Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! Last week, a gentle and kindly experience ended; this week, a very different experience begins poorly, proceeds badly, and ends… mysteriously.
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. Click on through to join the discussion.
Interlude Three: Rysn
Point of View: Rysn
Setting: the Reshi Sea
Symbology: Double Eye of the Almighty, Chach
IN WHICH precipitation is reminiscent of Seattle; grass is sullen; the master is dying; a Moment of Discovery rocks Rysn’s boat; a lifestyle has its ups and downs; the apprentice is sent to convince potential customers of her worth as a trading partner; a blue person cheerfully hangs upside down; assumptions nearly ruin conversations; Rysn has no head for heights; gender is irrelevant; trade is refused; a higher authority is consulted; great pain ensues, with great rescue and great reward; the master is apparently not dying after all (whoops!).
Quote of the Week:
“Your conversation will not be a negotiation. The terms were set years ago.”
She turned to him, frowning. “What?”
“This is not about what you can get,” Vstim said, “but about whether or not they think you are worthy of it. Convince them.” He hesitated. “Passions guide you, child. Do well.”
In retrospect, this is really frustrating. On the one hand, she needed to believe it was all real, and all important, in order to be a fair test of her skills. On the other hand… it might have been nice if she hadn’t been so desperate to get the trade that she did something incredibly brave—and incredibly, totally stupid.
Commentary: As we enter the fall season, I had to laugh at the description of the rain in the Reshi Sea: “Precipitation… was just a misting haze, more than a fog but less than a drizzle.” Sounds pretty much like Seattle, except today when it poured buckets. And then there’s the moving island, which sounds more like living in California: “. . .when the beast stepped, everything shook.” Heh.
I find it impossible to do justice to this chapter, so y’all will have to cover a lot of things in the comments that I just can’t get to. I really liked Vstim’s instruction, though: “Do not let your assumptions about a culture block your ability to perceive the individual, or you will fail.” Because, of course, that’s exactly what Rysn proceeds to do. (It’s not bad advice for the rest of us, too.)
Not that it’s entirely her fault. “We are led by a king. Gender is irrelevant.” It has to be a bit difficult to accept this rewriting of language, and to take the perpetrator seriously. Unfortunately for Rysn, this is one of the things she needs to accept without arguing. I feel sorry for her in this case. Once she saw that the robed person was a woman, it really was rather logical to assume that she couldn’t be the “king.” She probably shouldn’t have questioned it, but then… if she just accepted everything she was told, she opens herself to mockery, and that doesn’t work either for “boldness.”
It’s rather cringeworthy to read some of her argument, nonetheless. She manages to insult Talik by making the same obvious “bargaining points” as thousands of other trader, such as the islanders’ apparent isolation and resource limitations; worse, she makes the natural (but incorrect and deeply insulting) assumption that these things drive the simplicity of their lifestyle, and that by association they are also a bit simple… not to say stupid. Nice move, Rysn. Dig yourself out of that one. Or better yet, add to it by making unnecessary, condescending comments about the king/queen thing again, like you are some kind of authority.
The cringes are all balanced, however, by her reaction (and Talik’s!) to learning about Vstim’s method of proving his worth back in the day: “Though he obviously hadn’t always been the wizened old ledgerworm that he was now, she’d imagined he’d been a wizened young ledgerworm in the past.” All is forgiven, Rysn. Ah, the arrogance of youth. ::gigglesnort::
For those of you who did not read the text from the series of “watch Brandon write!” videos he released, it was an early draft of this chapter. There were a few changes, though, including one I definitely thought was for the better. In the videos, he had Rysn simply jumping off the beast’s head to prove her boldness; I thought it was much stronger to have her fall during her attempt to convince the “higher authority” that she was worthy of their business. It was still stupid, but at least there was some sense to it. Poor girl, though; I hope her legs heal.
Sprenspotting: “Shamespren fell around her, shaped like white and red flower petals that drifted on a wind.” Let me tell you, those have to be beastly inconvenient spren to have around! It’s bad enough to be embarrassed—but there’s nothing more embarrassing than to have your embarrassment pointed out to everyone around you! Especially when, like Rysn, you want to appear polished, cosmopolitan, and professional. (Or at least not quite so young and naïve!)
“Life can be simple here. It attracts such people like war attracts painspren.” There’s a great simile for you: comparing the wannabe-carefree outsiders drawn to the “simple” Reshi lifestyle to painspren on a battlefield. Unwanted but unavoidable? Ouch.
Axies seems to equate the greatshell’s spren with its soul; later, Vstim seems to do the same when he first says that the spren cushioned her fall, and then that she was “saved by the island’s soul itself.” I wonder what that means; seems like it should be significant.
All Creatures Shelled and Feathered: So, WOW! Two amazing new creatures in this Interlude! I think I was nearly as shocked as Rysn when she saw the island move and realized it was a fantastically huge animal. We knew the chasmfiends had some kind of spren/investiture thing going on in order to grow to their enormous size; but these islands? These are purely awesome. Greatshells, indeed!
And the larkin… oh, my, the lovely little larkin. It makes my mind tie itself in knots trying to figure out if it looks more like a crab or a hummingbird… The “cremling with wings” description sounds mildly ugly, but something about the name and behavior just makes me want it to be beautiful. And the silver eyes. We’ll see a couple more of these before the book is over, and I’m betting that this particular one has a significant role to play in the future. The fact that it was given to Rysn by the island itself just gives me all kinds of good shivers, even while I half expect that it will have both positive and negative repercussions for Rysn somewhere along the line. For now, I mostly wonder if it is somehow capable of using Stormlight for its own purposes… like healing people it cares about…
I like the idea, but it’s sheer speculation at this point. Until we get to observe one giving instead of taking, we won’t know what the larkin are capable of doing with Stormlight. I wonder if they have specific spren, and if those spren are connected to one of the Orders…
Haven’t We Met Somewhere Before?: It’s our old friend Axies the Aimian! No, he doesn’t really belong here—this is supposed to be for world-hoppers—but there aren’t any here, and it’s fun to see two of the Interlude characters from TWoK run into each other here. I had to laugh at them both when he seemed so pleased by what he’d learned about the island’s spren: Clearly it gave Rysn and her guards the creeps even to talk to him, especially when he seemed so nonchalant about the thing that earned him this punishment. On the other hand, it is so exactly in character for him in his search to catalog all the spren to be pleased about a new insight, even at the price of hanging by his ankles for an unknown length of time.
Speaking of Axies, I do hope we’ll learn more about his species eventually. For now, we know that they have bluish skin, blue eyes, and blue fingernails, they can modify their skin and their bodies at will, and they have been nearly wiped out as a people. The “Voidbringer shadow” seems to indicate that the Aimian people have a natural connection either to spren or to Shadesmar itself, or possibly both—but in a different way than the Listener people. At least, it seems to be a characteristic of the entire people, and it wasn’t mentioned about the Listeners at all.
Heraldic Symbolism: This week’s Herald is Chach, also known as Chanarach or Chana. Her divine attributes are Brave/Obedient, and her body focus is the Soul. I’d guess she’s here first to represent Bravery—Rysn may have been foolish, but it was brave of her to climb down that rope; she did it for the sake of securing the trade for her babsk, so there’s a certain obedience going on as well. The chapter has several references to the “soul” of the island, so maybe that’s a Thing too.
The Double Eye is, as noted last week, used for the majority of the Interludes. What I didn’t see was much discussion or a reason for the five swords, other than “well, maybe the artist couldn’t figure out how to make it ten.” Which… may be true, I suppose. Pretty sure either Isaac or Ben could do it if they’d wanted, but maybe it wasn’t that important.
Shipping Wars: Not much point in shipping Rysn yet, since she’s out in the middle of
nowhere the Reshi Sea for the foreseeable future, but I do wonder. That larkin makes her stand out.
Talik’s head appeared above. “What in Kelek’s name are you doing, idiot woman?” he screamed. She found it amusing that he’d learned their curses while studying with them.
I had to mention this for two reasons. One, anyone collecting Rosharan curses might need it. Two, I liked the way this points up some differences between the various cultures on Roshar; for the Reshi, “what in Kelek’s name” is meaningless, but for the Vorin kingdoms it’s cussing. Nice worldbuilding tidbit.
Okay, that’s all I’ve got. I hope I didn’t leave out anything too important. If I did, you’ll have to point it out to me in the comments! (For that matter, I hope the above is more or less coherent; please be kind if you have to tell me I made no sense at all…!)
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?