Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! Last week, we got our first look into Shallan’s past, with the flashback to Red Carpet, Once White, and the accompanying debates about where Pattern went, who killed Brightlady Davar’s friend, and whether sympathy for Brightlord Davar is in order. This week, we return to the present where Shallan, waterlogged from having Soulcast her ride in the middle of the ocean, struggles to use what she’s learned to somehow survive.
This reread will contain spoilers for The Way of Kings, Words of Radiance (a.k.a. TWoK and WoR, respectively), and any other Cosmere book that becomes relevant to the discussion. The index for this reread can be found here, and more Stormlight Archive goodies are indexed here. Come join us as we learn how important perception is, and how satisfactory a flameless life can be.
Chapter 11: An Illusion of Perception
Point of View: Shallan
Setting: the Frostlands, near the Shallow Crypts
Symbology: Pattern, Battar
IN WHICH Shallan finds herself not dead; the santhid disappears over the horizon; Shallan unwillingly faces facts; Pattern finds Jasnah’s waterproofed trunk as the only other survivor nearby; Shadesmar is precariously accessed; a stick is exceedingly contented; Shallan is exceptionally tenacious (also exceptionally cold); a slaver is opportunely located; Jasnah is successfully emulated; and the trek to the Shattered Plains continues.
Quote of the Week:
“The santhid. It rescued me.” How had it known what to do? Were they intelligent? Could she have somehow communicated with it? Had she missed an opportunity to—
She almost started laughing as she realized the direction her thoughts were going. She’d nearly drowned, Jasnah was dead, the crew of the Wind’s Pleasure likely murdered or swallowed by the sea! Instead of mourning them or marveling at her survival, Shallan was engaging in scholarly speculation?
That’s what you do, a deeply buried part of herself accused her. You distract yourself. You refuse to think about things that bother you.
But that was how she survived.
Ouch. After last week, just… Ouch! Perfect juxtaposition, with this last simple statement. What we saw of her past in Chapter 10 seemed incongruous with what we’d seen of (most of) her character in TWoK; even on a first read, those six words illuminate the dichotomy instantly, if incompletely. As we proceed through WoR, we’ll see more of her voluntary amnesia as a coping mechanism. This is what gave me confidence to tell people, “I can’t guarantee you’ll like Shallan after WoR, but I can guarantee you’ll see her differently.”
Also? I love the way Brandon uses “Shallan thinking like a scholar” to disguise the occasional infodump. He does it twice in this chapter, and I only noticed it this time around. Heh.
Commentary: Here’s Shallan, washed up on a rock after she thought she was going to drown. As a non-swimmer myself, I was heartily sympathetic (and a little amused) at the way she managed to get to shore and then realized after the fact that there may have been more to fear than just the water. Poor girl. It’s a good thing Jasnah’s trunk washed up so close to her; it contains a great deal of information that she’s going to need once she reaches the Shattered Plains, as well as the money and Stormlight she’s going to need in The Immediate Future. (Smart santhid. Good santhid…)
I do wish Shallan had thought to use more than one sphere for her attempt at Soulcasting. Whether it would have helped or not, it would at least have reduced her injuries and exhaustion, and perhaps let her think more clearly. She doesn’t know enough yet to have thought of that, and it’s perfectly realistic—and better for the story—the way it is. It’s just… ::sigh:: I wish she didn’t have to hurt so much.
It’s an interesting swirl of possibilities: if she hadn’t needed Stormlight to Soulcast, she probably never would have drawn it in, but if she had drawn it in and not entered Shadesmar, it would have gone farther toward healing her. If she’d succeeded in making a fire, she wouldn’t have been in such danger of hypothermia, but she also wouldn’t have kept moving and looking for another fire. Oh, the fun you can have with good story-crafting!
So. Shallan kept moving, and found our friendly neighborhood slavers Tvlakv & Co., Ltd., along with a dilemma—trust these clearly-untrustworthy men, or freeze/starve to death in the middle of nowhere? This is an instance where the physical class distinction is convenient for Our Heroes, because a slaver would hesitate to abuse or enslave a lighteyed woman. There’s the chance of good money to be had by delivering her safe and sound; additionally, it’s a safe bet that a slaver caught with a captive lighteyes would be in bottomless kimchee. With slavery out of the question, they could either rape and murder her, or help her. For a “merchant” worth his salt, helping was clearly the more lucrative option, but what direction would his “help” take her? To the Shallow Crypts, or to the Shattered Plains? This time the illusion of perception worked, because Shallan (sort of) knew how to make people accept her authority: by imitating Jasnah.
The preparation for this scene harks all the way back to Chapter 1, when Jasnah explained power as a matter of perception. Shallan tried it then, in a minor incident: she wanted to see the santhid underwater, so she imitated Jasnah and induced Tozbek to let her do so, even though he’d refused earlier. Her success there made it possible for her to use the same technique here, with enough confidence that she actually pulled it off.
Sprenspotting: Pattern is oddly hesitant in Shadesmar this time; he doesn’t seem to know much, and doesn’t give Shallan much help other than translating and urging her to hurry. He even comments that “I am from here, yet I remember so little…” Is this due to his increasing presence, maturity, or consciousness in the physical realm? Or something else?
Incidentally, when Pattern takes his natural form in Shadesmar, he casts a shadow the wrong way, toward the “sun.” I have some ideas about this, but I’d like to hear yours first. How does this relate to the other misbehaving shadows?
We also see another instance of spren taking vastly different forms in the physical vs. cognitive realms, with the exhaustionspren circling Shallan. Here, in Shadesmar, they are described as large, birdlike, dark grey, seeming to have no specific shape, their forms blurry. Elsewhere they are described in the physical realm as swirls or jets of dust, dizzy-looking, rising from the ground and spinning about a human. What’s really intriguing is that when described by a Parshendi, “they came with a sound like wind, blowing in through the windows and doors like jets of translucent vapor before becoming stronger, more visible, and spinning around her head like swirls of steam.” I realize that this last bit is a discussion for another time (about three weeks from now) but… I leave you to reflect on the implications.
All Creatures Shelled and Feathered: I like that santhid. It made distinct eye contact with Shallan the first time, it proved the stories that santhidyn sometimes stay with a ship for days, and it brought her safely to shore. While we don’t know for sure that it was responsible for bringing Jasnah’s trunk to the same place, it did end up nearby. Just how intelligent are these things? Is Investiture involved? Are they at all similar to the Ryshadium? Or the Greatshells? (We’ll talk about those more in a few weeks, too—Rysn’s Interlude is coming shortly.)
“Sticks need Stormlight. For… things…”
Shallan stared at that pile of sticks, feeling utterly useless. What was it Jasnah had said? Control is the basis of all true power? Authority and strength are matters of perception? Well, this was a direct refutation of that. Shallan could imagine herself as grand, could act like a queen, but that didn’t change a thing out here in the wilderness.
Remember this conversation? “I am a stick.” Shallan pled with it, offered it the “opportunity” to be fire, tried to convince it that it wanted to burn—and it sat there complacently being a stick. Even after umpteen readings, I’m torn between feeling awful for poor, cold, tired, miserable Shallan, and laughing at her repeated, insufficient attempts to induce this stubborn stick to burn. The argument she used with the ship was far more compelling: sacrifice yourself to save the lives of those you’ve served so well. (The ship also seemed more… intelligent.) For the stick, there’s no reason to become fire and then cease to exist. Why would sticks need Stormlight, anyway?
The point, of course, is that instead of assuming authority over the stick, she tried to manipulate it. As a born manipulator, I understand this, but she’s wrong; persuading the stick to want to be fire was never going to work, and her failure is not a refutation of Jasnah’s explanation. To quote Karen Ahlstrom from the beta, “Maybe her timidity is the problem. I’m certain that when Jasnah Soulcast the robbers in WOK they didn’t want to change.” Yeah, pretty sure about that…
Haven’t We Met Somewhere Before?:
The map is interesting in itself, both from a technical standpoint and in terms of Shallan’s relative location. I love Isaac Stewart’s maps and illustrations; he has a distinct style for each in-world source (as well as for different cultures on different worlds), and I wish I were artist enough to fully appreciate the level of research and expertise he brings to his work.
The reason the map is in this unit, though, is the in-story cartographer: our old buddy Nazh. We’ve talked about him before; his task seems to be collecting information for a female friend. Mostly I’m pointing out his existence here, but there’s one thing to add. My standing theory is that he works for Khriss, who seems to be a (very long-lived!) research scholar from Taldain (White Sand). However, in a recent Goodreads Q&A, someone asked Brandon who is the oldest character we know, and he replied, “Frost is almost certainly the oldest by a small amount. After that, Hoid.” All we know about Frost is that he/she/it is a character from Dragonsteel, a book/series which currently exists in partial form and is kept in great secrecy as containing colossal spoilers. My current curiosity is whether Frost may be the “old reptile” trading letters with Hoid in TWoK and WoR, and also whether she is the one for whom Nazh collects information.
While I think the first part of that is probable, I think Khriss makes more sense as Nazh’s contact. But I thought I’d toss it out for y’all to bash.
Heraldic Symbolism: For the first time, we see the white-on-black Pattern icon which graces the remainder of Shallan’s current-time PoV chapters. I’ll admit that, until travyl pointed it out, I hadn’t noticed that the flashback icons in both books are negative images of the real-time icons. Slick.
The Herald is Battar, associated with the attributes of Wise/Careful, the Elsecallers, and the role of Counsellor. I would hazard a guess that she’s here because of Shallan’s efforts to emulate Jasnah’s way of dealing with people—and, perhaps, with her failure to emulate Jasnah’s approach to Soulcasting that stubborn stick.
Okay, that’s gotten a bit long-winded, so I’ll stop. Have fun 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!) She’s also a full-time wife & mom with degrees in engineering, literature, and chemistry. Nice combination, eh?