Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Rhythm of War Reread: Chapter Ninety-Nine

Welcome back to the Rhythm of War Reread, where today we get a long-awaited Jasnah POV! Always a significant force, she’s not a “main character” in terms of focus; she’s intended to remain in the secondary-character position of having fewer POVs and less central story arcs until we get to at least Book 6. That doesn’t prevent her from being a fan favorite, obviously! This week, we’re inside her mind to see her amazing security protocols, get more hints on her relationship with Wit, and see their cooperative planning for Dalinar’s Contest of Champions against Odium. They have a contract that makes sure that Odium can’t win outright, and Dalinar can’t lose everything… but will they be able to get Odium to accept it? RAFO! Come on in and join the discussions!

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.

In this week’s discussion we also discuss some of Wit’s more distant past, which is at least Cosmere-spoiler-adjacent. Most of it is in Cosmere Connections.

Also, Paige had some other things to take care of (Real Life can sure get in the way of your fantasy fun!), so she’s not joining me this week. Sorry, you get it solo!

Heralds: Battah (Battar). Elsecallers (Transformation, Transportation). Wise/Careful. Role: Counsellor.

Joker, Wild Card, Hoid.

Well, an easy one this week! Battar is easily identified with Jasnah the Elsecaller, though one could also point out Wit’s role as her counsellor in this chapter. The Joker icon is most often associated with Wit’s active involvement, as well, though I’m told the Joker can also be used to represent some kind of “wildcard” effect. Given his very active role this week, I’ll just go with Joker = Wit, particularly because he essentially promises Jasnah that if she can get Odium to agree to his contract, he’ll be a major wildcard for her.

Icon: Shadesmar—Lately this is mostly associated with Jasnah’s POV, though she used to share it with others.

Epigraph:

I had my title and my rhythms stripped from me for daring insist they should not be killed, but should instead be reconditioned. Repurposed.

—Musings of El, on the first of the Final Ten Days

Well. That’s not frightening or anything. Reconditioned? Repurposed? From what and to what? It sounds like El might actually be aware of Odium’s plans to use the Knights Radiant as his army to take over the Cosmere—but if that’s the case, why did he have his title and his rhythms stripped? Did he just get in trouble for saying the quiet part out loud too soon? Or was it the action of the Fused, rather than Odium? He doesn’t actually seem to mind all that much.

Oh, also… it’s generally assumed that the title stripped from him was Vyre, He Who Quiets, which was given to Moash. It’s possible, and even probable. I still wonder, though, if he might have been the original Voice of Lights. I don’t think Sanderson would have told us about his name being given to a human if it weren’t one we’ve already seen… Then again, sometimes I have a hard time sorting out what order we learned things, so there’s that.

Chapter Recap

WHO: Jasnah
WHEN: 1175.4.8.5—This takes place on the same day as Chapter 98, as is clear from her thought about “today’s conflict” news having just arrived.
WHERE: Laqqi, Emul (Coalition command headquarters)

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

RECAP: Jasnah reviews her situation: The Emuli conflict is essentially over, Urithiru is still in enemy hands, she’s safe in her chosen house in Laqqi with all the security measures she can think of, and she’s very frustrated that her lifetime’s scholarship is wiped out by the presence of the Heralds and the realization that Odium can see the future. Wit, now her lover, distracts her from those worries, and they move to discussion of the contract he’s drawn up for Dalinar’s contest of champions with Odium—a prospect no less worrying. He teases her with word games, but assures her that if they can get Odium to agree to this contract, she’ll have his open assistance in the conflict: the assistance of someone with great power, but without the restrictions which bind the Shards.

Chapter Chat—Plans, Ploys, and Paranoia

Oh, Jasnah. She is so paranoid—and it’s likely to keep her (or someone else) alive, if my guesses about the next book are correct. By the way, if you’ve never read the additional chapter released after Words of Radiance, you need to go do that now, because we’ll be talking about it in a hot minute.

She still ached from her part in earlier battles, though she’d sat this one out—Dalinar had been there, and they didn’t want to put both of them on the same battlefield at once.

And there’s our first paranoia plan: They already set things up to make sure the two of them can’t be taken out in a single strike. Good for them. Also, apparently she participated in more than one battle, not just that first one that we saw back in Chapter 64. Presumably she got better at what she was doing? We don’t really know whether they changed the plan to add in her Surgebinding abilities, in the interests of just winning the battles, or if she continued to use it only as a last resort. Well, I guess if it matters, we’ll find out!

She’d chosen [her house in the command camp] not for the luxury, or for the space, but because it had a second floor. Locked away in a central room on the second level—sharing no walls with the outside, alone save for Wit’s company—she could finally let herself relax.

I won’t quote it all, but her security measures are pretty thorough. Fabrial traps if Shardbearers or Skybreakers (or presumably any other hostile Radiant) tried to break in. A boat at the analogous location in Shadesmar, just in case. Stores of Stormlight sewn into her clothing. She’d done a little in that regard prior to her leap into Shadesmar in Words of Radiance, but not enough. That additional chapter linked above explains her point about struggling in Shadesmar without proper resources—and she’s never going to risk going there without plenty of Stormlight again! She may have learned more and become more proficient at Elsecalling since then (I assume), but Jasnah does not take unnecessary chances.

In her lifetime studying history, Jasnah had been guided by two principles. First, that she must cut through the biases of the historians in order to understand the past. Second, that only in understanding the past could she properly prepare for the future.

Those are actually pretty good principles. We tend to sneer at the ardentia for so overtly rewriting Vorin history, but it happens all the time, and even in our own time we see history being presented very differently (and sometimes falsely) in order to support the current narrative. And who hasn’t heard the adage that those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it? So, good principles… as far as they go.

But a life’s work could be shaken when history got up and started talking to you.

I’d love to quote all of this section—it’s really quite funny even as you can understand Jasnah’s frustration. She’d spent years arguing with other scholars about various historical events, trying to understand why things happened as they did, trying to avoid repeating mistakes, trying to learn from history. Then up pop Ash and Taln, who were there for so much of the history, and half her most precious theories go up in smoke when the (often venal) causes of major events are revealed. Then there are the important events they weren’t there for, or don’t remember, which would be nearly as frustrating. (Also, Wit was there for some major events. Has he admitted this or told her anything about the origins of the Fused/Human conflict?)

Worse, there’s the realization that Odium can, to some extent, see the future—and seeing enables changing, as she herself discovered when Renarin’s ability was revealed. Renarin’s visions have proven useful, but it’s still terrifying to know that the enemy has a much better vantage point. How is a woman supposed to make plans in that situation?

“Ah, but you see, I was rigging the games. So I did know the future—as much as Odium does, anyway. I shouldn’t have been able to lose. Yet I did. … Someone else rigged the game so that no matter what move I made, I could not win. The game was a tie, something I hadn’t anticipated. I’d focused my cheating on making certain I didn’t lose, but I’d bet on myself winning.”

Speaking of learning from history! This, then, is the focus of the contract he’s drawn up: making certain they can’t actually lose. They might not be able to win, but they can’t quite lose. The same, of course, is true for Odium, which is the only way he’ll accept the contract—if he can’t lose.

“If Dalinar wins, Odium retreats to Damnation for a thousand years. If Odium wins, he must remain in the system, but gets Roshar to do with as he pleases. The monarchs will submit to his rule—as will the Radiants who follow Dalinar.”

I have questions. One, what would Odium do with Roshar? It’s a frightening thought—but from Odium’s perspective, why would he accept this? His whole goal is much bigger than this. I mean… I can see accepting another thousand-year delay if he loses, but he seriously wants out of this system. How would doing what he pleases with this one planet constitute the kind of win he would accept?

“Perfect for you. If this is agreed to, you win no matter what. Odium remains contained in the Rosharan system either way.” …

“But Jasnah, this is for the best. If Dalinar wins, well, your people get what they want. But if Dalinar loses, Odium is contained.”

I won’t deny it would be a reasonable set-up for the humans. I just don’t see why Odium would accept it.

“It’s not about the contest, but what leads up to the contest. I know Rayse. He is arrogant and enjoys being worshipped. He never does anything without delighting in how he can show off.

“He’s also careful. Subtle. So to win, we need to make him certain he can’t utterly lose. This contract does that.”

Again. Does Hoid not know how badly Odium wants out of this system? I can’t tell if this is a continuity error, or an in-world error, or if Hoid is playing some other game here.

“If he has one great failing it’s that he thinks he’s smarter than he is. He tried exceptionally hard to make Dalinar into his champion. Why? Because he doesn’t merely want to win, he wants to win in a way that says something. To everyone watching.

… While he pretends he has a dozen other plans, he’s scrambling to locate a champion who can legitimately win. Because he knows—same as I’m telling you—that the contest won’t only be about who can stab the hardest with their spear.”

“What will it be about then?”

“Same thing it’s always about, Jasnah,” Wit said. “The hearts of men and women.”

Is it? Is it really? If Dalinar loses, but he has the full loyalty of humanity, does that mean he actually wins? Does that actually stop Odium from doing anything he wants? I’d like to believe this, and I’d really like to believe that the contest isn’t really just about champions poking holes in each other. But… I don’t see how this works. I really don’t.

Staring at the contract, she couldn’t help but feel outmatched by all of this.

Smart lady, is all I can say. How can you not feel outmatched if you have even the smallest inkling of what it all means?

“If you give Odium this contract—and get me the assurance that he cannot break free of the planetary system no matter what happens—then you won’t have to trust the hearts of mortals, Jasnah. Because you’ll have me. And everything I can give you.”

Well, we know enough about him to know that the potential, at least, is immense. But just how is she (or Dalinar) supposed to convince Odium to accept it? (I’m starting to sound like a broken record on that…)

“I, Jasnah, am someone who is not bound.” …

“I feel,” she said, “like I should be terrified by that statement.”

Um… with you on that feeling, Jasnah… (more below)

“That’s why I’m so fond of you,” he said. “You are poised, you are smart, and you are always ready with a ploy; but when each of those things fails you, Jasnah, you are—above all else—paranoid.

It’s true, you know… Seriously, I do hope we get to see Jasnah’s paranoia save some people very soon. Especially that bit about the boat waiting in Shadesmar. It’s not far from where Ishar made his perpendicularity, and it’s also not far from the Shadesmar location of Lasting Integrity, and we know none of this is coincidence. Really looking forward to book five, that’s all I’m saying…

Relationships and Romances

Jasnah’s relationship with Wit was one of the big surprises of this book. It triggered huge discussions in the beta, and more in the fandom upon release. Personally, I never had anything invested in her love life; I figured if it ever mattered to the story we’d find out. (Full disclosure: I have never really cared about “representation” in books—mine or anyone else’s. I just want all the elements to contribute to the storytelling and not get in the way. The one specific request I made of Sanderson in this discussion was “please don’t make rape the cause of whatever relationship issues she might have in the final version.”) There were those in the fandom, though, who were absolutely convinced that Jasnah was their representation in the books—even though the claims were so contradictory they couldn’t possibly all be true. I’ll confess to some mild amusement over it; obviously I would never poke fun at any individual, but the fandom in general can be pretty funny when things get wrapped around the axle.

He stretched, then wandered over and knelt beside her before taking her unclothed safehand and kissing the tip of the index finger.

A: Pretty risque, there…

She’d come to realize, early in her youth, that she didn’t approach relationships the same way everyone else seemed to. Her partners in the past had always complained that she was too cold, so academic. That had frustrated her. How was she to learn what others felt if she couldn’t ask them?

While Jasnah isn’t emotionless, it’s easy to look back through the books and realize that she has to really work to figure out what other people are feeling (much less why!). That would really make supposed-to-be-romantic relationships even harder; no wonder we’ve always seen her pushing back on the idea of getting married. The obvious question, of course, is whether she’s simply neuro-atypical, or whether childhood trauma caused her to lock down her emotions. I suspect the former—and suspect the childhood issues may have been caused by the former—but I don’t think we know much about that, do we?

Most women, she suspected, would find him physically attractive. And indeed she appreciated his statuesque quality, with such interesting proportions and such an intense face.

I really love this; it’s such great insight into how her mind works. She views him (physically) more like a work of art than an attractive man, because “attractive man” doesn’t really do much for her.

He seemed to genuinely like her, and she found his companionship invigorating. Full of questions, delights, and surprises. She could provide the intimacy he desired, though she knew he found her lack of excitement on that axis odd, perhaps unsatisfying. That was not a new experience for her…

It’s become pretty clear in this chapter that Jasnah isn’t interested in sex per se, though she’s not unwilling. She’s stimulated and attracted by the intellectual interaction, which rather fits with the way I’ve always seen her. She could never be in a close romantic(ish) relationship with someone she didn’t hold in high regard intellectually. It’s just not possible for her. Makes it pretty funny to think of Amaram’s pursuit of her, doesn’t it? He was so unqualified!

She cupped his face with her hand. She wished she could, deep down, truly trust him. He was something she, and this world, had never before known. That was electrifying. It was also so extremely dangerous.

Yes. Yes, it is. Hoid is one of the most dangerous people in the Cosmere, and much as I like him, I won’t trust him until we know a whole lot more about him!

He shot her a glance, and then his smile became a grin. Yes, he did seem genuinely fond of their relationship, as much as she was. Indeed, he said it had taken him by surprise as it had her.

I’m oddly unsurprised by this. How often has he met a woman who could, by her nature, keep up with him mentally—and wasn’t actively hostile to him?

“It puts everything on this one contest of champions,” Jasnah said. “I hate that tradition even when played for lower stakes.”

“Says the woman who used me in a ploy to manipulate that very tradition not two weeks ago.”

“Lower stakes,” Jasnah repeated, “involving a meaningless loss such as your death.”

“Jasnah!”

“Wit, you’re immortal,” she said. “You told me yourself.”

“And you believed me?” he asked, aghast.

Hah! This almost belongs in Buttresses, it made me laugh so much. Lower stakes. LOL.

Brilliant Buttresses

“I warn you, without proper affection, your Wit will wilt.”

“If I’d have been more clever, I’d have let less be lost.”

“We’re limiting our losses—making certain that at the boundaries of this planet, hell and hate must halt.”

“Besides, even for me, being killed can confound.”

As someone who (obviously) enjoys alliteration, this whole spread-out sequence had me cracking up. The first one wasn’t too noticeable. The second stuck out a little. By the third, if you weren’t absorbed in the story, it was starting to show. But I was dying when Jasnah noticed the next, more outrageous one.

“To you and the budding Radiants, a thousand years is a long time. Long as a soulless star slumbers.”

“A soulless star.”

“Yes.”

“Slumbers.”

“As they do.”

She stared at him flatly.

“Long as a rat rends rust?” he asked.

“Long as seasons see stories?”

“Oh, that’s delightful, Jasnah. Pretend I was the one who could somehow stress said symphonion sounds.”

Bahahahaha! I loved this. I really did.

“The more serious something becomes, the more I find myself inappropriately involved. Indeedy.”

Jasnah sighed.

LOL. Me too, Jasnah. Me too. That one was really bad.

Cosmere Connections

Curiously, he wasn’t Alethi, but he had transformed himself to look like one. … He was something much more ancient. He’d laughed when she’d asked, and said the Alethi hadn’t existed when he’d been born.

We may know a lot more about his background than he’s revealed to her, but there’s still so much that we don’t know. We know (or at least have reason to believe) that he’s of the original human race from Yolen, and we know he was born before the Shattering of Adonalsium, and we know he skips forward in time, but… there are so many holes in what we know!

“I once knew a man,” Wit said, “who was the finest gambler in all his realm. Where he lived, you make your cards walk themselves around the table by breathing life into them. …”

Well, that really sounds like it has to be Nalthis, doesn’t it? The world of Warbreaker?

“To fail that promise would give others an opening against him, and said failures have killed gods before. Odium knows it. So do this, and I can help you openly. As myself.”

“And who is that, Wit?” she asked. “Who are you, really?”

“Someone,” he said, “who wisely turned down the power the others all took—and in so doing, gained freedoms they can never again have. I, Jasnah, am someone who is not bound.”

This has The Height Of Significance written all over it, and I still feel like I only have a tiny hint of what it means. We really need that Dragonsteel story…

 

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 Kaladin in chapter 100, as the first rocks of the Avalanche start to roll.

Alice is a former Sanderson beta reader who lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two kids. Somehow, despite all her expectations, life never seems to slow down—even when the temperature drops below freezing!

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