Rhythm of War Reread: Chapter Fifty-Two

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Well, and a fine morning to you all, my Cosmere Chickens! It’s Thursday again, and time for another installment of the Rhythm of War reread. This week, we’re looking into the past again, as Venli fears for her mother and gets frustrated with her sister and the humans. Also, I don’t blame her. For once, I’m on Venli’s side.

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 things loosely related to Mistborn in the Cosmere Connections section, so if you haven’t read it, be wary.

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

A: I’m fairly confident this is for Venli and her behavior as the obedient daughter this week. Also, perhaps, the “guard” in keeping her mother’s disability from public view.

Icon: The Sisters, for a Venli flashback.

Chapter Recap

WHO: Venli
WHERE: The ancient cities on the western edge of the Shattered Plains
WHEN: Eight and a half years ago (approximately 1166.9.5)

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

RECAP: Venli is deeply concerned that her mother is forgetting the songs. She wants Eshonai to share her concern, but Eshonai hasn’t really noticed; she’s too busy watching for the humans. After seeing some smoke in the distance, Eshonai leaves abruptly, returning a couple of days later with the humans in tow. Venli is called upon to recite the songs, and gets very tired of the humans’ constant interruptions. She goes out to the edge of the plains to be alone for a while, but the human Axindweth follows her. She seems to know too much (including how to speak the listeners’ language), tempting Venli with forms of power and the hint that there’s a form that can perform healing. She leaves Venli with a glowing red gemstone, and instructions to break it in the next storm.

Overall Reactions

A: This is the chapter where I side with Venli against Eshonai, contrary to most of my inclinations. Venli is the one spending time with Jaxlim, seeing the tragic deterioration of her memory, living with the fear of losing her—mentally, if not physically.

P: I softened toward Venli a lot during Oathbringer and this chapter made me like her even more. I can certainly understand her frustration with Eshonai and her fear for her mother.

But her mother didn’t continue singing. She stared out the window, silent, not even humming. It was the second time this week she’d completely forgotten a stanza.

A: As I’ve said before, dementia is a painful thing to watch. In Jaxlim’s case, she’s been defined by her ability to remember all the songs, reciting them perfectly, drilling her daughters to recite them perfectly as well. When she suddenly starts forgetting them, it has to feel disastrous for Venli. It might for Eshonai, as well (it does later, as we saw in her Interludes in Words of Radiance) but right now she’s too busy to notice.

P: It is indeed heartbreaking to see this happen to Jaxlim. And seeing Venli’s reactions to this happening to her mother makes it even more frustrating that she does what she does later in betraying her people.

A: So true. When they take the stormform, it seems that they lose any protective instincts toward their beloved family members.

Eshonai stood on the very top, watching out to the northwest, the direction the humans had come from.

“Venli!” she said, grabbing her arm and pulling her to the front of the flimsy wooden scout tower. “Look! That seems like smoke in the distance. From their campfires perhaps?”

A: She’s so intent on watching for the humans to return that she blew off her promise to Jaxlim to listen to a recitation and at least memorize the Song of Listing. She really seems to have no clue that there’s anything wrong with Jaxlim at this point.

P: This is where my frustration with Venli returned. She could have been more forceful with Eshonai and demanded her attention. But then, Eshonai was so captivated by the humans, it might have had no effect, anyway.

A: Yes, very true. Venli (as we frequently see) hides from a truth she doesn’t want to admit. She absolutely could have shoved it in Eshonai’s face right here:

“I think I will leave with them this time. Travel the world. See it all!”

“Eshonai, no!” Venli said. And the true panic in her rhythm made Eshonai finally pause.

“Sister?” she asked.

Venli searched for the right words. To talk to Eshonai about their mother. About what… seemed to be happening. But she couldn’t confront it. It was as if by voicing her fears, she’d make them real.

A: I suppose I shouldn’t be so hard on Eshonai. After all, Venli can’t even manage to tell her about Jaxlim’s situation, even when she momentarily has her sister’s attention. But I’ve been on both sides of this, and… well, trust me, you need to pay attention to your parents’ health instead of assuming someone else will take care of it. Not only will you regret it if you’re the Eshonai, it’s very frustrating to be the Venli, doing all the work of caring for the aging parent, while everyone else says how much they appreciate it but they do nothing to help.

So, yeah, in this setting, I’m totally on Venli’s side, and I’d like to smack Eshonai upside the head.

P: I can’t help but agree with you, though I don’t know the pain of caring for one with dementia, or of watching it take someone I loved. I was frustrated with Eshonai here, too. Because if she’d been spending enough time with Jaxlim, she’d have noticed her decline and Venli wouldn’t have to say anything.

But I need you with me, Venli thought. With us. Together.

I need my sister.

A: This… ow. This is heartbreaking. In times like this, family can be such a blessing… but only if they’re there. It also makes me wonder—if Eshonai had focused on Venli in this moment, and gotten her to talk about the problem, how many things would have changed?

We know that the sisters are very different, and it’s shown in this chapter: Venli is scared of being up in the wobbly scout tower, while Eshonai is practically climbing the railings to see more. Venli is a physical coward, and Eshonai has almost no sense of physical risk. Venli is focused inward—to herself and her family—while Eshonai is focused outward—on exploring and learning about the humans and the larger world. But how much of Venli’s later… venality… is exacerbated by Eshonai’s lack of interest (never mind sympathy) in the well-being of her mother and sister?

No, it’s not Eshonai’s fault; Venli is responsible for her own choices. We all are. But I can’t help thinking Eshonai is awfully selfish at this point. Understandable and realistic, yes—but still frustrating.

P: Extremely frustrating. I find myself wishing that Venli could have spoken the words that she was thinking, that perhaps those words would have reached Eshonai in her excitement and distraction, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter.

A: Exactly. ::sigh::

She should probably enjoy reciting songs for the humans—she did enjoy the music. But she didn’t miss that Jaxlim always had them come to Venli. …

Deep down, that was probably the real source of Venli’s irritation. The knot of worry that festered in her gut, making her feel helpless. And alone.

A: This is most likely true, and while I still find some of her thoughts and behaviors selfish, I can understand this part. It’s hard not to be on edge and irritable when the foundation of your world seems to be failing.

Singers/Fused

Finding the humans had emboldened Venli’s family. Bearing newly bestowed weapons, they’d marched to the Shattered Plains and claimed a place among the ten, defeating the family who had held it before them.

A: So now they owe Gavilar, since he’d given them the weapons. (Whether they see it that way is not entirely clear—but you know he sees it that way!) It would be interesting to know if they actually used any of the weapons, or if merely having them was enough of an intimidation factor to win the “battle” for the city.

P: Considering how their battles are all bluster, I doubt that they actually had to use the weapons. Just a bit of brandishing would have likely sufficed to win the battle. And it’s certain that Gavilar would feel that they owe him for giving them the weapons.

A: Despite my comments above, Venli does manage to irritate me in this chapter:

The humans drew so many gawkers. Listeners from many families—even lowly ones who didn’t have a city—came to catch a glimpse.

A: “Even lowly ones who didn’t have a city”—what, like you a couple of weeks ago, girl? Perhaps it’s cultural—once you possess the city, you’re automatically “better” than everyone else, and you’re expected to think of them all as “lowly” the moment you take a city? On a bet, there’s some of that element to it, but Venli seems naturally inclined to always think of herself as a little more important than she really is. Like this:

“I am no apprentice,” she said. “I am simply waiting, as is respectful, upon my mother’s word before I take my place.”

A: Yeah, sorta—but she’s also just barely into adulthood, and by all expectations (barring Jaxlim’s indications of dementia) would still be an apprentice to her mother for some time yet. She’s also pretty puffed on herself, thinking how the other listeners ought to see how tired she is, and fetch her a drink. So… yeah, still irritating. Just more sympathetic than Eshonai in this chapter.

P: Yes, this is a bit of her arrogance coming through, that we’ll see a lot more of later. This is one reason I had such an issue with her during the earlier books, because she was so full of herself.

She attuned Peace to check the time, …

Couldn’t they leave her for one movement?

A: I just had to comment on how much I love this. The planet has a rhythm that tells the time, and they can hear it, and it’s natural to think of the passage of time in terms of movements in the music. Aside from envying their time instinct, it’s a lovely bit of world-building.

P: This is lovely. And handy, too!

Humans

A: The humans don’t look all that good in this chapter—and it’s not even because Venli dislikes them. It’s because we have too much knowledge of what they were up to.

P: Yeah, you can’t help but wish they weren’t so willing to take advantage of the listeners.

Worse, when she performed, the humans kept interrupting and asking for more information, more explanations, more accurate translations.

A: She’s used to the listeners, who, well, listen to the songs. The humans aren’t interested in the songs per se; they’re interested in the information they can dig out. Anything about Investiture, Odium, Braize, Unmade, Radiants… you name it, if it involves Surgebinding, they want to know. On Gavilar’s orders, I’m sure; he only showed interest once he found out their songs talked about the Radiants, and he saw the weapons they’d found in the ruins.

(Well, okay, I want to know all those things too… but I’m not going to try to use them to rule the world! Or whatever he thought he was going to do.)

P: I think he was interested in ruling more than the world, insufferable man.

The humans had been allowed to make camp here, inside the walls, with their tents and their strange wooden vehicles that could withstand a storm.

A: Oh, the irony. Not so many years from now, the humans will be occupying all the cities as warcamps, while the listeners will be exiled to Narak.

P: So sad to think about how thoroughly the humans disrupted the lives of the listeners.

A: They were right on the edge of discovering new (to them) natural Rosharan forms, too.

Cosmere Connections

She was the one with the rings on her exposed hand. …

“It’s quite impressive, isn’t it?” the human said in the listener tongue, looking over the Shattered Plains. …

“Oh, I’ve always been good with languages,”

A: ::snort:: Riiiiight. Anyone want to bet that one of those rings stores Connection? “Good with languages” my left hind foot.

P: Right? Like she just happened to pick up the listener’s language.

A: ::snort::

“I’ve been sent to search out someone like you. Someone who remembers what your people used to be. Someone who wants to restore the glory that you’ve lost.”

A: Someone vain enough to be flattered into doing what I want, in other words. Also… sent by whom? I suspect Gavilar only thinks Axindweth is following his orders. She seems like one who is perfectly willing to let him think that, as long as their goals align. She probably even gives him all the information he asks about… and nothing of what she’s really after.

P: Yeah, she’s definitely following her own agenda, despite what Gavilar might think or want.

“Isn’t it odd,” Axindweth said, “how much stock you put in what your ancestors said? A dusty old group of people that you’ve never met? If you gathered a collection of listeners from the other families, would you let them decide your future? That’s all they were, your ancient ancestors. A random group of people.” …

“There were forms of power that could heal someone, you know,” the human said idly.

A: Somehow I doubt there’s any coincidence in the way Axindweth’s manipulation of Venli reflects the Genesis account of the serpent tempting Eve in Eden… “Did God really say…? Oh, surely that won’t happen. Look how nice this would be!” (Which, as I’m sure is intended, makes me distrustful of Axindweth and everything to do with her.)

P: Yeah, it’s kind of disgusting the way Axindweth works her. I hate the way the listeners are treated by all of the humans.

A: It’s infuriating. Dalinar, oddly enough, seems to be the only one not particularly interested in manipulating them. He’s interested in their setting and stuff, but he apparently doesn’t see them as a resource to be mined.

A single glowing gemstone. Blood red.

“Take that into a storm,” the woman said. “And break it. Inside, you will find a path toward saving those you love.”

A: I suppose it’s just faintly possible that Axindweth really believes it will help Venli’s people, but… I doubt it. As noted, I don’t trust her. Until we learn otherwise, I’ll firmly believe that she’s on a mission of her own (probably from Trell, or possibly Thaidakar), and couldn’t care less what happens to the listeners—or any other Rosharans—as long as she gets what she’s looking for.

P: Oh, she’s absolutely following her own agenda, despite what the Alethi might think. While Gavilar might know where she comes from, he doesn’t control her in the least.

Music, Mechanisms, and Manifestations of Light

…they had decided not to show the humans how they used Stormlight to grow plants. The songs cautioned that this secret should not be shared.

A: While we already know about this, from Rlain helping the humans at Urithiru, it’s a nice reminder that the listeners did have a few advantages during that war. They could grow food much more readily than the humans, even out in the middle of the Plains. With Urithiru functioning again, the Light and rhythms might not be needed anymore, but it’s one of those things that makes me really hope to see listeners and humans working together to resist Odium—making the fight against the intruder Shard, rather than one species against the other. (Yes, I have my assumptions!)

P: I was glad to see Rlain helping the humans at Urithiru by using this method. But I definitely don’t blame the listeners for keeping that secret from the humans. They so readily gave them so much other information, it was nice to see them keeping something to themselves.

 

And that’s it from us! 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 53, in which (real-time) Venli learns of Kaladin’s exploits and reports them to Leshwi, inducing her to rescue Lirin, Hesina, and Oroden before the Pursuer can “interrogate” them.

Alice is a Sanderson beta reader and administrator of two fandom Facebook groups. She’s currently very much enjoying The Lost Metal in beta form, and hopes you have all downloaded Sunreach, the first novella in the Skyward series. (She had the chance to beta all three of the novellas, and they’re awesome. Janci and Brandon make a fantastic collaboration.)

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. Go Yankees!

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