Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Rhythm of War Reread: Chapter Fifty-One

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Hey there, ye chickens and peeps of the Cosmere. Welcome back to another weekly installment of the Rhythm of War reread! There’s not a lot of action this week, as Venli observes Navani’s busywork and has a little consultation with her favorite stormsetter, but there’s still plenty to talk about. This week sets up some interesting foreshadowing, not to mention the lead-in to next week’s flashback. Come on in and join the discussion!

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.

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

A: Why Pailiah? There aren’t (so far as we know) any Truthwatchers in this chapter. For the scholars attempting to confuse one another? For Venli and Dul, trying to plan and coordinate as a scholar would?

Icon: The Singer, for Venli’s POV,

Epigraph: From Rhythm of War, page 5:

This song—this tone, this rhythm—sounds so familiar, in ways I cannot explain or express.

A: I’m pretty well convinced this is Navani, if only because I don’t think Raboniel would have any such hesitation or inability. That means that, somehow, Navani has a subconscious affinity for the rhythms—or at least the main ones. I wonder if that would be true of most humans, if they only had reason to listen.

P: I put in my notes that I think this is Navani, too. And I agree that it sounds like her because she says, “In ways I cannot explain or express.” Definitely doesn’t feel like Raboniel.

Chapter Recap

WHO: Venli
WHERE: Urithiru
WHEN: 1175.4.6.5 (same day as Chapter 49)

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

RECAP: Venli stands with Raboniel, watching the efforts of singers and humans working in the basement hallway. There’s a certain amount of verbal sparring over the listeners’ fates and Venli’s presumed ambitions; Raboniel knows both too much and not enough to understand. Venli leaves to go check on the status of the Pursuer’s search for Radiants, and manages to have a private conversation with one of her most trusted recruits. Even though they both realize their chances are slim, they long for an opportunity to escape both Fused and human rule. Timbre is, as always, encouraging, but Venli doubts herself.

Overall Reactions

Nearby, the femalens were sorting through the boxes of notes and equipment the human queen had moved out into the hallway. Young human scribes were adding to that, repositioning boxes, making a general scene of chaos.

P: It seems kind of petty of Navani to do this, but I, like Raboniel, find it amusing. She’s just creating busy work for the singers and I love her small rebellion.

A: She’s also creating busywork for her younger team members, giving them something to focus on to keep them from dwelling on the apparent hopelessness of the situation. And of course she’s hoping to get some things more easily accessible, and set her scholars up to function under miserable circumstances. She’s hoping to be able to continue working with her team, and part of that is going to mean setting certain patterns that she can use later.

“She’s creating ways to stall that won’t appear like purposeful interference,” Raboniel said to Ridicule, though she seemed more amused than angry.

P: And here is Raboniel’s amusement, though she speaks to Ridicule.

A: To some extent, Raboniel is seeing the first “hidden” layer—but she’s missing the next one. She’s laughing about Navani’s efforts to stall, but… those boxes of notes and equipment will ultimately bring Raboniel’s downfall. (Spoiler alert: Everyone is going to be so used to those boxes, and to Navani occasionally getting things out or putting things in, that no one notices when she pops in a couple of IEDs…)

P: Ooh, great point!

“She seems to be getting more information than I expected; some of her people might be able to speak my language.”

P: If Navani is getting any information, it’s from the Sibling. But I wonder why Raboniel thinks that Navani is getting “more information” in the first place. I don’t recall Navani saying anything in particular to Raboniel to give her this impression.

A: It’s possible that she’s referring to conversations we haven’t seen, or possibly reports from the Regals watching over the scholars. But I’m also not sure that there’s anything behind this other than letting someone else hear her talk about it, to make sure no one other than her most trusted people know she’s listening in on the Sibling.

“Do you question Odium, Venli?” Raboniel said to Craving.

“I have been taught that Passion does a person credit, Ancient One,” Venli said. “And to wonder, to question, is a Passion.”

P: This is an interesting question out of left field. I feel that Raboniel also questions Odium and is doing her own thing in Urithiru, considering the studies she’ll do with Navani,

A: I don’t think it’s out of left field at all. Venli just so much as said that by giving all the surviving listeners (that they knew of) to Fused for bodies, Odium shot himself in the foot. All they have left to work with are singers who are still stuck in the cultures where they were raised, instead of having listeners who were already used to intelligence and independence.

The funny thing is that Raboniel doesn’t feel at all threatened, undermined or in any way bothered by Venli’s apparent insubordination. She’s just curious. Very unusual for a Fused.

“Tell me, Venli. Why is it you serve so eagerly after knowing what Odium did to your people?”

Timbre pulsed in worry, but Venli had already prepared an answer. “I knew that only the very best among us would earn his favor and reward. Most were simply not worthy.”

A: Well, that was clever. I can’t decide whether to be surprised that Venli was expecting the question, but all in all, it’s logical. She’s been very diligent to make herself useful, and if there are times when she’s shown some resentment over the loss of her friends, she keeps on serving zealously. That’s got to make someone wonder. The answer is easier—it’s exactly the justification she used a few years ago, when she was working so hard to prove herself to the Voidspren by undermining her own people.

“Venli,” Raboniel said. “Many mortals in the past sought elevation to stand among the Fused. You should know that, after our initial elevation, he never again granted such a lofty gift to a mortal.”

Within her, Timbre pulsed to Amusement. She knew that Venli had no aspirations of becoming a Fused.

“Do not be so quick to laud me,” Venli whispered to the spren. “The person I was not so long ago would have been thrilled by the possibility of becoming immortal.”

P: Another assumption by Raboniel on the same page as the first. Can Navani have thrown her off this much, that she’s making these completely wrong assumptions?

A: It’s hard to say how much to credit Navani for Raboniel’s errant assumptions, but IMO there’s no way Raboniel has figured out that Venli has a Radiant spren as well as her Envoyform spren. In a way, she’s surprisingly accurate: Not so long ago, Venli absolutely would have been holding such aspirations.

 “Report,” she whispered.

“As you hoped,” he replied as they walked, “we have been able to arrange the supply dumps from Kholinar to our benefit. Alavah and Ron are covertly making packs of supplies that will be easy to grab and take if we need them.”

P: It’s good to see Venli’s people making these preparations. Just planning to run away isn’t much of a plan, but she seems to be planning well.

A: She’s doing a pretty fair job, all right. Supplies, mental maps, contingencies…

“Be careful,” she said. “We will need some kind of ploy to convince everyone we died, so they don’t search for us.

P: Of course, this ends up not being necessary, but I can’t imagine a scenario that would be convincing to Raboniel.

A: Somehow I think she’d be on the “no body, no death” side of things. The best they could hope for would be Leshwi supporting them and telling everyone she saw them die… and I’m not sure Raboniel would believe that, either.

“We’ve had a problem with Shumin, the new recruit.”

She hummed to Reprimand.

“She tried recruiting others,” Dul explained. “She’s been implying she knows someone planning to start a rebellion against the Fused.”

P: That little whippersnapper could cause serious problems for Venli if she’s not reined in.

A: She’s certainly an eager beaver! She always has been. She’s smart enough to see the implications of the things she hears; unfortunately for Venli, she’s not quite smart enough to keep looking and see the potential consequences of acting on those implications. I have to think that, given the risks they take with even the slightest conversation, isolating Shumin seems like one of the few possible precautions they can take. It would be better if she understood the danger, though. She could get them all killed by talking to the wrong person.

Each day Venli’s people lived in secret was another chance for them to be exposed, taken quietly in the night, and either executed or forced to become hosts for the Fused. They needed what she’d promised: to live on their own, as their own nation. Could she really provide that though? Venli, who had never touched anything in her life without making a storm of it. She had gotten one people destroyed already.

P: She really had made a storm of it, hadn’t she? And I’m glad she still thinks of how she is responsible for wiping out the listeners. This is one of the only things that has redeemed Venli in my eyes, that she has so much regret about the things she’s done.

A: Honestly, I still don’t like Venli (as a person—as a character I think she’s fantastic). She hasn’t really changed all that much in terms of personality since the first time we met her. She’s still a schemer, still looking for how she can use other people to achieve her ends, still mostly concerned with her own benefit. She’s always been aware of this, too. One of the things that does put me on her side, though, is her regret; she’s come to realize that her self-centeredness had too high a cost, in things she didn’t realize she valued until she lost them. That self-awareness, the acknowledgement that her choices caused so much destruction, and her desire to do better—she’s starting to turn those toward helping other people. She’s even able to admire good qualities in her supposed enemies—and that is a change.

Timbre pulsed, inquisitive. She wanted to know. Venli had long remained silent about the more difficult parts of her past.

The time to share them, however, was long overdue. “The worst of it began,” Venli whispered, “when the humans visited us the second time…”

P: And what a great segue into a flashback chapter!

Singers/Fused

Venli’s staff of singers—the ones carefully recruited in Kholinar over the last year—had arrived in Urithiru via the Oathgate transfers early this morning.

A: I’m kinda glad to see them again, you know? They’re… sympathetic. (Okay, for some weird reason, I like Venli’s staff better than I like her…) I appreciate their desire for freedom and self-determination—both of which have been denied them almost as much under the Fused as under the humans.

Dul sighed like a human.

P: Along with only femalens on Venli’s staff being able to read, this is another indication that the singers from Alethkar have a lot of human traits. And while Venli notices, Dul doesn’t seem to.

A: It makes me chuckle to notice how much it annoys Raboniel. The state of the singers on this return must have been disconcerting; before, they might have lost technology and lore, but they hadn’t lost their minds and their entire culture.

Come to think of it, this has to be weird for Venli too. She grew up with people who looked just like these, but had generations of history and traditions all their own. These singers… they look like the listeners, but culturally they’re practically human. I was looking back at her first interaction with Shumin, and she was so human in her behaviors and attitudes. It seems Venli still notices, but she doesn’t seem quite as annoyed by them as she used to be.

They were valiant, these humans. Though you obviously had to be careful not to let them get too much power over you.

“When you get back to the others,” Venli said, continuing to climb, “put a few of our people on the crews that are gathering and caring for the unconscious Knights Radiant. We should watch them for an opportunity, just in case.”

P: I hadn’t recalled that Venli had instructed Dul to do this until rereading the chapter to prep for this article. It was a good idea, though not necessary in the end.

A: It had its useful aspects, if I remember correctly. Not least, it developed some sympathy to the humans, and put them in contact with Lirin and Hesina.

Venli hummed to Longing. She hoped she wasn’t causing Dul to sing hopeless songs…”

P: I loved this saying. It evokes such a sad feeling, though.

A: Absolutely gorgeous idiom for her people, isn’t it?

Humans

“I hear the humans almost won here on these steps. No Radiants, and they stood against Fused and Regals.”

“Briefly,” Venli said. “But… yes, it was a sight. I almost wanted them to win.”

P: That scene was utterly heartbreaking and I think about it every time those steps are mentioned. Those poor soldiers knew they were going to die and they fought anyway.

A: Heroes, every one. And while Venli downplays it a little here, we saw the whole thing from her POV, and it was hard for her to watch. She couldn’t help admiring them, and she had to leave rather than watch the final slaughter. (I suppose the fact that she heartily dislikes the Pursuer might have something to do with it. Also, the humans’ ability to nearly overcome even Fused and Regals for so long was evidence that her people did well to stand against them for so many years.)

Brilliant Buttresses

“It’s the same old problem, Venli. The people willing to listen to us are going to be a little unreliable—if they were fully capable or smart, they wouldn’t dare keep secrets from the Fused.”

“So what does that say about you and me?” Venli asked.

“Pretty sure that was clearly implied,” Dul said with a grin, speaking to Amusement..

P: This made me laugh. You don’t see a lot of humor being employed by the singers so this was refreshing.

A: It is. I think this is why I like Dul so much—he’s got a good sense of the ridiculous, undiminished by his longing for freedom.

 

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 52—a flashback where Venli worries about her mother, is frustrated with her sister, and is tempted by a worldhopper.

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.

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.

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