Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Rhythm of War Reread: Chapter Eighty-Four

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Welcome back to the Rhythm of War reread! If you aren’t into the science-y scholar-y stuff, this is probably not your favorite chapter. It is one of mine, and as a bonus we get bits of ancient history and Cosmere touches too! Along with creating some very clever weapons, Navani gets Raboniel to assist her in an experiment that results in a tremendous fabrial breakthrough. We’ll see the weapons come into play many chapters from now (November-ish?), but we’ll have to wait a year beyond that to see what she does with the breakthrough. These unfinished series…!

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 also reflects some Cosmere-level matters, as well as a brief mention of the magical materials of White Sand, but there aren’t any real plot spoilers for other books.

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

Palah (Pailiah, Paliah). Truthwatchers (Progression, Illumination). Learned/Giving. Role: Scholar.

A: Palah is the easy one, here; even the title of the chapter tells us that. Navani commits herself to becoming a true scholar, so that fits. Why Jezrien, though? Because she’s Queen? I mean… it’s mentioned that one of these daggers was used to capture his soul, but is that enough? I’m not sure.

Icon: Fabrial Gemstone, for Navani’s POV.

Epigraph:

Midius once told me… told me we could use Investiture… to enhance our minds, our memories, so we wouldn’t forget so much.

A: Reminder, Midius is another one of Hoid’s aliases. He even took his own advice—and at the end of the book, Odium is able to use it against him.

P: I’m not looking forward to the repercussions of that moment.

A: I still have a faint hope that he backed up his files… but we’ll have to RAFO.

Chapter Recap

WHO: Navani
WHEN: 1175.4.9.1 (Or so… it loosely covers a span of several days after Chapter 79, finally settling in on one particular day that may or may not be exactly this day.)
WHERE: Urithiru

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

RECAP: Over the several days following creation of the Rhythm of War in Chapter 79, Navani considers her options and finally decides to dedicate herself to finding the true opposite of Voidlight. She begins by building disguised weapons and traps, putting herself into a creative frame of mind. She also works on improving her ability to hum tones and rhythms, while considering what the opposite of Light would look like. She demands and is given a variety of materials, culminating in a request for the metal the Fused use to drain Stormlight from Radiants. Raboniel brings her a dagger, and Navani begins to experiment with it; much to her surprise, when she tries to use it to rejoin a split spren, she instead discovers a means of force multiplication in a conjoined fabrial. Almost in passing at the end, Raboniel promises to send Navani some sand that will enable her to measure the strength of Stormlight in a gemstone.

Chapter Chat: Navani the Scholar

Forbidden to take part in the administration of the tower, forbidden direct contact with her scholars, she had only her research to occupy her. In a way, she had been given the gift she’d always wished for: a chance to truly see if she could become a scholar.

A: She goes on to think about how she’d always complained about politics and administration, and how that had always kept her from being a scholar, but somehow she’d always accepted the distraction. She considers it even now, but this situation is different. For one thing, she really wouldn’t be allowed to do anything that might look like leadership. For another… for the first time in her life she knows more than anyone else.

P: I really like that instead of letting herself feel defeated, she strives to find a way to kill Odium.

A: Huh. I just realized something. With no direct access to political power, she nonetheless focuses her attention on what she can do to serve, protect, and lead her people: find a way to kill the bigger enemy. Maybe that’s why Jezrien is one of the Heralds for this chapter.

She had information Raboniel did not. Navani had seen a sphere that warped air, filled with what seemed to be some kind of anti-Voidlight. […]

The thing Raboniel wanted to create was possible. […] The power to destroy a god. Negative Light. Can I crack the secret?

A: I think Navani’s always been good at seeing possibilities—better than she believes she is. She’ll say that she’s only using other people’s ideas, but she fails to give herself credit for the subconscious logic that allows her to connect seemingly disparate concepts. She even recognizes it as a thing scholars do—and she doesn’t realize that she herself does it all the time in different contexts. We’ll talk more about that in a bit.

P: She doesn’t recognize it. She’s so caught up on the fact that she’s not a scholar and has such an impressive case of impostor syndrome that she can’t possibly see her value as a scholar.

A: For all the ways Raboniel is a horrible being, I could almost love her for this one thing: She has so much respect for Navani as a scholar that she eventually gets Navani to believe it.

[…] Navani tried to replicate this state in herself. She ordered parts, supplies, fabrial mechanisms—some all the way from Kholinar—and they were delivered without a word of complaint.

A: Methinks Raboniel also understands the value of random experimentation.

P: Yep. She knows Navani’s value and probably guessed that she’ll discover something else important.

A: Yeah, mixed feelings about that! She’s no dummy; she knows Navani will do something, whether it’s the thing she wants or not. But she’s also pointed Navani at a specific problem, and made her really curious about it… and we know how that plays out with a scholar!

She had Raboniel help her make more Warlight for experiments. Navani couldn’t create it by herself, unfortunately. No combination of tuning forks or instruments replicated Raboniel’s presence—but so far as Navani could tell, the Fused also couldn’t create it without a human’s help.

A: Convenient, that. You must have a human (and one who can manage both the correct pitch and the correct rhythm) as well as a singer or Fused to make Warlight. It seems odd, while they’re in this state of making war on each other. It makes me wonder what’s being set up for the long game, you know? What happens when humans and singers are on the same side in a conflict with… someone else? Odium has plans, and I really loathe the idea of singers and humans actually serving as his army to go conquer the Cosmere, so I hope that’s not what happens. But… somehow, I suspect it might be. Maybe not serving Odium—but would it be even worse if they were serving Odium and Cultivation together? And, as per the discussion from last week, what happens if you add the song of Cultivation to Odium? Or to Warlight? It’s kind of terrifying to consider.

P: I’ve never considered the possibility of humans from Roshar trying to conquer the Cosmere. That’s a horrific thought.

Underlying all the work she did was a singular question: How would one make the opposite of Voidlight? What had been in that sphere of Gavilar’s?

A: Or my burning question… Who made it? And why?

P: I’m dying to know! Storming RAFO.

In Vorinism, pure things were said to be symmetrical. And all things had an opposite. It was easy to see why Raboniel had assumed the dark Light of the Void would be the opposite of Stormlight, but darkness wasn’t truly an opposite of light. It was simply the absence of light.

A: AAAAA I love all this good physics stuff—including the acknowledgement that concept-opposite and physical-opposite aren’t the same thing. I love the way Vorinism’s adherence to symmetry helps Navani make one of those subconscious logic-leaps I was talking about. She knows there’s an opposite, both because she saw the sphere and its effects, and because she knows that everything has an opposite. Without really noticing it, she’s working her way toward figuring out how to invert the waveforms. She’ll start with things like magnets, whose opposing natures are known and measurable, and she’ll end up flipping Odium’s song inside out. Oh, I love this woman.

P: She’s pretty spectacular, isn’t she? I love to see her thinking and figuring things out, it’s fascinating.

[…] a small dagger, ornate, with an intricately carved wooden handle and a large ruby set at the base. Navani picked it up, noting that the center of the blade—running like a vein from tip to hilt—was a different kind of metal than the rest.

A: Of course she notes things like that. It’s going to be a real shocker (at least for the reader) in a minute…

“Why did you want this metal? The guard told me you’d asked after it.”

“I thought,” Navani said, “this might be a better way to conduct Stormlight and Voidlight—to transfer it out of gemstones.”

“It would work,” Raboniel said. “But it isn’t terribly practical. Raysium is exceptionally difficult to obtain.”

A: Wheeee! The secret to the Investiture-sucking fabrial is Odium’s god-metal. Lovely. (And as always… would Tanavastium be able to do that? How about Koravarium (or whatever it’s called)? Taravangianium (ugh)? Or is Investiture-sucking just Rayse’s special gift? That would be singularly appropriate, somehow.)

Also, where do you find raysium?

P: Seriously, I’m curious. It’s interesting how the Fused are so much more knowledgeable than humans and have access to things like this. *chuckles at Taravangianium*

A: Heh. Well, having direct access to a god, and the opportunity to work on it with both hands for 7000 years, I suppose it’s reasonable that they have learned a lot.

“You seem to be enjoying yourself,” Raboniel noted.

“I would enjoy myself more if my people were free, Lady of Wishes,” Navani said. “But I intend to use this time to some advantage.” […]

Navani had a solitary hope remaining: that she could imitate a scholar well enough to build a new weapon. A weapon to kill a god.

A: Sigh. “Imitate a scholar” indeed. Such a good “imitation” that (see below) she invents force multiplication on the spot, recognizes what it is, and immediately identifies several possible causes.

P: Gavilar did her so much damage.

A: So much. While she realizes that some of the distraction of politics was her own choice, her husband’s denigration of her abilities was ruinous—and quite probably played into her willingness to be distracted. She was good at politics and administration; why risk proving him right about her lack of scholarship?

[…] “I’m running into another problem. I need a way to measure the strength of Stormlight in a gemstone.”

Raboniel didn’t press for details. “There is a sand that does this,” she said. […]

“It is black naturally, but turns white in the presence of Stormlight. It can, therefore, be used to measure the strength of Investiture […] I will get some for you.”

A: White Sand FTW!! (If you haven’t read that yet, you should. Personally, I prefer the prose version, because I’m just not a big fan of the comic format, but whatever floats your boat. Just read it.)

Again, Navani merely has to ask, and she gets any material she needs. I’m not quite sure where the balance is between Raboniel’s respect for Navani’s capability and her confidence that she can control whatever Navani can create, but… honestly, both are fairly safe bets.

P: Oh, I definitely feel that it’s both. She knows that Navani is able to make amazing discoveries but she also knows that she can take advantage of the queen.

She hummed loudly. “This is amazing, Navani. I don’t think I’ve known a scholar so capable, not in many Returns.”

“I’m not a…” Navani trailed off. “Thank you,” she said instead.

A: YES! Aside from learning to take a compliment, is she starting, ever so slightly, to believe that she’s a scholar?

P: We can hope!

Music, Mechanisms, and Manifestations of Light

To warm up, she spent time creating weapons that wouldn’t look like weapons. Traps she could use, if she grew truly desperate, to defend her room or the pillar room. […]

She hid painrials inside other fabrials. […] She made alarms to distract. […] She used conjoined rubies to make spring traps that would release spikes.

A: This just gets dropped in here, and we’re told she has them stored in the hallway looking like half-completed experiments. From here on, they are only mentioned once until the moment (21 chapters from now) when she triggers one of them to disable Raboniel and protect the Sibling.

P: I love that she has the gumption to do this, to think ahead to what she may need to protect herself and/or the pillar and then to build them, while under guard.

She touched the tip of the dagger—with the white-gold metal—to one half of the divided ruby. Nothing happened.

“Generally, you need to stab someone with it for it to work,” Raboniel said. “You need to touch the soul.”

A: Well of course you have to stab them. This is raysium, after all, god-metal of the execrable Odium, patron of all things stabby-stabby. Ugh.

P: Navani’s not much of a stabber. Yet.

A: Heh. I have great confidence in her ability to learn.

Carefully, she cracked the half ruby, letting the spren escape. It sprang free, but was immediately captured by the dagger. Light traveled along the blade, then the ruby at the base began to glow. Navani confirmed that the half spren was inside.

Interesting, Navani thought. So, what if I break the other half of the ruby and capture that half in the same gemstone?

A: Makes sense, right? It should work, but…

[…] Excited, she reached to grab the other half of the ruby—but when she moved it, the dagger skidded across the table.

[…] Curious, she moved the dagger. The other half of the ruby flew out several feet toward the center of the room.

Too far. Much too far. She’d moved the dagger half a foot, while the paired ruby had moved three times as far.

A: So cool, and one can immediately see all sorts of uses for this. The airships, for one, would be far more effective with this “force multiplication” effect. I’m pretty sure Rysn and Rushu could come up with ways to apply it to Rysn’s chair that would be really awesome. (It seems likely that the actual force required will be pretty significant; for example, if Rysn had a very large gemstone in her hand and a small one in the chair, she could move the large one a few inches to move the chair across the room, but she’d have to expend the same amount of force required to physically move the chair. Then again, with her chair floating and essentially frictionless, maybe that wouldn’t be too bad…) I do hope we see some applications of this in the next book!

P: Right? It’s pretty awesome. And funny that it was discovered without trying. Which is what happens with many discoveries.

Singers/Fused

The Fused studied the shield that protected the Sibling—but without Navani to accidentally act as a spy, Raboniel’s progress wasn’t nearly as rapid as before.

A: Hah. Neener neener and all that. Thbbbt.

P: Not that she needs Navani anymore. She finds the fourth node on her own.

A: Well, there’s that. But it takes her longer. (I console myself with that…)

Raboniel’s daughter […] staring off into the distance while humming. It wasn’t a rhythm, Navani realized, but a tune she recognized—a human one sung sometimes at taverns. How did the Fused know it?

A: I’m never sure what to do with things like this. Is it an ancient tune? Did the humans get it from the Fused, or the Fused from the humans? And how did this Fused learn it? From one of the modern singers, who heard it while a slave? Or was it something she knew from long, long ago? (Seriously, why does Sanderson do this to us? Is this going to matter later, or is it just there to make us ask questions?)

The guard […] had been a parshman slave in the palace at Kholinar. He thought she should recognize him, and… well, perhaps she should. Parshmen had always been so invisible though.

A: Honestly, I find this heartbreaking. It certainly wasn’t Navani’s fault the parshmen were nearly mindless, nor was it her fault that they had been slaves for well over a thousand years. After the entrapment of Ba-Ado-Mishram, it’s not like they were really capable of creating a functioning society of their own; they could barely put two thoughts together. At the same time, they should have been the thinking, feeling, intelligent singers they are now, their lives acknowledged to be of equal value to every human life. Now that they have their minds back, they can remember what they experienced while they were slaves, and it would be really hard not to resent even the most beneficent of masters. (We don’t know that the Kholins were “the most beneficent”—but we don’t know that they weren’t and there’s no evidence that they were cruel. This Regal seems more irritated by the fact that she didn’t recognize him as an individual than he is by the way he was treated, so I assume they were reasonable.) It’s so easy to see it from both sides, and… it’s just painful all around.

P: It really is painful. To think of what those former slaves must feel, especially in his case when encountering a former captor.

Spren and Shadesmar

She was trying to see if she could use the tuning fork method to draw out the halves of the spren and rejoin them in a larger ruby. She thought that might please the Sibling, who still wouldn’t talk to her.

A: I wonder if/why no one has ever tried this before, just out of curiosity. Obviously the conjoined version is what’s useful for fabrials, but knowing scholars, it does seem like someone would have figured out how to rejoin them, just to prove it could be done. I suppose it’s possible that someone has done it, and she just never heard about it because no one really cared? They have proven that if you just release them by breaking the gemstones, the two halves become two whole flamespren, rather than rejoining, so maybe that’s the currently accepted state of the art.

Also, out of curiosity… is it that the Sibling won’t talk to her, or can’t? Are they too weak? Too frightened? Too angry? Any of those are possible.

P: All of the above? Frightened and angry at the very least. And who can blame them, really?

A: No blame from me; while it wasn’t exactly Navani’s fault, it happened, and now there’s no reason to risk communication.

The spren was vivid blue, as it was corrupted, and appeared as half a spren: one arm, one leg. Why continue to manifest that way? Flamespren often changed forms—and they were infamous for noticing they were being watched. Navani had read some very interesting essays on the topic.

A: LOL. Including, no doubt, the one from our old friends Geranid and Ashir, from TWoK Interlude 8? I always get a chuckle when I see their research referenced like this.

P: Pretty cool, I agree!

History, Geography, and Cultures

“We use these for collecting the souls of Heralds,” Raboniel noted. “Or that was the plan. We’ve taken a single one so far, and… there have been complications with that capture. I had hoped to harvest the two you reportedly had here, but they left with your expeditionary force.”

A: I seem to remember wondering at some point why she just happened to have a couple of these daggers in her possession for Navani to use in her experiments. I’d forgotten this conversation; they’d been expecting to find Shalash and Taln among their captives once they’d taken the Tower.

Also, “complications.” Heh. If Kalak is correct (and I assume he is), the “complication” would be that they were not, in fact, able to keep Jezrien’s soul in the gemstone once they got it there.

P: That comment is intriguing, isn’t it? What complications, Raboniel??

“We’ve used this metal for several Returns to drain Stormlight from Radiants,” Raboniel said. “It conducts Investiture, drawing it from a source and pulling it inward.”

A: And there’s another question answered. (I see no reason to assume Raboniel is lying, here.) We talked in the comments a couple weeks ago about the possibility that the Ghostbloods had developed this technology and given it to the Fused, but it seems not. This statement implies that the Fused figured out the early version at least 4525 years ago. I don’t think the Ghostbloods have been around quite that long.

P: I highly doubt it, but who knows?

“We used it to fill gemstones, but didn’t realize until the fall of Ba-Ado-Mishram that capturing spren in gemstones was possible. It was then that one of us—She Who Dreams—realized it might be possible to trap a Herald’s soul in the same way.”

A: Fascinating. This tells me two things. One, although the Fused couldn’t move from Braize to Roshar between Returns, they were still very much aware of what was happening there. Two, they’ve been working on finding a way to make that idea work for… somewhere between 1,200 and 2,000 years. Again, probably not something the Ghostbloods were involved in.

However, now I have more questions. They had a Herald trapped on Braize with them all that time; why did they not try it out on him? Or do the Heralds not have the right kind of body when they’re on Braize? (And if that’s the case, is the torture inflicted on their minds, a sort of “phantom pain” that they experience in the absence of a physical body?)

The other speculation this brings about is whether the whole thing with bringing the Voidspren in gemstones from Braize, through Shadesmar, to Roshar is part of that same long experiment. Did Ulim and his ilk volunteer (or were they forced?) to put themselves into gemstones and hope to make it to Roshar? I’m guessing Axindweth was part of the operation to move those gemstones, though we have no way of knowing whether she was connected with the Ghostbloods or not.

Shalash had told them Jezerezeh’Elin had fallen. They hadn’t realized how. This was better than absolute destruction though. Could he be recovered this way?

A: Again, if Kalak is correct, that would be a no. He’s gone Beyond at last.

P: *sad face*

A: I have mixed feelings about that. The loss of knowledge is indeed sad… assuming he still had it. But the release from millennia of grief and guilt, after the millennia of fighting and protecting? I kinda feel like if there’s peace in the Beyond for the Heralds, they deserve a little peace. It might have been nice to restore him to sanity, but as Kalak will point out in upcoming epigraphs, that might not be much of a kindness.

Arresting Artwork

A: Rather than copy the entire translated text on “Raboniel’s Soul-Harvesting Dagger,” I’m going to link you to the Coppermind translation. It’s a fascinating little read, so you should go read it, but it’s a bit much to quote the whole thing here. I’ll just comment on a couple of things. One, I love that Raboniel acknowledges that Navani’s skepticism is appropriate.

“I have given her few reasons to trust me, after all.”

A: Yup yup. Exactly zero—especially since, when asked about Raboniel’s promise to leave if Navani helped her create Warlight, Raboniel said something on the order of “too bad, you shouldn’t be so trusting.” So, yeah. Not trusting.

I’m also amused by this little exchange:

Navani: I will proceed with my experiments. Our discovery of Warlight paired with my eventual understanding of this dagger might yield a way to stop this war.
Raboniel: Though I think we disagree on what an acceptable end to the war actually looks like.

A: Yeah, there’s that small difference. Raboniel (at this point) won’t accept anything that doesn’t involve the Fused ruling, and all humans subservient to the singers. Navani would probably be delighted with a division of territory, but she’d really like to be able to kill Odium. I guess we have yet to see what the outcome will be, but Raboniel ends up being content with just following her daughter Beyond and leaving it all behind—no longer her problem.

P: And what a relief for her, to walk away from the fight.

A: Much like the Heralds, in fact.

 

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 85, in which we’re pretty much guaranteed to cry. It’s Dabbid’s POV, which is both beautiful and painful. Also: Lift. Kaladin. Teft. OH. MY.

Alice lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two kids. Despite a couple cases of flu in the house, it’s been a good week.

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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