Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Rhythm of War Reread: Chapter Twenty-Nine

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Greetings and a good morning to you, my Cosmere chickens! (Or a good afternoon, or a good evening… whenever you happen to be reading this!) With springtime blessedly on the horizon (not to mention the prospect of social events maybe being able to happen again soon!!!), things are looking a lot brighter here in the real world… but in Roshar, we’re in a bit of a lull, with stormheads brewing on the horizon line. In today’s chapter, Adolin and Shallan deal with some necessary logistics in regards to acquiring supplies for the continuation of their trip. We get a lot of cool information about Shadesmar and the spren who inhabit it, and one particularly important bit of information about a certain deadeye spren Adolin encounters, but for the most part we’re treading water until the craziness begins in earnest. So, without further ado, let’s jump in, shall we?

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 (including 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 discussion we also discuss some things from Mistborn in the epigraph section, and a minor point from Elantris in Cosmere Connections; if you haven’t read those, you may wish to give those sections a pass.

Heralds: Shalash (Ash), Herald of Beauty. Lightweavers. Creative/Honest. Role: Artist.

A:  It would seem fairly obvious that Shalash is here for Shallan, for lots of Lightweaving, for Shallan’s multi-persona conversations, and probably for the deadeye Cryptic.

Icon: Shardbearer, indicating an Adolin POV chapter.

Epigraph:

I have begun searching for a pathway out of this conundrum by seeking the ideal person to act on my behalf. Someone who embodies both Preservation and Ruin. A … sword, you might say, who can both protect and kill.

L: Well, that’s full of possibilities and speculation, isn’t it? Who could dear Sazed be considering for this? While I wish Kelsier were an option, somehow I doubt that Sazed would trust him in this role. Wax is a possibility, though… if he’s still alive at this point in the Cosmere chronology.

A: Oh, Wax is definitely a possibility. I’d even go so far as to say a probability. This letter was most likely written shortly before the events of Mistborn Era 2, since Sanderson’s latest timeline comments indicate that all of Era 2 will probably fall between the two Stormlight arcs. It seems highly plausible to me that his choice will soon fall on Wax; at least, there’s a fair amount of visible, acknowledged grooming going on from time to time in Era 2.

It’s interesting that Harmony seems to believe that an un-ascended human could represent both sides of his power better than he can, because they would be free from the level of uncertainty he himself suffers. What’s really fascinating, though, is that last phrase: “who can both protect and kill.” That’s been Kaladin’s dichotomy the entire series. Is this a Cosmere theme, or a hint that Kaladin may end up somewhere besides Roshar? (That probably belongs in tin-foil theorycrafting, come to think of it. I don’t actually believe it’s at all likely. But “both protect and kill” in Stormlight just screams Kaladin.)

Chapter Recap

WHO: Adolin, Shallan
WHERE: Shadesmar (see map below)
WHEN: 1175.4.3.4 (incidentally the same day as the departure of Dalinar, Jasnah, Taravangian, et al for the Emuli front)

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

Adolin and Shallan’s group reaches shore. Shallan goes on ahead to check and make sure there are no Fused, then returns and volunteers to keep an eye on the ship while Adolin and the others go in to trade for supplies. While alone, she contacts Mraize. On shore, Adolin encounters a mysterious Cryptic deadeye who apparently was “killed” sometime in the last ten years…

Overall Reactions

He placed his sapphire on the top of his closed sword trunk for light, then fell into a slow, careful kata meant to teach thrusting practice. Nothing flashy, no stupid twirls or spins of the blade.

L: Dear Brandon, thank you for calling out how stupid twirls and spins are in swordplay. Sincerely, the SCA, LARP, and stage combat practitioners in your fanbase.

A: As a non-practitioner of the art, I just noticed how cool it is that there are practice routines for different scenarios. The “fighting in a hallway” routine is also applicable to the tight quarters on the barge, so Adolin has a very good reason to know a kata that he can use here and now, and I love it.

It was just him, the sword, and Maya. The relaxing repetition made his tension melt away. Katas were about more than training; they were a way to focus.

L: This has been my (admittedly limited) experience with martial arts kata as well. It’s almost… meditation.

“She remembers the times we’ve sparred together as man and Blade.”

A: I love the idea that she knows the kata from being the sword in the Physical Realm, and that’s how she can step into it so easily. And the way she steps in and matches him step for step is gorgeous. On the first read, this had me literally begging for her to pick up a sword and help Adolin sometime before the book was over…

In the Physical Realm a masterwork sword was an expensive purchase—and it often surprised people how valuable even an everyday side sword could be.

L: It’s true. My stage combat blades generally run me about $150-$300, and that’s for the cheaper varieties! (The better ones, like BKS swords, are more in the $1000 range.)

Music, Mechanisms, and Manifestations of Light

Jasnah had mentioned something else about these near-flawless gemstones that troubled her. She found it odd that the gemstones in circulation as spheres were always so flawed that they lost Light quickly. She said that they should vary, and more perfect ones should be found on occasion—but that wasn’t the case.

L: …huh. Well, that is interesting. So is there something about the way that gems and crystals are formed that is… inherently inefficient at holding Stormlight? You’d think that the way that they are cut might have some effect… Are the “perfect” gemstones manmade, you think? Like how there are man-made emeralds and diamonds and stuff in the real world?

A: Can you Soulcast something into a gemstone? Could you take some stone that is flawless but not one of the polestones, and Soulcast it into a perfect emerald or ruby? Or (if you were good enough) could you take a solid piece of a pure metal and Soulcast it into a gemstone? As far as I’m aware, the technology on Roshar wouldn’t allow for our methods of creating man-made gemstones, but that’s partly because their technology has developed along the lines of fabrials… and Soulcasting.

L: That’s a really good question, about the Soulcasting…

What if someone had been in the know, while everyone else thought gemstones were all basically the same? If you knew the supreme value of gemstones that could hold Stormlight over long trips through Shadesmar, you could spend years gathering them.

L: Wait. Waaaaait. So… where are all the perfect ones, then? Not in the gemstone “bank” we saw in Oathbringer, right? Wasn’t there only the one perfect gemstone in there, the one that the Fused tried to steal, and that they used to entrap the Unmade?

A: That’s the only one that was talked about, at least, and it was implied that it was unique. But we also know that the Celebrant moneychangers have “perfect gemstones that can hold the light indefinitely.” So… someone has been squirreling them away, for sure. Since the spren themselves can’t really do it, you have to assume that someone has been supplying them—or they’ve had them for a very long time.

L: Strangely, though, we get this quote a bit later in the chapter:

He’d heard they kept near-perfect gemstones in spren banks, storing vast amounts of Stormlight for future use.

L: So are the spren the ones who have been hoarding these, then?

A: Maybe? They certainly seem to be one party involved, anyway. (I wonder why he says “near-perfect gemstones” here, when in their earlier trip, Captain Ico told him they were “perfect gemstones.”) In any case, yes, the spren definitely have a large quantity of high-quality gemstones in Shadesmar. If they’re the only ones, there’s a glaring question of where they’re getting them. Back in Oathbringer, we learned that the pre-Recreance Elsecallers were “the duly appointed keepers of the perfect gems.” Did one (or several) of those Recreance-era Elsecallers take a bunch of those perfect gems to Celebrant for safekeeping prior to the big day? It would have been easy enough for them, back then.

In the thousand-plus years since, though, someone seems to have been actively filtering out any stones that held stormlight longer than they should. Again, if the spren are the sole holders of these stones, someone has to be filtering them out and taking them into Shadesmar. On the other hand, there might be—and probably are—others as well. Given the Ghostbloods’ interest in transporting stormlight, if they know about the function of high-quality gemstones—and it’s almost certain they would—I’d bet they’re doing whatever they can to collect the best ones they can find. So there may be multiple groups doing the same thing.

L: I wonder if they’re bringing them off-world.

A: Big burning question right there… On a guess, no, or Mraize wouldn’t be so fixated on it as a possibility. But someone else might have figured it out…

Oh, it’s also worth noting that the Stone of Ten Dawns was mentioned twice in Oathbringer, with Vstim relating the legend that the King’s Drop was a chunk off the Stone of Ten Dawns. If the legend is correct, there should be some other chunks, right?

L: I find it fascinating that a chunk off a stone is still perfect. Does that indicate that it’s something about the actual matter of the gem itself that makes it perfect, and not the way it’s cut (which was what I had always assumed)?

A: I was sorta wondering that… I think if the big gem itself is flawless, and the pieces are carefully cut, you could get multiple flawless smaller bits. Flaws, as I understand it, are miniscule bits of other materials intruding into the lattice. But I’m not a gemologist by any stretch of the imagination.

L: I think that’s one of the things that’s classified as flaws. But like you, not a jeweler, so…

A: Readers?

Spren and Shadesmar

So the gifts they’d brought were things Syl said would be appreciated: newly written books, puzzles made of iron that could engage the mind for hours, and some weapons.

L: Okay, this is pretty fascinating. Newly written books and puzzles are very intellectual things, but weapons seem to be the combo-breaker. You would think that highspren would be somewhat one-note in their interests, given that spren in general are manifestations of ideas/things. So it would make sense to say “Oh, sure, honorspren are all into intellectual things.” Now… a case could be made that sparring and swordplay does have an intellectual side (having to outthink your opponents, strategy, etc), but it still seems kind of odd.

A: I can’t help thinking they may have a certain inherent propensity for sword-play, given that they’re the spren of the most military-oriented Radiants. They would likely not admit it, but it seems reasonable.

Her eyes had been scratched out by the events of the Recreance, but she could still see. She’d been blinded without going blind, killed without dying.

L: This is very poetic.

A: There are a number of phrases in this chapter that warmed me with their sheer beauty. Brandon always says he’s not good at elegant prose, so he strives for transparent prose that just lets the story shine. In general, I agree, but there are times… “A ship was a cage without bars” is so incredibly evocative of life on the barge for weeks. “A song without music” is such a beautiful way to describe the flow of the kata. The part where he moves through the sequence and “…she followed—holding nothing but empty air, but moving in lockstep with him as he thrust, then reset, then turned” just melts my heart with the mental image it suggests.

A long flying spren with mustaches and a graceful body landed on the top of a building, then leaped off, ejecting an explosion of tiny crystalline shards that floated down and vanished. Was that a passionspren? He’d have to tell Shallan.

A: LOL! I don’t know; seems to me that the knowledge that these things were coming to watch you might have an… inhibiting effect on the passion. (Sort of like having Syl sitting on the headboard shouting encouragement?)

L: I expect it’d be kinda like doing it with pets in the room. ::laughs::

A: Could be, could be… (My allergies don’t allow for pets anywhere near my bed.)

This deadeye was a Cryptic who stood beside a storefront. Cryptics didn’t have eyes, but there was no mistaking that the creature had suffered Maya’s fate: the pattern had halted completely, the normally graceful lines twisted and turned in jagged directions, like broken fingers. The same odd scraping marred its center.

Maya released a kind of low whine from deep in her throat.

L: Oooooooh who do we have here!

A: Who indeed!! I went back and looked at the beta read responses, and while it was noted that “ten years ago” would be in the vicinity of the time when Shallan first formed her bond, not one of us even suggested what turns out to be the truth. Our speculations were along the lines of someone succumbing to pressure from Nale and breaking their Ideals, or an unknown Lightweaver who had bonded earlier but broke the bond when they heard about the Eila Stele, or even a listener with a secret bond who broke their bond and threw their Blade into the Sea of Spears after the broken treaty at Kholinar. (Someone asked if it was Tien’s spren, but he didn’t break his bond, so that couldn’t be.)

Oh, and someone had to point out that, being thrown in a lake, this one is obviously Excalibur…

She took his arm as he tried to walk off, which shocked him. It seemed to surprise her too, as she looked down at her hands holding his arm, then cocked her head. She held on and turned toward the deadeye Cryptic, pulling him.

A: And now we know why so much attention has been drawn to her utter passivity in Shadesmar. It’s been relatively subtle, but also pretty frequent. The only time she’s not completely passive is while doing katas with him, and she’s never taken the initiative to get Adolin to do something, or stop doing something. Which makes this as much of a shock to the attentive reader as to Adolin.

Relationships and Romances

It had been good to spend time with Shallan—and he had enjoyed even the appearances of Veil and Radiant. The latter made an excellent sparring partner, and the former knew a seemingly infinite number of card games.

L: I absolutely love this. He doesn’t resent her other personalities; far from it! He’s building friendships with them and appreciating their strengths. In this particular case, said personalities are other aspects of Shallan herself, so he’s loving all the parts of her, regardless of how they’re being presented to him at the time.

A: I, of course, got caught up on a minor triviality: Where did Veil learn all those card games, since she doesn’t actually know anything Shallan didn’t have the chance to learn? My conclusion was that most likely, Shallan learned them from the Thaylen sailors on The Wind’s Pleasure during the six months she spent trying to catch up to Jasnah back before they connected in Kharbranth.

L: With her photographic memory, I wouldn’t be surprised if even walking by and seeing them playing it would have stuck in her subconscious.

No, Radiant thought. We should suffer, as our punishment for abusing drink.

It’s not Shallan’s fault, Veil complained. She shouldn’t have to hurt because of what I did.

L: I love their dynamic so, so much.

A: This scene is fascinating, with all three personas arguing with one another about who’s to blame for the hangover. Silly girls.

“You should drink less,” Adolin said.

She poked him on the shoulder. “You should stop sounding like your father.”

“Low blow, Veil,” he said with a wince. “But point taken. Watch our things.”

L: Speaking of dynamics I love…

A: Argh. I adore them, but that really was a low blow. And she should drink less.

L: He takes it with such grace, though.

A: Doesn’t he always?

L: Except with Sadeas. ::evil laughter::

A: Touché.

Come to think of it, have we seen him lose it with anyone else? Sadeas pushed him to the edge multiple times, but I can’t remember anyone else… Oh, the officer abusing the prostitute was pretty bad, but that wasn’t directed at him; he was protecting someone else.

L: Dalinar, recently.

A: Yeah…

He needed to prove he could bring the honorspren to the coalition. After failing at Kholinar, he just … he needed to do this. Not for his father. For the coalition. For the war. For his homeland.

A: He’s right in his conviction that this needs to be done for the coalition, the war, and his homeland, but he’s lying to himself about not needing to do it for his father. It doesn’t need to be done just for Dalinar, but Adolin needs to do it to prove to his father that he can. And, frankly, to prove it to himself. (See also: Oaths Spoken below. Being in Shadesmar is reminding him of the events prior to his previous journey here.)

Shallan says the other two exist to protect her or help her, and I see that. I want to understand. I don’t want to be like the others, who whisper about her being crazy and laugh.”

L: Bless you, Adolin Kholin.

A: ::hearteyes::

I don’t know if I’m doing this right. I don’t know how to be supportive.”

L: I love that he thinks he’s not. Adolin has been nothing but supportive to every single person in his life. Now, I am not saying that this is a flaw, rather the opposite. This is very true to life—we often don’t see our own virtues.

A: I wouldn’t say nothing but supportive, because he does a lot of other stuff too, but we have indeed seen a ton of examples of him being supportive. He just doesn’t realize that’s what he’s doing, because it’s such a natural part of his personality. He does it without thinking about it most of the time.

Bruised and Broken

As usual, she’d had a few more cups than Adolin. Shallan had a strange relationship with drink, one that varied based on her persona. But since she could burn off the effects using Stormlight, she theoretically could never be drunk unless she wanted to be. It baffled him why she would sometimes go to sleep like she did, risking the morning hangover.

L: This makes me worry a little for Shallan. I enjoy a good drink myself from time to time, and have absolutely been known to wake up hungover! But if this becomes a habit for her… Alcoholism is such a danger, as we’ve seen with Dalinar.

A: Heh. I’ve had precisely one hangover. It was miserable teaching a class the next morning at 8:00 a.m., and worse because it was three hours ahead of my normal time zone. I promptly learned how to enjoy my drinking without earning a hangover. So… yes, this is an odd and worrying decision on her part, when it would be so easy to simply burn it off before going to sleep. It’s almost like she wants to punish herself just for being herself.

L: It almost seems like a form of self-harm, which is also worrying.

A: Yes. That’s what was in the back of my mind that I couldn’t quite get hold of. Self-harm is always a sign of something wrong.

Oaths Spoken, Powers Awakened

…if there was a man who deserved his place in Damnation, it was the general who left his men to die.

L: I’m putting this here not because it relates to anything about the Knights Radiant or Investiture, but because the words themselves are powerful. This is a thing that the good leaders struggle with, and rightfully so.

Cosmere Connections

“I need to speak to Mraize. Um, that’s actually his title rather than his name…”

The cube’s corners began to shine from a bright light inside, as if the metal were thinner there. “I know him,” the cube said, making Veil start.

“You can talk!” she said.

L: Is it weird that I feel bad for this little seon trapped in there?

A: It’s absolutely not weird at all. Poor thing. Stuffed in a box and commanded to stay there, hauled halfway across the galaxy from its homeworld and natural Investiture—I feel really bad for it too. I suppose this isn’t really the place for this, but I looked it up anyway: Its aon means “beauty, handsomeness.” If I didn’t already loathe Mraize, the way he treated this poor seon would do it.

Geography, History and Cultures

There was no cohesive sense of architecture to the buildings. Azish influences were most common,

L: This does make sense, as they’re closest to Azir in the physical realm.

Humans

We’ll have to wait a week for it, but there’s apparently going to be something odd about the humans with the caravans here. Should be interesting…

Arresting Artwork

L: Before this week’s chapter, we have another of Ben McSweeney’s lovely “Shallan sketches,” this time of ashspren! They’re soooo cool looking. It’s so cool how their skin can just… poof away into ash, then come back. Appropriately, these spren are associated with the Dustbringers (get it? Ash? Dust?), and according to the notes written in this sketch, are pretty hostile towards humans. I also like how their hair seems to be made of ash, or is at least ash-colored. So cool! Adolin remarks on their appearance in this chapter as such:

They looked like people, but their flesh would crumble off at times, exposing bone. As he passed one, she snapped her fingers, making all the ash of her hand blow away and vanish—then it quickly grew back.

A: They do seem hostile to humans, more than any of the other types of spren we’ve seen so far—though maybe contemptuous would be a better term. And yet, a few of them have bonded humans. Why? Malata, of course, is specifically connected to Taravangian and the Diagram; the others (we don’t know how many) seem disinclined to accept Dalinar’s authority. I keep expecting trouble from them.

Brilliant Buttresses

A couple of weeks on the same barge could make anyone bored of the scenery,

L: ::laughs in stuck-in-the-same-house-for-over-a-year, starts crying::

A: Lines like this always take me back to when we were doing the beta, and the lockdowns had just gotten well and truly going. It was a dark and depressing time.

L: I almost didn’t finish the beta on time, it was so bad for me. In a way, I wonder if this book in particular will always be tainted for me, in that respect.

A: I’m pretty sure that will linger for a long time. The book is fantastic and I love it, but certain scenes will always have an echo of “lockdown…” when I read them. This less than some of the ones in the Tower, thankfully.

Though, he thought, passing a tall willowy spren of a type he didn’t recognize, someone ought to tell that one what a protective cup is used for on our side.…

L: Look, Adolin, maybe he’s just wearing an Elizabethan codpiece! YOU DON’T KNOW. (In all seriousness if you’ve never seen one of these you ought to do a Google image search. It’s amazing and hilarious.

A: Worth noting, Brandon doesn’t tell us where/how the spren is wearing it, so we can use our imaginations. Not in its usual position, obviously (aside from being on the outside of the clothing instead of inside)… so… what do you think? Hat?

L: I vote on the face like Gonzo from the Muppets.

A: I’m trying hard to imagine what else someone could think to use it for, and I’m blanking.

L: Shoulder pauldrons, like the ridiculous fantasy armor in World of Warcraft! Or as shoes! Or on your elbows! The possibilities are ENDLESS!

A: Bahahahahaha! (The WoW armor is SO crazy… I keep having to visit a transmogrifier to keep from driving myself crazy with my own look.)

L: This is one of the reasons why I play FFXIV instead, to be quite honest. (Lyn Stormblessed on Famfrit, for any other Warriors of Light out there. ::wink::)

Unfortunately, this uniform’s pockets were sewn shut. The trousers looked better that way.

L: NO ADOLIN HOW DARE YOU SUBSCRIBE TO THAT BS

A: Heh. Vanity before sanity, my dear. This uniform won’t hang right with functional pockets, so the pockets must be sacrificed. LOL.

 

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 thirty.

Alice is having a lovely time fighting off a case of swimmer’s ear. You needed to know that, didn’t you? Also, the ‘Rona has left her home peacefully and with no particular trauma.

Lyndsey is so relieved to have gotten her first COVID vaccine shot this week, and is a fantasy author in her own right. 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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