Saturday, 30 June 2012

The Path of Daggers - Chapters 5-7

In this section, the heroines make a desperate escape while plotlines converge around Perrin.

Both Aviendha and Nynaeve apologize for their recent behaviour, though neither is warranted in Elayne’s view. Elayne is the leader in the group for now. She will hide it when they arrange for Nynaeve to do the demonstrations of linking, but her leadership is what keeps the Sea Folk in line when they need to flee the hilltop.

Participation in the circle using the Bowl of the Winds is based on strength, which provides a handy list of who is on par with our heroines. Sea folk include Talaan, Metarra, Rainyn, Naime, Rysael, Tebreille and Caire. Kin include Garenia, Reanne, and Kirstian. The use of circles and linking and bonding will be important in future battles, so this is an opportunity to present everything the reader needs to know on the topic.

There is some funny sexual imagery as Elayne and the others are abruptly dropped from the circle: She felt tired, if not anywhere near what she would have felt had she done anything beyond serve as a conduit, but what she felt most was loss. Letting go of saidar was bad enough; having it simply vanish out of you went beyond thinking about.  

Nynaeve has spent too much time trying to assert her worth over that of Alise, who has already organized the escape from the Farm. Aviendha is simply no good at making Gateways. So it falls to Elayne to weave, and then unweave the Gateway.

Aviendha uses a novel tactic, launching fireballs from a point of origin in front of the Gateway without being in that spot herself. As soon as she tires, the Seanchan erupt from the Gateway and shield Elayne, which abruptly ends the unraveling of the Gateway. The collapse of the weave causes a shockwave which devastates both ends of the Gateway. Having shared the risks Elayne took, Elayne realizes she is ready to embrace Aviendha as a near-sister, sister-wife or in any other relationship. Aviendha has now also seen Elayne in battle, and has a good opinion of her. Their bond may now be stronger than their romantic interest in Rand.

Rolling like a gambling wheel, they fell. This is when the raken is tumbling out of the sky. All kinds of objects roll, but choosing one that conjures luck, poor odds and uncertainty is brilliant.

Before his name appears, you can tell it’s Perrin’s point of view, as we see the forested hills hammered by a fierce morning sun. Perrin has a chance encounter with Morgase and her little group. These two converging plotlines should streamline the plot. Perrin’s simple approach to defending right and ending wrong can’t help but win readers over, despite that he is setting up future trouble for himself. The author chooses to understate the horror of what the Prophet’s men do, saving the revelation  for the very last: At first, Perrin did not know what he was looking at, a long loop of rawhide thickly strung with what appeared to be tags of shriveled leather. Then he did know, and his teeth bared in a snarl. “The Prophet would have our ears you said.”

Perrin’s current problem is approaching Queen Alliandre without putting Faile in danger nor offending her by sending her rival. Perrin reminds us that nothing is more important to him than Faile’s life and her perception of him. That’s twice that a blatant statement to this effect has shown up in the early part of a book.

His other objective is to deal with the Prophet, but more on that in the next post.

Writing Lessons:

When crafting your similes and metaphors, use terms that convey strong imagery and associated ideas.

The Path of Daggers - Chapters 2-4

In this section, the heroines keep one step ahead of the villains.

The group makes a stealthy escape from Ebou Dar, except for Moridin secretly watching from a balcony, undetected. Moridin reminds us that he has agents in every significant locale. He foolishly leaves Ebou Dar before the Bowl of the Winds is used, or he would have been able to travel right to their location when he saw the weave. Aviendha wisely considers the possibility that someone can trace their location from the weave’s residue and unweaves the Gateway. While Elayne, Nyaneve, or some other character could have thought of this flaw in their escape plan, it makes the most sense coming from the person who is most used to thinking of tactics and scouting. The ability to successfully unweave the gateway is an exception to the rule that it can’t be done.

Elayne has to deal with the politics of who will be included in the circle that uses the Bowl of the Winds. Once again, it makes sense coming from the character best suited to understanding and dealing with political situations. Several descriptions of the fifty or a hundred coloured birds act as a metaphor for this strange column of travelers. All of the Sea Folk politics serve to inform the reader about the strict hierarchy they follow. Although all Sea Folk could be summed up in a sentence based on rank, a few tags are used that will later serve to establish the exceptions to the rules.

Elayne concedes the captive Black Ajah must be questioned. She is forced to this decision because the Kin and Aes Sedai have conspired to turn Ispan over to the Aes Sedai as soon as Elayne’s back was turned. Adeleas and Vandene take the questioning upon themselves after seeing that Elayne and her friends were ready to break the law. If the law is going to be broken, let it be by a pair of Aes Sedai who have little to lose when the punishments are doled out. This book is about the snake in your midst waiting to strike, so introducing the Black Ajah as a key story element shows an example of the agents that Moridin employs. Hidden agents like the Black Ajah are themselves exceptions to the supposed relationship with their leader.

Elayne finds enough ter’angreal and angreal to give to her friends and boost their power levels significantly. Elayne receives a powerful reminder of the dangers of experimenting with what you don’t understand, which in combination with Aviendha’s unweaving, sets up a great action sequence in the next section.

An example of how the author uses descriptions as metaphor: Elayne is angrily berating Merilille for suggesting the Kin cannot be trusted. It dawned on her that she was shouting. Some sort of gray-and-white birds went flittering past overhead in a broad band, and she was drowning out their cries.

Merilille is Gray Ajah, and described later in the paragraph as having her Cairhienin paleness turn dead white. She is gray-and-white. The only relevant reason to include information about the birds and their cries here is to elaborate the point through metaphor.

Writing Lessons:

Don’t waste a simple description on a single purpose, make it do more through symbolism and metaphor.

Monday, 25 June 2012

The Path of Daggers - Prologue to Chapter 1

In this section, sinister forces move in the background
The prologue shows scenes from the point of view of three characters. It is unclear what each of the situations means in the prologue, since no clear threat is presented in two of the three sections, and even the third is vague. The vagueness of the threat is the point being made; the heroes have no idea where the threat is coming from or what it consists of.
The first section, from the point of view of Ethenielle, Queen of Kandor, comes out of nowhere. A rumour of missing rulers from earlier is proven true, and they are joining forces to march south and do something with Rand. They commit to each other, a blood oath that none will break. We see the strength of their resolve and their dedication to this cause; they were willing to kill to avoid detection. What they intend to do when they meet Rand is untold, but they will not shirk in the slightest from doing it. The reader may have slight worries, after all these are Borderland rulers who have spent their entire lives fighting the Shadow. They can’t mean Rand any harm. Unfortunately they have acquired thirteen Aes Sedai in their travels, whose motives remain unknown.
The second section picks up on the vague threat posed by the Aes Sedai and shows Verin questioning Elaida’s Aes Sedai. Verin has gone to great lengths to convince her handlers Sorilea and Amys that she can bring value to Rand by learning what Elaida had planned with regards to Rand. She has been given slight trust and she works hard to keep it. We are shown that personal discomfort and distaste for the actions she must take are no deterrent to Verin. She gives Sorilea everything she asks for and is meekly compliant. She will do what must be done and seems to have accepted that she must serve Rand as she swore to. She expresses disgust that Katerine was allowed to escape, which was made possible by forces that infiltrated the camp. And just when it seems like she has proven her trustworthiness, Verin reveals a forbidden weave and Compels an Aes Sedai to do… something. Verin’s motives become suspect. Why is she compelling the Aes Sedai and for what purpose? Why is she so quick to consider killing other Aes Sedai? How should the reader interpret her desire to keep Rand alive until it is time for him to die?
The third section reveals Moridin gloating that in the struggle to control Rand, he is manipulating both sides so that Rand will ultimately do as Moridin wishes. A metaphor is presented suggesting that those closest to Rand, holding the Fisher, will drive him to where Moridin needs him. The implication is that Rand’s allies may mishandle him, but even if they don’t then Moridin’s agents will act to destabilize him. There is no mention of a link between him and Rand.
The three sections moved from the vaguest threat to the most specific, but none of them do more than menace.
In Ebou Dar, Nynaeve still has the ability to sense imminent metaphorical storms. Her demeanor recently improved, she reaches out to help Teslyn and is soundly rejected.   Aviendha fears she is growing into a soft-hearted wetlander despite that her immediate solution to every problem is to kill someone. Aviendha exhibits the uncanny ability to know when an enemy is watching her. She catches the gholam in her sights, but she may also have detected Moridin despite his special skulker outfit. Aviendha reveals that rank amongst the Aiel stems from honour, the first outright statement on the subject. She has a plan for her future involving Rand and Elayne. Elayne asserted her position among the Aes Sedai recently, which has the consequence of cementing the Bargain she made with the Sea Folk even further. No one can countermand the Bargain she made.
Let’s examine a few short descriptors the author uses when other words might have done as well and see what was accomplished with their use:
snagged at her eye: You might often see something pull your eye, or catch it. ‘Snag’ is a more visceral word. It is used to describe how the riches of the Wetlands attract Aviendha with a violence that she is usually the one to dispense. It is used in the 3rd paragraph of her first appearance, setting the dilemma she faces.  
eye-wrenching cloak of a Warder: ‘eye-wrenching’ is a compact way of describing the cloaks readers have become familiar with.
Elayne could have made a roofmistress seem a goatherd: It is impossible to maintain dignity when goats are involved. The word ‘goatherd’ imparts an activity that is easily visualized: chasing after stubborn animals.
most with annoyance ill-concealed behind cool serenity: ‘ill-concealed’ could have been replaced with the synonym ‘visible’. Instead this compound word allows two words with negative connotation to be assigned to the Aes Sedai, helping set the mood and the relationship.
willowy, doe-eyed Chilares:  ‘doe-eyed’ describes not just her eyes but implies she is docile. Any number of eye adjectives could make her intelligent as in ‘bright-eyed’, crafty as in ‘keen-eyed’, useless as in ‘cow-eyed’. The reason she is doe-eyed is to describe the Kin’s general behaviour, not because the author preferred to describe her eyes over her hair, or had previously decided in his notes that Chilares was to be described that way.
Writing Lessons:
Use that thesaurus to find synonyms that convey mood, character, setting or action, or just cobble together your own with compound words.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

A Crown of Swords - Summary

A Crown of Swords flows like my favorite book in the series, The Shadow Rising. Each handful of Ebou Dar chapters is followed by a handful of Cairhien chapters. Each section is just long enough to resolve the last obstacle, advance the plot, and introduce a new obstacle. The two plots are loosely connected by chapters showing Sammael meeting with other villains in both locations. Moridin is a second character whose actions affect characters on both locations.  A minor plot involving Morgase, the White cloaks and the Seanchan serves as setup for future books, having little impact on events in this one. A major plot involving Egwene’s tenure as Amyrlin has at least one important impact on the Ebou Dar story. By keeping the number of focal characters low and establishing a consistent pattern for several chapters spent in each locale, the flow and speed of the story are maintained at a fun pace.
The thrill of discovery comes from new characters instead of exotic locales. Cadsuane, Moridin, the Kin, the gholam, and others all have mysterious origins, abilities and motives.  Some introductions are strong, others disorient the reader.
The theme of A Crown of Swords is one of leaders and followers. Who leads, who follows them, and why do they follow? The theme was introduced early in the prologue with a smattering of examples of relationships. A series of leaders emerge in the Fortress of the Light, each seizing power from his predecessor. The question of who leads was central to finding the ter’angreal cache in Ebou Dar. The actions of followers pushing the limits of their orders affected the heroes several times, whether by Moghedien, Carridin, Alviarin, or Colavaere. Morgase abdicates since she is no longer fit to be queen. Egwene blackmails Aes Sedai to compel their obedience. The loyalty of the Asha’man is a question that continues to aggravate Rand. Galina has her role completely reversed as she moves from world-shaker to pointless labourer. The book ends with Rand conquering Illian without having to subjugate the population or the ruling lords. The people of Illian want to follow Rand because he has exhibited traits they desire in their King.
This book feels like more of a whole book than the last one, because several plot lines are resolved, providing a strong sense of completion. Along with several plot lines, a bit of the theme from the previous book Lord of Chaos carried through to this one, but the tone is very different. You could more easily say that Lord of Chaos has some of this book’s theme, since a good part of the chaos and humour in that book stemmed from the relationships between leaders and followers.
The personal threats faced by the heroes were more interesting than the plot-driven obstacles. Jordan easily transforms physical plot-driven obstacles into personality and character-driven obstacles. Elayne faced threats to her authority and identity. Nynaeve had to learn to surrender control and was instantly rewarded when she did so. Mat endured all manner of unfair treatment to finally earn respect from those two. Min convinced Rand to keep her near. Egwene began to assume the role of the Amyrlin as well as the title. Rand realizes he is an equal partner with Min, not the belligerent mauler he made himself out to be. Cadsuane places herself close to Rand despite his misgivings about Aes Sedai. Perrin fears what he has realized about the value he places on Faile. It satisfies the reader that each of the heroes had some pages dedicated to them.
The nature of ta’veren was presented as a tool to be used as Mat, Elayne, Nynaeve and Rand try to twist fate and make progress by keeping a ta’veren present. Although they rarely recognize when it is working, it does work to bring them the people they need to meet at the right time. The Sea Folk are handled on two different occasions by ta’veren, and dealings with the Kin and Cairhienin rebels are possible because of chance meetings wrought by the ta’veren.
The timing of many events was necessitated by the plot, but the reason given for the timing was couched in the characters’ relationships.
Overall, the happy resolution of many character-driven plots and a strong structure overcome a few problems with introduction of new characters, and contrived timelines.
Writing Lessons:
Resolution of plot lines provides reader satisfaction. Dangling plot lines induce reader dissatisfaction.

A Crown of Swords - Chapters 40-41

In this section, Rand finally completes the task he set himself nearly two books ago.
A Crown of Swords ends with a victorious moment for Rand, and has no epilogue, so a lot of outstanding plotlines must be resolved before he goes into his final battle.
First, the fate of one of the most important missing Aes Sedai is revealed. Galina discovers that whatever rank she held before her capture, she is now the lowest of the low. She is named a despised one, made an example of, taken away from Therava, and most importantly she will use her channeling so that Sevanna can have the same ability as her Wise Ones. The scene has a strong emotional impact in that the reader will fully embrace the justice that has been served to Galina. Yet almost every aspect of the scene could as easily have been shown from Sevanna’s point of view. Breaking it up between the two of them gives a sensation of speed that a ten page Sevanna scene might not have offered. It is also fun to learn a little more of the Black Ajah’s secrets. Revelations offer excitement and speed the reader along.
Once again, the introductory sentence symbolizes the character’s plight: Mountains rose all around Galina Casban, little more than large hills behind but snowcapped peaks ahead and higher peaks beyond those, yet she really saw none of them.
Sammael offers Sevanna piles of ter’angreal, including an Oath Rod. These recently came into his hands, so we understand that he is referring to the ter’angreal from Ebou Dar that the Darkfriends managed to escape with. The fact that this delivery needed to happen before his confrontation with Rand, and after the climatic battle in Ebou Dar explains a lot about the placement of chapters throughout the book. Many events took place in just that order so that the author could move Sevanna westward. Once you understand this, the events leading up to this moment seem contrived despite the earnest attempts to foreshadow them with earlier scenes involving Carridin, Falion and Ispan, and the Shaido. The author was limited in the order in which he needed events to occur, but he had flexibility in setting the timing of some of them, such as when Mat finally locates the cache, or how long Rand stays unconscious after Fain’s attack.
Maeric’s short scene showcases Aiel fatalism: Ah, the world had grown very strange since Rand al’Thor came. He reveals that Sevanna took all the Wise Ones who could channel with her, which is confirmed by Graendal shortly afterwards. Sammael tells her that al’Thor isn’t going after anyone, all he has to do is wait. What he means is that he knows Rand is grievously wounded, and he has the help of an incompetent horselord, who also happens to be a Darkfriend, to tear Rand’s army apart. Sammael is quite pleased with himself for finding a way to defeat a much more powerful force, and his ego demands that he personally involve himself in the destruction of Rand’s army. Luring Sammael out of Illian was Rand’s plan all along. He will have sacrificed some of his followers to achieve victory.
A brief point of view from Shaidar Haran reveals his unique nature and powers, and a weakness of sorts: it is tied to Shadar Logoth and cannot be far away from it for too long. Importantly, it is concerned that Sammael’s actions are outside the plan, implying that the Forsaken are not simply bumbling about hoping to defeat Rand; a plan exists, and it should bring the Dark One victory.
Rand wakes to an argument between his followers. He convinces all but the Asha’man to leave, yet they all know that whatever news Adley has brought is likely to lead Rand to leap into action he may not yet be fit enough to face. Even Dashiva has been frowning at Adley, but that is standard behaviour for Dashiva when he doesn’t know what is going on. He has plenty of opportunity to feel left out as Rand Travels to gather his other armed forces for a raid into Illian.
Rand’s plan works, and he is able to disarm Sammael’s wards throughout Illian. When the plan works it reinforces his belief that Lews Therin is real. Sammael returns, realizes how stuck he is, but lures Rand to a second location he has prepared. Shadar Logoth is not a place where any of his foes would set foot so it is a good place to secretly assemble a force of Shadowspawn. The waiting must cost his numbers terribly every night. Yet he can’t have them just hide out on the other side of the Waygate either or they could be eaten by Machin Shin. No, the poor Trollocs and Myrddraal have to camp near Shadar Logoth every night, torn between fear of Mashadar and fear of Sammael finding them if they leave their post. And every day the ones who came through a few days earlier will die. Did Sammael ever figure this out? Did he only set this location up after hearing of Rand taking to his bed because he is naturally cautious?
Sammael detects Rand channeling and a bolt of lightning nearly sends Rand falling to his death, until a mysterious stranger helps him. It is not exceptionally clear that this is Moridin, but if using the True Power is so rare, then it must be him. It is now obvious that his existence had to be revealed earlier in order for his appearance here to be believable.
Moridin and Rand use balefire at the same time. Moridin only ever used it once before, but he might now be trying to show Rand what a useful tool it is so that Rand keeps using it. The balefire streams touch. What does that mean? Balefire undoes actions of certain people and objects by erasing those people and objects backwards in time, but leaves the actions and memories of those not touched by the balefire intact. Rand and Moridin balefired portions of Mashadar. Those arms of fog never existed so the two men were never in any danger, but surrounding arms of fog would not have filled the gaps left since their dim intelligence would have perceived that that space was taken by the non-existent arms of fog that those men balefired. When one stream of balefire touches the other, the other weave is undone backwards in time. The balefire stream never hit Mashadar, so it should still be there descending! Except that Mashadar remembers being hit by balefire, and has decided to retreat with haste. The balefiring of Mashadar was undone, something that can only be accomplished by balefiring the balefire.
Once the streams cross, Rand believes he has been balefiring Mashadar for the last few seconds. In actuality, he has had his weaves severed for the last several seconds, then feels the accumulated effects of the snapped weaves reeling back into him all at once. His head rings, he sees double. The same happens to Moridin, regardless of the fact that he is using the True Power. You might think a philosopher and channeler would have considered what happens when balefire streams touch, does anything really exist?, but Moridin has no idea. When Rand thinks of the balefire streams crossing, his vision doubles again, and he can see Moridin’s face clearly. This is the first indication of a link between the two of them. The best explanation I can come up with is that when the weaves snapped back into each of them, some of them snapped back into the wrong person. Since Moridin was wielding the True Power, which is a gift of the Dark One, it is this gift which creates the link between them. Of course, no such event took place with Mat or Perrin, yet Rand will soon also be able to see either of them by concentrating on them.
The author wants more balefire effects as examples, so Liah gets balefired too. She was never there and never screamed, but Sammael is certain he heard a woman scream, which distracts him just long enough to be consumed by Mashadar. Fortunately Rand’s balefire did not touch Mashadar, or he might accidentally have brought Sammael back to life! Since he wasn’t touched by balefire, the Dark One could do the resurrection instead, but it’s likely that Sammael’s go-it-alone attitude was too much for the Dark One to put up with.
Rand finally has a nation offering to be led by him, due to his compassion for them when he forced Tear to sell them grain. That is one of the only decisions he ever made as the simple man Rand al’Thor. This is evidence that there is more than one way to gain followers; persuasion is better than force.
 Writing Lessons:
Complex events require lots of explanation or they risk confusing the reader.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

A Crown of Swords - Chapters 37-39

In this section, myriad plotlines in Ebou Dar are resolved in a grand confrontation involving almost everyone.
Mat’s relationship with Queen Tylin becomes known to everyone, which leaves them either amused or offended. Mat’s discomfort allows the scene to play out humourously, with Mat getting more and more embarrassed with every snicker.
A great deal of effort is made to convince the reader that there is no conceivable problem in the Rahad that the women cannot handle. With over half a dozen channelers, many of them wearing Wise One belts that will scare would-be robbers into hiding, Mat’s soldiers are there for show, and to keep a promise made to Mat. After a few reminders, the reader may even begin to wonder why even have the chapter, if all that it involves is Mat getting more and more bored. It is all a set up.
The Black Ajah attack, and once Nynaeve is unshielded, it appears that there is still no point to the soldiers, who do nothing but get flung about by the channelers. However, Mat’s medallion spares him being tossed around, and he is therefore able to go to Elayne’s aid, and the only one who could provide any help against other channelers such as Moghedien, who can be assumed to be the opponent upstairs. Nynaeve’s plea moves Mat, because it is out of character for her, representing her recent inner growth, not poor writing.
Mat faces yet another mystery character: the gholam. It loves killing, and it is soon described as moving quicker than a Myrddraal in order to quickly impress its high skill level on the reader.  It bests Mat in combat even though we know Mat is almost the best there is at combat. Everything the Gholam can do is out of the ordinary. This is the help that Sammael promised Carridin. Luckily Mat discovers the creature’s weakness and is able to save Elayne, but the Darkfriends escape with some of the ter’angreal, which will provide some explanation for Sammael’s ability to whip several ter’angreal out of thin air before the book’s conclusion. Still no indication why Sammael would have used the gholam to kill Herid Fel. By no means a philosopher, Sammael should have had no interest in either keeping Fel’s guidance from reaching Rand’s ears. Instead the likeliest objective was the same as the one he was trying for in Ebou Dar: pick at Rand’s allies in any way possible that will slow down the army coming towards Illian or divert his attention elsewhere.
Mat is the third person to make a bargain with the Sea Folk. This scene would not have worked without the other two precedents establishing the reader’s expectation that budging the Sea Folk will cost the heroes something.  Mat’s unexpected approach is both funny and effective. Nynaeve reluctantly admires his feat while Elayne is impressed with his ability. Whatever mistrust they had for Mat and his ways at the beginning of the book has been resolved, he has their acceptance. He achieved this without specifically setting out to do so, yet it is the means that allowed him to accomplish his goals.
The Seanchan invade Ebou Dar, cutting off Mat’s escape while he searches for Olver. Once he can no longer leave the city, the dice in his head stop. He is now where the Pattern needs him to be. And also under a pile of rubble.
Writing Lessons:
Set the reader’s expectations by describing scenarios they will find plausible, the surprise them by having a different scenario play out.

Monday, 18 June 2012

A Crown of Swords - Chapters 33-36

In this section, Rand regains his confidence and uses his unique abilities
In earlier chapters, the nature of being a ta’veren was discussed. Perrin hopes it will work for him while Mat’s ability was actively exploited by Elayne and Nynaeve.  Rand now decides to try use his ta’veren event-twisting to gain allies.
Ta’veren usually works in subtle ways, providing what is needed and drawing it near the ta’veren for the moment when it is needed. Being ta’veren altered the chance Min would fall hopelessly in love with Rand, providing a means for Rand to get glimmers of what lies ahead. Her personality is familiar and comforting, since she had an upbringing very similar to his own. Whatever she says, Rand can accept it more easily than from anyone else except maybe Egwene.   
Min tells Rand about a viewing of two men merging and one surviving. Rand decides it must mean that Lews Therin is real and that he is not mad after all. Hot on the heels of Cadsuane’s warning about the voices, Rand’s cobbled-together explanation based on more hope than fact is presented as the correct conclusion. It is still possible that Lews Therin’s voice is not there and he really is mad. The author’s ability to pull the reader one way while the evidence all points the other way continues to impress.
Rand finally visits the Sea Folk who have been waiting on him in two cities since Lord of Chaos. The ta’veren effect sweeps Harine up, and she spends the next few minutes conceding things instead of bargaining for them. She would likely have booted Rand right off the ship, Coramoor or not, except once told Min’s Viewing everyone realizes it is a done deal. Harine will make the Bargain, be punished for it, yet still eventually become Mistress of the Ships. The Sea Folk are a culture with very rigid rules for the hierarchy, but unlike the Seanchan who also have strict rules, there is a lot of mobility within Sea Folk culture. An ominous warning about the Seanchan is given just in time for their reappearance in just a few chapters.
With the Sea Folk firmly in hand and about to capitulate, Rand walks away from the table. Not because of a sudden attack or other plot device, but because he feels confined and it reminds him of his captivity. Cadsuane soon learns the truth of the captivity and how it affects him and realizes how difficult it will make her task. This major obstacle is character driven instead of plot driven. The implication that Rand can make mistakes because of this new behaviour is concerning since he rashly decides to see how far he can next push his ta’veren ability with the rebels. His optimism is summed up: “I’m the Dragon Reborn, and today I can do anything.”
Rand randomly appears in the woods, only meters from Caraline Damodred and Lord Darlin who are drawn into the ta’veren web. Caraline realizes who Rand is while her companions all accept Rand’s alias without question, inferring that the Damodreds are all smart cookies, especially Moiraine. Right then Min reveals that she had a Viewing of Moiraine that failed even though they just left a situation where the outcome rested on the assumption that her Viewings never failed. Min does not realize that her Viewing means that Moiraine is not dead. From the reader’s perspective, this apparent loophole is important in undermining confidence in Min’s Viewings, since that will come into play in later books. Other loopholes such as ‘if’ statements or choices help reduce certainty. The reader has to decide whether Min’s Viewing is wrong or whether her Viewings are always right and the other evidence is wrong.   
Min also drops hints that she is reading Fel’s books, looking for clues about what he was trying to tell Rand. Despite this and other later indications, her insights in this area still have a feel of implausibility, but I can’t figure out why; something to keep an eye on.
Being ta’veren draws Rand to Padan Fain. The wound he inflicts on Rand in just the right spot to not kill him instantly is another ta’veren twist. Grady’s healing provides Rand with the most important clue he will need for his later effort to cleanse Saidin. More importantly, Grady infers that the Asha’man are learning new weaves all the time, even without permission. This is akin to when the Aes Sedai were first introduced and every spell cast had no explanation, it was just Aes Sedai work, and needed no further explanation. Now that readers are familiar with the powers and limitations the Aes Sedai have, it is useful to the author to have a wild card that can be played by the Asha’man. “Oh this? Just a little weave I invented.” And now many situations can be resolved with an all-encompassing explanation, much like ta’veren. To a lesser extent he did the same with the Kin and their ability to do one Weave with the greatest proficiency.
Rand’s wound allows Cadsuane the opportunity to become part of his inner circle of advisors. Dashiva is already there, and is quite intent on making sure Rand has every chance to live, but is ambivalent to the outcome. The Asha’man are content to serve, so far.
The author uses verbs to great effect, and some of his choices stand out as different from the expected word selection, and symbolize something other than what they are describing.
Narishma colored, jerking himself stiffly erect. (several arousal-themed words to match the verb)
She was ready to leap if he crooked a finger (crooked implies improper behaviour)
Long trestle tables groaning with food and drink (groaning reveals Rand’s mood in the rebel’s camp)
Something crooked and red spiderwebbed across the outside of the void. (spiderwebbed is a new Jordan trademarked verb)
The fog seemed to deaden sound (threatening circumstances seem to invoke the word ‘dead’)
Fain’s dagger scored across Rand’s left side (scored implies a victory for Fain, a defeat for Rand)
Her eyebrows climbed halfway to her hair (climbing halfway symbolizes she doesn’t know as much as she thought she did)
Writing Lessons:
Use verbs that symbolize as well as describe the action.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

A Crown of Swords - Chapters 29-32

In this section, followers become leaders, and the wishes of several characters come true
Elayne has finally had enough of being ignored by the other Aes Sedai. No one has truly accepted that she is Aes Sedai, and so she has not been taught what most women learn upon gaining the shawl, including the secret of the Kin’s existence. She challenges the Aes Sedai to either deny that she is Aes Sedai which would imply they deny Egwene and the rebels as well, or to accept her as Aes Sedai which means that her strength in the Power would place her at the top rank of the rebel Aes Sedai in the Palace, other than Nynaeve.
Alviarin brings news of Rand’s escape to Elaida. The revelation of this failure could be enough to topple Elaida, so she finds herself blackmailed to protect this secret a while longer. Further disasters loom ahead, yet she is more concerned with maintaining her position than in the fate of the Aes Sedai sent after Rand or to the Black Tower. Her Foretelling about the Royal Line of Andor has convinced her that only she can lead the Aes Sedai during this tumultuous time, and she lets that supersede other concerns. Alviarin is able to exploit this and put herself in a position of unquestioned authority over Elaida. Her first priority is undermining the Ajahs’ willingness to cooperate on any venture.
Elaida then seeks out an Aes Sedai she can trust. Her criteria to determine trustworthiness is whether that person supported her when they had incentive not to. Seaine is given the task of hunting out traitors, which she mistakenly interprets as seeking out the Black Ajah. She in turn seeks out a trustworthy helper. Her criteria to determine trustworthiness is to find the person with the most incentive to hunt down the Black Ajah. As with Siuan and Moiraine’s secret hunt, Seaine almost makes the mistake of bringing a friend into the hunt, not knowing that the friend has already joined the Black Ajah.
Moghedien proves the mindtrap’s effectiveness by recklessly following an impulse to kill Nynaeve in a narrow window of opportunity. The chance to act of her own free will is limited by the chance of discovery by Moridin. She acts in a way almost opposite of what she normally would have, lashing out with no thought of danger to herself, exposed to the world instead of her normally cautious method of slow and sure steps to success. She is in effect no longer herself, the mindtrap has fundamentally changed who she is and how she acts.
This scene provides even further explanation for the mechanics of balefire. The Fires of Heaven had the most detailed explanations to date, yet it is apparent that the author wants readers to think about it some more, implying that further balefire scenes are yet to come, and comprehension will improve understanding and acceptance of the strange outcomes of those scenes.
Mat is raped by Queen Tylin. Typical rape scenes in stories are representations of a loss of control and a violation of that person. Readers may feel sympathy for the victim, or pity. It has been argued that scenes in which a man is raped effectively neuter the character in the reader’s mind. He will be perceived as less powerful and worthy of scorn or pity. In this instance the author decided to play for a humourous angle to maintain the man’s stature. First, the rape is portrayed as a bit of role reversal; this is not a man being treated unfairly, it is portrayed as a man getting the treatment he dishes out to others. However, Mat never treats women the way he is treated, he abides by the multicultural rule in the series that the woman is always in charge of deciding whether sex takes place or not. We saw a similar situation with Lan in New Spring when he had no choice but to have sex since he would not let the woman appear to be a liar. In these cultures women have the only say, whether strongly in favour of or against having sex. Second, Mat is not entirely an unwilling victim. He doesn’t mind the sex, only the manner it which it is exacted from him. There is therefore no loss of stature and no sympathy is generated as result of the rape. Lastly, the humour comes from Mat’s own lack of comprehension as to how this could be happening to him. The situation in his obtuse view is plainly ridiculous, which carries some inference that it is therefore somewhat reasonable to the reader. Every added layer of ridiculousness, from a gaggle of serving women helping in the endeavour, to the Prince’s open encouragement, only serves to increase the humour of the situation. Switch the genders of the participants, and the scenes would be unpalatable to virtually any reader.
A similar sort of situation plays out when Lan marries Nynaeve against his wishes. She plows through any resistance he offers, but his Malkieri culture compels him to marry her. He almost got roped into a marriage in New Spring simply because Edeyn declared it should happen. Fortunately, he is not unwilling to wed this particular woman, and the reader is rooting for this wedding to take place.
The marriage to Lan is Nynaeve’s reward for finally overcoming her block. Nynaeve has been working towards surrendering to circumstance, having recently learned to apologize, for example. When she finally surrenders to saidar, it represents a change in her behaviour. As soon as she does learn to surrender, the thing she wants most lands in her lap; a physical representation of how to control saidar. Tying the resolution of this romance to one of the major personality-related obstacles makes the moment when she scores all these victories rewarding for the reader.
Writing Lessons:
Consider how the scenes you write will affect the reader’s perception of the character.  

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

A Crown of Swords - Chapters 25-28

In this section, old villains return
Moghedien’s escape is shown for a third time as a flashback in her own point of view. This time, it is short and to the point, serving only as introduction for what happens to her later. Moghedien is being punished inside a vacuole, which I can only conceive as being like a drop of condensation on the surface of the Pattern. It is attached to the Pattern, but not truly part of it, and the laws of space and time inside it can vary considerably. Sometimes the vacuole can detach from the Pattern. This is the third strange world we’ve seen where time runs at a different speed, the others being Mirror Worlds and the world of the Aelfinn and Eelfinn. I wonder if vacuoles might be parts of the Pattern no longer needed, which slowly wither before falling off, or maybe new buds which form new Mirror Worlds.
Her punishment consists of reliving the same dream over and over. The dream is being dictated to her, she has no control over it, as though she had entered the Dark One’s dreams and had become a player in it, much as we’ve seen in other examples of being stuck in someone else’s dream, even to the point of not truly realizing it is a dream.
Moghedien’s journey to Shayol Ghul is altered, as her Skimming platform arrives instantly instead of taking the expected several minutes or hour. The Dark One has a little effort left over to bend reality despite fixing the seasons at the height of summer. This ability is strongly implied to come from the True Power; a Power first introduced a few chapters ago by the mysterious watcher in the woods. Moghedien thinks that reality was clay to the Great Lord at Shayol Ghul, and then describes how she can bathe in the radiant glory of the Great Lord, the True Power washing around her, so strong here that attempting to channel it would fry her to a cinder. The True Power is thus linked with the ability to reshape reality, which is as much as the author wants to say on the subject until several books later. It is noteworthy that he waited this long before explaining the major tool at the villains’ disposal, and that he waits much longer before bringing it up again. The reader needs to know it so later chapters will work, but the author doesn’t want them thinking about it too much.
A third mystery character is introduced: Moridin is a man set above the Forsaken, whom even Shaidar Haran seems to serve. This is a new and unexpected development. Shaidar Haran has two resurrected Forsaken serving him, while Moghedien and one other serve Moridin. That makes up to five Forsaken in this secret group, while five others still roam the world. There are no blatant personality traits linking Moridin to Ishamael, the reader has to get there through logic, reasoning, and counting. It is left to the reader to decipher Moridin’s plans, and there is little to go on. The intent is to destabilize the reader, much as was done with Cadsuane’s introduction, showing a powerful new character to balance Cadsuane’s arrival. How does Moridin have the will to resist the True Power now that the saa have appeared in his eyes?
The mindtrap is a device which embodies the Dark One’s morals. The evil societies and characters all crave obedience, and the master’s desires are all that matters, the servant exists only to serve. The mindtrap forces voluntary obedience using the threat of eternal obedience. The one mindtrapped can only hope to escape or live for the moments of freedom when the master’s attention is directed elsewhere.
In Amador, Morgase’s master has changed several times. Niall wanted her to come to serve him willingly which she gave, then Valda exacted her capitulation under threat of pain, which she gave, and now Suroth demands an Oath under threat of enslavement as a damane. Having started by giving a little promise, the demands have grown into a promise of complete servility to the Seanchan. She now realizes her poor choices have led her to the point where anything else she does only serves to give more to her enemies and take more away from Andor. Amathera and Pura demonstrate what the Oath may entail. Giving up leadership is her only path to being a true leader to her people, something Rand will later repeat.
Balwer, a servant with no master, comes to Morgase’s aid. His motivation was to steal Valda’s prize to repay his poor treatment, but Suroth will do just as well. The Seanchan’s return is at the end of a series of introductions and reappearances of powerful enemies. There is a feeling that the Dark One’s forces are gathering which overwhelms the small victories the heroes have made in Salidar and Ebou Dar.
The grim mood continues with Perrin leaving Cairhien after a very public argument with Rand about his behaviour concerning the Aes Sedai prisoners. A potent flashback cuts down the amount of exposition needed. The chapter opens with a paragraph on Perrin’s regrets, a second paragraph on Rand promoting fear amongst his servants, and then the introduction to the flashback. By placing the flashback early in the chapter, the order of events is maintained without having to describe what happened before and immediately after their confrontation. The decision not to play up their argument stems from wanting to continue setting the mood of insurmountable obstacles and the fact that the argument is a sham, a ploy to divert attention away from Perrin while he carries out Rand’s orders. Knowing of the plot beforehand reduces an emotional impact that can be wrung out of it, this simply isn’t a powerful enough scene to warrant much attention.
The chapter also serves to list Perrin’s followers, describe his mission, and the likely obstacle she will face. As with the tail end of Lord of Chaos when Elayne and Nynaeve begin their search in Ebou Dar, this is just the beginning of the new quest, which will carry over several books. Since his battle in the Two Rivers, Perrin has only shown up briefly in the prologue of Lord of Chaos, briefly again later in that book, and for several chapters at the beginning of this one. Having been mostly absent for a long time, Perrin is about to become a steady player, much to the chagrin of many readers.
Mat has had dice rolling in his head, then not, several times in Ebou Dar. The dice first stop when he stays in the randomly selected inn that Setalle Anan owns. This is because he has acquired the link to the people needed for the Bowl of the Winds to be found. The dice start again, then stop when he agrees to stay in the Palace, because he can now form a relationship with Tylin. The dice start a third time before Beslan’s approval of Mat’s relationship with his mother disturbs him at the right moment to follow a random Kinswoman to a house on the Rahad. The dice are still spinning…
Writing Lessons:
The location of a flashback within a chapter will affect mood and comprehension.  A flashback’s length and placement can serve you as much as it’s content.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

A Crown of Swords - Chapters 21-24

In this section, working together, the heroes get closer to what they seek
Working together is how you get things done, but it can make for boring stories. Stories demand some form of conflict between characters. When characters finally recognize their divergent needs, but also find the common ground that will propel them forward, it makes for rewarding reading.
Mat is a rogue that no decent woman can tolerate. Elayne and Nynaeve are two decent women who can’t tolerate Mat’s behaviour. Mat needs to escort Elayne to Caemlyn safely and is willing to help the women do whatever they must so they can get on the road northwards. Elayne and Nynaeve need to find the Bowl of the Winds, but want to do it on their own, and have evaded Mat’s help so far. They have made no progress, and don’t foresee making progress locating the Bowl of the Winds any time soon.  Since neither of them can give up their goal, the only way for both to succeed is to cooperate. Mat has already made concessions in traveling to Ebou Dar on their mission, the action comes when Elayne and Nynaeve must bend their stiff necks to ask for the help they have dismissed.
It is more entertaining, and rewarding, when progress is made by the character because of their personality than when it comes from finding a random clue, or object that allows that progress. Elayne and Nynaeve both have to admit past errors, accept responsibility, and deal with consequences of their past actions before they can get any further in their search. Their reluctance to do so allows for some remarkably funny interactions. The process of doing so engages and pleases the reader from a variety of angles: The women are growing and learning, Nynaeve is edging closer to being able to surrendering control, Elayne is atoning for her pride and learning to accept Aviendha and her ways into her close relationship with Rand, Mat is gaining control of his situation, though he is really just trading control with the two women for loss of control with his men and Tylin. The entire process of sending Brigitte to speak with Mat, his demands, the drinking, the apologies and the restraint as they face each other down, the agreement, and the price to be paid by all participants, is quite simply one of the funniest and rewarding scenes in the story so far.
The cooperation is symbolized by the revelation of secrets, such as Birgitte’s origin and the One Power disguises, and the beginning of a new mystery regarding Setalle Anan and the Kin.
The mystery comes out of nowhere, having only faintly been touched on in an earlier scene with the Black Ajah. No sooner do the women step out of Mat’s room than they are swept up by his ta’veren thread-pulling, represented by Setalle Anan who takes them to some women who can help.
Setalle and the Kin have many strange and interesting characteristics, mostly related to knowledge they should not have come by easily. A large part of the mystery revolves around age of channelers, which has been a topic briefly discussed a number of times in this book. The number of channelers in the Kin is of interest, as is Berowin’s specially honed ability to shield anyone, acquired after long years of practice that even an Aes Sedai doesn’t get. Setalle appears to know an Aes Sedai from seventy years ago, one who looks remarkably like a woman in the Kin. The Kin’s questions are particularly focused on things that novices would know. And upsetting everything else about rank, strength in the Power has little to do with rank amongst the Kin. There are enough clues in there to for readers to stew over and probably get close to guessing the correct answer. But the intent isn’t to let the reader stew for long.
The Black Ajah make an attempt to kidnap Elayne and Nynaeve, similar to what happened to them in Tanchico. It isn’t said straight out that the Black Ajah were behind it, and there could have been several others with motive, but it is the fact that it comes right after the Kin learn of the murder of one of their number that cements it. The Kinswoman was murdered by the Black Ajah in an earlier chapter, so once the reader is reminded of that by discovery of the murder, the murderers should be at the forefront of the reader’s mind when the attempted kidnapping takes place. Juxtaposing elements in this way is overtly used often in film and comics, and it has turned up in a subtle fashion many times in Robert Jordan’s writing.
Writing Lessons:
Juxtapose sections of text that contain the same plot element or character to either subtly point to it, or to blatantly segue from one to the other.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

A Crown of Swords - Chapters 18-20

In this section major new characters are introduced.
There is always a difficulty when introducing major characters late in the story. It can appear they come out of nowhere, that they haven’t earned the reader’s respect as the beloved heroes have who were there from the beginning. Cadsuane is such a character.
Over the next several books, Cadsuane will constantly be at Rand’s side, alternately aiding or destabilizing him. She is established as a mentor character, keeper of knowledge that Rand may need to deal with his madness. This is revealed by way of describing the number of men she has gentled and her familiarity with Rand’s darkest secret. She knows of what she speaks. Rand has been without a mentor since Asmodean’s and Moiraine’s deaths and his foray into leadership on his own ended with his kidnapping.
Cadsuane’s introduction is sudden and awkward.
“An Aes Sedai has come to see the Car’a’carn.” She managed to sound cold and uncertain at the same time. “Her name is Cadsuane Melaidhrin.” A strikingly handsome woman swept in right behind her, iron-gray hair gathered in a bun atop her head and decorated with dangling golden ornaments, and it seemed everything happened at once.
Several legendary Aes Sedai have been mentioned in scenes with Egwene and Siuan. There was plenty of opportunity to tell the reader that Cadsuane is a person of power and repute, and to tell why. New Spring had not yet been published at this time, but following a chronological reading as I’ve done with this blog, readers may remember her, and they may even remember that Moiraine thought she must be Black Ajah.  By bringing her into the story with no prior introduction, the intent is to leave the reader as uncertain as Rand as to her identity and motives.
 “I thought you were dead,” Annoura gasped, eyes nearly staring out of her head.
With this line, the author conveys that Cadsuane is an oddity, and remarkable enough to shock the normally unflappable Annoura.
Merana darted through the ward, hands outstretched. “No, Cadsuane!” she screamed. “You mustn’t harm him! You must not!”
Merana perceives the threat to Rand to be sufficiently great that she disobeys his orders, which she should only be able to do if the need to serve him by keeping him alive clearly outweighs the need to stand in the corner. She knows what Rand is capable of and still sees Cadsuane as a threat to him. The immediacy of the danger is disorienting to the reader.
Having established that Cadsuane is a match for Rand and his Asha’man, we are also shown that she is completely calm and in control of the situation. The male channelers hold no fear for her, since she has been hunting male channelers so long she has captured more of them than any handful of Red Ajah combined. We soon learn from her own point of view that centuries have passed since she last encountered a task she could not perform.  No, the Asha’man truly do not worry her. She is probably the most powerful woman in the world in terms of ability and rank, and only her respect for an Amyrlin might make her follow that woman. She’s rumoured to have publicly disagreed with even Amyrlins on occasion.
She refers to the vileness after the Aiel War – the context infers it is probably the illegal gentling of men by the Red Ajah that has been hidden for twenty years. Alviarin and Elaida discussed this topic in the prologue. This and a few other clues tell us that Cadsuane has a moderate respect for the law, but she would toss aside law and custom to get what she wants.
What she wants is to stop him from being influenced or upset in the wrong way, the epitome of which was Elaida’s kidnapping attempt. This is the first overt discussion of Rand’s mood and mindset as a plot point, although Egwene has made reference to it as well. Once again, the physical obstacles of Tarmon Gai’don have become less important than the personality and character-related obstacles, and the true battlefield will be fought over Rand’s heart.
Elsewhere, Sevanna has realized she can’t get at Rand without help. What the Aes Sedai cannot provide, Sammael might. Sammael is playing a trick on the Shaido, and they are falling for it. Sammael is playing a trick on Graendal, and she has fallen for it. This trickery was a theme for Lord of Chaos, and the theme of this book –the relationships between leaders and followers- somewhat overlaps with it. The unresolved plotlines of Lord of Chaos make these two books halves of a whole.
A second mystery character shows up. Like Cadsuane, this watcher in the woods seems to be more powerful than his counterparts among the Forsaken, having abilities beyond even theirs. He fears a pair of Forsaken no more than Cadsuane feared the Asha’man. Because Cadsuane has already made her appearance, the watcher’s sudden arrival seems less disruptive and more natural. This despite the fact that there has been no prior indication of a new super-villain walking the world. Shaidar Haran was as close as it came. The resurrection of dead villains is a fine trick for the Dark One to play on his enemies, touching on the twin themes of trickery and the question of who the leader really is.
Writing Lessons:
Prepare the reader when you are introducing major new characters who will figure prominently, unless you have a good reason not to.

Friday, 8 June 2012

A Crown of Swords - Chapters 14-17

In this section, all the players are introduced in Ebou Dar
Throughout the Ebou Dar sections, there are a number of players: Mat, Elayne, Nynaeve, Thom, Juilin, Olver, Nalesean, Vanin, Aviendha, Merilille, Sareitha, Careane, Adeleas, Vandene, Joline, Teslyn, Tylin, Beslan, Setalle, Jaichim, Shiaine, Old Cully, Sammael, Falion, Ispan, Nesta, Malin, Dorile and a gholam. These players move about interacting with each other to bring the search for the Bowl of the Winds to its conclusion.
We’ve already seen that Elayne, Nynaeve and Aviendha have begun preparing for the day they find the Bowl of the Winds by entering into a bargain with Sea Folk. In stories you will often see parallel tasks being carried out by different people, but less often will you see characters multi-tasking the different steps needed and preparing for future events ahead of time. In this case it allows later events to take place rapidly. The Sea Folk can simply be summoned and show up when needed.
The first piece to fall into place is the suggestion that Mat can be used to help find the Bowl of the Winds. Being ta’veren, he has already established the needed relationships with Setalle that will lead to its hiding place. We are re-introduced to Mat doing all the things that Nynaeve can’t stand: gambling, ogling, drinking, swearing. Mat’s behaviour and Nyaneve’s low tolerance for it are presented as the major obstacle. This is a switch from the physical obstacle of searching the Rahad which has proven insurmountable so far. By shifting the obstacle to one of character traits, the reader will be more involved in their interactions, and have a more rewarding reading experience.
Mat’s involvement draws the villains in. Mat recognizes Shiaine, who visits Jaichim, who in turn recognizes Mat from the secret orders placed in his mind by Ishamael. Jaichim feels a need to kill Mat, but the mere suggestion is dismissed by Sammael who can’t afford to let Rand get wind what he is up to. Sammael gives explicit orders not to touch Mat unless it turns out Mat is there looking for Sammael or acting against him in some way. Jaichim now has contradicting orders from two Forsaken, and the fact that one of them is dead does not make Jaichim any safer from the consequences of not carrying out his orders to kill Rand and his allies. No one survives disobedience, but Jaichim skirts as close as he can, ignoring Sammael’s orders to find the cache and setting Shiaine to kidnap Mat. Jaichim serves many masters, but none more important than himself.
Sammael sends a helper to get rid of any Aes Sedai impeding the search: the gholam who tore Herid Fel apart. Meanwhile, a pair of Black Ajah working on Moghedien’s orders to find the cache come close to a clue by interrogating a Wise Woman. Despite the fact that Moghedien is probably dead, they dare not stop what they are doing.
 The stage is now set for all of these players in the main plotline to race towards the same objective, coming closer and closer to an eventual confrontation.
Mat needs to tell the women about his discovery. In the Tarasin Palace he bumps into every Aes Sedai except the ones he is looking for. Mat’s nature is to be contrary. He will do an aboutface on an action that was important to put Nynaeve in her place a moment ago in order to put off someone else now. He acts purely in the moment, on impulse and instinct, changing his opinions entirely on the whim of the moment. Mat’s opinions are made clear in a sentence where the substitution of a noun provides humour, feeling and tension: The two groups stared at one another as if trying to see who could out-Aes Sedai who. Mat next meets Tylin and Beslan, who will be willing to help in any way they can, now that Mat is a close friend of the family. Once again the ta’veren provides what is needed before it is known what is needed. Beslan acts much like Mat, living for the moment, yet Mat immediately sees himself as the reasonable one, as always in order to try avoid doing anything against his will.
 Teslyn is sharp and prepared, either hearing Mat was in the palace and seeking him out to place a note in his pocket, or carrying one around for the eventual moment she would meet him. By telling Joline she acts like a child, she manipulates Joline into resisting Elaida’s orders. She is as contrary as Mat. The secondary plot of trying to capture Elayne and Nynaeve is established. A second group is also trying to nab the women. The Black Ajah are ready to put aside their search and try for Moghedien’s hated enemies instead, also shifting from a physical obstacle to one based on character and relationships.
Now the remaining players will be drawn towards those participating in the main plotline.
The attempts on Mat begin, and the first cluster of Darkfriends falls. Mat is unobservant about their purpose, but when a second group led by Old Cully falls, he puts two and two together, in a fashion.
The first of several mystery characters shows up. An old man with memory gaps observes the comings and goings of the Black Ajah. It is not obvious that he is under Compulsion and is spying for Graendal. He also doesn’t show up again, so readers are left to wonder why he appears at all. It does set a precedent for the later mystery characters who show up spying on Sammael and helping Rand, so their appearance will not feel as contrived.
Writing Lessons:
Obstacles related to character and personality are more interesting than physical obstacles.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

A Crown of Swords - Chapters 12-13

In this section, Egwene wrangles some allies to her side, while Aviendha provides an obvious suggestion about a potential ally to her friends.
Egwene’s part in the book concludes with her discovering that Myrelle has a dark nasty secret. She received Lan’s bond without his permission. The true fault is Moiraine’s, but Myrelle is complicit. It’s a big enough faux pas that Egwene can force her to swear fealty.
Swearing to obey is portrayed as a bad thing when Aes Sedai swear to Rand, but as a good thing when these Aes Sedai do it for Egwene. The result is a feeling of uncertainty in both cases. While we’re happy Egwene is surmounting her difficulties, the fact that the Aes Sedai are constrained to obey absolutely puts a new spin on the obedience of followers theme.
Lan offers advice on the new followers: don’t let them argue again. This from a man who was compelled and had his bond passed off to Myrelle. Maybe he wanted to get back at them a little.
Off-page, the rest of Sheriam’s group will also swear fealty to Egwene. Having set the stage for their downfall, there is no purpose to showing more of the same here. Many authors would be tempted to show the big boss being taken down, but the victory was already won against Myrelle. Instead, the author lets Egwene and the readers imagine Sheriam’s downfall, showing a blissful Egwene feeling in control, at last. Yet while she basks in these good feelings, a Forsaken is standing over her, in a position of intimacy and trust, and possibly undetected influence. Using Sheriam in this way serves to set up the coming conflict, and is a very worthwhile trade off for not getting to show her downfall on-page.
Aviendha’s point of view is as alien as anyone’s but a Seanchan’s. A good portion of text is spent contrasting her understanding of the world with what we are familiar with.
Aviendha hits on the solution to finding the Bowl of the Winds. Use Mat’s ta’veren ability. This is another example contrasting similar situations. While Egwene could not get allies to support her, Nynaeve and Elayne have been purposely keeping their ally at arm’s length.
Elayne learns about bargaining the hard way. The Sea Folk have very strict rules about who leads or commands, while the pair of Aes Sedai are woefully unprepared. They quickly find that they are not equals with the Sea Folk as their meagre advantages are quickly stripped away. The overlapping conversations ending the chapter convey the sense of overwhelming chaos the women have thrown themselves into.
Here is an example of how a sentence can convey meaning about the situation while establishing facts about the society. Remarkably, the nouns make no difference to understanding the relative value attributed to them.
Do I see a Wavemistress and her Windfinder, or two deckgirls at their first shipmeet?
Do I see a Wise One and her Apprentice, or two Maidens at their first swap meet?
Do I see a physt and her yshesn, or two ujdnds at their first jsjdyf?
It is the words OR and FIRST that provide the contrast between experience and starting out. OR establishes the comparison, while FIRST supplies value to BOTH sides of the comparison. The comparison is supplemented by using nouns which include other value-laden words such as GIRL vs. MISTRESS.
Writing Lessons:
When introducing alien cultures, use words that establish familiar relationships with the unfamiliar terms.

A Crown of Swords - Chapters 9-11

In this section, Egwene slowly builds herself up from nothing
It is always rewarding to watch a character overcome obstacles, to go from having nothing to the top of the heap. In the previous section, Egwene was presented as not even having a reliable chair. We saw her loyal maid, who fetched her two other loyal helpers, a pair of disgraced Aes Sedai who stand very low in the hierarchy. A fourth helper, the prisoner Moghedien, had escaped. Things look grim.
Sheriam is supposed to be Egwene’s helper, but tries to keep Egwene occupied with meaningless tasks while keeping control of the rebels by hoarding information. When Egwene finally learns of a secret that Sheriam and her council kept from the Hall, Egwene begins to blackmail her. Fear of the secret being told before the Hall prompts Sheriam to reveal it to Egwene and Siuan.
Sheriam and her group sent ferrets to the White Tower to spy on Elaida. They supposedly told no one because they were not only afraid of Elaida’s own spies among the rebels, but that the Sitters may be Black Ajah. Ridiculously, they never consider whether any of the ferrets or the 6 members of their council might be either of those (true on both counts).
Rushing to investigate Moghedien’s disappearance, Egwene loses the opportunity to truly corner Sheriam, but it will work out for the best soon. Egwene even risks exposing Siuan and Leane in her haste to find who freed Moghedien. Chesa behaves loyally in fetching them, and they in turn suggest grabbing Theodrin and Faolain to do the real legwork so they can go back to the pretense of being angry at each other.
Areina and Nicola attempt to blackmail Egwene, which she takes great offense to, and pushes back at them with veiled threats that she cannot follow through on. This is meant to show the reader that Egwene’s path to power is riddled with moral peril. She berates them for doing exactly what she is doing. Egwene believes she has better cause, and acknowledges she is willing to pay the price for her actions, since it is avoiding the price that is the immoral act, not the blackmail itself. The fact that they cave in to her shows they do not have the same moral fiber or righteousness, though whether Egwene has the right of it is undetermined.
Egwene regains the moral high ground in discussion with the Wise Ones (see below) and gets the germ of an idea when they suggest getting Aes Sedai to swear fealty to Rand.
Theodrin and Faolain then do something unexpected which gives Egwene power and an idea. They swear fealty to her because they feel Egwene is the person who deserves their pledge of allegiance under the law and in principle. They received offers from Romanda and Lelaine so when they swear to Egwene it is as much by choice as by duty. Egwene confirms they made the right choice when she tells them they are Aes Sedai, but never would be if they kept repeating the denials of other sisters who hold it over them.
Romanda and Lelaine demonstrate how professional Aes Sedai of the highest standing act.
We’re given several pairs of followers to compare over these chapters (Siuan and Leane, Faolain and Theodrin, Areina and Nicola, Romanda and Lelaine), with one more pair yet to come (Myrelle and Nisao), each of whom represents a relationship between the leader and the follower. Some are willing followers, some reluctant, some need bullying, and some see themselves as the leader and Egwene as the follower. This is similar to how the author introduced many of the concepts and cultures in early books, placing them near each other in the story as logical comparisons.

Let’s take a look at a typical Robert Jordan conversation, when Egwene meets the three Wise Ones in Tel’aran’rhiod:
Bair startles Egwene by speaking. 5 lines of discussion about her reaction and how it made her feel and an exaggeration about what will come next. Egwene recovers her poise. Descriptions of the Three Wise Ones.
Melaine mentions Egwene’s reaction, comparing her to a rabbit, again framing both her mood and situation. There is an implication Egwene needs to stop being a rabbit.
Egwene explains about Moghedien. Current relationship between Egwene and Melaine is revealed.
Egwene explains further. She changes her appearance to something more self-possessed.
Bair understands. Her strong character is revealed through her voice, like iron.
They ask for details. Aiel character traits revealed.
Stop, change topic. They get down to business. Sit near Callandor. Describe Callandor’s powers. Describe how weaves are reflected in Tel’aran’rhiod (I guess that means Rand’s dreams of Be’lal holding Callandor were just dreams, not in Tel’aran’rhiod, unless he dreamed himself another copy of it).
Egwene introduces topic of why she was summoned away. She stands, even if she is seen as a supplicant or on trial.
No big deal, says Amys. How old is she anyway (relating to question of aging which will be relevant with the Kin later).
I am the Amyrlin. They seem skeptical.
A comparable situation is described. And shown. The Wise Ones see to the heart of her problem. They do not consider that Egwene’s past lies count any more, since they have been atoned for.
Egwene agrees that she is seen as a figurehead, but she means to change that.
Forget them, come back to us. The Wise Ones extend an invitation.
Egwene already made her choice. But she wants to keep close ties with the Wise Ones.
Good luck. Invitation to join them sitting implies they accept her decision.
Stop, Change topic. Will your Aes Sedai swear fealty to Rand?
They will not. She gives a comparable situation. And shows it. The Wise Ones scoff at the very idea.
They are not like us. Grrrr. Angry Wise Ones. A short history of why that might be.
Egwene will do as she must, Amys says. The other Wise Ones follow her lead. They have tea, symbolizing acceptance of the situation. Egwene compares the Wise Ones to the Aes Sedai in her head, realizing they ARE trying to do the same thing. Only Egwene herself thinks of Rand’s needs first.
Stop, Change topic. What else troubles Egwene?
Rand troubles Egwene. She tries to lighten the mood.
That’s what men do. Melaine’s joke falls flat, implying this is now serious discussion.
Merana must be failing. Egwene reveals her concerns.
A second plea to rejoin the Wise Ones. Egwene rejects it.
I can help him more from here. Egwene is trapped by her own laws and customs.
We’ll take care of any problems between Rand and the Aes Sedai. The Wise Ones are holding back. In doing so, after Egwene has been so open, Egwene’s honour will rise, while their own falls. It is a lie unspoken.
Egwene is doubtful. She detects their evasion.
Bair jokes about how well they will get along.
Merana should have said something. Egwene digs for the truth.
Amys misdirects Egwene.
Amys, promise you won’t stop them from talking. The Wise Ones are uncertain how to keep their secret.
We promise. But they don’t like what it’s doing to their honour.
Egwene thanks them for being truthful. The Wise Ones are now locked in, they have toh. Their appearance changes. Egwene pretends not to notice to save them from more shame.
The Wise ones are silent.
Egwene asks a favour. Don’t tell Rand she is Amyrlin. She doesn’t want Rand interfering or raising tension.
Agreement. They will keep the secret. Egwene is surprised at how quickly they agreed.
Stop, change topic. They talk more, but the Wise Ones are still evasive, revealing tidbits only by accident. Their advice about the Aes Sedai problem is unsound.
Be careful of Moghedien. Egwene goes back to the first topic of discussion.
We can take them down. But they will also be careful.
Friends forever?
Friends forever!

Summary of the discussion: 
Introduction to mood and bad situation.
Topic 1 - Moghedien, Egwene gains honor.
Topic 2 - Egwene is Amyrlin, reminder of mood and bad situation, Egwene gains honour.
Topic 3 – Aes Sedai will not swear fealty to Rand, Egwene gains honour.
Topic 4 – Rand and the Aes Sedai may butt heads, Egwene surpasses the honour of the Wise Ones.
Return to topic 2, then topic 1 – Wise Ones leave, downcast. Egwene is pleased.
This conversation represented a journey for Egwene, pulling herself out of a bad mood to a good one, racking up standing with the Wise Ones, solving problems, and comporting herself in a manner befitting or better than a top tier Wise One. Jordan follows a very structured layout, progressing from small things to big, following the rule of three examples yet again, then moves back down from that pinnacle to the same small things, bringing the discussion full circle. He also uses available cues to plant clues to later plot lines, reveals character, advances plot, shares information among characters, and plants gentle reminders of the broader plot.
Writing Lessons:
Use conversations to advance character development, not just plot.