Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Rhythm of War Reread: Chapter Ninety


Hey, y’all! Welcome back to the Rhythm of War Reread! Things are getting hot up in here, as Adolin goes into the second day of the trial, and it goes… hmmm… not well, exactly, but possibly not as badly as he thinks it did. He comes out of it feeling like he’s completely failed, though. Failed himself, failed his father, failed his people, failed the world… and that feeling of failure, combined with one of the chief causes of the perceived failure, leads Shallan to decide on a really bad idea as a solution. So bad, in fact, that she doesn’t even share it with Adolin. All in all, it’s a very up-and-down sort of chapter. Come on in and join the discussion, as we talk about the highs and lows.

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.

A: I’d like to extend my great appreciation to Paige and Lyndsey for taking care of everything last week. I definitely would not have done that chapter justice, as distracted as I was! But now the girl-child (okay, she is an adult, but she’ll always be my girl-child!) is settled in at college, and I’m back home pretending it will be okay not to see her until October… So here I am again! Better to be busy, right? ;)

Heralds: Nalan (Nale), Herald of Justice. Skybreakers (Gravitation, Division). Just/Confident. Role: Judge.

Ishi (Ishar), Herald of Luck. Bondsmiths (Tension, Adhesion). Pious/Guiding. Role: Priest.

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

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

A: Well, now, isn’t that a fine bunch of Heralds. Nalan seems pretty obvious in his role as the Judge, though Kalak is serving in that position again. Ishar is a little harder; there are multiple references to the Stormfather and Dalinar-the-Bondsmith, and some less obvious references to the early development of the Radiants for which Ishar would have been responsible. My guess is that he’s mostly here as Bondsmith and the arguments made by the honorspren regarding the dangers of Dalinar’s bond with the Stormfather. Jezrien, presumably, represents the multitude of honorspren present; to a lesser extent, he could be seen to represent the Windrunners in general (who desperately need more spren) as well as the accusation that the first of the modern Windrunners nearly killed the only remaining original honorspren. Shalash has multiple reflections here: first, the deadeye Cryptic; second, Shallan the Lightweaver; third, Shallan who broke her oaths and killed that Cryptic; fourth, the plan Shallan has to use her Lightweaving to replace Kalak. Her choice could be any or all of those.

Icon: The Shardbearer.


Regardless, I write now. Because I know they are coming for me. They got Jezrien. They’ll inevitably claim me, even here in the honorspren stronghold.

A: It’s worth going back once in a while to read straight through these epigraphs, to follow the thread of his thoughts, even though we’re only getting a few sentences at a time on a normal read-through. It’s really pretty sad. Even sadder, in a way, is the (I know, obviously deliberate) placement of this section on this chapter: Yes, they are coming for him, here in the honorspren stronghold, though he might not know who “they” are.

P: This epigraph is another that makes me feel bad for him. He knows his days are numbered and is so afraid of meeting Jezrien’s fate. Again, though he and the others abandoned Taln, I do have some sympathy for their current plights. Well… except for Ishar.

A: Exactly. I can even have pity for Nalan, confused as he is, and definitely for the rest of them. Ishar… well, in his one moment of lucidity I found some hope for him, but no pity given his current project!

Chapter Recap

WHO: Adolin, Shallan
WHEN: 1175.4.10.3 (The day after Chapter 87, and about 3 days ahead of the Urithiru timeline)
WHERE: Lasting Integrity

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

RECAP: For the second day of his trial, Adolin begins presenting his arguments. He is heckled by a few of the honorspren in a calculated effort to push him into engaging in a discussion, so they can bring up a damaging issue: Not only have Dalinar and Kaladin endangered their spren, there is actually a recent deadeye Cryptic. Despite having made several strong arguments, and a closing statement that should have every honorspren writhing in shame, he feels that he has failed. Shallan, feeling unworthy of his love and deeply upset by the potential effect on him if he should lose the trial, reconsiders the notion of trapping Kalak’s soul and impersonating him as High Judge. Though Veil and Radiant oppose the plan, Shallan/Formless decides to break the agreement of The Three and proceed with it.

Chapter Chat—Adolin’s Trial, Day 2

He wanted to appear in control, awaiting their scorn rather than taking the long walk down the steps with everyone watching. One felt like the action of a man who had orchestrated his situation. The other felt like a prisoner being led to execution.

A: I appreciate the set-up of Adolin’s frame of mind here. He’s very conscious of his choices throughout the chapter—both the psychological effect on himself, and how his actions and words will appear to others. His training in politics, no matter how much he’s downplayed it or how much he dislikes it, is showing through here. He may not be a legal expert, but he does know political maneuvering—both when he sees it, and when he needs to do it.

P: It’s also a very military mindset. Being the one in charge, even if it only appears to be that way, rather than being the underdog.

The ones who had seemed sympathetic to Notum’s proclamation were conspicuously absent from the seats. … The honorspren seemed determined to seed the seated positions with those who were predisposed against him.

A: Argh. It’s incredibly frustrating, though it’s good to see Adolin making note of these things. It reminds him that, as he learned the previous day, they are not all united against him; some really do want to hear, and might be persuaded. Doesn’t make the trial look very promising, though.

P: Seriously. If the audience is going to be a factor in his guilt or innocence, and they keep out anyone who is in line with his innocence, then it definitely doesn’t bode well for him that they’ve been kept out of the chamber.

[T]his wasn’t merely about the honorspren and whether some would join the Windrunners. It was a much larger argument.

Was humankind worth fighting for?

A: That really is the big question, isn’t it? For reasons unknown, ten families of spren decided thousands of years ago that they were worth it, despite being newcomers to the planet. If the spren don’t make the same decision now, it may not be the end of humanity on Roshar, but… it may. Some Fused just want the singers to rule over the humans, with the Fused ruling the singers. Others won’t be satisfied until the humans are completely wiped out. So… no pressure, there, Adolin. It’s only the fate of humanity…

P: And that has to be where his mind is: I succeed or humanity fails to survive. So there’s a lot riding on our young highprince’s shoulders right here.

“I don’t think my words today will surprise anyone. Yet I’ve staked my future on the opportunity to say them to you. In person. To look you in the eyes, and ask you if you truly think this is justice.”

A: For all my earlier comments about political maneuvering, Adolin is so beautifully honest and straightforward. He tells them straight out that he knows the risk, and thought it was worth the risk to be able to talk to them directly. It seems like they should be affected by that! He speaks honestly about the weaknesses of humans, and his hope that “immortal pieces of Honor” will be better and more honorable than that. And they treat him so badly in return. They interrupt him, trying to distract him from his points, but for a while he maintains control, and he really does give a good speech.

P: His words really are very moving, but they are definitely falling on deaf ears.

“I admit to human weakness. I will not hide it. But I have not seen you admit to your weakness. You claim to be creations of honor. That you are better than men. Yet you refuse to prove it, to show it.”

A: BURN. He talks about the spren who are brave enough to fight, and how the bonds let both human and spren grow into something greater than themselves.

P: Yes! The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

“We are of Honor and Cultivation. Honor, for an ideal. Cultivation, for the power to reach toward that ideal.

“The Stormfather himself agrees that this is the correct choice. People may not be perfect, but they’re worth helping strive for perfection. And you are worth more than you can ever be sitting alone and refusing to grow.”

A: Again, burn. He’s making good points that refer back to their origins. (Though I do have a few other thoughts on Honor and Cultivation, which I’ll address below.) And then he gets interrupted again, by a spren pushing the limits of the rules. Every time so far, it’s about Dalinar endangering the stormfather. This time, Kelek does come down on this one spren, threatening him with being ejected from the proceedings.

P: I think I was surprised by that, the fact that Kelek made that threat.

A: Yes, I was too—and even more when he carried it out later. He seems so reluctant to enforce any kind of fairness or justice.

“I brought a letter from my cousin, Jasnah … She proves that the modern kingdoms are–”

“Has she tried to kill her spren?” the spren in the first row asked.

“She proves,” Adolin continued, “that our modern kingdoms are united in easy that–”

“Yes, but has she tried to kill her spren?”

“Look,” Adolin snapped, “do you want me to talk or not? Do you want to hear my testimony, like you’ve offered, or do you just want to take shots at me?”

The spren smiled. And Adolin realized what he’d done. By asking a question, Adolin had invited an answer.

A: As he moves to his next point, they keep heckling him, and it makes me so angry. They have absolutely no evidence that Jasnah has ever done harm to Ivory, but she’s a Radiant so she’s fair game for the harassment campaign. And apparently the honorspren have no concept of the rhetorical question. It doesn’t matter that he wasn’t actually asking in any meaningful sense; the fact that it was phrased as a question is all that matters. So now they can make all the statements they want, and require him to answer. Stupid system anyway.

P: The whole thing is stupid, and so far below what I would call honorable.

A: That’s it exactly. It’s not merely that it’s unfair; it’s that they’re honorspren, and yet their behavior is not remotely honorable.

“Good reasons? He was running away. Does this seem like the kind of behavior we should trust in a Bondsmith? From the man you said was ideal, that you promised would never betray us. How do you respond to this?” …

“I cannot speak for my father. You’ll have to ask him. I trust him; the Stormfather trusts him. That should be enough.”

A: Ouch. I’m reasonably sure Adolin didn’t even know about this event; it took place while he was in Shadesmar the first time, and by the time he came back to the physical realm during the Battle of Thaylen Field, Dalinar had recovered all his memories and spoken his next Ideal. There’s no reason for it to have ever come up, so it’s pretty hard for him to say anything about it. It may become a question when they see one another again, but for now, Adolin gives the only answer he can, and it seems adequate to at least end this particular exchange. For about five seconds.

P: Yeah, they’re nothing if not relentless in their persecution of him.

“Kaladin Stormblessed almost killed his spren too,” a completely different honorspren said. “The Ancient Daughter, most precious of children. Did you know that?”

A: So you see where it’s going. They’re bringing up every incident they know of (and some they only wish for) in which a Radiant’s actions endanger a spren, pushing their point that humans will always break oaths and it’s just too dangerous for spren to bond them.

P: And really, Kaladin’s situation stemmed from his ignorance of what would happen. If people were aware of behavior that might kill a spren, then they certainly wouldn’t display that behavior. I mean, the fact that a spren is willing to bond a person at all shows some kind of redeeming factor(s) in that person.

A: With more Radiants, and more understanding of the Ideals and the effect of breaking them, there would be less danger to the spren. Kaladin barely knew anything about the Ideals, because the whole concept had been buried under centuries of lies and misinformation; the fact that he was able to speak that third Ideal without Syl’s guidance says a ton about his character. And his honor.

“Kaladin didn’t know he was breaking his oaths—he was merely having a difficult time navigating conflicting loyalties.”
“So you’re ignorant and dangerous,” the spren in the second row said. “Your Radiants barely know what they’re doing! You could kill your spren by accident!”

Kelek waved, and the spren was grabbed by attendants and carried up and out of the forum. But Adolin saw this for what it was. A coordinated attack, and the ejection a calculated risk to get the words out.

A: Sigh. I mean… good for Adolin, to see through the machinations, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t effective in terms of crowd manipulation. And as we already knew, this is more about convincing the honorspren in general than about the judge’s decision. This is their “sacrifice single” and, unfortunately, it’s pretty effective.

P: It’s very effective. And you can’t help but feel that the whole situation is helpless at this point.

Damnation. He’d met one, hadn’t he? Killed recently–that Cryptic in the market. …

If he answered the question truthfully, it could be the end. Adolin took a deep breath, and did what Blended had warned him against. He engaged the audience. “I could answer, but you don’t care, do you? You obviously planned together how to attack me today. This is an ambush. You don’t care about honor, and you don’t care what I have to say. You simply want to throw things at me.”

He stepped forward and lifted his hands to the sides. “All right. Go ahead! But know this! You say that spren don’t like, that spren are not changeable like men? Next time you try to pretend that is true, remember this day! Remember how you lied when you said I’d have a fair trial. Remember how you treated the man who came to you in good faith!”

The crowd fell silent. Even his most vocal challengers sat.

A: Sorry, I had to quote that whole thing. He called them all out for betraying everything they claim to stand for, and it was beautiful. He proceeds (and with great difficulty I’m refraining from quoting his whole next speech) to point out that they are exactly as unreliable as humans: fearful, cowardly, irrational, uncertain, flawed. And they have proved it this day.

P: You just want to stand up and cheer for Adolin here! “Remember how you lied.” *shiver*

Finally, looking uncomfortable…

“Oh, cut the act. … I’ll make it legal and ask—what is it you’ve obviously planned next to try to discredit me?”

The spren searched about the audience, uncertain. “I… Well, did you know about this?” … Today [Amuna] led a Cryptic—one with a broken pattern, the head wilted.

A: And of course it’s the same one they saw in Nameless, on their journey here, and the same one Pattern tried to get Shallan to acknowledge back in Chapter 75. This is what they’ve been leading up to the entire time. Make every point, valid or not, about Radiants breaking oaths, and then cap it off by bringing out a new deadeye. It’s a clever ploy, and it’s heartbreaking to watch it happen.

She was killed about eight years ago—though Amuna only says “a few years,” which is deceptive in itself. Eight years ago, no one was aware of Radiant bonds beginning to form. She later says “less than a decade ago,” but Adolin doesn’t really have time to math it, much less make an argument. The best thing might have been to point out that this happened at a time when no one knew anything about it, and that with more spren and more collective knowledge, it would be easier to prevent such things. But the spren making the concerted attack aren’t willing to allow any such rebuttal, and the second day of the trial ends in chaotic shouting as Adolin leaves “with as much dignity as he can muster.”

P: Yes, showing the deadeye Cryptic was supposed to be the final nail in the proverbial coffin.

He knew when a duel was rigged. They’d been telling him from the beginning that it would be. And still he’d believed he could convince them.


A: Not an idiot! I’m reasonably confident that he did convince some of them already, but they weren’t allowed in the forum to provide any kind of encouragement. And in any case, he had to try. There were no other options.

P: No, he really didn’t have any other option, did he? This was the only way to get any of the honorspren to hear him.

 “There are some here who want to listen to me, Shallan. Some I can persuade. But they’re afraid of dying, and I find myself uncertain. Not everyone is suited to war, and that’s what I’m recruiting them for. I can’t truthfully promise them they’ll live, that their Radiants won’t betray them. Maybe it’s not right to demand they join us.”

A: I really respect his thought process here, and his respect for their right to choose. The thing he hasn’t seen yet is that they also have a right to understand both sides of the choice before them. Simply being told by their leaders that it’s not safe and therefore they aren’t allowed to do it? That’s no more “right” than being persuaded by lies about there being no risk. Yeah, the spren—all of them—deserve to understand the risks, but that includes understanding the risk of inaction as well as the risk of action.

P: This exactly. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. And even if they consider humans to be a potential enemy in this, they’ve got to see that siding with Odium—which is what they’d essentially be doing by refusing to bond Radiants—is by far the worst option.

“[T]heir leaders were considering going to the enemy’s side. … If that happens, those spren will end up bonding people anyway, regardless of what they think now. And the people they’ll bond aren’t the type to worry about the safety of their spren.”

A: Thank you, Shallan. When she uses it, all her training in logic and politics really does pay off; she tends to see the side of things Adolin doesn’t see.

P: Which is one reason why they complement each other so well!

Spren and Shadesmar

Adolin waited respectfully for the High Judge to seat himself among the group of honorspren officials. Adolin had learned that six of them were among the “ten honored by storms.” The ten oldest existing honorspren, other than Syl.

A: Just a reminder of things learned in previous books: Sylphrena, created by the Stormfather, is the only surviving (non-deadeye) honorspren who was alive before the Recreance. After the Recreance, the Stormfather only created ten more honorspren—presumably the “ten honored by storms.” All the other honorspren are descended from these ten. (I wonder if the lack of direct relationship to Syl is part of the reason the honorspren were willing to imprison her back in Oathbringer. She’s special, as the “Ancient Daughter,” but she’s also… other.)

P: That’s entirely possible. She may be revered but she’s still different.

The Stormfather told us that Dalinar Kholin forced him to physically manifest. Dalinar Kholin, your father, using the Stormfather’s essence to work one of the Oathgates!”

“That’s against his oath!” another one exclaimed.

A: I was going to say that this answers an earlier question, and maybe it does but I’m not sure. The first bit, where it says that Dalinar forced the Stormfather to physically manifest, would end the discussion about what exactly Dalinar used to operate the Oathgate to get from Vedenar to Urithiru that time. Does this explicitly say, then, that a spren’s “essence” is what becomes a Shardblade? I’m not sure why I’m struggling with this concept today, but it’s bugging me.

Also, I think the second spren is stretching it a bit in claiming that it was against his oath. The Stormfather told Dalinar that “I WILL NOT BE A SIMPLE SWORD TO YOU”—and Dalinar says “It will be what it must.” I’m not seeing that that constitutes an oath. It does mean that what he did was against the Stormfather’s wishes, but we already knew that. So… just some thoughts. What do y’all think about it?

Relationships and Romances

Shallan closed her eyes, resting her head against his bare chest, listening to his heartbeat.

She would never have thought she’d find that sound so comforting. For most of her life, she’d never considered what it would mean to be this close to someone.

A: Honestly, this could go in Bruised and Broken just as easily. I love some aspects of their relationship—specifically, how very much each of them loves the other, and how amazed they are to be loved by the other.

The sad thing, though, is how much Shallan’s thoughts show that she really believes she’s a complete waste of skin. She’s convinced that she’s not worth a second of Adolin’s love, and it’s so painful to see. On the one hand, none of us deserve to be loved, because we’re all flawed human beings. On the other hand, we all need to love and to be loved (romantically or not), and it’s heartbreaking for someone to believe that they shouldn’t be loved by anyone.

P: I ache for Shallan in moments like this. The way she self-deprecates and sees no worth in herself. I can relate very strongly.

“But always beautiful.”

He thought that. He actually did. She tried to believe she deserved it, but it was difficult. She was so wrapped up in lies, she literally didn’t know who she was anymore.

What if he found out? What if he knew what she really was?

A: She doesn’t quite know who she is—and in a sense that’s true. She has too many personas, each of them partly true and partly false, and she’s been hiding from the truth for so long she’s all twisted up. At the same time, she does know what she is. She’s a killer several times over, no matter how necessary those deaths were for the sake of herself and her family. And though she’s refused to face it, she does know that the deadeye Cryptic is her first spren. She can’t face it yet, but some part of her—Formless, as well as Veil—knows that truth. And until she can face it, acknowledge it, and accept forgiveness, she’ll never quite be able to accept Adolin’s love. In my opinion.

P: Or she’ll never be able to accept that she deserves it or is worthy of it.

“I’d be the world’s biggest hypocrite if I couldn’t love you despite your occasional stupid idea.”

A: LOL! This would be even funnier if she weren’t so serious about her stupid ideas…

“They’re going to imprison me,” he said. …

“I’ll break you out,” Shallan said.

“I stole some Stormlight,” she said. “I’ll grab my agents and Godeke, and we’ll stage a rescue. I doubt the honorspren will give chase; they’re too paranoid for that.”

A: She’s actually sort of serious about this—though I find it interesting that she just tosses in the “I stole some Stormlight” comment, and he doesn’t even react. Obviously she didn’t tell him she was going to do that; now when it’s an accomplished fact, he seems too distracted to register what she said. Once in a while, that can be a good thing…

P: Yeah, I had been expecting a, ‘Wait, you did what?’ here.

It tore her apart to hear him like this. This was the man who had kept them all together when Kholinar fell, the man who was normally so optimistic. He’d come here determined to prove to his father—and maybe to himself—that he was still valuable. This stupid trial was going to take that from him.

A: It’s so tragic. The worst plan ever is going to be put in motion because she can’t stand to see the effect that losing this trial will have on him.

P: Is a truly bad plan, but it is touching that she’s willing to risk it for her husband.

Bruised and Broken

We do what two of us agree to, Shallan said. And I agree it is time to do as Mraize wants. We will take Kelek’s soul, and we will imitate him at the trial. Veil and I will –

No, Veil thought.

Shallan’s breath caught. What?

I change my mind, Veil said. I side with Radiant. I will not go kill Kelek. Two against one, Shallan.

A: Well, on the funny side, that’s a little unusual. Isn’t it usually Veil and Radiant on opposite sides, so whichever way Shallan leans, that’s what they do? (I could be misremembering, but…) The creepy part comes next.

P: It’s definitely odd to have Veil refusing to take that step to steal Kelek’s soul when normally she would be the first one to volunteer for such a task.

Something stirred deep inside of Shallan.
“I…” Adolin whispered. “I wish I could find out who killed that poor Cryptic. That’s what ruined it today. Ruined it all.”

A: So this gig with killing and impersonating Kelek was set up back in Chapter 13, when Mraize set Shallan on the hunt for Restares. The specifics, Mraize suggested back in Chapter 82 as a way to maneuver her into cooperating, and she was pretty skeptical. But this chapter is the point at which it becomes a real intention. Shallan, partly to save Adolin and partly due to her own unacknowledged guilt over the deadeye Cryptic, decides to go ahead with taking Kalak’s soul, and taking his place. I think if it weren’t for the deadeye, and Adolin’s unknowing comment about how that’s what ruined it all, she might not have taken this step. But deep inside, she now believes it’s her fault Adolin will be condemned, so she’s going to sacrifice… well, everything.

It is time.

“This trial is not ruined,” Formless said to Adolin. … “The High Judge is one of the Heralds. Maybe he’ll end up surprising you…”

A: And the pact of The Three is broken, just like that. It’s not entirely clear whether she’s adding Formless as a fourth vote, or whether she’s just become Formless and doesn’t care about the two-against-one rule anymore. Either way, she’s broken all her own rules, and it’s really not a good thing.

P: The three of them upset and worried me more in this book than previously. During the Beta, I was so convinced that one of the three had really bad motives and a really bad end goal, and I just had such a hard time trusting them. So this was especially upsetting to see.

A: As long as it was really the three of them, it was scary and worrisome. The insertion of Formless, though… Yikes.

History, Geography, and Cultures

“We are of Honor and Cultivation. Honor, for an ideal. Cultivation, for the power to reach toward that ideal.”

A: Is it just me, or does it feel a little abrupt that suddenly he’s talking about “Honor and Cultivation” like this? It’s very poetic and all, but… not so long ago, Cultivation was considered by the Alethi as, at best, a superstition of the western people who didn’t know enough to worship the Almighty. They didn’t even know that Honor was their “Almighty” much less that Cultivation was his equal. I suppose we have to take it on faith that the last year has given them much more knowledge about the three Shards in the Rosharan system, and that Adolin has accepted it all as truth. Still, this sounds to me like the way a person would talk if they’d known this for a lifetime, not someone to whom this is all new. Just me?

P: Not just you. I found it odd for him to talk about Cultivation this way, too.


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 91, in which Teft realizes that he was worth saving. It’s one of our favorite chapters; so much insight and beauty in our crusty old sergeant.

Alice lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two kids—except that one of the kids is now off to college and only home for breaks for the next four years. A large part of her heart now lives in Idaho.

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


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