Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Rhythm of War Reread: Chapter Seventy-Three

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Welcome back to the Rhythm of War reread, as we launch into Part Four! Today’s Cosmere Chicken-Scout input comes from Nazh, who has apparently been busily researching Rosharan writing systems. As for the actual chapter, we’re back in the past with Venli and Ulim, as he uses blatant flattery and empty promises to undercut any existing love and loyalty she might have. It’s a bit frustrating to watch, but easy to see how he manipulated her into betraying her people on multiple levels. Come on in and join the discussion!

Reminder: We’ll be discussing spoilers for the entirety of the series up until now. If you haven’t read ALL of the published entries of The Stormlight Archive (this includes Edgedancer and Dawnshard as well as the entirety of Rhythm of War), best to wait to join us until you’re done.

I don’t think we have any Cosmere spoilers this week, unless they’re in Nazh’s artwork.

Also: Please, NO SPOILERS for the SA-5 Prologue! (Or the secret projects, for that matter.) We’ll avoid discussing it in the post, and for the love of Honor, if you MUST talk about it in the comments (and I can understand why you’d want to) white out the text! If your platform makes white-out difficult, at least preface your comments with big Spoiler Warning arm-waving so people can skip your piece.

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

Shalash (Ash), Herald of Beauty. Lightweavers (Illumination, Transformation). Creative/Honest. Role: Artist.

A: I’m not sure what to say about the Heralds on this chapter. Best guess, Battar represents Venli and Ulim conspiring to terrify the listeners into accepting forms of power. Maybe Shalash represents the transformation from one form to another? Or their search for a way to do so? I really don’t have a solid take on this. Maybe they’re both there to represent the opposite of their Divine Attributes.

Icon: The Sisters—Flashback chapter.

Chapter Recap

WHO: Venli
WHEN: Eight years ago (1167.4 or .5)
WHERE: The Shattered Plains, First-Rhythm Family city

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

RECAP: Venli wanders the streets of her family’s city, reflecting on the recent changes. She alternates between arrogantly enjoying the new rhythms which prove her “special” and being vaguely aware that something is not right. Ulim carefully stokes the arrogance, with occasional slips where he shows actual contempt. In the end, they agree to further the coming Everstorm by showing her people how unprepared they are to fight the humans, hoping to frighten them into seeking the forms of power.

As noted in the introduction, this week we’re starting Part Four, titled “A Knowledge.” We’ll have to watch how that plays out as we go, but there are multiple discoveries along the way. In this first flashback chapter, Venli is looking for knowledge of nimbleform, and already has knowledge of the Odium rhythms. In “present-time” she will also move forward in the knowledge of what she can do as a Willshaper. Navani will make some amazing discoveries in her Light research. Adolin and Shallan will uncover knowledge lost for centuries upon centuries. So “A Knowledge” does seem to fit, and for some reason I’m reminded that knowledge can be extremely dangerous.

Chapter Chatter—Venli’s Vacillations

A: Much as I dislike Venli in general, a reread of this chapter stirs some pity for her. She’s deeply under Ulim’s influence most of the time, exacerbating her natural self-centeredness and reducing her familial affections to almost nothing. She has just a few flickers of awareness that something is wrong, and it’s those flickers that make me pity her.

P: Yeah, at this point, Ulim is playing off her childish arrogance and doing some serious manipulating. While I have the utmost contempt for Venli’s role in the downfall of the listeners, she really was just a pawn in Odium’s game. This chapter highlights that most painfully.

The new rhythms were her majesty, the proof that she was special. She wanted to shout them, flaunt them.

A: This repeats over and over throughout the chapter, with minor variations.

P: Yes, Ulim knows well how to nudge her in the direction he wants her to go.

A: That whole “I’m a very special person” schtick gets on my nerves so much—which is probably why I loathe Ulim so much. He throws in stuff like this to keep her going:

You are special […] I could sense you from far away, Venli. You were chosen by our god, the true god of all singers. He sent me to explain how wonderful you are.

A: It’s so blatant, it’s tough to figure out how she doesn’t see through it. Is she just lapping it up and ignoring the obvious because she wants so badly to be special? Or is she actually blinded that thoroughly by Ulim and/or Odium’s power? I sort of suspect both are working together. Ulim picked a very good target for his brand of machination. 

P: I agree that it’s both of these. Because while she truly wants to be recognized as important and powerful, she is being manipulated in the worst way.

The words comforted her. Yes. That was right. She would wear forms of power. Only… hadn’t she once wanted those… for her mother? Wasn’t that the point?

A: Flicker, flicker. For just a moment she remembers why she had originally sought other forms, and why she thought the forms of power might do more for Jaxlim than the ordinary kind. Then, of course, Ulim starts whispering about how great she will be, and how everyone will know it. UGH. I’ll admit that I love his sense of humor at times, but it just doesn’t make up for his brutal manipulation of a weak child.

P: Yeah, he’s pretty loathsome. Though with Venli’s mindset and lust for recognition, she’s ridiculously easy to manipulate.

A: Ridiculously easy.

Those are your grunts, who will be sent to die fighting the humans once our plot is accomplished.

A: Another thing he plays on is the rivalry between Venli and Eshonai—and he really harps on it when he needs to distract her. Her lifelong envy of her older sister makes her so vulnerable to this sort of thing—to the point that she’s okay with the idea that Eshonai will be among the first to die when their intended conflict begins. She completely falls for this one, because she’s miffed that Eshonai is getting credit for warform instead of herself; she conveniently forgets that she got the Ulim-gemstone from one of the humans, and he made it possible for her to trap the painspren to get warform. She’s done nothing on her own but fall for the manipulations of her enemies, poor foolish child.

P: Though we’ve never seen her questioning this fact with him, surely at some point she had to wonder why a human had the gemstone with Ulim inside. Surely.

A: You’d think, wouldn’t you? But we have no evidence that she even considered it.

[Ulim] knew a lot about manipulating people; with his help she could get the others to do pretty much anything.

A part of her thought she should be concerned about that. But when she tried to think along those lines, her mind grew fuzzy. And she ended up circling back to whatever she’d been thinking about before.

A: GAAAAH. I hate seeing someone’s mind twisted like this. It’s probably the worst aspect of fantasy, for me: that some people have the power to literally meddle with a person’s thoughts. She’s always been self-centered—what child isn’t, to some extent—but every time some small piece of Venli acknowledges a problem with her current behavior, Ulim twists her thoughts around. It’s infuriating. (It’s also a fascinating contrast to what Timbre does. Both Ulim and Timbre inhabit Venli’s gemheart while hold a “normal” spren trapped there, but their aims and their treatment of Venli are vastly different.)

P: Yeah, messing with another’s mind is the lowest of the low. (Wheel of Time SPOILER ALERT!) Except when Verin does it. Yeah, I said it.

A: Heh. Well, okay. There are some exceptions.

You and them? Even? Oh, you blessed little idiot.

Venli felt herself attune Agony. She hated the way he made her feel sometimes. He’d whisper about how great she was, but then they’d get deep into a conversation and he’d speak more freely. More derogatorily.

A: Okay, opinion poll. Is this just more manipulation by means of emotional abuse? Or is it Ulim revealing his true view of her when he doesn’t feel like bothering to play the “you’re so special” game? My opinion is (usually) that it’s the latter, but I can see the former as a possibility.

P: This seems to be the way he actually feels about Venli. Not that he’s above manipulating her emotions, obviously, but I truly believe he feels this level of contempt for her and just can’t hold it in sometimes.

A: Speaking of being honest (in the weird way he has)…

You don’t get to choose to be free, Venli. Just which master to follow.

A: Channel your Dylan and sing it with me…

He’s kind of right, oddly enough, but he sure is pushing her toward Odium as her master, never mind his later words. (We’ll get to those in a minute.)

P: You just can’t believe a word this spren says. He’s foul and corrupted and contemptible.

Once the Return arrives, you will be proclaimed as the one who initiated it—and you will be given everything you deserve as the most important of all listeners.

A: Double-tongued little serpent. “You will be given everything you deserve”—as a useful tool and descendant of traitors. But of course she doesn’t catch that implication, she just hears that she’s all super-important.

P: Because that’s exactly what she wants to hear. So even though he’s lacing his words with a bit of painful truth, she can’t hear it.

“Mother?” Venli asked to Praise. “Everyone makes mistakes.”

“Why can’t I do anything right anymore?”

“Mother, can you tell me the first song?” Venli whispered.

A: And then she does something right. It doesn’t last long, but for a few minutes, while her attention is on someone else, someone she loves, she ignores Ulim and his sneering.

P: I can almost forgive her arrogance when she’s with her mother. Almost.

A: Self-reflection isn’t something she used to do often, though in the “present day” she does a lot more. But look at this short moment:

This had all been about finding a way to help her mother, hadn’t it? At the start?

No, she admitted. That’s what you told yourself. But you want more. You’ve always wanted more.

A: Look at that! Even when that weasel Ulim worms his way back in with his “You’re so special!” gig, she shuts him up and thinks for herself for a few minutes.

P: What a rare moment of brutal honesty with herself.

“They were not fools. They were heroes. Their primary teaching, preserved in everything we do, is to never let our gods rule us again. To never take up forms of power. To never serve Odium.”

A: Oh, if she’d only been able to hold onto this…

P: Right? If only this sliver of defiance had been stronger, or if she had been stronger, or if Ulim had not been so precise in choosing the correct victim.

A: Yes, he definitely made a good choice—someone with influence (as the apprentice song-keeper), someone self-centered, someone too young to be wise…

About those “later words” I mentioned: He claimed that she would serve, and her only choice was which master; but as keeper of songs, this insight of hers is too risky for his goals, so he pretends that he can give her another option. What a weasel.

Then don’t serve him, Ulim said. Deal with him. You have something he needs—you can approach him from a place of power. Your ancestors were lowly things; that was why they wanted to leave. If they’d been at the top, like your people will be, they’d have never wanted such a thing.

A: Sigh. Poor little fool. She knows he’s good at manipulating her, but she still doesn’t see the inconsistencies that prove the flimsiness of his arguments. Total gaslighting, and she accepts it.

P: Not only does she accept it, she eats it up. Bottom line is that no matter how big she talks about not serving Odium, she’s powerless to prevent doing exactly that when the time comes.

A: The sad thing is that it might have been possible for her people to remain free… but not if she was going to follow Ulim’s guidance. She completely fails to realize that he is using her and her people for his own (and Odium’s) purposes, and he hasn’t the slightest interest in the actual welfare of the listeners. If anything, he hates them for the choices of their ancestors, and if his use of them accomplishes their destruction as well as the return of the Fused, so much the better.

“Get the Alethi to invite us to visit. Their king spoke of it before he left; he’s considering it already. We must bring our people there, then show them how powerful the humans are. We must overwhelm my people with our own insignificance.”

A: At this moment, I think she honestly believes—aside from Ulim’s manipulation—that this is the only way to save her people. She’s wrong, of course, but then she’s been lied to. Or… maybe she’s not wrong, given that Gavilar had every intention of forcing a war for his own purposes. (Git.)

P: Git, indeed. But then he wasn’t exactly expecting that war to be in vengeance of his own demise!

A: Couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy.

Listeners, Singers, Fused

Ulim had given her hints about finding another form, nimbleform. He wouldn’t tell her the exact process yet, so she’d gathered these scholars and set them to work.

Over time, she intended to use them as an excuse to reveal many important discoveries.

A: We saw these scholars working in Words of Radiance, and it’s almost impressive that she kept a team functioning for the better part of seven years. I wonder how many of them knew they were mostly window dressing. (I also wonder if any of them did things that were actually useful to their goals!)

P: I was surprised to see that she assembled this team of workers so early on, but I guess Ulim knew exactly how to direct her wishes to gain acclaim to attain his own goal.

…a pair of her scholars who were trying to trap a windspren that had flown in to tease them.

A: Is this a hint that windspren give them nimbleform? Or are they just guessing that every spren ought to give some form, and they’re trying to trap whatever they can for testing?

P: I’ll be so sad if they capture windspren to gain nimbleform.

A: I agree. Windspren seem so nearly self-aware, and so sociable; trapping them even in a singer’s gemheart seems cruel.

Eshonai and the others had made great strides toward true unity, and the elders of the various families were talking to one another.

A: This is the beginning of what could have been a beautiful thing, but was twisted by over-reaching ambitions on both sides. Gavilar was intent on starting a war with the “Parshendi”—though he didn’t predict his own death to be the trigger for it. Bad miscalculation, there.

P: Great minds think alike, as they say! I agree!

A: And of course Ulim had Venli working to raise mistrust between humans and listeners, because if the Fused were able to return, they’d be intent on war. What a tangled mess! If Eshonai and Dalinar had had their preferred way, the two species would have developed a mutual respect, and probably commerce. But other powers were conflicting.

(I should note, I suppose, that without the Everstorm, the rest of the parshmen wouldn’t have awakened to their singer forms—at least, not unless someone figured out that it would actually be a good thing to release Ba-Ado-Mishram from her trap. And… much as I hate the power struggles and resultant war, I can’t help thinking that keeping millions of people as near-mindless slaves was an untenable position once something else became possible.)

Anyway, I’m proud of Eshonai for her success in bringing her people together. So far, so good.

P: You’re spot on. The war is terrible and there’s been great loss on both sides but keeping the singers in slaveform wouldn’t have advanced the story, either.

A: Well, if you’re going to bring story-telling into it… Heh. Not like they actually had a choice, with an author determining what they were going to do. I suppose.

Your people aren’t ready to accept forms of power. At all. They’re far too timid. And the way they fight…

“What’s wrong with the way we fight?” Venli asked to Conceit. “Our warriors are powerful and intimidating.”

A: Yeah, okay, much as I loathe Ulim… I’m kind of impressed he didn’t injure himself laughing at this. As he points out, the humans have had the opportunity to not merely maintain, but advance their skills in areas like metallurgy, weaponry, and fabrial technology over the last few millennia. They also have far, far more people than Venli can imagine, and well-trained armies that by themselves outnumber all her people. She really has no clue (and why should she?) what a war machine like the Alethi armies would look like in a battle.

P: It’s quite surprising how the warforms were able to prepare for war with the Alethi in such a short period of time.

As a keeper of songs, she knew the names of all nine Unmade—who were among the gods her people swore to never follow again.

A: Wait, what? Among the gods? Who were the others? The Shards? the Fused? Or… what?

P: Yeah, whosie-whattie?

A: Are there other demi-god-like entities around that we haven’t heard about yet? That would be disturbing indeed.

Oaths Spoken, Powers Awakened

A: This isn’t quite the right place for it, but we don’t actually have a section for Heralds and Unmade. So… powers awakened counts, right?

“When will the other Voidspren be ready?”

Can’t say for certain, he replied. That stupid Herald is still standing strong all these years later. We have to work around him.

A: After four and a half millennia, Taln is still preventing their schemes, and I love him so much.

P: He is incredible and his strength is nigh unbelievable. Honor love that man!

In the past, Odium granted forms of power, but Ba-Ado-Mishram thought she could do it. Ended up handing out forms of power as easily as Fused give each other titles, Connected herself to the entire singer species. Became a little god. Too little.

A: I had to laugh at “as easily as Fused give each other titles.” It’s a bit of a stereotype, apparently? Anyway, this sounds Significant. I’m not quite clear on what kinds of spren grant the forms of power, but I think the only requisite is that they have to be Connected to Odium. (Since stormspren/stormform is the only spren/form of power we know, it’s a little hard to generalize.) Since Ulim said that the Unmade decided to start a war without “us”—which I assume means the Voidspren and the Fused—I now am wondering just what Mishram did. She Connected herself to entire types of natural spren, and thus to the singers who bonded them? Were they really the same forms as those Odium gave, or just… similar? I really want to know how that worked.

P: Right? I really, really, really wanna know how that worked.

They got lucky. Doesn’t mean they weren’t traitors.

“Perhaps they knew what Ba-Ado-Mishram was going to do, and so they attuned Wisdom, not Betrayal, in their actions.”

A: I think I’d agree with that conclusion, though perhaps not in the way Venli means it!

P: It’s certainly an interesting theory!

Geography, History, and Cultures

We need to get our agents close enough to it on this side—a place that is out in the ocean, mind you—so they can use gemstones to pull my brothers and sisters across. Then those stones have to be physically transported here.

A: So… the storm is coming from the south, IIRC; it’s currently on land in Shadesmar, and would correspondingly be over the ocean in the physical realm. Do we know if they actually managed to get close enough to fulfill this plan? I don’t really recall other Ulim-type spren showing up until after they pulled the Everstorm through at the battle of Narak, so now I’m wondering…. Anyone remember something more than I’ve got?

P: I doubt I could remember more than you on my best day!

Arresting Artwork

A: This would be another of Nazh’s research projects for Khriss. Fascinating, that the glyph for Roshar can be separated into glyphs that essentially translate as Stormlight, Lifelight, and Voidlight.

P: It’s seriously cool!

A: I don’t really have much else to say about this one—you just need to read it, because Nazh is funny. Clearly, Isaac has a blast with these inserts! Also, if you have fun with writing systems, these are good stuff.

Brilliant Buttresses

Trouble is, spren can get stuck in gemstones, and the humans figured this out. End result: Ba-Ado-Mishram got a really cramped prison, and everyone’s souls got seriously messed up.

A: Well, that’s a fairly succinct way of putting it! Or as another would say, “Phenomenal Cosmic Powers… iiiity-bitty living space.

P: I honestly don’t know how to feel about Ba-Ado-Mishram at this point!

 

With that, we invite you to dive into the comments! Next week, we’ll be back with chapter 74 and present-day Venli, as she and Rlain take his hidden cache of maps to the infirmary to consult with Hesina about them.

Alice lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two kids. Beauty and the Beast was a resounding success, with four sold-out shows, and now drama season is officially over. Life moves on to the next crisis.

Paige resides in New Mexico, of course. She’s so ready for baseball. Happy Opening Day! Go Yankees! Links to her other writing are available in her profile.

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