Welcome back to the Oathbringer Reread! This week, our inadvertent explorers give us our first in-depth look at Shadesmar, the Cognitive realm. Oh, wait, Adolin fell into the depths last time we saw them. This time, they just have to figure out how to get away from the dangers surrounding them without falling in. Good luck with that, kids.
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 small things from Warbreaker and Mistborn: Secret History in the Cosmere Connections section, so if you haven’t read those, best to give that section a pass.
WHO: Adolin and the Shadesmar Exploration Squad (ie, Kaladin, Shallan, Azure, Pattern, Maya, and Syl.)
WHERE: Shadesmar (Sea of Lost Lights)
WHEN: 122.214.171.124, the same day that we left our intrepid crew but the day BEFORE Venli arrives in Kholinar in the interludes.
Adolin’s initial assumption is that they’re dead, while Kaladin panics and then collapses. With the claws of a huge hand coming up around them through the beads, Shallan focuses on finding a way to get them away from the middle of the action. Armed with Azure’s knowledge of Shadesmar, she uses the soul of a door and the soul of the Oathgate control room to ferry them step by small step to the nearest solid ground, where they will camp and rest.
“I’m dead,” Adolin whispered. “We’re dead, and this is Damnation.”
Battah (Battar), Wise/Careful. Elsecallers. Role: Counsellor. Talenelat (Talenel, Taln.) Herald of War. Dependable / Resourceful. Stonewards. Role: Soldier.
L: Battah could be here for a few different reasons. First of all, she’s Herald of the Elsecallers, and Shadesmar is pretty much their domain. Secondly, Shallan is displaying some of her traits here—she’s being very careful and wise in her use of the door/building to get them to safety, and it’s worthwhile to note that this is pretty resourceful (Talenelat), too. Adolin is also displaying the trait of counsellor in regards to his treatment of Kaladin, in addition to his usual associations (dependable, soldier) with Talenelat.
Shardbearer, indicating an Adolin POV, which this week he shares with Shallan
My research into the Unmade has convinced me that these things were not simply “spirits of the void” or “nine shadows who moved in the night.” They were each a specific kind of spren, endowed with vast powers.
—From Hessi’s Mythica, page 3
AA: Wooo-hooo! Collected research on the Unmade for the Part Four epigraphs! I suppose, like all in-world books, we have to take everything with a grain of salt; Hessi is only researching available information, and basing her statements on her interpretation of the things she’s found. Still, it’s more than we had before, so we’ll take it.
Here, she reminds her reader that these are not merely spirits or shadows, or legends of such. They are spren—each one different and holding different powers—vast and powerful spren. Unfortunately, that’s about all this one tells us.
Stories & Songs
AA: There are several references to Unmade (aside from the epigraph) in this chapter. There is something enormous, repeatedly shifting around beneath the Oathgate platform on which they’re standing, and then it starts to become visible:
In the near distance, a single spire of rock broke the surface, tall and black.… As it grew to the height of a building, a joint appeared. Storms. It wasn’t a spire or a mountain … it was a claw.
More emerged in other directions. An enormous hand was reaching slowly upward through the glass beads. Deep beneath them a heartbeat began sounding, rattling the beads.
AA: Obligatory YIKES here! As Lyndsey pointed out a few weeks ago, the Unmade can be huuuuge on this side. Presumably, with the heartbeat reference, this is Ashertmarn reaching up for them.
I have to ask: Was the spren that big before it was unmade, or has it become that big due to the perceptions of the people of Roshar? This goes back to my preoccupation with the origins of the Unmade, obviously, but I have to wonder. If they were “big” spren before, what were they the spren of? Were there spren who represented the Rosharan equivalent of the seven deadly sins (except presumably nine), or were they spren of natural phenomena like the Stormfather and the Nightwatcher? We have no answers, but I wonder.
Then there’s Sja-anat… and interestingly enough, we see no sign of her being on this side—just the result of her actions. Syl points out that the Oathgate spren were corrupted by Sja-anat, and Shallan thinks about how Sja-anat was supposed to kill them but said she’d try not to. That’s about all we get on her.
AP: It’s still unclear exactly how Sja-anat corrupts spren. Is it merely by existing around them? Like a trail left behind? Or does it take an active process? If it’s passive, that may be why she can’t ensure control of the outcome. If she is even really on the side of Our Heroes, which I remain skeptical of. Also of note is that Sja-anat is the only Unmade so far that has shown the ability to communicate directly with humans using speech, rather than feelings/impressions/mind control. This could provide hints as to the origins of the various Unmade spren. There are definitely varying levels of communicative ability among even the higher spren, like Syl vs. Timbre.
L: To be fair, Timbre hasn’t formally bonded with Venli yet. Syl and Pattern couldn’t verbally communicate with their Knights at first either.
Relationships & Romances
AA: Oddly enough, for a chapter with Adolin and Shallan as the POV characters, there’s very little going on between them. It’s like Adolin looks at what Shallan’s doing and decides that she doesn’t need to be distracted, but looks at what Kaladin is doing and decides that he definitely needs some distracting. It’s really quite clever.
“Kaladin?” Adolin asked.
Kaladin finally shook himself and gave in to Syl’s prodding. He walked onto the rooftop. Adolin followed, then took Kaladin’s pack—deliberately but firmly—and swung it over his own shoulder. Kaladin let him.
“Hey,” Adolin said. “It will be all right.”
“I survived Bridge Four,” Kaladin growled. “I’m strong enough to survive this.”
“I’m pretty sure you could survive anything. Storms, bridgeboy, the Almighty used some of the same stuff he put into Shardblades when he made you.”
AA: Is it just me, or is this whole exchange, plus all the bit that follows, absolutely hilarious and sweet and dorky all at the same time? Adolin uses an outrageous combination of flattery, self-deprecation, cajolery, insult, and anything else he can to keep Kaladin talking, distracted, and above all moving. The fact that Kaladin lets him, and in a sense leans on him in this situation, is pretty amazing in itself. The best part is Syl—she stays close, but lets Adolin guide the conversation. I begin to think that any further objections to Adolin carrying a dead sword will be more for form’s sake than any actual dislike or distrust of him.
AP: I think this is a great section. Kaladin is having a major stress reaction here, and is borderline unresponsive when he gets to Shadesmar. Adolin does great here by helping give him something to focus on, a lifeline that keeps him grounded.
Bruised & Broken
“I couldn’t make them see,” Kaladin whispered. “I couldn’t… couldn’t protect them. I’m supposed to be able to protect people, aren’t I?”
L: I just want to give him a giant hug. Poor, poor Kaladin. In his view, his powers were supposed to help him, to make it so that he wouldn’t have to lose people anymore. Naive, but understandable. Now here he is, losing people again, and it’s breaking him.
AA: I know, right? His immediate reaction on arriving in Shadesmar is to suck in All The Stormlight and charge to the rescue, but with no way to reach the people he wants to protect, all he does is endanger his current company. Once he gives up on that approach (thank you, Sylphrena), all he can think about is his inability—past and present—to protect the people he cared about.
I do feel for him. Depression has a tendency to focus you on all the things you can’t do, and make the things you can do look so insignificant as to be worthless. That doesn’t make it fun to read about, but it sure is true to life!
AP: Brandon does a great job here showing a completely human reaction to failure, especially in the setting of depression. It’s definitely relatable, and makes sense that Kaladin would start to spiral after much of the self worth he has built up is related to his ability to do magic and protect his friends, and it just didn’t work. Coming to terms with being unable to protect everyone all the time is going to be a looong process for him.
AA: Shallan, on the other hand… This time we see her bizarre coping mechanisms in a good light, and it’s easy to see how the same tool can be used for good or ill:
Don’t think about that haunted look in his eyes, Shallan thought. Don’t think about what you’ve done in bringing us here, or how it happened. Don’t think, Shallan.
Her mind went blank, like it did in preparation for drawing, then locked on to her task.
[. . .]
Focus. Something reached out from the back of her mind, grabbed those thoughts and feelings, and yanked them down into the darkness. Gone.
AA: I mean… that last bit is kind of a creepy image, but at the same time, it’s pretty genius. When she needs to get a job done, she’s absolutely brilliant at shutting out the distractions so she can get on with it.
L: I’d also like to point out what a good team she and Adolin are here. She takes on the responsibility of getting them out while Adolin takes on the responsibility of making sure all of them are moving.
AA: I also love that they don’t even talk about it; they just move to doing what they’re good at. I’m mildly amused that Shallan connects blanking her mind to “preparation for drawing” rather than to her years of blocking out other memories, but… whatever floats your boat, girl.
Seriously, though, I like seeing it in this context. So many times in Words of Radiance, we’d see her mind simply disconnect—and it was usually frustrating, because she was right on the brink of telling us something interesting. Here, we get to see her deliberately line out what not to think about, and then block it out so she can focus on saving everyone. In a way, it’s part of her being broken—and at the same time, it contributes to her strength.
AP: So do we think that the thoughts going into “the darkness” is a coping mechanism? Or is it a magically enhanced thing? Like her ability to take an “image” and supernatural drawing ability (seeing the Unmade, making people better versions of themselves through portraits).
AA: Both? I could be wrong, but I assume it’s an artifact of her coping mechanism, magically enhanced by her Illumination access.
Squires & Sidekicks
Living souls bobbed around, a swarm of them entering the Oathgate control chamber. One brushed Shallan. Drehy the bridgeman.
AA: I never really noticed this before, but we now know that when the Oathgate didn’t work the way they expected, those who had waited outside came looking for them. What a shock it must have been to find the room empty, as though their leaders had decided to leave without them! Clearly they didn’t let that stop them from doing what was needed.
For a brief moment she felt what it was like to be him. Worried for Kaladin. Panicked that nobody was in charge, that he would have to take command. He wasn’t a commander. You couldn’t be a rebel if you were in charge. He liked being told what to do—that way he could find a method to do it with style.
AA: I… don’t really have anything insightful to say about this. I just like the peek into Drehy’s thoughts.
Drehy’s worries caused her own to bubble up. The bridgemen’s powers will fade without Kaladin, she thought. What of Vathah, Red, and Ishnah?
AA: Those are valid worries, but—as she so quickly notes—there’s nothing she can do about it now. All the same, now I wonder. Are any of those people becoming Radiants in their own right? When (spoiler alert!) Kaladin finds them again at the end of the book, Drehy says the words of the second Windrunner Ideal. We know he, like the rest of Bridge Four, spoke the first Ideal and “squired up” back in Part Two. What do you suppose are the chances that he leveled up again in the interim? Without Stormlight, he couldn’t fly the rest of the party all the way back to Urithiru, but might that be how he got them out of Kholinar in the first place? Sheer speculation, of course, but if Vathah had some squire powers left, maybe he was able to disguise them, too. Now I really want to know who gained bonds when we weren’t looking!
AP: I think there is a good chance! Looking forward to finding out more in book four!
Places & Peoples
Theology was for women and scribes. Adolin figured he’d try to follow his Calling, becoming the best swordsman he could. The ardents told him that was enough, that he didn’t need to worry about things like Damnation.
Yet here he was….
AA: And once again, we run up against those Vorin gender roles. This one, on the surface, doesn’t sound all that far from an attitude in our not-very-distant past, at least in Western cultures—although it’s more likely to be phrased “religion” rather than “theology.” On the other hand… there’s actually a pretty big difference. Most Vorin men believe their religion, but theology, like all forms of scholarship, is the domain of women and ardents. It’s almost the opposite of that particular Earth attitude, because in Vorinism, debate and logic are restricted to women and ardents, with ordinary men blocked out. It’s an interesting twist; however you feel about having roles defined by gender at all, you have to admit that Sanderson stood the stereotype on its head with this one.
Personally, I get a charge out of the way he set it up so that science, logic, scholarship, and religion are all overtly on the same side, instead of the current western misperception that they’re at odds.
AP: I think it does once again show the broken nature of the Vorin cultural norms. “That’s for the other gender so I don’t have to think about it” is pretty short sighted. It’s definitely a reversal from what we are used to in Western culture, but it doesn’t seem to work any better!
“We’re not dead,” Azure growled. “They call this place Shadesmar. It’s the realm of thought.”
“I peek into this place when I Soulcast,” Shallan said. “Shadesmar overlaps the real world, but many things are inverted here.”
AA: First off, I have to point out this evidence that Shallan has not physically entered Shadesmar before. As she says here, she has peeked in; she was not really there, disorienting as she found it even so. Fortunately, she and Jasnah had talked about Shadesmar; she was able to remember the necessity of having Stormlight and use that to figure out what to do next. She might not have picked the most efficient method, but she found something that worked. That’s not nothing.
She also notes that, once again, the spren don’t notice her use of Stormlight as much as they do Kaladin’s. This is, what, the second or third mention of this? Is it going be important for some later development, or is it just narrative convenience?
AP: I don’t know if it’s really evidence, because when she did it before, way back in Words of Radiance and almost drowned in beads, she didn’t know what she was doing and had to be rescued by Jasnah. When she Soulcasts and peeks in, the experience is different. I think there are definitely degrees of “presence” in Shadesmar, and getting in seems to be much easier than getting back out!
AA: I’ll have to sit down and think about this with both hands sometime, because the prior incidents in Shadesmar are a little confusing. Jasnah seems to have been unable to get there physically until Ivory let her—which only happened when she was near death—so it’s not exactly easy to get there. Shallan’s episodes… well, I read them all as “she’s there in her mind, but her body remains in the physical realm”—and I think this comment supports that. But it might not be proof.
“Everybody,” she said, “those flames are the souls of people, while these spheres represent the souls of objects. Yes, there are huge philosophical implications in that. Let’s try to ignore them, shall we?”
AA: LOL. Yes, please, let’s not get distracted with philosophy while we need to focus on survival!
AP: I mean, yeah, but also I want to know more! I sincerely hope we get a lot more Shadesmar lore in coming books. And I’m looking forward to discussing the parts we get in upcoming chapters!
Swords, recently swung and glorying in their purpose fulfilled. Other weapons belonged to dead men, blades that had the faintest inkling that they’d failed somehow.
AA: Well, that’s just painful. When I was very young, I anthropomorphized far too much for my own good. E.g.: The mattress on my bed was old, and when a spring broke and poked through, it had to be replaced; the old one was taken to the landfill. I hated and complained about the broken spring poking me, but once it was gone, I cried and cried for the poor mattress lying out there in the dump, all sad and lonely. This brings that ALL back, because on Roshar it probably would be lying out there being sad and lonely, and also feeling that it had failed because it wasn’t comfortable any more!
AP: Or its identity slowly changed as it accepted its new purpose as a cozy home for a family of mice!
AA: Hey, that’s a good thought! Wish you’d said that when I was seven or so…
They had to huddle together while Shallan dismissed the rooftop behind, sending it crashing down, then squeezed past everyone to raise another copy of the building.
AA: Most of the movement in this chapter comes from Shallan’s effort, but somehow it seems to have the least to talk about. Once Azure explains the inverse nature of land and water in the Cognitive realm vs. the Physical, Adolin points out the nearest river, and they have to figure out how to get there. For a bit, it’s mostly sifting through beads—under a time crunch, with those claws coming up around them—trying to find something big enough and flat enough to serve as a “raft” for them. Well, more of an oversized stepping stone, I guess; Shallan can make a solid object form from the beads, but she can’t make it move, more’s the pity. She uses two objects (the roof of the Oathgate control building, and a big door) and alternates them in a tedious, exhausting, and slightly precarious fashion to move the entire party to the solid ground of the river.
Somewhere along the way, Pattern notes that the soul-lights are no longer disappearing; the humans are surrendering, and the fighting ends. Other than that, it’s tense… and uneventful. In a way, this shouldn’t even be in the unit about Knights Radiant using their powers, other than that Shallan’s Lightweaver affinity for Shadesmar is (presumably) what enables her to make the beads obey her will and form the objects she needs.
AP: We also get additional emphasis on her Lightweaver powers being “quieter” somehow than Kaladin’s. This is her using her visualization ability, and it doesn’t attract additional notice like Kaladin’s use of Stormlight. I think that forming the platforms is more related to Soulcasting, and it still uses Stormlight. So it’s not just her illusions that are “quieter”.
AA: This ties in with the Relationships mentioned above, but from a slightly different angle.
Adolin felt useless.
All his life, he had understood. He’d taken easily to dueling. People naturally seemed to like him. Even in his darkest moment—standing on the battlefield and watching Sadeas’s armies retreat, abandoning him and his father—he’d understood what was happening to him.
Not today. Today he was just a confused little boy standing in Damnation.
Today, Adolin Kholin was nothing.
AA: The thing I love most about this is what comes next. It’s not that he looks around for a way to be useful; he doesn’t even think about it. Without a conscious effort to not be useless, he just does the thing that needs doing; in this case shepherding Kaladin. Once Kaladin is settled on the land with his spren, and Azure has collapsed near him, Adolin turns around and half-carries Shallan through the last few steps of beads when her platform gives out. Without ever a thought of, “Oh, this is a thing I can do!” he does the next thing because it’s there to be done.
Adolin surveyed his companions. Shallan lay on the ground … Azure slumped forward, her small Shardblade across her lap. Kaladin continued to stare at nothing with haunted eyes […]
“Azure,” Adolin said, “is it safe here, on this land?””As safe as anywhere in Shadesmar,” she said tiredly. “The place can be dangerous if you attract the wrong spren, but there isn’t anything we can do about that.”
“Then we camp here.”
“But—” Kaladin said.
“We camp,” Adolin said. Gentle, but firm. “We can barely stand up straight, bridgeman.”
AA: I know, I sound gushy or something, but I really do like this boy. For all his sudden and unfamiliar uncertainty, he doesn’t fall apart; that’s just not who he is. He just… does the next thing. I don’t know if Sanderson intended it, but this reminds me so much of the part where Dalinar realizes that “the most important step is not the first one, it’s the next one.” His son is ahead of him on this, except that he never does it deliberately—he just does it.
AP: He is used to command, and it shows. He is a practiced leader, and he does a good job handling a sudden difficult situation.
AA: One last moment with him, though:
Adolin looked one last time at the city, standing witness to the fall of his birthplace.
Storms, he thought. Elhokar… Elhokar is dead.
Little Gav had been taken, and Dalinar was planning to abdicate. Third in line was … Adolin himself.
AA: And there’s no indication that he has started feeling like “something” again. He’s just facing what’s in front of him; he doesn’t like it, but it’s the next thing to look at. This kind of thing is why I think Adolin is a good leader; when it comes down to basics, he takes a clear look at the situation and deals with what he’s got without worrying about what anyone else will think. Neither arrogance nor self-pity, and no concern with blaming anyone for anything. Not while others need him to be clear-headed.
AP: I definitely think this is his training coming through. For his other failings as a parent, Dalinar prepared Adolin for leadership. Evi taught him to do it with empathy.
Some of the lights nearby vanished. Candles flames being snuffed out.
AA: In Mistborn: Secret History, Kelsier sees people arriving in the Cognitive realm as they die, appearing in color as they die. But here, the candle flames just vanish. No one in the group can even tell who they were, once the flame isn’t there to be touched. Is this because they’re alive and physically in the Cognitive realm, while Kelsier was dead and was “seeing with his soul”? Or is it a difference between Scadrial and Roshar? Thoughts?
L: My inclination is to think that this is a difference between Roshar and Scadrial, but I have no reason for why I think that…
Azure followed, her shoulders sagging. In fact, her… her hair was fading. It was the strangest thing; Adolin watched it dim from Alethi jet-black to a faint grey as she sat down.
L: Reminder that the Royal Locks are tied to emotions. Looks like Azure has finally let go of that strict control she must have been exerting over her hair to allow it to change to reflect her emotions again.
AA: I loved this. One more piece of the puzzle, confirming Azure’s identity. Even more so when it’s black again later, disproving Adolin’s initial assumption that it’s just “another effect of this strange place.” As a reminder, hair fading to grey or white is associated with fear or panic. On a guess, Azure wasn’t kidding when she said she hated this place! I wonder what makes her fearful of it, though…
AP: See, I saw it as a loss of conscious control of her hair because of the situation. And it made me really really worry about the dangers of Shadesmar if our normally very put together Azure is that afraid of it.
AA: Right. Whether the loss of control is due to exhaustion or overwhelming fear, the grey does indicate fear. Shadesmar is not a friendly place.
Also, it bothers the Rosharans that her sword doesn’t behave like a normal Shardblade; when Adolin tries to summon his Blade, she screams at him, but Azure’s just sits there being a sword. (I do want that Warbreaker sequel!)
L: Well, Azure’s sword isn’t a spren, right?
AP: I agree. It behaves like a shardblade, but isn’t a shardblade, and isn’t even from Roshar.
AA: Again, a little poke to the reader that “pssst, she’s not from around here!”
A Scrupulous Study of Spren
AA: So many spren! I’m not even going to try to quote all the relevant passages, but we start off with Adolin’s reaction to what he sees around him:
Terrible, awful spren swarmed in the ocean of beads, bearing a multitude of nightmare forms. They twisted and writhed, howling with inhuman voices. He didn’t recognize any of the varieties.
Which leads, a couple of pages later, to this:
Some of the eel-like spren climbed onto the platform, using stumpy legs that Adolin had missed earlier. Those long purple antennae stretched toward him, wiggling.
Fearspren, he realized. Fearspren were little globs of purple goo that looked exactly like the tips of those antennae.
AA: Of course, we already knew this (if we were paying attention). What humans see in the Physical realm is less than what the parsh see, and that’s less than what is really visible in the Cognitive realm. But it’s fun to see someone work that out for themselves.
The big obvious ones are the bonded spren, of course; I find it interesting that Adolin so readily identifies Syl and Pattern as who they are. The “strange one” is (duh!) my favorite:
He put his hand to the side to summon his own Shardblade.
The woman with the scratched eyes stretched her head toward him in an unnatural way, then screeched with a loud, piercing howl.
“That is your sword,” Pattern said in a perky voice. […] “Hmmm. She is quite dead. I don’t think you can summon her here.”
AA: Thank you for that cheerful observation, Pattern! Poor Adolin, though. What a disconcerting effect. Not only can he not actually use his dependable Shardblade while in Shadesmar, which has to be discomforting in itself, she’s going to follow him around, and he’s going to spend the whole time being forced to see her as a dead(-ish) spren.
AA: And here’s a closer look at some of the places we’ll be going in the next few months, as annotated by Nazh. I really love his snarky comments. “I rode that mandra from here to Celebrant, so you owe me those silver pieces after all.” (Presumably aimed at Khriss—did they have a bet on?) And who on earth in the Cosmere is “Smolderbrand”??? Sounds a bit dragon-ish to me…
I don’t suppose we’ll ever hear the stories behind these comments. In fact, there’s a reasonable possibility that the stories don’t and won’t even exist, and the comments were created by Isaac just because they sounded fun and hinted at things happening elsewhere. On the other hand, it’s possible that Isaac has full back-stories in his head… Sure would love to hear them, even if they aren’t canon.
AP: This is something that I hope gets referenced or explained when we get to the cosmere level of the story! I’m very eager to have more crossovers.
AA: Also, why is it called “the Sea of Lost Lights”??
Damnation. No matter what Azure said, he was certainly in Damnation.
“You, sword lady! Help me over here. Adolin, you too. Kaladin, see if you can brood this place into submission.”
Well then. Welcome to Shadesmar! Next week, we’ll split our attention between the Purelake, past!Alethkar, and Shadesmar. We finally get to see what Szeth has been up to (Chapter 90), and Kaladin has an actual flashback, followed by a closely-related talk with his spren (Chapter 91). See you in the comments!
Alice is dismayed to see the end of summer nearing. It’s been much to quick.
Lyndsey is excited to begin this year’s season at the Connecticut Renaissance Faire, where she’s been cast as the lovable Constable Affable. If you’re an aspiring author, a cosplayer, or just like geeky content, follow her work on Facebook or Instagram, or hunt her down at the Faire if you’re in the area!
Aubree is trying to find just the right beads for her next project. Maybe a bit of yarn that wants to be a pompom.