Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! Last week, we went back in time to see Li’l Shallan enjoying an afternoon with the two brothers she was able to help, and redeeming the one she couldn’t. This week, we get to have a lot more fun as grown-up (ish) Shallan goes on her first real date with Adolin, and they chat about poop. Heh.
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 49: Watching the World Transform
Point of View: Shallan
Setting: The Storm Cellar!
Symbology: Pattern, Palah, Chach
IN WHICH Shallan meets Adolin for their first date, and is wigged out to realize that they’re supposed to sit and drink and watch the highstorm’s approach; she is repeatedly dazzled by his smile, his hair, his smile, his cologne, his smile, his laugh, his eyes, his smile (yeah, a whole lot of dazzling going on up in here); her efforts to play the appropriate part in the courtship game are derailed by her innate curiosity; Adolin responds to her accidental candidness by also becoming more genuine; bodily functions and Shardplate make for an embarrassing mix; everything about the conversation goes askew; the possibility of chasmfiend ranching arises; Shallan takes the excuse to segue into her desire to get out onto the Shattered Plains; Adolin explains current affairs; the highstorm approaches, and Shallan finds herself mesmerized instead of terrified; they finally duck into shelter with a wasted six-second lead before the storm hits; Shallan retires to the women’s sitting room.
Quote of the Week
“Well,” Adolin said, “if you must know, an old adage on the battlefield teaches that it’s better to be embarrassed than dead. You can’t let anything draw your attention from fighting.”
“So yes, I, Adolin Kholin—cousin to the king, heir to the Kholin princedom—have shat myself in my Shardplate. Three times, all on purpose.” He downed the rest of his wine. “You are a very strange woman.”
Yup, I still think it’s one of the funniest lines in all of fantasy literature.
This was such a fun chapter to read, and such a hard chapter to write about! The conversation between Adolin and Shallan, replete as it is with Shallan mentally drooling over Adolin’s smile, eyes, etc., is entertaining and delightful, and there are so many exchanges that I’d love to copy… but you can read the chapter for that.
Aside from the shipping, which was SO much fun, the thing I found most compelling in this chapter was a development in Adolin’s character. Prior to this, even though we’ve been in his head, we’ve mostly seen his character through the eyes of Kaladin and Dalinar. Having said that, I must admit it’s a very odd statement. But I stand by it; his POVs have primarily focused on either his father or a battle. While this shows us his love, and respect for Dalinar, and is a superb perspective for a battle/duel scene, there’s not a lot about his actual motivation. The primary exception is that we’ve seen from the inside that he is intensely loyal, particularly to his father and brother.
So far, we’ve been given the mostly-external perspective of Adolin as a self-confident, even arrogant, prince; a fighter and duelist preoccupied with fashionable appearances and social acceptability. He’s not one to follow the stupider versions of “vanity-before-sanity” fashions, but he has a good sense of style and he does the things appropriate to his station in Alethi society. Dalinar thinks of him with great affection, but considers him somewhat hot-headed and overly concerned with the opinions of others; Kaladin merely thinks him spoiled, arrogant, and shallow. In either case, we’re not shown a man of particular depth.
This chapter gave me a whole different perspective. Back in Chapter 37, we got a hint, with this reaction when he saw Shallan for the first time:
Gorgeous red hair. There wasn’t a single lock of black in it. A slender build, so different from the curvaceous Alethi. A silken blue dress, simple yet elegant. Pale skin—it almost had a Shin look to it—matched by light blue eyes. A slight dusting of freckles under the eyes, giving her an exotic cast.
The young woman seemed to glide through the room. Adolin twisted about, watching her pass. She was so different.
Here in this chapter, everything changes (except that it’s from someone else’s POV again). At the beginning of the chapter, both of them are trying to be “proper” about this courtship gig; the theme is repeated again and again: the fashion folio, oversized so as not to be mistaken for a woman’s book. References to things they’re “supposed to do.” Act refined, because Adolin will expect sophistication. Act poised, elegant. This winehouse is the latest fad. Courting advice: “get him to talk about himself.” “He looked at her, expectant.” “…feeling as if she were filling an expected role.” “…dutifully looking at him with widened eyes.” “He paused…” “…what she hoped was a breathy, adoring voice.” “He paused again. She was probably supposed to ask what happened next.”
And then it all breaks loose.
“What if you need to poop?” she asked instead.
BAHAHAHAHA! The funniest part is that he starts to answer the questions she was “supposed” to ask—the question they always ask—before it registers what she in fact said. And then he answers her: honestly, bluntly, if somewhat reluctantly, and admits right out loud that “not going the way it’s supposed to” is kind of refreshing.
In rereading now, I was struck with the realization that honestly, he probably didn’t care all that much about fashion, and fads, and all the social hoo-hah. He just did what was expected of him (even if it was getting boring), because he had nothing else of great interest to do, no particular desire to rebel, and not much to rebel against anyway. He created an appropriate persona that more or less fit his interests and was suitable for his station, and lived in that persona, acting the part, dutifully following the script… until Shallan came and knocked him sideways.
“…Do you know how many times I’ve told that story about saving the plateau run?”
“I’m sure you were quite brave.”
“Though probably not as brave as the poor men who have to clean your armor.”
Adolin bellowed out a laugh. For the first time it seemed like something genuine—an emotion from him that wasn’t scripted or expected. He pounded his fist on the table, then waved for more wine, wiping a tear from his eye. The grin he gave her threatened to bring on another blush.
Suddenly, they are in a real conversation. They talk about chasmfiends, and the possible result of the continued hunts; he outright acknowledges that he’s not as dense as he pretends to be. They talk about the Parshendi, and his dueling; she admits that she is terribly ignorant of the politics, because all the information she had from Jasnah was badly outdated. She asks him to tell her some of what is going on…
And he does. He tells her the whole story: Dalinar’s visions, the betrayal by Sadeas, their salvation by the bridge crew, his current quest to win as many Shardblades as possible through dueling. Letting it all out seems to lift a weight from him, and she finds herself wanting desperately to help him. Those paragraphs confirmed it: I am resolutely on this ship. They have each been bearing burdens, for their families and for the world, and they have been acting the parts given them. Finally, here in this unlikely betrothal, they have each discovered a fitting partner: they’ve found someone to laugh with, to relax with; someone with whom they can be open, honest, natural; someone who brings out the best in them.
I love this chapter.
Heh. Literally: Stormwatch. This is the same day as Chapter 47, of course. But I shall take advantage of the Stormwatch header to quote something fascinating:
A huge sheet of water and debris blown before the storm. In places, it flashed with light from behind, revealing movement and shadows within. Like the skeleton of a hand when light illuminated the flesh, there was something inside this wall of destruction.
Life. Something lived inside that storm, something that no artist had ever drawn, no scholar had ever described.
I’ll… just leave that there for you to consider.
In conjunction with the aforementioned stormwatching, “Windspren zipped in tiny rivers of light overhead.” Pattern is nowhere to be seen–even by Shallan—during their conversation, though she hears him humming as the storm approaches. What is that supposed to mean?
All Creatures Shelled and Feathered
Greatshells ahoy! This was an intriguing excursion into the biology of local fauna. Shallan postulates that chasmfiends, rather than being hunted as they’d always been, are now being essentially harvested, resulting in a decrease in the overall population. Oddly, rather than suggesting that they should stop, she instead draws the conclusion that perhaps the greatshells could be raised like chulls, breeding them and harvesting the gemhearts in entire batches. Greatshell ranching FTW! Might have problems with poachers.
Palah and Chach preside over this chapter; the scholar and the guard—or learned/giving and brave/obedient. I’d like to hear your thoughts on their relevance here, because all I’ve got is Shallan going all biology-teacher on Adolin, and his bravery in battle—or perhaps that of his armorers.
Words of Radiants
These Lightweavers, by no coincidence, included many who pursued the arts; namely: writers, artists, musicians, painters, sculptors. Considering the order’s general temperament, the tales of their strange and varied mnemonic abilities may have been embellished.
–From Words of Radiance, chapter 21, page 10
This is from the same page as the epigraph of Chapter 47. The tone of this one, combined with what we know of Shallan’s own “strange… mnemonic abilities,” makes me think that the narrator may not be completely unbiased. So maybe the mistrust of the Lightweavers I got from the previous epigraph is more appropriately directed at the writer of this book?
Shallan and Adolin! Uh… we pretty much talked about that already.
This isn’t so much in-world phrasing, but in-world fashion. Believe it or not, it only just now occurred to me that the folio Adolin is examining gives us the visuals for the “Lift” interlude, which we’ll get to in…um… a couple of months or so. Okay, I’m slow sometimes.
There’s a lot in this chapter I didn’t address. Navani, the parshmen, Shallan’s drawings, the yu-nerig, thoughts on Jasnah and Tyn and Kabsal, the reactions of the Alethi women to Shallan’s presence… Please feel free to bring it all up in the comments! There’s plenty to keep us busy until next week, when we follow Adolin into the men’s sitting room for some frustrating confrontations during the storm, and then return with him to the Kholin complex for the aftermath.
Alice Arneson is a long-time Tor.com commenter and Sanderson beta-reader. Currently her thoughts are focusing toward preparations for her first-ever con experience: WorldCon 73, also known as Sasquan 2015. Anyone else planning to be there?