Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Winter's Heart - Chapters 8-10

In this section, Elayne is set upon by Darkfriends.

Elayne is trying to embody the ideals that other people look up to. While Perrin and Aram and others all have competing ideals they are seeking to be faithful to, Elayne is such a faith, and she represents a particular form of idealized woman: virginal, queenly, powerful, kindly, generous, beneficent, and brave. Whatever qualities she does not yet have, she will have forced on her by her quest. She reflects I rule Andor, but at times I think Reene Harfor rules me, establishing that the followers exert as much or more control over the relationship as the leaders.

In one inconvenient relationship, further arrangements are made to provide the Sea Folk with teachers. The debate allows for a quick round-up of the Aes Sedai, Elayne’s other guests, and their activities. The damane prisoners are in the care of the Kin. They cannot be released yet for fear they will turn back to their old relationships and try to free the sul’dam. Even the newest damane taken in Tanchico and Toman Head cannot be trusted to make decisions for themselves. The oldest damane Alivia, who must know about Seanchan history from first-hand experience than any official and untrustworthy record, is ready to be set free.

It is disorienting to know the heroines are the three most powerful channelers, only to find better and more powerful channelers among Egwene’s new recruits, the Kin, the Seanchan and the Sea Folk. It is now very muddled as to who is the most powerful, and therefore highest ranking. Under Egwene’s open invitation to channelers, any one of these women could pass the training and be among the top Aes Sedai within a decade. The threat of losing their standing will keep those most powerful women from retiring into the Kin, but a temporary placement would make an effective punishment.

The Kin themselves have begun filtering out of the palace to find their other members who may need help escaping from Seanchan hands. After all the effort to keep the weave for Traveling out of Seanchan hands, the residues Nynaeve will leave behind from each of her Gateways are a very large risk. Did Nynaeve remember to invert the weave each time? Or would she simply insist that she had obviously been careful?

Two of the other Kin have been placed back in novice White and have reasoned out one of three Aes Sedai are Black Ajah. Vandene insists they be kept busy so Nynaeve foists the duty back on Vandene. The others are equally busy teaching Sea folk, keeping the Kin nearby, or working to take the throne.

When the author creates characters, he often has one who epitomizes the class or culture, and then introduces another who rejects that class and culture and who is intent on setting a new direction, turning all conventions on their head. This is particularly effective when he’s also introduced several very minor characters who all embrace the same culture. For example, by naming a half dozen Kinswomen, the reader feels they all share some common traits, but he then pulls forward one difference between them (two of them were runaway novices, while the others were put out of the Tower), and creates tension among them with it. This tension is strong enough to motivate the one or two Kinswomen who are more fully developed characters, and even to shift some of the major characters in a particular direction.

The discovery of alum which can be mined from Elayne’s estates is convenient and contrived. It fixes a major obstacle by allowing Elayne to borrow any money she needs from local banks. The reader’s reaction is likely to be an eye-rolling “oh, sure” instead of any excitement. There really wasn’t any earlier time to introduce this stream of revenue which could have felt less contrived. The best that could have been done instead would be to have her estates historically producing some resource which was useful but not necessary. Then, with the chaos caused by the Dragon breaking the World again, a shortage could have been created which made Elayne’s resource much more valuable, providing the necessary funds but tying her new wealth to an existing plot rather than coming out of thin air. The resource could even have been alum, just with a more believable reason for it to pay for fixing Elayne’s problems.   

The first real action of the book so far is an assassination attempt on Elayne, which is meant to fail. Elayne observes it is an overly complicated plan. What is its end objective? If it was to kill Elayne, they had it already – Hanlon could have kept other guards away while the four assassins finished Elayne. Instead, Shiaine’s man has spent all this effort getting into a position of authority so that Elayne can be killed at a later time, a time of Moridin’s choosing. The problem is that Elayne’s guard is up against future attempts, the forkroot won’t work again, and the convenient timing of the heroic guardsman has created a bit of scrutiny towards him. It may be that Moridin is overly fond of complex plans for no good reason except that it serves the Dark One’s desires. Holding Elayne as a captive may be a prod for Rand, and it is in line with two other previous attempts to capture, not kill, Rand’s girlfriends. 

Arguments among characters add a dose of realism. No one gets along perfectly in real life, even amongst good friends. Whenever Nynaeve, Elayne, Dyelin, Birgitte, and Aviendha have snippy fits, it fits with the reader’s familiarity of such real-life situations. 

Egwene’s only appearance in this book is in a dream, which takes place before her epilogue in the last book. This is not confusing because the epilogue in The Path of Daggers told of a month-long wait before her Travel to Tar Valon. Since a month has not yet passed, and there has been none of the familiar rumours and news indicating her arrival yet, it is simple and intuitive to reason that her appearance takes place within the month-long wait.

Slayer returns, spying on Egwene, Elayne and Nynaeve in tel’aran’rhiod, giving Egwene a chance to show off her skilful use of powers in the World of Dreams. With Rand nowhere to be found, Moridin’s agents are lurking near Rand’s allies watching for any clue as to his whereabouts. So much so that three of them are doing the same independently of each other. The Black Ajah will join up with Shiaine at some later point, but it could just as easily have been now. Why not simply congregate the villains and concentrate their efforts? Is it to have a situation like in Ebou Dar where their efforts interfere mildly with each other? Asne’s perspective ends with her warders drawing nearer, but this has no bearing on later events other than to provide the Black Ajah with a bit of muscle. It is frustrating when a tension-building moment doesn’t amount to anything, but in this case there is enough other Black Ajah tension that pans out the reader is likely to forget it amongst the rest.

Writing Lessons:

Plots which are overly complex, or overly simple and contrived, reduce the believability of your story.

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