Monday, 20 August 2012

Winter's Heart - Chapters 20-22

In this section, confusion stems from new point of view characters and missing details from a new location.
Bethamin and Egeanin provide new viewpoints from the Seanchan perspective, which when added to Tuon’s makes 3 chapters from three different Seanchan. The author is clearly pointing to the Seanchan as a major part of the ongoing story with this attention to their citizens, and so many new points of view in this book serves as a signal that the story has reached a turning point. While this is useful to establish the background of the various players, jumping from character to character carries risks. In this instance, unfamiliarity with new characters means the reader may be confused, angry that her favorite characters are absent, or simply too impatient to care about these newcomers.   
The two Seanchan characters are particularly unlikely to have the reader’s acceptance because the Seanchan have been depicted as villains up until now. Their culture is evil by all the standards of our heroes, and it also alien to them, which makes embracing a character from there very difficult.
Bethamin is the Wheel of Time’s equivalent of a slave driver, using an a’dam instead of a whip. This is a behaviour that is particularly unlikeable, but the author uses a few techniques to try to overcome that.
First, Bethamin is performing an inspection, which is a simple duty anyone can identify with. The author is trying to establish common traits with the readers. She cares for the health of her damane, which is slightly admirable given that she is talking about humans. She bullies Renna, who had tried to break Egwene to the a’dam. Anyone who bullies Egwene’s enemies can’t be that bad. She doles out candies. Maybe not all sul’dam are bad.  Maybe Bethamin could switch sides.
Before sympathies develop too much, a reminder of Bethamin’s cruelty is given: how she takes away her charges names and gives them new ones. Three gentle strokes, one slap.
Then it’s back to nice Bethamin. She takes special care of damane having problems; she refuses to lose a damane, even that ugly old Tessi. It’s no accident that Teslyn is used an example. Teslyn stood for Elaida, deposed Siuan, is Red Ajah, and has no compelling physical traits, so Bethamin stands in opposition to all that Teslyn represents. Bethamin distrusts Aes Sedai, as do all the readers by now. She makes a note to be more diligent about breaking Tessi. Three gentle strokes, one slap.
Other things which align the reader’s sympathies with Bethamin: she enjoys shopping, she has a healthy sense of self-preservation, and she knows secrets that could be useful to our heroes. Except for her current station in life, which is at risk, she is incredibly normal.
When someone alien is introduced, you want to highlight the differences. But you also need to establish commonalities, with the reader more than with the other characters.
The Seeker exemplifies the highly paranoid nature of the alien Seanchan culture. He has knitted together moonbeams and happenstance into a strangling cord for Egeanin’s neck. He is recognizable as a police officer, a common character type, but the paranoia and limitless power make him ineffectual. Only by blundering into clues does he make any headway, and that in the wrong direction.
Egeanin continues to be the bridge between cultures, with her potential husband and so’jhin Bayle Domon. She is resigned to the fact that she will never fully induct him into Seanchan culture, and with this danger before her, she realizes it is she who might have to embrace his culture instead.
Egeanin’s loyalties would obviously seem to lie with the mainlanders under the circumstances, and readers would accept her since she has been helpful to the heroines in past books. But to place doubt in the reader’s mind, a crucial action she took, handing the male a’dam over to Suroth herself, will taint that association with goodness. At best she was caught with no way out, at worst she betrayed Rand and Nynaeve. When she says she will stay free “whatever it took”, the example of her quick surrender of the male a’dam should come to mind as an example of how quickly she would throw allies overboard.
Rand has an entire chapter set on Far Madding, and we are told that he can safely confront the Asha’man here, but not how. He has a swordfight with one, but we are not told why neither is using the One Power.   The explanation will come a chapter later, which allows readers to enjoy a fight, an assassination, and a second assassination without the context. Keeping the explanation back from readers is meant to convey a sense of secrecy and frustration, just as Rand is experiencing. Similarly, Kisman is lacking information despite giving much insight to readers. Isam also doesn’t know the whole story, but again reveals exciting details. Assassinations of Kisman and the couple staying in Rand’s old room symbolize that what Rand doesn’t know could kill him. Rand really is lost morally and spiritually, but everything he needs will soon be coming in with Cadsuane, which is symbolized by her readers finally learning about the city when she strolls into town.
Writing Lessons:
When someone alien is introduced, you want to highlight the differences. But you also need to establish commonalities, with the reader more than with the other characters.


  1. Just a quick comment to remind you that I am loving these - it's rare that I don't read one and get a depper sense of something I only understood ephermerally. Like walking us through Bethamin's introdcucion: good job!

    1. I am glad to hear it! I got myself in a pickle by reading ahead when I couldn't access a computer, and it is tough trying to remember what I wanted to discuss even a week later, but Bethamin's introduction stood out as worthy of comment.