Oathbringer Reread: Chapters Twenty-Nine and Thirty | Tor.com

Oathbringer Reread

Oathbringer Reread: Chapters Twenty-Nine and Thirty


Lyn: Welcome back, faithful rereaders, and if you’re joining us now for the first time, you chose one storming heck of a chapter to do it on! This is one of the most cinematic and coolest scenes in the book (save of course for the ends of Parts three and five), and Alice and I are excited to dive in and start theorizing!

Reminder: we’ll potentially be discussing spoilers for the ENTIRE NOVEL in each reread. This week’s post contains no Cosmere spoilers, so no worries there. 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 marketplace, depths
WHEN: 1174.1.5.2 (Two days after Chapter 28, four days after Shallan’s last appearance in Chapter 27)

The chapters begin with Shallan, as Veil, waiting for a copy-cat murder in the marketplace. When it occurs, she chases a man dressed all in black into the depths of Urithiru, all the way to a dark hole. She sends Pattern off to fetch reinforcements (namely, Adolin) and he arrives shortly thereafter with all of Bridge 4 in tow. They make their way down into the hole where they discover the remnants of a library full of decayed books—and the copy-cat killer, an ancient spren named Re-Shephir, or the Midnight Mother. Bridge 4 and Adolin attack the monstrous spren, which takes the form of black, tar-like copies of people. When their attacks fail, Shallan summons an army of illusions and drives the Midnight Mother back. She approaches the creature and places her hand on it, initiating a telepathic bond which she uses to drive the Unmade away.

Threshold of the storm

Title: No Backing Down; Mother of Lies

“Highmarshal Halad always said that to beat someone, you must first know them. It’s become one of the rules we follow in warfare.”

“And … what did he say about retreat?”

“ ‘Plan every battle as if you will inevitably retreat, but fight every battle like there is no backing down.’ “

Well, that’s the plan, anyway… and it comes into play for the second of these chapters, too. In fact, this phrase was suggested as the title for each of these chapters, because… well, I don’t have to explain that!

The second title isn’t a direct quote; it’s more of an inference, and was suggested as applying to both the Midnight Mother and to Shallan. Both are, indeed, supremely capable of crafting believable lies to convince others, aren’t they?


Chapter 29 shows Shalash x2 (the essence Blood, attributes Creative and Honest, patron of Lightweavers; and Paliah x2 (the essence Pulp, the attributes Learned and Giving, patron of the Order of Truthwatchers). Chapter 30 is all Shalash.

A: I think it’s safe to say that we see Shalash and Paliah on Chapter 29 because we see their Knights Radiant in action. We’ll talk more about that below, I promise. There may also be some other reasons: the Illusions created by both the Midnight Mother and Shallan are forms of Lightweaving, the archives they found (however decayed) fit with Paliah’s scholarly bent, and in a way both Renarin and Shallan are interested in scholarship. We could probably find more, but that’s enough to be going on with.

Chapter 30 is all about illusions, and Shallan as a Knight Radiant of the Order of Lightweavers takes center stage.


Both character icons, Pattern, show that these are Shallan POV chapters.


So sit back. Read, or listen, to someone who has passed between realms. Listen to the words of a fool.

—From Oathbringer, preface

A: At the moment, I’m drawing a complete blank on how these two epigraphs fit with the chapters, so I’m just going to say that they don’t always have to. Sometimes, it’s just the next few sentences in the preface, and they fit that context and not this one. Okay?

L: Weeelllllll, there could be something to the “passing between realms” bit? Maybe it ties into the telepathic bond between Re-Shephir and Shallan.

A: Sounds good to me! Let’s go with that.

Stories & Songs

“To the right. The shadows are off. The wrong pattern.”

A: There is so much to unpack about this particular Unmade in these two chapters! We clearly can’t quote everything, or even thoroughly address everything. Still, let’s give it a try.

L: Most of it will be down in the Spren section, but this is just a fascinating little tidbit on its own. Does Pattern mean that the Midnight Mother is masquerading as a shadow here, and that’s why it’s wrong? Or is there more to it? Is there some sort of connection to the seven nine shadows that Dalinar saw around Odium’s Champion?!

She’d begun to imagine an infinite spiral, like with old Dilid, one of the ten fools. He ran up a hillside toward the Tranquiline Halls with sand sliding beneath his feet—running for eternity, and never making progress.

L: This is cool, I think this is the first time we’ve heard this legend. Have the Ten Fools been mentioned before?

A: They have. As near as I can tell, we get a name and a tidbit about one of them in each book, so far. In TWoK, Kaladin mentions “Cabine, who acted like a child though he was adult.” In WoR, again from Kaladin feeling like one of the ten fools, “Eshu, who spoke of things he did not understand in front of those who did.” I have to wonder if that’s going to continue throughout the series, or if we’ll learn more about the concept before then. Given Sanderson’s propensity for “one per book” stuff, I expect the former.

The pillar in the exact center of the room.

It was set with thousands upon thousands of cut gemstones, most larger than Shallan’s fist. Together, they were a treasure worth more than most kingdoms.


A: I’ve heard so many theories, but the most common are probably the theories that it’s a fabrial that runs all the workings of Urithiru, or alternatively, that it’s the power source for the fabrial that is Urithiru. (I’m not entirely sure those aren’t the same thing, stated different ways, since we know so little.) The second burning question is how on Roshar they’re supposed to get enough Stormlight down here in the bowels of the tower to get the thing powered up. I suspect it requires a Bondsmith bonded to the Sibling—but that’s just a theory too.

L: Personally I like the power source theory, but I just want to KNOW.

Bruised & Broken

That’s you, a part of her cried as the adopted the persona. That’s the real you. Isn’t it? Why do you have to paint that face over another?

L: You know, this is a really interesting philosophical question. We all know that our personalities shift and change as we experience life. So what is our “real us?” Do we have fundamental personality aspects that remain the same as we age, or can even those be changed by dramatic life events? Is Shallan really Shallan… or is she changing?

A: Philosophically, it’s a profound question, because we are all changing all the time. (See last week, with Dalinar’s “sometimes a hypocrite is just a man who is in the process of changing.) Who is “the real you” at any given time? Viscerally, however, this kind of terrified me; it felt like Shallan was losing track of her personas, layering them over one another with very little ability to discern what was reality and what was illusion. Not so much a matter of hypocrisy or changing perspective, but layering lies over other lies because she was afraid of the truth. We know now that this is going to get worse before it gets better, but at this point it was scary to see her like this.

Would it really have been so bad to let Adolin know about Veil?

A part of her panicked at the idea, so she let go of it quickly.

L: Poor Shallan. She must be so used to keeping secrets from everyone around her that the very idea of being honest is terrifying.

Squires & Sidekicks

Bridge Four is BACK, baby!

Indeed, she’d mistaken one of Dalinar’s scouts—the short woman with long hair—for another bridgeman, though her uniform was different.

A: Hi, Lyn! ::waves::

L: When we get to the chapter in Part 2 that features her more prominently, I’ll talk in depth about the actual real-life stuff behind this tuckerization, I promise. But for now it’s worthwhile to note that Lyn’s apparently been just hanging out with Bridge Four all the time, probably in hopes that she’ll get to work with them eventually. Or because she just really likes hanging out with them.

“Kid,” Teft said, “you’re the expert on what’s weird. We’ll trust your word.”

Shallan looked with concern towards Renarin at the insult. He just grinned, as one of the other bridgemen slapped him on the back—Plate notwithstanding—while Lopen and Rock started arguing over who was truly the weirdest among them.

L: Awwwwww he’s one of the guys. This makes my heart happy.

A: I adored this moment. We’re all weird in our own ways, and it’s so good to be part of a group where your weirdness is valued.

“So,” one of the men said, a handsome, muscled fellow with arms that seemed too long for his body.

L: Too-long arms? Descendant of a world-hopper from Scadrial, I wonder?

A: I never thought of the possibility that he could be a world-hopper, but it would fit. He has “a faint accent” that is never identified, and he swears “By the Brightcaller’s rays” which we never see anywhere else. Whether that’s evidence of being from a different nation & religion on Roshar, or being a world-hopper… I don’t know. It would be cool if he were a world-hopper.

Dandos the Oilsworn

L: I was curious about this little name-drop (mainly because “Oilsworn” is such a cool freakin’ title), so I went looking in the previous books. He’s mentioned exactly once in each.

A: I’ll mention him again below. Will that be useful?

Places & Peoples

The perpetrator—one of Ruthar’s soldiers—had been hanged the next day in the market’s central square.

L: I quoted this one because it’s the first (I think?) instance we’ve seen of such swift and harsh justice being enacted. Do the Alethi not have courts of law as we know them, or did this particular case just have so many witnesses that there was no question of guilt? Does murder always result in execution? I’m just so interested in the logistics of crime and punishment in fantasy novels. (There’s also the possibility that since they’re in the middle of a war, Dalinar has instituted some sort of “Law during War,” which I could have sworn there was a specific word/phrase for, but my google-fu is failing me.)

A: It could be a little like the “Emergency Powers Act” during WWII, in England, maybe. Alternatively, it could just be the sort of rules that always hold during a campaign for those who are in the military encampment. We haven’t seen much of Alethi civil life; most of our time has been spent in the warcamps—first at the Shattered Plains, and now at Urithiru. Granted that there are a lot of civilians around, both places are first and foremost military installations.

Tight Butts and Coconuts

“Most men who have made a pass at me end up missing a finger or two, Red.”
“I’d still have plenty left to satisfy you, I promise.”

L: My reaction.

“Said that if I didn’t come, you’d probably—and I quote—’go do something stupid without letting me watch.’”

Pattern hummed. “Stupidity. Very interesting.”

A: This was one of my favorite laugh-out-loud moments in the whole book.

“A broken face, a twisted shape…”

“Sounds like that girl you’ve been seeing, Skar,” one of the bridgemen noted.

L: Storms, I missed these guys.

“Adolin…” Shallan said. “These are artifacts from another time. Valuable and precious.”

“I won’t break them too much,” he promised.

L: Only a little. A little breaking. He promises.

Weighty Words

Adolin and Renarin fought at the very front, hacking with Blades, leaving dark figures to hiss and gush smoke in pieces. … They struck true now and then, wounding a bridgeman, who would pull back into the center of the formation to be hastily bandaged by Lyn or Lopen. Renarin fell into the center and started to glow with Stormlight, healing those who were hurt.

A: I know Renarin has a long way to go yet, but I loved him in these scenes. Part of him is totally freaked out by what he knows to be (and is the first to identify as)

“One of the Unmade. Re-Shephir … the Midnight Mother.”

And yet, he stands against her. He takes his place, first at Adolin’s side, then healing the others, then again protecting Adolin’s back as they form a pathway to the center for Shallan to do her thing. My personal view of Renarin has always been that he’s courageous despite his physical disabilities; many times, though, he chooses not to do things that he knows would cause Adolin or Dalinar to step in to protect him. Now that he has a spren/blade, and is using (ordinary) Shardplate, he’s less vulnerable physically and so he’s able to do the things he couldn’t do before.

I’m not saying this very well, but I love the way he continues to fight despite his terror; courage isn’t in not being afraid, but in continuing to fight even though you are afraid. (I’m pretty sure someone has said that better…)

L: This one, perhaps? “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” –Nelson Mandela

A: Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear. Except a creature be part coward, it is not a compliment to say he is brave; it is merely a loose misapplication of the word. –Mark Twain

L: I rather like the simplicity of this one by Twain: “Courage is not the absence of fear; it is acting in spite of it.”

A: Courage is being scared to death… and saddling up anyway. –John Wayne

L: So many cool quotes about this subject!

A Scrupulous Study of Spren

“What is it?” Renarin whispered. “Glys is frightened, and won’t speak.”

L: Sorry, Renarin, but I am suspicious of that spren of yours. Is Glys frightened because he knows exactly what they’re dealing with, having insider information?

A: Well, if Glys does know anything about her, I don’t blame him for being scared!

The things bled vapor when struck, a darkness that hissed from them and dissipated into the air.

Like smoke, Shallan thought.

L: So, we know that there are nine Unmade. If there were ten, I would wonder if maybe each of them corresponded to a Soulcasting essence… but the lack of a tenth seems to undermine this theory. Thoughts, Alice?

A: This particular conundrum gives me headaches. There are so many parallels between Surgebinding and Voidbinding, except that Honor (and Surgebinding) center around ten, while Odium (and Voidbinding) center on nine, and … it always goes pear-shaped when I try to wrap my head around it!

That said, I would cautiously venture that there could well be a correspondence, but try as I might, I can’t sort it out. You could associate Re-Shephir with smoke, Chemoarish with talus (stone/dust), Ashertmarn with sinew, or possibly blood, Yelig-nar with crystal (paralleling lucentia, maybe?), or maybe Ba-Ado-Mishram, who supplies voidlight and connection would fit lucentia better… and then I just start going in circles. I don’t really understand the essences, but mostly we just don’t know enough about the rest of the Unmade or Voidbringing.

“There’s something down there,” Renarin whispered, leaning out over the pit. “Something… ancient. You’ve felt it, haven’t you?”… “Your father doesn’t seem to be able to feel it,” Shallan said. “Why can we?”

L: Interesting that both Shallan and Renarin sensed this, but Dalinar doesn’t seem to.

A: I’ve wondered about that too. Is it because they’re closer to Cultivation (via their spren)? Is it because they both have the Surge of Illumination as part of their skillset, and the Midnight Mother also uses that Surge? (I’m going on the assumption that the Surges are the same for both Surgebinding and Voidbinding, and that they’re just used a little differently and accessed by different forms of Investiture.) Are they just more empathetic individuals than crusty old Dalinar?

L: Makes me wonder if Kal would, if he were around. Or if Malata does. Related to this conversation, there’s this quote:

There didn’t seem to be a duplicate for her.

Why not? Can the Mother not imitate a Lightweaver, or is it maybe confused by Shallan and all her various personas and masks she wears?

A: Oh, I like the idea that Re-Shephir might be confused by Shallan’s layers of illusion and personalities! It would be the one really cool thing about Shallan’s special style of crazy at this juncture.

“I feel like I understand her, a connection I cannot explain. That can’t be a good thing, right? Can we even trust what I think?”

L: This reminds me a little of the connection between Harry and Voldemort in Harry Potter.

A: Bingo!

L: A connection opened one way can influence the other way as well. Granted, this is a little deeper—Shallan seems to be worried that the Midnight Mother has been subconsciously changing the very fabric of her thoughts. Sanderson goes deeper into this connection in the beginning of chapter 30:

Shallan was laid open to this thing. Laid bare, her skin split, her soul gaping wide. It could get in.

It was also open to her.

This telepathy is fascinating to me, because we haven’t really seen any other telepathy in the books. Perhaps the Midnight Mother can utilize telepathy in her attempts to understand and better emulate people? Or is this another aspect of whatever theoretical connection is between them based on their powers?

They know how to face men like him, Shallan thought, still holding her Shardblade in one hand. Then why do they fear me?

L: Excellent question, and one which is answered in the next chapter. Another interesting thing: on the wheel of Heralds, Nale (essence of vapor) is opposite Shalash (patron of Lightweavers). Is it possible that Re-Shephir, representing Vapor, is especially weak to Lightweavers? (I took a look at the Double Eye artwork too, but while Lightweavers and Skybreakers are on opposite sides, they’re not exact opposites…)

A: Well, I already wound myself around the axle on that question. I’m not going to try again!

The spren tugged and prodded at Shallan’s bond with Pattern, seeking to rip it free and insert herself instead.

L: Well, that’s a horrifying thought. Bonding with an UNMADE?

A: Yeah, that was unnerving. Even the thought that it might be possible was totally creepy in the moment, but now that I think about it… I hadn’t put it together this way before, but are all the “embracing the Thrill” things we’ve seen sort of a matter of bonding with an Unmade? I don’t think it would be quite the same, since the Thrill seems to fill many people at the same time, but it’s some kind of a bond. Beyond that, though, there’s what we see later of Yelig-Nar. Was this suggestion, here, supposed to foreshadow Yelig-Nar consuming first Queen Aesudan and later Amaram, when each tried to bond and control it? And failed, and died? Because if that’s what “bonding an Unmade” looks like, it’s not a great idea.

It had been trapped. The event had happened recently in the spren’s reckoning, though Shallan had the impression that in fact centuries upon centuries had passed.

Re-Shephir was terrified of it happening again. The imprisonment had been unexpected, presumed impossible.

L: Setting up the pieces for the revelation that the Unmade can be trapped in perfect gemstones, here.

And it had been done by a Lightweaver like Shallan, who had understood this creature.

L: Ah hah. So now we know why it’s so scared of her—but we’re still left wondering how they can form this telepathic bond!

A: I think you must be right about Connection being involved, though I still have no clue how it works. Unless it’s that thing I mentioned about using the same Surge… for which I have zero evidence, so it could be coincidence. Except this is Sanderson, so there is no such thing as coincidence. Is there some sort of cognitive or spiritual connection (or Connection) between people/beings who use the same Surge?

Amazing Artwork

Art by Dan dos Santos and Howard Lyon. See full size images here.

Gorgeous, intricate pictures of the Heralds—made of thousands of tiles—adorned the ceiling, each in a circular panel.

The art on the walls was more enigmatic. A solitary figure hovering above the ground before a large blue disc, arms stretched to the side as if to embrace it. Depictions of the Almighty in his traditional form as a cloud bursting with energy and light. A woman in the shape of a tree, hands spreading toward the sky and becoming branches. Who would have thought to find pagan symbols in the home of the Knights Radiant?

Other murals depicted shapes that reminded her of Pattern, windspren … ten kinds of spren. One for each order?

A: We don’t actually get to see this artwork—more’s the pity—but it sound amazing to me. It would be interesting to ask how closely these pictures of the Heralds fit with the later paintings we see in the endpapers.

L: Are we sure that the endpapers aren’t what’s described here?

A: Well, I don’t think they are. These have been here since before Urithiru was abandoned, and I had the impression that the endpaper portraits were more contemporary idealizations. I could just be confused by knowing that the same artist (Dan dos Santos) who painted two of them is tuckerized as Dandos the Oilsworn, and I’m therefore assuming that he also would be credited with the Ishar and Shalash paintings in-world. I’d actually love to be wrong on this, because I think it would be awfully scrumptious to know we were seeing this artwork.

More curious, though, are the three mentioned next. Shallan recognizes the “Almighty” depiction, which seems to reflect Honor’s connection to the Stormfather. I think we all recognize Cultivation in the tree-woman, and it seems to hint at her connection to the Nightwatcher. Is the third also a Shard? (Odium?) Or is it Adonalsium? Or… the Sibling, and not a Shard at all?

L: I definitely got the impression that it was the third Sibling.

A: Really? How cool! For some reason I had assumed they were Shards (I suppose because Shallan called one “Almighty”) and that third one was really messing me up. But then, I’ll claim that I was thinking about this before we knew about the Sibling, okay?

If these were originally intended as depictions of the three great spren, that would definitely make the “solitary figure hovering above the ground” the Sibling. Would this fit with the “other murals” of the rest of the spren? Except that Shallan thinks there are “ten kinds of spren” depicted. Would she have just assumed there were ten more without looking closely, or is there a mural for the Bondsmith spren? I’m so confused.

L: Hmm, yeah, this is odd. If the one she’s assuming to be the Almighty is actually the Stormfather, then there should only be nine other types of spren depicted… strange. Very strange.

A: I’m so confused.

Oh, also, I was highly amused that Shallan thought of the Cultivation and likely-Sibling pictures as “pagan symbols.”

Quality Quotations

If you could explain everything perfectly, then you’d never need art. That was the difference between a table and a beautiful woodcutting. You could explain the table: its purpose, its shape, its nature. The woodcutting you simply had to experience.

 * * *

“Your imitation is pathetic,” Shallan whispered. “Here. Let me show you how it’s done.”

L: I love Shallan’s moment of badassery here.

“Plan every battle as if you will inevitably retreat, but fight every battle like there is no backing down.”

L: Well, that’s quite enough horror (and blabbing on my part) for now! Join us in the comments and weigh in with your own theories, and return at the same storm-time and same storm-channel next week when we finish up Part One with chapters 31 and 32, in which Kaladin rides the storm and someone unexpected returns

[Edit: I’d just like to take a moment to link this amazing fanart of the scene in this week’s reread. Check it out, it’s beautiful!]

Alice is wrapped up in the Skyward gamma read, which is now her favorite of Sanderson’s YA works. Beyond that, she’s trying to keep up with her kids and hoping for some summer to happen before September… (The rest of the country is broiling, but the Pacific Northwest is freeeeeeezing. They say it’s going to warm up any day now.)

Lyndsey is beyond excited for the upcoming Yuri!!! On Ice movie, and had a field day “live-tweeting” the concert last weekend. 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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