Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Rhythm of War Reread: Chapter Thirty-Three

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Happy Thursday, Cosmere Chickens! This week’s chapter is a very short but heavy read. As The Stormlight Archive does so often, it’s dealing with neurodivergencies and the treatment of such. Kaladin, bless his Windrunner heart, is trying so hard to help those suffering with PTSD and depression (and goodness knows what else), blissfully unaware of the army marching on his doorstep, about to turn his entire world upside down…

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: Jezrien, Herald of Kings. Windrunners. Protecting/Leading. Role: King.

A: This is a very Windrunner chapter—not in the sense of Kaladin out there flying around killing people, but in the sense of protecting and leading. Kaladin is gaining a new angle on just how many ways there are to do both. (And now I wonder how many different ways Jezrien tried to protect and/or lead. I’ve always just seen him as a battle leader.)

Icon: The Banner and Spears icon tells us it’s a Kaladin POV chapter.

Epigraph:

We must assume that Odium has realized this, and is seeking a singular, terrible goal: The destruction—and somehow Splintering or otherwise making impotent—of all Shards other than him.

A: “This” refers back to the previous epigraph, where Harmony notes that combining Shards doesn’t necessarily give the Vessel more power. The next epigraph will provide further detail, so we need not go into the implications this week. But… he whanged the nail on the crumpet, as they say. Odium is most definitely trying to destroy all other Shards.

L: Who… who says that?

A: LOL. I’ve watched a lot of British television in my time. I probably picked it up from Campion or Red Dwarf. Or more likely, Jeeves & Wooster. (P. G. Wodehouse FTW!)

Chapter Recap

WHO: Kaladin
WHERE: Urithiru
WHEN: 1175.4.4.3 (Nine days after Kaladin’s last appearance, in Chapter 25)

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

Not much to recap with this one. Kaladin and his mother, Hesina, are attempting to help the patients that Kaladin discovered shuttered away by the ardents.

Overall Reactions

A: First note: Yes, this is a very short chapter, and in some ways should have been combined with another one for reread purposes. Unfortunately, the chapters before and after are long-ish, and involve a completely different plot, so… it’s awkward. Sorry about that; it’s just going to have to stand on its own.

Second note: This is one of those chapters where the reader has to grab himself by the scruff of the neck and administer a firm reminder that things will not continue to go well, given that we’re just past the halfway mark of Part Two. It’s such a hopeful scenario: Kaladin is working with his parents to find a better treatment for those who suffer symptoms similar to his own, and it’s working. They haven’t achieved any major breakthroughs, but we can see that they’re on the right track for this group. The outlook is hopeful, right here.

L: In narrative structure terms, the “Call to Adventure” or “Inciting Incident” hasn’t happened for Kaladin yet. He may think that it has… but things are about to change in Urithiru in a big way very soon.

A: Very soon. We know that Venli and Raboniel are on their way, but we also know that Navani has beefed up security in the tunnels. On a first read, there’s an odd mix of hope and a sense of impending doom. At the very least, Kaladin seems to be getting better, so he’ll be ready to defend the Tower, right? Right…?

L: ::laugh cry::

A: Well, for now, we can focus on the things that are going well.

At his father’s recommendation—then insistence—Kaladin took it slowly, confining his initial efforts to men who shared similar symptoms. … Kaladin had complained that the ardents were treating all mental disorders the same; he couldn’t swoop in and treat each and every person in the entire sanitarium at once. First he needed to prove that he could make a difference for these few.

A: I know a lot of readers dislike Lirin, and I won’t say he doesn’t have his blind spots.

L: That’s putting it mildly.

A: However, when it comes to treating patients, he does know his stuff, and his wisdom balances Kaladin’s drive.

L: Fair enough. I’ll give you that point.

A: It does my heart good to see Kaladin acknowledge this. Can you just imagine what he might have tried otherwise? His frustration with the treatment of “keep them in the dark and alone” would have him pulling everyone out of the sanitarium and treating them all alike, just in a different way than the ardents. It would not only have been unsuitable for some of them, it would also have overwhelmed Kaladin with the weight of this new responsibility. He’d have ended up helping no one, rather than helping a few. Besides, this way he can chart a path for finding better treatments based on the specific symptoms of the individual, and that has hope for all of these patients.

Relationships and Romances

He still didn’t know how his father balanced work and emotion. Lirin genuinely seemed to care for his patients, but he could also turn it off. Stop thinking about the ones he couldn’t help.

A: Do we have any doctors or nurses in the group here? How do you do this? I have zero experience in this regard, but great admiration for the health care professionals who… well, care.

L: One of my best friends works in health care, and he describes it like Lirin does. I doubt it’s a thing that anyone could explain how to do… it’s something you just have to learn as you go. As Kaladin himself says;

…descriptions from books was never good enough for him. He had to try something to understand it.

A: That makes a lot of sense. I would imagine that not everyone can do it.

His mother rested her hand on his arm, and her face looked so sad he had to turn away. He didn’t like to talk to her about his past, the years between then and now. … She didn’t need to know about those darkest months. They would bring her nothing but pain.

A: I will always wonder about this. On the one hand, I do appreciate his sentiment about protecting his mother from the pain of knowing what he went through. On the other hand, I’m a mother. If one of my kids went through something horrible, no matter how horrible, I would want them to tell me as much as they were willing to talk about. I would want to understand as fully as possible. I don’t think he realizes how strong she is, and that it might be better for him to trust her with that knowledge.

L: Yeah. I appreciate the sentiment, but sometimes all it takes is asking whether it’s okay to place that burden of care on someone else. “Can I tell you about…” is giving the other person the choice to opt out, but I doubt Kaladin’s mom would ever do that. I think there are certain kinds of relationships in which that level of burden of care is expected, and close family bonds is certainly one of them. This said… this is completely believable. I had a very close family member hide their cancer from the rest of the family for years because they “didn’t want anyone to worry about them.” So this sort of mindset? Super realistic.

A: Oh, very realistic. Just… wrong-headed, IMO.

L: There’s also something else going on here, in that Kaladin always assumes that what’s good for others—like, say, how he encourages the other patients to talk about their problems—isn’t right for him. I think in a lot of ways he’s in denial over his own mental instability and won’t truly be able to find a stable way to deal with his depression until he embraces the fact that yes, he has a problem and he needs to confront that problem rather than stuffing it into a dark spot in his mind and let it eat away at him.

A: He’s actually pretty… practiced at that. (I was going to say “pretty good at that” but it’s definitely not good.) We’ve seen hints of it before. It’s very hard for him to admit that he needs help, despite what he says about “lifting the bridge together.” He’ll gladly come along and help someone else lift their bridge, but won’t acknowledge needing help with his own.

L: One last thing I wanted to point out here… Kaladin’s being a dunce if he thinks that his mother doesn’t have a very good idea of what happened to him. Does she know details? Maybe not. But he’s given her enough hints even in this little chapter to put together a pretty solid set of assumptions. And that’s assuming she hasn’t heard stories, or asked people like Teft.

A: She’s too smart not to know a great deal of it.

“I understand,” his mother said. “Your father understands.”

He was glad she thought that, wrong though she was. They were sympathetic, but they didn’t understand. Better that they didn’t.

A: Okay… Again, I get that he wants to protect them. And to a certain extent, they wouldn’t be able to enter into his experiences, because they didn’t live it. I still think he’s wrong; they would be able to understand a lot more than he thinks. Hesina and Lirin are strong people, and have gone through trials of their own. And if he were to let them see what he’d been through, they would understand his decisions better. Who knows, if he’d been willing to talk to Lirin sooner, they might not have had quite such a personal conflict. I think Kaladin has always underestimated his parents.

L: His mother, yes. I’ll agree with you there. Again, as I stated last week, I agree with Kaladin that there’s a difference between “understanding” and “sympathy.” Sympathy is nice. But true understanding, that’s a completely different thing.

A: Heh. (She’s never going to willingly give me an inch on Lirin. I still have my arguments, though… for the right time….)

L: #noredemption

Bruised and Broken

Battle fatigue, nightmares, persistent melancholy, suicidal tendencies.

A: And this is where my lack of psychology training shows up…. Am I right in thinking this is the basic symptom set of PTSD for former soldiers?

L: It’s missing flashbacks and panic attacks in order to be a comprehensive list, but yes. I did quite a lot of research on PTSD specifically in regards to battle for one of my own books, including interviewing Vietnam and WWII veterans and psychologists, and suffer from mild medical PTSD myself. Not every PTSD patient presents every symptom, though.

Today they sat in seats on the balcony outside his clinic. Warmed by mugs of tea, they talked. About their lives. The people they’d lost. The darkness.

It was helping.

A: It reminds me of Rock’s stew around the campfire, you know? A sense of community is so often built with a little food or drink—something positive shared, that can both bridge and relieve the pain of shared negative experience.

“The squad is stronger than the individual. … Get them to lift the bridge together…”

“The ardents’ stories about inmates feeding each other’s despair… probably came from inmates who were situated next to one another in the sanitariums. In dark places… In a hopeless situation, it’s easy to convince one another to give up.”

A: It works both ways, which is in one sense obvious, and in another sense surprising. The thing I love about it here, though, is that it’s being described so well in a fantasy novel. Typically, we see characters with mostly external issues to overcome, or sometimes characters who grittily overcome their internal issues alone, usually by just pushing through and pretending they don’t exist. We rarely see a character interacting with others who have similar issues, working together to find a way to actually address their problems and symptoms.

L: Yes. This is one of the things I love most about The Stormlight Archive. Brandon’s done an amazing job of portraying a truly dizzying array of neurodivergencies and different ways of being physically disabled in a positive and uplifting manner. He’s not falling prey to the usual pitfalls of “inspiration porn” or characters just grinning and bearing their issues. It’s been very important to so many readers, and it’s beautiful to see.

“It changes something to be able to speak to others about your pain. It helps to have others who actually understand.”

A: I… don’t actually have anything to say about this. I just needed to put it here.

L: It’s true, and it’s beautiful. If only we all could have this experience when it were truly needed most.

…no matter how isolated you thought you were, no matter how often your brain told you terrible things, there were others who understood.

It wouldn’t fix everything. But it was a start.

L: This tugs on my heart strings for sure. It’s such a blessing to find someone, or even better, a whole community who truly understands your pain. That knowledge that you’re not alone. There are others in the darkness with you, just waiting to reach out their hands and hold yours. And maybe, together, you can find your way back to the light.

Oaths Spoken, Powers Awakened

A: This is one of the rare Kaladin chapters where he doesn’t use any of his powers, once he found them. (Okay, maybe it’s not really rare, and it just feels that way, but… whatever.) It’s pretty cool, though: He wouldn’t have to be a Radiant to do anything he does here. And it is a lovely and hopeful thing for people in the real world. You don’t need magic to find help.

L: You know, it’s funny. I always love seeing storylines like this about superheroes. Yeah, we love to see Superman clobbering huge baddies, but there’s also something very human and compelling about seeing him struggling with trying to help people through his job at the Daily Planet. It gives us normal people a little reminder that yeah… fictional superheroes are incredibly powerful. But they’re still people. (Side note that could be a whole tangent: This is, generally speaking, why I prefer Marvel over DC. The “secret identities” are a lot more important in a lot of the Marvel stories than in the DC ones.)

During those years she’d lost her loving boy, Kal. That child was dead, long ago buried in crem. At least by the time he’d found her again, Kaladin had become the man he was now. Broken, but mostly reforged as a Radiant.

L: I always find it interesting to see how Kal views himself. He has a tendency to see the worst in himself, and boy… isn’t that relatable, sometimes? Ask almost anyone on the street in Urithiru and I bet they’d have a very different description of who Kaladin Stormblessed is. Ask his bridge crew, or the patients he’s helping, or any of the hundreds or thousands of people whose lives he’s saved…

A: He’s been doing that since the beginning of The Way of Kings—thinking of himself as cursed because sometimes, even he can’t save all the people he cares about. He has come a long way, but at this point, he’s still falling back into his old way of thinking. It is understandable—which is what’s going to make the climax of this book such a delight.

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 34, “A Flame Never Extinguished,” in which Adolin finds a way to get Shallan out of hiding.

Alice is enjoying spring, a new refrigerator, and beta reading. She’s a little less excited about being hip-deep in a remodeling project, but will hopefully find the end result worth the work.

Lyndsey is busy making costumes for this year’s Robin Hood’s Faire, 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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