Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com

Words of Radiance Reread: Chapter 86

Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! Last week, Shallan continued to try to decipher the Oathgate while Adolin and Dalinar took on the Assassin; it culminated in Kaladin arriving comet-like to save the day. This week, events escalate further as Shallan figures out the Oathgate, while Kaladin and Szeth battle above and through the clashing highstorm and Everstorm.

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 86: Patterns of Light

Point of View: Kaladin, Shallan, Dalinar, Kaladin, Shallan,
Kaladin, Shallan, Kaladin, Shallan, Kaladin
Setting: the Oathgate, the Central Plateaus, the sky
Symbology: Pattern, Nalan, Jezrien

IN WHICH Kaladin finally admits he’s a Radiant; Kaladin and Szeth begin their battle.

… Shallan seeks the pattern of the Oathgate; she finally sees that it’s a fabrial.

… Dalinar turns his attention to the retreat; Adolin is pleased; Sebarial and Palona are unexpected; the evacuation continues.

… Kaladin chases Szeth, delighting in Syl’s presence; they meet above the storms; Kaladin hasn’t practiced sword-fighting; Syl becomes a Shardspear; Szeth holds desperately to his pseudo-facts.

… Shallan finally admits she’s a Radiant; she infuses the Oathgate lamps until she runs out of Stormlight; Shallan finds Adolin, and inhales Stormlight; he recognizes her action and is pleased.

… Kaladin fights for his life; Syl anticipates Kaladin’s needs, but he still can’t quite win; Szeth turns to pursue his original target: Dalinar.

… Shallan finishes charging the lamps; Adolin’s blade cannot unlock the Oathgate; she finally admits that Pattern is her Blade; she activates the Oathgate.

… Kaladin chases Szeth; Syl cautions him about the clashing storms; both men replenish their Investiture from the highstorm as they go; in a flash of lightning, they see armies and disaster on the target plateau; the next flash reveals Szeth baffled and the army gone.

… Shallan has saved a few, but fears what they will find in the silence outside; through a new doorway in the outer wall they find sunshine, four armies, and Urithiru.

… Kaladin hears screams above the storm; Szeth hurls himself westward toward the Oathgate’s destination; Kaladin follows, with difficulty; the fight continues, falling westward before the stormwall; Syl changes forms as needed; Szeth begins to panic; windspren seem to enwrap Kaladin; Szeth faces Kaladin and submits to truth; Kaladin severs Szeth’s sword hand; assassin and Blade fall, no longer bonded; as Kaladin soars above the storm with the recovered Blade, his collection of windspren zip away; Syl approves his actions and teases him; he smiles.

Quote of the Week

Okay, I’m cheating. Double-dipping. Or, well, triple-dipping. Sorry.


Kaladin turned, glancing at the highprince, who stood tall, despite cradling one arm against his chest. Dalinar met his eyes. “You are what I’ve been looking for.”

“Yes. Finally.”

“Damnation,” Adolin said. “That bridgeboy is really one of them? The Knights Radiant?”


Oddly, Adolin smiled, seeming satisfied. “Ha! I knew there was something wrong with that man.”

Shallan breathed in sharply, and Stormlight entered her, bringing her to life. Adolin had a gemstone or two on him, apparently. He pulled back, looking her over.

“You too?” he said.

“Um…” She bit her lip. “Yeah. Sorry.”

“Sorry? Storms, woman! Can you fly like he does?”


Thunder cracked. Impending doom. Right.

I just get a charge out of that sequence. It’s so much fun. For now, at least, Adolin doesn’t have the slightest problem with Kaladin and Shallan being Radiants. He’s quite pleased, in fact.

In case you’re wondering how Shallan knew about Kaladin, to make sense out of “You too?”… I’ll toss in my best analysis. A few days ago (Ch. 77-78), Shallan told Navani about Jasnah; Navani told Dalinar, who then spoke with Shallan about it. While Shallan made him promise not to tell anyone about her own status, nothing prevented Dalinar from telling Adolin about Jasnah. So while “You, too?” from Adolin’s perspective meant Kaladin—hence the “Can you fly?”—Shallan knows nothing of Kaladin and assumes he meant Jasnah—hence the “Fly?” puzzlement.

Off the Wall

One is almost certainly a traitor to the others.

–From the Diagram, Book of the 2nd Desk Drawer: paragraph 27

One might assume the 2nd Desk Drawer is all about the Unmade, given the epigraphs of Chapters 81 and 82. If so, how and why would one Unmade betray the others? Or perhaps the inscription concerns the Heralds; in that case, perhaps Nalan might be the traitor. But… I don’t know. I’m not sure how either of them fits what little context we have. Frankly, “context” is overstating the situation: we have two other quotations from the 2nd Desk Drawer, labeled as paragraphs 14 and 15, but 15 ended with an effort to change the subject completely. Without knowing what’s in paragraphs 16-26, we really don’t have context.

Well. That wasn’t very helpful.


Another firestorm of a chapter! I deliberately listed all the POV changes, just so you could have a visual. Avalanche FTW! There’s so much in this chapter, and so many details I want to touch on. I’m afraid the commentary will be a little disjointed; I can only hope it doesn’t sound completely schizophrenic.

For starters, I have to point out the bridgemen—as always, doing their job, being exactly where they’re needed. They’ve become quite a team. Having promptly regrouped, they need only one quick command from Teft to provide Kaladin with a replenishment of Stormlight. Then, as their commander flies away, they move on to the next thing—two follow Dalinar, the rest go with Adolin (some carrying Adolin’s battered Shardplate) to help where they’re needed next. I love these guys.

Sebarial and Palona… oh, help! They are hilarious! Fruit, wine, and a novel in the middle of a hurricane. (I assume she’s only pretending to read, though.) Naturally, for all he’s having fun looking nonchalant, Sebarial has organized not only his own army, but also Roion’s, and has them nearly across to the Oathgate plateau. He also knows the status of Adolin’s and Aladar’s armies, and has heard the news of Roion. The guy is an organizing genius.

He is also, somehow, still dry. Hmmmm. I really do wonder if he’s a Radiant… or if Palona is. Or both—that would be priceless.

Aladar has done his job well, as noted last week. He won his plateau, in an unquestionable victory.

The Vengeance Pact is fulfilled! Gavilar is avenged, and the war is over!”

So proud. Dalinar had difficulty finding the words to deflate him, so he just stared at the other man. Feeling numb.

Can’t afford that, Dalinar thought, sagging in his saddle. Have to lead.

“It doesn’t matter, does it?” Aladar asked more softly. “That we won?”

I do feel badly for Aladar. For the first time in years, he’s stepped up and done something significant, something to truly be proud of… and it almost doesn’t matter. The Vengeance Pact is fulfilled, but the world has moved on, the Desolation is upon them, and vengeance, even for an assassinated king, is all but meaningless at this point.

The rest of the chapter switches back and forth to keep a real-time connection between Shallan’s work in the Oathgate room and Kaladin’s battle with Szeth. So… let’s start with Shallan. Her subconscious mind finally puts together the clues she’s been seeing, and she realizes that the whole thing is an enormous fabrial (see below for further discussion).

So much for keeping her nature as a Surgebinder hidden.

Hah! This cracks me up. Just a few chapters ago, she made Dalinar promise not to tell anyone, but the secret’s out now. I could almost feel sorry for Inadara, who is quietly wigging out about Shallan sucking in Stormlight and moving it from one gem to another. Even funnier is the scholars sketching prayers, and Shallan wondering whether they were praying for protection from the storm or from her.

Then the storms collide. We’re never told just how many people are lost in these final moments, as the stormwalls hit from opposite sides while Shallan desperately tries and finally succeeds in activating the Oathgate. From Kaladin’s observation, apparently there were losses during this time.

But here’s where the flickering perspectives really pay off. Kaladin is seeing a cataclysm, which looks like the army will be totally wiped out in minutes, and then suddenly, in the next flash of lightning, the whole army is just… gone.

The sound of the storm vanishes, and Shallan knows the Oathgate worked, but there are so few people in the building. What about the army? Adolin once again slays a rock—cutting a doorway in the new position—to find that the army has come with them to Urithiru. Boom.

Finally, Kaladin and Szeth. Most of this is cool epic-battle-in-the-sky, very cinematic stuff. The bits with Syl-the-shifting-Shardweapon are discussed below; here, I want to focus on just a few of the more plot-significant issues.

At long last, we see Kaladin’s joy in Syl’s return, and she gets in a series of great jabs at him—which he loves, of course. She also warns him that the Stormfather hates him, and them, and wants to wash it all away. This is not encouraging.

Szeth is, naturally, disconcerted by Kaladin. He repeatedly tries to make Taravangian’s explanations cover the situation, but he’s seeing things that are impossible, and he knows it. His progress through this chapter is agonizing; as the evidence builds up that Kaladin is a true Windrunner, he is forced to acknowledge that everything he’s acted on for the past seven years and more has been false. He was right in the first place, when he claimed that the Voidbringers were returning, and his leaders were wrong when they named him Truthless and laid on him the burden of unquestioning obedience to the holder of his Oathstone.

This, of course, is where we find the major change to the ending of Word of Radiance, which Brandon felt was important enough to implement even after publication. In the original ending, as Szeth confronts the truth, he draws Kaladin to attack and deliberately doesn’t parry: it really is intentional suicide-by-duel. Kaladin follows through on the attack he started, and kills Szeth as Szeth had killed so many others. The Blade goes through the spine, the soul is severed, the eyes burn out, and his bond to the Honorblade is severed.

In the new ending, it all goes the same until Szeth doesn’t parry; now Kaladin diverts the stroke and sends his Blade through Szeth’s wrist, severing only the hand and forcing him to drop his Blade. Because he’s not dead, Syl has to tell Kaladin that Szeth has released the bond, and now the Blade is far more important than the assassin.

It’s nice in that Kaladin doesn’t kill a person who has made himself defenseless, and he can make the happy discovery that he really didn’t want to kill someone merely for revenge. It may also be nice in that Nalan will have less healing to do to make Szeth functional again. Mostly, it’s important for Kaladin to not enjoy killing, I think.

If I were Szeth, though, I think I’d prefer the first ending, if only to avoid this:

Nearby, the assassin dropped past him into the storm and was swallowed up, leaving Kaladin with the haunting image of Szeth’s limp silhouette being driven into a plateau below with all the tempest’s force.

For that matter, if I were Kaladin, I think I’d feel a lot better about the first-ending sword-thrust death than I would about the second-ending get-slammed-into-a-plateau death. Remember Roion’s screams?


Day zero zero zero…


Kaladin was sure he heard terrible screams over the winds, as red spren he’d never seen before— like small meteors, trailing light behind them— zipped around him.

Are these the same red spren—stormspren—that Adolin observed in Chapter 81, wiggling out of the Parshendi when they were killed? There they were described as “small red spren, like tiny lightning, that zipped into the air and vanished.” Tiny lightning and small meteors trailing light don’t sound quite the same, so there are two likely solutions. One is that they looked like lightning when they left the Parshendi bonding, but here they’re free in the storm, so they look a little different. The other, which I suspect, is that they are yet another kind of Voidspren.


And now (drumroll please)… Kaladin’s windspren:

Syl spun into the air in front of him. But he was still carrying the spear. What?

Another one, then another. Ribbons of light, occasionally taking the shapes of young women or men, laughing. Windspren. A dozen or more spun around him, leaving trails of light, their laughter somehow strong over the sounds of the storm.

There! Kaladin thought.

Query: Do they actually help Kaladin find Szeth in the storm? It’s implied.

Windspren formed a halo around Kaladin, zipping in and out, spiraling, spinning around his arms and legs.

This makes it almost impossible not to assume that the windspren will eventually form Shardplate for Windrunners. Somehow. We’ve had this theory for a couple of years now, so it no longer has the stun factor it once did, but the first time I encountered it, my eyes sure popped wide open. O.O

All Creatures Shelled and Feathered

One Ryshadium awaits his rider. This makes me sad about Sureblood all over again… but it also makes me happy that Dalinar still has Gallant.

Ars Arcanum

There’s a whole lot of arcaning going on up in here! Kaladin & Szeth spend the bulk of the chapter Windrunning, of course. I still haven’t quite decided how I feel about this kind of thing:

“You’re wrong,” Kaladin said. “About me. I’m not new to this.”

“You only just acquired your abilities.”

“No. The wind is mine. The sky is mine. They have been mine since childhood. You are the trespasser here. Not me.”

They broke apart, Kaladin throwing the assassin backward. He stopped thinking so much about his Lashings, about what he should be doing.

Instead, he let himself be.

On the one hand, it’s such a thrill to read. On the other, I have problems: How have the wind and sky been his since childhood? And after all the work he had to do earlier just to get off the ground, should it now be this instinctive? For the latter, the case can be made that he learned all the basics earlier, and now his intensified bond makes it possible to do all the things without thinking. I still don’t get the childhood thing. Maybe when he returns to Hearthstone, we’ll get some new hints?

But enough of that. Syl the shifting Shardweapon!

Oh. That’s right. You probably want me to be a spear, don’t you?

The weapon fuzzed to mist, then elongated and grew into the shape of a silvery spear, with glowing, swirling glyphs along the sharpened sides of the spearhead.

Did anyone not shriek aloud at this? It was so, so perfect. So suitable, too, that despite his failure to really work at learning sword-fighting, the years he spent perfecting spear-fighting are just as useful. It just keeps getting better, too, as she shifts from spear to shield to halberd to hammer to knife, back and forth , forming the weapon he needs just as he needs it. Sweeeet.

This also needs to be mentioned here:

The area around him lightened. Was that the assassin? Kaladin extended his hand to the side, and Syl formed into the Blade immediately.

“Not ten heartbeats?” he asked.

Not when I’m here with you, ready. The delay is primarily something of the dead. They need to be revived each time.

This will be addressed more fully in the next chapter, I believe, but it’s dropped in here, almost as an aside. There are, of course, Reasons. It explains why Syl can shift forms so quickly, and why she can dissipate to mist and then be instantly back in useful form when he needs her. It also helps make sense out of this one last quotation…

“It’s not working,” Adolin shouted.

Only one answer.

Shallan grabbed the hilt of his sword and whipped it out— ignoring the scream in her mind that came from touching it— then tossed it aside. Adolin’s sword vanished to mist.

A deep truth.

“There is something wrong with your Blade, and with all Blades.” She hesitated for just a second. “All but mine. Pattern!”

He formed in her hands, the Blade she’d used to kill. The hidden soul. Shallan rammed it into the slot, and the weapon vibrated in her hands and glowed. Something deep within the plateau unlocked.

It’s not blatant, but this is the first moment when Shallan acknowledges even to herself that Pattern is her Shardblade. We saw it evidenced in the chasms, when she couldn’t make her illusions move because Kaladin had her Shardblade, but even then, her mind skirted around the reason for it. (Well, and we weren’t supposed to know yet, of course.) This is a deep truth that she’s been hiding from for the last six years. On the rare occasions when she used her Blade, we’ve seen her consciously take the ten heartbeats to summon him, because that’s the way it’s supposed to work. Now, when she accepts the deeper truth, he can form instantly, and now we know why.

Ars Mechanica

Why is it that whenever I start talking about fabrials, I just end up asking questions? Shallan recognizes the Oathgate as a fabrial, but is she correct? Or, to ask the question another way, does the Oathgate fit the definition of “fabrial” as we learned it from Navani? We know that modern Rosharans can reliably design and manufacture fabrials, to the point that it’s basically magic-powered technology; they do it by trapping specific spren in specific gemstones, combining them and directing the resulting surges by means of a machine. Is the Oathgate just a bigger and more sophisticated version of the same thing? Or is it something… more, somehow?

What we know of the Oathgate’s intended function is that it uses the Surge of Transportation to move the user between the point of origin and any of the other ten Oathgates. It requires a living, sapient spren to operate it, though the spren doesn’t appear to be taking any deliberate action; the Knight Radiant merely uses the spren in Blade-form as both key and lever to select the destination. It is powered by Stormlight-infused gems held in metal latticework; one of the gems is a ruby. (My guess is that the ten lamps hold the ten key gemstones, but we aren’t told. Otherwise, I don’t know why a ruby would be here; it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with Transportation.) The “keyhole” is some mysterious substance which appears to be the same as a Shardblade; does that mean the keyhole itself is a spren? (Mighty patient spren, if it’s been waiting here for a few thousand years…)

More questions must be asked: is there more to the working of this place? Is there an underground component of machinery? Is there anything underground? Is there any way the Listeners who rejected stormform could have been hiding within the range of the Oathgate? And no less important: when you have one functioning Oathgate, can you force access to one that (as far as you know) is not functioning? Can they use the Oathgate to get to Kholinar? Presumably we’ll get the answer to that in SA3.

Heraldic Symbolism

I have the usual questions about Nalan’s representation in this chapter. As always, there’s the question of whether this is foreshadowing for later events. Other than that, Szeth is agonizing about whether he was rightly keeping the law of his people, or whether he was wrongly judged and condemned, and all his resulting actions have also been wrong. That’s as good a reason for Nalan’s presence as any, being all concerned with law-keeping.

As for Jezrien, Kaladin is rightly pursuing the one who wants to kill those he is sworn to protect, to keep him from doing so. However, when Szeth simply gives up, Kaladin no longer wishes to take his life. I’m a bit conflicted about just how honorable it is to incapacitate someone and let him fall a few hundred feet to his death, though.

Just Sayin’

What in Kelek’s tongue is going on out here?

Someone recently pointed out that “Kelek’s breath” is a frequently used exclamation, and might perhaps be related to a certain someone from Nalthis, where Breath is magic. Here, it’s “Kelek’s tongue,” but that might actually be just as relevant, since a Command is also required to Awaken. It’s… open for theorizing, until the background of the Heralds is resolved.


There. That ought to keep us busy until next week, when the characters begin to examine the fallout from these events. Also, the Lopen.

Alice Arneson is a long-time Tor.com commenter and Sanderson beta-reader, and is exceedingly thrilled about the new Arcanum Unbounded which is coming out in November. The artwork is fantastic, Khriss’s introductions to each system are mind-blowing, and Brandon’s notes on each story are, as always, fascinating glimpses behind the scenes. You’re going to want this.


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