Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Rhythm of War Reread: Chapter Sixty-Six

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Welcome back to the Rhythm of War Reread my friends! I’ll say right up front that this was a tough chapter to get through. Many of us have distrusted—and generally disliked—Taravangian ever since the end of The Way of Kings, and this conversation with him is frustrating in so many ways. He can be so right and so wrong at the same time. Well, come on in and join the discussion, and let’s see what we can do with 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 really don’t address any wider Cosmere issues, other than what’s brought up near the end of this book.

Also worth noting—I added a bunch of stuff at the eleventh hour, so Paige didn’t have a chance to respond. My apologies to all!

Heralds: Ishi (Ishar), Herald of Luck. Bondsmiths (Tension, Adhesion). Pious/Guiding. Role: Priest.

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

A: Hey, they’re pretty straightforward this week! Ishar, for Dalinar’s Bondsmithing, and Jezrien for the discussions of the two kings about kingship. (On further reflection, it’s also possible that Taravangian reflects Ishar’s view of leadership, while Dalinar is in line with Jezrien’s view. Maybe? It would be an interesting comparison, anyway.)

Icon: Kholin Glyphpair, for Dalinar’s POV.

Epigraph: From Rhythm of War, page 21 undertext:

I am not convinced any of the gods can be destroyed, so perhaps I misspoke. They can change state however, like a spren—or like the various Lights. This is what we seek.

P: This seems like Raboniel to me.

A: I agree; I don’t think Navani knows enough (or has enough time to think) about the nature of gods, much less their various essences, to be talking like this. Also, does this mean Raboniel believes Honor is still living? Or is she conflating the god with the Investiture?

Chapter Recap

WHO: Dalinar
WHEN: 1175.4.8.2 (If correct, this is two days after Jasnah’s battle in Chapter 64)
WHERE: The coalition warcamp in Emul

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

RECAP: The chapter opens with Dalinar testing the Bondsmith powers he discovered in his confrontation with Nale back in Chapter 47. Neither he nor the Stormfather really know what to do with his ability to see Connections, and he is frustrated at his slow progress in developing his powers. At a standstill, he decides it’s time to go have the long-delayed conversation with Taravangian. Taravangian remains convinced that his One Brilliant Day held all the right answers, and that by saving Kharbranth, he did the very best that could have been done for humanity on Roshar. Dalinar, on the other hand, insists that no one—not even the Shards—can know the future perfectly, and there’s no way to be sure that Odium will indeed win. They also return to their old disagreement over whether it’s possible for a king to be a moral person. In the end, they come to no agreement; Dalinar refuses to have him executed, saying that Taravangian will live to see Dalinar defeat Odium and know that he was wrong. After they leave, Szeth warns Dalinar not to trust Taravangian—and he doesn’t.

Chapter Chatter — Dalinar and Taravangian

A: This chapter had us reduced to incoherent sputtering far too often—struggling to find (FCC-compliant) language to express our feelings. We may or may not have succeeded… As much as Dalinar doesn’t trust Taravangian, he still has some lingering liking for the man who was once his friend. Paige and I do not share that liking.

P: We are in definite agreement on feelings from this chapter. I’ll try to use in-world swears!

It had felt wrong to give Taravangian a home instead of a cell—but seeing those windows, it also felt wrong to leave him without sunlight.

A: Dalinar is a good man, you know? It bothers him to see someone deprived of sunlight, even if that person did deliberately betray them, explicitly to allow the Fused to capture Urithiru. Foul git. More on this in a minute.

P: Granted, Dalinar doesn’t know that the betrayal is all about giving the Fused access to Urithiru… but I feel he should have realized something was up, brilliant tactician that he is.

They all thought the precautions were to prevent Taravangian from being rescued, and would never have wondered whether the Blackthorn could handle himself against an elderly statesman.

They didn’t have any inkling, even now, how dangerous Taravangian was.

A: I mean… he’s not wrong, I guess. But what exactly is Dalinar thinking about? The possibility of Taravangian manipulating him? He refers to that a couple of times. Or is it more about his connection to Odium, and the possibility of Odium working through Taravangian to do something more direct than verbal manipulation?

P: I would think both. Taravangian is nothing if not manipulative. And Dalinar doesn’t know what kind of influence or connection he might have with Odium so who knows what Taravangian or Odium might be capable of.

“I wanted to be certain I wasn’t somehow being manipulated,” Dalinar said, honestly. “So I waited until certain tasks were accomplished before coming to you, and risking letting you influence me.”

A: Okay, that’s the answer he’ll say out loud… but yeah, Paige, I agree. It’s both.

P: Yup. I don’t see why Dalinar even wanted to talk to the man, much less sit and chat as if they were still friends. Taravangian’s friendship was never genuine, in my opinion, so I feel as if Dalinar is outright allowing himself to be manipulated just by being there.

A: Right? While I recognize that it was necessary for the plot, it infuriates me to see Dalinar subjecting himself to this. Just… Gaaaaaaah. TBBBBPTBBBT.

P: *more incoherent sputtering*

Perhaps he should have let Jasnah interrogate Taravangian, as she’d suggested. But that seemed the coward’s route.

A: Gah. Just because something would have been easier doesn’t necessarily make it cowardly. Why not consider who would do the best job of it? I’m betting that Jasnah and Wit would have been… very thorough. The only possible advantage Dalinar could have is a deeper understanding of this particular personality—but he was fooled so long that I’m not sure that’s a valid consideration. I love Dalinar in so many ways, but he has some serious blind spots.

P: Stupid Alethi standards and stupid fear of cowardice. This has nothing to do with bravery and everything to do with wanting to hear T say he was wrong, which he won’t do. Because he truly feels that he was in the right in this whole thing. Jasnah and Wit would have been AWESOME at interviewing T. I would have LOVED to have read that scene!

A: (Sometimes I’m so torn between “what’s right for the storytelling” and “what I wish they had done.” At least Sanderson rarely uses inexplicable stupidity to justify doing these things; he makes the characters believably stupid. Or, you know, they have believable blind spots and weaknesses and worldviews that make them do stupid stuff. Sorta like… people. *sigh*)

P: Stupid human weaknesses.

“That stool is too uncomfortable for a man of your years. You should be given a chair. I thought they’d left the building furnished. Do you have a bed? And surely they gave you more than a single sphere for light.”

“Dalinar, Dalinar,” Taravangian whispered. “If you wish me to have comfort, don’t ask after the chair or the light. Answer my questions and talk to me. I need that more than—”

A: Here’s the “more” I promised a minute ago… GAHHH. No one cares about making you emotionally comfortable, you miserable old troll. Dalinar just doesn’t like needless physical cruelty to a frail old man. GAH. Just shut up. (Okay, every time he shows up I distrust and dislike him more. What can I say?)

P: We are of one mind here, as we are with Moash. I have no good feelings of any sort for Taravangian so I even hate that Dalinar wants him to have more light and a comfortable chair. Who gives a storming damn what might make him feel more at home. He betrayed you, Dalinar. For Honor’s sake, don’t be sucked into his whole, “I did what I thought was best” nonsense.

I’m sure you can all imagine the swears that I really want to use!

A: Heh. Indeed.

“Why? Why did you do it?”

“Because, Dalinar, you’re going to lose. I’m sorry, my friend. It is unavoidable.”

“You can’t know that.”

“Yet I do.”

A: That pretty much sums up this entire conversation. Taravangian has such confidence in his Brilliant Day that he’s absolutely certain he’s right, and Dalinar will lose. And Dalinar is equally certain that no matter how brilliant he was that day, Taravangian couldn’t possibly see the future clearly enough to be 100% sure that there’s no chance of winning. And the only way they’ll resolve it is by playing it out. And of course, I want to smack Taravangian around for doing his very best to make sure Dalinar will lose, by throwing every possible support to Odium… Gah. #$^%# quisling.

P: This is exactly my problem with this. Taravangian is so sure of Odium’s victory that he’s ready to screw everyone else on Roshar in order to MAYBE secure safety for his relatively small city. Do we really believe that Odium will spare this one city? Well… maybe Taravanian as Odium will, but is he any better as Odium than Rayse? I don’t trust him one iota as a king or as bearer of a shard.

A: Right? The only thing that protects Kharbranth is that a Shard is unable to directly break an oath, but… I suspect that Odium could get around that particular agreement pretty easily.

Moving on… I won’t quote it because we already know about it, but Taravangian spends some time explaining about visiting the Valley and his Diagram—and of course the two men draw opposite conclusions from it.

“Cultivation,” he said. “There is one who can face Odium. There were three gods.”

“She won’t fight him,” Taravangian said. “She knows. How do you think I found out we’d lose?”

A: Gah. The really frustrating thing about this is that we still don’t know quite what game Cultivation is playing. We know that she was setting Taravangian up to kill Rayse and take the power of Odium, but to what end? Is Taravangian right that she won’t fight, and (later) that she made a huge mistake in giving him the power? Or is he blinded by the power and doesn’t understand nearly as much as he thinks he does? I’m personally holding to the theory that she’s “good” (i.e. in opposition to Odium’s plans), though there are multiple theories about that too.

P: I definitely think that Taravangian will be blinded by the power of the shard and that he will think that the singers should dominate… His vision when he thought he was brilliant has overpowered his compassion. And I feel that’s to his detriment.

A: It really is, no matter how necessary it is to the plot.

The whole next section is one of those infuriating “begging the question” arguments, in which Taravangian IMO misinterprets Cultivation’s actions by assuming the answer he’s trying to prove. He assumes that since he asked for the power to stop what was coming, and she gave him Brilliant Day, that held all the secrets—and since the Diagram said Odium would beat Dalinar, Cultivation knew that’s what would happen. He doesn’t consider that Brilliant Day might have been merely a side effect of her actual gift: the swing between emotion and intellect that gave him the insight to using Nightblood’s power, and the vulnerability that made Odium think him no threat, and the emotional state that allowed him to take up a Shard so emotional in essence. I think (speculation ahoy!) what she really intended to give him was the capacity to kill Rayse and take up the Shard—because once he became the Vessel for Odium, he clearly could stop the whole thing. But then, power-hungry egoist that he is, once he picks up the Shard, all he thinks of is how he can improve on Odium’s plan, rather than realizing he could stop it. GAAAAHHH! She really did give him the capacity to stop what was coming, and he’s completely oblivious to that possibility. (I’m sure I’ll rant about this again in the chapter where he Ascends…)

“Isn’t that the way of the soldier? Accept your losses, and do what you can?”

“So you sold us out? You helped hasten our destruction?”

“For a price, Dalinar,” Taravangian said, staring again at the ruby that was the room’s hearth. “I did preserve Kharbranth. I tried, I promise you, to protect more. But it is as the Radiants say. Life before death. I saved the lives of as many as I could—”

“Don’t use that phrase,” Dalinar said. “Don’t sully it, Taravangian, with your crass justifications.”

A: Hear, hear, Dalinar! I’m pretty sure I’ve commented before on how Taravangian made the Diagram, his Brilliant Day, and his Brilliant Self into the only thing he worshiped—a very unholy trinity indeed. More and more, especially in digging into this chapter, I think he completely blinded himself to the larger picture. He’s made himself incapable of realizing that (as Dalinar keeps trying to point out) the Diagram is in fact flawed by an imperfect vision of the future. The really ironic part is that he’s aware of Odium’s blind spot caused by Renarin’s ability to see and therefore change the future, and he’s going to make use of it to outmaneuver Rayse. And yet he still can’t see that the Diagram has exactly the same problem.

So then they argue over motivations, and I’m not convinced that Taravangian actually believes any of the crem he says—he just says things that he thinks will hurt or make Dalinar second-guess himself. He brings up the days of the Blackthorn, burning cities to preserve the kingdom. When that doesn’t really fly, he accuses Dalinar of pride: “if you cared about protecting them, you’d surrender, but your real ideal is never giving up.” Fortunately, Dalinar doesn’t succumb to that one either; instead, pointing out that Taravangian gave up before the fight ever started, because he assumed he knew the future perfectly. Taravangian claims that he would like to be proved wrong—and again, Dalinar doesn’t buy it:

“I would die happily,” Taravangian said, “if I could see that I was wrong. If you won.”

“I don’t think you would. I don’t think you could stand not being the one who saved us.”

A: They wrangle over this for a while, but I think Dalinar is right—and is proven right in Part Five when Taravangian Ascends. Lucky for our sanity, Dalinar pulls no punches in telling Taravangian how ridiculous his arguments are. There was no need to assassinate the leaders of half the countries on Roshar, there was no need to become king of Jah Keved, there was no need to try to assassinate Dalinar. I love the way he turns this particular argument back on Taravangian, too:

“Pardon, Blackthorn, but please remember the man you were when I began this. He would not have listened to me.”

“You’re so smart you can predict who will win a war before it begins, but you couldn’t see that I was changing? You couldn’t see that I’d be more valuable as an ally than as a corpse?”

“I thought you would fall, Dalinar. I predicted you would join Odium, if left alive. Either that or you would fight my every step. Odium thought the same.”

“And you were both wrong,” Dalinar said. “So your grand plan, your masterful ‘vision’ of the future was simply wrong.”

A: And there’s no argument against that, because for all their vaunted future sight, Dalinar was a different man than the one the Diagram assumed. (Makes me want to go back and reread the end of Oathbringer. “You cannot have my pain!”) They were wrong. Taravangian implies that if he weren’t having a stupid day, he could explain it, but that doesn’t change the fact that the were wrong already.

One thing Taravangian mentions, which will come up again later when Jasnah, Wit, and Dalinar plan their terms for the Contest, is something we have yet to see in full—and I dread it:

Odium will arrange things so that no matter what choice you make, he will win.

A: Wit warned of this, and we don’t really know how it’s going to play out; all we know is that the precautions they took ended up not quite working the way they’d planned. (I need to reread the conversations between Dalinar and Odium… but I suppose we’ll find out in the next book just who outmaneuvered whom.)

“You wanted power, Taravangian—so you could give it up. You wanted to be the glorious king who sacrificed himself to protect everyone else. You have always seen yourself as the man who must bear the burden of leading.”

“Because it’s true.”

“Because you like it.”

A: IMO, Dalinar whanged the nail on the crumpet there. Taravangian does like having power, but even more than that, he likes the idea of being the “noble, self-sacrificing king”—the self-righteous little prat. I love that Dalinar hammers it home, over and over, because Taravangian’s defense is just so lame.

“It could have gone differently. You could have truly joined with us. Storms… I can imagine a world where you said the oaths. I imagine you as a better leader than I ever could have been. I feel like you were so close.”

“No, my friend,” Taravangian said. “A monarch cannot make such oaths and expect to be able to keep them. He must realize that a greater need might arise at any time.”

[…]

“No,” Dalinar said. “There is a just way to victory. The methods must match the ideal to be obtained.”

A: Back to the many discussions of previous days. Nohadon and The Way of Kings. Oaths. Ideals. Morality. They’ve had this debate so many times, and neither can convince the other. Frankly, Taravangian can’t afford to change his mind on this, because if Dalinar is right, Taravangian has committed atrocities and abuses for no reason. He knows he’s committed them, but as long as he believes it’s the necessary burden of a king, he can justify it all. If he’s wrong, and he is, even he would be unable to forgive himself.

This chapter is one of the few whose title isn’t quite a direct quote from the chapter itself, but there’s a theme running through the debate: Is it possible to be a good man and a good king at the same time? Dalinar thinks it is, and in fact must be—that in order to be a good king, you must be a good man. Taravangian, on the other hand, says that to be a king is:

“To accept that you must do what others cannot […] To bear the agonies of the decisions you had to make, so that others may live pure lives.”

A: Talenel is known as “the Bearer of Agonies,” and Taravangian wants to be seen as being equally noble—but without actually sacrificing anything that matters to him. The only thing he actually gave up was being with his family in (what he expected to be) the last few weeks of his life; while that’s not nothing, it’s not really much, either. He was away from them a great deal already, and he’d made sure they would survive the expected defeat of the humans (or he thinks so). But he can tell himself that he’s bearing the great burden of making the hard decisions.

Actually, there’s something else he gave up: integrity. But he gave that up a long, long time ago, opting instead for his “noble sacrifice” approach of making evil decisions “for the greater good” and all that rot.

No, I really don’t like him any at all.

“You have lived your convictions, however misguided they may be. Now I’m going to live mine. And at the end, when I face Odium and win, you will be there. I’ll give you this gift.”

“The pain of knowing I was wrong?”

“You told me earlier that you wished to be proven wrong. If you’re sincere—and this was never about being right or about gaining power—then on that day we can embrace, knowing it is all over. Old friend.”

A: And on that day, Taravangian will know that he was wrong, and he will be furious about it. When it comes to the point, he loves all that power, and the thought of a whole Cosmere to set right by making all the “hard decisions”—for other people to die—is far too tempting to let go. Despicable megalomaniac.

Oaths Spoken, Powers Awakened

He could see something extending from the soldier, radiating into the darkness. Pure white lines, thin as a hair.

A: This is, as promised, an experiment with seeing Connection as he did when confronting Nale in the battle. It’s pretty cool that he can see these lines, and I’m just sure he’ll figure out how to make use of them… eventually…

The power of Bondsmiths was tempered by Honor, for the good of all. Ever since the destruction of Ashyn. […] Melishi saw these lines. […] Honor was dying, possibly mad.

A: Okay, I love this kind of thing, even though there are no clear answers.

First question: Was it only or especially the power of the Bondsmiths that Honor felt it necessary to temper after they destroyed Ashyn? I can believe either one, particularly if Ishar was leading the way and it was primarily Bondsmith powers that caused the destruction. But I don’t think we know, do we? (Or am I just forgetting?)

More questions: Was Melishi the first Bondsmith to see these? (What about Ishar?) Did they only become visible once Honor was dying and losing control of things? Or was it just a rare gift, and when it happened before it was far enough back that the Stormfather doesn’t remember it?

My best speculation (a.k.a. Tin-Foil Theory, but I’m leaving it here anyway) is that A) Ishar was primarily responsible for the destruction, through overconfident use of Surgebinding and particularly Adhesion; B) Honor decided that Surgebinding needed more limits—and especially Adhesion; C) there’s something about the power of Connection and these lines that can be used to great effect… to good or ill, depending on the wisdom, intention, and self-control of the user; D) Melishi used them in his scheme to trap Ba-Ado-Mishram, with… mixed results; E) Dalinar will learn to use them before the Contest of Champions, and it will be a deciding factor one way or the other.

Spren have these too, the Stormfather said. And the bond that makes Radiants is similar, but far stronger. I don’t think these little ones are particularly useful.

“Surely these mean something,” Dalinar said.

Yes, the Stormfather said. But that doesn’t mean they can be exploited.

A: Um… is there a chance that this is what Ishar is using in his spren experiments? That would be extremely creepy, and would convince me that this ability really needs to be constrained!

Aside from that, though, the knowledge that spren have these lines, and Radiant bonds are similar, is… well, I’m not sure. Fascinating, but also fearful. Isn’t this what Ishar uses to try to steal Dalinar’s bond with Stormfather? An unscrupulous Bondsmith could do terrible things to Radiants.

More speculation—and this time something I really don’t want to see turn out to be right: If Dalinar were to lose the Contest of Champions, could he be forced to manipulate the bonds of the Radiants and make them become Odium’s servants?

Humans

Jasnah and the others should be returning from the front lines soon. The battle won, the celebrations completed. All without Dalinar.

A: Just a quick reminder that they won the battle two chapters ago… Funny thing: As weird as it felt for Jasnah to be out there fighting, how weird did it feel for Dalinar to not be there?

Speaking of not being there, he’s more worried about Navani and Adolin than about Jasnah—and with good reason.

Shared destinies, shared fates, yet Dalinar felt powerless to help either his son or his wife.

You do have a part in this, he told himself firmly. A duty. Master these powers. Best Odium. Think on a scale bigger than one battle, or even one war.

A: Not only can he not help them, he can’t even communicate with them. Jasnah has an army, capable generals, Wit, and her own Elsecaller powers to keep her safe.

Adolin, on the other hand, is in unknown, possibly hostile territory, with no resources other than what they took along—and it’s worth noting that (if the 17th Shard timeline is correct) Adolin & co. entered Lasting Integrity the same day as Jasnah’s battle. While Dalinar is worrying about him, Adolin is a virtual prisoner of the honorspren, separated from Maya (but not from Shallan and Pattern, yay) and beginning the studies to prepare for his trial.

Meanwhile, Navani is also cut off from communication, her soldiers are either dead or captive except for one Windrunner, and she’s in isolation trying to research things that will help whoever controls the knowledge. Though we won’t get there for another 10 chapters, this is the same day that Navani and Raboniel create the Rhythm of War for the first time.

So, yes, Dalinar is right to be more concerned about his son and his wife, than about his niece!

Taravangian glanced at Szeth briefly and hesitated. Dalinar thought he caught a narrowing of the man’s eyes. Damnation. He’d figured it out.

A: There are just enough mentions of Szeth in the chapter to make sure we don’t forget he’s there, plus this one indication that Taravangian has realized he’s there. This will be important later, as we know.

As they walked away, Szeth spoke from behind him. “Do not trust his lies. He pretends to be done plotting, but there is more to him. There is always more to that one.”

Dalinar glanced at the stoic bodyguard. Szeth so rarely offered opinions.

“I don’t trust him,” Dalinar said. “I can’t walk away from any conversation with that man, no matter how innocent, without going over and over what he said. That’s part of why I was so hesitant to go in there.”

A: I agree with Szeth; it is wise to be hesitant to talk to Taravangian! Not only is it incredibly frustrating, you’re always in danger of getting twisted around and doing something you’ll regret.

 

We’ll be leaving further speculation and discussion to you in the comments, so have fun! Next week, we’ll be back with chapter 67, in which Venli begins to delve into her Willshaper powers.

Alice lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two kids. She’s discovering that while she’s mostly recovered from That Stuff, the brain fog and fatigue take a while to go away. Hopefully it doesn’t show too much in her writing.

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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