Welcome back to the Oathbringer Reread, where we get to watch a game of Skybreaker Paintball with Szeth and his fellow Skybreaker squires. Swoop! Also, Nalan shows up, being as obnoxiously mysterious and arrogant as usual.
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 one thing from Warbreaker in the Cosmere Connections section, so if you haven’t read it, best to give that section a pass. It’s spoilerish.
WHEN: 118.104.22.168 (8 days after the last time we saw him in Chapter 92)
Szeth and his fellow squires are instructed to participate in a “test of martial competence” where they use their Lashings, as well as strategy and tactics, to play a game over the Purelake. Szeth wins the contest, due to a lot of outside-the-box thinking, much to the annoyance of the other squires. He decides that he’s going to advance to the Third Ideal, but before he can speak the words, Nalan shows up and shanghais the whole group for purposes not yet revealed.
“Remember that while loopholes are to be exploited, Szeth-son-Neturo, they are dangerous to rely upon.
A: As we’ll see, he fully exploited several loopholes in this contest. I’m trying to remember if there are other loopholes for him to use, later, but… really, Szeth doesn’t seem the type to use loopholes except when he feels like the current exercise is a waste of time. Otherwise, he mostly follows the rules to the nth degree.
Nale—Herald of Justice; patron, member, and leader of the Skybreakers; role of Judge; divine attributes Just & Confident
A: Between a bevy of Skybreakers and his own appearance at the end of the chapter, Nale’s presence is easily accounted for.
Talenel—Herald of War; patron of the Stonewards; role of Soldier; divine attributes Dependable & Resourceful
A: Taln is a little less obvious… maybe. That whole “resourcefulness” thing is a dead giveaway, though. I suppose you could also consider the mock-battle aspect of the game as the soldier, too, if you need another rationale for Taln.
The Assassin, for a Szeth chapter
Lore suggested leaving a city if the spren there start acting strangely. Curiously, Sja-anat was often regarded as an individual, when others—like Moelach or Ashertmarn—were seen as forces.
—From Hessi’s Mythica, page 90
L: This makes me wonder if whatever spren, people, or entities the Unmade were before their… Unmaking could possibly have been plural. Is it possible that multiple entities were combined in order to create Ashertmarn?
A: Oh, I love that thought! It would explain some things, for sure. There are several that seem to fit that motif, really; Moelach, Ashertmarn, and Nergaoul for sure, and maybe Re-Shephir (though Shallan thinks of her as an individual). It seems like Chemoarish and Ba-Ado-Mishram were more individual, like Sja-anat. What a fascinating thought.
Stories & Songs
Nin-son-God, Nale, Nakku, Nalan—this man had a hundred different names and was revered across all Roshar. The Illuminator. The Judge. A founder of humankind, defender against the Desolations, a man ascended to divinity.
The Herald of Justice had returned.
A: Nalan finally makes his reappearance to the Skybreakers at the very end of this chapter, only to take off again with the masters and the best of the squires, and we don’t even get to find out what he’s been up to or where he’s going!
Since he disappeared last time, it seems that his subordinates have less confidence in him than one might expect:
“We must train to fight, if the Desolation truly has begun.”
Without Nin’s guidance to confirm, they spoke of the Desolation in “if”s and “might”s.
A: His leadership seems pretty sketchy to me, you know? Do the masters really believe him to be a Herald? If so, why are they so hesitant to take his word for the Desolation? … come to think of it, he’s been leading them on a crusade to keep Radiants from developing so as to prevent a Desolation. Then all of a sudden he popped in, told them the Desolation was here, and zipped off again. So… terrible leadership style, and never an explanation to be had when you need it. He’s the kind of boss that sends me into a full-on depressive episode. No wonder they were reluctant to go all-in on the Desolation idea.
L: I read this a little differently. It seems to me that before he left, Nalan still wasn’t 100% sure and wasn’t willing to totally commit, so his people are waiting for him to give the absolute word on whether or not the Desolation has really come. Perhaps I need to go back and reread what he told them after he and Szeth got back from Azir….
A: Well, yeah, we could do something crazy like that. I guess. (Yes, I’m working off my memory and assumptions!) Maybe he wasn’t very convincing because he wasn’t quite convinced? Also, he’s insane, and the people he goes to for advice are equally or more insane, so there’s that.
… So I went and checked to see what Nalan told the other Skybreakers, and we really aren’t told. As far as Szeth can say, Nin left him in Tashikk for weeks, then came back for him, dumped him at the fortress, and promptly left again to “seek guidance.” So you’re probably right – Nalan didn’t convince the other masters because he didn’t quite know what to believe, himself.
Relationships & Romances
A: It occurs to me that we know virtually nothing about Szeth’s family — whether they’re still alive, if they bear some measure of his shame, or if they completely disowned him when he was declared Truthless. About all we know is that Szeth switched to calling himself “son-son-Vallano” rather than “son-Neturo” so his father would not be “sullied by association” with him. This implies, I supposed, that his father is likely still alive, and his grandfather dead. Mother? Siblings? Extended family? Just a blank.
Anyway, as a Skybreaker rather than Assassin, and knowing himself to not be Truthless, he’s switched back. I expect we’ll have to wait for Book 5 to learn much more about his family.
L: I, for one, can’t wait to learn more about him and his past!
Bruised & Broken
Szeth had rarely fought in the air itself…. [He] found he was enjoying himself. …
He wove between thrown pouches, dancing above a lake painted by the hues of a setting sun, and smiled.
Then immediately felt guilty. He had left tears, blood, and terror in his wake like a personal seal. He had destroyed monarchies, families — innocent and guilty alike. He could not be happy.
A: Well, he has a point, I must admit. He did do all that, and it does seem unjust for him to let it all go and have fun. And I can’t say that I believe Nin any more than Szeth does, about it all being “undone” and being reborn – mostly because I don’t see that even a Herald has the authority to declare all of someone’s evil deeds wiped away.
Then again, Nalan is pretty broken too; I’m sure he believes he has that authority.
L: This is a really hard one for me. I feel like, as long as he is actively working towards reparations for his wrongs, he doesn’t deserve to live a life entirely devoid of joy.
A: I know what you mean. He has, for one reason and another, become a different person in a way. Mostly, he knows the truth – or at least, more of it – and the truth has set him free from being bound by the Oathstone. He’s not doing those things any more, and he’s determined to bring truth (and a certain amount of repercussion!) to those who wrongly set him on the path he had followed. So, yeah, he’s not murdering on command any more, so good. At the same time… he did do those things, and he did them voluntarily. Ugh. Szeth is such a complicated character! But a life with no joy, thrust upon him against his will… I can’t really wish that on him.
Squires & Sidekicks
A: So… let’s review those squires. Do you suppose we’ll see any of them later on?
Joret: clever guy thinks he can win by dominating a single color; promptly gets hit with literally every other color. Fail.
Cali: misses the pouch she reached for because Szeth pulled the pole away. Bummer.
Zedzil: fails to realize that he can’t throw a pouch that will overtake a triple Lashing, and hits himself instead. Persistent, but also fails to realize that when you’re chasing someone, all they have to do is let you run into a pouch when they toss it. Fail. Except… smart enough to know when he’s outclassed and go looking for an easier target. So… meh?
Fari: gathered all pouches from one pole to hoard the color, which also denies Szeth the ammunition he’d like. Pass.
Ty: leader of a group of four who work as a team to isolate and bomb other individuals. Gets one of his thrown pouches batted right back in his face by Szeth. Shaky, dude. Very shaky. Also, the cocky one who follows the rules as understood, rather than as stated, so … Fail.
My favorite, though, was the girl he grabbed and shoved at one of her companions, taking them both out for a bit:
“You attacked me!” said the woman he’d thrown at someone else.
“Physical contact was not forbidden, and I cannot help it if you are unable to control your Lashings when I release you.”
The masters didn’t object.
That one always makes me laugh a little.
Places & Peoples
A: This week gives us just a few glimpses of cultures we don’t get to see much during the main action. It’s hardly our first look at the Purelake, and we don’t really learn much new about it. There’s just a small reminder about another culture here:
The Azish man looked strange in the garb of a Marabethian lawkeeper, chest bare and shoulders draped with the short, patterned cloak. The Azish were normally so proper, overly encumbered with robes and hats.
A: Not really important, just the usual fun-fact worldbuilding to remind us that there are, indeed, a number of widely diverse cultures and beliefs on this planet. We saw the short cloak before, and this serves to remind us that the Skybreaker fortress is technically located in Marabethia and they operate under Marabethian law.
Here’s one culture where we keep finding strange things, making us want moremoremore:
This would be like those days in [Szeth’s] youth, spent training with the Honorblades.
A: We’ll see this come into play more in the big battle at the end, but how’s that for a casual fact-drop? He trained with the Honorblades. BLADES. Plural. We don’t know how common this is, of course, though my expectation is that this is part of the training to become a Stone Shaman. In any case, some Shin youths train with the Honorblades held by the Shin, becoming practiced in manipulating all the Surges which can be accessed through the Blades they hold. It’s a pretty fair assumption that Szeth has some experience with every one of the ten Surges, since the only missing Blades belonged to Taln and Nalan, and those don’t overlap. Wow.
L: It’s really cool that he knows all of that, but I can’t help but feel like the Shin have been very stingy all this time. I get it – if people knew that they had the Honorblades, war probably would have been waged over them. But are they doing anything with all that knowledge now that the Desolation has returned? I suppose we’ll find out eventually…
A: My other question is whether they used the Honorblades in those earlier attempts to take over the world (that we talked about back in Chapter 2) – the “Shin invasions.” It hardly seems likely that they’d have such weapons and not use them, does it? Again, I suppose we’ll find out eventually.
Tight Butts and Coconuts
A: I mean… fun and games up in here! Oddly, though the game itself takes up most of the chapter, it seems the least meaningful part. It’s pretty fun to visualize them zipping around, grabbing bags of colored powder from the poles, trying to figure out strategies literally “on the fly.” (Okay, am I the only one who had to forcibly remove broomsticks from the picture? It felt very akin to quidditch. Just me?) Szeth’s solutions make me laugh, though.
L: His tactics were very militaristically valid and wise.
Szeth suddenly felt frustrated by their games. … The time had come for him to ascend to a rank beyond all this.
“You shall soon have your spren, gauging by this performance.”
“Not soon,” Szeth said. “Right now. I shall say the Third Ideal this night, choosing to follow the law. I—”
“No,” a voice interrupted.
L: What I find most interesting about this is that he proclaims his intent. We don’t really see this in the other orders… when they swear their Ideals, it’s very much an “in-the-moment” type thing. I was a bit taken aback that he didn’t just do it when he felt the need to… but the Skybreakers seem to have more rules and traditions about such things. Probably because their traditions weren’t lost to time like most of the Orders of Knights Radiant…
A: I know, right? I never know whether to think the Skybreakers are just oddly regimented, or whether to assume that all of the Orders were this organized and we’re just getting the rediscovery process in the others. I lean toward the latter, by now; remember that one epigraph from the gemstone archive, where the Windrunner was so reluctant to speak the Fourth Ideal? He clearly knew what it was, and it sure sounded like it was more or less common knowledge.
Still, there do seem to be some differences. Like at the end of the book, when Lopen says the second Ideal, it sounds like he’d said the words before, but it wasn’t accepted (whether by his spren or by the Stormfather, I’m not sure) because he wasn’t as ready as he thought he was. At least in some cases, it’s clear that there’s more involved than just knowing the right words to say.
But here, it certainly sounds like the individual, and to some extent their superiors in the Order, get to decide when they’re ready; the spren just … accept it, presumably? I can’t tell how much input the spren are getting.
In any case, Nin shows up and declares that before he swears, there are things he – and all of them – need to understand. Whatever the issue is, Nin considers it important enough to grab all the gemstones, leave the trainees behind, and take off with all the masters and the better-trained squires.
“Tonight. It is time for you to learn the two greatest secrets that I know.
What those secrets are… we’ll have to wait for our next Szeth chapter to learn.
You think like Vasher, the sword said in his head. Do you know Vasher? He teaches swords to people now, which is funny because VaraTreledees always says Vasher isn’t any good with the sword.
A: Of course, Szeth doesn’t even know Zahel on this world, so the answer would be no. Still, this is as good a place as any to note that, despite Denth’s derision, Vasher was actually quite a good swordsman, and well qualified to teach. He just wasn’t as good as Arsteel, or Denth himself. (VaraTreledees = Denth, in case you’d forgotten, and Arsteel = Clod.) Like Szeth, though, Vasher was far more aware of loopholes than those he defeated – which is how he defeated them.
A Scrupulous Study of Spren
What were those two spren floating nearby, shaped as small slits in the air? They separated the sky, like wounds in skin, exposing a black field full of stars.
A: Highspren, presumably? Very weird.
L: These are really cool looking. Assuming that these are the Skybreaker highspren, I wonder what personality type they are. And I’m really curious about how whatever spren he bonds is going to interact with Nightblood!
A: Hey, yeah. We haven’t seen … well, really anything of his spren, have we? Even by the end of the book? Presumably we’ll get something, sometime, but for now they seem very aloof, even from their Radiants. Look at this one from an earlier chapter, Master Ki speaking to Szeth:
“During my prayers last night, Winnow proclaimed the highspren are watching you.”
That sounds oddly distant, compared to Syl, Pattern, Wyndle, Ivory, Glys, even the Stormfather is more present with his Knight than this implies. They interact with their humans all the time, in all situations – not just during their private prayers. I don’t think I understand the Skybreakers and their spren very well.
Though he didn’t care if he won arbitrary tests of competence, the chance to dance the Lashings—for once without needing to cause death and destruction—called to him.
A: Okay, I do feel for him. To have had the powers of a Windrunner and be obligated to continually use them to do things you hate… it would be a terrible balance to live with. The joy of flying always countered by the horror of killing more people – it’s no wonder the poor guy is a mess.
Well, that’s it for the nonce. Let’s go talk about it in the comments! As always, be sure to join us again next week for Chapter 99, as we rejoin the Shadesmar Exploration Society and discover a whole new race of spren to intrigue us.
Alice is having a lovely fall, thus far. Sun Mountain Lodge is a lovely place to spend a birthday, in case you were wondering.
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