Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Rhythm of War Reread: Chapter Ninety-Five


Well, howdy there, me peeps and chickies! Welcome back to the Rhythm of War Reread, as we go back in time to see the Battle of Narak from a very different perspective. Venli views the scene from a much-too-close-and-personal position, and in the process she increasingly is confronted by the truth of what she has—and hasn’t—done, and who she really is deep inside. The storms strip away all the pretense and disguise, leaving her face to face with herself. At least for a little while. Come on in and chat with us about it!

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

A: Chana, eh? There are some obvious links to the destruction of the stormspren (possibly using Division?), and some less obvious ones like Eshonai and Adolin both being brave and fighting in defense of their people. On a bet, though, this is one of those chapters where the Herald is represented in the text by their opposite or corrupted version, as Venli is repeatedly demonstrated to be the very opposite of brave, obedient, or a guard.

Icon: The Sisters, for a flashback.

Chapter Recap

WHO: Venli
WHEN: Fourteen months ago—1173.10.10.3 (Hey, this is one where we actually know the date!)
WHERE: Narak, on the Shattered Plains

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

RECAP: Venli creeps around the battlefield, trying to figure out how to survive the Battle of Narak and the clash of the Everstorm and the Highstorm. She sees Eshonai fall into the chasm, and observes a few other things we’ll recognize from Words of Radiance.

Chapter Chat — Venli Faces the Truth

A: The chapter title, “What She Truly Was”—and especially combined with a flashback icon—tells you exactly what this chapter is about. It’s not exactly a sharp turning point for Venli’s character arc, since we did see a lot of arrogance and selfishness throughout Oathbringer, and we continue to see selfishness and cowardice in Rhythm of War. Still, it’s a start. Before now (in the flashbacks) she was either oblivious to her own faults, or quickly hushed any such traitorous thoughts. This chapter, though… we see her in her most abject, desperate cowardice, and she sees it too.

Venli scrambled through a nightmare of her own making.

A: Too true, that. We open the chapter with her recognition that what she’s created is a nightmare, and it goes downhill from here.

P: This seems to be the first moment that she realizes she didn’t do something wonderful by “finding” stormform.

A: She seems to have had no idea what “bringing the storm through from Shadesmar” might look like. She just accepted Ulim’s word that it needed to be done and that it was all part of her becoming the great listener queen. Or something. (I suspect Ulim was intentionally vague, and she wasn’t smart enough to push him.)

P: Not smart enough or obtuse enough to just ignore the implications of a new storm.

She’d imagined this day as an organized effort by the listeners—led by her. Instead there was chaos, war, and death.

She did not join in the singing. She splashed through deep puddles, seeking to escape.

P: It’s not clear what she hopes to accomplish by planting herself right in the middle of the battle. As we see in a bit, she doesn’t even have a weapon. Other than stormform, which she can’t control.

A: I’m not sure she came here on purpose. I suspect she thought she’d get everyone set up, and then she’d go back to Narak and wait for their victorious return, when they’d all fall at her feet and praise her for her leadership. Um… ooops. Not happening that way…

She attuned Panic. They were overwhelmed by the new form, consumed by it.

She felt that same impulse, but was able to resist. Perhaps because of her long association with Ulim? She wasn’t certain.

A: I’m torn between two theories on this. One is indeed her long association with Ulim and the influence of Odium; she’s developed a bit of natural immunity. The other is her sheer egocentricity; she’s so deeply selfish, self-centered, and self-focused that not even Odium’s stormform can overwhelm her. I suppose you could be charitable and call it a “strong character” or “strong sense of self”—if you really wanted to be super-duper-charitable. In any case, she’s retaining a lot more of her own personality than many of the others (see below).

P: I’m gonna lean towards Ulim’s influence and her long association with him.

A: Yeah, despite what I just said, I tend to agree. Especially since “her own personality” is so thoroughly in line with Odium anyway.

What of Ulim’s promises? What of Venli’s throne? … It was all wrong. She wasn’t supposed to be here. She was supposed to be safe.

A: Ulim’s promises are, as always, worth as much as the paper they’re written on—i.e. nothing at all, just like the non-existent throne. Empty words, nothing more than a way to entice her into betraying her people and bringing the Everstorm through so the Fused could Return. She was never going to be safely hidden away in a place of honored refuge while the rest of her people died for her.

P: Like I said, I don’t know what she expected or where she expected to be. As a stormform, she should have been in the middle of the battle, but she seems to think that she should have been held back and protected.

A: Logic is clearly not her strong suit.

The human loomed over her, a terrible figure with his features completely lost in the shadow of his helm. He raised his spear.

“No, no,” Venli said to Subservience in his language. “Please, no. I’m scholar. No weapon. Please, no.”

A: Of course I did. I went back to Words of Radiance and looked to see if this episode was mentioned. I couldn’t find it. So… maybe Skar or Drehy, or more likely just a random soldier. But definitely one of Adolin’s, given the way the battlefield was arranged and what she observes.

Anyway, the instant there’s a threat, she’s all subservient and “I’m just a scholar” instead of her usual arrogance. At least she’s smart enough to know she hasn’t got a fighting chance in this encounter.

She stared after the man, attuning Derision. The fool didn’t know how important a listener he’d spared. He should have killed her.

Derision seemed to fade, though, as she considered. Was… was that the proper rhythm, the proper feeling, she should feel upon being saved? … For a moment she heard the Rhythm of Appreciation instead. … Part of her longed for the comforts of the familiar. When she’d been weak.

And this is strength?

A: That reflexive moment of arrogance, supplanted by… basically, by reality. She’d just realized a few moments earlier that she wasn’t really all that important, and whatever her mind says, her heart knows she should just be grateful to be alive. AND knows that she’s weak.

P: Arrogance really is her knee-jerk reaction to any situation. At least she has the presence of mind to immediately realize that she’s not all that.

A: Not even a bag of chips.

She forcibly attuned Conceit and moved along the perimeter. Conceit. A good rhythm, a counterpart to Determination or Confidence—only grander. … That was how she needed to feel. … This was her victory celebration.

A: Back and forth. Arrogant to sniveling and back to arrogant. On a bet, she’s trying to convince herself at this point!

P: This almost might be her sudden insecurity warring with the form and its arrogance and confidence.

A: Hmm. That’s an interesting thought. It could well be! Her “immune system” sometimes winning and sometimes losing in its struggle with the inclinations of the form she’s taken? I like it.

In Shardplate, Eshonai could survive that fall. Probably. Venli was the one in danger, with the human Shardbearer nearby. The new rhythms thrummed through her, whispering of power. Heightening her emotions. She was herself, not overly influenced by the form. In control. Not a slave.

Yet she felt… nothing.

A: The only saving grace to this bit is that she’s self-aware enough to find it odd that she doesn’t feel any sorrow at seeing Eshonai fall. She doesn’t go so far as to recognize the fallacy of “she was herself, not overly influenced by the form,” of course, but at least she has a passing recognition that something is off.

And then she just leaves, thinking that she’ll go find Eshonai later (when it’s safe!) and they can attune Amusement at the thought of Venli trying to help.

Okay, okay. To be fair, there really was nothing Venli could have done to help. Adolin planned that move, and nearly lost his own life taking out their last Shardbearer. Even if she’d tried, she couldn’t have gotten past Skar and Drehy, and if she’d gotten past them, what would she have done? Gotten stepped on? She didn’t even have any Voidlight left to power her uncontrollable lightning. But she’s still a cringing, whining, self-important coward.

P: Absolutely nothing she could have done. She doesn’t know the first thing about battle, or fighting in any way. She’s so inept, she can’t even handle stormform.

The new storm was here.

Venli allowed herself to attune the rhythm of her true emotions—the wild, frenetic beat of the Rhythm of Panic. A more virulent version of the Rhythm of the Terrors.

A: Very appropriate, I must say.

P: Panic and terror is what she should be feeling in the situation.

This was the end. The end of the world. Tiny, terrified, she pressed herself between two solid-seeming chunks of rock and closed her eyes, unable to hear the rhythms over the sound of the tempest.

A: I… didn’t know it was possible for anything to drown out the rhythms. I thought they were felt as much as heard. Either way, I think we’re supposed to take from this just how overwhelming the clashing storms are. I’m not sure I can really feel it the way I should (and I don’t remember if I did when I first read these events back in WoR), but I don’t know what more an author can do to give us the sense of what this is like.

P: I definitely recall the intensity of the storms when reading in WoR. And seeing Venli’s reaction here really brings it home how horrific it must have been, even for a listener.

She was no genius forging a new path for her people. Everything she’d “discovered” had been given or hinted at by Ulim.

A: Yep. She’s hinted at this before, though (I don’t recall at the moment) perhaps more in her real-time reflections than in the flashbacks. Either way, it’s true: She’s discovered pretty much nothing on her own. She was just a convenient tool, first for Axindweth and her organization, whoever they are, and then for Ulim and Odium. It’s not until she chooses to hide Timbre that she does anything on her own. (After that, she still needs Timbre to shift her into doing anything useful, but at least she’s not a slave anymore; she just needs the encouragement. Or… would anyone here suggest that she’s as much a tool for Timbre as for Ulim? I haven’t thought about that angle much.)

P: Hiding Timbre was the first bit of her redemption arc that touched me. Okay, I might have thought something along the lines of, “Who are you even?” And possibly something else like, “You don’t deserve a spren!”

A: Agreed, the idea of her having a spren was pretty repulsive at first! We hadn’t seen this side of her yet.

She was no queen deserving of rule. She cared nothing for her people. Just for her own self.

A: Yep. Nothing to add there!

P: Exactly, she doesn’t begin to care for her people until they’re all gone.

She wasn’t powerful. The winds and the storms reminded her that … she would always be small.

She had pretended she was those things, and would likely pretend them again as soon as she could lie to herself. As soon as she was safe. But here—with everything else flayed away and her soul stripped bare—Venli was forced to admit what she truly was. What she’d always been.

A coward.

A: Yep.

P: I love how, in her fear, she can admit that she’s lied to herself. If only she had seen this sooner. ::blank stare::

A: And I suppose that’s really what makes her arc worth telling. This is why Sanderson chose to balance Eshonai and Venli in the flashbacks. We already knew the bones of their backstory, and the flashbacks need more than just fleshing that out. They need an arc, and while Eshonai’s experience is great info, it’s Venli’s arc that carries the flashbacks forward into the present in a compelling way. She has a long way to go, even by the end of this book, to become a true Knight Radiant, but… wow. She has come so far. So very, very far.

P: Perhaps that simple admission, finally stopping and realizing the truth of it, was her first step toward redemption

A: Indeed. I know not everyone appreciates or accepts her redemption arc, and that’s okay. For myself, as much as I will continue to roll my eyes over her ongoing moments of fear and cowardice, I have to go back yet again to “let him who is without sin…” I, too, have had my moments of being afraid. I’ve had my moments of deciding not to say anything because it would be unpopular. I’m done with that, but it takes guts to be willing to be attacked for taking a stand, and it can get pretty uncomfortable. Sometimes you risk things you really cared about. Well, so be it. I’ll cheer for Venli, and hope she gets better at taking the needful risks.

P: I’m definitely here for her redemption arc. But it took a lot of doing on Brandon’s part.


She heard screams more often than commands, and beneath it all, a new song. A song of summoning, joined by thousands of voices.

A: Yikes. Just… yikes. Don’t know what else to say about this.

P: It’s just creepy. Especially remembering it from the other side back in WoR.

A: That really makes it way more powerful, doesn’t it?

P: Absolutely.

She passed listeners she recognized, all standing in a line, their eyes glowing red as they sang. … The whole line seemed completely oblivious to the rain, and mostly oblivious to her words.

A: Oh, this is painful. I’ve come to like the listeners, and seeing them now controlled by the stormform to the point that they’re oblivious to their surroundings—which will soon include attacking human armies—it hurts. It’s even worse knowing that in “real-time” (see the next chapter!) Venli is now remembering all this. Remembering that her choices doomed thousands upon thousands of her people to death.

P: The form really is horrible, isn’t it?

Occasional bursts of red lightning showed that many of the new stormforms were fighting.

Hopefully they could control their powers better than Venli could. When she had released the energy of stormform—expecting grand attacks that smote her foes—the lightning had gone in wild directions, unpredictable.

A: We’ve seen that this really is characteristic of most stormforms. Over the course of a year or so, some of them learned to control it, more or less—but even in the invasion of the Tower, we saw that a lot of them hadn’t yet managed that. The Fused, of course, were probably used to that, if it was typical; they’d know how to make use of a bunch of loose cannons, particularly since they don’t really care whether the stormforms actually survived.

It’s worth noting, I think, that the Voidlight she’d thought to use so “gloriously” to destroy the humans is very slow to renew, even with the Everstorm coming through. It occurs to me that we don’t really know where they got the Voidlight to power the lightning: where it came from, how it recharged, anything. It also occurs to me that if they all had the same experience as Venli—hard to control the strike, Voidlight slow to recharge — that’s part of the reason they didn’t do more damage to the humans. Most of the damage would have been accidental, or would have come from those who quit singing and started fighting.

Behind her, humans attacked the line of listeners she’d left; she heard screams, felt a crack as lightning was released.

Their song did not start again.

A: Ouch. That line packs a pretty strong punch. I certainly cheered when Adolin’s troops stopped a bunch of the singers back in the WoR description of this scene, but… By now, I’ve gotten used to having a lot more sympathy for the listeners than I did when WoR came out, so now it’s more painful. A bunch of those poor folks who got maneuvered into accepting stormform were so overwhelmed by the experience that they couldn’t even try to defend themselves.

P: I think that’s why the humans did so well here; because so many of those listeners were just regular folks, unused to fighting, wearing an unfamiliar form that swallowed who they’d been. Very sad.

Ahead—illuminated by scattered light through a patch of clouds—she saw two brilliant figures fighting along the edge of the chasm.

A: And we all recognize that one… Adolin and Eshonai. And Venli just watches, unconcerned (which is actually reasonable).

P: Yes, even feeling panicky and cowardly, she would have had faith that Eshonai could beat the other Shardbearer.

It was hard to associate the terrible warlord Eshonai had become with the thoughtful femalen who had tried so hard to find a way out of the war.

A: Yes, and I blame Venli 100%. Not only was she the one who set up the whole stormform thing, she was behaving so poorly that Eshonai couldn’t trust her to test the new form, and felt it necessary to carry that burden. Ugh.

P: That moment, when Eshonai took the form and it overwhelmed who she was, was one of the saddest in the series for me. Up there with Elhokar dying. Maybe even worse, because she wanted to stop the war, she wanted to find a peace for her people before they were overwhelmed and eliminated by the humans. And her sister snagged her in her trap quite handily.

A: I don’t know if it hit me that hard in the moment, because I think I maybe expected her to be able to “fight back” and overcome it, but knowing the rest of the story? Yeah. If she hadn’t been in stormform when she met with Adolin, there would have been a possibility of peace or an alliance against Odium.

All of which makes the final chapter of this book so beautiful and heartbreaking.

One moment she was holding her own against the human. The next she was gone. Plunged into the abyss.

A: Eshonai! ::sniffle::

P: Sooo sad.

Outside, the winds began to clash. She pressed against the rear wall of the small empty chamber, lit by the increasingly violent flashes of light outside. First red. Then white. Then the two tangled like fighting greatshells, crushing the land around them as they grappled.

A: And the highstorm arrives, sent by the Stormfather to wipe them all out. Thanks. (Okay, as it turned out, it was better than leaving them to just the Everstorm, but I really was angry at the Stormfather’s attitude at the time!)

P: In the time since WoR, I seem to have glossed over how horrific it was when those storms met.

…the rhythms in her head went crazy. Breaking apart, movements of one melding with another.

A: How bizarre this must have been for the listeners! (Also, was there a moment when the two storms created the Rhythm of War in harmony, or was it all clash? We touched on this in the beta, but on reflection I’m assuming that the harmony requires Intent—so probably not.)


She passed one of the humans’ dead horses, a Rhyshadium by the size.

A: Sureblood! ::sniffle::

P: Poor Sureblood! Poor Adolin!

Then—to her incredible relief—her fingers felt something. A hole cut into one of the crem-covered buildings. This was fresh, the cuts unnaturally smooth; a Shardbearer had been here.

A: Yes, that would be Adolin, cutting his way through an ancient building—recognized because of a much earlier expedition with Shallan—to come up behind the line of listeners whose song had stopped and did not start again… Funny that she doesn’t wonder where that Shardbearer is now, or if he might still be inside.


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 96, in which Venli confesses her past actions to Rlain, right up to the time when Thude led the non-compliant listeners away to the east—to be discovered by human scouts who made notes on maps.

Alice lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two kids. The canning project proceeds apace. And the Yankees won in a most exciting fashion!

Paige resides in New Mexico, of course. But right now, her heart is in the Bronx. Go Yankees! Links to her other writing are available in her profile.


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