Oathbringer Reread

Oathbringer Reread: Chapter Fifty-Two

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Good day (or night depending on your time zone), faithful rereaders! Welcome back to Roshar for a… well, I was going to say “a very special episode of the Oathbringer Reread,” but let’s be honest, there’s nothing too terribly special going on in this chapter, unless you count parental abandonment “special.” We’ll be doing a bit of theorizing about the Thrill as well as lots of discussion about the Kholin family dynamics, so roll up your sleeves and prepare those comments as we dive in.

Reminder: we’ll potentially be discussing spoilers for the ENTIRE NOVEL in each reread. There are no broader Cosmere spoilers in this particular article, but if you haven’t read ALL of Oathbringer, best to wait to join us until you’re done.

Chapter Recap

WHO: Dalinar (flashback)
WHERE: Somewhere along the southern part of the Alethi-Veden border
WHEN: 1155, eighteen and a half years ago

Dalinar is returning to camp, exhausted after a long battle, when he hears an unexpected voice. Evi has come to visit after not having heard from him in a long time, and she’s brought both of his sons along—Adolin, who is old enough to talk, and little Renarin, whom Dalinar hasn’t even met.

The Singing Storm

Title: After His Father

“Re,” Evi said. “From my language. Nar, after his father. In, to be born unto.”

AA: The title quotation comes from Evi’s explanation of Renarin’s name; poor girl, she tried to make a good Alethi name. In context, though, Adolin is the one who takes after his father. His toy sword, his salute, his desire to win his own Shardblade, all show a child who wants to be like Dad.

Heralds

The sole Herald for this chapter is Talenel: Herald of War, Soldier, patron of Stonewards, with the divine attributes of Dependable and Resourceful.

AA: We need look no further than the first two titles to understand why he’s here; this chapter is about Dalinar as the soldier, and little Adolin who wants to be one. We could throw in “Resourceful” too, given Dalinar’s thoughts about the resources and planning that go into a successful military campaign.

Icon

Kholin Shield, Inverse—reflecting a flashback chapter

Stories & Songs

In fact, through his exhaustion, he was surprised to find that he could sense [the Thrill] still. Deep down, like the warmth of a rock that had known a recent fire.

AA: Such a cozy description of such a hostile entity. ::sighs::
Let’s look at the odd behavior of the Thrill here. Previously, we’ve seen Dalinar actively try to bring on the Thrill, and it dissipates soon after the fighting is over. This time, the fighting is long done, he’s exhausted, his Shardplate is removed, he’s resting… and it’s still there. Not raging, but still there, still connected to him.

That was Evi.

He leapt to his feet. The Thrill surged again within him, drawn out of its own slumber.

AA: Still connected, though he’s now dozing after receiving reports. Did it surge because of Dalinar’s adrenaline rush, or is it reacting directly to Evi? I assume the former, but I’m not 100% convinced. In any case, I think the Thrill is partially responsible for the way he roars at her.

AP: I’m not sure that the Thrill is entirely to blame here. Evi cringes away from Dalinar when she enters the tent, which indicates to me that this is perhaps something she is used to dealing with.

AA: Not entirely, sure, but the way it was described as “surging” makes me think that his reaction is Thrill-enhanced. (I don’t know about you, but I’d cringe away if my husband started roaring at me—not “because I’m used to it” but because it never happens and it would freak me out.) Not that it matters; it’s Dalinar’s lack of self-control either way.

He stood up, feeling … what? … The Thrill, still squirming deep down. How had it not dissipated since the battle?

AA: Still here—after a long conversation, a backrub, and a walk across the camp. Dalinar himself is surprised by it—and I don’t ever recall anyone thinking of the Thrill as “squirming.” That’s bizarre—and I wonder if it’s a reminder to the reader, and perhaps a hint to Dalinar, that it’s an actual entity rather than just a sensation.

Dalinar smiled, then stood up and dismissed Oathbringer. The last embers of the Thrill finally faded.

AA: That took a long time. Why? What is the significance? Why is it different? What has changed? It’s possible that this is coincidentally where Odium decided to set the hook, to form a deeper bond between Dalinar and Nergaoul; within the plot, I can’t think of any other reason. As a literary device, this is obviously setting us up for the way the Thrill stays with Dalinar throughout the Rathalas ambush and battle, since it would be awkwardly convenient to have that be the first time it stays with him for an extended time.

L: I wonder if it’s because he’s physically closer to the Unmade’s “body.” Proximity must play some part in the Thrill, right?

AP: I had the same thoughts about proximity.

AA: It could be. We had evidence from multiple perspectives that it was getting harder to trigger out on the Shattered Plains, and then in WoR we learned that it had flared in Jah Keved during their civil war. Taravangian was convinced that it was a matter of proximity of the Unmade, and thought that it had moved from the Shattered Plains to Vedenar. That wouldn’t be relevant eighteen years ago, though. So… maybe?

Relationships & Romances

This was his warcamp—here he was the Blackthorn. This was the place where his domestic life should have no purchase on him! By coming here, she invaded that.

L: This makes me so angry. It’s like the concept of the “man-cave”—a place where a man can “escape” from domestic life of wife and children. But in so doing, it’s implied that the woman continues to bear the burden she has all along anyway. She gets to clean the house and raise the children and cook the food, and that’s precisely what’s happening with Evi, here. Dalinar gets to go out and be “free” while she stays home to do the work that they should be doing together.

Okay, so… I admit I’m looking at this from a very modern feminist perspective. This isn’t how society would expect things to work in Alethkar, so it’s not really fair to judge Dalinar based on expectations that are entirely outside the norm of his society.

It still grinds my gears, though.

AP: Actually, I think that’s totally valid. He is choosing not to follow Alethi tradition, which would be to bring Evi with him. Even by Alethi standards he’s being a selfish jerk here. Evi’s rightful place is to be in the warcamp acting as a scribe and administrator. He’s not upholding his end of the deal.

AA: Alethi standards wouldn’t call this “selfish,” though. More like “stupid”—because by not having his wife there, he has to rely on other women for things that his wife would normally do. I’m not saying it’s not selfish; just that the Alethi wouldn’t call it that. Here’s his reason in his own words, though:

It would be good to have a wife with him, to scribe as was proper. He just wished that he didn’t feel so guilty at seeing her. He was not the man she wanted him to be.

AA: It’s guilt. He avoids her because of his own insecurity, not because he actually dislikes her. In a way, it’s selfish—in that he doesn’t feel so guilty about not living up to higher ideals, if she’s not there to remind him.

L: Okay, that’s a good point, though I don’t think it’s all guilt.

AP: Why not both? His affront at Evi invading his space is selfish, and he does, in his better moments, feel guilt that he’s not being the person he should be.

AA: Along with insecurity, guilt, and/or selfishness, I doubt it occurred to him that she’d want to be there instead of comfortably at home. She’s not Alethi by birth, and she’s built along much more delicate lines than Alethi women—both physically and emotionally. Toh certainly doesn’t want to be out there on the battlefield (which is a good thing), and Dalinar could readily assume that Evi doesn’t want to either. That’s a big part of Dalinar’s problem with Evi: he rarely thinks about what anyone else might want, except Gavilar. Or Navani, of course.

L: Empathy is most certainly not Dalinar’s strong point. Come to think of it, even present-day-Dalinar isn’t really terribly empathic. He cares about other people, yes, but… does he ever really put himself into their place in order to try to understand them? I can’t think of an instance in which he did. (This isn’t necessarily a critique so much as an observation of his character.)

AA: The single example that comes to mind is a few flashbacks ago when he was angry at Gavilar for ignoring Navani’s excitement about her researches.

“Navani said I should come,” Evi said, “She said it was shameful that you have waited so long between visits.”

AP: Good job, Navani! I think this highlights that even without bringing modern ideas of feminism Dalinar isn’t behaving appropriately here. He didn’t even respond to name his son.

AA: Their early interactions were awful, but from what she’s said in the main timeframe, it’s possible that by now Navani has come to like Evi, or at least wish her well. That said, I still look with suspicion at anything Navani (or worse, Ialai) recommends to Evi. I’m never confident that they’re telling her the whole truth. Did she really think Evi should go, or did she just think it would be a good joke?

AP: Hmm, I’m the opposite. Narratively I trust Navani much more than Dalinar.

L: I’m with Alice on this one, I absolutely don’t trust past!Navani.

“Renarin?” Dalinar said, trying to work out the name. “Rekher… no, Re…”

“Re,” Evi said. “From my language. Nar, after his father. In, to be born unto.”

AP: I like the different takes on Renarin’s name between Dalinar & Evi’s culture. To Evi, she has named him “Re, born unto (Dali)Nar”. From Dalinar’s perspective it’s “Like one who was born unto himself,” which does suit the young man he grows up to be, not really fitting into Alethi society. I hope to see Renarin forge more of his own path.

AA: As noted above, Evi stepped outside her own culture to come up with an Alethi name for Renarin. Rirans seem to have simple names, if Evi and Toh are any indication. (Ym, the Iriali shoemaker, has an even simpler name.) I wonder if she explained her reasoning to Navani and got her approval, or if she just did her best on her own.

“And little Renarin has never even met his father.”

L: It absolutely kills me that Dalinar has never met him. It explains so much about poor Renarin and how he views himself.

AA: Well, he’s only about a year old, so this wouldn’t affect their later relationship—or it wouldn’t, if Dalinar had chosen to handle it differently from here on out.

L: True. IF he’d chosen to. ::eyeroll::

“You didn’t answer,” Evi pointed out, “when I asked after a name via spanreed.”

How had Navani and Ialai allowed this travesty of a name?

L: Way to completely sidestep the question of blame at hand here, Dalinar. Why didn’t you find time to answer your wife’s messages?

AA: This (and the previous) was where I got mad, especially when combined with Dalinar’s earlier thought that he had “several letters from Evi that Teleb’s wife had read to him, with several more waiting to be read.” Not only has he lost track of the time since he was home, he hasn’t bothered to listen to multiple letters from his wife. Evi specifically says Adolin hasn’t seen his father in “over a year,” and Renarin is old enough to be walking. Has Dalinar been back to Kholinar since Renarin was conceived? Obviously he was aware that he had a second child, but that seems to be the extent of it.

“I wish to be a more Alethi wife. I want you to want me to be with you.”

AP: Oh Evi, this is heartbreaking.

L: I know, it’s so sad! It sucks because she deserves so much better. She deserves the man Dalinar becomes, but he could never become that without her loss. Which… huh. I hadn’t really thought of it in these terms before now, but… Evi’s pretty much the definition of a fridged woman, isn’t she? (Warning, that was a TV Tropes link, enter at your own risk.) In case you’re unfamiliar with the term and don’t want to fall down the TV Tropes rabbit hole, a “fridged” woman is a character whose only role in the story is to die (or be horrifically maimed) in order to inspire the protagonist. It’s considered problematic because of just how prevalent it is, and how overwhelmingly it’s women who are the ones to die for no purpose other than to spur someone else on to greatness.

AP: Oh absolutely, Evi’s whole part in the narrative is really sad. And even after everything, Dalinar didn’t really love her, and part of his guilt later is that he got a lot of credit for mourning his wife so deeply, when really he just couldn’t remember. It’s nothing like what he has with Navani, who has her own role in the narrative apart from her relationship with Dalinar. Sanderson has had a fair amount of criticism for how he wrote women earlier in his career, and thankfully most of the women in Stormlight Archive have their own agency, but I do feel like he failed Evi.

L: At least he has other women in the story with agency, who aren’t cardboard cutouts of tropes. I think fridging is marginally more acceptable when there’s a more gender-balanced main cast, but that’s my personal opinion on the matter.

AA: I don’t think Sanderson failed Evi at all. While her primary role (which we only see in flashbacks, mind you) was to set up Dalinar’s trip to the Nightwatcher etc., she was a woman who made her own decisions. We don’t yet know why she and Toh decided to run away with her Shardplate, but they left their home and traveled across the continent looking for sanctuary. Beyond that, IMO she did far more than just “die to inspire Dalinar.” She gave him a different perspective on the world, she framed the character of their sons, and in significant ways she shaped his character, even before her death. Ultimately, she made her own choice to do something she knew Dalinar would hate, when she went to Talanor to try to convince him to surrender. While she couldn’t know whether Talanor would offer parley nor whether Dalinar would accept it, it was her own independent choice to take the risk and go. She died for her decision. Yes, Dalinar did have a significant character shift as a result, but I see Evi as much more than a “fridged woman” trope. Personally.

AP: The point is that none of that is shown. We only have Evi as she exists from Dalinar’s, and Adolin’s, perspectives. She literally only exists in the narrative in the memories of the men whose lives she affected. It may be that in later books we are shown her heroic/villainous actions in leaving Rira with her brother, but for now, she got fridged.

AA: Gavilar only exists in the memories of others, too. Does that make him a fridged man?

Despite his harsh words, she unbuckled the top of his gambeson to get her hands under it, and began rubbing his shoulders.

It felt wonderful. He let his anger melt away.

L: This is definitely reading between the lines because Sanderson just… doesn’t write about this stuff, but they do seem to have mutual chemistry and sexual attraction, based on this and other little (tiny) hints scattered throughout. It appears to be all they have, really, except for Dalinar’s occasional desire to be “better” for her sake.

AP: That’s a lot of reading between the lines. It could also be Evi attempting once again to be a “good” wife.

L: I can’t help it, I was an English major, my entire college career was spent picking nuances out of tiny little hints! I can’t seem to untrain myself.

AP: Which is funny, because I do the same thing, but what I get from Evi are abused spouse vibes. She tries really hard to make Dalinar happy, without understanding what that really means to the Alethi.

L: That’s a completely fair reading of the situation as well. It could go either way, honestly, though basing it solely on textual clues I’d lean more towards your analysis. I’m tin-foil-hatting it.

AA: Well, I’ll disagree with you both, then. I think there are a number of indications that, while theirs is far from a perfect marriage relationship, they do care for each other in a meaningful way. Dalinar is really, really bad at understanding his foreign wife, and Evi is wildly out of her element among these aggressive Alethi, but they do care about one another.
There’s always been a physical attraction on Dalinar’s part; that was one of the first things he remembered when things started coming back. We should also not forget “So long as he could be a hero to this woman.” Her opinion of him, then and now, matters to Dalinar; he just doesn’t know how to balance his addiction to the Thrill, his duty to his brother, his innate enjoyment of battle, and his desire to please his wife. Sadly, the last one has the least leverage, since the first three team up so well against it.

As for Evi, of course she struggles to understand how to be a “good wife” to this Alethi berserker. You don’t simply abandon everything you ever learned because you move to another country; however much you consciously try to comprehend and emulate the culture you enter, there will always be assumptions and expectations that you don’t even think about until there’s a conflict. At this point, they’d only met about seven years ago, and have been married for six. (Correction: I’m not sure where my maths went, but they had met about twelve years ago, and have been married for about seven.) I don’t know about you two, but when I’d been married for six seven years, I had a lot left to learn about my husband, myself, and marriage in general. (For that matter, at 31 years I still have a lot left to learn.)
Which of those three views Sanderson had in mind, we don’t know and he probably won’t tell us. He seems to like letting us interpret these things as we choose. But I’m standing by my interpretation.

AP: Caring for each other and actually having chemistry are not the same. And you can care for your spouse and still fall into abusive patterns of behavior. It’s nothing like the relationship he is shown to have with Navani later where I do think there is a deeper fondness and mutual respect as well as physical attraction. Dalinar and Evi are a poor match.

[Adolin] got down safely, walked over.

And saluted.

L: My heart.

“He asked the best way to talk to you,” she whispered. “I told him you were a general, the leader of all the soldiers. He came up with that on his own.”

L: Sweet little Adolin, wanting to connect to his father so very badly, even this young!

AP: It’s telling that even at a very young age Adolin is able to connect to his father in a way that Evi can’t.

AA: I’m destined for the role of contrarian this week; it’s becoming comical. I think this moment is incredibly cute and all, but I still retain my first reaction to this scene. Dalinar seems nonplussed, and Evi is delighted by Adolin’s precociousness, but I can’t help thinking this is not a healthy greeting from a five-year-old who hasn’t seen his father for over a year.

L: In our society, no. But in Alethi society, where war is so predominant and soldiers are viewed as heroes?

Dalinar waited for the excitement he’d felt before, upon meeting Adolin for the first time… but storms, he was just so tired.

L: Poor Renarin. Always second, always overlooked, always on the outside. I’m so glad that he has Adolin for a brother, because at least he cares about Renarin instead of ignoring or bullying him like most older brothers in stories like this would do.

AP: Agreed, I very much like reading about their relationship.

AA: Yay! I get to agree!

“I’ll win you one in war, son.”

“No,” Adolin said, chin up. “I want to win my own. Like you did.”

L: He so wants to emulate his father—like most children do.

Bruised & Broken

Out here, he had a reward. At the end of all the planning, the strategy, and the debates with generals, came the Thrill.

AP: Dalinar is as much of a junkie as Teft, but he doesn’t realize it.

L: Not yet, anyway.

Places & Peoples

He’d crushed the Herdazians—sending them back to start a civil war, securing the Alethi lands to the north and claiming the island of Akak.

AP: Poor Herdazians. :( But also, this fits with Lopen’s family leaving Herdaz and settling in Alethkar when he was a baby. I hadn’t made the connection that it was Dalinar’s fault.

L: Well, Lopen certainly doesn’t seem to hold it against him.

The land here was lush compared to Kholinar. The thick grass was broken by sturdy stands of trees, and tangled vines draped the western cliff faces.

AA: There’s nothing hugely significant about this, other than that as you go west, vegetation flourishes. After spending most of the first two books on the Shattered Plains, and much of Oathbringer in Urithiru, it’s good to remember that not all of the planet is stark and inhospitable.

Meaningful/Moronic/Mundane Motivations

… he no longer had Gavilar to do the hard parts of this job. Dalinar had camps to supply, men to feed, and logistics to work out.

AA: Dalinar has matured. He used to be impatient with Gavilar, Sadeas, and their planning, and delighted in going rogue on them. Now he’s doing the planning. I like the change in him—but even more, I like the fact that Sanderson deals with it. Logistics as a discipline just isn’t sexy; many authors ignore it unless they need to justify an otherwise stupid delay in the timeline. That bugs me, so I’m glad to see it addressed. Also, Dalinar only has one Soulcaster, which he must reserve for emergencies instead of treating it as an infinite bag of food-holding, and it makes sense. In the “future,” the army took many of the kingdom’s Soulcasters to the Shattered Plains; this far back, though, Gavilar wouldn’t have had many, and couldn’t afford to risk them in border skirmishes.

“Could you not…let them surrender to you?”

AP: Oh Evi, you really don’t understand war. I wanted to include this because of how well it foreshadows what happens later in the Rift.

L: It’s actually really endearing to me how naive she is. Would that life could be that simple, you poor innocent child.

“I remember you. We talk about you every night when we burn prayers. So you will be safe. Fighting bad men.”

AA: I’m going to copy in my beta reaction to this: “Awww. Aside from being cute from Adolin, I love that Evi is teaching her sons to love and remember their father, and to think of him as a hero and a great general, even when on a personal level he’s being a pig to her. I really, really like Evi, and I’m going to ugly-cry all over the where, when she dies. You have been Warned.”

I did, of course. This also foreshadows a later flashback (Ch. 94), when Dalinar rails to himself over “how many lies about him [she had] stuffed into their heads,” only to find out that she’d done just the opposite of what he expected. She’d taught them, indeed, that he was “The only honest officer in the army, the honorable soldier. Noble, like the Heralds themselves. Our father. The greatest man in Alethkar.” Well, okay, maybe she had stuffed lies about him into their heads—but not the ones he thought.

Quality Quotations

The breastplate was cracked along the left side, and the armorers buzzed, discussing the repair. As if they had to do something other than merely give the Plate Stormlight and let it regrow itself.

AA: As if.

He’d somehow assembled “armor” from strings and bits of broken rockbud shell.

AA: Awww. We get to see his early interest in both fashion and fighting. Go, tiny Adolin!

… The boy spoke clearly—and dramatically—as he described his fallen enemies. They were, apparently, evil flying chulls.

AA: I love this child. Also, when do we get to see the legendary evil flying chulls?

L: Closest I can get, though FAR from evil.

AP: Voidbringers covered in carapace?

L: Oh shit, Aubree going for the serious foreshadowing while I go for silly memes. Well done.

 

Okay, we’ll stop arguing now, and let y’all take over in the comments. Just be sure to argue with the opinions and not attack the people, mmmm-kay? Thanks!

In case you missed it, earlier this week we posted the 1000th-member-celebration questions Brandon answered for the Storm Cellar. It’s at comment #105 in the Chapter 50 & 51 reread. Some interesting stuff there…

Looking ahead to next week, we’ll be reading Chapter 53, joining Jasnah and a flock of scholars, stormwardens, Radiants, and a few oddballs in the basement library again. Confrontations and discoveries, ahoy!

Alice has one small bit of advice for you from a friend’s recent winetasting: “Never yuk on someone else’s yum.” Take it to heart, for it is deep and profound, and tastes good with ketchup. (Oh, oops, that’s about meddling in the affairs of evil flying chulls, isn’t it? Something like that. Sorry.)

Lyndsey finally has a working outline for her NaNoWriMo novel, and not a moment too storming soon. If you’re an aspiring author, a cosplayer, or just like geeky content, follow her work on Facebook or her website.

Aubree is. Or is not. Best not open the box to check.

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