening chapter, the book starts out at a run. There’s no time lapse between TWoK and WoR; even for Shallan and Jasnah only a day or two have passed. I think it’s the seagoing that makes me feel relaxed in the beginning, because no matter how much the ship is making good time, rushing them to where they want to go, they have very little to do until they arrive. The journey gives them time to study and prepare, but all they have to work with is the books and notes they brought along. It’s a slower pace.
The chapter begins with Shallan drawing Shadesmar from her memories, with some frustration that her drawing doesn’t do it justice. This is, to my surprise, followed in a few pages by a whole lot more revelation about Shadesmar than we’ve had to date. All things exist in the Cognitive Realm in some form, just as all things exist in the Physical Realm. The cognitive part of a person, the unconscious self, experiences the world in the Cognitive Realm, making intuitive leaps of logic, creating art, and so on. To quote Jasnah again,
“There is an entire world, Shallan,” Jasnah said, “of which our minds skim but the surface. A world of deep, profound thought. A world created by deep, profound thoughts. When you see Shadesmar, you enter those depths. It is an alien place to us in some ways, but at the same time we formed it. With some help.”
Oddly, given all this explanation, I’m still with Shallan—“That made almost no sense whatsoever to me.” Still, glimmers of understanding are an improvement!
The chapter closes with the delightful scene, plausible or not, where Shallan uses her new understanding of power to make Tozbek stop the ship and let her look at the santhid. I couldn’t quite convince myself that Tozbek would really change his attitude so quickly, but I loved it in context anyway. (I wonder if Pattern took a hand.) In any case, I giggled my way through Shallan having to fight with her dress—it’s such a Shallan thing, to not think it quite all the way through the process—and I melted when she put her head under the water and forgot about all such mundane things as she saw this wonderful creature in its natural setting. More on that in a minute.
What about the Part One title, “Alight.” According to the dictionary, there are two distinct senses in which this word is used: to land, or step down, or get off; or, to burn or illuminate. I ought to have something profound to say, but I don’t. Clearly there are later references to burning, as when the assassins come and when the stick refuses to burn. Could it also refer to Shallan’s beginning to come alight as a Radiant, as her relationship with Pattern develops? Could it, in the first sense, be a reference to finding her purpose? Ideas, please!
Sprenspotting: Oh, so much! In the extant Catalogue, windspren and gloryspren were already noted. There are two exciting new spren in this chapter, as well as more explanation of spren than I expected to see for several books yet.
There is the “group of strange spren shaped like arrows” which move through the water around the santhid. Are these in some way similar to the spren around the chasmfiends, enabling the santhid’s great size or movement?
And… Pattern! Did you realize we actually saw Pattern in the fifth paragraph of the first “real-time” chapter? The twenty-third line of the chapter? It hadn’t quite registered before, that he shows up so soon—and that he scares the living daylights out of Shallan right off the bat. Heh.
And finally, Yay! Yippee! Explanations of spren!! By now it’s almost “old news,” but when I first read this, I was completely blown away. I expected glimpses and hints for another book or two before we got this much information! And… then I realize that just as many new questions are raised as answered. SANDERSOOOOOOON!!!!
Still. Spren are living ideas, elements of the Cognitive Realm that have leaked into the physical world, concepts that have gained sentience. They are
“wild in their variety. Some are as clever as humans and create cities. Others are like fish and simply swim in the currents.”
They do not trust humans, because of the ancient betrayal, which they won’t discuss but which, with later information, we can identify as the Recreance. How, why, or what it was, we still don’t know—but this is our first clear indication that the Radiants betrayed, not primarily mankind, but the spren. Looking back, it’s hinted in Dalinar’s Feverstone Keep vision: he dashes out among the abandoned Blades and is struck with “a sense of immense tragedy, of pain and betrayal.” Now we can see that it was the spren who were in pain and being betrayed, though we didn’t know enough about Shardblades to make that connection at the time.
Finally, there’s this:
“The old ways are returning, and I don’t see it as a hopeful sign. It’s an act of self-preservation. The spren sense impending danger, and so they return to us.”
All Creatures Shelled and Feathered: Three new creatures show up here: redwaters and khornaks, both of which are clearly hazardous to humans, and… the santhid. Of the first two, we’re given nothing more, but the name “redwater” gives me the shudders.
The santhid, though… the santhid is beautiful, in a knotted-grey-blue-mass sort of way. It’s ponderous, and majestic, and alien. And it looks right at Shallan and sees her. This will be Significant.
Ars Mechanica: It is a minor but interesting detail, that Navani is unsurprised by Jasnah asking about Shallan’s broken Soulcaster; furthermore, she seems to think it may well be fairly easy to fix. Finicky things, fabrials, but awfully handy.
Heraldic Symbolism: Paliah represents the divine attributes of Learned and Giving; I assume she shows up on this chapter because of the learning that goes on. Perhaps, as a secondary note, Paliah represents Jasnah teaching (giving learning to?) Shallan, as well as giving her solutions to some of her more distracting problems.
Shipping Wars: Adolin! Adolin! But why not Renarin?
I loved everything about Jasnah’s arrangements for Shallan’s betrothal. Not that I’m in the habit of thinking that arranged marriages are the best way to go, but Shallan herself points out her lack of wisdom wrt romantic relationships. I’m not sure what I like best: the idea, Jasnah’s hesitation about Shallan’s anticipated reaction, Shallan’s reaction itself, or Jasnah’s reaction to Shallan’s reaction!
There’s real genius here: marry Adolin to a proto-Radiant, settle him down, and solve much of Shallan’s family’s issues with a high alliance. Jasnah thinks of it with a certain amount of loathing, even though it was her own idea; her view of marriage is… not entirely positive, it seems. She thinks of it as restrictive, and as being beholden to a man—despite the fact that her mother shows no signs of being a terribly subservient sort of woman. Is it because of the flaws in Gavilar’s and Navani’s marriage, or because she is too strong a personality herself to seriously wish to allow anything in her life that she doesn’t control?
Shallan, on the other hand, doesn’t have a problem with it, and immediately sees all the advantages—including some that Jasnah doesn’t. She always expected to have her father arrange her marriage, and despite the problems of her home life, she doesn’t see marriage as either restrictive or an interruption to her beloved scholarship. She’s young, relatively poor, and a bit romantic, so I suppose the being betrothed to the world’s most eligible, young, handsome, wealthy, noble bachelor would be more appealing to her than to Jasnah-the-king’s-sister.
Of course, she raises a good point, and one that we talked about before WoR came out—why not Renarin? Jasnah answers the question of “what do I have to offer?” but she never responds to the question about Renarin.
Well, I’m firmly on the Shallan-Adolin ship, so I’m happy.
Just Sayin’: I find delight in noticing the Roshar-specific figures of speech, so I’m adding a recurring unit. Today’s phrase comes from Shallan: “Why on the winds would I be offended?” Where we might say “Why on earth…?” (or variants with more shock value but less meaning), the natural form for storm-swept Roshar is “Why on the winds…?” Just sayin’.
“A causal—a conditional betrothal, in Vorin terminology.” I’m putting this in for anyone who hasn’t caught it yet. “Causal” is not a typo for “casual”. It’s the deliberate choice of an unusual word; I don’t know what was behind Brandon’s etymology here, but it’s not a misspelling. What does it “cause”? Well, in Shallan’s case, it causes a great deal of relief!
Okay, that’s more than enough out of me. See you in the comments!
Alice Arneson is a long-time Tor.com commenter and Sanderson beta-reader. She has been a fantasy lover since the age of eight, when her third-grade teacher loaned her his copy of The Hobbit. (Thanks, Mr. Hamilton!)