Happy Thursday! Welcome back to the Rhythm of War reread, as we go through “Song of Stones”—a very fitting title for such a beautifully descriptive chapter. Venli’s POVs are often frustrating for us, but not this one. It’s a blend of honest introspection, new discovery, and ancient lore, calculated to make some of us very, very happy. Come on in!
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 delve into Cosmere matters.
Heralds: Kalak (Kelek). Willshapers (Transformation, Cohesion). Resolute/Builder. Role: Maker.
A: I’d say this is pretty obvious, since the chapter is all about Venli learning to use her Willshaper powers. It’s also possible that there are some other cool connections that could be made, but they aren’t necessary, I think!
P: Definitely obvious. Get your Radiant on, Venli!
Icon: The Singer, for Venli’s POV.
Epigraph: From Rhythm of War, page 27
Do not mourn for what has happened. This notebook was a dream we shared, which is itself a beautiful thing. Proof of the truth of my intent, even if the project was ultimately doomed.
A: Pretty sure this is Raboniel, writing after Navani has realized that the whole thing has gone up in smoke and she’s lost everything. (Not that she did, obviously, but there was a time where it sure looked like she had.)
P: I agree that this is Raboniel. But at what point did she know the project was doomed, I wonder?
A: I’m not entirely sure what she means by “doomed,” either. In one sense, it was successful beyond their wildest dreams: They created a way to kill both Fused and spren. They created a way to end the war eventually; both sides can permanently remove members of the other side, so there’s the possibility of greater destruction as well as a greater appeal to compromise.
All I can think is that the “doomed” aspect was the idea of humans and singers working together to find a mutual agreement, rather than mutually assured destruction. Since the decisions that ended such a relationship were all Raboniel’s, though, I’m not sure how she can claim “the truth of my intent” was anything other than manipulation.
WHEN: 1126.96.36.199 (Four days after Venli’s last POV, when she freed Rlain; two days after the previous Urithiru episode in which Navani was experimenting with light.)
RECAP: Venli begins the chapter with regrets for her past decisions—primarily, those that led to her mother’s death in the chasms—and accepts her personal responsibility for those decisions. She and Timbre search out a place where she should be safe from discovery to work on her Willshaper powers. When she successfully connects with the soul of the stones, she’s welcomed and shown some of her ancient history, when singers used the Surges as naturally as any other craft. Deeply touched by the vision, she proceeds to play around with stone, learning how to shape it by her Intent. Once finished, she discovers that some of Timbre’s friends are beginning to manifest in the physical realm in their eagerness to bond with those they see as Venli’s squires. She cautions them not to be caught in the Tower just yet; she wants to take a more careful approach to such massive changes for her people this time.
Chapter Chatter—Venli’s Self-Evaluation
A: It strikes me that Venli is very realistic. When someone else is accusing her of evil behavior, she defends herself, however weak her argument. When she’s alone with her thoughts, and even more when Timbre tries to defend her, she is full of self-accusation. Sounds very human to me, somehow…
I had most of the first part of this chapter highlighted, but I can’t quote all of it, so we’ll try to pull out short bits and expound on them. Y’all might have to grab your books for context, if you don’t actually reread the chapter every week.
That song… That song reminded her of her mother’s voice.
But it wasn’t her, of course.
A: I love this chapter opening. For so long, Jaxlim was the singer in Venli’s life—the keeper of songs, the one who sang to the whole family, but also the one who sang them to Venli every day, teaching her each one of them. There’s no hint what kind of song this is. It’s not likely to be one of the listener songs maintaining their oral history; even if some of those songs were from singer history prior to the listeners breaking away, it’s not likely one of the Fused have spent time passing those songs to the modern singers. On a bet, it’s just that Venli heard a voice with a similar timbre to her mother’s, singing to one of the natural rhythms of Roshar.
Whatever the song, narratively this is a great intro to a chapter of internal reflections on what Venli did in the past, and the deep regrets that come with the memories. It might sound mean, but it’s not: I’m glad she remembers, and it causes pain. She needs that pain to make her face what she did, why she did it, to truly repent of it and be different going forward.
P: She does need that pain, and she does need to face what she did. Because it was horrendous. And I’m glad she has a regret about what she thinks must have been the death of her mother. FEEL it, Venli. REGRET it. This is all on you, sister.
“She didn’t have much sense left when my betrayal came,” Venli explained to the spren’s question. “Part of me thinks that a mercy, as she never knew. About me… […] The flood that came upon the Plains that day… Timbre, she drowned down there. Dead by my hand as surely as if I’d stabbed her.”
The little spren pulsed again, consoling. She felt Venli couldn’t completely be blamed for what she’d done, as the forms had influenced her mind. But Venli had chosen those forms.
A: She’s right on a lot of things here. It is a mercy that Jaxlim never knew how her daughter had betrayed their people. And it is true that Venli had, at the time, no compunction about doing things that would cause her mother’s death, along with everyone else who didn’t want to take stormform. She expected Eshonai to have that entire group killed—and they would have been if they hadn’t escaped. Even then, she didn’t worry much about them, knowing that the storm would destroy them in the chasms. So, yes, had they all died in that storm, Venli and Eshonai would have been completely responsible.
P: Completely responsible. I’m still dying to know what happened to them to get them to where they are at the end of the book.
A: I know, right? Just how did they tame a storming chasmfiend—and how many chasmfiends did they have, to move all those people that quickly? There were about a thousand people to be moved. How?
P: Right? I’m fairly dying to know what happened! I really hope we find out in book 5.
A: Anyway, back to Venli’s self-recrimination… Venli was more responsible than Eshonai, I think. As she herself acknowledges, Venli was much less altered by the forms than Eshonai was. Perhaps she’d been conditioned by Ulim, enhancing her inherent negative attributes so that she was already very like a stormform in attitude already. In a recent flashback chapter, Eshonai did note a change in her after the bond with Ulim… But Eshonai also noticed (back in Words of Radiance) that Venli didn’t really seem much changed by taking stormform. Yes, Ulim was part of that, but as Venli knows, only part.
P: Eshonai was really changed by stormform, it was heartbreaking. But Venli wasn’t taken by the form so completely. I just can’t help but wonder how much Ulim’s influence had something to do with that. Was it something to do with Venli’s impending Radiant status?
A: I wouldn’t have thought so; at the time Venli first took stormform, Timbre was still hanging out with Eshonai, trying to get back in. But Ulim’s influence… yes, probably. IMO. There’s also the possibility that her “nimbleform” wasn’t actually nimbleform, but was a similar Voidish form. Does practice make you more resistant, like immunization? Or is it just Venli’s personality?
Timbre pulsed. I helped. And… yes, she had. When she’d first appeared, Venli had grown stronger, more able to resist.
“Thank you,” Venli said. “For that, and for what you continue to do. I’m not worthy of your faith. But thank you.”
A: It’s definitely true that Timbre’s presence, even before they bonded, strengthened Venli’s ability and inclination to resist Odium’s influence. I’m… a little torn about how much she was resisting before that.
P: Timbre did wonders for Venli. Timbre is why I started to forgive Venli.
A: Exactly. When such a loyal spren continues to bond and encourage her, it’s hard not to be willing to see some redemptive possibilities, isn’t it?
The tower up here was silent, and oddly reminded her of the chasms in the Shattered Plains. Those stone pits had also been a place where the sun was difficult to remember—and also a place resplendent with beautiful stone.
A: I rather like this reflection on the similarity of the chasms and the Tower. Not something I’d expected, and I can’t really explain why I like it, but… I just do.
P: The line about the sun being difficult to remember, oof. We forget that only those with a balcony in the Tower see the sun on a regular basis.
Oaths Spoken, Powers Awakened
Timbre pulsed. She wasn’t convinced it would work with Stormlight, not with the tower’s defenses in place. Indeed, as Venli tried to do… well, anything with the Stormlight, she felt as if there were some invisible wall blocking her.
A: It makes me happy that she tries with Stormlight first, even if it doesn’t work.
P: As disappointed as I was that it didn’t work, I was also glad that she tried.
She pressed her hand to the wall again, and tried to feel the stone. Not with her fingers. With her soul.
The stone responded. It seemed to stir like a person awaking from a deep slumber. Hello, it said, though the sounds were drawn out. She didn’t hear the word so much as feel it. You are… familiar.
A: Oh, that’s delicious. I could almost forgive Venli for everything else, just for this scene when the stone speaks to her. It gave me the shivers.
P: It will take a bit more than that for me to forgive her, but she’s steadily approaching that place.
Radiant, the stones said. We have… missed your touch, Radiant. But what is this? What is that sound, that tone?
“Voidlight,” Venli admitted.
That sound is familiar, the stones said. A child of the ancient ones. Our friend, you have returned to sing our song again?
A: And it gets better! The stones not only remember the touch of Radiants, which is lovely in itself, but they remember the ancient singers and… wait a minute, they remember the ancient singers using Voidlight to Surgebind? The stones of Urithiru?? This is so insane, and I have so many unanswered questions about it.
P: Yeah, this is definitely unexpected!
A tone surged through her, then it began to pulse with the song of a rhythm she’d never heard, but somehow always known. A profound, sonorous rhythm, ancient as the core of Roshar.
The entire wall followed suit, then the ceiling and the floor, surrounding her with a beautiful rhythm set to a pure tone.
A: The Rhythm of Cultivation? Or is this a deeper tone yet—the tone of the planet before Honor and Cultivation came? Thoughts?
P: *waves hand over head* No clue here! But it’s very cool!
Oh, storms, she thought. Oh, rhythms ancient and new. I belong here.
She belonged here.
A: I’m not sure it quite ranks up there with “She smiled anyway,” but this is really moving. For all her abrasiveness earlier in life, I can see where she maybe never really felt like she truly belonged anywhere before. Or if she did, it’s been a long time, alienated from everyone around her. At least in these last eight years or so, it was due to her own choices—no argument about that—but she’s finally reached a place where she can recognize that belonging matters.
P: This is so powerful! I got goosebumps reading it. I STILL get goosebumps.
Remember, the stones said. […]
She saw them. Ancient people, the Dawnsingers, working the stone. Creating cities, tools. They didn’t need Soulcasting or forges. They’d dip lengths of wood into the stone, and come out with axes. They’d shape bowls with their fingers. All the while, the stone would sing to them.
Feel me, shaper. Create from me. We are one. The stone shapes your life as you shape the stone.
Welcome home, child of the ancients.
A: This. Is. Amazing.
In answer to my earlier questions, I have to think that it’s not merely the stones of Urithiru that are speaking to her here—it’s Stone. All the stone of Roshar, in some sense, remembering the way things happened before and showing it to Venli here. It’s not really spelled out, but it seems probable that this is how the cities like Kholinar, Akinah, etc. were shaped. It was the singers and the stone, working together, making beautiful places to live. (And now I really wonder… was it the singers, or the Willshapers, or the Sibling who shaped Urithiru? Any of them would be possible.)
P: Yeah, I’m wondering about the nature of Urithiru, too! And you’ve got to be right about the shaping of cities. It just feels right.
A: Given what she sees, now I have a new theory about that tone. This vision just might be pre-Shattering, and it’s the Rhythm of Adonalsium himself that is at work. That would make Voidlight (or Odium’s tone) “familiar” to the stone, one component of the original as the Shards are components of Adonalsium. Maybe?
“How?” Venli asked. “Radiants didn’t exist then. Spren didn’t bond us… did they?”
Things are new, the stones hummed, but new things are made from old things, and old peoples give birth to new ones. Old stones remember.
A: From that answer, I suspect that we won’t ever learn more about this. It seems like the kind of thing Sanderson writes when he wants us to know that there’s a connection between things, but it’s not important enough to the narrative to develop it more deeply. I hope I’m wrong about that, though.
And then Venli starts experimenting with shaping by her own intent. It’s fascinating to see the stone accept her hand, hold a handprint, let her roll a chunk of it into a ball, flatten into a puddle just because she imagines it, and then melding back into the wall when she puts it there. I would really love to see what a practiced Willshaper can do—though I guess the earlier description gave us some ideas.
Raboniel was spending all her time with Navani, and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the difficulty of manipulating the former queen.
A: Hah! This made me laugh. Raboniel likes a challenge, of course.
P: That she does. And she truly enjoys the game she’s playing with Navani.
A: I think that’s one of the most beautiful and painful things about Navani’s arc. She and Raboniel could have become true friends, but they were working toward ends that forced them to be opponents. Even so, at the very end the friendship wins. A lot of the damage (on both sides) was already done, but… Even so.
She’d eventually put Rlain together with the surgeon and his wife, and delivered all three of them to help care for the fallen Radiants.
A: Nice little side note. I sure would like to have heard the conversation between those three once they were alone. I like the way this is just casually tossed in here in passing, when it will turn out to be Significant later on.
P: I would have LOVED to hear that conversation!
Music, Mechanisms, and Manifestations of Light
Stormlight didn’t work like Voidlight did. Rather than going into her gemheart, it infused her entire body. She could feel it raging—an odd feeling more than an unpleasant one.
A: This is a cool note. Does it matter? Anyone?
P: Not sure if it matters but it’s neat to see the difference in the lights and how they each feel.
Then she took out a Voidlight sphere. She could get these without too much trouble—but she didn’t dare sing the Song of Prayer to create them herself. She worried about drawing Odium’s attention…
A: So… that’s how it works? How they charge gemstones with Voidlight? They sing this Song of Prayer, and it… draws Voidlight directly from Odium? Is that why she dare not sing it herself? It somehow seems oddly personal for Odium that the Fused and the Regals can sing a song and draw on his power directly.
Um… is that what the Pursuer does? (And the other Fused, for that matter?) Do they just go off somewhere and sing the song to directly recharge themselves from Odium? That strikes me as very odd, for some reason.
P: Maybe so… that’s certainly what it seems like. I find this fascinating, and I’m disappointed that it wasn’t revealed to Navani.
“It doesn’t seem right, for some reason, to use his power to fuel our abilities.”
A: I totally agree. It seems really wrong to use Voidlight to power Radiant Surgebinding! Now it seems like foreshadowing of… something. Is it just a matter of singers becoming Radiants? Or is it more about an upcoming cooperation between Odium and the Radiants? Odium and Honor?
P: At this point, I can’t foresee any cooperation. But who knows what Brandon has up his sleeve?
A: Yeah… I see things that might hint at some form of cooperation, but also things that hint at scorched-earth style war, now that they have ways to perma-kill each other.
Spren and Shadesmar
That had been many months ago, and had drawn the attention of secretspren, so they had stopped quickly.
A: That would have been back in Kholinar? But now she’s learned that secretspren are baffled in Urithiru, so it’s safe.
P: Creepy little secretspren. I’m glad they can’t work within the Tower with the dampener.
A: For sure. If nothing else, it’s narrative necessity—but I love having a logical in-world rationale.
“What do you mean, ‘them’?” Venli asked. She looked up, noticing lights in the hallway. She attuned Anxiety, but then the lights drew closer. The three little spren were like Timbre: in the shape of comets with rings of light pulsing around them.
A: Wheee! Reachers ahoy! They really are eager, aren’t they? Now that a bunch of them have decided this is a good thing, they can’t wait. Venli’s right about this being dangerous for them, though, more than she knows; despite Timbre’s confidence that spren can’t be destroyed, we’ll see it happen two different ways later in this book. Radiant bonds are becoming hazardous.
P: Will Venli and Timbre even know that Spren can be destroyed? I don’t think they were made aware of that tidbit.
A: Certainly not at this point. Venli only knows that she doesn’t know much. It’s funny, almost, that her unjustified paranoia at this point will become all too justified in the near future—less than three weeks, in-world.
“Didn’t you say spren like you need a bond to be aware in the Physical Realm? An anchor?”
Timbre’s explanation was slightly ashamed. These were eager to bond Venli’s friends, her squires. That had given these spren access to thoughts and stability in the Physical Realm. Venli was the anchor.
A: Hah! This is pretty funny—the spren are practically becoming her squires all by themselves, they’re so excited about bonding. I don’t recall that we see any of them bonding Venli’s friends before the end of the book—just the one that bonds Jaxlim. (Nice little bit of foreshadowing there, too, with Jaxlim being at the forefront of Venli’s earlier musing and now the eager spren that will go with her later.)
P: I don’t think any of her friends did bond a Spren, which is both surprising and disappointing. But Jaxlim… eeeee!
Timbre pulsed encouragingly.
“You’re correct,” Venli said. “We can do this. But we need to take it slowly, carefully. I rushed to find new forms, and that proved a disaster. This time we’ll do things the right way.”
A: She does learn from her mistakes sometimes! I know this isn’t what happens, but I could almost wish that she would consider the friends who have proven trustworthy thus far, and help them bond right away. (Not that wacky Shumin that can’t stop bragging about stuff, though. She’d show off in front of the wrong people about two hours into the venture.)
Seriously, though, don’t you think Dul and Mazish deserve to become Radiants?
P: I do think they deserve it! Hopefully we’ll see more Radiants around Venli in book 5.
We’ll be leaving further speculation and discussion to you in the comments. Next week, we’ll be back with chapter 68, a flashback to the first of the new forms Venli “discovered,” as Jaxlim attempts to bond the new kind of spren, but Eshonai ends up with it instead. So… next week, warform.
Alice lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two kids. She is currently questioning her commitment to help make costumes for her daughter’s high school production of Beauty and the Beast. Costumes are time-consuming.
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, dreams about baseball season full 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.