Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Rhythm of War Reread: Chapter Forty-One

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Good morning and happy Thursday, my Cosmere chickens! I hope your week has been going better than Kaladin and Navani’s is, and that you are staying safe and healthy out there as the world slowly opens back up (here in the United States, anyway). Today in the reread we’ll be watching as Urithiru continues to slowly fall to the Fused and Regals. It’s like watching a very slow train wreck. Navani is trying desperately to throw rocks at the switch that will divert the train to another track, but…

Well. Let’s dig in and see what happens, shall we?

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 no larger-Cosmere mentions.

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

Shalash (Ash), Herald of Beauty. Lightweavers. Creative/Honest. Role: Artist.

A: I’m not sure what to think of these. Shalash would make sense, of a sort, for Raboniel’s lecture on the murals, but that’s all I can figure. Vedel… maybe for Kaladin in his role as Surgeon?

Icon: The Singer, because the chapter opens with Venli’s POV.

Epigraph:

Of course, I admit this is a small quibble. A difference of semantics more than anything.

A: “This” would be the distinction between the will of the Vessel and the will of the Shard, and I don’t really know what else to say about it.

Chapter Recap

WHO: Venli, Navani, Kaladin
WHERE: Urithiru
WHEN: 1175.4.6.3 into 4.6.4 (very shortly after Chapter 40, except that Kaladin’s is specified as “a few hours to dawn”)

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

Recap: The Tower has fallen. Navani and the soldiers make one final last-ditch push towards the crystal pillar room, and Kaladin resists fighting back.

Overall Reactions

A: Wow. This chapter gives three very different perspectives on what’s going on in the tower this night. Venli’s section is a weird mix of too-calm “let’s talk about artwork and the nature of humans” and a generalized terror of what’s going on in the levels above them. Navani’s is a very martial, purposeful movement, with heroes, sacrifice, and determined progress toward a goal. Kaladin’s is a fearful blend of exhaustion, diligent care for those who are frightened, a desire to fight back, a decision not to fight back in order to avoid endangering others, and (to me, at least) a general feeling of defeatism.

Singers/Fused

A part of her wanted to go up above and look for Leshwi, who would have arrived by now with the other Heavenly Ones. But no, that was foolish. Even if being near Leshwi would help make sense of all this. Leshwi seemed to see so much more clearly than other Fused.

A: Once again, Leshwi comes off looking like one of the few sane Fused left. I wonder why she’s still sane, when so many others aren’t.

Venli stayed at her side as directed, and realized the reason she’d been brought along. Raboniel wanted a servant at hand.

A: You know, I can almost feel bad for Venli.

L: Almost.

A: She was so proud of coming along on this excursion, and then she was terrified when she actually had to fight. Now she’s realizing that despite her title, Raboniel’s main reason for bringing her is to have a handy servant that’s (mostly) trustworthy and requires no translation. I shall continue to have mixed feelings about Venli for most of the book, IIRC. I do love Timbre, though.

L: Timbre is a lovely foil for Venli. They “humanize” her a bit (forgive the term, as it’s the only one that makes sense in this context, despite the fact that Venli isn’t human). Giving Venli something small and seemingly defenseless to care for was a very wise narrative choice on Sanderson’s part. It makes her more likable, and let’s face it—she needed that.

A: Did she ever! She’s still only barely sympathetic; if it weren’t for Timbre, she’d be less so!

“The Radiants we capture are dangerous. They have skill beyond what we anticipated, considering the newness of their bonds. We should behead them, each and every one.”

“No,” Raboniel said. “I will need them. Your orders are the same as what I told the others: Kill only those who resist. Gather the fallen Radiants for me. On my orders, you are to show… restraint.”

A: The Pursuer (first speaker in this dialog) is a prideful, bloodthirsty git, but he’s not entirely wrong in this case. We’ve already seen that, with no one to tell them what they should or shouldn’t be able to do, these new Radiants have come up with some new skills. Kaladin and Lift, especially, have unusual talents that are going to create problems for the Fused.

What really stands out to me in this conversation, though, is something we’ve mentioned before: The mere fact that Raboniel has plans for the fallen Radiants is enough to give me the shivers.

L: This absolutely has shades of “bwahaha Mr. Bond, I won’t kill you immediately, I’ll tie you up in this terrible situation and allow you a chance to escape and thereby thwart my evil plans!” but thankfully Sanderson lampshades it (meaning, he points it out to the reader that this is intentional and that there’s a reason it is happening beyond the convenient one). Those plans Raboniel has though… yeah. Shivers, indeed.

Odium had granted this femalen her own rhythms.

A: Yeah, so if you weren’t already worried about her, you really should be now. Yikes. Venli is 100% correct here: Raboniel is far more dangerous than Lezian. She has Plans to end the war, and they don’t bode well for humans. Especially Radiants. And their spren.

L: Yikes. I wish there were a way we could hear these rhythms. Maybe someday, Sanderson will come out with some sort of album so we can actually hear them all. I imagine that a lot of Odium’s would be in minor keys or discordant.

The Pursuer did have a madness to him. … [S]he worried that all the Fused were like him. Maybe not mad—maybe that was the wrong word for it, and disrespectful to people who were themselves mad. The Fused instead seemed more like people who had lived so long thinking one way that they had come to accept their opinions as the natural state of things.

A: This thought comes after she asked Lezian if he would really kill Stormblessed when he was unarmed, and Lezian replied that his traditions were more important than honor. Lezian may be one of the worst of the set-in-their-opinions crowd, but it does seem to be widely applicable. Even Raboniel, who is constantly seeking a new approach to ending the war, is firmly stuck in her belief that the only way to do so is to wipe out all humans. (Again, Leshwi seems to be one of the few who can occasionally break out of that thought pattern.)

The odd thing is that Raboniel recognizes this limitation too. She’s fascinated by the new fabrials the humans have come up with, the many ways they’ve gone so far beyond what the Fused had seen before or had been able create, and she says as much to Venli:

“That is the reason this war is eternal,” Raboniel said. “They cannot hold or exploit that which they create, but we cannot stretch far enough to come up with anything new. If we truly want an end, it will take a partnership.”

A: By this point, she had already taken the first steps toward that “partnership” in this chapter, when she sent one of the other Fused to find out who was in charge of the scholars. She’s sufficiently impressed with the fabrials in the library rooms that she wants to know who leads the research. Interestingly enough, her observation on humans will prove true…

“If there is one thing I can guarantee you about humankind, Last Listener, it is this: Provide them with a sword, and they will find a way to impale themselves upon it.”

A: As we’ll see eventually, that’s sort of true of Navani’s discoveries… but in the end, after having damaged her own cause, Raboniel is the one who will be quite literally impaled with that sword.

L: Raboniel’s idea of “partnership” seems more like slavery and taking the achievements of her “partner” for herself. You can’t be openly disdainful of the people you want to work with and call it a partnership.

A: This is going to be a running frustration in Parts Three and Four. The work Raboniel and Navani do is, in some sense, a “partnership”—in that neither could have done it without the perspective, resources, and contributions of the other. But every time it starts looking like there’s some measure of equality, Raboniel finds a way to make it very, very clear that no matter her respect for Navani’s intellect and gifts, she’s still essentially a slave, and her people are eminently disposable.

…no human could ever be completely trusted. They didn’t have forms. A human might wear the robes of their priesthood, but could secretly have trained as a warrior.

L: This is just utterly fascinating from a sociological perspective.

Humans

Teofil noticed her and stepped over. “Brightness,” he said. “I’d be more comfortable if you waited closer to the steps.”

“Objection noted,” Navani said.

L: …and summarily dismissed. Storms, I love Navani sometimes.

A: In this chapter, ALL the time!

Last week in the comments, someone mentioned that Teofil was essentially a Rosharan Redshirt, and this week we see that character extended to his soldiers.

She spared a moment of grief for the slowest of the fleeing soldiers, who sold this ruse with their lives, dying in a bright flash of lightning.

A: That feigned retreat, leading the stormforms into an ambush, is brilliant but also excruciating. In order for it not to look suspicious, the battle had to be fully engaged, and… well, that means soldiers will die in the process. And they all knew it.

L: “I will protect those who cannot protect themselves.”

Teofil left her with a salute. He set out on a near-impossible task: to push down a long stairwell into the basement, harried by Regals and Fused. If Navani wasn’t able to get to him after he reached the pillar, he was to destroy the construction of garnets that suppressed Radiant powers. The Sibling indicated this would be effective at restoring the Radiants.

A: It’s kind of painful to remember how hopeful this seemed on the first read… IIRC, I actually had hope that they would succeed. I’m not sure it had occurred to me that the tower might actually fall and be totally run by the Fused for the majority of the book.

In the meantime, Navani’s job was to activate the Sibling’s fail-safe. She hurried to collect her scribes, hoping they wouldn’t balk too much at climbing over the corpses.

A: Speaking of those scribes, I did have to chuckle at the two Thaylen scholars who (not unlike Venli, come to think of it) thought they were being honored by Navani’s summons to her command post, and thought they’d be safer near the Queen.  And here they are in the worst war zone of all. We’ll see why they’re important next week.

Spren and Shadesmar

Why, for instance, could Rock always see [Syl]? Was he somehow part spren? Lift seemed to be able to do it too, though she wouldn’t speak about it. So was she part Horneater? The other Edgedancers didn’t have the ability.

L: I love the fact that Kal is questioning this, though he doesn’t ask right now. From what we can tell, this particular ability isn’t a Horneater trait, but rather something hereditary passed down in Rock’s family. I suspect that we’ll learn a lot of really interesting things about Rock’s ancestry one of these days… As for why Lift can see them, I’d wager a guess that it has something to do with her close ties to Cultivation and the Cognitive Realm.

A: Rock’s ability probably has a couple of aspects to it, not least being generations of proximity to Cultivation’s perpendicularity, but given the family heredity, it’s more than that. In Dawnshard, it was really fun to see how thoroughly Cord had inherited that gift. I also wonder if the singer DNA has something to do with it, but again, it’s not a racial characteristic so much as family line. I really hope we learn about the origins in Horneater!

Bruised and Broken

If you don’t want people to cringe when they see you, he thought, act less like a ruffian and more like a surgeon. He never had possessed his father’s gentle grace, that unassuming way that wasn’t weak, but also rarely seemed threatening.

A: Somehow I doubt that’s why they’re cringing; they know the tower has been invaded, and they’d cringe when the door opened in any case. Probably even if it was Lirin.

Oh, I also have to share a laugh-at-myself moment here. In the middle of the night I was trying to figure out why Kaladin was taking blankets to people—like they didn’t have any of their own after being here for weeks and weeks? But of course there was a reason:

“Something’s wrong with the tower, so heating fabrials aren’t working.”

A: Oh, duh. I guess I needed the reminder… It also highlights one of the things I love about Sanderson’s writing: The ordinary needs of the ordinary people do get recognized. Not only do they need blankets because the heating fabrials they’d gotten used to quit working, they need water, they need food that doesn’t have to be cooked, and the chamber pots will need to be emptied.

L: Yeah, sometimes it’s nice to see basic human needs addressed in fantasy fiction. Lends a touch of realism.

A: You may be wondering why all of Kaladin’s discussion is under “Bruised and Broken,” even though it could have been split out to other units. I wanted to keep it together, because it all ties together (for me, anyway) in these moments:

Kaladin bit off a response. This wasn’t the kind of taunt where the speaker wanted an answer. Instead he looked down.

This creature wanted a fight. …

Kaladin’s grip tightened on the man’s hand. His heartbeat sped up, and he found himself reaching for the Stormlight at his belt. Draw in a breath, suck it in, end this farce. Enemies were invading the tower, and he was delivering blankets?

He held those red eyes with his own. He heard his heart thundering. Then he forced himself to look away and let the singer shove him into the wall, then trip him with a sweep to his legs. The creature loomed over him, and Kaladin kept his eyes down. You learned to do that, when you were a slave.

A: While I think that was the right thing to do in this moment, because fighting this one Regal would be meaningless and also people need the food and blankets he’s delivering, it also feels very much like Kaladin is currently in a broken state. (Isn’t he usually?) I said last week that I thought Lirin was absolutely right to use any means necessary to stop Kaladin from trying to take on the entire Fused/Regal army with Adhesion and a scalpel, and I hold to that. He would most likely have died without accomplishing a thing. But this just feels wrong, even though it’s the correct choice for the moment.

I think if it were a strategic decision to fake submission until the time is right, it would feel better to me. As it is, and coming after that first quote, it seems like Kaladin is trying to be Lirin, but without the convictions that make Lirin’s beliefs livable. It’s like… since Kaladin doesn’t comprehend or share Lirin’s determined non-violence and non-resistance (two different things, by the way), the only way he can emulate the behavior is by putting himself in a slave mentality.

L: I can agree with this. He’s allowing himself to fall back into that “wretch” persona, to let himself be pushed around and to ignore his instinct to protect others. It’s painful to watch.

A: Painful indeed. I’ll talk more about it in a couple of weeks, but I really can see both men’s positions on the validity of killing to protect. However, I think Lirin made one huge mistake as a parent: He taught his sons what he believed, but not why he believed it, nor why they should believe it. Without that conviction, Kaladin is… I don’t know… breaking himself further, maybe, by trying to live a role he doesn’t understand. It makes me sad that the only way he can manage the act is to think of himself as a slave, though.

L: I think Lirin did teach them why. The difference is that they are coming at the problem from two different angles. I hate to invoke Godwin’s law here, but this is the old quandary of “non-violence is a wonderful, beautiful thing to aspire to, but what would have happened if the allies had tried that tack with the Nazis?” Sometimes, there is true evil in the world which does not listen to reason, and violence can only be stopped with more violence. It is a necessary evil. And that is what Lirin doesn’t respect about his son. Kaladin can’t be non-violent, because doing so would not be protecting those who cannot protect themselves. Sometimes you have to take a stand. The world is not black and white, no matter how much Lirin apparently seems to want to believe that it is so.

A: There’s why, and then there’s why. He taught them that violence is wrong because it does harm to another person; so far, so good. When Kaladin said you sometimes needed to harm one person to protect another, Lirin disagreed—but he never explained why that doesn’t work. Why is it so important not to harm any other person, even if it means allowing that person to harm someone else? That question has never been answered, and I think that’s the source of the conflict.

There have been hints that Lirin’s past experience taught him something of the futility of violence to solve things, that there’s more to it than the surgeon’s motivation to help and heal. I may be wrong, but I have to hope that there is a reason Lirin is so adamantly anti-violence. Knowing human nature and nurture, I know it’s possible to understand someone’s belief and disagree with their rationale, even when it’s your own family. But if you don’t know the foundational reasoning, you end up like Kaladin and Lirin—they disagree, but since Kaladin doesn’t understand the basis for Lirin’s belief, they’re incapable of having the discussion in any satisfactory way. If Lirin could explain the fundamental reason for “do no harm,” Kaladin would be able to either agree or disagree with the reasoning. But without a rationale to argue against, they just have a personality clash that goes nowhere. And it may be that Lirin doesn’t have a deeper rationale—but I hope he does.

(For the record, life prevented Lyn from having the opportunity to respond after this last paragraph of mine. Never fear; we’ll have plenty of opportunity to continue this discussion in the next two chapters!)

Arresting Artwork

Navani’s Notebook: The Crystal Pillar Room

A: I took the liberty of adding the translations right onto the artwork, in case anyone here doesn’t actually read the women’s script.

While the layout is essentially what I’d envisioned (if you include the “not to scale” note), the suppressor device doesn’t look at all like what was in my head, and I’m still confused about the detail of the crystal pillar. Are the gemstones all in settings which are somehow fused together? Or are they just all stuck directly to each other? I’ve never been clear on this, and it bugs me.

L: I always imagined it as a pillar of fused crystals, like blown glass. Maybe there are singular ones suspended in there that are whole and not fused? That seems to be what is being shown with the little dots floating in the pillar in the sketch with the person standing beside it.

A: We need to ask Isaac!

 

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 42—the protection of the Sibling and the surrender of Urithiru.

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. When she’s not rereading, she’s currently busy with Spensa, Bastille, and… others. She’s also trying to find time to reread Mistborn Era 2; that progress bar on the fourth book keeps moving forward!

Lyndsey is finishing up her run of the first Renaissance Faire of the season and gearing up for two more over the course of the summer and fall. 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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