Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Rhythm of War Read-Along Discussion: Chapter Nineteen

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Hello, fellow Sander-fans, and welcome to the final read-along post for Rhythm of War! This is the final chapter of Part One, and hence the final chapter before the book is released in its entirety next week! That’s right… finally you’ll be able to curl up with that coveted hardcover (or ebook) and read it cover to cover! Finally you’ll be able to talk about it to your friends who have been waiting until release day and not reading these preview chapters! Finally you’ll be able to post spoilers online!

Well… okay, you’ll be able to talk about spoilers carefully, and in the correct places, tagged appropriately. Please remember to uphold your vows as Knights Radiant and be courteous of those who may not yet have had a chance to read.

Are you excited? (I sure hope so… I’d be worried if you weren’t!)

Before we dive in, I wanted to extend my thanks to those of you who have been reading along with us. It’s been a wild ride, and Alice and I have been so happy to have you with us. Next week, keep an eye on Tor.com for review articles. Then, on December 3rd, we’ll be beginning the re-read of Dawnshard. You’ve picked up your copy already, haven’t you? If not, go check it out, it’s amazing! The reread of Rhythm of War will begin with the new year, so if you’ve enjoyed these articles and the ramblings of Alice and I, please come back in 2021 and join us for in-depth analysis and theory-crafting of the book as a whole.

One last thing, because it’s so incredibly cool. If you’ve liked checking out the little maps I’ve been putting together for these posts with my paltry photoshop skills, check this out! Some fans have, with Team Dragonsteel’s blessing, put together this interactive map of Roshar. It’s beautiful and super detailed!

Well… with all of that out of the way, I think it’s time to dig in.

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. There are no greater-Cosmere discussions in the post this week, so you’re safe on that count.

Chapter Recap

WHO: Navani
WHERE: Urithiru
WHEN: Day 25-ish? (Probably about 4 days after Kaladin’s family arrived?)

Navani discusses several new fabrials with her scholars in Urithiru, and a meeting of the monarchs occurs in which battle plans are set and an envoy is sent to the Honorspren…

Overall Reactions

A: Part One ends with a chapter full of set-up. Oathbringer was an outlier for the series in the way it’s first part ended with such a resounding climax. This is the more normal pattern, and it seems like it should feel calm and relaxed. Instead, I get a feeling of growing tension. We saw one battle with the Fused, and while we know there are ongoing battle fronts between human armies (with Radiants) and singer armies (with Fused), we don’t see them. At the same time, we have inside information that the Fused are planning something big. Reading this quiet chapter, with its fabrials and meetings and plans… it just feels like there’s something really big hanging over my head, you know?

L: Brandon has stated in his annotations over on Reddit that he wanted the beginning of this book to feel like a climax in and of itself, which is pretty fascinating from a storytelling perspective. You know what they say… you have to know the rules in order to break them effectively? Well, Brandon certainly knows the rules of his craft, because part one, as a whole, worked exceptionally well in my opinion.

A: I agree. This final chapter covers fabrial mysteries, in a way that makes me expect to see further advances. It covers Navani’s innovations in using mechanical energy to power fabrials, trying to find alternate energy sources for the mechanisms of the Tower. It covers the unexpectedly unanimous decision to use the Emuli battlefront for their big push against the Fused & singer army. It covers the planning and authorization of the promised envoy to the honorspren.

And all of those things have personal, emotional impact to Our Beloved Heroes. Navani’s work with the engineers is a fairly obvious connection; she desperately wants to get the city functioning as it should, and if she can’t do it through the gemstone column, she’ll look for alternatives. Dalinar gives up his longing to push for Kholinar, and makes himself propose the Emuli mission—and Jasnah insists on going to the war with him. The support from Taravangian is not only unexpected, it’s extremely worrying. The mission to Lasting Integrity has Adolin oddly excited and Shallan … well, committed but oddly non-committal. (At least from Navani’s POV; we have other insight, of course.)

L: There are a lot of questions raised that are pulling us forward into part two (and beyond).

  • What’s going to happen to Kaladin? What will he do with his life, now that he’s no longer a soldier?
  • What’s with this attack the Singers are mounting on Urithiru?
  • Will Shallan and Adolin’s expedition to the Honorspren be successful?
  • Is Shallan really stable, with the balance of her Three personalities? Or is she heading down a path to madness?
  • Is this new direction for the war that Dalinar is taking going to be the right choice, or a horrible mistake?
  • Will Urithiru finally awaken in this book, or is the city truly dead?
  • Who is the mysterious person writing to Navani and warning her not to continue with her fabrial experiments?
  • What is Taravangian planning?

We’ll find out in a week!

Humans

“Understood,” Rushu said. “Dali would be perfect for that. Oh, and Sebasinar, and . . .” She slowed, pulling out her notebook, oblivious to how she was standing in the middle of the corridor, forcing people to step around her.

A: Heh. I love Rushu. She’s so totally oblivious sometimes.

L: She is unbelievably adorable.

“This is genius, Brightness. Truly.”

She smiled. They liked to say that, and she appreciated the sentiment. The truth was, she merely knew how to harness the genius of others—as she was hoping to harness the storm.

A: Yes, I know it seems like I keep harping on this theme, but once again we have Navani downplaying her abilities. She has the absolutely brilliant idea of windmills that will harness the kinetic energy of the storms in a whole new way, giving them mechanical energy to supplement Stormlight, and even using the two together in innovative fabrial technology. It is genius—but she shrugs it off as of lesser value that what her “real scholars” are doing. I suppose there may be an element of “but it’s just logic, not genius” to it—the idea makes so much plain sense to her that she simply doesn’t recognize how brilliant it is. Even that, though, is part of the internalized acceptance of Gavilar’s accusation—that she can’t actually do anything worthwhile on her own, and the best she can do is collect brilliant people.

L: I guess I can see why she thinks this way—she’s just providing the concepts and not doing the actual work of making them, with all of the trial and error involved. I don’t agree with her, but I can sort of see why she thinks the way she does.

A: Sort of, yes. I had a professor in college who always joked that the pure-science people always came up with these cool breakthroughs in the lab, and then left it to us engineers to figure out how to actually make them practicable. While Navani doesn’t usually do the physical labor, she does come up with the idea and a lot of the practical implementation. At the same time, she has surrounded herself with brilliant people, so that makes it especially easy to feel like an appendage to them.

Gone was the feigned innocence, the pretended stupidity, that Taravangian had maintained for so long. A lesser man might have persisted stubbornly in his lies. To his credit, once the Assassin in White had revealed the truth, Taravangian had dropped the act and immediately slipped into a new role: that of a political genius.

A: This is just so creepy. While we know more than Navani, and we know her worry is well-founded, I love watching her discomfort in his presence. He’s given them plenty of reason to distrust him, and Navani’s mother-hen tendencies are exacerbated by knowing he sent Szeth to kill Dalinar. I mean, it’s a surefire thing with her; no matter what other good you might be doing, if you threaten one of her personal people, she will never trust you. In this case, her paranoia is more deserved than she knows.

L: I also have to wonder how much of his “pretended stupidity” was actually pretending. We do know that he has good days and bad days… are his good days outnumbering his bad ones, lately? Has he been more stable? If so, why?

A: Well, hmm. We know that he really did have some incredibly stupid days, but sometimes he wasn’t even allowed out on those days. I don’t know. Did he sometimes exaggerate the stupid? Maybe? Navani seems to think he’s playing “political genius” all the time, so … that could either be because he never leaves his room when he’s stupid, or because he really has evened out. Interesting question. I’m glad she doesn’t trust him.

Everything I’ve done was in the name of protecting humankind. Every step I’ve taken, every ploy I’ve devised, every pain I’ve suffered. It was all done to protect our future.

“I could point out that your own husbands—both of them—committed crimes that far outweigh mine. I ordered the murder of a handful of tyrants, but I burned no cities. Yes, the lighteyes of Jah Keved turned on one another once their king was dead, but I did not force them. Those deaths are not my burden.

“All of this is immaterial, however. Because I would have burned villages to prevent what was coming. I would have sent the Vedens into chaos. No matter the cost, I would have paid it. Know this. If humankind survives the new storm, it will be because of the actions I took. I stand by them.”

A: ::shudders:: I guess… you sort of have to admire the courage of his convictions, but … yikes.

L: It’s kind of terrifying to consider the morality of this. What would you do to save the world? To save millions of lives? Would you be willing to sacrifice thousands? Is that the ethically correct choice? It’s a question that has been asked in many fictional stories (Watchmen and Torchwood: Children of Earth are the first two to jump to mind), but I don’t know if there’s a true answer.

A: It’s the kind of thing we want a clean answer for, and we rarely find it. On the other hand, I think humans in general are too prone to false dichotomies. “If you don’t agree with MY solution, it’s because you hate the people I want to help.” Well, no. We might both be trying to help the same people, we just have different ideas about the solution. In Taravangian’s place, he claims to be the savior of humankind… but we know that he’s sacrificing everyone else on the planet to save his own family & city. And he thinks it’s a valid choice.

Dunno. I like Dalinar’s solution better: we fight until there’s no one left, if that’s what it takes—but there’s at least a chance that we’ll win before that.

“Her Majesty,” Fen said, “is storming baffled. When’s the last time the lot of us all agreed on something?”

“We all vote favor for lunching break,” Yanagawn said, smiling and deviating from his script. “Usually.”

A: I have to throw this in, because I’m loving this glimpse of the coalition monarchs, and how far they’ve come as a team. Gawx is growing into Yanagawn—not only in actually carrying his role, but also daring to speak as a person instead of a puppet emperor. And Fen? I’ve always loved Fen, but her frankness in situations like this will always delight me.

“Stormblessed, I suppose we can count on Windrunner patrols to help warn us of . . .”

Fen trailed off…

L: This breaks my heart, that Kaladin isn’t there anymore.

A: Right? Conspicuous by his absence. That hurt. The insistence of Sigzil’s spren that the honorspren don’t like/trust Kaladin effectively rules out any chance of his participation in the mission, too.

It’s because he’s a man, she thought. And a soldier, not an ardent. He didn’t act like the other Windrunners, so she’d dismissed him. Not a good look, Navani, she thought at herself. For one who claims to be a patron of the thoughtful.

L: This is one of the things that I love most about Navani… she’s flawed, as are we all, but she recognizes those flaws and tries her hardest to overcome them.

A: You beat me to this by a skinny minute. Navani definitely has her prejudices and expectations, but when someone steps out of their expected role, she does a double-take and re-evaluates her own notions. It’s quite refreshing, and more so because she has such strong opinions.

“If Taravangian killed a child, he’d do it not for vengeance. Not for fury. Not for wealth or renown. But because he sincerely thought the child’s death was necessary.”

L: Here we are back at the moral quandary, again.

A: Ugh. Killing a child is just wrong, no matter what your rationalization. There’s always another option.

L: Well, I mean, the classic moral question here is “if you could go back in time and kill Hitler as a child, would you?” Life is rarely so easy, and ethics are sometimes even less so.

A: The thing is, if you could go back in time to Hitler-as-a-child, it wouldn’t be necessary to kill him. All you’d have to do is deflect his worldview a little, and he’d follow a different path. There’s always an alternative.

Bruised & Broken

Dalinar was always on the lookout for a way to keep his wounded officers involved in the important work of the war effort.

L: I’m so happy to see this. I’m not surprised—Dalinar always has been a wonderful person, trying to help those under his command. But I’m happy to see it regardless, especially considering Kaladin’s PTSD struggles.

A: There’s a purely practical aspect to it, too: don’t waste the experience and earned wisdom of your people, even if they can’t carry a sword anymore. It’s rewarding to see a leader who can mesh the two, and it reminds me to be more understanding of Dalinar’s efforts to find the right place for Kaladin to fit. Battle shock isn’t the same thing as losing an arm; the same solution isn’t going to work for those two injuries. Kudos to Dalinar for trying—both to keep Kaladin’s experience available, and to give him a role suitable to him.

Weighty Words / The Knights Radiant

“My advice is to send a small but important contingent of other Radiants. Specifically, Radiants who have bonded spren whose relatives approve of what we’re doing. They can make arguments on our behalf.”

A: Since you just read it, we probably don’t need to quote extended bits here. Suffice it to say, they settle on the main players in the envoy. All the Windrunners are ruled out because the honorspren are mad at them. Jasnah rules herself out because the other inkspren don’t approve of her bond with Ivory (though it’s fascinating that her reason implies that she, queen of Alethkar, would have considered going if it would have benefited their chances). Renarin is ruled out because of his Sja-anat-touched spren. Lift is ruled out (LOL) ostensibly because she’s one of the best healers, and also because “we should send someone with practice as a diplomat.” (I mean to say… can you imagine? Lyn, we need to remember to talk about this when the appropriate chapters come up… Lift in Lasting Integrity is a hilarious visual.)

L: Lift would hate it there. There’s not much to eat. ::laughs::

A: Too true! She’d hate the whole trip.

In the end, we have Godeke the Edgedancer (yay!!!), Shallan and Adolin (the highprince and his Radiant wife, as she puts it), one of the Truthwatchers (anyone that’s not Renarin), and one of the Stonewards (none of whom we’ve met yet). As Dalinar puts it,

“… four different Radiants and their spren, plus my own son.”

A: Sigzil’s spren thinks that’s a good start, and if they send gifts and apologies, plus maybe get the Stormfather to speak on their behalf, it might convince them. Well… some chance is better than none?

L: I’m interested to see what kinds of gifts Honorspren would value.

What We Missed (In the Timeskip)

Interactions with it during the expedition into Aimia earlier in the year had led Navani to order experiments,

L: Remember how we mentioned in the opening of this article to read Dawnshard? Yeah. Go read Dawnshard.

A: Yep. Go read it.

Fabrial Technology & Spheres

The world becomes an increasingly dangerous place, and so I come to the crux of my argument. We cannot afford to keep secrets from one another any longer. The Thaylen artifabrians have private techniques relating to how they remove Stormlight from gems and create fabrials around extremely large stones.

I beg the coalition and the good people of Thaylenah to acknowledge our collective need. I have taken the first step by opening my research to all scholars.

I pray you will see the wisdom in doing the same.

A: There’s not much about actual technology here, other than pointing out that the Thaylen artifabrians have secrets Navani wants. It’s worth noting, though, that while she is asking them to give up their secrets, she’s openly giving them some significant information herself. The question is… will they agree? Seems like the kind of thing that could be really important.

L: As usual, I can’t help but see real life parallels (honestly I blame this on my schooling, we English Majors are trained to suss out things like this). Right now, we see our scientists of different nationalities and companies working together to try to find a vaccine for COVID-19, which is basically what Navani is asking for here. “There’s a situation that threatens our very survival… let’s put everything else aside and work together for a change!”

“Weeks of study, and I can’t find any other matches.”

A: I’m almost as bummed about this as Navani is. They very quickly spotted the exact match of the suppression fabrial to the set of four garnets in the crystal pillar; it seemed so reasonable that there might be other fabrial-to-pillar matches that might give them hints to what it should do. Being Navani, if she knew what something should do, she’d reverse engineer it to fix that piece if at all possible. But there’s nothing else to work with. I has a sad.

On the bright side, though, we’re getting some cool info on their progress into understanding the ancient fabrials and how those differ from modern ones. The modern ones rely on trapping a spren in a gemstone and constructing the fabrial to trigger the desired behavior in the spren. The ancient ones seem to have sentient spren, visible in Shadesmar, but oddly not observable in the Physical realm. This revives hope in my old theory that the ancient fabrials may be akin to Shardblades—that the fabrial is the spren’s physical manifestation, like a Blade is a spren’s physical form. We’ll see whether that plays out… But in this case, there’s another difference:

“The spren that runs the suppression device . . . has been corrupted, very similar to . . .”

“To Renarin’s spren,” Navani said.

“Indeed. The spren refused to talk to us, but didn’t seem as insensate as the ones in Soulcasters. … When we pressed it, the spren closed its eyes pointedly. It seems to be working with the enemy deliberately…”

A: So… yikes? An ancient-style fabrial made from one of Sja-anat’s “enhanced” spren, deliberately working for Team Odium? This is not an encouraging thought.

L: Yeeaaah not a good sign.

“See if you can find a way to activate this specific group of garnets. In the past, the tower was protected from the Fused. Old writings agree on this fact. This part of the pillar must be why.”

… “Also try resetting the suppression fabrial we stole. It smothered Kaladin’s abilities, but let the Fused use their powers. There might be a way to reverse the device’s effects.”

L: I find it interesting that she doesn’t consider the possibility that the fabrial included in the pillar would dampen the Radiant abilities, seeing as how it is the same as the device that de-powered Kaladin. Maybe she believes that it’s only because the spren connected to the fabrial device was corrupted, and a “pure” spren would have the reverse effect. In this case, the configuration of the gems in the fabrial wouldn’t make a difference, it would be the energy powering it that would affect what it does.

A: That’s an interesting question. On a guess, she assumes that as part of the Urithiru-fabrial, the garnet grouping simply wouldn’t dampen Radiant abilities—but it may not be a conscious assumption. She’s made the connection between the two devices, based on the physical similarity and the way the suppression fabrial mirrors the historical evidence. It’s reasonable to assume this grouping is a suppressor, based on that similarity. I can see why she’d want Rushu to work on activating that specific group with Stormlight.

If she believes it’s just a matter of the power source, I can see why she’d want to “reverse the polarity” on the fabrial if they can. But… since they now see that the spren in the fabrial is a corrupted one, wouldn’t it also be reasonable to assume that the corrupted spren would make it non-reversible? I think maybe I’m going in circles on this, because I’m not quite sure how Navani arrived at her reasoning.

The other thing that disturbs me is that she doesn’t seem to wonder how the Fused were able to create a fabrial that looks just like what she thinks is likely to be a significant piece of Urithiru’s defenses.

 

We have to end with Navani’s thoughts at the end of the big meeting:

It was set. An expedition into Shadesmar and a large military push into Emul—both plans unanimously agreed upon.

Navani wasn’t certain what to think about how easily it had happened. It was nice to make headway; yet in her experience, a fair breeze one day was the herald of a tempest to come.

A: That’s exactly the way I feel about this whole chapter. The questions hang over our heads. What will that tempest bring?

We’ll be leaving any further speculation to you in the comments, so have fun and remember to be respectful of the opinions of others! Also, since Dawnshard just came out for sale today, please be mindful that not everyone has had a chance to read it yet. If you want to address it in the comments, I’d ask that you preface your comment with a DAWNSHARD SPOILER warning, so people can skip it more easily, and come back to find it later. I’m also suggesting that you don’t necessarily need to white-text or black-light those comments, but… we’ll see how it plays out. Fair warning, everyone: watch for spoiler tags and be prepared to avert your eyes if you haven’t read Dawnshard yet!

Alice is excited to finally be able to share the Dawnshard experience with the fan community, and is looking forward to next week’s release so we can get into the rest of Rhythm of War. She is, however, a little intimidated by the amount of writing she has to do between now and then.

Lyndsey is working hard on proofing the audiobook for her own fantasy novel, which is far more time-consuming and grueling of a process than she expected. She’s hoping to have the audiobook version proofed and available on Audible sometime in December. If you’re an aspiring author, a cosplayer, or just like geeky content, follow her work on Facebook or Instagram.

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