Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Winter's Heart - Chapters 26-28

In this section, Elayne and Mat are under pressure.
The clock is ticking down on both Mat and Elayne. Mat needs to escape Ebou Dar in ten days, while Elayne has to act to address an immediate threat from a Borderlander army, and a longer term one from her rivals. In both of their sections, there is an example of compressed time. Let’s take a closer look.
In Elayne’s case, she receives an invitation of sorts from the Borderlanders, and hastily departs to meet with them. The author chooses to focus on certain discussions and preparations she makes, and the reactions of a large number of supporting characters; a scene readers are familiar with which turns up fairly often now that the heroes travel with large groups of companions.
Elayne wants to go now, but it is not so simple. Aviendha and Birgitte try to talk her out of it.
Elayne explains why she has to go now, deciding she will present herself as an Aes Sedai. Birgitte tries to force her into the role of the Daughter-Heir. Elayne asserts herself. Birgitte says she can’t go running off to have adventures. Elayne asserts herself again.
Mellar stays back, which should help Elayne present the fa├žade of an Aes Sedai instead of Andoran noble.  The Guardswoman are not so accommodating. Birgitte sets them straight, complaining the whole while.
Essande lays out clothing, and helpfully brings Elayne her special pregnant meal. Mistress Harfor is tasked with handling the delegations who had hoped to see Elayne, and announces she has acquired goats to milk for Elayne’s special pregnant diet. The Aes Sedai Careane and Vandene accept their assigned tasks and give advice, none of which has to do with pregnancy.  Reanne is summoned to weave the Gateway. Elayne emphasizes the need for speed. The Sea Folk are aware of this bustle, but are not told where Elayne is going.
Marking the passage of time, we read: Making haste seemed beyond Essande’s ability, yet everyone else flew, and by the time the sun stood straight overhead, Elayne found herself riding Fireheart slowly through the snows of Braem Wood.
Birgitte and Aviendha take one last stab at convincing Elayne that Braem wood is no place for her. Then Elayne realizes what is going on.
Elayne dismantles the all-too-common assumption that once a woman is pregnant, that is all she is. She puts Birgitte and Aviendha in their places by threatening to make them wet nurses and reminds them she does not need a wet nurse, she is the same woman she always has been, and she needs to take these actions to accomplish her goals. In stories, pregnancy almost always relegates the mother to becoming a sidekick to the new arrival, often because the female character is not well enough developed to be more than a brood mare. This passage is an announcement that Elayne will not be depicted in that fashion. She will continue to have adventures and fight for the throne. The pregnancy has become a threat to her identity, one which she hopes to overcome by establishing her own rules early on.
The Borderlanders decision to move on makes sense given they’ve expended what their current location can offer as food. However, they latch onto the wisp of guidance Elayne gives them too easily, and the reader will probably find the solution overly simple. This could have been remedied by emphasizing that the Borderlanders must move, giving Elayne’s arguments more weight.
In Mat’s chapter, once he assigns Juilin the task of stealing some clothing and a’dam, events are told out of chronological order, instead following topics of the steps of Mat’s preparations.
First, the servants’ reaction to Mat’s change of clothing is covered. Then the sul’dam’s reaction is noted while Mat builds his horse’s stamina. He sees Aes Sedai occasionally and wants to reassure them, but can’t go near the kennels for fear of meeting Tuon again. Mat notes which high-ranking Seanchan are in the palace and which aren’t. He worries about what Tylin will do if she catches him. Noal tells him daily about the gholam’s murders, and Mat changes sleeping quarters every night.
Then we move on to Mat’s allies: Thom was told of Mat’s desire to free Teslyn before the chapter began though it is only announced now. He develops a plan to get out the gates, and they plot with Juilin how to carry out the plan. Beslan learns of their plans and tries to insert his own uprising into the plan. Mat dissuades him. Beslan stops coming to meetings.
Juilin’s efforts at spying and chasing Thera are described, and he learns important things about the sul’dam’s schedule. They know they’ll have to make their move at night, and risk being seen by Deathwatch guards in the streets. Getting the items isn’t as easy, but there are no significant hitches in the plan yet.
Through Riselle, they learn they’ll need an order, or one of the Blood, to get damane out of the gates. Options for women to pretend to be sul’dam are rejected. Six days have elapsed, more than half their time, and the lack of order, sul’dam and a’dam ramps up the tension. The last bit goes back to chronological order, covering the seventh day.
Reading through those first six days chronologically would have resulted in much lengthier descriptions, covering Mat’s wanderings and explaining every time he changes location. By combining several days’ worth of events that happen in the same location, the author is able to compress the information into easier to read chunks. The pacing and flow are much smoother with this thematic and locational approach than by forcing the reader to follow a chronological description of mundane and repetitive motions.
Writing Lessons:
Don’t describe events chronologically if it bogs down the flow of your story.

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