Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Rhythm of War Read-Along Discussion: Chapter Fourteen

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Welcome back to Tuesday! This week, we’re back in Kholinar for Interesting Developments on the Fused side of the war… and they are very interesting. Not to mention terrifying. On the assumption that you’ve already read Chapter 14, “Voice,” come on into the discussion and let us know how you feel about the probable direction things are taking.

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. Please do not include spoilers from the upcoming Interludes (partially released as readings) or the Dawnshard prologue.

In this week’s discussion we make no allusions to any other Sanderson books, so you’re safe.

Chapter Recap

WHO: Venli
WHERE: Kholinar
WHEN: Day 2

Venli attends a meeting of the rulers of the Fused, in which she learns that Kaladin’s in Big Trouble, a disturbing leader has reawoken from her slumber, and that a raid on Urithiru is looming in the near future…

Overall Reactions

… a pinnacle room added by the Fused architects. Large and cylindrical, it was the center of the crown shape. This place was the home of the Nine: leaders of the Fused.

A: This was an “Aha!” moment for me. So this is how they’re governed! I can’t help wondering if the listeners’ “The Five” was modeled after this tradition, and how they were able to retain that knowledge.

L: Perhaps some small bit of memory remained. They still knew about songs, though they’d lost most of them.

The Nine were already there, of course. They couldn’t leave. They’d been entombed in stone.

Nine pillars adorned the center of the chamber, rising in a circle. The stones had been Soulcast into shape—with people inside them. The Nine lived here, permanently melded into the pillars. Again there was an organic feel to the construction, as if the pillars had grown there like trees around the Nine.

The pillars twisted and tapered, shrinking and growing into the chests of the Nine but leaving their heads and the tops of their carapaced shoulders bare. Most had at least one arm free.

A: Well, that’s just creepy. I don’t know what else to say about it. How on Roshar did that tradition get started? Why would you do that? Ack.

L: Good question. It does seem rather counterintuitive to have your leaders stuck in one place, where they could be easily attacked. Though… seeing as how they’d just be reborn, maybe that doesn’t matter so much. Maybe it’s meant as a sort of… way to deprive them of distractions? If they can’t move, they can have no hobbies or anything else to fill their time aside from thinking about ruling.

A: I guess that’s true… As you say, they can easily be reborn, and Venli addresses that:

Though… if they really did want to leave their imprisonment, they could simply have themselves killed. A Fused could also will their spirit from their body, freeing it to seek another host. … So the Nine could leave, if they wanted. In that light, these tombs were a flagrant, wasteful act—the ultimate price for this show was paid not by the Nine, but by the poor singers they had killed to give them bodies.

A: As always, this whole concept makes me shudder. As a whole—and maybe this is because we always see it from Venli’s side—the Fused seem awfully cavalier about the everyday singers. This expectation that the ordinary people should be willing to give up their bodies “for the greater good” is one that grates on me personally, for a lot of reasons. Then again, the whole “ruling elite” notion is one that grates on me personally, so… I suppose that fits.

L: Forced (or even heavily encouraged) martyrdom is really disturbing, for sure.

A: Brainwashed, you might say. I don’t have a problem with martyrdom per se, but I do prefer that the leaders are willing to be martyrs, rather than expecting the common folk to be martyrs for them. Ugh.

“Leshwi,” one of the Nine said. “What of the suppressor we sent to be tested? Did it work?”

“It worked,” Leshwi said, “but it was also lost. …

“I take no responsibility for this error,” Leshwi said. “You must speak to the Pursuer to find record of the mistake.”

A: Oh, do we detect a hint of dissension among the gods? This isn’t exactly proof one way or the other, but it certainly casts doubt on the theory that Leshwi and the Pursuer worked together to ambush Kaladin.

L: Thank goodness for small favors.

“You think I could be defeated by a common human?” the Pursuer demanded. “This Windrunner must be of the Fourth Ideal—something I was led to believe had not yet happened. Perhaps our reconnaissance teams have lost their edge, during the long time spent between Returns.”

A: Liar, liar, pants on fire… and a little later, it’s clear that Leshwi knows he’s lying about the fabrial not working.

Also, this accusation ticks Leshwi off more than a little. It would seem that these two aren’t exactly besties.

L: I already hate this guy. Full of himself? Condescending? Lying? Trying to kill Kaladin? Yeah, no. He’s on my bad side for sure.

A: Shall we add him to our #noredemption list?

L: Eh. I don’t like him, but he isn’t actively betraying any of our MCs like Sadeas, Amaram, or Moash. He just falls on the “minor sub-villain” list for me.

Millennia ago, Lezian was the first Fused to be killed by a human. To avoid the shame of such death, upon returning to life, Lezian ignored all orders and rational arguments—and went into battle seeking only the man who had killed him. … Any time he is killed, Lezian ignores everything else until he has claimed the life of the one who killed him. Six thousand years, and he’s never failed. … As soon as the Isolation was begun, he’d kill himself, so he’d never return to Braize permanently after having died by human hand. … Lezian has endangered our plans, undermined strategies, and ruined more missions than I can count.

A: So Lezian is a prideful wretch who doesn’t mind what else goes wrong, as long as he can get his revenge when someone kills him.

L: Ugh. What an insufferable jackass. “Waaaah I was bested in battle and rather than admit that the other person was more skilled I’m going to hunt them down over and over until finally I get lucky and take them out, that’ll show them!”

A: EXACTLY. It kind of cracks me up that he was the first of the Fused to be killed by a human, and he’s never gotten over it.

Also, Lore Ahoy! I was baffled by this at first, because I thought that once the Fused died, they returned to Braize and that was it for that round. Fortunately for my sanity, Venli asked and Leshwi answered: it turns out that the Fused could die and return many times during a Desolation. Return, kill, die, return kill die, return-kill-die … years or decades, until the Heralds died too, and the lock was reset. Wow. How many poor singers gave up their bodies during those longer Desolations?

“Regardless, before an Isolation began, that one always managed to find and kill any humans who had bested him.

A: The more I learn about Lezian, the more I dislike him. I don’t think Leshwi likes him either, since she deliberately taunts him into losing his temper in front of the Nine, and as a result they rule that she has first claim on Kaladin’s life. Why? Well, we’ll all have our own guesses on that! L: I’d say it’s pretty obvious that Leshwi doesn’t like a lot of the other Fused.

A: Agreed. She may respect them, with that respect you give a rabid wolf, but she doesn’t like or trust them.

None of them realize she’s trying to protect that Windrunner, Venli thought. Maybe she doesn’t realize it herself.

A: One good thing about Venli being the scheming wretch she is… she recognizes a scheme when she sees it, even if she can’t tell what’s behind it. Leshwi straight-up says that she has chosen her position carefully, what Venli earlier thought of as “the very crust of the unimportant and the very dregs of the important” … and in a few minutes we’ll see why.

L: I’m sure that Leshwi is protecting him because she sees an honorable soul in him, but I can’t help but poke the ship a little here, for fun.

A: You know, I’m not really on board the ship, but it’s pretty cool to see the respect that has developed between the two of them. I begin to think that Leshwi wouldn’t kill him even if she got a clear advantage over him, so… I dunno. So long as the Pursuer follows the edict of the Nine, I’m betting she’ll avoid actually getting into a fight with Kaladin so she can keep her “dibs” as a shield for him.

A figure darkened the doorway of the chamber, backlit by sunlight. It was a tall femalen, of the fannahn-im

Leshwi hissed. “Gods, no. Not her.”

“What?” Venli asked as the room flooded with whispers from the others. “Who is she?”

“I thought her mad,” Leshwi said to Agony. “How…”

A: This does not look good.

L: Mad military leaders are rarely good news for anyone.

“She was one of the Nine for many centuries,” Leshwi said. “Until she decided it was too… hampering upon her ambitions. After the last Return, and her madness, she was to remain asleep.… Why…”

“Raboniel, Lady of Wishes,”

A: And that, my friends, sounds like a name to give you nightmares.

L: Though not as bad as her other name, which we learn about later in the chapter.

“… There are few among them of the Fourth Ideal—perhaps only one individual— and they do not have full access to the tower, now that the Sibling is dead. We must strike now. We must seize the tower from them. … You have nearly perfected the suppression fabrials,” Raboniel said. “Do not forget, it is technology I discovered from the tower itself thousands of years ago. I have a plan to use it in a more dramatic way. As the Sibling is essentially a deadeye, I should be able to turn the tower’s defenses against its owners.”

A: Oh, this is not good. This is very not good.

L: Yeah, not good at all. I’m terrified that we’re going to see a prolonged siege, here. A few things I want to point out other than that, though. 1, that Radiant of the Fourth Ideal’s gotta be Jasnah, right?

A: I would assume so, yes, although I’m not sure how they know. Taravangian, maybe? Malata?

L: Well, she was using her powers pretty openly in the big battle at the end of Oathbringer. Maybe they just saw it then.

2, I find it really interesting that they’re also using the terminology “deadeye.” Since this is a word that the spren use themselves, it indicates that the Fused are in contact with them. We’ve seen Fused in Shadesmar, so this isn’t a huge surprise, I just find it intriguing that they’re adopting the spren’s terminology.

A: Hmm. I wonder, now… how long has that term been around? There have to have been occasional incidents where someone betrayed their oaths and created a deadeye, prior to the Recreance, so maybe it’s been around forever. It’s also possible that Sanderson is just “using the translation we know” to describe it… but I don’t know.

L: 3, so the Sibling is a deadeye, eh? I think this is the first indication we’ve had of this, up until now it’s always been either “dead” or “sleeping.” This is really good information to have. We know through Adolin’s efforts with Maya that maybe this isn’t a permanent condition, so… maybe the Sibling can be saved!

A: That was a shock. It’s really disturbing to think of one of the three great Bondsmith spren as a deadeye. Also, that would imply that Melishi betrayed his Ideals, wouldn’t it? Would the Sibling see the entrapment of Ba-Ado-Mishram (or possibly the resulting damage to the singers) as a betrayal, or did he do something else too? Since we don’t know the Ideals of the other Bondsmiths, we can only guess at this point. I’d love to see the Sibling revived, but… if they’re really a deadeye, I don’t think it looks promising. (Also, if it’s going to be similar to Maya, I want Maya revived first!)

“The device preventing us from attacking them there can be inverted. We will need to lure the Elsecaller and the Bondsmith away. Their oaths may be advanced enough to push through the suppression, much as the Unmade have done at the tower in the past. With them gone, I can lead a force into Urithiru and seize it from within—and the Radiants will be unable to resist.”

A: YIKES.

L: Yikes indeed. This does not bode well for our heroes.

“Raboniel is a scholar … We used to call her Lady of Pains, until she decided she didn’t like the title. … During the last Return, she developed a disease intended to kill all humans on the planet. Near the end, it was discovered that the disease would likely kill many singers as well. She released it anyway… only to find, to all of our fortunes, that it did not work as expected. Fewer than one in ten humans were killed, and one in a hundred singers. … Extinction is the natural escalation of this war. If you forget why you are fighting, then victory itself becomes the goal. The longer we fight, the more detached we become. Both from our own minds, and from our original Passions.”

A: Back in chapter 11, Venli noted that Leshwi insisted that “the conquest of Roshar was being undertaken on behalf of the common singer people.” Here, we see her awareness that some (many?) of the Fused are losing sight of that purpose. It would seem, in context, that she fears Raboniel may be one of those who seek victory for itself, rather than for the sake of the mortal singers.

L: Can we also talk for a minute about how she used a biological weapon that was proven to wipe out their own people?! I mean… this isn’t a huge surprise, it’s already been shown just how cavalier they are towards the singers’ lives (the afore-mentioned encouraged martyrdom), but it’s still troubling AF from a reader’s perspective. And from Venli’s as well, thankfully. At least she has some morals.

A: Right? As if genocide weren’t bad enough, she just shrugged off the damage to her own people as acceptable corollary damage. I do not like this “Lady of Pains.” And now she has a plan to invade the Tower, making use of “the king who has given himself to us” and provided security details. Taravangian, you filthy traitor.

L: This is my surprised face.

A: As for what Raboniel will do…

“What is her true game?” Leshwi whispered to Craving. “Raboniel has never really been interested in the war or its tactics. This must be about something more. She wants the opportunity to experiment upon the Sibling.…”

A: Maybe so, maybe no. She’s certainly got something planned that she’s not telling anyone yet:

In addition, this endeavor will give me the opportunity to test some… theories I have developed while slumbering these last millennia. I am increasingly certain I have discovered a path that will lead to an end to the war.”

Leshwi hissed out slowly, and Venli felt cold. It seemed that whatever Raboniel thought would end the war would involve techniques best left untouched.

A: … And probably wouldn’t quite follow the Geneva Conventions (to borrow a reaction from one of the beta readers). So her biological warfare failed to effect a complete genocide last time (though one in ten dead is a pretty horrific death rate); what kind of hellish scheme does she have to destroy all the humans this time?

L: To put this into perspective. We have to look at this in terms of “total population vs. mortality rate,” since Leshwi only gives us those statistics with her “one in ten” number. So. The current coronavirus death rate for total world population appears to be about 0.06% so far. The 1918 Spanish Flu’s mortality rate was about 2.7%. Raboniel’s disease that she created was a staggering 10%. Think about this for a second in terms of how much the coronavirus has affected modern society—and then consider a world in which people don’t have advanced medical techniques, or methods of instantaneous communication (we don’t know if they had fabrials for this at this point, back then). This would have been catastrophic.

A: If you don’t like percentages, the current reported COVID-19 death rate in the USA is that about 6 people out of every 10,000 have died. Raboniel’s disease killed 1 out of 100 of the singers and about 1 in 10 of the humans.. We’re talking two and three orders of magnitude difference. (By the way, please don’t use our numbers to prove anything. We’re just doing the best we can, quick and dirty, with CDC and Wikipedia sources.)

L: The only real-world worse example is the bubonic plague, which killed off approximately ⅓ of the continent on which it was active (that’s 33%). And that lives on in horror stories, art, and fiction to this very day, almost 700 years later.

“Do you truly think you can end the war?”

“I’m certain of it,” Raboniel said to Derision. “I have had a long time to ponder on the discoveries made before the end of the last Return. … They imprisoned some of the Unmade in these, Leshwi,” Raboniel said. “How close do you think they are to discovering they could do the same for us? Can you imagine it? Forever imprisoned in a gemstone, locked away, able to think but unable to ever break free?”

“One way or another,” Raboniel said, “this is the final Return. The humans will soon discover how to imprison us. If not, well, the best of us who remain are but a few steps from madness. We must find a solution to this war.”

A: Well… I have to admit, if Navani or Jasnah could figure out a way to trap Fused in a gemstone, they’d trap every last one of them. I’m not sure Dalinar or Kaladin would, but the Queens would both be totally on board with it.

L: I can’t entirely say that I would blame them, either, since they’re trying to save their people. Then there’s also the fact that we know that Odium is influencing the Fused…

A: I’ll admit to mixed feelings… Genocide, either direction, is deeply disturbing; at the same time, this protracted multi-millennium war needs to end somehow. All in all, if trapping all the Fused and leaving the singers alive would end it, I think I’d be okay.

L: Is it genocide, if they’re being imprisoned for eternity? Is being imprisoned for war crimes the same as being killed? Lots of really intense philosophical/moral questions, here.

A: Truly. Whether it would work or not, Raboniel is using that fear as a means to push her own agenda. Leshwi totally doesn’t trust her, and now we have a hint at what the beginning, at least, of Venli’s arc will be: Accompany Raboniel in this effort to seize the Tower. How? We’ll have to wait and see.

“So we must prevent a catastrophe. This land is for the ordinary singers to inherit. I will not leave it desolate simply to prove we can murder better than our enemies.”

L: I’m really glad to see this from Leshwi. Not that I’m entirely surprised… she’s been shown to be pretty ethically sound, throughout this.

A: I still have a little trouble reconciling her interactions with Moash in Oathbringer with this honorable person in Rhythm of War. It’s possible, though, that making him Vyre and giving him the Honorblade wasn’t up to her. And we’re definitely seeing a different side of her now. It is good to see that someone still has the original goal in mind.

Humans

“What of the Stormblessed?” a voice called out, thickly accented, from the recesses of the grand chamber. … Vyre. The human, once called Moash. … Why did the Nine continue to suffer him? Not only that, why had they given him an Honorblade, one of the most precious relics on Roshar? … “He’ll stop you,” Vyre said. “You should have a plan for dealing with him.”

A: Shut. Up. You. Traitor.

L: Took the words right out of my mouth.

“I’m not afraid of a Windrunner, no matter how… mythical his reputation may be growing,” Raboniel said. “We will focus our attention on the Bondsmith and the Elsecaller. They are more dangerous than any simple soldier.”

A: Well, let’s see how that works out for you, eh?

L: Mmhmm.

Singers/Fused

Some of the Fused on Braize slumbered, or… hibernated? Meditated? They were coming aware in groups, and joining the battle. But several in particular had Leshwi worried. Perhaps terrified.

A: We already had hints of this, but it’s nice to have it spelled out for sure: They’re coming from Braize in waves. I wonder if this is how it’s always been, and one of the reasons why the Heralds were able to have time to prepare the humans for the coming Desolations.

The thought of newly-arrived Fused that have Leshwi terrified, though, is definitely worrisome! Why would she be terrified of her own side? (Of course, that question gets answered, sort of, later in the chapter—but on my first read, this was really scary!)

L: Yeah, I think anyone in their right mind would be afraid of someone who’s willing to resort to biological warfare. I’m just hoping that that’s the worst of it, and we don’t have anyone who’s even worse still waiting in the wings…

Though all Fused were trained as warriors, many had other skills. Some were engineers, scientists, architects. She thought perhaps they’d all once been soldiers before being granted immortality, but the time they’d had to grow since was expansive.

A: In this chapter we see again the shanay-im, the Heavenly Ones who use Gravitation. Then there are the fannahn-im, “Those Ones of Alteration” who use Transformation. And:

Nex-im, Those Ones of Husks, the ninth brand of Fused. She had heard them spoken of; supposedly very few existed.

A: I’d be just as happy to find out there’s only one… But what Surge does he use? My first thought was Division, but Transportation might be more probable. Thoughts?

L: Uhhhh. You got me? I remember us speculating on this back when he first showed up, and I’ve just got no clue.

These two had not been among those who had built the palace, for they sat with vacant stares.

Timbre pulsed to the Rhythm of the Lost. Gone. Like so many of the Fused, their minds had been claimed by the infinite cycle of death and rebirth.

Perhaps there was a reason not to envy their immortality.

A: I’ve seen a number of theories as to why the cycle drives them insane, and I don’t really have a strong opinion on it.

L: To me, it seems pretty obvious. Forced to continue living, time and time again? Seeing the world change around you while you just… continue to be forced into a seemingly endless cycle of death and war? Yeah. I can’t possibly see how that would drive anyone mad.

A: This is mostly a reminder: there are a lot of these lost souls. And even many of the ones who aren’t so lost are… well, not entirely there either. As Leshwi says of Lezian,

And he’s growing worse. As all of us are, I suppose…

A: To be fair, dude sounds like he started off with less than a full pouch of spheres, so there’s that.

L: I love this turn of phrase and I need to remember to start using it.

Avendla was their name for Alethkar; Venli’s powers instantly knew the meaning of the word. Land of the Second Advance. Her abilities stopped there, however, and she couldn’t answer the more interesting question. Why was it called that?

A: Sandersoooooooon!!! I hate it when he does that. Tidbit of fascinating information… and then he hangs a lampshade on it to make sure we don’t miss the fact he’s not going to answer it. Argh.

L: Grade A lampshade hanging. I approve.

Bruised & Broken

Not just Awe, but Craving. Were new Fused being made? Could someone like her aspire to this immortality?

Timbre pulsed a warning inside her, and Venli forcibly resisted those instincts. … Perhaps as a Surgebinder, she should have been naturally selfless. Naturally noble. Like Eshonai.

Venli was neither.

A: It’s pretty clear that Venli’s natural inclination is still the self-centered glory hound, but at least she’s resisting, now, with the prompting of her spren. I have to wonder why Timbre ever chose her—other than that she was the only one available, once Eshonai died. I think Venli is fully aware of that, too.

L: I love the fact that she’s such a flawed character. Kaladin, Shallan, and Dalinar are flawed too, of course, but not quite in the same way. Venli is selfish. She’s a traitor, and hasn’t even had the courage to admit as such to the people she betrayed. Her likable moments are few and far between. Now, this is entirely my own take on it and I’m sure that there are people out there who love her (just like there are people who hate Kaladin or any of the other characters I love), but it definitely seems as though she’s got a lot less fans than any of the other POV characters, and for good reason. This is not to say that she isn’t believable—I think she’s a great character, in that there are absolutely people out there who are completely self centered. But if I met her in the real world, I’d probably intensely dislike her.

Should she not have become a queen for these actions?

Timbre pulsed another warning, comforting this time. Odium would never give her these honors—Venli had been deceived. Her lusts had led to great pain and destruction.

A: I really want to like Venli, but it’s so hard. Even her acceptance of her new role is only because Timbre keeps reminding her that Odium lied to her, and she was never going to get the honors she “deserved.”

Why is it that I can handle everyone else’s version of “broken,” but Venli’s drives me up the wall?

L: Because she has no inner impetus to recognize her own flaws, I think. Everyone else is actively working to better themselves because they have been made to face their own flaws. Sometimes they fail (as Kaladin and Shallan are in the process of doing), but they’re still trying. I’d put forward that Venli is only becoming a better person because someone outside of herself keeps reminding her of her flaws. She’s not actively doing so herself—just passively saying “Yeah, sure, I messed up and did awful things but oh well.” Sort of like Moash, except with him, everything he did wrong “wasn’t his fault” or is internally justified. With Venli, she knows she personally messed up, but she never seems to be able to take that next step to actively atone for her mistakes.

A: Let’s hope she makes some progress in this book, then, eh?

What We Missed (In the Timeskip)

Gone was the ornate, but boring human fortress. In its place stood a grand construction that used many of the original foundations and walls, but expanded upon them in a unique design. Instead of boxy lines, it contained grand arcs, with large ridges sweeping down from the sides like curved blades. These multiplied toward the top, the ridges rising to points.

A: Looks like Kholinar—or at least the palace—has had an extensive remodel. We don’t get a lot about the city itself, except for the new towers for the high-level shanay-im, but they really put their stamp on the palace. We learn a little later that the work was done by the fannahn-im, “Those Ones of Alteration”—what we know as Transformation.

L: This is both really cool and really sad. When an invading force destroys historical landmarks I always get really sad about it, but in this case… this land was theirs to begin with, so it’s not as cut and dry.

A: I can’t help wondering just how long Kholinar has been there in one form or another. Was it originally a singer city, with those windblades shaped by the fannahn-im just like the new palace? So much we don’t know…

Fabrial Technology & Spheres

All gemstones leak Stormlight at a slow rate—but so long as the crystal structure remains mostly intact, the spren cannot escape. Managing this leakage is important, as many fabrials also lose Stormlight through operation. All of this is tied up in the intricacies of the art. As is understanding one last vital kind of spren: logicspren.

A: Sure, just drop that on me casually, and then saunter off whistling. Fiiiiiine. What about logicspren??

 

We’ll be leaving the speculation to you in the comments, so have fun and remember to be respectful of the opinions of others! You all have been great about marking spoilers for other series; thank you! And keep up the good work.

Alice is, with some reluctance, settling into a PNW autumn. It’s raining again. Still, volleyball practice is starting, and that’s not nothing.

Lyndsey is missing her faire family dearly. In these bylines, she’ll be giving some shout-outs to fellow local performers or vendors who could really use the support. This week, check out The Harlot Queens; sultry, singing Queens performing delightfully hilarious displays of debauchery. If you’re an aspiring author, a cosplayer, or just like geeky content, follow her work on Facebook or Instagram.

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