Greetings once again, my peeps and chickens, and welcome back to another installment of the Rhythm of War Reread! This week is our second flashback chapter, as Eshonai has further interaction with the humans. It’s a disturbing mixture of impressions, and honestly, in my view the humans don’t come out looking very good, even though Eshonai thinks they’re great. That’s the interesting part of a reread—you know too much to accept things at face value! Come on in and let us know what you thought about it!
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 in the Cosmere Connections and Secret Societies sections, so if you haven’t read it, best to give that section a pass.
Heralds: Kalak (Kelek). Willshapers. Resolute/Builder. Role: Maker.
A: My first reaction is that Kalak is here for Eshonai, who will become the first known Willshaper character in the books. There may be more to it, though, because we have glimpses of different kinds of “making” in this chapter. Maybe?
Icon: The Sisters, for a flashback chapter. This one is solely Eshonai’s POV, though.
WHERE: The Shattered Plains (north side)
WHEN: 1184.108.40.206 (“Nine years ago”—probably a few weeks after Eshonai first encountered the humans in the forest, Chapter 45. The exact timespan isn’t given here.)
RECAP: Eshonai has been spending most of the last few weeks with the humans: learning their language, behavior, customs, and so on. Finally, at their request she takes them out on the Shattered Plains, avoiding the ten cities and the other listener families. One woman, who asks a lot of questions, is so interested in Eshonai’s good hunting knife that she insists on showing Gavilar. He’s distracted when a chasmfiend comes up for a sun break, inspiring awe in some humans, while causing others to jump to erroneous conclusions. After it leaves, though, Gavilar returns to the subject of Eshonai’s hunting knife, which she explains was found in ancient ruins some four generations ago. The mention of ruins piques his interest further; when she explains that they remember the ancient days through their songs and inadvertently reveals that some of the songs mention the Knights Radiant, he is thoroughly committed to prying out every bit of lore she can give him. The humans leave a few days later, after supplying Eshonai’s family with modern steel weapons and urging them to take one of the cities. Gavilar promises to return soon and hopes to personally listen to the keeper of songs.
A: This chapter is… infuriating and fascinating at the same time. It’s great fun to see the different views the two species have of each other as they interact. Eshonai’s interpretations are both insightful and naïve, and Gavilar’s motivations (given what we already know of him) are far too clear. And far too selfish.
P: Yes, Gavilar is damn near nauseating, what little we see of him in this chapter.
So it was that Eshonai led the way, though she kept them far from the ten ancient cities and the other listener families, for now. Using one of Eshonai’s maps, they approached from the north and walked along the chasms until they reached an ancient listener bridge.
A: I could almost wish she’d refused, but if she had, they’d have gone anyway. At least it was fun reading about the difficulty they had with the bridge.
They hadn’t been destroyed after all. … They spoke without rhythm, and couldn’t hear the songs of Roshar. They made carapace out of metal and tied it to themselves. Though she first assumed they had lost their forms, she soon realized that they had only a single form, and could never change.
A: Hey, anyone recognize this line? LOL. Somewhere recently (maybe on Facebook? It usually is) someone was complaining about how often this thought is repeated. “Yeah, yeah, we know, it’s weird to a listener/singer that humans can’t change forms, stuck with mateform permanently, yada yada.” I understand getting tired of it, but at the same time… it would be weird, if you’d only ever known the forms and rhythms, to be around a bunch of people who are so unadaptable. Really weird. In that regard, I find it eminently suitable that Eshonai, Venli, and Rlain all comment on it in their thoughts (and sometimes in their words) on a regular basis. It reminds the reader that it’s weird, and also reminds us that they can’t help noticing it all the time.
P: I agree that it’s suitable for them to think about it often. Because to a listener, it is seriously weird that humans have only one form that’s supposed to not only work and fight, but to mate, as well?
One of the attendants was a curious woman who was the surgeon’s assistant. She climbed up onto the rock beside Eshonai, though her clothing—which enveloped her from neck to ankles and covered up her left hand for some reason—wasn’t particularly good for exploring. It was nice to see that there were some things that the listeners had figured out that the humans hadn’t.
A: Heh. Society has to “advance” to a certain level to be able to indulge silly traditions like impractical clothing. I’m with Eshonai—sometimes the “less advanced” approach is pretty stupid.
P: I love her confusion over the safehand.
A: Right? I mean… it makes absolutely no sense to anyone not steeped in Vorin culture—and fairly recent Vorin culture at that. It’s fun to see Eshonai reflecting the reader’s feelings!
Her initial impression of Dalinar Blackthorn is… most interesting:
The king’s brother was a brutish man who seemed like a slightly different breed from everyone else. He was the first she’d met, along with a group of human scouts, back in the forest. This human wasn’t simply larger than most of the others, he walked with a different step. His face was harder. If a human could ever be said to have a form, this man was warform.
A: On the assumption that when the usual wording is different, it’s probably meaningful… “this man was warform.” They usually say someone “has” a form, or “wears” a form. Not Dalinar. Even though the listeners haven’t rediscovered how to take it yet, they know about warform, and it seems that Dalinar comes across to Eshonai as the very embodiment of warform. Fascinating.
Or maybe I’m just reading too much into it. Could be that.
P: This was a deliberate word choice by Brandon, and I like your thoughts on why this wording was used.
The king himself though … he was proof that humans didn’t have forms. He was so erratic. Sometimes loud and angry, other times quiet and dismissive.
A: Brandon is really working to make us dislike Gavilar. In this chapter, he’s erratic, arrogant, nosy, and manipulative—at the very least. The only moment I like him is when he draws the big awespren at seeing the chasmfiend.
P: News flash, Brandon: We already dislike Gavilar! If the prologue didn’t take care of that for most readers, then perhaps this will.
More intriguing, they brought with them a tribe of dullform creatures who also had no songs.
A: As we know, she’s a little off on this. They would later refer to the parshmen as “slaveform” to distinguish from dullform; the two look much the same, but the dullforms at least have a spren, and can hear the rhythms. (I wonder what kind of spren that is. Did we ever find out? Or is it just “most spren”—i.e., any kind that doesn’t have a specific form associated?)
P: I’m sure there is a specific spren for dullform. There’s just so storming much to keep track of in these books.
Things that the listeners had forgotten during the long sleep, the time they’d spent wearing dullform, memorizing songs by sheer force of will.
A: Eshonai is (in this moment) all about the knowledge they lost by taking dullform, but I’m fascinated by what they managed to accomplish. We learned back in Words of Radiance that dullform really is dull—as in not bright—and they have a hard time thinking clearly. Given that, and especially for those early listeners who were old enough to know what it was like to hold a stronger form, it’s really awesome that they developed or recalled all those songs, and managed to pass them down through centuries on centuries, solely through memorization.
P: The listeners are nothing if not tenacious. And it is pretty spectacular, I agree.
A: Then there are the weapons.
“It is old,” she said, not wanting to say too much. “Handed down. Generations.”
“Lasting back to the False Desolation, perhaps?” the woman asked the king. “Could they really have weapons two thousand years old?”
The listener Shardblades were far more marvelous, but Eshonai didn’t speak of those. Her family didn’t own any anyway.
A: So first, this puts a date on the False Desolation that I’d forgotten about. Two thousand years, give or take a few.
Second, I’m cracking up at Eshonai not mentioning the Shardblades—especially since her family doesn’t own any right now. Also, I’m glad she didn’t mention it here; Gavilar has more than enough information already.
Third, did those Shardblades she doesn’t mention come from the same place as the knife? She says her great-grandparents found it in some ruins, and (thankfully) doesn’t tell him what ruins she’s talking about, but it’s clearly Narak, a.k.a. Stormseat—the area around the Oathgate. If that’s where they came from, I have Big Questions… which I’ll put in TinFoil TheoryCrafting.
She wore a lot of rings on her right hand, though Eshonai couldn’t tell why.
A: Metalminds, anyone? (I mean… I think that’s a given, right?) And if you’ve read The Bands of Mourning, it’s fairly certain that one of them is probably similar to the Connection medallion (like Dalinar’s Bondsmith Connection) which allows the wearer to speak the local language instantly and easily,
P: Such a handy trinket to have whilst worldhopping!
A: What I’m really curious about is her purpose on Roshar. She’s presenting herself as the surgeon’s assistant, but she’s totally prying. I mean…
“We have stories, among the humans, of windspren that act like people. Taking different shapes, playing tricks. Have you ever seen one like that?”
A: “Eshonai, have you ever met an honorspren?” Whether she’s asking on her own behalf, or Gavilar’s, or whether the two are the same thing for now, we really don’t know. It’s so frustrating, though, to see her taking advantage of Eshonai this way. At least it seems so to me.
P: Whatever her purpose for asking, I was glad that Eshonai had no answers for her.
A: Absolutely! In this case at least she’s stymied, because Eshonai just laughs at the notion of spren talking.
P: Spren that talk, yeah, okay.
Eshonai glanced down, realizing that she’d brought out her good hunting knife. It was one of the weapons her ancestors had salvaged from the ruins at the center of the Plains, with beautiful metal that had lines in it, and a carved hilt of majestic detail.
A: Of course it’s “the woman with the rings” being nosy about a knife that seems out of place. To be fair, Eshonai was thinking about how the listeners had lost the knowledge and skill of metalworking, so it’s true that the knife is obviously not something they’re capable of crafting. But she instantly calls it to Gavilar’s attention. What’s her story? Who is she with? Might she be part of the Ghostbloods, here on behalf of “Thaidakar”?
He left the shade and stepped over, taking the knife and narrowing his eyes as he studied it.
“Where did you get this?” he asked Eshonai.
A: Up to now, he’s just been the arrogant king, going along with all the listener interaction because it was a novelty, not because he was actually interested in them. Now, though, he’s interested.
P: Poor Eshonai, put on the spot like this.
“Ruins, you say?” he looked up sharply. “What ruins?”
A: And why so interested? You could almost believe he’s just interested in history, but Gavilar isn’t a scholar. He’s after something much more specific, and he gets another hint:
“You remember those days then? You have records of them?”
“We have songs,” she said. “Many songs. Important songs. They talk of the forms we bore. The wars we fought. How we left the… I don’t know the word… the ones of old. Who ruled us. When the Neshua Kadal were fighting, with spren as companions, and had… had things… they could do…”
“Radiants?” he said, his voice growing softer. “Your people have stories about the Knights Radiant?”
A: You could still pretend he’s just interested in history. Or, like Eshonai, you could assume that he’s suddenly developed an interest in anthropology…
P: Knowing what we know about Gavilar, I rather hate any scene with him in it, and this one is no exception.
He spent the entire trip asking about the songs. She had plainly been mistaken when she’d assumed he didn’t care much about the listeners. For from that moment on, he seemed very, very interested.
A: And this is the worst bit. She reads his questions as being interested in the listeners, but he’s only interested in finding new information about the powers of the Knights Radiant and perhaps the Heralds. He’s so interested, in fact, that he essentially bribes Eshonai’s family for access to their keeper of songs. Crates of modern weapons, fine steel, so they can take over one of the ten cities, after which of course they will be beholden to him and obligated to tell him everything he wants to know.
So here’s the burning question: Why? It seems obvious that he’s already looking to reclaim the powers of Surgebinding, and at the moment the feruchemist woman is heavily involved. This makes me wonder. She might be associated with the Ghostbloods, here for “Thaidakar” to find out what she can about the Radiants, the Heralds, and what the possibilities are for getting around the Connection between Investiture and its planet of origin. She also might be an agent of Trell (whoever that really is) working on a way around the Oathpact in the hope of also finding a way around whatever it is that binds Odium to the Rosharan system. And I suppose those aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.
Sigh. What is Gavilar’s game? Is he already part of a secret society? Or two? Or is he just getting into the mindset at this point? (Power-hungry git.)
Spren and Shadesmar
“What do you see? … When you look at the spren?”
… “I see spren,” Eshonai said, speaking slowly and deliberately, as her accent was sometimes bad.
“Yes, what do they look like?”
“Long white lines,” Eshonai said, pointing at the windspren. “Holes. Small holes? Is there a word?”
“Pinpricks in sky,” Eshonai said. “And tails, long, very long.”
A: This would be the first time Eshonai has gotten an indication that the humans and the listeners don’t see exactly the same thing when they see spren, though she doesn’t entirely understand it yet. I’m really wondering just why the woman knew to ask this, though. Or was it just a way to get Eshonai focused on the windspren so she could ask her real question?
P: While it’s entirely possible that she only wanted to know about sentient spren, I highly doubt it. Brandon definitely did this intentionally.
Then it slunk down into the chasm, trailed by a few shimmering chasmspren, like arrows in flight.
A: In Shadesmar, these are the mandras; humans call them luckspren for some reason. They’re the same ones that bond with greatshells, skyeels, larkin, and anything else that seems to be lighter than it ought. They appear to have something to do with mass, weight, or gravity, as they provide a way for super-large beasts to not collapse under their own weight like they should. (Personally, I think they ought to look like bumblebees, but this is probably better.)
Flora and Fauna of the Physical Realm
How to explain the monsters of the chasms? “They are great. And large. And powerful. They… these lands are theirs.”
“And do your people worship them?” one of the scholars asked.
“Yes.” Who wouldn’t respect a beast so mighty?
“Their gods, Brightlord,” said the scribe to the king. “As I suspected, they worship these beasts. We must take care with future hunts.”
A: UGH. This just annoys me no end. They give her a poor definition of “worship” so that she misunderstands what they’re asking, and then hurl themselves headlong to a completely false conclusion—but one which fits with their own expectation that these “parshmen who think” are primitive savages who of course would think the biggest beast in the area is a god. “As I suspected…” UGH. Not a single person asks a clarifying question or gives Eshonai the opportunity to explain. She knows perfectly well who their gods are, and these foolish humans could have learned something actually useful if they’d tried.
P: This infuriated me. And the fact that Eshonai was so confused and not only did they not notice, but they likely didn’t even care. They were just looking for something to back up their assumption.
“We can handle a…” the king began, but trailed off, and his eyes became wide. An awespren approached—a floating blue ball of a creature that expanded with great enthusiasm.
A: As noted above, I think this is the only time in this chapter that I actually like Gavilar. One tiny moment of almost … humility? For once, he realizes that there’s something here he might actually not be able to handle so easily.
P: It didn’t make me like him, but it was nice to see him left speechless.
Sleek yet strong, powerful yet graceful. The beast walked on numerous legs, and didn’t bestow the humans with a glance. They were to it as it was to the sun—indeed, it turned upward at the light to bask. Gorgeous and mighty, as if the Rhythm of Awe had been given life.
A: I… wow. That’s a completely different view of the chasmfiends than I’d had before.
P: I love this description, so much more than just big chulls.
A: Exactly. The more we see of them, the more I think they might be beautiful—in a terrifying way.
“It might be far enough away that it hasn’t noticed us,” the king’s brother said.
“It noticed us,” Eshonai said. “It simply doesn’t care.”
A: I love this. I’m not sure I can explain why, but I do. It also makes me a little more upset with the way the Alethi turned their “war of vengeance” into a massive hunt for these majestic creatures. (Knowing what happens later and that they may actually be sapient just makes it worse, of course. Rereading gives all sorts of new perspectives.)
Music, Mechanisms, and Manifestations of Light
A: Not that this is anything new, but I thought it worth pointing out:
Human gemstones glowed far more brightly than listener ones. It had to do with the way the gemstones were cut and shaped.
A: There are so many things that affect the way Investiture manifests on Roshar, and I’m fascinated by them all. The cut of the stones seems to make a huge difference in the quantity of Stormlight a gemstone can hold. Fortunately, any shape will work, even a rough, uncut one; it’s just that the cut ones work better. I’m betting there’s a physics reason for this, but… I’ll let y’all explain it to me in the comments. My brain doesn’t want to physics today. Wording is hard enough.
A: I have Big Questions about where the listener Shardblades came from. If they really were in the ruins of Narak, it implies that there were Radiants at Stormseat who broke their oaths and left their Blades there. I can’t help wondering if they shut down the Oathgates as part of the Recreance, in which case there would have been Radiants at each of the Oathgates to perform the shutdown, and they would then have had to leave their Blades behind. Is that why Akinah had so many Soulcaster fabrials? Because the Radiants there (probably Elsecallers) left their spren in Soulcaster form instead of Blade form? And they left their Shardplate there, so now Cord has a set? Is that where Adolin’s Blade came from—it was one of the ones left at the Riran Oathgate?
The flaw in my clever theory is, of course, that Dalinar’s vision showed thousands of Blades and Plate left at Feverstone Keep, which is over there in all that Rira/Iri territory, so by this theory they should have a lot more. But maybe they only managed to squirrel away a few, and the rest were nobbled by the Skybreakers?
“Yes, maybe?” she said. “I can’t words, yet. Of this.”
A: I feel that way some days…
P: Same! Especially when you’re theorycrafting!
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 49, in which Navani begins her resistance by conferring with the Sibling, Kaladin begins his by finding a way to acquire supplies and Stormlight, and the Sibling puts the two in touch through the garnet veins.
Alice is a Sanderson beta reader and administrator of two fandom Facebook groups. The Storm Cellar is specifically oriented to the people who reread here on Tor, though it’s not limited to them, and allows discussion of all Sanderson works. The Stormlight Archive group is, as you might guess, all about The Stormlight Archive, so discussion of other books has to be hidden behind spoiler tags. Alice lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two kids, with extended family out back.
Paige resides in New Mexico, of course. She works full-time, goes to school full-time, beta reads part-time, mods/admins 3 Stormlight-themed Facebook groups part-time, and writes part-time. She wishes sleep wasn’t necessary because there’s just too storming much to do! Links to her other writing are available in her profile.