Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! Last week, Kaladin finally initiated serious Windrunner training and tentatively accepted Renarin’s presence on Bridge Four. This week, Shallan tackles some serious Lightweaver training and is saved from grave error by Pattern’s… well, patterns.
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 42: Mere Vapors
Point of View: Shallan
Setting: Her suite in Sebarial’s manor
Symbology: Pattern, Shalash
IN WHICH Shallan and Pattern discuss the intricacies of figurative speech, lies, truth, and illusion; Pattern spots a pattern and prevents a probable crash-and-burn for Shallan; spanreeds allow her to communicate with the Ghostbloods in Sebarial’s warcamp via an intermediary on the other side of the continent; Shallan practices deliberate Illusion drawing, and learns from Pattern that her Illusion will last as long as she holds Stormlight; a meeting is set for tonight; Shallan rifles Tyn’s belongings for clothing to outfit her illusory person, and climbs out the window.
Quote of the Week:
The lock of hair hanging down over her shoulder was black. Shallan stared at it, then rose from her seat, eager and timid at the same time. She crossed to the washroom and stepped up to the mirror there, looking at a face transformed, one with tan skin and dark eyes. The face from her drawing, given color and life.
“It works…” she whispered. This was more than changing scuffs in her dress or making herself look older, as she’d done before. This was a complete transformation. “What can we do with this?”
“Whatever we imagine,” Pattern said from the wall nearby. “Or whatever you can imagine. I am not good with what is not. But I like it. I like the… taste… of it.” He seemed very pleased with himself at that comment.
Semi-relevant personal anecdote: Some years ago, I had major jaw surgery. Needless to say, in the immediate aftermath, the lower half of my face swelled dramatically – but since I had a narrow face to start with, the result was not terribly disproportionate for a normal-sized (okay, chubby) face. It did not, however, look like my face. Under the lingering influence of anesthesia and painkillers, my first thought on seeing a mirror was, “They must have put me in someone else’s room, because the other person is there in the mirror.” It only took ten or fifteen seconds for the logic to sort itself out, but that’s the impression that springs to mind when I think of what it must have been like for Shallan to see her reflection in this scene.
Commentary: For a chapter where the most action involves walking from the couch to the washroom, there’s a lot going on up in here. First of all, I love it when Pattern starts talking like a Cryptic, with all the lies and truths and how evidently the words mean something ever so slightly different to him than to us.
“You say you are ‘on’ the stomach,” Pattern said. “But I know you do not mean this. Context allows me to infer what you truly mean. In a way, the very phrase is a lie.”
“It’s not a lie,” Shallan said, “if everyone understands and knows what it means.”
“Mm. Those are some of the best lies.”
Once again, we’re reminded that Pattern is very, very literal; figurative speech delights him even though he finds it hard to understand. (I think there should be some deeper meaning in this, but it’s lost on me at the moment.)
Fortunately for Shallan, he’s also very, very observant and the name she has given him is apt. Also fortunately for Shallan, her “instantaneous communication across half the world” is inconveniently delayed: while they’re waiting for the someone at the other end of Tyn’s spanreed to return, Pattern decodes the authentication cypher she needs to get access to Tyn’s connections. That was a close one, m’dear. However… it leaves a question hanging. Just before Pattern finds the pattern, there’s this:
One oddity stood out to Shallan. The way Tyn spoke of this group wasn’t like that of a thief and one-off employers. Tyn spoke of “getting in good” and “moving up” within the Ghostbloods.
Is the “oddity” merely that Tyn was not entirely consistent in the way she presented herself to Shallan versus her correspondent and/or the Ghostbloods? Or is this a hint about future developments?
Shallan proceeds to do her very best imitation of Tyn’s attitude and manner toward the person at the other end of the spanreed, and ends up with a meeting scheduled in less than half an hour, if she can “get to Sebarial’s warcamp quickly.” If. Heh. Her disguise consists of a whole lot of strange-to-her clothing; it’s good she and Tyn were roughly of a size. One of Tyn’s white coats with a wide black belt, a buttoned shirt, boots (Kaladin’s?), and Bluth’s white hat to shade her face and disguise her fuzzy nose. Loose trousers, which feel a bit odd but at least she was used to seeing them… but I’m torn between snickers and sympathy over her reaction to that thin glove on her safehand. Poor girl. Even her Illusion blushes.
Summoning Jasnah’s lessons to support her, she finally collects all her needful bits-and-bobs and climbs out the window. Because all good adventures should start by climbing out the window.
Stormwatch: Energizer Day, evening. Thirty-seven days remaining in the countdown.
Ars Arcanum: Lightweaving! Lightweaving all over the where! This is nicely set up to parallel Kaladin’s efforts in the previous chapter, with two notable differences. Pattern seems to have a more thorough grasp of Lightweaving than Syl has of Windrunning. Best two guesses: 1) Pattern was not isolated from his kind by his bonding as Syl was; she rebelled and is the only bonded honorspren, while Pattern was clearly in communication with other Cryptics when we first saw them back in TWoK. 2) Pattern’s earlier learning time with Shallan, while interrupted for six years, has returned to him over the last few months, while Syl hasn’t had any previous experience and is still figuring things out for the first time. I’m not entirely sure that second option is as applicable to spren as it would be to humans, but it’s at least partly relevant. In any event, I guess it’s only fair that Shallan’s spren knows more than Kaladin’s, because he’s got friends to help him learn, and she’s flying solo. Or… no, it’s Kaladin that flies. Shallan… weaves alone? Doesn’t have the same ring to it, somehow.
Anyway. Like Kaladin, Shallan has done some Surgebinding before (that she remembers), but this is a new step. Always before, she was building on an existing framework, making little modifications here and there, enhancing this and disguising that. This time, she draws something different: dark eyes, dark hair, worn features, a scar. She keeps her body mostly the same, in terms of height and build, but no one could possibly see this Illusion as merely an older or more polished Shallan. Everything is different. And Pattern matter-of-factly says, “Sure, no worries. Your imagination is the limit. More coffee?” … or words to that effect.
Not that it was perfect—she forgot to finish the nose on her drawing, so now she has a fuzzy gap. (I’m not quite sure, though, why she can’t just go back to the drawing, add in the necessary line, and make it look un-fuzzy.) I’m relieved that she didn’t do a whole WoT-style “Mask of Mirrors” to change her clothing and everything, but had to go dig through Tyn’s working wardrobe to find stuff suitable to the persona she was weaving. Which is not to say that she couldn’t do a full-body-and-clothes Illusion some other time, of course, but it would be a bit much for a first effort. And that long-ago reference to Tyn’s annoying lessons in forgery now comes full circle, aiding Shallan in a way Tyn certainly didn’t intend!
Is this really the first time Shallan has made the connection between her Illusions and the Stormlight she holds? When she asks Pattern how long the Illusion will last, he tells her that it feeds on Light; she looks and realizes that she had apparently drained all the spheres in her safepouch during the meeting with the highprinces. While it does explain the changes noted by Sebarial during their carriage ride, because the Illusion faded as the spheres ran out, it makes me wonder: was she drawing Stormlight from those spheres involuntarily, or instinctively? And was she really completely unaware that she was doing so? (I guess I should go back and look, but… not now.)
You Have to Break a Lot of Rockbuds:
Suddenly ravenous, Shallan sat down on the sofa, lifting the lid off the tray to find flatbread that had been baked with sweet paste in the center, along with dipping sauces.
Did that sound like a danish to anyone besides me? Mmmm. Danish and coffee. Now I want breakfast.
Heraldic Symbolism: Shalash presides in solitary glory over this chapter, full as it is of Lightweaving. No further explanation seems necessary. The chapter title clearly comes from Jasnah’s remembered words at the end of the chapter:
Authority is not a real thing. It is mere vapors—an illusion. I can create that illusion… as can you.
Words of Radiants:
But as for Ishi’Elin, his was the part most important at their inception; he readily understood the implications of Surges being granted to men, and caused organization to be thrust upon them; as having too great power, he let it be known that he would destroy each and every one, unless they agreed to be bound by precepts and laws.
From Words of Radiance, chapter 2, page 4
So now we’re skipping from the ending of the Knights Radiant to their beginnings. This brings back a question discussed many chapters ago: whether the initial efforts at Surgebinding were strictly limited to exactly the combinations given to the Heralds, or whether that limit was one of the “precepts and laws” imposed on them by Ishar.
I can understand the argument that, since the spren were imitating what was given the Heralds, all they did was imitate exactly that. I’d really like to know if that’s certain, though. Does anyone have a WoB on the subject which I’ve been unable to find? Or is it merely a consensus among a group of fans who believe that it ought to be so? Because without a WoB, it seems far more probable to me that the spren experimented with granting humans access to whatever Surges they could influence – single Surges, various melds, one person with control over three, or four, or five Surges… That would also be a strong reason for Ishar to step in and say, “No. These ten combinations, and no others, always accompanied by Ideals that constrain the worst impulses of human nature.” The text says he “caused organization to be thrust upon them” – which could be as light as requiring each of the ten extant “families” of spren to abide by certain Ideals, or it could be as heavy as defining and imposing the system of ten Orders (with Ideals) and forbidding all others.
Please, if anyone has a clarifying WoB, speak now! I will be forever in your debt.
With that, we’ll wrap this up until next week, when we meet… The Ghostbloods.
Alice Arneson is a long-time Tor.com commenter and Sanderson beta-reader. With Sasquan 2015 only ten weeks away, it’s not too late to become a member – or even join the staff! There are rumors of especially good Con Suite and Staff Den provisioning; possibly even bacon chocolate chip cookies. Look for Wetlander – she’d really like to meet you there.