Welcome back to the ongoing reread of Oathbringer, as we approach the Part Three Avalanche! No, it’s not starting just yet, but it soon will be; the anticipation is getting stronger with every passing chapter. This week, Shallan as Veil is out showing off, and Shallan as Shallan has trouble getting herself back. Cue up something ominous, and join in!
Reminder: We’ll potentially be discussing spoilers for the entire novel in each reread. This week, there are really no Cosmere spoilers; just a brief appearance by Hoid. But if you haven’t read ALL of Oathbringer, best to wait to join us until you’re done.
WHO: Shallan as Veil, Shallan as Shallan
WHERE: Kholinar markets, Yokska’s kitchen
WHEN: 1188.8.131.52 (Three days after Kaladin patrolled with the Wall Guard; eight days after Shallan burgled Rockfall.)
Shallan, as Veil, checks in with her regular poor-folk contacts, but is frustrated that she can’t do more. Encountering a parade of cultists, she creates a new Illusion and “becomes” a very convincing spren, but nearly loses herself to whatever is influencing the cult. Shocked, she tells the cultists to quit playing at being spren and go home to their families; she herself returns to the tailor’s shop for the night. Elhokar is in the kitchen, writing up lists of possible troops and contemplating heroism; Shallan does an idealized drawing of him before going to her room. Ishnah awaits her there, with a note inviting her to join the revel.
Truth, Love, and Defiance
“The Swiftspren!” he said, nudging one of the other beggars. “Look, the Swiftspren!”
AA: This is, to Shallan’s surprise, the name that’s been given to her (or rather, to Veil) in Kholinar. We’ll discuss the whole shindig below, rather than here.
Jezrien is the Herald of Kings and patron of the Windrunners, associated with the divine attributes Protecting and Leading. Paliah is the Scholar, patron of Truthwatchers, with the divine attributes Learned and Giving.
AA: My best guess on Paliah’s presence is for Shallan’s research into ways she can actively help the starving people of Kholinar, as well has her plans to infiltrate the Cult. It’s not a solid connection, but it’s the best I’ve got. Jezrien, I’m almost positive, is for the drawing of Elhokar, when Shallan sees him as a true king.
AP: Pattern also reminds her of the Truths she spoke as Ideals when she starts to lose herself in her different personas.
The Pattern icon denotes a Shallan chapter… or at least one or two of her personae.
Today, I leaped from the tower for the last time. I felt the wind dance around me as I fell all the way along the eastern side, past the tower, and to the foothills below. I’m going to miss that.
—From drawer 10-1, sapphire
AA: I can’t think of anything significant to say about this Windrunner recording, except that it must have been recorded very shortly before he or she used the Oathgate to leave Urithiru for the last time. I wonder why none of them ever returned just for a nostalgic visit… or if they did, and we just don’t hear about it.
AP: Unmade infestation possibly? We don’t know why the city was abandoned, but we know the Night Mother was there for a long time before it was rediscovered. Whatever the reason, it was significant enough for the Radiants to feel the need to get everyone out in a hurry, and dangerous enough to prevent them from coming back.
AA: You’re probably right about the Unmade infestation. From the fact that our current people are living there, the fact that the fabrials aren’t working at capacity wouldn’t necessarily be enough to keep them away. Combined with the presence of an Unmade, or two, or three… that would do it, I’d think.
Bruised & Broken
“The Swiftspren!” he said, nudging one of the other beggars. “Look, the Swiftspren!” …
“Swiftspren?” Veil asked.
“That’s you!” he said. “Yup, yup! I heard of you. Robbing rich folk all through the city, you do! And nobody can stop you, ’cuz you’re a spren. Can walk through walls, you can. White hat, white coat. Don’t always appear the same, do ya?”
AA: I have to say that there’s something very appealing about the name and its implications. Swiftspren! The “Robin Hood” of Kholinar! The effect on Veil/Shallan is… disturbing, though.
Veil smiled—her reputation was spreading. … Surely, the cult couldn’t ignore her much longer.
AA: She is, reasonably, pleased with the idea that her work should soon get the attention of the Cult. That was the (official) point, after all. But… something about all this is giving me the creeps.
“Feeding these few is something we can do.”
“So is jumping from a building,” [Pattern] said—frank, as if he didn’t understand the sarcasm he used. “But we do not do this. You lie, Shallan.”
“Your lies wrap other lies. Mmm…” He sounded drowsy. Could spren get drowsy? “Remember your Ideal, the truth you spoke.”
AA: Pattern is adorable. In anyone else, this would be sarcasm, but Pattern is just stating a fact, and reminding her that while her lies are useful, she needs truth. And… she just lies some more. Lying to herself more than Pattern, I think; she speaks as though she’s correcting him, but she’s the only one who believes Veil and Shallan are two different people.
AP: As usual, Pattern is on point. I like that he keeps her grounded, and reminds her who she is. Even as Veil, she is still Shallan.
AA: Also, why does he sound drowsy? We’ve speculated that her layers of lies are beginning to smother their bond, as they did six years earlier. Thoughts? Maybe it’s something to watch for in the rest of the book?
AP: I think that’s definitely a good theory! It makes sense that, as Shallan loses herself more and more in her constructs, the bond with Pattern would start to fuzz. She needs to get back to her core Truths.
She released [the Stormlight] in a puff, then stepped through, trailing tendrils that wrapped around her and transformed her shape.
People had gathered, as they usually did, when the Cult of Moments paraded. Swiftspren broke through them, wearing the costume of a spren from her notes—notes she’d lost to the sea. A spren shaped like a glowing arrowhead that wove through the sky around skyeels.
Golden tassels streamed from her back, long, with arrowhead shapes at the ends. Her entire front was wrapped in cloth that trailed behind, her arms, legs, and face covered. Swiftspren flowed among the cultists, and drew stares even from them.
AA: First, I have to note that her “golden tassels with arrowhead shapes at the end” seems awfully similar to the description we’ll get later of the mandras—the luckspren—that pull ships in Shadesmar. I assume this is deliberate, but it’s never addressed. Hmmm.
Beyond that, though, this is an awesome visual. She doesn’t even seem to have thought about this Illusion, much less drawn it. She just does it. Poof. It may not have the depth of backstory that Veil and Radiant have, but it seems far more… intricate. (That’s not really the word I want, but I can’t find it.) It’s much more instinctive and immediate; I can’t help wondering if this is what Lightweaving is supposed to be like.
At the same time, it’s troubling to see her flow so easily into an illusion that’s not even quite human… and the next few paragraphs are absolutely terrifying. She wonders just how much she can do with her lies, and as she listens to the cultists chanting, she begins to feel their emotions—what she calls, with inadvertent wisdom, the peace of surrender—and she goes along with it.
Swiftspren breathed in their chants and saturated herself with their ideas. She became them, and she could hear it, whispering in the back of her mind.
Give me your passion.
Give up your guilt.
Embrace the end.
AA: Sound familiar, anyone? Not that we recognized it at the time, but… Wow. This is definitely of Odium!
AP: Yup, definitely our favorite baddie!
Shallan, I’m not your enemy.
That last one stood out, like a scar on a beautiful man’s face. Jarring.
AA: SAY WHAT??? Okay, knowing what we know now, this was most likely Sja-anat, right? (Although some have suggested that it was Pattern interjecting… but I go with Sja-anat.) What a shock that was! So she stands still in surprise, and her tassels go on waving behind her, even though there’s no wind. Girl is seriously into this Illusion—so much that the cultists begin to believe that she’s a real spren, and start kneeling around her. What follows is… I don’t even know the right words. Terrifying, thrilling, awesome, and awful, all at once.
AP: Is it though? I thought it was still Odium, since that’s his MO. “I’m not really bad! I just want you to stop repressing your feelings!” Which, yes, Shallan does need to stop tamping down her emotions… but not like that! This is also exactly the wrong tack with Shallan because of her traumatic history: She doesn’t trust easily, and it just puts her on high alert and snaps her out of the trance like state she was in.
AA: Um… Well, of course it’s Odium. ::feels silly:: Since everything else was, why would it not be? At the time of the beta (and yes, I spent too much time in the beta spreadsheet last night!), our best guess was that this was Pattern trying to get through to her. It wasn’t many more chapters, though, until we met Sja-anat as more than “something in the mirror,” and for some reason I pulled that sense of familiarity back to this moment. It makes far more sense, though, that it’s Odium.
“There are spren,” Shallan said to the gathered crowd, using Lightweaving to twist and warp her voice, “and there are spren. You followed the dark ones. They whisper for you to abandon yourselves. They lie.”
The cultists gasped.
“We do not want your devotion. When have spren ever demanded your devotion? Stop dancing in the streets and be men and women again. Strip off those idiotic costumes and return to your families!”
They didn’t move quickly enough, so she sent her tassels streaming upward, curling about one another, lengthening. A powerful light flashed from her.
“Go!” she shouted.
AA: Again, the visual impact is astonishing, and in essence I agree with her speech. I just can’t help thinking it’s… a bit ill-advised, just now.
So they all run away, and she fades to black. When she’s moved away a bit, she comes back as Veil—always as Veil these days!—and worries about how easily she’d become like the cultists. Then, poor girl, she begins sorting through personalities to figure out who she needs to be. Veil wants to be a folk hero, and that makes her insufficiently logical for the job. For that she needs Jasnah, but that’s one Illusion she’s not willing or able to try. Maybe Radiant… and she just about folds in on herself, because she doesn’t know how to be what she thinks she needs to be.
AP: So, regarding her always being Veil—that is one of the oddest decisions for me, and shows how deeply dissonant her constructs are. No one in Kholinar knows Shallan; there is no need for a disguise. But Veil is the “spy” so she is Veil when she goes out. She has the skills within her to accomplish her goals, but she doesn’t know how to express them without “becoming” someone else.
Sometimes she felt like a thing wearing a human skin. She was that thing in Urithiru, the Unmade, who sent out puppets to feign humanity.
AA: Poor child. She’s coming to pieces.
AP: Worst case of impostor syndrome ever!
Veil finally let go. She folded her hat and coat, then used an illusion to disguise them as a satchel. She layered an illusion of Shallan and her havah over the top of her trousers and shirt…
AA: You know what I find most disturbing about this? It’s not the effort required to make Veil let go, it’s that she still layers an illusion of Shallan over Veil. Sure, she needs the havah instead of the trousers and shirt, but she could have released all the illusions, and then just created the illusion of the correct clothing.
AP: Yep, this is one of the passages that made me truly realize that “Lady Shallan” is another construct.
Relationships & Romances
Veil let go reluctantly, as she kept wanting to go track down Kaladin in the Wall Guard. He wouldn’t know her, so she could approach him, pretend to get to know him. Maybe flirt a little …
Radiant was aghast at that idea. Her oaths to Adolin weren’t complete, but they were important. She respected him, and enjoyed their time training together with the sword.
And Shallan … what did Shallan want again? Did it matter? Why bother worrying about her?
AA: In retrospect, this is clear and blatant foreshadowing. (Isn’t it always, in retrospect?) We’ve got Veil showing distinct interest in Kaladin; Radiant placing more value on oaths than on emotions; and “both of them”—i.e. Shallan herself—seem to be uninterested in what Shallan thinks or feels.
Squires & Sidekicks
The urchin pulled the bag of food close, closing his dark green eyes, looking … reserved. What an odd expression.
He’s still suspicious of me, she thought. He’s wondering what I’ll someday demand of him for all this.
AA: I couldn’t swear to it, but I think this is our first hint that there’s something wrong with Veil’s plan to give food to the most needy, telling herself that she’ll gain information and get the attention of the Cult to justify her plan. Grund is less grateful and happy to see her than she expects, and she just puts it down to him worrying about future demands. It doesn’t even occur to her that she’s putting him in danger with her continued attention.
She checked in on Muri next, the former seamstress with three daughters. …
Muri always had some gossip that was amusing but generally pointless.
AA: So is Muri deliberately pointless, trying to avoid attention, or is she just naturally not a useful source of information?
AP: I think it goes to Veil not making logical use of resources. Feeding Muri and her children is a good act, but it does not help her to accomplish her goal of getting closer to the Cult of Moments. It does feed into the Veil-as-folk-hero myth.
Veil left about an hour later and made her way out of the market, dropping her last package in the lap of a random beggar.
AA: And the random beggar is the one who gives her valid information. He’s the one who tells her about the “Swiftspren” they have named her.
She’d enhanced it by sending Ishnah and Vathah out, wearing illusions to look like Veil, giving away food.
AA: Aha! Her team is finally allowed to go out on their own, eh? I wonder if they’re all over the city at the same time, further enhancing her reputation by being places she couldn’t possibly have gotten to in time. The text isn’t clear, but it does make sense if the goal was to enhance her reputation. Also, it was useful:
Back in her rooms, she met Ishnah, who was grinning. The short, darkeyed woman had been out earlier, wearing Veil’s face and clothing.
She held up a slip of paper. “Someone handed me this today, Brightness, while I was giving away food.”
Frowning, Shallan took the note.
Meet us at the borders of the revel in two nights, the day of the next Everstorm, it read. Come alone. Bring food. Join the feast.
AA: Again, there’s not much to say about this, except that it’s probably a good thing she had multiple versions of herself out there so she could get this. Looks like her efforts have borne fruit; she’s invited to the party.
AP: Finally! Yay party time! There’s no way this could go wrong!
Places & Peoples
She’d hoped that Kholinar would prove to be warmer, after so long on the Shattered Plains or Urithiru. But it was cold here too, suffering a season of winter weather.
AA: This is one of the few times since the first book that I’ve noticed the random “seasons” on Roshar. For informational purposes, Roshar doesn’t actually have seasonal changes; presumably there’s very little axial tilt to the planet, so they don’t get “summer” and “winter” like we think of them. Instead, the humans refer to weather changes by the words they brought with them from their previous planet—which apparently did have regular seasons. Just thought you’d like to know, if you didn’t already.
[Elhokar] raised the glowing cup to her as she gathered some flatbread and sugar. “What is that design on your skirt? It … seems familiar to me.”
She glanced down. Pattern, who usually clung to her coat, had been replicated in the illusion on the side of her havah. “Familiar?”
AA: If ever you needed it, there’s some pretty solid evidence that Elhokar had indeed been seeing Cryptics all this time. I wonder if he’s no longer seeing them much because one has begun to form a bond.
AP: Definitely! But also, what’s up with putting spheres in the drink? Elhokar is so weird sometimes.
AA: Yeah, that was… odd. Pretty, though. Maybe it’s Elhokar’s imaginative side coming through; poor guy doesn’t get much opportunity to be creative. I didn’t quote it, but when Shallan walks in here, he’s writing glyphs and numbers to plan for a palace assault. He seems quite proficient with glyphs—maybe more so than many men would be? (Yes, that’s speculation, but he also showed he could draw a good map.)
“There are few people remaining to whom I can still be a hero, Radiant. This city. My son. Storms. He was a baby when I last saw him. He’d be three now. Locked in the palace…”
AA: This makes me so sad for him. For so long, he wanted to be a hero, to honor his father’s memory by being a worthy successor. Now he’s given up most of that. He still wants to learn to be a good king and a leader, but his dreams of being a hero have distilled down to the one I can admire most: He wants to be a hero to his son, to rescue that little boy.
It’s him, she noticed absently. Wit’s leading the songs.
AA: You knew that right away, didn’t you? As soon as there was light, and music, and laughter… you knew Hoid would be there. He may not be feeding people, but his refreshment is every bit as real as any of the food Veil gives out.
A Scrupulous Study of Spren
Pattern hummed as she stretched, exhaustionspren—all of the corrupted variety—spinning about her in the air, little red whirlwinds.
AA: Fascinating little beasties. Exhaustionspren normally look like brown jets of dust shooting up in the air around you. Now they’re little red whirlwinds.
AP: Every time we see the corrupt spren it makes me wonder what they look like in Shadesmar, and what effects the corruption has there. For this one in particular, a jet of dust sounds pretty tame, but a whirlwind, that sounds ominous to this Midwest farm girl. Tornadoes are no joke.
AA: Oh, good point! Not being from tornado country, this didn’t have quite the chilling effect on me that it would on someone more intimately acquainted with the watchfulness a whirlwind can trigger. But Brandon is from Nebraska—he’d know that feeling. Clever.
Far too many hungerspren in the air, and fearspren at nearly every corner.
AA: Nothing in particular to say about this bunch, but to note that there are a lot of them hanging around Kholinar these days. The city is in bad shape.
… corrupted awespren exploded around several of their heads. Soot-black puffs.
AA: Instead of blue smoke rings, these are puffs of soot. Okay, then. Smoke and soot are both products of fire, but have very different visceral effects. More cleverness.
“I don’t have a proper sketch of you,” Shallan said. “I want one.” …
Elhokar was a good man. In his heart, at least. Shouldn’t that matter most? He moved to look over her shoulder, but she was no longer sketching from sight.
“We’ll save them,” Shallan whispered. “You’ll save them. It will be all right.”
… It depicted Elhokar kneeling on the ground, beaten down, clothing ragged. But he looked upward, outward, chin raised. He wasn’t beaten. No, this man was noble, regal.
“Is that what I look like?” he whispered.
“Yes.” It’s what you could be, at least.
… Storms. He almost seemed to be in tears!
AA: And I am in tears. This is such a beautiful, heartbreaking scene. The moment I read “Elhokar was a good man. In his heart, at least,” I knew he was going to die. The line about “it’s what you could be” was so reminiscent of Bluth back in Words of Radiance, it was pretty much a set expectation: He would take on a near-hopeless task, and die to complete it. In the beta sheet, I wrote, “Please, let it work. … If he has to die, let him die doing something worthwhile. Let him save his son, and be a hero.” (I think this is what makes me loathe Moash so much; this scene made me care about Elhokar, and made me so sure he had the potential to be a great king, and I hate Moash all over again. It was just so petty, compared to what he could have become.)
AP: I think one of the most real things about these books is that not everyone gets to reach their potential. Sometimes mistakes have permanent consequences. Elhokar spent a lot of years being a weak and ineffective leader. He could have chosen to be better a long time ago, and didn’t. I do think this is an example of Shallan unconsciously “improving” a person through her drawing and having an effect in the cognitive realm. She is changing how Elhokar views himself, and he is able to do better because he sees himself as better. I think this is a latent Lightweaver power that she needs to explore more fully. I hope she gets the opportunity to do so.
AA: I agree. I’m pretty sure what Shallan is doing here involves a lot more than drawing motivational posters. I look forward to learning more about it!
I also agree that Elhokar spent most of the last six years being a weak king, and several years before that being a weak prince. I often forget how young he is: He was only 20 when he came to the throne, younger when Roshone’s manipulated him in the silversmith debacle, and only 26 now. Where I disagree is that I think he was trying to be better the whole time, but had no idea how. It’s not natural to him; he’s extremely pretty, but he doesn’t have his father’s charisma or his uncle’s dynamic appeal. He tried to reproduce their effects without grasping the cause, and it doesn’t work that way. Now, finally, he’s trying to pursue the kind of character that can get the results he wants. He’ll be cut short, but I think, even now, he has finally begun to be the man he always wanted to become.
And there you have it. Join us in the comments! Be sure to come back next week for some exciting times, as we rejoin Dalinar in Rathalas. We’re going to take Chapters 75 and 76 at one gulp, because it’s all one episode.
Alice is finally able to relax; the musical was well performed, and now the props are returned to storage and the sets put away. ‘Twas an excellent production! Also, have y’all checked out the new Stormlight 4 update on Reddit?
Aubree is considering a new folk hero persona.