Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Rhythm of War Reread: Chapter Thirty-Seven

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Ahoy, ye Chickens of Cosmere! It’s time for some invasion action to begin! The trickle that began many weeks ago, with a company of Fused and Regals hiking through the mountains, has become a stream as they actually enter the tunnels this week. And Our Heroes, blithely oblivious, are just going about their lives, looking at ways they can improve their areas of influence. It has that bated-breath aura, know what I mean?

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 discuss some things from Mistborn Era 1 in the “Bruised and Broken” section, so if you haven’t read it, best to give that section a pass.)

A: Also worth noting, Lyndsey is insanely busy this week, so you mostly have to put up with my musings. Here’s hoping they’re coherent!

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

Kalak (Kelek). Willshapers. Resolute/Builder. Role: Maker.

A: Kalak is pretty easy, here—our new Willshaper, Venli, is a POV character in this chapter. Palah, as the scholar, makes a lot of sense both for Navani and her engineering team, as well as for Lirin and Kaladin in their search for better treatment of mental illness.

Icon: Fabrial Gemstone, for Navani’s POV (though she shares this chapter with others).

Epigraph:

Regardless, I will try to do as you suggest. However, you seem more afraid of the Vessel. I warn you that this is a flaw in your understanding.

A: This harks back to the advice to treat the Vessel as separate from the power of the Shard, and it really makes me wonder what exactly Hoid said in his letter to Harmony. We can infer, though, that Hoid was emphasizing the trouble likely to come from that scumbag Rayse holding the infinite power of a Shard. It’s nice to see Harmony pushing back on that. What he actually means, though, will be the topic of discussion in the next couple of chapters.

L: I’d also like to point out how very right Saze was about this, as is evidenced by the epilogue. Hoid was so focused on the vessel, that he underestimated the danger, and… well. Look where he ended up.

A: Foreshadowing FTW…

Chapter Recap

WHO: Navani, Venli, Kaladin
WHERE: Urithiru
WHEN: 1175.4.6.3 Note that if correct, this is a jump backward in time from the Shadesmar team, but two weeks after our last Kaladin POV in Chapter 33.

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

Navani tests a newly-developed individual lift fabrial, but then is drawn away by the apprehension of Dabbid with a new spanreed gem—and then is pulled away from that by news of an explosion. Meanwhile, as Raboniel’s forces begin infiltrating the tower, Venli discovers that killing (even humans) is both difficult and disturbing. Up on the sixth level, Kaladin and Lirin discuss the need for change in treating the mentally ill, as well as several other aspects of medical practice.

Overall Reactions

A: This is another of those chapters where there’s just so much information, I want to copy large pieces in because I can’t decide what to leave out. Between all the information on the Fused, and the discussion about mental illness…

First, there’s just a note (which maybe should go in Humans, but since it’s about our main character, I’m putting it here) about Navani:

She rarely got a break from the demands of merchants, lighteyes, ardents, and the thousands of others needing her attention.

A: I’ve said it before, but argh!!! Navani, much as I love her willingness to do the hard work herself, is just not very good at knowing what and when to delegate. Once again, she’s running a kingdom, and doing it at too detailed a level. ::sighs:: She needs to put some of those lighteyes and ardents to work. Granted that government bureaucracy isn’t my favorite thing in the world, there’s a time and place where a formal structure of officials and responsibilities can be extremely useful. It allows the person in charge to deal with things that actually require their authority, instead of muddling in the minutiae.

L: Inability to trust that others will do the job as well you as can is, if I am not mistaken (and please correct me if I am, as I am not a mental health professional), one of the many (MANY) trademarks of ADHD. Do we think it’s a possibility that Navani may have this?

A: Well, that’s not something that had occurred to me! Right up until she goes into isolation, working for Raboniel, I could easily see it. After that, though, she seems able to block out all the worries over what else might be going on and just focus in on her project, so… I don’t know. Is that a Thing with ADHD, if all other activities are removed?

L: Hyperfixation is absolutely a part of ADHD (this I know for sure), but she’s fixating because she has no other choice, so… this may not be good evidence.

A: I’ll admit this is another area where I have absolutely zero insight. In other developments, though, the spanreed is back!

Chananar … proffered half of a small ruby, illuminated faintly by the light of the spren trapped inside. A spanreed fabrial. The phantom spren in the tower had taken the bait.

A: So that was exciting, and yay more communication, except…

She tucked the blinking gemstone away in her glove’s wrist pouch. You can wait, she thought to the phantom spren. I’m in control of this conversation now.

A: Such a bad move. Not that she has any reason to know that, of course; as far as she knows, things are status quo, and the spren correspondent probably just wants to yell at her about trapping spren for fabrials again.

Given what we see the Regals do in this chapter (and the next), I don’t really know how effective a defense the humans could have mounted even if Navani had received the Sibling’s warning earlier. But it would at least have helped, and they might even have been able to find a way to work together on the tower defenses before it was too late.

Music, Mechanisms, and Manifestations of Light

A: We get fabrials this week! I have to admit, that bit where Tomor was working on the individual-lift fabrial feels like a long time ago… but now it’s a glove, and wow, the strain on the shoulder that thing would create. Tomor’s excitement makes me giggle—but it really is a marvelous piece of engineering. He’s created a way to conjoin different fabrials, as well as a way to adjust the speed at which it activates.

L: And that will, of course, become very important later on when Kaladin gets his hands on it.

A: That, and one or two other adjustments he’s going to make. It’s almost funny to think about how important this little side project is going to become in itself. Navani thinks about how his work is just a small way of experimenting with concepts that will be part of a much bigger project, and maybe that will happen too, but this little glove is going to be a game-changer before that.

I’m still torn on the throttle, though. Is it more natural to open your hand to go faster, and make a fist to stop, or vice versa? To me, it seems more natural to close my hand to stop, like Tomor designed it, but… what about you? This part made me laugh, though:

She took a deep breath, then raised her hand in the air.

“Be sure to make a fist first!” Tomor said.

A: That would definitely be one argument for making the open hand the brake! It’s also an argument for the belt, or virtually any other format for this thing. Something that you have to actually turn on, not just open or close your hand, anyway. And then there’s this:

Navani went up. Pulled somewhat uncomfortably by her arm, she rose several feet into the air. … She floated there, dangling by her arm roughly four feet in the air, her fist nearly touching the ceiling. …

“And … exactly how does one get down, Tomor?” she asked.

A: Oh, the mental images! Navani, Queen of Urithiru, dangling from the ceiling by a fabrial gauntlet…

Spren and Shadesmar

“The Sibling sleeps,” the scout said. “Just as the Midnight Mother felt. Perhaps the Sibling has truly died. Permanently made into an unthinking creature.”

“No,” said another. “The Sibling lives.”

A: Indeed they do. And these Deepest Ones, more than any others, will come to regret that in a big way. For a few seconds, anyway…

Relationships and Romances

“It’s not so odd,” Kaladin said, building a tower of blocks for his little brother to knock down.

Oroden laughed, walking among the blocks and kicking them.

“We need a medical revolution,” Kaladin said, starting another tower. Oroden stood hopping up and down, barely able to contain himself as it was built.

Oroden dashed forward, smashing through the blocks. Kaladin smiled…

A: I love this scene. Kaladin and Lirin are talking about Big Things—mental illness, medical revolutions, societal changes—but all the while Kaladin is building towers of blocks for his baby brother to knock over. And over. It’s such a heartwarming moment in family life.

I’m also loving this brief time when these two, father and son, are working together toward a better future. Right now, they’re both focused on helping people and saving lives, both physically and mentally, and it’s a beautiful thing.

L: There’s also a little foreshadowing in this; the tower is falling. Just as Urithiru is about to.

A: Ouch.

Bruised and Broken

A: So much here… starting with an indirect reference:

Their triangulation of the spanreed had led them to a strange dark location on the fourth floor of the tower, near a monastery. The measurements hadn’t been precise enough to tell them exactly where, and searches had revealed nothing.

A: We’ll learn later that the Sibling was able to contact an insane woman in the Devotary of Mercy who would write whatever she was told. I’m not sure this is related to the similar situation in Mistborn, though; I suspect this is merely a way in which the Sibling, who could watch everything in the tower at that point, was able to find someone who could scribe for them without revealing anything about them. (Hopefully this isn’t the feces artist… I think she’d need to be a little less far gone than that one!)

L: You mean the whole “that which is not written in metal cannot be trusted” thing?

A: I was thinking more about how Ruin (I think) could speak to/through people who were (at least slightly) insane. I just wasn’t being very specific because I didn’t want to go do the research to make sure I have it right! It’s in the short story The Eleventh Metal and referenced a couple other places. I think.

L: I was under the impression that he could talk to/through anyone who was spiked (like Vin’s earring), not that neurodivergency had a part in it… It’s been awhile since I read Mistborn, though.

A: The earring is the key for Vin, certainly, and Spook also was unknowingly spiked; as you say, Ruin could talk to anyone who was spiked. Apparently, though, there was an interesting situation: Preservation could hear anyone on Scadrial, but couldn’t speak to them; Ruin could both hear and speak to anyone who was spiked as well as anyone whose mind was sufficiently disconnected from physical reality. (Not all neurodivergent people would fit the bill, as I understand it.)

Shifting gears… This is probably the right place to mention something else about Navani’s mentality. Not long after the fabrial experiment, the head scholar Kristir comments that it would help immeasurably if Navani could break a particularly knotty problem they’re having; the way she says it seems to imply that she believes Navani could solve it. Navani shrugs it off by saying it would take a better mind than hers to sort it out. It’s sad, to me, to see Navani spending all her time and effort in administrative duties that a competent steward could do just as well, when she could be working on fabrial designs and making breakthroughs that not many people could do. It seems to me that she’s held back by the assumption, so firmly reinforced by Gavilar, that she’s just not capable of being a “real” scholar. While he didn’t entirely break her spirit, he did break her self-confidence in this particular area.

Then there’s the silent spanreed-deliverer:

The man they’d captured was a wiry fellow, Alethi, but with skin on the paler side. He searched about, wild-eyed, struggling but not saying anything.

“Brightness,” he whispered. “I think I recognize that fellow. He’s with the Radiants.”

“A squire?” Navani asked, surprised.

“More a servant, Brightness. …”

A: Sometimes I really hate being reasonable. I want to be mad at Navani for her impatience and for threatening Dabbid, but… of course she has no reason to know anything about him, including the fact that he hasn’t spoken a word since he was put in the bridge crews. (I do get defensive on Dabbid’s behalf, though… Poor broken child.) For anyone who didn’t register this as Dabbid, Teft’s entrance later, where he tells Kaladin that Dabbid has been missing for three days, is confirmation.

Moving on to Kaladin’s section…

“I’ve had seven textbooks on sanity read to me over the last week,” Lirin said. “I hadn’t realized how little most of them would say.

“I spent my entire life trying to help,” Lirin said softly. “And I thought that the best way to help lunatics was to send them to the ardents. Storms, I did it a few times. Lakin’s son, remember? I assumed they’d be specialists.…”

A: What a horrible realization, for a man whose whole purpose in life focuses on healing the hurting. Say what you will about him, Lirin is dedicated to helping. His own training is in physical healing, whether through surgery, therapy, or medicine, but he’s also developed the ability to recognize the mental or spiritual problems which (for example) make someone like Noril suicidal. To now discover that doing the best he could for them—sending them to the presumed specialists—was useless, or worse than useless… No wonder he feels blind.

Already, though, he and Kaladin are working together to make changes. When Kaladin says “People like me scare them,” Lirin instinctively tries to exclude his son from the group, but look how quickly he grasps the point.

“You’re not…” Lirin lowered the chart.

“Insane?” Kaladin asked. “That’s the problem, isn’t it? We don’t see them as our brothers, sisters, children. They make us feel helpless. We are afraid because we can’t bind a broken mind the way we do a broken finger.”

“So we pretend we’ve done the best we can by sending them away,” Lirin said. “Or we tell ourselves they’re not really hurt. Since we can’t see their wounds. You’re right, son. Thank you for challenging me.”

A: I love that. Lirin is always willing to have his assumptions challenged if the result is a step toward helping people that he couldn’t help before. (And honestly, how many of us are capable of thanking someone for challenging us? Especially when it means questioning everything we’ve been taught about something that we care about with our whole hearts?)

L: How nice that he can display empathy and acknowledge that he made an oversight in this respect. Now if only he could extend that courtesy to his son’s life choices…

A: The problem is not exactly Kaladin’s life choices, though. It’s not that Lirin is upset that Kaladin chose not to be a surgeon; while he might have been disappointed if Kal had chosen to be a carpenter or a blacksmith, he wouldn’t have been angry. It’s the fact that Kaladin chose a life of killing people, which is the one thing Lirin is above all committed to preventing. Think about your very highest value in life, the one thing on which you just can’t compromise: How would you feel if your child chose a life that involved specifically and unavoidably doing that exact thing?

More on that in a couple of weeks, though.

L: Yeah, this will be debated later on at length. No need to belabor the point here.

A: Here, Kaladin experiences a few revelations, too.

He thought about that monastery with the sanitarium, and realized something chilling.

I could have ended up in there, Kaladin thought. The patients surrendered to the ardents, those were the ones who came from homes and cities where people cared enough to try something, even if it was the wrong thing. There was a chance that if he hadn’t gone to war, he’d have found his way to one of those dark, terrible rooms.

A: A terrible thought, but true. There’s also a chance that without Syl (and without Helaran) he’d have ended up there anyway—there, or dead.

L: My best friend is epileptic, and has often expressed to me this same thought that Kaladin has. “If I’d been born earlier… I probably would have wound up in one of these places.” It’s a horrifying thought, for sure.

“Cravings?” Kaladin guessed.

Teft shrugged. “Thought I’d gotten past the headaches a few months ago. Guess they’re back.”

A: Cue ominous music… I think it’s too early for him to be feeling Raboniel’s messing with the gemstone column, but I’m betting it’s something to do with the Sibling reacting to the presence of the Fused. Or possibly the Everstorm.

“I … Yes, Ancient One. I didn’t see him coming at me, I mean … I thought…”

That she could remain aloof, as she’d always done with the listeners. Even during the battle at Narak, where they’d lost so many, she hadn’t been directly involved in the fighting. She hadn’t lost her mind to the spren that inhabited her; she’d told herself it was because she was so strong. In truth, she had already been selfish and ambitious.

Timbre pulsed comfortingly, but Venli couldn’t accept the sentiment. She bore the humans no love—they had murdered thousands of her people. But Venli herself had doomed many listeners.

A: I’ve read a lot of comments from people that they just can’t like Venli, even though she’s a protagonist. While I understand it—and I get especially critical of her during the flashbacks—Sanderson is already setting the stage here for the kind of changes that are coming to her. She’s admitting, if only to herself for now, that she is personally responsible for the deaths of many of her own people. More than that, she’s admitting that she’s always been selfish and ambitious, willing to sacrifice others for her personal advancement. They’re small steps, as yet, but the greatest journey begins with the first step.

L: You’re right—admitting fault and feeling remorse for the actions is the first step towards redemption. Something that Moash could learn a few lessons from…

A: Exactly. That’s why I like Venli better than Moash, even if she’s really not a likeable person. (Note that I think they’re both well-written characters, though; it takes good writing to bring out these reactions!)

Though they’d begun midway up through the caverns at an entrance in a highland valley, it would take hours to reach the tower itself. Tense hours, hoping that there wouldn’t be any more mistakes or missed human patrols. Hoping that silence from the dead wouldn’t be noticed.

Venli walked, disquieted, uncertain which was worse: the feeling of primal terror that had stabbed her when she’d heard the human behind her, or the haunting feeling of watching the light fade from his eyes.

A: Okay, so my steps in liking Venli are also very small ones. But I can at least say that she’s starting to see things differently, and she’s starting to be very aware of her own failings. That’s not nothing.

Singers/Fused

The highstorm was violent, but somehow trustworthy. It had proved the listeners for generations, granting safe forms, fulfilling the Rider’s ancient promise to her people. Allegiances might have changed, but that couldn’t separate the souls of her people from the storm that—in the ancient songs—was said to have given them birth.

A: I assume the idea of the storm giving them birth is mythology, but we really don’t know much about the cosmology of Roshar other than that Adonalsium did a lot of direct creation here. It’s fairly certain that the highstorms have always facilitated the singers’ (and listeners’) ability to change forms, but now I’m wondering when Honor got involved. Did they have all the basic forms from the beginning? Did new forms become available after Honor and Cultivation came to Roshar? Also, what is “the Rider’s ancient promise to her people”?? I can’t help thinking that’s part of the ancient history that we kinda need to know.

“The ancient protections have not been maintained,” the scout said. “I can feel that the ralkalest has fallen from the walls of the tunnel below. How could they allow this oversight?”

A: You know, this was kinda terrifying the first time I read it, even when I generally assumed that the Radiants would be able to repel the invading forces. Knowing what’s coming doesn’t even begin to mitigate the sense of dread. The fact that there once were good defenses all the way down here is pretty cool. The fact that those defenses had not only crumbled (which is to be expected with the tower abandoned for over a thousand years), but that the humans now occupying the place are unaware they exist, nor would they know how to repair them if they were aware… that’s much less cool. Very yikes, in fact.

A Fused malen with rippling patterns that shifted and changed on his skin. That was the mark of the mavset-im, Those Ones of Masks. The Masked Ones, illusionists, had the power to change how they appeared.

“My form is disrupted,” the Masked One said. “The ralkalest might have fallen from the wall, but that is a mere physical barrier. The tower’s spiritual protections are at least partially in effect—and as we determined months ago, the mavset-im cannot bear our many images while near Urithiru.”

A: One would like to think this will make a difference, but it won’t. The one or two Fused on the team who can use Illumination, while they might have made the infiltration a little easier, aren’t really necessary. Not when you have fifty who can do this:

The Deepest Ones dropped their robes, exposing naked skin and carapace-covered privates. Then they slid into the rock, sinking as if into a dark ocean up to their necks. Then, eyes closed, they vanished beneath the stone.

A: The “spiritual protections” don’t seem to affect the Deepest Ones, the ones who can manipulate Cohesion and move their molecules through solid rock. Apparently the ralkalest-lined tunnels, the physical barrier, would have prevented this, but modern Radiants don’t know that.

L: I wonder why those protections extend to one Surge, and not another. What is it about Cohesion that makes it “invisible” to the Sibling’s shielding? Are there other Surges that aren’t affected?

A: Something about the Cognitive realm interaction, perhaps? Except, no, Transformation is every bit as Cognitive-based as Illumination, and that doesn’t seem to be affected:

Raboniel stepped directly into a spear strike—though when the weapon rammed into her, it immediately transformed to dust.

A: Raboniel has incredible mastery of Transformation, I’d say! Jasnah is impressive, but this is next-level stuff:

She breathed out toward him, and something black left her lips—something that sent the man stumbling away, clawing at his face.

A: She can turn her exhalation into some caustic gas? That’s insanely advanced.

L: That is pretty cool, not gonna lie. So is Transformation also not affected, or are they just not within the sphere of influence of the shield yet?

A: Or is Raboniel so incredibly strong that she can push through it? I have no answers.

Humans

Navani left him and walked over to Kristir. She was short of stature, but not of personality, and bore a smile on her rosy cheeks. Navani leaned in to whisper, “You enjoyed that, didn’t you?”

“We’ve had a pool going on whether you would actually try it out, Brightness,” Kristir whispered. “I won seven clearmarks.”

A: First of all, Kristir!! This is a tuckerization for Kristina Kugler, who has been a long-standing Sanderson beta reader; for Rhythm of War, she officially joined the team as line editor. It was really fun to be reading along in the beta and suddenly see (Hi, Kristy!) inserted in the text.

Secondly, I love that Navani has the kind of relationship with her scholars and engineers that allows for this kind of camaraderie. The bit where they were ostentatiously applauding her every move was hilarious, and the way she took it all in good fun was sheer delight. For all that she can get so caught up in her many responsibilities, I love to see Navani relaxed and having fun.

Sadly, it doesn’t last long. This last quote provides setup for next week… as well as for Navani’s future arc:

She leaned in, reading over Isabi’s shoulder, and got to the words “explosion” and “dead” before she snapped alert and realized this was not what she’d been expecting.

 

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 38, which is a frightful mix of hope and terror. Join us…

Alice is a Sanderson beta reader and administrator of two fandom Facebook groups. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two kids, with extended family out back. This year, she’s trying her hand at square-foot gardening; it’s all planted, and now she awaits the seedlings.

Lyndsey has been working like a madwoman getting ready for the glorious return of her local Renaissance Faire this weekend. She sometimes does 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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