Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Rhythm of War Reread: Chapter Twenty-Six

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Welcome back to this week’s installment of the Rhythm of War Reread, my Cosmere chickens! Thankfully this week is a little… lighter in tone than last week, which is saying something considering all of the trauma that Shallan is repressing in her quest to find the traitor. There are a lot of smatterings of humor thrown in here this week, thanks in no small part to Pattern and his little… flock? Of Cryptics. What do you think a group of Cryptics should be called? An equation?

Reminder: We’ll be discussing spoilers for the entirety of the series up until now. If you haven’t read ALL of the published entries of the Stormlight Archive (this includes Edgedancer and Dawnshard as well as the entirety of Rhythm of War), best to wait to join us until you’re done.

In this week’s post we also discuss some things from Elantris and Mistborn in the Front Matter section just below, so if you haven’t read it, best to give that section a pass.

Heralds: Palah (Paliah). Learned/Giving. Truthwatchers. Role: Scholar

Talenelat (Talenel, Taln.) Herald of War. Dependable/Resourceful.

L: My theory on this one is that Palah is representative of Shallan in her scholarly guise, trying to learn as much as she can about who the traitor is, while Taln is representing Radiant. All of the Three are displaying resourcefulness in this chapter, even (shockingly) Veil.

A: There’s also a nice chunk about Shallan trying to draw Uapam (the peakspren who makes Zu a Stoneward), but I’m not sure that would be enough to get Taln on the chapter. In other words, I think you’re probably right, and I’m just stretching for relevance.

Icon: Pattern

Epigraph:

The deaths of both Devotion and Dominion trouble me greatly, as I had not realized this immense power we held was something that could be broken in such a way. On my world, the power always gathered and sought a new Vessel.

Quoth the Coppermind:

When Odium Splintered Devotion and Dominion, he trapped their power in the Cognitive Realm to prevent them from gaining another Vessel. Since, unlike in the Spiritual Realm, location exists in the Cognitive Realm, the power of the two Shards is trapped together as a giant, polarized storm of Investiture known as the Dor, which makes worldhopping to Sel very dangerous.

L: There’s so, so much going on behind the scenes of the Cosmere that people can hardly be blamed for missing things. This kind of information here is a prime example. Even I, who am pretty well versed in Cosmere theory (though I don’t go actively hunting down theories and we all know my memory is pretty bad), hadn’t realized this. It’s looking like this was learned half from Arcanum Unbounded and half from a WoB. I’m consistently amazed at how people can piece together all these little hints to get a glimpse of what’s probably going on behind the scenes, Cosmere-wise.

A: I used to think I was good at it, but by now I just feel overwhelmed. I’ll blame it on the volume of information, but it’s probably just age. In any case, I found it fascinating that Sazed is suddenly learning so much new information about the wider Cosmere; apparently there’s a lot that you don’t get just from picking up the Shard. You get grand cosmic powers, but you’re stuck with only the knowledge you and your Shard had at the time you Ascended; if your Shard was ignoring the rest of the Cosmere due to internal bickering, there’s a lot you won’t know.

I’d say “fortunately he has Hoid to fill him in”—but as much as I like Hoid, I don’t entirely trust him. Still, it’s very useful for Sazed to at least be learning about what’s going on in the big wide Cosmere. It would be fun to see him in a similar conversation with Khriss, though. She seems to have a bit less of an agenda.

Chapter Recap

WHO: Shallan (and Veil and Radiant)
WHERE: Shadesmar, in the Sea of Souls
WHEN: 1175.4.2.2 (the fourth day of the trip)

(Note: For the “when” notations, we are using this wonderful timeline provided by the folks at The 17th Shard.)

On the ship in Shadesmar, the Three (Shallan, Veil, and Radiant) question their followers in an attempt to find out which of them is the traitor. They plant a different bit of false information with each of the three suspects, planning to wait until one of them passes that false info onto Mraize.

Overall Reactions

They loved to watch her draw. Currently, all four of them—Pattern, plus the three bonded to her agents—surrounded her. As a group, they hummed and buzzed and bounced up and down,

L: Ah yes. Nothing more relaxing and conducive to creating art than a noisy audience.

A: That whole scene was pretty funny—but it would be so frustrating!

Spren and Shadesmar

She often included rapid fast sections that waved like the women’s script.

L: Ooooh, cool! Waveforms! I wonder if they’re representative of any actual sounds.

A: Every time we get a description like this, I wonder if Brandon has actually figured out what equation or concept each Cryptic represents. Probably not, but with him, you never know. Still, it’s great to see the differences between them, and see how humans can recognize which Cryptic is which.

“Yes, very brave,” Shallan said. “We humans are known to bite.”

“Ha ha. Yes, bite. And break your oaths and murder your spren. Ha ha.”

L: Pattern, 1. Shallan, 0.

A: Burn cream, please…

Shallan winced. True, those were the actions of other Radiants. Not Radiants from her generation.

L: Knowing what we know about the revelation at the end of the book… Ouch.

A: There are so many hints in this chapter that can only be recognized in hindsight. Honestly, every time Shallan says an absolute, I’m starting to expect that the exact opposite will prove out soon.

Ua’pam pressed the bead against the deck, then held up a diamond chip—shining with Stormlight—in his other hand. He drew in the Light much as a Radiant would, breathing it into his lungs. She’d heard that this would invigorate spren, making them feel alert and awake—they could feed on Light, even if they didn’t need it to survive.

L: Well that’s an interesting tidbit. I wonder what repercussions this has on Investiture theory in regards to spren?

A: I was very surprised by this. I don’t think we saw anything similar in Oathbringer, did we? IIRC, the spren all got a little perkier during a highstorm, even though it’s not possible to recharge gemstones in Shadesmar, but I don’t remember any spren using stormlight like this.

The bead that had been the table’s soul had vanished, replaced by the object. Interestingly, so far as Veil knew, the real table in the physical world would be unaffected by this process.

L: Okay, that is interesting.

A: I seem to remember wondering about this from time to time; it’s fun to get clarification on it. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, given that it’s possible to keep a deadeye spren imprisoned even if it’s holder in the physical realm summons it, but… I’m still surprised that the Cognitive location of an object isn’t necessarily connected to its Physical location.

Relationships and Romances

L: I’d like to talk for a moment about the relationships between the Three, and how they’re evolving.

Radiant came to her rescue. Radiant, who had trained to ignore the chaos of battle, with its distracting sounds and constant yelling. When she took over, she brought with her a stability.

A: It’s really no wonder that Radiant is the one Shallan turns to when she starts freaking out. Radiant was the one trained by Adolin to be a duelist, and in many ways her personality reflects his character. She provides the badly-needed solidity when there’s something “too small” to look to Adolin for help, and when the entire chaos is internal.

No, Veil said.

… No? You said we could look for the spy today, Shallan said.

We are. You. With my help.

L: I really, really love to see this. Radiant arrives and takes over just long enough to allow Shallan a moment of peace to collect herself. And Veil is actively trying to teach Shallan how to conduct her own investigation. While they’re protecting her, and can sometimes make missteps, it’s really beautiful to see them acting more like friends than overbearing parents here.

A: They’re mentors in this scene—friends who are older and more experienced enough that they can protect and teach her, but who also push her toward growth.

“I still wish you’d do this part yourself,” Shallan whispered to her.

Tough. Go back out, and we’ll get started.

L: ::laughs:: Friends, but friends who also aren’t going to let her just skate by without trying. I love it.

A: It’s almost like Veil is planning ahead or something. There are a number of small moments where she insists on Shallan doing things that are normally “Veil’s job,” and (knowing the end of the book) it’s delicious to watch the process. Shallan is determined to keep the status quo—i.e., determined to keep the alternate personas that she uses to hide from her fear and guilt. Veil is starting to show signs of being equally determined to train Shallan in all her skills, preparatory to the day when Veil herself won’t be needed anymore. It’s quite fun to watch.

L: And also sad, in a way. Veil is training Shallan to not need her anymore once she’s “dead.”

Bruised, Broken, and Disabled

But when all four crowded around, Shallan’s serenity started building toward panic instead.

L: This is something that would make even a neurotypical person anxious…

A: Preach! Cryptics clearly have zero concept of personal space. Just reading it gives me a crawling up my spine, and I’m not even prone to anxiety attacks.

There was no reason for her to feel like she needed to run, scramble, scream.

L: One of my best friends suffers from severe anxiety attacks, and this is exactly how he describes them. I’m lucky enough to have only experienced this once, and that was more than enough for me.

A: On a bet, we have a few readers out here who can relate, though…

The profession isn’t an easy one, and the women who find their way to it often have their problems magnified. There are ways to keep it from chewing you up, however. To make it your choice, done in your way.” She grimaced. “Or at least ways to tell yourself that…”

L: With all the talk about destigmatization of sex work going on lately (in my social circles anyway), this rings very true to me. Empowerment of women and making it their choice instead of being forced into things is a very interesting discussion topic, and I’m interested to see it touched on here.

A: Interestingly enough, Beryl is pretty clear that while the lucky ones figure out a way to convince themselves that it’s their own choice, they all know deep down that they’re trapped by something. The trap is unique to each person, but the fact that there is a trap is universal. Obviously, Beryl doesn’t know every prostitute on Roshar; it’s possible that some aren’t trapped. But it’s also true of a lot of other professions: Sometimes you stay in a job you hate because you can’t figure out how to get out of it.

Would it not be better to accept what she really was? Become the person she deserved to be? Formless—who had been hiding deep inside these last few days—stirred. She’d thought him forgotten, but he had been waiting. Watching …

“Help,” Shallan whispered.

A: Formless is… scary, in many ways, but before I get into that, why is Formless “him” in this paragraph? In the past, Formless was “it,” and in the future, “she.” But here, “he.” I have no answer for this.

L: Well, at this point it’s pretty amorphous, so I could see Shallan switching genders for it, trying out different ones before she finds one that “fits.”

A: That makes sense—at least, more than anything else I’ve thought of! The thing about Formless, though, is that this is the persona Shallan thinks she deserves to be: despicable, hated by everyone she cares about, refusing to care about anyone or anything, perfectly willing to be the very worst possible version of Shallan. Formless is the “evil twin” version of Shallan—the one who can murder, betray, do anything with no qualms of conscience, because she’s already done the worst things possible and has claimed them as her own identity.

Shallan doesn’t want to be that person, but more and more she is coming to believe that she deserves to be. The reasons become clear eventually…

Something broke in me, you know? A long time ago. Used to be a good soldier. Used to care. But then you see what you’ve done—legitimately see it—and realize everything you fought for was a sham. What do polished buttons matter when you’ve got a child’s blood on your boots?”

L: Oof. That’s one hell of a mental image. And it’s absolutely the path that Kaladin could have wound up on, if Dalinar hadn’t recognized the signs and taken him off active duty.

A: Oh, absolutely. This gives me such a different view of Vathah. It’s kind of no wonder he doesn’t want to look like a soldier, or in any way be mistaken for one. The soldier he was did things he can’t help but see with loathing, and I can’t blame him for not wanting to in any way be that person any more. I can’t help thinking this may have repercussions down the line, though I can’t imagine what they might be.

We learned it, Veil thought, but we never tried it out. Remember, we … are new to this, despite what we might … might pretend.

It was hard for Veil to acknowledge that she didn’t actually have years of experience. Hard for her to admit that she was an alter—a part of Shallan’s personality, manifesting as a distinct person.

L: This is definitely progress! Veil being able to admit it is a huge step forward.

A: This is one of those “small moments” I mentioned earlier. Veil is beginning to move toward wrapping up her own purpose, though of course we don’t know all that yet, since Veil is only now beginning to take steps.

You’re always willing to give others more charity than you extend yourself.

L: Oof. Well, that one hits hard. I think… this is something that a lot of people do. Myself included.

Oaths Spoken, Powers Awakened

She uses Lightweaving to enhance her appearance, Veil noted. Probably does it by instinct.

L: Not gonna lie, if I had these powers, I would absolutely do this. Instantaneous perfect makeup that never needs to be applied or removed? Oh, storms, yes. Sign me up.

A: Heh. When you put it that way…

L: Think of the cosplay applications… ::dreams::

Could it be that all along, the problem hadn’t been her, but Jasnah’s training method? They’d assumed two orders using the same power would be analogous. The Skybreakers and the Windrunners seemed to fly the same way, after all.

L: So maybe the connections between the two powers alter each slightly? That’s a really interesting theory.

A: It could well be; we’ve theorized that the same Surge might behave differently for the two Orders for a long time. The Skybreaker/Windrunner thing is an interesting telltale: She thinks they fly the same because it looks the same to an outsider, even though their Lashings aren’t quite the same combination of Surges. The same is probably true for Soulcasting; the outsider will simply see one substance turn into another, but the mental process used by the individual can be vastly different.

Then again, I’m betting that within each Order, there will be differences in how each individual does certain things. We’ll see it later with Lightweaving, too; Stargyle uses a very different method than Shallan to achieve roughly the same result when creating Illusions for Dalinar.

I had a lot of control over the men who came to me. I liked becoming the woman they wanted.

L: I have some friends who are active in the BDSM community, and they’ve said similar things. Imagine having the ability to disguise yourself perfectly, not only physically, but (to an extent) mentally too? That’s pretty amazing, and a gift in that line of work.

Humans

“So, I started giving them some of my stipend, ostensibly to help them pull themselves up and out of that life.” She put her hand to her forehead. “Stormfather, I’m an idiot. Even I can hear how naive that sounds, saying it out loud. I should have known they just saw an opportunity in me. Everyone’s a mark.”

L: Speaking as someone who once tried to do this for a heroin addict… Yeah. Ishnah’s not wrong. It’s such a hard line to walk between being kind and trying to help others, and realizing when others are just looking for an opportunity to take advantage of you. You gotta know when to hold ‘em, and when to fold ‘em.

A: True in much smaller ways, too. The roommate who assumes you’ll just pay the bills to keep yourself out of trouble, contributing nothing since she spent all her money on other junk. The “friend” who guilt-trips you into loaning money you can’t afford to loan, and never pays you back. The irresponsible sibling who knows you won’t refuse to help. It’s a hard line to walk, indeed.

You’ve made a misstep, but we all make those as we seek our truths. You do belong in the light. You’re there now. Stay there with me.”

L: I’m really proud of Shallan for this. It’s kind of rare to see her showing wisdom and compassion like this, and every time we see it, I love her a little more for it.

A: She did incredibly well with all three of her team members in this chapter, really. Kind of amazing how much can be accomplished with a little silence.

Brilliant Buttresses

Then, as if one, all four took exactly one step backward. They then proceeded to lean in even closer.

L: This is both funny and not at the same time. Poor Shallan, having to deal with this when she’s having an anxiety attack! But the spren really don’t understand.

A: It’s a very Cryptic behavior, isn’t it? I love the way they’re characterized, even if their behavior is creepy sometimes.

…she got Ua’pam’s arm wrong. Spren were hard, because they didn’t quite have human proportions. The Cryptics started humming with excitement.

“That’s not a lie!” Shallan said, reaching for her eraser. “It’s a mistake, you nitwits.”

L: I adore that she called them nitwits. I don’t know why that strikes me as being so funny, but it does.

A: The response is even better, for me:

“Mmmm…” Ornament said. … “Nitwit! I am a nitwit. Mmmm.”

“A nitwit is a stupid person or spren,” Pattern explained. “But she said it in an endearing way!”

“Stupidly endearing!” Mosaic said. … “Contradiction! Wonderful and blessed contradiction of nonsense and human complication to be alive!”

A: They’re so funny about words, meanings, and implications. They make me laugh every time.

“No it’s not,” Shallan said, offended. “Art and math are basically opposites.”

“Mmm. No. All things are math. Art especially is math. You are math.”

L: Sorry, Pattern, I’m with Shallan on this one. I AM OFFEND!

A: LOL. I’m with Pattern. Is anyone surprised?

Old enough to be seen as a full adult. Young enough to not believe it yet.

L: So anywhere between 18 and 40. Got it. (Honestly this amuses me, as I’m almost 40 with a kid and absolutely still don’t feel like a “full adult” some days.)

A: There must be a break-point in there somewhere… at least, I no longer feel like a non-adult, though there are times I still hate adulting. (And I’m not going to say how old I am, though “old enough to be your mother” isn’t too far off…)

“Really? We were having a moment.”

She smiled, putting her hand on his shoulder. “It’s okay, Vathah. I appreciate your sediment.”

L: I love Vathah’s deadpan comment here, and just roll my eyes at Shallan’s pun.

A: Yep. It was actually a really good way to defuse a certain tension in the moment; it could have gotten very awkward. But I simply cannot refrain from adding the (not at all funny) final response; even though it doesn’t fit in Buttresses, it follows this irresistibly:

“Hey,” Vathah said as she walked away.

She glanced back at him.

“Thanks for smiling.”

A: “Then she smiled. Oh, storms. She smiled anyway.”

 

We’ll be leaving further speculation and discussion to you in the comments, so have fun and remember to be respectful of the opinions of others! Next week, we’ll be back with chapter 27, “Banners,” as Navani says her farewells to husband and daughter, and turns to take up the reins of Urithiru & the civilian population of Alethkar-in-exile on her own.

Alice is really excited for y’all to read Nowhere in a few more months. It is, in her opinion, an excellent new adventure in the Skyward universe.

Lyndsey has been a Sanderson beta reader since Words of Radiance and is also a fantasy author herself. She’s been doing weekly tie-in videos to the reread and silly cosmere cosplay vids on TikTok, or you can follow her on Facebook or Instagram.

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