Hey, there! Welcome back to the Oathbringer Reread, wherein things are getting tense and clearly building up to… something dramatic. But what might it be? Well, we’re not there yet; this week Kaladin makes a discovery that gives us a lot of information, but mostly is a disappointment when considering his needs. Meanwhile, Shallan faces some very hard truths and gains encouragement from an unexpected source.
Reminder: We’ll potentially be discussing spoilers for the entire novel in each reread. If you haven’t read ALL of Oathbringer, best to wait to join us until you’re done.
In this week’s reread we also discuss some things from Mistborn in the Cosmere Connections section, so if you haven’t read it, best to give that section a pass.
WHO: Kaladin and Azure, Shallan and Wit
WHERE: On the wall of Kholinar, in Muri’s tiny room
WHEN: 1188.8.131.52 (the day after the previous chapter)
Kaladin tells Azure who he really is and discovers that the way they’re getting food is a Soulcaster secreted away in an aluminum-lined bunker. Meanwhile, Shallan has an emotional breakdown and is visited by Hoid, who gives her some much needed advice and—of course—a story.
Truth, Love, and Defiance
Chapter 81: Ithi and Her Sister
We keep poor Ithi and her sister working nonstop, trading off the Soulcaster.
A: Indeed. They’re turning into vines, but they’re feeding people.
Chapter 82: The Girl Who Stood Up
“I see only one woman here,” Wit said. “And it’s the one who is standing up.”
A: The Girl Who Stood Up isn’t a direct quote from the chapter, but rather a combination of the name of the story (see also Chapter 25, The Girl Who Looked Up) and the above quote.
Chapter 81: Battah (Counsellor, Wise/careful, Elsecallers) and Kalak (Maker, Resolute/Builder, Willshapers)
A: I’m guessing Battar represents both the caution shown in hiding the Soulcasters, and the fact that they’re Soulcasting—something we’ve seen our favorite Elsecaller demonstrate a knack for doing. Could Azure also reflect the role of Counsellor? Kalak, also on a guess, is tied to the determination of Azure and the Soulcasters to do whatever needs to be done for the city. But those are just guesses.
Chapter 82: Joker and Talenelat (Soldier, Dependable/Resourceful, Stonewards)
A: The Joker is pretty obvious: Hoid is central to the entire story with Shallan. Taln is mostly likely there for the final scene of the chapter: Kaladin and the Wall Guard “army” he brings to Elhokar.
Kaladin’s Banner and Spears; Shallan’s Pattern
We are uncertain the effect this will have on the parsh. At the very least, it should deny them forms of power. Melishi is confident, but Naze-daughter-Kuzodo warns of unintended side effects.
—From drawer 30-20, fifth emerald
A: Can I just point out the Knight Radiant from Shinovar here? We saw at least one Thaylen in the earlier epigraphs, and I suspect, given the wording of the Chapter 62 epigraph (“I wish to submit my formal protest…”) it’s likely that author is Azish. I like seeing the many origins—and I wish we had a few more made clear! Also, Naze-daughter-Kuzodo was spot on.
Surely this will bring—at long last—the end to war that the Heralds promised us.
—From drawer 30-20, final emerald
A: As was pointed out in the comments a few weeks ago, the war here is probably referring to the False Desolation, even though the Heralds made their promise several millennia earlier. I sure would like to know just how much warring went on between Aharietiam and the False Desolation, but I suppose it at least continued sporadically the whole time.
“There’s a difference between listening to your elders and just being as frightened as everyone else.”
L: We see this theme repeated time and again in recent chapters, and in the story as a whole. Following orders blindly without question, or simply accepting what you see/read/hear as truth without pausing to consider for yourself, are often questioned. As Wit said in The Way of Kings, “The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.” Autonomy and free will are integral parts of this story, and a recurring theme.
“People learn things from art.”
“Blasphemy! Art is not art if it has a function.” … “Take this fork, “Wit said. “It has a use. Eating. Now, if it were ornamented by a master artisan, would that change its function? … No, of course not. It has the same use, ornamented or not. The art is the part that serves no purpose.”
“It makes me happy, Wit. That’s a purpose.”
L: This is just a really interesting insight.
Stories & Songs
The woman had an inhuman look to her; she seemed to be growing vines under her skin, and they peeked out around her eyes, growing from the corners and spreading down her face like runners of ivy.
L: Every time I see this, it creeps me out. I feel so bad for these people who are providing a service for the societies in which they live, and pay for it with their lives.
A: To be fair, soldiers often provide a service and pay with their lives too. But I’ll agree, this is particularly creepy, because it’s such a slow and visible process, and it changes them into something not human before they actually die.
So they lived in the darkness, farmed in the darkness, ate in the darkness.
L: This has to be allegory.
A: Well, yes and no, assuming that this is a fable from the time humans arrived on Roshar. Yes, in that I’m pretty sure it wasn’t literally dark where they lived. But also no, in that the Misted Mountains block so much of the storm effect from Shinovar—and maybe blocked the highstorms entirely, at the time—that they were essentially without Investiture from the Stormlight. If I’m guessing right (which, who knows!) they lived for a time without Investiture, but eventually someone didn’t like the restriction of staying on their side of the mountains, and discovered that farther east, there was magic to be had… And all of this is predicated on the idea that Hoid is using a cosmology fable to address Shallan’s personal issues, which is pretty meta.
L: Well, I meant something more along the lines of darkness being symbolic of ignorance, but… all that too.
A: I wonder how many levels of allegory we’re going to see in this story before we’re done with it!
L: If there’s anything I learned in my college literature classes, it was that there’s always another allegory.
And then… light, for the first time in the village, followed by the coming of the storms—boiling over the wall.
A: Continuing the cosmology interpretation, I have no idea whether this change was literally that dramatic, or whether someone blasted a cut through the mountains to allow the storms to enter, or… quite what this represents in historical fact. Come to think of it, we don’t even really know that they were originally restricted to what is now Shinovar, but it makes the most sense.
“The people suffered,” Wit said, “but each storm brought light renewed, for it could never be put back, now that it had been taken. And people, for all their hardship, would never choose to go back. Not now that they could see.”
L: There are a lot of different interpretations of this, lots of ways that it could be analyzed or applied. In this particular case, I love that Hoid is helping Shallan to see that each storm (hardship in her life) is followed by light (understanding, learning, knowledge).
A: It’s a hard way to learn, but effective if you can take it.
Bruised & Broken
With nothing to see, her mind provided images.
Her father, face turning purple as she strangled him, singing a lullaby.
Her mother, dead with burned eyes.
Tyn, run through by Pattern.
Kabsal, shaking on the floor as he succumbed to poison.
Yalb, the incorrigible sailor from the Wind’s Pleasure, dead in the depths of the sea.
An unnamed coachman, murdered by members of the Ghostbloods.
Now Grund, his head opened up.
L: Poor thing. When you see it all listed out like this, it’s really no wonder she has issues.
A: This is why it hurts me so much when I see readers who dislike Shallan and characterize her as a spoiled brat—or worse, a spoiled brat who kills people when she doesn’t get her way. The first three were directly her doing, and each of them was either self-defense or defense of others. Kabsal died of his own poison, attempting to kill Jasnah. Yalb (aside from the fact that he might not be dead) was dumped into the sea by her Soulcasting, but the Ghostbloods were planning to kill everyone on board because of Jasnah, not Shallan. The other two… yes, they were killed because of their association with her, but the killing was done by evil people who made their own choices. Those last four are not her fault—though it will take a while for her to accept that—but I don’t comprehend readers who don’t get it.
L: This said, it’s totally fair for people not to like a character for any reason at all. We all have things that draw us towards or push us away from certain character archetypes. But it’s entirely possible to dislike a character because of who they are while still appreciating the fact that they’re a well-written character. For instance, I despise Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games. If she were a real person, she’s not someone I would want to interact with. But I can still appreciate that she’s well-written.
A: Same for Moash, for that matter. Or Sadeas or Amaram. I loathe the characters, but they’re very well written.
Veil had tried to help these people, but had succeeded only in making their lives worse. The lie that was Veil became suddenly manifest. She hadn’t lived on the streets and she didn’t know how to help people. Pretending to have experience didn’t mean she actually did.
L: Although I’m sad that it took such an awful event to open her eyes to this, I’m glad that it happened. This is such an important realization for Shallan to have.
A: So true. She’ll never quit breaking herself in pieces until she realizes it doesn’t work.
She had to stop this. She had to get over the tantrum and go back to the tailor’s shop.
She’d do it. She’d shove all this to the back of her mind, with everything else she ignored. They could all fester together.
L: Ugh. No, Shallan! First of all, the fact that she views this legitimate breakdown as a tantrum proves how little she knows about healing her own issues. Secondly… I really wish that she would open up to Adolin or Kaladin about all this. Wit is nice to be able to talk to, but he’s not around often, and Shallan really needs someone close to her to confide in.
A: I’ll agree that she needs someone to talk to, but as someone with (much lesser!) experience in dissociating oneself from traumatic events, this is much harder than it sounds. It’s pretty hard to convince yourself that there’s any value whatsoever in trying to reintegrate that person with this one.
L: True. And it’s similarly hard to reach out for help, even to those you’re closest to.
He leaned down, blowing at the crem dust on the floor. It swirled up, making the figure of a girl. It gave the brief impression of her standing before a wall, but then disintegrated back into dust. He tried again, and it swirled a little higher this time, but still fell back to dust.
“A little help?” he asked. He pushed a bag of spheres across the ground toward Shallan.
L: I feel as if he’s doing this to help her break out of her funk. Giving her something concrete to do, rather than sit and passively watch. I don’t believe for a minute that he was actually having trouble with so small an illusion.
A: Not for a skinny minute.
“And the girl realizes that the wall wasn’t to keep something in, but to keep her and her people out.”
“Because we’re monsters.”
Wit stepped over to Shallan, then quietly folded his arms around her. “Oh, child. The world is monstrous at times, and there are those who would have you believe that you are terrible by association.”
“No. For you see, it flows the other direction. You are not worse for your association with the world, but it is better for its association with you.”
A: Right here is where the fable’s (purported, at least by me!) origin and its equal application to Shallan breaks down. I can’t say that the humans who left Shinovar were necessarily monsters, but the eventual conflict with the Singers had some monstrous impacts on the world. From here on, the allegory is for Shallan alone. (And maybe some of us.)
The illusion of Shallan to the left gasped, then backed up against the wall of the room, shaking her head. She collapsed, head down against her legs, curling up.
“Poor fool,” Shallan whispered. “Everything she tries only makes the world worse. She was broken by her father, then broke herself in turn. She’s worthless, Wit.”
“And that one?”
“No different,” Shallan said, tiring of this game. She gave the second illusion the same memories. Father. Heleran. Failing Jasnah. Everything.
The illusory Shallan stiffened. Then set her jaw and stood there.
A: I … I want to say something profound about this, but it’s pretty profound on its own. I’ll shut up. (Temporarily.)
“It’s terrible,” Wit said, stepping up beside her, “to have been hurt. It’s unfair, and awful, and horrid. But Shallan… it’s okay to live on.”
A: I’m here to tell you, that’s not easy.
L: It’s definitely not.
She shook her head.
“Your other minds take over,” he whispered, “because they look so much more appealing. You’ll never control them until you’re confident in returning to the one who birthed them. Until you accept being you.”
A: I feel so awful for Shallan here, because this really is true. Everything you imagine yourself to be is fake, if you can’t accept that your own experiences are part of you. Not that you have to wallow in them, but you have to acknowledge them before you can get over them.
Accept the pain, but don’t accept that you deserved it.
L: And there it is. The Words she needed all along. But how long will it be until she truly embraces them? As much as I wish that this could be a major turning point for her character, true healing takes time and effort. It would be unrealistic for her to suddenly pull a 180 here and be completely well. But this is a step in the right direction for her, a signpost showing her the way towards true healing.
A: Actually, it is a major turning point in one sense. It will definitely be a long process, but in a way it’s like the list of deaths earlier. When you accept that the person who caused you the pain did an evil thing, and it was their own decision to do it, you start the process of dealing with it in a different, and hopefully better, way.
For what it’s worth, it’s really important for the people trying to help—the people like Wit, here—to realize that, right or wrong, victims of abuse or trauma often do feel like it’s their own fault. Take the killing of Shallan’s mother: Lady Davar may or may not have been a loving mother originally, but when she discovered that Shallan was Surgebinding, she (and her Skybreaker associates) decided that even an 11-year-old girl had to be killed for it. If Lady Davar didn’t tell Shallan it was her own doing, I’ll eat my hat. I’d bet she made it eminently clear that it was Shallan’s actions that made this necessary; an 11-year-old girl, even one who defends herself by any means available, will still internalize that blame and believe it. We saw directly in the flashbacks how her father told her that all his terrible behavior was her fault. Of course she believed it deep down, even though on the surface she could (maybe) deny it.
We all believe it deep down, because we all know that we’ve done wrong or foolish things (whether or not in relation to the incident in question). The place we need to get to is the realization that, even if we did make unwise decisions at the time, the other person was still responsible for their own actions, and we’re responsible for ours. Of course, in Shallan’s case as with most childhood abuses, she hadn’t even made unwise decisions; she was a child who had no way of knowing what to do about the situation. As an adult, you can look back and think, “If only I had…”—but as a child, you didn’t have the knowledge or experience to tell you what to do.
Places & Peoples
“You cut a tunnel in one of the windblades, sir?” Beard asked, shocked.
“This has been here longer than any of us have been alive, soldier,” Battalionlord Hadinar said.
L: Interesting. I wonder if these tunnels were created at the same time as the Windblades? If not, might they affect how they function?
A: Ooooh. I hadn’t thought about that! We know that the windblades protect the city from the highstorms, but I’ve always wondered if there was more to them. If the tunnels interfere… that would be fascinating. At the same time…
This corridor, cut through the stone, reminded Kaladin of the strata of Urithiru.
L: Yet another reminder that there’s Something Going On that links these two.
A: And that makes me think that it’s pretty reasonable that the corridors were part of the original design. After all, given the way they provide easy shortcuts without vulnerability to an enemy—or a storm—it seems like an excellent plan.
Tight Butts and Coconuts
“Nice,” Adolin said. “Shallan, that’s sharp… The red on white.”
L: Stars and stones, but I love Adolin.
A: So not what Shallan was expecting. Adolin is the best.
She turned, frowning. It sounded like marching. “A parade this early?”
They looked out at the street and found Kaladin approaching along with what seemed to be an army of five or six hundred men, wearing the uniforms of the Wall Guard.
Adolin sighed softly. “Of course. He’s probably their leader now or something. Storming bridgeboy.”
L: Storming bridgeboy indeed! I suspect that Adolin has a smidge of jealousy here. He’s a great leader in his own right, but Kaladin just makes it seem so effortless. Adolin works hard to be a good person and a good leader—not that Kaladin doesn’t, but from an outsider perspective, it must not seem that way.
A: I think I’ve exhausted my store of deep thinking for today, but this makes me laugh and sigh at the same time. These two are such a pair. I think you’re right, Lyndsey, that Adolin is displaying a smidge of jealousy. Kaladin does seem to just fall right into leadership positions, as if being a Knight Radiant wasn’t enough. I think Kaladin is a little jealous of Adolin in much the same way. He gets along with everyone so easily, as if being a prince wasn’t enough. There’s probably more to it than that—for both of them—but it’s a very realistic dynamic.
The only other person in the room was the fidgety ardent who painted glyphwards for the platoon.
A: Is it just me, or do others immediately suspect Nazh of infiltrating the Wall Guard for some unknown reason? Just me? I don’t know that it’s him, but every time our attention is drawn to an ardent who doesn’t seem to have a plot-relevant reason to be there, I suspect Nazh.
“Why didn’t the screamers come for you?”
Azure pointed at the sides of the room, and for the first time Kaladin noticed the walls were covered in reflective metal plates. He frowned and rested his fingers against one, and found it cool to the touch. This wasn’t steel, was it?
“He warned us to only Soulcast inside a room lined with this metal.”
L: I find the different ways that metal is utilized in the Cosmere to be utterly fascinating. Apparently we have a WoB that this particular metal is aluminum, not steel. This really makes me wonder about connections between the different magic systems of the Cosmere.
A: Aluminum has bizarre properties throughout the Cosmere, and last I checked, Brandon and Peter hadn’t quite got the details sorted out. It’s magically inert, which is just weird. On Scadrial, you can’t affect it with Allomancy, though a Feruchemist can use it to story Identity. On Roshar, you can Soulcast stuff into aluminum, but you can’t Soulcast aluminum into anything else. Shardblades also can’t cut aluminum magically, but only in the same way any other sword would be able to cut through a thin sheet of it—foil, or something the weight of a soda can. Oh, also, Nightblood’s sheath is made of aluminum.
“Soon after the strangeness at the palace began,” Azure said, “a man pulled a chull cart up to the front of our barrack. He had these sheets of metal in the back. He was… an odd fellow. I’ve had interactions with him before.”
“Angular features?” Kaladin guessed. “Quick with an insult. Silly and straight, somehow all at once?”
L: Sup, Hoid.
A Scrupulous Study of Spren
For a while, she’d been … everybody. A hundred faces, cycling one after another. … All the nearby refugees had fled, naming her a spren.
A: It occurs to me that this would look very, very much like Cusicesh, the enormous spren in the bay at Kasitor from The Way of Kings, Interlude 5:
That face is shifting, bewilderingly quick. Different human faces appear on the end of its stumplike neck, one after another in blurred succession.
Is that why they call her a spren? Or is it just that they have no other context for Illusion of the sort Shallan has shown them?
L: Oooooooooor is that spren actually some sort of… Lightweaver-adjacent?
A: I only wish we knew!
“I cannot judge the worth of a life. I would not dare to attempt it.”
“The longer you live, the more you fail. Failure is the mark of a life well lived.”
“We could just skip the boring part.”
“Skip?” Wit said, aghast. “Skip part of a story?”
That final scene, where Kaladin and Azure march up with their little army, sets up next week’s reread. We’ll just be doing Chapter 83, “Crimson to Break,” as they begin the attempt to retrieve Elhokar’s family and open the Oathgate.
Alice is crazy busy with end-of-the-school year activities. Who knew parents were just as busy as kids at this point? At least, that seems to be the case with high-schoolers who aren’t quite old enough to drive themselves.