Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Rhythm of War Reread: Chapter Thirty-Nine

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Well, my Cosmere Chickens, here we are. The Tower falls, our heroes are in danger, and things look as if they can’t possibly get any worse. Which, of course, means that they will get worse, and in spectacular fashion, but for now we’re left here in the darkness to theorize and speculate. Why is it specifically the garnets that Raboniel inverts in the Sibling’s gem matrix? Does Lirin have a point, or is he almost as much a monster as Moash? Will Kaladin ever come to terms with the wretch within him and swear that Fourth Ideal? And why is he the only Windrunner still functioning when all the others have fallen unconscious? We’ll discuss these subjects (and more) in this week’s installment of the Stormlight Archive reread. Won’t you join us?

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 there are the usual vague Mistborn references in the Epigraphs section, but that’s about it.

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

Jezrien (Jezerezeh, Yaezir, Ahu), Herald of Kings. Windrunners. Protecting/Leading. Role: King.

A: In a slight inversion, Vedel is likely representing Kaladin and his efforts at healing, as well as his healer role. Jezrien, instead of reflecting his Windrunner, is IMO here for Navani’s work to protect and lead her people.

Icon: Banner and Spears, for a Kaladin POV (shared).

Epigraph:

However, though you think not as a mortal, you are their kin. The power of Odium’s Shard is more dangerous than the mind behind it. Particularly since any Investiture seems to gain a will of its own when not controlled.

A: Somehow the phrasing of that first sentence cracks me up. I mean… I guess it’s accurate, but Hoid was a mortal once upon a time, right? I suppose the ways in which he was changed by the Dawnshard make him merely “kin” to mortals, and that with his longevity means he doesn’t entirely think like one. It seems that Harmony is pretty confident in his assertion that Hoid doesn’t entirely understand the Shards and how they function.

Also, how much does Harmony see the future? This is totally foreshadowing the death of Rayse at the end of the book, isn’t it? Is it implying that Rayse was losing control of the power? Did the Shard itself block Rayse from seeing the threat posed by Nightblood, so that Rayse could be killed and it could find a new Vessel?

L: This definitely reads to me as if Rayse had lost control. The question now is, which is more dangerous… Odium controlling itself, or Taravangian controlling it?

A: And that’s a question we cannot answer. Both are pretty frightening. Wrath with no balancing values of mercy, justice, humor, etc. is very dangerous, but that same power controlled by a nearly amoral person with an “ends justify the means” attitude… yikes. Tyranny exercised “for your own good” (as defined by the tyrant) is a terrifying thing.

Chapter Recap

WHO: Kaladin, Navani
WHERE: Urithiru
WHEN: 1175.4.6.3 (immediately following Chapter 38)

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

Overall Reactions

I am the Sibling, the pen wrote in a quick script. I am the spren of this tower The enemy They are They are doing something to me This is bad You need to infuse— Red the Lightweaver—who had been standing near the door—suddenly collapsed to the floor.

L: This gives me the chills. The tension is really being ratcheted up here, and it’s not going to let up from now until pretty much the end of the book.

A: Coming on the heels of Teft’s collapse and Kaladin’s inability to use his Lashings, seeing Red collapse just like Teft is bad enough. Knowing (as we do) what Raboniel has done, it’s agonizing to watch as they begin to see isolated effects and have no idea what is happening in the rest of the tower.

The sun had set, though fading sunlight painted the sky, so he could see the hundreds of flying figures—trailing long clothing and infused with Voidlight—descending upon the tower. “You were wrong, Rlain,” Kaladin said.

“It’s not a raid. This is an invasion.”

L: ::shivers:: This paints such an evocative mental image.

A: Doesn’t it, though? We knew the Heavenly Ones were coming, but to see it through Kaladin’s eyes is so much more effective.

Music, Mechanisms, and Manifestations of Light

“I didn’t notice it at first, but the rhythms are going crazy. I can faintly hear new ones in the distance. I don’t much like them. They sound like the rhythms I hear during an Everstorm.”

A: I’m curious about this one. Does the inversion of that particular protection (the garnet group) affect the rhythms in the tower? Is it the presence of so many Fused and Regals? Or is it the partial corruption of the Sibling and the fact that there’s now Voidlight infiltrating the tower systems? I guess the first and third of those are connected, aren’t they?

L: Very interesting. Garnet is associated with blood and the Lightweavers, and hence is also associated with the Lightweaver Surges of Illumination and Transformation. I would theorize that there’s something going on here in regards to Transformation rather than Illumination. (It just doesn’t seem like Illumination could be “important” enough to be affecting something as major as the protections around the Tower.) Something about the connection between the Sibling and the Cognitive Realm, perhaps?

A: You know, I hadn’t even thought about “why garnets?”—which is a dreadful oversight on my part. Transformation does make a lot more sense than Illumination, for sure. “Blood and non-oil liquids” must be part of the equation, but I’m not sure how.

Spren and Shadesmar

He tried to concentrate on that feeling, and he sensed something tugging on his soul. It was as if… as if someone was using his mind like a proffered arm to help them climb out of a pit.

Syl exploded into sight in front of him in the shape of a small woman, growling softly, her teeth clenched.

A: Hah. Just try to keep her from Kaladin! Even the Stormfather couldn’t do that. (I just had to include this for the visual. I do adore that little spren.)

The Sibling. The third Bondsmith spren. Not dead after all, not even asleep. But why spend over a year saying nothing? Why let everyone think you were dead?

A: From what we learn later, it’s easy enough to understand why the Sibling stayed in hiding. After a less-than-compatible bond with Melishi, and then being occupied by an Unmade, it’s not really surprising the Sibling was reluctant to make themself known. They seem to be a bit like a shy child in personality anyway, at least to me. Just think how different that personality is from Navani, who seems to have always forged ahead no matter how insecure she was feeling. In a way, I can understand Navani’s bafflement here, and the Sibling’s caution about forming a bond later. They are so very unlike.

L: I’m curious to see whether this proves to be a hindrance or a boon to their continued relationship. I could see it going either way. Either their differences are going to complement one another… or they’re going to clash at every step.

A: Exactly. It may be both, in different settings, too. (I certainly hope they end up with a better relationship than the Sibling had with Melishi, though.) I can’t help thinking that, once she lets herself, Navani would be able to understand the Sibling’s fears, since she’s had plenty of her own. Maybe she can even help the Sibling be a stronger person by learning how to work beyond the fear.

Relationships and Romances

“Kal!” Lirin said, anger peeking through his calm surgeon’s mask. “Don’t be a fool. There’s no point in playing the hero.”

“I’m not playing anything,” Kaladin said. “This is who I am.”

A: Sigh. As a parent with a nearly-adult child, I can kind of relate to the frustration of trying to figure out whether to treat them as an adult or a child. Sometimes they do things that you know are really dumb, because they don’t have the perspective to know how dumb it would be. But then you have to let them make their decisions, and sometimes they turn out to be right after all. Yes, I know I’m in the minority, but I have a lot of sympathy for Lirin.

L: You’re right about watching your kid do dumb things you may not approve of, yes. But it’s how Lirin reacts to these things that’s problematic and, honestly, emotionally abusive. And this is why I do not have sympathy for him as a character at all. Especially as a parent. Is he well written? Yes. But I despise him for how utterly hurtful his words are.

A: I understand what you’re saying, but I still think it’s more sad than despicable. They haven’t spent much time together in the last six years—years which changed Kaladin from the boy Lirin was training into a man broken and shaped by war, slavery, abuse, and power. His parents weren’t part of that transformation, and didn’t get to see it happen over time; they didn’t even know he was alive until it had already happened. Adjusting to that change is not easy, and Lirin isn’t the most flexible person in the world by nature. So yeah, they’re going to clash. I’m okay with it.

Stormfather knows, you’re good at breaking things.

L: It’s little jabs like this that really make me hate Lirin. It’s needlessly cruel, especially now.

A: It’s little moments of bitterness like this that make him a realistic person with realistic flaws. We all slip and say what we’re thinking sometimes, even if it’s neither kind nor necessary.

L: I never said he was unrealistic. Emotionally abusive parents are absolutely realistic. Yeah, we all make mistakes sometimes. But Lirin never realizes this or apologizes for it. He doesn’t try to make amends. He just keeps digging that knife deeper into the wound. Sound familiar? ::cough Moash cough::

A: So… do you expect Lirin to treat Kaladin as a child? Because I don’t. Kaladin is 21 years old now—Roshar years—and I don’t think a sharp disagreement between adults necessarily constitutes “emotional abuse.” Kaladin isn’t in a position subservient to his father; they’re equals at least, and in most ways Kaladin now has more authority than Lirin does. If it weren’t for his fragile mental state, I don’t think it would be such an issue. It may be that Lirin is harsher because of Kaladin’s status; he doesn’t want to see his son acting like the kind of leader who will charge in thoughtlessly and get himself and other people killed needlessly.

L: I absolutely do not expect him to treat him like a child. I expect him to treat him with the care and respect any human being deserves. I refuse to make allowances and excuses for emotionally abusive behavior.

Do you want to see that happen to me? To your mother? To your baby brother?”

“Storm you,” Kaladin whispered. Lirin didn’t care about saving himself; he was not so selfish as that. But he was a surgeon. He knew the vital spots in which to stick a knife.

L: I’m with Kal here. Lirin might be right in this instance, but the way he’s going about this is so heartless.

A: Heartless‽ He’s doing whatever it takes to keep his son from going out there and trying to fight Fused and Regals with a scalpel. Does anyone—even Kaladin—think that’s going to have any effect? I’m with Lirin on this one, though not for the same reasons. At this point, Kaladin is not listening to reason, and there’s not really time to be gentle. If Kaladin went out there at this point, he’d die. His Stormlight would only last until they brought one of those Stormlight-sucking spears to bear, and then he would die. He would be “playing the hero” and he’d soon be a dead hero. If the tower is to have even a slight chance, Kaladin—the only Radiant still awake and free—needs to survive this initial event. And a scalpel is an inadequate weapon for facing down hundreds of Regals, never mind the Fused. IMO, Lirin is justified in using any trick he knows that will work to keep Kaladin from suicide-by-Fused.

L: Aren’t you the one who says “there’s always another way” in our discussions about ethics regarding Teravangian? If he’d taken a moment to think about it, he could have found less hurtful words with which to get across his point.

A: If he’d had a moment to think about it, sure. But that’s my point—there was no time. Kaladin was on the verge of rushing out and trying to take on Raboniel’s army with Adhesion and a scalpel. He wouldn’t even have an ordinary sword, much less his Sylblade. He had to be stopped right here and now.

Of course there are other things going on; as I said earlier, I don’t have the same long-term reasons as Lirin for wanting Kaladin to stay put for the moment. Lirin will later urge Kaladin to just submit and obey, and I disagree with that (though I do sort of understand his perspective). At this point, I just want Kaladin to be careful enough to survive this night so that he can a) get Teft to safety and b) find a way to fight back, when he knows what allies he has. If the only argument that will get through to Kaladin in this moment is the emotional one of not endangering his family (and it is a valid point), I think it’s an acceptable argument.

Bruised and Broken

“Some firemoss addicts have them during withdrawal.”

“He hasn’t touched the stuff in months.”

So he says, Kaladin thought. Teft had lied before.

A: This was heartbreaking. It’s perfectly valid, because Teft had lied before about this very subject, but… we know that’s not it, so it’s painful to have Kaladin even think he might be lying.

L: Yeah, this one hurts. As an addict myself (damn cigarettes) who has absolutely lied to those I’m close to about whether or not I’ve picked it up again, I totally sympathize with Teft. And with Kaladin, for doubting him.

“Red says you don’t speak,” Navani said to the man.

He looked down. Then he shook his head.

“Perhaps you should reconsider,” Navani said.

L: Ugh. Come on, Navani. That’s pretty ableist of you. “Just get over what’s pretty obviously a trauma or even possibly a physical ailment immediately because I am asking you to.”

A: I wonder if she’s ever before known anyone who was mute; just before this she seems to doubt that he really is. It is frustrating, though, because she acknowledged that he doesn’t speak. Why not give him a different way to communicate?

L: Yes! Navani is so smart. You’d think that her problem-solving brain would immediately jump into overdrive on this and try to figure out some alternative.

A: On the bright side, in the later section she pays a little more attention to his way of “speaking,” and asks questions that he can answer— like showing her the vein of garnet that will allow her to speak to the Sibling. She may be impatient with other people’s weaknesses (gee, I wonder where Jasnah gets it!), but not so much that she’ll waste any source of information.

“Something similar just happened to my friend. Another Radiant.”

“Not you though?”

I always live, Kaladin thought, a bitter thought echoing from long ago. So I can keep suffering.

L: Poor, poor Kaladin.

A: And therein lies the heart of his inability to speak the fourth Ideal; he hates that he’s always the one who survives when others die, and he constantly forgets that there are many others who live because of him. Honestly, I wonder if that’s half the reason he wanted to go out there with the scalpel in the first place—because there’s no way he could survive, and then he wouldn’t have to keep seeing other people die.

L: I’m sure it doesn’t help that he’s got the lingering shadow of Moash’s words echoing in his head, too.

A: Damn Moash. (We’re going to be hitting his Interlude soon, and… it’s not going to be pretty.) But you’re totally right: Moash told him, “They’re all going to die, everyone you care about, and you can’t stop it. The only way to win is to end the pain by dying.” (Or words to that effect.) I’m sure that’s been with him the whole time, and this really exacerbates it.

A surgeon’s knife could be a subtle thing, meant to cause as little harm as possible. A delicate contradiction. Like Kaladin himself.

L: This is a beautiful analogy. And it continues here:

It had been designed to heal, but could kill as efficiently. Like Kaladin himself.

L: Really says it all, doesn’t it?

A: Well… “all” from Kaladin’s current perspective. The big difference is that the scalpel is an amoral object, and Kaladin is a thinking, feeling, moral person. Every life he takes affects him, and every life he saves matters. The same is not true of the scalpel. It’s just… more complicated than that.

L: I think Kaladin wishes that he could think of himself as a tool, like the scalpel. As a soldier, I believe that that’s part of the training. But that, of course, is wishful thinking. You can’t just follow orders and expect that the things you do with your own hands won’t affect you. We see this reflected time and again in history, in the PTSD suffered by our veterans.

Kaladin’s fingers wrapped around the knife, and he turned toward the screams. He was needed. Life before death. This was what he did. Yet as he walked toward the door, he found himself laden by a terrible weight. His feet were as if in chains, and his clothing could have been made of lead. He reached the doorway, and found himself panting in a cold sweat. It had been going so well…

He found himself sitting beside the surgery room doorway, his back up against the wall, clutching the knife in front of him and trembling.

L: Another anxiety attack (and/or PTSD response), just like the one he had when they returned from the battle and Adolin came and found him.

A: Poor Kaladin. It’s so bitter, after he just thought maybe he had a chance to get his life together, finally.

L: From a character/writing perspective, it just makes sense. We’re about halfway through the book. There’s no way that Kaladin’s arc is going to continue on an upwards trajectory already. We must fall in order to rise, and oh boy… is Kaladin going to fall.

A: (Danged authors and their narrative arcs, anyway.)

“Cold sweats,” he muttered. “Emotional detachment. Insensibility, accompanied by hyper-recall of traumatic moments.” Someone shouted out on the balcony and he jumped, brandishing the knife. “Severe anxiety…”

L: I love that Kaladin can self-diagnose this way.

A: I kind of love it, but it also kind of scares me. Detaching himself from himself seems… dangerous. Still, self-awareness is usually good in the long run.

Urithiru might continue to fight, but he knew that it had lost the battle long ago.

Like Kaladin himself.

L: Oof. I remember reading this part during the beta (at the height of the first COVID lockdown here in the US) and feeling just as lost as Kaladin did. I think that this book will always hit me different than the others for this reason. I have trouble disconnecting my own trauma from Kaladin’s in this regard. I empathized with him so deeply.

Oaths Spoken, Powers Awakened

“I can Lash him,” Kaladin said, reaching for Stormlight. The Light oddly resisted for a moment, then streamed into him from the spheres in his pocket.

A: First hint that something is wrong…

Kaladin commanded the Light into Teft, to Lash him upward in order to make him lighter. And it didn’t work.

A: Second strong evidence. Something is very wrong.

… Adhesion worked but Gravitation didn’t?

A: This won’t make sense to Kaladin for a while, yet, but it’s nice to see that something worked for him. It was kind of a passing remark at the time, but back in Chapter 31 Raboniel told Venli that Adhesion isn’t a true Surge, but a lie Honor came up with and merely presented as a true Surge. (I think she’s wrong, but it works for someone who serves Odium, I guess?) We don’t really know why it works this way, but somehow this one Surge remains unaffected by Voidlight suppression, and it probably does have something to do with Honor’s Investiture keeping it pure. To go off-track just a little (who, me‽) this is why there are only nine brands of Fused: There are no Fused who use Adhesion. According to Raboniel, “true surges are of both Honor and Cultivation” so by that definition she’d be correct. I think we just don’t know enough about the origins of Roshar, and the way Honor and Cultivation changed things, to really understand yet.

Humans

“Soldiers, I need you in here! Spanreeds aren’t working. Who is the fastest runner among you?”

“I need you to run to the first floor—use the stairs, not the lifts—and get to the scouting office near the second sector.”

A: Every bit a queen, a leader, and an engineer. Yes, I’m going to gush about Navani again. Deal with it.

L: No argument here. She handles this situation with grace, speed, and intellect.

A: It takes her about three seconds to determine that none of the spanreeds are working, and maybe another two to get a different means of communication going. She sends runners to the same place by different routes to give her message a better chance of arriving, already assuming that if spanreeds aren’t working, the lifts are at best vulnerable. She even sends the last of her guards to the Windrunners, insisting that she’ll manage without guards because right now it’s more important to communicate and regroup.

(Sadly, of course, all twenty of the Windrunners are likely out of commission. The four Knights certainly are, and if the squires aren’t unconscious, they probably have no powers with their Knights in comas.)

Still. For having such limited visibility of what’s going on throughout the tower, I love the way Navani reacts. It’s not just that she refuses to panic, it’s that panic is not anywhere in sight. She just… takes the next step.

Brilliant Buttresses

I don’t think he’s right in the head. Well, pardon, most Windrunners ain’t right in the head. They act like some kind of cult to Stormblessed, Brightness, pardon, that, but they do that.

L: I don’t know why this struck me as amusing. Maybe it’s just that I know that Kaladin’s reaction to this would probably be a long-suffering sigh.

Syl? he thought, throwing himself to his feet, sweat spraying from his skin. “Syl!” he shouted.

“Son, a surgeon must be calm during—”

“Storm off with the lectures for once, Father!” Kaladin shouted. “Syl!”

L: To quote GLaDOS from Portal 2, “he says what we’re all thinking!”

 

Well. There’s so much we still didn’t cover, but we’ve done what we can do. We’ll leave 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 40, in which Navani does all the things she can think of to protect her people, and it actually looks hopeful for a minute or two.

Alice is a Sanderson beta reader and administrator of two fandom Facebook groups. She is currently going four directions at once, so if you see a few random bits of her floating by, don’t panic.

Lyndsey (she/her) has been a Sanderson beta reader since Words of Radiance and is also a fantasy author herself. She’s been incredibly busy lately as costume manager and actress for Robin Hood’s Faire in Harwinton, CT, and she wishes you all a very happy pride month.

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