Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! For the last three weeks we’ve been plowing through the interludes between Part One and Part Two. This week we come to Interlude Four: Last Legion, in which Eshonai makes a society-ending mistake. I’ve also compiled Navani’s diary entries for your reading pleasure.
This reread will contain spoilers for The Way of Kings, Words of Radiance, and any other Cosmere book that becomes relevant to the discussion. The index for this reread can be found here, and more Stormlight Archive goodies are indexed here. Read on, and join us in the comments.
Interlude Four: Last Legion
Point of View: Eshonai
Symbology: Listener, Taln
IN WHICH Eshonai, Thude, and Bila examine and argue about a trapped stormspren; the old gods are invoked; Eshonai hates her uniform; Eshonai worries about insubordination and progress; dwindling populations refuse to be ignored; three dullforms attempt to avoid the wrath of humanity; Eshonai visits her ailing mother, and is barely recognized; her mother sings the song of how they left the dark home; Eshonai is reunited with her childhood maps; the Five gather, despite Eshonai’s tardiness; Venli pushes for stormform; Eshonai finally agrees, on condition that she be the one to test it.
Quote of the Week:
“Long are the days since we knew the dark home,” Mother sang softly to one of the Rhythms of Remembrance. “The Last Legion, that was our name then. Warriors who had been set to fight in the farthest plains, this place that had once been a nation and was now rubble. Dead was the freedom of most people. The forms, unknown, were forced upon us. Forms of power, yes, but also forms of obedience. The gods commanded, and we did obey, always. Always.”
Oral history can pack a lot of information into a story, can’t it? This song answers some questions, showing where the forms came from originally, and why the Parshendi fear their gods, but it raises more questions still. What army did the Parshendi form a legion in? Are these “gods” the shards? Where’s the dark home, anyway?
Commentary: Alice did a great job explaining the mechanics of the Rhythms and Forms in her reread of Interlude One, so I won’t linger on that for too long. We learn in this chapter that each form is assumed by bonding a different kind of spren during a highstorm, and that attuning to a Rhythm lets each Parshendi hear the same, ongoing rhythm. They even keep time this way, which, wow, useful. Turns out the Parshendi ARE magic music hivemind people. I want to know who set the rhythms to begin with.
Interlude Four is riddled with Parshendi politics. Almost every conversation is a political one. Bila declares to Eshonai that she’ll do anything to kill more humans, up to and including welcoming back the old gods. The dullforms, by occupying a form that dulls their minds and reflects the former slavery of their people, are demonstrating an absolute lack of confidence in the soldiery and general leadership. Eshonai’s mother stays in workform because she “didn’t want to encourage people to see one form as more valuable than another, that such stratification could destroy them.” Her body is an anti-classist statement, one that she’s made continuously for decades.
We see these politics to prepare us for the meeting of the Five. The Parshendi are led by a representative council made up of individuals who have agreed to keep one form for an indeterminate amount of time. In this way they hope to make sure that every form/class is taken into consideration when top-level decisions must be made. This has problems: dullform and mateform are far less suited to governance than nimbleform or soldierform. On the whole, though, it’s a decent solution to the problem of ruling a vastly heterogeneous population. Through all of this, I’m most impressed by Zuln, who tries to speak for the slaveforms as well as the dullforms. Acting for all those who have not yet been liberated must be a terrible burden. I wonder how well he can accomplish this, through the hardship of wearing dullform.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a story about how well the Five faced the challenges that were presented to them. This is the story of how the virulent idea of stormform toppled the Parshendi. The Five decide matters of policy by conversation as much as by vote, and the more mentally agile forms dominate conversation. Venli has a tremendous advantage when it comes time to press her case. And it sure doesn’t help that her sister provides the main source of token resistance. Two is an unacceptable number of siblings to have on a five person ruling body.
Venli and Eshonai also have disproportional sway because they are each the head of the two major organized concerns of the Parshendi, research and warfare. That’s probably why things go wrong so fast when the storm hits the fan.
Eshonai’s mom makes the sadness happen. She, the most knowledgeable keeper of old stories, is suffering from debilitating memory loss, and only recognizes Eshonai as Eshonai for half of their conversation. Everything is crumbling in this chapter: the army’s ranks are diminished, rows and rows of buildings stand empty, Parshendi are degenerating to dullform, and ancestral memory is being lost. These factors push Eshonai towards desperate measures. All will be lost.
Eshonai hates her uniform. She brings that up half a dozen times. The discovery of the maps she drew as a child mark a sharp contrast between her present and her past. Eshonai doesn’t like being a general, or a warrior. She didn’t want to be in charge of a doomed people. In fact, she’d prefer to be out in the wild on her own, discovering and making progress on her own. Her family has guilted her into a far more social role, and she’s really feeling the pressure: “Once, she’d seen the world as something fresh and exciting. New, like a blossoming forest after a storm. She was dying slowly, as surely as her people were.”
That’s rough, buddy.
Sprenspotting: We see a trapped stormspren, in a gemstone, just waiting to ruin everyone’s day. It’s described as small and smoky, not full of red lightning, but this isn’t even its final form. Eshonai also attracts a few fearspren, which she describes as long purple worms. Her language regarding spren continues to characterize them more like animals than materials, compared to how the human characters describe them.
Heraldic Symbolism: Taln, the Herald of War, watches over this chapter, being all
Dependable and Resourceful. He’s clearly the best personality match for Eshonai in her current form, and is also probably pretty used to everything crumbling and being destroyed, what with how he’s been stuck in Damnation forever.
The Diary: As promised, here is Navani’s diary, collected for your convenience.
To be perfectly frank, what has happened these last two months is upon my head. The death, destruction, loss, and pain are my burden. I should have seen it coming. And I should have stopped it.
Our first clue was the Parshendi. Even weeks before they abandoned their pursuit of the gemhearts, their pattern of fighting changed. They lingered on the plateaus after battles, as if waiting for something.
Soldiers reported being watched from afar by an unnerving number of Parshendi scouts. Then we noticed a new pattern of their penetrating close to the camps in the night and then quickly retreating. I can only surmise that our enemiesw ere ven then preparing their stratagem to end this war.
The next clue came on the walls. I did not ignore this sign, but neither did I grasp its full implications.
The sign on the wall proposed a greater danger, even, than its deadline. To foresee the future is of the Voidbringers.
We had never considered that there might be Parshendi spies hiding among our slaves. This is something else I should have seen.
I was unprepared for the grief my loss brought—like an unexpected rain—breaking from a clear sky and crashing down upon me. Gavilar’s death years ago was overwhelming, but this . . . this nearly crushed me.
I seek not to use my grief as an excuse, but it is an explanation. People act strangely soon after encountering an unexpected loss. Though Jasnah had been away for some time, her loss was unexpected. I, like many, assumed her to be immortal.
I wish to think that had I not been under sorrow’s thumb, I would have seen earlier the approaching dangers. Yet in all honesty, I’m not certain anything could have been done.
But, understandably, we were focused on Sadeas. His betrayal was still fresh, and I saw its signs each day as I passed empty barracks and grieving widows. We knew that Sadeas would not simply rest upon his slaughters in pride. More was coming.
Unfortunately, we fixated upon Sadeas’s plotting so much that we did not take note of the changed pattern of our enemies, the murderers of my husband, the true danger. I would like to know what wind brought about their sudden, inexplicable transformation.
I hope you enjoy Navani’s hindsight and bitter self-recrimination. Alice will return next week to lead us into Part Two: Winds’ Approach.