In this section, new allies give refuge from old acquaintances, and Egwene surpasses Nynaeve.
The lengthy focus on Elayne and Nynaeve means the book is following a format more like The Dragon Reborn than the quick switches of The Shadow Rising. So far, it has been to the detriment of the story. Short bits with Siuan, or Bryne, or Min, or Moiraine have not increased the pace, particularly when those bits share a common element with the two main storylines: length treks across the land.
Nynaeve’s strong façade is developing cracks. Elayne gains the upper hand in several conversations. Thom and Juilin are right when they should be wrong. Egwene knows more than she does. Nynaeve tries very hard to convince herself that she is doing no wrong even as her mistakes pile up around her. After a few chapters of shrill annoyance, she finally lies outright to Egwene and is made to apologize. Watching Nynaeve get put in her place is a relief and pleasant outcome. Never before has anyone so clearly had the upper hand over her. Now that she has been forced to recognize her shortcomings, and realizes that while everyone else moves forward, she is falling behind, she will have to find some way to pick herself back up.
Egwene’s quiet serenity is a good juxtaposition with Nynaeve’s bad attitude. Having Wise Ones and Moiraine and Nynaeve herself all recognize that she is gaining maturity is itself a pleasant change from her playing Mistress Snip in The Dragon Reborn. Moiraine’s realization that to control, you must first surrender has been borne out by Egwene’s performance. She can hope it will bear fruit for her as well, now that she can surrender to Rand’s plan to move beyond the Dragonwall.
Birgitte has been helping Nynaeve and Elayne regularly. Her knowledge of Moghedien and the Forsaken lets her play the role of knowledgeable mentor.
The utility of Tel’aran’rhiod is shown as it is learned that Elaida is Amyrlin, and they can read all her personal messages. The strange characteristics of Tel’aran’rhiod are prominently displayed, including time elasticity with regards to Birgitte, the abode of the Heroes, how to control the environment, controlling your appearance, nightmares, and the lack of weaves in the real world being mirrored in Tel’aran’rhiod (despite Elayne’s caution around Callandor). Birgitte can even sense ripples from Dreamers walking about her realm.
Galad has joined the Children of the Light, and coincidentally meets up with Elayne in Sienda. Not too big of a coincidence since Niall recalled all the Whitecloaks to… capture both banks of the River Eldar. Not long ago Niall was going to take Almoth Plain and clamp Tarabon in a vise. He had Geofram Bornhald and Eamon Valda in Andor in the last year, and sent Dain there as well to search the Two Rivers. He meddled in some border dispute between Sammael’s Illian and its neighbours. And now he is withdrawing into his own borders except for some excursions to take the border towns across the river? His ambitions have been curtailed, unless it’s Fain-fed paranoia making him want to keep his forces close.
Galad’s presence prods Elayne to make a hasty escape. He is the first heroic character, a potential ally, to switch over to an enemy of Rand’s. Aside from the shock of seeing a friend side with the villains, it provides a personal reason for Elayne and Nynaeve to avoid Whitecloaks. Random Whitecloak arrows give a sense of menace, but Galad’s interference is more dangerous to them if less lethal.
Luca’s menagerie and traveling circus will make the travels less monotonous than the wagon. With a Seanchan animal trainer introduced, a familiar Illuminator, and a host of other named characters, the plan to escape into Ghealdan is expected to work.
When introducing so many characters, it simplifies understanding to define them with tags and by their relationships to each other.
Petra: Strong and wide.
Clarine: Trains dogs, married to Petra.
Latelle: Trains bears, sneers, jealous of Elayne and Nynaeve
Aludra: Illuminator, lost her job because of Rand, helped Mat.
Chavanas: Acrobats, interested in Elayne and Nynaeve, distant nationalities: Saldaea, Sea Folk
Bari and Kin: Jugglers, brothers, worried about Thom
Cerandin: trains elephants, submits to Elayne
Luca: ringleader, greedy, proud, pursuing Elayne
Despite very quick appearances, there is enough revealed to make the reader anticipate some of the later interactions, mostly with respect to who will be angry at the newcomers, and who will become romantically involved.
When introducing new characters, defining their relationships is as important as their appearance or occupation.