Welcome back to the Words of Radiance Reread on Tor.com! Last week, Szeth sat on top of Urithiru, feeling sorry for himself and working himself up to go find better answers. This week, Eshonai reveals more of the difference in her character after her transformation to Stormform; as expected, this is not a cheerful event.
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.
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Interlude 11: New Rhythms
Point of View: Eshonai
Symbology: Listener, Kalak, Ishar
IN WHICH stormform Eshonai meets with the Five plus Venli to discuss the plan she has developed for fighting the humans—to get everyone possible into stormform; she lies and manipulates them to gain some cooperation; Venli is still keeping secrets; Eshonai circumvents the Five, announcing the immediate implementation of her plan; the sisters go out to the practice grounds, where Eshonai again announces her plan, requiring each soldier to choose immediately whether or not to join her in stormform; once the few who refuse the transformation are identified, she sends her soldiers to do the same among the civilians; all those who refuse are gathered with those few soldiers on the practice ground; Eshonai attunes her new Rhythms to block out any hints of self-awareness; when her old lieutenant indicates discomfort with the proceedings, she puts him and her former division in charge of the dissenters, knowing that she will have all of them executed once she’s got most of the people in stormform; she returns to the city, prepared to tell her people a concoction of lies to keep them in line; while she waits for the people to gather and settle for her speech, she is informed that the dissenters have escaped into the chasms; despite Venli and her spite, Eshonai shrugs them off as essentially dead already, since they cannot possibly get far enough away via the chasms before the next highstorm hits.
Quote of the Week
“Our people must take that form, Eshonai,” Venli said. “It is inevitable.”
Eshonai found herself attuning the new version of Amusement… Ridicule, it was. She turned to her sister. “You knew, didn’t you? You knew exactly what this form would do to me. You knew this before you took the form yourself.”
Eshonai grabbed her sister by the front of her robe, then yanked her forward, holding her tightly. With Shardplate it was easy, though Venli resisted more than she should have been able to, and a small spark of red lightning ran across the woman’s arms and face. Eshonai was not accustomed to such strength from her scholar of a sister.
“You could have destroyed us,” Eshonai said. “What if this form had done something terrible?”
Screaming. In her head. Venli smiled.
“How did you discover this?” Eshonai asked. “It didn’t come from the songs. There is more.”
Venli did not speak. She met Eshonai’s eyes and hummed to Confidence. “We must make certain the Five agree to this plan,” she said. “If we are to survive, and if we are to defeat the humans, we must be in this form—all of us. We must summon that storm. It has been … waiting, Eshonai. Waiting and building.”
The new Eshonai makes me sad; I liked the old Eshonai, the one who is still screaming in her own mind, and I still hope she will somehow return. Venli, on the other hand… I never liked or trusted the old Venli, and the new one is even worse. She tacitly admits that she’s still keeping secrets.
I can’t help thinking that the only thing worse than these two and their spiteful semi-cooperation would be these two truly working together as a team. ::shudder::
This chapter makes me melancholy. It’s so hard to watch Eshonai under the control of the stormspren, and it’s made worse by the ways in which she almost recognizes the differences. Between her own voice screaming at her from the Rhythm of Peace, the differences in the Rhythms she can hear, and the repeatedly slippery recognitions of behavior that is not quite natural, it’s pretty clear that there’s still something of the old Eshonai buried in there, and that the new Eshonai is being controlled by another entity.
The big question I have now, though, is whether that buried Eshonai is being clever—if desperate—in a few things. Specifically, did she deliberately put her “former friends” in charge of the dissidents, a group which includes her own mother, knowing that they would figure out what she was going to do to them and that they would attempt to escape? She shrugs off their departure just a shade too easily, and Venli accuses her of doing something deliberately, though even super-sneak Venli doesn’t seem to know quite what it might be. Earlier, Eshonai almost acknowledged something weird about the way she didn’t choose her own squad for the first group to transform; later, she consciously thinks that it was nice of Thude to make it so easy to get rid of him and the rest of her old squad. Combining this with the knowledge that the last we see of her in this book is as she’s falling into the chasms herself, I have to wonder. Did old-Eshonai, buried deep within, subtly manipulate new-Eshonai into setting up the dissidents to escape rather than be executed? And will that one little nudge end up being the thing that saves her life and her soul? I can hope…
Nonetheless, it’s deeply uncomfortable to be in her head as she displays impatience and contempt for so many of the people that she’s spent all these years leading and protecting. This new arrogance is revolting after the careful, humble stewardship we saw earlier.
I’m not going to recount every episode that caught my attention on the way through here, but I have to point out a few things. The “new rhythms” that give the chapter its title are creepy:
Buried within those new rhythms, the names of which she intuited somehow, she could almost hear voices speaking to her. Advising her. If her people had received such guidance over the centuries, they surely would not have fallen so far.
There’s also the way those new rhythms make other people nervous. Is that simply because the rhythms are unfamiliar, because the others can’t hear the Rhythm she’s using? Or is there something in the rhythms themselves that causes uneasiness in those not (yet) attuned to the Voidbringer spren? It would be an interesting exercise to make a list of all the old and new Rhythms, and see how many direct correspondences there are, of the sort Eshonai makes between Amusement and “the new version of Amusement… Ridicule, it was.” Are all the new ones all a bitter twist on the old ones?
There are also repeated mentions of the red eyes, which she and Venli both have. During the meeting of the Five, Abronai whispers to himself, “Red eyes. Have we come to this?” Later, Eshonai thinks that her old friends will have to be executed, because she’d instilled in them too much fear of the old gods; they don’t trust her because of her red eyes. (Wise folk, these…)
Tied to that, I had to notice the number of times she can’t quite explain her own actions, and as noted above, I grasp at straws of hope that the old Eshonai can still be recovered.
This Interlude actually jumps forward in time just a little; it takes place on the same day as the upcoming Chapter 60, six days after the last few chapters of Part Three.
Oh, the spren, the spren, the spren. What is the “cometlike” spren Eshonai keeps trying to chase away? Is it possibly the spren that was displaced when she took stormform? It certainly seems to be connected to her former self, anyway. Is it part of the screaming? And is it in any way similar to the way dead Shardblades scream when touched by a Radiant?
Then there are the stormspren. Thousands and thousands of them. Why are there suddenly so many of them around for Venli to collect? Were they always there, or are they now being sent? If the latter, by whom? Questions, questions. They also seem to have an… interesting effect on the local windspren:
Today’s clear sky rained down white sunlight, and a few windspren approached on a breeze. They stopped when they grew near, then zipped away in the opposite direction.
Best guess, windspren are too closely related to Honor-spren to be comfortable approaching Odium-influenced spren. Thoughts?
I have to think that the Heralds on this interlude reflect the very twisted versions of their attributes presented by Eshonai and Venli. Kalak, the Maker, with his divine attributes of Resolute and Builder, is inversely reflected in Eshonai’s resolute direction of her people; she’s building them, all right, but building them into the antithesis of everything they’ve believed for centuries. Ishar, the Priest, with his attributes of Pious and Guiding, is reflected in Venli’s careful collection of the spren of their old gods, guiding the Listeners back to the Voidbringers they once served.
There. That ought to keep us busy until next week, when we dive into Part Four with bitter, gloomy Kaladin. Things just keep getting cheerier and cheerier up in here.
Alice Arneson is a long-time Tor.com commenter and Sanderson beta-reader. She is still moderately astonished every time another best-seller hits the shelves and she finds her name in the acknowledgements; that’s just bizarre. Fun, though.