Oh, hey, it’s Thursday again! Funny how that happens almost every week. So here we are to tackle this week’s chapter, and it’s not really a fun sort of chapter. It’s Venli’s flashback perspective, and Venli nearing her most Odium-controlled level of pride and selfishness. She’s thoroughly convinced herself that she has a right to make life-and-death decisions for her entire people, even though she knows none of the actual authorities would agree with her judgments, and that makes it a frustrating sort of chapter. It’s also a very sad chapter, because there are just a few minutes where she almost gets out of Odium’s control, and then she very deliberately steps back in. Well, ups and downs notwithstanding, 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.
Heralds: Palah (Pailiah, Paliah). Truthwatchers (Progression, Illumination). Learned/Giving. Role: Scholar.
Battah (Battar). Elsecallers (Transformation, Transportation). Wise/Careful. Role: Counsellor.
A: I suppose Palah is here for the “scholar” side of Venli’s work. She’s not exactly a great scholar, but then she’s never had an example to follow, so… we can probably give her credit. Is Battar here for Eshonai and her effort to be a wise and careful counselor to her sister, even if she’s not exactly great at that role any more than Venli is at hers? That’s my best guess, anyway.
Icon: The Sisters, for a flashback chapter
WHEN: A Year and a Half Ago (roughly, 1173.10)
WHERE: Narak (center of the Shattered Plains)
RECAP: Venli gloats over the progress of her plan to see her people beaten down enough to accept the forms of power she’s planning to achieve for them. As part of her program, she pressures the head of the listeners’ farming operations to cut more of the chasmfiend gemhearts into spren traps rather than using larger stones for growing food, then chats with Ulim about how to proceed with capturing the necessary stormspren. Eshonai calls out to her, and she reluctantly waits to see what her sister wants: Their mother has injured herself, and barely knows who she is. The sisters share a moment of harmony as they grieve Jaxlim’s increasing dementia, but the exhausted Eshonai falls asleep, and Venli slips out to go hunt stormspren.
Chapter Chat—Venli’s Vainglory
A: This is one of those chapters where, as in Eshonai’s WoR Interlude novella, I get absolutely furious with Venli—especially since these flashbacks confirm what I suspected then: that she knew way too much about certain things and was probably already Connected to Odium.
P: I’m pretty much always furious with past Venli. Even when thinking that she’s an adult, she’s childish and petty.
As the war with the humans progressed, Venli became increasingly certain she’d made the correct decision.
How could her people, after generations of stagnation, hope to stand by themselves in the world? […] Ulim was right. A bigger war than this was coming. Venli’s people needed to be prepared.
A: Ugh. There are two ways she’s “both right and wrong” here. One: With Sadeas leading the way, yes. Her people absolutely need more than what they’ve got if they’re going to survive at all. If it weren’t for leaders like Dalinar and Eshonai, who both saw the futility of this war and were trying to negotiate peace, there would be no hope. So in that sense, she’s both right and wrong. But…
Two, given what the Fused were up to and their efforts to get back to Roshar, a bigger war was definitely coming, so that much is true. On the other hand, if she hadn’t just handed the listeners over to be hosts for Odium’s powers, the war might have looked a lot different. Did they need to bring the Everstorm over to enable the Fused access to Roshar? Or would they have been able to get there anyway? Assuming they could have crossed, there would still have been a lot of parshmen who could have been taken as hosts for the Fused (assuming that the fusing fixes the brain connections), but would the rest of the parshmen have been able to become Regals? What would have happened if the listeners had made peace with the humans and then joined together to fight Odium’s army, whatever it consisted of in that scenario? So again, she’s both right and wrong: given her cooperation with Ulim and the results, her people needed to be prepared for a bigger war… but she’s wrong about the best way to prepare them.
[Eshonai’s] warriors didn’t look like victors. Bloody, wounded, their ancient weapons sagging in their grips as if weighted by groundspren. More than a few of the soldiers walked alone. Warpairs who had lost a member.
Venli watched with hidden glee. Surely they were close to breaking.
A: GRRR. This… GAAAAHHHHH! The very idea of being happy about the deaths of your people in furtherance of your hidden agenda… I don’t even have words.
P: It’s heartbreaking to see Venli celebrating the losses that her people have suffered in the war. Heartbreaking and yes, infuriating.
Now she was an adult. She saw as an adult did.
A: She’s so arrogant about her assumption that as an 18-year-old adult, she’s perfectly qualified to make decisions for her entire people. Ugh. It just never seems to occur to her that she was chosen for Ulim because she’s so much more susceptible to his flattery than a more experienced leader would have been.
P: She is so not qualified. Had she gone to the Five in the beginning, perhaps things would have been different. But of course we need things to be as they are for the story that we have. It’s still frustrating to see her arrogance. Her continued arrogance.
A: Sometimes I have to remind myself that the story requires these things.
All who weren’t absolutely needed as farmers, caretakers, or other essential workers had joined Eshonai.
In a perfect bit of poetry, this ensured that the bravest of the listeners—those most likely to resist Venli when she brought them stormform—fought on the front lines each day, dying. Each corpse brought Venli one step closer to her goal.
A: I must stop screaming at every one of these statements. She’s so focused on her goal of giving the listeners to Odium, she actually thinks it’s a good thing to kill off the strongest, bravest, and most capable of her people.
P: She may think herself an adult but she is not comporting herself in the manner of a mature individual.
She’d stopped pretending this was only about protecting her people. […] True freedom—with the power to make certain she’d never have to be dependent upon anyone else, listener or spren. True freedom couldn’t exist while someone else had power over you.
So yes, her work was about helping her people, in part. But deep within her—where the rhythms began—Venli promised herself that she would be the one who obtained the most freedom.
A: Fascinating, now… It’s a very selfish motivation, to “be the one who obtained the most freedom.” At the same time, the longing for freedom is foundational to her Willshaper mentality. I guess it goes to show that what you do about it is the critical part.
P: And how you go about it.
A: So now we get into what she’s actually doing:
“I’m not saying anything that’s a lie, really. If we cut these gemhearts like the humans do, they hold more Stormlight. But I don’t mention the extra bits I cut off before delivering the faceted stone to the fields…”
A: Sigh. She’s making sneaky arrangements with manipulatable people in key places to set up her schemes. She’s got the head of farming giving her cut gemstones for capturing stormspren; on a bet, he doesn’t quite know what they’re for, and I would almost guarantee that it started with “Let me show you how to cut the gemhearts so they hold more Stormlight,” then progressed to “Take the pieces you cut off and cut them into small gemstones for me.” Now it’s gotten to “Cut the gemstones smaller. Give less to the fields.” It goes against everything the head of farming should be prioritizing, but I suspect he’s gotten far too used to obeying her.
P: She doesn’t really allow for argument. But it’s frustrating to see an actual adult who’s in charge of something very important kowtow to someone who is essentially little more than a child.
“And if we end up starving because of it? Gemstones break, you know, when you sing to them. We will run out.”
“We won’t live long enough to starve, Denshil. Not if the humans get here. Not if they find your children and take away their songs…”
A: Gah. First, if Venli had supported Eshonai’s attempt to make peace with the humans, it wouldn’t be necessary. Second, this bit of manipulation is abhorrent. (We’ll talk about it a little more, below.)
P: Definitely abhorrent. She cares nothing for the children of her people. She only cares for what glory she might attain.
“We should bring this to the Five,” he said.
“We will. […] This will be done properly—you and I are simply preparing the way.”
A: Blech. She’s learned flattery from Ulim too, apparently.
P: Flattery and how to manipulate people.
“What will happen,” Venli asked to Curiosity, “when my storm comes to this world?”
“I am the one who summons it, spren,” she said. “It is mine.”
A: Oh, the arrogance! “Her” storm indeed. She had just been thinking about how the storm was Odium’s strength and essence—and then she calls it hers? Wow.
P: Ignorant child. I hate past Venli with a vengeance.
Foolish little spren. Venli attuned Skepticism—and almost felt something different, something more. A better rhythm. Right outside her reach.
A: I can’t help wondering whether this is “a better rhythm” because some part of her recognizes the natural rhythms of Roshar as being better than Odium’s rhythms, or if it’s something other. All this time, she’s referred to the “old inferior rhythms” as compared to Odium’s “new and improved” stuff, so… what is this?
“And the massive storm you’ll bring through? […] It will devastate the humans, leave them broken and easily conquered. Ripe for your domination, Venli.”
“Enough,” she said. “Don’t sell it so hard, Ulim. I’m not the child you found when you first arrived here.”
A: Heh. Well, at least there are times when she sees through his flattery—though of course she follows it up with a hefty dose of her own arrogance, so we’ll call it a wash.
P: Ulim truly couldn’t have chosen a better listener to manipulate.
Venli remembered her hesitance, and weakness, when she’d started along this path years ago. She’d been technically a youth then, though fully grown. Now she was an adult. She saw as an adult did.
A: So… the Ulim bond happened when she was about 9 or 9.5 years old, and was 8.5 years ago. That makes her about 18 now. Not sure what to say about that, other than to note that there are some minor inconsistencies in “when she was considered an adult” and decide it doesn’t matter, because they’re all still within a year or so. It is mildly interesting to note that, like humans, “adult” seems to be cultural more than biological, since listeners go through puberty around 7 or 8, but are still considered “youths” for 3 or 4 more years.
The malen attuned Longing immediately. The listeners had few children these days. Most had stopped taking mateform years ago, and they had never been as fecund a people as the humans apparently were.
A: This is such brutal manipulation. For a father already worried about the future of his only child, in a setting where so many are needed for fighting, and they can only have children if they take a form not suitable for fighting… This kind of pressure, twisted as it is, is just revolting.
On a continuity note: This does explain some of why we saw so few children in Eshonai’s WoR novella. The war has been going for about six years at this point, so even the children who were babies then would be reaching puberty soon, and those who were as young as four would be adults now. What it doesn’t explain is how, when Venli finds the rest of the listeners at the end of the book, there are suddenly “many children.” While “many” is a relative term, it’s certainly more than the “few” Venli thinks of here. I guess we missed a discontinuity.
Spren and Shadesmar
“Sure, sure,” he said. A little too quickly, and with too many hand gestures. He had grown obsequious over the last few years—and liked to pretend that his betrayal of her in the Kholinar palace had never happened.
A: It’s pretty obvious he’s stringing her along, pretending subservience, and (at least IMO) she’s completely misreading his attitude… as he intends her to. He’s so much better at lies and manipulation than she is—it’s with more than a little irony that he flatters her ability to lie. I guess it keeps her from looking too closely at his lies, eh?
P: What’s frustrating is that she knows he’s a liar and she knows he’ll cut and run at the first sign of trouble. Yet, she still entertains his ideas and plans.
“When this storm comes, you will serve me,” Venli said.
“I serve you now.”
“Barely. Promise it. You’ll serve me.”
“I will serve,” he said. “I promise it, Venli.”
A: Bahahaha! She doesn’t even notice that he leaves off the direct object. Sure, he’ll serve… but not her.
P: Exactly. He will serve Odium, as he’s always done. Grrr. She’s so naive.
A: It’s almost pathetic—she is naive, but she thinks she’s so sophisticated.
Ulim hadn’t found out about Eshonai’s experience with King Gavilar until weeks later, and he’d been livid. How dare the listeners do exactly what he wanted, but for the wrong reason!
A: LOL. For once she sees through him, though it’s an insignificant point.
P: Right. What does that matter at this point?
“They are the spren of storms, right?”
“Well, a storm,” Ulim said. “In the past, they mostly spent their time inside gemhearts. Odium would directly bless the singer, making them a kind of royalty. They didn’t really wander about much.”
A: Hmm. Yet another thing that’s different with this Return for some reason.
“My scholars are confident,” Venli said. “From what you’ve told them, and the experiments we’ve done with other kinds of spren, we think if we can gather a small collection of stormspren in gemstones, others will get pulled through more easily.” […]
She nodded to the sky, where her imaginings had brought forth a gloryspren. […] “Those pop in when we think the proper thoughts. Feel the right things. So, what brings stormspren?”
A: Think stormy thoughts, eh? Back in RoW, Syl started seeing stormspren in the highstorms, and it was pretty frightening. Given that the 17th Shard timeline for some of this is +/- several weeks, this would be happening just about the same time. On a bet, Karen Ahlstrom’s timeline would show that Venli pulls the first stormspren through fairly soon after this conversation, and the first ones come “wild”—the ones Syl sees—until Venli is able to begin actually capturing them in her gemstones. I suppose an alternative would be that the stormspren were already starting to come through, drawn from the Everstorm in Shadesmar by the highstorm in the physical realm.
In fact, the storm had been building for generations—growing in fury, intensity. It barred the way to Damnation. […]
Venli had to find a way to pull those stormspren across and capture them. To that end, a large portion of the roiling storm had been broken off by the god of gods, the ancient one called Odium. This storm was his strength, his essence. Over painful months, he’d moved the storm across the landscape—unseen—until it arrived here.
A: I’m so confused by this. It’s the kind of thing Sanderson rarely includes unless it’s more or less correct, even though the narrator may not understand it very well. So… if the Everstorm is merely a portion of this huge storm, broken off by Odium to bring the Voidspren to Roshar, what is that storm? Is it something set in place by Honor’s Splintering (maybe deliberate self-sacrifice) to try to prevent any passage between Roshar and Braize? Is it something larger than the three Shards in the Rosharan system, some kind of Cosmere-level storm? Or am I reading it wrong? Is the whole thing what becomes the Everstorm, and the “broken off” part is just the piece needed to bring the initial stormspren to Narak so that stormform listeners can summon the entirety? I’m so confused…
P: If you’re confused, there’s not a word for what I am!
Relationships and Romances
Venli’s sister looked so strange in Shardplate. It… well, it fit her. […] To Venli, some of the warforms seemed like they were playing pretend—their faces didn’t match their new shape. Not Eshonai. Eshonai looked like a soldier […]
Though much about Venli’s life was enviable now—she had position, friends, and responsibility—there was a part of her that wished she’d been able to obtain this without Eshonai also gaining high station.
A: The first part makes me long for the alternate version where the humans and listeners made peace and joined together to fight Odium’s forces. What a formidable warrior she was, and what an inspiration she’d have been to those who wanted to throw off the domination of Odium and the Fused. That last bit, though… Venli, ever the envious little sister.
P: Always a reason to be jealous. Bah!
“What?” Venli asked to Irritation. “I have work to do today, Eshonai, and—”
“It’s Mother,” Eshonai said.
Venli immediately attuned the Terrors. “What about her? What’s wrong?”
A: The one thing that’s kept Venli from being completely hateful is her love for Jaxlim. The way she instantly goes from irritation at Eshonai to fear for her mother… yes, she does still have some real love for someone besides herself.
P: Her only redeeming quality. And barely, at that.
Eshonai stood opposite Venli over the cot, her helmet under her arm, and for a time the two of them hummed together to the Lost. A rare moment when they both heard the same rhythm. […]
“She was found wandering one of the outer plateaus. Frightened, acting like a little child. She didn’t respond to her own name at first, though by the time she got here she had recovered enough to begin answering questions about her childhood. She didn’t remember how she hurt herself.”
A: For those of you who have lost (or are losing) a parent to advancing dementia, senility, Alzheimers… you recognize this. It’s such a painful scene altogether. While this kind of scenario doesn’t always bring siblings together in this kind of rapport, the pain of the whole thing rings so true. The heartache of seeing someone you love losing touch with who they are… yeah. Even the minor conflict, quickly resolved, of how to care for Jaxlim—it’s very realistic.
“You always led me toward the horizon,” Venli found herself saying. “Even as children. Always running to the next hill to see what was on the other side…”
“Would that we could return,” Eshonai said to the Lost.
“To those ignorant days?”
“To that joy. That innocence.”
“Innocence is more false a god than the ones in our songs,” Venli said, sitting beside her sister. “People who chase it will find themselves enslaved.”
A: Sigh. It was such a beautiful moment, right up until Venli’s cynicism spoiled it.
P: I just feel so bad for Eshonai, who saw the beauty of that innocence.
“Do you think you could find me a different form?” Eshonai said. “A form that would let me talk better, more diplomatically? I could go to the humans and explain what happened. Maybe I could speak with Dalinar Kholin. I feel like… like he might listen, if I could find him. If I could make my tongue work. They don’t hear the rhythms, and it’s so difficult to explain to them…”
“I can try,” Venli said, Pleading sounding in her ears. Why Pleading? She hadn’t attuned that.
“Then maybe I could talk to you,” Eshonai said quietly, drooping from fatigue. “Without sounding like I’m trying to lecture. You’d know how I really feel. Mother would understand that I don’t try to run away. I just want to see…”
P: Truly. She wants to find a peace so badly. And it’s all for naught.
“I… I’ve been doing things you might not like,” Venli whispered. “I should tell you. You’ll explain that what I’m doing is wrong though, and you’re always right. That’s part of what I hate about you.”
But her sister had already drifted off. […] Venli climbed to her feet and left.
That night, she went into the storm to hunt stormspren for the first time.
A: Sigh. I don’t think Eshonai falling asleep had anything to do with Venli deciding to go stormspren hunting; I don’t think she’d have said any of that if she hadn’t known perfectly well that Eshonai was already asleep. The worst part is that she knows she’s in the wrong. She can admit that tiny bit of truth when no one is there to hear it. Even knowing that, though, she’s still going to pursue her own goal. Her own glory. Her own vainglory.
P: I’ll echo you here, Alice… Heartbreaking.
Music, Mechanisms, and Manifestations of Light
Eshonai quietly changed to Longing, and Venli followed. And then, cautiously, Venli switched to Joy. Eshonai followed her this time. Together they made a song, and Venli began singing. […] There was something satisfying about a simple song you could sing well. You could add your own complexity. And you could sing the song’s soul—rather than struggle with missed lyrics or failed notes. […]
Dusk fell outside. The perfectly wrong time for the Song of Mornings. She loved that it had worked so well anyway.
A: I love this passage. It’s just so beautiful, and so musical.
P: I wish we could hear the Song of Mornings.
A: Oh, wouldn’t that be lovely?
There are a number of things we didn’t address in this chapter, particularly various parts of the exchange between the sisters. Feel free to bring them up in the discussion, and we’ll hope to join you there for more good conversation. Next week, we’ll be back with chapter 87, in which Adolin gets a few surprises in Day One of his trial, and Shallan tricks the highspren into letting her access their Stormlight cache.
Alice lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two kids, but is currently in Montana just for the fun of it. Glacier Park FTW!
Paige resides in New Mexico, of course. If you know, you know. Links to her other writing are available in her profile.