Monday, 13 August 2012

Winter's Heart - Chapters 13-16

In this section, the villains cement the plot while an old hero returns.
Stories will often have an interlude when readers get to see what the villains have been up to. This is often an opportunity to feed information to the reader they wouldn’t otherwise receive, as well as to throw in plot twists as the villains respond to the hero’s moves and vice versa. Three such moments are presented here, as we peek in on Cadsuane, Demandred, and Tuon.
Cadsuane’s interlude is the least informative. Some background events involving minor characters and politics are revealed. Then Alanna falls unconscious. Odds favour Rand’s triple bonding having some effect on Alanna. Since Cadsuane will show up for the big fight later, establishing that the bond exists, and that she knows about it, and that it still works, are all important. Equally important is that her coterie of sisters and Asha’man will follow her.
With that business aside, the story moves to the more serious interlude featuring Demandred. This is the first time since the early books that the final goal is revealed so bluntly. Rand will try to cleanse the source and the Forsaken will try to stop him. The plots of these later books have jumped from character to character, not all of whom will have a completed story by the end of this book, so it is helpful to the reader to be reminded what the main plot is. Unless the characters are all working towards the same goal, having too many of them fuzzes the plot, and risks losing the reader’s interest.
Moridin has been thinking along the same lines, and has ordered the other Forsaken to follow his plan. This is the first time the Forsaken and the Dark One have been alarmed at one of Rand’s plans, to the point where killing Rand is acceptable when all recent efforts were to keep him alive. The danger they are worried about is that male channelers can be trusted if saidin is cleansed, and the Dark One’s best hope of victory is by dividing humanity, man against woman. Remember that theme from The Fires of Heaven?  
It irks me that after the secret resurrections of Osan’gar and Aran’gar, the other Forsaken all know about them now. What happened to Shaidar Haran’s statement that only he knew they lived again? When a plot point is raised, an expectation is created. Readers might have seen the Forsaken brought to heel by Moridin, all the while two others secretly lurk waiting to take him down on the Dark One’s orders. The irritation would be lessened with any explanation, but there is none to be had, just keep reading between the lines. After a while it sinks in that despite all the plotting and conniving, the Forsaken are being used as typical henchmen. Not quite what was advertised, alas.
Some excitement is conjured up by Demandred’s perception of the battle to come: So they would take al’Thor – while he was trying to use the Choedan Kal, no less, he and some woman drinking enough of the One Power to melt continents! Rand will have the firepower, but for the first time he’ll be facing multiple foes. The steady increase in the scope of battles throughout the series is well carried out. Each conflict makes the last look tame, whether hand-to-hand, with the One Power, or with armies. This battle looks to be epic, which means it has to be, or the reader will get angry.
The last interlude is from a new character, only named by her title before now, and even that is only confirmed in the last paragraph of her appearance. Tuon’s strange superstitious belief in portents and omens, her bland acceptance of slavery and assassination attempts, and her own sidekicks are all designed to make her appear alien. Her customs are strange, yet she thinks of them as the only right way to behave. Using superstition turns out to be an effective way to throw off the reader and make them uncomfortable. Superstitions are familiar and fun, but living one’s life guided by them will make readers shudder. She is dangerous to Rand, and to Mat, yet we know Mat will somehow marry her. She is not depicted as villainous, but nor is she a misguided damsel in distress. Her crazy Seanchan ways are more intimidating and surprising than the armies she commands.
Her appearance also signals the return of the Seanchan in larger numbers than ever. This is the setup of a larger conflict to come, and the author’s intent is to make readers wonder how the heroes will overcome the forces arrayed against them.
The answer is obviously Mat, who is expected to become an insider and undermine the Seanchan from within. Undermining their society has already been mentioned as a viable strategy twice in this book. Mat has no such intentions. He only wants to get out of Ebou Dar, especially after the Gholam tries to kill him again. At this point, readers have had six years to build up ideas about what Mat’s marriage might entail, and to be sure, they expect him to stop the Seanchan singlehandedly.
Writing Lessons:
Used well, interludes can propel your story onward, set expectations, and provide key information. Used poorly, they can confuse and irritate your readers.

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