Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! Last week, Shallan practiced her scholarship and her Lightweaving, and perhaps took a small step toward confronting her memories. This week, we go back in time to watch sixteen-year-old Shallan struggle with the balance between helping her father and helping, well, everyone else.
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 61: Obedience
Point of View: Li’l Shallan
Setting: Davar estate
Symbology: Inverse Pattern, Chach, Nalan
IN WHICH Shallan has become the perfect, quiet, obedient daughter; the Davar fortunes are slowly changing, but Father is not happier as a result; he forbids Balat’s courtship of Eylita; in retribution for defiance, Father has Balat’s new pod of axehound pups slaughtered; Father has not only a new steward, but a whole new batch of frightening guards; Helaran has returned to the area briefly, but will soon be gone for a long time (!); Balat suggests that he, Eylita, and Shallan run away and find work in Vedenar; Shallan thinks that perhaps Balat should leave, but she herself must stay; Lord Davar orders one of his men to find and kill Helaran, promising the Shardblade as his reward; Malise confronts him, and a shouting match ensues; Lord Davar stomps out, complaining that it’s all everyone else’s fault because no one in this house obeys him.
Quote of the Week
“Would you go with me? If I took Eylita and left? You could be a scribe. Earn your own way, be free of Father.”
“I … No. I need to stay.”
“Something has hold of Father, something awful. If we all leave, we give him to it. Someone has to help him.”
“Why do you defend him so? You know what he did.”
“He didn’t do it.”
“You can’t remember,” Balat said. “You’ve told me over and over that your mind blanks. You saw him kill her, but you don’t want to admit that you witnessed it. Storms, Shallan. You’re as broken as Wikim and Jushu. As … as I am sometimes …”
While I do understand and sympathize with the need for Li’l Shallan to block her memories, I can’t help thinking that life would have been a lot better for the rest of the family if they’d known the truth. The brothers wouldn’t have to hate their father; their father wouldn’t have to bear Shallan’s secret alone; they could all work together to protect Shallan from the other crazies out there; the internal pressure wouldn’t have to drive them all into their own special form of insanity. *sigh*
But then there wouldn’t be much of a story, so there’s that, I guess. All right, I don’t really want to care less about the characters in a book, or I wouldn’t love the book so much. Even so.
SANDERSOOOOONNNNNN! You make my heart hurt!
And so we return to the depressive atmosphere of the Davar estate. Last time we were here, Lord Davar had refused to pay Jushu’s gambling debts—mostly because he had no money to do so, though he wouldn’t admit it. Defying her father’s orders to go to her room, Shallan offered up what little she and her brothers had to buy Jushu back, and for the first time (IIRC) we saw someone else beaten specifically for something Shallan had done.
Now we find that the pattern has been established: when she in any way angers her father, he beats someone else in her name. The only defense a 14-year-old has in that case, I think, is the one Shallan has used for the past 15 months: she became a “perfect” daughter so that no one else would get hurt.
What would happen if Balat left? He backed down from fights with Father, but at least he resisted. Wikim merely did what he was told, and Jushu was still a mess. We have to just weather this, Shallan thought. Stop provoking Father, let him relax. Then he’ll come back….
It’s certainly what I’d have done. “Let’s all just do what he wants, stop resisting, and maybe he’ll get better.” Unfortunately, their attempts at passivity don’t seem to have helped Lin any, and it seems pretty clear that Balat’s pitiful resistance is not enough to have the spiraling negative effects that are in evidence. That’s because they are, of course, reckoning without the influence of Odium on their father, plus whatever manipulation the Ghostbloods are doing. He’s getting worse and worse.
To rub salt in the wound, there’s another reminder that Lin Davar wasn’t always a bad-tempered man:
Surely that would make him start laughing again. Surely that would drive the darkness from his eyes.
Shallan unmistakably remembers a time when her father laughed often, and was the kind of man who loved and enjoyed his little daughter as much as she loved and enjoyed him. Whether that was a daddy-daughter link that excluded his sons, we really don’t know; they don’t seem to have the same loving memories of earlier years, but it’s possible that all their earlier memories are tainted by the belief that he murdered their mother. Shallan knows that not only did he not commit murder, he’s allowing them to think he did because he’s protecting his little girl… so her memories of a devoted father are unaffected.
::sniffle:: Gah! Every time I think about that particular dynamic, it makes me even sadder.
ANYWAY. The topic of contention today is Balat’s declared intent to marry Eylita, who Lin has decided is much too low-ranked for him. No, his son and avowed heir must marry up, and as high up as he can manage. (I wonder if anyone at all besides the now-twisted Lin Davar would be serious about marrying the 21-year-old Balat to Highprince Valam’s fifty-something daughter. Oy.)
Sadly, Balat’s attempt to stand up for himself on this particular day has two very negative results: One, Lord Davar uses Balat’s one healthy pursuit (breeding axehounds) against him, tainting the only thing besides Eylita that was holding him together. Two, Balat spills a secret not meant to be shared by telling his father that Helaran is back… thereby setting up an assassination attempt on Helaran, and a new hostility between Lin and Malise. And we know where that’s going to end.
Speaking of Malise, though, this is the first time she’s felt like more than a bland placeholder. I could love her solely for this:
“How dare you,” said a feminine voice from within.
Stunned silence followed. Shallan edged back to look into the room. Malise, her stepmother, stood in the doorway between the bedroom and the sitting room. The small, plump woman had never seemed threatening to Shallan before. But the storm on her face today could have frightened a whitespine.
“Your own son,” Malise said. “Have you no morals left? Have you no compassion?”
*sigh* This glimpse of backbone was sweet at the time, even though she did follow it up with, “It is one thing to beat the servants, but to kill your own son?” (Eurgh!) There was some hope for her to turn out well, for a few minutes here…
This takes place one and a half years prior to the “present” action, and about one and a half years after the previous flashback, when Shallan bought Jushu back from his creditors. Shallan is about a week past her sixteenth birthday in this scene.
Painspren, for Balat’s anguish over the pitiful remains of the axehound pups he’d been breeding. That is all.
All Creatures Shelled and Feathered
Stepping back from Balat’s reaction to the fate of his latest batch of pups, there are a couple of interesting notes. One is simply that one of the ways Balat has been coping with life has been to develop an interest in breeding axehounds. In focusing on the creation of new life, he’s made progress against his old habits of destroying life; now, he rarely hurts anything larger than a cremling. Which… is still a bit creepy, but it’s better than relishing axehound fights. I guess.
Anyway, the other interesting thing is that axehounds apparently produce pups in pods. The question I have now is this: Is “pod” a nomenclature thing, like a pod of whales? Or is it a physical thing, like the egg case of a locust? Just for the sake of Rosharan ecological weirdness, I’m guessing it’s the latter. But I think I’d prefer the former.
While there’s no direct mention of the Soulcaster yet, I think it’s hinted here for the first time, suitably accompanied a few paragraphs later by the first appearance of the new steward Luesh.
But surely… surely things would get better now. Indeed, as Shallan was involved more by the ardents in accounts, she noted a shrewdness to the way her father stopped being bullied by other lighteyes and started playing them against each other. He impressed her, but frightened her, in how he seized for power. Father’s fortunes changed further when a new marble deposit was discovered on his lands—providing resources to keep up with his promises, bribes, and deals.
Whether Davar’s new shrewdness was the cause or the result of Ghostblood attentions isn’t entirely clear, though I think it reads more like the former. In either case, the new marble deposit is certainly the latter, and is plainly instrumental in encouraging his ambitions.
Chach and Nalan grace the arch for this poor chapter. I believe Chach is partly for Obedience, and partly for Shallan’s odd role (the youngest child, and the only girl) as Guard for her family. Regarding Nalan, though, I am—as usual—less certain. Is it simply the references to Helaran and his yet-unknown association with the Skybreakers? Is it the twisting of Justice? The new Confidence of Shallan’s father? I’m really open to suggestions here, folks.
Am I the only person who thinks that Eylita is crazy to take Balat? Not only is he the scion of a fairly questionable house—even if he is several dahn above her—but he’s certifiably nuts. I feel sorry for him, very much, but I can’t help thinking this has to be a very unhealthy relationship.
She entered the manor, but couldn’t help feeling that she was trying to hold together a carpet as dozens of people pulled out threads from the sides.
That sounds like fun, eh?
Well. On that cheery note, I’ll see you in the comments for your reactions. That ought to keep us busy until next
week time, when we return to Kaladin’s prison cell for further ill-timed revelations. Yeah, sorry, no sunshine there either.
Editing to add: There will be no reread post next week, November 26. I’m taking Thanksgiving week off. So for all you USA types, happy Thanksgiving! For everyone else… uh… sorry? (Now I sound Canadian!) Anyway… use the opportunity to dig deeply into the flashbacks, or go reread both epigraph-letters, or something else fun. Back in two weeks!
Alice Arneson is a long-time Tor.com commenter and Sanderson beta-reader, who likes to take these opportunities to point out that we’re following one of the most prolific SFF writers going these days. With Shadows of Self out just recently, and The Bands of Mourning as well as Calamity coming out in the near future, this is a good time to be a reader. And Sanderson has been tracking progress on Stormlight 3 for NaNoWriMo; his progress bar is now at 28%. Just sayin’… it’s a good time to be a fan.