Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The Dragon Reborn - Summary

The Dragon Reborn is where The Wheel of Time really branches out to let each character have their moment in the sun, particularly Egwene, Perrin and Mat, the other original Emond’s Fielders. There were glimmers of this shift from a single hero to a full cast of heroes in earlier books, but the focus was always on the central character Rand. Keeping Rand off the page is unconventional, since the larger story revolves around his quest. Rand has the point of view for only 19 pages in this entire book, and makes cameos throughout various dreams and street scenes. Since his quest was simply to gain Callandor and confirm his identity as the Dragon Reborn, his plotline would have held less interest than the secondary characters, who have not yet found their new identity. They find that their role is partly based on their relationship with Rand; there is still loyalty and love between the Emond’s Fielders, no matter that they are being pulled towards organizations and allies that are far removed from the Prophecies of the Dragon.
Each of the Emond’s Fielders remains determined not to turn their back on each other, to oppose the Dark One, and to use whatever comes their way to maintain their independence.
Dire circumstance leads the Amyrlin to grant Egwene and her friends exceptional privilege. They may have to suffer publicly, but their special status as Black Ajah hunters is also a sop to their exceptional pride and self-reliance. Full sisters know well how much they will need to defer to these women when they gain the shawl. These are women you want on your side. Aes Sedai invented the Great Game, and the Amyrlin is the best there is at playing it. Swift advancement in the Power and the need to find Black Ajah are convenient excuses to bestow favours on Nynaeve and Egwene, solve a few problems, and gain powerful future allies, something the Amyrlin may need very soon.
When Nynaeve tries to cut Egwene out of the hunt for want of protecting her, Egwene begins building resentment towards her. She often tells herself that she will not be collared again, but Nynaeve’s overbearing manner and the Amyrlin’s schemes must appear to be collars of a different sort, no less damaging to her freedom. She is transposing her negative feelings about the Seanchan to anyone and everyone who impedes her freedom.
Dreaming, having control over tel’aran’rhiod, provides true freedom. She slowly begins to understand her abilities in this place, not yet realizing that it is force of will that sculpts the reality around her. Egwene’s role is to be the most powerful Dreamer. She can’t achieve that unless she is completely driven to accomplishing her goal, which is a way of showing her force of will. Her personality thus becomes a source of irritation for many readers, yet she has to be that forceful and arrogant or she could not be a powerful Dreamer. Doubt, insecurity, uncertainty are weaknesses in tel’aran’rhiod. Self-awareness, motivation, and desire are strengths. That hers are built upon her overcoming her abuse and attacks on her very identity at the hands of the Seanchan is admirable.
Perrin too is powerful in the wolf dream, because he is single-minded and sure of what is doing once he sets out on a course of action, as demonstrated in his blacksmith scene. Until he reaches that decision point however, he exposes a weakness. The major choice he must make to determine his identity is choosing whether he is a builder or a destroyer. Does he wield a hammer, or an axe? At this point he is still sounding out his tools, learning what they do, testing them as he battles Shadowspawn or enters tel’aran’rhiod to save Faile.
Mat tries hard to be a free spirit, but is dragged back into the struggle time and again by duty to his friends. Like Egwene, he wants to be free of constraints, but can’t quite manage to shake them off.   
The fact that the World of Dreams is a major ability of both of the featured characters, and of Rand as well, is noteworthy. Even minor characters’ lives are affected by the World of Dreams. With the limited insight provided, the World of Dreams has a more important role to play in the future. And with it will be continued focus on the characters’ identities.
Writing Lessons:
Your characters need to be consistent in some way, even as that consistency drives other changes.  
Bonus material!
My second hardcover of The Dragon Reborn (If you read this blog, you too find it normal to own two of everything Wheel of Time) is the signed copy I won in the Knife of Dreams contest a few years back. What a pleasure it is to be greeted by these words when I open the cover:

The Dragon Reborn first came out in hardcover in 1991, and it was the first Wheel of Time book I saw. I had read all of Robert Jordan’s Conan novels, and found him to be far and away the best of the bunch. Being a cost-sensitive student, I bought the two first books in softcover on the spot, and waited for the softcover of this one to come out a few months later. A year or two later, I forced The Dragon Reborn on my roommate during exams. His marks suffered. You’re welcome Scartoe!
I managed to convince my prof in Publishing to let me include a book review of The Dragon Reborn in the college’s Fall ’92 edition of Locus magazine. As one of the students most interested in publishing and not simply filling a hole in my schedule, it was an easy sell. Twenty years ago, I wonder if my insight was any better than what I wrote above. Let’s not spare any embarrassment and find out!
The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan, Tor, 1991, 699pp., $6.99.
Rand al’Thor is a young man with a blessing, or a curse. Rand is the latest incarnation of the infamous Dragon, the most powerful and dangerous man ever to live. His blessing is the ability to control the One Power, which gives him control over the elements. His curse is that the One Power is tainted, and the more he uses it, the quicker its evil will drive him insane.
Though the focus of Robert Jordan’s third fantasy book in The Wheel of Time series is Rand’s dilemma, The Dragon Reborn doesn’t deal with how Rand is affected, but how his friends are affected by the changes in their lives since Rand has accepted the fact that he is the Dragon Reborn. They must deal with the fact that their best friend is destined to save the world from the evil of the Dark One, and in so doing, he will destroy most of the civilized world, as he has done in past incarnations.
The wide array of characters in the book makes it very enjoyable. Everyone is able to find characters they sympathize with: There is Perrin, a man who is trying to deny his empathy with wolves in the same way that Rand was trying to come to terms with the tremendous power he wielded in the previous novel. Egwene is a country girl also capable of using the One Power, that Rand was to have married, until he discovered his curse. Thom Merrilin is a traveling performer interested in keeping Rand out of Aes Sedai hands. The all female Aes Sedai and the Children of the Light are two opposing factions who both want the Dragon killed before he breaks the world with his power. Rand is also hunted by Moiraine, an Aes Sedai trying to keep him alive and sane long enough for him to combat the Dark One. The relationships between these characters are extremely well developed and give the book just the right balance between adventure and character development.
Jordan’s tale is also lighthearted enough to make readers laugh and dire enough to make them fear for the characters’ future. The book is very reminiscent of Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, in terms of the emotions provoked by reading the story. Jordan has brought new, innovative ideas to the fantasy genre, especially in terms of the religious and political conflicts in his story. The importance of women (Aes Sedai) in the society he has created is another example of his commentary on our own society.
When Rand al’Thor became the Dragon Reborn, so Robert Jordan’s books became the new standard for the genre: Fantasy Reborn!  

Aside from the gross factual errors, misrepresentations, and drooling celebrity worship, I like it!

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The Dragon Reborn - Chapters 53-56

In this section, the Heroes overcome the forces arrayed against them, and Rand confirms he is the Dragon Reborn.
Faile falls into a trap, and since Moiraine assigned responsibility for her to Perrin, he makes use of the ability to enter the Wolf Dream to save her. Compared with Perrin’s careful smithing, his behavior here is frantic, leaping before he looks, urging Hopper to stop explaining and get on with leading him to Faile. These are the impetuous actions of man thinking with his heart, not his head.
Egwene takes control of her captivity, also using her access to the World of Dreams to save herself and her friends. Like Perrin, she is ignorant of the rules governing the World of Dreams, but fortunately her opponents are even less knowledgeable. Egwene is able to channel in tel’aran’rhiod despite being shielded in the waking world. The True Source can be touched anywhere but a stedding. Some part of her, maybe the most important part of her, is free of the confines of a physical body, and in the World of Dreams exists as a conceptualization of herself. The shield is around her body, and is not replicated in tel’aran’rhiod. Is the same true of all weaves? Does it matter whether they are tied off weaves or being held by someone? Later we’ll see how warded boxes are no protection in tel’aran’rhiod, so the answer must be that no weaves in the waking world are replicated in the World of Dreams. That also explains how Be’lal and Rand can wield Callandor in dreams.
Egwene finds Joiya first, and shields her. She scares Joiya by inferring that the shield may extend to her waking body. What affects you in tel’aran’rhiod affects your body in the waking world too, though to a lesser degree. Rand and Perrin’s wounds upon waking have often been less than what they appeared to have been subjected to in their dreams. Readers are finally getting the long awaited explanation of the World of Dreams. There is no better way to explain than by showing examples of the rules in action.
Egwene finds Amico next, who is drifting in and out of sleep as she toys with her dream ter’angreal. Egwene shields her also, but when she finds resistance, she sharpens her weave and rams it in place, stilling Amico. What affects you in tel’aran’rhiod affects you in the waking world, yet somehow Amico’s weaves hold even as she is stilled. Since Amico was not yet fully in tel’aran’rhiod, she can’t access it any further with the True Source cut off, but also can’t have the stilling take effect until she wakes. The ter’angreal has effectively trapped her between worlds. Nynaeve’s punch ends both the channeling and the dream. The ability to still someone instead of shield them may never been a real possibility in battle given how closely matched most Aes Sedai are in the One Power. The only example shown was years earlier when Moiraine battled Merean in New Spring. In tel’aran’rhiod, the willpower making the action is more important than the strength in the One Power, and Egwene forced the shield in place with all her might.
Mat manages to make friends on the rooftops and battle his way through the stone, taking out the High Lord Darlin with battle skill, not luck. He finds and frees the young women, gets insulted for his trouble, but may have saved them from any retribution by the remaining eleven Black Ajah before they fled the Stone.
Rand finally makes his appearance. Despite being absent most of the book, his short talk with Perrin, the updates through the dreams, and what is learned about the prophecy surrounding Callandor and the Stone of Tear all serve to make the stakes important to the reader. In a sentence or two, Rand’s conflict is made clear; his reluctance to learn the truth opposes his need to get Callandor before someone else does. Moiraine balefires Be’lal out of existence, and is herself knocked out by Ba’alzamon, who has decided to kill Rand after all. The only way to survive is to take Callandor.
Like both Perrin and Egwene, Rand must enter the World of Dreams. Ba’alzamon uses tel’aran’rhiod against Rand in a dozen ways. It is unlikely that Rand instinctively knows which weaves to use to survive each trap, or to split Ba’alzamon’s stream of balefire. He just uses Callandor to hold more of the One Power, and in doing so is filled with confidence, which lends him the power to manipulate tel’aran’rhiod. Each of Rand’s feats is more plausible as a consequence of him exerting his will over his surroundings, outmatching Ba’alzamon’s will, undoing what traps his opponent has set. Rand should have had less success using the One Power in this manner in the waking world. But, there is the precedent of his intuitive use of weaves when he used the Eye of the World.
The book’s ending would be difficult for Rand to carry alone. The other character’s plotlines all conclude with some satisfactory action, but it is not clear whether they have overcome their internal difficulties. Is Egwene burying the hatchet with Nynaeve when she asks her to sing to her as she did when she was a child? Perrin set out to find Rand, but dropped that quest in favour of his falcon and the Wolf Dream. Mat just wanted to get away from it all, and wound up defeating some minor villains, but resolved little else. The haphazard way in which each of their plotlines ends leaves the way wide open for Rand to provide the conclusive victory. Be’lal and the Forsaken were late arrivals on the scene in this book, but understanding the scope of their power made Be’lal’s confrontation with Rand a worthy challenge. Ba’alzamon danced around the edges throughout the book, but was never clearly made the main villain, given that neither Egwene nor Perrin had much to do with him. Only the carryover from the other books made it work well.
Another element that worked well was the continually shorter duration of each character’s point of view throughout the novel, culminating in rapid jumps from character to character within single chapters. The same quick switching was in the Great Hunt, but was mostly present because the other points of view were required to understand the events unfolding.  
Writing Lessons:
Give your characters satisfactory resolutions to their story arcs or risk the wrath of the reader.

Monday, 27 February 2012

The Dragon Reborn - Chapters 49-52

In this section, the Black Ajah finds Egwene and her friends, Perrin crafts a hammer, and Mat arrives too late.
In the World of Dreams, Egwene comes upon the Black Ajah, who appear only faintly while using their own dream ter’angreal. The element of surprise is lost, if they ever had it, since the Black Ajah’s intent was to lure them to Tear, for use in some Forsaken plot. The best thief taker in Tear, Juilin Sandar, isn’t good enough, and he is caught and turned by Liandrin’s thin form of Compulsion. This is the second time Compulsion has been shown, the first was Morgase made docile under Gaebril’s thumb. It is not quite the same as being collared as damane, but the loss of self determination and free will is similar. With Compulsion, the victim can be made to forget what has taken place, with the a’dam, the damane knows but is made to believe they are in their proper place. Egwene, Nynaeve and Elayne are in for a worse fate, since Be’lal is bringing thirteen Myrddraal to Tear to turn them to the Dark One. If the Black Ajah left the White Tower at the behest of Ba’alzamon or Lanfear, they belong to Be’lal now.
Once again, the young women are being used to bait Rand. If it weren’t for the Forsaken being so intent on such a convoluted ploy, leading Rand to Tear to save his childhood sweetheart, they should have been eliminated more directly. They don’t know that Rand is walking the streets of Tear even now, and the ploy to draw him in was unnecessary. They also don’t know that they have unintentionally drawn the other two ta’veren to the city as well.
Liandrin so loves breaking Ailhuin’s spirit, she convinces Rianna to spare her life. She is thus able to tell Mat what he needs to know. When Mat first ignored the signs that would have drawn him to Ailhuin’s home, the Pattern compensates by giving Thom a cold. In search of a remedy, they find Ailhuin. The Pattern works subtly.
When Mat leaves Ailhuin’s home, he feels the dice tumbling in his head, for the first that it is called as such. He has felt the room lurching, felt dizzy, felt feverish, but never before the dice tumbling in his head, as he does when he decides to break into the Stone.
Moiraine and Lan also set off for the Stone of Tear. Perrin is left behind to consider his new hammer. Earlier in chapter 4 of this book, Ba’alzamon tries to convince Perrin to take up his hammer and put aside his axe. In the Great Hunt, Perrin is already thinking about how his hands are made for swinging a hammer, not an axe for killing. In the Eye of the World, Elyas told Perrin to set aside the axe the day he stops hating to use it. With the symbolic hammer and axe at his side, Perrin will spend a long while trying to balance the Builder and the Destroyer in him.
Rand, Mat, Moiraine, and Lan are all bound for the Stone. Deadly Aiel warriors are hiding in the city. Inside the Stone are the three hostages, a baker’s dozen of Black Ajah, and a Forsaken. And the prize: Callandor, a sa’angreal of immense power. Despite the fact that the story meandered with no clear objective, the ending looks to be smashing. The two elements that build the tension the most are the fate awaiting Egwene, Nynaeve and Elayne, and the trap that is waiting for Rand. Take away these two things and there would be little to look forward to.
The scene where Perrin crafts tools in Ajala’s smithy is sometimes called a favorite by readers, but it is doubtful they like it because of their interest in blacksmithing. They could find a reference book for that. It is more likely that the scene provokes an emotional reaction because the four pages tell readers about Perrin, how he thinks, how he acts. I’ll abbreviate the scene to show how Perrin’s character stands out amid the description.
Entering the smithy is a relief, familiarity among the Tairen strangeness. Yard. Equipped to do heavy labour. Tools. Neatly arranged, none missing. Metal, grinding wheels, anvils, forges. A wealth of options. Ready. The blacksmith, experienced, with no apprentices. Hot iron smelled like home. Perrin acts without asking, seeing a need and providing help. Bellows. Slow, steady, even strokes. Perrin guesses what the blacksmith is making. He gives Perrin some metal. Perrin can make anything he wants with it. He examines it, learns its qualities, prepares it to be worked. He examines his equipment, finds appropriate garments. The Blacksmith is pleased so far, Perrin knows the true test lies ahead.  He selects his tools. He heats the metal to the temperature he wants. He knows how the tools function, why they are made that way. He uses them properly, with care. Making nothing fancy, a simple thing. Step by step, always keeping the metal at the temperature he wants. Changing tools when needed to shape his piece, thinking ahead for what will be added to it later. He has decided what the piece will be. Quenching the piece, committing to it. Can’t be undone. Grinding. Slow work, to polish, to temper. Going back to the quenching would destroy what he had done. The final touch remains to be added. A neat piece of work, no wasted motion. A master’s piece. Fine stroking, better than steady. Doffing the apron makes him feel uncomfortable. It is the work that is important, the skill with metal, not the colour of a man’s eyes. The Blacksmith understands. He respects the care and the craft.
The reader can see deep into Perrin’s mind, how he tackles problems, how he deals with people. The blacksmithing provides a pleasant dose of realism, but could have been replaced by any of a dozen other actions. It is the character that matters most, and what the experience means to the character.
Writing Lessons:
Elevate mundane descriptions of the everyday by making them reveal more about your character.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

The Dragon Reborn - Chapters 44-48

In this section, Perrin evades great danger, Mat sets out to rescue the Black Ajah hunters, and an argument has Egwene and Nynaeve at loggerheads.
Perrin mentions that Rand is the Dragon Reborn, tying Faile to his side even tighter. Were it not for Moiraine’s urgent need to flee and save their own skins, Nieda and Faile might have been disposed of to keep that secret. Darkhounds cannot be outrun, so Moiraine uses balefire to undo them before their abilities are revealed. It is important that Moiraine use balefire now, so that its later use won’t seem contrived. She says balefire hasn’t been used in two thousand years, which is a millennium after the voluntary cease-balefire called in the War of Power. Was it last used against the Shadowspawn that overran Manetheren?
Moiraine also determined that the Gray Men trying to kill Perrin were not sent by Sammael, so responsibility falls back to Be’lal or Ba’alzamon. Ba’alzamon is the one who knows who all Rand’s allies are and wants to distance them from his side. Mat is just as much of a problem, so the assassins pursuing him are determined, if not up to the challenge.
Mat finds all the same cues as the others regarding the presence of a Forsaken, but lacks the means to figure it out. He makes up for it by luckily stumbling upon a plot to kill Elayne, rather than let her fall into Be’lal’s hands. Egwene’s dreams also tell that the Forsaken are all focused on their own plots, some pushing Rand, some trying to stop him, some consolidating power. Gaebril is one of those ignoring Rand for now, but his path to power is made easier with Elayne’s death, and complicated if she is held by another Forsaken. Somehow, Mat’s acting ability never works on his friends, yet Gaebril swallows Mat’s tale, publicly. Just to be safe, he would have put Mat to the question, but Morgase’s intervention delays it long enough for Mat to make a trademark run for the hills before anyone realizes he’s gone.
In Egwene’s dream, Mat is dicing with the Dark One, not simply Ba’alzamon, but the wager he makes is with Gaebril, the alias adopted by Rahvin. The dream must therefore be about Mat’s evasion of the assassins, implying they were sent by Ba’alzamon, or refer to a larger scale game he is unwittingly playing against Ba’alzamon.
Morgase is supposed to be one of the greatest players of the Game of Houses, yet now, and later, the Compulsion she has suffered at Rahvin’s hands will quash her confidence or her talent, or both.
Most of the interactions between characters so far in the series have centered on themes of trust. Who can be trusted, and how much. There have been frequent mentor relationships between the experienced characters and the newlings. Now Egwene’s building frustration with Nynaeve’s dominance is driving a wedge between the Black Ajah hunters. To complete her story arc, she will have to escape from under Nynaeve’s guidance and set her own path.
Elayne, caught in the middle, has been intelligent enough to solve several puzzles, compassionate towards both her friends, favored the best suggestions put forth by either of the girls, and kept her composure through it all since the hunt began. Egwene’s snippiness finally irritates her enough that she slaps Egwene across the face. Her reasonable explanation, since she always has one, is that Egwene’s selfish actions may expose them to unwanted risks.
The story can be developed by character as well as by plot. Each of the three women has distinctive traits that must be adhered to. Nynaeve is courageous, quick to anger, and a bully. She has needed to be completely independent her entire life. Elayne has had the advantages of an incredibly full education, is accustomed to having her decisions heeded, and has never had to strive for anything but her mother’s happiness. Egwene has had a warm upbringing, but is tired of living in the shadow of others, which is the source of her great determination. By finding the natural ways in which these traits are incompatible, story possibilities are opened up. The Wheel of Time’s attention to this sort of interaction, particularly with regard to its female characters, helped it stand out from other fantasy novels, which have the sad reputation of being very boy-oriented.
Writing lessons:
 It’s not all plot! Look for ways to play each character’s traits off each other.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

The Dragon Reborn - Chapters 40-43

In this section, Perrin and friends survive a sneak attack and make a desperate search for information, while Mat gets his hands on a useful tool.
As a reward for saving a disgraced Illuminator, Mat receives a bag of fireworks. Aludra and Tammuz were last seen in Cairhien when Rand evaded Trollocs in a chase through their compound. Using a recurring minor character is a reminder that anyone whose life is touched by a ta’veren can’t easily escape the Web of Destiny. In the context of ta’veren, it has now become less far-fetched for a random person once met to pop back into the story and provide help, than for a completely new character to be saved and give Mat fireworks as a reward. These secondary or minor characters are also a means to reveal the outcome of the events in locales the heroes have left behind.
Aha! This time a Rand point of view does not serve as a bridge between the Perrin point of view and the other characters. It may be a sign that they are getting closer to each other.
Perrin’s love interest Faile becomes a member of the party. Nynaeve is the only character whose love life is not foretold in some manner. All of the other major characters have their love interests thrust on them by the Pattern, or at the least have some prophetic insight about who they will love.
A group of Gray Men try to kill Perrin. Six at once! This is a very serious attempt on his life, and harkens back to the Myrddraal’s words in the mountains, “Cut one leg of the tripod, and all fall down.” On top of that, Darkhound prints are found in the stone outside. The Gray Men come from the same source as the ones trying to kill Rand and Mat, while the Darkhound is simply a guardian of Lord Brend, an alias of Sammael. Sammael took over Illian earlier in the spring, and his presence is causing the citizens to have bad dreams, the Ogier to pack up and leave without a word of explanation, and gives a significant amount of the populace an angry demeanor. The ascension to power and the side effects are reminiscent of the High Lord Samon in Tear. With these two examples, in the future readers should be able to notice signs on their own which indicate a Forsaken may have set up base.
Moiraine goes off to confirm the source of the evil in Illian, and Perrin does the same by consulting Hopper in the Wolf Dream. One of the two men Perrin saw speaking with Ba’alzamon much earlier in the book appears holding Callandor, in a manner suggesting that Perrin has seen inside this Forsaken’s dreams.
Perrin also sees visions in the sky of tel’aran’rhiod. Does the Pattern show him what he must see? Are the visions brought to Perrin by using the power of Need? Can the Forsaken also use the power of Need? If they could, can they trust the information they get out of it? One of his visions is of Mat dicing with Ba’alzamon. Could Ba’alzamon be trying to kill Mat instead of taking him and using him? Or is this a metaphor for something else? In the vision of Nynaeve and Egwene, Liandrin traps them and laughs, while Lanfear in turn laughs at Liandrin. Another clue that Lanfear is not acting fully in accordance with Ba’alzamon’s wishes.
Hopper has told Perrin that the Last Hunt is coming, and previously explained that all dead wolves reside in the Wolf Dream awaiting rebirth, just as the Heroes of the Horn do. When Perrin fulfills Egwene’s dream of leading innumerable wolves in battle, it will have to be in tel’aran’rhiod.
Recent Perrin chapters have not been slow as predicted by my earlier thought that his point of view was partly responsible for the pacing. Whatever time he spends finding a bed to climb into and leaving in the middle of the night is balanced by the number of fascinating interactions he has with new characters and old. What makes a story fun is the act of discovering, and Perrin’s chapters have had plenty of discovery.
Many of the locales in the Wheel of Time are fascinating and unique. I’ll take a look at how the great city of Illian is given its own distinctive elements.
In earlier books we learned that Illian is associated with the Great Hunt for the Horn of Valere, and that the Hunt had been called for the first time in four hundred years. Hunters gather and take their vows in the Square of Tammaz, then spread across the world searching for adventure. There has been an expectation that Thom would eventually find his way there, or Rand and Mat with the actual Horn in hand.
Here are the main descriptors of Illian as Perrin arrives:
Long stone docks, great numbers of long-legged birds, tall marsh grass that all but encircled the great harbor, cranes, crested birds, gulls swooped and soared, ships three or four times as long as snow Goose anchored across the expanse of the harbor, waiting their turns at the docks, or for tides to shift so they could sail beyond the long breakwater, fishing boats worked close to the marsh, and in the creeks winding through it, the wind carried a sharp scent of salt, and did little to break the heat, the air felt damp, the smell of fresh fish, old fish, mud, sour stink from a tannery on a treeless island in the marsh grass.
The city itself:
The city was large, as big as other great cities, it reared out of a huge marsh that stretched for miles like a plain of waving grass, Illian had no walls at all, but it seemed to be all towers and palaces, buildings of pale stone, some with white plaster, rooftops of tile sparkled under the sun, the long docks held many ships, bustled, shipyards at the far end of the city, stone posts along the docks, spices and tar and stinks of the docks, hubbub, clamor, slower, pitched differently, rough, uneven paving stones, music and song and laughter drifting from inns and taverns, voices, a hum of voices, people and horses, cooking and baking, a hundred scents, the smell of marsh and salt water, a bridge, the third such bridge, Illian was crisscrossed by as many canals as streets, poling laden barges, plying whips to move heavy wagons, sedan chairs, peculiar beards, hats with wide brims and attached scarves that they wound around their necks, sedan chairs wove through the crowds, lacquered coach, a great square, surrounded by huge columns of white marble, a huge white palace stood at either end of the square, airy balconies, slender towers.
That’s enough, and I didn’t even get to the Perfumed Quarter and the Bridge of Flowers. Overall, the impression is of a sprawling, large, busy, wealthy city. Even the length of the description adds to the impression of size. The focus on the mildly unpleasant odors reflects the underlying unhappiness in the city that Perrin later observes. The oppressive heat and slow pace of the people, and the attention to the marsh add a feeling of being stuck, indicating dread and a possible trap. The adjectives applied to the people focus on their oddness, their difference from the normal, a clue to Sammael’s grip on the city.
Writing Lessons:
Selection of certain characteristics of a locale can set ideas or feelings in the minds of readers.

Friday, 24 February 2012

The Dragon Reborn - Chapters 35-39

In this section, Perrin spies on the villains while Egwene is captured.
Hopper is teaching Perrin how to use the World of Dreams to his advantage. Right now it is important that Perrin know that Lanfear is a dissident within the Forsaken. Lanfear’s claim on the World of Dreams and Ba’alzamon’s attempt to yell “Aha! You are not helping the Great Lord!” reinforces the idea that she may have drilled the Bore in tel’aran’rhiod and that the Dark One has a particular interest in the World of Dreams as a matter of protecting his doorstep.
Avoiding direct confrontation, Ba’alzamon enlists minions across the globe to help him kill or ‘take’ certain of the heroes. Ba’alzamon never says he wants Mat dead, just that he should not have been allowed to escape Tar Valon. He also wants Egwene and Nynaeve captured. The Gray Men trying to kill everyone in sight are therefore someone else’s work.  
Perrin meets the falcon from Min’s viewing. There are so many Dreams, Viewings and Prophecies in this book that readers have a lot of opportunity to figure a few out, just as Egwene does. Egwene’s realization serves as a bit of a lesson to the reader on how the dreams can be interpreted, in case it wasn’t clear. Once a few have been figured out, readers are likely to want to solve the others. Some revelations will unfold over several books, leaving a lot of fun conjecture to engage the reader’s thinking muscles.
As with the two earlier books, new allies will be found leading up to the final battle. The Aiel haven’t yet committed to showing up in Tear, but with both Perrin and Nynaeve dropping clues as to where they and Rand are heading, it is expected they will show up in time to help out. And once there, Rand can finally confirm what everyone else has figured out, that he is an Aiel. The approach of keeping one character in the dark while giving all the relevant clues to other characters and the reader is used frequently in the series. It allows the reader to understand while keeping the characters doing what is needed to move the plot in the desired direction.
Some examples of this are present in the introduction to Aiel culture that Egwene, Elayne and Nynaeve receive. In some cases, the required understanding is not yet provided, so discussing the Aiel sin of so long ago does not reveal anything about their secret origin, and the knowing looks exchanged by Bain and Chiad do not give away what they know about the Wise Ones’ interest in Aviendha. In other cases, full insight into the cultural element is given, which gives readers the required background to understand future events when they take place, such as asking to become first-sisters, or knowing that Wise Ones give the clan chiefs direction based on their dreams. One method is a mystery waiting for a solution; the other is a solution to a future mystery. It will be the case that readers will read something that reminds them of a nugget of information they remember reading two books ago. Scattering the information throughout the story makes it surprising when the solution is revealed, and is also the basis of the heavy-duty theorizing that we hardcore fans love so much.
A second mention of balefire is an indication it’ll be seen again. Nynaeve’s spontaneous use of balefire reminds readers that Rand did something similar near the beginning of the book. Like Rand, Nynaeve is demonstrating the ability to create the weave she wants, as though through sheer willpower. Another parallel showing that Nynaeve is the female equivalent to the Dragon? Even Egwene seems able to do this learning to a lesser extent. My earlier suggestion that some learning was planted in Rand’s mind when he used the Eye of the World is somewhat undermined since Nynaeve didn’t have a similar experience to explain her ability. Instead, the idea that willpower is related to spontaneous learning of certain weaves of the One Power is worth remembering, given that a number of other plot elements such as tel’aran’rhiod and the heroes trials are based on willpower.
The short Rand section once again serves as a bridge between Perrin and Egwene’s parts of the story.
Egwene and Elayne have a discussion reminiscent of one Perrin had with Moiraine not long ago. Each wondered how the Pattern could allow such suffering and evil to go on. There has been little thought for the larger scale suffering in the world since the heroes’ impact on the world, and even the people around them, has been quite limited. As the series progresses, concerns of this nature will become more common.
I’ll give a few examples of analogies from this section, to demonstrate the richness it brings to the text, more so than simple adjectives would. The last part of each phrase is sometimes used to flip the meaning of the phrase, but more often is simply not necessary, it just adds flavor, often telling something about the character making the analogy as well as the thing being described. They also have vivid imagery that might convey a mood, or feel, or smell, or taste.
His voice was soft, as cold iron is soft.
He sounded like a bumblebee only the size of a dog instead of a horse.
Does he always look like that, or did he eat a rock for his last meal?
Fear struck through him like hammered spikes.
The man screamed, and began to quiver like a file struck against an anvil.
Be wary as a cub hunting porcupine.
I will be crying like a girl, next.
Yet dress and cloak were of the best wool, well cut and well sewn.
I either hunt them, or else I sit like a rabbit waiting for a hawk.
Nynaeve’s Healing caught her like a straw on the edge of a whirlpool.
They shrieked like splintered bones jamming a meatgrinder.
Amys and Bair and Melaine and Seana stalked me like ridgecats after a wild goat.
He courts the death that took his land as other men court beautiful women.
The Darter belied its name with a bluff bow as round as its captain.
Writing Lessons:
Analogies present an opportunity to make your text richer.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

The Dragon Reborn - Chapters 30-34

In this section, Mat makes a daring escape from Tar Valon, and Perrin continues the search for Rand.
Mat’s extraordinary luck needs an explanation, and several are offered. An ability unleashed by the Shadar Logoth Dagger.  A side effect of Aes Sedai Healing. He was always lucky, he is just luckier now. He is ta’veren. Not mentioned is a ter’angreal that alters chance. His battle prowess comes from some other source, his Old Blood connection. Although in the past life he relived a few chapters ago, he was known as gambler, not as lucky. It could be argued that no one would be called a gambler unless they were lucky. The only two that have so far been demonstrated to twist chance in the extreme fashion seen during Mat’s dice games are ta’veren and the dice ter’angreal. It’s worth noting that Lanfear has an interest in keeping Mat alive, and the Black Ajah stole dream ter’angreal, and the dice ter’angreal, at her direction.  If Mat has ta’veren luck enhancements, it would be hard to distinguish them from any dice ter’angreal effects. If Mat’s intuition that the luck comes from Shadar Logoth is correct, then Padan Fain must have some too. I’ll keep an eye out for when the dice roll in his head, which is a variant ability he displays later, but is so far absent.
A number of assassins, including a Gray Man, pursue Mat through the city and downriver. One of the Forsaken is directing efforts to kill Mat, but there is no indication as to which one. Odds favour it being the same one trying to kill Rand, since they are using the Soulless.
Mat and Thom learn about the High Lord Samon. When a knowledgeable character professes surprise at something they should know about, the reader should be alerted that something is amiss. Since Thom is not an Aes Sedai shrouded in mystery and suspicion, his statements can be taken at face value. This technique will be difficult to use with Aes Sedai from now on, due to the overhanging question of whether they are Black Ajah.
Rand makes a brief appearance. His sections marked the transition from Perrin to the Tar Valon characters, and back again. As the character around which everything revolves, it’s Perrin who has the closest link and is carrying out the main quest. The Tar Valon scenes are like an interlude with marginally associated ideas and quests. You can imagine the banner “MEANWHILE…” hanging over the whole length of the Tar Valon sequence. In the end it is linked with the Black Ajah hunters heading for Tear at the same time as Rand, but it makes for a unique story structure.
Perrin gets in deep trouble by helping Gaul out of the cage, but fulfills an important Viewing by telling Gaul about Rand’s destination. The Aiel connection to Rand has been set aside since The Great Hunt, but with this second reminder about He Who Comes With The Dawn, the Aiel should soon be finding him. To date, the only humans Perrin has fought and killed are Whitecloaks. References to how things smell are continually and frequently inserted in Perrin’s part of the story.
So much attention to Mat lets me focus on humour. Jokes, like plot twists, depend on setting up expectations, misdirecting attention from the true cues and drawing attention to the misleading ones, and revealing a solution that makes sense yet is surprising.

Burn me, you would think I was encouraging him to drink more! Women! But pretty eyes on the pair of them.
Surprising but makes sense: Mat is incorrigible.

Besides, whoever is feeding you is not doing a good job of it, but you still have pretty eyes.
Surprising but makes sense: Saal was unhappy with Mat, but now that he’s reinvigorated Thom, she makes the exact same observation he made of her.

The first bloody ship, Thom! If it’s sinking, we’ll be on it!
Surprising but makes sense: Mat is desperate to leave and wants Thom to know it.

Nynaeve gave me the paper. I don’t know where she got it.
Well if you’re not going to tell me, I am going to sleep.
Surprising but makes sense: Mat lies so often no one believes when he tells the truth.

He did not think anyone needed to look after Nynaeve; around Nynaeve, to his mind, other people needed to look after themselves.
Surprising but makes sense: It’s funny because it’s so true!

Writing Lessons:
Humour works by being surprising, yet making sense.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The Dragon Reborn - Chapters 25-29

In this section, The Black Ajah Hunt gets underway, and Mat makes a deal that will get him out of Tar Valon.
The information given about the Black Ajah has a pattern that consists of having no pattern at all. The mystery doesn’t last long before Elayne solves it, but it is one of the first times Robert Jordan has introduced a solvable mystery to the story, and told the reader about it. Later examples will have solutions presented several books after the mystery is introduced.
The main mystery drawing attention is the continuing back and forth debate over who may be Black Ajah, and who is not. Nynaeve’s insistence on caution and mistrust until they are sure wins out. As mentioned in the previous post, even the discovery of a second dead Gray Man in Sheriam’s bed, an obvious warning about the price of failure, did not persuade the majority of readers that Sheriam is Black Ajah. The emotional attachment established by her kind behavior is too strong to overcome even with this added evidence.  Elayne says it best: “And Sheriam? It’s impossible.”
Else Grinwell leads the girls to some planted evidence, and remembering the cue picked up from The Great Hunt, any flash of white that quickly vanishes is a banner proclaiming Lanfear’s presence. That must have been her in the oddly twisting corridors above the library in the last section also!
I am surprised at the simple descriptions of using Saidar. They say it is wonderful, it feels like being filled with life, they imagine rosebuds and riverbanks, but where are the lessons to surrender to it? It must only come when they compare notes with Rand. Maybe it wasn’t relevant enough to introduce until it’s time to worry about Rand’s inability to learn in the next book. It is also a critical component of Nynaeve’s weakness, so not mentioning the ‘surrendering’ aspect helps that plotline unfold over a longer period of time.
Elements of horror creep in, with Egwene reflecting that “We could scream our lungs out down here, and no one would hear a whimper.” Lanfear is going to a lot of trouble to send the women on their quest to Tear when she and her cohorts could surround them and do away with them on several occasions. Again, it’s that self-preservation instinct that kicks in. A circle of thirteen that can shield you is just as worrisome to a Forsaken as to anyone else. Time is not of the essence, Lanfear can plot to get them somewhere remote away from the Tower, and finish them off or use them.
Lanfear’s primary objective was to remove the Dreaming ter’angreal from the White Tower. Lanfear knows that Egwene has somehow acquired a dreamring. Keeping the monopoly over the World of Dreams maintains the secrecy of the Shadow’s communications network, removes one means for the Pattern to leave clues for the heroes, prevents movements through tel’aran’rhiod, and blocks the main approach to the Bore. As I proposed in the previous post, the actual Bore could have been drilled in tel’aran’rhiod, given Lanfear’s familiarity with this realm, and would explain why the World of Dreams figures so prominently.
Silvie is a strange character, waiting for Egwene to come, which is plausible for anyone who can navigate tel’aran’rhiod. She seems familiar with the Forsaken and their plots, mocking them openly. She asserts she can change her face, which anyone should be able to do in tel’aran’rhiod. The country bumpkin accent is the only thing that doesn’t fit Lanfear. She’s secretive enough to not want Egwene to see her true face again, but this is the first real sign of acting ability she’s displayed. Talking about Callandor is consistent with luring Egwene, Nynaeve and Elayne into the trap that has been laid.
Mat’s chapter once again provides humour after several somber-mooded chapters. Mat’s quest appears inconsequential so far, so there is opportunity to use his chapters as spacers in the more important quest undertaken by the Black Ajah Hunters.
Telling the story chronologically often does not meet the objectives of brevity and staying interesting. In Chapter 25, Egwene thinks back on a number of events in a chronologically jumbled order that makes sense thematically. This is an excellent example of how to condense the story to its essential elements and avoid boring the reader. It takes exactly two pages, and puts the focus on the information, not the series of actions. I list the relevant parts below, indented to show where ideas are nested within each other.
They are reading the list of names
                The first time they read the list, they argued
                Last night, she had hardly had any sleep, but she had dreamed
                                She dreamt about Seanchan, and home…
They are still reading names
                                She dreamt about Rand, who is ta’veren
                                                Months ago, she asked Anaiya about ta’veren in Dreams
                                She dreamt about other ta’veren, Mat and Perrin
                                                At his healing, Mat spoke the Old Tongue
                                                After breakfast this morning, they had gone to Mat’s room
Nynaeve interrupts the reading of names – end of flashbacks.
There may be other, better ways to write some sections than chronologically.
Writing Lessons:

The Dragon Reborn - Chapters 21-24

In this section, Egwene learns about the World of Dreams and passes the test for Accepted.
Dreams have played a significant role in the series so far, and their prevalence will only increase, as indicated by Perrin’s and Egwene’s newfound abilities. Despite having seen the World of Dreams several times, in climatic battles at the end of each of the first two books, and in short bursts elsewhere, little has been revealed about how the World of Dreams works. Verin provides the first real insight.
Along with the Creator and the Dark One, the World of Dreams is a constant, permeating all other worlds, whether a Mirror World or some stranger world that runs (metaphorically) perpendicular to them. The Ways and the World of the Aelfinn and Eelfinn may be examples of such worlds. There is only one World of Dreams for all existence. Mastery over it would be extremely advantageous, so it is little surprise that the Forsaken have made use of it to overcome real world obstacles, mainly by communicating with human minions through it. The Forsaken are a cautious bunch, else they would not still be alive, and they would rather meet in the World of Dreams where escape is quicker and they hold the advantage of knowledge and power, than in the real world where unforeseen circumstances may trap them.
Verin explains the paradox of the Dark One’s imprisonment. So long as he is trapped in one World, he is trapped in all of them. If he is freed in one world, he is freed in all of them. But this needn’t be a paradox, if the Dark One’s prison is in the World of Dreams. A single prison, accessible from a single place, in tel’aran’rhiod, which itself can be reached from anywhere in reality. Readers will later be told that Shayol Ghul is a place where the thinness can be sensed more than anywhere else in the World, but is no closer to the Bore than any other, which implies the thinness permeates the world, just as the World of Dreams does. There is circumstantial evidence in later books and chapters to support this, notably Lanfear’s expertise in tel’aran’rhiod and other Worlds, how strength of will creates the reality in the World of Dreams, Herid Fel’s study of the Seals and the metaphysical aspects of how they work, and ter’angreal that have effects in both waking world and the World of Dreams. I’ll delve into those more as they come up, for now I’ll end with noting all this emphasis on the World of Dreams is for more than simply to advance the plot and provide easy outs for characters, it is a cornerstone of the story and should figure prominently in A Memory of Light.
Mistrust and paranoia continue to worm their way into Egwene’s heart. She can’t even trust the Aes Sedai she has to. Given the options presented, readers might guess that one of the named Aes Sedai, Siuan, Verin, Sheriam, Alanna, Elaida, Alviarin, Leane, might be Black Ajah. Probably not two. Or three. Or all. To emphasize the mistrust, a short passage from Verin’s point of view is given, and it is deliberately vague as to her motivations. When she outlines her options for Corianin’s notes, the reader is given no reference points to determine which of the options is good or bad. Everything is presented in a neutral moral haze. Such an effort could only work when used on a character who is or who skirts close to being a villain, and is not simply absent-minded.
Egwene’s testing reveals possible elements of the future, and gives insight into her current dilemma. She learns, and Sheriam confirms, that channelers can be turned to the Dark. Much later in the series, readers learn that Black Ajah swear a Fourth Oath, in a ‘distinctive’ process. Is it different from the process Egwene learns of through the testing? My gut feeling is that they are one and the same, that you not only swear the Black Ajah oath on the Oath Rod, but that you do so guided by the circle of thirteen channelers and thirteen Myrddraal, to make the Oath irrevocable. The only difference is whether the swearing of the Oath was done voluntarily. There is no evidence that being turned transforms one into a cackling madwoman wreaking havoc, and Black Ajah should have concern about whether someone turned stands higher than themselves. Alternately, being turned could be a form of compulsion, but a circle is needed to channel that much power. Since Compulsion leaves signs, turning women would introduce a strong risk of discovery, so it could only be used sparingly, with great need.
The resonance between the Dream Ring and the testing ter’angreal shows the link between the World of Dreams and the visions in the test. Were they real? Yes, and the Pattern can use them to feed information to the women who use them, just as it does with Dreams and Viewings. Egwene learned some possible advantages that might come her way, and is now warned of possible dangers.
Wounds taken in the World of Dreams do not heal like other wounds, which explains Rand’s never-healing wound on his side. Ba’alzamon’s burns and stab through the heart should be equally difficult to recover from.
Mat has another encounter with a Forsaken, though neither he nor readers know it at the time. Else Grinwell insists he step aside and not come near her, probably for fear of ruining her Mask of Mirrors, possibly from concern over his Shadar Logoth taint. Mat’s encounter with Galad and Gawyn is used to establish his fighting ability, which he has no good reason for having. Combined with his speaking Old Tongue and memories, Mat is going through the same disorienting changes that his friends did, struggling to understand and adapt to new powers thrust upon him.
An editorial mistake? A deliberate pairing of similar passages, one to end a chapter, the other to begin one? Read the end of Chapter 22 and the Beginning of Chapter 23 for a nifty look at two different ways of conveying the same information. I think chapters may have been reordered, with these two originally intended to be separated. Normally an author might do this to remind the reader what had happened during that cliffhanger, which this book has more of than earlier books. Does the slight rewording change it much? Do you find one better?
Chapter 22 - ends
Light plucked her apart fiber by fiber, sliced the fibers to hairs, split the hairs to wisps of nothing. All drifted apart on the light. Forever.
Chapter 23 - begins
Light pulled her apart fiber by fiber, sliced the fibers to hairs that drifted apart, burning. Drifting and burning, forever. Forever.
Writing Lessons:
Substituting one word for a more meaningful one can change reader perception. Try to be accurate. Every word has its purpose.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The Dragon Reborn - Chapters 15-20

In this section, Egwene and Nynaeve survive an assassination attempt.
The Soulless, the Gray Men, make their first appearance, narrowly failing to kill Egwene and Nynaeve. Given their failure to kill Rand in Fal Dara, it may be that Gray Men not only give up their soul to the Dark One, but also the better part of their aim. Alternately, the Pattern can always use subtle means to stave off disaster. A gust of wind, a flicker at the edge of vision that makes someone move or hesitate just long enough to be missed by that fatal arrow. The most interesting part of their terms of employment is the complete devotion to secrecy. With no ability to free his comrade, one Gray Man kills another to prevent their interrogation. Better to fail at the mission than to give up information. Nynaeve and Egwene can always be killed later, but secrets told can never be taken back.
There are more and more secrets being revealed with a need to be kept, but Nynaeve correctly decides that keeping secrets between themselves is counter productive, and that they need an ally that can be trusted, something no Aes Sedai can pull off. Without hesitation she brings Elayne into the hunt, never questioning her trustworthiness or willingness to help. Cementing the deal is Elaida’s belligerent interest in Rand and in coercing the Hunters Three to reveal their secrets. Nothing binds friends together like opposition to a bully. From her perspective, Elaida sees Siuan making a mess of Elayne’s destiny and playing dangerous games with ta’veren. Siuan must be stopped.
Nynaeve is always skeptical and suspicious, and has a keen eye for noticing the ways in which Aes Sedai may be twisting the truth. Egwene is far more trusting of their authority, and is less willing to skirt the rules. Without Nynaeve supplying the backbone, the Black Ajah Hunt would be off to a much slower start. Nynaeve correctly reasons that they cannot trust any beyond themselves, and evidence if this is seen with their interaction with Sheriam. Nynaeve is confrontational with Sheriam, where Egwene manages to be meek and eager.
Given the role that Sheriam plays in later books, and strong reader reaction to her warmth and trustworthiness, I’ll examine how she has been portrayed. Including New Spring, there are two times when Siuan wants to make Sheriam the third in their own group of Hunters. Sheriam is an incurable gossip, but a close friend to Siuan, which explains how she landed the plum position of Mistress of Novices. In The Great Hunt she warmly welcomed Nynaeve and Egwene to Tar Valon, giving them some much needed orientation and acceptance after the rest of the Aes Sedai ignored them. That interaction will place Sheriam among the potential allies in the Tower. Readers should have a generally pleasant feeling about her by the time she appears on page in The Dragon Reborn.
Sheriam appears just after the assassination attempt, and is surprised and horrified at the Gray Man’s presence. She immediately offers comfort and shares closely held information about the Soulless. These are her hallmark, and it is unsurprising that Egwene, and readers, will interpret it as a good sign. They may not be able to confide in Sheriam, but they can rely on her for some help.
It takes Nynaeve’s distrust of all Aes Sedai to notice and point out the flaws in Sheriam’s actions. Sheriam didn’t ask who killed the Gray Man, but since Nynaeve claimed to have found him just so, she would have had no reason to ask a mere Accepted or concern her with such matters. Sheriam is evasive about Nynaeve’s questions, which is no proof of anything except that Nynaeve is far less willing to take Sheriam’s apparent openness at face value. Sheriam has likely never dealt with such a hostile attitude from an Accepted at any time in her tenure. Sheriam twice tells them not to speak of the matter with anyone unless asked first, a sign that she cares deeply about the secrecy of this matter, which she may well have good reason for, but could also be an indication of Dark affiliations. The coincidence of her appearing on the scene mere moments after the Gray Man’s death also adds to suspicions.
The point of the encounter is to reinforce that any Aes Sedai may be Black Ajah. By choosing Sheriam, who has had more positive interactions than any other Aes Sedai, for the first encounter after the Gray Man, the sense of paranoia is established. Readers should be firmly suspicious of all Aes Sedai at this point. Then, to let Sheriam off the hook, a confrontation between her and Elaida forces readers to make a relative value judgment between the two, which transfers misgivings about Sheriam to Elaida. Soon later, Lanfear reveals that she was in the White Tower on other business. The implied connection to the Gray Man means Sheriam was not involved, and that readers can go back to trusting Sheriam while retaining their suspicion of other Aes Sedai. I note that reader opinion at Theoryland based on factions over Sheriam remained about 2 to 1 in her favour, even after her later beatings, which could be taken as a measurement of the effects on readers of this portrayal.
The same type of worry about who was a Darkfriend never really surfaced in The Great Hunt. An arrow as fired at Rand and the story moved on. In this instance, the claustrophobic feeling that it is just the three girls against the whole White Tower is well established over a lengthy build-up, where readers are given a straightforward example of the risks of trusting even Sheriam. Themes of trust have been in place throughout the series, but become part of the reader’s psyche from here on.
Mat gets healed with a circle of ten Aes Sedai using their most powerful sa’angreal. It is not immediately obvious that if Mat needed that much Power to heal him, dealing with Padan Fain will be incredibly difficult. This is Mat’s first point of view in the series. He has been a prod to move the plot forward, but hardly an active participant up until now. In strong contrast to the other characters, the use of humour is evident in his perspective. He thinks he is the last one of them who is still sane. Meanwhile he is remembering leading the armies of Manetheren. Mat, more than the others, will be an unreliable narrator, despite his certainty that he is thinking things through. There will be opportunities to shift the tone and mood of the story by shifting to Mat’s point of view.
Lanfear is still interested in the three young men, and is certain Mat will seek out glory. It was important for Rand not to be lured by glory, Perrin is unlikely to be budged by such concerns, but Mat is being portrayed as the weakest leg of their tripod, keenly interested in getting what he wants here and now far more than his friends.
Writing Lessons:
Don’t just have your characters wonder who to trust, show what happens, use examples to make readers worry as much as your characters.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

The Dragon Reborn - Chapters 10-14

In this section, Nynaeve and Egwene begin their quest.
Despite the efforts made to travel through the winter to bring Mat to Tar Valon for healing as quickly as possible, Mat lies near death with perhaps only hours to live. The urgent need to Heal him, combined with Egwene’s experience as a damane, makes her overreact to the threat posed by the Children of the Light. Showing her inexperience, Egwene’s first instinct is to ram her way through the obstacle. Then, following Verin’s admonishment of Egwene’s reckless actions, Egwene overcompensates by revealing too much in her apology to Dain Bornhald, the leader of this group of the Children. Too trusting, too fearful, too quick to react, Egwene already shows signs of being able to follow the philosophy of doing what she must, then paying the price, but she lacks the temperament to figure out what it is she must do. Nynaeve and the Amyrlin know that Egwene may make some poor choices, but recognize that she is grown enough to make those choices. Nynaeve says it straight out, Siuan’s comes by symbolically raising Egwene to the Accepted.  
Egwene may take note of Siuan’s mistrust of even her two closest helpers in the Tower, Leane and Sheriam. In New Spring, Siuan had wanted to bring more friends into the search with her and Moiraine, but in the end she adopted Moiraine’s caution and has wisely kept her secrets as tightly as possible. Verin wormed her way into the circle of trust by deducing Siuan and Moiraine’s secrets on her own, so Siuan will reluctantly rely on her and leave Sheriam out for now.
Siuan’s only other resources that she feels relatively certain are not Black Ajah are Nynaeve and Egwene, so she makes them into her Black Ajah hunters. While her logic for trusting these two women is stronger than it could be for any other woman in the Tower, she is also relying on the unspoken fact that they are from Rand’s village, and must have been provided by Rand’s ta’veren ability, or by the Pattern itself. If the Dark One had infiltrated the Two Rivers before Moiraine got there, the World would be doomed in any case. That Siuan must rely on faith in the Pattern and has found no better hunters in the past few months than these two is a sign of her desperation.
The entire section leads up to Egwene and Nynaeve being assigned this quest. First there is a warning from Verin about possible consequences for leaving the Tower. Verin removes the possibility that they will be allowed to explain themselves, which would have been the obvious solution. The scene with the Children of the Light is necessary to give the women a reason to not speak up. By demonstrating the unforeseen consequences of revealing too much, Egwene and Nynaeve have an opportunity to learn how poorly things may go if they reveal too much about where they were and why they went. Given their headstrong personalities, it would likely have been out of character for them not to blab too much in their righteous self-defense. As it is, it takes the combined threat of stilling, being thrown out of the Tower, Mat’s impending death, a series of sharp rebukes from Verin, and setting antagonistic guards on them who will gladly report any word out of their mouths, to get them to keep silent until the Amyrlin questions them.
Nynaeve is reportedly already as strong as any woman in the Tower, which is to say as strong as Siuan or Elaida. How do the Aes Sedai feel about novices and Accepted of this strength, knowing that from the moment they attain the Shawl, they will stand higher than all but Sitters and the Amyrlin herself? Does their happiness to have found women of great strength outweigh the inconvenience of how much they will later have to defer to Nynaeve, Egwene and Elayne?
A few small plots are tied off: Bornhald has been told of his father’s death by Child Byar, the Horn of Valere is tucked away, and false Dragons are captured. Use of an exceptionally well-informed person’s point of view, such as the Amyrlin’s, is one way of dealing with many disparate sub-plots at once.  Other plots are touched on or getting started. A couple of reminders about the romance between Lan and Nynaeve are given. Morgase is angry at the Aes Sedai, but there are no overt indications of Forsaken influence.
There are now two unrelated main sub-plots, Perrin’s and Egwene’s, and only one of them is directly related to the main plot of Rand seeking Callandor. The format of this book is established: lengthy portions from a few character points of view, instead of quick short passages from a number of characters mixed in with the majority from a single character’s point of view. Alternating between them and spending so much time on each will have the effect of slowing down the pace of the book. Even as the Perrin section finished off with a burst of revelations, the Egwene section started up slowly, building around the question of what would be the consequences of leaving the Tower without permission. The method to advance the main plot of Rand seeking Callandor is by keeping tabs on it through dreams. This saves having to spend much time with Rand in repetitious travel and skirmish sequences of little consequence.
Previous testing of Egwene as a Dreamer was inconclusive, but it was all carried out when Rand was lost for four months after using the Portal Stone. Now that he is back, and in danger, Egwene’s dreams have returned. Her ability is yet another failsafe provided by the Pattern, a second way for Rand to get clues as to what he needs to do.
Writing Lessons:
Don’t let your characters behave out of character.