Friday, July 9, 2010

Knife of Dreams Read-through #12: Sylvase

By Linda

In the Winter’s Heart read-through I looked at the character development of Teslyn and one astute reader pointed out that her reactions indicate possible sexual abuse. In this post I shall look at another character who has the same: Sylvase Caeren.

Sylvase’s grandfather Lord Nasin was High Seat and forced himself on any woman he could; even other High Seats had trouble refusing him. He got away with it because he was head of a powerful House and because he was demented.

Throughout Crossroads of Twilight and most of Knife of Dream Sylvase had an expressionless face. Such emotional withdrawal can be a sign of abuse. According to Norry:

“her grandfather chased away every man who showed interest in her until men stopped showing interest, and she has been virtually a prisoner since reaching her majority. That would tend to give anyone a dark view of the world. She may not . . . um ... be as trustworthy as you could wish, my Lady."

- Knife of Dreams, The Importance of Dyelin

The imprisonment itself is a form of abuse. Nasin claimed he was keeping her safe from fortune-hunters (Crossroads of Twilight, Gathering Darkness), but it was an excellent excuse which may well cover something far more sinister. Considering Nasin’s current behaviour, he is likely to have sexually abused Sylvase as well. Note that unlike everyone else, Sylvase made a point of watching the maid coerced into accepting Nasin’s sexual favours go to his tent with him (Crossroads of Twilight, Gathering Darkness).

The effect of his actions in driving all men away was to keep her all to himself and totally under his control. At the least, by claiming that men only want her for her money, he was making her feel worthless as a person.

More recently, Nasin left Sylvase under the ‘protection’ of Arymilla, ostensibly to keep her safe, but actually so she, his heir, could not replace him as High Seat (Crossroads of Twilight, Gathering Darkness). He was partly aware that he had lost his mental faculties, but was determined to retain his position until his death (Knife of Dreams, A Bronze Bear).

Sylvase is less stupid than she appears: she questioned the value of attacking Caemlyn without the support of Luan and the other High Seats and asked why they did not accept Luan’s truce until they forced the Borderlanders away (Knife of Dreams, A Bronze Bear). She also understood what Elayne’s acceptance of her support would entail.

Nasin almost pleaded with Sylvase, his granddaughter and heir, not to replace him before he died:

His smile faded, and an odd note entered his voice. It might almost have been...pleading. "Remember, you will be High Seat of Caeren after I'm gone. After I'm gone. You will be High Seat."

- Knife of Dreams, A Bronze Bear

or perhaps he held out the promise of High Seat as a reward for putting up with him. All it did was encourage thoughts of what her life could be like if he were gone and suggest a way out of her troubles.

Sylvase claimed that Nasin died of a seizure during the assault on the Far Madding Gate (Knife of Dreams, Nine Out of Ten). While this is possible, it is remarkably convenient. However, Nasin had made such a pest of himself that no one was going to quibble. Sylvase’s cousins for instance promptly confirmed her as High Seat.

Nasin had kept Sylvase powerless and confined, so this was the first opportunity to rid herself of him and get away with it. In the confusion of battle it wouldn’t be difficult to kill him in a way that passed as natural causes. For instance she could stun him and suffocate him. An old man would die of suffocation rapidly. Any slight wound on his head could be passed off as him hitting his head when he fell. If anyone saw her bending over him she could say that he had taken ill and she was trying to help him. Her prompt employment of the interrogator Jac Lounalt once Arymilla was captured suggests she is bent on revenge enough to have killed her grandfather, or gotten someone such as Lounalt to do it. (Though the latter option leaves her more vulnerable and she has probably had enough of that).

Now that Nasin is dead, Sylvase’s eyes are alert (Knife of Dreams, Nine Out of Ten) and she is openly expressive. She has dropped her protective mask of withdrawal because Nasin’s death has set her free. The abuse has stopped.


Anonymous said...

Who's to say that Sylvase isn't a darkfriend? A person under the thumb of a Chosen?

Isn't convenient that Sylvase offers the use of Jac Lounalt to Elayne, immediately after switching to the winning side?

While at the same time Jarid's army disappears mysteriously with many armsmen who formerly supported Arymilla quest to become Queen of Andor?

Sounds as if the Shadow might have switched to plan B in middle stream.

Just as Daved Hanslon correctly puzzled out, the real possibility of an alternate plan in the works by the Shadow previously.

Was Sylvase informed and part the Shadow's on plan B or not?

hinkel said...

I don't know that I'd go as far as "likely" abused, but you point out the evidence well that it's quite possible. However, I've always seen Sylvase's withdrawn personality as a facade to keep others from seeing the threat she would impose as an intelligent High Seat - once she took over, she no longer had to continue with the pretenses. Her cunning was displayed rather quickly after her introduction. I see her more of a leopard who was able to hide her spots until she was big enough to fight off her opponents.

hinkel said...

Pose a threat...not impose. Oops.

RabidWombat said...

Elenia probably killed Nasin. In her point of view in CoT, she muses whether to kill Nasin or another person first, iirc.

The evidence is too shaky as proof that Sylvase was sexually abused. I like the case you make for it, though. Nice post.

Anonymous said...

Nasin would likely be surrounded by his armsmen at all times, perhaps especially during an attack where anything can happen. And we know from CoT that his soldiers are loyal to him, odd as it seems to me, even with him being the High Seat.
Because of that, Elenia might not have got her chance to kill Nasin, even if she really was going to do it. And I rather think that she wouldn't kill anyone by herself! And how could Elenia have dared? As far as she knew Arymilla would likely succeed in taking Caemlyn, killing the old man would've been a suicide if Arymilla found out.

Sylvase was certainly abused, though whether it was sexual or not, I don't now. I guess it likely was, Nasin certainly enjoyed sex and Sylvase would have been readily available. It' sad, but I wonder if Sylvase having a darker side will bring problems to Elayne? The palace's cells being filled with dangerous Darkfriends and Sylvase roaming around..I don't think she's a DF, though. For one thing, she was too cloistered by Nasin.

Mister_Random said...

I took the Nasin pleading scene in a completely different way, I took it that he was asking Sylvase to kill him so she could become high seat and set things right.

A pet theory of mine is that while Nasin may have been slightly unhinged to begin with he was pushed over the edge by a forsaken using compulsion on him and that scene was Nasin trying to fight back and hinting to Sylvase about what she must do.

Unknown said...

I realise this is highly unlikely, but on my first read through I had the half idea that Sylvase could be a new disguise of Lanfear's - mostly based on similarity of her previous pseudonyms (Silvie, Selene), the mystery surrounding her past, moral ambiguity (hiring Lounalt), and general timing of her appearance in the novels.

I guess my thought was that Moridin could be meddling in Elayne's affairs for some reason. I'm don't think there was is any actual evidence of this idea though, and probably plenty of reasons for it to be wrong... :)

Linda said...

That's been suggested by a few people, Simon. Sanderson was asked about this on the TGS book tour and he said no:

Forkroot and Samadai: For example, some postulate that Sylvase is Cyndane.

Brandon: No, Sylvase is not a Forsaken and was never intended to be.

Macster said...

I can see why some might think Sylvase was Cyndane (I didn't even think of the similarity to Silvie/Selene), but now that Sanderson has put paid to that, note he didn't say she wasn't a Darkfriend. And in Towers of Midnight, the scene at the play: Sylvase is utterly cold, emotionless, and empty-seeming again. Something is very wrong with her. Based on other events in that book, I have to wonder if she might be a latent channeler and was turned to the Shadow (the Black Tower is nearby, after all, not to mention the Black Ajah prior to their capture in Knife of Dreams).

Of course none of this precludes her from having still been abused one way or another by Nasin, but I suspect we will learn more about her in AMoL, and it won't be good...

Linda said...

Sylvase does not have dead eyes, as channellers who have been turned to the Shadow do. Nor does she seem unnatural. She is nasty, but it is her own unadulterated nastiness and it has a strong moral tone of rough justice.