Oathbringer Reread

Oathbringer Reread: Chapter Sixty-Nine

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Greetings, intrepid rereaders, and welcome back to the lovely besieged city of Kholinar! Home of secretive humans, creepy Cultists, creepier Unmade, and the occasional Voidbringer! Oh, yeah. This is the happening place to be, I tell you. This week, Our Heroes set out on another fact-finding mission, because So Much Is Not Known.

Reminder: We’ll potentially be discussing spoilers for the entire novel in each reread. There’s no specific Cosmere discussion this week, but if you haven’t read ALL of Oathbringer, best to wait to join us until you’re done.

AA: Also, because the grammar is driving me crazy, I’m starting a notation convention, at least for myself. When I’m referring to the Sibling, the pronoun will be capitalized: They, Their, Them. I’ve got to have some way to distinguish between “They, the Sibling” and “they, the Knights Radiant” or “they, the various spren.” Okay? Thanks.

Also also, Lyndsey is, regrettably, unable to join us this week. It’s a pity; she’s sure to have had some good stuff to say about the fashion!

Chapter Recap

WHO: Kaladin
WHERE: Kholinar
WHEN: 1174.1.10.5 (two days after Chapter 68)

Kaladin experiments with Stormlight to determine what will draw the Voidbringers, and determines that Lashing a rock is out of the question. The team returns to the tailor’s shop to change their clothing, and Shallan sets their disguises to match. The men are off to a party, which makes Kaladin no end of grumpy; he ducks out of the party gig and ends up meeting the Wall Guard.

Truth, Love, and Defiance

Title: Free Meal, No Strings

“I’d love to hear it. Free meal, no strings. We won’t press you into service. I give my oath.”

AA: I don’t know that there’s anything profound to say about this, other than that free anything with no strings is pretty hard to believe. It turns out to be sort of true: They don’t demand anything, but what he sees draws him irresistibly in, just because Kaladin is Kaladin. But that’s next week. This week is just promises.

Heralds

AA: Our sole Herald this week is Talenel, the Soldier, patron of the Stonewards, Herald of War. “Soldier” is probably plenty of reason for him to represent this chapter, since it’s all about Kaladin as bodyguard, culminating in his traipsing off for lunch with the Wall Guard.

Icon

Banner and Spears, for our boy Kaladin.

Epigraph

The wilting of plants and the general cooling of the air is disagreeable, yes, but some of the tower’s functions remain in place. The increased pressure, for example, persists.

—From drawer 1-1, second zircon

AA: These epigraphs are the primary source of information, so far, on what Urithiru was like when it was fully functional. Recalling that the previous sentence in this Elsecaller’s record was about what had caused the Sibling’s withdrawal, this strongly implies that Their absence is directly affecting the living conditions. (Also, that the Radiants knew the Sibling was involved in the tower’s functioning, and how it worked.) Plants that thrived (where they really shouldn’t) are wilting, and the air is cooling noticeably to match the elevation of the city. On the other hand, the air pressure isn’t as low as it ought to be, this high in the mountains—which handily answers one of the big reader complaints from the end of Words of Radiance as well as from the early-release discussions. It did seem odd that no one was noticing the thinner air, but apparently, that’s because it isn’t much thinner. It does, of course, leave us wondering just how these few functions are being maintained.

(Speculation: Would it be possible that the Sibling somehow persuaded some windspren to maintain the atmospheric pressure and air circulation indefinitely? And would it also be windspren keeping the wells functional, or would that be different spren? Or am I completely out to lunch?)

AP: I’m not sure there are windspren in particular maintaining pressure, because I think that would be noticed. But then again, they haven’t really explored Urithiru very thoroughly, and they don’t know what they are looking for. My guess is some precursor to fabrials. I don’t think the radiants would need to trap spren to help them power the city; instead there was some mutual benefit to them doing so. So I agree about spren helping out to power Urithiru, but I think it extends beyond windspren.

AA: My thought was that the Sibling alone powered Urithiru when it was at peak functioning, but They knew They were being affected by something, and didn’t want to let the city completely power down while people were still trying to live there. To protect the humans, perhaps They enlisted the aid of the windspren, and/or various other spren, to at least keep some of the tower’s functions in place. Not sure that makes much sense, but the fact is that, even after hundreds of years, some of the critical needs of humans are still being met, and no one quite knows how.

Thematic Thoughts

AA: This week centers on the infiltration of Kholinar, as the team tries to balance the urgency of their mission with the need to gather information before they act. One aspect of that is testing their uses of Stormlight, to see what will draw the screaming spren and what won’t.

Kaladin drew in a small amount of Stormlight and stoked the tempest within.

… kneeling to infuse a small stone. He Lashed it upward just enough to make it tremble, but not enough to send it zipping into the air.

The eerie screams came soon after.

“I can hold Stormlight as long as I want without drawing attention,” Kaladin said. “The moment I Lash something, they come screaming.”

“And yet,” Adolin said, glancing at Shallan, “the disguises draw no attention.”

“Pattern says we’re quieter than him,” Shallan said, thumbing toward Kaladin.

AA: First off, it makes me happy to see that they’re proactively testing—and this time, doing it as a coordinated plan, rather than Shallan’s earlier solo effort back in Chapter 63. Second, I love learning about their results, and speculating along with them as to why things are working as they are.

Holding Stormlight: no problem.

Lightweaving, on herself or others, attached to a person or a gemstone: no problem.

Lashing, even a tiny bit: PROBLEM.

“Pattern says we’re quieter than him.” Does that mean Shallan is quieter than Kaladin, or that Lightweaving is quieter than Lashing? What would have happened if Kaladin had lashed himself instead of the rock? Would they have “heard” that? So many questions.

Oh, also, there’s this:

Kaladin had tested summoning her as a Blade earlier, and that hadn’t drawn the screamers, so he felt well-armed.

AA: So summoning a live Blade, at least, doesn’t trigger them. Have Adolin and Elhokar tested summoning their dead blades? I don’t recall. But they aren’t really fabrials, and they don’t activate any Surges, so I’d bet they’re okay.

There was a separate tent for people who were lighteyed but not landowners. Privileged, but not good enough to get in the doors to the actual party. In his role as a lighteyed bodyguard, that would be the place for Kaladin—but for some reason the thought of going in there made him feel sick.

AA: Is there Something Going On, or is this just more of Kaladin’s prejudice against lighteyes?  Is it just Kaladin’s “light/dark eyes issue”—he hates lighteyes in general so much that the thought of being one, and acknowledging it, makes him sick? Do we ever get more on this?

AP: I do think it is his prejudice showing through here. However, I wouldn’t dismiss it as his “issue.” He has very good reason for mistrust, based on his history. The caste system is deeply ingrained in Alethkar, and moving from one to another would be extremely uncomfortable. We only see a very few characters who are comfortable across class lines, and they are mainly soldiers.

AA: Personally, I think Kaladin takes the light/darkeyes division to an extreme in many cases, especially for a guy that was pretty close to the top of the darkeyes hierarchy. Then again, maybe for someone down at the sixth nahn, pretty much everyone was higher on the scale than they were, so maybe the eye color stratification is a little less noticeable. Kaladin was born high enough on the scale that the only people above him were first-nahn darkeyes… and all lighteyes. Maybe that’s part of why it’s more of an issue for him than for those farther down the scale? (Come to think of it, the same applies to Moash. He was born second nahn, too.)

I can understand that, having spent his life being highly aware of the line between light and dark eyes, and then having that rammed down his throat in very painful ways, it could be difficult to suddenly be the thing you’ve spent the last seven or eight years hating. My question was intended more to distinguish between “his personal feelings” and “something magicky” at the root of his feeling sick about going to the lower-lighteyes party.

AP: Oh, I definitely don’t think it’s something magical. I think it’s social conditioning. And I think the divisions are pretty extreme. It’s a caste system in which, in all but very rare instances (becoming a shardbearer), it’s impossible to change caste. That’s going to be uncomfortable to navigate. I don’t think his reactions are particularly extreme, because he had a false sense of security at second nahn, only to have it all snatched away.

Then he looked at Kaladin’s forehead and frowned.

Kaladin raised his hands to the brands there, which he could feel. But Shallan had put an illusion over those. Hadn’t she?

The soldiers started visibly. Yes, they could see the brands. Shallan’s illusion had worn off for some reason?

AA: Why did Shallan’s illusion fail to hold? Did Kaladin subconsciously drain the gemstone it was attached to? That’s the kind of thing that Sanderson almost always mentions, however casually the character does it, so I don’t think that’s it. Is he so resistant to change that even an illusion can’t stick to him if he doesn’t want it?

I sure seem to have a lot of questions this week…

AP: I wondered this as well. Could it be proximity? Did he get too far away from Shallan? When she set the illusion, she knew where they were going for the party. Did she unconsciously set a radius on the illusion that required less stormlight, and, when Kaladin unexpectedly goes wandering, it doesn’t hold?

Stories & Songs

The Voidbringer lingered, surrounded by dark energy, until horns nearby announced the Wall Guard approaching. The creature finally shot back into the air. People who had been hiding scuttled away, looking relieved to have escaped with their lives.

AA: This brief interaction stirs up all sorts of thoughts—primarily, pity for a people who live with this kind of thing hanging over their heads, quite literally, with no warning. The humans still technically control the city, and the Voidbringer leaves when the Wall Guard approaches. Even so, it’s clear that the flying Fused do pretty much whatever they want. I think the most pitiful part of the whole thing is the way people just seem to accept this as the new normal. It’s what humans do—we adapt—but it makes me sad to see people listlessly adapting to being terrorized.

In that spirit, I rather enjoyed watching the frustration of the Fused who couldn’t find the Surgebinding that drew the screamerspren. Neener neener.

AP: It’s really clear to me that the Fused could take the city if they wanted to. They just aren’t ready yet. And that would be terrifying to live with as well.

Relationships & Romances

“Your city is practically burning. What should you do? Throw a party, obviously.”

AA: I can’t remember the context, but I recall either reading or watching a fictional scene where the kingdom is starving, but they’re having a party in the palace; the king explains to the prince(ss) that in times like these, the king laughs loudest, and eats least, in order to keep the people hopeful. (Or something like that. Can anyone tell me what this is from?) I’d like to say this is what’s happening here, although with the Kholinar lighteyes, I suspect that it’s more trying to fool themselves into some kind of normality. Like most people do, in fact.

“Hey Skar,” Drehy said. “You ever go out drinking, even when at war?”

“Sure,” Skar said. “And back in my village, we’d have a dance in the stormshelter twice a month, even while boys were off fighting in border skirmishes.”

“It’s not the same,” Kaladin said. “You taking their side?”

“Are there sides?” Drehy asked.

AA: Oh, the burn. Tsssss…! Sure, I understand the irritation, but Kaladin does let his prejudice against lighteyes exaggerate his reactions. And I’m strongly with Drehy here: In a time like this, when you’ve got an actual nasty powerful enemy out there, you need to stop sniping at your own people. Especially, you need to stop griping about someone else’s activities when they aren’t doing anything all that different from what your friends do, and which you have no problem with if your friends are doing it.

AP: I agree that all the humans need to learn to work together. But in a city that is actually starving, the lighteyes deserve some degree of scorn for hoarding resources. I think that some influence of the Heart of the Revel is in play here. Yes, they want to forget the situation, and luckily there is an Unmade in the city willing to help them do exactly that! Even though it’s centered on the platform, I expect the influence goes well beyond into the city.

AA: The area in which I fully agree with Kaladin is this: Given that people are starving for lack of resources, it is immoral for the lighteyes to take more food than they need so they can party like nothing is wrong. We don’t know for sure that’s what’s happening, though if Skar’s rumors (quoted below) are true, they certainly have better food at the parties than most people normally get, and the fact that they have food to party with at all is a bit dodgy. If it’s just a bunch of people getting together for moral support, great; if it’s for ignoring the problems… meh; if it’s gluttonous consumption of food, it’s totally wrong. But you’re right, Aubree; If it’s that last, it probably is at least affected by the presence of the Unmade. It’s not much of an excuse.

“You look like you tripped and fell into a bucket of blue paint,” Kaladin said, “then tried to dry off with a handful of parched grass.”

“And you look like what the storm leaves behind,” Adolin said, passing by and patting Kaladin on the shoulder. “We like you anyway. Every boy has a favorite stick he found out in the yard after the rains.”

AA: Ouch. I think you deserved that, Kal… We’ve talked about Shallan’s humor a lot, and Adolin’s as well. This time it’s Kaladin trying to be funny, but not trying very hard, because everyone knows that he’s sneering at Adolin’s fashionista schtick. I’m not sure I think Adolin’s rejoinder is terribly funny, but he did manage to turn it to a joke rather than returning Kaladin’s sneer, so good on him. (You know, Kaladin is really being a pain today!)

AP: I want to point out that Adolin just called him a stick in the mud. Which is exactly what he is being.

Adolin stepped over to Skar and Drehy, clasping hands with each of them in turn. “You two looking forward to tonight?”

“Depends on how the food is in the darkeyed tent, sir,” Skar said.

“Swipe me something from the inner party,” Drehy said. “I hear they’ve got storming good pastries at those fancy lighteyes parties.”

“Sure. You need anything, Skar?”

“The head of my enemy, fashioned into a tankard for drinking,” Skar said. “Barring that, I’ll take a pastry or seven.”

“I’ll see what I can do. Keep your ears open for any good taverns that are still open. We can go out tomorrow.” He strode past Kaladin and tied on a side sword.

Kaladin frowned, looking to him, then to his bridgemen, then back at Adolin. “What?”

“What what?” Adolin asked.

“You’re going to go out drinking with bridgemen?” Kaladin said.

“Sure,” Adolin said. “Skar, Drehy, and I go way back.”

“We spent some time keeping His Highness from falling into chasms,” Skar said. “He repaid us with a bit of wine and good conversation.”

AA: Okay, I’ll be sappy here… because it just makes me happy to see the relationship between these three. (Also, can I giggle about Skar the Barbarian?) They function just fine in society as it is, and it makes not the least obstruction to a fast friendship and mutual respect. The fact that Kaladin seems categorically unable to comprehend “mutual respect” between third dahn and sixth nahn (or whatever bridgemen-turned-bodyguards are) is a sad reflection of his own issues.

AP: I’m not on board with everything being “just fine” because they can go out drinking together. The way the Alethi society is set up is a significant obstruction to this type of friendship, and this is notable for being rare. There is battlefield camaraderie and respect here that doesn’t typically exist for most other darkeyes/lighteyes relationships. I’m glad that Adolin is called out as not holding the same prejudices as most other lighteyes, but it’s far from common.

AA: Mmmm… I’m not a big fan of “forced leveling.” Now, before this comes out wrong, I’m not a big fan of this kind of social stratification, either: The idea that you’re stuck where you’re born is problematic at best. It should be noted that there are ways, especially for darkeyes, to move up the scale, and even for a family to move from nahn to dahn, but there is only one way we know of for an individual to change their eye color: spren bonding. Less rare now than it was, by a small margin, it’s obviously not available to most darkeyes.

The thing I appreciate about these guys is that they are willing to function, on a daily basis, in the world as it is. Would they like things to change? Sure, I think all three of them would, but they don’t have to spend all their time hating other people for it. I think there’s a LOT to be said for contentment (which is not the same as complacency, by the way) that is overlooked IRL as well as in fiction. These are the guys who don’t let envy of the other guy’s Stuff destroy their lives; they’ve got enough to be content, and don’t care if other people have more. Or, reversing for Adolin, he doesn’t let greed or arrogance stop him from treating everyone on their own merits, regardless of their position or their Stuff.

AP: I disagree here. I don’t think we are supposed to like the Alethi society as portrayed in the books, because it is deeply flawed. And in general, when there is an oppressive system, we expect characters to be unhappy with the oppressiveness. The fact that a few individuals can form a bond over having saved one another’s lives doesn’t mean it’s not a bad system, and doesn’t mean that they are happy with the way things are. In fact, Skar’s criticism of the lighteyes party shows that he is NOT content with the system, and I agree that he shouldn’t be. I don’t think contentment is a virtue here. It’s a sign that they (lighteyes, higher nahn darkeyes) are willing to overlook the really awful treatment of other humans because they have enough. This is a major sign of Adolin’s privilege. He’s a nice dude, but being a nice dude with a few darkeyes friends doesn’t absolve him of his complicity in perpetuating the system. I do think he has massive potential as an agent of change in Alethkar by virtue of his relationships with the former Bridgeman. He’s starting to see the cracks in the system, and his arc, based on his ability to be well liked and build relationships could absolutely make him a thought leader in changing things for the better.

AA: Oh, I’m not saying the Alethi caste system is good, at all; any enforced social structure that determines your position based on something you can’t choose or change (like your skin or eye color) is inherently flawed. And even though you can move up (or down!) within either the nahn or dahn structure, and by marriage or spren you can (on rare occasions) cross the border between structures, I’m not a fan of that kind of stratification. I’m not of fan of being complacent within that structure, either, when there are people who are actively suffering because of it. (See: the poor people being pushed out of the food lines.)

What I am a fan of is people who know how to be content (not complacent, content) when they have enough—people who are not driven by envy to demand that someone else give them things—and especially people who are able to see past the strata and respect another human being because of his character, not because of what he has or doesn’t have. Skar and Drehy know that, despite thirteen levels between them, Adolin is simply a good man who treats them like the good men they are, and they return the honor. Kaladin is still struggling with that.

“Maybe you should let me teach you how to use a side sword. You’re pretending to be head of our bodyguards tonight, and you’re lighteyed today. It looks strange for you to walk around without a side sword.”

“Maybe I’m one of those punchy guys.”

Adolin stopped in place and grinned at Kaladin. “Did you just say ‘punchy guys’?”

“You know, ardents who train to fight unarmed.”

“Hand to hand?”

“Hand to hand.”

“Right,” Adolin said. “Or ‘punchy guys,’ as everyone calls them.”

Kaladin met his eyes, then found himself grinning back. “It’s the academic term.”

“Sure. Like swordy fellows. Or spearish chaps.”

“I once knew a real axalacious bloke,” Kaladin said. “He was great at psychological fights.”

“Psychological fights?”

“He could really get inside someone’s head.”

Adolin frowned as they walked. “Get inside… Oh!” Adolin chuckled, slapping Kaladin on the back. “You talk like a girl sometimes. Um… I mean that as a compliment.”

“Thanks?”

AA: I don’t even have anything to say about this. I just wanted to quote it all. Because these two are… bizarrely priceless. Or perhaps pricelessly bizarre. Oy.

It was strange to look at Adolin in that bright outfit, stylish and glittering with golden thread, and hear him speak real battle sense.

When I was imprisoned for daring to accuse Amaram, he was the only lighteyes who stood up for me.

Adolin Kholin was simply a good person. Powder-blue clothing and all. You couldn’t hate a man like him; storms, you kind of had to like him.

AA: Okay, yes, it’s me going all mushy about this unlikely friendship as well. Kaladin tries so hard to resent Adolin. I mean, he actively tries sometimes! And in the end, he just can’t. I think it goes back to Adolin’s rare ability to simply not care about artificial boundaries; he treats everyone like a human being. (I was going to say “except Sadeas” but… nope. He got treated like a human being too. Just… like the nasty piece of work he was.)

Bruised & Broken

Adolin could get away with things like that. As he listened, Kaladin found himself feeling ashamed of his earlier attitude. The truth was, he was feeling pretty good these days. Yes, there was a war, and yes, the city was seriously stressed—but ever since he’d found his parents alive and well, he’d been feeling better.

That wasn’t so uncommon a feeling for him. He felt good lots of days. Trouble was, on the bad days, that was hard to remember. At those times, for some reason, he felt like he had always been in darkness, and always would be.

Why was it so hard to remember? Did he have to keep slipping back down? Why couldn’t he stay up here in the sunlight, where everyone else lived?

AA: Okay, okay. You’re right. Kaladin is unreasonable, but depression can do that to a person. I wish none of us knew what Kaladin was talking about… but anyone who’s lived with it knows exactly how that feels. I wonder… will he ever break free? What will it take?

AP: I thought this description of depression was so on point. When you have a bad day it seems like it will never ever be better. What makes me really sad about depictions of mental illness in the Stormlight Archive is that there is no medical treatment. We have so many options in our world to try to help people suffering from depression that just aren’t available to Kaladin & co. To me, the lack of treatment is almost more concerning than the disease. Kaladin has no way to stabilize his mood so that he can have more good days and fewer bad ones.

AA: It really is heartbreaking. Paige and I were speculating the other day: Do you suppose that in the days of the Radiants’ strength, there might have been a group within the Edgedancers or the Truthwatchers that specialized in mental health? We know that Stormlight Healing only affects the Physical, and then only to the extent that the Cognitive will allow. I still think it’s reasonable that there would have been those who chose to focus on emotional and mental healing, just using different tools.

AP: I sincerely hope that there are some in-world resources available for our characters. I’d be really dissatisfied if the answer ends up that “magic cures depression.”

Places & Peoples

It was like she was a storming surgeon, the way she lifted his arm and felt at his waist, muttering to herself. Kaladin had seen his father give physicals that were less invasive.

AA: Bahahaha! This cracks me up. In a setting like this, your tailor probably does know more about you than your doctor.

AP: I mean, it’s true tho.

“I thought that straight coats were still the style,” Adolin said. “I have a folio out of Liafor.”

“Those aren’t up to date,” Yokska said. “I was in Liafor last Midpeace, and they’re moving away from military styles. But they made those folios to sell uniforms at the Shattered Plains.”

“Storms! I had no idea how unfashionable I was being.”

AA: Oh noes!! All the shock and dismay! Poor Adolin was being unfashionable!! This is just so fun on all levels. The sneaky Liaforans know their marketing, all right.

I did find it interesting that a mere six months ago, Yokska had traveled to Liafor. We haven’t really heard a lot about world travel, except for Rysn and Vstim, though of course it happens. It just stuck out to me that a Kholinar tailor would travel clear across the continent for her business. Then again, she’s Thaylen, and they do tend to travel more, it seems.

Majestic Motivations

“All right,” Elhokar said as they drew near. “Adolin and I will feel out the lighteyes for potential allies. Bridgemen, chat with those in the darkeyed guard tent, and see if you can discover anything about the Cult of Moments, or other oddities in the city.”

“Got it, Your Majesty,” Drehy said.

“Captain,” he said to Kaladin, “you’ll go to the lighteyed guard tent. See if you can—”

“—find out anything about this Highmarshal Azure person,” Kaladin said. “From the Wall Guard.”

“Yes. We will plan to stay relatively late, as intoxicated party guests might share more than sober ones.”

AA: He’s thinking pretty clearly here, giving directions, explaining things that others might not register, reviewing the plan so everyone is on the same page. Poor boy—he’s trying so hard, and he is making progress…

AP: Progress, yes, but it’s notable that Kaladin immediately disregards orders and goes wandering without telling his commanding officer about his plans. Kaladin doesn’t totally respect Elhokar as a leader yet.

AA: That really bugged me. I mean, story-wise, he makes better progress by accidentally running into the Wall Guard than he (likely) would have by going to the lighteyes’ tent, but I was annoyed by his unilateral decision to deviate from the plan. Some will say that Elhokar hasn’t yet earned authority, but Kaladin isn’t helping any.

A Scrupulous Study of Spren

The spren dispersed, vanishing as emotion spren often did.

AA: We’ve seen this happen: Shamespren or painspren or whatever pop into existence, and then just dissipate when the strength of the emotion has passed. Do spren associated with physical phenomena always move away visibly? I know we see windspren come and go, but I can’t think of any others whose arrival and departure are actually described for us. Anyone??

 

Onward ho! Join us in the comments, and be sure to come back next week as Kaladin eats stew with the Wall Guard and meets the mysterious Highmarshal Azure.

Alice is having fun making drama props and doll sweaters, or at least she hopes to be having fun once she works up the courage to tackle said props and sweaters. Also, if anyone is at Emerald City Comic Con today, keep your eyes open for a Wetlander sighting?

Aubree is preparing for the next highstorm by upgrading her WiFi router. Service in caves is notoriously spotty.

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