Oathbringer Reread

Oathbringer Reread: Chapter Twelve

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Alice: Welcome back, friends!

Lyn: Hello, everyone! I’m back from my staffing duties at Anime Boston and finally feeling less like I was run over by a chasmfiend. I’m so happy to be back in the Ryshadium saddle with Alice for another fun reread—though I’m upset that I missed Syl teasing Kaladin about ::ahem:: relationship matters.

A: This week, we get to watch Dalinar attempt to play politics, with careful guidance from his wife and various scribes. Why don’t people just say what they mean?

L: Because politics.

Reminder: 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. But if you haven’t read ALL of Oathbringer, best to wait to join us until you’re done.

Chapter Recap

WHO: Dalinar
WHERE: Urithiru
WHEN: 1174.1.3.1 (Three days after Chapter 9)

Our chapter begins with Dalinar taking a moment to reflect on the view from Urithiru and the roles of the past Knights Radiant before delving into a series of political discussions with various world leaders. He speaks via spanreed with the Prime of Azir first, learning that the Azish have opened negotiations with the parshmen. Dalinar extends an offer for the Prime to come and visit Urithiru, and when that fails, he offers to come visit himself through the oathgate, which also fails. Frustrated, Dalinar then communicates with Queen Fen of Thaylenah. The Queen is more brash than reserved, but she seems to harbor the same reservations as the Azish. She does tell him that the parshmen took off with all of their ships, but refuses all of Dalinar’s offers.

As the meeting is wrapping up, Dalinar receives a surprise guest—Elhokar, who has come to formally swear allegiance to his uncle as high king. But the surprises aren’t through yet—Dalinar receives one last “call,” from an unexpected source—King Taravangian is willing to come to Urithiru. (dun dun duuuuuun…)

Threshold of the Storm

Title: Negotiations

There are so many instances of this word, and various forms of it, that I’m not even going to try to quote a significant one. The whole chapter is about Dalinar trying to negotiate with monarchs—oh, and the Azish maybe-maybe-not negotiating with their local version of Voidbringers.

Heralds

Jezrien holds all four slots this week: King, Windrunners, Protecting & Leading. It seems fairly clear that this reflects Dalinar’s leadership; it might also indicate the other rulers he contacts.

Icon

The Kholin shield, as always, indicates a Dalinar chapter.

Epigraph

I ask not that you forgive me. Nor that you even understand.
—From Oathbringer, preface

Well, that’s a weird one, out of context! I don’t see that it has any particular relevance to the chapter; it’s just the next bit in the document.

Stories & Songs

You idealize them, said a distant voice in his head, like rumbling thunder. They were men like you. No better. No worse.

“I find that encouraging,” Dalinar whispered back. “If they were like us, then it means we can be like them.”

A: I love this little elbow-in-the-ribs to the reader here. We think of Knights Radiant as the current crop: Kaladin, Dalinar, Shallan, Jasnah, Renarin, Lift, etc., and we’re pretty excited about their powers. From Dalinar’s perspective, though, the Radiants are legends, almost more than they are historical figures. They could do all these awesome things, while he and his tiny band are fumbling their way through the baby steps by comparison. I can see why he feels encouraged by the knowledge that he, Kaladin, Shallan, etc. have the potential to reach the same level of skills and powers. For all the spren bonds that confirm their identity, they’ve got to still be dealing with a certain amount of Impostor Syndrome, I’d think.

L: Absolutely. It’s got to be hard to look up to these almost god-like figures and know that you’re expected to follow in their footsteps, or even surpass them! No pressure at all, guys.

“They had stood above the pettiness of world politics.”

L: Interesting that Dalinar should have this thought in this chapter, when he’s having to do so much political maneuvering himself. I suspect he’s partially wishing that he could have that luxury, to be able to stand above it all and just focus on the big problem without having to deal with the intricacies of uniting disparate groups and cultures. But if the Knights Radiant were really above all of that, what use would Bondsmiths have been? I suspect that we will learn, as more about the old orders is revealed, that they had to get their hands dirty in political matters a lot more than Dalinar thinks they did.

A: I suspect you’re right, although probably a relatively small percentage had to play politics. Dalinar has one disadvantage that the old Knights Radiant didn’t: he has to convince the world leaders that there’s a threat, that they need to stand together against it, and that the new Knights Radiant really are the good guys. Back when they were facing the Desolations on a regular basis, no one questioned those things.

L: True. But people being people, I’m sure that not everything was peace and lollipops and rainbows on the world political stage.

Relationships & Romances

“Why do they refuse you, Uncle? Do they think perhaps you will try to usurp their thrones?”

L: Ouch. I can see why Dalinar takes this the way he does. But honestly, I can’t really blame Elhokar for saying it straight out. Dalinar did usurp the throne in every way that mattered. He was paying lip service to Elhokar, but doing all of the ruling himself. Now… the sad fact is that it needed to be done, and Elhokar wasn’t stepping up to the task. However, the honorable thing would have been to step forward and be direct about taking over instead of playing coy about it like Dalinar did. I can see both sides of this, honestly, and that’s why the strained relationship between them here works so well for me.

A: Oh, totally. Dalinar knows all of that, too, which is why this hurts so much. He swore never to try to take the throne, either from Gavilar or Elhokar. In a quieter time, all he’d have to do is keep Elhokar from doing too many stupid things, and it would be okay. With the Desolation that’s been building for 4500 years now upon them, Elhokar’s weakness is a luxury the world simply can’t afford—and he knows it.

“Perhaps the liar here is me—lying to tell myself I could do this, that I could be a fraction of the man my father was. No, don’t interrupt me, Dalinar. Let me have my say. Voidbringers? Ancient cities full of wonder? The Desolations?… Perhaps … perhaps I’m a fine king. Not extraordinary, but not an abject failure. But in the face of these events, the world needs better than fine.”

It’s an impossible situation for both of them, and in a way I think Elhokar came up with a very elegant solution. Unfortunately, the rest of the world doesn’t see the Blackthorn quite the way the Alethi do, so that’s going to create its own set of problems later.

L: It’s like some country saying, “Hey, we made Vlad the Impaler our Emperor! Want to meet with him?” Sure, he may be seen as a hero to his own people, but to the world at large? Not so much.

Bruised & Broken

Some things are better left forgotten, the voice said to him. You of all men should understand this, considering the hole in your mind and the person who once filled it.

A: In retrospect, of course, we know that the hole in his mind won’t last forever, and was only intended to be temporary—until he was in a place where he could deal with his past. In a way, there’s a nice little parallel there; the Stormfather believes that the knowledge which caused the Recreance should never be revealed, but it’s something that humanity is going to have to deal with eventually.

For that matter, it’s not entirely unlike Shallan’s memory blocks; she’s going to have to deal with all those “forgotten things” too. But we don’t necessarily need to get into all that this week.

L: I find it interesting that the Stormfather brings this up. It makes me wonder, with his bond, how much he might know currently about Evi. Can he see the memories Dalinar is forced not to see? How deep does the bond go, really? (This question goes for all orders, not just Dalinar’s.) Can they sense emotions in one another? This hasn’t ever really been addressed, to my knowledge. Syl has a good read on Kaladin, but it seems like she’s usually picking up on body language and his facial expressions rather than some deeper emotional connection.

A: It’s hard to say; as far as I can tell, it hasn’t been defined. Pattern seems to pick up on Shallan’s uncertainties, but again it could just be a matter of reading external signals. Most of the time, it seems like the Radiants have to whisper aloud to their spren, rather than just thinking at them. It also seems that most of the spren are able to control who hears them, as well as who sees them. I don’t know if that contributes to the solution or not, though.

Diagrams & Dastardly Designs

If Dalinar failed everywhere else, at least he would have King Taravangian at his side.

A: Talk about striking fear into the hearts of the readers… did anyone not shudder when they read this?

L: Yeah, this is terrifying, especially considering that Mister T there tried to have Dalinar killed! We’ll delve deeper into this down in the motivations section, but it’s scary to know that Taravangian is now going to be working side by side with our favorite father figure. What plans does he harbor for Dalinar now that his assassination attempts have failed?

Squires & Sidekicks

A: I’m going to declare this as sidekick-worthy, because we’re going to end up seeing quite a bit of this team:

Dalinar started down the steps toward his team: Aladar and his daughter, May. Navani, wearing a bright green havah, sitting in the front row with feet stretched out before her, shoes off and ankles crossed. Elderly Kalami to write, and Teshav Khal—one of Alethkar’s finest political minds—to advise. Her two senior wards sat beside her, ready to provide research or translation if needed.
A small group, prepared to change the world.

For now, I just want to note who these people are. Aladar, once allied with Sadeas, nonetheless went with Dalinar to the battle of Narak, and is now named Highprince of Information. May, his daughter, was the subject of much speculation on the serialization, but it seems, she’s simply Aladar’s daughter and primary scribe. Quite possibly, her mother is either dead, ill, or back in Alethkar running the highprincedom; in any case, May accompanies her father in much the same way many other women accompany their husbands to meetings and strategy sessions.

Navani… well, Navani needs no further introduction.

Kalami has served as scholar, scribe, and advisor to Dalinar for many years now. Kalami lost her husband Teleb (::sniff::) in the battle of Narak, and has thrown herself into her work as historian and scribe in the time since. As we’ll see down the road, she’s one of the few who think they know the truth about Evi’s death, even though she’s wrong in her assumption.

Teshav is the wife of General Khal, who is currently recovering from wounds received during the battle of Narak. She’s been another scribe and advisor to Dalinar; she not only worked closely with her husband and Dalinar during strategy sessions, she’s done a fair amount of investigating on her own hook. And of course, right here, Dalinar describes her as “one of Alethkar’s finest political minds.” (I wonder how she and Jasnah get along?)

L: Just taking a moment here to say that I really love how Dalinar can appreciate and respect women for their contributions and talents, even in the pseudo-patriarchal Alethi society.

Places & Peoples

A: I want to start this out with a little reminder:

The Azish government was a kind of beautiful mess, though Gavilar had often admired it. Layers of clerics filled all levels—where both men and women wrote. Scions were kind of like ardents, though they weren’t slaves, which Dalinar found odd.

A: This is an excellent reminder of a human trait our RL technology has reduced somewhat: the absolute foreignness of cultures you’ve never experienced. We’re bad enough at this, because overseas travel is still expensive and time-consuming, and most of us don’t get to do a lot of it. Even so, with our communication technologies, we can see other cultures, and most of us in this fandom even have friends around the world whom we’ve never met in person.

L: I’ll take a moment to interject here and say that even with the window of modern technology, foreign countries are still… extremely foreign. It’s all the little things that don’t come across online that contributes to this. My husband and I traveled to Japan some years ago, and while I knew about some of the cultural differences (bowing, politeness, taboo against tattoos, etc) I was totally thrown off guard by so many tiny little things that I never would have considered. It’s great to see this in a fictional world—I feel like this is something that a lot of fantasy and scifi authors neglect in favor of having homogenous cultures, because it’s easier or they just haven’t thought about all of these intricacies. It’s little nuances like this that really set Sanderson apart.

A: Modern Roshar—at least until they get the Oathgates working—has far less than we do by way of travel, and despite the spanreeds, there’s not much communication among any but the scribes and scholars. So here we have Dalinar thinking how weird it is that in Azir, both men and women write, many of them without being clerics. On top of that, even the clerics aren’t slaves. How bizarre! (Of course, this is the guy who married a woman from the other side of the continent, and in nearly twenty years of marriage never did manage to understand her customs.)

L: And then there’s us, the readers with our modern sensibilities, thinking how bizarre it is for the Alethi to be so blase about owning slaves!

A: Anyway, so now we’re going to see Dalinar try to negotiate with people whose cultures are utterly foreign to him no matter how much he’s tried to study them.

“Making things up doesn’t sound very Azish.”

“They’re fine with it,” Navani said, “as long as you can find witnesses willing to fill out affidavits.”

“It’s an affidavit,” Navani said, amused. “That the Oathgate is not functional, signed by Imperial architects and stormwardens.”

“Notably,” Kalami added, “it only certifies that the device ‘does not function as a portal.’ But of course it would not, not unless a Radiant were to visit and work it. This affidavit basically says that when turned off, the device doesn’t work.”

“In my experiences with the Azish,” Teshav said, “they are extremely proficient at saying very little in as many words as possible.”

L: Not to derail this conversation into the realm of real-life, but this sure sounds like politics to me.

A: Absolutely politics. I think it’s their national sport. Also, “when turned off, the device doesn’t work” makes me snort every time.

“The storm broke our aqueducts and sewer systems, and ripped apart our docks–flattened the entire outer market! We have to fix all our cisterns, reinforce our buildings to withstand storms, and rebuild society.”

L: I think the best thing about fantasy novels is how authors can use completely fictional worlds and hold them up as mirrors for us to see problems reflected from our own real world. When I look at this situation, I can’t help but see all the flooding issues the United States (and I am sure other countries) have been facing for the last few years. From the New Jersey shoreline to New Orleans to Cape Cod to even Texas, we’ve seen destruction rained down on communities from similar storms, and watched via news outlets as the people affected try to come to terms with their losses. A hurricane isn’t a highstorm or an Everstorm, obviously, but the people affected by both the fictional and real counterparts are dealing with the same issues and fallout. People are people, whether they’re on Roshar or Earth, and the best fantasy authors use these situations to highlight realities and engender empathy in their readers.

The Thaylens had a pagan pseudo-religion, and that had always been a curious aspect in dealing with them. They would praise the Heralds one moment, then speak of the Passions the next.

L: I want to know more about this religion so much.

A: YES. Especially once we get Odium talking about “passion” and stuff. I can’t help thinking that the Thaylen beliefs mix in bits of what they retained from Odium along with what they learned from Honor and the Heralds. We get hints that the western countries believe in Cultivation, while the Alethi consider her either myth or heresy. I suspect that as we learn more, we’ll find that each religion has its own weird little combination of the Shards—one, two, or all three.

One other item of interest, which of course I didn’t entirely catch the first time through, and it’s now obvious:

“The Voidbringers are willing to negotiate with you?”

“ ‘Yes,’ ” came the reply. “ ‘We are exchanging contracts. They have very detailed demands, with outrageous stipulations…”

‘Storming monsters stole our best ships—almost everything in the harbor from single-masted sloops on up—and escaped the city.’

In both cases, the transformed parshmen did the things they’d been brought up with—they reflect the culture in which they spent their lives. Dalinar is surprised by this, of course, since he expected Stormforms everywhere, since that’s what happened out on the Shattered Plains. It hasn’t registered with Our Heroes yet that just “waking up” doesn’t turn the parshmen all into vicious warriors out to kill all the humans. For the most part, they only know what they’ve always known. But we’ll get into that more in the next few Kaladin chapters, whenever those come up.

L: Oh, that’s a great point. I hadn’t considered that either. Of course the Azish parshmen were trying to negotiate and drafting contracts!

Tight Butts and Coconuts

The spanreed quickly scribbled a reply. Queen Fen was writing directly in Alethi. “‘Kholin,’” Kalami read, “‘you old brute. Quit spreading chull scat. What do you really want?’”
“I always did like her,” Navani noted.

A: Maybe it’s because I’m about the same age as these two, but I love Fen and Navani so much sometimes.

L: I’m younger but I still love them. They remind me of the Aunts in Practical Magic. No nonsense, no bullshit.

 

The “older woman who doesn’t have time for your BS” trope is an oldy, but a goody. The Queen of Thorns (Olenna Tyrell) in Game of Thrones. Cadsuane in Wheel of Time. Guinan in Star Trek: TNG.

A: Polgara in The Belgariad. Professor McGonagall in Harry Potter.

L: AKA Best Hogwarts Teacher. Maggie Smith’s character in Downtown Abbey counts, too—she just plays this role so well.

A: Also, Sorilea and Verin in Wheel of Time. Judi Dench as M in James Bond. Granny Weatherwax in the Discworld. Aunt Sybil in The Greater Trumps (though she’s a slightly different type).

You know, they really are everywhere, and they all seem to be kindred spirits. One of the things I love about this scene is Navani’s insight into Fen’s character:

“She’s insulting us,” Navani said. “For Fen, that actually implies a good day.”

“She’s always been perfectly civil the few times I’ve met her,” Dalinar said with a frown.

“She was being queenly then,” Navani said. “You’ve got her talking to you directly. Trust me, it’s a good sign.”

Clearly these two have had plenty of interaction before, and Navani understands Fen in a way Dalinar probably never could.

L: Of course. They’re chickens of a feather! Since we’re talking about Navani, I just wanted to take a moment to note that I love how she’s taken her shoes off for this big important political “meeting.” Comfort is key, and she’s just so confident and self-assured! She doesn’t give a single solitary f*** what anyone thinks and I adore her for that, but Fen’s taking that to the next level. Case in point:

“The world is changing, is it? What led you to this incredible conclusion?”

L: The sarcasm. It buuuuurns. (But that good burn that makes me laugh out loud.)

A: Fen makes my heart laugh.

Weighty Words

“Something is wrong in Kholinar. More than these riots or my wife’s supposed behavior, more than the spanreeds going still. The enemy is doing something in the city. I’ll take an army to stop it, and save the kingdom.”

 * * *

“I’ll save Alethkar. I need one of your Radiants. The hero, preferably.”

“The hero?”

“The bridgeman,” Elhokar said. “The soldier. He needs to go with me, so if I screw up and fail, someone will be there to save the city anyway.”

 * * *

“I’ll bring the bridgeman with me, and I’ll observe him. Figure out why he’s so special. See if he’ll teach me to be like him. And if I fail…” He shrugged. “Well, Alethkar is in safe hands regardless, right?”

A: I think it’s at this point that Elhokar really begins his journey to becoming a Knight Radiant. He has been humbled by recent events, and instead of either trying to escape responsibility or demanding respect, he just wants to do what’s right for his people. He finally wants to save his people because it’s the right thing, not just to make himself look good.

(That middle part almost makes me cry, though. I’m not sure which is stronger: anger at the way Elhokar will be made to fail, or grief that Kaladin won’t be able to save the city—or anything else—for him. The burden of saving what they can will fall on Adolin, Shallan, Drehy, and Skar. But we aren’t there yet.)

L: Oh, Elhokar. This little bit is the beginning of his redemption arc, an arc which is cut so tragically short by storming Moash. I absolutely love that he’s actively trying to better himself, to grow and change. He realizes his faults and admits to them, which moves him from a reactive character to an active one. Sure, he was a whiny brat in books 1 and 2, but by the time he falls, I was really cheering for him. Then… tears. And anger. Mostly anger if I’m being honest.

A: The advent of a new Radiant must also be noted:

One of my people has come forward, and—remarkably—claims to be Radiant. Her spren directed her to speak with me; we plan to use her Shardblade to test the device.

A: Okay, so call me suspicious, but anything that Taravangian claims to be surprised by… well, yeah. I’m suspicious.

L: Mmhmm.

A: I know that on one hand, we’re expecting Radiants to start showing up now that Nale isn’t going around killing them all, but having one turn up so conveniently on Taravangian’s doorstep seems… nuh-uh. Suspicious.

Meaningful Motivations

I will come to you in all haste. It is well that someone is attempting to organize a resistance to the evils that befall us. The nations of Roshar must put aside their squabbles, and the reemergence of the holy city of Urithiru is proof to me that the Almighty guides your hand. I look forward to counseling with you and adding my forces to yours in a joint operation to protect these lands.’

A: Well, personally, I think he just wants to see what he’s up against. For all the nice words about supporting Dalinar and “the holy city of Urithiru,” the pragmatic old schemer just wants to weasel in (mink in?) and find out what forces and assets Dalinar has. Lyn, do you have any further suggestions?

L: Possibly. It could also be some part of the Diagram that’s guiding his actions. Perhaps there was something in it that stated that if the assassinations failed, an alliance had to be made. There are so many things we don’t know about Taravangian and his machinations, that it’s hard to make educated guesses as to what’s going on in his head.

A Scrupulous Study of Spren

Glowing gloryspren orbs burst around Elhokar. He grinned at them. “I only seem to see those when I’m around you, Uncle.”

A: So what do you think? Are the gloryspren there because of Dalinar’s bond? Or is it that Dalinar is the one person whose approval Elhokar most desires? I think it’s the latter, but… I’m not 100% sure!

L: It’s stated that gloryspren are pretty rare, but they sure seem to show up around Dalinar a lot. I suspect that it’s got something to do with what he inspires in people. His very presence inspires people to be greater, to think of themselves as better than they originally had. Hence… gloryspren. It’s worth noting that Shallan does a little of this, too… When she does her drawings of people “as they could be,” she’s inspiring them to be greater, too. So does Kaladin, through more direct methods.

This is my land now, Dalinar thought. This tower covered in coldspren.

A: We’ve only encountered coldspren a couple of times before; Navani’s notebook mentions using them in a fabrial, and Shallan noticed them when she was outside drawing. Seems appropriate to the venue, for sure.

L: I’d hate it there. But then… it’s mid April and we’re still getting snow showers here in New England, so I might be a bit biased against winter at the moment…

Quality Quotations

  • “Your Majesty. You ignored me once. Destruction caused by the Everstorm was the result. Please, this time listen.”
  • “Bah!” Dalinar said, pushing himself back from the table. “Fools, idiots! Storming lighteyes and Damnation’s own politics!”
  • “I’ve had ample chances to reflect lately. The Almighty has preserved me, despite my stupidity.”
  • The kingdom he’d fought for—the kingdom he’d forged in pain, exhaustion, and blood—now rejected him.

Join us in the comments to share your thoughts on this week’s chapter; there’s a lot we just couldn’t address, so now it’s your turn. And of course, come back next week for Chapter 13, which is chock full of laughter—for the reader, at least, and also for Adolin. Shallan is more about blushes.

Alice has thoroughly enjoyed her beta read of Skyward, the new YA science fiction project from Sanderson due out in November. She’s also having fun creeping the “teen beta” spreadsheet, where her daughter is participating in a new target-audience beta read. There are some seriously insightful kids out there!

Lyndsey is still recuperating from Anime Boston, but she doesn’t have much time to spare on rest with books to edit, a renaissance faire to rehearse for, and a toddler to chase. If you’re an aspiring author, a cosplayer, or just like geeky content, follow her work on Facebook or her website.

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