The recently released cover to Oathbringer, the forthcoming third volume in Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series, has a surprising amount of information packed into it. At first, it may seem like a straightforward fantasy cover—there’s a warrior, a sword, and a monster—but each of these elements is depicted with unique specificity, raising questions about larger mysteries within the Stormlight Archive series itself.
What’s the giant? What’s happening to the sword? What city is being defended? And is our hero Jasnah actually…not supposed to be fighting?
(Spoilers ahead for The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance.)
Although artist Michael Whelan is depicting a scene from within the forthcoming Oathbringer, covers of this nature tend not to be exact reflections of a scene. The idea is more to evoke the feeling of the scene—in this case a passionate show of magical force and high stakes—more than the exact nature of the events in the scene.
Still, there are details in the elements that must remain true to the status of the characters and the rules of the fantasy world of Roshar, and those details are replete throughout the cover to Oathbringer, raising the following questions:
Question: Is the sword really a person?
Answer: Almost definitely. Jasnah’s access to magic (or other extranormal abilities) requires her to bond with a fairy-esque being known as a spren. This symbiotic relationship allows Rosharans like Jasnah to use the spren as a channel/buffer to energies that allow for specific magical abilities. In Jasnah’s case, this means she can teleport herself around the world and transform materials. For spren, the bond seems to fulfill an aching emotional need to be utilized and more connected to the physical world, although we’re still learning about the particulars of the spren’s end of this symbiosis.
From the very beginning of the Stormlight Archive series, Jasnah has caught the attention of a very anxious and somewhat ironic spren named “Ivory.” Ivory was, at first, content to pose as Jasnah’s shadow, becoming belligerent and pretending to threaten Jasnah with a shadowy sword if she pointed out he was reflecting the wrong way, or not keeping up with her movements. Only when threatened back by Jasnah did Ivory show respect and acquiesce to a full bond.
Spren clearly have individual wills, but they also have morphic forms. They are able to take any shape or density that they wish. So why would Ivory become a sword for Jasnah, as he appears to be doing on the cover of Oathbringer? As we learn elsewhere in the book series, spren such as Ivory have a history of being bonded to other magic users who utilize them as nigh-unbreakable swords known as Shardblades. Forming into a Shardblade is the quickest way to maximize the amount of power that Jasnah can draw upon through Ivory, because this is how spren have been utilized for millennia. In essence, Ivory is accustomed to becoming a sword.
And since Jasnah is flying, fixing a wall, and fighting a giant all at once in the cover to Oathbringer, that explains why Ivory is floating next to her in the form of a Shardblade. He’s not so much a weapon in that moment as he is a conduit, and he’s trying to be the best conduit that he can be.
We may also be seeing an instinctive reaction, like a cat hissing at another cat, since Ivory is in the presence of the giant. From The Way of Kings:
According to legend, the Shardblades were first carried by the Knights Radiant uncounted ages ago. Gifts of their god, granted to allow them to fight horrors of rock and flame, dozens of feet tall, foes whose eyes burned with hatred. The Voidbringers.
Question: So that giant is also a person?
Answer: Very likely. The giant depicted in the cover is most likely a “Thunderclast,” as it matches the description of a similar monster from a vision Dalinar has had in a previous book.
Thunderclasts are created when a Voidbringer gathers material around their body. One of the eye-widening events at the end of Words of Radiance reveals that Parshendi peoples have bonded with spren to become singular Voidbringer beings, losing their sense of identity in exchange for a fluidity and power of form. Thunderclasts are the next iteration of that process–a Voidbringer essentially armoring up.
The Thunderclast in this cover appears to consist of brick, so it’s possible that it didn’t break through the wall so much as it absorbed the wall to create or enhance its body. (Which makes you wonder what else a Voidbringer could make a body out of. Water? A graveyard full of corpses? Brrr!) The giant is also REALLY giant, indicating that it’s had enough time near the city and/or the wall to absorb a substantial amount of material. Which raises a new question…
Question: Does Jasnah arrive late to the fight?
Answer: Possibly. Jasnah has teleportational abilities, so she can jump all around the world, but that wouldn’t explain how she would find out about a Thunderclast attacking a city in time to teleport there. (So far on Roshar, information doesn’t travel as quickly as Jasnah can.) It’s therefore more likely that Jasnah is already in the city when the Thunderclast’s attack begins. That it gets so large indicates a few possibilities: either she has trouble accessing her abilities or she simply doesn’t have access to abilities that would be able to directly combat the giant. Her main abilities, accessed through Ivory, are teleportation (of the self only, so far as we’ve seen) and transformation. The latter could be used to transform the brick material of the Thunderclast…unless transformation abilities such as hers can’t affect material connected to a living soul. (This particular quirk of magic is mirrored in another of Brandon Sanderson’s series: Mistborn. The Mistborn series is connected to The Stormlight Archive, but we have yet to discover how.) If that is the case, Jasnah might not be late to the fight so much as she’s minimizing the damage done, replacing the brick of the wall with metal, and so on.
Or…she’s purposefully kept (or been kept) away from the fight.
Question: Does anyone want Jasnah fighting for them?
Answer: Maybe not! There’s a couple of weird details to the cover that suggest a lessened status for Jasnah going into the fight. The first is that her left hand is gloved. The dominant religion of Roshar demands that a woman’s left hand, considered her “safehand”, be covered in fabric. Since having one hand covered is exceptionally annoying (Try going through your day using only one hand.) working women skirt this rule by utilizing gloves. Jasnah, being nobility and not working class, is expected to have loose fabric covering her safehand.
She is gloved in the cover to Oathbringer, however. Does that mean she doesn’t want anyone to recognize her as nobility, in case that stymies her work or puts her in danger? What kind of mission would necessitate deep cover of that nature? This gives further weight to the idea that Jasnah accidentally happens to be in the city attacked by the Thunderclast; that she’s not hunting for them, or even expecting them.
In fact, she may not even want to fight or use her abilities until long after the Thunderclast attacks. There’s clearly an army on the field ready to defend the city against the giant. Jasnah may only act upon seeing that army (which looks Alethi, since the banner insignia is a simplified and sideways version of the cape that Dalinar wears on the cover to The Way of Kings) fail to contain the monster.
Alternately, Jasnah’s a bit of a heretic, and very practical, and the glove could just be a reflection of that.
Question: Does any of this explain the stairs?
Answer: Who knows? The floating stairs sure are neat! And they fade away as she climbs up them, it seems… Maybe Jasnah is able to use her transformation powers to make air solid, like Aes Sedai can do in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time?
In summary, it looks like the cover to Oathbringer may be depicting a pivotal “hero moment” for Jasnah, as she reluctantly rises to the defense of this city and discovers herself as a Knight Radiant, one of the heroes that must emerge in order to fight back the darkness and destruction brought by the Everstorm, the Voidbringers, and the dark mind pushing them forward.
First Kaladin, then Shallan, now Jasnah?