Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The Fires of Heaven - Chapters 38-42

In this section, one heroine makes some rash decisions while another hero makes carefully planned ones.

One of Nynaeve’s qualities is that she is very decisive. There are many situations in which this turns out well, and she never really led the others astray in Falme or on the road to Tear or in Tanchico. On other occasions, leaping before looking gets one into trouble. It is this angle that is being pursued as Nynaeve meets Uno and makes him take her to this Prophet, which in turn brings her to the attention of Galad. That first spontaneous decision to head into the city begins a fateful chain of events. At this juncture, Nynaeve looks like she’s got in all under control again. An opportunity has arisen that just happens to coincide with her desire not to get shot at with arrows. The Prophet is set to finding a boat. As a back-up plan, since the Prophet seems unreliable, Galad is set the same task. And Uno is looking as well. She has quickly and efficiently gathered up several allies and urged them on due to her private concern over her performance in Luca’s show.
Rand has been planning how to best attack the Shaido surrounding Cairhien. He has acted on the idea of a tower from which to observe enemy movements. He has planned how to get rid of his most troublesome follower, the High Lord Weiramon. He has consulted with the clan chiefs and Lan over the best strategy to save the city and drive the Shaido off. He fantasizes about leading men in battle to engage Couladin and personally killing him. He exploits circumstances to better learn Mat’s abilities so he can better use them in the future.
The burden of responsibility has been building upon Rand’s shoulders, and he shows signs of strain when he thinks “Tears were a luxury he could no longer afford, not even inside.” Lessons and pressure from Moiraine, Lan, Sorilea and the Wise Ones, the clan chiefs, and his followers have led Rand to adopt an outward bravado and solemnity that fits his idea of what these people expect him to be. He is struggling to be a man, and overdoing it, as might be expected of a young man thrust into the role for the first time.
Mat is able to look over the battle formations and divine the optimal strategy in minutes. Aside from displaying Mat’s abilities, this short passage is an effective way to describe how the battle should progress and the geography of the main events such that the reader will easily be able to follow the actual battle in later chapters. An author’s fear is always that they may not have correctly reasoned out the best strategy for the characters to follow, and the readers will easily find the gaps in the plans. Other than relying on their own worth as a military historian or strategist, a few tricks can be employed to give readers more confidence in what is being presented. In this case, Mat’s observations are immediately agreed to by Lan, already known to the reader as a great warrior and leader of men. Shortly thereafter, we are told that the clan chiefs also came up with the same plan, so every character whose input could be trusted agrees with Mat’s view. One alternative plan was presented, and it had obvious glaring flaws. Had a second good plan been shown, the reader may have some hesitation as to which should be followed. By contrasting with a bad plan, the other option looks comparatively good, which in the reader’s mind soon becomes ‘the best plan’. To portray Mat’s insight as something veering on genius, Asmodean’s jaw-dropping reaction is used.
Also noteworthy as the story progresses are the increasing detail of memories that are not Rand’s (or Mat’s for that matter), the near constant barrage of comparisons between male and female perceptions of each other, and continuing keen interest in Rand’s love life.
Writing Lessons:
Give the reader confidence in the ideas presented by contrasting them with other ideas held in either high or low regard.

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