In this section, Rand slowly leads his Aiel towards a gathering place, but his enemies have already tracked him down.
A common complaint about this book and its sequel are the lengthy walks through the desert where ‘nothing happens’. Contrasting these chapters with any earlier part of the book, it is a fair complaint. Once Rand has his face to face with the Wise Ones, there is a short sequence where Egwene is put in her place by the Wise Ones, a sequence where the peddlers show up, and the discovery of a vacant settlement at Imre Stand, followed by a Trolloc attack. Something happens; it’s just not as intense as in earlier parts of the book.
Rand’s return from Rhuidean is exciting. The reader doesn’t know what to expect, but they are probably disappointed about the lack of Aiel acceptance, just as Rand is. The subsequent Shaido trouble and Rand’s discussion about Rhuidean and his parentage are engrossing enough to sustain interest.
Learning about the World of Dreams would be interesting, except Egwene doesn’t actually learn anything concrete. In her conversation with Elayne she spits out information the reader already knows. The most important outcome of the discussion is that Egwene will tell Aviendha about Elayne’s letters, which sets up a mildly humourous situation later on. Egwene is dragged to the steam tent where the Wise Ones begin plotting how to guide Rand to best serve their purpose to save as many Aiel as possible. The most important thing learned is that Aviendha is placed near Rand in the hope he will confide in her. Overall, the chapter acts more like a prologue or interlude than to sustain the breakneck pace of earlier sections. That pace may already have been slowed down by the lengthy Perrin sequence lasting six chapters, but it at least kept introducing new elements and interesting plot twists.
The next sequence is the big plot twist where peddlers find Rand and his Aiel in the Waste. The significance is mostly lost on the reader. Rand points out that these are dangerous people and goes out of his way to act as though he isn’t paying attention to them, hoping to lull them into complacency. He lets the charade play out, even though the fact that is a charade isn’t obvious. Rand expects someone to try to find him, and so is suspicious of anything out of the ordinary. Peddlers showing up may be odd, but recent chapters had ruined cities, a world where wishes come true, a daring rescue, a mysterious Slayer, so as far as oddities go, the peddlers seem relatively normal. Readers will identify more with Mat’s perception of events, thinking Rand is a little paranoid, maybe even beginning to go mad, and there is nothing strange about the peddlers. Mat’s point of view serves to establish that Rand may not be a trustworthy narrator any more. Having an outsider make this observation helps create uncertainty about Rand.
Even though Lanfear has been shown changing her appearance, she is the only Forsaken recognizable on sight. Disguised or not, there is no way to tell which, if any, of the Peddlers are villains, and little to distinguish any one from any other. Keille’s hairdo could as easily be a red herring as a clue if appearances can be changed with the One Power. The inability to pick anything out may increase mystery at the cost of disinterest in the answer. If there is no clue to decipher, why bother trying to find one? In this case the reader can’t wait to get to the next section, not to see what happens next, but to avoid the less interesting bits.
The Trolloc attack is bland, even if it designed to throw a little bit of action into the story, which has been absent since Perrin raided the Whitecloak camp. In the last two major Shadowspawn raids, Perrin discovered he hated Neverborn, and Rand discovered he could wipe out Shadowspawn in vast numbers with Callandor. In this skirmish, Mat fends off attackers with his newfound battle prowess. Except Mat had plenty of prowess before he received new memories, so little new is learned. There is another reminder Rand suspects the peddlers, another reminder of the tensions between Rand and the various women in the camp.
Rand thinks he knows where Aviendha stands. Readers still have little insight into how she feels, except that it may have to do with what she saw in Rhuidean. Odds favour it being a combination of sulkiness over giving up the spears and anger at Rand for breaking the Aiel as foretold. Romance doesn’t seem a factor.
In the Trolloc attack, Mat unknowingly feels channeling against him as his foxhead medallion pulses with cold. Forsaken? Attempted helping or hindering? Another stab at kicking down a leg of the ta’veren tripod? I’ll have to watch and see who is most surprised that he survived. It ought not to have taken long to try throwing a rock at him with the Power, so the channeler is either unstrategic or very cautious.
Rand still hasn’t learned who his mother really is, except she was a well-to-do wetlander, and a man who resembled her was encountered in the Blight. A hint or two have been dropped about Tigraine and Luc’s disappearances in the past, but if the Glossary is not used, there is slim chance for anyone to make the association yet. If you read the Glossary, it is simple to reason out.
Repeating information the reader already knows, or failing to introduce new information quickly enough, can lose their interest quickly.