Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Rhythm of War Reread: Chapter Eighty-Eight


Hey-oh! Welcome back to the Rhythm of War Reread, where we dig into every chapter in excruciating (not to say excessive) detail! The flashbacks are coming quickly these days, making up for the complete lack of flashbacks in Parts One and Two. Of sixteen chapters so far in Part Four, this is the fifth flashback, and the penultimate one for this Part. (There’s one last flashback in Part Five, and it’s the most beautiful flashback ever, I think.) Anyway, this is the chapter where the two future paths of the listeners are set up, with two opposing spren coming into play. 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: Jezrien (Jezerezeh, Yaezir, Ahu), Herald of Kings. Windrunners (Adhesion, Gravitation). Protecting/Leading. Role: King

Chana, (Chanarach), Herald of the Common Man. Dustbringers (Division, Abrasion). Brave/Obedient. Role: Guard

Kalak (Kelek). Willshapers (Transportation, Cohesion). Resolute/Builder. Role: Maker

A: Well, hmm. Jezrien seems to represent the attributes of protecting and leading, which Eshonai tries so hard to do. Chana could be the same—the Guard, courageously defending her people, obedient to their needs at the expense of her own dreams. I’ve wondered if the stormspren are related to the ashspren and/or flamespren, but that’s stretching a bit to justify Chana’s presence. Kalak, at least, seems fairly clear: Timbre the lightspren arrives, and had Eshonai survived, she would have been a Willshaper for sure. Venli, of course, becomes one in the end.

Icon: The Sisters (flashback chapter)

Chapter Recap

WHO: Eshonai

WHEN: 1173.10.1.5 (A year and a half ago. IIRC this date is pinned down pretty well by the highstorm dates. It takes place somewhere between two and three weeks after Chapter 86, which might have been a bit earlier than the notations for that chapter’s reread.)

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

WHERE: Narak (Shattered Plains)

RECAP: Venli returns to the home she still shares with Eshonai and Jaxlim, carrying a gemstone in which she has captured a stormspren. Eshonai is concerned that using forms of power will destroy the listeners, though Venli argues that they’re already being destroyed due to snap decisions of the past. Eshonai walks out into the storm, trying to get the Rider of Storms to speak with her and give her a better solution, but with no luck. A chasmfiend emerges from the chasm right in front of her, freezing her in her tracks. Suddenly, a comet-like spren appears and zips toward her. The chasmfiend returns to the chasm, and the spren follows her home.

Chapter Chat—New Spren Acquired

Grand lightning flashes shattered the blackness in brief emotional bouts, revealing Venli, her eyes wide, grinning and soaked, clutching something in two hands before her.

A: At this point, anything that has Venli grinning makes me nervous, even if I didn’t know what this was. In one sense, her grin is justified—she’s been trying for at least three highstorms to capture this spren, and now she’s done it. But… yikes. She’s also set a terribly destructive path for her people.

P: Yeah, I get a sense of smugness from her, though Eshonai doesn’t mention a rhythm until Venli whispers to Awe. But her happiness definitely made me nervous during the beta read.

“Storms, . . . you did it?” . . .
But … no, the gemstone wasn’t glowing. Was it? Eshonai leaned closer. It was glowing, but barely.

A: Why “barely glowing”? Is that because it’s a small spren in a large gemstone, “a third the size of her fist”? Or because it’s a Voidspren? Or because it was so firmly anchored to the storm in Shadesmar that its presence in the physical realm is tiny?

P: Could it be that it’s a darker color spren in an emerald? Perhaps the color of the gemstone is muting the glow?

“It finally worked. The secret is lightning, Eshonai! It pulls them through. When I drew close enough right after a strike, I found hundreds of them. I snagged this one before the others returned to the other side….”
“The other side?” Eshonai asked?
Venli didn’t respond.

A: We still don’t know how she managed to suck it into the gemstone; it’s quite possible she doesn’t know, herself. The idea that there are hundreds of them after every strike, though… if she was right in the previous flashback, and one “seed” will be enough to bring more and more into her gemstones, it’s pretty easy to see how she’s going to get enough for the entire army.

Eshonai’s confusion and worry is so sad to see. Venli is talking about things she learned from Ulim—Shadesmar, and the storm on that side where the stormspren are, and I don’t think Eshonai is aware of either one very much. (Do the listeners know much about Shadesmar at this point? I can’t remember, but I don’t think so?)

P: I think that if they did, this comment wouldn’t have confused Eshonai. Venli is so excited that she’s talking about things she likely wouldn’t normally speak of, especially to her sister.

A: Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. Even if they’re aware of Shadesmar, I don’t think it’s common knowledge that it’s possible for anyone (even spren) to pass back and forth between the two realms. (Correct me if I’m wrong, friends!)

She seemed like a different person lately, always exhausted from working long nights –and from her insistence on going out in each and every storm to try to capture a stormspren.

A: This “seemed like a different person” line is the sort of thing Sanderson often uses to drop a big hint that there is a very real difference that Eshonai doesn’t comprehend. It can’t be either Ulim or nimbleform; the one happened years ago, and Eshonai would make the connection on the other. I think that Venli’s decisions in the last flashback actually changed her. Right at the end of Chapter 86, she acknowledged that what she’s doing is wrong, and then she deliberately went out and started hunting stormspren anyway. It’s like… she’s finally 100% given herself to Odium, and that Intent has indeed made her a different person.

P: I agree completely. Once she made that acknowledgement and then did it anyway, she changed fundamentally from a listener to a tool of Odium. It’s so sad to see her progression from jealous but relatively innocent little sister to the destroyer of the listeners.

A: It is. I get irritated at her unjustified arrogance, but in the end it’s really mostly sad. Her envy makes her so easily manipulated, she does just become a tool.

It did have a spren inside, though it glowed with an odd light. Too dark, almost dusty. Smoky. It was difficult to tell its color through the green of the emerald, but it seemed shadowed, like lightning deep within the clouds.
“This spren is unlike any I’ve ever seen,” Eshonai said.

A: So… on a bet, the answer to my earlier question is that this is a Voidspren and Voidlight just looks wrong to her. It is possible, though, that part of what she’s seeing is that it’s a complementary-colors thing: a red spren trapped in a green gemstone. The color is specifically called out, after all—and since emeralds are pretty much all they’re getting these days, it seems redundant to mention it again unless it’s relevant.

P: This is as I thought above, red spren in a green gem. I also think that you might be right about the size of the gemstone.

“Stormform,”Venli whispered. “Power.”
“Dangerous power. This could destroy the listeners.”
“Eshonai,” Venli said to Reprimand, “our people are already being destroyed.”

A: Well, so far as it goes, that is true. I’ll grant her that. But I hate the way she twists it around and makes Eshonai feel guilty about the “snap decision” in reaction to Gavilar’s words. She’s gotten far too good at manipulating her sister; that reminder, though she hums to Betrayal, is enough to stop Eshonai pushing back. Instead of continuing to argue for the beliefs of the listeners, she turns to useless self-recrimination.

P: Venli knows just where to slide that knife in to get to her sister. The fact that their dynamic seems to have changed probably makes Eshonai feel like crem.

A: We saw in the last flashback how hard it is on Eshonai to feel so alienated from her sister. And Venli just pushes it; the more Eshonai feels personally guilty for Gavilar’s assassination and therefore the war, the less leverage she has against Venli’s plans. (Well, Ulim’s plans…)

“What do you want from us?” she shouted. “Answer me, Rider! Spren of the storm! You’re a traitor like us, aren’t you? Is that why you sent Venli those little spren?”

A: This makes me sad, and a little angry as well. Sad, because her later interactions with the Stormfather are so painful and also beautiful. Angry because she’s both wrong and… not wrong. The Stormfather isn’t sending these spren; even though they’re coming through in the lightning from the highstorm, they are all of Odium. At the same time, he’s not exactly doing much to stop them. It will be another (Rosharan) month before Dalinar will bond with the Stormfather, so at this point he’s very much in hands-off-and-let-them-destroy-themselves mode. I find that frustrating.

P: As the Stormfather has said, he rarely interferes in the affairs of men. Dalinar is teaching him to be more empathetic, i think, which is why (in my opinion) he gave Eshonai that final journey.

“What kind of choice is this?” she demanded. “Either we let the humans destroy us, or we turn away from the one thing that defines us? The one value that matters?”
Darkness. Rain. Wind. But no reply.

A: Heartbreaking indeed—especially since we know that Dalinar is actively seeking a way to meet with the listener leader(s) and make peace with them. If only they’d held off for a few more weeks on testing this new form; the meeting between Adolin (for Dalinar) and Eshonai is less than three weeks away at this point. Sadly, they’ll only wait a week before Eshonai tries the form, and then it’s all over but the shoutingsinging. And the dying.

P: Yup… and once Eshonai dons stormform, it will take over her mind. That was just the saddest thing to me.

“Everything I’ve done,” she said into the wind, “has been to ensure we remain our own people. That’s all I want. I gave up my dreams. But I will not give up our minds.”
Brave words. Useless words.

A: True. As she notes, they’re going to have to go forward with this, logically. And yet… the words are not useless. I’d say they’re probably what draws Timbre to the physical realm, and will ultimately result in the salvation of the remnant of listeners.

P: As much as I hate it, it is the logical choice for them. It’s this or be destroyed by the Alethi. Instead, they’re mostly destroyed by the Fused.

A: That’s the real brutality of it: at this point, the listeners seem doomed no matter what they do. Stay true, and be killed by the humans. Take stormform, and half will still be killed by the humans, and then the other half will be taken by the Fused.

Branching light flashed in the heavens far to the east. It lit the sky white, highlighting debris, illuminating the land around her. Everything except for an enormous shadow silhouetted in front of her. . . . A chasmfiend snout, with jagged swords for teeth, head cocked to the side to watch her.

A: YIKES. ON. BIKES. How terrifying is that‽

P: Yeah, this would be more than a little unsettling! To say the least.

When the lightning next flashed, the chasmfiend had lowered its incredible head toward her, its eye close enough that she could have stabbed it without needing to lunge.

A: Oh, crikey. Oh… storms, what a frightful feeling. She wisely didn’t run, of course, but… one snap, and she’s toast.

P: I would have fainted dead away, I think!

A: Seriously.

Darkness fell. Then a small burst of light appeared directly ahead of her. A small spren made of white fire. It zipped forward, trailing an afterimage. Like a falling star.

A: Timbre!! I’m strongly of the opinion that she’s Ico’s daughter, because the timing is just too right. I love the idea that this Reacher girl might have been tagging along with the mandra(s) bonded to this chasmfiend, and when she found a listener on the other side who so much longed for freedom for herself and her people, she just… popped through. Would it be possible that she was somehow directing the chasmfiend? I don’t really know…

P: I also wondered if the chasmfiend left her alone because of Timbre. And I agree that she must be Ico’s daughter. Why would he bring it up in the last book, otherwise?

A: Yes, I think Timbre’s decision had to have affected the chasmfiend; nothing else makes any sense.

By its light, she could see the chasmfiend slowly retreat into the chasm, its spikelike claws leaving scores on the stone.

A: What do you think?Is this the same chasmfiend (or one of them) who will later befriend Thude & company? I’d always thought they were simply aggressive animals (see TWoK Chapter 12!), but this moment of apparent intelligence makes me wonder. Just how intelligent are they? Can they be bonded the way Ryshadium can?

In any case, knowing what we know now, this is clearly a set-up for the scene when Venli finds the other listeners. All we knew on a first read, though, was that Timbre came through now, and … well, the chasmfiend was involved somehow.

. . . Eshonai attuned Anxiety and hurried home. The strange little spren followed her.

A: Adorable little spren. Was it just her own idea to find a listener, or were there other Reachers thinking the same thing? In any case, I’m glad she chose Eshonai. I do believe that her presence gave Eshonai the ability to keep just enough of her true self to (however subconsciously) leave the pathway open for Thude to lead the rest of the listeners away from Narak before it was too late.

Listeners, Singers, and Fused

Humans feared the storms. They always hid indoors. Eshonai respected the storms, and usually preferred to meet them with a stormshield. But she did not fear them.

A: Sometimes it makes me really sad that Eshonai and Dalinar didn’t have more time to get to know each other. They had so much in common.

P: Eshonai’s whole story makes me sad. Brandon really twisted the knife with this character.

A: Oh, he really did. I loved Eshonai, and it forever makes me sad that she died so young.

Those gods had never deserved reverence. What was a god who only made demands? Nothing but a tyrant with a different name.

A: On a philosophical level, I fully agree with this. But it reminds me… do we—or they—even know exactly who their old gods were? The Unmade? The Fused? Both? Something else? Did we ever get a solid answer to that? And what exactly are their “demands?”

Relationships & Romances

…trailing water—which caused their mother to chide her. Jaxlim was in one of her … episodes where she saw the two of them as children.

A: These references always make me sad. I haven’t dealt with this particular aspect of dementia; my personal experience is with someone not recognizing the adult because they think of that person as a child. Still, dementia is so hard to live with.

P: I can’t imagine how heartbreaking it would be.


We’ll be leaving further speculation and discussion to you in the comments, and hope to join you there! Next week, Alice will be offline, busy getting her daughter settled at college. Never fear, Paige and Lyn will be here with chapter 89, in which Navani and Raboniel demonstrate deep respect for one another, and continue their regretful but determined conflict.

Alice lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two kids, one of whom is off to college next week and that’s a terrifying thought in itself.

Paige resides in New Mexico, of course. Though her heart is in the Bronx during baseball season. Links to her other writing are available in her profile.


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