Here’s a link to the source, if you want to check out that excellent illustration of Shallan, drawn by ceriselightning.
*Spoilers: I’m about to spoil a significant chunk of The Stormlight Archive series. If you haven’t read them yet, go do that before reading this. It will take a lot of time, yes, but it’s absolutely worth it. You have been warned.*
It’s been a hot minute since I talked about The Stormlight Archive series. Unless you count mentioning it in the list of my favorite books, which I do not, then I haven’t discussed it since my analysis of Kaladin! So, with book four set to come out this year (hype, hype, hype!), I figured I may as well go back to it to get myself properly excited!
Yes, I know it doesn’t come out for another few months. Shut up.
Last time I talked about this series on The Mind of a Character, I broke down Kaladin Stormblessed, my personal favorite character in the series. Today, I’m going to do the exact opposite. I’m going to talk about my least favorite character: the first Storm-Weaver, Shallan Davar.
Upon first glance, Shallan seems like a pretty normal girl. She’s pretty, kind, socially awkward, more than a little witty, and incredibly talented in drawing. But as the story progresses, we see some genuinely shocking and interesting sides of her! We see her transform from a terrified girl to a cunning and powerful young woman!
And then we see the exact fucking opposite when she completely breaks. Holy shit, Brandon Sanderson, where did this come from?! Why would you do this?!
The Wound: Worst. Parents. Ever.
Shallan had a… rough childhood. To put it mildly.
Her mother, as it turns out, was part of a secret organization that specialized in hunting and killing Surgebinders, as they feared they’d bring about the next apocalypse. Naturally, when she found out her daughter was a Surgebinder, her mother did the only thing that any loving mother would do. She tried to murder her own daughter!
Which earned her a Shardblade straight through the chest.
Her father, being an actual loving parent, took the fall for the murder to protect her. This created a divide in the family, one that drove all of her brothers into dark places and plunged the family into a financial crisis. All of this took a toll on Shallan’s father, who started lashing out at his sons, servants, and his new wife. Soon enough, her kindly father became a raving madman who’s actions quickly took the family’s future into a dark path.
Shallan’s solution? Go two-for-two and murder her father! Flawless solution!
This was understandably traumatic for the poor girl. Luckily, Shalan had a solution to deal with it! Unfortunately, it wasn’t a very good one!
The Lie: Bury the Past in Lies
Shallan has a hard time accepting her past. Understandably so, mind you. But it has bled into her present life in more ways than one. None of them very good.
For years, Shallan thought that burying the memories away was the best course of action. She had thrown away the memory of killing her mother and tried desperately to do the same with her father. Her response to trauma is the same as a Star Wars prequel defender’s response to criticism: blocking off her ears and screaming “LA LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!”
I just made some enemies, didn’t I?
However, unlike the prequel fans, Shallan couldn’t keep the charade up forever. By the end of book two, she was forced to face her past and, as painful as it was, accept it. No amount of denial could change it now. Shallan couldn’t run from her past anymore.
But there was another option. If she couldn’t escape the past as herself, maybe she could do it as someone else! Maybe she could become someone else! This leads to the most interesting point in Shallan’s story: the identity crisis.
In book three, Shallan takes on various personas to help her escape the past. She creates Veil, a rough and tough street rat with a heart of gold, and Radiant, a badass, honorable, and powerful knight who always has her emotions in check and respects those around her greatly. Before she knows it, her true identity becomes lost to her as she drowns in her other, more satisfactory personalities. Shallan Davar quickly lost track of who was the real Shallan!
Shallan desperately believes that outrunning the past is her best bet. Even after having accepted her having murdered her mother, she wants to escape it, no matter what she has to do. But by attempting to do so, Shallan only hurts herself more and more! Rather than sitting down and confronting the problems she has, she goes out of her way and creates brand new ones by trying to escape them.
And by doing so, she only gets farther away from her goal.
The Want: Scholarly Ambition
For years, Shallan lived for others. Every effort she made was dedicated entirely to keeping her family together. She never had time for herself outside of her drawing, which served more as a source of therapy than anything else. But aside from art, she had no real passions of her own.
Then she met Jasnah Kholin.
Initially, all Shallan wanted was to earn her trust and steal from her. She didn’t have any strong desire to do it, but she had to do what she had to do to save her family! But as she studied beneath her, she found a new passion that she never even considered before! She found herself in love with the pursuit of scholarship!
Unfortunately, working as a scholar is not the most important thing on poor Shallan’s ‘To Do’ list. Between saving her family, infiltrating a secret murder organization, unraveling ancient secrets, and saving the world, Shallan doesn’t have the time to become the scholar that she wants to be. She simply can’t find the time for her scholarly pursuits.
But that isn’t all that stands in her way. In fact, her scholarly ambitions could be used to help in the battle to save the world! Jasnah’s work with her mother in book three helps prove that! Unfortunately, Shallan has one major issue stopping her from helping and living the dream at the same time. And no, it’s not her status as a Surgebinder. It’s her inability to accept her true identity and live with it.
Which leads to our final point.
The Need: To Accept and Move Forward
Despite all of her best efforts, Shallan is trapped in the past. By trying to throw her identity away, all she’s managed to accomplish is to further trap herself. So long as she tries to escape, she’ll only find herself in a deeper, darker, and smaller cage.
Shallan needs to face her past and accept it. If she can do that, then she can finally stop living controlled by it. Her future does look like a bright one, especially after her marriage to Adolin and the furthered mastery of her powers! But so long as she’s trapped in the past, she can’t ever live in the present.
Being trapped in the past is a common theme for the characters in The Stormlight Archive series. Kaladin, Dalinar, Szeth, Renarin, basically every character is trapped in the past in some regard or another. Some, like Dalinar, manage to overcome their pasts to become stronger. As of now, before book four has come out, it is unknown whether or not Shallan will be able to do the same. But things are certainly looking up!
Mostly thanks to best boy Adolin. I’ll need to talk about him someday…
At the beginning of this analysis, I mentioned how Shallan was my least favorite character in this series. While I do think that she’s still a phenomenal character, I still stand by that opinion. The most fun I had with her was writing this analysis! Aside from that, I can’t stand her chapters in any of the three books!
Although the scene where she steals Kaladin’s boots was pretty good.
Personally, I think that her being my least favorite character is a testament to the quality of this series’ writing. Not many stories are so good that even the weakest characters are this good! If the weakest character looks this good, then what does the strongest look like?
The answer is Kaladin Stormblessed. But I’ve already talked about that.