Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! Last week, we finished Part One, “Alight,” as Kaladin finally began to formally practice his Windrunner skills and was surprised by the arrival of a “hero.” This week, we’re moving into the Interludes, beginning with our very first Parshendi point of view.
This reread will contain spoilers for The Way of Kings, Words of Radiance, 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. Read on, and join us in the comments—there’s a lot to discuss this week.
Housekeeping note: As you can see, we decided to go with the Interludes before we review the collected Part I epigraphs. There is just too much information in the Interludes that has a bearing on Navani’s thoughts; this way, we’ll get some of it before we talk about her journal entries. Since it would be impossible to do justice to any of the Interludes if we tried to do it all in a single week, we’re taking them one at a time. Today, Interlude One: digging into the Parshendi culture and conditions.
Interlude One: Narak
Point of View: Eshonai
Setting: Narak, the central plateau of the Shattered Plains
Symbology: Listener, Shalash
IN WHICH Eshonai returns to her exile home after a battle in which she did not participate, and neither did Dalinar; she reflects on the ancient history of the Shattered Plains and the urban area it once was; she regrets her lost days of exploration and discovery, as she is now trapped on this plateau, fighting a war she cannot win; soldiers are abysmal artists, being designed both physically and mentally for warfare rather than creativity; mateform is likewise designed for mating (duh) and is apparently not good for much else but frivolity; Eshonai’s experiments have proven that it doesn’t have to work that way, though it takes a great deal of self-discipline to be otherwise; Eshonai’s sister Venli is in nimbleform, suited to fine motor skills and capable of scholarship, since they don’t have a proper form for true scholarship; Venli seems to have secret knowledge, and seems inappropriately amused at Eshonai’s priorities; her researches have discovered the secret of … stormform. (DUN!)
Quote of the Week:
The Rhythm of Resolve thrummed softly in the back of Eshonai’s mind as she reached the plateau at the center of the Shattered Plains.
The central plateau. Narak. Exile.
This seems like a good place to start, as we are given our first insider view of the Parshendi. The listeners, they call themselves, and the first hint of the reason is right here in the first few words: the Rhythms. There’s always a Rhythm, whether thinking or speaking; we’ll check out a handful of these right here in this first Interlude. (But there will be More. Oh, yes, there will.)
The location: the central plateau. By the end of the book, we’ll discover other important aspects to that particular place, but for now it is the home of what’s left of Eshonai’s people. They have named it Exile. If anyone was still inclined to think of the Parshendi as merely “the bad guys,” this should start a change in that mindset. By the end of the chapter, the about-face ought to be nearly complete.
Commentary: Talk about dense writing. In a mere eight pages, we gain incredible insights into an alien culture and history that changes… pretty much everything. It’s hard to know what to say without quoting every other paragraph!
Okay. Well, we know now why the Shardbearer was hanging back from the battle in Chapter 8, observing but not fighting. Apparently Kaladin did more damage to her than any of the humans realized. Sadly, that was her last chance for the peace she hoped to obtain…
She needed to speak with him. She felt an urgency to do so blowing upon the winds themselves.
Oh, my. Knowing what we now know, this is heartbreaking. If only Dalinar hadn’t stepped back from the fighting just now! If only she weren’t so badly injured! If only she could have found a way to reach out to him at that battle they were both watching! They could have talked, and then none of this book would have been necessary! Oh, wait… Ummmm…
Well, it’s still heartbreaking in-story.
Ruins of ruins. I find it ironic that these exact ruins, here at the center of the Shattered Plains, will ultimately save the humans from what Eshonai will soon become. That, despite her (correct) thoughts here that the Alethi had no idea that they were walking among the ruins of an ancient, long-dead city, there’s one human who will soon see deeper than both the other humans and the listeners, and will use that insight to escape and hopefully find information to aid against these very same people.
There are hints here about the choice Eshonai’s ancestors made, long ago, to escape from their old gods. While we don’t know all the implications of this yet, I found it unsettling to discover that Gavilar’s assassination was part of maintaining that position. Even more, it’s unsettling to realize that Venli’s approach, her attempts to keep their people from being killed in the war they knowingly triggered, will make the whole thing pointless. All those generations of avoiding any form that might reconnect them to their gods, and this entire war where so many of their people have died, will be rendered meaningless by the decision to pursue stormform in order to fight back.
Incidentally, this makes me really glad that Sadeas is gone, but just a little regretful that he died so quickly. Him and his “no mercy” policy have made it impossible for the listeners to dare try to survive by surrendering. Just… GRRRR.
Let’s take a quick look at the Rhythms while we have the chance. In this chapter alone, we see various characters attuning Resolve, Mourning, Excitement, the Lost, Praise, Skepticism, Peace, Irritation, and Amusement. There are many more, as we’ll see soon, but this is more than enough to be getting on with. These Rhythms are there, all the time, as a consciously-chosen accompaniment to all speech and thought; the Rhythm chosen seems to communicate at least as much the spoken word.
It’s fitting, then, that their entire recorded history is a matter of songs set to the various Rhythms. (Oh, the fun we’ll have with the epigraphs in Part II…) One of the most poignant of the many wrenching reflections in this Interlude is Eshonai’s thought on the songs written down by Venli’s researchers:
Songs without music, written out as they were. Their souls stripped away.
It could be mere metaphor, but I don’t think so. I think, for the listeners, music is inextricably linked to the soul. Consider Eshonai’s thoughts on slaveform: the form with “no spren, no soul, and no song.” Somehow the three are intimately connected for these people—the music, the soul, and the forms are almost the same thing. But, you know, not quite the same…
(I feel like I’m trying to pick apart an intricate knot – the kind my daughter gets in her shoelaces, for example! – and I can’t quite tell which bits to push and which to pull, in order to straighten it out. Except this is way more fun than stinky sneakers. Umm… Maybe my metaphors need some work, there… Heh.)
The forms are distinct from the Rhythms, at least so far (sadly, that will change soon), but they are related somehow. I think it’s got something to do with their connection to the Cognitive realm. The forms they currently know all have access to roughly the same Rhythms, with the exception of slaveform and possibly dullform.
We haven’t really seen yet the connection between the spren and the forms, so I won’t go there, but we do need to talk about some aspects of the forms. At this stage, they have six forms: warform, workform, mateform, dullform, nimbleform, and slaveform. Each form is specially suited to one primary function, and though it has secondary capabilities, it has severe limitations. Here, I have to quote nearly a whole paragraph:
…Warform was a good form, versatile. It didn’t impede thought, like mateform did. As with workform, you were yourself when you were warform. But each had its quirks. A worker had difficulty committing violence—there was a block in the mind somewhere. That was one of the reasons she liked the form. It forced her to think differently to get around problems.
It appears that to a significant degree, the form determines not only aptitude, but a large degree of the personality. Not the entire thing, of course; Eshonai was able to train herself to confront while in workform, and to be productive while in mateform (though not reproductive, apparently). Still, the form affects the mind to an amazing degree. Oh, and in most of the forms, the genders are “malen/femalen,” but in mateform they are male/female. It’s like they have four genders up in here.
About the other forms. We know that slaveform is the one commonly known as “parshmen” and that it has very limited connection to the Cognitive realm. Dullform, while not quite so bad, is close enough that one who takes it on can easily pass for a parshman. (But we don’t know anyone like that, do we? Nah…) We really know almost nothing about nimbleform except that they have hair, are more dexterous than the others, and are apparently able to scheme. One wonders whether it’s related to the old gods, after all. There’s certainly something weird about Venli.
Stormwatch: Not that it’s critical, but this scene actually takes place a few days after the events of the chapters we’ve been reading; in fact, probably between the timeframes of Chapters 13 and 14.
Sprenspotting: We have two interesting spren sightings here, and both appear different to the listeners than they do to humans. Creationspren, however, are conspicuous by their absence. (I wonder what they’d look like to the listeners.)
We’ve seen angerspren around humans before, and will again. They are always described as boiling up around the feet of the angry person like pools of blood. But if you’re a listener:
She saw them coming from a ways off, drawn by her emotion, moving with an incredible speed—like lightning dancing toward her across the distant stone. The lightning pooled at her feet, turning the stones red.
One thing that seems very different between the human and listener observations of angerspren is that for humans, they bubble up from the ground, whereas the listeners see them coming from a distance—just as they do with exhaustionspren, as noted a couple of weeks ago. The appearance, likewise, is different: larger, more detailed, sharper, clearer. There’s one more mention of angerspren from the listener perspective, but I’ll wait to talk about that one. At least until I-4, maybe I-5.
Something to note about the exhaustionspren in this chapter: after hanging about Venli for a bit, Eshonai notes that they spin away to search out more fresh sources of emotion. While this is consistent with what we’ve observed about spren, it struck me anyway. I think it’s because Eshonai seems to understand the spren and know what they’re doing, as opposed to our guessing based on behavior. (Does that make sense? It did to me, anyway.)
Heraldic Symbolism: Shalash, as the Heraldic icon for this chapter, is (I’m pretty sure) mostly for the efforts the listeners are making to create works of art, to attract creationspren. This ties in several ways to their efforts to find other forms, though; they are trying hard to think creatively. Shalash in her current twisted form would probably approve of Venli’s approach, though, so that might tie in too.
We have in this chapter a new character icon, which I’ve dubbed the Listener (unless Carl has a better idea). It probably represents Eshonai herself, as the last Shardbearer of her people. However, it also seems to depict both the Shattered Plains (or at least a couple of plateaus and a chasm) and a highstorm which enables the listeners to change forms, so in that way it seems representative of the entire people. And I just realized (as the cover of TWoK came up as my wallpaper) that the icon is also very evocative of the Eshonai figure and her background in that remarkable painting. Whether or not this is intentional, I have no idea, but there it is.
Shipping Wars: Well… relationships, anyways… It seems the listeners form semi-permanent pairings, no matter what form they’re in. We’ve seen the way they always fight in pairs, and now we see Venli and “her once-mate” Demid, who would form a warpair if they were in warform, but Eshonai calls them “a researchpair, or something”—which just reinforces the fact that what they’re doing is way outside the experience of the listeners.
Just Sayin’: I thought about trying to go through all the different vocabulary we pick up in this Interlude just from being inside a different race and a different culture, but this would get mighty long even for me. The Rhythms, the ways of thinking, the ways of seeing the world… so much of it is unique to the listeners that I’ll leave it up to you to point out anything you think deserves a bit of extra attention.
Wow. I feel like I said too much and not enough, and also said it somewhat incoherently, but I don’t think I can work it over any further without making a complete shambles of it. Hopefully it makes enough sense for y’all to sink your teeth in and get some good discussion going! See you in the
funny papers 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?