Rhythm of War Reread: Chapter Fifty-Four

Welcome back to the Rhythm of War reread, y’all! This week we’re back behind the Emuli battle lines—an odd place (for us) to see Dalinar practicing his Grampa skills as well as examining his relationship with an adult son. We also see Renarin’s most recent vision concerning Dalinar, which gives us more questions than answers. Come join us!

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.

This week’s discussion has no wider Cosmere spoilers.

Heralds: Palah (Pailiah, Paliah). Truthwatchers. Learned/Giving. Role: Scholar.

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

A: Well, Palah is most likely here to represent her Truthwatcher, Renarin, since he has a central role in this chapter as well as a POV. Chana, though, is less obvious. I suspect her role as “Guard” may reflect a combination of Gavinor, with his serious play and wooden sword; Dalinar, trying to guard both his grandson and his son; and Renarin, guarding his father, his spren, and the Unmade who touched not only his spren, but several others who would like to bond with humans. Also, as Herald of the Common Man, she may possibly represent the Windrunners, who are providing a home (or at least stew) for all the people who feel out of place.

Icon: Kholin Glyphpair, for a Dalinar POV.

Epigraph: From Rhythm of War, page 6:

It would have been so easy if Voidlight and Stormlight destroyed one another. Such a simple answer. 

A: This is a new page, so it’s not necessarily true that the same person is writing the main text, but… I think we should go with that for now. Both Navani and Raboniel may have wished to find that Voidlight and Stormlight would destroy each other, but only Navani had any real hope of that.

P: I agree that this sounded like Navani. Because Raboniel had other reasons for researching Voidlight and Stormlight.

A: Yeah, seems like she’d already know that after centuries of research. And we know Navani was expecting that answer, to some extent. After all, why not? Odium is largely presented as the opposite to Honor in Vorinism, so it’s reasonable to think that the opposite of Voidlight would be Stormlight. Except it’s not.

Chapter Recap

WHO: Dalinar, Renarin
WHEN: 1175.4.7.2 (the evening after Chapter 50)
WHERE: Laqqi, Emul

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

RECAP: Dalinar talks with Gavinor about his parents, then goes in search of Renarin. He is, of course, with Bridge Four, eating stew and listening to stories. After their meal, Renarin and Dalinar walk aside so Renarin can tell Dalinar about his latest and most critical visions. Renarin is still uncertain about his role in the world, though Dalinar is insistent that Renarin’s gift in seeing the future is a blessing. They discuss the visions, as well as Renarin’s desire to have a few more modified Truthwatchers.

Overall Reactions

Dalinar settled down on the floor of the small room, setting aside the wooden sword he’d been using to play at a greatshell hunt. Had Adolin ever been this small?

He was determined not to miss so much of Gav’s life as he had his sons’. He wanted to love and cherish this solemn child with dark hair and pure yellow eyes.

P: While it’s bizarre to me to take a five-year-old to war, I’m glad that Dalinar is spending some quality time with Gavinor. I think it’s good for both of them. Gavinor gets a father figure in Dalinar and Dalinar gets the chance to do better than he did with his own sons.

A: I love this whole scene, even as it hurts to read. The Alethi ways are indeed strange, though it’s worth noting that they aren’t really on the battle lines—it’s about a 3-day march away, or a convenient flight for a Windrunner. It’s good to see this poor child get some active, loving attention.

Though Dalinar had not been the most dutiful parent, he did remember lengthy complaints from both Adolin and Renarin on evenings like this, when they insisted they were old enough to stay up and they did not feel tired. Gav instead clutched his little wooden sword, which he kept with him at all times, and drifted off.

P: No, Dalinar had not been the most dutiful parent, but it’s good to see him acknowledge that and deliberately try to do better with Gav.

A: Dalinar has faced some very hard truths about himself. While he can’t go back and change the past (if only!), he can do better moving forward, and for the most part he does. He spends concentrated time on Gavinor, really focusing on the child’s needs (even though we might think his priorities are a bit odd…). As we’ll discuss further down, he makes sure that his son knows he’s valued, as well—which is really an about-face from the father who once referred to him merely as “the other one—the invalid.” None of us get to go back and redo the past, but it’s lovely to see Dalinar acknowledge his past failures and strive to do better in the future. (Yes, there are varying views as to how well he’s doing with Adolin in this regard, but let’s save that for another time, okay?)

It was the evening following Jasnah’s stunt with Ruthar, and Dalinar had spent most of the day—before visiting Gav—speaking via spanreed to highlords and highladies, smoothing over their concerns about the near execution. He’d made certain the legality of Jasnah’s actions would not be questioned.

Finally—after smoothing things over with the Azish, who did not appreciate Alethi trials by sword—he was feeling he had the situation under control.

P: I find it amusing that Dalinar is smoothing things over after Jasnah’s actions rather than it being the other way around.

A: LOL. There’s a change of pace! I’m a bit conflicted over Dalinar trying to get “the situation under control,” though. I guess as king of Urithiru and de facto leader of the coalition (and the only Bondsmith) he has a valid role in making sure none of the other monarchs think the Alethi are trying to take over everything, but I can’t help wondering if it would have been better to let Jasnah worry about whatever bridges she chose to burn. Why the need to control everything?

…What am I saying? This is Dalinar. Of course he needs to control everything.

He stopped in the middle of the camp, thoughtful. He’d almost forgotten Renarin’s talk of his episode the day before.

P: Yes, moar Renarin, please!

A: Heh. Ask, and you shall receive!

Honestly, I’d sort of forgotten it too; that stunt Jasnah pulled did rather make all the other things look like minor distractions.

Dalinar turned toward the Windrunner camp, troubled. Jasnah’s stunt had overshadowed their conversation about monarchs and monarchies—but now that he dwelled on it, he found it as disturbing as the duel. The way Jasnah had talked… She had seemed proud of the idea that she might be Alethkar’s last queen. She intended to see Alethkar left with some version of a neutered monarchy, like in Thaylenah or Azir.

P: And who made her the queen of Alethkar again? No complaining about it now, Dalinar. Jasnah’s gonna do what Jasnah’s gonna do. And more power to her!

A: I can’t help wondering… If Dalinar had a clue what kind of things she’d do, would he have changed his mind and taken the job himself, despite everything? I’d say he should have spent more time talking with her and understanding her priorities, but I suspect a lot of this has evolved over the last year or so.

I’ll admit that I love seeing the changes she wants to make from the perspective of someone who didn’t really have a problem with the way things were. I may have to explore this more, sometime.

The Windrunners continued a tradition begun in the bridge crews: a large communal stew available to anyone. Dalinar had originally tried to regulate the thing. However, while he usually found the Windrunners agreeable to proper military decorum, they had absolutely refused to follow proper quartermaster requisition and mess requirements for their evening stews.

Eventually Dalinar had done what any good commander did when faced by such persistent mass insubordination: He backed down. When good men disobeyed, it was time to look at your orders.

P: Yeah, don’t mess with the stew tradition, Dalinar. You’ll have a mutiny on your hands! I certainly don’t see the harm in letting them carry on their tradition; it’s good for them, it ties them together. A Bondsmith should understand this.

A: He’s newer to being a Bondsmith than to being a general, of course. And… I don’t know, has he ever had such a mixed bag of nationalities within a fighting force before? It’s pretty cool to see him recognize who’s there (the Thaylen sailors), and why they’re there (feeling out of place, so far from the ocean), and realize that they all need a place to feel welcome. He doesn’t really connect this, but he notes that Renarin finds his way to this fire every night. Subtlety is often lost on Dalinar, but at least it’s a nice subtle reminder to the reader that Bridge Four is one of the rare places Renarin has a sense of belonging.

They think I’ve come to approve of the tradition, Dalinar realized. They seemed to have been waiting for it, judging by how eagerly one of the Windrunner squires brought him a bowl. Dalinar accepted the food and took a bite, then nodded approvingly. That inspired applause. After that, there was nothing to do but settle down and keep eating, indicating that the rest of them could go on with their ritual.

P: When in Rome, do as the Romans do. It’s about time he joined them, though it would have been nice of him to make the gesture without having the ulterior motive of going to see Renarin.

A: Yeah, it would have been good, but no one else seems to realize that he was just looking for Renarin. At least he had the grace to go along with it!

“That was good of you, Father,” Renarin whispered, moving closer. “They’ve been waiting for you to stop by.”

P: Even Windrunners need a little bit of validation, it would seem.

“Glys isn’t convinced the visions are bad. He says we’re something new, and he doesn’t think the visions are specifically from Odium—though perhaps his desires taint what we see.”

“Any information—even if you suspect your enemy is feeding it to you—is useful, son. More wars are lost to lack of information than are lost to lack of courage.”

P: I don’t think the visions are bad, either. I think they can be useful, especially as good as Renarin is at reading them. Of course, I can see using caution if they think that Odium is tainting what Renarin sees, but I wish there wasn’t such a stigma surrounding his ability to see the future. He gets enough hell for having a “corrupted” spren, I wish he wasn’t further ostracized for one of his Radiant abilities.

A: Well, we can wish, but it is what it is. I do find it interesting that “seeing the future” became so firmly associated with Odium across all Rosharan cultures, when we’ve been told that Cultivation is pretty good at it too. I keep wondering if Renarin’s version really is as much “of Odium” as they assume, since Mistspren are closer to Cultivation than Honor anyway. What if Cultivation merely took advantage of Sja-anat’s meddling to give a few Truthwatchers a better view of the future? (If that’s the case, I expect we’ll RAFO.)

“I see you in this vision,” Renarin said to his father. “You’re in a lot of them. In this one you stand tall, formed as if from stained glass, and you wear Shardplate. Stark white Shardplate, though you are pierced with a black arrow.”

“Do you know what it means?” Dalinar said, a shadow barely visible from behind the glass window depicting him.

“I think it might be a symbol of you, who you were, who you become.”

P: “Who you were” definitely brings to mind Dalinar being shot by the arrow during one of his flashbacks. I wonder if the stark white Shardplate will manifest after he speaks his Fourth Ideal.

A: I was wondering about that white Shardplate too! If it’s made of gloryspren, it seems like it ought to be golden, but… we just don’t know that part yet. It’s possible that the “stark white” is symbolic, though I’m not sure what it would symbolize here.

“The more important part is the enemy. He makes up the bulk of this image. A window of yellow-white light breaking into smaller and smaller pieces, into infinity.

“He is like the sun, Father. He controls and dominates everything—and although your figure raises a sword high, it’s facing the wrong direction. You’re fighting and you’re fighting, but not him. I think I understand the meaning: you want a deal, you want a contest of champions, but you’re going to keep fighting, and fighting, and fighting distractions. Because why would the enemy agree to a contest that he can theoretically lose?”

P: Dalinar is distracted by the war, and Odium could drag that out for decades before agreeing to the contest. Or as Renarin then says:

“I don’t think he’s worried enough to agree to terms. He can wait, keep you fighting, keep us fighting. Forever. He can make this war so it never ends.”

A: Now that we’ve read the end of the book, we might not believe this interpretation quite so easily. So now I wonder: Is Renarin correct in thinking that Odium is using distractions to keep Dalinar busy? Or… Yikes, I can think of way too many other things this vision could mean. Might be that vision-Dalinar is turned to face a stronger, more dangerous enemy. Or that the figure in the window isn’t actually Odium. There are plenty of other possibilities, but in any case Renarin is wrong about one thing: It is not in Odium’s mindset to keep the war going forever. He wants to get out of the war, and out of the Rosharan system.

“Friction between the two of you,” Renarin said, pointing up at the stained glass. “And a blackness interfering, marring the beauty of the window. Like a sickness infecting both of you, at the edges.”

“Curious,” Dalinar said, looking where Renarin had pointed, though he’d see only empty air. “I wonder if we’ll ever know what that represents.”

“Oh, that one’s easy, Father,” Renarin said. “That’s me.”

P: I’m so glad that Renarin recognizes this in his visions, and what that blackness means.

A: I agree—understanding what it means is incredibly helpful—and he’s absolutely correct on this. I’m deeply bothered, though, by the way he talks about it. “Marring” the window. “Sickness infecting you.” He sees himself far too negatively. But I do appreciate the comprehension of his impact.

P: His further explanation says it better than I could:

“Because I can see possibilities of the future, my knowledge changes what I will do. Therefore, his ability to see my future is obscured. Anyone close to me is difficult for him to read.”

P: So it would behoove Dalinar to keep Renarin close.

A: Indeed. It’s funny how we immediately see the advantage to Dalinar in having Renarin close by… but in the end (of this book) it’s not Dalinar who is protected by Renarin’s future-modifying attributes after all. Or only partially, at least.

“Whatever you are, son, it’s a blessing. You might be a different kind of Radiant, but you’re Radiant all the same. You shouldn’t feel you need to hide this or your spren.”

P: He should have said this to Renarin ages ago, but better late than never, I suppose. I’m glad that he was able to show Renarin some pride and confirmation of his status as a Radiant.

A: Should have and could have are very different beasts. Ages ago, Dalinar wasn’t the kind of man who could have said this to a son like Renarin, though that depends on what time frame you mean by “ages.” I’m just glad he can do it now.

We need more, Glys said. We need more like us, who will be. Who?

I can think of one, Renarin said, who would be a perfect choice.…

P: Is Renarin thinking of Rlain here? I can’t imagine who else it might be.

A: Almost has to be. I wonder why, though; is it (in his thinking) a matter of people who are used to being the odd one out?

Spren and Shadesmar

You will ask him? Glys said. So my siblings can be?

“Glys wants me to note,” Renarin said, “that there are others like him. Other spren that Sja-anat has touched, changed, made into… whatever it is we are.”

“What she does is not right. Corrupting spren?”

“If I’m a blessing, Father, how can we reject the others? How can we condemn the one who made them? Sja-anat isn’t human, and doesn’t think like one, but I believe she is trying to find a path toward peace between singers and humans. In her own way.”

P: Frankly, I’d forgotten that Renarin had broached this subject with Dalinar. (And this is my third read through the book—though my first since the gamma read—so that goes to show how much information can be lost between rereads!) But it’s interesting to see Renarin pretty much defending Sja-anat. He and Shallan should have a chat on this topic.

A: I love his logic. If this one is a blessing, you have to give the others a chance, or it means you don’t honestly think it’s a good thing, and you’re lying about the blessing thing. Renarin’s willingness to bring Dalinar up short when he needs it is a thing of beauty. We should probably note here that we’ve already seen Sja-anat talking with one of those “siblings” Glys mentions.

Relationships and Romances

Renarin ducked his head, embarrassed. His father knew not to touch him too quickly, too unexpectedly, so it wasn’t the arm around his shoulders. It was just that… well, Dalinar was so accustomed to being able to do whatever he wanted. He had written a storming book.

Renarin held no illusions that he would be similarly accepted. He and his father might be of similar rank, from the same family, but Renarin had never been able to navigate society like Dalinar did. True, his father at times “navigated” society like a chull marching through a crowd, but people got out of the way all the same.

P: I’m glad to see Renarin saying here that he’s of a similar rank with his father. He venerates the man so much that I’m rather surprised by his thoughts, but I’m glad that he sees himself on a level with Dalinar.

“Let me know if she contacts you,” Dalinar said. “And if any of these episodes come upon you, bring them to me. I know a little of what it is like, son. You aren’t as alone as you probably think.”

He knows you, Glys said, thrilled by the idea. He does and will.

Renarin supposed that maybe he did. How unusual, and how comforting. Renarin—tense at first—leaned against his father, then accepted the offered strength as he watched the future become dust around him.

P: This is really touching. Dalinar imploring Renarin to bring his visions to him and telling him he’s not alone. And then Renarin taking comfort from his father. Brandon gives me all the feels!

A: It’s a fantastic word picture, and honestly it sorta gives me chills. That bit about watching the future become dust around them… Even though I suggested the chapter title as something that might imply a wider meaning, since the imagery has been used elsewhere in these books, it sounds portentous. I hope “the future becoming dust” remains in visions.

Bruised and Broken

“Grampa,” little Gavinor asked. “Was my daddy brave when he died?”

“He was very brave,” Dalinar said, waving for the child to come sit in his lap. “So very brave. He went almost alone to our home, to try to save it.”

“To save me,” Gav said softly. “He died because of me.”

“No!” Dalinar said. “He died because of evil people.”

“Evil people… like Mommy?”

Storms. This poor child.

P: Oh, poor Gavinor is one damaged little boy. Not only thinking that his father’s death is his fault, but to think his mother was evil because of what he experienced. Kaladin needs to branch out his mental health clinic to include a pediatric wing.

A: Poor Gavinor indeed. I’m glad Dalinar and Navani have both made a real effort to let him know how much he’s loved, and will do everything they can to relieve him of this willingness to take responsibility for other people’s failures.

Also, while I may not entirely agree with Dalinar’s framing of Aesudan’s innocence (and he might not either, entirely), I’m still glad he presents it that way to Gavinor. Dalinar knows what it’s like to be influenced by an Unmade to the extent that you destroy your own family without realizing it. She may have been weak, vain, and easily influenced, but without the Unmade takeover, she would not likely have been as thoughtless of her son as we saw in Oathbringer.

Don’t forget, part of Dalinar thought. When you were broken on the floor, consumed by your past, this boy held you. Don’t forget who was strong, when you—the Blackthorn—were weak.

P: I’m so glad that Dalinar thinks about this! Renarin stood by him when he needed someone to be there for him the most.

A: Renarin is a wonderful son. I think it’s worth recognizing, too, that part of his loyalty to his father is rooted in his own need for stability, love, and acceptance.

P: And Renarin still adores him, despite learning the truth of his mother’s death:

It was a tragedy that she hadn’t lived to see Dalinar become the man she’d imagined him to be. A shame that Odium had seen her killed. That was the way Renarin had to present it to himself. Better to turn his pain against the enemy than to lose his father along with his mother.

A: That’s what I mean. Renarin knows he needs his father’s love and support, and so he’s found a way to blame his mother’s death on someone other than his father. It may be a coping mechanism, but IMO it’s a valid one—it has a lot of truth to it. (See also Aesudan and Gavinor…)

P: At least he’s gentler with his father in his mind than Adolin, though I certainly don’t blame Adolin for his thoughts on the matter. I would like to see the truth of Evi’s death discussed between father and sons some day.

A: I’m just curious to see whether Adolin’s anger on this subject remains in play as a plot point for the next book. I think I’d enjoy a frank conversation between the brothers about their mother’s death; I’m not sure about including Dalinar in it.

Oaths Spoken, Powers Awakened

“Renarin?” Dalinar asked. “Are you going to tell me what you saw?”

His son slowed. His eyes caught the light of the now-distant campfire. “Yes,” he said. “But I want to get it right, Father. So I need to summon it again.”

“You can summon it?” Dalinar said. “I thought it came upon you unexpectedly.”

“It did,” Renarin said. “And it will again. But right now, it simply is.” He turned forward and stepped into the darkness.

P: This is cool, I didn’t know that Renarin could do this with his visions. That’s definitely handy. I wonder if he can do this indefinitely or if the captured visions fade after a time.

A: Hmm. I don’t think we’ve heard anything about how clearly Renarin generally remembers his visions, and for how long. I guess if it’s going to matter, we’ll find out!

Humans

And he’d personally talked to Relis, Ruthar’s son.

The young man had lost a bout to Adolin back in the warcamps, and Dalinar had worried about his motivations now. However, it seemed that Relis was eager to prove he could be a loyalist. Dalinar had made certain that his father was taken to Azimir and given a small house there, where he could be watched. Regardless of what Jasnah said, Dalinar wouldn’t have a former highprince begging for scraps.

A: Just had to add this note, because it could be considered another case where Dalinar and Jasnah have different views of the proper behavior for a monarch regarding their subjects. I suspect, though, this particular issue is less a matter of politics than of personality. Jasnah is oriented much more toward the theoretical and researchable, and IMO this is a case where she failed to consider the broader view of her actions. While Ruthar might deserve to end up as a beggar, that kind of “sentence” is not going to make people trust her. “Justice tempered with mercy” is… not really her thing, eh? It’s a little odd to think of Dalinar as more merciful than, well, anyone, but he understands people’s reactions.

Also, it really is interesting to see the change in Relis. Apparently after he lost that “duel” and was sent home in disgrace, he did some good work attempting to defend Alethkar against the Fused, so maybe he gained a better appreciation for the Kholins. But honestly, after the abuse his father was dishing out, pretty much any other leader would be preferred. I hope he proves true.

Brilliant Buttresses

The youth stood up, then gestured for Dalinar to follow. They left the circle of firelight, waving farewell to the others. Lopen called out, asking Renarin to “look into the future and find out if I beat Huio at cards tomorrow.” It seemed a little crass to Dalinar, bringing up his son’s strange disorder, but Renarin took it with a chuckle.

P: First of all, Honor love you, Lopen. This may be the only Lopen we get in the book but it’s just so him. Second of all, I love that he says this because it shows that he (and presumably the rest of the remnants of Bridge Four/the Windrunners) finds no strangeness in Renarin’s Radiant ability to see the future. It’s just a thing that is, and like all things, it can be joked about. Finally, stop referring to it as a disorder, Dalinar!

 

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 55, In which Kaladin… sneaks.

Alice is a Sanderson beta reader and administrator of two fandom Facebook groups. The Storm Cellar is specifically oriented to the people who reread here on Tor, though it’s not limited to them, and allows discussion of all Sanderson works. The Stormlight Archive group is, as you might guess, all about The Stormlight Archive, so discussion of other books has to be hidden behind spoiler tags. Alice lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two kids.

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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