Brandon Sanderson pt 7: Oathbringer and Dawnshard

The lengthy tome that is Stormlight Archive #3, and the speedy novella that is #3.5.

Brandon Sanderson pt 7: Oathbringer and Dawnshard

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#3 Oathbringer

Published: 2017

Read: 31st August 2023

“But the grand thing about people was that you could also choose to focus on particular faces, really see them, and find a wealth of stories. So many people with so many lives, each a separate little mystery.”

The third entry to the Stormlight Archive is huge, full of significant events concerning our characters pasts and futures. The cast is expanded massively, evidenced by the number of perspectives readers get. The story takes us across Roshar and beyond, with new nations and cultures unveiled in detail. All of this is pushed by multiple antagonistic threats, mostly new. Epic is truly the most appropriate label for this story.

So much happens in this novel that each section felt distinct to me, in both its plot density and writing quality. The epic nature makes itself visible almost instantly through some of Sanderson’s opening lines, and titles. There’s also some great build-up in the titling itself, so pay attention throughout the book! Here is a small example from the beginning.

Part One: United
Chapter 1: Broken and Divided
First sentence: “Dalinar Kholin appeared in the vision standing beside the memory of a dead god.

I mean, just unabashedly glorious and dropping readers into the thick of action following the electrifying conclusion of book 2 Words of Radiance. I was glad to dive into the larger stuff after the disappointing Edgedancer novella, but Part One rapidly slows down as Sanderson handles the multiple threads established in his storyline. I felt Part Two was an even tougher section to get through, perhaps the lowest thus far in the Stormlight Archive. There’s a lot of logistics to get through, and individually important character moments that crowd together with such a large cast. Part Three starts to get things back together as the story becomes focused once more. A clear mission, re-established stakes and some courageously astonishing writing in the direction of multiple storylines bleeds into an effective Part Four. This section is almost overwhelming in the amount of world building conducted, yet there were some amazing Cosmere connections. I felt that we were given only a glimpse into places and people who would become more important moving forward. Part Five left me speechless. Truly awesome events that I have only been able to comprehend in the weeks since finishing the novel. RAFO.

“Isn’t a principle about what you give up, not what you gain? … Personally, I think life is fair. It’s merely that often, you can’t immediately see what balances it.”

In terms of characters, this is Dalinar’s book. His backstory was less of a mystery compared to that of previous books’ focuses Kaladin and Shallan. It was however ugly in a different way, and truly human. Since finishing Oathbringer most of my thoughts on the book have rested upon Dalinar, in particular his moments from the second half of the book. There may not be as much to unpack as the other two Knights Radiant, but it is in no way less emotionally powerful - and especially in its conclusion, I would argue the most stirring. I found Shallan’s story the most variegated. Early in the book she had moments that won me over, but similarly to Kaladin fades slightly in individual prominence as the novel continues. These were not issues for me, as characters like Adolin and Navani provide interesting counterpoints. Formerly background characters also become even more defined, and put their hands into the story’s outcomes.

This is another reason for Oathbringer’s density, and a potential issue for readers. There is a tremendous rise in the range of characters who get perspectives throughout the novel. Outside of our main trio we also get chapters from the view of various members of Bridge Four, other Knights Radiant, Voidbringers and other antagonistic groups. I feel Sanderson has mixed results as his writing walks a line between giving us brief insights and expending momentum into building these characters up. I recall reading one-off chapters from such interesting, but ultimately smaller, players in other fantasy books - most prominently Wheel of Time. When they work there is a limit applied to them, and as readers it is made clear that this alternative perspective is refreshing, but importantly short-lived. When reflecting upon writing this review, and with the foreknowledge granted by reading Dawnshard, I understand that Sanderson is actually committed towards building these side characters up. Your own mileage with the dizzying number of perspectives will depend upon both your reading patience and investment into this increasingly rich world.

“These know they can’t stop the boulder. So they walk beside it, study it, and bide their time. Then they shove it—ever so slightly—to create a deviation in its path… these are the men who actually change the world. And they terrify me. For men never see as far as they think they do.”

The themes this time around are about coming together in the face of ominous and force-of-nature threats. Nations have to put aside their differences, but that means learning about what makes them unique and getting involved in their nationalistic struggles. The Knights Radiant are a metaphor for this, with their own burgeoning size creating internal issues and forcing characters to examine their own identities. Dalinar increases his notability in trying to save Roshar, which forces him to reckon with his own past and the impacts of a life of violence. Sanderson uses Dalinar’s older age to great effect, bringing some unexpectedly great and atypical moments in his writing. Finding ways to forgive is difficult - but in my opinion, necessary. Once again, as with The Way of Kings, I have found myself ruminating on the lessons offered by the characters and their struggles in this book. These are the scenes that have stayed with me.

“Yes, I began my journey alone, and I ended it alone. But that does not mean that I walked alone.”

On one hand, I’m glad I took a break from the main Stormlight Archive books after the heavy read that Oathbringer was. On the other hand, I know that when I’m ready to invest myself once again in this world Sanderson will find ways to make it rewarding. I’ve also heard that Rhythm of War brings even more Cosmere connections, so I’m glad I’m mostly caught up.

Favourite Moments (spoilers)

There's honestly so many.

Smaller moments

Navani's ketek at Gavilar's funeral: "You, always about dreams. My soul weeps. Farewell, weeping soul. My dreams ... about, always, You."

Szeth's Skybreaker training, dealing with Nale and cool visuals at the Purelake: "I swear to seek justice, to let it guide me, until I find a more perfect Ideal."

Teft's third ideal 🥲: "I will protect those I hate. Even ... even if the one I hate most ... is ... myself."

Lift's interactions with Dalinar, from his visions to the final battle:
“Do you have a weapon?” he asked.
“Nope. Can’t read.”

Enter Odium

We’ve been teased as to who the larger evil is of this series is, and he finally appears in Oathbringer. Odium is revealed as a force of nature, and every appearance of his is memorable - darkening Dalinar’s visions; leading Venli astray. This also pushes Dalinar in his desperate gamble of uniting the world’s nations. I mean, how much more epic can this series get?

Retroactively, one of the entire series's high points - Kaladin entering Adolin's duel in Words of Radiance - becomes even more mindblowing in its foreshadowing. "Honor is dead. But I'll see what I can do." That wasn't just a figure of speech, as the God/ Shard Honor is literally dead, which is what allows Odium to exert his influence upon Roshar - and means the human Knights Radiant must rise to the challenge.

Kaladin's Part One Journey

Kaladin’s return to Hearthstone is full of mixed emotions. It also highlights the distance between the boy who left and the man has returned, even with how he uses his shardblade and lighters status to get things done. His display of light to the despondent crowd reminded me of Dalinar’s flashbacks of the Knights Radiant of old, before The Day of Recreance. Then he gets a really interesting arc with the Parshmen family, adding colour to both sides of this conflict, and later crippling Kaladin’s own judgement. This was an effective throughline for me during the novel's first half.

Shallan's Personas

Initially fascinating but admittedly tiring. Shallan began compartmentalising her emotions and thoughts into distinct personalities, namely Veil for the Ghostbloods and Radiant for Brightlords. These allowed for an interesting way to investigate the serial killer in Urithiru, and experience the newly established city's seedier underbelly.

I also felt the Unmade did not have lore or references in previous Stormlight Archive entries, but knowing Brandon Sanderson and his foreshadowing I more than likely missed them. They were interesting antagonists who sit above and separate to the Voidbringers, but below Odium.

It was amazing that she took down one of the Unmade single-handedly in front of the Urithitru crystal pillar, and nearly another one in Kholinar.

Kholinar

The action throughout the fall of Kholinar was simply overwhelming in an awesome way. From quiet sneaking to intense battles in the palace's hallways, and ending in this place - Shadesmar. It really felt like a Sanderlanche, one that could have been the conclusion to a novel on its own.

The characters here were another highlight. Wit's return as he redefines the story of "The Girl Who Looked Up". Azure's appearance is a major Cosmere crossover, as the Wall Guard Highmarshal is actually (now former) princess Vivenna from Warbreaker. Adolin also has a humorous observation of Kaladin's interactions with the Wall Guard: "Of course. He's probably their leader now or something. Storming bridgeboy." And Elhokar meets a heartbreaking end, with Moash and the Parshmen Sah incapacitating Kaladin from saving the Alethi king - just as he is in the middle of uttering his First Ideal, casting a new light on all his previous interactions and paranoias.

The Recreance

Simply mind-blowing. Eila Stele is an ancient document written in the Dawnchant by one of the Dawnsingers, perhaps the oldest document in written memory according to Rosharan scholars. Humanity on Roshar is finally close to a true alliance at this point in the story, but the document's translated implications shatter Dalinar's actions.

It was shocking but easily clicked into place that humans were the Voidbringers, arriving to Roshar from the stars and conquering the Parshman. This was the cause of the original Recreance, the moment the previous Knights Radiant abandoned their Shardblades/ Spren and gave up their oaths. This huge historical reveal is coupled with other information leaks, namely as Dalinar talking to Odium in his visions and Elhokar's swearing to Dalinar as highking. Taravangian's shadowy machinations were truly scary here.

Unity

Chills. Emotions. Whatever you want to say. The emotional climax of this book, and Dalinar's arc. Odium has made his play for Thaylen City, and our human forces are hopelessly outmached. Facing an army of Parshmendi and thunderclasts (two!) from the ancient Desolations, Dalinar stands alone with a copy of The Way of Kings. He realises Odium does want a Contest of Champions for the fate of Roshar, perhaps the only way those who believe in Honor can survive - but with Dalinar as his chosen Champion. The pain of all his past failures hits him, and he falls to his knees. I'm going to allow the entire passage here to speak for itself.

"You cannot have my pain.”

“Dalinar—”

Dalinar forced himself to his feet. “You. Cannot. Have. My. Pain.”

“Be sensible.”

“I killed those children,” Dalinar said.

“No, it—”

“I burned the people of Rathalas.”

“I was there, influencing you—”

“YOU CANNOT HAVE MY PAIN!” Dalinar bellowed, stepping toward Odium. The god frowned. His Fused companions shied back, and Amaram raised a hand before his eyes and squinted.

Were those gloryspren spinning around Dalinar?

“I did kill the people of Rathalas,” Dalinar shouted. “You might have been there, but I made the choice. I decided!” He stilled. “I killed her. It hurts so much, but I did it. I accept that. You cannot have her. You cannot take her from me again.”

“Dalinar,” Odium said. “What do you hope to gain, keeping this burden?”

Dalinar sneered at the god. “If I pretend … If I pretend I didn’t do those things, it means that I can’t have grown to become someone else.”

“A failure.”

Something stirred inside of Dalinar. A warmth that he had known once before. A warm, calming light.

Unite them.

“Journey before destination,” Dalinar said. “It cannot be a journey if it doesn’t have a beginning.”

A thunderclap sounded in his mind. Suddenly, awareness poured back into him. The Stormfather, distant, feeling frightened—but also surprised.

Dalinar?

“I will take responsibility for what I have done,” Dalinar whispered. “If I must fall, I will rise each time a better man.”

The Thrill

Seeing it return here made so much sense. The Unmade's presence explained the Alethi's warmongering and bloodlust, a thread lingering from The Way of Kings. It also terrifies readers as another obstacle Odium throws at Dalinar to make him succumb to his past behaviours and mistakes.

Having seen Dalinar's failures as a father in emotionally charged flashbacks featuring Renarin in particular, I found his actions here strangely fatherly and a reflection of his growth as a character. The visual of this red mist containing all forms of warfare and battle - and Dalinar choosing to step into it - was simply epic.

“I embrace you,” he said. “I accept what I was.”

“Thank you... for giving me strength when I needed it.”

The spear that would not break

“Ten spears go to battle,” he whispered, “and nine shatter. Did that war forge the one that remained? No… All the war did was identify the speak that would not break.”

The Shardplate from Helaran (Shallan's brother) and memories of that army clash against new Fused in a new battlefield. Kaladin gets his moment with the man who wronged him all those years ago. 

My Glory and My Shame

Dalinar begins writing his own book titled Oathbringer. In doing so, he breaks Vorin tradition and publicly addresses his complicated past, choosing to write despite it being a time of war. The perfect way to end this amazing novel. This also continues the Stormlight Archive tradition of each book being named after an in-universe tome.

To love the journey is to accept no such end. I have found, through painful experience, that the most important step a person can take is always the next one.

I’m certain some will feel threatened by this record. Some few may feel liberated. Most will simply feel that it should not exist.

I needed to write it anyway.

Oathbringer, My Glory and My Shame.
Written by the hand of Dalinar Kholin.

#3.5 Dawnshard

Published: 2020

Read: November 28th 2023

“Search for the need, Vstim had always taught her. Don’t be a barnacle, simply leeching money where you can, Rysn. Find the unmet desire.”

A surprisingly brilliant novella, and one I was glad to have read between the larger Stormlight Archive instalments. Dawnshard follows Rysn who leads the Wandersail on an expedition to the lost island of Akinah. The war between humanity and Voidbringers is in full swing, and Navani Kholin charges this mission with special importance. I was surprised to find that the events occurring here actually were significant, and I suspect will likely have an impact on wider Stormlight Archive if not Cosmere happenings.

“A compromise with morality,” Nikli said. “An imperfect solution for an imperfect world,”

Rysn is joined by recent Knight Radiant The Lopen. The cast size felt just right with a few other Knights Radiant on-board amongst the sailing crew. The novella was able to spend time establishing important relationships and moving them throughout the events of the story. Rysn in particular provides an enlightening perspective as a wheelchair-bound paraplegic, and I was glad to read in the introduction that Sanderson worked with and learnt from disabled individuals whilst writing this book.

Having a proper ocean voyage in this world was entertaining, especially after teases in Words of Radiance and the odd form required of humans travelling in Shadesmar during Oathbringer. There was some great world building done for Roshar’s eastern side of the map. Readers are also given knowledge of a fascinating faction with interests on Roshar, but one that sits outside of the human-Voidbringer conflict. And I’m almost taking for granted how Sanderson’s writing always neatly ties up loose threads into beautiful bows.

“The type who longed for freedom—who wasn’t content to sit where they were told, but instead wanted to see something new. A person who wanted to chase the horizon.”

Dawnshard was dazzling during its short reading time, and a nice palate cleanser before returning to mainland Roshar in Stormlight Archive #4 Rhythm of War.

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