Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! Last week, feasting in the Davar home was less than agreeable for all parties. This week, things are much more congenial as Shallan finds her temporary home in the warcamps.
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 40: Palona
Point of View: Shallan
Setting: Sebarial’s warcamp
Symbology: Pattern, Kalak, Vedel
IN WHICH Shallan proceeds with Sebarial to his warcamp, complete with promised badinage; she observes that his warcamp is more like a well-planned city; Jasnah’s notes prove insightful completely inadequate and outdated; Sebarial has built a thriving economy out here in nowhere; Palona greets them at the manor with more wit and humor; Sebarial gives a breezy account of Shallan’s presence, and Shallan provides an only slightly more complete one; Palona welcomes her anyway; Shallan blanks out again; arrangements are made for appropriate servants, wages, and so on; Shallan falls asleep in a bed made apparently of air and wishes.
Quote of the Week:
“… I have the most complete force of tailors, artisans, and cooks in the camps. Already, I’ve set up twelve manufactories—textiles, shoes, ceramics, several mills. I control the glassblowers as well.”
Shallan turned back toward him. That pride in his voice didn’t at all match what Jasnah had written of the man. Of course, most of her notes and knowledge of the highprinces came from infrequent visits to the Shattered Plains, and none had been recent.
“From what I’ve heard,” Shallan said, “your forces are among the least successful in the war against the Parshendi.”
Sebarial got a twinkle in his eyes. “The others hunt quick income from gemhearts, but what will they spend their money on?…”
I like Sebarial. Not your typical Alethi lighteyes. He has pride in his accomplishments, and they’re genuinely his accomplishments. He hires capable people, listens to their input, decides what to implement, and lets them do their job (well, except for the cook), all the while directing the activity toward his own goals. He achieves a unique power by providing what everyone else needs but does not value, while the other highprinces are pursuing things they value but don’t need.
Commentary: I often start the reread process by going through a chapter, highlighting items I want to talk about and sections that I think might make a good QOTW. That… didn’t work very well this time; I found myself highlighting whole pages, one after the other. Oops.
The thing is, I really like Sebarial, and when Palona enters the scene, it just gets better. One tidbit I relished was the description of Sebarial’s banner:
It bore the glyphs sebes and laial stylized into a skyeel, deep gold on a black field
combined, a page or so later with Shallan’s reaction to learning of his undertakings:
“You sly eel,” Shallan said. “While the others fight a war, you’ve been building an economy.”
Heh. How fitting. Seriously, though, his description of war – especially this war—is too true: it’s a lot of work, soldiers die, you have to pay their families, and it’s useless all around. So he pays the fines to skip most of his assigned plateau runs, and puts his resources to work positioning himself to gain most of the actual profit from the gemhearts. At that, though, he’s got one of the best-trained armies on the Plains, because whatever he’s doing, he hires the best people to do the job and lets them do it.
This chapter sets up an excellent working relationship between Sebarial, Shallan, and Palona. The trouble is, I don’t remember it developing very much throughout the book. Hopefully, that’s just my mind flaking out on me, because it would be a crying shame to have such a lovely state of affairs and then not use it.
It was unexpectedly kind of Sebarial to point out that, as much as he enjoys her not-traditional-court-manners, she does need to be careful where she aims her wit. She’s playing for much higher stakes now than she ever has before, and retribution for insult here would not only be swift, it might well doom the world. No pressure, though, girl.
I keep wanting to quote big chunks of this chapter. So much delight, especially when they meet Palona. She’s awesome. I’ll give in just a little to my quote-frenzy, and insert my very favorite bit of the whole chapter:
“Bah!” Sebarial said. “Woman, you make me the most henpecked man in all of Alethkar—”
“We aren’t in Alethkar.”
“—and I’m not even storming married!”
“I’m not marrying you, so stop asking,” Palona said, folding her arms, looking Shallan up and down speculatively. “She’s far too young for you.”
Sebarial grinned. “I used that line already. On Ruthar. It was delightful—he sputtered so much, you could have mistaken him for a storm.”
I’ll… just shut up and let you enjoy that in all its scrumptiousness.
Anyway, Palona not only assures Shallan that she will get the stipend implied, she also—without any sentimental gloop—simply, completely, and matter-of-factly makes her welcome. Shallan gets a little excited about running water, which she saw for the first time in Kharbranth (and which tells us a little about the state of development in rural Jah Keved); Palona’s response makes me smile every time:
“Welcome to civilization. I trust you left your club and loincloth at the door.”
Civilization. On the Shattered Plains. Heh.
Stormwatch: Yup. Same day as Chapters 35-38. Still going…
All Creatures Shelled and Feathered: Hogs. Just a reminder, in case you were worried: yes, Roshar does have bacon. And Sebarial farms the hogs to provide real, un-Soulcast bacon to the armies.
I wonder if you can Soulcast bacon? Betcha can’t.
Okay, so we haven’t actually seen bacon on Roshar, but if they haven’t figured it out yet, I’m very disappointed in them. In any case, we have not only hog farms, but lavis and tallew, which an enterprising highprince with the right assortment of engineers and farmers can make totally viable even out here on the somewhat desolate edge of the Shattered Plains.
Heraldic Symbolism: This one was fairly straightforward. I think. Kalak is logical in his role as Maker, which suits Sebarial’s activities to a T. I find humor in noticing that Kalak’s traditional “body focus,” the nails, are also the key for Shallan to identify Palona’s ethnic background – Herdazian, with their “rocklike cast” to the fingernails. (I think it would be totally awesome and hilarious if Sebarial turns out to be a Willshaper…) Vedeledev may not be quite so obvious, but I do think Palona plays a role as Healer for Shallan; it’s also hinted that perhaps Sebarial played a healing – or at least rescuing – role for Palona herself.
Words of Radiants:
That they responded immediately and with great consternation is undeniable, as these were primary among those who would forswear and abandon their oaths. The term Recreance was not then applied, but has since become a popular title by which this event is named. —From Words of Radiance, chapter 38, page 6
This comes in the in-world book (with the possibility of a few intervening sentences) immediately after the epigraph of our Chapter 38, with its discovery of “some wicked thing of eminence.”
Frustratingly, it leaves open at least two possibilities: that they abandoned their oaths due to some perceived betrayal by the spren, or due to some perceived betrayal within the organization of the Knights Radiant.
The former seems more logical to me, since their actions severed them from their spren bonds, leaving their spren dead in sword-form forever. My current best guesses on this would be: discovery of a bonded spren (and Knight) turning to Odium; learning of the Odium-spren bonds of the Parshendi; or a spren posing as “normal” which deceived, bonded, and twisted a human. I still can’t help thinking about the Unmade in this context, but we have some strong indications that the Unmade have been around far longer than this.
It’s possible, however, that the Knights Radiant didn’t realize the effect that abandoning their oaths would have on the spren, and their action was intended to be a protest against something within the Radiants rather than destructive of their spren. I have a hard time imagining what could happen to make these fully-bonded Knights, who presumably knew their spren very well, choose to deliberately lock those spren into sword forms and a sort of living death.
Well, presumably we’ll learn more eventually, and in the meantime we can speculate all we want.
Shipping Wars: This ship needs no help at all, but let me just say once again how much I love Sebarial and Palona. They’re priceless. (For everything else, there’s MasterCard… and he’ll take any form of payment.)
Just Sayin’: The only one that caught my eye this time was “Winds know…” At that, I almost missed it because of the context:
Palona smiled. “Winds know, you’re not the first stray he’s brought home. Some of us even end up staying.
Aww. I want to know that story.
There. That ought to keep us busy until next week, when Kaladin returns to the chasms, this time to train in earnest.
Alice Arneson is a long-time Tor.com commenter and Sanderson beta-reader. She would like to take this opportunity to remind all WorldCon members to do your reading and voting for the Hugo awards; for the rest of you, she’d like to encourage you all to become WorldCon members and then do the reading and voting. 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.