Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Rhythm of War Reread: Chapter Forty-Two

Greetings, Oh Ye Chickens of the Cosmere! We’re back with the penultimate chapter in Part Two, in which many things come crashing down: stairways, soldiers, Syl’s mood, Navani’s throne… Yeah, it’s one of those chapters. Oh, don’t worry, there’s worse to come. But that’s for next week. This week, we have a “famous last stand” and a proud surrender.

Lyndsey is taking a break this week, so you just get my (extensive) thoughts on the 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 there are no spoilers for the rest of the Cosmere.

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

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

I have to say, these two are perfect for this chapter. While Jezrien partly represents his Windrunner, and Talnenel largely represents the incredible fight of Teofil and his soldiers, I think both of them represent Navani as well. The roles of King and Soldier suit her conduct, and she displays all four divine attributes. (Yes, I love Navani in general, but in this chapter she really shines. For me, anyway.)

Icon: Fabrial Gemstone for (primarily) Navani’s POV.

Epigraph:

In truth, it would be a combination of a Vessel’s craftiness and the power’s Intent that we should fear most.

And if that’s not terror-foreshadowing, I don’t know what it is. Rayse isn’t particularly crafty anymore, but Taravangian? Yikes.

Chapter Recap

WHO: Navani, Kaladin, Venli
WHERE: Urithiru
WHEN: 1175.4.6.4 (Immediately following Chapter 40)

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

Navani and her team of scholars follow the Sibling’s guidance to a hidden fabrial, where they infuse a large sapphire with all the Stormlight they could scrape together. Kaladin meets Rlain, and they talk over the options available to the latter as the tower inevitably comes under the rule of the Fused. Venli and Raboniel watch the last push and ultimate fall of the human soldiers, giving Navani’s team and the Sibling enough time to activate the protective shield around the crystal pillar, preventing Raboniel from further Voidlight intrusions. Proud of what they’ve accomplished against overwhelming odds, Navani surrenders the tower to Raboniel.

Overall Reactions

We don’t really have a great place to talk about the battle, and the eventual surrender, but… it’s so brilliant and heartbreaking, I’m going to talk about it right up front.

The descent was so dramatic that Venli sent for Raboniel, interrupting the Fused’s work with the pillar. Raboniel marched out and looked up with shock at how close the humans were.

Fascinating. If Raboniel weren’t there to yell orders and get the Deepest Ones involved, the humans might have made it all the way to the pillar and stopped her. On the other hand, her being distracted from working on the pillar gave Navani’s team time to activate the shield.

Led by a grizzled older soldier—and reduced from hundreds to just fifty—they barreled stubbornly onward. Venli found herself cheering them silently, Timbre exulting to the Rhythm of Hope. She cared little for the humans as a whole, but it was impossible to watch such a display of tenacity without being impressed.

This is… brilliant and heartbreaking. Also agonizing. Also, a nice little reminder of Venli’s ambivalent position.

Then a red line of light zipped down from above. The Pursuer had arrived.

Gah. I despise this creature. I mean… yeah, everyone has to fight to win, but to see the way the humans had handled the stormforms (shorting them out by pouring water on them) and the Deepest Ones (hacking off any limbs that reach out of the stone) and grimly kept moving… it just hurts to see the $%&# Pursuer zip in, create chaos, and zip back out. (I was never so glad to see an enemy humiliated and forever destroyed… but that’s much later.)

The human leader, and the men closest to him, dropped with the rubble to die. The rest began a frantic attempt at retreat. It ended quickly.

Oh, Teofil. You brave, brave man, leading so many more brave men. You bought the life of the tower with your lives by giving Navani time to set the barrier. You should have songs sung in your honor for as long as Urithiru stands.

But if Teofil had been killed… then the tower was captured. Navani’s only course was to surrender.

… “We must find a way to deliver a formal surrender without being killed before we can make our intentions known.”

Dicey proposition, that.

Ulim. The first Voidspren she’d ever met, all those years ago.

Little twit. Like Venli, I can’t help thinking Ulim ought to be embarrassed at seeing someone he had lied to so much, but I doubt he even cares what she thinks of him. I’m pretty sure he feels no guilt about lying or anything else he did to accomplish his goals; he’s a Voidspren, and she’s just a gullible listener out of her depth.

“Lady of Wishes,” he said, performing a flowery bow. “We have located the Blackthorn’s wife, queen of this tower. … The Caller summoned a force and captured Queen Blackthorn, who has come peacefully. She is now asking to speak with whomever was leading our assault. Shall I have her killed?”

“Queen Blackthorn.” I like it. It suits her, especially in this chapter.

Though the effects of fatigue made her want to droop, she kept her head high. … She kept her expression calm, though she wasn’t certain whether she was awaiting imprisonment or death.

Queen Blackthorn, indeed.

They’d made it clear time and time again that they didn’t slaughter populations who surrendered. You always knew you had an out. All you had to do was submit.

This grates on my independent Montana spirit. Just sayin’… There’s been too much “all you have to do is submit” lately.

It was the same lesson that Gavilar and Navani herself had taught many, many years ago. Cities that had joined the unified Alethkar had prospered. Of course, with Gavilar and Dalinar involved, there had always been an explicit addition to that lesson. Fail to submit, and you would be sent the Blackthorn.

(Question: Is that an intentional parallel to the arrival of Lezian in the battle earlier? Are we intended to see a similarity between the Pursuer and the Blackthorn?)

How could Navani feel outrage at having done to her what she’d willingly done to others? It was the enormous flaw in Gavilar’s reasoning. … It was a system that ensured there would always be war, a constant clash for rule.

She’s right, of course. The thing she doesn’t note is how very Vorin that is. Their highest Calling is to be a soldier so that they can go fight alongside the Heralds to reclaim the Tranquiline Halls in the afterlife; a system that ensures perpetual war is eminently suited to that mindset. I doubt they did it consciously, and Gavilar even thought he was going to be such a great ruler that no one could ever take him down—but the mindset was there.

Thank you, Teofil, she thought. And all of you. If the tower had a chance, it came because these men had bought her time.

Too true. Too painfully true. ::sob:: I didn’t quote everything I wanted, there, but the way Sanderson used the imagery of the aftermath, with the bodies and the pervasive blood as Navani makes her way through to surrender the tower… wow. It was both painful and inspiring. As Navani notes, the humans put up an incredible fight, given the lack of Radiants and Shards; the fact that they held out long enough to shield the pillar speaks volumes.

Raboniel’s reaction to the shield was already a bit… unexpected, when she displayed fascination more than frustration at being blocked from her intended work. Her reaction to Navani was (at least to me) equally unexpected:

“The Lady says, ‘She comes to me as a queen, though she will leave without the title. For now, she may speak when she wishes, as befitting her rank.’”

Okay, on the one hand, that’s not much of a concession: “she has about two minutes to maintain her dignity before I do whatever I want to her.” At the same time… well, Raboniel doesn’t see things the way most do. The terms of surrender are a weird combination of super-harsh and shockingly lenient. Turn over all the Radiants, and no promises about what may or may not happen to them. Anyone hiding a Radiant will be subject to harsh punishment. Lighteyes are the same status as darkeyes: All humans are at the same level and must instantly obey any singer. No weapons. Other than that, carry on.

Granted that she had full control of the tower and no need to make concessions, it was… chilling to see the lack of any pretense at negotiation. These are the terms; if you don’t take them, we’ll go kill all the Radiants and anyone who stands in the way, and then come back with harsher terms. It must have grated horribly on Navani to have no chance to negotiate, but… I guess, as she thought earlier, she’d been on the other side enough times to know that she wasn’t going to get a better deal by arguing. And, of course, with the shield in place, there is time…

Only by working with the enemy, pretending to be docile and controlled, would she find opportunity to restore the Radiants.

“Working with the enemy” is going to take on a completely new meaning in a minute. Raboniel’s offer to hire Navani was… unexpected just doesn’t cover it. She’s such a weird mix of arrogance and pragmatism.

“You are no longer a queen, but you are obviously a talented engineer. … I would hire you to work on fabrial projects for me. I assure you, being in my employ will be a far more rewarding job than carrying water or washing clothing.”

Tough choice. And I know, I’m quoting too much, but I have to include Navani’s response to that:

“Carrying water or washing clothing is fine work,” Navani said. “I’ve done both before in my life. Neither will involve giving secrets to an enemy who, I’m afraid, will inevitably use them to kill and conquer my people.”

If we ever wanted evidence that Navani’s impostor syndrome had roots in reality, there it is. Despite having married the man who would become king, she really did have a much lowlier backstory. That line from the prologue, about being “just a backwater country girl wearing someone else’s clothing”—that was for real. She came to Dalinar’s attention because of her beauty, and to Gavilar’s attention because of Dalinar’s attention, but she wasn’t a wealthy woman from the city. She really was a country girl, accustomed to hard work and not too proud to do it.

Raboniel’s offer, though. Yikes. Everything she says about Navani having a better opportunity to learn secrets by accepting her offer is 100% true… and Navani’s worry about “thousands of years to practice manipulating people” is 100% valid. And both will play out.

The soldiers led Navani away. And just like that, she had lost another throne.

Music, Mechanisms, and Manifestations of Light

A gemstone, she realized. … Seemed to be a topaz. Hadn’t there been a similar gemstone embedded into the wall of that room where they’d found the model of the tower?

Infuse the topaz, the Sibling’s voice said in her mind.

I love the way this was set up. When they found that room, Falilar had mentioned a gemstone embedded in the wall, which they’d pried out to examine. Now we get to find out (for sure) what it was—and we’ll see more of these along the way.

Another thing that was set up for us is the method of infusing the gemstones:

An infused gemstone touched to an uninfused one could be made to lend some of its Stormlight—assuming they were the same variety, and the uninfused gemstone was much larger than the infused ones.

But it’s slow. The Thaylen artifabrian isn’t entirely wrong—Navani did bring the two of them along for a purpose, but (despite her frustration with the secretive nature of artifabrians in general) it’s not exactly about “stealing trade secrets.” (There’s a little more on this below.)

“We use sound,” she whispered. “If you can make the gemstone vibrate at a certain frequency, it will draw in Stormlight regardless of the size of gems placed next to it.”

Dingdingdingdingding! We’ve had a few hints before this about the relationship of sound and Light, but this section really… highlights it, so to speak. (I find it fascinating, the way Sanderson buries key information for later use in a tense scene where they’re just trying to survive. The relationship between sound and Light is a critical factor for all of Navani’s experiments through the rest of the book, and while the concept may have been seeded earlier, this is where Navani gets it. Dual-use info-drop just slipped in there…)

I also enjoy the way Navani’s mind works. She thinks in the next section about how she and Rushu had theorized about the Thaylen methods, even as they were working with the few captured Fused fabrials that drain Stormlight, assuming that the mechanism was complicated. Once she learns that it’s just sound (or specifically, pitch) she leapfrogs almost instantly to the realization that the Thaylen women have tuning forks in their pockets.

I’m betting she’s wrong about this part, though:

…locked by a fabrial that in the old days probably only a Radiant could have activated.

One would think, anyway, that those gemstones were normally infused by Towerlight, just like everything else, and the big difference between these gemstone-locked doors and other doors was the ability to limit who could open them. Much later in the book, the Sibling explains that it was once possible to attune them to individuals, though they can’t do it right now. Specifically, I don’t think those individuals had to be Radiants, since Dabbid can activate the lock. (Heh. Somewhere between books, Navani probably has to ask the Sibling to charge and open all the doors, so they can find all the good stuff!)

Spren and Shadesmar

“Are my soldiers still alive?”

I cannot see them, the Sibling said. My vision is limited, in ways that are confusing to me, as it was not always so.

We’ll come back to this in a minute…

“Do you know why spren prefer different kinds of gemstones?”

Because they are different, the Sibling said. Why do humans prefer one kind of food to another?

… “Many gemstones are identical, at least by their structure. We think they might even have the same basic chemical composition.”

Color is like flavor to spren, the Sibling said. It is part of the soul of a thing.

And that, my friends, is the only answer we’re going to get about why (for example) sapphire and ruby are so different in their essences on Roshar, even though they’re essentially the same mineral. Color is part of the soul of the thing.

The Lady of Pains has the Surge of Transformation and dangerous knowledge. She will infuse my entire heart—the pillar—in the proper order, using her Voidlight. In so doing, she would corrupt me and leave me … leave me as one of the Unmade…

One, that’s a horrible thing to be doing to a spren. Two, I desperately want to know the backstory of the Unmade! It seems fairly clear by now that they were spren of some sort, but… what sort? I can’t help wondering if they also were children of Honor and Cultivation, and so truly siblings to the Sibling… and also if the Sibling was given the body that is now Urithiru as a way of protecting them from the fate of their other siblings. Or something.

Oh, also. Three: Is this in any way related to the way Sja-anat changes spren? She says she only “enlightens” those who are willing; is their voluntary participation a critical difference between her changes vs. this unmaking?

It is done, the Sibling whispered to Navani. Your men have fallen.

“Are you certain?” Navani asked. “What do you see?”

I used to be able to watch the entire tower. Now … I see just patches. A small portion of the sixth floor. A room on the fourth floor, with a cage in it. The place nearest the Lady of Pains.

As we’ll eventually prove, the Sibling can see through the eyes of the Radiants. Kaladin, on the sixth floor; Lift, in the cage on the fourth floor; Venli, always near Raboniel. I assume the limitation is due to the corruption of the Sibling’s normal systems, and the ability to see through the Radiants is due to their Connection to the Sibling’s parents.

It worked. Melishi … I have hated you … but now I bless you. It worked. I am safe, for now.

So in case you were wanting solid proof, there it is: The Sibling was bonded to Melishi, the only Bondsmith in the time of the False Desolation. As a side note, it would seem that their bond was broken, or Melishi died, before the Recreance. Why did the Sibling hate Melishi, though? I really, really want to learn more about this. Did Melishi actually do something awful, or did he tend to treat the Sibling as more of a tool to gain power rather than a partner, or… what? Given the clash between the two, though, the Sibling’s reluctance to enter a bond with Navani is perhaps more understandable.

“Something curious is happening here. There is Stormlight in the system. That shouldn’t be possible; the Sibling cannot create it.”

… “The Sibling—the tower, Urithiru—is the child of Honor and Cultivation, created to fight Odium. The place runs on the Sibling’s Light, a mixture of the essences of its parents.”

From here on out, it’s so hard to know when Raboniel is telling the truth and when she’s not. That part turns out to be true. The next bit… maybe not.

“The Sibling is insensate, completely unaware that we are here. That I can determine. I can corrupt them, awaken them to serve us. Just as I expected.”

Raboniel will tell Navani much later that when she touched the pillar she knew the Sibling was awake, but since they were pretending to be dead, she allowed them to think she didn’t know so she could spy on them. But we don’t really know: Did she recognize that immediately, so she’s lying to Venli now? Or did she put things together later? She’s an unreliable narrator if ever there was one. In any case, she clearly didn’t know how this shield was going to work, even if she had heard the Sibling giving Navani instructions. (To be fair, the Sibling didn’t exactly tell Navani what would happen—just step by step instructions, and at least some of that while Raboniel was distracted by the fighting.)

Bruised and Broken

“This will be an occupation, Kal,” Rlain said, voice tinged by a mournful rhythm. “We won’t be recovering Urithiru tonight—or anytime soon. So where does that leave me?”

As they go on to discuss, Rlain’s options are severely limited. The humans don’t trust him, and if he sticks with them anyway, the Fused won’t trust him either. His solution is as elegant as you can get in this situation: Pretend to be on their side, either as a parshman who never escaped, or as just another face in the crowd—and use his previous experience as a spy for the listeners to spy on the Regals and Fused. Kaladin’s objection is understandable, but not really reasonable, IMO:

“And if they take you out into the Everstorm?” Kaladin asked. “Demand you take a Regal form—or worse, give yourself up to the soul of a Fused?”

“Then I’ll have to find a way to escape, won’t I?” Rlain said.

There’s risk no matter what he does, so he might as well learn all he can. He might be able to help his friends and his own people.

“Thank you,” Rlain said, pulling back. “For trusting me to make this decision.”

“That’s what you said you wanted, all those months ago,” Kaladin said. “When I promised I’d listen.”

“To be trusted and acknowledged,” Rlain said.

Now we know what that conversation in Oathbringer was all about. As noted earlier, the humans in general don’t trust him, and the other Windrunners are either gone or unconscious. For now, Kaladin’s trust and acknowledgement has to be enough. That’s just painful. I mean, having Kaladin’s trust is significant, but it’s still awfully lonely.

Kaladin leaned against the stone, waiting for a cheerful line from Syl. When others tried to console him with laughs, it often struck him as false, unnecessary. But from her … well, she helped pull him out of the deep waters.

“They’re all going to leave, aren’t they?” she whispered instead.

OUCH. Just… I don’t… What do you say to that? Syl??

“I’m sorry. That’s not what you needed, is it? I can be perky. I can be happy. See?”

Which is even worse. A depressed honorspren vs. a fakey honorspren… And I honestly don’t know how much of it is the Stormlight suppression versus the emotional development she’s been reaching for—though I suspect it’s mostly the latter.

Geography, History, and Cultures

Navani felt as if she were entering the mythical centerbeat—the heart of a highstorm spoken of by some poor wanderers trapped within its winds. A moment when for reasons inexplicable, the wind stopped and all became still.

Mythical. At least until you experience it…! I do love having a name for it, though, after a few characters have been there. I shouldn’t laugh—it’s not like very many people experience it, for all that there are highstorms so frequently. It seems to only happen when the Stormfather has a reason to want to speak to someone. (Or, later in the book, when Dalinar wants to use it.) Off the top of my head, Kaladin has three experiences with it by the end of this book, Shallan has one, and Eshonai has two. And of course, Dalinar gets the Stormfather to create one of Kaladin’s experiences. Did I miss any?

Again they remained silent.

“Fine,” Navani said. “I hope when you die—knowing your homeland is doomed, your families enslaved, your queen executed—you feel satisfied knowing that at least you maintained a slight market advantage.”

Honestly, I sympathize with both sides. Trade secrets are important, especially when you’re the smaller and less aggressive nation. No one wants to give away what little leverage they have in a coalition led by the Alethi! At the same time, Navani is so right: This moment is critical to the survival of the tower, and by extension the human coalition. If they can’t get Stormlight shifted fast enough right here right now, the humans might as well all surrender and get used to being second-class non-citizens across the planet. Future danger, from giving Navani the ability to transfer Light easily from one gemstone to another… well, that’s another problem. (Fortunately, one that works out well in the end!)

Singers/Fused

“Remember that the first people Odium destroyed when he returned were not human, but listener.”

Say what you want about “humans were the original Voidbringers!” and “the singers were here first!”—this is about more than races, who could actually get along if both sides wanted to. This is also about Odium invading the system with the intent to destroy Honor and Cultivation. It’s about a relatively small number of singers who turned away from Honor and Cultivation and turned to Odium for power thousands of years ago. It’s about their willingness to sacrifice their own people to prove their “right” to the planet at any cost.

Humans

“How are they working [the Oathgate]? They have Skybreakers, but they should be as limited as our Radiants, right?”

They brought a human with one of the Honorblades.

Moash. The murderer.

Foul wretch. I do loathe that man.

Brilliant Buttresses

“Is it common for human queens of this era to be engineers?”

I’m not sure which made me laugh more—that unexpected question, or Navani’s deadpan answer:

“I have unusual hobbies.”

 

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 43, in which Kaladin has to make decisions, and you can bet Lyn and I will have a blazing argument over Lirin. Heh. Also, my cameo.

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.

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