Oathbringer Reread

Oathbringer Reread: Prologue

and

Lyn: Well, here we are, folks. Ready to dig into the prologue? I know I am. I’ve got my blue wine at hand, an axe-hound curled on my lap, and the Weeping’s providing a nice backdrop of pattering rain on the windows.

Alice: The Weeping indeed. I get soaked every time I leave the house. Anyway, today we’ll take a new look at That Fateful Night six years ago, when a treaty was signed and a king assassinated. This time, we see it from the perspective of a very frightened young Listener explorer-turned-interpreter, and dig into the reasons it became necessary.

L: So, to start out, I’d like to say that this is only my second time reading through Oathbringer, and the first time was the beta read over a year ago, so I couldn’t really let myself settle into the story. I’ve forgotten a lot about what happened, especially little details, so forgive me if I seem a bit absent-minded at times when it comes to details I should probably have remembered. I’m sure things will start coming back to me as we go, but these first few rereads may be a bit lengthy as we refresh ourselves (and you) on things we may have forgotten. For those who weren’t with us in Edgedancer, it should be noted that I tend to be more of a casual reader when it comes to Cosmere connections and Words of Brandon. I focus more on character and worldbuilding, so I’m sure I’ll be a bit daft on some things… But that’s what we’ve got Alice for! Right, Alice?

A: You betcha! (Heh. I’m just all that and a bag of chips. You know it.) My memory is no longer infallible—I think I put too much Cosmere lore in it!—but I love the foreshadowing in these books and the way little things tie to other little things to become Much Bigger Things. I’ll do my best to make those connections as we go, and rely on the rest of y’all to catch the ones we will inevitably miss.

L: We’d also like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that we’ll potentially be discussing spoilers for the ENTIRE NOVEL in each reread. If we need to talk about things from other Cosmere novels, we’ll note that here, and potentially white them out if they’re really big things, like major reveals or the fates of main characters. But if you haven’t read ALL of Oathbringer, best to wait to join us until you’re done.

Chapter Recap

WHO: Eshonai

WHERE: Kholinar palace

WHEN: Six years ago

WHAT: Eshonai arrives for the signing of the peace treaty between the humans and the listeners. She goes wandering and finds King Gavilar in council with some other Alethi, whom he sends away in order to speak with Eshonai privately. He reveals to her that he intends to bring back the old gods, in order to create an enemy against which the nations of the world are forced to unite. Eshonai brings this information to the Five, and they collectively decide to assassinate Gavilar rather than allow his plan to come to fruition.

Threshold of the Storm

 

Oathbringer Reread Brandon Sanderson Prologue

To Weep

A: The four Herald spots are all occupied by the image of Nalan.

L: (Aka Nale, aka Darkness, Herald of Justice, the patron of the Skybreakers.)

A: It’s worth noting here that these are not portraits, but rather are “Vorin ideal” versions of them.

L: I have to admit I had never paid much attention to these arches before! For the sake of those like me who never really looked at it too closely or are joining this reread without following the others, is this something that has been constant throughout all three books so far?

A: Yes, indeed. There’s actually a lot of significance hidden in this artwork. The Heralds depicted—one, two or four of them—reflect something about the theme of the chapter, particularly as linked to the “Historical Associations” you find in the Ars Arcanum.

L: Okay, so what can we gather about this chapter from the fact that Nalan was chosen?

A: Well, there’s likely something to do with justice—or perceived justice—in this chapter. Sometimes, it indicates that the Herald in question is actually there. More often, if there’s a Knight Radiant active in the chapter, their patron Herald will be shown.

L: Heh… well, Szeth DOES show up… and given where he winds up going over the course of this book…

A: That’s certainly one possibility, since we now know that he’s joined the Skybreakers. Another reason for the Herald is sometimes the characteristics displayed by various people in the chapter. It’s actually a little confusing, because the Divine Attributes associated with Nalan in the Ars Arcanum are “Learned/Giving,” while the Skybreakers big thing is Justice. And there are other reasons. Sometimes it’s the opposite of the ideals. Which, of course, is why it’s so fun to look at it!

L: Well, Gavilar’s actions in this chapter certainly aren’t representative of justice, that’s for sure. An argument could be made for Eshonai’s, but even then, it’s shaky…

A: We’re always guessing a little, but I just had to go back and look it up. In The Way of Kings, the four spots were all occupied by Jezrien. In Words of Radiance, it was Palah, patron of the Elsecallers. The second makes a lot of sense, because it was from Jasnah’s POV, and we even met her spren there for the first time. The first… less so, except that (as we know now) Jezrien himself actually made an appearance in that first Prologue. So… it could be anything. In this case, my best guess is that it’s the sort of “justice” of Gavilar dying because he was trying to do something absolutely horrible—to bring back the Desolations.

L: But was it horrible? Was it REALLY? We’ll get more into this later, under the “Motivations” heading. Moving on for now, have you guys ever discussed the eyes? The oddly shaped pupils are so interesting, like a goat’s eyes. I wonder if they might be representative of Rosharan natives’ eyes.

A: Heh. I’m not much of an artist, so I don’t notice details like that! So… no, I’m pretty sure we never talked about that. They’re… a bit odd, aren’t they?

A: A couple of other things worth mentioning at this point, though, are the title itself and the round icon framed by the arch. The icon is one that was used in WoR for the chapters where we had Eshonai’s perspective. We called it “The Listener,” and of course, here it is now for her view of the assassination. The title “To Weep” comes from the last few paragraphs of the chapter, as Eshonai weeps for the music, her people, the world, and the king.

Stories & Songs

For starters, let’s begin a running list of all of the listener rhythms! In this chapter, we got the following:

Curiosity, Awe, Peace, Pleading, Skepticism, Appreciation, Anxiety, Consolation, Praise, Reprimand, Mourning

L: In addition to those, we also heard about the Rhythm of the Terrors, which I find really interesting because it’s a proper name rather than an emotion. It seems as though the Parshendi have linked this particular rhythm and all of the emotions it conveys to the stories about their old gods, which is just fascinating: this one song encapsulates more than one emotion. It sort of reminds me of that Star Trek: TNG episode “Darmok,” in which the aliens’ language derives directly from stories and myths. One word means so much more, just like this one Rhythm seems to convey all of the varying emotions Eshonai has about the old gods.

A: It reminds me of the Rangers from Babylon 5: “Never forget that terror is also a form of communication.” Also, YES to a running list of the Rhythms!

“Klade claimed that a voice–speaking to the rhythms–had led him to the man.”

L: Whoa, wait a second! So were more of the ancestors/Voidspren than just Ulim communicating with them before Eshonai adopted stormform and brought about the Everstorm? Or was Ulim talking with more of them than just Venli? Oh… or maybe it was Odium himself. That would actually make a lot more sense…

A: Well, something was communicating… It might have been one of the Unmade, or Odium himself. Or, I don’t know, maybe not all the ancestors were completely trapped on Braize any more? I’ve heard a number of theories, but I haven’t heard confirmation. Unfortunately, because I’d really like to know!

L: For those like me who didn’t quite remember, Braize is where Odium’s hanging out currently and the Listener ancestors/Voidspren were trapped. It’s also known as Damnation, where the Heralds were sent to be tortured between Desolations.

A: And… now that you made me go do all that research… (Yes, Lyndsey, it’s all your fault. You went and said something about something and then I got sucked into the Coppermind and had to follow all the rabbit trails! Oy…)

L: ‘Ake? ‘Olan? (Sorry, I’ll stop making irrelevant references now.)

A: My new best guess is that this was actually Ulim, the spren Venli will interact with in her first few Interludes. I’d apparently forgotten that the Voidspren and the ancestors’ souls were trapped on Braize, and at least one of the Voidspren escaped somehow. It makes the most sense, when you put all the little pieces together.

L: The Voidspren and the ancestors’ souls weren’t the same thing?

A: No, I don’t think they are, though I had to do some searching to remind myself how it works. In one of Venli’s Interludes (I-7) there’s an explanation of the various ranks among Odium’s people. Along the way, both Venli and Ulim make references to “mindless Voidspren” (which give them the basic forms of power) and “higher Voidspren” (the ones like Ulim and Yixli, as well as some of those whose bond give a higher-ranking form like Venli’s); both are distinct from the ancestors’ souls which, when they take a body and become Fused, actually kill the person who used to own it.

Relationships & Romances

A: We won’t actually see very much of it in this book ::sniffle:: but it appears that Eshonai and Venli were relatively close at this point. The chapter opens with Eshonai thinking of prior conversations with her sister, and those same thoughts are echoed a couple more times throughout. Venli appears to have been a confidante for Eshonai’s hopes and dreams of exploration. There’s also the little note—possibly a foreshadowing—that Venli was with Klade when they purchased Szeth, and as of the time the music began, Eshonai hadn’t seen her sister since before that transaction. It’s possible that this is the point where Venli fell under the influence of Odium.

L: Or maybe this is when Ulim recognized Venli’s potential and switched over from communicating with Klade to her…

A: Ummm…. Yeah. That’s very possible. Perhaps he’d latched onto Klade and then turned to Venli after Klade died? (Klade was one of the three leaders who stayed behind to distract the humans while the rest of their people escaped; those three were then hanged for their crime.) Either way, if it was Ulim that Klade heard, it would make perfect sense that from this point on, Venli was working toward the Everstorm.

Bruised & Broken

A: I know this isn’t exactly what we planned for this section, but Eshonai is sort of broken during the course of this chapter. She starts out all full of wonder, awe, curiosity, and excitement. Then she is told Gavilar’s plan, shares it with the Five, and votes with them to assassinate him in the hopes of preventing the return of her ancestors. The chapter ends with her weeping for her people and the world, and though she doesn’t say it, I think she’s also weeping for the loss of her innocent dreams.

L: I’d say that it’s definitely the beginning of her breaking. When we see her in Words of Radiance, she’s still somewhat confident, determined to protect her people. Her innocent childhood dreams of exploration are buried under a mountain of responsibility, but she’s still strong. I think it was adopting stormform that truly broke her. Perhaps this was the blow that cracked her Shardplate, but realizing that she was capable of killing her own people under stormform was the final blow.

A: This just occurred to me… we’ve heard & talked for years of how “being broken” (whatever it means in each context, not going there right now) opens the soul to Investiture, and on Roshar specifically to a Nahel bond. Is this the point where Eshonai started to break in such a way as to be able to bond that comet-like spren that we only saw after she took stormform? My current theory is that she had, perhaps unknowingly, begun to bond one of the spren which would have made her a Knight Radiant, but the stormform-spren was too powerful and displaced that bond. The realization that she could kill her own people while in stormform might have been the thing that, had she survived the fall and the storms, would have driven out the stormspren and allowed a full Nahel bonding.

Diagrams & Dastardly Designs

L: At one point in his conversation with Eshonai, Gavilar says “I’m being watched.” By who? I think at this point it would be helpful to have a tiny refresher as to the different secret organizations that we’re aware of on Roshar. I’m always getting them mixed up with one another, and I can’t be the only one… So here goes.

  • Ghostbloods—Seeking information about the Desolations and the Parshendi. Attempted to assassinate Jasnah Kholin, and currently Shallan Davar is infiltrating their organization. There are definite if murky Cosmere connections.
  • Sons of Honor—Goal of returning the dominance of the Vorin Church, by bringing about another Desolation and hence bringing back the Heralds. Amaram was a member of this group, as was Gavilar.
  • The Diagram Cabal—Believers in Taravangian’s great plan, which he wrote on his most brilliant day, the implementation of which supposedly will save humanity.

L: It stands to reason that it could have been the Ghostbloods watching him. We don’t know for sure if Taravangian had already written the Diagram at this point—in a Word of Brandon, he indicates that the Diagram hasn’t been written yet, but since he said he should check with Peter, we don’t have a canonical answer. So… if it’s not Taravangian or the Ghostbloods, who is watching him? Nalan was present at the treaty-signing, we know that. So was Jezrien. There’s evidence to suggest that Shalash was there, too (the statue of her had been removed). But I can’t imagine that Gavilar would be upset about the Heralds themselves keeping an eye on him…

Unless he didn’t know that’s who they were.

A: I’m pretty sure Gavilar suspected the Ghostbloods; he assumed that Thaidakar had sent the assassin, and we know that Thaidakar was either the leader of, or very high up in, the Ghostbloods. (Of course, I’m only assuming that Gavilar knew that as well, but Brandon did say that Gavilar knew about more groups than he was actually part of.) By the time of the main plot action, the Sons of Honor and the Ghostbloods were rivals for certain kinds of power and information; it’s quite probable that they were earlier as well. It’s interesting to note that when Szeth said he didn’t know who Thaidakar was, Gavilar’s second suspect was Restares (Sons of Honor), and then Sadeas. He really didn’t trust much of anyone, did he?

L: Well, given how trustworthy Sadeas turned out to be, I can’t say I blame him. I’m also curious as to just how deeply he’s thought through this revelation to Eshonai. How many of the events of the first two books would be different, had Gavilar not told Eshonai all of this? Did he intend to be assassinated, hence precipitating the War on the Shattered Plains that would eventually drive the Parshendi to do exactly what he wanted them to? I never really got the impression that Gavilar was much of a mastermind, but maybe the other Sons of Honor are pulling the strings behind the scenes somehow…?

A: It’s kind of hard to see Gavilar plotting like that; he seems too straightforward a thinker. (Oh, the rabbit trails I take when we start asking questions like this.) It seems that perhaps his goal was to start the war at any cost, even his own life. From the TWoK prologue, taking out all the extra bits:

“I expected you to come. You can tell Thaidakar that he’s too late.”

Then, when Szeth reveals that his masters were the Parshendi, Gavilar pulls out the other void-lighted sphere:

“The Parshendi? That makes no sense… You must take this. They must not get it.”

I strongly suspect, though without much proof, that Gavilar wanted to put both of the void-spheres in the hands of the Parshendi, hoping that they would release the trapped spren and trigger the reawakening of the voidforms. Once he’d given Eshonai the sphere, any plot of the Ghostbloods to stop him would be too late.

Flora & Fauna

“Look deeply into it. Can you see what’s moving inside? It’s a spren. Captive like in a gemheart, she thought, attuning Awe. They’ve built devices that mimic how we apply the forms?”

L: Hold up here, Eshonai. Are you telling me that all of your forms are trapping spren inside of your gemhearts, not just stormform? If so, that’s simultaneously cool and horrifying.

A: Maybe it’s because I don’t want to think of it that way, but I sort of assumed that with gemhearts, the spren volunteer for the job… if those less-than-sapient spren have enough volition to volunteer. Somewhere later, if I remember right, we’re told that you have to lure them with something they want. So apparently the spren get something out of it when they bond with these various creatures.

L: A symbiotic relationship, then. Like pilot fish! That’s way more palatable.

A: Exactly. And we know that a LOT of Rosharan critters have spren bonds to make them, well, possible. Skyeels couldn’t fly without their spren, and the big chasmfiends and greatshells would collapse under their own weight—even on low-grav Roshar—without the spren effect.

Places & Peoples

L: I find it fascinating that the Alethi enslave their own people. Not that this is new information (Kaladin was a slave in WoK obviously), but from a worldbuilding perspective it’s worth noting. This certainly isn’t unheard of in the real world, but it seemed to be far more common for cultures to enslave other cultures or tribes, usually ones they believed to be below them. The fact that the Alethi considered the Parshmen slaves to be more valuable than their own people is rather interesting. Slavery is going to be a MAJOR theme going forward, so we may as well begin scrutinizing it now.

A: Contributing to that “lost innocence” I mentioned above, Eshonai’s thoughts about the parshmen slaves were saddening. At first she thought they were just a lost little tribe of dullforms who the humans had rescued and taken care of, which was an instant plus for the humans. Then she found out there were thousands upon thousands of them, bred for slavery, and the humans prized them for being such good slaves. Along with her, though, I’m a little puzzled about that bit where the Alethi seem to expect the listeners to be pleased that their kin are such high-quality slaves. How would you react to that? At the same time, she doesn’t seem to hold much animosity toward the humans for enslaving them. Is that because she’s so awed by the humans and all their Stuff that she has a hard time thinking badly of them?

L: I hate to say it, but I can kind of understand. If slavery is so integral and normalized within your society that you enslave your own people, then saying “see look, YOUR people are actually more valued and prized than our own” and expecting them to take it as a compliment does make sense. In a disturbing, misguided sort of way.

Tight Butts and Coconuts

L: No joking in this chapter, my friends. Everyone here is dead serious.

DEAD serious.

DEAD.

A: ::FACEPALM::

L: Wow, I heard the echoes from that one all the way over here in New England!

Measured Motivations

During Gavilar’s discussion with Eshonai, he reveals his motivation.

“I need a threat. Only danger will unite them.”

L: Wow, Gavilar. How very Ozymandias of you (major spoilers for the comic book Watchmen behind that link, folks, in case you haven’t read it). This is the classic “needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” conundrum (or for those of you well-read in psychology and ethics, The Trolley Problem). But unlike Spock, Gavilar’s putting a lot of innocent lives in danger, rather than just sacrificing himself. Yes, bringing back the Desolations will likely bring back the Heralds and the Radiants, and unite the world against a shared threat, hence ending war between the nations of Roshar. But at the potential cost of millions of innocent lives! If he’d just left well enough alone, those people wouldn’t have been put in danger at all, right? So clearly his motivations are flawed.

EXCEPT! Taln finally broke. So this Desolation was coming anyway. And without the Radiants and a united humanity, what hope would Roshar have had? Could he have been right, to have done what he did? The blood of the innocent being used to forge a shield for the entire world… His motivations mirror Taravangian’s Diagram, and I find it absolutely fascinating from an ethical perspective.

A: It’s quite a dilemma. If he hadn’t been getting those visions, I’d be down on him like a ton of bricks for thinking this was a good idea. And I still am, kind of, because he was trying to precipitate the war and actively bring back the worst enemy humanity had ever had, based on some ambiguous messages from a dying god. He didn’t have much understanding of what he was messing with.
On the other hand… if he’d managed to free the Unmade (assuming that’s what he thought the listeners’ gods were) and stir up enough of an enemy presence to get all the nations to unite so that they were already a unified force prior to Taln’s collapse, maybe it would have worked. Maybe humanity would have united to fight the Unmade and whatever forces they could bring. Maybe the Unmade could have freed the parshmen from nullform and brought them together to fight the humans, but (assuming the ancestors wouldn’t be freed until Taln released them) there wouldn’t have been any Fused to do Surgebinding. And maybe that would have precipitated a genocide—destroying enough of the Parsh before the ancestors returned that there simply would not have been enough habitable bodies for the Fused to be effective.
In a brutal sort of way, it makes sense; once the ancestors return, both sides are going to be trying to destroy the other race completely. But I still don’t think Gavilar had enough information to justify his plan.

And… of course, there’s no textual evidence that Gavilar was thinking of the Unmade as the listeners’ gods, but I can’t quite see how he’d have known about their ancestors and all that, either. Okay, now my head is spinning.

L: Maybe we’re overthinking this. Maybe he thought that the Parshendi’s old gods were just… the voidbringers. How much could he have known about voidbringers in general at this point? Jasnah hadn’t begun her research in earnest yet, I don’t think. Maybe he just thought of ambiguous “voidbringers” rather than in terms of Unmade or ancestors… Sort of the Alethi boogeyman, ya know?

A: Overthinking? Moi?? … Probably. What-ifs are tricksey things. He did have something Voidish trapped in those spheres, though.

A Scrupulous Study of Spren

“And with a very special gemstone, you can even hold a god.”

“Our parshmen were once like you. Then we somehow robbed them of their ability to undergo the transformation. We did it by capturing a spren. An ancient, crucial spren.”

“…[the sphere] had … an aura of blackness, a phantom light that was not light. Faintly violet. It seemed to suck in the light around it.”

L: Storm it, which one was this? Is it one of the Unmade, or Something Else?

A: I don’t think we actually know enough yet, much to my chagrin. I’d like to think that he had one of the Unmade in it, so we could guess which one by eliminating the ones we see. But he’s so casual about giving it to her, and he has a second one, too.

L: The one Szeth grabbed from Gavilar as Gavilar lay dying, right? How many of these stupid things are there?!

A: Yeah, that one. Which, last we knew, was “well-hidden” somewhere in Jah Keved. I just don’t think they can be Unmade, for Gavilar to be so nonchalant with them, but they almost have to be some kind of Voidspren, to give off that light. So maybe something related to that spren Kaladin will meet later? Or others like Ulim? Or maybe that “ancient, crucial spren” he mentions? I’m so confused…

L: Okay so… moving on. Whatever kind of gem this is, I wonder if they can be infused by normal Stormlight, or if the very nature of the beings they entrap is an effusion? As in, is the light it’s giving off currently from the being it contains? If the gem weren’t holding… whatever’s in there… could a Highstorm make this baby glow? Or maybe the Everstorm?

Appealing/Arresting/Appraising/Absorbing Artwork

L: Eshonai makes a point of admiring the map of Roshar that Gavilar has on his table, noting how tiny her worldview was before seeing it. She’d assumed that the Shattered Plains were vast, when in reality they’re dwarfed by the entirety of the continent. This artwork by Isaac Stewart is absolutely gorgeous—I can see why Eshonai would be so taken with it, as an aspiring cartographer herself!

 

Quality Quotations

“She wept to leave the music behind. Wept for her people, who might be destroyed for tonight’s action. Wept for the world, which might never know what the listeners had done for it. Wept for the king, whom she had consigned to death.”

 


A: Well, I won’t say “that’s all from us this week” because we all know that certain rereaders get involved in the follow-on discussion. But that’s the end of the official part, anyway. Next week, we’ll be doing Chapter 1, “Broken and Divided,” where we’ll join Dalinar in Urithiru as he tries to figure out how to proceed with this whole unification gig. We’ll take a quick look back at the discussion during the preview chapters, as well, to see how far off base we were in the speculations. Heh. At last… we can really respond to some of those comments with something other than an evil cackle.

Alice has been delighted to see the number of people asking to join the Storm Cellar facebook group since the Introduction post last week! It’s been so much fun that we had to add a couple of moderators to keep track of everything—and that’s a good thing. She hopes you’re all enjoying the Kaladin album from The Black Piper, because sometime soon she’ll show up here with a whole post about that project.

Lyndsey’s just started training in German longsword in preparation for the upcoming Renn Faire season, and let me tell you, folks, it’s just as awesome as it sounds. If you’re an aspiring author, a cosplayer, or just like geeky content, follow her on Facebook or check out her website and prepare for a lot of D&D jokes and memes, as well as the occasional bit of news about her ongoing projects.

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