Rhythm of War Reread: Chapter Fifty-Three

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Here we are again, O Chickens and Peeps. Welcome to another installment of the Stormlight Archive reread, and a third chapter of Venli’s activities. This is a good one, though, and continues to improve her likability (at least for me). We’re back in Urithiru, and thankful that our secret Radiant is the one collecting reports for Raboniel—and even more thankful that her secret spren is pushing her to act like a Radiant instead of a wimp.

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.

There are no wider-Cosmere spoilers in this week’s post.

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

Vedeledev (Vedel). Edgedancers. Loving/Healing. Role: Healer.

A: My best guess here is that Jezrien represents the actual focus of the chapter: Kaladin Stormblessed, who is conscious and has escaped the Pursuer with another unconscious Windrunner. Vedel might be for Venli’s secondary focus: Kaladin’s family, the surgeon and his wife and child. It’s possible that Vedel also reflects the compassion Leshwi accuses Venli of having for the humans. For that matter, it’s possible that Jezrien also reflects Leshwi’s affinity for the Windrunners.

Icon: The Singer, indicating Venli’s POV.

Epigraph: From Rhythm of War, page 5 undertext:

I am led to wonder, from experiences such as this, if we have been wrong. We call humans alien to Roshar, yet they have lived here for thousands of years now. Perhaps it is time to acknowledge there are no aliens or interlopers. Only cousins.

A: This is obviously Raboniel’s writing, and it’s kind of shocking. She most likely remembers when the humans arrived on Roshar, so it’s easy to see why she would think of them as alien. To come around, during the course of her collaboration with Navani, to the point of suggesting that they could be considered cousins is… well, very enlightened of her, and very unexpected. We didn’t really see that in the text of her conversations with either Navani or Venli, so perhaps she wasn’t ready to actually talk about it. She could only write it down in this secret book she shared with Navani. (Okay, I’m just guessing. But it makes sense. I could almost wish she had lived.)

P: I think this perspective is much more Lady of Wishes than Lady of Pains. Raboniel seems to me to be much different than the person that Leshwi was so distraught to see arrive on Roshar.

A: Yes, she does. There are times when you still see that ruthlessness and that determination to either exterminate or enslave the humans. But there are also hints (like this, but mostly later in the book) that she has glimpses of other possibilities, where humans and singers could actually share the planet.

Also, it looks very much like the text is from Navani and the undertext from Raboniel, so I’m going to have to go back and look at the earlier epigraphs with that in mind!

Chapter Recap

WHO: Venli
WHEN: 1175.4.6.5 (immediately after Chapter 51, with enough time for her to tell Timbre of the events in Chapter 52)
WHERE: Urithiru

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

RECAP: Having finished telling Timbre of receiving and hiding the gemstone, Venli takes reports for Raboniel from the scouting operations. Among the reports, she hears that a young surgeon killed one of the Regals and escaped with an unconscious Windrunner. The Pursuer has taken it personally, and plans to interrogate the surgeon’s family that evening. Venli decides this is important enough to break protocol, and she seeks out Leshwi to pass on the information. Leshwi agrees that it would be well to recover and hide Kaladin’s family, both to protect them and to perhaps use them to find him. This done, she cautions Venli not to let anyone else see her show such compassion for the humans. Timbre, however, is very pleased with the result and with Venli’s progress toward becoming a real Radiant.

Overall Reactions

A: You know, I’d kind of forgotten about this chapter. Last week I mentioned that given the circumstances, I was unusually sympathetic to Venli. This week she starts… poorly… by confessing that she hid the gemstone from her mother and sister:

She’d kept that secret because she’d been afraid of losing the glory of discovering a new form to her sister.

A: She didn’t want to let Eshonai get more glory if she could get it for herself instead, which is… well, very Venli, right? She feels pretty bad about it now, and at least she acknowledges her errors. So… mixed beginning, trending downward.

But then she finds out about Kaladin’s latest exploits:

Venli hummed to Thoughtfulness, though she felt a mounting dread. Kaladin Stormblessed was in the tower; he hadn’t gone with the main bulk of his kind to the war in Emul. And he was … somehow still conscious? Leshwi would want to know that.

A: Her reaction is really fascinating. She doesn’t quite admit to herself that she wants to help him, but she knows about Leshwi’s interest in him. That’s enough to start with.

P: She definitely wants to protect him and his family from the Pursuer. I found it to be quite endearing. I still have moments where I’m angry with her but this is definitely not one of them.

“By then the Pursuer will have interrogated the human’s family,” the Regal said. “And will have exacted revenge for the death of our soldier.”

A: Timbre’s reaction is pretty wild—we’ll discuss that below—but the best bit is that she pushes Venli into doing what she knows she ought to do: she heads straight for Leshwi to see if anything can be done to stop the Pursuer. Leshwi’s reaction is… well, here:

“The Windrunner you wish to defeat is here in the tower,” Venli said, “and I have reason to believe he did not fall unconscious. In fact, he still has access to his powers.”

Leshwi hummed abruptly to Exultation. A telling choice.

A: What exactly causes the “exultation” isn’t entirely clear, but I have some guesses. One, Leshwi is glad he’s conscious and free. Two, he’s eluded the Pursuer, and that’s something she very much approves. Three, it indicates that he’s either reached or is very close to the Fourth Ideal, making him a truly worthy opponent for her. I don’t know, I’m only guessing, but… honestly, I think it’s all three. And she does like the Windrunners.

P: As disapproving as Timbre generally is of humans, I’m glad she encourages Venli to go to Leshwi and to do what she can to protect Kaladin’s family.

A: She’s a true Radiant spren, our Timber.

“And do you wish to fight him, Ancient One?” Venli asked. “Is that truly why you want to find him? To kill him?”

“Why would you ask this?” Leshwi asked to Craving.

“You seem to respect him,” Venli said.

Leshwi hummed softly, but Venli did not catch the rhythm. Odd. Her powers normally let her understand anything her mistress said or implied. There was something familiar about that rhythm though.

A: I’m dying of curiosity! Leshwi clearly has no intention of giving a full answer, just something about a worthy challenger. Worth noting, though, she drops a hint in the next paragraph about his spren being “ancient.” When you put it together with later events, this makes me think she’d really like to have a nice long conversation with Kaladin and Syl, and find out if Syl remembers any of her old friends among the honorspren.

Oh, and I almost forgot the other big curiosity: What’s with the rhythm that Venli can’t quite identify?

P: Yeah, I’d love to know what that rhythm was. And to know what Leshwi’s thoughts on Kaladin are. I like her a great deal. Though I do wonder how she knows that Kaladin’s spren is ancient.

A: That’s a really good question. Sometimes it feels like they know too much about each other! I suppose it’s possible that the spren are spying. I mean… why not?

“… They are… excitable.”

“Violent and bloodthirsty, you mean.”

“Yes, Ancient One. The … the family of the Windrunner would be an excellent resource for us, mistress. If you wish to find him before the Pursuer, then perhaps holding them would give us an advantage.”

Leshwi hummed to Thoughtfulness. “You are merciful, Venli. Do not reveal this Passion to others. Wait here.”

A: Okay, okay, I really am starting to like Venli. She really did something right here. Reluctantly, pushed into it by her spren, but she did it because it was the right thing to do. Interestingly enough, Leshwi doesn’t tell her she shouldn’t be merciful—just that she shouldn’t let others see it. I don’t think it’s part of the Fused Ten Commandments.

So… on the reread, I’m starting to change my view of Venli more than I did before. She’s still naturally cowardly, but she’s stopped justifying it to herself, and instead acknowledges her weaknesses. And then, sometimes, like today, she does the courageous thing anyway.

P: It’s very Radiant-esque of her. And Leshwi is fully aware that Venli wants to protect Kaladin’s family for more than as a resource to be used. This chapter definitely makes me like Venli. She really changes in this book.

A: I do like the way Leshwi sees through most of Venli’s attempts at subterfuge. She probably knows all about the recruitment efforts, too; she just won’t acknowledge it yet. And honestly, I think she likes that Venli wants something different for her people. I sometimes get the feeling that Leshwi would like something different for her own people.

Venli hummed to Subservience and left quickly. Timbre pulsed encouragingly.

“I am a false Radiant,” Venli said. “You know this.”

Timbre pulsed again. Perhaps. But today had been a step in the right direction.

A: A step in the right direction. That’s really all we can ask, isn’t it?

P: As long as she keeps taking that next step.

Spren and Shadesmar

The rhythms went silent. Timbre, hidden deep within Venli’s gemheart, seemed to be holding her breath.

A: Have I ever mentioned that I love Timbre? I have? You’re sure? Well, okay. I love her all the more for this. I don’t know how or why, but she actually prevents Venli from hearing the rhythms at all.

P: Yes, that was very interesting! And you’re not alone—I adore Timbre!

A: I sure would like to know what she did to silence the rhythms, though… and whether another bonded spren would be able to help a human hear the rhythms through similar means…

Timbre pulsed, and the rhythms slowly returned. Venli relaxed. For a moment she’d worried something was wrong.

Timbre pulsed morosely. To her, something was wrong.

A: I had to chuckle just a little, here. Different perspectives on the world!

P: No morose Timbre! I’m glad Venli listens to her.

A: Right? The absence of rhythms would be terrifying for Venli, I think, like having one of your senses suddenly cut off. It almost surprises me that, self-absorbed as she normally is, she’s able to get past it to consider what Timbre feels, and why.

“But why do you care so much? Don’t you hate humans?”

That drew a sharp rebuke. Just because Timbre and the other Reachers had decided not to bond humans any longer, it didn’t mean she hated them. And killing someone’s family because they resisted? That was terrible.

P: I guess I thought that Timbre hated humans, too, but this makes more sense because Timbre is too pure to hate anyone.

A: We’ve been set up to think that everyone has to choose sides, and we’ve also seen that entire spren races are unwilling to trust humans ever again. (With some cause, obviously.) It was pretty easy to assume that since the Reachers refuse to bond with humans, it must go beyond trust issues to hatred. And now we know it doesn’t. Like the Truthwatcher spren “adjusted” by Sja-anat, it looks like a number of the Reachers are interested in seeing the singers and humans get along, finally.

Timbre continued to pulse softly, urging her. Venli had seen the Blackthorn once in a vision. The Bondsmith. He’d shown her kindness. And so many of the humans of this tower, they were just people trying to live their lives.

Eshonai would have done something.

“I’m a fraud, Timbre,” Venli whispered. “A fake Radiant. I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Timbre pulsed. The meaning was clear. I do.

P: I love that she thinks of Dalinar here. That scene in Oathbringer was so amazing and I’m glad that it sticks with Venli so she can remember that humans are capable of kindness.

A: It’s so good to see her reflecting on that. It started changing her perspective of humans at the time, and set her up for actually bonding Timbre. It’s… wow, it’s really cool to look back on some of these things, and see foreshadowing of (what I hope will develop as) a real détente between the two species.

Timbre pulsed, indicating Venli should tell her mistress. About them. About being Radiant.

A: You have to wonder what would have happened if she’d done it here and now. Leshwi’s reaction when Venli finally does tell her is one of my favorite scenes in this book—and of course structurally, it needed to wait for the critical moment at the end. But stepping in-world and ignoring the author for a bit, what would have changed? What could Leshwi have done to help Venli and the Radiants? Would it have gotten her killed?

P: Possibly. Leshwi is quite progressive for a Fused but she still has some growing to do in this book.

A: All true. As I said earlier, I suspect that she’s not only aware of Venli’s desire for something better than eternal war, she actually approves of it. She’s also (as we were told in Part One) walking a fine line between being important enough to have some authority, but not important enough to get unwelcome attention. It’s possible, though, that if Venli had revealed Timbre at this moment, it would have been too soon for Leshwi to react the way she does later.

Singers/Fused

[Raboniel] had ordered that anyone found keeping Radiants would be punished, and the Radiants executed—but that any Radiants revealed willingly would be spared.

It had been a wise move: many Radiants had been offered up after her announcement. The few found later had been executed, along with one member of each family hiding them. A stern but just application of the law. Timbre found it horrifying. Venli found it amazing Raboniel hadn’t executed them all.

A: I hate to admit I see both sides of this… Timbre is right; it’s horrifying. At the same time, the Radiants are the humans only real chance of fighting back, so it makes pragmatic sense for the Fused to either kill them all, or at least be storming sure they know where every last one is, just in case. And Venli’s right: it is amazing they weren’t all killed. So of course…

She wants these Radiants for something, she thought. Something to do with her plans, her experiments.

A: Too terrifyingly true. I’m not sure which was worse—worrying about what that might mean, or knowing! As Venli recalls for us, Raboniel had no scruples about using biological warfare on the humans, even if it meant killing some of her own people; clearly she’d have even less reluctance to use Radiants in her experiments. And… she will use them.

P: Raboniel is definitely Lady of Pains when it comes to her plans for the Radiants. It’s so sad that she had unconscious people executed. They had no control over what other people did with them. Being hidden wasn’t their choice. Ugh, I hate this.

A: I do too. As much as I came to appreciate Raboniel in some ways, she’s got a brutal pragmatism that will never be okay for me. I might understand the reasoning, but it’s still wrong by my standards.

Raboniel wanted them kept all in one room, being watched.

A: Eventually they’ll settle on the “replica room”—the one with the miniature Urithiru in it. And to tie things nicely together…

“Find a place where we can watch them, then send me a note. I will consider if there is a way to use them to find Stormblessed, and for now will spread a rumor that I have disposed of them.”

A: Yes, indeed. Lirin and Hesina will be set to watch over and care for the unconscious Radiants. It’s probably one of the temporarily safest places in the tower; with Raboniel (currently) determined to keep the Radiants alive, there’s no reason for the Pursuer or any of his bloody-minded minions to waste time there.

P: The only reason the Pursuer might have had to visit the makeshift infirmary would have been to search for Kaladin, but since he knows Kaladin is alive… then yeah, there’s no reason to go there.

Arresting Artwork

A: These guys are… interesting. Among the most sympathetic of the spren races we’ve met, these are the spren whose bond makes a Willshaper, granting access to the Surges of Transportation and Cohesion. For those who can’t zoom in, I’ll transcribe Shallan’s notes here, with a few comments of my own:

Reacher skin appears to be made of polished bronze metal, but moves as smoothly as flesh. The faint grooves that trace their surface are unique to each individual.

Their pupils dilate despite appearing to be holes poked in bronze orbs.

They have no eyelashes. When they have eyebrows, they are shaped of the same bronze substance as their skin.

Most Reachers maintain a form that closely matches human physiognomy, but on occasion there are unique variations.

A: This is the text in the middle, and I want to know: Is she referring to the drawing above, with the square head? Or the one to the right, with the incredibly overdone musculature? Or is it a general observation not reflected in her drawings? The next note obviously refers to the bulked-up dude:

The muscularity of their form does not appear to correlate directly with their relative strength. They do not require exercise or nutrition.

Their clothing choices are quite eclectic. From Azish wraps and patterns to Thaylen sailor garb, there seems to be no cohesive style to what they wear.

A: Gotta drive Adolin insane, right? LOL

They appear in the Physical Realm as a small ball of white fire that pulses, emitting little rings of light in bursts. When they move they leave behind a glowing trail like that of a comet.

A: We’ve seen this with Timbre, of course, and it explains their other name: Lightspren. More things I want to know, though: How much choice do they have regarding this appearance? Syl (and presumably other honorspren) can take dozens of different forms and sizes. Cryptics all seem to appear as complex mathematical structures. Inkspren (or at least Ivory) is a tiny inky man. Etc. It seems to be a racial trait, doesn’t it? But why are some humanoid, others definitely not, and some can change at will?

Brilliant Buttresses

Leshwi had set up a method for Venli to clandestinely deliver notes about Raboniel. Venli found the whole thing a baffling part of Fused politics. Raboniel knew that Venli was spying, and Leshwi knew that Raboniel knew, yet they both pretended the subterfuge was unknown.

A: Well, I find it funny! The things people will do to have “deniability” sometimes…

P: It is funny. It makes me think of Friends… “But they don’t know we know they know!”

 

We’ll be leaving further speculation and discussion to you in the comments, so have fun and remember to be respectful of the opinions of others! Next week, we’ll be back with chapter 54, in which Dalinar interacts with a son and a grandson, and it’s lovely but also sad.

Alice is a Sanderson beta reader, and is currently up to her ears in The Lost Metal. She hopes you all have seen the release of Sunreach, the new novella in the Skyward universe, and enjoy it as much as she does. You can also pre-order ReDawn now—a veritable plethora of new content!

Paige resides in New Mexico, of course. She works full-time, goes to school full-time, beta reads part-time, mods/admins 3 Stormlight-themed Facebook groups part-time, and writes part-time. She wishes sleep wasn’t necessary because there’s just too storming much to do! Links to her other writing are available in her profile.

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