Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Rhythm of War Read-Along Discussion: Chapter Eleven

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Welcome back to the read-along discussion, on this fine Tuesday morning. We’re taking a sharp turn in this week’s new chapter—which of course you’ve already read. After all that time in Hearthstone and the Shattered Plains, we’re leaping over to Kholinar today. Yes, it’s finally time to get inside the head of our new main character, Venli, the listener turned Regal turned Radiant. Along with her private thoughts and plans, we’ll have lots of information about the Fused to discuss, so come on in and join us.

Reminder: we’ll potentially 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, best to wait to join us until you’re done.

Also, please limit your discussions of Rhythm of War to this or other fora where spoilers are specifically allowed, or hide them behind spoiler tags. There are people trying to wait until the release in November, so be kind to your fellow-fans and don’t post public spoilers!

Chapter Recap

WHO: Venli
WHERE: Kholinar
WHEN: Day One, continued

Leshwi returns from Hearthstone, and Venli is there to greet her. It is revealed that Venli, who is both Fused Regal and proto-Knight Radiant, is formulating a plan to create a new society of listeners, apart from the singers/Fused/Regals, and is slowly drawing others towards her who are sympathetic to her cause.

Overall Reactions

Venli had a great deal of work to do. She needed to counteract the indoctrination of the Fused and help the singers cast off the traditions of those who had enslaved them.

L: That’s very ambitious. It’s also an interesting moral question… while these traditions imposed on them by their conquerors are not their own culture, the current generations have assimilated them so thoroughly at this point that they don’t even know their own history. These traditions have become theirs. Rather than completely eradicating them, might it be better to try to integrate them? To teach the old ways while not taking away things that the current generations have come to appreciate and enjoy? I have no answer for this, and I’m not sure there is a right answer, ethically speaking.

A: One can certainly appreciate the problem here. Venli grew up in the listener culture she hopes to emulate, but she’s the only person of her entire race (that she knows of) who isn’t steeped in the human cultures where they grew up. How do you bring those disparate experiences together? Of those she seeks to reach, she is literally the only person (again, as far as she knows) who has any experience of living free. The rest went from being slaves to the humans straight into what amounts to being slaves of the Fused. Is it even possible to cast off the traditions of both the humans and the Fused? For that matter, is it certain that the traditions of the listeners are better? I can’t help thinking that there’s going to have to be a lot of melding, and I hope Venli is open to the realization that, right or not, there will be human traditions that some of her signers will not be willing to relinquish.

Our organization is formed from those who are strong enough to resist, and eventually break free of, all chains.”

L: Again… ambitious, and a noble goal. But I wonder how attainable it is, to ask people to give up everything they know and rebuild a society entirely from scratch.

A: And yet, I’d say our history is replete with exactly that. From the ancient stories to the western pioneers and beyond, we can see people who looked at their society and said, “I want something better. Something more.” Whether it was freedom from the feudal system, or escape from conquerors who enslaved them, or religious oppression, or even the feeling of “too many people here”—people have always looked for a new and better life. There’s always a certain amount of bringing your past with you; that’s unavoidable if you have a functioning memory. The hope is to pick and choose the good things, while carefully setting aside the negatives. As you say, it’s an ambitious and noble goal, and maybe it’s unattainable. But it’s worth pursuing nonetheless.

Even common singers were carefully indoctrinated, constantly told that sacrificing themselves was a great privilege.

L: I can see why Venli is rebelling against this indoctrination. Any society which encourages its people to become martyrs is… problematic, at best.

A: My first inclination is to agree, but I seem to be in “devil’s advocate” mode. We react strongly and negatively to this situation, because we’ve seen the result: the singer sacrifices himself so that a possibly-crazy-but-also-high-powered being can have his body. It’s supposedly “for the greater good”—but the bottom line is “you’re dead and someone else is using your body for their own ends.” That’s… pretty horrible, and brainwashing people into thinking this is a good idea gives me the creeps.

On the other hand, the concept of noble self-sacrifice is inherent in virtually every civilization that thrives for any length of time. The Knights Radiant are all about things like protecting and remembering others before themselves. Isn’t that “sacrificing themselves” too? No society founded solely on selfishness is going to survive; some amount of willing sacrifice is needed.

The distinction seems to be in who benefits. When there is an elite group who sacrifice nothing, but benefit from the “noble sacrifice” they push for everyone else… yeah, that’s definitely a problem.

L: On that we can definitely agree. The sacrifice needs to be made across the board, not just by those who are marginalized or of a lower caste.

A: Bingo. Who is expected to make the sacrifice, and who gains from it? (Trust Lyn to use one sentence to say what I couldn’t get to in 20 minutes of editing. This is why we’re a team!)

The Fused and the humans . . . there was an equivalency to them. Both sought to take away the minds of common folk. Both were interested solely in the convenience of a useful body, without the accompanying “burden” of a personality, desires, and dreams.

L: I mean… she’s not wrong.

A: Oh, absolutely. While some Fused still claim that their purpose is to create a safe homeland for the singers, many just want to kill humans for revenge or because they really aren’t sane any more. For the latter, they really just want a good body to use. As for the humans… see also “centuries of parshmen slaves.”

“We are a group of objectors who do not like the choices we’ve been offered. Fused oppression or human tyranny? The god of hatred or the supposedly honorable god who abandoned us to slavery? We accept neither. We are the listeners.

L: I… I can’t blame her, here. Both sides have unfairly oppressed this people. It’s said that the only thing evil needs to prevail is the apathy of good men, but… what’s the true evil in this scenario? I love that it isn’t cut and dry. Even Odium isn’t necessarily the “Sauron” of the situation, from the singers/listeners’ POV. There are no clearly delineated good and evil sides to take, so why not stand aside in the conflict to come?

A: I’ve always suspected there’s more to the story than “Honor abandoned us”—but she has no way of knowing that. It’s the story she’s been told, with no counter-argument. (Also, I notice she draws the lines of Odium vs. Honor—but what about Cultivation? Did the listeners know about her? Do the Fused remember her? We just don’t hear about her. Why?) When we—and they—know more, standing aside may no longer be a valid choice; for now, though, it makes all the sense in the world.

“They summoned rock monsters that were taller than the storming city wall. They have Regals and Fused. I think our sole hope is to get the entire city to turn against them.”

L: Uuuuhhhh… yeah. Wasn’t the whole city fighting against them before? If Shumin means getting the singers to rebel, okay, maybe, but… that’s still awfully optimistic.

A: It might be possible, if the humans and the common singers joined forces against the Fused and the Regals, that the difference in numbers would outweigh the difference in powers. But I doubt it.

Humans

“You were a tailor?” Venli said, Voicing for Leshwi.

“Yes, once I dressed princes and lighteyes.”

L: Heeeeeey! It’s Adolin’s tailor from Oathbringer! Good to know that she survived, at least.

A: Hi, Yokska! I do hope she continues to survive. Have fun training artforms in fashion design!

Singers/Fused

There were a variety of different levels a person could have in the singer culture. Normal people—simply called singers, or common singers—had ordinary forms such as workform or warform. Then there were forms of power, like Venli’s envoyform. This was a level higher in authority and strength, and required taking a Voidspren into your gemheart. That influenced your mind, changed how you perceived the world. These singers were called Regals.

Further up the hierarchy were the Fused. Ancient souls put into a modern body, which extinguished the soul of the host completely. And above them? Mysterious creatures like the thunderclasts and the Unmade. Souls more like spren than people.

A: So the thunderclasts aren’t Fused after all.

L: I’m so glad Sanderson’s dropping this bit of exposition on us. There are so many variations in the singer/Fused community that it’s hard to keep them all straight, sometimes!

A: This chapter is so helpful for those of us who like knowing where everyone fits. Keeping the different forms straight is still going to be a challenge, I think, but at least we have a starting point.

The nine varieties were called “brands” in their own language, a word evoking the heat of a branding iron, though Venli had seen no such mark on their skin.

L: Fascinating…

A: Also, ow. Also, I wonder if this is an intentional hat-tip to Kaladin’s brands.

She didn’t so much as hum a note of Embarrassment, though in this incarnation, the body that had been offered to her was malen.

L: I like that she’s still referred to by femalen pronouns despite residing in a malen form.

A: She still is who she’s always been, no matter what external features are given to the body she inhabits. Interesting indeed.

The Fused exerted some measure of will upon their forms—skin patterns persisted, for example, and some grew carapace in individual patterns. Knowing that, you could easily distinguish the same Fused across multiple incarnations.

L: This is really, really cool!

A: Also really useful, both for the reader and the character. I do find it fascinating that there are some aspects of their physical form that change to reflect Identity, while others are unaffected.

L: It certainly tracks with the magic systems at play on Roshar. If people can heal injuries in order to better reflect their inner view of themselves, why couldn’t their cells also rearrange?

Of course, Venli had the advantage of her ability to look into Shadesmar—which immediately told her if someone was Fused, Regal, or ordinary singer.

L: This makes me wonder what exactly is the difference between Fused and Regal. How do they look different, in Shadesmar? Later in the chapter, Venli notes that:

The souls of Fused were dark flames that pulsed like a beating heart.

L: So, do the Regals burn more brightly, or something?

A: Fascinating indeed. Perhaps she can see the spren in the gemheart of a Regal or a singer, along with their own soul-flame. Maybe? It seems … well, at least possible.

“Passion,” Venli said softly, to Determination—one of the old rhythms. The pure rhythms of Roshar. “Remember that with the Fused, your Passion will do you credit. To hold this post, you must match fear with determination.”

L: She must be saying this quietly enough to not be heard by Leshwi. I can’t imagine that speaking to the old rhythms would go over well!

A: IIRC, she shouldn’t even be able to hear the old rhythms, should she? I’m kinda surprised she’s willing to let anyone know she can use both. It seems dangerous.

L: Because she’s Fused, now? The regular listeners can definitely still use the old rhythms. I could have sworn at some point in the first three books we’d seen a Fused hear one of the old rhythms and be annoyed by it, but maybe I am misremembering.

A: Well, Venli is supposed to just be a Regal, with a Voidspren in her gemheart, and I think that’s supposed to make them hear the new rhythms instead of the old ones. Come to think of it, though, Eshonai could still attune the old ones after she took stormform, so maybe I’m misremembering the restrictions.

“He killed Lezian, the Pursuer.”

With that title, the creature must be one of the Fused. As beings thousands of years old, each one had a lore and history long enough to fill books. It angered them that no one knew them individually this time around.

L: This makes perfect sense. Also, good that we’ve got a name for that Fused that was fighting with Kaladin, now.

A: I’m also highly amused that the Fused are so offended that no one knows their individual reputations. Gee, gang, it’s only been 4500 years since you were last seen, and most of your people were effectively lobotomized for the last 1500 or so. I can’t imagine why your personal story got lost in the mist.

Already there are comments and questions about the raising of a human to the title of He Who Quiets.

L: ::mutters quiet curses against Moash::

A: ::mutters vehement agreement::

Accepting the soul of a Fused into your body had an element of agency to it.

L: Some of my friends who are more casual readers were confused by this, so it’s nice to see it spelled out here to clarify!

A: It’s definitely good to know. Unfortunately, as Venli notes, those who have already accepted a voidform (Regals) are modified by that bond.

L: It confuses the heck out of me that the Fused are above the Regals in regards to their hierarchy. You would think that the word regal would imply that they’d be higher. This… is going to take some time before it really sinks in, for me…

A: On a bet, many of the common singers who wouldn’t be willing to give themselves up to a Fusion (can I call it that?) would still readily accept the powers that come with being a Regal. Once the voidspren is accepted, they become willing Fused-fodder. I’m not sure I think the two-step process is really all that much better than a forced takeover.

mavset-im, Fused who could imitate the shapes of others. Even other Fused seemed wary of the mavset-im, Those Ones of Masks.

L: Oh dear. Shape-shifters are never good news.

A: Oh, hey, we saw one of those in Oathbringer! The pseudo-guard in the Thaylen vault that tried to steal the King’s Drop, and Chiri-Chiri ate his disguise.

L: Oh yeah!

A: I want a Chiri-Chiri.

Relationships & Romances

“If I may,” Venli said, turning to Leshwi. “Did you kill him on this excursion?”

There was no need to explain “him.” Leshwi was fascinated by the Windrunners, and in particular their leader—the young man who had forged a group of Radiants without the guidance of god or Herald.

A: I’m not sure if this relationship qualifies as a romance, but it cracks me up that Leshwi’s fascination with Kaladin is this obvious. The burning question is whether Leshwi has any actual desire to kill him. Secondary question: does Venli believe Leshwi wants to kill him?

L: I’m always partial to the “we want to kill one another and OOPS now we’re lovers” trope. Not to say that I necessarily really want to see this go in that direction, I just… wouldn’t be mad if it did.

Bruised & Broken

Part of Leshwi’s favor had to do with her prowess in battle, but Venli suspected an equal measure came because she’d maintained her sanity over the centuries. The same could not be said for many, though the Heavenly Ones had fared better than other kinds of Fused.

A: This is one of many hints that the Fused are perhaps less formidable than they once were, if sanity is becoming a rare commodity among them. On the other hand, it’s also possible that those who retain functionality while losing sanity will be more dangerous, so… I guess we’ll see how this plays out!

Weighty Words / The Knights Radiant

Though she was a Regal, she held a secret deep within her gemheart, a friend who protected her from the Voidspren’s influence. Her Radiant spren—Timbre—buzzed softly, comforting her.

L: I love the fact that she’s both Radiant and Regal! Makes me wonder if this is entirely new… (And… this is answered later in this very chapter…)

From what Timbre said, this was new—whatever Venli was doing, it hadn’t been done before.

L: Interesting… I wonder what it is about this particular time in history that is allowing for this to be possible!

A: Without knowing the ancient history, and all of why the spren turned to humans in the first place, it’s not possible to say for certain. It seems probable, though, that whatever made the humans preferable to the singers was counterbalanced by the Recreance, making the spren willing—for the first time in 7-10 thousand years—to bond singers. That still doesn’t tell us why it took the intervening 1500 years (or so) since the Recreance to form the first bond, though. Is it the return of the Fused? Have the spren decided that it’s time to oppose the Fused (and thereby Odium) by different means?

Timbre could read her thoughts—and Venli could read the little spren’s words and intents through the pulsing of her rhythms.

L: This really makes me think that the Bond is meant to be with singers, and not humans. It seems so much more effective! Or… maybe it’s just because Timbre is so musically-inclined? Is this the case for all Willshaper spren?

A: Is it this case for all Radiant Spren in general? I’m dying to see another spren bond with a singer, and see how their communication works. As far as I can recall, we haven’t seen Timbre communicate with actual words yet—just Venli’s clear understanding of her meaning. I want to know how common this will be! As to your first sentence there, Lyn… I want to know, so badly, just what the relationship between the singers and the sapient spren was before the humans came.

“I have been contacted by a spren who represents an entire people in Shadesmar. They realize that perhaps we deserve a second chance more than humans do.”

L: I wonder how much truth there is to this… Could we be looking at the possibility of an entire order of Knights Radiant made up of bonded singers?

A: That would be so amazing! I’m torn on this; part of me thinks it would be really cool for an entire order to be only singers, but part of me also wants to see all the Orders become a mix of humans and singers. Either way, I want more bonded singers.

In this case, Timbre wanted Venli to acknowledge she was not a Knight Radiant. Not yet, as she’d only said the First Ideal.

L: Interesting, that this is a distinction that’s made. At what point does one become a Knight Radiant, then? And is this a distinction only to Timbre? To all Willshaper spren? Or to all Radiant Spren in general?

A: Well… that’s a good question. This is the first time that I recall a spren making the distinction. (Others may have a better memory than mine… Readers? Any thoughts?) Later in the chapter, Timbre wants Venli to acknowledge that she is Radiant, so… where’s the line? Among the Windrunners, the First Ideal was enough to make someone a squire and give them access to Radiant powers (as long as their Knight was nearby). And of course the Skybreakers have a very firm structure in place, as much to do with mentoring as Ideals. As a general thing, perhaps it could be said that the first Ideal makes you Radiant, two makes you a Knight Radiant, and whenever-you-get-your-Plate makes you a full Knight Radiant. For those like me who want defined categories, this might work, but honestly, I’m not sure how widely applicable it is.

…she instinctively understood what her mistress said to her through simple humming. In fact, the experience was eerily familiar to the way she understood Timbre—yet she was certain that ability wasn’t related to her form.

L: So if her ability to understand Timbre isn’t linked to envoyform, that implies that the ability she’s given via envoyform is similar on its own merits to the Bond she shares with a Radiant Spren. That’s… interesting. The more we see of the Fused/Regal powers, the more I think that there’s a deep connection between them and the Shards, and the powers imbued on the Knights Radiant…

A: This is driving me crazy, to tell the truth. We’ve had vague references to Voidbinding (mostly in the Ars Arcanum), but what we’ve seen so far looks very much like the Fused use the same Surges as the Radiants. Is the difference between Surgebinding and Voidbinding a matter of whether you use Stormlight or Voidlight? Or are there different powers, and we just haven’t seen them (or seen them named) yet?

But back to what you actually said… it does seem that both the Regals and the Fused have the same powers as the Radiants, and the differences are in the details of how they are accessed, powered, and perhaps combined. I do hope we eventually get some clarification on these things.

She would accept those who came to her. If she wanted them to change, she would show them a better way. It was Timbre’s suggestion.

Volition. Agency. Cardinal tenets of whatever it was she was becoming.

L: This makes me wonder if these are going to tie into Oaths for her…

A: Well, this is Sanderson, the proponent of foreshadowing, so… likely?

They’d tested Venli’s other power—the ability to mold stone—only once, and it had drawn secretspren. A kind of specialized spren that flew through the city, watching for signs of Knights Radiant using their powers.

L: Well, that’s frightening! Are these spren “natural,” or did the Fused somehow create new ones for this purpose? I don’t recall ever having seen secretspren before, nor does a search of the first three books yield any results…

A: No one called them secretspren, but I assumed these were the same spren who came screaming around anyone using a fabrial, back when Our Heroes did their infiltration of Kholinar in Oathbringer.

Fortunately, this power—the one that let her peek into Shadesmar—did not draw the same attention.

L: Hmm. I wonder why one of the Surges draws their attention, but the other does not. Perhaps because stone shaping is a more… active power, whereas just looking into Shadesmar is more passive?

A: If I’m right and they’re the same spren, they sensed Kaladin using his Lashings, but they were oblivious to Shallan’s Lightweaving. The distinctions between what they can sense (Gravitation/Adhesion, Cohesion) and what they can’t (Illumination, Transportation)… well, they do almost seem like physical vs. cognitive functions.

What We Missed (In the Timeskip)

A: Mostly, we’re seeing the restructuring of Kholinar. What was once the seat of the biggest military power on Roshar, the Alethi capital, is now the seat of… well, a very different Big Military Power. It seems to be the chosen center of power for the Heavenly Ones, with their new spires and all. We don’t know enough yet to know whether it’s the headquarters for all the Fused, or if different brands have different strongholds.

Geography

Open on two sides, the room looked out over the grand city of Kholinar—and there were no railings to prevent a careless worker from toppling a hundred feet to the city streets below.

L: Interesting… so the Fused built these 20 spires after conquering Kholinar? I wonder if they altered/added on to existing architecture, or if this is an entirely new structure!

A: They sound to me like new construction, but there’s no mention of the windblades or the former city wall, so… who knows?

Fabrial Technology & Spheres

An iron cage will create an attractor—a fabrial that draws specific elements to itself. A properly created smoke fabrial, for example, can gather the smoke of a fire and hold it close. New discoveries lead us to believe it is possible to create a repeller fabrial, but we don’t yet know the metal to use to achieve this feat.

L: Five bucks says it’s steel.

A: I won’t take you up on that bet, because I’m absolutely sure you’re right.

Oh, on a loosely related note… These epigraphs are all tagged as being from Navani’s lecture on fabrial mechanics to the coalition monarchs, and it’s dated “Jesevan, 1175.” For those who have forgotten (or never bothered in the first place), that translates into numerical dates as 1175.1.4.2 (Jes Vev Nan). While I’m not 100% confident of the actual date of our Day One, it should be somewhere in 1175.3 or so. In any case, I’m reasonably confident that Navani’s lecture would qualify as “recent past,” and probably occurred a couple of months prior to the current events.

 

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, please be kind about spoilers. In here, please white-text or black-out any spoilers for the RoW Interludes or the Dawnshard prologue; yes, they’re out there in various official formats, but not everyone has had access yet. Out there in the big wide interwebs, there are many people trying to avoid spoilers for Rhythm of War; please, don’t be posting spoilers on Pinterest or Reddit or whatever, where people are going to see them without a chance to look away. That’s just rude.

Alice is trying not to choke on the smoke in the Pacific Northwest, and is happily distracting herself with the Dawnshard beta read whenever her eyes aren’t itching too badly. Let’s hear it for rain, eh? Snow would also be acceptable, if unlikely.

Lyndsey is missing her faire family dearly. For the next two months in these bylines, she’ll be giving some shout-outs to fellow local performers who could really use the support. This week, check out Shakespeare Approves,your one-stop shop for comedic and interactive retellings of classic Shakespearean tales! If you’re an aspiring author, a cosplayer, or just like geeky content, follow her work on Facebook or Instagram.

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