In Oathbringer—the third book in Brandon Sanderson’s epic Stormlight Archive series—some of our favorite characters spend a couple hundred pages traveling through Shadesmar (AKA the Cognitive Realm), an alternate plane of existence that’s the inverse of the Physical Realm where humans reside.
One could argue that Shallan, Kaladin, Adolin, and Azure’s journey through Shadesmar was a detour from the meat of the Oathbringer story. Those familiar with Sanderson’s work, however, know that their experience in the Cognitive Realm will likely have repercussions not only in the fourth book, but also in future Stormlight Archive novels and the larger Cosmere universe.
So let’s talk about Shadesmar. We’ve got months, after all, until the fourth Stormlight Archive book, Rhythm of War, comes out this November. In the meantime, here are three questions we can mull over about the state of the Cognitive Realm—the realm of thought and the realm of the spren—as we count down the days to Rhythm of War’s release.
How will Odium’s battle for control impact the Cognitive Realm, and who will be most affected?
In Oathbringer, Odium is, unsurprisingly, up to no good. He’s looking to take over Roshar, and in order to do so, he’s more than happy to destroy (or turn) those who have recently become Radiants. And while much of Odium’s efforts appear to focus on the Physical Realm, we also know that his Fused have infiltrated the Cognitive Realm as well.
Moving forward, it seems likely that Odium’s ongoing battle for control in the Physical Realm will continue to be mirrored in the Cognitive Realm, and that the Radiants will be the ones most affected by this. According to Jasnah, all Radiants have a special bond to the Cognitive Realm because of their bond with their spren. Certain types of Radiants, however, are more connected to Shadesmar than others. Shallan and Jasnah, given their abilities to see the Cognitive Realm while still in the Physical Realm, will likely be more directly involved in the battle in Shadesmar. And Dalinar, who has the capability to bond all three realms—Physical, Cognitive and Spiritual—will likely play a major role as well. Will there be a pivotal moment in Rhythm of War where Dalinar once again brings all three realms together? Will the Radiants find allies in Shadesmar (maybe the honorspren?) to attack Odium from the Cognitive Realm as well as the Physical Realm?
Speaking of honorspren, what’s up with them trying to rule Shadesmar, and are they ever going to join the fight against Odium?
When our crew travels through Shadesmar, we find out that other orders of spren hate honorspren. Their dislike for them, however, is well-founded: over the centuries, honorspren—based out of their appropriately-named capital Lasting Integrity—have been trying to rule over the Cognitive Realm, whether the other orders like it or not. How did the honorspren become so alienated from the rest of their kind? Does their connection to the now-dead Honor come with a superiority complex that makes them think they’re better than everyone else?
And if they are so connected to Honor and his ideals, why haven’t they directly joined the fight against his murderer, Odium? The honorspren were, if anything, a hindrance to the Shadesmar crew, who were trying to do just that. The honorspren cared more about getting Syl back to their capital, as she’s the last daughter of Stormfather and, by their account, not ready to form a bond with a human, even though she’s already done so, with Stormfather’s blessing.
Their actions seem myopic, and while the honorspren eventually agree to release the Shadesmar crew, it’s not clear what path they’ll take in the future. Will they finally fight Odium directly? Or will they continue to sit on the sidelines, not wanting to become involved with humans again?
And then there’s Azure—how long will she stay in Shadesmar in her quest to find Zahel?
Those who know more about Sanderson’s Cosmere may recognize Azure and her color-changing hair from elsewhere in that universe. Knowing Azure’s background, however, sheds little light on what she’s doing in Oathbringer. What we do know is that she’s here to chase down Zahel and “a Shardblade that bleeds black smoke.” When we leave her in Oathbringer, she stays behind in Shadesmar to help the honorspren fight the Fused chasing them. Her reasons for staying, however, deal with her own quest: she’s made a deal with the honorspren—she’ll tell them about her unusual Shardblade and they’ll help her get to the perpendicularity. Will Azure ultimately find Zahel and the smokey Shardblade? Probably, but will she do so in Rhythm of War, or will she become bogged down in the next book by the burgeoning fight in Shadesmar?
Vanessa Armstrong is a writer with bylines at The LA Times, SYFY WIRE, StarTrek.com and other publications. She lives in Los Angeles with her dog Penny and her husband Jon, and she loves books more than most things. You can find more of her work on her website or follow her on Twitter @vfarmstrong.