Welcome back to the Rhythm of War Reread, as we start in on the third set of Interludes. This one takes us to a place we’ve been several times in Part Three—the Emuli campaign—but this time from Szeth’s POV instead of Dalinar or Jasnah. Szeth has always been a bit unhinged, and IMO he seems to be getting worse. Gavinor is remembering how to be a little boy, so that’s a much more positive note in an otherwise slightly skeery chapter. Come on in and join the discussion!
Reminder: We’ll be discussing spoilers for the entirety of the series up until now. If you haven’t read ALL of the published entries of The Stormlight Archive (this includes Edgedancer and Dawnshard as well as the entirety of Rhythm of War), best to wait to join us until you’re done.
There are some Cosmere references this week. “Sword-nimi” talks about Vasher and Vivenna from Warbreaker, in Relationships and Romances; and Alice muses about Shards and “gods” in general under Cosmere Connections. This may have implied spoilers for Mistborn, if you haven’t read those yet.
Heralds: Nalan (Nale), Herald of Justice. Skybreakers (Gravitation, Division). Just/Confident. Role: Judge.
A: Well, if ever there were an obvious choice… Not so much the “Justice” idea, but Szeth-the-Skybreaker—with his longing for confidence, his highspren, and the talk of his Ideals. It seems to me that perhaps Szeth’s instability is similar to Nale’s, so that might be a factor too.
P: They’re definitely both unstable. Though Nale moreso than Szeth, I think.
A: At least Szeth knows he’s not quite right. Nale… yeeesh.
Icon: The Assassin in White gives us Szeth’s POV, as it has been since the prologue of the first book.
WHEN: 1184.108.40.206 (I have trouble with this one, personally; I don’t quite see this coming a week after the final battle in Emul, which won’t happen until the beginning of Part Five. It looks like the 17S people are in the midst of revamping the timeline or something, so I can’t see what rationale they used. So… maybe? Maybe not?)
WHERE: Laqqi, Emul (Coalition Command City)
RECAP: Szeth stands guard as Dalinar plays with Gavinor, worrying about his ability to protect and obey Dalinar acceptably, and occasionally consulting his “sword-nimi.” He also worries about the influence of his presence on Gavinor, but can see no way to reconcile that fear with his duty to protect Dalinar. His bonded highspren makes a rare appearance, telling Szeth that he is doing well and must soon embark on his Crusade (fourth) Ideal. Returning to his guard position, he overhears a messenger consulting Dalinar over a list of Taravangian’s requests. Most disturbingly, the last item described is obviously an Oathstone; Szeth is convinced that whatever Taravangian is plotting, it likely involves killing Dalinar—an eventuality he must absolutely prevent.
Chapter Chatter—Szeth, Bruised and Broken
Szeth-son-Honor tried to slouch.
Dalinar said that slouching a little would help him imitate an ordinary soldier on a boring guard duty. Dalinar said Szeth prowled when he walked, and was too intense when standing at watch. Like a fire burning high when it should be smoldering.
How did one stop being intense?
A: The chapter opens with Szeth obsessing over his inability to achieve perfect obedience to Dalinar, and wow! Obsession is truly a theme with our Assassin. I don’t think I’ve ever found him quite so unrelatable and pitiable at the same time. (Not sure if that’s the chapter, or my current frame of mind…)
P: The chapter is infinitely cringey, so perhaps it’s that and not you.
A: (Whew!) First he’s obsessed with Dalinar’s orders to relax and look like an ordinary soldier. Then he’s obsessed with protecting Dalinar against all the assassins he’s sure must be out there; he’s terrified that any time he doesn’t see enemies in the bushes, it’s because he’s missing them—not because there’s no one to see.
P: This is probably where I start feeling sorry for Szeth rather than being in awe of him.
A: Right? He’s such a mess inside. He’s even obsessed with Dalinar being sufficiently confident:
Dalinar spoke uncertainly sometimes. Concerned that he wasn’t doing the right thing. Szeth wished he didn’t hear Dalinar’s weakness, his worries. The Blackthorn needed to be a moral rock, unshakable, always certain.
A: In a way, I can understand this need; he’s been betrayed by too many masters to trust anyone fully, but he’s also too uncertain in himself to function without leadership. He had tried to do the right thing, follow all the rules, and it put him at the mercy of unscrupulous people: starting with the Stone Shamans, through the Parshendi Five, to Taravangian, and finally to Nale himself—all of whom have abused his trust or obedience in one way or another. There may have been one or two of his owners/Oathstone-holders who were less than awful, but owning a tool like Szeth seems to have brought out the worst in most of them. Dalinar is, in a sense, his last chance for redemption—his last hope of a master who will not order him to commit crimes and atrocities, who will always do the right thing and give the right orders. So yes, I can see Szeth longing for Dalinar to be “perfect” in all the ways that matter to him.
It’s still a definite sign of his own brokenness.
P: He needs so badly to believe in Dalinar’s goodness because, as you say, he doesn’t trust his own judgment since learning about Kaladin. This is such an incredible character that Brandon has written. Which shouldn’t surprise me—so many of them are incredible.
A: Szeth is definitely one of those characters I don’t necessarily like as a person, but I have to acknowledge him as fantastically well-written. And of course, there are times I like him. Just not so much in this chapter. Here, I just feel sorry for him between the cringes.
If Szeth moved too quickly, he could catch sight of his own frail soul, attached incorrectly to his body, trailing his motions like a glowing afterimage.
A: This one is not his fault, of course; it’s the result of dying in the highstorm and Nale stapling his soul back to his body less than perfectly. (Was that because he waited too long? Is it simply not possible for someone less than a full Shard to do such a thing correctly? Or something else? Also, is Szeth a Cognitive Shadow? On checking the Arcanum, Sanderson says no, but now I want to know what the difference is.)
P: This is such a great visual, too. “A glowing afterimage.” Makes me shiver, the way this man writes.
Why do you hurt? the sword asked.
“I am afraid for the child,” Szeth whispered. “He begins to laugh happily. That will eventually be stolen from him again.”
A: I can comprehend his pessimism here; the laughter of childhood inevitably changes with adulthood. Further conversation reveals that Szeth is also afraid that his presence near Gavinor is dangerous for the child. He doesn’t really explain, but it’s almost implied that he believes his own instability could harm Gavinor just by proximity. He might even be right—especially if the boy fixated on him as a model! (Let’s hope that doesn’t happen, eh?) I think Szeth is perhaps a little too pessimistic, but given his own life story, that’s understandable. More on that below!
P: It’s definitely understandable. And as someone who has had precious few people to look up to in his life, I can understand his pessimism. But I also worry about this for little Gav. The poor little guy has been through so much and I hope to Honor that he faces no more trauma.
A: Too true. It’s hard to look at a character like this and believe that his life is going to be smooth—even IRL you know that’s a challenge, and Sanderson rarely puts someone through this kind of trauma without a later purpose. Fine, now I’m worried about Gav too! Thanks, y’all.
Spren and Shadesmar
When Szeth returned to his tree, the air split, showing a blackness speckled faintly with stars beyond.
A: Oh, hello, snooty highspren. I don’t like you very much. Not at all, in fact.
P: I’m in agreement with you, here. I do not like this highspren. And if they’re all like this, then I do not like highspren at all.
A: I hope they aren’t, but I suspect they might be. I test as a Skybreaker, but I’d sure be annoyed if my spren acted like this.
“You do well, my acolyte,” the spren said, its tone formal. “You are vigilant and dedicated.”
“I am,” Szeth said.
A: Permit me a chuckle at this one. Szeth is being totally honest; in anyone else it would sound like boasting, but he’s just truthful. He is vigilant and dedicated, because he doesn’t know how to be anything else.
P: You’re not wrong. He’s not arrogant at all, just honest.
It had not blessed Szeth with its name, though Szeth was its bonded Radiant.
A: See? Snooty. This just boggles my mind, given the relationships we’ve seen of the other Radiants and their spren. While they don’t all have that “best friend and confidant” vibe, many of them do, and most of them seem to have real affection. This standoffishness is just… WHY? Someone else please explain these spren to me. I don’t get it.
P: It’s SOOOO bizarre. Like Szeth is a supplicant.
A: YES. I think that’s what really irritates me. The rest of the spren act like partners; this one (these?) acts like a skeptical demigod, always… well, Szeth says it:
It was always nearby, watching and judging his worthiness.
A: Ugh. I mean… yeah, I guess that’s it’s job, sort of, but ugh anyway.
P: Double ugh. I do not like this nameless highspren and I hope they’re not all like this.
Oaths Spoken, Powers Awakened
“We need to discuss your crusade. You are a year into your current oath, and I am pleased and impressed with your dedication. You are among the most vigilant and worthy of men.”
A: I tried not to quote this entire paragraph, but there’s just so much here. The highspren has deigned to approve of Szeth’s behavior—not on a moral basis, mind you, but on the grounds that he is dedicated and vigilant to obey the law he’s chosen. I get the impression that Szeth could have chosen any system to follow, and as long as he followed it diligently enough, the highspren would still approve. He is in some ways the perfect Skybreaker (at least, for what they’ve become), because he’s always been committed to scrupulous obedience to the recognized authority.
P: He really is the perfect Skybreaker. As long as he has someone to point him in the (hopefully) right direction, Szeth will get the job done.
A: And if they point him in the wrong direction, he’ll still get the job done. As we saw in the first two books, right? I think that’s the big disconnect between Szeth and Nale. Szeth knows he’s been perfectly obedient but morally reprehensible, while Nale just sees the perfectly obedient side and thinks he’s great. The perfect Skybreaker, indeed. Follow the rules no matter what moral or ethical constraints you have to destroy.
P: Yes. Every time I think of all of the potential Radiants Nale killed… GRRR!
“I would have you earn your Plate. You still wish to cleanse your homeland?”
A: So here he is, with his highspren offering him the next step: the Ideal of Crusade. (We’ll talk about this a little more under Geography, History, and Cultures, as far as it relates to the Shin culture.) Digressing for a moment… it looks like the Skybreakers function differently from the Windrunners, the only other Order whose Ideals we’ve seen in detail. Windrunners have to reach a point where they understand the next step, and when they’re able to commit to following it, they speak the words and *poof* there they are, with whatever feature comes at that level. Skybreakers seem to tackle each Ideal as a project. They state their goal and proceed with implementing it, and when their highspren is satisfied that they’ve done the project correctly, they get their skill-up. It’s implied, at least, that once Szeth does an acceptable job of cleansing his homeland, he’ll get his Plate. (Seems like it would be a lot easier to accomplish his Crusade if he had the Plate, or at least a Blade, but the ways of the highspren are mysterious at best.)
This brings up two major questions. One, when does he get his Blade? When does this snooty highspren condescend to become a physical sword? I mean… I like Nightblood, and the two of them make a great comedy duo, but it really seems like Szeth should have a Blade that doesn’t try to eat him. Two, what spren make up a Skybreaker’s Plate? I’d thought in the earlier books that “starspren” would be logical, given what the highspren look like, but after seeing that magnificent creature in Shadesmar, I just don’t believe that anymore. (Well, I suppose a dragon-spren would make pretty ferocious armor, but still. It seems unlikely.) Thoughts?
“I find inconsistencies to the stories you tell of those days, Szeth,” the highspren said. “I fear that your memory, like those of many mortals, is incomplete or corrupted by the passage of time. I will accompany you on your crusade to judge the truth.”
“Thank you,” Szeth said softly.
A: Well, I suppose it’s entirely possible that his memory is less than perfect. We haven’t heard those “stories” so we have no way to judge the consistency or lack thereof, but I expect that will be remedied in the next book. However… given what we learn from Ishar later, I suspect it may be worse than Szeth remembers, not better.
P: Yeah, I suspect that Szeth has glossed over a few things over the years. Especially as he was so down on himself because of his exile. I can’t wait for his story.
“If you progress as a Skybreaker,” the highspren said, “you will need to become the law. To reach your ultimate potential, you must know the truth yourself, rather than relying on the crutch presented by the Third Ideal.
A: And I’m once again creeped out by the Skybreaker Ideals. Narratively, Szeth ought to reach the Fifth Ideal, but the thought of him relying on himself to know Truth is… concerning, shall I say?
P: It just makes me wonder if Szeth is even capable of reaching the Fifth. Can he actually rely on himself? I have serious doubts.
A: Oh, good point. He’s got a long way to go before he trusts himself at all, much less relies on himself to “be the law” and make perfect judgments. On the other hand, at least he has some moral and ethical constraints, and his time with Dalinar is reinforcing those. So maybe (if he doesn’t go completely bonkers first) he’ll actually be more qualified than Nale by the time he’s done. It’s a thought… but I’m not sure he’ll ever trust himself that much.
Relationships and Romances
“Do you see anything dangerous, sword-nimi?” he asked softly.
Nope, the sword said. I think you should draw me. I can see better when I’m drawn.
“When you are drawn, sword-nimi, you attempt to drain my life.”
Nonsense. I like you. I wouldn’t try to kill you.
A: Oh, Nightblood. You are a piece of work, indeed. I… keep trying to say something intelligent here, and it’s not working. Nightblood is so clueless about itself. (Note: I am amused that Dalinar doesn’t like the sensation of Nightblood talking in his head. Makes sense to me!)
P: Makes sense to me, too… but it’s so curious how Nightblood can choose who hears him and who doesn’t. And yes, not having your weapon eat you when you use it would be ideal!
“Dalinar has so many enemies; they will be sending assassins, spies. If I do not see them, perhaps I am too lax or too unskilled.”
Or maybe they aren’t here to find, the sword said. Vasher was always paranoid too. And he could sense if people were near. I told him to stop worrying so much. Like you. Worry, worry, worry.
A: Heh. And that, my metallic friend, is why Vasher is still alive—unlike the rest of the Five Scholars. (Well, maybe Yesteel.) It’s amazing what some good healthy paranoia can do for you. We know it doesn’t happen in this book, but I can’t help wondering if this is foreshadowing something that will happen in the next book—some occasion when Szeth relaxes his paranoia and accepts that there’s no one there to see—but there actually is.
P: I don’t know if Szeth is capable of such acceptance. He knows how he was as an assassin and he’s afraid of running into an adversary like him.
A: Um… true. He was pretty much unstoppable until the Knights Radiant returned, and at that it took a Third-Ideal Windrunner—who stopped him as much by shock value as by fighting skill. He knows firsthand how good a good assassin can be.
I like to try to understand laughter, the sword said. I think I can feel it. Happy. Ha! HA! Vivenna always liked my jokes. Even the bad ones.
A: Oh, Nightblood. Vivenna did seem to get along with Nightblood shockingly well, I’ll admit. I wonder why.
P: That’s it. We need to hear some Nightblood jokes.
A: We need the Nightblood book.
You might want to leave me drawn though. You know, so that if someone bad comes along, I can really get ’em.
A: Once more, with feeling: Oh, Nightblood! Persistent little sword-nimi, but also a really bad judge of its own behaviors.
P: And that’s what makes Nightblood so fun!
I hope it’s all right that I didn’t call for you! the sword said. I could sense her, although I couldn’t see her, and she seemed to be not evil. Even if she didn’t come over to pick me up. Isn’t that rude? But rude people can be not evil, right?
A: LOL. Yes, dear, rude people can be not evil. And your idea of “rude” is a bit warped. “Come let me eat your soul! Won’t that be fun?”
P: I mean, did Nightblood invite her to come pick her up? That’s the sword’s usual strategy. Look how irresistible I am… GOTCHA!
A: Maybe that’s why Dalinar is so set against the sword talking to anyone but Szeth. It’s just too likely to entrap—or at least distract—the wrong person. He doesn’t need his guards hurling their breakfasts or going berserk every time Szeth and his sword come around.
A: While the Diagram isn’t entirely a secret society anymore, Taravangian is still keeping secrets, so I’m using this heading to talk about him.
Szeth is absolutely sure Taravangian is up to no good, and while we might have indications that “stupid days” are more the rule than the exception, I’m with Szeth on this. Taravangian is always scheming, or playing out the schemes he made when he was smarter, or… something. I don’t trust him as far as I could throw Urithiru—tower, plateau, Oathgates and all.
Szeth had only ever met one man more confident than Dalinar in his own morality. Taravangian. The tyrant. The destroyer.
A: This comes on the heels of Szeth worrying about Dalinar’s moments of uncertainty, so apparently he still sees Dalinar as almost all certain. Anyway, I agree with him: Dalinar might be 99.9% sure of himself (or at least willing to act because sometimes you have to make a decision and move), but Taravangian is 100% certain of the rightness of his own thinking in every way. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but Taravangian literally worships the man he was on his “brilliant day,” and it really creeps me out. He might not always enjoy the actions his Diagram requires, but he’s absolutely sure that they are the right thing to do anyway, regardless of the moral or ethical qualms of any lesser being than Brilliant-Day-Taravangian. Ugh.
P: Szeth might be the only one who really fears Taravangian for not only what he has done, but what he can and might do, or is capable of doing.
A: Very true. The only people who know more than Szeth about Taravangian are people like Mrall and Adrotagia, who worship him almost as much as he worships himself. So Szeth is rightly worried about what Taravangian might be up to.
P: I never trusted that that snake wasn’t going to continue causing trouble. Why, Brandon, why?
A: Never waste a good villain…
Side question: Does Taravangian’s certainty rest on his own brilliance, or on the efficacy of Cultivation’s gift? Is there a difference? Discuss.
Taravangian wanted an Oathstone. Why?
A: Seriously, why? An Oathstone can only be used to control someone who accepts his identity as Truthless and follows the associated rules, according to Szeth (see below), and as far as we know it has to be his Oathstone, not just any similar stone. So… why? I can think of three possibilities. One, Taravangian doesn’t actually understand how they work, and he thinks he can make a slave of someone (maybe Szeth?) by the inherent magic of an Oathstone. (I rate this unlikely.) Two, he’s betting that Szeth will hear about this request, and is hoping to manipulate him into doing something foolish. (Yes, I think Szeth may have been right, that Taravangian saw through his disguise. Likely.) Three, and most terrifying though least likely, Taravangian may have access to the Stone Shamans, and a plan to gain power over another of the Honorblade holders. Other thoughts? Or, you know, wild speculations?
P: This makes me wish that Szeth had immediately approached Dalinar to tell him that what Taravangian wanted was an Oathstone. It freaks me out!
A: Right? Not that Dalinar knows enough about Oathstones to necessarily understand the issue, but at least they could have talked about it. (FWIW, the people at the Coppermind seem quite sure it’s the second option, Taravangian baiting Szeth. I’m… less certain, though I think it likely. At least until we reread the next Taravangian POV.)
He had to know what Taravangian was planning.
He had to stop the man. Before he killed Dalinar.
A: Indeed! I’d really rather Taravangian didn’t kill Dalinar, even if I do more than half expect him (Dalinar) to die in the next book.
P: It’s a sad thought, and I will be so angry if he goes out that way. But it’s not like we’re not expecting it, too. Or at least worried about it.
A: Sanderson wouldn’t be the writer he is if he couldn’t make us worry about things like this. I guess. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this…
Geography, History, and Cultures
A: We actually learn a handful of interesting tidbits about Shinovar and Szeth’s family in this chapter, so it seems worth collecting them here.
… the coast of Shinovar, where Szeth’s father had worked as a shepherd in his youth. With this thick grass, Szeth could almost imagine he was home. Near the beautiful white cliffs, listening to lambs bleat as he carried water.
A: Reinforcement, if anyone needed it, that Shinovar is designed to be hospitable to humans, and recognizable as “earth-like” to the reader. The nostalgia is rather endearing, isn’t it?
P: It is nice, and despite the ugly business Szeth has planned there, I look forward to seeing it.
He heard his father’s gentle words. The best and truest duty of a person is to add to the world. To create, and not destroy.
A: Is there an echo in here? While their personalities don’t seem at all alike, in philosophy it seems that Neturo and Lirin have much in common. Or had, anyway.
P: Let’s hope he wasn’t as much a jerk as Lirin.
A: Meh. Lirin is only a jerk when he’s in conflict with Kaladin—or rather, when his son is in conflict with his principles.
He was standing on profane stone in a forest clearing.
A: I’m so confused about the Shin view of stone… Or maybe it’s just Sanderson’s use of the terminology? He calls this “profane stone”—but earlier references sounded like the Shin view all stone as holy, and they try to avoid walking on it. On the other hand, Urithiru is a holy site, but some Shin writer calls it “our only path to the outside world, with its stones unhallowed.” So… I’m confused. What else is new.
P: Gotta be something somewhere outside of Brandon’s head to clear this up. What say you, Sanderfans, what can you find?
A: Yes, please! I’ve occasionally run into words that are used differently in the LDS church than in more orthodox settings, and quite often Sanderson is so steeped in the LDS usage that he’s not really conscious that a word means something else to the rest of the world. Maybe this is one of them.
A simple time, before his family had been given to the Honorblades. Before his gentle father had been taught to kill. To subtract.
His father was still alive, in Shinovar. Bearer of a different sword, a different burden.
A: This was an absolutely stunning revelation. I had always assumed that Szeth had earned or been chosen for the honor of studying under the Stone Shamans, that he would eventually have become one of them had he not been outcast as Truthless. Apparently that’s not how it works! The entire family was “given” (by whom?) to the Honorblades, meaning that at the very least the males of the family learn to use the Honorblades. In addition, it seems that each is at some point assigned a specific Honorblade, which they carry (serve?) until they die.
P: We can’t help but wonder why this task was given to Szeth’s family. What did his father do before? He was a shepherd in his youth, but I can’t wait to see where he went from there to end up as the bearer of an Honorblade.
A: I wonder if we’ll ever find out what Neturo was like after this happened. Did he change from the “gentle father” to… something else? (Hopefully we’ll see this in the flashbacks.) We’ll learn later in this book that he held the Bondsmith Honorblade, and Szeth assumes his father is dead once he sees that Ishar has reclaimed it. All things to look for in the next book!
Szeth’s entire family was there. His sister, his mother. It had been long since he’d considered them. He let himself do so now because he’d decided he wasn’t Truthless. Before, he hadn’t wanted to sully their images with his mind.
A: This is really bittersweet, but it’s well suited to Szeth’s obsession with devotion to the law. When the Shin leaders named him Truthless, he fully accepted their authority, and proceeded to do everything in his power to distance his family from his own shame. It’s really sad, though, to think that he spent 7 years or so refusing to even think about his family.
P: I hate how poor Szeth hated himself for so long. He was done so wrong.
A: SO wrong. One of the things I most want to know is whether they did it out of ignorance or expediency. I can (sort of) forgive ignorance.
“Long ago, my people rejected my warnings,” Szeth said. “They did not believe me when I said the enemy would soon return. They cast me out, deemed me Truthless.”
A: One wonders (and realizes that one will have to wait for the next book!) just what prompted Szeth to believe that the Voidbringers were returning. In Oathbringer he mentions “a single [voice], in my mind, when I was young,” but that doesn’t seem a likely source for the information; I’m not sure he’d have said “when I was young” given that he was only named Truthless about 9 years ago, and he’s currently 37. Maybe, though.
P: Write faster, Brandon! *laughs at the ridiculousness of that request*
A round stone.
With quartz inclusions.
For years, Szeth had obeyed the law of the Oathstone. The centuries-old tradition among his people dictated the way to treat someone who was Truthless. An object, no longer a man. Something to own.
A: It’s always both frustrating and awe-inspiring to be reminded of how the Oathstones work. There’s no magic to it; just the tradition of his people. When you’re Truthless, you do exactly what the person who holds your Oathstone commands, plus you bear the blame for any awful things you do on your owner’s orders. It’s pretty brutal, and it’s a little frightening to think that the only person this punishment could work on is one who is absolutely dedicated to the ideals of their society. Anyone who was genuinely truthless wouldn’t be likely to obey the owner’s orders once out of sight of Shinovar; that very obedience is proof of his commitment to his people’s beliefs, and demonstrates the unlikelihood of the accusation.
So about this crusade of his… As stated in Oathbringer, Szeth’s fourth Ideal is:
“I will cleanse the Shin of their false leaders, so long as Dalinar Kholin agrees.”
A: Is he convinced that they knew the truth and sacrificed him to hide or delay the revelation? Or are they “false leaders” because they didn’t recognize the truth?
P: Who’s truthless now, *insert swear word of choice*?
The child had been through a horrifying experience back in Kholinar, and he was quiet much of the time. Haunted. He’d been tortured by Voidspren, manipulated by the Unmade, neglected by his mother. Though Szeth’s sufferings had been different, he couldn’t help but feel a kinship with the child.
A: Like Szeth, it makes me happy to see Gavinor behaving like a normal little boy.
P: But I’m so worried for him! I don’t want that poor child to suffer any more.
Szeth froze as the little boy, Gavinor, stepped up to him. He raised a wooden sword hilt-first toward Szeth. The boy should fear him, yet instead he smiled and waggled the sword.
P: I wonder why he gave Szeth his sword? Did he want Szeth to play with him?
A: That was my assumption—although he doesn’t persist once Szeth freezes. I hope he gave the toy sword back eventually…
Shallan’s Sketchbook: Highspren
Highspren are enigmatic beings in the best of circumstances. In Shadesmar, their forms are as solid as any of the other spren, although they appear as human-shaped holes in reality, spaces that look out onto unfamiliar starry skies.
When they move, the stars do not move with them. Watching these beings walk is like looking through a moving window onto an alternate reality.
Distinguishing individual highspren is incredibly difficult, unless they happen to have a distinct silhouette. However, highspren seem to have no difficulty in identifying one another.
In the Physical Realm, they appear as a tear or hole, hanging in the air.
A: I feel like I ought to have intelligent things to say about this, but… I really don’t. Shallan’s notes (transcribed for readability) are pretty self-explanatory. We don’t really know when she drew this, but there’s evidence that Adolin’s team saw enough of them early in the trip to easily recognize them as highspren.
There are questions, of course, which Shallan can’t answer even if she’s thought of them. Are the stars real? If so, where are they? Are they the stars you see from a different (watery) part of Roshar, or some other part of the Cosmere altogether? Or is it just an affectation, and each highspren has its own set of imaginary stars? (I’m not sure they’re quite that imaginative…) Also, are they all as standoffish as Szeth’s spren? They clearly don’t get along well with the honorspren, but then no one seems to, much.
About the page, though, I have one additional question. What’s the little drawing in the lower left about, and why are there apparently ink-blots on the right side?
P: I wondered about that little doodle on the bottom left, as well.
A: I’ve been musing, and this seems like a good place to put the results.
On Roshar, Taravangian and Nale are nearly identical in their confidence that their wisdom is infallible. As Taravangian is totally sure of his brilliant-day Diagram, Nale is totally sure of himself as the embodiment of law. From my perspective, of course they’re both wrong, because no mortal is capable of that level of perfection. (Your mileage may vary.)
I’m less certain of what Sanderson has in mind for the Cosmere; he’s created a universe without an infallible, outside-the-system God—and without a perfect redemption—so while he seems to be presenting these two as flawed in their self-confidence, I’m not entirely sure where he’s going with it. So far, his “gods” (the Shards) are obviously limited. While their knowledge is far beyond ordinary people, they aren’t omniscient. While they are aware of far more than ordinary people, they aren’t omnipresent. While they are incredibly powerful, they aren’t omnipotent. So… what kind of “gods” are they, who can be outmaneuvered and killed?
Part of me expects (or maybe hopes) to find at the very end of the Cosmere saga that Adonalsium directed his own Shattering, and will bring himself back together as a true God, but I don’t have much confidence that Sanderson is going that direction. (For that matter, I don’t have much confidence that I’ll be around to see the very end of the Cosmere saga, so there’s that…)
(Also, yes, I freely acknowledge that when I talk about a true God, I’m using the orthodox Judeo-Christian sense: a God who is outside the system, who created it and has unquestionable rights of authorship over it. The Cosmere, so far, does not clearly have that. The Shards are inside the system, part of the system, so their authority is more that of “ordinary people who gained extraordinary powers”—the biggest kids on the playground, who can either be bullies or protectors according to their will. Demigods, at best. It remains to be seen what Adonalsium really is. This may be another case of LDS vs. orthodox theology, but I’ve not studied LDS beliefs enough to be sure.)
We’ll be leaving further speculation and discussion to you in the comments, so have fun and remember to be respectful of the opinions of others! Next week, we’ll be back with Interlude 8, and a lovely little visit with our favorite little larkin. We’ll probably do a very brief review of what happened with Chiri-Chiri in Dawnshard, just as background for those who haven’t reread it lately.
Alice lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two kids. Drama season is coming to crunch time, so she’s busier than ever with costume and set assistance. She also makes occasional forays into theology and literature, as might be noticeable from today’s reread.
Paige resides in New Mexico, of course. She works full-time, goes to school full-time, beta reads part-time, mods/admins 3 Stormlight-themed Facebook groups part-time, and writes part-time. She wishes sleep wasn’t necessary because there’s just too storming much to do! Links to her other writing are available in her profile.