Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! Last week we got some interesting perspectives on human activity from a spren viewpoint, and ended in screams, shouts, and smoke. This week, we’ll find out what all the shouting was about and witness… well… Oh, nothing could go wrong here, could it? No tragedies, or anything. Not here.
This reread will contain spoilers for The Way of Kings, Words of Radiance, and any other Cosmere books that become relevant. Most of those will be in the comments, though. At least this week.
Chapter 7: Open Flame
Point of View: Shallan
Setting: Aboard the Wind’s Pleasure,
off the coast of the Frostlands near the Shallow Crypts
Symbology: Shadesmar Icon, Chanarach
IN WHICH screams, shouts, and smoke abound; assassins are revealed; Jasnah is stabbed through the heart; Shallan performs an impressive Modified Stationary Panic, refuses to use her Shardblade, and sends a bright Illusion on a Full Bore Linear Panic; Jasnah’s body is missing; desperate to give the sailors a chance other than execution, Shallan enters Shadesmar and Soulcasts the ship; and she is pulled into the deep. Fade to black.
Quote of the Week:
“Sword,” a voice said. Pattern, hanging on the wall beside her. “Mmmm… The sword…”
“No!” Shallan screamed, hands to the sides of her head, fingers in her hair. Stormfather! She was trembling.
Nightmare. It was a nightmare! It couldn’t be—
“No!” Shallan found herself hyperventilating as the men outside continued to ram their shoulders against her door. She was not ready for this. She was not prepared.
“Mmmm…” Pattern said, sounding dissatisfied. “Lies.”
“I don’t know how to use the lies!” Shallan said. “I haven’t practiced.”
“Yes. Yes… remember… the time before…”
The door crunched. Dared she remember? Could she remember? A child, playing with a shimmering pattern of light…
I could quote another page or so to get the whole section, but I won’t. You know the bit. It seems so odd to me that Shallan could, at a time like this, so fervently reject the idea of using her Blade. Okay, from the literary angle, of course she couldn’t use it yet. But from the immersive angle, it’s extremely frustrating—and more than a little odd?—that in such desperation she would turn to Illusion and Soulcasting, which she scarcely knows, rather than summon her Shardblade. (Was Pattern dissatisfied because she wouldn’t do Plan Shardblade and he had to fall back on suggesting Plan Illusion?) I’m still trying to figure out if I think it’s realistic or if it’s overworking my suspension-of-disbelief. If nothing else, we should understand that she is blocking memory of the Blade for all she’s worth, and even doing it consciously sometimes. There’s also some very remarkable insight into Shallan’s early Lightweaving days.
Commentary: Wows. After doing that summary, I realize once again what a terrifying chapter this was the first time through. ::shudder:: It’s not really very long, only six pages; but in that short span so many awful things happen that it feels like a lot more. During the beta read, it took me several days to figure out anything intelligible to say about it. (I see a couple of things now that I’d have noted if I’d been able to notice them, but I was so blown away by the content that I missed the textual issues. Oh well; they’re small stuff anyway.)
This is the second time that the epigraph is directly related to something that happens in the chapter, although it doesn’t take as much rereading to figure it out as the one on Chapter 4. Poor Navani; loving her daughter and yet not allowed by that same daughter to be as close as a mother should be, and then to lose her so suddenly and unexpectedly. It makes me sad.
Is anyone claiming they saw “new kid” as a nasty foreshadowing in the previous chapter? (The first time through, not on your reread!) I’m pretty sure I didn’t, especially since Tozbek had already mentioned in passing the need to take on extra crew in Amydlatn. It was disguised well, slipped in during the first chapter as an opportunity to show Shallan a santhid shell since they’d have to stop there anyway. Maybe it should have triggered a reader-warning, but it just seemed like part of the world-building at the time.
So “the new kid” came aboard. Presumably, he just did his job as crew until they got to this particular area, where there were no ports to shelter them at night, and then let his associates on board under cover of darkness, eh? Perhaps the reason Jasnah wasn’t more guarded was simply that this guy had been on board for well over a week, and nothing had happened, so she went back to focusing on her work. Also, does anyone besides me suspect that perhaps “new kid” found an opportunity to tamper with the latch on Jasnah’s door?
Speaking of Jasnah… Oh, Jasnah.
“A body in a thin nightgown, eyes staring sightlessly, blood blossoming from the breast. Jasnah.”
“The other one knelt and rammed a long, thin knife right into Jasnah’s chest. Shallan heard it hit the wood of the floor beneath the body.”
I’m not sure the lack of tripping over a body later is enough to mitigate that evidence; though it makes the reader wonder just a little, I certainly can’t fault Shallan for believing her own eyes. On my first read, I couldn’t decide whether to believe Brandon had killed her or not; he’s been known to do things like that. With Kelsier (that’s a whited-out spoiler, in case someone hasn’t read Mistborn) in mind, I couldn’t entirely convince myself Jasnah wasn’t dead… but I sure didn’t want her to be! I finally settled on hoping she was somehow, amazingly, magically, still alive—while at the same time being absolutely convinced that I could trust the story-teller enough that if she really was dead, it was the right thing for the story. (See how much I trust you, Brandon? Don’t let me down, ’kay? Don’t kill my favorite characters without a Very Good Reason? Right?)
For what it’s worth, I think it’s fairly obvious that Shallan’s intervention really was required: the assassins were going to murder all the crew, the captain, and his wife; there would be no one left alive to tell the story. It’s just faintly possible that Shallan could have hidden until they made port somewhere and escaped that way. It’s far more likely that they’d have simply sunk or burned the ship to make sure there was no evidence left—after going through everything that might have the kind of information they were seeking, of course. I doubt Shallan could have remained hidden from that kind of search, come to think of it.
Sprenspotting: Aside from the flamespren accompanying the titular open flame which should never be on board a ship, we get two views of Pattern! There’s the physical-realm version, where he mostly slithers around on surfaces like he does… and then we get the Cognitive-realm version, which is of course the creepy-symbol-head form that freaked Shallan out so much in the previous book. I think I’d freak out too, if I’d gotten used to the still-learning, surface-slithering-and-bumping, buzzing-humming physical representation of Pattern for a matter of 6 or 7 days and turned around to see this tall, willowy symbol-headed creature looming over me! Oy. (I wonder what Syl looks like in the Cognitive realm?) Nice of him to translate for her, though. I wonder how long it will take before she can communicate directly with objects in Shadesmar.
All Creatures Shelled and Feathered: Well… we didn’t actually see it yet, did we?
Ars Arcanum: Oh, lots and lots of Arcana up in here! Shallan’s first major Illusion was almost funny, if it hadn’t been in such a chilling context. A “vague, upright shape,” an “illuminated blur,” with “appendages that could have been arms.” Oh, help! It rather makes me giggle, now, because it’s so lame; fortunately, the movement and the light (presumably it looked sufficiently like a white nightgown or something?) drew the eyes of the assassins. The fact that it took all the Stormlight and left Shallan crouching in the shadows would help, too; I have to wonder if she inadvertently managed to give it enough realism that the men felt it brush past. It seems like the setting would be a little too crowded for a real person to rush through without touching anyone, but I could be wrong about that part.
Soulcasting the whole ship. Wow. Let’s not bother with starting small and building it up or anything, let’s just jump from a goblet to a ship! Pretty much the same thing, right? Heh. Part of me keeps wondering if there wasn’t something else she could have done, other than turning the whole ship to water in the middle of the ocean, but I don’t know what. I’m sad, though, because the Wind’s Pleasure liked being a ship, and was proud of being a good ship, and wanted to keep on being a ship. (It occurs to me that my life-long tendency to anthropomorphize all sorts of odd things is completely realized on Roshar. I felt awful selling my first car to the parts shop; I’m glad I didn’t have to know that it really had a cognitive element and was happy to be a car! Oy. I’d never be able to throw anything away if our world worked that way.)
Ahem. In both cases, Pattern’s coaching was clearly the only thing that made it possible for Shallan to do the magics; it’s a curious feature of the Rosharan magic system that the spren makes it possible for the human to do things, and can even tell her how to do them, but can’t do them himself. It’s also worth noting that, just before she goes to Shadesmar, Shallan says that she needs a truth; Pattern replies, “You have given enough.” Enough in this episode? Enough in the past? Enough to Soulcast whenever she wants? Enough… what?
I’ll leave the other Arcanum for discussion and debate in the comments…
Heraldic Symbolism: Chanarach is associated with the Heraldic Attributes of Brave/Obedient, and with the role of Guard. Why Chana? It could be Shallan’s act of guarding (well, sort of) the crew by giving them a chance to escape. It could also be a reverse image, possibly with Assassin as the negative of Guard. Um… spitballing, really. What do you think?
On an unrelated note, this is the last time we see the Shadesmar chapter icon in this book. It’s been used on Shallan’s POV chapters up until now; when we meet her again sometime next month, she’ll have a new icon.
Okay, that’s all I’ve got (except for a few things I saved for discussion in the comments). Don’t forget to complete your Hugo ballots today; midnight tonight PDT is the witching hour.
Alice Arneson is a long-time Tor.com commenter and a 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!) She’s also a full-time wife & mom with degrees in engineering, literature, and chemistry. Nice combination, eh?