Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Rhythm of War Read-Along Discussion: Chapter Sixteen


Well, look at you! You figured out that it’s Tuesday already, and here you are. We’ve got a new chapter of Rhythm of War, which you’ve obviously read, and you’re ready to share your reactions, right? Let’s rejoin Navani, then, and get on with it!

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.

In this week’s discussion there are minor mentions of Nightblood’s past in the Cosmere Connections section, so if you haven’t read Warbreaker and/or Edgedancer, it might not make sense.

Chapter Recap

WHO: Navani
WHERE: Urithiru
WHEN: Day 17 (Sixteen days after testing the Fourth Bridge in battle)

Navani questions Szeth about the newly-recovered sphere Gavilar gave him, then goes to meet Gavinor on the Cloudwalk. After checking in with her science teams, she proceeds to a meeting room, where Adolin and Shallan soon arrive with the Mink, followed by Dalinar.

Overall Reactions

Szeth cradled his strange Shardblade in his lap, the one that leaked black smoke when unsheathed. When challenged about letting the prisoner remain armed, Dalinar had replied, “I believe the safest place to keep the thing is in his possession.”

A: Welp. There’s a lot packed into this short introductory section. Yes, Szeth is in prison. Yes, he still has Nightblood. Yes, this means that he’s imprisoned willingly, since Nightblood is an even better prison-buster than your average Shardblade.

Okay, what it really means is that Dalinar told him to go sit in jail, so there he sits, because his Third Ideal requires him to obey whatever Dalinar says. He seems to be quite willing… as long as he has a LOT of light. This goes back to the previous books, where there were always “voices in the shadows”—in his understanding, the voices of all the people he’d killed.

L: Wait. Are you implying that the voices he was hearing were… light?

A: No, just the opposite… maybe? He hears the voices in the shadows, which is why he wants zero shadow in his cell. No shadows, hopefully no voices. (I’m still more than half convinced that the voices are nothing more than his guilty conscience, but this is the Cosmere, and anything is possible. They might actually be voices from the Spiritual realm. I don’t know.)

In any case, there he sits, with his sword-nimi and light, willing to answer any question asked of him, but unable to anticipate any information the others might need of him.

This includes, most obviously, that weird black-glowing sphere Gavilar gave him back in the prologue to The Way of Kings. The last we knew for sure, from TWoK Interlude 3, Szeth had hidden in it Jah Keved. Fans have been asking about it for years, some even assuming that Sanderson had forgotten about it. Now we know: it’s been there in Jah Keved the entire time, until a month ago when Navani happened to ask just the right question to elicit this bit of information from Szeth:

“I took the sphere and hid it. Until you asked me if I’d found anything on his body, whereupon I recovered it.”

A: I’ll admit to a lot of sympathy with Navani’s frustration. Is he intentionally hiding information, and only providing it when asked a direct question? Or is he so out of touch that it just never occurs to him to mention anything they don’t expressly ask about? With Navani, I incline toward the latter, given the earlier exchange about his Third Ideal. He’ll obey Dalinar’s every word, but it never occurred to him to think about what he’d do if (when) Dalinar died. I can’t help thinking that the years of believing himself Truthless destroyed much of his reasoning ability. He was required to do whatever his owner ordered without question; the strain on any rational mind would be tremendous, and he may have trained his own mind to just stop thinking.

Part of their vision for this tower was a city where the different peoples of Roshar intermixed. With the Oathgates providing direct access to cities around the continent, Urithiru could grow to be cosmopolitan in ways that Kholinar could never have dreamed.

A: This makes me … wistful. I don’t know if they’ll ever get there, because I don’t know what direction Sanderson has planned for The Stormlight Archive, but can you just imagine it? A Roshar where singers and humans of all nationalities are at relative peace with one another, without this millennia-old war going on? A Urithiru where they can freely gather for commerce, entertainment, and mutual benefit? What a vision…

In the meantime, it’s good to see the way in which easier travel via the Oathgates has brought the peoples of the coalition nations together, as displayed by Navani’s stroll on the Cloudwalk.

L: It is a beautiful vision. I’m not sure how feasible it is, but it’s a wonderful idea.


Others found it encouraging to see the two kings together, but Navani did not miss the gap between them. She knew things others did not. For instance, Dalinar no longer met his former friend beside the hearth to chat for hours. And Taravangian no longer attended private meetings of Dalinar’s inner circle.

They hadn’t been able—nor were they yet willing—to excise Taravangian from the coalition of monarchs. His crimes, though terrible, were no more bloody than Dalinar’s own.

A: Of course, they don’t know about the Diagram… and given that, I suppose it makes sense that while they don’t trust him, they haven’t thrown him out. It’s interesting that they assess his crimes as more or less equivalent to Dalinar’s; to me, it seems like assassinating monarchs and destabilizing nations is on a different scale than clashing armies in a civil war. But maybe that’s just me.

L: Well, there’s that whole “genocide” thing. Dalinar killed women and children, which, even in the scope of war, is pretty damn awful. One could argue that assassination of leaders is a lesser crime.

A: Hmm. I suppose it all depends on how you look at it. The civil war in Jah Keved destroyed a lot of lives and livelihoods, and that’s directly Taravangian’s doing. Come to think of it, though… The monarchs know about the assassinations, but do they know about his responsibility for the Vedan civil war? I’m not sure.

Well, I blame him for those lives. Good thing the Azish Emperor doesn’t actually have any power; the bureaucracy just takes over when he dies, so those assassinations may have created fear, but they didn’t really create the kind of chaos Jah Keved saw.

Navani eyed Adolin’s new gold-trimmed boots. They were the third pair she’d seen him wearing this week. … The room had been set up with a few chairs and only one small table, the one Adolin had his boots on. That boy. He never leaned back in his chair or put his feet up when he was wearing ordinary shoes.

A: Bahahahaha! Show-off.

L: And we love him for it! Or at least, I do.

A: Oh, yes, we do. Hey, look at it this way: people are making a good living off supplying Adolin with fancy boots!

Relationships & Romances

She wished Elhokar had lived to see how wonderful it was becoming. Best she could do was see that his son grew up to appreciate it. So, Navani opened her arms as she reached the meeting point. The nursemaid set Gavinor down, and he rushed over, jumping into Navani’s embrace.

A: This isn’t the first we’ve seen of Navani grieving the loss of her son, but I have to comment on how much I appreciate it. We didn’t see much of her reaction during the climax of Oathbringer, and I think there are a couple of valid reasons for it, both in-world and for purposes of story-telling effect. Personally, I’m okay with that.

L: Yes, for the sake of story-telling and keeping the story short(er) some things just have to be off-screen, but it is really nice to be able to see this now!

A: Exactly. And honestly, this is what it’s really like when you lose someone you love. You get on with life, because life will go on with or without you, but odd little things make you think of how they would react to this or that, and it hurts all over again. It’s over a year now—and this is exactly the setting that would make her long for her son’s company again.

No, she would hold Gav, she would hurt, but she would move forward. She pointedly thought on her wonderful moments holding Elhokar as a little boy, not fixating on the idea of that little boy dying to a traitor’s spear.

A: ::sniffle::

L: Oof. Yeah. This one hurts. Side note, but I am also really happy to see Gav! He seems like he is doing well, after the traumatic events he’s endured. I’m glad for that.

A: Yep. It’s clear from the whole passage that he was in bad shape, but the resiliency of childhood—and the love of his family—has helped him recover. I can’t help wondering if he’ll become a Lightweaver someday, though…

Dalinar passed by, rapping the boots with his knuckles. “Decorum,” he said. “Discipline. Dedication.”

“Detail, duel, dessert…” Adolin glanced at his father. “Oh, sorry. I thought we were saying random words that start with the same sound.”

Dalinar glowered at Shallan.

“What?” she said.

“He was never like this before you arrived,” Dalinar said.

A: Oh, really now? Blame it on your daughter-in-law, but conveniently forget all the other things that happened at the same time? Along with losing Kholinar, seeing his cousin killed, taking a bizarre and dangerous trek through Shadesmar, and helping defend Thaylen City, let me see… Adolin refused the kingship, got married, became a highprince, and learned that his father accidentally killed his mother. And now his relationship with his father has shifted a bit. I cannot imagine how that would happen.

L: It’s a funny quip, but I definitely think there is more beneath the surface, here. As you’ve pointed out, there are a lot of unresolved issues between the two of them that are lurking beneath the surface.

A: Right? Despite his loyalty to his father, it looks to me like Adolin (in all his new roles) is declaring his independence. He may still be Dalinar’s son, but he’s also Highprince Kholin, and he gets to make his own judgments. I can’t quite decide if he’s being subtle or petty about it here; loving Adolin as I do, I want it to be the former, but … how do you push back on the Blackthorn? In any case, Navani understands more than Dalinar does:

Shallan wasn’t pushing him to be something he was not; more, he finally felt free enough to explore an identity that wasn’t tied to being the Blackthorn’s son.

Adolin was highprince now. He should have the opportunity to define what that meant for him.

A: I daresay they’ll sort it out in time.

Bruised & Broken

“Do you hate me?” Szeth asked from behind, calm, almost emotionless. Too calm, too emotionless for words spoken to a widow at his hand.

“Yes,” Navani said.

“Good,” Szeth said, the word echoing in the small chamber. “Good. Thank you.”

A: So, so broken. I was thinking of Szeth, mostly; how much he believes he deserves to be hated by everyone. (Honestly, I don’t entirely disagree with him…) But Navani is also showing some cracks; she hates the man who killed her husband, but does his presence also remind her that she prayed for Gavilar’s death the night Szeth killed him?

L: I pity Szeth. He was “just following orders,” and that’s no excuse, but… maybe, in this case, it IS an excuse. In his society, if children are raised believing that such orders canNOT be denied, then… can he really be blamed for not rebelling against everything he has ever been taught in order to do the ethical thing? Did he even realize that rebellion was possible? It’s easy for us to judge, coming from the societal upbringing and knowledge of history that we have, but maybe the answer really isn’t so easy.

A: I totally agree, Lyn. I kind of hate Szeth for obeying such atrocious orders, but he was stuck between what he saw as two impossible choices. Can he be entirely blamed for obeying the deeply-ingrained tenets of his entire culture?

Navani was furious at Aesudan for all that had happened there—but equally furious at herself. How much was Navani to blame for leaving the woman alone to invite in one of the Unmade?

You couldn’t have known, Navani told herself. You can’t be to blame for everything.

A: On the one hand, it’s human nature to blame ourselves for things we could have stopped if only we’d known things we had no way of knowing. People do that all the time, no matter how unreasonable it is. On the other hand, is Navani taking this too far? We can’t answer that fully, of course, because we don’t know what exactly was happening in Kholinar when Navani left, but if her earlier words are to be believed, Aesudan had a functional administration in place. Unless there were visible problems, there shouldn’t have been any reason for the king’s mother to stay in Kholinar when the king’s wife was the one with all the authority.

Meh. I don’t know if there’s any validity to Navani’s guilty feelings over the mess Aesudan made, or Elhokar’s ill-fated mission to rescue her. We just don’t know enough. Personally, I tend to think she’s still struggling with impostor syndrome. We’ve seen her overcompensate for it by taking personal responsibility for things she should have delegated, and here I think it shows again in her tendency to take responsibility for other people’s choices.

And now I’m going to be inconsistent and point out that, even though as queen she should have delegated more, she’s a rare ruler who knows a lot more about the actual functioning of a society than most would. Because of her personal involvement, she understands the needs of her people, the necessary infrastructure, and the kinds of organization that make for better social interaction. She may be a more effective ruler because of this.

“Gram?” Gav asked as they looked out over the mountains. “I want Grampa to teach me the sword.” … “If I have a sword,” Gav said, “nobody will be able to hurt me. I’ll be able to find the man who killed my father. And I could kill him.

A: Oh, child! Poor little thing. Is this foreshadowing? Will Gavinor end up killing Moash in the second arc? He’d be old enough by then…

L: So… maybe he’s not doing so well, after all. I have to say though, that it’s interesting seeing the cycle of vengeance play out. We saw it in the Rift, and again here. Death begets death begets death, and the cycle of vengeance never ends. Unless someone takes a stand, and says “no.”

A: To be fair, the way Moash is going, there’s a good chance someone else will kill him long before Gav has a chance!

Weighty Words / The Knights Radiant

It was just that… Elhokar had been learning so much. During these last years, she’d seen him growing into something great—a better man than Gavilar, worthy of the kingship.

A: This strikes me as profound, coming from the woman who flatly told Dalinar that it was obvious that Elhokar wasn’t very good at kingship, and that his rule was weak. For her now to think on the growth she’d seen in him, to say he was a better man than his father, becoming worthy to be king… well, she didn’t have many illusions left about Gavilar’s character, but it still fascinates me that she has come to think that Elhokar would have become a far better king. (And yes, sometimes I long for the alternate story—the one where Elhokar got to finish the First Ideal and become both a Knight Radiant and an effectual king. I’ll never get it, but sometimes I wish I could.)

Cosmere Connections

She was in favor of comforting the sick of mind—once they were carefully contained, and things like evil talking Shardblades were removed from their possession.

A: ::gigglesnort::

She had more questions, but she had to budget her time with the assassin. Each moment near him made her feel physically ill; even now her stomach was beginning to churn, and she feared losing her breakfast.

A: Question: Is Navani truly feeling ill because of her knowledge of Szeth’s past actions, as she assumes? Or is it the known reaction to Nightblood—that effect where someone who would not want to use it for evil feels sick to the point of vomiting? She attributes it to being in Szeth’s presence, but since Nightblood is always there too… I just can’t help wondering.

L: Could be a little of column A, little of column B…

What We Missed (In the Timeskip)

In her opinion, they should sink the strange Blade in the ocean, like they’d done with the gemstone that contained the Thrill.

A: Um… yikes? At the end of Oathbringer, Dalinar gave the King’s Drop imprisoning Nergaoul to Navani, asking her to study it carefully—and don’t break it!!—to find out why it can hold an Unmade. Apparently she completed her study, whatever it was, and they… threw it in the ocean? For some reason, this seems like a terrible idea that will come back to bite them eventually. I’d like to at least know that it was encased in about a foot of soulcast aluminum first.

L: I can see why they did it, but… yeah. This is incredibly foolhardy. Incredibly powerful evil things dropped in the ocean/large bodies of water never get found again! (Side-eyes the One Ring)


…the royal astronomers, who were erecting a new set of telescopes made with the highest-quality lenses out of Thaylenah. They were certain they’d be able to get some spectacular views from up here once the telescopes were calibrated.

A: I find myself envying these people! Incredibly dark skies, with only the light from the lower levels to interfere, and easy equipment transport using fabrial lifts. On top of that, red lighting to avoid disturbing night vision is super easy to come by; just grab a charged ruby sphere or two.

Also, yes, they likely can see Braize and Ashyn quite easily, especially from this elevation, with high-quality lenses and minimal atmospheric distortion. I’d love to know what they look like from Roshar.

Fabrial Technology & Spheres

My final point of the evening is a discussion of Fused weapons. The Fused use a variety of fabrial devices to fight Radiants. It is obvious from how quickly they’ve fabricated and employed these countermeasures that they have used these in the past.

L: Okay, so… we’ve seen the device that stole Kaladin’s power, have we seen anything else?

A: There are the spears that drain Stormlight, like the one Leshwi almost killed both Sigzil and Kaladin with. At least, I assume that would be called a fabrial. Other than that, I don’t remember any off the top of my head. This lecture took place before they saw the garnet thing the Pursuer used in Hearthstone, so there must have been others in play over the last year. (Side note: Navani is right, of course; we saw a few weeks ago that Raboniel claimed the power-suppression fabrial was her design from previous incarnations.)

L: What other types of weapons do you think they might have?

A: I’m hoping our read-along buddies here have some ideas, because I’m fresh out.

The strange sphere that Szeth had provided seemed exactly the same at first glance. Purple upon black, an impossible color. Like the ordinary Voidlight sphere, its blackness expanded, making the surrounding air dim.

But there was an added effect with this sphere, one she hadn’t noticed right away. It warped the air around it. Looking at the sphere for too long was a distinctively disorienting sensation. It evoked a wrongness that she couldn’t define.

A: With the reappearance of the sphere, we can finally hope to learn more about it! For starters, it seems that the color is the same as a normal Voidlight sphere. (Side note, she still hasn’t figured out how to charge spheres in an Everstorm, so they have to steal them from the singers to get any for experimentation. Also, Voidlight charges last longer than Stormlight. Why?)

So what’s the warping effect all about? Any ideas?

Later (without quoting it all), Navani hands the sphere over to a couple of jewelers, who inform her that it’s a near perfect gemstone that would probably hold Stormlight for months or even years, and Voidlight much longer.

L: How convenient, story-wise. ::laughs::

A: Isn’t it, though? LOL. That’s why it can be left in a cave for six years and still glow.

Now we’re left with a bit of a cliffhanger, as Navani authorizes them to study it and do some experiments—including trying to power fabrials with the light. Hmm. Any guesses on how this will play out? And one last note:

I don’t know what that is, Brightness, [Rlain] had said. But it feels painful. Voidlight is dangerously inviting, like if I touched it, my body would drink it in eagerly. That thing… is different. It has a song I’ve never heard, and it vibrates wrong against my soul.

A: So poetic, and so perilous. “It vibrates wrong against my soul.” As a figure of speech, it’s beautiful—but for Rlain, it’s quite literal, and it sounds eerie.

L: Yeah, this thing gives me all sorts of bad feelings. I get the distinct impression that it’s going to play a huge role in the story down the line.

“Wait. The barometer rises ahead of a storm?” … “That’s… backward, isn’t it?”

A: And yes, that is backward. The barometer should drop before a storm. They interpret this, probably correctly, as the tower-fabrial preparing for the arrival of a highstorm. What else will this place do, if they can ever get it functioning?


Well, that’s it for our commentary today. We’ll be leaving the speculation to you in the comments, so have fun and remember to be respectful of the opinions of others!

Alice is highly amused by the recent developments regarding Dawnshard, the novella that grew up to become a novel in its own right, and is still anticipated to release to Kickstarter backers by the end of October. Everyone else will get it in early November, to ease the stress of those last couple of weeks while waiting for RoW.

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 Roving Corsairs . If you’re an aspiring author, a cosplayer, or just like geeky content, follow her work on Facebook or Instagram.


Back to the top of the page


Subscribe to this thread

Comments must first be approved and published by the moderators before they appear on the site. If your comment does not eventually appear please review our Moderation Policy carefully before posting again.

Post a Comment

All comments must meet the community standards outlined in Tor.com's Moderation Policy or be subject to moderation. Thank you for keeping the discussion, and our community, civil and respectful.

Hate the CAPTCHA? Tor.com members can edit comments, skip the preview, and never have to prove they're not robots. Join now!

Our Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.