On this week’s reread, Dalinar is visiting Vedenar… and his past. He’s slowly spiralling down into depression and what I suspect is PTSD, and it’s so very hard for us as readers to watch. Generally speaking, a character needs to hit rock bottom before they can begin the upwards trajectory of their arc, and Dalinar’s not there yet… but he’s heading that way, and fast. Join Alice and I as we walk alongside Dalinar on this descent and try to pick apart some nuances.
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.
No Cosmere spoilers this week, so no worries on that front.
WHEN: 1126.96.36.199 (One week after the Monarchs’ Meeting, 8 days after the fall of Kholinar)
Dalinar is in Vedenar, dealing with his newly awakened memories. He has a brief discussion about spren with Taravangian, then visits some veterans of the Veden civil war who tell him about the Thrill’s presence in the city. Finally, he’s beset by some curates from the Holy Enclave who excommunicate him before he flees back to Urithiru to self-medicate with alcohol.
Title: An Old Friend
It started to glow inside Dalinar. So familiar, so warm, and so terrible.
Alice: This is another title that is actually a quote from a different chapter. (I love those, and the way they link the events together!) In Chapter 120, when Dalinar approaches the red mist on Thaylen Field, he greets it with, “Hello, old friend.” We’ll talk about this more below.
Heralds: Ishar (Priest, Bondsmiths, Pious & Guiding) and Chana (Guard, Dustbringers, Brave & Obedient)
A: I have to assume Ishar is here primarily to reflect the curates who step in at the end to denounce Dalinar. He could also be representing the madness of Ishar (though I’m not sure what that is), because this tactic at this moment seems moderately insane. Of course, there’s also the Bondsmith connection, because Dalinar does some very sketchy things with his power, and the Stormfather is not at all happy about it.
A: As for Chana, I can’t help noting that the Essence and the Soulcasting Property associated with her are Spark and Fire, respectively—and Dalinar is seriously bothered by that sort of thing, now that his memories of Rathalas have returned.
Icon: Kholin Glyphpair, for Dalinar’s POV
I am convinced that Nergaoul is still active on Roshar. The accounts of the Alethi “Thrill” of battle align too well with ancient records — including the visions of red mist and dying creatures.
—From Hessi’s Mythica, page 140
A: Neragoul? Still active? Ya think?
Lyn: I’m shocked. Shocked, I tell you.
It seemed that Dalinar had been four people in his life. The bloodlusty warrior, who killed wherever he was pointed, and the consequences could go to Damnation.
The general, who had feigned distinguished civility—when secretly, he’d longed to get back on the battlefield so he could shed more blood.
Third, the broken man. The one who paid for the actions of the youth.
Then finally, the fourth man—the most false of them all. The man who had given up his memories so he could pretend to be something better.
L: So, we do get some plot-relevant things in this chapter (the presence of the Thrill) and some worldbuilding snippets (information about the spren), but primarily this chapter is about Dalinar and how he’s dealing with his newfound memories. There’s a lot of questioning of what makes a good person in here, and none of it is easy. There are no easy answers when it comes to morality. There are almost always shades of grey and extenuating circumstances, and poor Dalinar is having to face all of this from his own past. Who is he, really? Do his past actions define him, or is who he is now stronger than what he was?
A: So much of what he faces here are his own false dichotomies. (Is “quatrechotomy” a word?) He’s thinking, at this point in terms of “then” and “now” as if they were different people, but the seeds of one are in the others all the time. This very quotation will come back to him in Chapter 120, when he realizes there’s more of a continuity than he’s seeing here.
L: I’d also venture a mostly uneducated guess that what Dalinar’s dealing with here is PTSD. All of the hallmarks seem to be present—hearing things, phantom smells, intrusive memories and thoughts.
A: It may be PTSD, but there’s definitely a “magical” component to it as well. There are a few too many things here that show up later in a clearer context; one of the things he hears is a voice that says Give me your pain. That, and several other pieces from this chapter, are being built up to prepare him for his decisions in the climax scenes. I have to wonder, now that we know the context, if Cultivation is taking a hand here.
Stories & Songs
“Would you make it so the Sunmaker lived longer and accomplished his desire, uniting all of Roshar under a single banner? … But what if it left you, today, in command of a completely unified people? What if his slaughter let you save Roshar from the Voidbringer invasion?”
L: This is a really tough philosophical query, and I don’t blame Dalinar for not being able to deal with it, given his state of mind.
A: IMO, this is yet another false binary being set up by Taravangian, and I don’t know if he’s just trying to mess with Dalinar or what. It simplistically assumes that the Sunmaker’s tyranny is one option, and lack of unity is the only other option. Even on the face of it, the dichotomy is fake, because what happened was neither of those, though Dalinar falls for it anyway. There are many, many other paths that could have been taken to create greater unity, or to create greater divisions, among humans.
And frankly, I have very little patience for people who try to force someone to make a fake decision on something over which they never had, and never will have, control. It’s a stupid question masquerading as “deep,” and it irritates me. (Okay, Taravangian mostly irritates me these days…)
L: It’s the old “would you go back in time and kill baby Hitler” question, only Roshar-ized.
Though he still hadn’t recovered the details of him meeting with the Nightwatcher, the rest was as fresh as a new wound, dripping blood down his face.
A: Well, that’s graphic. Appropriate, though, I suppose.
Dalinar’s state of mind in this chapter, inexplicable though it is to those around him, is thoroughly shaped by the return of these memories. At this point, we really have to wonder, with him,
Why must I have these memories? he thought, angry. Why did they suddenly return?
A: He, and we, will have to wait a while yet (in book terms) to understand. At this point, though, the Nightwatcher seems to be capricious in the extreme. We’ll wait to discuss what really happened when we get to Chapter 114…
From reports he’d heard earlier, the civil war had brought incredible losses. Even baffling ones. Many armies would break after suffering ten percent casualties, but here—reportedly—the Vedens had continued fighting after losing more than half their numbers.
A: Certainly bizarre, and unaccountable to a seasoned veteran like Dalinar… until he talks to the wounded survivors later in the chapter. Worth noting: Each of these men had survived when his entire platoon had fallen.
“What was it like?” Dalinar asked softly. “The civil war, the battle here, at Vedenar?”
“It was a nightmare, sir.” …
… “Nobody would stop, Brightlord. Even when it should have been done. They just kept right on fighting. Killing because they felt like killing.”
“It burned in us… That river inside of you, pulling your blood all up into your head and making you love each swing. Making it so that you can’t stop, no matter how tired you are.”
A: To the reader, this is definitely A Clue, right? Sounds exactly like Dalinar in flashbacks. He recognizes it immediately, of course, and feels it stir in himself in response, even though it’s been a long time. And he connects the dots:
Even back on the Shattered Plains, when he’d last felt it, it had seemed to be weakening. Suddenly that made sense. It wasn’t that he’d been learning to overcome the Thrill. Instead, it had left him.
To come here.
A: Taravangian had commented on this in one of his Interludes in Words of Radiance. He was right.
It’s all about momentum.
A: Triggered by the comment from one of the veterans, this takes Dalinar—and us—right back to some of those earlier flashbacks. From the first one, in Chapter 3 (which is even titled “Momentum”), to the first battle at the Rift, to the ambush, to his slog back to camp, to the destruction of Rathalas, the Thrill urges and provides momentum. It can be useful, but it can also be terrible.
L: I’d say the terrible far outweighs the useful.
A: There’s a whole lot of this chapter that ties into the climax of the book, but I think we’ll address that more in Motivations and Spren.
Bruised & Broken
The air smelled of salt and was filled with the sounds of waves smashing on cliffs outside the city. How did they live with that constant roaring?
L: I just wanted to make mention of the fact that little things are annoying to him. This is indicative of his troubled state of mind, and we see this in Kaladin as well when he’s having a depressive episode. It’s very true to life.
Even along the sanitized path he walked for the tour, they passed scorched buildings, piles of rubble.
He couldn’t help but think of what he’d done to Rathalas. And so, Evi’s tears accompanied him. The cries of dying children.
A: This is so hard to read. I know he did those things, and in one sense he deserves to feel horrible, but… I like my 50-something Dalinar, and I don’t like seeing his pain. There’s more:
Out beyond—on the fields north of the city—black scars on the rock still showed where heaps of bodies had been burned following the war. He tried to turn away from all that and look out at the peaceful ocean. But he could smell smoke. That wasn’t good. In the years following Evi’s death, smoke had often sent him descending into one of his worse days.
L: I wonder if this smoke is real or if it’s just in his head, like the crying is. Either way it’s horribly tragic, of course.
Dalinar tried to stand, straight-backed and at attention, beneath the weight of it all. Unfortunately, he knew too well that if you locked your knees and stood too straight, you risked fainting. Why was it that trying to stand tall should make you so much more likely to fall?
A: This seems to need a deeply profound comment, and I can’t find one—except to note that it’s all true.
“Unfortunately, I’m certain I didn’t make the best choices I could,” Dalinar said.
“But you wouldn’t change them. If you did, you’d be a different person.”
I did change them, Dalinar thought. I erased them. And I did become a different person.
A: And there’s our dilemma, along with his. For two books, we knew Dalinar as the honest, honorable, self-controlled general—and we (or at least, most of us, I think) liked him that way. Now we’ve had it shoved in our faces that he wasn’t always such a great guy, and had some moments of being a truly horrible human being, and the disconnect is great and painful.
L: It’s a difficult question that Taravangian asks, here. In most cases, it’s our experiences—and especially our mistakes—that shape us into who we are. But Dalinar didn’t remember his mistakes. Does remembering them now change who he is? Clearly not, but he can’t know that.
A: That’s one area in which I have total sympathy for Dalinar: These memories have been dumped on him with very little time to adjust, in the midst of a chaotic situation with thousands of people depending on his leadership. Even trying to carry on and make decisions with all of this in his head must be excruciating.
As if that weren’t more than enough to go on with, the Curacy picks this moment to attack, as publicly as possible:
“Dalinar Kholin,” the ardent said, louder. “The council of curates declares you a heretic. We cannot tolerate your insistence that the Almighty is not God. You are hereby proclaimed excommunicate and anathema.”
A: I have a few theological issues with this—primarily, that there’s no “communion” for him to be excommunicated from—but I guess we’ll go with the “translation artifact” explanation for that. In any case, they do technically have the authority to proclaim him anathema, though I don’t think they’re likely to have the power to enforce it. Too many people look to him for leadership, and they’ll take a heretic general they know over any of the options. (Pretty sure the curates aren’t qualified to take his place, no matter what they think!) I’m not sure they picked a wise time or place, but… given what they think of him, I don’t suppose they’d be willing to travel to Urithiru by Oathgate!
What they couldn’t have anticipated was his instinctive reaction, and it shocks him, too:
I’m going to kill him, a part of Dalinar thought. I have to run now, or I will kill this man. It was as clear to him as the sun’s light.
So he ran.
A: What follows is fascinating in its own right, and we discuss it below. But the voices, and the Thrill, follow him. In another blatant foreshadowing, he turns first to The Way of Kings to drive back the pain, but he’s not there yet, and it doesn’t help. Broken man that he is, he slides backward to that recent flashback instead: He goes to Adolin’s room and finds some strong violet wine, the kind that would be kept for a special occasion. Trapped (as he sees it) between killing or getting drunk, he chooses the latter.
Squires & Sidekicks
“Sir?” Rial said, holding out a canteen that smelled of something strong. “I know you said I shouldn’t carry this, but I did. And … and you might need it.”
A: Oh, Rial. I know he means well, but that’s such a bad idea. I was pleased to see Dalinar turn away from it here… and very sad to see him turn back toward it later, in private. Interestingly enough, Rial is one of those who will later become a squire to Teft. How appropriate.
Places & Peoples
A: I don’t know that it’s of great importance, but Dalinar does mention a couple of times that the Veden people love ostentatious gardens. It’s a nice reminder that not all the world looks like the barrenness of the Frostlands or the Shattered Plains, and the farther you go west, the more you’ll find naturally lush greenery. It’s also a nice reminder that Shallan comes by her Natural History calling… well, naturally. She is Veden, after all!
Tight Butts and Coconuts
A: In the vein of “jokes and curses” we get Dalinar cursing
I wonder what it is about Taln’s palms that makes them important? Of course, I wonder the same thing about Kelek’s breath and Ishar’s soul and Ash’s eyes…
L: Taln is the Herald of War, so his hands would be important (what he uses to hold his weapons.) Ash is the artist, and hence eyes would be integral to her, to see her works. Kelek is a little less obvious, as he’s a builder… what importance would breath have to that?
A: As we meet with Taravangian this week, I’m deeply distrustful of… well, pretty much everything he says or does. When Dalinar mentions that he seems to be feeling better, he says,
“It’s a good day for me. I feel better than I have recently, but that can be dangerous. I’m prone to think about mistakes I’ve made. … I try to tell myself that at the very least, I made the best choice I could, with the information I had.”
A: This has so many overtones I can’t possibly address them all. The first question I can’t help asking is whether this is a compassionate day or a genius day, or where it is on that spectrum. The cynic in me assumes it’s nearer the genius level, but with enough emotion to give him the insight to manipulate Dalinar like a puppet. That would imply that the “mistakes” he refers to are the decisions he makes when he’s “stupid,” which he now sees as bad decisions, but the best he could do with the mediocre intelligence he had to work with. (If you can’t tell, I like the “stupid but compassionate” end of the spectrum more than the “brilliant but emotionless” end… but I don’t trust either one.
L: I don’t know. I think he could also be more on the compassionate side and be looking at all of the awful things he’s done as his mistakes. He doesn’t seem to be doing a great job of manipulating Dalinar here, other than throwing him even farther off-kilter mentally than he was to begin with.
A Scrupulous Study of Spren
“There are legends of metal that can block a Shardblade. A metal that falls from the sky. Silver, but somehow lighter.”
L: I’m curious as to how and why aluminum is falling from the skies.
A: Meteorites, I assume. Real-life meteorites don’t typically contain aluminum, although a few have, but there’s no reason aluminum shouldn’t be more plentiful in Cosmere meteorites. (Now we just need Scotty to give them transparent aluminium, and we’ll be all set? Or is that what the atrium window in Urithiru is made of already?)
L: Hmm, yes, I was thinking meteorites as well but I never knew that aluminum has been found in them. Maybe this is speaking to more aluminum being present in space, or… maybe there are wrecks of starships up there!
“The gemstone,” Taravangian said, “imprisons the kind of spren that gives things substance, the kind that holds the world together. We have entrapped in that shield something that, at another time, might have blessed a Knight Radiant.”
L: Is he implying that they’ve got a HIGHER spren trapped in there? Ugh!
A: That certainly seems to be the implication, which is truly awful. I have to wonder just how much Taravangian knows about the Radiants and their spren, though. If he doesn’t really know much, he could just be guessing about these “blessing” a Knight Radiant. If he knows a lot more, he could be referring to the “cousin spren,” which (we assume) are instrumental in forming the living Shardplate. Given that he has a pet Dustbringer Radiant, I think the “complete ignorance” option is off the table.
But why would he be telling Dalinar about it? Doesn’t it seem that Dalinar would be upset by using the sapient spren in this way?
L: Unless that’s all Taravangian is trying to do, upset him. If so, he sure seems to be succeeding.
“You lure in a spren with something it loves. You give it something familiar to draw it in, something it knows deeply. In that moment, it becomes your slave.”
L: This is pretty awful to think about, especially since so many spren are important characters who we, as the readers, have come to love. The part that particularly troubles me is the “lure it with something it loves” part. This strikes me as awwwwwwfully foreshadow-y and I don’t. Like. It.
A: Well, it is foreshadow-y, but (I hope) not in the way you’re thinking. Dalinar remembers this exact quotation away off there in the climax, and applies it to Nergaoul, drawing in the Thrill like an old friend, and trapping it in the King’s Drop.
L: Yeah, that’s not what I was referring to in this instance. It feels bigger to me, like this is going to come back someday in an even bigger way, but… that’s pure speculation on my part.
A: We may find out this is how Ba-Ado-Mishram was trapped, and it wouldn’t at all surprise me if it was a not-quite-successful version of this that partially imprisoned Re-Shephir. I truly hope we don’t see it used against other Radiant-bonding spren in further books, though…
I will not be a sword to you. We spoke of this.
Dalinar growled. He felt something he could touch, something beyond places. The power that bound worlds together. His power.
Wait, the Stormfather said. This is not right!
Dalinar ignored him, reaching beyond and pulling power through. Something bright white manifested in his hand, and he rammed it into the keyhole.
L: I’m left wondering if the Stormfather can’t be a Shardblade, or if he just doesn’t want to be. The “This isn’t right” part is a little troubling…
A: This whole scene is troubling. What exactly did Dalinar get hold of? He mentions “the power that bound worlds together”—could that be Adhesion? Did he grab the essential Surge itself? Or is “beyond places” referring to the Spiritual Realm, and the Stormfather doesn’t think he should be touching it? It feels… brutal, though, the way he just forces it into a key for his immediate use. I can’t help but think that this is related to what he does when he brings the Realms together (Chapter 120, yet again) except there, it doesn’t feel wrong—it feels perfect. Are they really the same kind of thing, or am I seeing more than is there?
It took being a soldier to understand the heroism of simply being willing to continue after all your friends had died.
* * *
The Nightwatcher had ripped apart his memories like the fabric of an old blanket, then sewn a new quilt out of it.
A: I love this analogy on multiple levels. There’s the obvious one, in which fabric is cut to pieces and then sewn together in a new way, which just makes me happy anyway. Then there’s the less obvious: if you take old fabric and piece it together to try to make something functional, any weaknesses in the fabric will give under pressure, and the new quilt will unravel despite all your work.
A: Just one chapter next week—Shadesmar Exploration Society does costuming!
L: YAY COSTUMING!
A: And also arrives in Celebrant, by the way.
L: As always, feel free to continue the discussion in the comments section below!
Alice is having fun playing with flags as frequently as possible. Also, three wins this week, and an overall 10-0 record. Whee!
Lyndsey has one more weekend of work remaining at the Connecticut Renaissance Faire before life goes back to normal (ugh) again. A special shout-out this week to her friends Shakespeare, Queen Elizabeth, the Misfits of Avalon, and the Penniless Jacks, all of whom you should absolutely check out if you love great entertainment!