Sunday, 29 July 2012

Winter's Heart - Chapters 1-4

In this section, Perrin and Faile learn the extent of their problems.

At the very end of the last book, Faile’s kidnapping and Perrin’s meeting with Masema were covered. This provided a bit more of a cliffhanger ending, but those bits would have fit as easily at the beginning of Winter’s Heart. Only the prologue separates them from the opening chapters of this book, so the flow feels almost uninterrupted, despite a two-year publication interval.

Very little new information is given during Perrin’s march back to camp, during which he is oblivious to Faile’s plight. The first chapter serves as a re-introduction to some of the main elements of Perrin’s current set of tasks. We are reminded that Masema is a powerful fool, his followers have a mild respect for Perrin at the moment, but are still crazy, and will do whatever Masema tells them. Perrin’s followers are alert, and many of them favour killing Masema outright. Perrin maintains firm control over his followers, but worries they will act on their own because his hold isn’t firm enough. The relationships between the diverse followers are difficult to keep smooth. Yes, all this is old news, and the reader has to be satisfied with sparse tidbits of new material.

Perrin’s lack of knowledge heightens the tension, especially since readers have known about her kidnapping for some time. It only lasts for that one chapter, but the reader spends most of it feeling that Perrin needs to hurry up and find out what’s going on. In the short term this had the desired effect, but in the longer term it contributes to the perception of slowness of this entire plotline.

Among the new tidbits is that Perrin has already thought through his options regarding Masema. His plan confirms what we already knew about his personality. Kidnapping or killing Masema would turn his bands of madmen loose on the land, causing looting burning and killing. Perrin is completely unwilling to cause such havoc, the slaughter at Dumai’s Wells still fresh in his mind. He hopes to never see the like again, and will go to great pains to avoid it, even at the cost of dealing with Masema directly and marching home instead of Traveling. Meanwhile, Toveine and Rand are both trying to prevent the same possibility from coming true with the Asha’man. Keeping the madmen congregated and obedient is a parallel plot they share.

Another interesting tidbit is Elyas’ assessment of Aram. He says that with the Way of the Leaf gone, he has nothing to believe in except Perrin, and that is not enough for any man.  Aram is fervent, perhaps as intensely as Masema, and the implication is that no good can come of it. This comes just as Perrin reminds us yet again that nothing is more important than Faile, even his task, or his men. All resources must be devoted to finding Faile, at any cost. Perrin has a number of people acting as his conscience, to set him right when he gets too far down the path of single-mindedness and to approve his actions when he acts appropriately. Aram serves as a cautionary tale for Perrin showing what goes wrong when you worship a person instead of a set of ideals. Masema does as well, but as a leader instead of as a follower.

Faile meets Rolan, the leader of the Brotherless, Aiel who have rejected sept, clan and society. Like Aram, they have rejected their former set of beliefs and associations. Faile and her friends live because Rolan and his friends rejected the Aiel notion that the prisoners should freeze to death instead of being wrapped in coats. Rolan is a sort of anti-Perrin, physically comparable, representing an alternative life that Faile will have little choice but to try embrace if she is to escape.

Her other options for escape are limited. She can help Therava spy on Sevanna and hope the Wise One keeps her word to leave them behind at some later point, presumably once Sevanna has been deposed. She can help Galina steal the Oath Rod from the implacable Therava and try escape with her. No matter who she helps, she is betraying the other two, with the likely outcome that she will be exposed and punished or killed. She is faced with a handful of incompatible choices, greatly heightening the danger she faces.

Both Perrin and Faile are in situations where any choice will force them to act counter to other actions which are critical to their character or to their survival. The choices have been well explained, and the contradictions they expose are clear to the reader so they understand the consequences and the stakes.

Writing Lessons:

The reader needs to know what choices the characters have, what the costs and benefits of each are, and have a clear understanding of which your character chooses and why.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Winter's Heart - Prologue

In this section, multiple plots are laid out clearly, and reader’s expectations are set.

Perhaps recognizing the previous book’s weak ending, the author immediately sets up several storylines with expectations to be met before the book ends.

In the White Tower, the Black Ajah Hunters get Talene to re-swear the Three Oaths. Talene is a tool that can be used now, but the Hunters decide to proceed with caution, bringing in the ten rebel ferrets to swear obedience first. That will bring their number to sixteen. Seaine also has her first doubts about what task Elaida actually assigned her. We expect this quest to net a second Black sister soon.

Elayne’s section reveals a little about Egwene, which is all we’ll see of the Amyrlin in this book. A simple primer about Elayne’s major competitors for the throne means we should see some of them interfering before the book is over. A number of reasonable contrivances explain why Elayne won’t be receiving any outside help. No allies are available, and in any case would unintentionally cost Elayne the throne because they are foreigners. The Sea Folk remain stuck in Caemlyn by their own mistrust that Elayne will break the Bargain. This character-driven obstacle is more powerful than a physical one could be. Renaile will not leave until she gets what was agreed to, which will keep her at Elayne’s side for a long time.

The confrontation between Taim and Elayne ends with him acquiescing to her requests to visit the Black Tower under supervision. When she later carries out her first visit and Toveine sees her, we then expect some interaction between the two.

After Taim, a Wise One enters, the third uninvited interruption in the last twenty minutes. Dyelin provides a comment which is likely echoing the reader’s thoughts, and is therefore meant to restore the plausibility of the scene: “Blood and ashes!” Dyelin muttered. “ Is the whole world just going to walk in here?” She uses exaggeration to make the current situation seem normal in comparison. Humour is another tactic which causes the reader to overlook the obvious by pointing out the abnormal situation. A reader who knows that the author has recognized their complaint will be satisfied and move on with the story feeling the problem has been resolved.

The first-sister ceremony provides a glimpse of a healthy relationship by Aiel standards. It amounts to knowledge, faith, and forgiveness of the first-sister. Elayne has already shown this behaviour is the basis for her romance with Rand, so now this example will allow Aviendha to learn how to love him as well, and maybe they will teach and remind Rand how to behave.

Toveine is crafty, and seems to have a secret plan to pull down Elaida, even as she agrees to publicly give leadership of the Black Tower prisoners to another sister. Readers expect this plan to bear some fruit by the end of the book. Logain’s unwanted presence at the Black Tower and the faction he is heading create interest in seeing matters advance or get resolved. The Asha’man voice concerns that Rand doesn’t care about them, that Taim is giving preferred treatment to certain Asha’man, and that Taim’s cronies have turned bad. The implication is that Taim is creating a private army and Logain will be the main obstacle he has to overcome.

Rand has decided he can’t wait to move forward with his plan to make his Asha’man into reliable tools again. As soon as he can lure his would-be assassins to him and dispatch them, he plans to cleanse saidin. This sets the reader’s expectations. There had better be an attempt to cleanse saidin before the book is done! He even describes how it will go down: everyone within a thousand miles will feel him channeling, and come to put an end to it, so he needs to whittle down the number of detractors he will face before he starts cleansing. That and get over the sickness that has begun to affect him whenever he channels.

Each of these points of view has created expectations that readers will want resolved.

Writing Lessons:

Set expectations purposefully, or your readers will set them for you.

Use humour and exaggeration and acknowledgement to have readers overlook the contrived scenarios you devise.

The Path of Daggers - Summary

The Path of Daggers ends on such a weak note, it’s hard to think of it as a complete book. The Hero gets ambushed in dramatic fashion, and survives, but is unable to deliver any retribution. A similar attack on an Aes Sedai is treated without emotion or build-up. And the final chapter covers a handful of plotlines from other characters that haven’t been seen for the last half of the book, only one of which involves any action or genuine excitement.

While the book moved rapidly and had several rewarding moments, the failure to deliver a strong conclusion can’t help but wear down a long-time reader.  As with the previous two books, which read better as a pair because of the lack of resolution, I expect the most satisfaction will come from treating The Path of Daggers as the first half of Winter’s Heart, instead of a complete book in its own right. As with Lord of Chaos, the other half-book, this book uses a sudden plot twist near the end to try provide some excitement, hoping to make up for the lack of resolution of the main plots. It was much less successful here because the threat to Rand was much more physical than character-driven, and it involved foreseeable events instead of something never before seen let alone imagined.

The layout of the chapters has each character’s point of view chapters clumped together, mimicking the most successful pacing of the earlier books in the series. This layout delivers strong results once again, allowing a situation to be introduced, built upon, and if necessary to come back and complete the resolution in a later set of chapters.

The centerpiece of the book and the high point of the story is Rand’s epic war against the Seanchan. Rand knows the war was waged at a great cost to his own forces, with most of the losses coming at his own hands when he mishandles Callandor. He learns Callandor is flawed, but it is the war itself which was flawed. Rand is learning firsthand that the Tuatha’an saying is right; doing violence damages him and his people as well as the people he strikes.

In a similar vein, when the tools and people he relies on begin to let him down, whether Maidens rebelling or Asha’man going mad or trying to assassinate him, Rand builds up walls. Even if he can’t trust, he still intends to carry on as before.

Up until now, Rand had been presented simple solutions to all the problems: raise an army, and his opponents will surrender; kill a Forsaken and he can take over a nation. But his early successes are beginning to drag him down. He is learning through difficult experience that his tactics aren’t working any more, but he insists on pushing harder instead of examining whether other tools may produce better results. Rand has only recently achieved manhood and begun to take his responsibilities seriously, but he is fumbling with how to do it.

The metaphor of the sha’rah game in the prologue best depicts the book’s central theme. It can be more dangerous to have control than to give it up, the tool you hold can work against you, and the unseen pitfalls are many and hazardous.

Writing Lessons:

A book’s conclusion demands resolution and reader satisfaction. Failing to deliver it will cost you.

The Path of Daggers - Chapters 28-31

(Yay! 6000 views! 125 posts! Thanks everyone!)

In this section, hidden enemies strike.

Both Rand’s and Elayne’s sections end unspectacularly, which ends the book rather unspectacularly. Both make the same point, which is that the opponents hidden in their midst can pose a sudden threat.

In Elayne’s case, the sudden attack takes place at the end of an otherwise bland series of interactions with her party. Reading through this recital of ordinary events is meant to emphasize the hidden nature of the threat, and show how the Black Ajah behave as normally as anyone else, using their normalcy as cover. The revelation of the Black Ajah is described as just another part of an otherwise ordinary week, provoking no excitement.

The ‘explosion’ Elayne was disturbed by turned out to be simply a runaway Accepted hiding among the Kinswomen. The manner in which she is concealed among the Kin is similar to how the Black Ajah hide among trusted friends, but with much less dire consequences. The author builds up this supposed ‘explosion’ and then offhandedly describes discovery of the double murder in an emotionless and logical fashion. This is done to continue disarming the reader’s suspicions so that the attack on Rand in the next chapter can be played for maximum effect.

Dyelin is introduced, and with the events just revealed, Elayne and the reader now can’t help wonder if she is as truthful and loyal as she claims, or whether she is a secret threat.

A long-time foil for the heroes, Carridin, is replaced by Hanlon, just as the captive Black Ajah Ispan has been replaced by the Black sister traveling with Elayne. The advantage gained by knowing who was a Darkfriend has been erased, and the heroes are back where they started with unknown villains in their midst and no clues as to their identity.

The attack on Rand is handled differently than the one on Elayne. The chapter begins with a set-up meant to remind us that everyone serves Rand loyally. The Asha’man have been elevated to Rand’s most trusted guardians now that the Maidens’ complaint has them letting anyone in to see Rand. Sorilea brings five Aes Sedai from Elaida’s embassy who have decided to swear fealty to Rand. It is implied that everyone serves Rand. There are no problems apparent, so now he decides to deal with Cadsuane.

Just as he leaves, a subtle reminder that all is not well is given in the form of a single paragraph of the Maidens outside his door. They still disapprove of his actions. And then from out of nowhere, Rand is attacked!

The attack is sudden, violent and abnormal from any previous threat he has faced. There was no warning, no challenge, no duel, just an immense hammer of Power meant to flatten him. He manages to identify his attackers, and defends himself against Dashiva’s next weave with a globe of Power that serves as a metaphor for his situation. The globe will keep out everything than can harm him, but also the things which sustain him. He cannot live that way. Moments later, his attackers have fled, leaving Rand to wander aimlessly through the wreckage looking for someone to fight.

Finally, he finds Morr, an Asha’man who has spontaneously gone mad while guarding Min. In his final encounter with Taim, Rand adds several names to the list of deserters, all men who had been raised and appointed to serve Rand by Taim. When he euthanizes Morr, Rand refuses to cry, saying he has no time for tears, already hardening himself to the perceived weakness of emotion. If he can’t trust those near him, he won’t allow himself  to feel anything for them.

Bizarrely, a few other short points of view end the book. Perrin recruits the prophet to follow him back to Cairhien, but his refusal to Travel using the One Power means long delays. Faile’s kidnapping implies the same. The Pattern offers at least these two reasons to delay Perrin’s return, in case one or the other should fail to keep him in Ghealdan. Lastly, an undetermined number of days in the future, Egwene leads her army to the shores of the Erinin to lay siege to Tar Valon. By including this scene, there is no need to discuss Egwene or the rebels in the next book.

Writing Lessons:

Build up a single paragraph, or pages at a time, to evoke the mood or emotions you want the reader to have.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

The Path of Daggers - Chapters 25-27

In this section, Rand has been momentarily humbled, and a variety of bit players advance plots elsewhere in the world.

Elaida is trying to rule by decree as Rand just did in his War with the Seanchan. She too is finding it difficult to achieve absolute control over her followers. Whatever success she has in getting them to obey without question is reversed when Alviarin imposes her own decrees in Elaida’s name. Elaida’s decrees are so unimportant we don’t even get to see what they are, Alviarin simply tosses them out. The point is that their contents are irrelevant, all that matters is that they please the master. Alviarin faces the same dilemma with her limited ability to act beyond exactly what Mesaana commands her to do.

Messana, and therefore Alviarin also, wants to learn what Ajah heads are up to, and it is reasonable to expect some of the Sitters may be in on the secret, so the Black Sitter Talene prods a group of other Sitters to find out what Seaine and Pevara are up to in the basement of the Tower. Her plan backfires and she finds herself in the clutches of the expanded group of Black Ajah Hunters.

The revelation of this previously unsuspected Black Ajah attempts to convince the reader that hidden secrets are being exposed. We now know several of the highest-ranking Black Ajah and where they are hidden: Sheriam, Alviarin, Talene, Delana, Galina. A reader might rightfully assume that other Black Ajah remain hidden but are unlikely to be a threat to the heroes until they receive orders from one of these superiors.

The means by which the author created sympathy for the Black Ajah Hunters is common. Seaine herself is not standard hero material, nor is Pevara. But their quest is a heroic one, and that rubs off on them. When three new Sitters join the group by accidentally finding them and figuring out why they have closeted themselves with the Oath Rod, none of their personalities matter. Yukiri, Saerin, and Doesine have simple tags given to them, but they are forgettable. All that matters is that they take up the quest too, and all the reader’s sympathies encompass them as well. The only one of the group who stands out is Pevara, the ‘Good’ Red Ajah whose family was slaughtered by Darkfriends, such that both her and the reader’s desire for justice are also shared with the rest of the group. This technique may work with secondary characters such as this group, but would be much harder to pull off with your main heroes. Then again maybe not, there are plenty of stories with forgettable heroes who undertook memorable quests, where only one or two character traits matter.

More secrets are exposed as we learn that the Rebels’ ferrets in the Tower are discovered, and are also forcefully joined to the hunt for Black Ajah. We also learn that Logain made it to the Black Tower, when we see his group of Asha’man quickly disarm Toveine’s raiding party. There was no need to drag out this scene since its outcome had been ordained. Toveine’s failure is no surprise, since her approach to the Black Tower was no surprise either. The surprise comes from the fact the Aes Sedai are not merely captured, but also bonded to their captors.

Rand’s humbling experience against the Seanchan has him letting go of his anger over the Bargain his Aes Sedai made with the Sea Folk. He is also able to set aside his pride and need for control long enough to ask Cadsuane to be his advisor. His new humbler behaviour is instantly rewarded with pertinent advice about Callandor. This is similar to the scenes in Ebou Dar when Nynaeve put aside her attitude about Mat and almost immediately learned to control saidar and marry the man of her dreams. Juxtaposing the good behaviour with the reward links the two in the reader’s mind, and allows the lesson to become the expected outcome for other situations that arise. Cadsuane has managed to place herself near Rand to correct his attitude before the Last Battle. The imagery is like that presented by Moridin’s game of sha’rah. The Light holds the Fisher for now, but there is great danger if Cadsuane fails to make Rand feel something other than contempt towards his followers.

I found a few excellent sentences coloured with Robert Jordan’s unmistakable mark. Why use a word when a sentence will do? Each of these showed up in a familiar type of internal monologue, the kind where your mind wanders off-topic for a moment. The use of imagery instead of adjectives leaves a lasting impression on the reader.

No, she thought wryly, you’re not fluff-brained. Fluff has its wits about it compared to you!

If no longer exactly dewy-eyed, they were still young enough to leave their razors dry as many days as wet.

When a man decided to be stubborn, he would sit bare in a nettle patch and deny to your face that they made his bottom sting!

Writing Lessons:

Imagery is memorable. Use imagery to present concepts you want the reader to remember.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

The Path of Daggers - Chapters 23-24

In this section Rand and the Seanchan engage in warfare.

Robert Jordan gained a strong reputation for capturing the mood of battles. We’ll now dissect the first large scale battle since The Fires of Heaven.

Rand’s strategy has been shown, and with the advantage of surprise and Traveling, he should be unstoppable. The body count is very high, Bashere will compare it to the Blood Snows, the battle near Tar Valon during which Rand was born. Most of Rand’s followers are in some form of shock at the devastation. Rand’s losses have been limited. Unless they face damane, the Asha’man tear every opponent apart meeting little resistance.

Rand encounters a problem with prisoners. He can’t afford to guard prisoners so he leaves them behind, except for damane and sul’dam, who he keeps in order to weaken the Seanchan. Rand’s unfailing memory of every woman who has died as a result of his actions gets more unbelievable every time he adds a name, there are simply too many. That is one of the points being made: trying to take responsibility for every person you meet is an impossibility.

So far, Rand is winning.

More Seanchan with names and personalities are met. Furyk Karede has been appointed to lead the Seanchan towards Rand. He notices that raken returning from the front lines are anxious. He dispatches a man under his command for actions that have squandered lives. Furyk will luckily live through this battle thanks to his wise decision to retreat. What else could he do with no sul’dam to fight back against the lightnings?

Rand is still winning.

An Asha’man tells Rand about saidin’s strange behaviour, which he dismisses. Rand proves particularly reluctant to take advice or information that has not been solicited. He is not someone you would want to have to serve. Rand continues to lose few men in battle. A group of Seanchan slip past Weiramon and manage to hit Rand directly. Yet the nobles he has been so reluctant to trust come to his aid, charging the Seanchan to protect Rand, coming to his side to treat his wound. Morr is surprised to receive thanks, given that Rand has done such a good job of expecting obedience without question or reward. The Darkfriends in his party plant the idea of continuing the march against the retreating Seanchan, all the way to Ebou Dar. His staunchest supporters, the ones he trusts the most, advise ending the campaign. Lews Therin sagely says “I would not mind having you in my head, if you were not so clearly mad.”

Rand is winning, but we sense he’s about to make a mistake.

A third Seanchan, the short-lived Kennar Miraj, continues to humanize the enemy. Suroth pays him a visit with information she has gleaned from the network of Darkfriends around Rand. This is a fine opportunity to quickly tie off some loose ends by showing the current fate of Alwhin and Liandrin without wasting much page space on it. In mid-battle, the author wants to keep the focus on the battle. These Seanchan perspectives also are a great place to lay groundwork for future Seanchan-related plots such as the Crystal Throne. We are left with the conviction that the Seanchan are quite proficient in war, and also obedient to the point of a death which can be easily avoided. The damane are about to be reintroduced to the fighting, though they may still be ill. The author creates sympathy for the enemy by showing how they are not being given what they need to succeed, and by continually reminding us that the bulk of the forces Rand is killing so far are from Tarabon, who are technically his own people.

This is the Seanchan counter thrust.

Rand directs five columns to attack an assembled force of Seanchan. When the lengthy list of nobles is given for each of the five columns, it serves to place the actors for the next few scenes, as well as to humanize Rand’s forces. Lews Therin makes the same observation about saidin’s behaviour, and now Rand is willing to pay a little attention. Only a little, because he rejects Dashiva’s concerns and carries on with the attack. Yet he can’t help noticing little changes among the Asha’man.

The reader should be worried that the Seanchan counterthrust will succeed.

Miraj has planned for how to meet Rand in battle. But the question of how the sul’dam will do is still up in the air.

Now the reader suspects the battle could go either way.

Bertome Saighan overhears the Darkfriends plotting and disagreeing. They are two of the closest to Rand. The words they use are as confusing as the battle itself. Either their words are being misinterpreted, as other nobles were earlier when Rand fell during an attack, or it is strongly implied that Gedwyn will try kill Rand.

The rapid shifts from character to character represent the confusion and back-and forth nature of the battle. We can’t tell who is winning.

Varek is a Seanchan underling forced to take command and order a retreat. The damane had a difficult time controlling their weaves, and accidentally killed some of their own soldiers.

Bashere has taken heavy losses, and his Asha’man are tired and having trouble using saidin. Extreme caution is keeping Bashere alive. Bashere is alarmed about what would happen if Asha’man began deserting and walking the world.

The battle is still a draw, unknowable except for continued losses.

Adley has also slipped and killed some of his own men. Rand has taken him out of battle, concerned he might have begun turning irreversibly mad. When Bashere appears and tells Rand about orders he sent, we remember how Furyk killed an underling who did the same. Rand seems poised to copy that action in a fury. Bashere is able to direct his ire at the Seanchan, and Rand decides to prove how devoted he is to repelling the Seanchan invasion. Bashere points out the folly, and how good the Seanchan generals are. Rand’s ego prompts him to unveil Callandor.

As with Adley and the damane, Rand cannot control the torrents of lightning he unleashes. Bashere physically topples Rand and wrests Callandor from his grip. The damage is done, Rand has done as much damage to his own forces as the week of fighting has.

Rand has lost.

Yulan orders the final Seanchan retreat, given that Miraj has been killed by Rand’s final outburst.

The Seanchan have lost.

The entire battle has been a metaphor for the futility of war. Both sides retreat, the border hasn’t moved, neither Rand nor the Seanchan have given anything up. Rand can’t win because participating means he loses. The Tinkers may not have been in this book, but their saying that violence harms the axe as well as the tree it chops is apt here. Even as he routed the Seanchan, it was Rand’s own actions that caused the deaths of his men. Humanizing both the nobles and the Seanchan allows the reader to feel their loss. Meanwhile Rand is emotionless as a stone, unmoved by the tragedy of the wasted lives. The end result is that he and the Asha’man are even closer to going mad, as much from the horror of the battle as from the Dark One’s taint.

Writing Lessons:

Give your battles ebb and flow, and meaning beyond the immediate result.

The Path of Daggers - Chapters 20-22

In this section, Elayne and Rand lead multinational groups and prepare for confrontations

Elayne spends an interlude chapter discovering that none of the women traveling with her will behave as expected. The Sea Folk finally declare their end of the bargain complete and begin drilling Merilille for all she can teach. The Kin see this as well as a Black Ajah being treated like a prisoner and begin to conclude that Aes Sedai are not that far above them after all. The people of Andor are not providing the expected support for the Daughter-Heir and Elayne realizes she has her work cut out for her.  When they run into money problems, Aviendha casually pulls out a handful of gemstones, which would seem contrived if she didn’t also subtly remind us how she acquired them from the scabbard she tried to give Rand.  By deflecting attention to their romantic relationship instead of Aviendha’s wealth, the sudden appearance of the jewels is amusing and interesting instead of unbelievable.

Elayne receives a warning to stay away from the rebels while Egwene deflects unwanted questions about how the bowl was used and the poor bargain made with the Sea Folk. This problem provides all the impetus needed to allow Elayne to focus on gaining the throne in the next few books, as well as keeping Nynaeve with other groups instead of amongst the rebels where she was of little value and of insufficient rank to be part of the action among the rebels.

As the battle against the Seanchan ramps up, I remember an earlier post where I discussed the reasons why using the Bowl of the Winds was included in this book, instead of chronologically in A Crown of Swords. It is obvious that in order to build up towards this battle, it is necessary to build up the opponent. By having a dire battle against the Seanchan to open the book, a lot of emotion and interest has been generated which benefits this battle immensely.

A key element of the battle is that Rand is leading men he cares nothing for, and there are some he actually hopes might meet their end. They are no more than tools for him to use. Nobles are too conspiratorial, Asha’man too dangerous, to be anything else. Rand knows the Shadow’s spies watch him closely, another reason to mistrust everyone close to him. A great deal of time is spent introducing the nobility, to humanize them before Rand begins making them pay his butcher’s bill. His logic to risk those who love him the least is darkly sound from his twisted point of view, but dangerous to his long-term goals.

The mood intensifies. We are eager to see the battle, eager to see Rand score a victory against his Seanchan opponents, and cognizant that even if things go poorly Rand is still not losing anyone but those who might have undermined him or betrayed him. To underscore that point, the man he pardoned a few hundred pages ago attempts to assassinate Rand. He not only provides justification for Rand’s actions, his actions imply that he is an agent Moridin was referring to, and the natural assumption a reader will make is that the assassination attempt has failed, that plot is over.

Lews Therin has several witty comments on Rand’s internal monologue, continuing to demonstrate that the voice in his head is more reliable than the people around him. Rand continually worries about when madness will take him or the Asha’man, and how he will be able to know. Rand’s predicament is neatly bundled in a contradictory sentence: “Mistrust of Gedwyn and Rochaid was simple sense, but was he coming down with what Nynaeve called the dreads? A kind of madness, a crippling suspicion of everyone and everything?”

Rand marches into battle, and we switch to a Seanchan point of view. This is an effort to humanize the enemy. Up until now the Seanchan we have met are either deliriously fervent in their loyalty, or are outright Darkfriends, with the exception of Egeanin. We don’t have a strong reaction to Bakuun, Nerith, or Tiras, other than awareness of their competence, which means Rand’s visions of an easy victory may be wrong. The illness affecting the damane adds uncertainty to the upcoming conflict. This should work to Rand’s advantage, but his lack of knowledge about it may also induce him to make mistakes.

Writing lessons:

Use strong personal reasons for your characters to choose where they are going, who they are going with and why they are doing it.   

Humanizing and dehumanizing people affects how readers view events and characters.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The Path of Daggers - Chapters 16-19

In this section, Egwene blindsides the Sitters to take control of the rebels

Egwene’s entire battle with the Hall is resolved through a familiar trick, the last-minute introduction of a rule that the opponents must follow. This turns up frequently in stories, usually with the heroes making a plan just before the final confrontation, but the reader is not told what the plan is until the very moment the trap is revealed, the secret allies name themselves, and they achieve victory. Sometimes the revelation is logical and satisfying, other times it comes out of nowhere and leaves the reader flat. Let’s analyze how well it is pulled off here.

The plan is to get the Hall to vote in favour of declaring war, which will hand a great deal of power to Egwene personally. She will rule by edict, and the Hall will not be able to stymie any of the edicts she puts forward. The Hall must then be sufficiently motivated to declare war, but must not be aware of the implications of that vote. Egwene also has time against her, because the opportunity to declare war can be usurped by one of the Sitters if she does not act quickly enough.

Egwene must:

1 Learn the Law of War

2 Keep the Sitters from learning her plan or the Law of War

3 Call a question of war before time runs out

4 Convince the Sitters to vote in favour of war

Of these, only the second is given to the reader initially, and that only partially, as we see Egwene undertaking actions to accomplish the fourth. An army in the rebels’ path is the catalyst Egwene has been waiting for.

Half of Egwene’s loyal Aes Sedai travel north to meet with the army blocking their way, though we are not told why, while the others spend the morning reminding the rebels of something, and we are again not told what. This creates a sense of anticipation but also frustration, since we have no context for any of the actions taking place.

We also have no context for why Egwene is suddenly reversing her constant insistence they keep moving, except that it relates to her plan. In the camp, Morvrin corners Takima, who is the only Aes Sedai who knows the Law of War, but the relevance is completely lost since there is no context for the confrontation yet. Aran’gar has killed Egwene’s maids, but that has no bearing on the current plot, other than a long-term goal of trying to keep Sheriam and her maid close to Egwene to learn the plan.

Egwene’s anticipation of victory is palpable, yet she feigns meekness for what she hopes is the last time. This is the only part of the plot which depends on her behaviour or character, since with a clear plan laid out she could do the rest in her sleep. This is a weakness of the plot, because it all depends on predetermined rules and events. We get to see events unfold, but it’s not surprising to Egwene, and the potential threat of failure is diminished in our eyes. Romanda and Lelaine’s sparring suggests the time for Egwene’s plan to come to fruition is very soon, before either of them succeeds in undermining the other and taking over the Hall. Added to the list of successful and awful Amyrlins, the one thing the reader does understand are the stakes.

Another sub plot is introduced when Siuan notices too many of the Sitters are too young. The answer only matters in the long-term, but is better introduced now so this sub plot can be delved into immediately in a future book.

The threat of timeliness is introduced when both Lelaine and Romanda learn of the meeting with the army, and deliver ultimatums to Egwene. Egwene clings to her meekness, and the non-specific language used is designed to convince even the reader that she is almost chastened. Then the first surprise is revealed at the last possible moment of the chapter: “Siuan, they couldn’t have handed me the Hall better if I had told them what to do.” This sentence flips the meaning of the entire chapter on its head. All of the negative emotions felt by character and reader are not signs of imminent failure, but of success. At this moment, the reader does not know what is going on specifically, only that it is going the way Egwene wants.

The rebels march towards the Murandians and Andorans, with the showdown looming over them. A possible threat is revealed in the form of Talmanes, leader of a third army who continues to trail the rebels. Once again, we think Egwene is enduring unfair treatment from her hosts on the ice, until we are reminded that her loyal Aes Sedai rushed out here to meet with them before Egwene showed up. When they refuse passage, they are doing Egwene’s bidding, and the whole meeting is a show put on to prod the Hall. The army barring their progress is a secret ally, whose function is to openly doubt the rebels, whether they know it or not.

Once Egwene meets with the nobles and Talmanes, we realize she is unconcerned with their actions, all her attention is on the Hall and keeping them from wresting control from her. As soon as they return to the rebel camp, a meeting of the Hall is called. Siuan and Egwene go over the plan one more time, but we continue to be kept in the dark.

Finally, the moment comes. Egwene hastily calls her question about war before anyone else can speak, and the battle is almost won. Takima has the power to speak up just as Talmanes and the nobles did, but keeps silent. We still don’t know how she can undo Egwene’s power grab, until it is made clear it is her knowledge of the Law of War that matters, a Law we had never heard of up until now. A few short impassioned speeches later, consensus is reached. And with that, Egwene can reveal the power they have just invested her with. The reader is likely pleased that Egwene has pulled a fast one on the Hall, but is less impressed with learning about a Law that must be followed just before it comes into play.

Robert Jordan decided to write this scene as a mystery, keeping the method secret, but revealing the motive, the players, and elements of the plan as it became necessary. Had he discussed the Law of War in any detail earlier, that suspense would have lost, and he would have had to play up some other aspect to keep the reader’s interest. The resolution would have been obvious to the reader and would not sustain their interest. Can you think of another way these chapters could have been handled that maintained the reader’s interest? As a consequence of the mechanism Egwene uses to take power, Jordan was forced to use the least worst of several bad options to try interest the reader, resulting in a narrowly believable resolution with only mild suspense. It is not a strong way to carry the reader through the middle section of the book, but ending with Egwene firmly in charge mitigates the dissatisfaction.

Writing lessons:

Contrived solutions to the character’s problems can lose the reader’s interest. As much as you try to avoid telegraphing the surprises to the reader, also be aware of giving them too little and making them disbelieve the solution you present.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

The Path of Daggers - Chapters 13-15

In this section, the stakes for Rand are raised and Egwene has a problem she turns into an opportunity

The weather tells us Rand’s mood is poor, especially in light of what Cadsuane and Sorilea agreed moments earlier. Rand acts with all the worst behaviours of the nobility he has displaced. The nobles may not trust each other, but Rand trusts none of them. He starts off polite and firm, but quickly degrades and contemptuously tells the dregs of Sammael’s army to surrender or be killed. Furious at their continued opposition and doubt, he considers a number of other obstacles he is facing, and latches onto the rumour of an Aes Sedai amongst the Shaido as proof the White Tower would never give him peace. His experiences with Galina’s Aes Sedai have left him deeply mistrustful and paranoid about the Tower.

The introduction of several new nobles is pulled off effectively by tagging each by their nationality, sex, and rank. Gregorin is the head of the Council of Nine, Marcolin is captain of their armies. Weiramon leads the cavalry for Tear, Tolmeran is his rival, Rosana is new. Three other names are written off as soon to be dead, no need to distinguish between them. Semaradrid is a soldier from Cairhien. For a large group of mostly new characters thrown at the reader, it is remarkably easy to distinguish them.

The Asha’man were bit players in the last book, but we now see a number of them interact, just as the nobles did a chapter earlier. Again, each is given a tag of age or nationality or ability to distinguish them, which works well. Each is also well associated with the task he was assigned. The Asha’man have a discussion about numbers of male channelers, and the inevitable madness that will consume them all. Rand accidentally reveals to them his desire to cleanse saidin, and the Asha’man are enthralled.

Our attention is once more drawn to Herid Fel’s message about sealing the Dark One’s prison.

Lews Therin’s voice has been absent since before Rand took Illian. Having spent some time over the last three books making Lew Therin’s presence normal to the reader, its absence is disconcerting. He welcomes the return of the voice which of course makes readers uncomfortable. Not only is Rand in the wrong mood to achieve victory, he is plainly more likely to believe the voice in his head than anyone trying to get through to him. The voice returns because Rand has entrusted Narishma with a task that requires trust, which brings forth his mad desire to kill the Asha’man who return to the Black Tower. Rand has little choice but to stay away from the Black Tower, he can’t trust himself not to get into a fight with Mazrim Taim, whose attitude is belligerent, but he still appears to be doing what he is supposed to be doing. Readers are well on their way to adopting Lews Therin’s ideas regarding Taim, indicating that the author has very successfully made the mad voice seem reasonable, which is just what our mad hero would think.

This book is oddly straightforward, and feels like there are fewer layers of meaning in various passages. Is this related to the proposed theme of Darkfriends lurking amongst allies? Jordan is portraying people and events very directly to achieve a sensation of normalcy, that there is nothing lurking just out of sight. Revealing known Darkfriends like Aran'gar after telling readers about Moridin’s secret agents would be useful in getting the reader to drop their guard for when the hidden Darkfriends make their move later on. He tells the reader what to look for, and then shows the reader what they are looking for so they don’t search any further. This technique works even better by establishing a few cases in which the reader has been told what to look for, and then found it, establishing trust in the author’s directions.

In earlier sections it was established that no Darkfriends had infiltrated the Kin, or the Black Ajah would have known their secret. Perrin has people with secrets in his camp, but there is a remarkable lack of Darkfriends so far. In Rand’s section we suspect someone must be a Darkfriend. With Egwene, the main skulker we know about is Aran’gar, disguised as Halima, who has gotten close to both Egwene and Delana, a Sitter who is also Black Ajah.

Egwene learns of an army ahead of hers, so she arranges for parley, and tries to keep it from the Hall of the Sitters for as long as possible. This is the first step in her plan to assert her control. It’s a subtle plan, which we are told nothing of yet, and she expected to have to implement it once they reached Andor, but this is slightly ahead of her schedule. We’ll talk plenty about Egwene in the next post.

Writing Lessons:

Use misdirection to set your reader’s expectations the way you want them.

Monday, 2 July 2012

The Path of Daggers - Chapters 10-12

In this section, old acquaintances team up.

Morgase’s group has already joined up with Perrin’s, tying up one loose end in this part of the world. There was a feint that her plotline would converge with some others in the last few books, but her part was simply to be a sympathetic character who could show us what was taking place in areas where none of the heroes had reached yet. Once she joins Perrin, it indicates that the main characters will take over and she will be relegated to the sidelines.

Elyas is the next old acquaintance to have a chance encounter. He immediately throws his support behind Perrin, not really asking for anything in return. He faces some risk in being near Aes Sedai, but will take what precautions he can, and be ready to aid however he can.  

A new acquaintance, Queen Alliandre, is brought before Perrin. She swears to follow him as well, though her reputation is not for steadfastness as Elyas’ is. Faile imposes restrictions on her that will keep her support from wavering.

When a contingent of Dragonsworn is hung for their brutal crimes, Aram wonders if their deaths are justified. After all, these men are sworn to Rand. Perrin says that Rand doesn’t want men like this on his side, driving a first wedge between him and the boy that will eventually result in him perceiving Perrin as the danger to the Lord Dragon.

Sevanna barely ends a rebellion against her by her Wise Ones. She had hoped to bind Galina to her service, but must concede on that point amongst others, and share her with Therava. Belinde begins the confrontation on Sevanna’s side, and ends it on Therava’s, physically moving to stand with her. Using a minor character to physically represent the shifting politics of the Shaido makes the change more believable than simply having Sevanna worry about how she stands with the others. The task is even harder when told from an outsider like Galina’s point of view, making Belinde’s actions all the more important.

Graendal is added to those who serve Moridin. She is the last to be brought in. The message is clear, there is only one boss, and there is no room to do anything outside his plan. A new Forsaken, Cyndane, is introduced, already in thrall to Moridin.

Cadsuane and Sorilea meet as equals, and pledge to work towards the goal of making Rand learn he must embrace his emotions. After several examples of how easily Cadsuane would ruthlessly use people and throw them away to get what she wants, we are unsurprised to learn Cadsuane knows that she will break this oath if it interferes with her end goal, as she suspects Sorilea will if it meant Rand would destroy the Aiel. Their tentative promise should allow both to accomplish what they want.

This problem is one of the central points of the entire series. It is not sufficient for Rand to win, which he seems well on his way to doing as he adds another crown to his brow. Rand must also win under the right conditions, in the right mood, for his victory to count. This makes the Last Battle more a matter of character than of logistics or strength. A great deal of tension is introduced since Rand’s victories to date are all leading him down the wrong path, and all the characters who have failed to approach him in the right way must now struggle to make amends, if it is not too late.

The layout of the book is similar to the last one, with several chapters concentrating on one locale before moving to the next, and brief chapters between them covering secondary characters and villains. In each of these sections, some cue is given to help the reader identify when these events happen in relation to the other events they have read about. When the locales are far apart, it makes little difference if they are told slightly out of order, but it will matter more and more as Traveling allows characters to bounce about.

In this case, we learn that events have been told out of order. The prologue and Bowl of the Winds sections at the beginning of this book took place before Rand’s confrontation with Moridin in Shadar Logoth. This means that those sections may have been intended as part of A Crown of Swords, while this Perrin sequence was intended as the opening of The Path of Daggers. Likely reasons for placing them in this book are not wanting to have an Ebou Dar overweight of chapters, fitting the theme better in this book, and a desire to increase the pacing of this book by starting out with an action sequence, since Perrin`s point of view feels like mostly talk.

Writing Lessons:

Don`t be afraid to tell your story out of sequence, you can always explain to the reader so they don`t get confused.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

The Path of Daggers - Chapters 8-9

By the original schedule, I would have been done the series shortly. Instead, I am just past half done. It's still very rewarding, but it is a constant battle to impose writing regularly over the other events life throws at me. Thanks for your patience and sticking around!

In this section, new and old groups in Perrin’s camp are keeping secrets. Maybe.

Perrin’s main problems have been presented already, now we get to see some of the tools and people at his disposal.

The camp promises to be simpler to deal with than his current predicament. It presents some mild difficulties which are easily dealt with, as the description of its location implies: The camp lay about a league further on, well back from the road, among low wooded hills, just beyond a stream that was ten paces’ width of stones and only five of water never deeper than a man’s knees.

It is composed of three parts: Mayener, Aiel, and Two Rivers men. The difficulties stem from none of the factions really being sure the others share the same goal. The newcomers led by Morgase may make yet another faction, despite that Lini is advocating that they try fit into their new roles since their old lives are done with.

The factions differ on several issues, including whether Perrin should fly his banners, and whether Masema should be killed or brought to heel. While Perrin worries over the untold secrets among his current followers, he accepts at face value the story told by Morgase’s followers. Even his wife’s own followers have secret missions they carry out on Faile’s behalf!

Faile’s idea to fly the banners to distract attention away from Perrin’s true objective brings some comments from Perrin: Quicksilver. A kingfisher flashing by faster than thought. Both descriptions of Faile’s idea not only imply speed, but the quality of her idea, and her rank or position as well. Kingfishers may not be the only fast birds, but the words king and fisher offer the idea of leadership and correctness. Silver implies wealth and rarity.

With Perrin being so trusting, details about what the factions are up to can only be delivered by points of view of those involved in them, so Faile and Morgase sections tell us about their plans and plights. Even after Dumai’s Wells, Faile thinks kidnapping is the best means to get to Alliandre. Rand may not appreciate having his allies treated the way he was, even if handled gently.

The fear of hidden agendas is everywhere. The farriers worry that Perrin has some ulterior motive in examining their work with horseshoes when all he wants is a chance to do something for himself instead of people scurrying to serve him.

Unintentionally, Perrin finds himself doing the exact sort of subterfuge he dislikes, laying rumours among the Mayeners about his intentions regarding Manetheren, and somehow gaining more direct support from them while Berelain is away. It’s not something a ruler is bound to like.

Finally Perrin accuses the Aiel Wise Ones of having secret plans for the Aes Sedai, possibly involving murder. The Wise Ones and Aes Sedai both tell him to mind his own business, this is just normal apprenticing, though it began against the Wise Ones intentions. They also hide nothing regarding Masema, they would prefer him dead, sooner rather than later.

In general, things are not what they seem at the surface. Those who seem to be hiding secrets are not, while Perrin overlooks the many secrets being hidden by those he trusts. We’ve now met everyone in the camp except the Asha’man, but there will soon be more new arrivals. Overall it feels like an exceptionally long introduction to the people tagging along with Perrin. As I postulated back in Perrin’s section which open The Dragon Reborn, one reason Perrin’s sections may seem to move slower is because they are Perrin sections. His manner of observing and taking action demands a slower pace, and a very complete oversight of all the relevant people and places around him. Portraying Perrin as a slow and methodical person would be more difficult if his Point of View chapters jumped about rapidly. This translates into impatience for the reader.

Writing Lessons:

You can portray character by the pacing, tone, and setting of the story, not just by their reaction to events.