Well, I hope you’re all prepared for Dalinar being an absolute twit, because in this chapter he’s putting his hat in the ring for the award of All Time Worst Husband Ever. He also gets highly equivocal ratings on the Dad front; at least there are some upvotes in that category to balance the downers.
Reminder: We’ll potentially be discussing spoilers for the entire novel in each reread. There’s no Cosmere discussion in the post this week, though as always, we make no promises about the comment discussion. But if you haven’t read ALL of Oathbringer, best to wait to join us until you’re done.
WHERE: A highland keep on the border between Alethkar and Jah Keved (L: As usual when we don’t have an exact city, this is my best guess. Since they mention the Vedens I figure this place has to be on the mountain range nearest to that city, and since the Horneater Peaks are actually part of Jah Keved, the mountain range I’ve indicated seems to be the most likely location that this chapter takes place.)
WHEN: 1166 – Eleven years ago
Dalinar is schooling Adolin on the ways of war when Evi arrives. After his son leaves, Dalinar and Evi get into an argument about whether or not they’ll ever be returning to Kholinar. Dalinar wants to stay on the warpath for the rest of his life, and when Evi breaks down, he grudgingly “admits defeat” and agrees to head back to Kholinar for a year after the battle for the Rift.
Truth, Love, and Defiance
“What kind of strategist would I be if I couldn’t foresee the next battle?”
AA: The irony is that he can see the next battle in the effort to unify Alethkar, and how to win it, but he can’t stop seeing his relationship with his wife as a series of battles—and he doesn’t know how to win those.
L: She’s an unknown enemy. He can understand other soldiers trying to kill him, but someone who genuinely cares about him and their sons? This is a mystery to him. It reminds me of a quote from Sun Tzu’s Art of War:
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
Dalinar knows himself, but he can never hope to understand her. Not that he has much time left to try…
AP: The real problem here is that as an Alethi he sees everything as a battle. Your spouse should not be your adversary. You should be a team fighting external battles together. The baseline of their relationship is conflict, and Evi isn’t equipped to handle that. We know that Dalinar matures later and his relationship with Navani is much more healthy. But it’s sad that he didn’t figure it out sooner.
The sole Herald is Chach, patron of the Dustbringers, associated with the role of Guard and the divine attributes of Brave and Obedient.
AA: Throughout Words of Radiance, Chach was frequently the Herald for chapters where Adolin was heavily involved; though he is part of this chapter, I don’t think his presence is enough to account for the choice of Herald. My best guess is that she’s actually here for Evi, who is doing her best to be brave and obedient in accordance with Alethi social expectations.
AP: The Dustbringers are also associated with destruction, and for me, this marks the beginning of the end of Dalinar and Evi’s relationship. Dalinar is obedient to Gavilar’s orders, and Evi is attempting to be brave in the face of her continued isolation in Alethi society.
Reverse Kholin Glyphpair for a Dalinar flashback
Stories & Songs
“I’ve thought … maybe the only answer, to make you proud, is to go to the Nightwatcher and ask for the blessing of intelligence. The Old Magic can change a person. Make something great of them—”
“Evi,” Dalinar cut in. “Please, don’t speak of that place or that creature. It’s blasphemous.”
AA: I can’t help wondering what she’d have gotten for boon and curse if she’d done it. Ironic, isn’t it, that her death—and his part in it—eventually drives him to commit the “blasphemy” he decries here.
AP: This conversation also likely put the idea in his head.
Relationships & Romances
Though the last few fights had been disappointing, having his son with him had been an absolute delight. Adolin hadn’t gone into battle, of course, but he’d joined them at tactics meetings. Dalinar had at first assumed the generals would be annoyed at the presence of a child, but it was hard to find little Adolin annoying. He was so earnest, so interested.
Now he had to explain his choices, vocalize them for the ears of an eager young boy who had questions for everything—and expected Dalinar to know the answers.
Storms, it was a challenge. But it felt good. Incredibly good.
AA: The best part of this chapter was Dalinar enjoying his son’s company. That was so much fun.
L: I do really love seeing them connect like this. Adolin quite clearly looks up to his father so much.
AA: Yes, he does, and I find that appropriate and endearing. Granted that Dalinar isn’t exactly the ideal man in our modern terms, he’s pretty close to the Alethi ideal man, so it’s very right for Adolin to admire him. The funny thing is that when we see Dalinar interact with Evi, we see all his faults, and yet she’s the one person most directly responsible for making sure his sons see him as a great man.
AP: Adolin is about 12 here, so he’s the right age to start getting this type of training. He’s also the right age to still idolize his dad, who wasn’t around for most of his childhood.
AA: By way of contrast to Dalinar’s enjoyment of Adolin, though, there’s… this:
“Well, we could travel someplace warm. Up to the Steamwater. Just you and I. Time together. We could even bring Adolin.”
“And Renarin?” Evi asked. “Dalinar, you have two sons, in case you have forgotten. Do you even care about the child’s condition? Or is he nothing to you now that he can’t become a soldier?”
AA: Ouch. Just as you started to think maybe he was a good dad…
Seriously, though, I feel sorry for the man at the same time I want to smack him. I completely understand Evi’s anger at the way he’s ignoring his “defective” son—the son who, through no one’s fault, will never be any of the things that “make a man” in Alethi culture. Dude, he’s still your son! Still your responsibility, still in need of your love and respect. And Dalinar, the quintessential Alethi, simply has no clue how to respond to either the child or the situation. I don’t think the Alethi do parenting classes, more’s the pity.
L: Then there’s this:
The other son was unfit for battle, and spent most of his time in Kholinar.
L: “The other son.” Ouch. It’s like he can barely even be bothered to remember poor Renarin’s name.
AA: I know, right? I want to beat him severely about the head and shoulders, every time I read that line. He’s a human being and your son, you oaf!
AP: This whole sequence is heartbreaking. Evi is completely right to be angry. It does make me appreciate that, in the present timeline, Dalinar is attempting to repair this relationship. I think his surge of Connection is helping him to gain empathy. This chapter coming immediately after he handles an intangible “battle” with the Azish deftly contrasts how far he has come.
“Run along, son,” Dalinar said. “You have geography lessons today.”
“Can I stay? I don’t want to leave you.”
L: This is simultaneously sweet and painful. It’s great to see Adolin adoring his father so much, forging a real connection with him—but knowing what’s coming, it’s just… ugh. Soon Dalinar’s going to sink down into alcoholism and start ignoring both his sons.
AP: Yeah, it definitely gets worse before it gets better. So much worse.
“No, Evi,” he said as he made another notation, “I doubt we will ever settle back in Kholinar again.”
Satisfied, he looked up. And found Evi crying.
L: This poor woman. I can’t even imagine how difficult her life was, being carted around from battle to battle, never knowing if her husband, who she was trying so hard to love, would come back alive… and to watch him as he started molding one of her sons into (what she surely must have seen as) a carbon copy of himself while completely ignoring the other. That must have been the hardest part, I think—trying desperately to help her son be a better man than his father, while also not speaking ill of him (as she clearly must not have, since Adolin adores him so). Evi was a storming saint.
AA: Pretty much, yeah. We’ll talk about it again in a much later flashback, but it’s clear that she virtually never criticized Dalinar in the boys’ hearing. She praised him as the “only honest officer in the army, the honorable soldier. Noble, like the Heralds themselves. Our father. The greatest man in Alethkar.” Come to think of it, she rarely criticized him at all, though she did sometimes let him know how frustrated she was with certain of his behaviors.
AP: Evi is definitely too good for him. I like how we get all these hints about what a good and loving parent she was. Evi has finally created a home for herself and her family in Kholinar, in preparation for her husband coming home, and now Dalinar is pulling the rug out from under her. I can’t imagine the pain and frustration of having to deal with a spouse who is not supportive or invested in the relationship, and who openly plays favorites with his kids, while at the same time trying to raise them to love and respect their father. It’s exhausting just to write it out!
She rubbed her eyes, and he wondered if she’d see through his attempt to change the subject. Talking about her people often smoothed over their arguments.
L: I’d like to point out how f***ing manipulative this is. He’s not trying to change the subject to make her feel better—all he cares about is his own comfort. He doesn’t like her crying in front of him and brings up a subject he doesn’t actually give a damn about just to make himself more comfortable. UGH. How dare this woman cry in front of him. HOW DARE SHE HAVE FEELINGS.
AA: I suspect she knew exactly what he was doing, at some level, but she went along with it because she didn’t enjoy the argument, and she did enjoy talking about her people, even if she knew she’d never see them again.
AP: Evi hates conflict, so I think she’s perfectly willing to embrace the deflection. As much as I like Evi, she does not stand up for herself, and doesn’t know how to advocate for herself.
“We’ll go back to Kholinar after I deal with the rebellion at the Rift. I’ll promise you at least a year there.”
“Really?” Evi said, standing up.
“Yes. You’ve won this fight.”
“I… don’t feel like I’ve won…”
L: Because she didn’t. What she really wanted was for him to understand and want to return, to want to spend time with his sons and with her. Instead he’s just doing it to shut her up. That’s not winning, not by a long shot. Not for her.
AP: Oh, not at all. Dalinar feels like he’s giving her some great gift, but he really doesn’t get it. The lack of empathy is stunning.
AA: Honestly, I feel awful for both of them. They’re so storming different in virtually every way. I firmly believe that each loved the other to some extent, each in their own way, but… a set of Shardplate isn’t much foundation for a marriage. In this chapter, though, it sure looks like Evi was the one doing the vast majority of the work of adjusting to the other’s needs. Dalinar even realizes that, to some extent:
She’d never be a great scribe—she didn’t have the youthful training in art and letters of a Vorin woman. Besides, she didn’t like books, and preferred her meditations. But she’d tried hard these last years, and he was impressed.
AA: I wonder if he ever told her he appreciated her efforts. He recognizes that it was hard work, but he just sort of assumes that having learned so much, of course she would enjoy the Vorin way of life. Of course.
AP: I doubt that he ever did. She is acting out of self preservation, trying her best to fit into her adopted culture. The relationship is so one sided here. The best evidence of her success is how much everyone believed that they had a loving marriage and it was completely believable that Dalinar would be in such deep mourning for her that he refused to speak her name for years.
Storms, I don’t deserve that woman, do I?
L: No. No, you don’t.
AA: Not even a little bit, dude.
The really sad thing is that there have been flashes where it almost looked like he could, and perhaps even like he really wanted to. But then battle and conquest would demand his attention, and he’d willingly turn to that duty, and he never quite got around to actually understanding his wife.
AP: Definitely not. I’m glad he is doing better on his second try with Navani.
Well, so be it. The argument was her fault, as were the repercussions.
Bruised & Broken
“No, son, the most important thing we’ve won is legitimacy. In signing this new treaty, the Veden king has recognized Gavilar as the rightful king of Alethkar.
It was gratifying to see how much one could accomplish in both politics and trade by liberally murdering the other fellow’s soldiers. These last years full of skirmishes had reminded Dalinar of why he lived.
AA: He still thinks of himself as someone who lives for battle and killing. As the general and strategist he’s grown into (per Gavilar’s letter), he sees the value of having Gavilar’s government recognized by another country. Deeper down, though, he doesn’t really fight for Gavilar, for Kholin power, or for Alethkar: He fights because he loves to fight… because he’s addicted to the Thrill.
AP: The way he spins this also feeds into how Adolin views his father. We see Dalinar’s real motivation. Adolin just gets a valuable life lesson on politics and strategy.
Places & Peoples
“Conversation is a contest to them,” Evi said, throwing her hands up. “Everything has to be a contest to you Alethi, always trying to show up everyone else. For the women it’s this awful, unspoken game to prove how witty they are.”
L: Interesting parallel to Shallan, here. I wonder if the Alethi and Jah Keved are close enough in societal norms that Shallan’s constant attempts to be witty are reflections of this.
AA: Heh. I’m not sure Shallan had enough exposure to society to be all that versed in “societal norms”—though of course, she would have had some social life before her mother went ‘round the twist. Back to the moment, though, this is one of the many, many ways where I feel terrible for Evi. She’s a gentle soul, and one who simply likes to get along with people. She was raised in a culture that valued peace, and she probably fit in beautifully there. (At least until whatever-it-was caused her and her brother to grab the Shardplate and run…) For the sin of disliking personal conflict, the Alethi assume she’s just kind of dumb. Because obviously, if you don’t do well at word-fights, it can’t be because you don’t care about that kind of contest; it has to be because you’re mentally deficient. ::eyeroll::
AP: Yeah, the Alethi culture just doesn’t value Evi’s strengths. Her kindness and loyalty doesn’t get her very far here. I’d like to see more about Rira, and what it might have looked like if she had stayed.
AA: (Well, we know it was warmer than Alethkar, if nothing else!)
AP: She mentions that they were outcasts because of Toh stealing shardplate. But is she typically Riran? Or is she especially meek even for them? Or is she considered quite bold because she left with Toh?!
AA: Well, from what little we saw of him, Toh was every bit as disturbed by conflict as Evi—maybe more so. Now that he got Evi and the Shardplate taken care of, he’s been up in Herdaz for the last ten years being protected by Alethi guards. (I don’t think very highly of him, frankly!) Whatever their reason was for hiking off with the Plate—whether they really stole it, or were just refusing to give it up to someone who tried to take it from them, or whatever—the one bit of credit I can give Toh is that he did try to find someone capable of protecting the two of them and making use of the Shardplate.
Also, Adolin will get it when he turns 16, so that’s a good thing. Deserving kid, our Adolin.
Tight Butts and Coconuts
“If you pay attention in your lesson, I’ll take you riding tomorrow.”
AA: This made me snicker a bit. I wonder if Dalinar ever knew how Adolin felt about horses when he was younger; I can’t help but remember his comment back in Chapter 10:
He’d spent many of those days, before he was fully a man, on campaign with his father during border skirmishes with Jah Keved. Adolin had been afraid of horses back then, though he’d never have admitted it.
AA: Dalinar thought he was promising the kid a real treat, and it was more of a terror. Heh.
L: Sounds about par for the course for past!Dalinar.
AA: It does, doesn’t it? He’s not a horrible father—to Adolin, anyway—but he’s not exactly the most sensitive to what makes other people happy. Except maybe Navani.
AP: It’s another sign of his self-centeredness. Riding a horse would have been a great treat for him as a boy. So of course it would be a great treat for Adolin! And I’d argue that he is definitely a terrible father. Showing blatant favoritism to one child is incredibly damaging. It’s a great testament to Evi that her sons have a good relationship despite this.
I would like to speak in person at length about all of this—indeed, I have important revelations of my own I would like to share. It would be best if we could meet in person.
AA: I wonder if Gavilar was getting the Unite Them Visions treatment from the Stormfather at this point, and was preparing to share that information with Dalinar. As far as we know, he never did so—but then, the man Dalinar became after the Rift was not someone you’d entrust with any sort of secret. He became an even more fearsome threat to be held over the heads of anyone who might consider rebelling against Kholin rule, but he also became an unpredicatble, drunken brute that… well, I sure wouldn’t trust him with anything sensitive!
Be warned, we are certain now that one of the other highprinces—we don’t know who—is supporting Tanalan and his rebellion.
L: Was… was it ever revealed who this was? I keep thinking Sadeas, but that’s wrong, isn’t it?
AA: I don’t think it was ever revealed, though if it was, I guess we’ll find out when we get there! I’m pretty sure the Sadeas connection was a fake; at the time, he had nothing to gain from undermining the Kholins, and everything to gain from continuing to be at the right hand of power.
“Unfortunately, our meeting will have to wait a few storms longer.”
AA: I just like that phrasing, so I thought I’d quote it.
In case you didn’t get enough of it, we’ll have another marriage to consider next week! We won’t spend much time on it, though; there’s a lot going on when we return to Kholinar. Strategy sessions, disguises, and a familiar voice await us! For now, join us in the comments, and we’ll see you there.
Alice is still half-buried in snow, but at least the power came back on. Also, the Starsight beta is finished, which was a crazy ride.
Aubree is going to hug her kid in a very un-Alethi fashion.