*Spoiler alert for The Way of Kings, Words of Radiance, Oathbringer, and Rhythm of War!*
Also, click here to go to the source of that wonderful Szeth art used in the thumbnail!
Thus far, we’ve discussed the three primary protagonists of the Stormlight Archive. At least those introduced in the first book. We’ve done Kaladin, Shallan, and Dalinar. But we all knew it was only a matter of time until I returned to this series.
It’s almost like I love it or something.
Unfortunately for all of you, I’m too impatient to wait for book five and I’m only about halfway through Dawnshard. So, here we are again.
The only question was: who? Adolin? Renarin? Nevani? Maybe Jasnah? Once again, I was spoiled for choices.
And once again, the answer became obvious almost immediately. Who else could it be but the Assassin in White himself?
Szeth-son-son Vallano (we’ll just stick with Szeth) is arguably the most important character in the entire series. Sure, Dalinar is the leader of the Radiants, Kaladin is basically our primary protagonist, and Shallan… is doing her thing (I’ve never liked Shallan, I’m sorry). Szeth? He was the guy who got the ball rolling! Every single event in these books except for the first prologue exists because of him!
But how does he tick? Who is the Assassin in White? Well, a lot of that is still a mystery. But we’ve got some clues to work with.
The Wound: Truthless
This aspect of Szeth’s character is still one of the biggest question marks in the entire series.
We don’t know how. We don’t know why. But at some point, long before the story began, Szeth foresaw the return of the Voidbringers, the Knights Radiant, and the Desolation. Somehow, this dude knew about everything that was going to happen, though not as accurately as some other characters.
Naturally, Szeth tried to warn people. And just as naturally, they didn’t believe him.
So… they gave him an Honorblade, made him Truthless, and banished him from Shinovar? I get the last two. But… why the first one?
Whatever the reason isn’t particularly important (at least not right now; knowing Sanderson, it’ll completely recontextualize everything we thought we knew about the series). All we need to know is that Szeth was made into a slave and set out into the world.
The Lie: No Choice
When you’ve got a slave that’ll do whatever you want so long as you hold a rock, people are naturally gonna want to have him. Especially when they find out that he’s not only a Shardbearer, but also has the powers of the old Knights Radiant. So, naturally, those who knew of Szeth’s true nature put him to good use.
Which all culminated in him attending a feast, dressed all in white, with the sole purpose of killing a king.
From there, Szeth’s life became murder. He had a brief respite between killing King Gavilar and being picked up by Taravangian. But after that, the dude became a blender in which royalty and nobility were thrown. He was the ultimate killing machine.
As he worked, Szeth started blaming others for his killing. His master. The victim. It wasn’t his fault that his victims were being slaughtered. They weren’t strong enough to kill him! He was ordered to do it! He was Truthless! He had no choice!
That is until he met a certain Bridgeman who proved that he was not, in fact, Truthless. Meaning that he was entirely responsible for every single murder he had ever done.
The Want: Something To Believe In
Blind devotion is Szeth’s ultimate flaw. He followed the rulings of his people without question. He obeyed his master as a Truthless because he thought it was what he had to do. For as long as we’ve known him, he has always followed someone else. Sometimes of his own free will. Other times because he thought he had no choice.
When Kaladin calls him out on his shit in Words of Radiance, Szeth has an existential crisis. Granted, he was also dying at the time. So that’s a given.
Once he was done dying, Szeth was recruited into the Skybreakers, an order of Radiants that dedicates themselves to the law. Here, Szeth ended up doing it all over again. Only this time, he was much more considerate of what he would dedicate himself to.
In the end, during the climax of Oathbringer, he makes his choice. Not to dedicate himself to a code or a law. But to a single person. And that man was none other than the Blackthorn himself: Dalinar Kholin.
I’m sure Dalinar was happy about that. “Hey, I’m the guy that murdered your brother. But I’m cool now, can I dedicate my entire life to you?”
The Need: Faith in Thyself
While Szeth choosing to follow Dalinar is certainly an improvement over his previous choices, it still isn’t an ideal way of living. Szeth may not acknowledge it himself, but he is still living with the mindset of a slave. He’s grown from the man he used to be, but not a whole lot.
For Szeth to grow and move past the demons of his past, Szeth needs to stop following and start walking on his own. To choose his own path instead of letting someone else choose one for him. This coincides with the final ideal of the Skybreakers; one must become the law themselves to live a just and free life.
From what we’ve been teased with, it’s likely that he’ll start down this path soon. In Oathbringer, he learns that his ultimate test will be to go back to Shinovar and purge it of the corruption that lead to the Assassin in White. Then, near the end of Rhythm of War, Szeth departs from Dalinar in order to begin this quest.
How will things shake out? We’ll have to wait until book five (maybe) to find out!
We still have no idea where Szeth’s character is going to go from here. Maybe he’ll end up being the hero that slays Odium… again. Or maybe he’ll go full-on insane and need to be put down. Right now, Szeth is standing at a crossroads. His next steps are going to completely change the course of his story.
And everyone’s stories, probably. Dude’s like a walking High Storm.