Oathbringer continues Sanderson’s epic tale, and while we hear from all the characters, Dalinar Kholin takes center stage and much of the backstory that’s been hinted in books 1 and 2 comes to light. We are able to understand the depth of Dalinar’s past and how the Blackthorn became the legend he’s purported to be in the first two installments. Even though Sanderson uses this plot formula for both Kaladin in book 1 (who’s been my favorite character throughout the series), and Shallan in book 2, Oathbringer is the first time I really felt the puzzle pieces of one of the major players fit together in that cathartic book-plot way. Maybe it’s because we’ve had to wait two books to get all our questions answered where in books 1 and 2, we haven’t spent as much time with Kal and Shallan. Or maybe because Dalinar is a man in his 50s, there’s just more history to mine and more space for plausible introspection and growth. But either way, watching Dalinar’s past meet his present made this book my favorite so far.
Sanderson is also building a lot in the background with the other characters, and he takes on the BIG issues in this book. While he never uses the contemporary terms for depression, multiple-personality disorder, trauma, addiction, PTSD, etc., they’re all VERY easy to see for what they are through his descriptions and the characters’ stories. It’s been hinted and toyed with in books 1 and 2, but Kaladin’s severe depression and PTSD get placed center stage in Oathbringer, Shallan’s childhood traumas coalesce into her creating two full-fledge personalities to deal with different levels of her life in which three distinct people live in her body. Teft, our trusty Bridge 4 sergeant, struggles with his addiction to the Roshar equivalent of cocaine, and Dalinar comes face to face with the dire consequences of his murderous rage. The question of ethics and morals are also unpacked in the enslaving of the Parshmen population and the location of the line where war ends and murder begins.
What I’m coming to love about Sanderson as a writer is that he’s able to create these absolutely flawed and broken hero characters without becoming preachy or heavy-handed in their redemption. Mostly because their redemption is a slow and arduous process in which the characters both reflect on themselves and their past, but are also coaxed along by those they love and care for. And the struggle remains, even after the redemptive moment. Teft returns to his addiction after years of being clean, failing again and again to stay away from the Moss houses. Kaladin knows he’s mentally not well, and he works on himself, but he cannot fight his way out of his own depression. Shallan knows she has a support circle, and she grows, but still can’t speak the trauma of her childhood. And one of the most interesting plot threads in Oathbringer is Dalinar realizing that the reputation that made him the Blackthorn (murder, rampaging, merciless war tactics) is directly dichotomous to his need to unite the world against the Voidbringer threat. His twenty years of being the world’s best soldier also means the world doesn’t trust him not to become a tyrant. Watching the process of him realizing that the view the world has of him and the view he has of himself are so vastly different that they can’t even inhabit the same universe, and then him spending the majority of the book coming clean about himself and fixing it, was one of the most cathartic and enjoyable character arcs I’ve ever read.
Bingo square: Pandemic