Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com

Words of Radiance Reread: Chapter 17

Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! Last week, Carl took us to meet a famed and ancient swordmaster, and Kaladin managed to refrain from offending a couple of people, maybe. This week, we’re back with Shallan and the “merchants,” trying their best to look insignificant so as to not be a primary target for banditry.

This reread will contain spoilers forThe 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.

Words of Radiance Chapter 17

Chapter 17: A Pattern

Point of View: Shallan
Setting: The Frostlands
Symbology: Pattern, Shalash

 

IN WHICH Shallan covers her anxiety with scholarship; her collection begins again with the santhid, a leaf, and Bluth; a column of smoke is observed behind; Tvlakv covers his anxiety with activity and faked reassurance; parshmen are made uncomfortable by conversation; another column of smoke is observed ahead; Shallan makes an executive decision; symbiosis is considered; excrement is vehemently NOT considered; Shallan consciously draws in Stormlight, but can’t figure out what to do with it; buzzing is interpreted and Pattern is revealed to be a scholar; hints about the Recreance are dropped; hints about Shallan’s past are also dropped (with a THUD!); the cook fire ahead is most definitely not a cook fire.

 

Quote of the Week:

“You spoke oaths.”

Shallan froze.

Life before death… The words drifted toward her from the shadows of her past. A past she would not think of.

“You live lies,” Pattern said. “It gives you strength. But the truth… Without speaking truths you will not be able to grow, Shallan. I know this somehow.”

Even without reference to signing reports, this is enough to let us know that Shallan was once well on her way to being a full Lightweaver. (According to reports on the 17th Shard website, Brandon has confirmed that Shallan spoke most (or perhaps all) of the Ideals of her Order when she was younger, but nearly broke her bond due to the trauma of the “Red Carpet, Once White” night.) The disturbing thing about this conversation, though, is how deliberately Shallan has blocked her memories, and how vast is the gulf between her past and present selves. Further, until she drops that gig and acknowledges the truth of her past—all of it—she will not be able to truly become a Radiant.

 

Commentary: Okay, y’all, this chapter is packed with stuff we need to talk about. For a chapter in which the only activities are limping and riding a wagon, there’s a lot going on here!

Right off the bat, Shallan has turned to scholarship to cover her anxiety about the probably-bandits who may or may not be following them. In this case, her ability to choose her mental focus is a wonderful thing. Can you fix it? No. Then do something you can do. (Duct tape for the mind?) She does it a couple more times right here in this chapter, too. Once, it’s in a good way again, when she does more studying and drawing to distract herself from things over which she hasn’t the faintest bit of influence. Once, though, it’s back to suppression at all costs, when Pattern tries to get her to remember. I wonder if it’s painful to him, when Shallan squashes her memories of him.

Then there’s this conversation:

“You consume some things, and turn them into other things… Very curious things that you hide. They have value? But you leave them. Why?”

“We are done with that conversation,” Shallan said…

Heh. (Insert some witticism here; I’m fresh out of good jokes about the excretory system.) But I thought this was pretty funny, in light of a certain conversation to come.

The title of this chapter is “A Pattern.” Obviously it refers to Pattern, but I expect it’s also related to this line:

“It happened to the others,” Pattern said, his voice softer now. “It will happen to me. It is… a pattern.”

He’s referring to the Recreance; is he right? Is there some kind of pattern set in place that will eventually cause the current Radiants to have to break their oaths? I personally believe he’s wrong, but… well, see the half-theory documented below.

This chapter gives a good strong hint cluebat that Shallan’s Memories are a distinctly different thing from normal memories, and that they are somehow released when she draws them. Her drawing of the santhid from her memory is good, but not as good as the first one. Likewise with her drawing of Yalb: it’s not quite right. But the picture of Jasnah, with her exhaustion and fear, is perfect, because Shallan’s never drawn it before. There’s something magicky going down.

 

Sprenspotting: Pattern! Pattern! Except for a brief mention of chasing away rotspren, and Shallan being vexed by Bluth’s lack of spren to tell her how he’s really feeling, it’s all Pattern up in here. I got a real kick out of Shallan trying to figure out his various buzzes: confusion, excitement, annoyance, puzzlement. (I sure don’t envy the audiobook folks, trying to make sense out of all that!)

Pattern reveals that he is essentially a scholar, that he came to Shallan hoping to learn about humans again. Is this scholarship business true of all Cryptics? I rather think it might be; I also think that there are some lovely hints in this chapter about why they’re called Cryptics rather than the suggested “liespren.” While Pattern is fascinated by what he considers “lies”—i.e. any non-literal figures of speech—he seems to love truths even more. What he really seems to be drawn to, as near as I can tell, is the place where the figurative and the literal balance to reveal Truth; and of course, the more complex that Truth, the better.

I’m reminded of the scene in C. S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair, when the Prince, the children, and the marshwiggle are trying to describe the Overland but can only draw on similes from the Underland, which make pretty poor representations. They’re about to give up when Puddleglum says determinedly, “Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones.” Just as they knew there was more to life than the witch’s dark, dismal Underland kingdom, we often know there’s more to life than what we can see around us. If we’re limited to literal descriptions, we can’t get very far in expressing it; we must turn to figures and metaphors, and when we get the right combination, it comes into focus to reveal greater Truth than we can see. “Cryptic: beyond one’s powers to know, understand, or explain.”

So… back to the spren. The symbiotic relationship formed by the bond gives the human the ability to control two of the natural Surges of the world, and it gives the spren sapience. Ideas that live and think. (I think we’re back to “beyond one’s powers to know, understand, or explain” here… It makes my head go all fuzzy.) The spren acquire the ability to manifest, communicate, and interact in the physical realm, while the humans acquire the ability to control and interact in the cognitive realm, each to a far more conscious and deliberate extent than they can without the bond. Cool.

At least until you get to that bit about “The knights killed their spren.” It’s hinted that the knights didn’t realize what would happen to the spren when their oaths were broken, which makes me feel a little better about it. I mean, really, no matter what the root was, I can’t see people with bonds to spren (spren!!!!!) like Syl and Pattern deliberately agreeing to kill them all en masse. I begin to suspect that something happened which made the Radiants feel that some of their own had been betrayed by spren (Odium’s spren?), and that if they maintained their own bonds they would inevitably become the betrayers of all humanity. To prevent that, perhaps the only thing they could come up with was to stop being bonded, and they didn’t realize what effect breaking those bonds would have on the spren. It’s a theory, and not very well articulated, but… there it is, for what it’s worth.

 

All Creatures Shelled and Feathered: Shallan makes some interesting observations about the flora and fauna here. One, the plants she’s been observing are cleverly designed to start new shoots from the leaves, which break off easily with a high wind or when brushed by an animal and so are carried and propagated far and wide. Two, chulls are smart enough to respond to rhythmic commands. Three, here in the Frostlands the land is much flatter than her home in Jah Keved; there are fewer plants here, but they are much more robust than those she knew in lands to the west.

FWIW, in that same WoB compilation, Brandon referred to Roshar as a lush planet. “Just look at the Shattered Plains, there’s grass everywhere and plants going all over the place. It’s just before a storm it becomes barren and then it becomes lush again.” I don’t think the Frostlands are quite so lush—they strike me as a bit tundra-like—but even so, I’m realizing that my mind hasn’t developed pictures that look quite like what he intends. My imagination must need a good shaking out.

 

Ars Arcanum: The only thing we get to observe in this chapter is the Stormlight healing Shallan’s feet, but there are two other allusions worth mentioning: One, there are a couple of references back to her Illusion at the campfire which terrified Tvlakv so much (yay!) last night, in which her dress and hair suddenly looked better and she did that whole glow-in-the-dark bit. Two, there’s a picture… which we’ll discuss in a few weeks. But you saw it here first, and don’t you forget it.

 

Haven’t We Met Somewhere Before?: Why yes, Nazh, yes, we have met. Just a time or two. What exactly were you up to, retrieving Shallan’s (and presumably Jasnah’s) luggages from the bottom of the ocean? Was that your own idea, or did your “friend” put you up to it? Did she ever give you that new coat?

Seriously, though, those are some cool sketches. I wonder if there is some wondrous mathematical significance, or if they are simply and beautifully a set of complicated, symmetrical… doodles?

 

Heraldic Symbolism: Shalash presides over this chapter, in which Shallan begins drawing again despite her certainty that she couldn’t possibly. There is also discussion of Lightweaving, so that fits, and as noted, the picture of Bluth-as-he-might-have-been, which…well, we’ll get there.

 

That’s it for the moment. Jump in on the comments, and then come back next week to join Carl, still on duty in the warcamps with Kaladin, Zahel, and Renarin falling off buildings. On purpose.


Alice Arnesonis 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 ofThe Hobbit. (Thanks, Mr. Hamilton!) She’s also a full-time wife & mom with degrees in engineering, literature, and chemistry. Nice combination, eh?

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