Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Rhythm of War Reread: Chapter Thirty-Five

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Happy Thursday, Cosmere Chickens, and welcome to Chapter Thirty-Five of the Rhythm of War reread… also known as, “in which Lyn gushes at length about how accurate Brandon’s descriptions of sword fighting are.”

Sorry not sorry.

But no seriously, I hope you’re ready because my storms do I love this chapter! My sword training is a weird combination of historical European longsword and stage combat for sword, rapier/dagger, quarterstaff/spear, and hand to hand. So seeing chapters like this where it’s clear that Brandon has done his research (and ::ahem:: listened to his beta readers like me and especially Liliana Klein and Carl Fisk) just make me so, so happy. It’s pretty rare to find fantasy authors who actually write sword fights well and yet manage to make them interesting to the uninitiated, so I’m going to do a lot of pointing out of specific details in this chapter.

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 discussion we also mention some minor things from Mistborn in the Cosmere Connections section, so if you haven’t read it, you may want to give that section a pass.)

Heralds: Vedeledev (Vedel). Edgedancers. Loving/Healing. Role: Healer.

Talenelat (Talenel, Taln), Herald of War. Stonewards. Dependable/Resourceful. Role: Soldier.

A: I’d say that these two rather jump out, wouldn’t you? Taln, the Soldier, is 100% there for Adolin and his “strength of a soldier.” Vev has to represent Maya, who takes an unexpectedly active role in this chapter.

Icon: The Shardbearer gives us an Adolin POV.

Epigraph:

You say that the power itself must be treated as separate in our minds from the Vessel who controls it. 

A: It strikes me as a little odd for the Vessel of two Shards to be taking advice from someone who turned down the opportunity to become a Vessel and thus can only speak from observation. Still, all those years of observation ought to be good for something.

L: There’s something to be said for listening to someone with an outsider’s opinion. Not having taken a Shard, Hoid is unchanged by the power, if not unbiased in regards to the use of said power. Saze is smart enough to recognize that listening to multiple points of view in order to come to an informed decision is important. Just because he doesn’t currently hold the power doesn’t mean he can’t have valuable observations about its use!

Chapter Recap

WHO: Adolin, Shallan
WHERE: Shadesmar, between the crossroads and Lasting Integrity
WHEN: 1175.4.7.5 (immediately following Chapter 34)

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

Adolin realizes that the humans who have been following them haven’t actually been following them… they were following Notum. He rides off to save him along with Maya and Gallant, and he and Maya manage to hold their own until the enemy retreats.

Overall Reactions

Never underestimate the strength of a soldier trained to stand fast.

Never underestimate the simple intimidating force of a man who won’t back down.

Never underestimate the worth of being willing to hold. Your. GROUND.

L: Reminds me of this famous quote by Captain Steve Rogers, which was in turn based on one by Mark Twain!

A: This chapter is one of my very favorites in the book. We’ve been almost drifting along, mostly doing character development while time passes, with just a few hints of underlying tension in the plot. This week, we start out in the same vein, with Adolin first relieved by the lovely time with Shallan and the starspren, and then starting to worry again about his inability to successfully manage this mission. Then something clicks, and… BOOM.

Adolin took off running toward the distant Tukari caravan, hand on the sheathed sword at his belt, holding it in place. … Barely breaking stride, Adolin grabbed the dangling reins as Gallant pulled up beside him. Adolin did an odd running hop, then hoisted himself into the saddle behind Maya, a maneuver that a part of Radiant’s brain refused to believe was possible.

A: And suddenly, we’re in action mode. Galloping Ryshadium, greatswords, Tukari assassins (or something), and Adolin up against twenty armed men—and not so much as a shield, much less Shardplate, to protect himself.

L: It is really fun and action packed! And… having taken horseback riding lessons when I was a kid and hauled myself into quite a few saddles, I’m with Radiant on this one specific quote. Adolin’s definitely some kind of superhero. (I know this is technically possible to do, but HOO BOY the upper body strength this boy’s gotta have!)

A: He really does! Consider the way we’re shortly going to see him wielding a greatsword, which is significantly heavier than a Shardblade, too. I’m suddenly questioning most of the artwork of Adolin.

Jeopardize the mission, or go save Notum on his own?

Jeopardize it how? he thought. You barely know what you’re doing here. The others can deliver some letters.

You’re nothing but a uniform and sword, Adolin. Use them.

A: While he’s obviously much more than that, it’s such an Adolin attitude, isn’t it? He’s such a funny mix of insecurity and blazing confidence: deeply uncertain of his ability to persuade the honorspren, but so confident in his fighting ability that he’s barely conscious of it. Not that he blithely assumes he can handle twenty men on his own; he knows it could go badly, but he also knows that if he makes the attempt, there’s a chance he can keep the Tukari distracted from Notum long enough for help to arrive.

L: He’s protecting those who cannot protect themselves. ::grin:: It’s really no wonder he and Kaladin get along. Come to think of it, Adolin displays a lot of the best aspects of the different Radiant orders. I wonder if eventually he might wind up becoming some sort of Super-Radiant, connected to all of the powers, or something…

A: There are so many ways that makes sense. I have no idea what the mechanics would be, but if you look at the “I will” statements that summarize the Ideals of the various orders, most of them are things we’ve actually commented on Adolin doing. Protecting, seeking justice, self-mastery, remembering (both those who are gone, and those who are overlooked), truth (both objective and personal), reaching full potential, freedom, being there when needed, uniting… they’re all things we see in Adolin. Huh.

As a young man—his head full of stories of Shardbearers defeating entire companies on their own—he’d assumed he could easily take on two or three opponents at once in a bout. He’d been sorely disabused of this notion. Yes, one man could stand against many with proper training—but it was never preferable.

L: Bless you, Brandon, for calling this out. I hate it in movies when one single swordsman takes out a crew of like… ten. This is not realistic, no matter how good you are! (Unless all your opponents respectfully line up to fight you one at a time like they usually do in movies…) I will say as a caveat, though, that having a spear or a greatsword would be a distinct advantage in a fight with a group of combatants with short swords, as Adolin is doing here. If you can manage to keep everyone at bay with a longer weapon, you might stand half a chance. Providing you can outlast them, stamina-wise…

A: And that’s the big question for him, right? Can he outlast them, at least long enough for the soldiers riding ordinary horses to catch up?

He wouldn’t win here because he outdueled anyone.

He’d win because his opponents lost.

A: And also, he’ll win (and/or they’ll lose) because a deadeye spren wielding a sword is terrifying, a determined Ryshadium can sound like a whole troop of horses, and an extremely good duelist with a greatsword can wreak major havoc on a bunch of untrained thugs with cutlasses and a couple of spears.

That was harder to do than people sometimes thought—even the sharpest blade could get caught in muscle or on the spine. Angle was everything, that and follow-through.

L: Again, huge kudos to Brandon for sticking to realism, even in a book where there are 6’ swords that can be summoned out of mist in ten heartbeats. It’s a fine line to walk, between fantasy and realism, to keep the readers engaged and willfully suspending their disbelief. And Brandon’s a master of that.

A: One of the things I loved about this scene was that, despite the magic swords inherent in The Stormlight Archive, the most badass battle of them all takes place using a plain old metal greatsword. (Not that greatswords aren’t incredible in their own right, but as Adolin notes elsewhere, most people dismiss the value of any “plain old metal” sword by comparison to Shardblades. It was really fun to see his mastery of any weapon—and supported by realism.

Also, that line about people being “intimidated by the casual brutality of a greatsword at work” is really potent.

L: And, as usual, I do love that the “everyman” of the series gets his fair share of awesome battles. It would be all too easy to just focus on the supernaturally enhanced characters, but the plain “ordinary” (if well-trained and inherently talented) swordsman gets his due, too. And how!

In the jumble, he ended up getting pressed by two men with swords, who forced in so close as he came out of a spin that he had to half-sword his greatsword.

L: OH MY GOD HE’S TALKING ABOUT HALF-SWORDING (Sorry… as a student of swordsmanship, seeing a fantasy author who has actually taken the time to research this just… makes me swoon.)

A: For those of us ignoramuses in the group, would you please pretty please explain what “half-swording” is? I mean… clearly it’s a method of using a greatsword in close quarters, but what do you do? What does it look like?

L: Basically it’s grabbing the sword halfway down the blade with one hand while you’re holding the hilt with the other. There’s historical precedent for it, and it just makes sense… the reach of a greatsword is awesome, but you can get much better control and power by half-swording, especially if you’re fighting in close quarters.

A: But Lyn… wouldn’t he cut himself, grabbing the blade like that?

L: Ah, I’m so glad you asked! You see… most swords meant for fighting armored combatants weren’t fully sharpened!

A: That seems dumb. How else do you slice off their limbs and things?

L: It does seem dumb… until you realize that swords weren’t really meant for slicing and dicing. When you’re fighting someone in full plate mail, what you actually want to do is dent in their armor. If you can manage to put a huge dent in the armor around someone’s arm, that’s going to hurt them considerably and they’re not going to be able to use that arm anymore. Immobilize enough of their limbs, and voila! You’ve won the battle. (We see shades of this with Shardplate, when the pieces of plate get damaged or run out of stormlight and stop functioning.) So, when you consider that these were actually bludgeoning weapons for the most part* (except the tip for stabbing through visors or into the weak points of joints), not sharpening the majority of the weapon makes a lot of sense!

*I will note that at least part of Adolin’s blade is definitely sharpened, as he’s beheading people left and right here. Historically, swords could have been sharpened the entire way, or just the foible (which is the ⅓ closest to the tip). There’s also the forte (⅓ closest to the hilt and where you want to be blocking) and the middle, which may have been blunt. You can also grab a sharpened part of a blade to half-sword, but you’re going to want to be careful doing so!

This has been your historical swordplay lesson of the day. If you’d like to see this in action, here’s a cool little video I found!

A: That’s… totally wild. “Things I never knew” for 200 emerald broams! I can totally see how that would give both leverage and close-quarters advantage, now. Thank you!

The handguard had come off, so Adolin hacked the man’s fingers as they wrapped the hilt of the weapon, dropping them. A foolish mistake; a good swordmaster always taught you to watch your hands.

L: Yuuuuup! This is 100% accurate. (And also why we always always wear gloves when doing stage combat.)

A: The ending of this chapter gives me goosebumps every time:

When Felt and the others arrived a few minutes later, they found a bloodied Adolin propping up Notum—dazed, but alive—surrounded by the corpses of what had once been overwhelming odds against him.

A: “The corpses of what had once been overwhelming odds against him.” Aaaaaah. I love that.

Spren and Shadesmar

A: Maya. Oh, Maya. She’s so amazing in this chapter.

But first, Notum:

Spren had been… cagey about whether they could be killed in Shadesmar. He’d seen them carry weapons, and during his earlier trip, Notum’s sailors had admitted that spren could be cut and would feel pain. “Killing” them involved hurting them so much that their minds broke and they became something akin to a deadeye.

A: That sounds horrible. Why would anyone want to do that? Obviously it’s happened often enough that they know what’s involved, but… Who? Why?

L: I mean… why would anyone want to kill a human, either? I imagine there would be similar motives at play.

A: In this particular case, we have some clues that we’ll talk about below, but why would it have happened enough to be a known phenomenon? Was it spren fighting spren? World-hoppers? Rosharan humans? Singers? Voidspren?

L: All of the above?

A: I’m not sure if I really want to know or not; it’s sickening.

Let’s go back to Maya.

“If I draw those men off, Maya,” he said, “can you get to Notum and cut him free? You could use one of the swords in the saddle sheaths.”

Her reply was a low growl, half a whine, and a tightening of her grip on his shoulder.

“It’s all right,” he said, prying her fingers free. “It’s not your fault. Stay here. Stay safe.”

A: Is her reply fear for herself? Or fear for him? Or frustration with her inability to act independently as much as he needs? My suspicion here is that she’d like to be able to do what he asks, but knows that once he’s busy, she won’t have enough volition to act—or at least not that way.

L: Poor Maya. No matter which of those is correct, it’s just so sad.

A: What she does instead, though, when he’s wounded and close to being surrounded…

He braced himself for the blade that would follow.

Instead he heard a low growl.

Startled, Adolin glanced over his shoulder to find that the figure he’d run into had put her back to his.

A: She may, for whatever reason, have been unable to go help Notum—but she was able to help Adolin! And she brought a sword. Because Maya. When he starts the kata with her—the kata she’d done innumerable times as a sword, and now daily as a person on this trip—I get chills every time I read it. She may or may not be prepared to actually strike at anyone, but a deadeye with a sword, a proper grip, and a powerful stance… who’s going to take that bet?

Relationships and Romances

It was hard to get any kind of acknowledgment out of Maya, but he did prefer to ask.

L: I just wanted to take a moment to say that I love how much importance Adolin places on consent. (Consent doesn’t only apply to romance! It’s important in friendships, too.)

“When we get there,” Adolin said to the horse, “stay out of the fight.”

Gallant snorted his disagreement.

L: I’m here for this buddy cop comedy.

A: I love the way Adolin assumes Gallant understands his every word, and how well it’s borne out. Pretty much like he treats Maya, come to think of it—except with Maya it’s sweet and thoughtful, and with Gallant it’s much funnier. But like Felt, I do want to know how Gallant knew Adolin needed him at the beginning of the scene. Have they formed some kind of bond that lets them sense one another? Is Maya part of this? Or the musicspren that makes Gallant a Ryshadium instead of merely a horse?

L: I absolutely think that the Ryshadium are way more sapient than anyone (other than Adolin) gives them credit for.

This was butchery. Fortunately, he had some good role models in that realm.

L: Subtle internal jab at dear old dad, there.

A: Yeah, I’m betting that was first on his mind… though there were plenty of others available too. I guess he’s too young to have actually seen Gavilar in battle, but Sadeas was right up there with Dalinar. Minus the Shardblade, though, so there’s that. Also, if I remember correctly, Sadeas enjoyed the brutality more, but Dalinar was better at it.

Bruised and Broken

You took special care of a soldier who had left part of herself on the battlefield.

L: We saw him displaying this towards Kaladin earlier in the book, too. I love that Adolin views Maya this way, and not just as some broken thing wandering around, like many of the spren seem to. They recognize that their fellow deadeyes were once people, but just sort of… leave them to their wanderings, instead of taking care of them like Adolin does.

A: It’s one of the few things I’ll say in praise of the honorspren at Lasting Integrity—they did try to care for the deadeyes. I’m not very impressed with the way they did it, but that’s mostly because they assumed the unchangeable nature of deadeyes.

Cosmere Connections

The foreign scout had been a stable, valuable part of the mission so far. Felt might not be quite as spry as he’d once been, but he seemed to have a sixth sense for traveling in unknown places.

A: Heh. Shadesmar isn’t quite as unknown to Felt as Adolin thinks… and Felt is far more foreign than Adolin knows! Still a good scout, no matter what the planet, I guess.

“Rusts,” Felt said, lowering his spyglass.

A: We know nothing about Felt’s various travels, other than that he was born on Scadrial early enough to be active there during Mistborn Era 1, and that he was on Roshar long enough that Dalinar trusted him to go along on the Nightwatcher trip. “Rusts,” however, indicates that he’s been back on Scadrial in between; that’s an exclamation/curse from Era 2. #thingsthatmakeyousayhmmmm

L: I totally glossed over this so I’m glad you pointed it out!

Humans

The Tukari humans had likely planned to jump Notum soon after his patrol left the port town, but had held off once Adolin’s group started going the same way. …

In the center of the group, a glowing figure lay huddled on the ground, bound in ropes. Over a dozen animated Tukari were repeatedly stabbing him with spears and swords.

A: This isn’t specifically addressed in the book, because none of the characters have seen each other for the duration, but it seems a given that these Tukari are here on commission from Ishar. This whole section of the road, essentially from Nameless to Lasting Integrity, follows the coastline of Tukar, so it’s easy for Ishar (since he can apparently open perpendicularities without a spren bond) to access this part of Shadesmar.

There’s no particular reason that Notum should have been a personal target for Ishar, though. My guess is that he sends his minions in to look for lone spren, or very small groups, which they can overpower and take captive back to Ishar. That doesn’t explain why they seemed to be trying to kill Notum rather than merely capturing him, but there’s obviously some reason. Maybe spren are more usable for Ishar’s experiments when they’re almost dead, or maybe he fought back too hard and they decided he needed killing instead.

L: I’m looking forward to finding out more about what the heck Ishar was up to.

 

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 36, in which Adolin convinces the honorspren to let him into Lasting Integrity.

Alice would just like to point out that northern Idaho is lovely this time of year.

Lyndsey had a lovely birthday this past weekend, and is so looking forward to the beginning of rehearsals for Robin Hood’s Faire. She has been a Sanderson beta reader since Words of Radiance 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.

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