Oathbringer Reread

Oathbringer Reread: Chapters Twenty-One and Twenty-Two

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Lyn: Greetings, brightlords and ladies! Welcome back to yet another installment of the Oathbringer reread—which, judging by how “swiftly” my bookmark is creeping through the book, will be running well into the next year. But hey, that just means more time to spend analyzing theories and arcs, swooning over characters, or facepalming over their actions, and of course hanging out with all of you in the comments section! (I promise we’ve been reading your comments, even if we haven’t been contributing too much lately.) And, of course… waiting for Sanderson to begin writing book 4, so we can all obsessively start watching that little meter start going up on his website.

Oh. Is that just me?

Alice: ::ahem:: ::shifty-eyes::

L: ::cough:: Anyway! This week’s chapters are both featuring Shallan, which means lots of snark, adorable conversations with Adolin, and mysterious machinations being played out by the Ghostbloods behind the scenes! And, of course…

Chickens. Glorious glorious Rosharian chickens. Or… maybe not Rosharian? Join us, won’t you?

Reminder: we’ll potentially be discussing spoilers for the ENTIRE NOVEL in each reread. This week, there are also minor spoilers for Sixth of the Dusk in the Cosmere Connections section, so beware of that. But if you haven’t read ALL of Oathbringer, best to wait to join us until you’re done.

Chapter Recap

WHO: Shallan
WHERE: Urithiru—Sebarial’s quadrant, Sadeas’s quadrant
WHEN: 1174.1.3.5 (Afternoon following Veil’s binge in Chapter 18)

Shallan crawls out of bed, hung over and exhausted, to find Adolin asking her to accompany him to a meeting with Sadeas’s widow, Ialai. They have a brief conversation about how to treat your subordinates, then arrive at Sadeas’s section of Urithiru only to find Mraize of the Ghostbloods serving Ialai.

Shallan goes off into the other room with Mraize, where he orders her to do what she’s already doing—investigate the strangeness in Urithiru, and secure it. In return, he’ll give her information on her dead brother, Heleran. They return to the main room where Ialai instructs Adolin to pass along any information he discovers on Sadeas’s murder to the man leading her own investigation—Highmarshal Amaram.

Threshold of the storm

Titles: Set Up to Fail; The Darkness Within

A: Neither of the titles are direct quotes from the chapters this week. The first, “Set Up to Fail,” is a quote from the beta version, which was edited out, but it’s still implied:

A failed soldier is often one that has been failed, one set up to fail.

It was suggested as a title because along with the way Shallan has inadvertently set her soldiers up for failure, the chapter ending also feels that Shallan is being set up.

The second, “The Darkness Within,” is IMO a brilliant choice. It reflects not only the darkness (referred to by Mraize) within Urithiru, but also the secret Shallan accuses Adolin of having, Shallan’s own myriad dark secrets, probable darkness within the Ghostbloods (who want to use the presence of Voidbringers for their own ends), and all of the other dark mysteries hanging over our heads at this point.

L: Not to mention foreshadowing the actual literal darkness within Urithiru right now—the Midnight Mother.

Heralds

A: Chapter 21 shows Chana, the Guard, patron of Dustbringers, Brave & Obedient. I’m thinking there are plenty of guards here to justify her! But seriously, the conversation between Adolin and Shallan about her guards, and the reason they need to be there, is some profound insight. The chapter also shows Adolin obeying Dalinar’s request to talk to Ialai, a thing he really dreads. And then of course there’s Ialai’s new “guard”…

Chapter 22’s Herald is Paliah: the Scholar, patron of Truthwatchers, with the divine attributes of Learned and Giving. This is more challenging to interpret. On a guess, it’s at least partly reflective of Mraize’s instructions to Shallan to find the source of the darkness. Another reason might be Adolin’s logic regarding Dalinar’s obvious lack of culpability for Sadeas’s death, Ialai’s reluctant and hostile acceptance of his argument, and the totally hostile agreement between the two about how the investigation should proceed.

Icon

Both are Pattern, because the POV is solely Shallan’s.

Epigraph

I am no storyteller, to entertain you with whimsical yarns. I am no philosopher, to intrigue you with piercing questions.

—From Oathbringer, preface

L: Interesting that Dalinar should say this, considering the famous quote from Wit from book 1:

“The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.”

Both of the Oathbringer quotes play into this, and I think it points out how very differently Dalinar and Wit view the act of storytelling. Dalinar, who is straightforward almost to a fault, doesn’t seem to believe that there could be any further message underlying his words. He just wants to get his story out, to come clean. He seems to be blind to the fact that this story may resonate with others and give them questions to think upon. Good thing Wit’s not around to rub this in his face…

Stories & Songs

For now, they occupied little pockets of civilization within the dark frontier that was Urithiru.

A: This is in the context of how each of the eight highprinces who have come to Urithiru have a quarter of either the second or third level, with the first level used for storage and markets, but it’s still largely unexplored. Every time this is pointed out, it grabs me again: this place is enormous. What little we know indicates that the very top level is big—and then each level below has to get significantly bigger, if those fields at the terrace levels are large enough to grow useful amounts of food. This place has 180 stories (plus a basement?), with 175 of them virtually unexplored. “Tower” is just such an inadequate term; no skyscraper on earth could even begin to come close to it.

L: I got curious, so I looked up the tallest skyscrapers in the world. Currently the record is held by Burj Khalifa in the United Arab Emirates, which tops out at 163 floors and 828 meters tall! (If I didn’t know it was real, I would absolutely assume that this is an illustration from a scifi novel.)

A: That’s pretty tall, for sure. But it’s not a half-mile across at the bottom, and it’s got electric lighting. (I just made up that number, but it sounds good, right?) What really creeps me out, when I think of it in terms of square footage on each level, is all the darkness. There is no light in the interior, without the (presumed) power systems functioning. No. Light.

No wonder it’s mostly unexplored. With their current lack of infused spheres, they have to rely on flames of one sort or another. If you stumble and drop your lantern, you’re lost forever in the dark. Yeah, I wouldn’t be exploring, either.

On another note, Shallan seems to be able to instinctively read the strata, even though there’s no reason any two highprinces should have set up their quarters in the same layout:

“Don’t you see how wide those strata are?” she asked, pointing to the wall of the corridor. “It’s this way.”

I don’t know if it’s a Lightweaver thing or what, but she’s never wrong. I suspect it’s related to her ability to sense the wrongness in Urithiru, too—but I can’t even guess how it might be related.

Relationships & Romances

“Palona said you weren’t feeling well,” Adolin said […]. “Is it, um, girl stuff?”

[…]

“Why is it that every time a woman is feeling a little odd, men are so quick to blame her cycle?”

L: Let’s talk for a moment about “Girl Stuff,” as this section resulted in a bit of a heated debate amongst the beta readers. Props to Sanderson for actually talking about menstruation in a fantasy novel—often times natural biological functions like this are glossed over or ignored completely (especially menstruation because the natural bodily processes of ladies are ICKY and EW and who wants to talk about thaaaaaat ::end bitter sarcasm::), and I think it lends an air of realism to see characters discussing them. However, I (and some others) wasn’t a fan of how flippantly Shallan treats Adolin here. His initial comment, to me, came off as caring. If he’d been saying this demeaningly about her attitude and not about her feeling physically ill I would have totally understood Shallan’s reaction. Adolin’s not being a stereotypical male here and making a joke about it—he’s legitimately trying to discover what’s wrong. However, I suppose I have to give Shallan a little leeway considering the fact that she’s hung over. And young. It’s hard to remember sometimes that she’s only, what? Seventeen?

A: Yep. Seventeen. Hung over. Trying to find a balance between the ready flippancy she had used to keep her brothers’ minds off the horror of life (and which she also used to hide from her own pain) and the responsibility of the position she now holds. Throw in the confusion she’s creating by separating herself into multiple personalities, one of which is super-proper and another is tough and careless. Girl’s a mess. Which… doesn’t make me like her any better for her treatment of Adolin, unfortunately.

Oddly enough, I don’t recall seeing much of the beta-debate happening in the fan debates. Some thought it was really horrible of Adolin to simply assume that since she was “off” it must be “girl stuff,” while others thought it was pretty considerate of him. (His comment about the girl who had “girl stuff” four times in one month was pretty hilarious, though. Speaking of which, I wonder what their normal cycle is on Roshar: once a month, meaning roughly 50 days, or something nearer our roughly 28-day average? Inquiring minds want to know, for absolutely no good reason.)

“The Almighty gave us messy hair to prepare us for living with men.”

L: Sorry, Shallan, but this is just cringeworthy. How about having respect for your betrothed instead of lumping him in with stereotypes in an “ugh, MEN, am I right, ladies?” response?

Not to say that this makes her an unbelievable character to me. Not at all. I know people who do this all the time. It just makes me sad, because Adolin’s so obviously not a stereotypical Alethi male that treating him as such seems to me to be a disservice to him, and not a good foundation upon which to begin building this relationship.

A: Shallan frequently makes me cringe when she starts flinging words around without thinking about what she’s saying. Half the time, the stuff she says when she’s feeling a little defensive is stuff she clearly wouldn’t mean if she took two seconds to think about it. I guess there’s something to be said for parking-lot comebacks: at least you didn’t say something you thought was witty that really wasn’t?

L: However, all this said… Adolin doesn’t seem to mind as much as I do. So I guess… if it works for them, it works for them. It just rubs me the wrong way—I guess it’s a good thing I’m not in a relationship with her!

“Also,” Adolin said, “we have the strangest conversations.”

“It feels natural to have them with you.”

L: D’awwwwwwwwwwww.

“You sound like your father,” she said.

He paused, then looked away. “Nothing wrong with that.”

L: That pause is awfully suspicious. I think he’s thinking about who his father was in the past, here. He’s just not ready to talk about it with her yet, either because he doesn’t want to think about it, or because he doesn’t want to ruin his father’s reputation with his betrothed by bringing up his past. And this strengthens that theory:

“You are,” she said, pulling his arm tight. “You’re just like him, Adolin. Moral, just, and capable.”

He frowned.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

L: The question is… is Adolin doing this for Dalinar’s sake? Is he protecting his father by not disabusing Shallan of this notion, or is he really protecting himself, because he doesn’t want to think about those days? Does he not want Shallan to worry that he might turn out the same way?

A: Fascinating, Captain. I read that so differently. I mean, you’re right that Adolin knew some of what his father was back in the day, but he also believes (as his mother taught him) that Dalinar was the greatest soldier in all Alethkar or whatever she said.

L: Sometimes I wonder, though, whether or not he has suspicions. I mean… he’s not deaf. He must have heard at least some of the stories.

A: Sure, he knows some of it—he was on campaign with Dalinar part of the time, and I don’t think he was blind to the brutality of war or his father’s role as commander. But this is Alethkar, and war is considered the highest art. I don’t think he’d have seen it quite the way we do!
In any case, I read this pause as Adolin’s guilty conscience—not that he feels particularly guilty about killing Sadeas, but that he feels guilty for not being the man Dalinar thinks he is. He’s not ready to talk to Shallan about sounding like his father while failing to live up to his ideals.

L: I really wish we could get a glimpse into his head for this section, but as Shallan says,

“A relationship needs some measure of mystery.”

L: Same goes for characters in books! If we had all of our questions answered immediately, there’d be little reason to keep reading!

Bruised & Broken

“Did you know,” Ialai said, “that after whitespines make a kill, they will eat, then hide near the carcass? […] I used to wonder at this behavior until I realized the kill will attract scavengers, and the whitespine is not picky. The ones that come to feast on its leavings become another meal themselves.”

The implication of the conversation seemed clear to Shallan. Why have you returned to the scene of the kill, Kholin?

L: I’m going to put this discussion here, because despite what an utter snake Sadeas was, his wife quite clearly adored him and she’s in heavy grief. She’s on the defensive, and she’s lashing out—in this case, at entirely the right person. Adolin did kill her husband. She’s facing down his killer, and I wonder if she might not somehow sense that. I think that if Dalinar winds up publicly releasing the information that Adolin killed Sadeas, Ialai is almost certainly going to come after him—probably deviously, behind the scenes. She’s going to work day and night to destroy him utterly.

A: She may have some trouble with that, since she already left Urithiru in disgrace. It will depend on what friends & contacts she still has in Urithiru that can make trouble on her behalf—or if anyone actually cares any more, with a new Desolation staring them down.

It was interesting to note that Shallan wasn’t entirely convinced, thinking that she herself would have no problem making herself cry if it would strengthen her position. Given what we’ve seen of them, I think she really did care, though; they were truly a matched set. I’ll admit, it won’t bother me much if we don’t see any more out of that princedom for a while.

Diagrams & Dastardly Designs

Ghostbloods!

A: Oh, my stars. Where to even start with this? First there’s the shock of seeing Mraize posing as Ialai’s guard, and then the news that the Ghostbloods were “interested” in Torol and Ialai, but didn’t consider them good candidates for membership, as they’re “too wild a variable” with motives of their own. I thought this was odd, though:

[Ialai] and her husband were too wild of a variable for us to invite. Their motives are their own; I don’t think they align to those of anyone else, human or listener.”

A: What is that supposed to mean? I wouldn’t have expected any of the humans to have motives aligning with the listeners, so does he mean that they don’t align with Odium? Or… Ack. It makes my head hurt just to try to come up with possible meanings. HELP!!

L: Well, it doesn’t surprise me that Ialai and Sadeas were only in it for themselves, that’s for certain. Everything they did was self-serving. But reading between the lines, this does seem to imply that there are some humans out there who are already (or might eventually) align with the Listeners/Odium. Humans like… oh, I don’t know. Amaram. Or ::mutters curses:: Moash.

A: Speaking of muttering curses… Mraize does something here that drives me nuts, whether it’s in real life or fiction: without any actual authority, he orders Shallan to do something for the Ghostbloods that she’s already working on and would do in any case.

Secure Urithiru. Hunt the source of the darkness you feel, and expunge it. This is your task.

It reminds me of one of the times I wanted to smack Moiraine in The Wheel of Time, with her philosophy of “tell people to do the thing you know they were just about to do; they can’t reasonably argue against doing it, and it gets them in the habit of obeying you.” It’s so bloody calculating and manipulative, and IMO it’s counterproductive. I hate it when someone does that to me, and—unreasonable or not—I have a strong tendency to deliberately not do the thing, solely because they told me to.

I’m not sure if it’s better or worse that Mraize promises Shallan information about her brother Helaran, should she succeed in completing her task. (Of course, if she’d failed, she wouldn’t be in any position to wonder about Helaran anyway.)

“Morality is an axis that doesn’t interest us,” Mraise said calmly. “Only loyalty and power are relevant, for morality is as ephemeral as the changing weather. It depends upon the angle from which you view it.”

L: This is a lesson that Kaladin’s learning in his own set of chapters, and as creepy as it is to see it coming from Mraize in this context, I rather like seeing this mirroring. This seems to be a major theme of the book—morality as seen from different sides, and—of course—unity, and whether or not that’s even possible depending on the morality in question.

“Do you blame your wonderfully moral Blackthorn for what he did in war? The countless people he slaughtered?”

L: I find it interesting that Shallan didn’t think to question this. Does she know anything about the Alethi history, about Dalinar’s actions specifically? Or did Gavilar conveniently forget to have those things added to the history books?

“Urithiru must remain strong if we are to properly use the advent of the Voidbringers.”

Use them?”

“Yes,” Mraize said. “This is a power we will control, but we must not let either side gain dominance yet.”

L: Dude. What are these guys planning?!

A: This is the kind of thing that makes me believe they aren’t any more concerned with Roshar itself than Hoid is—he of the “I’ll let it burn if I have to” motif. I suspect they couldn’t really care less about either humans or parsh on this world; they’re only concerned with their interstellar power play, whatever it is. Who’s taking bets that they’re associated with Bavadin? (FYI, that’s the Vessel of Autonomy, who appears to be sketchy as all get-out.)

Squires & Sidekicks

“You don’t need guards, maybe, but you do need an honor guard. Men to be honored by their position. It’s part of the rules we play by–you get to be someone important, they get to share in it.”

L: It goes deeper than societal rules, and I think Adolin recognizes that. It’s psychological. If someone you admire or who is higher in station than you proves that they trust and respect you by giving you more authority, you will be more likely to reciprocate that trust and respect. It’s one of the reasons so many people hate micro-managers—being such indicates a lack of trust that the people you’ve chosen to do their jobs are qualified to do so. This is a tenet of leadership which Adolin just seems to naturally understand, one which I wish so many of my old managers when I worked retail had been taught. You lift up those around you. Often, they’ll do a better job at what you set them to do because of it, and everyone rises together.

Adolin is teaching Shallan what he and Kaladin already instinctively know, and she’ll become a better Knight Radiant because of it down the line, when she realizes that she has her own set of squires.

A: It really is a joy to see her getting these lessons, and starting to act on them later in the book. (She doesn’t really get it yet, but the fact that she’ll try even when she doesn’t fully understand is something, too.) It’s a good reminder that for a lot of years now, she hasn’t seen much by way of good, mature leadership—the kind that would show you how this works. Both Adolin and Kaladin have had opportunity to observe good and bad leadership in action, and to practice it themselves. Shallan has had none of that, and now she’s going to hold a position where good leadership is essential. It’s a good thing she’s got Adolin to help her!

Flora & Fauna

A chicken. It was one of the stranger varieties, pure green and sleek, with a wicked beak. It looked much more like a predator than the bumbling things she’d seen sold in cages at markets.

L: Let’s talk about chickens, shall we? To help with the discussion, have a look at this helpful graphic created by Ross Newberry:

So, going by this super-scientific and extraordinarily helpful chart, I’d say that the type of chicken Mraize has is probably a Color Chicken. Alice, do you concur?

A: I concur. I don’t recall pompous chickens being all that colorful, anyway.

L: In all seriousness, in case you weren’t already aware, ALL birds in Roshar are known as chickens (except in Shinovar). Brandon had this to say about the subject:

“I wanted to indicate that the word for “bird” just spread through Roshar as “chicken” because those were the birds that they knew about.”

L: We’ll talk a little more about this particular chicken down in the Cosmere Connections section.

Tight Butts and Coconuts

“I’m an all-powerful, Shardblade-wielding pseudo-immortal, but nature still sends a friendly reminder every now and then to tell me I should be getting around to having children.”

“No mating,” Pattern buzzed softly on the wall.

L: Say what you will about Pattern, he’s dedicated to his new job.

A: Say what you will, I adore Pattern. He’s absolutely priceless.

Prestige is practically leaking from my nose these days, Adolin.

A: What? It made me giggle! (Besides, it’s preferable to the allergies that hit me today.)

Weighty Words

She held her breath so it wouldn’t puff out when she breathed, and … suppressed the Light. She could do that, she’d found. To prevent herself from glowing or drawing attention. She’d done that as a child, hadn’t she?

A: Little tidbits like this, emerging so quietly along the way, gave me such false hopes for learning more about Shallan’s early days, before the killing started. We still know hardly anything about the days when she was first bonding with Pattern, what they learned together, what fun games she played with him…

Motivations of Masterful Manipulators

“How is it,” Shallan said, “that I am still sleeping on the floor, while you have cots right here.

“Are you a highprince?” Sebarial mumbled, not even opening his eyes.

“No, I’m a Knight Radiant, which I should think is higher.”

“I see,” he said, then groaned in pleasure at the masseuse’s touch, “and so you can pay to have a cot carried in from the warcamps? Or do you still rely on the stipend I give you?”

L: For starters, I love this. Every time Sebarial and his mistress show up I love them more. They simply don’t care what anyone else thinks—they do what they want and they love it, thank you very much. But secondly (and the reason this is in this section) is that I think they’re being very clever to keep Shallan indebted to them. Obviously they couldn’t have known this when they took her in, but now that they know that she’s a Knight Radiant, it’s very much in their interests to keep a Knight Radiant in their back pockets! Sebarial shows time and again how wise he is, from economics to politics to manipulating those close to him in order to ensure that the odds are still (and will continue to be) in his favor. He knows exactly which horse to back, and when. I hope it doesn’t eventually bite him in the ass…

A: It occurs to me that there’s an awkwardness here that I didn’t think about in the beta. Shallan has been getting infused spheres from Dalinar for the purposes of practicing. What happens when she’s drained them? Does she keep them? Trade them back to him for infused ones? Just return the dun ones and hope for more? In order to give her Stormlight to practice with, Dalinar also had to give her significant amounts of money. This could be a slight issue with having your money be the same object as your magic power source, in this specific context. Although Adolin does sort of address it:

“You know, when my father explained that good relationships required investment, I don’t think this is what he meant.”

Cosmere Connections

L: Well, we have a WoB that Mraize’s chicken is an Aviar from Sixth of the Dusk. What powers did the Aviar have, again? It’s been so long since I read that one that I’ve quite forgotten. Wasn’t it some sort of telepathy?

A: Yes, it’s sort of telepathy. There were different kinds of birds: some of them could shield your thoughts from telepathic predators; some of them could show you places you might die (but not necessarily why). It’s hinted that there are other abilities as well, but we haven’t seen them yet. It’s really hard to guess what Mraize’s chicken’s ability is; it seems to react to Shallan’s anger with some agitation, but that’s all we get.

L: And the bigger question… how the heck did Mraize get it?! Is he world-hopping himself, or did he buy it from someone who did?

A: If only we knew! I suspect he is a world-hopper, but I don’t have much confidence that he’s good enough to survive a visit to First of the Sun, much less to leave again with a captive Aviar. Since their abilities depend on the young Aviar actually living in a specific place for some length of time, it has to have been captured live on the planet, though. So… either he’s better than I thought, or he got it from someone with an unparalleled ability to survive on Patji.

L: Maybe that’s where he got all those scars on his face.

Quality Quotations

Besides, here, looking too clean will get you mocked. You can’t be mistaken for a Kholin.”

 * * *

“My mother always said she thought you were clever. She admired you, and wished she had your wit. Yet here, I see no proof of that.”

A: Oh, snap!

“His name is Meridas Amaram. I believe you know him.”

L: Boooooo. Hissssss. If there’s one person I hated more than Sadeas (before the end of Part 3 when Moash took the hate-crown), it’s this d-bag.

A: It be a hatefest up in here. He’s such scum. Is it something in the water up there?

“Stormwall spotted in New Natanan. The highstorms. They’ve returned.”

A: And no more need to worry about investing in relationships—at least not quite the same way!

 

A: Well, thar she blows. Join us in the comments now, and come back next week for Chapter 23, another short Kaladin episode, and 24, in which Dalinar deals with both politics and awakening memories.

L: Alice is busy next week, so we’ll be pulling in “official” Stormwarden, Rosharian Ornithologist, and fellow beta-reader Ross Newberry to help out.

Alice is enjoying the Legion gamma read—that’s some good storytelling—and hoping to finish it before her vacation preparations have to kick in. Watch for a new reread participant next week!

Lyndsey is finally done with conventions and Renaissance Faires… which means she’s got a ton of free time to really get cracking on editing her own novels. 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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