In this section, secondary characters with minimal involvement in the book set the tone and theme
Why have a prologue in a novel? In the early books, the prologues served to show the villain and establish the stakes, since there was no convenient place to do this from the perspective of the heroes. They also showed events that took place earlier than the story’s beginning, so that the effects of those events could initiate the story proper. In the most recent books, the prologues expanded in scope, catching the reader up on a multitude of details and establishing some of the thematic elements.
In A Crown of Swords, there are six perspectives: five villains, and one who hasn’t committed yet. Each of the sections takes place in the day since Rand escaped from his captivity at the end of Lord of Chaos. The ones in Tar Valon and Amadicia did not need to be set on that day, but Sevanna’s and Gawyn’s did. The best reason to set those events on the same day, and cram them into the same prologue, is simply to lessen the number of interludes in the main story. As in earlier books, the author uses the technique of showing several scenarios which are linked thematically.
Elaida is portrayed as a stubborn, entitled and myopic woman with no people skills, but she does have power, both from being Amyrlin and from the Talent of Foretelling. She finds her Keeper of the Chronicles Alviarin to be difficult and insubordinate. Alviarin is biding her time, waiting for the orders that will place her second only to the Forsaken. She is competent, intelligent, and ruthless. With Alviarin and Mesaana pulling strings, and their new ability to weave Gateways, Elaida has little hope of getting her way.
Pedron Niall is portrayed as cautious, thorough and subtle, with a nearly perfect record of victory. Niall has finally discovered the Seanchan threat near his doorstep, but he is struck down before he can do anything about them. The mastermind behind the assassination is Valda, a competent, strong, and ruthless man.
Sevanna is portrayed as overbearing, greedy, and selfish. Although she corralled her Wise Ones into battle against all custom, they and the Shaido warriors turn and flee before the Asha’man. Sevanna is angered by their weakness but is already making plans to capture Rand. She still has a cube given to her by Sammael, an apparent reversal of her and the author’s decision to throw it away at the end of Lord of Chaos.
Gawyn is an underling who has gotten underfoot enough to trouble Elaida. He has avoided attempts to put him in harm’s way and now has some decisions to make. His situation is meant to be contrasted with the other underlings in the prologue. Will he strike down those he serves as Valda did? Let himself be led around like the Shaido Wise Ones? Serve obediently as Alviarin does? His rationalization that he doesn’t have to help Rand just because he promised not to hurt him places him in balance between good and evil. He represents the everyman, having to choose a course of action that will topple whoever he stands against.
We’ll see how much insubordination and pivotal choices turn up as thematic elements in the rest of A Crown of Swords.
Place scenes outside of the main action together in a chapter to lessen the drag on the main storyline.