Oathbringer Reread

Oathbringer Reread: Chapter Thirty-Eight

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Hey there! Thanks for joining us for this week’s installment of the Oathbringer Reread, in which Dalinar returns to one of his early visions and is joined by Navani and Jasnah. Along with observation, they have an extended conversation with the Stormfather, by means of which we learn a whole lot of history, and some theology as well. Also, I go back to the Prelude a lot.

Reminder: we’ll potentially be discussing spoilers for the ENTIRE NOVEL in each reread. There is a tiny minor Cosmere reference in The Singing Storm. But if you haven’t read ALL of Oathbringer, best to wait to join us until you’re done, because we talk about Later Events this week.

Chapter Recap

WHO: Dalinar
WHERE: Urithiru (vision: somewhere in the stormlands, 4500 years ago)
WHEN: 1174.1.6.4 (Three days after Rock’s chapter)

Dalinar heads into another vision, this time with Navani and Jasnah in tow.

The Singing Storm

Title: Broken People

The Desolations were so terrible they destroyed learning and progress and left behind a broken people.

THEY WERE BROKEN PEOPLE, the Stormfather said. BUT I CAN START TO FORGIVE THEM, AND THEIR SHATTERED OATHS. IT MAKES … SENSE TO ME NOW AS IT NEVER DID BEFORE.

Alice: Such a fitting title for the chapter where we see again the battle from the Prelude, with its primitive setting; and we learn the history of the Oathpact, and of the Heralds who first forged it and then abandoned it. There’s an interesting echo in that the Radiants are (mostly) also broken people, but they are broken before they gain their powers, while the Heralds are broken in the process of using their powers.

Lyn: Do we know for sure that the Heralds didn’t need to be broken before they got their powers?

A: We don’t know much about them prior to their Heraldification, except that they went to Honor of their own accord; it’s implied that nine of the ten were people of importance, since the Stormfather calls Taln “the one who was not a king, scholar, or general.” There’s no indication that they were anything less than “ideal” people—and indeed, they managed to hold out for centuries at a time, when they started. So we don’t know they weren’t broken, but the evidence suggests to me that they weren’t.

Heralds

Chanarach (Dustbringers, divine attributes of Brave and Obedient) and Ishar (Bondsmiths, Herald of Luck. Divine attributes Pious and Guiding.)

A: There are three levels to this, at least, that I can see. One is that within this story, we learn how the Heralds were broken so that they failed in their courage, their obedience to their pact, their commitment to their gods, and their guidance of the people of Roshar. In that sense, we’ve got the opposites of their attributes in play. Another is that Dalinar shows bravery in a couple of ways: in his fighting, and according to Jasnah’s tribute, in his willingness to share the truth of his visions despite the consequences to himself; as a Bondsmith, he also rates Ishar just for who he is. On a more meta level, I went back and reviewed the prelude, which showed first-hand the events that the Stormfather explained in this chapter. There, Kalak specifically noted the activity of the Dustbringers, and Jezrien related Ishar’s decision that the Oathpact could hold with only one Herald still bound to it. I’ll address this a little more below.

Icon

Kholin glyph

Epigraph

Your skills are admirable, but you are merely a man. You had your chance to be more, and refused it.

L: “Merely” a man? With all of the investments Hoid has, I’d say he’s considerably more than “merely” a man at this point. But the “chance to be more” part… do we have any WoBs on this? When/where did Hoid have the chance to hold a Shard?

A: We have a WoB that Hoid was present at the Shattering, and refused to pick up a Shard. I don’t think we know why—I think that’s part of Hoid’s mysterious backstory. Sounds like Edgli thinks less of him for that decision!

Stories & Songs

A: Well, clearly this is going to be the super-long section this week! There’s a boatload of back-story to the entire series, right in this chapter.

Now he recognized the truth. That was a Voidbringer.

But there had been no Everstorm in the past; the Stormfather confirmed that. So where had these things come from, back during this time?

L: A good question. I also find it interesting that they have humans working with them. Dalinar asks the same later in the chapter:

“I never put it together before,” Dalinar said. “There were men who fought for the Voidbringers?”

Some.

A: So Moash isn’t the first human to side with the Voidbringers…

The cliff face shook as if something huge had struck it. And then the stones nearby rippled. … The stone face seemed to shimmer and undulate, like the surface of a pond that had been disturbed.

L: This is cool if for nothing else than the first time we *really* get to see these powers manifest.

A: It was awesome to get a look at the functioning powers of an order we’re not likely to get close to until somewhere in the back half of the series. I hope he does this with other orders, too.

“It’s one of those devices I mentioned from another vision. The ones that provide Regrowth, as they call it. Healing.”

A: I loved Navani’s reaction to the fabrial. Absolute, perfect Navani. “A fabrial? Oooh, let me see!”

L: I find it really cool that this particular fabrial is mimicking a Surge. Have we seen any modern fabrials that do so? Soulcasters, perhaps?

A: As far as I know, these two are the only ones we’ve heard of. At one point, they assumed the Shardblades were also “ancient fabrials”—an idea they had to give up once they realized what they really were. We don’t know yet where Shardplate falls. Hey, here’s a wacky theory: maybe the Soulcaster and Regrowth fabrials are just like Shardplate—formed by (as I firmly assume!) “volunteer” spren of the lesser orders associated with the greater ones. So … let’s see… if cultivationspren like Wyndle have lifespren as their lesser cousins, Lift could have Plate made of lifespren, but could also “grow” a Regrowth fabrial from lifespren. I think that would be seriously cool. I’m putting it on my list of things to query Brandon about next time I see him!!

“We’ve gone back to ancient times.”

“Yes, Uncle,” Jasnah said. “But didn’t you tell me this vision comes at the end of the Desolations?” … “So the vision with the Midnight Mother happened before this, chronologically. Yet you saw steel, or at least iron, in that one.”

“This is confirmation of what we’ve been told, but which I could never quite believe. The Desolations were so terrible they destroyed learning and progress and left behind a broken people.”

A: The Stormfather is going to explain this in just a bit: in the vision with the Midnight Mother, it had likely been centuries since the last Desolation, and civilization had recovered. In this one, they’d had less than a year since the previous Desolation, and even before that they’d been separated by years rather than decades, even. No wonder they were such a mess.

Other sections looked as if they’d been broken by an impossible weight, while yet others had strangely shaped holes ripped in them.

L: Well, that later latter is probably what remains of a Thunderclast, but what about the former? Windrunners doing superhero-landings, perhaps? (I say this only half tongue-in-cheek.)

A: So. Much. History. The following is from the Stormfather, condensed a little for quotation purposes:

IT STARTED WITH THE CREATURES YOU NAME VOIDBRINGERS. LONG BEFORE, THERE WERE MANY SOULS OF CREATURES WHO HAD BEEN SLAIN, ANGRY AND TERRIBLE. THEY HAD BEEN GIVEN GREAT POWER BY ODIUM. THAT WAS THE BEGINNING, THE START OF DESOLATIONS. FOR WHEN THESE DIED, THEY REFUSED TO PASS ON. THEY ARE THE SPREN OF PARSHMEN LONG DEAD: THEIR KINGS, THEIR LIGHTEYES, THEIR VALIANT SOLDIERS FROM LONG, LONG AGO. THE PROCESS IS NOT EASY ON THEM. SOME OF THESE SPREN ARE MERE FORCES NOW, ANIMALISTIC, FRAGMENTS OF MINDS GIVEN POWER BY ODIUM. OTHERS ARE MORE … AWAKE. EACH REBIRTH FURTHER INJURES THEIR MINDS. THEY ARE REBORN USING THE BODIES OF PARSHMEN TO BECOME THE FUSED. AND EVEN BEFORE THE FUSED LEARNED TO COMMAND THE SURGES, MEN COULD NOT FIGHT THEM. HUMANS COULD NEVER WIN WHEN THE CREATURES THEY KILLED WERE REBORN EACH TIME THEY WERE SLAIN. AND SO, THE OATHPACT.

A: Just like that, we’re given a history dump to explain so much of what’s happening. And he’s not done. He goes on to explain that, similar to the way Odium was sealed (to the Rosharan system, as is explained elsewhere) by the powers of Honor and Cultivation, the Heralds voluntarily made a pact to seal these Parshman spren onto Braize, thinking it would end the wars. (Side note: this clarifies that it is indeed not the Oathpact that holds Odium; that effect is still a mystery. The Oathpact was about Heralds and Voidbringers, not Shards.)

Anyway, it would have worked, except for one small detail: spren and Shards are by their very nature unable to break an oath, but men are not made that way. They can break an oath, and they will if there is sufficient cause; under the Oathpact, if a single Herald bent the oath to allow a Voidbringer through, they were all free to return, beginning a new Desolation. Naturally, then, the angry spren eventually found the Heralds and tortured them until one broke.

THEY COULD SHARE THE PAIN BECAUSE OF THEIR BOND—BUT EVENTUALLY, SOMEONE ALWAYS YIELDED. ONCE ONE BROKE, ALL TEN HERALDS RETURNED TO ROSHAR. … EACH TIME AFTER A DESOLATION, THE HERALDS RETURNED TO DAMNATION TO SEAL THE ENEMY AGAIN. TO HIDE, FIGHT, AND FINALLY WITHSTAND TOGETHER. THE CYCLE REPEATED.

A: That line just hurts. “To hide, fight, and finally withstand together.” Like the Stormfather, I have a new understanding of what the Heralds withstood, and why they finally broke the Oathpact. At first, they would hold out for centuries—perhaps at first, it took longer for the spirits to find them, too—but as time went on, they could take less and less of the torture, which is not at all surprising. Though the first Desolations were centuries apart, the last ones were down to decades, and then years, and finally months. And then…

THE NINE REALIZED, the Stormfather said, THAT ONE OF THEM HAD NEVER BROKEN. … THE ONE WHO WASN’T MEANT TO HAVE JOINED THEM IN THE FIRST PLACE, THE ONE WHO WAS NOT A KING, SCHOLAR, OR GENERAL. … THE BEARER OF AGONIES. THE ONE ABANDONED IN DAMNATION. LEFT TO WITHSTAND THE TORTURES ALONE.

“Almighty above,” Navani whispered. “How long has it been? Over a thousand years, right?”

FOUR AND A HALF THOUSAND YEARS, the Stormfather said. FOUR AND A HALF MILLENNIA OF TORTURE.

A: Just… just let that sink in for a little, before you move on. Four thousand five hundred years, alone, tortured so that others could have peace.

L: Something weird there, though. Did he not break in any of the previous ones either? They do say NEVER broke. If that’s the case then…. how did the desolation keep happening?

A: As I read it, for each Desolation, only one of the Heralds would break, but as soon as that happened, all ten would return to Roshar to help humans prepare for the upcoming Desolation. Once the Voidbringers were defeated and all sent back to Damnation, all ten would again return themselves, to start the cycle again.

L: Ah, that makes more sense. I’d been under the mistaken assumption that ALL of them needed to break each time. And now that I’m looking at it again, it says it right there in the text:

ONCE ONE BROKE, ALL TEN HERALDS RETURNED TO ROSHAR.

So clearly I just wasn’t reading closely enough all this time!

A: So in all that time, each of the Heralds had at least one turn at being the weak link… except for Taln. And when he broke, here’s what he had to say, if you’ll let me return to the Prelude:

“Who am I? I … I am Talenel’Elin, Stonesinew, Herald of the Almighty. The Desolation has come. Oh, God … it has come. And I have failed.”

A: That just blows my mind. If it’s “failure” to succumb after 4500 years of torture, I’m sunk. We all are.

Anyway, once Dalinar adds a few things together, he realizes that his “madman” really is a Herald, but the Stormfather assures him that the Shardblade he unbonded the night he became a Bondsmith was not Taln’s Honorblade. Also, no, Stormdad is not omniscient and doesn’t know what happened to it.

Relationships & Romances

Navani took his arm in hers and looked after Jasnah, a fond smile on her lips. No, none would think Jasnah emotionless if they’d witnessed that tearful reunion between mother and daughter.

“How did you ever mother that one?” Dalinar asked.

“Mostly without letting her realize she was being mothered,” Navani said.

A: There you have it. It was a very emotional reunion.

I do understand why some readers would like to have seen that happen, rather than merely being told that it did. Personally, I’m okay with not seeing it, because in my opinion, it wouldn’t have contributed positively to the storytelling at that point. YMMV, obviously.

L: It’s important to remember that when choosing which scenes to include in a novel, the writer has many different things to weigh. Does this scene forward plot, character, and worldbuilding? If not, is it really necessary? I’d argue that, while it would have been nice to have seen this scene, it would have added nothing new to what we already knew about Navani or Jasnah’s characters. Nor would it have added anything to the plot, or the worldbuilding.

A: This. This is what I kept trying to figure out how to say… Trust a writer to clarify the writing issues! (It’s a good thing you’re here, Lyn!)

Also, this is as good a place as any for a couple of quotes from the Jasnah-Dalinar conversation, which are well worth the mention:

“You have given the world a grand gift. A man can be brave in facing down a hundred enemies, but coming into these—and recording them rather than hiding them—was bravery on an entirely different level.”

“It was mere stubbornness. I refused to believe I was mad.”

“Then I bless your stubbornness, Uncle.”

A: This whole section shows something wonderful: two people who are used to hiding their deeper thoughts, now being open and honest with one another. What’s more, they’re looking things right in the face, not being defensive about their own position, genuinely looking for truth. At this point, most of what they have to offer one another is encouragement, but it speaks very well of their relationship.

“I don’t deny God, Jasnah,” he said. “I simply believe that the being we call the Almighty was never actually God.”

“Which is the wise decision to make, considering the accounts of your visions.” Jasnah settled down beside him.

“You must be happy to hear me say that,” he said.

“I’m happy to have someone to talk to, and I’m certainly happy to see you on a journey of discovery. But am I happy to see you in pain? Am I happy to see you forced to abandon something you held dear?” She shook her head.

“I don’t mind people believing what works for them, Uncle. That’s something nobody ever seems to understand—I have no stake in their beliefs. I don’t need company to be confident.”

A: Isn’t that just Jasnah in a nutshell? I sometimes wish more people could believe what they believe without needing so stinking much validation and approval from everyone else. I do have one quibble with that attitude, though: people will only act on what they believe to be true, and with the end of the world at hand, people are going to need to understand a few things. Well, in context, it’s almost too late for that, anyway.

Bruised & Broken

NO. THAT IS A DEEPER SECRET, ONE I WILL NOT SPEAK. … WERE YOU TO KNOW IT, YOU WOULD ABANDON YOUR OATHS AS THE ANCIENT RADIANTS DID.

“I wouldn’t.”

WOULDN’T YOU? WOULD YOU SWEAR IT? SWEAR UPON AN UNKNOWN? THESE HERALDS SWORE THEY WOULD HOLD BACK THE VOIDBRINGERS, AND WHAT HAPPENED TO THEM? THERE IS NOT A MAN ALIVE WHO HAS NOT BROKEN AN OATH, DALINAR KHOLIN. … YOU KNOW THE IMPORTANT PARTS. THE REST IS IRRELEVANT.

Dalinar drew in a deep breath, but contained his anger. In a way, the Stormfather was right. He couldn’t know how this secret would affect him or his Radiants.

He’d still rather know it.

A: The last burning question will remain unanswered for now, and in retrospect we all have to question the Stormfather’s decision here. One of the beta readers showed excellent foresight in this regard—and we didn’t know the ending when this comment was made: “No. NO! BAD IDEA, Stormy. Anything that could cause Radiants to abandon their oaths is EXTREMELY important. It could become a weapon for the Voidbringers! Better to see if they will abandon now, than have the truth-bomb dropped on them later at a critical moment!” (Yes, we talk to the characters a lot….) Which is, of course, pretty much what happened, except that it was a weapon for Taravangian and it broke the coalition rather than the oh-so-few Radiants.

On the other hand, I strongly suspect that, for all the damage it did and the uncertainty it caused, the natural instinct for survival is strong enough to keep most people in the fight. Whatever may have been done by their ancestors in the past, the things they faced at Thaylen City will keep humanity fighting to survive. So maybe he was right after all. If this truth had to come out, maybe it’s better when they see what they’re facing.

Places & Peoples

… a young man stumbled in. He was pale of skin, with strange, wide Shin eyes and brown hair that had a curl to it. He could have been one of any number of Shin men Dalinar had seen in his own time—they were still ethnically distinct, despite the passing of millennia.

The man fell to his knees before the wonder of the abandoned Honorblades.

A: There are a number of references to Shin characters in this scene, including Dalinar being addressed by a Shin-style name. While the descriptions of the land sound much more like the stormlands than Shinovar, I can’t help wondering if this young man is the reason the Shin held the Honorblades for so long. Was he the only one who saw this place, and reported back to his superiors, who eventually came and collected them for safekeeping? Were they directed to do so by Honor or Cultivation? Or did they just up and sneak off with them right away? I want the answers to these questions—and I’ll bet I don’t get any of them until Book 5.

L: Assuming that Book 5 is Szeth’s flashbook book. I’m still hoping that he gets Book 4, personally—I’m dying to find out more about him!

Tight Butts and Coconuts

Why in Damnation would that be cheating? You made no oath.

Dalinar smiled to hear a fragment of God cursing. He wondered if the Stormfather was picking up bad habits from him.

A: ::gigglesnort::

Weighty Words

A figure resplendent in Shardplate—each piece visibly glowing an amber color at its edges despite the daylight—hauled itself onto their ledge. The imposing figure stood even larger than other men wearing Shardplate.

“Flee,” the Shardbearer commanded. “Get your men to the healers.”

“How?” Dalinar asked. “The cliff—”

Dalinar started. The cliff had handholds now.

The Shardbearer pressed his hand against the incline leading up toward the Voidbringer, and again the stone seemed to writhe. Steps formed in the rock, as if it were made of wax that could flow and be shaped.

A: It was this scene that made me think perhaps Stonewards had formed Urithiru. The way the stone flows and writhes reminded me a lot of the way the tower’s strata are described, forming patterns that stone cannot make by only natural causes. I’m not sure that it was actually the Stonewards, but it was almost certainly the same Surge.

Merely a Stoneward. That surge that changed the stone is the other you may learn, though it may serve you differently.

A: We have Word of Peter that this is incorrect, unfortunately. This is the Surge of Cohesion in action, but the second Surge Dalinar can use is Tension. There are similarities, but it’s not the same thing. Oh well. In case you’re wondering, it seems that both affect molecular bonds, but in different ways. And… well, that’s about all I can say about it, because I don’t know any more!

They crested the slope, then passed several blackened patches. What could burn rock like that?

A: Referring back again to the Prelude, Kalak noted at the time that these were caused by the Dustbringers.

Meaningful/Moronic/Mundane Motivations

A: Reading more of their history in this chapter gave me a couple of new thoughts on the Prelude that I wanted to mention here.

Kalak found himself shaking. When had he become so weak? “Jezrien, I can’t return this time.” Kalak whispered the words, stepping up and gripping the other man’s arm. “I can’t.”

A: So Kalak, patron of the Willshapers, with the Divine Attributes of “Resolute, Builder,” has lost all his resolve, and is willing to tear down the Oathpact which he once helped build.

There, In Jezrien’s eyes, Kalak saw anguish and grief. Perhaps even cowardice. This was a man hanging from a cliff by a thread.

“Better that one man should suffer than ten,” Jezrien whispered. He seemed so cold. Like a shadow caused by heat and light falling on someone honorable and true, casting this black imitation behind.

A: Jezrien, the King, patron of Windrunners, with the Divine Attributes of “Leading, Protecting,” now leads only to abandonment, he sets aside all attempt at protection, and he is willing to let one man suffer for everyone rather than returning to bear his share of the burden.

“Ishar believes that so long as there is one of us still bound to the Oathpact, it may be enough. There is a chance we might end the cycle of Desolations.”

A: Ishar, the Priest, Pious and Guiding, is choosing to believe what they all want to believe, and like Jezrien, is guiding the Heralds and the humans into lies. According to Navani’s comment, Vorinism has taught that this was the day the Heralds “made their final ascension to the Tranquiline Halls, to lead the battle there instead.” How much of Vorin belief is based on lies the Heralds told them from this day?

And now we see the consequences of those lies:

THE OATHPACT HAS BEEN WEAKENED ALMOST TO ANNIHILATION, AND ODIUM HAS CREATED HIS OWN STORM. THE FUSED DO NOT RETURN TO DAMNATION WHEN KILLED. THEY ARE REBORN IN THE NEXT EVERSTORM.

It looks like in the past, when a Fused was killed, it was returned to Damnation just like the Heralds were. The end of a Desolation, presumably, came when the last Fused was killed and sent back; at that point, any Heralds who survived also returned to Braize to hide, etc. That’s not going to happen this time around: they’re going to have to find some way to actually destroy each Fused, or they’ll just keep returning and body-snatching more hapless singers as long as there are any left alive.

People, this is not good.

Quality Quotations

These men weren’t well trained, but any fool with a sharpened edge could be dangerous.

 * * *

Just heal yourself, the Stormfather said.

“I used to be able to shrug off things like this.” Dalinar looked down at his missing arm. Well, perhaps nothing as bad as this.

You’re old, the Stormfather said.

A: Reminds me of my dad, getting frustrated that he could only handle a 24” gas chainsaw at arms length for 20 minutes before needing to rest… when he was 72 years old. Heh. You’re old.

Ahead of them, Navani had somehow bullied the Radiant into letting her look at the fabrial.

A: Yep, that’s Navani, all right! “You have a fabrial, I get to examine it.”

People were always surprised to see emotion from Jasnah, but Dalinar considered that unfair. She did smile—she merely reserved the expression for when it was most genuine.

 * * *

“They will try,” Jasnah said, “to define you by something you are not. I can be a scholar, a woman, a historian, a Radiant. People will still try to classify me by the thing that makes me an outsider. They want, ironically, the thing I don’t do or believe to be the prime marker of my identity.”

L: This is one of my favorite quotes. It reminds me a little of that great line in A Song if Ice and Fire: “Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armor yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.

Navani returned, mumbling explanations of what she’d seen under her breath. Teshav sat with her in the waking world, and Kalami with Jasnah, recording what they said—the only way to take notes in one of these visions.

A: I just had to include this and grin at their solutions. Well done! The only better one is later, when Navani suggests bringing Shallan in to observe things she can draw with exactitude later.

 

Well. That was quite the history lesson. I still can’t believe he told us ALL THAT so early in this book. Next week we’ll rejoin Shallan for Chapters 39 and 40, so get ready for that! In the meantime, as always, play nicely in the comments, and we’ll see you there!

Alice is actually eager for school to start; she needs a rest! August is just crazy busy, and all this smoke from forest fires all around the West is not helping matters.

Lyndsey is currently taking a well-needed vacation. 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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