Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! Last week, Lift and Wyndle led us into discussions of Edgedancers, the Cognitive Realm, murder, and justice. This week, we join Szeth atop the highest tower in the world to contemplate the End of All Things—or the end of all his former assumptions, anyway.
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.
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Interlude 10: Szeth
Point of View: Szeth
Symbology: Assassin, Vedeledev
IN WHICH Szeth sits on the top of Urithiru and contemplates the things he has done; having fought someone who held and used Stormlight, he faces the possibility that the past eight years have been based on a lie; he departs Urithiru, falling toward a place he hopes to find answers.
Quote of the Week
“What does it mean if the Shamanate are wrong? What does it mean if they banished me in error?”
It meant the End of All Things. The end of truth. It would mean that nothing made sense, and that his oath was meaningless.
It would mean he had killed for no reason.
Well. Not so sure about that “end of truth, nothing makes sense” part, frankly, in my opinion, it never made sense to send someone out with an Honorblade and orders to implicitly obey anyone who picks up his Oathstone. Seriously, people? I mean, what could possibly go wrong?
But that last? Yeah, it means that. For. No. Reason.
Every now and then, I do feel a little bit sorry for Szeth. I mean, he was trying so hard to obey the rules no matter what the cost. But then… I think about the cost, and I don’t feel sorry for him anymore. Yes, the cost was high—but he’s not the one who paid it. And frankly, this makes me want to kick him:
The screamers deserved their deaths, of course. They should have killed Szeth.
This, and thoughts like this, which we’ve seen before and will again, when we’re in his head. Even as he murders more and more people, he seems to increasingly think of himself as the victim. “Oh, poor me. All those people I murdered scream at me every time I close my eyes. Poor, poor me. Life’s really hard when you can’t close your eyes.” Gah. Self-identification as Victim makes me want to hurl.
On a lighter note (for a few minutes), this short interlude gives us a truckload of hints and snippets of information. This is our first actual glimpse of Urithiru, a hundred terraced stories high, with that odd, flat, windowed, eastern wall. Whatever it may once have been, and whatever it will become, at this point Szeth seems to be the only person who knows exactly where it is and has the capability to get there.
However, given that he considers it “the only place in the East where the stones were not cursed, where walking on them was allowed,” it seems probable that the Stone Shamans know of it. It’s even possible that they know exactly where it is, I suppose, and that he found it based on existing maps. This train of thought brings a whole series of questions about the Stone Shamans, though. Do they train with the Honorblades? Are there traditionally one or more individuals among them who practice the Surgebinding that comes with the eight Honorblades they’ve been “protecting” for the last few millennia? Have they had them that whole time? If not, when did they acquire them? Which one do they not have, besides Taln’s? Who does have that one? In the later Interlude, is Taravangian telling the truth about another Blade going missing, or is that something he made up on the spot to distract Szeth? And does Szeth have the Honorblade because he was named Truthless, or had he already been “gifted” it for life, or…? Why did he have it? So many questions.
But we at least learned here, clearly(ish) stated for the first time, that the “crime” for which Szeth was named Truthless was a claim that either the Voidbringers or the Radiants (or both, or one implying the other) were returning. The Stone Shamans insisted that it was a false alarm, that the Voidbringers are no more, the powers of old (Surgebinding via spren?) are no more, the Knights Radiant are fallen, the Stone Shamans are all that remain. Which is… manifestly false. Did they know it was false? Were they deceiving themselves? Did they really believe Surgebinding was gone forever? Did they know the truth, but perpetrated a lie to maintain control? I hope we get some answers eventually. For now, we know that they were committed to a set of beliefs that were flat-out wrong.
It reminds me of an odd discussion I had this summer about the nature of reality. From my perspective, reality just is. We may perceive reality differently, depending on our basic assumptions, and we may attribute observable phenomena to different causes depending on those assumptions, and in some cases our perceptions and attributions vary rather dramatically. My argument was that our beliefs may be correct or incorrect, but reality is immutable. We each have a responsibility to decide what to believe, and we each have a right to our own beliefs, but those beliefs don’t change reality itself. The argument of my friend was that our perceptions determine reality, so that we each have a reality all our own; her example was that for George over there who is colorblind, certain colors don’t exist in his reality. My counter to that was that George’s inability to perceive red and green as distinct colors doesn’t make them any less a part of reality.
(The funny part is that the debate began with her insistence that no intelligent person could possibly believe a cosmology different than what she believed, because Science. Since I consider myself reasonably intelligent but hold to a very different cosmology, I pointed out that both views rest on a set of assumptions, and a scientist in particular should at least acknowledge that there are unprovable assumptions involved. She didn’t want to admit that all theories of origins have to make some assumptions, and next thing I knew, “reality” was being redefined. Not quite sure how “Science Irrefutably Proves This” suddenly became “Reality Is Defined By Perception” but… oh well.)
Anyway… Back to Roshar. There was Szeth, thinking that the Stone Shamans knew the truth, and believing that when they named him Truthless for saying something else, they must have been right, so off he went to obey the rules for being Truthless. Then he met up with Kaladin, who clearly could do at least some of the stuff that was supposed to be impossible in this day and age… and suddenly his perception ran head-on into the brick wall of reality. Suddenly the all-knowing Stone Shamans turned out to be completely wrong, meaning that despite all their declarations, he was not, in fact, Truthless… and there was no justification for the rules he followed after all.
Okay, I can feel sorry for him.
But what kind of special irrationality does it take?—to give someone an Honorblade which not only can’t be beaten, but also bestows Surgebinding skills on the holder… and then send him out with a rock in his hand, bound to give the rock to anyone that wants it, and then to obey whatever orders they choose to give him—good, bad, or indifferent. That’s just stupid irresponsible nonsense.
Szeth did the deeds, and he is guilty no matter whose rules he was following. But IMO, the Stone Shamans are every bit as guilty as Szeth, since they gave him the power to do those deeds. Likewise guilty are the masters he’s obeyed, because they used the tool at hand to commit evil deeds. Perception be damned; the reality is that a whole host of people were murdered with no justification whatsoever.
This interlude takes place somewhere along the line of the past two Rosharan weeks, or roughly during the timespan of Part Three.
Vedeledev watches over this chapter alone, and I have to admit that I’m slightly baffled by her presence. Why is the Healer, patron Herald of the Edgedancers, associated with this hot mess?
“Glories within.” On a guess, this is a Shin idiom; no one else seems to say it, anyway. It certainly serves as a reminder that there’s a whole raft of stuff we really don’t know about the people, culture, and religion of Shinovar.
Now we can try to figure out what charges a prosecutor would bring against Szeth, how on earth a defense attorney could possibly make a case for him, how the jury would rule, and what sentence the judge would be likely to hand down. Or… not. It’s up to you where the comments roll this week! Next week, we’ll look in on Eshonai and the new rhythms she’s attuning these days. This also will be an uncheerful episode, methinks. For now, I’ll see you in the comments!
Alice Arneson is a long-time Tor.com commenter and Sanderson beta-reader. For one more day, she will be holed up in her gamma cave, nitpicking away to help minimize distractions in the awesome story that is The Bands of Mourning. Y’all, seriously: Tremendous story.