In this section, the disparate plotlines converge, building tension for the book’s climax.
Weaving several plotlines together is challenging. In general, the author tries to make the different storylines have some bearing on each other, other than simply resulting in getting all the players to the same spot at the same time. Familiarity with Rand and Egwene makes meshing their two storylines easy. Bayle Domon’s storyline fits in clumsily, providing early introduction to the Seanchan and a possible escape route from the final battle. Bornhald’s plotline comes out of nowhere every time it shows up on the page. Obviously the Children of the Light are meant to play some role in the end, but their story is so far removed from what is happening to the others, it mucks up the flow of the book. The only similarity that can be drawn between Bornhald’s problems and the others, is dealing with authority figures that have turned traitor. In this, Egwene, Nynaeve, and Elayne had a similar problem but lacked the inventiveness and opportunity to find a way out of it.
Even Ba’alzamon, absent since Lanfear walked onto the page, comes back to remind Rand that the only way to take control of his own destiny is to give up his role in the Pattern. Having instilled in Rand the distrust and the urge to not be used and to throw off the authority of others, Ba’alzamon is offering a solution: serve the Dark One and throw off the shackles of destiny. He hints that getting Rand to meet the Seanchan was a goal he has been working towards for a millennium, and the Pattern even longer. Ba’alzamon has spoken often about how Rand will not be reborn this time. Given future events where the dead walk the earth, is it possible that this is true? If the Dark One can mess up the Wheel’s rebirth mechanism, what happens when Rand dies? With nowhere else to go, does the soul go back to his own body, or would he truly be dead forever?
Lanfear doesn’t show up in this section. What did she and Ba’alzamon do when Rand vanished for four months? Egwene simply stopped having dreams about him, but these Forsaken were actively looking for him. Oh, that must have been frustrating. No dreams to invade, no tracking possible, they just disappeared. Presumably, regular failure reports did not have to be delivered to the Bore.
The most alarming development is Egwene’s capture by the Seanchan. Her situation is bleak and hopeless. Renna’s teaching is implacable and dehumanizing. Every citizen in the Seanchan Empire must know their place, and Renna happily embraces her role in the institutionalized torture of channelers. Even knowing they look upon the damane as animals, it is difficult to imagine the level of societal complicity in this horror, without the rigid caste system to reinforce it. Ironically, the caste system itself can only be maintained by the power of the damane used against anyone who strays from their appointed place. Given any flexibility, any gap in the threat of power being used to keep you in your place, assassinations and power struggles would spread chaos through the empire. The metaphor about the powerless recognizing the power they hold, recognizing their worth and equality, will be built on later through the series. I suspect it will find its ultimate expression in the Last Battle, where every man and woman will count, where Rand can’t win without their backing.
As with Moiraine in New Spring, Nynaeve and Elayne’s first order of business trying to rescue Egwene is to buy new dresses. I will be disappointed if no new dresses are bought in A Memory of Light. In all fairness, Rand and friends got local style clothing as well. Describing not only clothing, but the reasons characters choose clothing, adds some rich detail to the story. It is often criticized as out of place in a fantasy setting, but how much time do you or your friends spend choosing clothes, fixing hair, making your appearance just right? Real-life concerns, even superficial ones, make the characters more real.
The sudden and lengthy shift in focus to Nynaeve, Egwene, and Min gives the female characters their first major plotline. Nynaeve has had action scenes previously, and there have been points of view told from their perspectives, but this is the first time where a reader might feel the whole rest of the book could be about them and feel it was justified. They are finally being set up as the female equivalent to the three male ta’veren. Nynaeve might even end up as the female equivalent of Rand the Saviour. She is certainly the only one who could fit the role, should it exist. Rand may be the Dragon, but all the best work is done with males and females working together. I’ll watch for characteristics that Nynaeve shares with Jesus, or the other figures that Rand is based on.
Different plotlines involving different characters still need links between them, or they will feel contrived and give away their purpose.