Oathbringer Reread

Oathbringer Reread: Chapter One Hundred Six

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Greetings, oh wanderers of the Cosmere! Welcome back to Roshar, where we’ll be having fascinating conversations with a deranged Herald, a confused former assassin, and a snarky sword. This week, if you hadn’t guessed, we’ll check back in with Szeth at the end of the flight launched back in Chapter 98. We still don’t get Nalan’s promised revelations, though.

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.

This week’s reread has no particular greater-Cosmere discussion, so you’re safe on that front..}

Chapter Recap

WHO: Szeth
WHERE: On the journey, arriving in Marat
WHEN: 1174.2.7.1 (Three days after the paintball game in Chapter 98. Note that this is 6 days ahead of the main timeline, and approximately the same time as Venli arrives in Marat.)

Szeth, Nin, and the other Skybreakers arrive in Marat. Szeth and Nin have a(nother) discussion about what, exactly, justice is.

Beginnings

Title: Law Is Light

“Law is light, and darkness does not serve it. Ask, and I will answer.”

AA: It’s an interesting statement, coming from the guy our favorite Edgedancer refers to as… Darkness. Even more interesting in that he says this in response to Szeth’s “May I ask you a question?” He’s in the middle of acknowledging that he and Ishar have been wrong this whole time, but he still purports to be able to give “right” answers.

Heralds: Nalan, Judge, Herald of Justice, patron and member of the Skybreakers, attributes Just & Confident

AA: This one is easy—the chapter is all about the Skybreakers, and most of it involves Nalan pontificating to Szeth. Let me also note that the soulcasting properties associated with his gemstone are “opaque gas, smoke, fog.” I just think that “gas” is appropriate. (I’m really unimpressed by Nalan these days, in case you didn’t notice…)

AP: Just and Confident are definitely his attributes too! He is obsessed with justice, and entirely convinced that his interpretation is correct. Even when he admits to having been wrong, he is absolutely certain that his new interpretation of events is the correct one. And blowing smoke seems to be a special talent.

Icon: The Assassin, for a Szeth POV

Epigraph:

I find Ba-Ado-Mishram to be the most interesting of the Unmade. She is said to have ben keen of mind, a highprincess among the enemy forces, their commander during some of the Desolations. I do not know how this relates to the ancient god of the enemy, named Odium.
— From Hessi’s Mythica, page 224

L: I’m terrified to see what happens when she eventually gets set free.

AA: I know, right? It might not be as bad as we think, because one of her most damaging abilities was her ability to form the Connection that made the False Desolation possible. Still, she was apparently pretty dangerous even before that, so… yikes?

AP: Sooo…I’m wondering if she is possibly already free? Her imprisonment is what put the singers into slaveform in the first place. After being healed by the Everstorm, I wonder if her prison was weakened, or if she was released prior to that to enable them to be healed within the storm. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we get this epigraph on a chapter that looks at the aftermath of the singers regaining Identity.

Thematic Thoughts

Together, the two of them flew to a smaller town on a hill near the coast.
Szeth knew the effects of war when he saw them.

AA: Smashed walls, broken doors etc. Szeth assumes at first that it was “that tyrant in Tukar” (who we know is actually Ishar), but Nin says this is a different danger. He goes into something that, on first read, looks like a non sequitur:

“It says ‘justice,’ “ Nin said. “This was a courthouse.”

“The ones you call parshmen name themselves the singers,” Nin said. “They took this town and pressed the survivors into labor at some docks farther along the coast. Was what happened here justice, Szeth-son-Neturo?”

“How could it be? … Ordinary people, living ordinary lives, suddenly attacked and murdered?”

AA: We don’t know yet, and he doesn’t tell us in this chapter, why Nin might possibly see this as a form of justice. That backstory will have to wait for another day.

L: In retrospect, since we know the backstory, it is a strikingly haunting question. Is it justice, to make people pay for the actions of their ancestors? Is it justice, to take back lands which rightfully should have been theirs? To repay centuries (possibly millenia) of slavery with violence? It’s a really heavy question, and one that I don’t think has a “right” answer.

AP: I don’t know that there is a “right” answer either, but I do want to note that this is not just the sins of the ancestors. The parshmen were currently enslaved until they were awakened by the Everstorm. What happened here was a slave rebellion.

AA: It was a slave rebellion of sorts, but I’m not entirely sure about the culpability of the slave owners, if they treated the parshmen well. (There’s no excuse for treating slaves badly—beyond the simple fact of owning them, which is dodgy in itself.) The parshmen, as they were left in the aftermath of the False Desolation, might well have died out had not the humans taken some responsibility for them. Making them slaves wasn’t, perhaps, necessary… but if you’re going to take responsibility for generations of people who can’t take care of themselves, it’s probably reasonable to get some return for your efforts. But that’s… kind of a discussion for a different time.

Szeth doesn’t know any of that yet, and all Nalan gives him here are weird hints about lords and princes and how ordinary people are sometimes killed in nominally “just” conflicts.

AP: They are oblique hints for sure, but he is still on topic. These are some of the clearest hints that we get prior to the big reveal that the humans and Odium are the invaders. If they hadn’t arrived on Roshar, everything would have continued to work in harmony. I think it’s definitely possible to justify a slave uprising. One of the repeating themes in Oathbringer is that multiple perspectives exist for the same events. So while, yes, it’s possible to look at this event the way Szeth does and see “ordinary people, living ordinary lives,” those ordinary people were slavers. It’s also possible to see the perspective of the Singers who labored under them and rebelled once they had the ability to do so.

AA: Totally possible to see both sides—and to realize that true justice may not be possible. After all, the people who started it have been dead for millennia.

Switching to a quick diversion on Skybreakers, and Nalan in particular,

“You are in a unique position, Szeth-son-Neturo. You will be the first to swear the oaths of a Skybreaker in a new world, a world where I have failed.”

AA: I suppose as a Herald, he does have a greater responsibility for the world in general than most individuals do, but it still seems pretty arrogant to take all the credit/blame himself. A world where I have failed? What about we? Because I’m thinking that all the Heralds (except Taln) failed, however understandably. The only thing different about Nin is that his Order stayed around in hiding, so he had a whole organization to support his … Desolation-avoidance efforts. Does that make it his failure? Meh.

L: Well, he also failed to see the signs that the Desolation had begun again and killed a whole hell of a lot of proto-Knights Radiant.

A: Thereby shooting all of humanity in the foot. Thanks, dude.

“I worked for thousands of years to prevent another Desolation. Ishar warned me of the danger. Now that Honor is dead, other Radiants might upset the balance of the Oathpact. Might undermine certain … measures we took, and give an opening to the enemy.”

AA: I’m still completely baffled by this. What is he talking about? Was he (and maybe the other Heralds) behind the Recreance, influencing the Radiants to shut the system down, and leaving only the Skybreakers to sneak around in the shadows getting rid of any incipient Radiants before they can mess things up?

L: Yeah, this is really curious. What balance of the Oathpact? Isn’t the Oathpact already kaput? So many questions!

In the distance, farther along the coast, a large bay glistened with blue water. Many masts of ships gathered there, figures buzzing around them.

AA: I’m not sure if Szeth knows, but we should recognize those figures as Fused…

AP: I’m glad you mentioned that, because I was thinking of them as the rest of the Skybreaker party exploring the area! Fused makes more sense.

“I have failed. And now, for the people, justice must be done. A very difficult justice, Szeth-son-Neturo. Even for my Skybreakers.”

AA: Is Nin, or are all the Skybreaker leadership, already planning to dump humanity and support the Singers’ claim to the entire world? If so, why? Nin (and Ishar) should know the whole truth of the beginning of the conflict. Are they now saying that they were wrong in the first place, and should have let humanity be wiped out instead of ever creating the Oathpact?

L: It’s a scary thought, but one which has at least some small amount of merit. I don’t think that humanity should be wiped out, obviously, but some recompense is necessary. There must be something that can be done, whether that’s finding a new home for humanity (possibly another planet) or trying to broker some sort of compromise in regards to land ownership. The slavery’s got to stop, though. On both sides.

AP: That’s what I’m getting too. I think in typical Nale fashion he’s going to take it too far, to absolutes. But from his hints in this chapter that was the plan already. I do agree that there needs to be some sort of reparations or recompense, and a path forward to sharing the planet is going to be incredibly difficult.

“I am hardly passionless. This is the problem. I am … different from how I once was. Worse, perhaps? Despite all that, a part of me wishes to be merciful.”

AA: He’s at least acknowledging that there’s something awry, much as Kalak did in the Words of Radiance Prologue. I guess that’s … not nothing? (Okay, so the guy is ten thousand years old, and presumably hasn’t slept in 9,950 years or so. There’s a reason he’s awry, I’ll grant him that much!)

L: Interesting philosophical query—does passion help or hinder the execution of law? On the one hand, an emotionless, unbiased view would be most logical (see: Vulcans) but on the other… having passion and emotion allows you to see and empathise with the victims of a situation.

AP: Invoking the “P” word has become an automatic red flag for me! During the reread, this is what signalled the most clearly that he’s been in contact with Odium, or someone Odium adjacent. On a slight tangent, I want to note that the enemy is Odium, not the singers themselves. And we have seen that Odium is equally willing to partner with humans or singers to advance his agenda. Interestingly, Odium, in that he represents “passion,” is a good fit for Nale, who is a zealot for the law. After centuries of torture he has lost his ability to feel compassion or mercy, and he takes justice to extremes, granting himself the ability to be judge, jury, and executioner. No surprise that he is going to apply that same extreme thinking to the human/singer conflict once he chooses a side.

“And is … mercy such a bad thing, aboshi?”

“Not bad; merely chaotic. … Some of those who are set free change their lives and go on to produce for society. Others recidivate and create great tragedies. The thing is, Szeth-son-Neturo, we humans are terrible at spotting which will be which. The purpose of the law is so we do not have to choose. So our native sentimentality will not harm us.”

AA: Such an interesting contrast to Nohadon’s questioning, isn’t it? To say nothing of Dalinar’s! Remember that discussion Dalinar had with Taravangian about the dilemma posed by a situation where three are guilty and one is innocent? Taravangian’s view seems much closer to Nin than to Nohadon.

Rabbit trail: why are the uncertain characters, the men who find it difficult to know how to answer that question, the ones who seem much more sympathetic to the reader? Nalan and Taravangian both seem to have reached the conclusion that it’s better to kill the innocent man too, in order to prevent possible future harm to other innocent people. While I’m sure we all want the possible future harm to not happen, neither the Herald nor the King seem… well, trustworthy in their judgement. Both Dalinar and Nohadon have great difficulty with the question, and we—or at least I—find them much more congenial characters.

L: Well, yeah… they’re allowing their emotions to guide them, they’re being empathic. This is a much more relatable and “human” trait than cold logic.

AP: Humans aren’t rational creatures! Morals and ethics are difficult, squishy, complicated questions. There isn’t an “easy” answer. Part of what keeps me engaged in the Stormlight Archive is this recognition that moral questions are hard. However, Nale’s insistence that following the law absolves him of moral culpability is flawed as well. Because messy chaotic humans make the laws.

“I know you are great, ancient, and wise,” Szeth said. “But … to my lesser eyes, you do not seem to obey your own precepts. You hunted Surgebinders, as you said.”

“I obtained legal permission for the executions I performed.”

“Yes,” Szeth said, “but you ignored many lawbreakers to pursue these few. You had motives beyond the law, aboshi. You were not impartial. You brutally enforced specific laws to achieve your ends.”

AA: He’s got you there, buddy…

L: True. It’s the old “the ends justify the means” argument.

AA: Nin at least has the honesty to acknowledge it, but then he totally rationalizes his decision:

“… The others have told you of the Fifth Ideal?”

“The Ideal where the Skybreaker becomes the law?”

Nin held out his empty left hand. A Shardblade appeared there, different and distinct from the Honorblade he carried in the other hand. “I am not only a Herald, but a Skybreaker of the Fifth Ideal.”

AA: Which… wow? He sort of implies that Skybreakers don’t get a spren-blade until the fifth Ideal, which seems unusual. What bothers me far more is the idea that the individual becomes the law. That’s concerning enough, given the fallibility of human nature, but this guy is messed up in the head—and he “is“ the law? That’s seriously frightening stuff there.

To be fair, I’m not 100% sure what they mean by that phrasing; I generally interpret it to mean that the Fifth-Ideal Skybreaker believes himself to be sufficiently erudite that his decisions are justice by definition. That… yeah, no. I don’t think so. He’s using it to justify what he moments ago acknowledged was ineffective and likely wrong: killing Radiants for centuries, under the incorrect assumption that it would prevent a Desolation.

L: I think we’ve discussed this before, but yeah. I’m going to be really interested to find out what Szeth’s Fifth Ideal winds up being.

“… I must tell you of the decision we Heralds made, long ago. On the day that would become known as Aharietiam. The day we sacrificed one of our own to end the cycle of pain and death…”

AA: It appears that he’s going to tell something pretty close to the truth, at least…

AP: Well, his side of it at least…

Stories & Songs

They stopped several times to recover hidden stockpiles in mountain peaks or remote valleys.

AA: Pretty convenient, being the only people who could fly. Stockpile whatever you want, no one else can get to it to steal your stuff!

To find doorways, they often had to hack through five inches of crem. That amount of buildup had probably taken centuries to accumulate, yet Nin spoke of the places as if he’d just left. At one, he was surprised to find the food long since decayed—though fortunately, the gemstone stockpile there had been hidden in a place where it remained exposed to the storms.

In these visits, Szeth finally began to grasp how ancient this creature was.

AA: Uh… yeah. Truly ancient, and also out of touch with the passage of time, apparently.

L: Well, that makes sense, for an immortal being that’s been around as long as he has.

AA: I find it quite snicker-worthy that Nin was surprised about the food having decayed. What I really wonder, though, is just how long these stashes have been there. Since the Recreance? Have they been maintained over the last thousand years? Also, why?

L: Boy Scout motto: Be prepared? It makes a lot of sense to me that if you’re literally immortal, you’d set up contingencies for every possible situation.

“…aboshi.” The divine honorific was his best guess of how to address one of the Heralds, though among his people it had been reserved for the great spren of the mountains.

AA: Once again, Szeth is trying to sort out what to call people; this feels sort of like the way he calls Nightblood “sword-nimi.” It’s logical that he would try to be as reverent as possible, I guess. What really jumped out at me, though, is “the great spren of the mountains.” Is that spren-singular, or spren-plural? Is he talking about the Sibling?? It would make sense in several ways, and would also be a cool reason for the Sibling to have plural pronouns. It would also imply that the Shin know a lot more about certain things than the rest of the world. Or, if they don’t actually know the significance of the spren, they still know of the existence thereof.

Or, of course, it could just be that every mountain has a spren, and they refer to those spren as “aboshi.”

AP: Also a good reminder here about how the Shin feel that rocks are quite literally holy ground and refuse to walk on them. So you may be onto something there!

…at his hand, where a glistening Shardblade appeared. One of the two missing Honorblades. Szeth’s people had care of eight. Once, long ago, it had been nine. Then this one had vanished.
He’d seen depictions of it…

AA: So just in case anyone was still in doubt, yes. Nalan reclaimed his Honorblade, and it was not recent. We don’t know how long ago “long ago” is, but definitely prior to Szeth’s lifetime, and I’d say it’s implied that it’s been at least centuries. Possibly millennia.

Flora & Fauna

They landed on a plain full of strange brown grass that reminded Szeth of wheat, save for the fact that this pulled down into burrows, leaving visible only the small bob of grain on the top. This was casually eaten by wild beasts that were wide and flat, like walking discs, with claws only on the underside to shove the grain into their mouths.

The disclike animals would probably migrate eastward, their droppings containing seeds that—stuck to the ground—would survive storms to grow into first-stage polyps. Those would later blow to the west and become second-stage grain.

L: I kind of imagine these things as horseshoe crabs!

AP: Living roombas!

AA: I couldn’t come up with a single plausible mental image, honestly. All I could see were the Ivar’s clams. Still, weird animals aside, the seeding method is totally accurate, and also cool. I wonder if this could really be an adapted form of wheat. Depending on what skills the humans brought with them from Ashyn along with their plants and animals, they could have originally had the ability to begin this kind of plant modification. It would be pretty cool to find out that they got it started and then it went wild even while the wars were starting.

Places & Peoples

Historically, Marat wasn’t truly a nation—but neither was it a place of nomads, like the backwaters of Hexi and Tu Fallia. Instead, Marat was a group of loosely connected cities, tribally run, with a highprince at their head—though in the local dialect, he was called “elder brother.”

AA: I quoted this partly for the worldbuilding, and partly because I have a question. Why does Szeth think in terms of highprinces? Is that a worldwide thing? Do the Shin have them? Has he spent so much time in the Vorin kingdoms that he’s using their wording? Or is Sanderson just having him use it for our sake?

L: My take on this is that he’s spent so much time in Vorin territory that he’s started to think in those terms.

The country made for a convenient waystop between the Vorin kingdoms of the east and the Makabaki ones of the center west. Szeth knew that Marat was rich in culture, full of people as proud as you’d find in any nation—but of almost no value on the political scale.

AA: On one hand, it’s a bummer to be dismissed so readily, but on the other… you just get to live your life and not get dragged into world politics. (Or at least, you mostly did until recently.) I wonder if this was always the situation, or if some of this was caused by the various attempts at world domination from both the east and the west. Were they, at one time, an actual kingdom, but disrupted so thoroughly by the trampling of armies that they gave it up as a bad job, and made themselves not susceptible to national acquisition by simply decentralizing all government?

All life worked in concert, he’d been taught in his youth. Everything but men, who refused their place. Who destroyed instead of added.

AA: This is the ending of the paragraph quoted in Flora & Fauna, and it makes me wonder about the Shin. The first sentence seems to fit with what little we know of their culture, where they place farmers as the highest calling and warriors as the lowest. But the other two sentences—is that Shin teaching, or Szeth’s own experience? It might be Shin; what seems to be a very regimented social structure could be based on the assumption that humans must be forcibly constrained in order to function properly in the world. Or it could just be Szeth; he has a very twisted view of pretty much everything, what with being condemned and outcast, spending nearly a decade doing anything reprehensible or honorable at the behest of his “owners,” finding out that he was right in the first place… It will be interesting to learn more of the Shin culture and what led to all of Szeth’s years of exile in the first place.

L: The way this is worded, it makes me think that the entire saying is one he was taught in the Shin culture. It could be learned, but the wording of it leads me to believe that it all belongs together.

AA: That would also fit with the Shin disapproval of all the eastern people, who profanely walk on stone and all that. They do see all humans—except themselves—as having refused their appropriate place, simply by dint of living in the lands east of the mountains. All in all, I think you’re right.

AP: It’s also yet another hint that humans just ain’t from around these parts.

Tight Butts and Coconuts

Aw, the sword said from his back. We missed the fun?

AA: Thank you, Nightblood, for a (completely ignored) moment of humor! Also, you’re really kind of sick, you know?

L: ::snicker::

You should draw me, the sword said.

“And do what, sword-nimi?” Szeth whispered.

Fight him. I think he might be evil.

“He is one of the Heralds—one of the least-evil things in the world.”

Huh. Doesn’t bode well for your world, then.

AA: It’s really bizarre when Nightblood is the voice of reason. Just sayin’.

Also, while it’s probably true that originally, he was one of the least-evil things in the world, that ended a long, long time ago.

L: I was going to say “well…” but honestly, you’re right. Boy’s been out murdering innocent people for centuries.

AP: Yeah, if he’s setting off Nightblood’s evil-sense, then we’ve got a problem.

Sheer Speculation

AA: Hey, here’s a fun little speculation. If Szeth really was referring to the Sibling when he said “the great spren of the mountains,” what are the odds that he might end up being the third Bondsmith instead of progressing all the way in the Skybreakers? I like the idea of Rlain bonding the Nightwatcher, so we have a Listener involved. Then we could have Dalinar, Rlain, and Szeth as the Bondsmiths. I could see that.

L: Oooooor Rlain could bond the Sibling?

AP: Interesting theory, but I think I’d prefer to see Szeth progress into a “good” Skybreaker rather than a Bondsmith. Also, selfishly, I want to see the progression of each of the orders, and we don’t currently have another Skybreaker to follow.

Quality Quotations

He’d seen depictions of it, strikingly straight and unornamented for a Shardblade, yet still elegant. Two slits ran the length of the weapon, gaps that could never exist in an ordinary sword, as they would weaken it.

AA: Well, I certainly seem to have asked more questions than I answered this week! Chapters like this are a mixture of fascination and frustration to me; there’s so much more insight into Nalan’s thinking than we’ve ever had before, but at the same time there’s still so much we don’t get to see.

Now it’s your turn. What do you make of all this?

Next week there will be no post, due to the USA Thanksgiving holiday. The week after that, we’ll dive into Chapter 107, which is long and full of tension, what with Dalinar and Taravangian POVs that twist the reader into knots.

Alice is done with volleyball for the year, but on a high note. Her daughter’s team took 8th place at the state tournament (out of 58 teams in their division, made up of the smallest schools in the state) and brought home their first-ever state trophy. Alice currently has no voice left, but hopes to recover someday soon.

Lyndsey is thankful this year for her families—not those dictated by blood, but those she’s found along the way. She loves her fellow Sanderson beta/gamma readers, rennies, cosplayers, fire performers, and all the other communities she’s been blessed to be a part of over the years with a fierce and undying love. If you’re an aspiring author, a cosplayer, or just like geeky content, follow her work on Facebook or Instagram.

Aubree just started a new D&D campaign and is totally basing her asshole paladin on Nale.

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