Welcome back to the Words of Radiance reread on Tor.com! This week we continue to plow through the interludes, exploring the far reaches of Roshar.
Our second interlude chapter takes us to Iri, a country on the far side of the world from the Shattered Plains, where a simple cobbler is wrestling with some big ideas. We will also meet one of the more sinister figures in Words of Radiance. I hope you’re ready for some hard justice.
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.
Interlude Two: Ym
Point of View: Ym
Symbology: Double Eye of the Almighty, Vedel
IN WHICH a cobbler named Ym prepares lasts in the ancient way; spectacles receive appreciation; a naïve spren considers shoes, children; the spren announce that he comes; a small urchin child appears, limping on a wounded foot; Ym trades cobbling for a story; medicine proves insufficient, Stormlight is used instead; Ym claims that all is One; the urchin is skeptical; the shoes fit, the child wears them; Ym may be crazy, is definitely a nice person; he is still here, and has a crescent moon scar on his face; Ym is declared an accomplice, forty years after the fact; stabbing overcomes experience.
Quote of the Week:
“You and I are One.”
“One being,” Ym said. He set aside that shoe and got out another. “Long ago, there was only One. One knew everything, but had experienced nothing. And so, One became many—us, people. The One, who is both male and female, did so to experience all things.”
So much going on here! This feels like a Rosharan take on certain forms of Buddhism, but it also reaches far back into Realmatic Theory. Waaay back before any of the books happened, it’s speculated that there was a complete god called Adonalsium, who fractured into all the different Shards. On Roshar, there are two male shards and a female shard. What’s more, if my memory of the Word of Brandon is correct, Honor and Cultivation arrived on Roshar long before Odium. This philosophy of Oneness could be a remnant of knowledge from long before the Desolations. If so, it’s stunning that it has persisted through so many cataclysms.
Commentary: Weep for the crazy old man, gentle readers, for he is more often doomed than not. Ym may have been a drunken party boy who made a lot of mistakes, but after forty years of not-that, he had settled well into the role of a gentle, philosophical, mildly crazy cobbler. Everything we see in this chapter predisposes us to like Ym. He is a friend to spren and orphan child alike. He has a sensible money management system to avoid robberies. He makes his own lasts. Sure, his philosophy is a little too keen to justify inequality, which honestly rubs me the wrong way, but I still wouldn’t want to see him stabbed all the way to death.
We don’t learn that much about Iri in our first visit. But I guess if you want to learn a city, you probably need to go to more places than a shoe store and an alleyway. Iri is on the other side of the landmass from Alethkar, on the northwestern side of the swirl, and apparently it’s very warm there. I wonder if there’s some northern continent counterbalancing the one we know.
I have a feeling that Crescent-Moon Face might be the bad guy, readers. I mean, yes, I know that Odium is the real bad guy, but… well, this kind of “justice,” murdering someone for something they didn’t realize they were doing forty years ago, is super messed up. We’ll discover more about this guy’s actual motivations later in the book, but to sum up, it’s pretty clear that this mysterious jerk is looking for any justification to kill Surgebinders. It kind of makes me hate him more that he feels he needs those justifications, because he’s bending the system to make everything he does “right.” Justice isn’t the letter of the law, but this guy sees it that way. I want him to be punched so hard.
Sprenspotting: It’s an Ym-spren! Ym’s spren doesn’t have a name, nor do we know what kind of spren it is. Since Ym was a proto-Surgebinder, we know he must have been bonded to the spren, but it seems unlikely that he had spoken any of the Words because of how poorly the spren handles language. I feel like the spren would know how to speak better if they had reached the point of saying the first ideal. Whatever kind of spren this is, it’s associated with light. Since I don’t have any clues to classify Ym’s spren, I’m going to move on to what we do know about.
Ars Arcanum: Ym has healing magic, the power of Regrowth. That limits him to the two orders of Knights Radiant with access to the Progression Surge, the Edgedancers and the Truthwatchers. The fact that Ym’s spren glows like twisting light suggests the surge of Illumination, as does the fact that it repeatedly predicts the future. The Truthwatchers had access to Progression and Illumination, and could predict the future to a limited extent. For now I’ll say that I suspect Ym’s a Truthwatcher, but there’s a counter-argument that can be made in a later section.
We also know a little bit more about how long Ym has been Surgebinding. He says that he’s only used Regrowth a few times in his life, and he still doesn’t seem to realize that his spren is always going to be around. He hasn’t reached the level of constant companionship with his spren that Kaladin, Shallan, Jasnah, or Lift have. He hasn’t even found out its name. However, he’s fully worked out that he needs to inhale stormlight to use his powers. He was at a pretty interesting place, so it’s unfortunate that he got stabbed as all get out.
Heraldic Symbolism: This week’s Herald is Vedel, the Herald of Order, whose attributes are Loving and Healing. The simple explanation for why she’s on this section is that, well, Ym is healing a kid. However, her presence problematizes my conclusion that Ym is a Truthwatcher. Vedel oversaw the Edgedancers, the other Order with access to Progression. Why can’t things be simple? As for the other symbol presented to us: The Double Eye always gets used for the interlude chapters, Szeth and Eshonai excluded, but I’ve never bothered to wonder why it’s full of swords. Why is it full of swords?
That’s it for this week. Next week Alice will follow Rysn on her ongoing quest for Perfect Mercantilism.
Carl Engle-Laird is an editorial assistant at Tor.com, where he acquires and edits original fiction. You can follow him on Twitter here.