Well, hello there. It’s Chicken time again! Cosmere Chickens, that is, because it’s Thursday, and we’re back with another installment of The Stormlight Archive rereadings. This chapter is another flashback, all from Eshonai’s perspective, and there are visible steps moving the listeners toward the fateful treaty signing. No chickens, though; sorry. 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.
This week’s discussion doesn’t involve spoilers for any other series.
Heralds: Talenelat (Talenel, Taln), Herald of War. Stonewards. Dependable/Resourceful. Role: Soldier.
A: Taln, eh? For… warform? And maybe for the topaz holding the spren? That’s… huh. I never noticed that before. She has the painspren to make warform trapped in a topaz, which is the polestone associated with Taln, the Soldier, and the Stonewards.
Icon: The Sisters—flashback icon.
WHEN: Approximately 1167.4 (Eight years ago)
WHERE: The listener cities on the western edge of the Shattered Plains
RECAP: Eshonai and Venli meet with the leaders of their family. Eshonai has returned from exploring with the message that Gavilar would like to formalize relations with them. Meanwhile, Venli has learned to cut gemstones and trap spren in them, and now presents one she thinks might give warform. Eshonai pleads with the Five to allow her to approach the other families in an attempt to form a nation. They agree to consider it, but dismiss her. As she thinks on these things, she sees Jaxlim wandering the city, and takes her home. The dementia is advancing, so when Venli returns with her gemstone and suggests that taking a different form might heal Jaxlim’s mind, they all jump at the possibility.
Something had happened to [Venli] these last few months. Where she’d once been self-indulgent, she now radiated egotism and confidence.
A: Last time we were in a flashback, we saw Venli break the gemstone and bond Ulim… whatever kind of bond that is. Now we’re seeing some of the effect, I assume. Granted that this is from her sister’s perspective, which brings with it both familiarity and assumption of familiarity… Yes, I think we can agree that Venli has always been self-indulgent, and generally selfish as well. This is the beginning of the Venli we saw in Words of Radiance and the beginning of Oathbringer—and, of course, the one we see in the rest of the flashbacks, right up until (iirc) she gets selected by Odium to be his envoyform.
P: Yes, Venli before Ulim was selfish and a bit whiny, but she wasn’t as ruthless or downright dishonest as she’s become since she broke that gemstone. THIS is the Venli that I couldn’t stand, and it’s taken a LOT for my opinion about her to change.
A: I know what you mean. The whiny little sister was annoying, but the Voidspren bond turned her into a completely untrustworthy monster willing to sacrifice anyone and anything for her personal benefit. It’s good to see her changing, but… wow, did she have a long way to go!
Venli, so sure of herself. Venli replicating human techniques that Eshonai—despite spending the most time with them—hadn’t heard them discuss.
A: So we know that Axindweth gave Venli that first gemstone with Ulim in it. After that, I’m betting that the reason Eshonai hadn’t heard any of this is that the humans never did talk about it. IMO, Venli got it all from Ulim.
P: Oh, she absolutely got it all from Ulim. She has that perpetual smile Eshonai speaks of that says she knows something nobody else knows. And she’s so cocky about it. Ugh.
Eshonai attuned Annoyance. Then, by force, she changed her rhythm to Peace instead. She always felt anxious after an extended trip. She wasn’t annoyed with her sister, just the general situation.
A: It fascinates me how often Eshonai attunes the rhythm she wants rather than the one she feels. Back in Words of Radiance there’s a place where she talks about how your body will naturally choose the rhythm that fits your mood, and you have to consciously choose to hear a different rhythm. Peace seems to be her preferred choice, which makes sense to me—and it strikes me as an impressive level of self-control.
I could be making too much of this; we’ve occasionally seen Venli attune a more confident rhythm than she feels in order to convince someone else that she’s not weak. Maybe it’s a thing they do all the time—but it’s always seemed to me that for Venli, it’s a matter of pretense, where with Eshonai it’s a matter of self-discipline. Am I wrong?
P: No, I think you’re spot on. Venli hummed to Skepticism and Amusement when speaking to Eshonai amongst the elders. She’s putting on a show. She feels she has gained or will gain status, more so than Eshonai with her exploration and contact with the humans.
Eshonai, on the other hand, makes herself attune Peace so as not to feel poorly toward her sister. She definitely shows more maturity than Venli.
She was famous now, unfortunately. She had to stop and chat with several listeners who wanted to ask about her expedition.
She suffered the attention with patience.
A: I seem to be into parallels today. This reminded me of the scene in an earlier flashback where Venli was feeling irritable about listeners stopping her to ask questions. Both sisters are a little impatient with being stopped, but where Eshonai finds the fame unfortunate and puts up with it for the sake of persuading people to see things her way, Venli finds the fame to be the only valuable part of the situation. Anything that gives her recognition, applause, power… that’s what she wants, and she puts up with people asking questions solely to make herself look important.
P: Again, I agree completely. To Eshonai, it’s a duty, but to Venli, it’s the goal. She’s just after the fortune and glory.
“How did you learn to cut them as humans do?” Eshonai asked.
“It wasn’t hard,” Venli said. “It merely took a little practice.”
P: Helps to have an ancient spren guiding you. She’s so arrogant with Ulim bonded to her. And I thought she was cocky before!
A: Seriously! Maybe she’s trying her best to imitate him—arrogant, condescending know-it-all that he is.
“I once thought that being our new keeper of songs would be your highest calling. I hadn’t considered that you might invent a calling with even more honor. Keeper of forms.”
A: Ugh. Just what Venli needs—the applause of having created a whole new “calling” and being the one credited with giving the listeners new forms.
P: While I really felt before like she wanted to find a new form for Jaxlim’s sake, to heal her mind, I no longer see that desire in her, regardless of what she tells Jaxlim and Eshonai at the end of the chapter. Rather, I see her eating up that praise like it’s candy and only wanting more.
Eshonai settled back, listening to her sister humming to Joy. Only… the beat was off somehow. Faster. More violent?
You’re imagining things, she told herself. Don’t let jealousy consume you, Eshonai. It could easily destroy your family.
A: Sigh. She is so not imagining things… I wish she’d paid more attention to this. On a guess, Venli is actually humming to Odium’s rhythm of Exultation, and all Eshonai thinks is that it sounds a little off. It might have given her a hint that there was something really wrong going on with her sister if she’d thought about it more. But I guess at this point, they have no reason to realize that there even are different rhythms to worry about.
P: Yeah, Eshonai wouldn’t have even known to entertain that thought. But it has to be one of Odium’s rhythms.
Venli wasn’t one of the Five—the head elders—but she seemed to think she belonged among them.
P: She does think she belongs among them, young as she is. She will gain status, obviously, but she seems to expect more than she has a right to.
A: She does, and it’s… kinda weird. Granted that at this point, this group of the Five is just the leaders of their family, not the entire listener nation, and Venli has been training to be the family’s keeper of songs… It still seems a bit much for her to act so much like she has a right to be there.
“[Warform] is not a form of power,” Klade said. “It is within our rights to claim it.”
A: I just had to note this here; we heard a lot about the different forms in WoR, and about which ones were okay and not okay. I hadn’t really thought about it from this angle: As a natural form, rather than one of Odium’s “forms of power,” it is the right of the listeners to take it. I can’t quite put my finger on why this feels so profound, but it’s something to do with the listeners’ attitude toward the forms natural to Roshar vs. the ones which came with the Void powers. It’s not entirely clear if there’s a distinction to be made between what Adonalsium put in place vs. what Honor and Cultivation adopted (or created?)—but there’s definitely a distinction for them between Honor/Cultivation and Odium!
Hmm. After further thought, I’ve concluded that Klade is determined to respect the choices and sacrifices made by their ancestors, by which light they have no right to accept any form tainted by Odium, the Unmade, or Voidspren. This being (hopefully) an untainted form, they do have the right to try it. It reminds me of the saying about not knocking down a fence until you understand why the fence was built in the first place: Klade understands why the fence was built, so he’s careful to respect it. Venli, not so much.
“They act as if we are a nation united, not a group of squabbling families. I wish we could present to them a stronger face.”
P: Unfortunately, I also think it will take more than maps to unite the listeners. Venli’s actually correct about that when she mentions it below.
A: This is Gangnah speaking, one of the three leaders named in this chapter. (Klade and Varnali are also identified; the other two remain unnamed.) I did a little research… These three are again named as part of the Five who go to the humans to sign the treaty with Gavilar. I can’t help thinking that they simply took the lead, and presented themselves as the face of the listener nation even though the other families were not entirely in line.
Speculation, yes, but… would the other listener families seriously just choose the Five of this one family to represent them all, given that there was a certain amount of envy going on? Klade doesn’t seem to think so:
“We will need to respond to this offer. The humans expect us to be a nation. Should we form a government like they have?”
“The other families would never follow us,” Klade said.
“If I show them how much there is to the world, they will understand that we are smaller as a people than we thought. They will want to unite.”
Venli hummed to Amusement. “You think they’d simply join with us? Because they saw maps? Eshonai, you are a delight.”
P: As I said above, I feel that Venli’s right about this, but she doesn’t have to be such an ass about it. If she actually has something to value to contribute, she could be a lot more mature about doing so. Though sometimes I tend to forget how young she really is.
A: Yeah, she’s really young and annoying—and being in a position to sneer at her older sister would go to her head even if it weren’t for Ulim.
But also yes, I’m not sure that showing them maps will convince anyone of anything, if they don’t understand the significance of the scale. I… honestly don’t know what would convince the other families to follow their lead, and I’m not entirely sure that uniting them as a nation would really be a fantastic idea. Until war comes to them, anyway.
And now I’m wondering… if I’m right that the First-Rhythm Family took it upon themselves to represent all the listeners in signing the treaty with Gavilar, it’s kind of their fault the whole thing happened. That makes me sad—especially since the Five took full responsibility and paid with their lives so the rest could get away. Is that why they stayed behind—to take responsibility for the entire debacle, not just the assassination?
The others might assume Eshonai’s people were getting secrets, or special trade goods, from the humans. They would want to put themselves into a position to receive the humans’ blessings instead.
Eshonai needed to go to them and explain. Why fight, when there was so much more out there to experience? Why squabble over these old, broken-down cities? They could be building new ones as the humans did.
A: Poor Eshonai. She’s an idealist and an optimist, and she’s so sure that if she could just talk to them, she’d be able to convey all the wonder and excitement and opportunity that she sees. She doesn’t realize how unusual she is.
P: It’s infinitely sad to me that the assassination of Gavilar and the resulting war turned her from this into the reluctant general.
A: Absolutely heartbreaking. It sure gives the final chapter a profound beauty, though.
She’d sought to circumvent the human trading post, then find their home. She’d attuned Disappointment more than once; every place she thought she’d find the humans had been empty.
A: It’s not an encouraging development to note that the “human trading post” she’d tried to avoid, and then finally returned to, is now a fort. The humans haven’t honestly seen anything threatening about the listeners, other than the fact that they appear to be intelligent parshmen which is weird to them.
P: Humans gonna human, and be wary of and possibly afraid of things they don’t understand or that are different from them.
A: That’s about the size of it. The Alethi, at least, don’t seem to have had much concept of alliances. Everyone was either to be feared or to be conquered. Let me guess which one Gavilar was thinking here…
The human king wished to “formalize relations” with her people, whom they referred to as “Parshendi.”
P: I wonder if the listeners ever tried to correct the humans and name themselves listeners. I don’t recall any mention of that, though.
A: Seems like they would have, but I don’t remember it either. (Anyone else?) I just keep remembering this thought from Szeth, in the first prologue:
They did not call themselves Parshendi; this was the Alethi name for them. It meant, roughly, “parshmen who can think.” Neither side seemed to see that as an insult.
A: So… at least it was known that they had a different name for themselves. It’s never mentioned in The Way of Kings, though, so either the Alethi didn’t know what they called themselves, or just didn’t care. Given what we know of them, either would be quite plausible!
Spren and Shadesmar
A topaz should glow with a calm, deep brown—but this one gave off a wicked orange light, like the bright color along the back of a sigs cremling warning that it was poisonous.
Looking closely, Eshonai thought she could make out the spren trapped in it. A painspren, frantically moving around. Though … perhaps she imagined the frantic part. The spren was mostly formless when inside the gemstone, having reverted to the misty Stormlight that created all of their kind. Still, it couldn’t be happy in there.
A: Poor little trapped painspren. You really do have to wonder, along with Eshonai, whether it’s really bothered by its little prison, or if that’s just her interpretation. Either way, this description leaves me with Questions.
One, why does it give off “a wicked orange light”? Is it one of Sja-anat’s modified spren, tinting the normal brown/amber of a topaz with red? Or is that normal for a painspren?
Two, I commented in the Heralds note at the beginning of this post that in this case, the spren which should create warform is trapped in a topaz, which is the polestone associated with the Herald with the Soldier role. Is there a reason for that (other than the author having fun)? I’d think maybe this could be a pattern, except that there are a lot more natural singer forms than there are polestones. Even so, I wonder if they’re grouped so the spren that create forms reflecting elements of a particular Radiant Order are also best trapped in that particular gemstone. For example, the lifespren that Klade says give mateform—would you need a diamond for that? Or whatever spren give artform—would that need a garnet? That would be pretty cool, really, though I’m not sure all the forms could be associated as readily as those few are. And I have no idea at all if any of this is borne out at all in the text. Just a fun speculation.
P: That would be a great question for Brandon, I think. To see if he answers it or RAFOs it.
Also, this does make you feel bad for the spren trapped in gemstones for this purpose, or for fabrials.
A: While I’m not sure the non-sapient spren care, I’m also reminded that the listeners can see a lot more of the spren than the humans can. It’s quite possible that Eshonai is seeing agitation from the spren. (I really hope this gets resolved in book 5; I love fabrial science, but I hate the thought of trapping spren who are aware and upset about being trapped. I want to know, one way or the other.)
Bruised & Broken
“Eshonai,” she said, “we have to confront this. This is not simply me feeling tired. This is something worse.”
“I can face this. Our ancestors took weakness upon themselves to bring our people into existence. They faced frailty of body and mind. I can face this with grace. I must.”
P: Oh, but it’s heartbreaking to see Jaxlim admitting that something is wrong with her mind. And it’s hard to see Eshonai’s resistance to the idea, too.
A: Honestly, I find Eshonai’s resistance more relatable than Jaxlim’s acknowledgement—and also more realistic. It’s very hard to admit that a parent’s mind is going—especially a parent whose mind has always been dependably sharp. In my (very limited) experience, the parent/dementia patient is likely to be only vaguely aware that something is wrong with them, even when they’re aware something is wrong. Still, it’s realistic enough that Jaxlim is occasionally aware of it, and is quite upset by it. Her determination to make sure Venli is ready to take her place is truly admirable.
“Each form has a different way of thinking,” Venli said. “That is preserved in the songs. And some were stronger, more resilient to diseases, both physical and mental. So if you were to change to this new form…”
Her mother attuned Consideration.
“I… hadn’t realized this,” Eshonai said. “Mother, you must volunteer! This could be our answer!”
P: This feels like Venli is giving them false hopes, because she didn’t know this to be true, as far as we know. Of course, we’re not privy to the conversations she has with Ulim, who is also unreliable and has his own ulterior motives. So Honor knows what he’s told her.
A: She may not have known it to be true, but I think she believed it. Even in the present day, once she finds out that some of the listeners survived, she’s absolutely determined to find them, find out if Jaxlim survived, and do whatever she can to give her the opportunity to bond a spren. Um… okay, that’s actually different, isn’t it? Because in the present day, she’s offering a Radiant bond with a sapient spren, rather than a singer form brought about by a non-sapient spren. But even after her bond with Ulim, I think she did care about her mother and wanted her healed if it could be done. If nothing else, she had bigger ambitions than being the keeper of songs for one family.
Oh, also, we put this under Bruised and Broken because… Does Jaxlim’s dementia count as the kind of “broken” that opens the way for a spren bond? It seems logical to me.
P: End of Rhythm of War Venli is a lot different than the Venli from eight years ago. She’s come to regret her actions in a big way since the Fused arrived, and that’s changed her (mostly) from the selfish child she used to be to someone who’s worthy of a Radiant bond.
Flora and Fauna of the Physical Realm
…a wicked orange light, like the bright color along the back of a sigs cremling warning that it was poisonous.
A: Is that color-warning common on Roshar? Or only with certain species? Just curious; my husband and daughter were talking about this regarding various amphibians the other day, and decided that some critters give nice warnings, and some don’t. Also, is it venomous or poisonous? Do you die if it bites you, or if you bite it?
P: In this context it seems as if it’s a warning not to eat this particular cremling.
A: Probably true. Poisonous, then.
They’d found packs of wild chulls, and even spotted a distant and rare group of Ryshadium.
A: Ryshadium sighting! Which reminds me, we still don’t know where and when Dalinar and Adolin got their Ryshadium. Maybe it was this same group, once the humans returned to this area (or on the way). I find myself wishing that the Ryshadium had chosen them before they embarked on the Vengeance War, rather than during it, but… we know so little about them.
P: I was thinking this very thing. I was hoping to see Dalinar getting Gallant during his flashbacks but we weren’t so lucky.
A: Also, chulls run in packs. Who knew?
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! We’re taking a break over the holidays, so we’ll be back with chapter 63, in which Kaladin and Syl have deep philosophical discussions, and Kaladin learns more than he ever wanted to know about fabrials, on January 6th.
Alice lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two kids, where it keeps trying very hard to snow on them. It hasn’t succeeded yet, but if it does, they may have a white Christmas for once. Also, volleyball season is over—but drama season has begun. No rest for the busy student or her parents…
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.