Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Rhythm of War Reread: Chapter Thirty-Two

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Happy Thursday, my Cosmere Chickens! (Has this caught on yet? Have I made it A Thing? If I keep using it long enough it’s going to become A Thing through sheer tenacity of will, right? What if I make t-shirts, because I will totally make t-shirts if I get Dragonsteel’s blessing, don’t test me…) In this week’s installment of the reread, we join Adolin and company who are continuing along the road to Lasting Integrity. Adolin is continuing to be just an amazing partner and caring individual, Veil and Radiant are trying to help Shallan come to grips with her past, and prospects for the delegation’s success are not looking promising…

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.

Heralds: Chana, (Chanarach), Herald of the Common Man. Dustbringers. Brave/Obedient. Role: Guard.

A: Under normal circumstances, I’d attribute this to Adolin, who is frequently found guarding others. This time, though, I think it’s for Veil and Radiant, whose entire purpose is to guard Shallan from her own memories until she can handle them on her own.

L: I mean…

Icon: Pattern; denoting a Shallan chapter.

Epigraph:

Unfortunately, as proven by my own situation, the combination of Shards is not always a path to greater power.

L: Truth. Poor Saze’s stuck in the middle between two conflicting powers.

A: Indeed. I can’t help wondering why those two Shards thought they could work together for eternity; they’re so opposite.

Chapter Recap

WHO: Adolin, Shallan (well, mostly Veil and Radiant…)
WHERE: On the trail between the crossroads (see map) and Lasting Integrity
WHEN: 1175.4.7.2

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

Another chapter in which a lot of talking happens, but not much of real substance for a recap! Adolin and company are on the road to Lasting Integrity, followed by the strange people from the previous chapter. Veil and Radiant talk with Adolin and try to help him to understand what’s going on with Shallan.

Spren and Shadesmar

The large midnight stallion had taken to [Maya]—he wouldn’t let just anyone ride him—and seemed to recognize that she was injured somehow. Gallant stepped extra carefully, moving gently so Maya wouldn’t be knocked from her seat.

L: I’ve always loved the Ryshadium, so this was really cool to see. And it’s nice that Adolin is taking such good care of Maya, not that it’s surprising. He treats her like an individual rather than a burden, as so many of the spren do with the deadeyes.

A: It really was lovely. (Also, this will become important very soon…)

“The more I think about it, the more I worry we should change how we approach the honorspren. Notum was convinced the honorspren wouldn’t talk to us. Worse than Syl.”

A: Even though it’s not the central theme of the chapter, there’s some significant setup for their arrival at Lasting Integrity. Adolin has some legitimate concern about his upcoming negotiations with the honorspren, despite all their preparations, and ends up in quite a good discussion with Veil and Radiant. He (rightly, as it turns out) doubts that the letters and gifts he’s bringing will do any good. How about bucket loads of Stormlight, delivered by Dalinar, if they’ll send a representative back for talks? How about exchanging emissaries, and the humans bring in tons of real rock to build a palace for the emissary?

L: It’s nice that he’s trying to come up with alternatives. Thinking ahead is one of his best qualities.

A: Unfortunately, Veil and Radiant both agree:

“If we worry they won’t even accept some letters and books, wouldn’t it be dangerous to offer extremely valuable gifts? They might see those as bribes, or as admissions of our guilt.”

A: Rats anyway. Well, how about we grovel and beg and admit that without their help, we’re doomed? Not that either…

“… at seeing you beg, I’d figure that I was correct to stay out of the conflict—because it’s unwinnable.”

A: Poor Adolin. As they agree, the honorspren have had hundreds of years to wallow in their anger and resentment, and have likely thought of and rejected all the arguments the humans can bring. They’re prepared to reject the arguments again, not reconsider them—especially since all the ones who were willing to reconsider have already done so and are bonded to Windrunners. They come back around to “just give them the letters and gifts and hope for the best,” but…

“Either that or we could surprise the honorspren.”

A: Frustratingly, Adolin doesn’t expound on that when Radiant asks. Is this the point where he first gets that idea about demanding to stand trial, do you suppose?

L: Maybe. I found it interesting that he looked back towards Gallant at that… and at Maya, who’s riding him.

Relationships and Romances

He’d learned from his father that a commander was best seen doing things, so he inspected the work, set the forward and rear guard for the day….

A: As much as Adolin is consciously angry at Dalinar over All The Things, he subconsciously acknowledges the valuable training he received from his father so frequently. I daresay it’s partly an artifact of his father also being the greatest general in the country; he learned from the best in many ways. But I do find hope for their future relationship in the frequent hints at the respect Adolin has for his father; once he gets past the need to prove himself to himself (forget the rest of the world!) I believe he’ll find the capacity to let go of his anger and accept Dalinar with all his flaws, just like he does Shallan.

L: People online: “But there’s no evidence in the text that Shallan is bi!”

“I still need to find my focus, Brightness,” Beryl said, keeping pace easily with her long Alethi legs. It was almost criminal how luxurious her dark hair was, despite there being little water for bathing.

L: Yeah, yeah, it is possible for women to appreciate beauty in other women without being attracted to them (trust me, I’m bi and grey-ace, I know this). But this happens a lot with Shallan. And combined with this Word of Brandon… yeah. One small rock in a wall in which the mortar is the WoB. I can forgive people for not seeing it outright, but—like Hoid’s appearances—once it’s pointed out to you, please do those of us who are LGBT and super excited about this a favor and stop denying it.

A: Yeah, no. I’m not going to just let you have this at your version of face value. The WoB is solid proof of Shallan’s bi-ness, and I’ll never argue that it doesn’t exist—but this description definitely is not solid proof. Evidence, depending on how you look at it, but not proof. Here’s why:

Shallan is just three weeks shy of her 19th birthday at this point. What were you like at 19? (I’m aiming this at women, especially.) Entering the wayback machine… At 19, I constantly compared myself unfavorably with pretty much every other woman I met. I was 5’11” and 115 pounds: tall, skinny, and flat. (Also with a big nose, buck teeth, a receding chin, and long, straight, super-thick hair that was really hard to do anything cute with.) At 19, I noticed this kind of thing about other women just like Shallan does—but not because I was sexually attracted to them. No, I merely envied them. I envied the curves, the coordination, the straight teeth, the pert nose, the cute haircut, the whole package. I felt like a giraffe with no sense of fashion, and no money to do anything about my lack of fashion if I knew how. Absolutely I noticed other women’s hair, figure, and carriage—because I wished I could be like that, and felt my own inadequacy.

Ever since we first met her, Shallan has disliked her own body—particularly her small bust, her unruly red hair, and her (comparatively) short stature. At 5’7″, she feels short and stumpy compared to the much taller (likely anywhere from 6’4” to 6’10”) Alethi women. In this scene specifically, her thought about Beryl’s “long Alethi legs” is in context of how easily Beryl maintains the pace—a pace Shallan, with her shorter Veden legs, has to push for. From the beginning, Shallan has spent most of her time feeling like an unkempt child pretending to be a grown woman—and feeling like she’s failing miserably at it. It was one of the things I found super relatable about her very early on, even when she mostly read like a spoiled teenager. I knew that feeling of being the wrong shape and size for the standard definition of beauty, and all through the books I have seen that in Shallan’s self-image.

So, sure, if it fits your view, you can read this as Shallan being physically attracted to Beryl, and you can claim it as your representation. No problem. But if you’re like me, you will primarily be inclined to read it as Shallan, as usual, being envious of the Alethi woman’s height, figure, and hair. As I said, this paragraph may be interpreted as evidence for Shallan being bi if you want to see it that way, but it’s certainly not proof, since there are other equally valid ways to see it. And I’m not giving this one away, because as much as you see your representation, I can equally see mine.

L: I’d just like to point out that I said in my initial comment that this one specific example doesn’t necessarily need to indicate attraction, but that it’s one instance of many which (should) lead us to the canonical conclusion. People who claim that there is no evidence in the text don’t seem to notice these for whatever reason, so I’m pointing out one of the more subtle ones. Can it be read as teenage envy/insecurity? Sure. There’s an argument to be made for interpreting text based on the reader’s viewpoint regardless of what the author intended; this was pretty much the basis of every high level literature course I took in college. All I’m saying is, can we in the fandom please stop insisting that a marginalized and highly underrepresented minority isn’t what the author canonically says they are? That’d be nice. Because it happens constantly in the fandom and I’m sick of that particular microaggression.

“Hey,” he said to Veil. “You have a moment?”

“I suppose,” Veil said. “I’m Veil right now, by the way.”

L: I really adore how she straight up tells him, just in case he didn’t notice.

A: It is nice that Veil and Radiant make sure he knows, though it doesn’t seem like he often needs to be told. They each have their personal idiosyncrasies, and he picks up on them very quickly—at least as long as they aren’t actively trying to deceive him.

“Let me consider,” Radiant said. “I am Radiant again, by the way.”

Adolin nodded.

L: I just adore how nonchalant he is about it. He’s completely accepting that this is a part of her.

A: I can’t help thinking that it’s only because he’s so accustomed to the way she normally is (or they normally are?), that he’s able to tell that things have changed between the Three.

…these last few weeks … I don’t know, she feels different. Off.”

He noticed! Shallan thought in a panic.

He noticed, Veil thought with relief.

L: ADORABLE.

A: I love that he noticed, but I find the difference in reaction heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. It’s wonderful that Veil is relieved, but Shallan’s panic hurts.

L: I agree. It’s Veil’s reaction that I found adorable. She’s protective of Shallan and I love how she seems to view Shallan and Adolin’s relationship so favorably, because Veil knows how good he is for Shallan. And this just proves that she’s right.

“Adolin, look. This is really complicated. It’s wrapped up in Shallan’s past, and the pain she felt as a child. Pain that I was created specifically to help her overcome.”

“I can help. I can understand.”

“I barely understand, Adolin,” Veil said. “And I’m living in her head.”

L: Bless Adolin for trying. But Veil’s got a point.

A: They may be using different criteria for “understanding,” I think. On a guess, Veil is thinking about the mechanics of how and why she was formed, and how exactly that’s supposed to help Shallan overcome the pain. She can hide the memories, but she can’t overcome them on her own. Adolin just wants to know what the trouble is that needs such overcoming—not because he’s being nosy about the details, but because if he can understand what happened, he can find a way to help. (I’m pretty sure that even at this point, Veil knows exactly what happened way back then; she won’t tell Adolin without Shallan’s approval, of course, but she knows.)

L: So the difference between empathy and understanding. If you’re empathic, you can sympathize with someone’s pain without necessarily needing to have felt it yourself. You can take an educated guess. (At least, that’s how I view it, as a highly empathic person.) Whereas someone who truly understands would have had something similar happen to them, so they’re intimately familiar with that exact type of pain.

A: If I’m right, this is somewhat borne out by the next bit:

“If she’s listening,” he said, “make sure she knows that I don’t care what she did. And tell her I know she’s strong enough to deal with this on her own, but she should know she doesn’t have to anymore. Deal with it on her own, that is.”

L: Adolin truly is the best kind of partner. The one who’s willing to stand aside and let you figure out what needs to be worked on within yourself… but also willing to step in and catch you if you fall.

A: He bears this out in the end, too. He fully acknowledges the enormity of what she did as a child, and at the same time he loves her for who she is. Not “despite who she is” or ignoring what she did, but just… loving her, and being there to help her work through it and do the next thing. This bit about not dealing with it on her own is huge foreshadowing, by the way. It’s going to be echoed in detail at the climax of this arc.

Bruised and Broken

Shallan put her hands to her head, feeling … unsettled. She could remember a time not so long ago when her personas hadn’t held arguments inside her head. They’d mostly remained isolated; she would shift without noticing. Was it healthier now that they worked together, even if they argued? Or was it more dangerous, since the conflict was so difficult?

L: A good question. I only have one friend who has DID, but the way she describes it is more like the former. Her personalities are aware of one another, but don’t actively interact. From what I understand, experiences on this vary from person to person. Is there a way to quantify “healthier” in regards to this? I suppose “causing the primary personality less emotional distress” would be the best way to measure it…

A: As a reader, it’s more fun to read when they argue and when they deliberately switch who’s active. Which is healthier? I have no idea how to measure that. For Shallan (and let me clarify that I’m not addressing RL issues, individual or general), I think it’s healthier that she’s moving away from the reactive coping mechanism and toward greater deliberation in coping. It carries a certain danger, when you think about how close she comes to going Formless, but for her it’s also the path to healing. (Also, necessary if poor little Testament is to have any hope of restoration, which would also go a long way toward healing Shallan’s trauma.)

“… Radiant and I are coping mechanisms that, for the most part, work. But something deeper has started to manifest.”

“Shallan is worried that the person you see in her is a lie. That the person you love is a lie. And it’s not only you.”

L: I really love that this conversation is happening, and that it’s coming from Veil. Brandon is making it so clear that Veil really cares about Shallan and is trying to help her. It’s going to make her eventual “death” hit a lot harder.

A: Harder, but also more beautiful.

“… Pattern, Dalinar, Jasnah, Navani—she worries that they all don’t know the real her.”

L: There’s a lot to unpack here. I think all of us have this fear sometimes, at different points in our life. Or at least… I have. Who am I, really? Am I different people to different groups of friends? Because when I am with person A I exhibit these characteristics, and with person B, I exhibit those ones… so which is the real me? Are any of these social masks I wear the Real Me? Does anyone know the Real Me? Hell… do I know the Real Me?

Like Shallan, I’ve thought deeply on these things a lot throughout my life. I think we all are like gems. We have many facets to our personalities, but those facets are all still the same gem, just different angles of it. Shallan’s still working on reaching that realization, which makes sense. She’s undergone a truly staggering amount of trauma for someone so young.

A: Hmm. I can honestly say that I’ve never thought much about it in myself. I adjust my interactions to the people I’m with, but with a very few exceptions, I’m still just me. Maybe because part of “just being me” involves adapting, I suppose.

L: Perhaps being active in theater and a writer plays a part for me, here. In both of these vocations, I need to actively “become” someone else and think as they’d think. Come to think of it… do I think about this more because I’m an actress… or did my thinking about this deeply lead in part to being drawn to theater? (Mind blown.)

Adolin nodded, his brow knit. “She couldn’t have told me that, could she?”

L: It would take a truly enormous amount of trust for her to overcome this fear. Hard for her to trust anyone else, even Adolin, when she’s been so horribly abused in the past.

A: I find it almost astonishing that Veil could tell him, even. There have been a few times lately where Veil has specifically thought about how good Adolin is for Shallan, which is pretty awesome personal growth for her—but I’m betting the only reason she got away with saying it is that Shallan is curled up in such a tight little ball she couldn’t stop it.

Oaths Spoken, Powers Awakened

“Yes, but I can’t change anything but my own appearance!” she said. “I know I can do more. I’ve seen the rest of you.”

“It’s limited for most of us at the start,” Shallan said, nodding toward Vathah, who was walking alongside the Cryptics. “The first time I caught him Lightweaving, he didn’t believe he’d actually done it. It seems to surprise him each time he makes it happen.”

L: It seems to work this way for a lot of the Radiants, to begin. Remember Kaladin using his powers unconsciously, when he first got them?

A: Yeppers. It always makes me wonder what it was like back in the heyday of the Radiants. Did spren back then bond with random people like this, and then bring them to join the Order once their powers started to develop? Or did people come to the Radiants hoping for a bond, and the spren chose from those who came, so they could start training from day one?

L: My totally not-based-in-textual-evidence-theory is both.

A: Whatever it was like back then, though, right now they all seem to be feeling their way forward one small step at a time!

“… If he wants to make an illusion of a large rock, he says he thinks like a rock. How does that even work?”

L: This makes sense to me. Your external appearance changing to match what you think you look like. Willing it to be so.

A: It makes sense to me too, but apparently not to everyone! I suspect the more literal-minded you are, the less that approach could work. I can imagine my sister reacting exactly like Beryl: “How does that even work?” It will certainly be interesting to see what finally works for her.

Secret Societies

She hadn’t forgotten her real duty—that of getting into the fortress and locating Restares, leader of the Sons of Honor. Even Radiant was eager to find this man, to discover what secrets he held that Mraize wanted so badly. Finding the spy was important, but this mission superseded it.

A: I found this absolutely infuriating from Veil. Finding Restares is the task assigned by that overblown, arrogant dirtbag Mraize; finding Mraize’s spy among her own people is only marginally less significant. It might even be more significant, depending on how you look at it. But both of those are secondary duties; her “real duty” is helping Adolin gain entrance to Lasting Integrity and successfully negotiate with the honorspren. It bothers me that Shallan’s Three are so willing to leave Adolin to worry about silly stuff like saving humankind by finding more honorspren willing to bond Windrunners. Nah, just let Adolin take care of that minor detail, Shallan/Veil/Radiant, you go fuss over your possible spy and your master Mraize’s carrot and stick…

L: I hadn’t thought about that, but you make a very good point.

Humans

“Wanna go confront them?” Zu asked, grinning.

“Two on twenty?”

“One of those two can shape stone at her will and make clothing into weapons.” … “Might as well give it a last hurrah! A new experience for the One.”

From below, Ua’pam called up, “Do not encourage her! She will do this foolish thing!”

L: Well, I like her already.

A: Heh. Too true—though I expect I’d find her rather disconcerting to be around for reals. Incidentally, I happened to be around one of the first times Brandon described what he was envisioning for Tension, and… well, it’s exactly this. “As if they could restructure the atoms so that they became a latticework like a crystal rather than being soft like… cloth.” I want to see it.

Oh, and note the reference to her Iriali heritage, with “A new experience for the One.” I can’t decide if I like her more because she’s a whole bunch of possible answers wrapped up in one person, or because she’s so unexpected and fun. Probably both.

Zu grinned at Adolin, then winked, as if her bravado were partially just to unnerve her spren. Even after weeks traveling with her, Adolin didn’t know what to make of the strange Stoneward.

L: Yep. Absolutely like her.

She lightly leaped off the outcropping and slid down the smooth obsidian, graceful as an Edgedancer.

A: I have to wonder… As a Stoneward, she has Cohesion and Tension. Is this Cohesion at work, sliding through the stone just a little, like we saw the makay-im doing last week?

Why go to all that trouble if we were just going to doubt the results? 

Because I doubt everything, Veil said.

L: Honestly… this is wise, considering.

A: It certainly is. And really, you have to start somewhere to gather data; you just can’t trust the first data point you get.

We cannot erroneously condemn someone who might be innocent.

L: I really respect Radiant for this take. It’s what our whole justice system here in the USA is based on, after all. “Innocent until proven guilty.”

Brilliant Buttresses

The last few weeks, Shallan had been of two minds—well, three, technically—

L: ::gigglesnort::

A: Perfect chapter title, isn’t it?

 

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 33, wherein Kaladin begins to reshape the basic structure of mental health treatment on Roshar.

Alice is having fun with a new secret beta, which she’ll rave about when it’s cleared for discussion. She’s also deeply inconvenienced by the panic purchasing of refrigerators last year when people were freaking out about anticipated food shortages, because her refrigerator is in the process of dying a slow and painful death, and the inventory of new appliances these days is pathetic.

Lyndsey is hip-deep in preparations for the first post-pandemic Renaissance Faire of the season and is also a fantasy author herself. She’s been doing occasional tie-in videos to the reread and silly cosmere cosplay vids on TikTok, or you can follow her on Facebook or Instagram. Oh… If you’re a fellow Mistie and haven’t heard about the MST3K kickstarter, check it out and keep circulating the URL!

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