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.

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