Oathbringer Reread

Oathbringer Reread: Chapter Seventy-Three

Greetings, O friends of the Cosmere! Welcome back to another Oathbringer reread, wherein there are not many shenanigans—unless you count paradigm shifts. If you do, this chapter is positively awash with hijinks as subconscious changes become conscious, and assumptions are challenged by reality. Okay, so it’s mostly just Kaladin chatting with the Wall Guard guys, but it’s good stuff.

Reminder: We’ll potentially be discussing spoilers for the entire novel in each reread. This week, there are very minor Cosmere spoilers, mostly having to do with Warbreaker. But if you haven’t read ALL of Oathbringer, best to wait to join us until you’re done.

Also, y’all are stuck with me this week. Lyndsey is still frantically trying to do All The Things (including some gnarly costuming, natch) in preparation for Anime Boston, while Aubree got an attack of food poisoning at the critical juncture. So… our usual witty badinage is absent this week, and you get a solo from yours truly.

Chapter Recap

WHO: Kaladin
WHERE: Kholinar Wall
WHEN: 1174.2.2.2 (One week after Chapter 72; two weeks after arrival in Kholinar)

Kaladin, having joined the Wall Guard, walks the patrol beat inside the wall with Lieutenant Noro’s squad. He mostly enjoys the banter, obtaining new perspectives on how other people view the social stratification of their society, then helps guard a supply wagon until they turn it over to Velelant’s soldiers. They return to the barracks, then are sent up to the top of the Wall for duty after a short break. As Kaladin arrives, a group of Fused attack the Wall, but in a different location, apparently continuing to test the defenses. Kaladin is reminded in multiple ways that he has neither responsibility nor authority in this setting.

Truth, Love, and Defiance

Oathbringer chapter arch Chapter 73

Title: Telling Which Stories

Beard glanced at his arm, where he wore the traditional white armband that you’d tie a glyphward around. His was blank. “Yeah,” he said, shoving his hand in his coat pocket.

“Why not?” Kaladin said.

Beard shrugged. “Let’s just say, I know a lot about telling which stories have been made up. Nobody’s watching over us, Kal.”

I did find it amusing that Beard considers himself an expert on identifying made-up stories when he hears them. In a way, he is an expert—if only in the sense that he knows which of his stories are inventions and which are true. I suppose it works, in the “takes one to know one” category of fabrication.

Heralds

Talenel and Battar grace the chapter arch this week. Talenel is pretty obvious, as the Soldier and the Herald of War. He’s also the patron Herald of the Stonewards and is associated with the divine attributes of Dependable and Resourceful, but Soldier is enough to justify his presence. Battar is a little more difficult; she’s the Counselor, patron of the Elsecallers, and associated with the attributes Wise and Careful. It occurs to me that there’s a lot of discussion about Soulcasting in this chapter, which is something Elsecallers can do. Is that it? Or is it about Kaladin needing to exercise a lot of wisdom and caution in playing this role?

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The Banner and Spears icon indicates a Kaladin chapter.

Epigraph

I am worried about the tower’s protections failing. If we are not safe from the Unmade here, then where?

—From drawer 3-11, garnet

Hooooo boy. What were the tower’s protections? Are we talking about things like the temperature and pressure manipulation that makes it a comfortable place for humans to live, or are there other issues? Given the second sentence, I have to think that we’re talking about some sort of built-in magic protections, but I can’t quite think what.

The biggest question I’d like to ask, though, is whether this is when Re-Shephir showed up in the basement in the first place. Did she start to come and go down there, and was eventually trapped there by a Lightweaver before (or soon after) they abandoned the tower? I’m kind of betting on that, because it wasn’t all that much later when the Recreance happened, after which there wouldn’t have been anyone left to imprison her.

The other curiosity, assuming I’m on the right track with that one, is whether the presence of Unmade was a factor in the withdrawal of the Sibling, or vice versa. It might be that the Sibling’s retreat gave the Unmade ideas about taking up residence, or (referring back to my Unmade theory), it could be that the Sibling was pulling away to avoid being tainted or subverted by the Unmade and/or Odium. I sure would like to know…

Relationships & (B)Romances

This piece of the chapter could be broken up into different units—Squires & Sidekicks, Places & Peoples, Relationships & Romances, Tight Butts & Coconuts… However, for the sake of coherence, I’m putting it here, because I love the way Kaladin’s thinking is challenged and reshaped due to his growing friendship with Adolin.

Aside from (or along with) the momentary hilarity of this set-up, it was pure gold. In summary, the squad saw what appeared to be a “middler” who was lounging on a street corner wearing a pretty yellow suit, and they had all sorts of wisecracks and complaints about what a waste of skin someone like that was.

Kal grinned, glanced over his shoulder, looking for whoever Beard and Ved had spotted. Must be someone silly to provoke such a strong …
It was Adolin.

(I might as well note right here that Adolin was wearing a disguise, but something—either the face, the suit, the location, or the fact that he was guarded by Drehy—told Kaladin that it was indeed Adolin. It was a prearranged meeting; Adolin gave him the “all’s well” nod rather than the “return to base” headshake.)

Anyway… the other men continue to snicker or complain about people like “that roosting chicken,” and Kaladin finds himself bothered by it.

“But,” Kaladin said, “how can you say that? I mean, he’s lighteyed. Like us.” He winced. Did that sound fake? It sure is nice being lighteyed as I, of course, have light eyes—like you, my eyes are lighter than the dark eyes of darkeyes. He had to summon Syl several times a day to keep his eye color from changing.

Owwww. Similar to Shallan as Veil, Kaladin is playing a role he doesn’t know; unlike Shallan, he’s self-aware—even self-conscious—about how much he doesn’t know about his assumed role. But oh, my stars and buttons, that was awkward. Yes, dear boy, that sounded very, very fake!

Incidentally, I’m curious about his summoning Syl while being part of the Wall Guard. Does she manifest as a very, very tiny Shardblade so no one notices? A little Shard-pocket-knife? Or does he have to go to the privy so he can be alone? I’m sure she’d have a few choice comments on that situation. The logistical possibilities are… amusing.

“Like us?” Beard said. “Kal, what crevasse have you been living in? Are the middlers actually useful where you come from?”

And just like that, all of Kaladin’s assumptions about the huge differences between lighteyes and darkeyes come crashing down. He had this weird notion that all darkeyes are one group, and all lighteyes are one group, and the second group looks down on the first group en masse. Um… not so much, no. He should have known better, given the social differences between his family, at second nahn, and the rest of Hearthstone, who were fourth or fifth; with plenty of evidence that the levels mattered among darkeyes, it only makes sense that they matter among lighteyes too, but he doesn’t seem to have ever considered that. As he thinks here,

to him, lighteyes had always just been lighteyes.

Now he’s forced to realize that the “tenners”—those of the tenth dahn—have much the same attitude toward “middlers”—those of the sixth or seventh dahn—as the village children of Hearthstone once had toward him: a sort of “the useless gits think they’re so much better than us” sneer. It’s borne in on him when he suggests that they could recruit Adolin, given that he’s wearing a sword and might be able to fight; they look at him like he’s lost his marbles, and explain the realities of life.

There was an entire world represented here that Kaladin had never seen, despite it residing right next door to him.

I know, people get tired of me ranting at Kaladin for his “classist” attitudes, but honestly. He’s way too good at deciding how other people think, and being completely wrong. It’s true of a large portion of his society, of course, but we’re not in their heads, we’re in his. Which is, of course, why I love this whole scene so much: He’s coming face to face with realities he never even considered, and discovering that people don’t necessarily fit in the neat little boxes he’d stuffed them in. (What can I say—I have a deep-seated dislike of compartmentalizing people according to some trait that is completely out of their control, and then expecting them to all act and think only as members of that little group. It’s a complete denial of the worth of an individual; and besides, it’s stupid, because people are bigger than that.)

And this is the best, best, best part…:

On one hand, he wanted to tell them about Amaram and rant about the injustices done—repeatedly—to those he loved. At the same time … they were mocking Adolin Kholin, who had a shot at the title of best swordsman in all of Alethkar. Yes, his suit was a little bright—but if they would merely spend five minutes talking to him, they’d see he wasn’t so bad.

This makes me laugh so much. After all the time they spent sniping at each other with “princeling” and “bridgeboy,” Kaladin is discovering that he actually has a whole lot of respect and liking for Adolin. I could be wrong, but I don’t think his conflict is just that they’re mocking a great swordsman; I think Kaladin is upset that his friend is being mocked. The fact that he can’t tell the others the truth probably makes it worse. It’s worth pointing out, though, that due to his own prejudices it took Kaladin a lot more than five minutes… at least to acknowledge that Adolin “wasn’t so bad.”

Now all this is not to say that the tenners aren’t (at least partially) right about the middlers; it’s a fair bet that a whole lot of them are pretty useless. It’s implied that many of the middle-dahn men go into the military, where they (probably) either become decent soldiers and officers, or get themselves killed. The Guard is specifically poking fun at the ones who don’t do military service; they stay home, follow fashion trends, and have parties. Even worse,

We lost the real highlords in the riots or to the palace.

These men have had experience with good leadership. They know that the current leaders are the ones who were either too cowardly to oppose the queen’s excesses in the first place, or have only risen to their current roles as replacements for those with the courage to try. Confidence-inspiring, this is not.

Squires & Sidekicks

Clearly, we’re going to be spending a lot of time in this section this week. Most of what happens is all about Kaladin getting to know the Wall Guard guys, so… here we are.

“Stuff it, Beard,” Ved said. “You did not meet the Blackthorn.”

“I did!” the other soldier said. “He complimented me on my uniform, and gave me his own knife. For valor.”

“So THAT’S where that knife went that Dalinar was looking for in the Highstorm flashback ;)”

— Jory Phillips on the Oathbringer beta read

Sorry, I couldn’t resist sharing that one…

He had joined the Wall Guard officially upon Elhokar’s orders, and had promptly been added to Lieutenant Noro’s squad. It felt almost … cheap to be part of the group so quickly, after the effort it had been to forge Bridge Four.

This one really resonated for me. After watching Kaladin’s struggles and sacrifices to bring Bridge Four into a cohesive group, this did feel too easy. On the other hand, it makes sense. Bridge Four was a bunch of slaves who expected to die every time they left the camp, had no reason to trust one another, and only went on living because it was, maybe, marginally better than dying. The only purpose they served was to enable their highprince to get richer if his soldiers could win a battle, or forestall it by getting there first—and of course they had no hope of seeing any of those riches themselves. “Platoon Seven, Squad Two”—which definitely doesn’t have the same ring to it as Bridge Four!—is a bunch of guys who signed on to the Wall Guard. Sure, some of them don’t have stellar backgrounds, and they’re mostly the lowest dahn possible, but they’re here because they chose to be. They have training as soldiers, and they’re defending their home and/or their capital city against an army of fairy-tale horrors turned to life. They’re already a cohesive force, and they are glad to recruit an obviously capable soldier.

Well, all that, and it wouldn’t be very good writing to reproduce the Bridge Four scenario every other book.

Along with Beard, Ved, and Noro, the squad included a heavyset man named Alaward and a friendly man named Vaceslv—Alethi, but with obvious Thaylen heritage.

Great. Now we have names for the guys that are going to die in the upcoming battle. ::sniff::

He’d been given a side sword to carry at his right, a truncheon to carry at his left, and a small round shield. The first thing the Wall Guard had taught him was how to draw the sword by reaching down with his right hand—not lowering his shield—and pulling it free of the sheath.

This threw me off for a bit. Aside from being reasonably certain that left and right are switched up, I had forgotten that Kaladin never really did spend any time learning to fight with a sword. He learned some about fighting against a Shardblade, and Syl has become a Blade occasionally—but that’s been mostly for show. For all Adolin’s offers to teach him, Kaladin just never quite got around to learning the basics of using a sword in battle. It took the Wall Guard and a bunch of tenners to convince him there was anything he really needed to learn.

“…But the highmarshal knows what to do. I suspect that if we didn’t share with people like Velalant, we’d have to fight them off from seizing the grain. At least this way, people are eventually getting fed, and we can watch the wall.”

They talked like that a lot. Holding the city wall was their job, and if they looked too far afield—tried too hard to police the city or bring down the cult—they’d lose their focus. The city had to stand. Even if it burned inside, it had to stand.

That’s a tough one.

“… But first thing that Azure did when he took command? Had us attack the low monastery, by the eastern gates, away from the palace. I know men from other companies who were on that assault. The place had been overrun by rioters.”

“They had a Soulcaster, didn’t they?”

Beard nodded. “Only one in the city that wasn’t at the palace when it … you know.”

Beard doesn’t know, I think, just how they are able to use the Soulcaster without drawing the screamers, but at least we know now that they have a fabrial.

“Form up!” Kaladin shouted, right before Noro did it.

Storms. I’m not their commander. Feeling like an idiot, Kaladin took his own pike…

Oops. During the wait, while the Fused are attacking other sections of the wall, Kaladin has to forcibly restrain himself from issuing orders; each time, Lieutenant Noro says much the same thing he was thinking, just… more slowly, more relaxed, and with too much explanation. After the attack is over, he has to be reminded that Kholinar has plenty of surgeons to care for the wounded; his “field medicine training” would not be needed.

I have mixed reactions to this. For the first part, Noro may be an okay commander for guards on patrol, but it seems to me that he wouldn’t be a very good leader on a battlefield. At least compared to Kaladin, he seems very slow to issue orders or to realize when his men need a firm hand. I really feel kind of bad for Kaladin; it’s really frustrating to have to work for someone who’s not as good at their job as you are!

The surgeon’s question, though, really makes me wonder some things. As part of Sadeas’s bridge crews, the only medical care they got was what they did themselves, and Kaladin’s “field medicine”—a.k.a. genuine surgical training that he had to pretend was just something he picked up along the way—saved several lives. But what about his time in Amaram’s army? Did they not have full medical units there? What about his time as Dalinar’s bodyguard team? Why does it come as such a surprise to him that there are plenty of actual, trained surgeons—especially in the capital city—to deal with any wounded? Is it just because he’s off-balance, or is it that he’s not used to having adequate medical care in the armies? Is it likely that even in the armies, the lighteyes had lots of surgeons, while the darkeyes only got treatment after the lighteyes were all cared for? If that’s the case, then field medicine would be the only way a lot of darkeyed soldiers would survive long enough for the “real surgeons” to get to them.

Places & Peoples

It felt wrong to have to defend themselves from their own people—brought back memories of being in Amaram’s army, bivouacking near towns. Everyone had always talked about the glories of the army and the fight on the Shattered Plains. And yet, once towns got done gawking, they transitioned to hostility with remarkable speed. An army was the sort of thing everyone wanted to have, so long as it was off doing important things elsewhere.

Yep yep. I think a lot of our RL veterans could speak to this, in more ways than one.

“We’ll be fine. The good people know this food goes to them eventually.”

Yes, after they wait hours in line at Velalant’s distribution stations.

Apparently the Guard are unaware that these people really might not get any of the food later. They haven’t seen what Shallan observed, about the poor people getting tossed out of line on various pretexts so that the servants of the lighteyes can get theirs first.

Tight Butts and Coconuts

“Half of those belong to the cult anyway,” Beard noted. “One of these days, I’ll have to infiltrate that. Might have to marry their high priestess, but let me tell you, I’m terrible in a harem. Last time, the other men grew jealous of me taking all the priestess’s attention.”

Beard, you’re a nutcase. Heh.

Noro was the only one in the squad who wore a beard, though his wasn’t exactly inspiring. Rock would have laughed it to shame and euthanized it with a razor and some soap.

LOL.

Weighty Words

The two kept trying to get Kaladin to play cards with them.

It was an uncomfortable reminder of Sah and the parshmen.

This may seem like an odd place for such a quotation, but Sanderson is setting up the conflict which, a few chapters from now, will paralyze Kaladin in battle and will be one of the keys to his inability to speak his Fourth Ideal. Right now, he just feels uncomfortable with the parallels between his different groups, but it’s going to get far worse than discomfort. Poor Windrunner…

Maddened Motivations

Farther into the city—obscured by the gathering crowds—a group of people approached in stark violet, with masks obscuring their faces. Kaladin watched uncomfortably as they started whipping their own forearms. Drawing painspren, which climbed from the ground around them, like hands missing the skin.

Except these were too large, and the wrong color, and … and didn’t seem human.

“I prayed to the spren of the night and they came to me!” a man at their forefront shouted, raising hands high. “They rid me of my pain!”

“Oh no…” Syl whispered.

“Embrace them! The spren of changes! The spren of a new storm, a new land. A new people!”

There is just so much wrong here. A cult so driven by sensation—any sensation—that they go in for public self-flagellation is bad enough. The fact that they’re drawing the corrupted painspren doesn’t help any. The claim that “the spren of the night” could rid them of their pain… that’s totally creepy. What is he talking about? Are they dealing with Odium-spren and the whole “give me your pain” thing here, setting us up for the book’s ending? And just what is it that makes Syl so worried? Is she seeing Voidspren among them? So many questions!

It would have been easy to fight that crowd—they were basically unarmed. But while training prepared you for the mechanics of the fight, the emotions were another thing entirely. Syl huddled on his shoulder, staring back along the street.

I don’t really have anything to say about this; it just seemed necessary to include it.

The palace, ever in gloom, dominated the far side. The Wall Guard barely patrolled the section of wall that passed behind it.

For all that it seems odd not to patrol the wall behind the palace, it’s probably a storming good thing they don’t. Last thing the city needs is for the Wall Guard to fall prey to the assorted Unmade hanging out in that area.

Cosmere Connections

“Have you noticed the odd thing about her Shardblade? No gemstone on the pommel or crossguard.”

Aside from his fellow Radiants’ Blades, he’d seen one Shardblade before that didn’t have a gemstone on it. The Blade of the Assassin in White. An Honorblade, which granted Radiant powers to whoever held it. If Azure held a weapon that let her have the power of Soulcasting, perhaps that explained why the screamers hadn’t found out yet.

Kaladin’s thought about an Honorblade is a good insight for him. How does he know it’s a Shardblade, though? It’s pretty small for your average Shardblade; why doesn’t he assume it’s just an ordinary, if somewhat ornate, sword?

And the burning question… what is it, really? Is it Awakened, like Nightblood only different? What if it is just an ordinary sword?

A Scrupulous Study of Spren

Aside from the corrupted painspren summoned by the Cult, Syl is really the only spren we see in this chapter. She asks some interesting questions, though.

“Dalinar thinks God isn’t dead,” she said. “Just that the Almighty—Honor—was never actually God.”

“You’re part of Honor. Doesn’t that offend you?”

“Every child eventually realizes that her father isn’t actually God.”

She looked at him. “Do you think anybody is watching? Do you really think there isn’t anything out there?”

Strange question to answer, to a little bit of a divinity.

While it’s often interesting to discuss religion in books, and especially the way Sanderson deals with religion for his characters and cultures, I always feel like I’m cheating when the subject comes up. We know so much more than they do about what’s going on in their universe, it hardly seems fair!

The Stormlight Archive has, so far, dealt with a whole lot of people who question the existence, or at least the validity, of their presumed gods. Ishar claims to be god, Jasnah denies that there is a god, Beard is sure no one is watching, and Dalinar believes that there is a god, but they were wrong in thinking that Honor was it. Here, Kaladin delivers a mini-lecture on how his beliefs have changed, which is wholly subjective, but he ends with this thought:

With all due respect, I think Dalinar’s beliefs sound too convenient. Now that one deity has proven faulty, he insists the Almighty must never have been God? That there must be something else? I don’t like it. So … maybe this simply isn’t a question we can ever answer.”

Again, it’s purely subjective, but that’s the nature of faith: If you had objective proof, you wouldn’t need “faith” to believe. Some people take that as a reason to never believe anything they see as “religion,” but fail to realize how many other things they take on faith. (That’s too big a conversation for this space, though!) Dalinar at least has some… information, however untrustworthy some might think it; he has visions, sent by Honor through the Stormfather, telling him that Honor himself, the one Vorinism calls God, has been destroyed.

While it wouldn’t be a very close parallel, one could see this as an analog to the Christian faith, where God himself was killed but returned to life. The problem (at least for me) is twofold.

One, we already know that the Shard Vessels were mortals, and some of them not very nice mortals, before they picked up the Shards. That makes them incredibly powerful, but I can’t see them as “real gods”—they only have one portion of the full godhood, and they wield that power according to their own flawed personalities.

Two, Vorinism presents Honor as God, and Cultivation as superstition. If they knew the truth, Cultivation is every bit as much “god” as Honor ever was. So… loath as I am to sneer at people’s religions, at least Vorinism is a deeply mistaken set of beliefs. What are we to do with that? People need religion, and if they reject one, they will turn to another, even though they might not call it that. Too often, what they turn to is destructive to its adherents and the society they inhabit.

Well, I hope Dalinar can follow up on his instincts and sort some things out. There is solid information to be had, although he’ll only ever be able to get it through biased sources.

Sheer Speculation

For one reason and another, I was scrolling through this chapter’s beta read comments in preparation for this discussion. I’m amused to see that “Azure = Vivenna” had by this point become my new favorite-but-obviously-looney theory. LOL. I was also absolutely sure that Azure had to be either a Lightweaver or an Elsecaller, because obviously that was how she was providing the Soulcast food to the city. Oh well…

More beta humor: At this point, a whole lot of us were speculating that Beard might be a crazy Herald. Surely there had to be something Significant about the guy! I have to admit, his claim that “no one is watching over us” would have been pretty brilliant coming from a Herald. Alas.

Quality Quotations

  • ‘You know what I need for the apocalypse? You know what would be really handy? A new coat. Extra sequins.’

 

Okay, that’s about all I’ve got, though if you get a good discussion going in the comments you may stir up more! Join us again next week for Chapter 73, in which Shallan makes some interesting discoveries about members of her team.

Alice is done making drama props and sets, as the high school drama performance dates have arrived. Teenagers are exhausting, y’all.

 

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