Oathbringer Reread

Oathbringer Reread: Chapter Seventy-One

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Welcome back to the Oathbringer reread, as we approach—with great trepidation—one flashback chapter closer to the moment when it all goes down. This week, though, we’re being baited by hints of hope, as Dalinar responds to Evi’s urging and makes an effort to at least talk with Tanalan.

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

Chapter Recap

WHO: Past!Dalinar
WHERE: Rathalas (on the road, and after arrival)
WHEN: Eleven Years Ago (1162)

Dalinar and Evi talk in her carriage on the road to Rathalas. Desiring to make her happy, Dalinar approaches Tanalan and suggests that they find an accommodation which will keep his people alive. He offers a duel, which Tanalan refuses. Tanalan offers a different solution: They pretend that the entire affair was a ruse to draw out any highprinces who were willing to betray Gavilar; all Dalinar has to do is capture the caravan that just left a few hours ago.

Truth, Love, and Defiance

Title: A Sign of Humanity

“You spared that boy’s life once before.”

“An obvious mistake.”

“A sign of humanity, Dalinar…”

AA: I have to agree with Evi—the choice to spare the child’s life was a sign of humanity, and sort of an unexpected one. I’m really sad that it came back to bite him.

AP: I agree, but I totally expected this from a narrative standpoint. I really like the nuance that Sanderson provides. It’s never just black and white. Sparing the child was good, but it led to more war. Not that killing the child likely would have ended better. It likely would have inspired the people of Rathalas to rebel with a new charismatic leader in place. There are no easy answers.

Heralds

The sole Herald this week is Battar, the Counselor, patron of the Elsecallers, associated with the divine attributes Wise and Careful. This could be indicative of Evi as Dalinar’s counselor, urging him to refrain from killing. It could also refer to Dalinar’s choice to have a conversation with Tanalan, rather than going straight into battle mode.

Icon

The Inverse Kholin Shield indicates one of Dalinar’s flashbacks.

Relationships & Romances

He marched down from the west—having sent Adolin back to Kholinar—

AA: Just thought I’d throw that in: Adolin has gone back to the capital to further his education in ways other than those offered by battlefields.

AP: Yeah, I’m really glad that young Adolin wasn’t here for this.

He often heard her weeping inside the vehicle, though whenever she left it she was perfectly composed. She read letters, scribed his responses, and took notes at his meetings with generals. In every way, she was the perfect Alethi wife—and her unhappiness crushed his soul.

AA: I feel like I say this in every flashback now: Poor Evi. She’s trying so hard to fit in to her adopted culture, and she’s really doing a good job in public. But… she’s still herself, and that person is not very happy with certain Alethi habits—like all this “killing each other” shtick.

AP: The degree to which she has completely sublimated herself and her culture to fit into Alethi culture also makes me sad. She retains some of herself, but only in private, where no one else can see, and where it causes conflict with her husband, Of course, we as readers know that even as the “perfect Alethi wife” she was not fully accepted by the other Alethi women. So she is so, so alone for years. It’s heartbreaking.

“But—” She looked down, hands in her lap. “I’m sorry. I don’t want another argument.”

“I do,” Dalinar said. “I like it when you stand up for yourself. I like it when you fight.”

AA: Oh, Dalinar. You just really don’t understand your wife, do you, even after twenty years? She absolutely abhors conflict, and he thrives on it. I’m really torn on this. After twenty years, she should realize that the best way to get through to him is to stand up and argue vehemently with him. At the same time, that’s not who she is, and I’m not sure I think she should try to be.

Ugh. She needs to respect him enough to fight for what she wants, and he needs to love her enough not to demand that of her. I keep thinking that without the Thrill, and the Rift, they really could have had a good marriage eventually. The seeds are all there, but they never quite get to grow properly.

Bruised & Broken

“I see beauty in you, Dalinar Kholin. I see a great man struggling against a terrible one. And sometimes, you get this look in your eyes. A horrible, terrifying nothingness. Like you have become a creature with no heart, feasting upon souls to fill that void, dragging painspren in your wake. It haunts me, Dalinar.”

“You asked what I want. It is foolish, and I can see there is trouble here, that you have a duty. But… I do not wish to see you kill. Do not feed it.”

AA: I could be wrong, but I can’t help wondering if Evi can sense the Unmade. Is it possible that she was a nascent Surgebinder? Or is it just that she knows her husband well enough to recognize a change in him when the Thrill starts to affect him?

AP: The bloodlust created by the Thrill is noticeable, especially as compared to someone outside Alethkar. Evi has seen conflict before, and the way Dalinar (and the other Alethi, but especially Dalinar) acts is different and more extreme. I don’t know that she would have been able to say that it was a supernatural force for sure, but the description sure sounds that way.

AA: It’s also interesting that Dalinar wonders if she knows that he thinks of it as an outside entity. Later in the chapter, there’s a moment that becomes painful foreshadowing, both short- and long-term:

A sudden fire inside him raged against those words. Was he really going to such lengths to avoid the conflict he’d been so anticipating?

AA: That “fire” is going to drive him to survive the upcoming events, and also to massive destruction. Much later, he’s going to draw that fire in and quench it.

AP: Much, much later. What is really clear here is that like any other addict, he can fight against the need to get that high for a time, but he quickly gives into the Thrill again. The destruction of the Rift is so horrific, and I think we get a clear sense that without the Thrill events would have turned out much differently.

AA: For starters, without the Thrill he’d probably have died in the ambush or on the trek back. But yes, once he got back, if he’d been able to get away from the Thrill, things could have been dramatically different.

Diagrams & Dastardly Designs

“Brightlord,” Teleb said, “a short time ago, a large guarded caravan left the Rift. We hadn’t the men to besiege the city, and you had ordered us not to engage. So I sent a scout team to tail them, men who know the area, but otherwise let the caravan escape.”

AA: In retrospect, it’s so obvious… The timing is too good to be coincidence.

AP: And “men who knew the area” are more likely to have sympathies with the locals.

AA: Oh… I hadn’t thought of that aspect. That makes me sad.

“One of your own is working against you,” Tanalan suddenly said. “The loyal highprinces? There’s a traitor among them.”

AA: My first thought is that this was a little too easy for Tanalan; why would he even have thought that Dalinar would talk to him, to hear this? But then I realized that he’s just taking the opportunity to reinforce the set-up that he started with the caravan noted above. He would know that Dalinar’s men would investigate it.

AP: It’s a really good gambit. Sow dissension among the highprinces.

“Unless, of course, this was really a ruse all along, a scheme arranged by your brother, you, and me,” Tanalan said. “A … false rebellion. Intended to trick disloyal highprinces into revealing themselves.”

“Perhaps my outrage was feigned,” Tanalan said. “Perhaps we have  been in touch since your attack here, all those years ago. You did spare my life, after all.”

AA: Play out the line…

AP: He’s obviously really good at thinking on his feet. He had a trap set up, and Dalinar is making it work much more effectively than Tanalan had ever planned.

“They couldn’t determine which one, but they claim to have seen someone in Shardplate among them.”

Shardplate? That made no sense.

Unless that is how he’s planning to see that we lose, Dalinar thought. That might not have been a simple supply caravan—it could be a flanking force in disguise.

A single Shardbearer hitting the back of his army while it was distracted could do incredible damage. Dalinar didn’t believe Tanalan, not completely. But… storms, if Sadeas secretly had sent one of his Shardbearers to the battlefield, Dalinar couldn’t just send a simple team of soldiers to deal with him.

AA: And the hook is set.

AP: And it makes sense to send a shardbearer after the group to investigate and deal with it. They just got really lucky that it was Dalinar himself. It’s a hook for the reader as well. We know present!Sadeas is a total heel and has betrayed Dalinar before. I completely believed that past!Sadeas would do the same.

AA: Oh, absolutely, Aubree. I fully believed it was possible—not only that Sadeas was willing to betray them, but that he’d have figured out a way to cover it up if it didn’t work.

The whole scheme, I have to admit, was clever. Even without the conversation, Dalinar would have had to worry about that Shardbearer, who just might turn around and sneak up behind him. Someone was going to have to go after him. And if the scouts had gotten closer (as Tanalan probably expected them to do), they’d have seen the “Sadeas” livery, meaning that Dalinar himself would probably be the one to check it out. The sad thing is that the ruse as presented would actually have worked out for Tanalan and his people, if it hadn’t been a trap. The city would have survived, as would Tanalan, his family… and Evi.

AP: Narratively, it’s just so good.

“Go back to our camp and compose a message to my brother saying that we may have brought the Rift to our side without bloodshed.” He paused, then added, “Tell him not to trust anyone. One of our closest allies may have betrayed us. I’m going to go find out.”

AA: Sigh.

AP: Yup.

Squires & Sidekicks

AA: It’s kind of fun (before we get to all the killings) to see Teleb working so closely with Dalinar here. It’s not Significant or anything, but I like seeing individuals who are part of his team for all these years.

Flora & Fauna

Eventually they reached the plains around the lake, crossing the riverbed—which was dry, except during storms. The rockbuds drank so fully of the local water supply, they’d grown to enormous sizes. Some were taller than a man’s waist, and the vines they produced were as thick as Dalinar’s wrist.

AA: Hey, looka here! We get to talk about the flora and fauna again! For all that this third book covers much more of the planet, the first two showed us much more of the stuff that grows on it. I suppose that’s because Sanderson has shifted from world-building to culture-building, as the story demands, but I do like these glimpses.

This, in particular, is a nice reminder that the Shattered Plains and Urithiru are not typical of the planet as a whole, with their freeze-dry barrenness. The lake is a stable feature, while the river only runs during storms (and probably the Weeping), but the water table is high enough to support some serious rockbud growth. I wonder if they’re a specific crop, or if these are wild vines.

Places & Peoples

She pulled her knees up against her chest. In here, she had undone and rolled back her safehand sleeve, displaying her long, elegant fingers.

“Isn’t this what you wanted?” Dalinar said, looking away from the safehand.

AA: I almost want to snicker at these two, but mostly they make me sad. Evi covers her left hand in public, as required by Vorin tradition, but when she’s alone she reverts to her western indifference toward the whole thing. This moment makes me really think about how horribly annoying it would be, after growing up without this tradition, to have spent the last twenty years having to do everything with one hand, and keep the other one all buttoned up inside a long sleeve all the time. It’s made even worse by the fact that she’s naturally left-handed.

AP: It’s such a strange tradition, and so very effective at keeping the women in their very strict roles. I know the original intent was to keep the Shardblades from women, but how do you even create a cultural taboo like that? How do you get the first generation of women to go along with it? So many questions.

AA: It’s a little weird how fashions—and herd mentalities—are formed. I would imagine it was originally a matter of showing off: “See, I can do all I need to do with one hand tied behind my back wrapped up in my sleeve.” Given the competitive nature of Alethi, pretty soon every woman would be vying to prove that they could do it. Then all the men are cheering them on, so they’re showing off even more. The one I question is how they got the second generation of women to go along—the ones who are old enough to remember not doing this, and eager to prove that they can be “new and cool” somehow. Those would be the ones who I’d expect to throw off the stupidity and want to be free of the restriction. Once they went along with it, and reinforced it again, though… within four generations, it would be solid tradition, and when it’s reinforced by every aspect of your society so much that it becomes an actual taboo to show your left hand, that’s harder to break.

It also demonstrates how limited travel is from the eastern to the western parts of the continent. Sure, traders and merchants do it, but most people don’t, so they become more insular, poking fun at those who have different traditions. Remember back when Evi first showed up, Ialai and Navani thought it was so bizarre that she kept trying to eat with her safehand? We didn’t get comment from Evi, but I’m betting she was thinking how stupid and bizarre it was that she had to bundle her dominant hand up in a bag and not use it.

AP: But the men have completely bought into it too! How do you make a hand super sexy? So sexy that you can’t even look at your wife without blushing? And only the one hand. The other hand is not sexy. That’s a really strong taboo.

AA: Yes, it is. Okay, I’ll admit it: I think the “sexy safehand” pushes the limit of believability. At the same time, I think it’s a great narrative device, so… I choose to accept it anyway. Suspension of disbelief FTW.

 

Well, that’s what we’ve got this week. There’s surely a lot more to be said, so let’s have at it in the comments! Don’t forget to join us again next week for chapter 72—the ominously named Rockfall, back in Kholinar with Shallan and Co.

Alice is zipping from one thing to the next and sort of running in circles. Drama props, drama costumes, drama sets… But the sun is shining, so there’s that.

Aubree is spending time ruminating on the First Ideal.

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