Lyn: Plays, pernicious polymorphs, and Patterns abound on this week’s installment of the Oathbringer reread! Ross is joining me again this week, as Alice is still on vacation.
Ross: Hi again, my Radiant friends! I’m glad I got to sit in on this chapter, as I feel it’s the hub about which the entirety of the Urithiru plot in Part One turns.
Reminder: we’ll potentially be discussing spoilers for the ENTIRE NOVEL in each reread. There are no spoilers for other Cosmere novels this week. But if you haven’t read ALL of Oathbringer, best to wait to join us until you’re done.
WHO: Shallan Davar
Shallan finds an old theater in her exploration of Urithiru, and proceeds to “create” a play for Pattern’s benefit. She tells a tale of a girl in ages past who travels to a giant wall purportedly built to protect her people from a great evil. She climbs up it, only to discover that the wall was actually meant to keep her people—the monsters—separated from the peaceful society on the other side. As her illusions fade, Shallan sees a shadowy figure seated in the back of the room, watching. She gives chase but loses the disturbing spren down an air shaft. When she picks up its trail again in the market, she discovers that it has mimicked her attack on the large horneater man from an earlier chapter by stabbing poor Rock through the hand. She’s approached by a woman wanting to join the Ghostbloods, but turns her away.
Threshold of the storm
Title: The Girl Who Looked Up
L: It’s pretty self-explanatory where the title for this one came from.
This chapter portrays two different characters, each shown twice. The first is Shalash, Patron of the Lightweavers, which is fitting seeing as how this is a Shallan chapter and our girl’s using quite a lot of her powers here. We can also draw a parallel to Shalash’s divine attribute of creativity, for the same reason.
The second isn’t a Herald—it’s a Mysterious Masked Character whom Alice tells me is the Joker—generally indicating some sort of Wild Card effect, or an appearance by Hoid.
R: I wonder if the Joker is here because of the creepy Midnight Mother murderspren or because of a thematic link to the reappearance of Shallan’s story later in the book, in the chapter “The Girl Who Stood Up”, which Very Definitely includes our buddy Hoid.
Pattern, indicating a Shallan POV chapter.
I will confess my murders before you. Most painfully, I have killed someone who loved me dearly.
–From Oathbringer, preface
L: I don’t really know what to say about this. It’s pretty straightforward. I suppose we could tie it into this particular chapter a little with the knowledge that both Shallan and Dalinar have the shared experience of having killed people they loved, a fact that Shallan is most certainly still struggling with here.
R: Question: How many murders are we talking about here? Just all the residents of Rathalas (plus Evi)? Or is there more pain buried in there?
L: It feels like more to me. I think Dalinar regrets all the lives he’s taken. I have literally no textual evidence to back this up, mind—just a feeling.
R: Sure, nothing will make you regret hordes of dead soldiers more than an epic worldwide battle-apocalypse.
Stories & Songs
“There was a girl,” Shallan said. “This was before storms, before memories, and before legends—but there was still a girl.”
L: I’ve gotta wonder if this is mostly just artful dialogue, or if there might be a seed of truth in it. The “before storms” bit is explained a little farther down (the wall blocks them out), but I find it hard to believe that there could be anything “before memories.” If that were true, how would the story have been passed along?
R: Plus, we have WoB that the highstorms (in some form) predate the arrival of Honor on Roshar. Methinks it’s artistic license. It actually reminds me of the way Rothfuss has his characters begin myths in Kingkiller. Whimsical, but with just enough information to catch a careful reader’s attention. It may just be a narrative signpost saying, “Here’s a myth, and myths Come From Somewhere. Pay attention.”
“The girl stared at those steps,” Shallan whispered, remembering, “and suddenly the gruesome statues on her side of the wall made sense. The spears. The way it cast everything into shadow. The wall did indeed hide something evil, something frightening. It was the people, like the girl and her village.”
L: From the end of the book, we know that this is allegory for the realization that the humans are the Voidbringers after all. They thought themselves the heroes, but in fact were the monsters, the villains, all along.
R: Who first told this story? Did it begin with the humans as a reminder that they’d been super naughty and ruined their last planet, so maybe they should try to back off on the dickishness 50% or so? Or was it told to the humans by the Listeners, for essentially the same reason?
L: That’s a really good question. Usually you can pinpoint who the initial storyteller was by who the villains are—history (and, often, myths) is written by the winners, after all. But it’s not quite so cut-and-dry in this story, is it?
R: Not by a long shot.
“She goes down and sees a perfect society lit by Stormlight. She steals some and brings it back.”
L: Echoes of Prometheus, here, stealing fire from Zeus to give to the mortals. Did the humans indeed “steal” the ability to utilize Stormlight from the Listeners? They must have… Stormlight couldn’t have existed on their planet, right? This is a really fascinating question (and one that I’m sure Alice would have had an answer for)—how exactly did the early humans learn to use Stormlight? I’m still so iffy on the ages-back-worldbuilding, it all gets mixed up in my head. Ross, do you know?
R: The humans brought Surgebinding with them, but that ancient Surgebinding probably wasn’t fueled by Honor’s Investiture, that’s true. It’s quite possible they were using Odium’s Voidlight before…
L: I wonder if one or the other is more powerful… the “original” Surgebinding via Odium’s power, or Stormlight?
R: We’ve seen some hints about differing potency, but those have also been muddied by human-versus-Listener usage. Venli might be a really good window into how the different forms of Investiture differ in the next book.
“The storms come as a punishment, tearing down the wall.”
L: Now here’s where I get more interested. How is the storm opening them up to a perfect society a punishment for them? If anything, this seems like it would be a punishment to the denizens of the other side of the wall, who have done nothing wrong and are now being exposed to the “monsters.” It’s possible that the analogy is just breaking down here as it has been told and retold over the ages, but… I wonder.
“It’s a lie, Pattern. A story. It doesn’t mean anything.”
L: Come on, Shallan. You’re smarter than that. You of all people should know that there are seeds of truth to every story, that they can reveal things about our natures and our societies that are deeper than the surface. Hoid would be so disappointed in you.
R: Pattern may be showing more maturity than Shallan here. As we’ll cover below, he’s already keyed in to the fact that stories mean something. If not about something historical, they tell a culture’s norms, and dreams, and fears.
Bruised & Broken
“I always imagined being up on one of these. When I was a child, becoming a player seemed the grandest job. To get away from home, travel to new places.” To not have to be myself for at least a brief time each day.
Too many memories of her father, and of her mother, who had loved telling her stories. She tried to banish those memories, but they wouldn’t go.
L: Simply taking note here of the reminders Sanderson’s dropping that Shallan is Most Certainly Not Healed.
R: Shallan really needs to take a page from Dalinar’s book (rimshot) and stop trying to dissociate from the fact that she totes stabbed Mommy Dearest through the heart with a magic intelligent teleporting sword. As Rosharan comic book character Chulley Quinn said, “Own that crem.” Only then will she be able to live with herself, long-term.
Squires & Sidekicks
“My name is Ishnah. I’m an excellent writer. I can take dictations. I have experience moving in the market underground.”
“You want to be my ward?”
“Ward?” The young woman laughed. “What are we, lighteyes? I want to join you.”
The Ghostbloods, of course. “We’re not recruiting.”
“Please.” She took Veil by the arm. “Please. The world is wrong now. Nothing makes sense. But you… your group… you know things. I don’t want to be blind anymore.”
R: Point 1 in Ishnah’s favor: she immediately recognized the Ghostblood symbol when she saw it.
L: Is that a GOOD point, though? We still know so little about the Ghostbloods and their motives. If someone today came up to me and said “Hey, I’ve heard about this group called the KKK, here’s their symbol” that wouldn’t exactly be a point in their favor.
She’s got some intelligence, yes. But whose side is she on? Does she know what the Ghostbloods are planning, and if she does, FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE let us in on it, won’t you, Ishnah? Are these the good guys or not? WHAT DO THEY KNOOOOOOOW?
R: I feel like the KKK is a touch less secretive than the Ghostbloods. And I imagine they know an awful lot! They’ve got a trophy case chock full of artifacts from other worlds, and are the best positioned, IMO, to be dealing in inter-Shardic politics (other than Hoid, the one-man secret organization of Dooooom).
L: But will they be using that knowledge for Good or Evil… that’s the big question.
R: Their symbol is triangles. Triangles are cool. (Having faith in things based on their shape is unlikely to lead to success anywhere except Sel, kids.) Also, come on. Ghostbloods? Whoever came up with that name wanted the group to sound badass, but didn’t have a lot of experience. Ghosts don’t have blood. These guys weren’t founded by a villain. My guess is they end up being sort of anti-heroish. Sometimes doing bad things for good reasons.
Places & Peoples
The tower of Urithiru was a skeleton, and these strata beneath Shallan’s fingers were veins that wrapped the bones, dividing and spreading across the entire body. But what did those veins carry? Not blood.
L: I’m actually kind of surprised that the idea of energy never even occurs to her. Shallan’s a smart one.
R: And they already have the concept of energy stored in gems. What happens if you Soulcast a long wire of gemstone and then infuse it?
L: Can… can they do that? Have we ever seen Soulcasters change gems into just… a different configuration of gem? Smoke, food, yes… but just changing the form from one thing to another? I wonder if that’s even possible. (Soulcasting reminds me in a lot of ways of alchemy, and now I’m wondering if there’s some sort of Equivalent Exchange thing going on in regards to the Soulcasters eventually turning into what they alter…)
R: Well, the Soulcasting properties of Diamond are “quartz, glass, crystal”, soooo maybe?
She walked around the edge of the circular room. The wall was scored by a series of deep slots that ran from floor to ceiling. She could feel air moving through them. What was the purpose of a room like this?
L: A delivery system, maybe? Like the tubes at the drive-thru at the bank? I suppose it could be as simple as ventilation, but you’d think Shallan would have picked up on that rather than thinking it all strange…
R: If you dropped an impeller in that round room and spun it, it would suck air from the center and force it out the slots.
L: So you think it’s a ventilation system then?
R: That seems like the simplest explanation. Which, considering Brandon’s thought process, could be utterly wrong.
A dozen versions of herself, from drawings she’d done recently, split around her and dashed through the room. Shallan in her dress, Veil in her coat. Shallan as a child, Shallan as a youth. Shallan as a soldier, a happy wife, a mother. Leaner here, plumper there. Scarred. Bright with excitement. Bloodied in pain. They vanished after passing her, collapsing one after another into Stormlight that curled and twisted about itself before vanishing away.
L: At first I’d assumed that this was the Midnight Mother messing with her head, but the fact that they dissolve into Stormlight must mean that she’s making them herself. Is she deliberately creating a phantom army to confuse the enemy? Or is this subconscious, a sort of defense mechanism that she didn’t initially intend?
R: I can definitely see this as a precursor to the Lightwoven army at Thaylen City. Then, it was more on purpose, but this seems like a reflexive action meant to make her seem part of a crowd, instead of a lone girl.
A Scrupulous Study of Spren
“I could understand people… mmmm…. Through the lies they want to be told.”
L: This reminds me a little of Grand Admiral Thrawn in the old Star Wars Heir to the Empire novel (now sadly de-canon-ized, but still well worth a read if you haven’t checked it out before). He used a culture’s artwork to determine strategies by which to defeat and subjugate them. There’s something to be said about studying a culture’s fiction, artwork, and—yes, Pattern—their theater in order to understand them better.
R: I’d venture a guess that you’d learn more about folks from the lies they want to be told than by the truths they hold dearest, though there’s also rich cultural depth in how many of those truths are actually True, and how many have been shouted about by a majority until the opposition tired.
Creationspren had started to appear around her on the benches, in the form of old latches or doorknobs, rolling about or moving end over end.
L: I was curious about this, because I remembered creationspren being mentioned in WoK but I’d forgotten what they’d looked like, so I looked it up.
Creationspren were of medium size, as tall as one of her fingers, and they glowed with a faint silvery light. They transformed perpetually, taking new shapes. Usually the shapes were things they had seen recently. An urn, a person, a table, a wheel, a nail. Always of the same silvery color, always the same diminutive height. They imitated shapes exactly, but moved them in strange ways. A table would roll like a wheel, an urn would shatter and repair itself.
L: Interesting, then, that these ones chose to represent doorknobs. I wonder if there’s some significance to this… Why doorknobs, specifically? Representative of the doors opening (and unable to be closed) within her mind, perhaps? She did note that she’d seen some doors earlier, but I could have sworn that most of the doors in Urithiru were destroyed by the ravages of time.
R: Ummmm that’s a really good point. Shallan even notes the missing doors in this chapter. Is this an indication that the Midnightspren that was watching her entered the theater through a secret door?
“What happened?” Pattern said. “Shallan? I must know what happened. Did she turn back?”
L: I love how invested Pattern is in this story.
R: Cosmere Pun Police! You’re under arrest for not capitalizing the I in Invested.
L: Lock me up, copper.
R: Bahaha! You are forgiven.
A dark mass wriggled deep inside, squeezing between walls. Like goo, but with bits jutting out. Those were elbows, ribs, fingers splayed along one wall, each knuckle bending backward.
The thing twisted, head deforming in the tiny confines, and looked toward her. She saw eyes reflecting her light, twin spheres set in a mashed head, a distorted human visage.
L: The horror fan in me is thrilled by this. It’s amazingly horrific. It also reminds me a little of the mistwraiths from Mistborn.
R: Brandon has been building the Lovecraftian language to clue the reader in that Things Aren’t Right in every Shallan PoV so far, but yes, in this chapter, this description and the comparison of the tower to Pattern’s “impossible geometries” are a flashing neon sign that Our Heroes Might Be Vacationing In R’lyeh.
She had felt the wrongness Mraize spoke of. … Urithiru was like the impossible geometries of Pattern’s shape. Invisible, yet grating, like a discordant sound.
L: This sketch by Ben McSweeney is very disturbing. I included the quote here because the lines swirling down into the dark center also remind me of Pattern’s shape. These zombie-horses are terrifying in their own right, with their mouths open in silent screams (or snarling in some sort of primal rage), but the fact that they’re all connected and swirling down into a pinprick of darkness just makes them that much more menacing.
R: I’ve seen criticism of Shallan’s artwork in Part One, by folks who Weren’t Getting It, but I loved this piece from the beginning. And I loved it even more when I found out he’d had to revise these drawings a couple of times because they looked too polished!
R: Thanks for joining our discussion! Now, go hash out the details in the comments.
Next week, we’ll dive into Chapters 26 and 27, where you’ll find magic horsies, Dalinar killing hundreds of soldiers (including his own) indiscriminately, fighting a duel, and attracting a single shamespren, and Shallan delving deeper into the mystery of What Lurks Beneath Urithiru.
Ross is honestly just happy he got his part of this Reread done while supervising 31 children at Boy Scout summer camp. When not geeking out over Sanderson lore, he either develops software, writes his own stuff, or lives on Facebook.
Lyndsey is recovering from a busy weekend in which she met Jim Butcher at his signing in NYC, went on to walk in the Boston Pride parade as Yuri Katsuki the next day, and followed it all up with some ice skating practice (because clearly she has some sort of death wish and now can’t manage to pull herself off the couch). If you’re an aspiring author, a cosplayer, or just like geeky content, follow her work on Facebook or her website.