Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! Last week, Alice explored the mysteries of Helaran through a sisterly lens. This week, Shallan brings out the best in a ragtag group of misfits who just want to make right. Also she glows or something, it’ll be great.
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 20: The Coldness of Clarity
Point of View: Shallan
Setting: The Frostlands
Symbology: Pattern, Jezrien, Battar
IN WHICH night falls; Shallan’s caravan approaches smoke and finds wreckage, survivors; their subtle scouting is immediately discovered; Shallan negotiates alliance with a second caravan; bandits are ahead, deserters behind; arrows fall; Shallan commands resistance; Shallan parleys with the deserters; things seem more than they are; better natures are summoned; Gaz leads a heroic charge; Pattern appreciates Shallan’s lies.
Quote of the Week:
“Would you protect instead of kill, if you had the choice?” Shallan asked. “Would you rescue instead of rob if you could do it over again? Good people are dying as we speak here. You can stop it.”
Those dark eyes of his seemed dead. “We can’t change the past.”
“I can change your future.”
Shallan’s first proposal, imploring the deserters to protect others and find glory, sounds exactly like she’s recruiting for the Windrunners. It seems a set of instincts are taking over that go beyond her sudden facility with magic.
Commentary: Old “friends” and new “friends” abound in this chapter! In the wait between The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance, the question of what happened to Gaz grew more and more pressing. Sanderson coyly pointed out at signings and readings that Gaz mysteriously vanished most of the way through The Way of Kings, and further inquiries were met with a solid RAFO. Now he’s returned, surrounded by bandit deserter scum, and he’s… suddenly a pretty good guy. It’s he who leads the charge into battle, when Vathah refuses to be moved by Shallan’s oratory. I doubt anyone would have suspected the Gaz of Way of Kings, cowardly, bitter, petty and cruel, of leading any charge into anything, especially not into superior forces in defense of a pair of helpless caravans that he’d been planning to rob.
If you recall, our few chapters from Gaz’s point of view suggested that he was haunted by paranoia induced by his missing eye, and that said paranoia felt like it was on the edge between magical and psychological. But he seems particularly vulnerable to Shallan’s persuasion, to her proto-Radiant recruitment speak. I’m not saying that Gaz is a good candidate for Radiance, but I am saying that you have to be broken to be rebuilt.
We also meet Tyn the lighteyes woman with the long coat and sword, though she won’t be given a name until next chapter. She is instantly amused by Shallan, probably because she sees through what’s happening. The onslaught of bandits keeps any deeper analysis at bay, but she still deftly deflects Shallan’s initial power play:
“I offer you my protection,” Shallan found herself saying.
“Your protection?” the woman said, turning back to Shallan, sounding baffled.
“You may accept me and mine into your camp,” Shallan said. “I will see to your safety tonight. I will need your service after that to convey me to the Shattered Plains.”
The woman laughed. “You are gutsy, whoever you are. You can join our camp, but you’ll die there with the rest of us!”
Shallan falls back on the first trick she learned from Jasnah, establishing a social order with her at the top, but Tyn is too in tune with the pragmatic reality to accept that this “Brightlady’s” so-called “protection” is worth anything in the middle of a fight. Turns out she’s wrong, but no one can fault her for that. There will be plenty to fault her for later.
I was impressed, in this chapter, with how Sanderson once again used the breakneck pace of his writing to mask the signs of Shallan’s surgebinding. The chapter moves fast, so it’s easy to miss this as you’re pulled forward: “She took a deep breath. Bluth raised his sphere, looking at her, and grunted as if surprised.” She’s inhaled Stormlight, but Sanderson doesn’t have to say that. Because Shallan doesn’t know what she’s doing, Sanderson can make it subtle.
This chapter reminded me that Roshar has multiple moons! I forgot about that entirely. No idea if that’s relevant to anything, since this supercontinent-dominated world probably doesn’t care quite as much about tidal forces as some other planets might.
All Creatures Shelled and Feathered: “A little like the mink wandering into the whitespine’s den and asking when dinner is…” ROSHAR HAS MINKS?!
DOES THIS LOOK LIKE A CREATURE THAT CAN SURVIVE A BOULDER-HURRICANE TO YOU?!
Ars Arcana: “You spoke of one Surge, earlier,” Pattern said. “Lightweaving, the power of light. But you have something else. The power of transformation.” Shallan practices true, full Lightweaving in this chapter. Not just illusion, but illusion for the purpose of psychological transformation. And that is an awesome power to have. By presenting herself and her subjects as the people she wants them to be, unrealized versions of themselves, she actualizes their potential. She shows how, even if she never masters the lightning-throwing Soulcasting that Jasnah is so skilled with, a Lightweaver can be a potent force on the battlefield. She also does instinctively something she won’t be able to recreate for most of the book by Lightweaving on the fly. Most of the time, Shallan needs to use her drawings as a crutch when she creates illusions. This time she simply draws on her ideal visions of herself and of the soldiers before her.
Heraldic Symbolism: Once again, this is a two-Herald chapter. Shallan is commanding, leading, inspiring soldiers to protect others, and is therefore graced by Jezrien. Battar, I understand less well. Battar is Wise/Careful, and I can’t see Shallan doing anything carefully in this chapter. Perhaps Battar looks over instinct?
This week was an especially cool chapter, and leads into another week of exciting Shallan developments. She’s moving and growing with every page, making her a welcome relief from the quagmire of the Warcamps. Next week, Alice will catalog the aftermath of the battle. In the meantime, I am awarding 15 bonus points to anyone who puts a Rosharan Mink meme in the comments.