Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! Last week, Alice watched madness blossom in two interlude chapters. This week, I watch science (and maybe also some madness?) flourish on the Shattered Plains. I also make an announcement. You’ll get to it in time.
This reread will contain spoilers for The Way of Kings, Words of Radiance, and any other Cosmere book that becomes relevant to the discussion. This week’s chapter also contains spoilers for Carl’s career trajectory…
Chapter 35: The Multiplied Strain of Simultaneous Infusion
Points of View: Adolin, Navani
Location: The Shattered Plains
Symbology: Duelist, Kalak, Battar
IN WHICH Adolin throws his Shardblade and it turns into mist, belying his martial discipline; he maintains a paranoid insistence to keep wearing his Plate, forever; Bridgemen are suspected; Soulcasters are observed making a wall out of air; Ardents are questioned about the powers held by Radiants; Navani tests a new technology; Through the power of weights, pullies, and magic rocks, a platform is made to hover in mid-air; Adolin approaches and points out that the platform is floating in mid-air, noble mind of science that he is; Navani speaks of further plans “the Ardents” are devising, not allowed to do science on her own out in the open; Adolin points out how she selectively accepts binding traditions, then takes her to an important meeting.
Quote of the Week:
“Aunt?” he said, voice strained. “A glove?”
“Far more practical,” she said, holding up her safehand and wiggling the fingers. “Oh, don’t look like that. Darkeyed women do it all the time.”
“You’re not darkeyed.”
“I’m the dowager queen,” Navani said. “Nobody cares what in Damnation I do. I could prance around completely nude, and they’d all just shake their heads and talk about how eccentric I am.”
This chapter shows how complicated and fascinating the navigation of Alethi gender norms can be. Navani, a craftswoman and scientist, doesn’t have the latitude to bind up one of her hands in a sleeve, and she uses her position as dowager queen to get away with the massive breach of etiquette that is wearing a glove. As a widow, she completed the marriage obligation, and as the queen mother she retains power by proximity to the throne, but as neither widow nor queen mother are positions that have formal requirements of her, she finds latitude in the system to act how she wishes. Strange, then, that she doesn’t also operate as a scientist outright, rather than playing patron to the ardentia.
Commentary: Adolin cuts a dashing figure as a gentleman paranoiac. Having been caught without Shardplate once, he’s decided to never take it off, ever. His other readiness protocols include never sleeping and twitching manically at all signs of aggression. He vacillates between giving his bodyguards grudging respect due to proximity to Kaladin, who was quite useful in saving his father’s life, and swinging on the secret of Kaladin’s powers and peculiarities with renewed suspicion. He’s ruining himself for any kind of usefulness.
How similar he is to Dalinar! The Highprince also watched an assassination he was powerless to prevent, although he was even more unready than his son, and he totally reinvented himself through his feelings of guilt and shame. The Kholin boys certainly make good use of their personality collapses. Sadly, I don’t think the pressures Adolin is under are going to end up making him as much better a person as Dalinar became. His confrontation with Sadeas at the end of this book leads me to believe he’s on a far darker path than that.
Adolin is deeply suspicious of Kaladin, and though I don’t think there’s a conscious link here, it’s because of Kaladin’s proto-Radiant status. At the end of the book, his brother and father are both becoming Radiants, as is his betrothed, as might be both of his cousins. My speculation is that, as the only mundane member of his immediate family, Adolin might grow resentful of these Radiant powers, and that resentment will be a perfect weakness for Odium to exploit. Dude loves hate, y’all. Just loves it.
This chapter plays setup for Shallan’s arrival, and with it the gathering of all our principal players to the same location for the first time. As such, it is adjacent to great importance! A very nice beginning to the third part of the novel.
Sprenspotting: Remember the elderly couple of ardents in The Way of Kings who experimented with flamespren and weird culinary pursuits? Well, they’ve made their return! “. . . changed even when he was in the other room,” Rushu mumbled, flipping to another page. “Repeatable and measurable. Only flamespren so far, but so many potential other applications . . .” It seems that scientific knowledge is being broadly disseminated, and a Quantum Spren Theory is sure to result. As we can see resulting in Navani’s experiments in quantum-spren-pairing-levitation. SCIENCE!
Ars Mechanica: SCIENCE!!!
Ars Arcanum: We get our first look at Soulcasters, the people, Soulcasting, and boy howdy are they ever weird:
Soulcasters. It was the word for both the people who performed the art and the fabrials they used. Kadash was not one himself; he wore the standard grey robes instead of red, his head shaven, face accented by a square beard. He noticed Adolin, hesitated briefly, then bowed his head in respect. Like all of the ardents, Kadash was technically a slave.
That included the five Soulcasters. Each stood with right hand to breast, displaying a sparkling fabrial across the back of the palm. One of the ardents glanced at Adolin. Stormfather—that gaze wasn’t completely human, not any longer. The woman’s skin had hardened to something like stone, smooth, with fine cracks. It was as if the person were a living statue.
Soulcasters who use fabrials to do what Radiants can do through nahel bonds clearly pay a high price. Perhaps they channel the transformative power through their own bodies, absorbing the minerals of the expended gemstones through the power of the replicated Transformation surge. However it happens, it makes Jasnah’s plan to pretend she had a Soulcaster fabrial seem… well, not suited for the long game. You can only go so long pretending to be a Soulcaster before someone asks why you don’t have stone skin yet.
Heraldic Symbolism: Kalak is Resolute/Builder, while Battar is Wise/Careful, and the mix of those four attributes provides an interesting backdrop to Navani’s experiments defying the forces of gravity(spren).
Well, I suppose it’s time for that announcement I mentioned in the introduction. Next week, Alice will bring Shallan into the presence of the Kholins, and launch our heroes towards the eventual endgame. I will not, however, be returning the following week to see that progress continue. This will be my last chapter of the Stormlight Archive reread. It was with great joy that I joined Michael Pye on the Way of Kings reread last year (in fact, a year ago this Saturday), and helping our reread community grow and flourish has been a labor of love. However, as my duties to the Tor.com novella program continue to grow, I’ve found it impossible to keep giving the reread as much time and attention as it needs. And while Brandon Sanderson’s epic saga will always hold a privileged place in my heart, as an editor I want to bring out new stories to sit beside it in our pantheonic library.
I leave you all in Alice Arneson’s ever-capable hands, and hope to stop in every now and then in the comments, to see where she’s taken the reread. Thank you for a year of your time and attention. It has been my Honor.
Carl Engle-Laird has been, and always shall be, your friend. He is an editorial assistant for Tor.com, where he acquires and edits short fiction, novellas, and maybe someday novels. He would say that it is storming on his face, but Skyface might disapprove. You can follow him on Twitter.