Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Rhythm of War Read-Along Discussion: Prologue and Chapter One

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Hello, everyone! Welcome to the first read-along discussion post for Rhythm of War! These articles will be published concurrently with each release of a preview chapter, and will serve as a convenient way for fans to discuss and speculate about what they’ve read. Feel free to use the comment section below as simply a “wow I LOVED ___ part!” as well, if you like. We’re all fellow fans and sometimes we just need a safe place to gush about what we liked or didn’t. Don’t feel as if you need to have some deeply-thought out theory in order to join the conversation—all are welcome!

We’ll be following the same general format as the reread posts that run frequently here on Tor.com, in which Alice and I lay out comments and thoughts on the chapters and you are invited to join the discussion in the comment section. We’ll be pointing out wider Cosmere connections, continuity/character/etc tidbits you may have missed, reminding you about plot points and things that you may have forgotten, and theorizing on things that may or may not happen later on in the series—so tie yourself to the roof and prepare yourself for the highstorm book we’ve been waiting for for so long!

If you haven’t already, go read the prologue and chapter one here!

Reminder: we’ll be discussing spoilers for the entirety of the series up until now—if you haven’t read ALL of the published entries of the Stormlight Archive (this includes the novella Edgedancer), wait to join us until you’re done.

[In this week’s discussion we also discuss some things from Warbreaker and Mistborn: Secret History in the Cosmere Connections section, so if you haven’t read those, best to give that section a pass.]

Before we get into the meat of the discussion, we’d like to introduce ourselves briefly, in case you’re not a regular reader of the Stormlight Rereads and have no idea who we are. If you know us already (or don’t care and just want to get to the good stuff), feel free to skip down to the “Chapter Recap” heading to start digging into Rhythm of War!

Alice: I’ve been active on Tor.com as a general participant since 2009, commenting along on The Wheel of Time, Kingkiller Chronicles, and The Way of Kings rereads. I first met Brandon Sanderson ten years ago this September, on his TWoK tour, and have only missed one of his Seattle signings since then (due to being in Montana for a funeral). I joined his beta/gamma team with Words of Radiance (Lyn & I started at the same time!) and started blogging for Tor.com shortly thereafter. My first article here was all about the experience of beta-reading Words of Radiance, followed by a few more I’m-so-excited-about-this-book posts. Then, to my surprise and delight, I was asked to help write the WoR reread, and the rest is history.

If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed going into Rhythm of War, I’ve recently been co-writing a series on Explaining the Stormlight Archive, intended to serve as a refresher on various aspects of this ginormous series. By now, I’m also active in Facebook fandoms, and help administer two Sanderson fan groups. Outside fandom, I’m mostly busy as a mom, assistant caregiver, and general sounding board for my husband and a couple of teens, with occasional forays into volleyball line judging.

Lyn: I’ve been a Sanderson beta and gamma reader since Words of Radiance (seven years?! Wow!) and joined Alice on the reread for Edgedancer and Oathbringer, as well as having written some stand-alone articles here on Tor.com about Cosmere cosplay and fan-casting. It’s worth noting that I’m also a legitimate member of Bridge 4 through a tuckerization, so don’t be surprised if/when we mention this later on. In addition to my work with Team Dragonsteel, I am a fantasy author in my own right with my first novel being released on Amazon on August 1st. The Kickstarter for the audiobook edition is turning out to be very successful, and I’m super excited to see what the general reaction to the book is! My day job is as an actress at several Renaissance/Medieval Faires in the New England area (::sobs because they’ve all been cancelled::), and I also enjoy cosplay, fire dancing, and traveling to strange (and often haunted) locations.

One small note. While we are both beta readers and hence have read the entire book, we will be keeping all of our speculation and discussion confined to what has been released so far. As such, you may notice that we’re not engaging in quite as much speculation and theory-crafting as usual. We’ll be leaving that primarily to you guys in the comments. That said… I’m so excited to begin analyzing this book!

A: No kidding! This is an amazing entry in the series, and there’s so much to learn! I promise not to be intentionally mendacious in the small amounts of speculation I include, and base it only on what we knew before we read this.

L: I make no such promises about not lying about things to throw you off track. ::evil grin:: So much to learn, and analyze, and dissect…. I hope you’re all ready, because you’re in for one heck of a ride. At least 2020 is giving us this to look forward to!

 

Chapter Recap

Prologue: To Pretend / Chapter One: Calluses

WHO: Navani Kholin / Lirin
WHERE: Kholinar / Hearthstone
WHEN: Prologue Seven Years Ago (the night that Gavilar is assassinated) / 1175.2.8.1 (ETA: approximately one year after the Battle of Thaylen Field; the timeline has shifted slightly so we don’t know the exact date)

In the prologue, we get yet another view of the night of Gavilar’s assassination. From Navani’s point of view, we see how troubled her marriage is and get a glimpse of some of the secret dealings that Gavilar is having with the Heralds.

Chapter one brings us to Hearthstone, one year after the events of Oathbringer. Lirin, Kaladin’s father, is caring for Herdazian refugees and surreptitiously looking for the arrival of the leader of a rebellious military group. Lirin finds the man, whose nickname is The Mink, and begins leading him off to hide in the surgery tent until Kaladin arrives. But their departure is interrupted by the arrival of one of the Fused, who is here looking for Kaladin.

 

Overall Reactions

A: The prologue, from Navani’s perspective, obviously creates yet another angle on the eventful evening. I thought it was really well done that in this one, the assassination itself doesn’t come up until it’s long over.

L: Yeah, I love seeing the new angles on the assassination that we get with every prologue. As a reminder, in Book 1 we got Szeth’s perspective as he killed his way through the feast, eventually killing Gavliar. In Book 2, we see the same event again, but from Jasnah’s point of view. Book 3 gave us Eshonai’s take on it, and now… now we get Navani. It’s very similar to how Orson Scott Card set up the same thing (on a wider scale) with Ender’s Game and ender’s Shadow, providing the reader with new information that broadens their understanding of the story by telling it from a different perspective.

A: For me, given that we already know Gavilar dies and all that, this prologue is more fascinating for the insight into Navani’s life and personality. That line about “just a backwater country girl wearing someone else’s clothing” is so revealing.

L: For sure. Even Navani Kholin gets impostor syndrome, apparently.

A: Exactly. On the one hand, I appreciate her desire to oversee the aspects of ruling a nation that her husband so readily neglects, and I really appreciate her treating the various staff like actual human beings. On the other hand, isn’t it a bit ridiculous for the queen to be the one figuring out where to make extra space for the over-abundance of guests? Isn’t that the job of the steward? Certainly the issues of soothing a highprince who feels neglected, or reviewing trade situations, that sort of thing – those would be the purview of the king, and by extension the queen acting on his behalf. But household management? Nope. All of which is to say, poor Navani. She knows what her job is, in most cases, but she doesn’t quite know what it isn’t, even after all these years. The result is that she spends too much time doing things she shouldn’t need to do, unable to delegate them, and rarely has the time to do the things she wants to do.

I get distracted with Navani’s personal situation, but the other incredibly fascinating thing about this prologue is the multiple hints and revelations—mostly hints, of course—into the secret stuff Gavilar is doing. Oddly-glowing spheres, master artifabrians, “uncommon figures” and the list goes on. As per Sanderson’s habit, he showers us with a bunch of answers we didn’t really expect yet, and they all lead to more questions!

L: Storms, yes. The secret societies and machinations going on behind the scenes in Roshar are endlessly fascinating, and none more so than whatever the heck the Heralds were up to with Gavilar—because these shadowy figures are, indeed, Heralds.

A: “Uncommon figures.” Riiiiight.

L: I mean… they are uncommon!

A: Bahahahahaha! Well, okay, yes.

L: In Chapter One, we see our first Lirin POV section. This is pretty fascinating, because as of now we’ve only seen him from his son (Kaladin)’s eyes. Just as Kal knows and we’ve always seen, Lirin is very averse to war and fighting, regardless of cause. He views it as a terrible, needless waste of life, which runs directly contrary to Kaladin’s interpretation of his second Windrunner Ideal: “I will protect those who cannot protect themselves.” This makes him a wonderful foil for Kal.

A: In a way it’s contrary, and in a way it’s the same—they both do their very best to help and protect those who cannot protect themselves.

L: Yes, they just have very different ideas of the best way to achieve that end goal.

A: There you go with the understatement… LOL.

 

Humans

Laral wore a simple servant’s dress now, with a gloved hand instead of a sleeve, and she carried a water bucket to the waiting refugees.

L: Reminder: Laral is the girl from Hearthstone whom Kaladin had a crush on when he was a child. She wound up marrying Roshone, the citylord who sent Kaladin and his little brother Tien off to war.

A: It would be so easy to say, “How the mighty have fallen!”… but I actually love the way she matured. Horrible situation, home is under hostile rule—so she pulls on a glove and gets to work caring for her people. Oddly enough, her once-horrible husband does the same thing, at least to some extent; here we see him putting on a drunk act while doing the lowest job in the town, distracting the singer guards from Lirin smuggling the Mink right into town.

L: Yes, I found myself giving Roshone a smidgen of grudging respect for his actions in Chapter One.

Dieno enne Calah. Dieno “the Mink” in Old Herdazian. Hesina had explained that enne was an honorific that implied greatness.

A: In case anyone didn’t make the connection, the Mink is the Herdazian commander we saw in Oathbringer Interlude 10. He’s the general who makes a game of escaping manacles, and gave that rat Sheler the choice between being hacked to pieces by the women he’d abused, hanging out in a highstorm with broken arms & legs, or wrestling the hog.

 

Singers/Fused

She narrowed her eyes at Lirin, and when she next spoke there was a cadence to her words, as if she were speaking the words to a song. “Did you feel for me, the poor confused slave child whose mind had been stolen from her? Did you weep for us, surgeon, and the life we led?”

L: In Oathbringer, we saw a lot of this—questioning of the morals of the slavery of the parsh.

A: We’ve been following this path for a while, developing sympathy for the parsh slaves so that we do—and should—question both the process and the morals of their enslavement. Back in WoR, despite her conviction that they were Voidbringers, Shallan couldn’t help feeling a certain pity for Tvlakv’s parshmen, weaving hats continuously, without even names of their own—they were just “One” and “Two.” Our insights with the listeners, and getting to know Rlain, and learning that the ancient Bondsmith had done something to deprive them of their minds and forms, all set us up for Oathbringer. When Kaladin was with the recently-awakened and recently-escaped slaves, we saw them just barely beginning to reflect the Rhythms in their speech, and later in Venli’s POVs, we saw it developing further. It was all a strong reminder to the reader that these people had lost everything that made them … well, a people. They were still, in some measure, individuals—and yet, many people saw them as interchangeable parts; the only distinction worth noting was (sometimes) what tasks they had been trained to perform.

L: Their culture was erased and replaced with that of their captors, so this process of rediscovering their ancient societal norms is a really fascinating one. Some of the singers are resistant to it and cling to bits of the culture they grew up with, while others are eschewing the trends of their captors entirely.

A: Now the singers hold the upper hand—at least here in Hearthstone—and we’re seeing the struggle to sort out who they are and what culture they want for themselves. It’s really awful to think about what was done to them (even though we know they were allied with Odium’s forces), to put them in this situation where there is such conflict between the only culture they know, and the one the Fused tell them they should have.

Also, I don’t know about you, but I found it a bit of a shock to find a “parshwoman” singer who grew up right here in Hearthstone, now functioning as the new citylady. (Exactly the opposite of Laral, in fact, come to think of it.)

The Fused had explained that singers in the past eschewed bright colors, preferring to highlight their skin patterns instead.

L: Oh, this is a fun new note about singer culture that we didn’t know before!

A: Yep, that’s a good one! Part of me is fascinated with the things they learn about their ancestors, and part of me finds it frustrating to watch them try to figure out how to meld their experience with what their new overlords tell them they should be.

The dreadful creature had a beard and long hair the color of dried blood, and it seemed to meld with his simple wrap of clothing—as if he wore his hair itself for a covering. He had a pure black skin coloring, with lines of marbled red under his eyes.

Most importantly, he had a jagged carapace unlike any Lirin had seen, with a strange pair of carapace fins—or horns—rising above his ears.

L: I don’t think it’s any accident that this Fused looks how we stereotypically code demons or devils in our real-life culture.

A: No accident at all. I don’t believe we saw this kind in Oathbringer, or anyone that looked quite this… bizarre. This one triggers every reaction for the reader. (Or at least for this reader.)

 

Relationships & Romances

Navani & Gavilar

A: Oh. My. Stars. What a cruel jerk he is in this prologue! He belittles her. He doesn’t care for her interests. He doesn’t trust her. He accuses her of something he knows she didn’t do – but her innocence doesn’t matter, because people are saying things, and his reputation is more important than objective truth.

L: Well… he doesn’t know that Navani didn’t cheat on him, per se. He knows that she denies it. But he doesn’t know for sure. Not to say that this excuses his behavior even one iota, because you’re right—he’s a total and complete d-bag.

A: I can’t help wondering if he has some small inkling that he’s treated her poorly over the years, and in his arrogance, he wants to make it all her fault.

L: Well, that would track with abusive behavior. It’s never their fault.

“Gavilar had invited one of the world’s most prominent artifabrians to visit Kholinar, and he hadn’t bothered to tell Navani?”

L: He’s just so uncaring. He doesn’t care about her wants, her desires, her pain, anything at all. It’s all about him. We’ll dig deeper into this down in the Bruised and Broken section.

A: It reminds me of one of Dalinar’s flashbacks (Chapter 36), where he was so furious with Gavilar for completely ignoring Navani’s excitement about her research into spren. He certainly didn’t have the excuse of rumors about her back then; he just didn’t care what she was saying, if it didn’t visibly further his own goals.

Navani & Dalinar

“And . . . there was Dalinar. Standing tall. Somehow taller than any man in the room. He wasn’t drunk yet, and people orbited him like they might a fire on a cold night—needing to be close, but fearing the true heat of his presence. Those haunted eyes of his, simmering with passion.

Storms alight. She excused herself and made a brief exit up the steps to where she wouldn’t feel so warm.”

* * *

What good was a kingdom if Gavilar knew that his wife secretly loved his brother?

A: It appears that by this time, Navani has realized that she loves Dalinar more than Gavilar. Her own claim has always been that she loved them both, but chose Gavilar. Back in The Way of Kings, she said only that she chose the “safer” alternative because Dalinar was frightening. Here, she admits to herself that while it was true that she loved them both, and it was true that Dalinar’s intensity frightened her, there is also truth to the notion that she chose the one with the power and influence. Relationships are complicated.

L: Hooboy, ain’t they just? It must be incredibly difficult to be trapped in what has turned out to be a loveless, abusive marriage while the person you really love is constantly around you, reminding you of what you don’t have.

A: I can’t help wondering if Dalinar has enough perception during this time to realize how miserable Navani is, and how awful their marriage is.

L: I wouldn’t think so, with how deeply in the grip of his grief, self-loathing, and alcoholism he is.

Navani & Aesudan

“She tried not to take Aesudan’s general sourness toward her as a personal affront; it was the prerogative of every woman to feel threatened by her mother-in-law. Particularly when the girl was so obviously lacking in talents.”

L: Oof. Every so often, Navani comes out with something like this that makes me dislike her a bit. Most of the time, I really adore her as a character, but she does have a very cruel, judgmental streak. Something that Jasnah seems to have inherited.

A: Of course, she’s right about Aesudan’s character flaws, but like you, as much as I love Navani, I can’t help wondering if she could have handled her daughter-in-law differently. Could she have changed the course of events simply by being more of a mentor? She changed her attitude toward Evi, after all.

“Aesudan,” Navani said, her eyes still on the ardent, who was now slowly walking toward the monastery. “Could you help the kitchens with whatever they need? I’d like to . . .”

But Aesudan was already hurrying off toward another group in the gardens…

L: But then, there’s things like this, and I consider that maybe Navani’s got good reason to be judgmental. Like Gavilar, she seems to be incredibly self-centered and lacks empathy.

A: She does her best to be unlikable, doesn’t she? It’s worth remembering that on this same evening, Jasnah was making arrangements to have Aesudan watched by an assassin, just in case—and at that, the “watching” was a last-minute change to what was originally probably a straight-up assassination.

Jasnah & Amaram

“Speak to your daughter,” Gavilar said, turning toward the door. “I believe I have managed to soothe Amaram’s pride. He might take her back, and her time is running out. Few other suitors will consider her; I’ll likely need to pay half the kingdom to get rid of the girl if she denies Meridas again.”

L: Ugh. I’m so, so glad that this never worked out (and never will, now that Amaram’s bitten the bullet as of the end of Oathbringer). (Also… “YOUR” daughter? Not “our?” Gross.)

A: YES. Ugh.

 

Bruised & Broken

“Do you know,” he said softly, “how tired I grow of your constant questions, woman?”

“Perhaps try answering one or two, then. It’d be a novel experience, treating your wife like a human being—rather than like a machine built to count the days of the week for you.”

L: ALL PRAISE NAVANI KHOLIN, QUEEN OF THE CLAPBACKS.

A: Ouch. If this is the way he’s been treating her all along, it’s kind of a shock that she didn’t make those rumors truth. She once said (TWoK ch. 61) she’d never been unfaithful to Gavilar, though he’d given her ample reason—now we know some of what that reason was.

He had never used his strength against her, not in that way, but there had been words. Comments. Threats.

L: This made me flinch. Poor, poor Navani. Words can be just as harmful as physical violence. I’m so upset for what she had to suffer for so long. And you know what the worst part is? I’m not really convinced that things would have been much better with Dalinar, not as he was then. I’m not convinced that the Blackthorn was capable of truly loving anyone, not even his own sons. I’m glad that she and he didn’t wind up together until after he’d found himself.

A: True. It’s not like Dalinar treated Evi any better than Gavilar treated Navani. (I’ll bet their father treated their mother much the same, too.)

L: Honestly, Dalinar always just seemed very apathetic towards Evi. I don’t recall him ever being so directly hurtful towards her…

A: I remember a few times seeing her flinch back when he shouted at her, and he did tend to brush off or minimize some things that really mattered to her. But you’re right, he never deliberately said things for the sole purpose of hurting her, nor did he use her insecurities as a club the way Gavilar does to Navani. So… yeah, Evi didn’t have the best marriage, but when Dalinar wasn’t under the Thrill, he did try to give her a good life. The best Navani can hope for is to get a nice bracelet later.

Gavilar didn’t care if she’d been unfaithful to him—and she hadn’t. But the things she’d said had started rumors, difficult to smother.

L: Okay. Now I’m deathly curious as to what things she said that started rumors!

A: Right? It’s driving me nuts.

“You aren’t worthy, Navani. You claim to be a scholar, but where are your discoveries? You study light, but you are its opposite. A thing that destroys light. You spend your time wallowing in the muck of the kitchens and obsessing about whether or not some insignificant lighteyes recognizes the right lines on a map.

“These are not the actions of greatness. You are no scholar. You merely like being near them. You are no artifabrian. You are merely a woman who likes trinkets. You have no fame, accomplishment, or capacity of your own. Everything distinctive about you came from someone else. You have no power—you merely like to marry men who have it.” …

“You went where the money and power would be greatest,” Gavilar said. “Like any common whore.”

L: Wow. Talk about hitting where it hurts. He went in for the killing blow on this one.

A: You know what infuriates me about this? She could have done all that stuff, if she’d had time and the slightest bit of encouragement. He spent years simply ignoring her interests, and now he drops all the kingdom-running on her while he pursues secret projects he thinks will make him legendary. She could have been a scholar and artifabrian with great accomplishments—but not while soothing the kitchen staff, soothing the neglected lighteyes, covering for his rudeness.

L: You’re absolutely right. He’s attributing things to laziness or lack of worth that are actually his fault.

What was she doing? Praying for her husband’s death?

L: This has to have long-term effects on her. This sort of guilt doesn’t just get wiped away.

A: Indeed. Come to think of it, is this what the Stormfather meant back in the Dalinar/Navani wedding scene, where he accused Navani of having broken oaths before?

L: Ooooh, yeah, you might be right…

“Heroism is a myth you tell idealistic young people—specifically when you want them to go bleed for you. It got one of my sons killed and another taken from me. You can keep your heroism and return to me the lives of those wasted on foolish conflicts.”

L: I don’t agree with Lirin, but I can absolutely understand where he’s coming from on this. I can only imagine that after seeing Heralds-only-know-how-many soldiers dead or dying, that you’ll become jaded to the entire idea of war.

A: As with a few other characters, I can’t help wondering if there’s something else in Lirin’s backstory that created this kind of cynicism in him. It’s absolutely true that those with power will, all too often, play on the idealism of youth to carry out the most horrible agendas. That doesn’t mean there’s no true heroism, but I can totally see his viewpoint.

 

Weighty Words / The Knights Radiant

Gavilar suddenly stood up straight and glanced toward the doorway, though Navani hadn’t made any sound.

L: To me, this reads as a clue that he has a spren speaking to him already. But is it a Radiant spren, or a Void spren?

A: Gah. I don’t want Gavilar to have a Radiant spren! We know he was seeing the Stormfather visions and was on the Bondsmith path. This… really does come across as though there’s a spren involved, though, and not the Stormfather. Could it have been a Voidspren like Ulim?

L: That would make a lot of sense.

 

Cosmere Connections

“. . . Being able to bring them back and forth from Braize doesn’t mean anything,” one said. “It’s too close to be a relevant distance.”

“It was impossible only a few short years ago,” said a deep, powerful voice. Gavilar. “This is proof. The Connection is not severed, and the box allows for travel. Not yet as far as you’d like, but we must start the journey somewhere.”

L: Here we go. Let the Cosmere theories begin! Alice, you want to take lead on this one?

A: I’d love to, if I only knew where to start!! It would seem that they’ve figured out how to use something—Stormlight? Voidlight? Spren?—to send an object in a box from Roshar to Braize and back again. It looks to me like they’re experimenting with space travel of a sort—the kind that brought humans to Roshar in the first place, not just the kind most worldhoppers use by travelling through the Cognitive realm. Instantaneous space travel.

L: So, Star Trek transporters? Or, maybe more like lightspeed in Star Wars? Or or or maybe Stargates! (I’m having too much fun here.)

A: I’ll go with transporters, I think. That seems most similar. Alternatively, it could be that they know something about Investiture and its geocentric nature, and are experimenting to see how far a spren can be sent from its home planet before Connection is broken. The Heralds and the Fused seem to have at least some understanding of realmatics and the Cosmere, though the humans of the current era seem to have lost any of that knowledge. At this point I have no idea what kinds of esoteric things Gavilar may have learned, so we can only guess at how he’s trying to use it.

Given the players in this particular conversation, however… This is Gavilar talking with Nale and (by process of elimination) Kalak (see below), and Kalak is insisting that he wants “out.” Combined with Braize being “not as far as you’d like” to travel, it almost sounds like they’re looking for a way to take a Cognitive Shadow away from its home planet, and away from its home system altogether. Could they be on the edge of figuring out how to make a magic system work beyond its normal reach?

L: Interesting. I wasn’t aware that the magic systems had boundaries—we certainly see other Worldhoppers utilizing magic from different planets, like Hoid/Wit, Azure/Vivenna, and Zahel/Vasher. Though I guess two of them are from the same planet, Nalthis (from Warbreaker), and the magic system there is very inwardly-focused. We’ve seen Hoid use other forms of Investiture, haven’t we? We know from Secret History that he has Allomantic capabilities, but do we ever see him use those on Roshar?

A: Hmm. Now that you mention it, yes. Here on Roshar we see Hoid use Yolish Lightweaving; he comments on the benefits of holding Breath; he used Allomancy in Words of Radiance, and he was using white sand in Kholinar during Oathbringer.

L: He used Allomancy? When? I don’t remember that!

A: At Middlefest, Shallan saw him put some powder in his own drink, and then later he apparently used it to Soothe her.

L: See a “Word of Brandon” quote on the subject here.

A: But now I’ve disproven my own suggestion… so what were they doing?

L: Heck if I know. But I’m excited to see the speculation in the comments!

A: Indeed! I think I’m missing something obvious…

 

Secret Societies

““He was last seen with Brightlord Amaram and some of those . . . uncommon figures.”

That was the term the palace staff used for Gavilar’s new friends, the ones who seemed to arrive without warning or announcement, and who rarely gave their names.”

L: If you’re like me and get easily confused/forgetful about the different secret societies and what they’re up to… Gavilar is associated with the Sons of Honor.

The king was speaking with two men that Navani vaguely recognized. A tall Makabaki man with a birthmark on his cheek and a shorter Vorin man with a round face and a small nose. They’d been called ambassadors from the West, but no kingdom had been given for their home.

L: Reminder that the Makabaki man is Nale, aka one of the Heralds, and the other is almost certainly Kalak. But this is odd to me. What’s Gavilar doing talking to them directly, if the Sons of Honors’ goal is to bring back the Fused in order to usher in a return of the Heralds? They’re… right there. He’s talking to them. So… why? Are they hoping to forge a new Oathpact, maybe?

A: Or do the Sons of Honor only think Gavilar is part of their organization? Is he just using them and their resources to pursue his own goals? His later words to Navani about his legacy… I wonder.

Plus, you need to know that another of us is here tonight. I spotted her handiwork earlier.”

L: Presumably he’s talking about Shalash here, as in other POV sections we’re told that the statue of her has been destroyed, which is her MO. The palace was just filled with Heralds that night! (Jezrien was there, too.)

A: You know, I’d always assumed that she’d been there a long time ago and removed her statue, but now I realize that doesn’t make any sense. In the Kholinar palace, there’s no way they’d let a missing statue of a Herald just be missing for any length of time. Looking back, it now seems obvious from Szeth’s thoughts in the Prologue of TWoK that the missing statue would have to be very recently removed. So of course Shalash is here. That’s four Heralds. Are there others? (I half expect to find out eventually that all nine of them were there in some guise.)

L: I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised.

“I deal in secrets you could not handle, Navani. If you knew the scope of what I’ve begun . . .”

I have discovered the entrance to the realm of gods and legends, and once I join them, my kingdom will never end. I will never end.”

L: So… was he trying to become a Fused, then? Since their souls are reborn again and again into the physical realm…

A: Was he trying to become a new Herald, taking Kalak’s place? (Except maybe without the torture part?) I don’t know what he wanted. To become a new and greater Herald on Roshar, thinking he could actually destroy the Fused and be the legendary hero who freed them from the Voidbringers? To be a greater Fused? To Ascend and become Honor’s Vessel? To take both Honor and Odium, combining them into a new Shard? He certainly had ambition, whatever his goal was.

 

What We Missed (In the Timeskip)

It had been over a year since the coming of the Everstorm and the fall of Alethkar. A year during which the country of Herdaz—Alethkar’s smaller neighbor to the northwest—had somehow kept fighting. Two months ago, the enemy had finally decided to crush the kingdom for good.

L: Poor Herdazians. I hope that Lopen’s extended family are all okay!

A: Given that all Herdazians seem to see each other as “cousins,” it’s pretty much given that he’s lost some of them. Still, they seem to be a people who practice being cheerfully difficult. We’ve seen that in Lopen since the first book, and now it looks like he comes by it honestly!

In any case, it seems that all of Alethkar has indisputably come under the control of the Fused & the singers. Now Herdaz joins them, at least in terms of control of the land itself. The people, maybe not so much.

 

Fabrial Technology & Spheres

On the table between Gavilar and the men lay a group of spheres. Navani’s breath caught as she saw them. They were arrayed in a variety of colors and brightness, but several seemed strangely off. They glowed with an inverse of light, as if they were little pits of violet darkness, sucking in the color around them.

L: Oooh, interesting! Inverse of light? Voidlight, maybe?

A: Sure seems like a probability, given the descriptions we’ve seen of it so far!

The thing that’s going to really blow minds here, though, is the “group of spheres” on that table. There’s been raging debate in the fandom about whether Gavilar actually had two funky spheres. We’ve known for a long time that he gave one to Szeth, which the latter then hid somewhere in Jah Keved. We learned in Oathbringer that Gavilar also gave one to Eshonai, and so there was a question as to whether Eshonai’s was somehow returned to Gavilar, or if the one he gave Szeth was a second one.

Now we see that there were a whole group of them. Some of the ones Navani sees are probably just normal infused spheres, but there are also several—not just one, not just two, but several of the dark spheres lying on that table. When Navani checks after his death, though, the pouch is empty. What did he do with all of them??

L: I remember there being a lot of theorizing that some of the Unmade were trapped in these spheres, too…

A: Yes, there was a LOT of that. I’ve never believed it, though I certainly can’t disprove it. I think my biggest objection was that I just couldn’t see Gavilar handing Unmade-containing gemstones to Szeth and Eshonai so casually. The other objection, which I think is much stronger, is that these things on Gavilar’s desk are spheres – small gemstones encased in glass. The two cases we’ve seen of trapping an Unmade require “perfect gemstones”—not spheres—and the one of those we actually saw on the page was huge. The King’s Drop is described as the size of a child’s head. That’s most definitely not a sphere!

First, you must get a spren to approach.

The type of gemstone is relevant; some spren are naturally more intrigued by certain gemstones. In addition, it is essential to calm the spren with something it knows and loves. A good fire for a flamespren, for example, is a must.

L: It’s always cool to see more about fabrial tech! Though I have to admit that this act of trapping the spren has never sat right with me. They may not be sapient, but they are still living creatures, sort of. Trapping them this way just seems… cruel, to me.

A: Taravangian first told us about trapping spren with something they love, and Dalinar put that knowledge to good use when he trapped Nergaoul in the King’s Drop back on Thaylen Field. I’m still on the fence as to whether it’s cruel like trapping a wild animal, or generous like adopting a rescue puppy and guaranteeing it good food and cuddles for life. It’s trapped in the gemstone, true—but it’s also going to be given all the Stormlight it could want. In a sapient being (a human), I would question this: is it worth exchanging freedom for satiation? In a sentient being, the wild animal vs. rescue puppy is a more apt analogy, and has more to do with training than anything else. But are these spren even sentient, or are they more on the level of plants, flourishing when they have the right combination of water & light and dying when they don’t? Until we know more about the lower-level spren, we can’t really answer that.

L: Finally, this doesn’t have to do with fabrials or spheres, but I just have to point out how very…. timely this is:

“Disease isn’t caused by spren,” Lirin said. “It is spread by contaminated water, improper sanitation, or sometimes by the breath of those who bear it.”

L: (We hope you’re all doing okay out there, and remembering to wear your masks. Please be safe and take care of yourselves and those you love.)

A: Personally, I find it moderately hilarious that this was written well over a year ago, long before we ever heard of the novel coronavirus or COVID-19. Who knew Sanderson was a prophet?

 

We’ll be leaving the speculation to you in the comments, so have fun and remember to be respectful of the opinions of others! Also, remember to be careful about spoilers out there in the big wide world. A lot of people aren’t going to read the pre-release chapters (not wishing to torture themselves with one or two chapters a week); please respect that decision, and don’t damage their reading experience when it finally comes.

Alice is delighted to finally be able to start talking about Rhythm of War with the wider fan community. Don’t forget the spoiler tags!

Lyndsey is simultaneously thrilled and terrified about the release of her first full-length novel, which she has been working on for over five years. If you’d like a preview, check out the first three chapters on her website or go visit the Kickstarter page to listen to a sample of the eventual audiobook! And if you’re an aspiring author, a cosplayer, or just like geeky content, follow her work on Facebook or Instagram (though admittedly it’s been hard to come up with new cosplay content during a pandemic).

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