Greetings fellow travelers! Join Alice and I in welcoming back Szeth to the pages of the Stormlight Archive! It’s been a long time since we’ve seen him (last time was in Edgedancer) and he’s definitely found himself in unusual surroundings, having fallen in with the Skybreakers. And speaking of unusual surroundings, Kaladin and company are still trapped in Shadesmar. Let’s check in with them and see how everyone’s favorite bridgeboy is doing, shall we?
Reminder: we’ll potentially be discussing spoilers for the ENTIRE NOVEL in each reread—if you haven’t read ALL of Oathbringer, best to wait to join us until you’re done.
In this week’s reread we also discuss some things from Warbreaker in the Cosmere Connections section. If you don’t want any spoilers at all, best to give this section a pass… but if you have no plans on reading it or just want a refresher, we’ll be discussing some of Nightblood’s backstory there.
Also, a little call-out to this lovely artwork of Pattern by Isaac Stewart that will be adorning stickers at Dragon*Con! He’s so storming CUTE!
WHO: Szeth; Kaladin
WHERE: Purelake; Shadesmar, near Kholinar (L: I’ve been having a lot of fun making these animated gifs of the maps! This week was a little challenging as we’re dealing with two chapters, so keep an eye out for the white circle signifying where Szeth is on the physical realm version.)
WHEN: 1126.96.36.199 (about a week ahead of the main timeline); 1188.8.131.52 (the day after chapter 89)
Szeth son-Neturo returns! He’s at the Purelake with the rest of the Skybreakers, where he swears his first Ideal and learns a bit more about the only order of Knights Radiant which wasn’t disbanded after the Recreance.
Meanwhile, Kaladin has a short flashback in which he recalls some wisdom from an old military commander. He and Syl have a brief discussion in Shadesmar, with her expressing her worry for him.
Szeth of Shinovar, once called the Assassin in White, had been reborn. Mostly.
AA: Heh. Only mostly reborn.
Title: Why He Froze
“Do you want to talk about it?” Tukks asked. “The moment when you froze during practice?”
AA: This is another of the rare instances when the chapter title isn’t a direct quotation, but … it sure is an apt title!
Oddly enough, both chapters show Chana as the only Herald. Chana is the Guard, patron of Dustbringers, associated with the divine attributes of Brave and Obedient. You’d expect Nale and Jezrien respectively for a Skybreaker and a Windrunner, but… nope.
AA: For chapter 90, the best I can come up with is Nightblood’s presence; it and Szeth seem to sort of guard one another, in an odd fashion. And of course, Szeth definitely displays obedience in the chapter.
For chapter 91, the Guard could be Tukks, Kaladin’s old sergeant. Or it could be Syl herself, attempting to help Kaladin. I think, though, that it might be the repeated assumption that he was afraid (as opposed to brave)—and maybe even his fear of killing someone who didn’t deserve it.
The character icons this week are the Assassin, for Szeth, and the Banner & Spears for Kaladin.
I have done my best to separate fact from fiction, but the two blend like mixing paint when the Voidbringers are involved. Each of the Unmade has a dozen names, and the powers ascribed to them rang from the fanciful to the terrifying.
—From Hessi’s Mythica, page 4
I should point out that although many personalities and motives are ascribed to them, I’m convinced that the Unmade were still spren. As such, they were as much manifestations of concepts or divine forces as they were individuals.
—From Hessi’s Mythica, page 7
L: So this, then, begs the continual question—what were they the spren of? I don’t think we’ll be getting an answer to this particular question for a long, long time.
AA: Agreed. This is probably not something we’ll learn in the near future. It was suggested (by Isilel, iirc) last week that Hessi might be a Herald in disguise, writing from personal knowledge but disguising it as research, and probably leaving out things that she couldn’t rationalize knowing. I’m not sure that changes how we read her book, but it’s an interesting slant; if true, there may be things here that no one else would have known.
“I wasn’t afraid of getting hurt.” Kaladin took a deep breath. “I was afraid of making someone hurt.”
L: As the kids these days say, big mood, Kal. I totally understand him, here. Often times I have put myself in harm’s way specifically because I didn’t want to see someone else get hurt, and the thought of myself just… didn’t even occur to me. But this is important for us to see, because this right here is the entire crux of Kaladin’s character arc for this book:
“I think about my mates,” Tukks said. “I can’t let the lads down. My squad is my family now.”
“So you kill someone else’s family?”
“It’s hard. You’d be surprised how many men look in the face of an enemy and find that they’re simply not capable of hurting another person.”
“It’s good you aren’t too eager,” Tukks said. “Means you’re sane. I’ll take ten unskilled with earnest hearts over one callous idiot who thinks this is all a game.”
The world doesn’t make sense, Kal thought. His father, the consummate surgeon, told him to avoid getting too wrapped up in his patients’ emotions. And here was a career killer, telling him to care?
L: And there it is. Kaladin’s character boiled down. Which really makes me wonder about this next bit:
“Don’t worry about the war, or even the battle. Focus on your squadmates, Kal. Keep them alive. Be the man they need.”
L: There’s a lot of speculation about that tricky next Ideal of Kaladin’s, and it’s almost certainly going to have something to do with this concept. But I’d just like to point out that Kaladin has been displaying this exact sentiment up until this point, over and over. He protects the men in his squad in Amaram’s army. He protects the other bridgemen. He protects Bridge Four. He protects Dalinar and Adolin and Shallan. He protects Elhokar. The issue, of course, is what to do when two of his “family groups” are fighting against one another.
AA: Indeed. How do you define Tukks’s “them” in the Kholinar situation? And before long, we’ll see that there’s another question: when you need to take care of two different groups/individuals who aren’t in the same place, how do you prioritize that? And then there’s the thought at the end of the flashback:
He never told Tukks the truth. When Kal had frozen on the practice field, it hadn’t been out of fear. He’d been very sure he could hurt someone. In fact, he’d realized that he could kill, if needed.
And that was what had terrified him.
AA: How does that fit? It’s easy to see him freezing because he couldn’t figure out who to protect when it was his parsh friends and his Wall Guard friends fighting each other. But… how does the realization that he could kill fit in with this? Was it realizing how easy it would be to kill a friend?
L: I think that this was his old self as trained by his father. I imagine that, as a surgeon’s son, Kal was raised to view all life as sacred. The idea that he could kill someone instead of just injuring them must have been very sobering and taken quite a lot of getting used to. (He certainly doesn’t seem too upset about it the “next” time we see him, in the flashback at the beginning of The Way of Kings when he’s protecting the new recruit and takes out Shallan’s Shardbearer brother.)
Stories & Songs
The Herald had taken him on a mission to Tashikk, hunting Surgebinders from other orders. A heartless act that Nin had explained would prevent the coming of the Desolation.
Except that it had not. The Everstorm’s return had convinced Nin he was wrong, and he’d abandoned Szeth in Tashikk. Weeks had passed there until Nin had returned to collect him. The Herald had dropped Szeth here at the fortress, then had vanished into the sky again, this time off to “seek guidance.”
AA: The first part of that is a quick summary of Edgedancer, at least from Szeth’s perspective. The last tells us a little about where Szeth and Nale were for the last couple of months; Szeth was waiting in Tashikk, and Nale was off panicking. Then Szeth was dropped off here at the Purelake, at a fortress belonging to the Skybreakers; I’m betting that Nale went flying off to find Ishar and confer with him. It’s just possible that he went to Ishar the first time, decided he’d gone too far round the twist, and went to find some of the other Heralds this second time.
Still and all, this is a good reminder that for all his earlier self-confidence, Nale was badly shaken when the red-eyed parsh in the Everstorm proved that murdering all the potential Radiants hadn’t done a thing to prevent the Desolation. It seems he should have known that, doesn’t it? He was a Herald, part of the Oathpact. He knew that the Desolations came when a Herald broke in Damnation, not when the Radiants got stronger. What on Roshar made him think this was a good plan?
Bruised & Broken
Like most things, death had not been Szeth’s to claim.…
His spirit hadn’t properly reattached to his body.
AA: Well, here’s our first contact with Szeth since Edgedancer, and I’m not real sure I’ve missed him. I feel sorry for the guy in some ways, but at the same time I find him deeply annoying. He’s got such a victimhood complex because of the things he did when he accepted the “Truthless” label the Stone Shamans put on him.
L: I, on the other hand, adore Szeth. Sure, he’s got a victimhood complex—but no more so than Kaladin did at the beginning of The Way of Kings. He’s been just as badly used, one could argue more so! While Kaladin was betrayed and forced into slavery, Szeth was forced—by the constraints of his honor—to kill those he viewed as innocent. How terrible, to feel as though you have to do such terrible things, and to have those things weighing on your conscience for your entire life! Especially given the fact that the entire reason he was named Truthless was false!
AA: I fully agree that Szeth was badly used—especially by people who should have listened to his argument but instead doubled down on what they wanted to be true. And I’ll even go so far as to say that he at least, unlike some *coughMoashcough* accepts the guilt for all the people he killed. He just doesn’t accept the blame, and I find that … well, mixed. And I guess I just don’t like him as much as I do some others, so that’s probably part of it. (But him and his “sword-nimi” is worth a lot on the plus side of the scale, so there’s that!)
L: Aside from the “victimhood complex” issue, this concept of the fact that this soul and body aren’t connected anymore is really fascinating, and we’ll discuss it in more depth down in the Sheer Speculation section.
Do I dare bring them judgment? a part of him wondered. Dare I trust myself with the sword of vengeance?
L: This is why I like him, I think. He’s willing to self-examine, he doubts himself. This is promising in a character who was very much set up to be an anti-hero type.
AA: It’s one of his very best thoughts—and one reason why I suspect that if anyone can truly qualify for the Fifth Ideal, it might be him. Because he’s not arrogant about it. (See Weighty Words below.)
Hey, the voices seem quiet today. That’s nice, isn’t it?
Mentioning it brought the whispers to Szeth’s attention. Nin had not healed Szeth’s madness. He’d called it an effect of Szeth’s connection to the powers, and said that he was hearing trembles from the Spiritual Realm.
L: Szeth seems to think that these are the voices of those he’s killed, but I don’t think he’s right on that count. If they’re actually coming from the Spiritual Realm, are they maybe Singer souls who haven’t found vessels in the physical realm yet? Are they spren? Heck maybe they are the souls of the people he’s killed, not like we really know where the souls of the dead on Roshar end up, do we?
AA: I keep wondering if there’s some kind of link that keeps people in the Spiritual Realm linked to the person who killed them, especially if Investiture was involved. Dalinar and Szeth both seem to hear “the voices of those they killed,” but not too many other people have that issue.
Before he’d become Truthless.
No. You were never Truthless. Remember that.
L: He’s been wronged just as surely as Kaladin ever was! Both sold into slavery, both for doing the right thing. I hope that they can overcome their dislike of one another and bond sometime in the future books. I’d also like to point out that he was essentially gaslit, and that makes me more angry on his behalf.
“I found your brother,” Tukks noted.
L: ::loud sobs:: TIEN WHYYYYYY
AA: Nooooooo… I’m never sure if it’s worse to think he was killed just because some inept commander put him in the wrong place, or because he was an incipient Lightweaver with a target on his innocent back. I mean, I’m pretty sure by now that it was the latter set up to look like the former; I’m just not sure which is worse.
“Something’s wrong inside you. But I don’t know what.”
L: Jeez. Syl not pulling any punches with the wording on that one. I just hope that it’s not something “wrong” like the last time something was “wrong” and almost led to their bond breaking.
“I … was just surprised to find Sah there,” he said. “Not to mention Moash.”
How do you do it? How can you hurt people, Tukks….
AA: Poor confused Windrunner. I don’t think “surprised” quite covers it, but never mind. We get it. You’d gotten sort of used to the idea that the people you fought were people, but it never quite registered that someday, the people on “the other side” might be your friends. It’s not really about “how can you hurt people” in the abstract. It’s about when “they” turn out to be a person, in a very concrete sense.
Squires & Sidekicks
Besides, this flight was not truly his. He continued falling upward until another Skybreaker caught him and Lashed him downward….
AA: Well, that’s a bit of a comedown for the guy who flew everywhere with Jezrien’s Honorblade. If he weren’t so self-deprecating at this point, he’d have to kind of resent it, wouldn’t he?
L: And yet he doesn’t seem resentful at all. If anything, he’s humble about it.
Younger than the other sergeants, [Sergeant Tukks] had features that were … off somehow. Perhaps it was his short stature, or his sunken cheeks.
AA: Gah! Every time someone is described as “off somehow” (or words to that effect) I hurl myself headlong to the conclusion that they must be a worldhopper. He probably isn’t, of course.
Places & Peoples
“In speaking this ideal,” Ki said, “you are officially pardoned for any past misdeeds or sins. We have paperwork signed by the proper authorities for this region.”
L: Sure, this region. But if he’s committed crimes (like, oh, say, the assassination of a dozen world leaders) in other regions, wouldn’t he still be—
You know what, as I was typing this I realized that they’ve probably got paperwork for every region squirreled away. Never mind. It’s still pretty cool, though, that they grant unconditional amnesty like this.
AA: It’s fairly impressive to see just how extensive their official pull is, but I also find it a bit arrogant. We have the paperwork, so we declare you officially pardoned. It grates on me; but that might be the manner of the speaker. I do like the concept of getting a new start when you take the first step of Radiant-hood, though I don’t think in reality it’s quite that simple. Just ask Teft. Or Szeth, for that matter. You can have all the official pardon in the world, but if you have a conscience (or an addiction), you know you still have the burden.
Cleanse Shinovar, Szeth thought. That would be his quest.
L: I really want to know what the heck is going on over in Shinovar that’s so bad that Szeth feels like he needs to cleanse it!
AA: I’ve always assumed it’s the wilfulness of the Stone Shamanate—those people who have declared that their assumptions are Truth, and anyone who disagrees automatically becomes the lowest person in the entire nation. But I could be forgetting something.
For a moment he felt the freedom of flight — reminding him of his first days, holding an Honorblade long ago. Before he’d become Truthless.
AA: We’ll learn more about this as we follow Szeth’s story, but this is a pointed note that he trained with the Honorblade before they named him Truthless. There’s been a lot of careless assumption that when you get named Truthless, they give you an Honorblade and shove you off to wreak havoc on the rest of the world; I think that’s incorrect. My personal belief is that trainees of the Stone Shamanate train with all the Honorblades (we’ll learn about his experience with other Honorblades later), and those who are particularly promising and reach a certain level within the organization become the temporary owners of the different Blades. Since they probably didn’t have a rule for what to do when someone at that level was named Truthless, they decided they had to leave him in possession of the Honorblade anyway. I expect we’ll find out that sort of detail in the fifth book, though.
L: That seems like such a weird decision to make. “Hey, we’re exiling you, but also take along this priceless, extremely powerful artifact of which we only have so many, which will practically give you the powers of a god.” Like… what’s their end game goal with that plan? I don’t get it.
Tight Butts and Coconuts
“Now, I may not be an expert on humans,” she said. “For example, I still haven’t figured out why only a handful of your cultures seem to worship me. But I do think I heard somewhere that you have to sleep. Like, every night.”
L: Bless you, Syl.
An entire order of the Knights Radiant had survived the Recreance and had been watching for the Desolation for two thousand years, constantly replenishing their numbers as others died of old age.
L: I wonder what specifically about the Skybreakers made it so that they didn’t turn their backs on their spren when everyone else did, after the TruthBomb about the Voidbringers was dropped.
AA: Too self-righteous to believe they could ever be wrong?
L: That certainly does line up with what we’ve seen of Nale so far…
AA: All in one go, we get the entire stack of Skybreaker Ideals. As with at least some other Orders, there is an individual element to each one. Rather than quote the whole section, I’ll just list them here, and how they’re known:
1: The Ideal of Radiance—Life before death. Strength before weakness. Journey before destination.
2: The Ideal of Justice—an oath to seek and administer justice (requires a master to take the seeker as squire)—at this step the would-be Skybreaker learns the Lashings, from the Surge of Gravitation
3: The Ideal of Dedication—an oath to dedicate oneself to a greater truth, choosing a code to follow (requires a spren bond)—the point at which one is considered a full Skybreaker, and the Surge of Division is taught
4: The Ideal of Crusade—choosing a personal quest—when completed to the satisfaction of the spren, one is considered a master
5: The Ideal of Law—in which one becomes law and truth
AA: This is… wow. So much to wrap your head around! The first two are straightforward enough, though “justice—by what standard?” is always a question; I guess you have to take your master’s word for it at this point. Interestingly, the choice of a standard is left to the third Ideal, and (as we’ll see later) every Skybreaker decides for himself what standard to follow.
The fourth Ideal gets even more personal, as it involves a specific quest; Szeth has already decided that cleansing Shinovar will be his fourth Ideal. The fifth Ideal… well, they speak of it as something to “achieve” rather than to declare. I really, really wonder how that works, because it strikes me as a massive delusion of grandeur. Szeth obviously wonders, too:
“Nin told me that we are to follow the law—something external, as men are changeable and unreliable. How can we become the law?”
AA: The answer he’s given makes me want to smack someone.
“Law must come from somewhere,” another of the Skybreaker masters said. “This is not an oath you will swear, so don’t fixate upon it. The first three will do for most Skybreakers. I was of the Third Ideal for two decades before achieving the Fourth.”
AA: I mean… arrogant much? The idea that an individual, a mortal, is capable of being justice is… ugh. On the other hand, the patronizing tone of the rest of it is also ugh, and makes me reasonably sure that Szeth will achieve the Fourth in less than two years, rather than two decades. I sort of expect that he’ll achieve the Fifth within the scope of the series, and I’m not sure if I like that idea or not!
L: I wouldn’t be surprised if he achieved the Fourth in the next book, honestly. But back to the concept of becoming the law. I wonder if this means something more esoteric, like that the Skybreaker must study and fully comprehend ethics and become enlightened? But in so doing I imagine that they’d realize that there rarely is a cut and dried answer, thereby rendering all they’ve learned so far null and void. I imagine those who have gained this ideal as almost… Dalai Lama type figures, sitting on mountaintops and giving wise advice to seekers of knowledge. But that’s just my personal head-canon and has no basis in… anything at all.
AA: So of course I had to go searching… There are apparently a couple of prevailing theories out there, and Brandon has said that either could be true for a given Skybreaker and there is actually disagreement within the Order on what it means. One possibility is that when you achieve the Fifth Ideal, everything you do is by definition within the (true) law. The other is that you cannot willingly violate any law without breaking your Oath. Personally, I hope the latter is ultimately the right interpretation, although I’d bet that Nale interprets it as the former.
As always, it comes back to the first question of justice: by what standard?
Vasher says there are magic fish here.
L: Is this our first actual real-name mention of Vasher (from Warbreaker)? I think it is!
AA: Yes, I believe so! At least, a search in Arcanum Unbounded doesn’t give me any hits, and this is the first time we see Szeth and Nightblood in Oathbringer, so… Vasher!! Not that it necessarily draws the connection to Zahel, but still.
I was going to point out that this statement proves that the two of them arrived on Roshar together—except it doesn’t. Vasher was here before, so he could have told Nightblood about the magic fish before they ever left Nalthis. Rats anyway—I was hoping I’d found a clue.
I don’t think you’re evil at all, and I only destroy things that are evil.
L: Perhaps a reminder on what Nightblood is, and his backstory (what we know of it, at least) is in order. On the off chance that any of you haven’t read Warbreaker, and are confused as all heck as to what this talking sword is all about. Alice, you want to lead us in this one, since you did the Warbreaker reread?
AA: Our favorite talking sword!! I love Nightblood. Also, he gives me the shivers.
Nightblood was an attempt (by Vasher and his wife Shashara, two of the Five Scholars on Nalthis) to create a Shardblade like the ones they’d seen on Roshar when they worldhopped here some 300 or so years ago. It didn’t work right, because they were using the wrong magic system; instead of a cognitive entity who could take a physical form, they created a physical object with (some) cognition. In local parlance, they Awakened it, at the cost of a thousand Breaths and an exceedingly difficult visualization. Since every Awakening requires a Command, they told it to “Destroy Evil.” Unfortunately, steel has no inherent moral compass, so “evil” is a concept beyond Nightblood’s comprehension. His primary definition of evil is “anyone who tries to steal me and use me to do bad stuff” (which still doesn’t define “bad”) and secondarily seems to be “anyone who tries to hurt the person wielding me if I like them.” (That’s just my interpretation, by the way.)
The biggest challenge for a knowledgeable and careful person with Nightblood is that when it is removed from its scabbard, even a little bit, it starts guzzling Investiture. On Nalthis, that meant taking all the Breath from anyone it could touch, and then taking the life as well. On Roshar, we’ll see it coming to mean absorbing all the Stormlight in the vicinity and then beginning to devour the person holding it or anyone it touches. It has no concept of “it’s time to stop” unless you can shove it back in its sheath; even then, it refuses to believe that it’s gone too far or could possibly have hurt anyone who wasn’t evil, because… “destroy evil.”
“I have been warned, sword-nimi,” Szeth reminded the weapon, “not to draw you except in the case of extreme emergency. And only if I carry much Stormlight, lest you feed upon my soul.”
AA: And now my burning question is, assuming he was warned by Nale… who told Nale? Did he learn it from Vasher? Was the knowledge passed along by whoever held the sword until it got from Vasher to Nale? Or… did Nale let/observe someone use it and discover the hard way?
L: My spheres are on that last one.
A Scrupulous Study of Spren
“Pattern’s watching over them.” She wrinkled her nose. “Strange.”
“He’s nice, Syl.”
“That’s the strange part.”
AA: Just in case you’d forgotten, Honorspren don’t think very highly of Cryptics. At least in theory. In practice, Syl seems to be discovering that an individual Cryptic can be pretty okay.
“We don’t sleep; we don’t eat. I think we might feed off humans, actually. Your emotions. Or thinking about us, maybe.”
L: This reminds me a great deal of the fae and how belief in the magic makes it real.
AA: Which also reminds me… spren are “real” in a very different way in Shadesmar.
It was so strange to be able to feel her head on his arm. He was accustomed to her having very little substance.
AA: We’ve seen some evidence of this already, what with Pattern seeming to weigh as much as a human and Syl prodding Kaladin to move in the earlier chapters. But here, Kaladin finally registers the solidity of his spren. It seems significant, but I’m not 100% sure why.
L: So, let’s chat about this mind/body connection thing, shall we?
Perhaps it was because of the way he left a glowing afterimage when he moved: a sign of his soul’s improper reattachment.
L: This is really cool. I believe we talked a bit about this in the Edgedancer reread as well, but there’s just so much to dig into here! So many questions! Can he detach his soul and do some astral projection type stuff now? Can he enter Shadesmar, or see into it, maybe? How is this going to come into play in the long run, because you just know Sanderson didn’t put it in without planning on using it somehow.
AA: Oh, good call. I haven’t really thought about it with both hands yet, but you’re right; Sanderson wouldn’t put in a poorly-attached soul leaving an afterimage without intending to do something amazing with it. What could it be?
Let’s see… we know that when a Shardblade cuts through a body part, it “dies” because the soul is cut, right? So… with a semi-detached soul, could his body be unaffected by a Shardblade? Or what happens if someone misses his body, but hits the afterimage with a Blade?
Oh, hey… The second Skybreaker Surge is Division. Seems like there ought to be some connection there, doesn’t it?
Honestly, I don’t know what to expect from it, but I’ll bet there’s something awesome coming, and I’ll bet it has to do with the Cognitive realm somehow.
He wouldn’t have thought that soldiers would care that the ground wasn’t level. Shouldn’t he be sharpening his spear, or … or oiling something?
Next week, we’ll be hitting one chapter and returning to the Skybreakers and Szeth! Join us then, and as always, if you have theories or thoughts of your own, feel free to join the discussion in the comments!
Alice is just hanging out in the cool of the Pacific Northwest, where August hasn’t been nearly as warm as it should be. One of those summers—but it keeps the wildfire danger down.
Lyndsey is kind of wishing she had a talking sword of her own, even if it did keep urging her to destroy evil. If you’re an aspiring author, a cosplayer, or just like geeky content, follow her work on Facebook or Instagram.