Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Rhythm of War Reread: Chapter Eighty-One

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Greetings, Cosmere Chickens! We’ve got a short chapter to work on this week, but an important one in so far as the setup it’s providing for the flashback chapters. If Venli frustrates the heck out of you (as she does us), be aware that this chapter is one of her more grating ones.

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.

Heralds: Palah (Paliah). Truthwatchers. Learned/Giving. Role: Scholar.

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

L: It seems pretty obvious that Palah is representative of Venli (the self-proclaimed scholar), and Taln is standing in for Eshonai (the quintessential soldier).

Icon: Sisters, indicating a Venli or Eshonai flashback chapter.

Chapter Recap

On the shattered plains, Eshonai is troubled about her decision to have Gavilar killed, since this is now leading to a war for her people. Meanwhile, Venli has brought more Voidspren to corrupt the gemhearts of her co-conspirators…

WHO: Eshonai, Venli
WHEN: 1173.10.10.3 (this flashback takes place during the events of Words of Radiance, shortly after Kaladin and Shallan exit the chasms and Amaram’s treachery is revealed.)
WHERE: The Shattered Plains

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

Chapter Chatter

Eshonai tipped her head back, feeling water stream off her carapace skullplate. Returning to warform after so long in workform felt like revisiting a familiar clearing hidden in the trees, rarely encountered but always waiting for her. She did like this form. She would not see it as a prison.

P: Yet that’s just what it becomes, and she loses herself to become the general. Eshonai’s story makes me so sad.

L: Agreed. There’s a lot in her character arc pertaining to the chains of duty, and what you need to give up in the pursuit of such. Unfortunately, she gives up everything. Her autonomy, her people, even her life. All in vain. Her people wind up enslaved anyway.

“Come on!” Thude shouted from nearby. He leaped another chasm.

Attuning Joy, Eshonai ran after him. Together the three of them chased and dashed, climbed and soared—spanning chasms, climbing up and over rock formations, sprinting across plateaus. The Shattered Plains felt like a playground.

P: It’s all fun and games until you get close enough to the Alethi camp to put a damper on your enthusiasm.

L: I also recall Kaladin feeling similar things about the freedom of flight in Words of Radiance. For a place so steeped in blood, the Shattered Plains also represents freedom to a few of our characters.

“This is going to go poorly for us, isn’t it?” Thude asked.

Eshonai realized she’d been humming to the Lost. She stopped, but met his eyes and knew that he knew. Together they walked around the stone formation and looked westward, toward the cities that had for centuries been listener homes. Dark smoke filled the air—the Alethi burning wood as they set up enormous cookfires and settled into their camps.

They’d arrived in force. Tens of thousands of them. Swarms of soldiers, with dozens of Shardbearers. Come to exterminate her people.

P: That’s exactly their plan. Extermination. Though they knew that it would be, and they felt that the chance was worth it to prevent the return of their old gods. *sigh*

L: A difficult choice. You know, looking at the Alethi from the other side really drives home the fact (and this is a BIG theme in Stormlight) that there are no “good guys” in a war. Why do the Alethi feel the need to completely exterminate an entire people? Is defeating and subjugating not enough? And yet, when we read from their POV, we are convinced that their side is the right one, and we’re rooting for them.

“Our ancestors paid with their very minds to bring us freedom. If the humans find a way to come for us in here, we will fight. Until we persuade the humans that the cost is too high. Until they realize we won’t go meekly to slavery, like the poor beings they use as servants. Until they learn they cannot have us, our Blades, or our souls. We are a free people. Forever.”

P: The way that stormform takes over Eshonai’s mind is especially painful when reading her flashbacks. She wanted so much for her people, fought so hard for them, and then lost herself to the form and allowed her people to become slaves to it, which led to them being decimated.

L: That moment when you realize that in pursuit of the one thing you want, you’ve lost that very thing… ouch.

Spren and Shadesmar

Ever since the events at the human city, [Ulim had] treated her with far more respect.

L: Uh huh. Sure he has. Rat-bastard little spren. Ugh, I hate him.

P: I hate him, too. And yeah, he would stick close after what happened in Kholinar. *growl*

“What are they?” Demid asked, his hand resting on Venli’s shoulder. He’d been the first and most eager to listen. He didn’t know everything, naturally, but she was glad to have him. She felt stronger when he was around. Braver than Eshonai. After all, could Eshonai have ever taken this step?

“These hold spren,” Venli explained.

P: Could Eshonai have taken this step? Probably. Would she have? I tend to think not. Venli was chosen to take Ulim’s gemstone because she was the weaker of the two. In my opinion.

L: The more easily led, for certain. For all her insistence that she’s a scholar, she sure didn’t ask enough questions or perform enough tests leading up to this.

We’ll be smart; we won’t be ruled by the spren this time around. We’ll rule them.

L: Oh, Venli. You poor, deluded sap.

P: And sadly, she continues to believe this long after she should have come to her questionable senses.

Together, we’re going to solve the greatest challenge our people have ever known.”

“Which is?” Tusa asked to Skepticism.

“Our world is connected to another,” Venli explained, handing one gemstone to each of her friends. “A place called Shadesmar. Hundreds of spren exist there who can grant us the ability to harness the power of the storms. They’ve traveled a long way, as part of a great storm.”

P: And I shudder, knowing what havoc this storm will wreak.

L: Those of us who have read the whole series up to this point shudder at this, because we know the truth. But I can see how it would seem very tempting to the Parshendi, who have seen their brothers and sisters enslaved, who have spent so much of their lives clawing for the remnants of their own cultural memories.

“Eshonai and the others have foolishly thrown everyone into an unwanted war. So we have to take this step. We will be remembered as the ones who saved our people.”

P: We’ve seen Venli’s arrogance many times, but this bit of pomp is actually painful because we know that what she does in the end is destroy her people. Or at least most of them.

L: I can only hope that her character arc is worth the pain at the start.

Oaths Spoken, Powers Awakened

“He was going to bring them back, Thude,” Eshonai said to Reprimand. “Our ancient gods. I heard him say it. He thought I’d be happy to hear of it.”

P: Though I can understand Thude being upset about the decision that was made in Kholinar, I would think that hearing this from Eshonai would sway him more toward her way of thinking. But I guess not. He’s more concerned about losing thousands of listeners to Alethi spears, which is a valid concern.

L: And it happens anyway, Eshonai, you poor lamb. Your own sister brings about your downfall.

Singers/Fused

This form didn’t have sweat on her forehead to drip into her eyes. Instead, the carapace armor trapped air from her forward motion, then pushed it up underneath to cool her skin.

L: I wonder how much of this is evolutionary, or if it was somehow planned/forced into being for the form. It’s so, so cool—I wish my body would regulate hydration and temperature like this!

P: This is seriously cool. You don’t realize how helpful it would be to not have sweat dripping in your eyes until you’re in the middle of a battle. It could mean the difference between life and death.

We’ll be leaving further speculation and discussion to you in the comments, and hope to join you there! Next week, we’ll be back with chapter 82.

Paige resides in New Mexico, of course. She’s fully enjoying the success of the Yankees during the first third of the season! Go Bombers! Links to her other writing are available in her profile.

Lyndsey is extremely disappointed that she missed the Dog and the Dragon chapter, but she’ll survive. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok. If you’re looking for a fun LGBTQIA fantasy book to read during pride month, check out her novel Greencloak.

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