This week, we launch into Part Four, titled “Defy! Sing Beginnings!” We’ll attempt to figure out what that means, if anything, over the next weeks. Today, though, we go back in time with Dalinar, who has developed some serious issues with life, the universe, and everything.
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. There is also a brief mention of the magic systems in Warbreaker and Mistborn (Stories & Songs), so if you haven’t read those… it’s not exactly spoilery, but kind of weird-hinty. Beware.
WHERE: Kholinar – Gavilar’s palace
WHEN: Eight years ago – late 1165 or early 1166
Dalinar leaves a political meeting that Gavilar is holding (where his only duty was to stand and loom menacingly) and goes in search of a drink to drown out the voices in his head. He finds Adolin, who informs him that he’s got a duel set up that will hopefully start him down the road towards winning his own Shardblade, then heads to the beggars’ porch where he finds an old homeless drunkard with whom he shares a drink and some conversation. Upon returning to his chambers, he overhears Adolin, Gavilar, and Elhokar discussing him and his addiction.
“How are the voices?”
AA: This is such a well-chosen title. Dalinar, here, asks “Ahu” (a.k.a. Jezrien) about his voices. But sprinkled throughout the chapter are the voices Dalinar hears: Evi weeping, children crying in his head – and also the real voices, heard through the door, of his sons, his brother, and his nephew, trying to figure out how to help him. (Well, the nephew not so much helping…) And every one of the voices anger him.
Jezrien: King, Herald of Kings, patron of the Windrunners, attributes Protecting & Leading
AA: This is almost funny, but not. We’ve got Gavilar being all regal and kingly, but more importantly we’ve got Jezrien himself being… well, just about as opposite as you can get. Come to think of it, Dalinar’s being pretty opposite-as-you-can-get, too.
Inverse Kholin glyphpair for a Dalinar flashback
AA: This is the first flashback after the events of the Rift, and it could be argued that this is where we begin (not exactly singing!) to see Dalinar’s descent into madness and his eventual rescue and redemption. It is highly probable that the comments section will reflect a wide variety of opinions on Dalinar’s condition as well as his “redemption arc.” Yes, it has been discussed frequently (*ahem*) in the past, and will continue to be discussed. I ask first that you would be courteous to one another, and second that you would do your level best to understand the perspectives expressed by others, rather than merely doubling down on your own stance. I’m not expecting anyone to necessarily change their opinion, but I do expect y’all to be respectful and open.
L: In Dalinar’s overarching character arc (in regards to his flashbacks at any rate), we’ve hit his low point. This is what is sometimes referred to as “the long dark night of the soul” and hoo boy, is it ever long and dark. He’s lost everything he cared about–Evi, war, and his thirst for battle. Including, of course, his own sanity, or so he believes. Before a character can begin the upwards climb towards redemption, they must lose everything and be at their lowest point. It is this that drives them to move towards ascension (and the climax of the arc).
AA: We’ll get one more flashback, set about a year later, in which Dalinar is still at the bottom of the arc, and then the moment where he starts to move upward. I’ve got some things to say about the concept of redemption, but I think it will wait until then.
AP: This is definitely the low point, and we can see the cracks in his spirit web pretty clearly. Not all potential Radiants have a specific trauma, but Dalinar sure does. He is clearly suffering from PTSD here, and is self medicating with alcohol. The assurance from Gavilar that Dalinar is a soldier and will fight through this rings hollow for anyone who has dealt with mental illness and been told to just “take your mind off it”, or “don’t think about it so much.”
Stories & Songs
AA: I’m going to start this out by addressing something which is not, strictly speaking, the normal purpose of this unit. It’s not ancient history or legend, but it is, most definitely, a story:
Sadeas had carefully spun news of the Rift’s destruction to the king’s advantage. … regrettable that the Rifters had forced Kholin action by killing Dalinar’s wife … unfortunate that the city had caught fire during the fighting….
… Gavilar didn’t want to unleash the Blackthorn.… these days, everyone was careful to give him plenty of other options.
So efficient. All it had cost was one city. And possibly Dalinar’s sanity.
L: Dalinar is, in effect, the nuclear option.
AA: Indeed. I suppose you could argue that the city and the sanity were already lost, so spinning it to reduce further bloodshed was merely a pragmatic decision. Dalinar doesn’t quite seem to see it that way.
AP: It’s a war crime and cover up, sure enough. Practicalities aside, I don’t actually think that everyone really believes the story, since there were a lot of witnesses at the Rift. I think they could cover up Evi’s betrayal, but not that the fires were deliberately set. I think everyone is going along because they are afraid that the “nuclear” option, once used, might be used again.
AA: Quite true, that many of the soldiers would know the fires were intentional. The reasoning behind it would have been unknown to them, though, so they’re likely to accept the “revenge for Evi” story, I think. Even if they didn’t quite buy that as enough, they also saw a brutally damaged Dalinar slogging back into camp after supposedly being killed in a “rockslide,” and heard his story of betrayal and ambush by Tanalan. After that, I doubt many in the army (especially an Alethi army) would have argued about retribution. We would, due to the killing of innocent civilians, but they probably wouldn’t.
… he found Ahu huddled in the shadows between two large religious statues, their backs facing the beggars, their hands spread toward the gardens.
… With black, matted hair and a scraggly beard, his skin was dark for an Alethi. …
… “Have you seen me?”
AA: On a guess, he’s sitting next to his own statue. He seems to make a habit of this; I’m guessing his question is supposed to be a twisted joke. I noticed something odd, though: “his skin was dark for an Alethi.” Was he darker than we thought, or does his appearance change from time to time? If this is really what he always looked like, then it appears that the “Vorin idealization” of him in the endpaper artwork lightened his hair and skin tone considerably. So… maybe his daughter’s skin tone isn’t so much darker than his after all. (That would be Shalash, if anyone had forgotten.)
L: I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised if they’d made him look more Alethi in the artwork. We’ve seen the exact same thing happen in the real world, where people have a tendency to depict Jesus as a white man.
AA: ::eyeroll:: Yeah, that one always kills me. (Though I’ll confess I still love the Christmas carol “In the Bleak Midwinter” despite the improbability of snow, ice, or frozen ground…) The funny thing is, he doesn’t even look all that Alethi. But that’s okay – artistic/religious license and all that!
“Soft, today. They chant about ripping me apart. Eating my flesh. Drinking my blood.”
L: I can only assume that he’s remembering his time spent being tortured.
AA: That’s my assumption as well. Brutal.
“Where is my soul, and who is this in my face?”
L: This is a really interesting line. I don’t know whether we should be trying to read into this, or if it’s just the ramblings of a madman, but if the former… Is his soul really missing? Is someone else’s soul inhabiting a body that should be his?
AA: Hmmm. I think it’s his own soul, mad as it is… but given his later comment about Moelach, could this actually be foreshadowing of the not-so-distant future when someone will come with a jeweled dagger? Yes, that’s a stretch; it comes down to “I don’t know.”
AP: With the way that the physical/cognitive/spiritual realms work, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to find that his “soul” or pieces of it, are missing. Can a living soul be splintered?
AA: Umm… That’s a really freaky thought. I mean, Breath and Hemalurgy both deal with “part of your soul” so… maybe? I’m not an expert on how Hemalurgy works, and we don’t really know how the Heralds were made and maintained, but I suppose it is possible.
L: It would make a lot of sense. We’ve seen how certain aspects of magic systems are mirrored across worlds, so why wouldn’t something that could happen to Adonalsium also happen to a human soul? If Adonalsium was a god, then that’s exactly what the splintering was to begin with.
“Which one got to you, little child? The Black Fisher? The Spawning Mother, the Faceless? Moelach is close. I can hear his wheezing, his scratching, his scraping at time like a rat breaking through walls.”
AA: It seems fairly obvious that Ahu/Jezrien is referring to several of the Unmade here. The Black Fisher, a.k.a. Dai-Gonarthis, is one of the mystery-Unmade as yet. So far as we know, we haven’t seen him in action, and know very little about him. The Spawning Mother is most likely Re-Shephir; we saw all too much of her in Part One, but we don’t know where she is now. (At the time of this flashback, she was presumably holed up in the basement of Urithiru?)
L: It’s pretty cool to think of her as “spawning,” as she creates myriad mirrors of herself to accomplish her goals.
AA: The Faceless… we have no link to anything. My best guess is Ashertmarn, since we’ve seen him/it take the form of an enormous heart.
AP: Another candidate for the Faceless is Nergaoul, who takes the form of a red mist and is responsible for the Thrill. Dalinar has definitely been under its influence! It’s interesting to note that Jezrien can spot the effects of an encounter with the Unmade.
AA: I hadn’t really considered that, but it’s valid. If Shallan is sensitive to the presence of an Unmade, even from a distance, why couldn’t Jezrien be able to see the effect of a being he spent millenia fighting? And he seems quite certain that Dalinar has been “got to” by one of the Unmade.
Moelach, we know, is the one who triggers the Death Rattles; I found Jezrien’s description of him “scraping at time” to be fascinating and creepy at once. We know he was hanging around Kharbranth for a long time, since Taravangian was using the Death Rattles to edit the Diagram, and he seems to have relocated to the Horneater Peaks more recently.
L: Since the death rattles seem to be prescient, it makes sense that time is referenced here. Obviously Moelach has some sort of ability to either foretell coming events itself, or to bring out that ability in others.
AP: I agree that he is referencing the predictive nature of the death rattles, which is super creepy.
“I used to think it wasn’t my fault. But you know, we can’t escape what we did? We let them in. We attracted them, befriended them, took them out to dance and courted them. It is our fault. You open yourself to it, and you pay the price. They ripped my brain out and made it dance! I watched.”
AA: Welp. How to unpack this? Is he still talking about the Unmade, or about the ancestral Singers? Or is there an overlap there – were nine of them Unmade, while the rest were made Cognitive Shadows and given the ability to return and take new bodies?
L: Good questions. I read it as him talking about the Unmade, since that’s what the conversation was about before, but… he’s mad, so his mind may be shifting topics. If he is talking about the Unmade, I find the line about “we befriended them” to be the most interesting. We know that they were made and then unmade, so perhaps they were originally creatures or spren that the Heralds thought they could bend to their wills? And then Odium got ahold of them?
AA: I wish we knew more, because this is so ripe for speculation, and I’d like a little more to work with! I think there’s better support for the Unmade having been spren than having been Singer souls, but the ideas run together here too much to sort it out.
However, the idea that this is referring to ancient Singers fits with hints we get elsewhere. For example, in the Epilogue, Wit thinks about having shared a dance with one of the Fused thousands of years ago. We also know that at some point, there was intermarriage between the Singers and the humans; it certainly seems possible that the Horneater and Herdazian heritage may go back this far, to a time before the wars began.
Given his statements (which are, perhaps, not entirely trustworthy) about attracting, befriending, dancing, and courting, some new possibilities about the beginnings come to mind. Perhaps it wasn’t so much a matter of the humans leaving Shinovar and invading the rest of the planet, as inviting the Singers to join them in Shinovar on a social basis. They seem to have gotten along quite well at first, so it may well be that the first human ventures beyond “their place” were amiable, and at the return invitation of the Singers.
If that is true, things went south rather badly, didn’t they?
L: Gee, I wonder who could possibly have been responsible for that?
Relationships & Romances
AA: The relationships reflected in this chapter are complex. Without doing too many lengthy quotes, it’s clear that Dalinar himself is deeply conflicted about Evi. On the one hand, he wants to blame her for everything; on the other hand, his difficulty in dealing with all the thousand-and-one things that remind him of her argues against the anger.
L: It’s possible to be both angry and guilty, especially when it comes to death. A good friend of mine took his own life several years ago, and I experienced many of the same conflicting emotions–anger, guilt, grief all mixed together and warring with one another for prominence.
AP: It’s definitely possible to feel both things. And Dalinar doesn’t have the mental resources to get to a healthy place with his grief. This conflict is one of the things magicked away by his visit to the Nightwatcher. Blessing & curse all in one.
Emotions warred inside Dalinar. Memories of good years spent with his son in Jah Keved, riding or teaching him the sword.
Memories of her. The woman from whom Adolin had inherited that blond hair and that smile. So genuine. Dalinar wouldn’t trade Adolin’s sincerity for a hundred soldiers in proper uniforms.
But he also couldn’t face it right now.
AA: How much Dalinar loved Evi will always be a matter of debate, but this kind of pain doesn’t come from memories of someone about whom you cared nothing.
L: It seems to me like he didn’t realize how much he loved her until he lost her. You never appreciate what you have more than when you’ve lost it.
AA: So very true! He did occasionally register how much her good opinion meant to him; now he’s realizing just how much she was part of the fabric of his life.
AP: I think that it’s possible to love someone and still treat them poorly. Dalinar was not a good husband. Full stop. That doesn’t mean that he didn’t have some degree of affection for Evi, or that he won’t mourn her death. He’s a majorly flawed and conflicted character. Contrasting his relationship with Evi vs. Navani, the latter is much more healthy, and based on a mutual respect and affection that wasn’t present between him & Evi.
AA: It always makes me sad to see how much the “respect” in his relationship with Evi went all one way. His relationship with Navani isn’t perfect either, but it’s definitely got a stronger basis in mutual value.
Adolin blushed, then put on a stronger face. He didn’t wilt beneath the stern words. When censured, Adolin only tried harder.…
Storming child. Who could deny him?…
Dalinar walked off as quickly as he could, to get away from that hair, that wonderful – haunting – smile.
AA: I know some people see Adolin’s response as a negative; I don’t. Yes, he loves to please his father, but how is that a bad thing? Dalinar’s inner turmoil, coming out as censure, isn’t directed at Adolin, and at some level they both know it. That’s why, IMO, Adolin works so hard to make his father happy: there are a lot of things he can’t fix, but he does the things he can to make Dalinar’s life better. I admire that selflessness in such a young person. It’s not like he lives solely for his father and never gets to do his own thing; we see him here in a specially-tailored uniform, excited about his upcoming duel. Those aren’t necessarily calculated to make Dalinar happy – but sharing his excitement with his father, being eager for his father to come watch the duel, those are the actions of a son seeking to draw his father out from his internal struggles and back into an enjoyment of life. In my opinion.
L: I like the concept of him doing this to try to bring his father out of it, but I don’t think that’s his sole purpose. Adolin’s built most of his personality around the things that his father values, and hence it’s become an integral part of himself. His joy in duelling is his own, and while I definitely think he is happy to give his father something to be proud of him for, he’s also doing it for his own sake.
AP: He gets the resolve & grit from his mother. It’s so subtle, and I love it. Evi worked for years to be a good Alethi wife, and Adolin would have seen that first hand. Now he is working at being a good Alethi son & soldier. I don’t think it has anything to do with trying to bring Dalinar back to an enjoyment of life. It’s the behavior that was modeled for him.
AA: I would say that much of Evi’s behavior was intended to bring Dalinar to an enjoyment of life outside of war; for Adolin to try to bring Dalinar “back into life,” whether consciously or not, is following Evi’s example. In any case, I thoroughly agree that Adolin gets his resiliance and determination from his mother. Appearances notwithstanding, she was a strong woman.
“Your father never adjusted to being alone, Adolin,” the king replied. “He misses your mother.”
L: I’m very curious as to whether or not Gavilar actually believes this, or if he’s just saying it to make Adolin feel better. I’m betting the latter. It seems like everyone is always lying to Adolin and Renarin about Dalinar, trying to preserve his honor in his sons’ eyes.
AA: Heh. My note on this paragraph was “Is Gavilar really that clueless, or is he making up stuff for Adolin?” Great minds, eh? I suspect that Gavilar wants to believe this, at least, and in fact I think it’s partially true. But as you say, Gavilar is also trying to preserve Dalinar’s image; assuming that Gavilar knows the truth, he’s not about to tell the boys about the guilt that is tearing his brother apart. Wise or not, the truth is being hidden from all but the very few who were there – and even some of them “know” things that aren’t what really happened. Sadeas and Dalinar, Kadash and a few of his elites… that’s about it. I’m not entirely sure Sadeas even really knew all of what happened.
AP: And thirded. You don’t tell a fifteen year old kid about how terrible his dad is and how he actually caused his mom’s death. Nopenopenope…teenagers are bad at state secrets.
Bruised & Broken
AA: Oh, Dalinar. You poor broken beast.
L: Yeah. As horrible as a person as he was, it’s important to remember that he’s a product of his society. When everything and everyone around you is telling you to prioritize violence and the glory of battle, is it really surprising that he turned out the way he did?
AA: Not surprising at all. It’s sometimes hard to keep this in mind, but we do need to deal with Dalinar in the context of his culture.
Dalinar could not stand fire. The scent of smoke smelled like burning skin, and the crackling of flames reminded him only of her.
L: The Nightwatcher must have pruned this along with the rest, but I am curious to see if it will ever eventually resurface.
AP: I don’t expect it to. It was a trigger for his PTSD, and whatever happened in between, he seems, mentally, to be better able to cope with his history. It’s painful, of course, but we don’t see the same complete loss of control and need to drown his memories. I think it’s a combination of the magic (nahel bond, Nightwatcher) and his self improvement quest and improved support system.
His own keep reminded him too much of her.
AA: I won’t quote them all, but this chapter is chock full of things that remind him of Evi. The crackling of flames; his keep; Renarin’s incense; Adolin’s good looks, hair, smile, sincerity; the voices of his sons. Life reminds him of Evi, which is why he keeps trying to drown life in a bottle.
Three years, living with what he’d done.
AA: Another thing this chapter is full of, and one I want to consider more deeply, is Dalinar’s thought process. Or maybe emotion process would be more applicable. In any case, he starts out thinking about what he had done. Next thing you know, he’s looking for wine and blaming Gavilar for being stingy after all Dalinar had done for him. Then he blames Evi for being childish and “getting herself killed.” Then he’s back to blaming Gavilar for pushing him to drinking with the beggars. And then he’s just angry because even inadvertently, they all won’t let him forget.
This seems to be typical of his life during this phase – blaming himself until he can’t bear it any more, then blaming everyone else as he drinks himself into oblivion, and then waking up to start again. Some days are better and he doesn’t “need” the alcohol as much; some days are worse and he can’t stay away from it. Apparently there are a lot of the “worse” sorts of days, since he’s emptied out all the places wine would normally be stashed for convenience, terrified the people of the city so that he’s unwelcome in the taverns, made himself a pest in the kitchens, and finally gotten to the point that he’s found one “beggar” who somehow always seems to have liquor. And all the time, he’s telling himself the he indulged “only on occasion. On bad days.” It’s humanly understandable, and humanly tragic. He knows what he’s done, he hates himself for it, and there’s no place to turn for healing.
He didn’t miss Evi. He wanted to be rid of her.
Though… he did ache now that she was gone. Was that why she wept for him so often?
AA: As if the rest weren’t evidence enough of his brokenness, there’s that. And yet… in a way it’s true. In her last years, she wept for what was happening to him, and for the people he would kill, far more than she wept for herself. Seeing him now, she would most definitely be weeping for him.
This chapter brings out such … ambivalence is too gentle… warring emotions about Dalinar. So many people share responsibility for the destruction at Rathalas: Dalinar, of course, but also Sadeas, Tanalan, even Gavilar in some measure, and of course the Thrill. Even Evi’s death is not entirely Dalinar’s fault, though he did order his men to torch the saferoom-turned-prison; she made the choice to go to Tanalan, and Tanalan made the choice to imprison her rather than releasing her, thinking that he could still use her as a bargaining chip after his treachery. Aside from that… Dalinar makes me want to console him and beat him at the same time. Appropriate, considering that he does the same.
Squires & Sidekicks
Today, Adolin wore a fashionable suit with far too much embroidery, and boots that were topped by silver.
“That’s not a standard-issue uniform, soldier,” Dalinar said to him.
“I know!” Adolin said. “I had it specially tailored!”
AA: So sue me. I love this. He’s fifteen years old and way too adorable.
L: Yes. He’s storming amazing.
AA: And now I have a new theory. (Someone else has probably thought of this, but I haven’t seen it anywhere.) Returning to the last quotation in the Stories & Songs unit, Jezrien says, “You open yourself to it, and you pay the price.” We don’t really know what happened in the early days, right? We’ve assumed that the humans were the aggressors, invading the rest of Roshar from their initial home in Shinovar, but we don’t know that. It’s possible that instead, the humans cooperatively followed the example of the Singers, perhaps even with their guidance, and opened themselves to the spren bonding. Then, per Eshonai’s songs, the spren discovered that they gained more from bonds with humans than from bonds with Singers. Depending on what effect that had, it’s easy to imagine that some of the Singers would grow angry about their abilities being usurped and maybe surpassed, and they turned to Odium to try to stop the humans from spren-bonding and all the rest. We still don’t know the whole story; we know that the humans came to Roshar after damaging Ashyn beyond habitability, but we don’t really know who started the fighting, or why. Perhaps it was the Singers who truly brought the Void powers to Roshar after all, and Honor made the Oathpact with the Heralds to defend all of Roshar’s people from Odium. At the moment, this makes sense out of all sorts of things – like why ten humans would offer themselves to Honor, and why Honor would accept them.
Dalinar didn’t need to participate in the meeting; his job was to loom.
Next week we’ll be beginning our journey in Shadesmar with Shallan, Adolin, Kaladin, and Azure. (As well as their respective spren, of course.) Join us then, and in the meantime, keep those comments coming!
Lyndsey is excited that her husband bought her a little Maya pendant from Badali Jewelry this past weekend at GenCon, so now she can carry Maya around with her everywhere she goes. If you’re an aspiring author, a cosplayer, or just like geeky content, follow her work on Facebook or Instagram.
Alice is deeply envious of Lyndsey’s bio.
Aubree is theorizing about what the Rosharan version of horcruxes might be…