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.
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.