Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! Last week, Carl checked in on Adolin’s first “real” duel in years, in the spiffy new dueling arena at the warcamps. This week, we return to Shallan’s slog across the wilderness with Tvlakv and his merry band, as she looks forward to meeting her betrothed… and getting some shoes.
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.
Chapter 15: A Hand with the Tower
Point of View: Shallan
Setting: The Frostlands
Symbology: Pattern, Chach
IN WHICH shoes are withheld to increase dependence; Pattern turns out to be an excellent bug; Shallan’s appearance is deteriorating badly; she takes her courage in one hand and the knowledge picked up by Pattern in the other, confronting Tvlakv in Jasnah-like fashion; an unintentional Illusion proves useful; her feet suddenly feel better; dinner is upended on the cookfire; the potential legitimacy of nearby travelers is dismissed; and a stealthy departure is made.
Quote of the Week:
“Deserters ain’t like common bandits,” Bluth said. “These men, they’ve given up everything. Oaths. Families. When you desert, it breaks you. It leaves you willing to do anything, because you’ve already given away everything you could have cared about losing.”
“Wow,” Shallan said, looking over her shoulder.
“I… Yeah, you spend your whole life with a decision like that, you do. You wish any honor were left for you, but you know you’ve already given it away.”
Shallan doesn’t make note of it here, and I’m not sure if it ever consciously registers with her, but these have to be the words of bitter experience. It’s these little glimpses that (on a reread, at least) make the coming changes in Bluth so reasonable, and his outcome so sad. We’ll probably never know any more of his backstory, and it probably isn’t even a particularly interesting story, but still, it’s a bit melancholy to think that his story will just die with him. He once was a soldier…
Commentary: “A Hand with the Tower.” As we learned back in TWoK, the tower (three pairs) is an outright loss when you’re playing breakneck. Well, Bluth probably wouldn’t really bet on that hand… but it’s a fair hint that gambling losses got him to where he is now. He’s not gambling on the bandits, though; staying within reach of them would certainly seem to be a losing proposition.
Were it not for the redevelopment of her bond with Pattern, Shallan would be holding similar cards. Out in the Frostlands, alone with a team of slavers, carrying little of value with which to pay her way, perception is now a matter of life or death for her. (Of course, were it not for the redevelopment of her bond with Pattern, Shallan wouldn’t be out here in the first place. So there’s that.)
Anyway, it would be supremely easy for Tvlakv to either kill or simply abandon her, driving off with her trunk and whatever valuables might be in it. He needs incentive to take her to the warcamps; he needs even better incentive to escort her there like a woman of position, rather than a slave, or at best an objet d’art.
I find myself fumbling to express this, because the end result isn’t that much different: either way, she ends up at the Shattered Plains with her betrothed, and Tvlakv ends up with money. But Sanderson did a good job of making me realize just how important it is, on several levels, that Shallan give the appearance of being in charge of the process instead of letting it happen to her.
It seems like a dubious situation at best, though; very little money, neither a change of clothing nor means to acquire such, no visible means of self-defense—really, nothing but societal expectations to keep her physically safe. However… this girl has a Cause. And a Causal. And a Cryptic. Two very good reasons to get to the Shattered Plains, and one very good means of ensuring that it happens.
Other than the conversations with Tvlakv and Bluth, this chapter is mostly set-up for the next hair-raising events, as they attempt to put some distance between themselves and the bandits.
Stormwatch: This is the sixth day of Shallan’s travel with Tvlakv, Bluth and Tag; incidentally, it’s the same day as Adolin’s duel in the previous chapter. Which is really a bit ironic… He wonders if he’ll ever get to meet her, then goes out to the dueling arena and pummels the ever-living snot out of someone else for the sake of politics. Meanwhile, she limps around, with their betrothal as her only means of keeping promises she’s making to deserters and slavers, hoping to arrive in the warcamps in time and in a position to do something to save the whole world. Come to think of it, there is rather a symmetry going on here; both are stepping outside their societally-acceptable roles for the sake of something much bigger than themselves. Cool.
Sprenspotting: Other than the painspren for Shallan’s feet and the flamespren that scatter when Bluth dumps the chow on them, it’s all PATTERN! up in here. Go, Pattern! Oh, you tricky little Cryptic, you!
Okay, yes, I had fun watching Pattern in this chapter. For one thing, he’s getting smarter every time we see him. Along with his growing ability to know when people are straight-up lying, he’s getting quite the education in figures of speech such as, “Go see what he’s saying.”
(I snickered: “See… ?” I couldn’t help imagining him puzzling over how he was supposed to see the words—maybe like little cartoon bubbles in the Cognitive realm? I’m afraid I’ve stuck myself with an awful visual association now.)
Still and all, it’s priceless when he comes back and imitates every sound perfectly—the voices, the crackling fire—and Shallan’s first thought is, “This could be very useful.” Yes, indeed. So is his ability to make your dress look majestic instead of tattered.
All Creatures Shelled and Feathered: Chulls. More chulls. Large, noisy, slow-moving oxen-equivalents (if oxen had shells and were vaguely crustacean in nature, anyway). Chulls. No horses—which is good news in its own way, for now.
Ars Arcanum: Lightweaving ahoy! Instinctive, inadvertent—and timely – Illusion FTW! She may not know quite what she did, but we do. At first it seemed so odd that she didn’t even question the glow, the perfect dress, the healing of her feet—this is NOT normal stuff, yet she spends no thought on it, other than to instinctively let the glow fade. I’d cry foul with any other character, but this is Shallan, so it’s totally in character. Observations are all well and good, but if a thought might lead places she doesn’t want to go, she just… doesn’t think it. Mighty convenient little trick, that.
Heraldic Symbolism: Here’s Chana again, with her characteristics of brave/obedient and her essence of fire. Is this for Shallan’s courage in facing down Tvlakv? Otherwise, I got nuthin’.
Shipping Wars: I’m so looking forward to the scene where Adolin and Shallan each observe the other for the first time. Right now, the causal is merely a means to an end; it’s the one thing that gives her leverage to keep from being—or at least feeling—not much more than a slave. Still, it itches at me. It seems so… mercenary. I certainly can’t blame her for using anything she can to gain footing, but I really am eager to have the fun of watching the betrothal become a relationship instead of just a piece of paper.
Well, that’s all I’ve got for tonight. I’d love to hear some discussion of Shallan’s approach to confronting Tvlakv… (hint, hint). Next week, we’ll jump back to the boys on the Plains as Carl faces the Swordmaster. (cue Twilight Zone music…)
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?