I hope you’re all prepared for one doozy of a chapter, because this one’s chock full of questions, theories, death, betrayal… everything that makes one of Sanderson’s “avalanches” edge-of-your-seat events. There’s a lot going on here, as Kaladin and Elhokar finally find Unmade-possessed-Aesudan in the palace and Shallan confronts two different Unmade on the Oathgate platform, and Alice and I are ready to pull it all apart and pick the bones clean of theories, nuance, and… gifs. Of course. So buckle your seat belts and keep your arms and legs inside the ride at all times, because the Stormlight Coaster is about to drop clear off the edge of Roshar.
Reminder: We’ll potentially be discussing spoilers for the entire novel in each reread. There aren’t any big Cosmere things in this reread to be wary of, but if you haven’t read ALL of Oathbringer, best to wait to join us until you’re done. Because spoilers all the way.
WHO: Kaladin, Shallan
WHERE: Kholinar palace (not going to bother with a map this week, everything takes place in the palace or the Oathgate platform)
WHEN: 1188.8.131.52 (immediately after Chapter 83)
Kaladin, Elhokar, and a group of guards make it up to Aesudan’s chambers to find that she’s possessed by Yelig-nar, one of the Unmade. They rescue Gavinor, Elhokar’s son, and make their way out to the steps, where they’re confronted by an army of parshmen… ones Kaladin unfortunately recognizes as his friends. He freezes up, unable to kill his friends, and just as Elhokar is about to say the Words which will transform him into a Radiant, Moash appears and kills him. Meanwhile, Shallan manages to drive away the Heart of the Revel from the Oathgate platform, only to be stopped by Sja-anat, another Unmade who claims to be on her side, and warns her that the Oathgate is a cleverly laid trap…
Truth, Love, and Defiance
Title: The One You Can Save
“Elhokar,” Kaladin said, gripping the king’s shoulder. “Be a hero to the one you can save.”
A: Oh, my aching heart… (And yes, I’ll say that repeatedly this week, I expect.)
L: I can’t even imagine how hard this was for Elhokar. It’s pretty clear that he loved his wife, and to have to walk away knowing that Kaladin might be staying behind to kill her… Yeah.
Shalash and Jezrien are there for the most obvious of reasons: This chapter is all about their Knights Radiant being Knights Radiant.
Kaladin’s Banner and Spears icon indicates that the chapter starts with his POV; he trades off with Shallan several times as it goes on.
The enemy makes another push toward Feverstone Keep. I wish we knew what it was that had them so interested in that area. Could they be intent on capturing Rall Elorim?
—From drawer 19-2, third topaz.
A: Yeah, I wish I knew too! There’s something significant about Feverstone Keep, right? Unless this is just a marker for us, reminding us that Dalinar’s Recreance vision took place there, it seems likely that there is something in the area, and quite possibly at Rall Elorim. It can’t be called “the City of Shadows” for nothing.
L: With the number of times that Brandon’s name-dropped this, it can’t not be significant.
Stories & Songs
They passed a corridor lined with statues of the Heralds. Nine of them, at least. One was missing.
A: This isn’t particularly significant for the chapter, but it’s worth noting that this is likely the same passageway that Szeth mentioned in the prologue to The Way of Kings. For what that’s worth. There are a couple of other reminders that this is the same palace that we’ve seen in all the prologues.
L: Which Herald is missing? What’s her name, the one who keeps destroying all the images of herself? That’s Shalash, right?
A: That’s the one. Szeth noticed that her statue was missing back then, and apparently it’s still missing. Or they replaced it and she destroyed it again, I suppose.
L: Nice to know that my memory didn’t fail me for once.
“I can hear her,” Elhokar said. “That’s her voice, singing.”
I know that tune, Kaladin thought. Something about her soft song was familiar.
A: I checked with all the smartest people I know and confirmed that we still don’t know why Kaladin recognizes the tune. The main theory I’ve seen is that it’s a Singer tune which Kaladin learned from the parsh he traveled with, on the assumption that Aesudan knows it from having eaten the Yelig-Nar-gem. I don’t find this very satisfactory, because Sanderson is still being very coy when asked about it—and why would he be, if it was a question and answer completely contained within Oathbringer? Someone else had a theory (promptly disproven) that Kaladin’s mother Hesina might be closely related to Aesudan, and Kaladin had learned it from her. Oddly enough, the answer was no, that’s not why he knows it—but yes, Hesina is not closely related to Aesudan. Go figure.
But this is going to drive me crazy until we learn the answer. Why would Sanderson mention that Kaladin recognizes the song??
L: I think the idea that it’s a parsh song, or at least a Rhythm that Kal recognizes, makes total sense. Music seems to be underlying so much in this world. I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised if the “aliens” (humans) hear and recognize a lot more of the Rhythms that drive their world than they realize.
A: It could be. I mean, I totally agree that it’s quite possible for humans to recognize Rhythms without realizing it. But he refers specifically to the tune itself, so… I don’t know. Well, hopefully we’ll find out soon. (ish…)
This isn’t a human heart, she decided. Maybe it’s a parshman heart. Or, well, a giant, dark violet spren in the shape of one, growing over the Oathgate control building…
So. Time to try what she’d done in Urithiru.
Trembling, Shallan closed her eyes and pressed her hand against the heart. It felt real, like warm flesh. Like in Urithiru, touching the thing let her sense it. Feel it. Know it.
A: Even knowing that it worked in Urithiru, this seems like a horrible idea…
L: Aside from that, I find it curious that Shallan assumes that it’s mimicking a parsh heart. Parsh hearts are gems, so far as we know, and hence it doesn’t seem logical to me that it would look anything like a human one.
A: Well, two things. I believe parsh have two hearts—one that pumps blood, like a human heart, and the gemheart that controls their forms. So there’s that. The other is that I don’t think Shallan knows about their gemhearts yet, does she?
L: Wait, really? Do we have a WoB on that two hearts thing, or is it just speculation?
A: In the Eila Stele, there’s a line referring to humans that says, “They have but one heart, and it cannot ever live.” It seems reasonable that the writer is familiar with having more than one heart. I’m pretty sure there’s more evidence, but I can’t locate it right now.
His voice brought to her an awareness of the city around her. Of soldiers skirmishing only one street over. Of distant drums going silent, one at a time, as the guard posts on the wall fell.
L: This is just… haunting. I’m putting it here because it has to do with drums, but really… it has to do with death. With the city slowly falling, like a tree that’s been cut and is ever so slowly keeling over before it crashes to the ground.
A: This was such powerful imagery, it hurts to read.
She tried Pattern first, stabbing him into the heart as a Shardblade. The mass simply split around the Blade. She slashed with it, and the spren cut, then sealed up behind.
L: Whoa whoa whoa. Wait just a tick. So if Shardblades were made to fight the forces of Odium (???), the fact that this one doesn’t work against the Unmade is a pretty big thing. Did Odium realize that the Shardblades were destroying all his forces and created the Unmade specifically as superweapons that could withstand them?
A: Well, it’s entirely possible. I think. We see them work against a lot of different things, but apparently Unmade are an exception! A few weeks ago, we noticed how Syl as a Shardblade was able to direct Kaladin to find the Fused gemheart and destroy it, and that might be even more widely useful than fighting thunderclasts. It’s almost nice to know there’s something they can’t do. Sanderson’s Second Law: “The limitations of a magic system are more interesting than its capabilities.”
L: So, so true. If they could destroy every threat easily, this wouldn’t be as interesting of a book series.
He passed the remnants of lavish meals only partially eaten. Pieces of fruit each with a single bite taken out of them. Cakes and pastries. Candied meats on sticks. It looked like it should have rotted, based on the decayspren he noticed, but it hadn’t.
L: More of that time dilation going on here? Or is there something more? If the decayspren are there, maybe the food actually is decayed and there’s some sort of illusion happening.
A: This is clearly intended to make us wonder what’s going on, and I honestly don’t know. It’s likely one of the two reasons you mentioned, but it’s also possible that there’s something else bizarre that we haven’t picked up on yet.
L: And then we have this:
Kaladin picked around a pile of musical instruments of the finest wood, sitting in a heap.
L: More excesses, not only of the flesh, but of the mind as well. Gluttony doesn’t only need to refer to food, it’s indulging in anything to excess, and it appears that Aesudan was doing so about many things. Whether or not she was actually playing any of those instruments or simply wanted them just to possess them is up for debate… I wonder if there’s any sort of connection between the musical instruments and the fact that she was singing when they walked in. Maybe she was seeking the perfect accompaniment for the song in her head.
A: We don’t know much about Aesudan. It’s possible that she’s musically oriented and then, as you say, felt the need to possess them all. (Side note… most musical instruments are difficult to play with one hand. Just sayin’…)
L: I’m curious about the overlapping effects of the different Unmade, here. This seems like it’s a Heart of the Revel thing, so is it affecting Aesudan even while she’s possessed by Yelig-nar?
A: That’s a good question. I’m reasonably sure she was affected by the Heart of the Revel before she swallowed the Yelig-nar rock, so it’s possible that this is all leftovers from that time. It’s also possible, and I think probable, that she’s affected by the Revel right up until the moment she’s so possessed by Yelig-nar that she starts growing carapace and her eyes start glowing red.
He passed the balcony to his left. If he remembered right—though the story had been told so often, he had heard a dozen differing versions…
L: I have to laugh at this, because Sanderson is making a subtle little nod to the fact that every book in the series begins with a different retelling of this same event.
“Yelig-nar serves me. Or do you speak of the Heart of the Revel? Ashertmarn has no will; he is merely a force of consumption, mindless, to be harnessed.”
L: Yeeeaaaah I’m not sure how much of that I believe. Yelig-nar clearly has her wrapped around its little finger, so anything she thinks she knows about Ashertmarn is also questionable.
A: ALL the information we have about the Unmade is questionable. For what little we do have, though, Hessi’s Mythica seems to sort of agree with this; she calls it one of the “three great mindless Unmade.” Calling it “merely a force of consumption” is a bit understated, though—it’s like calling Nergaoul “merely a support in battle.”
Oh, also… “Yelig-nar serves me.” Oh, you ignorant, arrogant little twit. She seriously thinks she controls one of the Unmade, rather than the reverse.
L: Yeah. This is really, really stupid. But understandable, seeing as how it’s certainly been whispering in her ear all this time, twisting her mind.
A: I wonder if it was made easier by her time spent under Ashertmarn’s influence. Then again, she’s always been arrogant and power-hungry, so…
Give it all to me, the voices whispered in Shallan’s mind. Give me your passion, your hunger, your longing, your loss. Surrender it. You are what you feel.
L: I mean… in a sense, it’s not wrong. We are what we feel. But we can also control what we feel. Which is, of course, what Shallan’s about to learn.
A: I thought it was quite profound, to have the “force of consumption,” a.k.a. the “lust for indulgence,” urging her to consider herself only in terms of her emotions. It’s one of her biggest areas of difficulty: reconciling truth with feeling and, as you say, learning to control what she feels.
The enormous heart became sludge, then melted away, almost seeming to crawl, sending out runners of dark liquid before itself.
L: I can’t help but imagine noh-face from Spirited Away here. Actually… come to think of it… This Unmade is a bit like Noh-face, isn’t it? Engaging in things to excess, trying to convince others to do the same… I wonder if this was an influence on Sanderson’s work, here.
A: Not being familiar with the work in question, I have no opinion here. Shocking, isn’t it?
“You did it!” Adolin said.
L: I’m with Shallan here. I’d really like to know exactly what it is she’s doing that’s scaring these things off.
A: Well, in a bit someone else will explain this…
L: I have the memory of a goldfish, and haven’t read this in its entirety for two years now.
A: RAFO… like another page or so. :D
L: (After finishing initial notes on the chapter): Okay, so a trap. Right. I’d forgotten that in this case, that’s what’s going on. It stands to reason that Odium would expect Shallan to try the same strategy, and hence tell the Heart of the Revel to expect that and take a hike once she does.
A: It seems reasonable, and it totally would have worked without Sja-anat’s twisting of her own twists—at least, according to her, and I’m inclined to believe her.
It looked much as the one she’d discovered at the Shattered Plains—though better maintained, and its tile mosaics on the floor were of fanciful creatures. An enormous beast with claws, and fur like a mink. Something that looked like a giant fish.
A: For what it’s worth, the mosaics in the Stormseat Oathgate were of people: “Knights in armor stood before swirling skies of red and blue. People from all walks of life were depicted in all manner of settings…” I wonder if the differences are significant. Also, Dalinar being who he is (i.e. not Shallan) of course he didn’t take any note of the mosaics in the Azir Oathgate.
On the walls, lanterns shone with gemstones—and between them hung full-length mirrors.
L: Considering what she saw in mirrors earlier in this part, you’d think that she’d be a little more wary of these.
Radiant, the thing said, mouthing the words. My name is Sja-anat, and I am not your enemy.
L: I don’t know why I immediately trust her, and yet… here we are.
A: This is the third time we’ve heard someone tell Shallan recently that “I am not your enemy,” and now I believe all three were Sja-anat. The first one was when “Swiftspren” was listening to the cultists, hearing what they could hear, and then one line stands out differently: “Shallan, I’m not your enemy.” The second was when she came up here to investigate the Oathgate, saw the shape in the mirror, and heard the voice saying, “I’m not your enemy. But the heart is a trap. Take caution.” Now this one—where she can actually see the spren talking to her—makes me think all three have to be the same person.
And… I know this is based on not much, but I agree. I do trust her, at least to an extent, and I think she’s going to be the one to break away from Odium, and maybe turn out to help Our Radiants. (I can’t help thinking that we’re going to have all sorts of folks changing sides this time around, so that we have Heralds and Unmade and humans and parsh on both sides of the conflict.)
The queen’s soldiers blinked against the light, as if it were somehow too strong for their eyes.
L: Just another tallymark for the “people under the influence of the Unmade react weird to stuff” list.
They call me the Taker of Secrets, the figure said. Or they once did.
L: Okay, 1. Really cool name and 2. Interesting parallel here with Pattern and his “you have to give me truths” thing.
A: It is indeed a cool name. I just can’t quite figure out what it means, and what it has to do with her abilities! Does she take secrets from your mind and use them against you? Or is it more like the Lightweaver’s truths, where you give her your secret and she gives you… something or other? I badly want to learn more about the Unmade.
We were made, then unmade, she agreed.
L: What the heck is that supposed to mean? Did Odium somehow like… unravel their being and then put them back together differently? So they were made (by god or whatever the creator of the Cosmere is), then Unmade (by Odium, like, rearranging their magical DNA or something)?
A: Oh, the theories!! And we don’t know what this means, except that they were something before they were Unmade. I can’t help wondering if it’s sort of similar to the Heralds—they were ordinary humans, and then Honor gave them extra powers, and they became Cognitive Shadows who could do a lot of really amazing stuff. It’s quite possible that these were originally Singers (or humans, or Aimians, or greater spren), and then for whatever reason, they allowed Odium to give them extra powers but they had to be “unmade” to function. And of course, there’s always my loonie theory that they were somehow “pieces” splintered off of the Sibling…
L: Is it possible that the Sibling has been completely and totally dismantled? Rather than pieces splintered off while the main body/being still exists, that it’s been broken apart entirely and the Unmade are all pieces of it? This would explain the “unmade” thing for sure…
A: I think it’s possible. I hope it’s not. I don’t think that’s the whole explanation, if it’s even partially true, because the Sibling was still known and loved by the Knights Radiant while the Unmade were active. Still, if they are pieces of the Sibling, there’s nothing to say the splintering hasn’t continued to the point where there’s nothing left by now. That would be sad indeed.
Interesting thought… if they were originally bits of the Sibling, that could explain why Sja-anat is starting to claim that she’s not of Odium, and now is only of herself—if Odium couldn’t create anything new but only twist the existing, maybe he couldn’t twist it beyond its ability to revert. (Oops. I guess that could apply to whatever they originally were, whether it was the Sibling or not. Odium unmade something that someone else had made, no matter how you look at it.)
Ask my son. Please.
L: Son? Who? WHAT IS GOING ON?!
A: There’s a popular theory that she’s referring to Glys here, but I don’t think it’s confirmed. There is at least one WoB that sure sounds like he’s hinting that she’s referring to Glys, so… there’s that.
L: Oooooooh that’s a cool theory. I like it.
The queen descended the stairs, wreathed in black smoke, eyes glowing red. She’d transformed, strange crystal formations having pierced her skin like carapace. Her chest was glowing bright with a gemstone, as if it had replaced her heart.
L: Really cool mental image. It’s neat that she’s growing almost a parsh carapace…
A: Too bad for her that she can’t control Yelig-nar as well as she thinks she can. (I don’t actually feel sorry for her. There’s a reason Jasnah was thinking about having her assassinated.)
Relationships & Romances
The queen focused on Kaladin. “New bodyguard, dear one? Far too scruffy; you should have consulted me. You have an image to maintain.”
“Dear one,” Elhokar said, keeping his distance from the queen, “we heard that the city has seen… trouble lately.
“Aesudan,” Elhokar said, his voice pained. He stepped forward, extending his hand. “You’re not well. Please, come with me.”
“There’s an evil influence in the palace.”
“Evil? Husband, what a fool you are at times.”
A: There’s more of this, but that’s enough to be going on with. Elhokar has seemed to be genuinely concerned for his wife, to the point of risking his life to retrieve her and their son. He’s deeply reluctant to leave her behind, even though she’s got glowing red eyes. She, on the other hand, treats him like an idiot, and says outright that it was best that he went off to play at war so she could get on with doing the important things. We never saw Aesudan “on screen” before she was deeply under the influence of the Unmade, but we do know that Jasnah never trusted her. There’s a WoB that says Jasnah thought Aesudan wanted to usurp power and was reckless, and the plan to assassinate her was a matter of protecting the throne. What we’ve read of her behavior, between the Lhan Interlude in Words of Radiance and this scene, indicates that Jasnah was not wrong.
L: Yeah. Not a fan of her, at all. A good partner should be helping to advance her husband’s plans and support him, not… this. Yet another example of the influences around Elhokar serving to weaken him rather than strengthen him, which is why it’s so much more impressive that he managed to (start) overcoming that and become a stronger person.
A: I’m almost surprised that she was willing to grant Elhokar the intimacy required to actually produce a child, but I suppose an heir fit well enough into her plans at the time. Quite possibly, she was hoping Elhokar would die in the battles, leaving her as either Queen indeed, or at the very least Regent to the young heir.
L: Yeah, I guess. She might just like sex and not care about who it’s with, too. We’ll never know for sure, I’m certain, because this just… isn’t the type of thing that Sanderson usually elaborates on.
A: True, that. I too have wondered how much of Elhokar’s personal insecurity was deliberately fostered by a wife who wanted power and was happy to turn her young and malleable husband into a puppet. I wonder… we don’t know exactly when they were married, but it was at least six years before the opening of the series. Could they have already been married when the Roshone thing happened (he arrived in Hearthstone “seven years ago”), and might she have been part of the cause for throwing Moash’s grandparents in jail? I’m not saying Elhokar isn’t responsible, since he was acting in the king’s stead, but how much of it was actually his idea? Sheer speculation, of course.
L: I was wondering this same thing. I’m willing to bet that she was behind the decision that wound up setting Moash’s whole awful story into motion.
Elhokar whispered something to his son. Kaladin couldn’t hear the words, but the child stopped weeping. He looked up, blinked away tears, and finally let his father pick him up. Elhokar cradled the child, who in turn clutched his stuffed soldier. It wore blue armor.
L: There’s a wonderful book on writing called Save the Cat (it’s specifically about screenwriting but it has very, very good advice that can be applied to any long-form fiction) that states that any likable character has to have a moment that endears them to the reader (the specific example the author gives is Ripley choosing to save the cat in Alien). A character can be utterly loathsome, but one single moment can win the readers over to their side (the reverse is also true, as we will soon see). And this was Elhokar’s Save the Cat moment, for me. This one moment of tenderness that he shows to his son, this one aspect of true fatherhood and humanity. If it had only been this, I don’t think it would have been enough, but we’ve seen this gradual growth in him from a total pushover into a man who’s genuinely trying to become a better person. And, interestingly, this is almost a perfect reverse image to Moash’s development (and one of the things that makes him such a fascinating character).
A: That’s an excellent observation. There is more to Elhokar’s character development that combined to make me like him, but I agree that this is one of the few moments that can truly be called “endearing.” I liked his efforts to become better, and I liked seeing him draw good maps, and I liked his determination to save his family, but his evident love for his son—especially after seeing how Aesudan was allowed the poor child to be treated—was a beautiful thing.
It’s also worth pointing out that there was something extra going on, because Elhokar knew what to say to make Gavinor trust him, despite the fact that there’s no way a child that age would remember a father he hasn’t seen for… how long? Ever, maybe? He’s three years old at the most.
L: And, side note, but I wonder if that little doll is meant to be Elhokar, or Adolin. Adolin’s armor was blue, wasn’t it? It would be pretty cute if little Gavinor had some hero worship of Adolin going on.
A: That would be fun, though it’s not likely he would know Adolin. Only stories, though Navani might have told him enough to have that effect. (Come to think of it, maybe that’s what Elhokar told him—that he was going to take him to see Navani.) For what it’s worth, both Gavilar and Adolin had their Shardplate painted blue. Elhokar’s was golden, at least in The Way of Kings.
L: I could totally see a little boy looking up to his heroic knight cousin. Adolin must seem like one of King Arthur’s knights to the kids back in the capital, all gallant and talented and upholding all the ideals of what a Good Alethi Should Be.
Bruised & Broken
She became a new person with every heartbeat.
L: Something Shallan is intimately familiar with.
Shallan was a thousand people in a moment.
But which one was her?
All of them. A new voice. Wit’s?
You’re all of them, Shallan. Why must you be only one emotion? One set of sensations? One role? One life?
“They rule me, Wit. Veil and Radiant and all the others. They’re consuming me.”
Then be ruled as a king is ruled by his subjects. Make Shallan so strong, the others must bow.
L: Wow. That’s some pretty heavy philosophizing, I love it. But I do wonder if this is really Wit’s voice speaking to her in her head, or just what she imagines he would say to her. I think I would rather imagine the latter—especially since this would be yet another incarnation of the very thing she’s talking about here. On one level, she’s pretending to be Wit just like she does with Veil/Radiant/the rest. But it would reveal a deeper wisdom within her, one she doesn’t even realize she has. When acting, we often say that we can’t bring out something that isn’t already there, buried deep within you. The character mask you wear allows you to have the confidence to let it out. I believe that of Shallan—she’s smart, she’s wise beyond her years. She just needs to realize that she is, on her own, without the masks and illusions she’s hidden behind.
A: I honestly don’t know what Sanderson intended here—if this is Shallan imagining what Wit would say, or if there’s some kind of bond between them that lets him communicate with her. I suspect, though, that it’s the logical application to the immediate circumstance that follows from their last conversation.
Kaladin felt his rage flare, and he lowered the Sylspear. It was time to begin the work of death.
Then he saw the face of the parshman in front of him.
It was Sah. Former slave. Cardplayer. Father.
L: And here we go. Poor, poor Kaladin. Stuck between two groups of friends, both of them trying to kill the other. War is hell, but never more so than in a situation like this.
A: Oddly enough—or maybe not—the note I wrote here while preparing for this was, “And so it begins.” This is a horrible moment.
L: Taking a break from the awfulness to note that, awww, Alice. You used a gif! I’m so proud of you!
In that moment, Kaladin lost something precious. He’d always been able to trick himself into seeing battle as us against them. Protect those you love. Kill everyone else. But… but they didn’t deserve death.
None of them did.
L: There are no words. Only this. (And oh how fitting that particular one is, eh, considering the character parallels…)
A: I get so angry at Kaladin for freezing here, but at the same time… what else could he do? What is the right thing to do? They were all his friends—or at least, they were all people he knew, for whom he had felt great sympathy. So I get angry, but I still totally understand.
L: I don’t blame him for freezing. Anything he did would almost certainly result in him killing someone he cared about in an attempt to protect other people he cared about!
A: I hate false binaries—you either kill these people, or you kill those people—but Kaladin’s indecision doesn’t help anyone either. What would have happened if he’d started glowing and floating and knocking people over and acting like the Voice Of Authority? Or something? Weren’t there possibilities besides kill or freeze? ::sniffle::
“Stop!” he finally bellowed. “Stop it! Stop killing one another!”
Nearby, Sah rammed Beard through with a spear.
L: Ugh. My heart.
A: Oh, my aching heart. And it just goes on. Sah kills Beard, Noro kills Jali and Sah, Khen kills Noro…
A: …and then that absolute… %@&*$… Moash shows up. I can’t even think of a printable word bad enough for him. I loathe that man.
L: Oh, oh, I know lots of words for him. Let me type the words, Alice.
A: Printable words! I have all sorts of words in my head for him… and all of them unprintable.
A: Since Aubree isn’t here to defend him, I was so determined to try to be fair to Moash in this chapter. And I can’t. I hate him so much. Especially after that endearing moment we just talked about, where all of Elhokar’s progress was capped by his love for his son.
“Moash, no…” Kaladin whispered. He couldn’t move.
A: I think this is the part where I’m most angry at Kaladin. He’s protected Elhokar against Moash before—and gained his Sylblade in the process—and he knows Moash stands against him now. Why did he remain frozen and not at least stand up to the man who had betrayed him?
L: Poor baby’s traumatized, give him a break.
No, I do understand it. I just… don’t want him frozen right now. This is where it’s pretty clear who he should be defending, and he still can’t break free.
L: Well. Is it clear, though? Moash is his friend, too. And he knows Moash—knows how dedicated to this cause he is. He’s gonna have to kill him to stop him.
A: They fought before without killing each other. He could have at least tried. (I know, I’m being unfair. I’m frustrated.)
L: So… one of the more interesting things I learned when taking Japanese sword lessons was the philosophy of “if you unsheathe your sword, you must be prepared to use it.” Now… I have never been in a life and death battle (thank goodness). But I feel like… if you go into that situation, you have to be prepared for the worst possible outcome.
A: Normally you do go into battle prepared to kill… though usually it’s not your friends on the other side. But it’s a fair point: I haven’t learned sword-fighting, but I have had handgun training, and one of the first rules is that you never point a gun at something you’re not willing to shoot.
L: And potentially kill. I actually remember this as well (I was a game hunter when I was much younger).
A: Now, to be honest, I wouldn’t be at all sad if Kaladin killed Moash here. Or somewhere else. I can’t help thinking that it’s set up: one of them will kill the other somewhere along the line.
L: I’d be sad for Kaladin, because having to kill his friend would destroy him. But yeah. I think it’s probably going to happen, if only because of the age-old trope of “best friends wind up mortal enemies.”
Moash pinned the king to the ground, shoving aside the weeping child prince with his foot. He placed the boot against Elhokar’s throat, holding him down, then pulled the spear out and stabbed Elhokar through the eye as well.
L: This poor kid’s gonna be traumatised for life. After having gone through all that business with the Voidspren, and watching your mom go crazy, then seeing your dad who just rescued you brutally murdered right in front of you… I wouldn’t be surprised if he gives poor Shallan a run for her money.
A: No kidding. I kind of hope he can forget the worst of this. Otherwise it’s nightmare city for the rest of his life.
Squires & Sidekicks
Noro shrugged. “Without the captain, we don’t have a proper platoon leader. Figured we should stick with you.”
Beard nodded and rubbed at the glyphward wrapping his right arm. Fortune, it read.
A: Okay, they aren’t Bridge Four—we haven’t spent enough time with them to know them very well. Still, they’re cool dudes. Also, it’s sadly ironic that for this battle, Beard finally found enough faith to wear a glyphward.
L: I’m surprised they didn’t stick with Azure as she headed towards the Sunwalk, but on the other hand… I’m kind of not surprised, either. When given the choice of hanging around with Azure, who’s clearly competent, or someone who’s practically a god of legend, I’d probably choose the latter, too.
A: Fair point! Especially since they don’t know Azure has a few extra secrets too.
“Good to have you,” Kaladin said. “Try to keep me from being flanked, but give me space if you can.”
“Don’t crowd you,” Lieutenant Noro said, “and don’t let anyone else crowd you either. Can do, sir.”
A: Heh. Keep it simple, soldier.
Glowing Stormlight flooded the chamber as twin Radiants exploded out from the Sunwalk. Drehy and Skar swept through the enemy, driving them back with sweeping spears and Lashings.
A second later, Adolin grabbed Kaladin under the arms and heaved him backward. “Time to go, bridgeboy.”
A: I do love these guys. It’s been fun all along watching Skar and Drehy protecting—and fighting alongside—Adolin. Now the three of them form a team to protect Kaladin when he can’t protect himself. It was a brighter ending to the chapter than I’d begun to hope for.
L: This is a great moment. And what you just said… “protecting Kaladin when he can’t protect himself…” kinda made me tear up a little. Even Windrunners need protecting sometimes.
Kaladin prepared Stormlight; he could paint the walls with a power that would cause crossbow bolts to veer aside in their flight, but it was far from a perfect art. It was the power he understood the least.
A: I’m quoting this only to link it to a piece much later in the chapter:
Sylspear held high, Kaladin stepped between the two groups and pooled Stormlight into the ground, drawing the bolts downward. He was unpracticed with this power, and unfortunately, some of the bolts still slammed into shields, even heads.
A: It’s interesting to notice that he actually did a better job with this lashing when he was going on sheer instinct back in The Way of Kings. Now that he’s focused on learning how to use his Surges, I’m guessing that this one is harder to understand, maybe? Just guessing.
Elhokar had fallen to his knees. In one arm he held his terrified son, in the other hand he held… a sheet of paper? A sketch?
L: This is Shallan’s sketch of him, isn’t it. Where he’s all kingly and s**t. (I’m too emotionally devastated already to bother moderating my language.)
A: This is such a callback to Blunt in Words of Radiance, where he died heroically with Shallan’s sketch in his hand. It’s heartbreaking. Reading through the chapter in preparation, I was crying right here. Oh, my aching heart. “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.”
L: ::lower lip quiver::
Kaladin could almost hear Elhokar stuttering the words.
Life… life before death…
The hair on Kaladin’s neck rose. Elhokar started to glow softly.
Strength… before weakness…
“Do it, Elhokar,” Kaladin whispered.
Journey… journey before…
A figure emerged from the battle. A tall, lean man—so, so familiar. …
“Moash, no…” Kaladin whispered. …
Lowering his spear, Moash ran Elhokar through the chest.
L: And there it is. The moment that spawned a million memes, convention ribbons, and arguments on social media platforms. The betrayal (or culmination of an honorable quest, however you want to look at it). I think we all know where I stand.
A: I stand with you.
L: In all seriousness, I get where Moash is coming from and I fully believe that his character thinks that what he is doing is absolutely right. He’s a well developed character and his reasoning for his own decisions is sound. But storm it, I love Kaladin and Kaladin sees this as a betrayal, so I’m on Team!Kal for life. #F***Moash.
A: Yeah. Sanderson is fond of saying that everyone is the hero of their own story, which is another way of saying we all think generally we’re doing the right thing (or at least a justifiable thing, even if we acknowledge that it’s not exactly right) when we do it. Moash presumably felt that Kaladin’s defense of Elhokar at the end of Words of Radiance was a betrayal, since he’d agreed earlier to go along with Graves’s plan. Even so, Moash acknowledged that his own actions constituted a betrayal of Bridge Four—though of course, being Moash, he didn’t acknowledge that he was actually at fault for it. But yes, through it all, he believed that Elhokar was a bad king and deserved to die, one way or another, so he saw his own actions as justified.
L: Also, the reason I put this into this section to begin with was because, obviously, Elhokar was about to become a Radiant. Which order is up for debate. We know from book 1 that he was drawing Cryptics, but just because he was interesting to one group of higher spren doesn’t mean that that’s the only group that was interested in him. He was so close, and the only way we’ll ever know for sure which order he was about to enter is if/when we find out what his little spren (who, presumably, Wit will soon acquire) was.
A: It’s pretty solid—if we’re willing to spoil the end of the book—that his spren was a Cryptic. He’d have become a Lightweaver, and I would love to have seen where he’d gone with that.
L: Interesting to consider what could have been. He’d have had to give up secrets/truths.
A: There’s a WoB that says his first Truth would have been that he’s a bad king.
L: I do remember reading that at one point. Heartbreaking.
A: ::sniff:: Given the chance, do you suppose he’d have become a better king, or abdicated the throne to someone “better” and focused on becoming a good Knight Radiant? We’ll never know, of course…
L: Well, given that Dalinar has mostly taken over the power of rule, I suppose that was making his job a bit easier. He was still the ruler of Alethkar, true, but when someone is over you, you’re not taking the brunt of most of the decisions yourself. I think he might have continued on and tried to make himself into a better king, a more worthy one, as atonement.
A: That was my guess, too. If they could actually implement that business where Dalinar was “high king” responsible for Urithiru, the Knights Radiant, and the Shattered Plains, and stayed out of Elhokar’s way in ruling Alethkar, maybe it would have worked. Maybe Elhokar could have developed into a wiser, stronger, better king.
Also, I think the reason all of this combines so well to build the emotional storm is the drama of Elhokar beginning to haltingly speak the First Ideal. It sets up the hope of seeing a new Radiant revealed in the height of a battle, which is guaranteed to be an awesome visual (as note every one of Kaladin’s level-ups). Blend that with the terrified child he’s protecting, and the regal man Shallan’s sketch showed, and you get a breath-taking moment of awe… suddenly shattered by Moash’s spear.
L: Reminds me of this.
A Scrupulous Study of Spren
“Up the stairs,” he said softly to Syl. “Check for an ambush on each floor.”
“Yessir, commander sir, Radiant sir,” she said, and zipped off.
A: BAHahaha! I adore Syl sometimes.
L: Gotta love the snark.
“Where is Gav, Aesudan? Where is my son?”
“He’s playing with friends.”
Kaladin joined Syl and glanced behind the dressing screen, which had been pushed back against the wall to section off a small cubby. Here a child—two or three years old—huddled and trembled, clutching a stuffed soldier. Several spren with soft red glows were picking at him like cremlings at a corpse. The boy tried to turn his head, and the spren pulled on the back of his hair until he looked up, while others hovered in front of his face and took horrific shapes, like horses with melting faces.
L: There’s a lot to unpack here, but I need to start with the fact that I want to simultaneously pick up this child to protect him and slap his mother senseless for allowing this to happen.
A: YES. This was kind of soul-crushing, that a mother could let her child to be treated this way. It hurts so much. “Playing with friends” indeed. You foul… woman. (I have a few unprintable words in my head for her, too.)
L: Okay, so, that out of the way. Exactly what kind of spren are these? Just… generic Voidspren? Do Voidspren not correlate to specific emotions/ideas the way normal spren do?
A: We don’t know much about Voidspren. I think they do correspond to something that makes each “kind” different, but I don’t think we know what those somethings might be. Again, hopefully we’ll learn more about this from Venli.
L: AND. Why horses? Why would they be imitating something that’s not even native to this world? This is very similar to Shallan’s sketch from earlier in the book of the creepy… undead-horse-spiral thing. Is there something more to horses that we’re not seeing, or is this just a coincidence?
A: That… uh… I have no idea. Does Sanderson have nightmares about horses (oh, look, it’s a pun!), or is he doing this on purpose?
L: AND. AND AND AND. Why in the hell is it torturing a child? What could its possible motivation for this be? Is it trying to break his mind, drive him as insane as his mother appears to now be?
A: All I can guess is that, being of Odium, these spren get their kicks from whatever (negative) emotion they can elicit, and a child can easily be prodded into terror. It’s like they’re just playing a very nasty game to pass the time. Foul things.
L: This next quote has no bearing on spren but it leads directly from this conversation, so…
Kaladin reacted with swift, immediate rage.
L: YES. Kaladin, MAH BOY.
He drove the dagger forward and caught one of the spren, pinning it to the wall’s wooden paneling. He had never known a Shardblade to cut a spren before, but this worked. The thing screamed in a soft voice, a hundred hands coming from its shape and scraping at the Blade, at the wall, until it seemed to rip into a thousand tiny pieces, then faded.
The other three red spren streaked away in a panic. In his hands, Kaladin felt Syl tremble, then groan softly. … “That… that was terrible,” she whispered, floating over to land on his shoulder. “Did we… just kill a spren?”
L: Talk about a lot to unpack! Okay. So. Is it dead dead, or just dead like the old Shardblades are dead, which means “wandering around somewhere in Shadesmar”?
A: I have no idea. I didn’t know this was remotely possible until they did it, and I don’t even know what they did. Falling back to my “best guess” shtick, I think it’s either completely destroyed, or gone back to Braize. But don’t ask me to defend my guesses, because I’ve got nothing to go on!
L: And why is this something that Syl seems totally unfamiliar with? Has this never happened before, ever, in any of the past battles? If that’s the case (and Syl’s not just forgetting things again) then what makes this time different? Was it because Kaladin was feeling such a strong emotion, one which is often associated with Odium? Is that why he was able to kill the Voidspren, because he was channeling an Odium-emotion?
A: That would be pretty twisty, though this is Sanderson we’re talking about. Syl could be unfamiliar with it because she remembers so little of actually fighting the Voidbringers, or it could be something that is so extremely difficult to do that no one bothers to mention it. Or it could be considered so horrific among spren that it’s a forbidden topic. She’s pretty horrified about it, anyway.
L: AND what emotion or idea is this spren representative of? Does killing it mean that the thing that created it has somehow been destroyed? Like… let’s say, for the sake of argument, that this was a gloryspren. If Kaladin killed it, would that also kill the emotion (glory) that someone was feeling in the moment? If it was a decayspren, would the decay vanish from the real world since its mirror in the Cognitive Realm has been destroyed? Appropriate meme is appropriate. Can Kaladin even kill spren that aren’t of Odium? ??????
A: Maybe they’re torture-spren. Terror-spren? See above gif re: appropriate meme. I have no idea.
“I found the secret, Elhokar. Spren, ancient spren. You can bond with them!” … “Have you seen my Radiants?” Aesudan asked. She grinned. “The Queen’s Guard? I’ve done what your father could not. Oh, he found one of the ancient spren, but he could never discover how to bond it. But I, I have solved the riddle.”
In the dim light of the royal chambers, Aesudan’s eyes glittered. Then started to glow a deep red.
L: Whoa Nelly. This is pretty disturbing in a lot of ways. She’s deluded herself (or the Unmade has deluded her) into believing that she’s got Radiants of her own. Yikes. And Gavilar having found the Unmade… that must be that dark sphere that he had, right?
A: I don’t know if she’s actually talking about Unmade, or just ancient spren—and if ancient spren, does she (knowingly or not) mean the parsh ancestors who bond to make Fused, or does she mean actual spren? I mean, the thing she’s got is an Unmade, but I don’t know if that’s the same thing Gavilar had. Seriously, I don’t think she knows what she’s talking about. She’s been guided by Voidspren (and/or Unmade and/or Odium) despite her claim that she found the secrets. I don’t know whether Gavilar was smarter than her, or if he was also being guided by forces of Odium, but the queen is a seriously disturbed individual. She’s gotten her guards to give up their free will in order to bond/serve a bunch of Voidspren, she’s letting others play with her child, and she’s happy about having three Unmade taking up residence with her. Creepy.
L: Hold up a second. Do you think her Queensguard have actually bonded with Singer souls, like the Fused did? I just assumed they were under the influence of the Unmade.
A: Might be influence of the Unmade, or might be that they’ve bonded Voidspren—like Ulim and Yixli. I can’t see the ancestors lowering themselves to bond a bunch of random guards, which is why I’m more inclined to think they’ve got spren bonds of some sort. I’m not sure how that would work; normally, those bond with a Singer’s gemheart to give them the “forms of power,” but humans don’t have gemhearts to bond with. On a guess, someone figured out how to create a Nahel-type bond between Voidspren and humans, which doesn’t give the human the same level-up powers as a true Nahel bond but which gives the spren more control over the human.
He looked at Kaladin, then quietly made the Bridge Four salute, wrists tapped together.
L: Yo Moash, I got a salute for ya.
A: I know our rule is not to talk about these quotations much, but I need to point out the parallel—or the antithesis—between this salute and the one we saw last week, where Adolin gave Kaladin the Bridge Four salute, and Kaladin gave it back. I think Sanderson intended Moash to mean it as a real salute here, but it felt like a mockery to me.
L: Yeah. Since Moash thinks that he’s doing the right thing, he probably sees this as doing Kaladin a favor. “He can’t do this because his honor is holding him back, so I’ll do the hard thing he can’t.” I don’t doubt that his salute is genuine. I still hate him for it though.
The next two chapters are pretty short, so we’ll tackle them together. Join us in the comments, which I suspect will be pretty talkative this week, as hoo boy what a chapter! Please remember that no matter whether you fall on Team!Kal or Team!Moash, to respect one another’s opinions and remain civil.
Alice is still mad at
Elhokar MOASH (sorry for the horrible mistyping!), in case you hadn’t guessed. She’s also annoyingly busy for “summer break;” maybe moms don’t get summer break after all, eh?