Hey, it’s Thursday again! Welcome back to the Rhythm of War Reread, where it’s time for some fun in Navani’s lab. This is a fairly science-heavy chapter, so… be warned, I guess? This week we cover some basic principles which will later prove to be the foundations for Navani’s breakthrough, as well as set-up for some other significant plot moments. Come on in and join the discussions of light, the Cosmere, and everything.
(Too bad it’s not Chapter 42, eh?)
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 address some things from the wider Cosmere in multiple sections, mostly concerning Shards and their inherent characteristics. Primarily just Cosmere lore, but one Mistborn Era One plot spoiler in Music and Light.
Heralds: Vedeledev (Vedel). Edgedancers (Abrasion, Progression). Loving/Healing. Role: Healer.
A: Honestly, I have no idea why Vedel is on this chapter. It’s all about the mechanics of light. I could see Paliah or Shalash, for Illumination, but… Huh. The only thing I can think of is that Lifelight is sorta linked to the Edgedancers, via Lift if nothing else, and Navani figures out how to split the radiation from Towerlight into Stormlight and Lifelight.
Help! Does anyone have a better idea? I’m baffled.
P: The connection to Lift is definitely one possibility. I also can’t help but think about Raboniel’s daughter and her insanity. Not that I want more adept Fused, but I wonder if Progression could help them. Do the Fused have access to Progression?
A: Yes, the Fused Jasnah fought last week had Progression. I don’t know if they are able to use it to heal one another, or just to grow carapace with “extreme precision and speed.” Seems like they should be able to use it, but I’m not entirely sure it works on mental illness anyway.
Icon: Fabrial Gemstone, for Navani’s POV.
Epigraph: Rhythm of War, page 21
As we dig further into this project, I am left questioning the very nature of God. How can a God exist in all things, yet have a substance that can be destroyed?
A: Um… can I wax philosophical here? This has always been a little bit of a problem for the Cosmere, I think. Sanderson has created gods who, while much more powerful than anyone else on their planets, are still humanly fallible. (Dragonly? Sho Delly? You know what I mean.) Whatever race they are, they’re fallible. Their understanding is imperfect, their wisdom is imperfect, and their knowledge is imperfect. And they have more than just a metal that can be destroyed: Their power and the one who holds the power are both subject to destruction. In other words, the Shards/Vessels aren’t satisfactory gods. I don’t know what Sanderson has in mind for the end game of the Cosmere; he may be working toward the kind of resolution in which all the pieces are brought back together and a true God is again knowable. In the meantime… I always feel bad for characters in the Cosmere who learn too much about their gods; they’re bound to be disappointed. No wonder Jasnah is an atheist.
P: Right? And it looks as if Navani has questions now, too.
WHEN: 1188.8.131.52 (Maybe—I’m not so sure. The text talks about things that seem to indicate more than just two days have passed since Navani was put into isolation, but I haven’t personally done all the work to determine if there is other date math to consider.)
RECAP: Navani begins to actively study light: comparing candlelight to Stormlight, playing with prisms, and finally refracting Towerlight into a Stormlight spectrum and a Lifelight spectrum. Raboniel is impressed with how much she has progressed in such a short time, and urges her to work on finding a way to combine Stormlight and Voidlight. In response to Navani’s questioning, Raboniel acknowledges that there is a hypothesized opposite to Light; she had assumed that Voidlight and Stormlight were opposites, but Navani doesn’t buy that theory. While Raboniel’s motives are obscure, Navani determines to pursue the knowledge anyway, hoping that she can find a way to use it before Raboniel can.
Chapter Chatter—Navani and Raboniel
Navani was able to order texts brought from Kholinar, ones she’d presumed lost to the conquest. She was able to get others from around the tower, and there were even a few with relevant chapters already here in the library room. All were collected at Raboniel’s order and delivered, without question, to Navani for study.
A: This made me very happy, in a weird way. To have all the texts she’d have had access to in Kholinar is pretty cool—and I’m grateful that they weren’t destroyed in the invasion. At the same time, it feels so strange that she’s a prisoner, but at the same time she’s given all the books she wants to study with no questions.
P: I think that Raboniel is letting Navani have access to whatever she wants because Raboniel knows that Navani is scholar enough to figure out what Raboniel wants. But Navani can’t even have access to her scholars face-to-face, so she’s definitely limited in what she can do. I’m sure Raboniel just doesn’t see the harm in letting her read whatever books she wants.
A: We’ll get into it a little more below, but perhaps Raboniel simply feels sure enough of her control that she sees no danger in enabling Navani to make the critical discovery—the one Raboniel herself can’t seem to achieve.
… she spent the rest of her days studying light. Surely there could be no harm in her learning, as Raboniel wanted. And the topic was so fascinating.
A: We’ll talk about some details of what she’s studying in the next section, but something about the wording of this bit is just… worrying. Any time a character thinks “surely there could be no harm in” something, there’s almost always harm. We know now that she will make amazing breakthroughs soon, which both sides will use for their own ends; we know that Moash will use her discovery to kill Phendorana and Teft, that Navani will use it to kill Raboniel, that El will use it to kill Lezian… and that’s probably just the beginning. Both sides have copies of the notebook, and we can currently only worry about how they will use the information in the next installment.
Well, anyway. I just had to comment on how unsettling I found this thought.
P: Yeah, that phrasing smacks of Raboniel (later) saying that she would leave the Tower if Navani found a way to join Stormlight and Voidlight. Sounds reasonable, but it’s probably not.
And while Navani’s work is fascinating, you hate reading about her making any kind of progress because you know what’s going to happen.
“Incredible,” Raboniel said. “This is what you do when you experiment, instead of fighting against me?”
A: One thing I really have to grant to Raboniel, at least on a reread. She appreciates Navani’s work in a way I don’t think anyone else ever has. I suppose part of it is that Navani has been very self-deprecating regarding her own scholarly abilities, and people (including her daughter, shame on her!) have simply accepted that evaluation. But Raboniel, coming from an outside perspective and with no need to compete, sees much more clearly just how insightful Navani is. What’s more, she’s unstinting in her acknowledgement of what she sees; for the first time in a long time, maybe ever, someone is giving Navani a frank evaluation of her ability.
P: And with Raboniel being an accomplished scholar herself, her compliments mean that much more. That was the other thing I didn’t hate about her, how she praised our Navani.
“Stormlight and Voidlight, can they be mixed?”
“To prove that humans and singers can be unified,” Navani said.
“Yes, of course. For that reason.”
She’s lying, Navani thought.
A: Well, yes. She is. Maybe not entirely; I think she’d accept unification as an alternative to the extermination of the singers. But that would be a last resort, right? And Navani pushes her on it.
P: Yes, we know she’s lying, but the lie is so very attractive and easy to believe.
A: The most dangerous kind of lie…
“You are quite focused on that idea, Ancient One,” Navani said, thoughtfully leaning back. “Why?”
“It’s why I came here,” Raboniel said.
“Not to conquer? You talk of peace between us. What would that alliance be like, to you, if we could achieve it?”
A: If only Raboniel would give her a straight answer… but I’m not sure there is a straight answer yet. Raboniel herself won’t know that answer until they learn more about the combinations (and opposites) of Investitures.
P: I do believe that Raboniel wants peace, I just don’t see it being an equitable peace. The Fused and the singers would most certainly rule over the humans.
“The war has stretched so long … war. I want to end it. I need to find the tools to truly end it, for all of our … sanity.”
A: And as far as it goes, that’s true. She won’t promise actual cooperation, and she won’t (yet) acknowledge to Navani that what she wants is a world where the Fused rule over singers, and both rule over humans. Sort of like what they’ve got going in the Tower right now, in fact, except she’d expect it worldwide.
P: Which is why there won’t ever be a resolution to the war which will please everyone.
“Have you ever heard of spheres that warp the air around them?” Navani asked. “Like they were extremely hot?”
Raboniel’s rhythm cut off. She turned toward Navani. “Where did you hear of such a thing?”
A: Well, that was clearly not expected—and just as clearly, not a new concept for Raboniel.
P: I felt that Navani’s lie in response to Raboniel’s question was pretty obvious, too.
A: It certainly was to us, and… you know, you just always have to assume Raboniel sees through lies. It’s one of the things that make her a frustrating but fascinating opponent.
“Continue your experiments,” Raboniel said, putting down the sphere. “Anything you need for your science shall be yours. If you can combine Voidlight and Stormlight without destroying them—therefore proving they are not opposites … well, I should like to know this. It will require me to discard years upon years of theories.”
A: Again, I have to admire her here. She’s not only determined to give Navani all the tools she needs to prove this one way or the other, she’s willing to be proved wrong at her own expense. That’s real science, my friends—the willingness to question your assumptions and have conversations about things that don’t fit what you “know.” The willingness to admit that you might be wrong, and to start over from a new foundation if it’s proven, is the hallmark of a true scientist. Hard for a prideful human being, but necessary for actual progress.
P: Exactly. And Raboniel is, above almost everything else, set on the pursuit of knowledge.
A: She even puts huge stakes on Navani finding the proof, either way:
“Do this, and I’ll free your tower. I’ll take my troops and walk away. This knowledge is worth more than any one location, no matter how strategic.”
A: Not that Navani entirely believes her, mind you… but she’s willing to play along for now. Partly, I’m sure, that’s because she doesn’t really have much choice, but it’s also because she’s really curious about what Raboniel is hoping to discover.
P: Definitely curious. She can’t help it, being the scholarly woman that she is. If only she hadn’t been so successful.
A: Sigh. If only…
Music, Mechanisms, and Manifestations of Light
What was light? Not just Stormlight, but all light. Some of the ancient scholars claimed you could measure it. They said it had a weight to it. Others disagreed, saying instead that it was the force by which light moved that one could measure.
A: Okay, I promise I won’t quote every little thing about light! (But it was always my favorite part of physics.) I just love the way she starts out: by asking questions about the nature of light itself. She follows it up by trying different methods of playing with light, and it makes my geeky little heart very happy. Anyway, I’ll try to limit my quotes to things that are actual Cosmere-significant points.
P: Well, I have no history in physics to look at this the way you do, but it is seriously cool to think these kind of thoughts along with Navani.
Next, she used a diamond infused with Stormlight instead of a candle. It worked the same, splitting into components of light, but with a larger band of blue. Voidlight did the same, though the band of violet was enormous, and the other colors mere blips. That was strange, as her research indicated different colors of light should only make bands brighter or weaker, not increase their size.
A: This is awesome. I don’t remember off the top of my head what this turns out to mean, if we even find out… (anyone else got that info?) but the fact that it exists is the main thing. It ties, a little, to that epigraph about the god metals. Just as there are unique metals that are in some sense a physical manifestation of the Shards, there are “god lights,” different from any other light, that are a visual manifestation of the Shard’s Investiture. (And now I wonder… we’ve been told that some but not all of the Shards have a particular affinity for specific numbers. Is the same true of light? Or is Shard-light similar to Shard-metal, such that they each have a unique version whether they care or not? I’m curious about which colors map to which Shards.)
When she tried the prism experiment with [Towerlight], two separate rainbows of colors—distinct from one another—split out of the prism.
She couldn’t recombine them. When she tried sending the colors through another prism, she ended up with one beam of white-blue light and a separate beam of white-green light, overlapping but not combined as Towerlight was.
A: This. Is. Cool. She speculates—correctly, as we know—that the white-green light is Lifelight. Cultivation’s Light. (And now I want to know what Harmony’s spectrum looks like. Would his Light split out into a Ruin-spectrum and a Preservation-spectrum? Or are the two truly united, so there’s a single Harmony-spectrum?)
P: This *is* quite cool. And I love that Brandon writes it in such a way that it’s easy to follow for us average people.
There was something off about those spheres. My eyes were drawn to several distinctive ones: spheres that glowed with a distinctly alien light, almost negative. Both violet and black, somehow shining, yet feeling like they should extinguish illumination instead of promote it.
Navani reread the passages, then inspected the pale green light she had split out of the Towerlight. Lifelight, the Light of Cultivation. Could Gavilar have had this Light too? Could she have mistaken Lifelight diamonds for emeralds? Or, would Lifelight in a gemstone appear identical to a Stormlight one at a casual glance?
A: This is SO significant. Gavilar had multiple forms of Investiture trapped in those stones, and we have no way of knowing what they all were. On a bet, there was at least Stormlight, Voidlight, Lifelight, Anti-Stormlight, and Anti-Voidlight, leaving two major questions. One: What all Lights were there in those spheres? Two: Where did he get them? Who knows enough about Investiture to create Anti-Light spheres, and is willing to give them to Gavilar? It’s not like he was already a major player in the Cosmere; he was just one warlord king on one planet in one system, and until recently hadn’t even known there was more to the Cosmere than his own world. So I guess that’s a third question: Why Gavilar?
(And also, I adore Navani for being willing to go back and relive this terribly painful scene in an effort to tease out any knowledge hidden there that she can now use.)
P: She’s something else, our Queen. It can’t have been easy for her to relive all of that, but she does it anyway, for the sake of scholarship.
And regarding the Lifelight, I doubt she would have recognized Lifelight spheres as anything other than Stormlight spheres, unless they were next to each other for comparison, like the lights through the prism.
She forced herself to linger on his words. You are its opposite. A thing that destroys light…
Gavilar had spoken of the same concept as Raboniel, of light and its opposite. Coincidence? Did it have to do with that sphere that bent the air?
A: Yes, indeed it does. How they both came to that concept is still a mystery, but I don’t think it’s just coincidence. Just… I don’t think so.
P: I don’t believe in coincidence in these books.
The illumination that comes from the sun or candles cannot be stored in gemstones, but Stormlight can. So what is Stormlight? It is not simply illumination, as it gives off illumination. … But the Stormlight must be different from the illumination it radiates. Otherwise, how could we hold it in a gemstone?”
A: Okay, I know I promised not to quote everything… but this is important too. Navani doesn’t have the background information to understand Investiture yet, but she’s getting there quickly.
P: She will learn soon enough.
“So some have thought … is there a negative to light? An anti-light? I had discarded this idea. After all, I assumed that if there was an opposite to Stormlight, it would be Voidlight.”
“Except,” Navani said, “we have no reason to believe that Stormlight and Voidlight are opposites. Tell me, what would happen if this theoretical negative light were to combine with its positive?”
“Destruction,” Raboniel said. “Instantaneous annihilation.”
Navani felt cold. She’d told her scholars—the ones to whom she’d entrusted Szeth’s strange sphere—to experiment with the air-warping light.
A: That explosion has been “in the offing” since the prologue to The Way of Kings. Poor Navani, though; now she feels guilty for having caused the death of two excellent scholars, all because none of them had ever heard of the concept of “anti-light” before.
P: Yes, it’s tragic that her instructions resulted in the explosion and those deaths. But as you say, there’s no way she could have known what might happen.
A: I just realized something… Raboniel’s been pushing Navani to combine Stormlight and Voidlight, and has acknowledged that she has always assumed that if Stormlight had an opposite, it was Voidlight. Now she admits that the combination of Light and anti-Light would cause instant annihilation—meaning that she’s at least half expecting Navani to blow herself up. Navani doesn’t notice, probably in large part because she doesn’t buy the opposition of Stormlight and Voidlight, and more directly because she suddenly realizes that Szeth’s sphere was probably anti-Stormlight. Still, it’s worth mentioning: For all her praise of Navani’s scholarship, Raboniel expects any successful combination of Stormlight and Voidlight to blow up the lab. (Which makes me even more delighted in Navani’s later trap, where she induces Raboniel to combine Voidlight and anti-Voidlight. It would have served her right to blow herself up, since she was happy to set Navani up for that fate.)
Relationships and Romances
The second Fused was one of the more … unhinged that Navani had seen. Perhaps the more sane ones purposely kept an eye on specific insane ones, to prevent them from hurting themselves or others.
A: Well… sort of…
P: This is probably what keeps me from hating Raboniel. Her compassion toward her daughter. It’s heartbreaking.
The Fused by the wall started talking again, louder this time. Again Raboniel hummed and glanced over.
“What does she say?” Navani asked.
“She … asks if anyone has seen her mother. She’s trying to get the wall to talk.”
“Her mother?” Navani thought … “What happened to her mother?”
“She’s right here,” Raboniel said softly, gesturing to herself. “That was another hypothesis of mine that was disproven. Long ago. The thought that a mother and daughter, serving together, might help one another retain their sanity.”
A: And suddenly Raboniel is not entirely a villain anymore. (In the beta, I was so mad at Sanderson for making me care about Raboniel! I did not want to like her, or feel sorry for her, or sympathize with her in any way.)
P: This is so sad, despite how awful the whole concept of the Fused might be. As I said above, this gave me a different viewpoint, as well.
A: Aside from the downstream plot points, this was IMO a really good move. We’ve already got Lezian (and Moash, and Odium) as “irredeemably evil” villains. Raboniel is much more powerful than Lezian, but now she’s more relatable, even in her villainy, than Lezian and his near-insane obsession with returning to kill anyone who defeats him. He’s gone ‘round the twist to the point that he’s essentially a flat, two-dimensional bad guy—still annoying and dangerous, but not really very interesting. Raboniel, with her obscure motives and many layers, is both more dangerous and more interesting.
Bruised and Broken
The day of Gavilar’s death was still painful to remember, fraught with a dozen different conflicting emotions. She’d recorded her impressions of that day’s events six separate times, in differing emotional states. Sometimes she missed him. At least the man he had once been, when they’d all schemed together as youths, planning to conquer the world.
A: This is… painful to read. I’m kind of amazed at the scholarly mentality that compelled her to record her impressions in different emotional states, presumably for the sake of being able to examine the scene as clearly as possible, to learn everything possible from her observations.
We, of course, saw the young Gavilar and Navani from Dalinar’s (biased) perspective, but it did seem clear from the Oathbringer flashbacks that they were once a real team—Gavilar and Navani, Torol and Ialai, and Dalinar—all working together, planning and scheming and valuing one another’s expertise and opinions. What happened? Why did Gavilar push Navani away and denigrate her later, when she was spending all her time taking care of his responsibilities because he was busy with his “uncommon visitors” and all that other stuff? It crossed my mind in reading this section that maybe he was trying the only way he could think of to distance her from the dangerous things he was doing. Maybe he was trying to protect her by keeping her out of things she might just be too good at. If that turns out to be the case, I’ll consider forgiving him, even though I still think he was wrong and a jerk. If not, if he really just thought she was unworthy of Gavilar’s Grand Ideas™, then… well, I’m glad he’s dead, and I hope he never comes back. (Speaking of which, Sanderson won’t tell us anything much about the afterlife in the Cosmere, but for people like Sadeas and Gavilar, I hope there’s a Hell.)
P: We are of one mind when it comes to wishing the worst possible afterlife for those two. They certainly deserve it.
But when considering why Gavilar treated Navani the way he did, I don’t personally feel he was trying to protect her from anything. I feel that with all of the knowledge he had accumulated, that he truly thought himself better than her. He wanted to gain power and worldhop and do Honor knows what else (I’m sure we’ll find out more in the next book), but he truly thought Navani was beneath him. And if I knew nothing else of Gavilar, knowing the things he said to Navani in this prologue made me utterly loathe this character.
A: Well, yes. If he did mean what he said—and I think he likely did—he’s a terrible person and deserved everything he got.
While we’re on the subject of the prologue, we might as well put this note here:
He had spheres on the table, she had written. Some twenty or thirty of them. He’d been showing them to his uncommon visitors—most of whom have vanished, never to be seen again.
A: I really appreciated finally knowing how many spheres he had. We still don’t know where he got them, or what he did with them, though. Hopefully in the next prologue, eh?
P: Yup, I expect that Brandon is having great fun writing book five’s prologue right about now.
A: Oh, good point! Maybe right now…
Each day she wrote mundane instructions to her scholars—and hid ciphered messages within them that equated to nonsense. Rushu would know what she was doing from context, but the Fused? Well, let them waste their time trying to figure out a reason to the figgldygrak she wrote.
A: Bahahahaha! I love this. Totally love it. Especially after Raboniel’s snark about the code-breaker spren liking a challenge.
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 66, in Emul with Dalinar as he tries to understand some of his powers and has a long talk with Taravangian.
Alice lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two kids. She’s finally recovered from the plague, and has concluded that it was probably not, in fact, Omicron. Might have been Delta, might have been flu… but it’s gone now, in any case. She is grateful.
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.