Tuesday, 17 April 2012

The Fires of Heaven - Chapters 53-56

In this section, Nynaeve comes to Rand’s aid.
Coming off the emotional peak of the book, Rand barely has time to register Moiraine’s loss before Lan is gone too. With characteristic machismo, Lan makes a final statement about duty and life and not trusting love, which Rand takes seriously. Lan has inflicted his last damage on Rand. Although none of the women they love have inflicted any pain on them, Lanfear’s jealous display which cost Moiraine her life has had the effect of both men swearing off women for good.  
Moiraine’s letter states that all paths led to the docks, yet she herself is the one who directs Rand there. This is not a case of her creating her own future, since all paths led there. Rather, she is trying to control how events will play out at the docks by establishing who will be there, and where the wagons will be placed. Throughout the book, there were many reminders about how Moiraine fussed to place the ter’angreal just so in the wagons, though the rationale given by those who observed her turned out to have been wrong.
The Wise Ones tell Rand he is a fool about this and many other things. Many readers took this as a sign Moiraine yet lived. With Lan’s bond broken, she was stilled at the least. As I read it now, it is more of an accusatory statement, referring to how Rand’s stupid man-behaviour is the reason she is dead, and so many other things are going wrong, such as the Maidens’ sudden disappearance. Having lost Moiraine and understanding the price will be paid one way or another, Rand decides to accept the Maidens right to choose how they will serve him, and to die in the doing if it so happens.
Rahvin has somehow smuggled a few thousand Trollocs into the inner city and palace, as a defense against an attack by Rand or the other Forsaken. Lightning strikes down Mat, Aviendha and Asmodean. That is a significant surprise, yet having just lost Moiraine, how else can you raise the stakes for the climax of the book? Killing not one but three important characters is disorienting, and after all the talk about the mistake of seeking personal retribution, Rand stupidly sets out after Rahvin.
Mystifyingly, the story moves away from life or death action to Nynaeve teaching Siuan in Tel’aran’rhiod.  The only way to pull this off without irritating the reader is if the change is vital to the story, engaging, or short, but preferably all three. There are two pages of scene-setting and explaining or refreshing the rules of Tel’aran’rhiod before Siuan and Nynaeve begin pulling each other’s hair and kicking and rolling in the dirt, which is funny. Nynaeve has hit a low point in respectable behaviour. By page 4, Moghedien has been sighted, and the action is back on. Had a lesser threat than a Forsaken been the reason to shift to Nynaeve, reader reaction would be unenthused. If you leave off one major enemy, you should be moving to something equally as menacing.
Moghedien easily bests Nynaeve. Birgitte arrives in time to distract her giving Nynaeve the chance to try whatever she can think of. And that is the key to battling in Tel’aran’rhiod, you can do anything you think of.  Nynaeve crafts an a’dam and captures Moghedien in a heartbeat. Rand has just finished acknowledging that the women around him can make decisions about their own fate, and risk death or worse as they see fit, and then Nynaeve does exactly that. Both character arcs are wrapped up together. Rand cannot win without Nynaeve’s timely aid, and she can’t come to his aid unless she rediscovers her own desire to take the risks that he would rather she avoid.
For the first time, Rand has trouble remembering his identity, as Lews Therin’s memories are now a distinct voice.
The rules for the a’dam in Tel’aran’rhiod need some explaining. When sleeping, only Spirit can be channeled in the waking world, allowing a ter’angreal to be kept working. Once in Tel’aran’rhiod, any of the powers can be used, as in the waking world. Entering Tel’aran’rhiod in the flesh is a sensible move for one who is not experienced with it, especially if you don’t like leaving your sleeping body behind for your opponent to find unprotected. Someone in the flesh can draw significantly more of the One Power than someone who is merely sleeping, according to Moghedien. I suppose it means the amount is limited by the fact that you are sleeping, and it is not that in the flesh you can draw more of the One Power than you could waking. Based on Birgitte’s earlier transformation into a child, an opponent can change the reality of what you are. If you are sleeping, it will only be true when you visit Tel’aran’rhiod; if you are there in the flesh, it will be true forever, in which lies the danger. Rahvin tries this on Rand twice, once to unmake him, once to turn him into an animal. It seems this was Rahvin’s big plan, perhaps because he feared Rand would be as strong as or stronger than him. What affects you in Tel’aran’rhiod affects you in the real world, whether wounds, death, or Forkroot.
What happens as the balefire undoes actions? Memories remain, but actions were not carried out.
Rand never saw Rahvin make a portal to Tel’aran’rhiod. Rand believes he saw the residues, but no such portal ever existed. Rand simply chased a figment of his imagination through Tel’aran’rhiod. Rand believed Rahvin made a bubble of water and piranhas, but Rahvin wasn’t there so he did no such thing. However, Rand believed he did, and in Tel’aran’rhiod, that is enough to have created it himself, so the injuries remained even after Rahvin was balefired. Every attack Rahvin carried out was actually carried out by Rand on himself, since Rand’s belief it was happening was enough to make it actually happen. Had Rahvin had time to blast Nynaeve, she would have remained injured because she would have believed a blast of flame was coming down on her, which would have the effect of creating it even if Rahvin hadn’t.
Mat, Aviendha, and Asmodean, and other Aiel and Trollocs killed by Rahvin’s lightning all fell to the ground believing themselves dead. If the lightning flung them, they weren’t actually flung anywhere. Others walked past them, or over them, also certain that they were dead. At the moment of Rahvin’s death, they suddenly wake and hurriedly get up, realizing that there is a battle going on around them. They hold out until Rand arrives.
The key thing to remember is that balefire may not always undo actions in Tel’aran’rhiod, since the imagining of them keeps them real. Balefire damage to objects in Tel’aran’rhiod seems to be permanent. We didn’t see whether Rahvin’s balefire damage caused by his weaving the One Power was reversed. I think it would be. If Rahvin balefired a walnut with a thin stream of balefire, then Rand balefired Rahvin with a larger stream, undoing his original weaving of balefire, the walnut should be restored.
The mystery of who killed Asmodean was the holy grail of theorizing. Hindsight is 20/20, but on a reread, it does seem intuitively obvious that it was someone from this book, and only two Forsaken are unaccounted for.
Writing Lessons:
Give your multiple storylines plot, emotional, and thematic reasons to cross each other.

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