Singers and Listeners and Rereaders unite! Or… something like that. Welcome back to the Oathbringer reread, as we finish the year with the final interlude before Part Three begins. We’ve got a lot of secrets to learn along with Venli, though she’s probably more upset by them than we are.
Reminder: We’ll potentially be discussing spoilers for the ENTIRE NOVEL in each reread, and this week we have a bunch of them. There’s likely to be some Cosmere spoilage as well; possibly in the reread, and almost certainly in the comments. In any case, if you haven’t read ALL of Oathbringer, best to wait to join us until you’re done.
WHERE: Unknown; possibly near the Shattered Plains
WHEN: 1188.8.131.52 (about the time Moash was pulling the sledge and Shallan was working with her soldiers to train them as spies)
Venli and several of the remaining Listeners await the coming Everstorm, promised by Ulim that it will bring them more power. But when it passes, Venli realizes that they had been misled. Her friends are gone, their souls destroyed and their bodies claimed by the ancient Listener gods. She alone remains, destined for some greater purpose by Odium. In the aftermath of her grief, a strange spren appears, which Venli hides, certain that the creatures residing within the bodies of her friends will destroy it.
The Singing Storm
Title: This One Is Mine
YES, the voice said. CHOOSE ANOTHER. THIS ONE IS MINE.
Heralds: Battar (The Counselor; Wise/Careful; Elsecallers) and Kalak (The Maker; Resolute/Builder; Willshapers)
AA: Well, what an interesting combination of Heralds for Venli’s chapter. On a guess, both are foreshadowing what is to come, more than representing what we see here. In this chapter, they call Ulim “The Envoy”—but that is essentially the role Venli will take on when they meet up with the gatherings of freed parshmen. I may be in error to connect this role with Battar as “Counselor,” but it makes sense to me. Venli won’t really get to give counsel to the Fused—and they’re either too cracked or too arrogant to listen anyway—but as Odium’s personal representative, she is the one who gives counsel to her people. (Such as it is, anyway.)
Kalak, I’m almost positive, is here to represent the order of Willshapers—the order that will be formed by bonding with a spren of Timbre’s kind. Here, we only see her as a frightened little ball of light, but we’ll certainly see more of her!
Icon: The Singer, meaning that this chapter is part of Venli’s novella.
Stories & Songs
Time to add to our running tally of Rhythms!
Listener Rhythms: Curiosity, Awe, Peace, Pleading, Skepticism, Appreciation, Anxiety, Consolation, Praise, Reprimand, Mourning, Lost, Longing.
Voidbringers Rhythms: Rhythm of the Terrors, Craving, Command, Fury, Satisfaction, Derision, Spite
To the Voidbringer list, this week we add Abashment, Destruction, and Agony.
AP: This chapter seems to continue the theme of heightened or extreme emotions being the Void rhythms. Reprimand becomes Abashment. Longing becomes Craving. I don’t know if Destruction has an exact analog, perhaps Consolation, Mourning, or Loss? This fits if Odium is directly influencing and twisting the Listener rhythms.
AA: I agree. More on this below!
Let me say up front here, this week’s discussion doesn’t fit readily into the standard recurring units we normally use. We’re going to just ignore most of those, since they don’t apply, and put the bulk of the discussion right here. We’re dealing with a few Listener concepts, but mostly we’re learning about the Fused.
This was war, and Venli among its vanguard. She had discovered the first Voidspren. She had discovered stormform. She had redeemed her people. She was blessed.
AA: Gotta say, that didn’t work out quite like she’d planned. Turns out her ancestors don’t see her as any kind of hero, vanguard, or leader. She’s just another tool for them.
Nine of them had been selected from among the two thousand listener survivors, Venli included. Demid stood beside her with a wide grin on his face. He loved to learn new things, and the storm was another adventure. They’d been promised something great.
AA: Here’s the introduction to The Fate of the Listeners. (Also, the details on some things that have come up in the comments recently, so there’s that too.) There were about 2,000 listeners left after the Battle of Narak. We don’t know exactly where they are, though I assume this is the group Sanderson was referring to that made it out of the Shattered Plains “to some floodplains on the other side.” These nine seem to be the first group drawn from the listeners for their “special purpose,” since Venli thinks of herself as the first. It’s clearly not the first bunch to be host bodies for the Fused, since Kaladin saw some at Revolar a couple of weeks earlier than this. Those must have taken bodies from the freed parshmen.
L: These are described as “grand of the Fused,” so some sort of leaders.
AP: It’s interesting to note that these seem to be a particular set of Fused. They are the leaders, as Lyndsey said, but it also indicates that not all the Parsh people eventually get reincarnated. I believe that it’s the specific set that made a deal with Odium thousands of years ago that keep coming back. We have no indication that Demid’s soul is retrievable. Ulim certainly doesn’t think so.
AA: I hadn’t quite connected that these few were the head honchos, so to speak, but it makes sense. It’s notable that they chose to take bodies from those who had not been deprived of the ability to change forms; I wonder if that makes it easier or harder for them to take over. But I believe Aubree is correct; it’s only the ones who made the deal with Odium who returned with every Desolation—and now, with every Everstorm. Those who are born in later eons are either bodies for those who return, or cannon fodder.
“Great power,” Ulim said. “You’ve been chosen. You’re special. But you must embrace this. Welcome it. You have to want it, or the powers will not be able to take a place in your gemhearts.”
AA: Deceitful little wretch. “You’re special!”—so special that we’re going to get rid of you and just commandeer your body. But since obviously you wouldn’t go for that, we’re just going to psych you into the correct mental state to kick you out.
L: They were expected to make martyrs of themselves, but without being given the choice to sacrifice themselves. That’s not sacrifice—it’s straight up murder.
AP: Agreed that it’s definitely murder. I expect that future Venli will be instrumental in leading her people away from the Fused/Odium relationship, since she has first hand knowledge of the process now.
L: The ones that are still alive, anyway. :(
A pressure enveloped her, pushing at her mind, her soul. Let Me In.
With difficulty, she opened herself up to this force. This was just like adopting a new form, right?
AA: Umm… not so much, no.
WHAT IS THIS?
It was a warm voice. An ancient, paternal voice, kindly and enveloping.
“Please,” Venli said, gasping in breaths of smoky air. “Please.”
YES, the voice said. CHOOSE ANOTHER. THIS ONE IS MINE.
AA: I don’t remember what I thought the first time I read this, but after all the interactions with Odium throughout the book, this is obviously him. Which… yikes. Possibly better than being forcibly evicted from your body, but becoming a direct tool of Odium doesn’t sound good.
AP: So, uh, I took it a totally different way! I thought it was the voice of whatever spren did enter and give her a new form. But Odium makes more sense, and is way more menacing. Nice Odium totally throws off my danger senses.
AA: Nice Odium is, if anything, worse than the nasty version. He makes my skin crawl. (Incidentally, I went back and looked at the beta discussion. Apparently, we had a bit of a debate; the fact that there were nine listeners in the group made a few people assume that these were to be bodies for the Unmade. By the end of the chapter, it became more obvious… but we still don’t know much about Venli’s spren/form.)
The force that had been pushing against her retreated, and the pain stopped. Something else—something smaller, less domineering—took its place. She accepted this spren gladly, then whimpered in relief, attuned to Agony.
AA: Now the burning question is, what is this spren? It’s something that gives her a form of power, because it still attunes the Void rhythms rather than the ones the listeners heard. Something, she observes, similar to nimbleform; later it will be called envoyform. We’ll learn a little more about it in future Interludes, but I still want to know more about the spren itself.
L: Same. Is this the only envoy-spren? Or are there more, waiting in the wings?
AP: I also wonder what makes her different and a good candidate for Odium’s direct influence? He is probably aware that she was working to return the Fused, but her reaction to the process is to be understandably horrified.
L: Maybe it has something to do with her personality? Or the fact that he can sense that she’s drawing her own spren… Perhaps not consciously on his part, but maybe he can sense that nascent bond forming and plans to use it against our heroes in some way…
AA: I wondered about that too. There doesn’t seem to be an obvious reason for him to claim this particular one, and I don’t remember that we ever learn that reason. But there must be one.
He spoke again in that strange language, and his next words seemed to blur in her mind, somehow shifting until she understood them.
AA: Again we have illumination from later in the book. This sounds suspiciously like Dalinar’s use of Spiritual Adhesion to be able to speak and understand other languages. In wider Cosmere terms, it seems to be Connection, as it’s explained in The Bands of Mourning.
L: So the Voidspren bonds are mirroring the Radiant ones, then? If envoyform is analogous to Bondsmiths in terms of power, maybe it makes sense that there would be far fewer of them.
AA: They can’t be perfectly analogous, but I agree—the envoyform seems very similar in function to the Bondsmiths.
They stood so tall, so haughty, and their mannerisms—all wrong.
AA: And this is where it becomes clear…
Each new form changed a listener, down to their ways of thinking, even their temperament. Despite that, you were always you. Even stormform hadn’t changed her into someone else. Perhaps… she had become less empathetic, more aggressive. But she’d still been herself.
AA: She hadn’t been a very nice person, apparently, because Eshonai noticed it too—even stormform didn’t change Venli all that much from what she’d been like in nimbleform. I find it odd to look back at this Venli from the vantage of having finished the book; I have a lot of hope for end-of-the-book Venli. This Venli makes me want to say she deserves what she gets. Except… even if the rest of the group were every bit as bad as her, I can’t think anyone deserves this fate:
“He has passed into the blindness beyond,” Demid said. “Unlike the witless Voidspren you bonded—which resides in your gemheart—my soul cannot share its dwelling. Nothing, not Regrowth or act of Odium, can restore him now.”
AA: Despite any level of sympathy I may have for the original situation that caused these ancestors to take such drastic measures, this puts them solidly in the Villain category for me. They isolate a small group of people, tell them how wonderful they are, get them in an open, receptive mindset, and then just boot out their souls and take their bodies. That’s Evil.
L: Undeniably so. I have to wonder if they were always like this? This next part:
Two still had trouble moving. They lurched, stumbled, fell to their knees. A different two wore smiles, twisted and wrong.
The listener gods were not completely sane.
AA: Ya think?
L: Were they once sane and good “people”? Is it just the insanity that’s removed their empathy and driven them to evil, or have they always been willing to sacrifice whatever they must to advance their goals?
AP: I think that they originally made a pact with Odium, for whatever reasons—desperation, power, whatever—and that continued influence has made them less empathetic over time. This is the result of the long term giving of their “passion” over to Odium. I think the insanity is separate, and a function of time. The living and dying cycle is not one that they were originally equipped for, and it takes a severe mental toll.
AA: I would guess that their madness is similar to that of the Heralds—too many cycles of dying, returning to Braize, returning to fight, and dying again. The major difference in the past is that these were the torturers and the Heralds were the torturees, but I can readily believe that spending centuries torturing someone would also drive you into madness.
She put him out of her mind, like Eshonai before him. This was the path she had placed herself on from the moment she’d first listened to Ulim years ago, deciding that she would risk the return of her people’s gods.
AA: Okay, yeah, no sympathy now. She decided, years ago, that she would turn away from thousands of years worth of her people’s commitment to remaining free of these “old gods,” which turn out to be their insane ancestors. She decided, on behalf of a whole lot of people who wouldn’t have concurred with her decision, that they should go back to the old bondage that they’d escaped at such cost. They had chosen to be free, even if it meant living in dullform for centuries, and spending more centuries slowly learning to reclaim a few of the forms that were natural to their people. She wanted power, instead, and she was willing to pay for it with the lives of her people—including her sister and her mate.
L: Yeah, no sympathy from me. If she’d allowed her people to make their own choices? Maybe. But as it stands, she removed their choice and led them down the path to death and enslavement.
AP: Argh… I just can’t give up on characters that easily! I’m a sucker for a motivationally gray character. And Venli certainly fits the bill.
L: True, I don’t think she’s beyond redemption—not yet, anyway.
AA: Well, by the end of the book I’m rooting for her all the way. I think she’s got potential for actual repentance for her choices on behalf of her people, and it sure looks like that’s the path Sanderson is building for her. But at this point, I have no sympathy. She set this all up, thinking she knew better than everyone else, and now her friends are the ones being destroyed by it.
AA: Incidentally, I have developed a strong suspicion that the forms the listeners were developing—mateform, nimbleform, workform, warform—were among dozens of forms that the parsh people had available to them when the planet was theirs. (Well, only shared with the Aimians, anyway.) I’d bet those forms were theirs even before the arrival of Honor and Cultivation, though I suppose it’s possible that they developed a few additional forms after that event. The same goes for the Rhythms: It’s a pretty solid bet that the Rhythms the listeners attuned in the pre-stormform parts of Words of Radiance were those natural to the planet, as were the forms they wore. The “new Rhythms” as well as the “forms of power” all seem to belong to Odium.
AP: I agree wholeheartedly with this assessment. I think Odium took the natural abilities of the original Rosharans and twisted them.
AA: And since I’m pontificating here, I’d also say that the names of the Rhythms point out the false premise of Odium’s claim a few weeks ago, that all emotions belong to him. If you look at the list of “old” Rhythms, there’s all sorts of emotion. Curiosity, awe, anxiety, mourning, peace, appreciation, and so on. The “new” Rhythms could almost be described as the corrupted versions of those same emotions: Conceit vs. Confidence; Ridicule vs. Amusement; Craving vs. Anticipation. I don’t know/claim that those pairs are supposed to be directly analogous, but you can see what I’m driving at. The new Rhythms all have a negative edge to them, and I think it’s a reflection of the way Odium affects everything he touches.
AP: I think you’re on the right track. I’ve been using “extreme”, rather than “negative”. But extreme emotions typically have a negative connotation, so I think we may be saying essentially the same thing.
AA: I’ve been searching for a common thread that makes me see them as negative, and the closest I’ve come so far is “egocentric.” They’re what happens when your emotions are solely about yourself, regardless of the impact on anyone else.
And Odium himself, god of gods, had a purpose for her.
AA: I’m just popping this in here to comment on “god of gods.” It suddenly makes sense in a very different way than I’d thought about before. For the parsh, their “gods” have for millennia been those ancestors who returned to lead them in battle during each Desolation. Odium is, quite literally, the god of their gods.
Flora & Fauna
You have to want it, or the powers will not be able to take a place in your gemhearts.
AA: This is the first solid confirmation in the books that the parsh have gemhearts, and that’s how they change forms. We readers have speculated that since they were native to Roshar, they ought to, but any questions on the subject only got a RAFO. The first in-world hint we had was Venli’s thought, in her first Interlude, that the old songs spoke of humans hacking apart corpses searching for gemhearts, but that didn’t mention whether there was anything to be found. Now we know.
For those who don’t follow the extra-textual stuff, and might be wondering why the parshmen weren’t essentially “farmed” for gemhearts, there’s a reason. Sanderson has stated that their gemhearts look much different than other creatures we’ve seen, so it was easy for the knowledge that they have gemhearts to be lost. They basically look like bone, rather than the emeralds, heliodor, and amethyst we’ve seen before.
Question for discussion in the comments: Is Odium—the Shard, the Intent, the concept—the ultimate in selfishness?
A Scrupulous Study of Spren
As she waited, she noted something hovering near the ground a short distance away. A little spren that looked like a ball of light. Yes… she’d seen one of those near Eshonai. What was it?
AA: Venli had seen, not merely “one of those” near Eshonai, but this very one. This is the spren that had begun to form a bond with Eshonai, but the nascent bond was destroyed when she took on stormform instead. Keep an eye on this little spren; she’ll be very important later on, and not nearly so shy!
L: It sounds weird, but I find this little spren to be adorable. More on that later…
AP: I share your feelings of adorable-ness!
She instantly knew something—an instinctive truth, as sure as the storms and the sun. If the creatures standing nearby saw this spren, they would destroy it.
She slapped her hand down over the spren as the creature wearing Demid’s body turned toward her. She cupped the little spren against the stone, and attuned Abashment.
AA: Okay, there’s the second good thing she’s done in this chapter. (The first was trying to get Demid back so he’d have a choice about what was done to him. It didn’t go anywhere, but at least she tried.) I have no idea what motivated her to save the little spren, but it may well be the first time I had any real liking for her.
“You speak like a human, spren,” Demid said. “Your service here was grand, but you use their ways, their language. I find that displeasing.”
AP: This stuck out to me. Does Ulim sound human because Odium was originally the god of the humans? Or has he adapted over the past several thousand years without a desolation? Basically, was he always like this, or is this a change? The negative reaction makes me think the latter.
AA: I think this is a change, though I have to say he sounds like he’s been hanging out with Lift more than with the listeners or the Alethi! Maybe he got loose a few centuries ago and has been lurking in the streets of the western cities to pick up his attitude and language patterns.
“Ready yourself to be carried,” he said. “We must travel to Alethela.”
Dun dun DUN!
Housekeeping note: There will be no reread next week due to the Christmas break. Rejoin us in the new year to start in on Part Three! The current plan is to tackle both 58 and 59, so buckle up and be ready for a long read.
Meanwhile, I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy new year!
Alice is happy to be enjoying her Christmas break, and is using it to make large quantities of peanut brittle. She hopes you all enjoyed the new State of the Sanderson post yesterday.
Aubree hopes that your Koloss is well fed and starting to fill out its skin! Happy Koloss Head Munching Day!