Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! Last week, Shallan navigated the treacherous waters of her introduction to Alethi politics. This week, we’ll return to that happiest of times and places, Shallan’s childhood on the Davar estate. Oh, wait…
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 39: Heterochromatic
Point of View: Young Shallan
Setting: The Davar Estate, Jah Keved, Four Years Ago
Symbology: Inverse Pattern, Chach, Nalan
IN WHICH gloom prevails, as Father pretends wealth he doesn’t have; he has beaten a maid nearly to death in anger at Helaran’s letter; he is betrothed, but no one can pretend excitement; he gives fine gifts (which he can’t afford) to his children to mark the occasion; he still never shouts at Shallan; feasting is interrupted by a man with heterochromatic eyes, bearing rumors of murder; while Father and the man talk, Shallan and her brothers huddle by fireplace; Shallan blanks out; she makes up stories about Father’s conversation, with puns hidden to distract her brothers – and actually makes them laugh; they get in trouble for laughing, but Balat actually has a good answer and Father leaves them alone for a while; the visitor makes a request for information from everyone every lighteyes in the room; courage fails; Father roars; and everyone runs away.
Quote of the Week:
Balat glanced over his shoulder, toward the high table. “I wish I could hear what was being said,” he whispered. “Maybe they’ll drag him away. That would be fitting, for what he’s done.”
“He didn’t kill Mother,” Shallan said softly.
“Oh?” Balat snorted. “Then what did happen?”
She didn’t know. She couldn’t think. Not of that time, that day. Had Father actually done it? She felt cold again, despite the fire’s warmth.
Oh, Shallan, how well you hide from yourself. You know he didn’t do it, but at the same time, you will not remember the truth, and so you wonder if maybe he did. Oh, Shallan.
Commentary: I have always assumed, based on various hints here and there, that there was once a time when the Davar’s were, if not a perfect family, at least a reasonably happy one. If so, those days are gone.
In fact, they’re a complete mess now. Father’s temper and self-control have deteriorated to the point that he’s brutally beating servants over a letter from Helaran. He’s throwing parties and pretending to be wealthy, but he’s actually desperate for money. His pretense is good enough to deceive most people, even to the point that another Brightlord has been willing to betroth his youngest daughter to Davar (though I certainly hope he had no idea what he was sending her into; if he had any clue, he deserves a terrible fate!). He is doing everything he can to gain prestige and influence, but his home is a disaster.
What I don’t know, and it gnaws at me, is whether he was already under Odium’s influence at this point. I suspect he is, based on previous flashbacks, but I don’t know. The other question, related, is whether the stress of the circumstances surrounding the death of his wife opened him to that influence, or whether it was Odium’s influence that magnified the stress to the point of madness. I suspect the former, but again, I don’t know. And it probably doesn’t matter, but I think about these things.
Something else I wonder about:
“You’ve met my daughter, of course,” Father said, gesturing to Shallan as his guests were seated. “The jewel of House Davar, our pride above all others.”
Why is Shallan “our pride above all others”? I don’t get the impression, from other cultural references, that a lone daughter is generally such a prized member of a Veden family. Am I missing something? Is this a unique aspect of Lin and Shallan Davar? Ideas, anyone? I don’t quite get it.
In any case, Shallan is trying her best to cheer her brothers up in spite of it all – as long as she doesn’t have to remember the truth. While on the one hand I can’t fault her for not actually confronting her father with the problems, it frustrates me to read passages like this:
She did not want to contradict him. He had been good to her. He was always good to her. Yet, shouldn’t someone do something?
Helaran might have. He’d left them.
It’s growing worse and worse. Someone needs to do something, say something, to change Father. He shouldn’t be doing the things that he did, growing drunk, beating the darkeyes…
I suppose I shouldn’t blame such a young girl for not taking the lead on this, when her older brothers are incapable of doing anything either, but at the same time, I’m confident that she’s the only one who could possibly have a positive influence on him at this stage. Even Helaran, for all her reliance on his goodness and courage, only has the power to make things worse: not knowing the truth, he actively and viciously blames their father for their mother’s murder. I’m convinced that the pressure of blame from his beloved son, combined with his own determination to protect his equally-beloved daughter from the consequences of the truth, making him unable to answer the accusations, is largely responsible for Lord Davar’s mental breakdown. If Shallan could tell the truth even within her own family… but at this point, they wouldn’t believe her unless she produced the Shardblade, of course. Oh, what a mess. I feel sorry for everybody, now.
Well. Chapter-title-character-guy is not a particularly nice person, but I suppose I can’t blame him for that. Once again proving that genetics on Roshar is weird, Highprince Valam’s bastard son Redin has one light eye (“intense blue”) and one dark eye (“dark brown”). Not that heterochromatic eyes are unheard of on Earth, but it seems more widely known on Roshar, as well as being a handy and absolute evidence of parentage.
Redin is here, as investigator and possibly executioner, to search for evidence that Lin Davar killed his wife, presumably because Helaran said so and then disappeared. Fortunately for the truth, no one here is brave enough to stand up and give that evidence, and the two people in the room who know… aren’t telling. I have to wonder what would happen if the truth had come out (besides destroying the story Brandon is telling, of course). Would Shallan have been pardoned? Would they have tried to make her give up her Shardblade? Would they, too, have tried to kill her? What would have been the reaction? Alas, we’ll never know.
Just a couple of other things I want to point out on the way by:
They’d received a brief letter from Helaran six months back, along with a book by the famous Jasnah Kholin for Shallan to read.
And so begins a new phase of her education! So we can at least thank Helaran for that much.
There’s also an interesting note that Shallan has begun to study propriety – with some difficulty, since her tutors kept leaving – but that her father wasn’t big on the niceties of Vorin social etiquette. It demonstrates the fact that, although he is of fairly high rank, he is still very much a rural brightlord without any semblance of courtly manners.
Stormwatch: This scene takes place four years ago; Shallan is thirteen and a half years old. This is two years after the first flashback, “Red Carpet Once White.”
Sprenspotting: Flamespren are fairly common occurrences, so the scene with the boys watching the flamespren is significant only in its accompanying statement that “The three brothers never talked anymore.”
There is another spren soon to come in this tableau, which made its first appearance back in the “Rysn” Interlude: shamespren. These collect in their little group by the fire, when no one can bring himself to speak against Father in the matter of the death of his wife. I’m really, really curious as to why shamespren have such a lovely appearance, though: “A whirling group of translucent flower petals stirred among them, fading into view.” Also? Another case of a deeply inconvenient spren! And what do they look like in the Cognitive realm – full-blown rosebushes?
Heraldic Symbolism: Our Heralds for this flashback are Chach and Nalan. I’m waffling on Chach’s meaning: probably the “obedient” aspect, although in some ways Shallan is also serving as guard for her brothers, and her father is a guard for her. Dustbringers seems more appropriate to the scenario, though. As for Nalan, I’m betting Redin is his representative as Judge, as well as portraying the attributes of Just and Confident. However, there have been hinted links between the Skybreakers and Helaran, as well as Nalan’s other appearances to developing Surgebinders. All worth consideration.
Just Sayin’: There are a couple of curious little remarks to note: “To the void with all of you” would seem to be the equivalent of “to hell with you.” Which is… pretty much a direct parallel. Likewise, when Shallan has been cracking bad puns, her brother laughs and calls her “You little Voidbringer,” which is obviously like unto “you little devil.” Fun little notes.
Another socially significant hint is dropped in this chapter, though, which is easy to miss. Shallan notes that Father has started calling her brother “Nan Balat, as if he were the oldest.” A little later, she specifically calls him “Tet Balat,” as they are speaking of Helaran and his disappearances. I find it slightly bizarre to consider a culture where the order of birth – and inheritance – matters so much that the associated titles are actually used between family members.
If you hadn’t caught it yet, “Nan” is the title for the oldest son, the person nominally in “second place” in the family, with the Lord obviously in first. The second son is “Tet,” the third is “Asha,” and the fourth is “Van.” I find this mildly confusing, because while Nan is directly associated with the number 2, where do Tet, Asha, and Van come from? The names associated with those hierarchical numbers are: 3, Chach; 4, Vev; and 5, Palah. If anything, Tet is closest to Tanat (9), Asha to Shash (6), and Van to Vev (4). Weird.
There. Go talk about it. That ought to keep us busy until next week, when Shallan has a chance to get to know the highprince in whose power she’s placed herself, and his mistress too. Witty badinage alert!
Alice Arneson is a long-time Tor.com commenter and Sanderson beta-reader. She would like to take this opportunity to remind you all to do your reading for the Hugo voting (if you’re a WorldCon member), and encourage you all to become WorldCon members (and do the reading) if you aren’t. Team Sanderson intends to be present in force, and if you come too, please look for Wetlander at Registration. She’d love to meet you in person.