Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Rhythm of War Reread: Chapter Sixty-Eight

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Welcome back, my peeps and Cosmere ChickenScouts! It’s flashback time on the Rhythm of War Reread today, as certain family relationships are explored and a new form is acquired for the listeners. Eshonai, young though she is, takes the lead in trying to bring all the listeners together as a single nation. She sees the humans as a growing threat, and longs to see her people come together in mutual self-defense.

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 the larger Cosmere is not addressed.

Heralds: Talenelat (Talenel, Taln), Herald of War. Stonewards (Cohesion, Tension). Dependable/Resourceful. Role: Soldier.

Battah (Battar). Elsecallers (Transformation, Transportation). Wise/Careful. Role: Counsellor.

A: Well, Taln seems pretty obvious. Soldier = warform, at least for the listeners going forward. This chapter also contains Eshonai’s first act as a soldier, so, that too. Battar is a little more challenging. She could represent Eshonai’s speech of unification, and that would make sense for both Counsellor and Wise. She could also represent the transformation of these dozen listeners, from workform to warform. (Although I’m not sure the Surge of Transformation is involved here, I’m also not sure the Surge has to be involved for the effect to be reflected in the choice of Heralds. I don’t really know what criteria Isaac uses for that decision.)

Icon: The Sisters, for a flashback chapter.

Chapter Recap

WHO: Eshonai
WHEN: Eight years ago (the 17th Shard timeline places this at 1167.2.6.4, which would be eight years and two months ago. Close enough? I assume they based their date on whatever is given in other flashbacks for the time lapse between this event and the assassination, so we’ll take their word for it.)
WHERE: The Shattered Plains

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

RECAP: Eshonai accompanies Jaxlim into the storm with a spren-containing gemstone, hoping that taking a new form will restore her mind. At the moment of transformation, however, the spren chooses Eshonai rather than Jaxlim. When the storm is over, there are a dozen new warforms, astonished at the accompanying new abilities. They return to their city, where an attack by another family is beginning. Stopping by to pick up the family Shardbearer, they go out to confront the attackers. Eshonai displays her new form, and invites them to join with her family, pursuing the goal of a united nation to resist whatever the humans might try. A spear thrown so hard it soars completely over the attackers puts a final touch on the confrontation, and the other family flees.

Chapter Chatter — Eshonai Takes Warform

A: Once again, there is so much in this chapter I want to quote, but I’ll try not to include the whole thing…

Little bursts of light in the tempest. Like the souls of the dead said to wander the storms, searching for gemhearts to inhabit.

A: Um… Is it just me, or did this scream “legends of the Fused!!” to anyone else? IIRC, the whole concept of trapping spren in gemstones is a relatively new development, so they wouldn’t have legends about that. Is there anything else this could refer to?

“Attune a bold rhythm!” Eshonai said. That was what Venli had told them. “Confidence or Excitement!” […]

She attuned Resolve, keeping the shield in place. […]

Eshonai shouldn’t have been surprised when the light burst from the gemstone and was absorbed—like water rushing to fill an empty vessel—into her own gemheart.

A: Woopsie! She was so focused on helping her mother—shielding her from the storm, encouraging an appropriate rhythm, attuning it herself to provide support—and Jaxlim was having trouble finding the right mindset and rhythm. Of course it was inevitable that the spren would be attracted to the one who “had it right” regardless of their plans for it.

P: I felt so bad for Jaxlim here. Poor dear. She was hoping a new form would help her, but then the spren chose Eshonai.

A: We’ll never know if the new form would have helped her, though I suspect this one wouldn’t have. It’s disappointing, though. She enjoyed being out in the storm again, and she was eager to try a new form; she just couldn’t get the mindset for this form, and I think that makes a world of sense. Jaxlim in warform is a really weird thought; she’d fit much better with scholarform or even nimbleform, if they’d been available yet. I had to go look at a later flashback to check on her reactions, and what makes me feel even worse about this scene is that she sees this as her failure. While in one sense that’s true—she wasn’t able to hold the right mindset and rhythm—it’s still sad to think of it as failure rather than recognizing that this just isn’t an appropriate form for her personally.

She wasn’t supposed to have been taken, but in the moment she didn’t care. This transformation was wonderful. In it, a vital piece of the listeners returned to her.

They needed more than they had. They needed this.

This… this was right. She embraced the change.

A: What a fascinating perspective: warform as “a vital piece of the listeners.” She wouldn’t know, of course, but in one sense this is true of many other forms, because the listeners’ heritage is the singers—all the forms and abilities natural to the singers in the days before the Shards came, with their conflicts and politics. I don’t know that this is anywhere in Sanderson’s plan for the Cosmere, but I’d really love to see them all regain the knowledge of all the forms natural to Roshar, and able to reject any forms tainted by Odium. It seems like such an idyllic society, if they could recapture it.

P: That would be incredible. They’ve been through so much, it would be nice for Brandon to give them this.

She held up her hand and found the fingers thick, meaty, with carapace as grand as human armor along the back of the hand and up the arm. It covered her entire body, from her feet up to her head. No hairstrands. Simply a solid piece of carapace.

A: One assumes that, as with the Deepest Ones, allowance is made for genitalia and excretion… but she’s not really thinking about that sort of thing now. She’s got armor. Really truly armor, and it’s part of her, rather than something she has to put on like the humans do. Bit of a shock, I’d imagine.

P: I can’t imagine what kind of shock it would be, but she’s certainly impressed! As she should be.

She didn’t recognize the voice… but that pattern of marbled skin was familiar. And the features, though now covered by a carapace skullcap, were reminiscent of…

“Thude?” she said, then gasped again. “My voice!”

“I know,” he said. “If you’ve ever wished to sing the low tones, Eshonai, it seems we’ve found the perfect form for it!”

A: This made me laugh so much I almost put it in Buttresses. Surprise after surprise after surprise here—but all to be enjoyed and embraced. This whole scene, all like kids with an awesome new toy, is just fun.

P: How wondrous for them, stuck with just a few forms for so long, to have this. Venli’s motives aside, this is exciting for the listeners.

There were a good dozen of them. Though Venli had provided around two dozen gemstones, it seemed not all of the volunteers had taken to the new form. Unsurprising. It would take them time and practice to determine the proper mindset.

A: I don’t really have anything insightful to say about this, but I was fascinated by the idea that just because they have the right spren, all captured and ready, it still doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll get the form. That was a bit of a surprise; from the previous encounters, I’d vaguely assumed they just needed the right spren in the vicinity, and if you could trap it in a gemstone to make sure it was with you, that was enough. Guess not.

P: Needing to have the proper mindset is interesting, for sure.  And that mindset is likely vastly different from form to form.

A: It seems so! Merely wanting to change is not enough; you have to somehow be suited to it. As we noted earlier, warform isn’t a good fit for Jaxlim, but apparently years of warfare made it possible for others to develop the right mindset even if they didn’t have a natural personality fit.

The drums? Yes, those were the battle drums. A raid was happening at the city.

The others gathered around her, humming to Confusion. An attack by one of the other families? Now?

Eshonai wanted to laugh.

“Are they insane?” Thude asked.

“They don’t know what we’ve done,” Eshonai said […]

A: Oh, right. It’s worth noting that these dozen are all from Eshonai’s family. Of course the spren Venli trapped would only be used by this family, until others form alliances with them—but I’d honestly forgotten about it until this came up. And of course the other families would have no idea that any such experiment was in the works. I’m highly amused at the reaction of these newly minted warforms to the concept of an attack now, though; apparently, ten minutes of playing with their new skills has them really impressed with the form! As it should, of course. This is an amazing new thing—but it still makes me chuckle to see their shock at the very idea of anyone trying to attack them.

P:  What I would like to see is how Eshonai became the leader of their forces.  She seems to take the lead here, and is the one to decide not to pick up the shards at that moment, which probably led to her getting them anyway. But I wonder if she just took charge or if command was given to her.

A: Hmm. You know, I don’t think we’re really told about that. We know that since she was the one to warn the Five about Gavilar’s plans, she was drawn into the leadership decisions at the time, and was likely one of those chosen to replace the Five who stayed in Kholinar to bear the blame for the assassination. She seems to have the knack for stepping into a leadership role at just the right time for everyone else to naturally follow.

“I think it’s worth trying not to kill anyone,” Thude said to Consideration. “With this form… I feel it would be unfair.”

A: I really like Thude. I’m glad he survived as himself. He’s good people.

P: I’m THRILLED that he survived. That all of them did!

“[…] But this is a new era, and deserves a new Shardbearer. Which of you will take my Shards? Which of you can bear this burden, and this glory?”

[…]

“No!” Eshonai said. “No, none of us will take them. None of us are ready.”

A: Wow, this came so close to turning nasty. SO close. This decision all by itself might actually be enough reason for Battar to be one of the Heralds for this chapter. The wisdom to leave the one-up weaponry in the hands of an elder, rather than allowing the dozen warforms to squabble over them, is… actually pretty impressive.

P:  Like I mentioned above, I’m really curious as to how Eshonai ended up with them. Did the Five  have something to do with it or did the bearer choose her?

“We have found warform,” Eshonai shouted to Joy. An inviting rhythm, not an angry one. “Come, join us. Enter our city, live with us. We will share our knowledge with you.”

A: Um… This is great, but did she really have the authority to invite another family to live in the city with them? I wonder what the Five had to say about it later!

P:  They might have been so impressed with warform that they didn’t chastize her.

A: Quite likely, come to think of it. She had asked them for permission to approach the other families about the concept of uniting the families into a nation, though we don’t see anywhere that they gave permission. But as you say, warform is pretty impressive!

[…] One of them shouted, to Reprimand, “You’ll consume us! Make us slaves. We won’t be our own family any longer.”

“We are all one family!” Eshonai said. “You fear being made slaves? Did you see the poor slaveforms the humans had? Did you see the armor of the humans, their weapons? Did you see the fineness of their clothing, the wagons they created?

“You cannot fight that. I cannot fight that. But together, we could fight that. […]”

A: Well, she’s not wrong… They can’t win, but they can fight. And if only Eshonai hadn’t taken stormform, they might have held their own long enough for her and Dalinar to make a treaty and end the war… and then there wouldn’t have been a book series, so of course that was never going to happen, but I can wish it for them in my imagination anyway.

P: Right? We can imagine a world where they found peace! It’s a nice thought.

“[…] We are going to approach the Living-Songs family next. You may choose to be the first to join with our new nation, and be recognized for your wisdom for generations. Or you can be left until the end, to come groveling for membership, once our union is nearly complete.”

A: Hah. Clever, Eshonai. Very clever.

P:  This seems like such a harsh thing for her to say. But I guess that’s partly the form talking.

A: True. It seems like something Venli would have come up with, manipulating people like this, but there’s definitely an arrogance that comes along with warform!

Listeners

Eshonai herself had only adopted a new form once, as a child—when her father had helped her adopt workform, since the time of changes had come to her.

Children needed no form, and were vibrant without one—but if they didn’t adopt a form upon puberty in their seventh or eighth year, they would be trapped in dullform instead. That form was, essentially, an inferior version of mateform.

A: Maybe I’m just that kind of geek, but I love this kind of information about fantasy races and cultures.

One, puberty hits at 7 or 8 years old, so it’s not so terribly surprising that Eshonai was out exploring on her own at 10. (But it still seems weird to me!)

Two, until they hit puberty, they don’t have and don’t need a form. That’s just… cool. Can’t quite explain why this resonates so much, but I love it.

Three, if they don’t go out into a storm about that time and get a spren in their gemheart, they automatically become dullform. (And now I wonder: Has this always been true? Is that why the first listeners knew dullform was a thing they could deliberately choose? I would dearly love to see scenes from before the human/singer conflict began, and what forms were commonly acquired at that first transformation. So many questions, I have.)

P: So are they basically dullform as children? Surely not, because if they’re vibrant, they’re definitely not dullform. This is super interesting, I agree.

“[…] if we can arrive before the boasts are done…”

The others began attuning Amusement or Excitement, grinning. […]

As they approached the city, she could see the rival family mustered outside the gateway, lifting spears and making challenges and taunts.

A: The entire concept of how these battles go is just… hilarious, and innocent, and pathetic, all at once. Better than most of the options, though—Eshonai’s thought that the worst of the battles had left “over a dozen people dead on each side” is really kind of awesome.

P: I  love their boasting. I wish we could hear some of it!

A: That would be fun! Now I want a “deleted scene” on the subject!

They wore white, of course. It was how one knew an attack was happening, rather than a request for trade or other interaction.

A: You know why this is here…

P: Szeth son-son-Vallano… and so on and so forth.

A: Interestingly enough, in The Way of Kings it was implied that this was more an individual thing. “If you were going to assassinate a man, he was entitled to see you coming.” I remember lots of discussion at the time about the Parshendi having a culture that involved assassination. Now it turns out that this was misunderstood, probably by Szeth. (Or possibly because Sanderson hadn’t worked out all the listener culture yet…) In any case, any attack required that your opponent was given warning of both your presence and your hostile intent.

Sharefel. The family’s Shardbearer. Upon obtaining this city, by tradition the defeated family had given up the city’s Shards for her family to protect and keep.

“Venli,” Eshonai said. “We do not use Shards upon other listeners. Those are for hunts alone.”

A: This is another of those really cool traditions of the listeners, which will of course be lost once the conflict arises. (Storms take Gavilar and his vaulting ambitions, anyway!) Venli is right, of course, that they will have to use the Shards in battle someday, and Eshonai even acknowledges it… but for now, their few Shards are used for the good of all listeners, on the rare occasion when they need a chasmfiend gemheart for growing crops, and all the families who participate share in the feast. (I’m assuming this is deliberately reminiscent of the Biblical concept of “beat your swords into plowshares, and your spears into pruning hooks”—though these are commonly recognized weapons of war, the listeners actually use them for hunting and indirectly for farming. I suppose sometime I should ask if this was intentional.)

P: I’m sure that Brandon would welcome the question!

“I have long sung the old songs,” Sharefel said, “dreaming of this day. I always thought I would be the one to find it. […]”

A: Awww. I rather like this old man. I can’t help wondering why, when the First-Rhythm Family took the city and therefore the Shards a few months ago, they chose an elderly person to be the Shardbearer. Certainly they’d choose someone with wisdom and self-control, but … elderly? Why?

P:  It is possible that they just thought the wisest person should hold the shards. Perhaps he loans them to people to use for hunts.

A: You know what just occurred to me? They’ve always been so careful with their Shards, and only used them for hunting, and all that… but by the time we see them in Words of Radiance, only this set remains in the possession of the listeners. The others were all taken in battle by the humans. I wonder if the humans ever knew that there were only eight sets total; winning a set of Shards was about half the reason the human armies went out to challenge the “Parshendi” during the later years of the war—the other half, of course, being the wealth from obtaining a chasmfiend gemheart.

Eshonai’s family’s archers hung back, their numbers a show of strength, though they wouldn’t use their weapons here. Bows were too deadly—and too accurate—to be used in harming others.

A: At the risk of sounding like a stuck record (for those who remember records!), the simplicity with which the listeners simply value life is such a beautiful thing. They will have all manner of fun showing off, but they won’t risk actually killing anyone on purpose.

P: That mentality definitely changes when the humans are on the other side.

A: Something something survival… When the other side is determined to wipe out you and all your people, killing the enemy becomes more acceptable.

There are tens of thousands of listeners around the Plains.

A: More reminders, which I often find valuable. First, Eshonai doesn’t actually realize how many listeners there are, at this point; in Words of Radiance she thinks that “Once, there had been hundreds of thousands of listeners scattered across these plains.” At this stage, she’s still very much the young explorer who has only recently become aware of the larger picture of her world.

Second, while all the status belongs to the listener families who hold the ten cities (later to become the Alethi warcamps), there are many more families in the surrounding areas. Some may be out on the Plains themselves, while others are likely in the hills and forests surrounding the plains in all directions. It’s easy to forget how many people there are, and how large an area they inhabit.

P:  Yeah, she doesn’t appear to be a very reliable narrator in this instance. I’m sure Brandon would be happy to let us know the real numbers. 😉

Music, Mechanisms, and Manifestations of Light

A: By way of general musings… A long time ago, when we first learned the names and functions of the Surges, it seemed so odd that “Illumination” was defined as “The Surge of Light, Sound, and Various Waveforms.” I mean… yeah, waveforms, but it still seemed odd to have light and sound both be part of Illumination. With everything we’re learning in this book, though, it fits perfectly.

Eshonai gasped, the rhythms disrupting and vanishing—all but one, an overwhelming sound she’d never heard before. A stately, steady tone. Not a rhythm. A pure note.

[…]

While it happened, it seemed to her that all of Roshar paused to sing Honor’s long-lost note.

A: We’ve been hearing a lot about the “pure tones” of the planet in this book, and this is such a visceral example. It seems that warform belongs wholly to Honor.

P: Which is reassuring, I suppose. I definitely don’t recall this kind of description when Eshonai took Stormform. But then, that’s been a while.

“There are songs of those who first adopted workform,” Eshonai said. “I believe they mention a similar experience: an outpouring of power, an amazing tone that belonged purely to Cultivation.”

“The tones of Roshar,” Thude said, “welcoming us home.”

A: So… does each form belong wholly to one or the other of the Shards? I could see mateform being all Cultivation, but I wouldn’t necessarily have assumed that for workform.

In any case, I love Thude’s comment about the tones welcoming them home. It’s like the earlier bit about this new form being “a vital piece of the listeners.” I’d love to have seen them really grow into the fullness of belonging to the planet and the Shards the way they once did… but it was not to be, and it makes me sad. (Also mad at Gavilar, but that’s for another discussion.)

P:  So are they only hearing the tone because they are the first to adopt this form?

A: It almost sounds like that—the first ones are welcomed with this lovely pure tone thing, and then after that it’s more… ordinary, or something. Huh.

Also, I just have to note that here, they talk about it being a pure note, and Eshonai even said it had no rhythm. Why, then, does Navani’s breakthrough come when she’s able to hear and reproduce the rhythms of Honor and Odium?

Relationships and Romances

Eshonai huddled down beside her mother, unable to hear the rhythm the femalen was humming. The light of the gemstone, however, revealed a grin on Jaxlim’s face.

A grin?

“Reminds me of when your father and I came out together!”

A: This is a sweet-and-funny sort of moment. Eshonai is all worried about bringing her frail mother out in the storm—and her frail mother is grinning. Long-term memory is still strong—or can at least be triggered by a situation. I love this whole thing, with Jaxlim telling the story and Eshonai fretting about her having the wrong frame of mind and getting mateform instead. It makes me laugh.

P:  These are some kind of hardy people to go into the storms as they do. And it’s lovely to see Jaxlim enjoying herself.

“[…] I do want grandchildren, you realize.”

“Do we have to talk about this now?” Eshonai asked. “Hold that stone. Adopt the new form! Think about it, not mateform.”

Wouldn’t that be an embarrassment.

A: Heh. It would actually be kind of hilarious… but probably not for them. At least, not now.

P:  Definitely not the time or place for that conversation!

She would protect her mother. Jaxlim often complained that Eshonai was unreliable, prone to fancy, but that wasn’t true. Her exploration was difficult work. It was valuable work. She wasn’t unreliable or lazy.

A: Funny how different “reliable/unreliable” can look depending on perspective… Eshonai is definitely not lazy, and her exploration is indeed hard work—but while she can be relied on to explore new places carefully and thoroughly, and provide good maps for those place, she can’t necessarily be relied on to be available when her mother wants her. Is one form of reliability more valuable than the other? I guess it depends on who you ask.

P:  It also depends on the situation. I’m sure there are times that she’s been completely unreliable… if you ask Venli, especially.

A: Yeah, but at this point in time I’m not interested in Venli’s opinions! Any more than Eshonai is…

As they passed Sharefel’s hut, she saw Venli again, lurking in the shadows. This was her victory, after a fashion.

Eshonai probably should have gone to congratulate her, but couldn’t bring herself to do it. Venli didn’t need more songs praising her. She already had a big enough ego.

A: Sigh. While in many ways I agree, and I thoroughly understand this feeling, it’s not exactly… fair. And it very much demonstrates the whole sibling rivalry between these two. Sigh.

P:  How much could have been different without that rivalry, but then as you say, we wouldn’t have a book.

Spren and Shadesmar

“Hold that stone. Adopt the new form! Think about it, not mateform.”

[…]

“The lifespren aren’t interested in someone my age.”

A: I think we already knew this, but in case we didn’t… lifespren give the singers/listeners mateform. I like knowing these things.

The sound became everything to her as her previous spren—a tiny gravitationspren—was ejected from her gemheart.

A: Again, I think we knew this… but workform is granted by a gravitationspren. I wonder why they’re “tiny.” Also, I wonder if the gravitationspren had any choice about  being ejected. I’m not sure they’re sufficiently self-aware to make choices, in any case, but I do find it a little odd that while Eshonai had the right rhythm to attract the new spren, she wasn’t intending to make a change and it happened anyway.

P:  It’s actually kind of unsettling to think that any spren could inhabit their gemheart whether they want it to or not.

A: Right? I mean, they do have to be out in the storm, so there’s a degree of choice, but other than mindset and rhythm, they don’t seem to have a lot of control.

“[…] How? What spren?”

“Painspren,” Eshonai said.

“They flee during storms.”

“We captured them […] using a human method.”

A: Warform comes from painspren. How… appropriate. But how did the ancient singers ever get warform, if they flee during storms and trapping them in gemstones is new tech? Did they not always flee? Or did they just require sufficiently intense pain to be attracted during a highstorm? Curious. (Or am I incorrect in believing that trapping spren in gemstones is a relatively new development—something Melishi discovered while looking for a way to stop the Unmade, which was then put to more mundane purposes? Did he merely re-discover it? IIRC, Raboniel said it was a new thing, didn’t she?)

P:  I thought it was a new thing. This would be another great question for Brandon.

A: Too bad he’s not touring any more—I used to go to all his Seattle signings with a whole page full of questions, and ask them whenever the person getting a book signed didn’t have a question of their own. I got so many cool answers that way. Maybe someday.

 

We’ll be leaving further speculation and discussion to you in the comments. Next week, we’ll be back with chapter 69, in which Navani’s continued experiments all fail, and she has a long talk with the Sibling.

Alice lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two kids. She’s currently in the throes of drama costuming and other senior-year-of-high-school insanity.

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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