Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive may be an immense epic fantasy in the making, but its success can be attested to the finely focused crafting on a character level. While there are dozens of stories and many more points of view, Sanderson really focuses on a handful of characters, giving each of them their own focal book in which to explore their pasts, and what made them who they are. The Way of Kings belonged to Kaladin, a doctor turned soldier turned slave turned Windrunner, whose leadership and abilities are called upon time and again, even as he struggles with the guilt and trauma of his younger days. Words of Radiance belonged to Shallan Davar, whose scholarship and pursuit to secure her family’s future was thrown to the winds when her abilities as a Lightweaver are revealed, and she becomes embroiled in a secret society on Roshar.
And now, as we head into Oathbringer, we know it will be Dalinar Kholin’s novel, a man who has struggled to build and unite and lead, in a society that only knows him for his past brutality. We figured it’s time to dive back into what we know of him, how he became who he is, and what Oathbringer may teach us.
Spoilers for The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance.
When we first meet Dalinar, he is part of the campaign in the Shattered Plains south of Alethkar, in pursuit of vengeance against the mysterious Parshendi, who sent an assassin in white to murder the king, Gavilar, older brother to Dalinar. Upon his death, he left a message: “You must find the most important words a man can say.” Five years later, and he is still no closer, though he’s been listening to an old Alethi text, The Way of Kings, a book his brother had become obsessed with, and is trying to decipher in the text. When Gavilar was murdered, Dalinar was passed out, drunk, and the shame stays with him every day. Which is why he pushes his men so hard to win gemhearts away from the Parshendi to power their armies, and with his two sons, Adolin and Renarin, as well as rival Highprince Sadeas, work to figure out the Parshendi’s motives. All the while, he attends to his nephew Elhokar, the king, as best he can, and works to keep his thoughts away from Navani, his widowed sister-in-law and engineer; whenever he thinks of his former wife, he can hear nothing, and remembers nothing of her, only that they were married for a time, and he doesn’t remember how he lost her.
And that’s when the visions start happening. Dalinar doesn’t know what to make of them first, but throughout The Way of Kings, these visions of ancient times, forgotten heroes, monsters of shadow, and magics the likes of which he’s never seen; they haunt him. They strike during highstorms, narrated by an unseen, unknowable being that Dalinar takes for the Almighty. They urge him to unite, to bring together Alethkar through peace. And despite thinking he’s going mad, Dalinar does his best to unite the Alethi. It is at the end of The Way of Kings that Dalinar learns that this being, this Almighty, is in fact not God at all, but a being known as Honor. And he is dead.
Going into Words of Radiance, Dalinar now knows he’s speaking with the Stormfather, a splinter of power created by the shard Honor before his death; to help guide the highstorms, keep watch on the planet, and grant visions to one who could help fulfill Honor’s vague agenda. Navani, with whom Dalinar has started a relationship, has begun to record his visions, and together, they work to enact the unification of Alethkar’s highprinces, and push into Parshendi territory. All the while, Dalinar works to keep the highprinces off of his back, bring his sons and his people together, guide Kaladin, and survive attempts on his life from Szeth, the Assassin in White. Meanwhile, at the heart of the Plains may lie an ancient secret: Urithiru, the home of the Knights Radiant before their fall. And if they’re to survive what is to come next, they’ll need to bring the Knights back. Dalinar refounds the Knights Radiant, and though he initially gives the position to a false Radiant, he soon comes to his senses, and takes on the role himself, discovering that through his relationship to the visions, he has begun inhaling stormlight. And by the end of Words of Radiance, having gained Urithuri, though lost the Parshendi to the Everstorm, Dalinar speaks the oath of the Bondsmiths, and bonds with the Stormfather themself. He gives marching orders to Kaladin, Shallan, and Renarin, the three other Knights, he knows of, and knows he has much more work to do before Roshar is truly united.
So, what can we expect to see of Dalinar in Oathbringer?
From Brandon’s own mouth, and from what we’ve seen of previews, Dalinar’s past as the brutal, terrifying Blackthorn is going to be explored in all of it’s gory details. Wielded as a Warhammer, Gavilar used Dalinar’s bloodlust, rage, and thirst for glory against his enemies, and the Blackthorn is one of the main reasons Gavilar became king in Alethkar. As Dalinar struggles with leadership in the present, and pursuing victory through peaceful accords, these memories are sure to haunt him moving forward. Likewise, it’s been hinted that the memories of his wife, hidden by the mysterious Nightwatcher it seems, may very well be coming back. Though why here and why now, we don’t know. In the present, we’ll absolutely be seeing what he can do now that he is a Bondsmith, whose surges are Tension and Adhesion; though what those abilities are when bonded to the Stormfather, a splinter of a shard, only the book can tell. Likewise, we’ll definitely see him step up as leader of Urithiru, and hopefully continue to reach out to other world leaders, as he had started to at the end of Words of Radiance. He must unite them, and with the Everstorm sweeping around the world in the other direction, there will not be much time.
Oathbringer will be the story of the man that war made, Dalinar Kholin, who was a vicious fighter in his youth, but who has grown in the wake of his brother’s murder. Can he truly grow, and rise to the occasion of his new role as leader and Bondsmith? Or will the seeds of his youth sow dissent for his present?
We’ll have to read Oathbringer, and find out.
Keep up with our serialized excerpts from Oathbringer, arriving every Tuesday from now until the book’s release on November 14th.
Martin Cahill is a contributor to Tor.com, as well as Book Riot and Strange Horizons. He has fiction forthcoming at Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Fireside Fiction. You can follow his musings on Twitter @McflyCahill90.