Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! Last week, we finished off Part Four, when Kaladin and Shallan returned from the chasms with their contributions for the upcoming expedition to the center of the plateaus. This week, we’ll take a step back and examine the letter comprising the epigraphs of Part Four.
This reread will contain spoilers for The Way of Kings, Words of Radiance, and any other Cosmere book that becomes relevant to the discussion. In particular, this discussion will contain spoilers for Mistborn: Secret History, as it contains particularly relevant information. The index for this reread can be found here, and more Stormlight Archive goodies are indexed here.
Click on through to join the discussion!
Part Four: The Approach
Epigraphs, The Return Letter
IN WHICH we find a response to the letter of the epigraphs in Part Two of The Way of Kings, and we still don’t know who wrote it.
I’ll address this letter to my “old friend,” as I have no idea what name you’re using currently. / Have you given up on the gemstone, now that it is dead? And do you no longer hide behind the name of your old master? I am told that in your current incarnation you’ve taken a name that references what you presume to be one of your virtues. / This is, I suspect, a little like a skunk naming itself for its stench.
Now, look what you’ve made me say. You’ve always been able to bring out the most extreme in me, old friend. And I do still name you a friend, for all that you weary me. / Yes, I’m disappointed. Perpetually, as you put it. / Is not the destruction we have wrought enough? The worlds you now tread bear the touch and design of Adonalsium. Our interference so far has brought nothing but pain.
My path has been chosen very deliberately. Yes, I agree with everything you have said about Rayse, including the severe danger he presents. / However, it seems to me that all things have been set up for a purpose, and if we— as infants— stumble through the workshop, we risk exacerbating, not preventing, a problem.
Rayse is captive. He cannot leave the system he now inhabits. His destructive potential is, therefore, inhibited. / Whether this was Tanavast’s design or not, millennia have passed without the death of one of the sixteen. While I mourn for the great suffering Rayse has caused, I do not believe we could hope for a better outcome than this. / He bears the weight of God’s own divine hatred, separated from the virtues that gave it context. He is what we made him to be, old friend. And that is what he, unfortunately, wished to become. / I suspect that he is more a force than an individual now, despite your insistence to the contrary. That force is contained, and an equilibrium reached.
You, however, have never been a force for equilibrium. You tow chaos behind you like a corpse dragged by one leg through the snow. Please, hearken to my plea. Leave that place and join me in my oath of nonintervention. / The cosmere itself may depend upon our restraint.
First, a word of warning. As noted above, I will be referring to comments made in Mistborn: Secret History as I discuss this letter. I may also refer to various Words of Brandon, and I expect that both will be referenced in the comments section as well. I’m sorry, but there it is; we can’t do the job right without it. You stand warned.
Second, just in case you missed it or want to refresh your memory, you may want to review Carl’s discussion of the first letter; they are clearly connected.
Now, on to the letter. Word of Brandon has implicitly confirmed that Hoid is one of the correspondents; we still don’t know who the other is. He (and explicitly he) is from a world we haven’t seen yet, but that’s not much to go on. Sazed is ruled out, both implicitly (we’ve seen his world) and then explicitly. Khriss is also ruled out, being female. There is speculation that the character Frost, from the yet-unpublished book/series Dragonsteel, is the second person; I tend to agree, as Brandon has identified him as “the oldest character we know.” Not that we know much about him…
As to the contents, I’m completely baffled by the first query: “Have you given up on the gemstone, now that it is dead?” Is this referring to the same item as the previous letter, which referred to an “element”? That was, IIRC, confirmed to be the bead of lerasium Hoid swiped from Scadrial; is this supposed to be the same item? Because… I don’t get why it should be “dead”—or if the writer only assumes that it’s dead, perhaps because Leras is. I also don’t get why a bead of lerasium would be referred to as a “gemstone.” So, yeah. I don’t understand this one at all. Anyone else?
So then we have a bit of recriminatory fluff that will, someday, make perfect sense and be so meaningful… presumably. He pokes fun at Hoid calling himself “Wit” and then feels bad about his irritation and insult, but then we get into the meaty bits:
“Is not the destruction we have wrought enough?” I have to assume this refers to certain events described in M:SH—
“Anyway, there was a God. Adonalsium. I don’t know if it was a force or a being, though I suspect the latter. Sixteen people, together, killed Adonalsium, ripping it apart and dividing its essence between them, becoming the first who Ascended.”
“… Some wished for the power; others saw killing Adonalsium as the only good option left to them. Together they murdered a deity, and became divine themselves.” …
“So . . . my world, and everyone I know, is the creation of a pair of… half gods?”
“More like fractional gods. And ones with no particular qualifications for deityhood, other than being conniving enough to murder the guy who had the job before.”
It’s been verified that Hoid was actually present at Adonalsium’s Shattering; my guess is that the author of this letter was there too, and is still feeling guilty about it for more reasons than one. Side note: I also begin to suspect that, while the sixteen people referenced above (and perhaps some others) were instrumental in the Shattering, it may have been Adonalsium’s own plan they were carrying out, whether they knew it or not. Just a hunch, though, so I won’t try to defend it as a theory. Yet.
However… if that theory is correct, it’s possible that Hoid is on the wrong end of things with whatever he’s trying to do, and that the letter-writer is justified in admonishing Hoid that they are like children stumbling around in the workshop, and may well do more harm than good. Then again, it’s just as likely that whatever Hoid is trying to do is exactly what Adonalsium expected and intended to be done. Well, that won’t get us anywhere… we just don’t know enough about the long-ago.
Hoid is trying to accomplish something here on Roshar, and something that he thinks is the most important purpose he’s ever had; his “old friend” remains unconvinced. Note, though, that he says, “The worlds you now tread bear the touch and design of Adonalsium.” Does this imply that Hoid has been on the planets Braize and Ashyn as well? Or merely that his friend thinks of them as a group? Or… something else, which is a good possibility too.
In any case, Rayse is somehow restricted to the Rosharan system of planets, seemingly due to something Tanavast did, and cannot at this time escape to destroy any more Shards. While this may indeed be a good thing, so far as it goes, I have to wonder if it actually goes far enough. I can’t help thinking that by the end of the Stormlight Archive, Odium will get loose… Here I have to insert the theory proposed by Naïve_masanthrope in last week’s discussion, because it’s been lurking around in my head and gaining a real foothold in this context:
What if it is possible for Odium to be defeated somehow—not just pushed back for a time but eliminated as a threat—but his defeat would also destroy Roshar? … Your heroes are false, your fight is never-ending, your victory would destroy the world.
The suggestion was made in the context of the Recreance, but it’s been itching at me while researching this letter. What if? What if fighting the battle against Odium, or taking it to the next level of confronting him on Braize, is exactly what’s needed for him to break free? This could indeed create the dilemma Hoid mentioned to Dalinar, about letting Roshar burn if that’s what is needed to accomplish his purpose.
I have a bad feeling about this…
Oh. Wrong universe. Sorry.
There’s also an interesting view into Rayse/Odium, which might create some sympathy—the kind where you feel bad about having to put a rabid animal down. “He bears the weight of God’s own divine hatred, separated from the virtues that gave it context.” The fact that Rayse wanted to become what he is, while it may mitigate the responsibility, apparently doesn’t reduce the guilt felt by one of those instrumental in making it happen.
We just don’t have enough information to be confident about any of this, but it sure makes for some fun speculation. I may have to make something of this in the Cosmere Speculation discussion… (and no stealing my plan, you other panelists!)
There’s a whole separate area of discussion to be had, regarding the relevance of each snippet to the chapter it begins… but I’m going to let y’all play that game. I’d love to see what you come up with! (Okay, I really meant to do that, but this is getting lengthy as it is. And you good people are likely to come up with great insights, so I’m putting you to work!)
The “Stormwatch” isn’t actually relevant here, but I wanted to note that we really don’t have reliable information (at least, not to the best of my knowledge) regarding the timing of this letter. Given that the previous letter remarked on the author’s being chased by members of the 17th Shard, and we had an interlude in which Hoid was being sought by same, it seems logical to conclude that the first letter was written by Hoid sometime during the events of TWoK. It would seem equally logical to assume, for the time being, that this letter is the reply to Hoid, and that it was written and received sometime during the events of WoR. That’s the assumption I’ll hold to until I’m given a reason to believe otherwise.
Thus endeth Part Four: The Approach. Considering that it was in large part a novella chronicling Kaladin’s descent from aspiring Knight Radiant to broken, sprenless, ordinary spearman, “The Approach” seems either incongruous, hopeful, or terribly ominous.
Check back next week, when we’ll examine the next two Interludes with Lhan and Eshonai.
Alice Arneson is a long-time Tor.com commenter and Sanderson beta-reader, and is inordinately excited about her upcoming first-ever JordanCon.