Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! Last week, Carl commiserated with Adolin’s discovery of the shallowness of his friends, balanced by the depth of his bond with his lovely Ryshadium, Sureblood. (Oh, Sureblood!) This week, we return to Shallan’s past in the pleasant, homey estate of the Davar family in Jah Keved.
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 27: Fabrications to Distract
Point of View: Shallan
Setting: The Davar Estate, Jah Keved, Five Years Ago
Symbology: Inverse Pattern, Shalash
IN WHICH a garden is a refuge, if only a little; cremlings proliferate; lots of shouting happens; one brother is missing, one is a pyromaniac, and one is addicted to gambling; Shallan stares at the wall; and the strongbox glows.
Quote of the Week:
They passed Father’s chambers. The heavy stumpweight door was open a crack as a maid tidied the room, allowing Shallan to see the far wall.
And the glowing strongbox.
It was hidden behind a painting of a storm at sea that did nothing to dim the powerful white glow. Right through the canvas, she saw the outline of the strongbox blazing like a fire. She stumbled, pulling to a stop.
“What are you staring at?” Jushu demanded, holding to the bannister.
“Behind the painting.”
He squinted, lurching forward. “What in the Halls are you talking about, girl? It really did ruin your mind, didn’t it? Watching him kill Mother?” Jushu pulled away from her, cursing softly to himself. “I’m the only one in this family who hasn’t gone crazy. The only storming
one . . .”
Shallan stared into that light. There hid a monster.
There hid Mother’s soul.
I’m remembering, once again, the way many readers viewed Shallan before WoR came out: selfish, spoiled, lightweight, and shallow were but a few of the adjectives bestowed on her. As in real life, it’s amazing how much change can be wrought by a glimpse into someone’s past.
This episode takes place one year after she killed her mother, and whatever semblance the Davars had once borne to a normal family has completely shattered. Opinions vary on what “normal” might have looked like for them, but whatever it once was, it’s long since gone the way of the lanceryn.
Commentary: Sorry about the brevity of the summary, folks, but not a lot happens in this chapter. Shallan sketches in the garden, trying to avoid all the shouting, and then goes inside, stares at the wall, and has a brief conversation with her brother.
And yet… so much is communicated by the setting, and by the things that don’t happen. As always, Shallan’s flashback chapters make me sad.
She dreads the shouting, and will do whatever she can to avoid it, but it can’t always be avoided. In this case, the shouting is a perhaps-justifiable response to Balat playing with matches. (Okay, it was probably flint and steel, but that just doesn’t have the same ring to it.) One assumes that he didn’t intend to set the servants’ building on fire, but fire being what it is, POOF! Or maybe he did intend that result. So which is worse: torturing small creatures, or setting fires? Fire has more dangerous potential, but there’s something about the deliberate dismemberment of helpless and harmless creatures that is just… wrong. Don’t get me started.
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at Jushu’s claim to be the only one in the family with any sense. It’s not like he’s exactly sensible—frequently drunk, addicted to gambling, risking his father’s not-inconsiderable (and potentially deadly) wrath by his behavior. On the other hand, from his perspective it’s normal compared to arsons, killing rages, or staring at the wall for hours.
Maybe he has a point.
Apparently, Helaran is gone most of the time now; he returns from time to time and brings Shallan stacks of drawing paper, but avoids their father as much as possible. Jushu says that Helaran betrayed their father and almost killed him; I’m not sure if that’s merely a reference to the previous flashback where he summoned a Shardblade, or if Jushu knows something about the betrayal mentioned in the next flashback. Honestly, I don’t think Helaran would be helping matters if he were around more, though.
Meanwhile, Father is holding feasts on a regular basis, providing pretty new dresses for Shallan to be silently decorative. Presumably, all this is part of his power-building initiative; I wonder if he was like that before things went so sour a year ago, or if it’s a new thing. And… why? Why now?
Then there’s Shallan. Poor Shallan. Only she and her father know what actually happened, and she’s blocked it out—blocked it so hard that whenever a hint of it crosses her mind, she goes blank. That happens three times in this short chapter; she just… goes… blank. No idea how much time passes, no thought, nothing. And her poor father. I know he’s not a nice man any more, and getting not-nicer all the time, but the one person who knows he didn’t kill his wife refuses to remember anything about it. She never gives any confirmation to the assumptions that he murdered his wife, but she never denies it, either. Not even to him. Of course, he doesn’t want her to tell the truth—but I can’t help thinking that if he could only share acknowledgement of the truth with one person, he’d be better for it. As it is, he has to carry that knowledge alone, and he does not bear the burden well.
I’m sad again. I want to go hug my kids.
I really want to go hug my daddy.
Sprenspotting: We don’t actually see any spren in this chapter, but I have to talk about the glowing strongbox. Back in the first flashback, as Father carries Shallan from the room,
They passed Father’s strongbox set into the wall. It glowed brightly, light streaming from the cracks around the closed door. A monster was inside.
The monster, as we now know, was the Shardblade Pattern formed for Shallan to protect herself from the murderous intent of her mother. Of course, he didn’t really stay in there, but that’s where Father put him, and it seems that in Shallan’s mind, that is where he stayed.
Here, her mind has taken a slightly different twist; she’s gotten the Blade and Mother’s soul mixed together somehow. Perhaps, since a Shardblade kills without drawing blood, she has come to believe that the Blade pulled out the soul, and still holds it, both pinned to the wall in the back of that strongbox. Or… perhaps something else is going on; I find myself struggling to make sense out of something that probably doesn’t make sense at all.
In any case, Shallan sees a glow no one else can see; I assume that since Pattern wouldn’t have stayed there, this is her mind manufacturing what it needs to believe. Poor child.
All Creatures Shelled and Feathered: Jah Keved sounds like a rather lush climate—at least, compared with the Frostlands. There are gardens, with shalebark, and trees, and vines, and flowerbeds… and I’m really having a tough time visualizing plants that can pull back into some kind of shell for a storm, but can also be trimmed and shaped. Ah, well. Those are the limits of my imagination tonight, I guess.
Also, Shallan avoids the flowerbeds, because she’s got allergies. Bummer. We knew that, of course, from TWoK, but I get a giggle out of seeing it in action here in the past.
Haven’t We Met Somewhere Before? Yes. Yes, we have seen you before, Mr. Dandos Heraldin, or at least we’ve seen the results of your “training.” Shallan mentioned learning from Dandos the Oilsworn, back when Kabsal was quizzing her about how she learned to draw so well. Just in case anyone missed it, this is a callout to one of Brandon’s favorite artists, Dan dos Santos; check out the “folio” illustrations preceding chapters 22 and 49 to see why. Also, the Warbreaker cover, which just gets better every time I look at it.
Heraldic Symbolism: Shalash broods over this chapter; this could be in honor of Shallan’s drawing, or Shalash’s position as the patron of the Lightweavers, or both. Or something else. In any case, we see Shalash associated with Shallan’s POV more than any other Herald.
Just Sayin’: “Storms-cursed idiot.” “What in the Halls are you talking about?” Someone asked a question at the Seattle Firefight signing about Brandon’s use of cursing in his various worlds. He really does spend significant time thinking about what kinds of things would be likely to develop into curses or vulgarities in his cultures. I didn’t transcribe the conversation, because I was focusing on answers about content more than the writing process; now I think I might just have to go retrieve it after all. It really was an interesting insight.
Well, so much for jolly times in the Davar manor. Next week, Carl gets to deal with the fascinating topic of boots and their relative necessity in wilderness adventures. Oh, and a Meeting. Happy trails! See you in the comments.
Alice Arneson is a long-time Tor.com commenter and Sanderson beta-reader. She enjoys literature, music, science, and math; mostly, she spends her time reading, doing laundry, and homeschooling one child. In no particular order of precedence, of course.