Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Gathering Storm - Summary

The Gathering Storm is the most intense book of The Wheel of Time so far, profiling the meteoric rise of Egwene and the chronicle of Rand’s disastrous shunning of emotion and love. As one rises, the other falls. Both live through memorable scenes of triumph even as they follow opposing trajectories.
Rand is subjected to the most personal and traumatic of tortures. He overcomes them by turning his back on the Light and his friends, coming to see everyone as a thing to be used to advance his quest, failing to see them as people at all. In this distant emotional state, he has the power to do anything, but lacks the imperative to do anything at all. He follows the prophecies as though it were a script, playing his part with no care for how he interacts with the other players.
Egwene’s subtle resistance to Elaida’s physical and personal humiliation of her wins allies of ever-increasing rank. Novices, Aes Sedai, and Sitters all come to respect her, culminating in Verin entrusting her with her life’s work. The support she has built allows her to take on power during a Seanchan raid in which she singlehandedly hands the raiders a defeat. Egwene has demonstrated she embodies the best traits of all Ajahs, and reunites the factions of the White Tower under her rule.  
These two heroes stand at counterpoint to each other, Egwene demonstrating how to gain followers, and Rand demonstrating how to lose them. Egwene unites feuding factions while Rand can’t reach simple temporary agreement with the Seanchan nipping at him. Many dueling forces stand between Rand and victory: the Seanchan against the mainland nations, the male channelers against female channelers, Lews Therin against his own soul, Moridin’s nihilistic philosophy against the hopes espoused by Cadsuane and Nynaeve. All of these opposing forces must be reconciled, demanding sacrifice in the form of discomfort, concession, and acceptance.
Since the book is co-authored by Brandon Sanderson, the question of who wrote individual scenes in The Gathering Storm is inevitable. In the early part of the book, the difference in writing style from Robert Jordan’s earlier work is jarring, yet before long, the story takes hold of the reader, and the fate of Rand, Egwene, Verin, and other favourite characters overrides any apparent dissonance. By the time Rand finds himself in Semirhage’s clutches, the pace of the story carries the reader forward.
If Brandon has committed any sin in his handling of the story, it is one he could never overcome: he is not Robert Jordan.
Robert Jordan was facing his own mortality as he wrote this book, and must have found himself uncomfortably in the shoes of several of his characters. In the legend of Manetheren, in Seanchan imperial culture, in the Malkieri vows, in the historical truth shown in the glass columns of Rhuidean, there have been trans-generational commitments; tasks so vast, so important, that each generation must pick up the duty from their forefathers, and carry the burden onward. Best summarized in this passage from The Shadow Rising:
“I mean to save something here, and that something is you.”
“As you say,” he said reluctantly. “We will care for what you have given into our charge until you want them again.”
“Of course. The things we gave you.” She smiled at him and loosened her grip, smoothing his hair once more before folding her hands.
Like Verin in this book, Robert Jordan entrusted his work to loved ones who understood and could finish what he set out to accomplish. The words of the story and the order they appear in are merely things, unimportant compared to the messages they contain, the resolution of the characters’ quests, or the battle against the Shadow which permeates the story. Fighting the Shadow is more than one man can do alone. Rand tried that in this very story, and failed. Working together, the keepers of Robert Jordan’s legacy forged ahead with the story as he wished, knowing the criticisms that would be leveled, cognizant of the difficulties in living up to the level of his work, understanding that hesitation might cost the opportunity to ever complete it.
“So many decisions you must make, for one so young.” She yawned, then grimaced as a pain stabbed her.
Egwene rose, walking to Verin’s side. “Thank you, Verin. Thank you for choosing me to carry this burden.”
My thanks also.
Writing Lessons:
You are a writer. Never quit, never give up.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The Gathering Storm - Chapters 46-50 and Epilogue

In this section, Rand has his lowest moment
Egwene completes her reunification of the White Tower by choosing a Keeper of the Chronicles from the opposing faction. She is setting an example for others to follow by reaching out to a woman who is well known to have been one of her adversaries, and if the others do follow her example, then the Tower should recover nicely. It is fortunate for everyone that Elaida was no longer there, because Egwene might have had less interest in reaching out to her, and she may not have reciprocated as nicely as Silviana did.
This mending of the rift between opposing forces and reaching out to the opponent mirrors situations with the Seanchan, as well as Rand’s internal strife against himself. The greater foe cannot be defeated unless the lesser foes put their differences behind them. Egwene’s situation demonstrates how difficult that may be, requiring her to berate those who first raised her and supported her over the last few months.
Rand and Min separately ponder Callandor’s role in the Last Battle. If its function isn’t for the amount of the One Power it allows to be used, then it must reside with its purported flaw, the fact that women must control the circle to prevent wild fluctuations. It would be irregular for a new property of Callandor to be revealed at the last moment, so I maintain that it is the circle itself that is the reason that Callandor is named in the prophecies. It forces Rand to act in harmony with two women, instead of lashing out on his own as Lews Therin did.
As though to demonstrate that point, Rand has begun obsessing over the Choedan Kal, as though more power is the solution to all of his problems, even as Lews Therin recalls that brute force cannot contain the Dark One. Rand is trying his utmost to fulfill his destiny alone, never considering or allowing that others want to help him fulfill it.
Tam, Rand’s father, attempts to intervene at Cadsuane’s behest. Rand’s responses to his father are mechanical and emotionless. Until Tam reveals he has been in contact with Cadsuane, which drives Rand into a rage. Tam is the oldest relationship Rand has, and by rejecting him Rand is cutting the final tie to his humanity. He is now ready to commit genocide. Lews Therin provides the final link to Rand’s failure when Rand asks himself what he is doing, spinning balefire for his father. No more than I’ve done before, Lews Therin whispers.
Tam argues with Cadsuane, and if she still represents the Light, Tam’s argument is that not even the Light can dictate how a man interacts with his son. The Light may provide guidance and goals, but a parent’s bond with their child is even more sacred than that.
In Ebou Dar, Rand takes note of the Tinkers and the fact they have finally found a place of safety. He is able to see the Seanchan in a different light. While they may treat channelers as animals, the Seanchan treat the peaceful Traveling people with acceptance, something no nation under Rand has ever done. They are different, but they do care about people, even about Rand himself as he stumbles with nausea before he can devastate the city of Ebou Dar.
Rand and Lews Therin merge as represented through three sentences spread across three pages:
The madman didn’t sound as crazy as he once had. In fact, his voice had started to sound an awful lot like Rand’s own voice.
He didn’t know if the thought was his or if it was Lews Therin’s. The two were the same.
Why have we come here? Rand thought. Because, Rand replied. Because we made this. This is where we died.
Atop Dragonmount, Rand contemplates letting the Pattern end. Allowing himself to feel when so much was demanded of him threatened to destroy him, so he tried not to feel anything. Now that he has reconnected with his emotions, he is frustrated that even if he defeats the Dark One, men will keep acting stupidly and selfishly. He doesn’t think his destiny is simply to stop the Dark One, but also to save men from themselves, and their poor decisions. If Rand feels anything, it is futility.
The last peep of Rand’s conscience went silent after he assaulted Tam. Lews Therin’s voice makes one final appearance, saying that a second chance is always worth having. Remembering Tam’s advice, Rand wonders why he would want a second chance, and realizes he will not be satisfied unless he gets it right. He wants to make up for his mistakes, to take responsibility for what was done wrong. This core of stubbornness and determination drives most of the heroic characters. They want to do what they feel is right, not because they have to, but because they need to in order to be true to themselves.
Writing epiphanies is tricky, because there is always the chance that the author can’t convey the grandeur of the realization and its profound impact on the character. In this case the words establish the sense of wonder well, but some part of the epiphany is lost because readers have known for a while that Rand must learn to feel again. This foreseeable outcome is camouflaged nicely by the depths of Rand’s dark mood which, until just one page before the conclusion, seems destined to overturn all of the Viewings and Prophecies. Stretching out the bleakness and condensing the epiphany at the very end augments the reader’s chances of believing that Rand has doomed himself.
The epilogue unexpectedly provides an opportunity to comment on Rand’s sudden reversal of mood. The gloomy weather could have been a result of Rand’s mood instead of the Dark One’s touch. It’s difficult to separate metaphor from true causes when they parallel each other so consistently.
Writing Lessons:
To make events feel logical as they unfold, split them into progressive steps, spending more text on the things you want readers to pay attention to.

Monday, 26 November 2012

The Gathering Storm - Chapters 43-45

In this section, Rand’s reunion with Hurin is menacing, while Egwene’s reunification of the Tower proceeds much better.
Rand’s attempts to sever all emotional ties hardly finds an obstacle when he meets with Hurin, a follower from long ago. Back then Rand offered Hurin leadership, courage, and hope. Today he threatens Hurin, questions his very identity, and dismisses all of his petty concerns. What could have been a gesture of friendship is interpreted as an attempt to influence Rand, with disastrous consequences. Nynaeve is hardly able to sway Rand’s mood when he begins weaving lightning to send crashing into the Borderlanders’ camp.
When he does relent, it is partly out of a sense that he owes Nynaeve a debt for caring when he can no longer afford to. Similarly to Far Madding, when he reached out for Cadsuane’s help before getting in trouble, Rand reaches out to his conscience, Nynaeve, and gives her a scrap of information, telling her where Perrin is. The other part of his motivation is that he hopes to save time by having Nynaeve reel Perrin back to his side.
Nynaeve brings Perrin’s location to Cadsuane, but it isn’t Perrin she is after, but someone whose relationship with Rand goes back even further than Hurin or Perrin.
It is pointed out that Min’s Viewings are clues as to what the Pattern intends for later, but if the Dark One wins, those plans will be for naught, since the Pattern itself would have been destroyed.  
Egwene goes through some introspection, which is always a danger for authors. Too much self-awareness, or too little, and readers can be knocked out of the story. Egwene’s lasts for almost three pages, and is extremely self-aware, teetering on slipping into the author’s voice instead of her own.
Egwene is bitter over her failure to persuade Siuan not to come to her rescue. She blames her secrecy for allowing Siuan to reach conclusions she would not have, had she known more details of Egwene’s plan. Egwene resolves to share her thoughts more freely in the future, while knowing that there will be some secrets her position demands be kept close. To illustrate her new mindset, the chapter concludes with her revelation to the Sitters of the Black Ajah amongst them. This purging of their ranks could not happen if Egwene didn’t have some reason and means to openly share the contents of Verin’s research with her highest-ranking and most-trusted followers.
Further illustrating the previous lack of communication between Egwene and her closest followers, Egwene must explain to Gawyn that his discomfort was the price she demanded of him. The idea that loved ones must be free and empowered to take their own risks in life has surfaced repeatedly throughout The Wheel of Time, and the truest example of this is the relationship between Warder and Aes Sedai.
Siuan and Bryne’s storyline comes to an end. Siuan has fulfilled her Viewing, as has Bryne, and they are at last united in love and the Warder bond. With Egwene installed on the Amyrlin Seat neither Siuan nor Bryne has anything further to accomplish in relation to the story. It would be nice if they could retire after the Last Battle, but it’s just as plausible that they will get singled out as casualties in the fighting.
The Ajah heads in the White Tower are revealed to have been behind the Young Sitters in both Halls. The Young Sitters didn’t obey as well as expected, and some of the more experienced Sitters turn out to have been serving the Black Ajah, explaining their odd voting record. It’s an anticlimactic resolution to a plotline that had been thrust to the forefront at least twice. The Ajah heads settle on Egwene as their preference for the next Amyrlin, putting the need of the Tower and the world ahead of their own at last, since their earlier efforts conveniently aligned their own interests with the perceived needs of the Tower and the world.  
Egwene’s exposition of Sheriam is handled with quick, curt dialogue. The rapid exchange lures the reader in, allowing them to plow through the text before having time to think, which is exactly the effect that the exchange has on Sheriam. There is hardly even any descriptive text, just curt questions and answers:
“Egwene?” Sheriam asked uncomfortably “I was just –“
Egwene stepped forward. “Are you Black Ajah, Sheriam?”
“What? Of course not!”
“Do you consort with the Forsaken?”
“No!” Sheriam said, glancing to the sides.
“Do you serve the Dark One?”
“Have you been released from your oaths?”
“Do you have red hair?”
“Of course not, I never –“ She froze.
In this scene, Sheriam is a stand-in for all the Black Ajah, her familiar, kindly, and oft seen face representing the closeness which many of the Aes Sedai will have had with their evil sisters. Were they able to tell all as they marched to the headsman, as Verin was able to? Once they believed their death was imminent, were they able to reveal the Dark One’s secrets? Did they even try to?  Sheriam at least revealed she had been stealing dream ter’angreal, another strong indication that the Dark One doesn’t want the heroes poking around in this realm, although it could still simply be Forsaken jealousy. Did Mesaana arrange for many other ter’angreal to be stolen from the Tower?  Why were she and other Forsaken so worried about getting caught stealing ter’angreal when Egwene was able to waltz in to the storerooms twice? It seems likely there was simply nothing worth stealing, or worth having the Aes Sedai notice was missing, which implies cowardice on the Forsaken’s part, a strong motivator. The sa’angreal Egwene used must nonetheless have been tempting.
Egwene’s purge of the Black Ajah amongst the rebels is not representative of Rand’s handling of the darkness within him. She does however acknowledge the existence of the Black Ajah privately, which is an important step for Rand to take. Only then is she able to excise it, yet Aes Sedai will still behave as Aes Sedai do, even if they do not serve the Shadow. The capacity for evil always remains, and if Egwene has only lightly touched on this truth, Rand will have to deal with it more directly before he can win the Last Battle.
Egwene accepts the Tower’s surrender, and their appeal to her to take the Amyrlin Seat. It’s nowhere near as gripping or powerful as the scene where the Black Ajah amongst the rebels are purged, and feels like a necessary epilogue to Egwene’s plotline, and there’s yet more Egwene to come.
Writing Lessons:
Control the pace of dialogue to keep the reader focused on something, or to keep them from focusing on something.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Gathering Storm - Chapters 40-42

In this intense section, Egwene saves the White Tower, while Rand doesn’t save Arad Doman
Two more intense scenes take place. Egwene’s defense of the White Tower is action-packed, but more importantly is filled with intense emotion. It is the emotions felt by Egwene, Adelorna, and the reader which give the scene such intensity.  Similarly, but almost a polar opposite, Rand’s scene is filled with a very different intense emotion, one which comes from a complete lack of action and Rand’s cold frustration about it.
Through 70 pages set in and near the White Tower, Egwene rises from the despairing depths described in her cell, to regain her place as a Novice. Novice quarters seem opulent compared to where she was, and might have constituted a victory, but her meteoric rise continues. She leads a group of Novices, which lets her channel more of the One Power, which lets her acquire a sa’angreal, which lets her save Aes Sedai, even the head of the Green Ajah, which leads to her standing at the forefront of the Tower’s defense.
Her quick ascendance is not simply a matter of having it handed to her. She was released from her cell because Elaida decided Egwene was the wrong recipient of her ire. Elaida acknowledged that Egwene was undeserving of her imprisonment. Verin’s diary was given out of respect for what Egwene had accomplished so far. The Novices turned to her because no one else looked out for them, and Egwene did, giving them courage, direction, and entrusting them with secret knowledge. Each step upward is a logical outcome of Egwene’s behaviour, not her abilities, making her victory one of character, not plot. Every sufferance she has endured pays its dividends now, and they accumulate rapidly, until she is wielding more power than anyone in the Tower ever has.
Once Egwene is backed by a circle, the Seanchan cannot shield her since the a’dam prevents them from forming circles strong enough. Each and every damane literally needs someone looking over their shoulder to control their behaviour. This mechanism is a blatant metaphor for the ability of a group of people standing united overcoming difficult obstacles, and the inability of strictly controlled people to stand against a united group. Robert Jordan first knew what messages he intended to convey in his story, and then developed the mechanics of using the One Power to directly represent them. It’s a clever and powerful way to make sure your story doesn’t go off track with some unintended metaphor or message.
Throughout the Battle, Egwene must overcome her dire fear of being retaken by sul’dam and made to serve. The progression of emotions Egwene feels is impressed on the reader with language which uses strong emotion bearing words. Her initial fear and panic is replaced by hope, then certitude, then righteous fury:
And she couldn’t channel enough Power to light a candle, let alone fight back.
Soldiers and sul’dam. With those leashes. Egwene shuddered, wrapping her arms around herself. The cool, seamless metal. The nausea, the degradation, the panic, despair, and – shamefully – guilt at not serving her mistress to the best of her abilities. She remembered the haunted look of an Aes Sedai as she was broken. Most of all, she remembered her own terror. The terror of realizing that she would be just like the others, eventually. Just another slave, happy to serve.
She wouldn’t let them leash her again. She had to run! She had to hide, flee, escape… No! She pushed herself upright. No, she would not flee. She was Amyrlin.
“Come,” she said, striding forward, holding to her tiny bit of the Power like a drowning woman clinging to a rescue rope.
She smiled at the thrill of it. She could feel Nicola, sense her fear, her emotions bubbling over. Egwene had been part of enough circles to know how to separate herself from Nicola, but Egwene remembered the first time, how she had felt swept into something far larger than herself.
She held it reverently for a moment, then reached and pulled the One Power through it. An awesome, almost overpowering, torrent of power flooded through her.
The White Tower would not fall while she was Amyrlin! Not without a fight to rival the Last Battle itself.
Adelorna is head of the Green Ajah, and to represent that only Egwene can save the Tower, the logical person to show in a state of unreadiness is Adelorna. Had more space been available, the author might have shown a progression of more and more powerful Aes Sedai being collared, or fleeing, ending with Adelorna.
She teetered on the exposed ledge, looking out upon a sky filled with terrible monsters and lines of fire. She stumbled back with a cry, turning away from the hole.
Adelorna screamed in denial, pushing at the shield. The third woman calmly knelt and snapped a silver collar on Adelorna’s neck.
Adelorna turned hesitantly. A woman in white stood atop the rubble a short distance away, a massive halo of power surrounding her, her arm outstretched toward toward the fleeing soldiers, her eyes intense. The woman stood like vengeance itself, the power of saidar like a storm around her.
“What if they’re carrying captives?” Adelorna asked, watching one of the beasts fall amid Egwene’s flames. “Then those captives are better dead,” Egwene said, turning to her. “Trust me, I know this.”
Those eyes were so calm, so in control.
“If I left, it wouldn’t have been fleeing you, Adelorna, it would have been abandoning you. I am the Amyrlin Seat. My place is here.”
Saerin leads the Tower’s defense, poorly in her estimation. As a figure of authority, she too has to be shown falling second to Egwene in order to complete her ascension to the pinnacle of power. Her calm demeanor is eventually shaken by understanding that Egwene is beating back the Seanchan.
“I told them we were organizing a formal command center here. Most seemed to think that was a good idea, though many were too tired, too shocked or too dazed to respond with much else besides a nod.”
“A pity,” Saerin said. “They like to call themselves the Battle Ajah, after all. Well that leaves me to organize the fighting.”
What she didn’t mention was how embarrassed she was. The Aes Sedai had spent centuries guiding kings and influencing wars, but now – with their sanctuary assaulted – they had proven woefully inadequate in defending it.
“This is a disaster!” an angry voice shouted.
“The novices’ quarters?” Saerin said. That seemed even more ridiculous. “How in the world…” She trailed off, eyes widening slightly. “Egwene.”
At last we see Egwene in full vengeful radiance, having laid claim to her position through strength of character, overcoming her fears, and sheer force of will.
Each faceless Seanchan that Egwene struck down seemed to be Renna in her mind’s eye.
The attack below was breaking off, the entire raid focusing on Egwene.
Egwene was part of the fires that burned in the Tower, bloodying the sky with their flames, painting the air with their smoke. She almost seemed not a being of flesh, but one of pure Power, sending judgment to those who had dared bring war on the Tower itself. Blasts of lightning stormed from the sky, the clouds churning above. Fire sprouted from her hands.
Siuan leads Egwene’s rescue, fulfilling Min’s Viewing. She and Bryne both wrongfully assume that some inconsistency exists because Bryne could not have fulfilled the Viewing unless he had come along, but it is obvious that death would have awaited him at some imminent later moment without Siuan in the revel camp to protect him.
Completing Egwene’s ascension, her rival Elaida is captured, vacating the Amyrlin Seat and leaving only Egwene standing. Elaida’s bullying and stern rule have irked readers and characters alike since the earliest parts of the series. It may be as Egwene later declares that no one deserves collaring by the Seanchan, but Elaida certainly comes closest. Readers can’t help but feel that events have worked out for the best with her unhappy captivity and a new name that sounds suspiciously like Suffer.
Ironically, for things to work out for the best in the long run, Elaida will have to be inspired by Egwene to keep Traveling out of the Seanchan’s hands. She just may have the requisite stubbornness, and could redeem herself by following in Egwene’s footsteps.
Rand’s cold detachment is made evident with words that have no emotional weight to them, even in situations where the circumstances are heavily emotional. This is epitomized with “It is not my problem, Rand thought, not looking at the people. I did everything I could.” His mood and the futility of his efforts are mirrored by the spoilage of food, as every last grain in Arad Doman is fouled. “What Arad Doman needs, nobody can give.”
Futility is also prominent in Lews Therin’s concern that the names of women in Graendal’s fortress will never be known, and the list of women killed by him and Rand will remain incomplete. His concern is so trivial, so preposterous, but Rand can’t see that his own intentions for Arad Doman and the world were equally far-fetched.
Writing Lessons:
Use emotion to create intensity.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

The Gathering Storm - Chapters 37-39

In this section, Rand mercilessly destroys his enemies and Egwene gets some help.
Without a shred of regret or doubt, Rand sacrifices a Domani nobleman to test whether Graendal is really hiding in a fortress called Natrin’s Barrow. His plan to kill Graendal amounts to fooling her into thinking she is sitting down to play a game with him, then to kill her before she realizes there is no game.
Callandor failed Rand before, but we get a glimpse of why Callandor is the object called out in the Prophecies, not the Choedan Kal. Rand calls Callandor a box, designed to trap him, but readers retain the intuition that a circle of two women and one man using Callandor can overcome its flaws. Callandor forces men and women to work together, to be in a circle where they can share sensations, and feed off each other’s will. The Warder bond sometimes causes a feedback loop where Aes Sedai and Warder’s emotions feed off each other. The a’dam allows sensation of the damane’s physical feelings. Rand’s bond with Elayne caused uncomfortable feedback and amplification of sensations. In a circle, using Callandor, it seems plausible that a feedback loop can be created that magnifies willpower, allowing Rand to feed off of the combined resistance of the women linked with him. Given the possible weakness in the True Power exposed in the previous chapters, the ability to use collaborative willpower would be of great value in the Last Battle.  
Balefire’s unique properties are once again showcased in a clever and callous strategy to verify whether Graendal is dead. Of course, dedicated balefire enthusiasts such as myself found several ways in which Graendal could have survived the blast. Min contrasts the results of the faded Compulsion with the bruises on her own neck which have not faded yet. The difference is that Rand acted as an intermediary, so his actions were not undone by balefiring Semirhage, he still believed he had a collar around his neck and was being forced to strangle Min. Given Demandred’s meeting with the Dark One and the repeated use of balefire, it is inevitable that balefire will play an important role in A Memory of Light. I expect Demandred’s forces to channel it almost exclusively in an attempt to unmake the world itself, an attack which would require the True Power, or the properties of Tel’aran’rhiod to repair.
Nynaeve is despondent over her inability to sway Rand by even a hair, so she reluctantly turns to Cadsuane, who tests her, questioning her ability to obey. Nynaeve resists, as she always does, not unlike Rand himself, while Min assigns herself the duty of keeping Rand alive and sane, with his soul in one piece.
Egwene uses need in Tel’aran’rhiod and comes across Tinker wagons. Mat once discovered Tinker Wagons burned with the message ‘tell the Dragon Reborn’ scratched with one man’s dying efforts. What do they mean together? The most common answer relates to their lost song, but given Rand’s recent moods, what he needs to be told is to adopt the Way of the Leaf. Acceptance of events and refusal to use force are two elements of this philosophy that are used frequently in other places in the story. If Rand’s soul is to be salvaged, the Way of the Leaf may offer a means to do it.
Stepping out of Tel’aran’rhiod, the transition from healthy Egwene to injured Egwene drives home the treatment she casually described to Siuan, hoping not to alarm her to the point where she would ignore Egwene’s order to pursue no rescue. With Siuan she uses words like ‘solitude, beating, spice, survive, narrow, touch, can’t stand, bend, stoop, pain, beatings, old, itches, cracks.’ Upon awakening, the author uses stronger words such as ‘blackness, exploded, pain, pounded raw, strap, cramped, forced, curled, small, smelled, unwashed, stench, groan, shield, stiff, cracked, scraping, parched, never, stooped’.
Dramatic events surrounding Elaida’s potential downfall and Silviana’s potential execution allow Egwene a few moments alone back in her cell, just in time for a visit from Verin.
Verin’s affiliation with the Black Ajah was a much bigger secret than Sheriam’s because she helped the heroes so overtly, but of course there were still those who latched on to the idea that she was Black Ajah early. Verin’s appearance brings an avalanche of revelations. Fortunately she doesn’t just walk in and hand her secrets to Egwene. There is a cost, which is her life. Self-sacrifice isn’t something the Dark One seems able to conceive of or worry about, so Verin’s self-sacrifice is a clue to the Dark One’s blind spot, one which Rand should easily take advantage of as he embodies the role of saviour.
As the series nears its end, it’s foreseeable that readers get reminders of all the major plot elements which will explain the later victory, so these tidbits about the Dark One, balefire, Callandor, the True Power and Tel’aran’rhiod are significant. In almost every case, those tidbits have been placed in gripping scenes so that readers absorb them, but don’t dwell on them, allowing a more powerful revelation later.
With most of the Black Ajah plots already foiled, it is timely to reveal their identities now. No longer are readers filled with paranoia about who may be on their side, from now on they will know exactly who is a villain and who is not. A new tension arises from Egwene’s need to keep this secret until she can make the most use of it, even when it will mean interacting with Black Ajah.  She gives orders to take Alviarin immediately if at all possible.
The book has been picking up its pace for a while now, overcoming most concerns or interest in the difference between Jordan and Sanderson. The reason is that events in each locale are directly affecting each other, creating a storyline that links the parts into a whole which the reader has interest in following. Mat’s agreement with Verin led to her arrival in the Tower. Rand’s failure with the Seanchan leads to Tuon launching a raid on Tar Valon. Tuon’s raid prevents Egwene from acting on Verin’s information immediately. Disparate storylines are being interwoven with cause and effect rather than simply thematic links.
Writing Lessons:
Readers feel story progression when the solution to one problem creates a new problem.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The Gathering Storm - Chapters 34-36

In this section, Tuon resists and rejects Rand.
The first time I read The Gathering Storm, I found several of Mat’s humourous sections over the top and out of character. This time, they provided the heartiest laughs. Rand’s chapters are too grim to allow humour, so a brief Mat interlude allows a quick respite from the grimness, before launching back into it. All Rand all the time would be a grind to read, but Mat’s sections give the book a tempo such that it feels like two beats down, one beat up, two beats down, one beat up, until Rand hits rock bottom. Here’s a quick look at what makes the humour in each of these sentences effective.
Next he knew, the daisies on the sides of the road would be ganging up to try and eat him. Exaggeration to the point of ridiculousness.
Mat’s overly detailed aliases for the raid on the town of Trustair have several more examples of exaggeration, this time by adding detail upon detail, any one of which would be acceptable, but when combined sound preposterous.
Mat’s seat: Bloody thing must have been designed by insane, cross-eyed Trollocs and built from the bones of the damned. A combination of exaggeration and uncommon details.
You’re Aes Sedai. I figured you… you know, saidared it. Inappropriate use of a word is funny, this one manages to take Aes Sedai down a notch as well through its lack of respect, and ridicule of prominent figures is usually accepted as funny. 
Is Verin lying to Mat? She goes to some length to present a fantastic story of coincidence and fate, yet as it is begun, the following line puts it all in question:  That smile on the corner of her lips? That was the smile of a jackleg who didn’t care that you were on to her con. Now that you understood, you could both enjoy the game, and perhaps together you could dupe someone else. She then establishes the context for her incredible tale: Mat is ta’veren. Mat shrugs it off but their argument ought to make everyone else more convinced it’s true. If it isn’t a true tale, then it must have been to convince Mat that the thing that Verin has for him, a letter with instructions, is so important that he can’t afford to ignore it as he typically might. It would also require that Verin’s ability to find Mat be explained when none of the Forsaken or Darkfriends have been able to. If it isn’t a true tale, then why not have Mat admit to himself that he’s just playing along?  Or is all that captured in his concluding remark as he accepts her letter and her terms: “Why was Verin being so cryptic?”
Thanks to the Mat interlude, readers are a little less pessimistic about Rand’s mood when he meets the Seanchan. That doesn’t last long though, as he is soon trying to use the True Power to bend Tuon’s will and give him the treaty he wants. The fact that Tuon can resist shows her strength of character, but it also shows a weakness to the True Power. If the True Power could force someone to change her mind, they have to be accepting of that change, much as Shemerin was with her demotion. Tuon truly does not want to give in, and despite Rand using the True Power on her, she is able to resist. The True Power cannot make you do anything, control over that comes from within. This fits thematically with many of the other truths of this world, such as Rand’s many encounters with Moridin, the sudden twisting of his ta’veren powers to the nasty side, the way Tel’aran’rhiod works with force of will, and maybe even with the worst of the Dark One’s powers: the ability to turn people to the Shadow using Myrddraal and channelers. It is possible that resisting turning can cause the effort to fail, at which point a captive is killed.  It could be that it is fear of death that gets captives to surrender, and allow the conversion to the Dark. Tuon’s resistance is a mixed blessing, for readers want peace so Rand can focus on the Dark One, yet it is apparent that Rand’s victory in this matter by using the True Power would have a bad outcome. With all those weighty matters grabbing the reader’s attention, it is easy to overlook the seemingly insignificant detail that Rand was simply unable to bend her will using the True Power, which will be a key to victory in A Memory of Light.
The cultural chasms between the Seanchan and the rest of the world are vast, and Tuon says that these lands had forgotten their oaths. Oaths to do what? Await the Return? Obey? It feels like we are missing some element of what the purpose of the Return was, only glimpses of which are revealed by Tuon’s mention of the Essanik Cycle. This set of prophecies is widely believed to be a corrupted version twisted in meaning by Ishamael, but it is also possible that it is nothing of the sort, and that it simply tells how the Seanchan will command the Dragon to fight the Last Battle, and that the oaths are akin to those of the Borderlands or Manetheren, to pledge to fight the Shadow.
Writing Lessons:
Create funny sentences using exaggeration or a series of uncommon details.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The Gathering Storm - Chapters 31-33

In this section, Nynaeve can’t get through to Rand
As with several earlier storylines, the focus is shifting from physical obstacles, such as the Last Battle, to character-driven storylines, such as Cadsuane and Nynaeve’s need to have Rand rediscover his feelings before it’s too late. In this section the problem is just being established.  I’ll note once again that Cadsuane represents the Light, and Nynaeve represents Rand’s conscience. Ever since he dismissed the Light, his conscience is in turmoil.
Arad Doman is itself a metaphor, the people need something more than Rand offers. He brings food but the people distrust it.  
Cadsuane learns that the normal ta’veren balancing of events is no longer taking place. The bad effects persist, the good ones have stopped occurring. A sudden change in a fact that the reader knows to be true is an effective way of raising the stakes.
Cadsuane ponders the question of who stole the collar and bracelets from her room. She concludes its removal was intentionally designed to sow distrust. The obvious candidate is Shaidar Haran, who was in the building, and has some reality-bending abilities, surely enough to get past Cadsuane’s defensive weaves.
Cadsuane comes up with a desperate plan, kept secret from the reader. She runs to the Wise Ones with it, and they listen.
Nynaeve may be trustworthy enough to act as Rand’s new advisor. His first act is to tell her how Lan’s death in the Blight may serve Rand’s larger battle plan. Rand then consigns the noblewoman Milisair to the dungeon where she let a messenger die, Rand’s last lead to track down Graendal. Nynaeve disagrees with that act as well, but Rand is ready to banish her as easily as he banished Cadsuane. Rand’s solutions to all possible problems involve force and decrees, leaving little room for anyone else’s wishes to be considered.
Nynaeve recalls that only Moiraine had ever made any headway with Rand, guiding him as she guided saidar. She immediately dismisses the idea of flattering him or acting subservient, choosing instead to demonstrate that they are working towards the same goals by trying to uncover a link to Graendal. Her refusal to bow and scrape is similar to when she refused to apologize to Mat in A Crown of Swords, even though that character-centric action is what was required to succeed in her quest.
Nynaeve shows Rand a boy she discovered, suffering from Compulsion. At Rand’s instruction, and seeking to prove herself, she removes Graendal’s weaves, causing the boy’s death. Even though he whispers a location to Rand, Nynaeve considers the exercise a failure since she believes the boy could have been saved had Rand not so callously determined his fate. When Rand guides her, she is soiled, their relationship needs to be set back properly with her guiding him.
Rand explains himself: he doesn’t need to save his soul, since he’ll be dying in the Last Battle. He doesn’t have to worry about whether his hardness will destroy him; he knows it will. He accepts that Nynaeve cares about him, and is grateful, but has no need of that emotion. Nynaeve sees that by surrendering his hope, he has lost all reason to care about the outcome of his battles. Yet she cannot find words to argue against his grim point of view; he is dragging her along with him.
With these chapters, the format is similar to Jordan’s earlier books with a lengthier focus on a particular locale and set of characters. This seems to be partly due to the rapid succession of events in each locale, though that rapid succession itself may be a result of Jordan’s plotting to fit the desired novel structure. Compressing events in time allows that lengthier focus to be maintained.
Nynaeve spends a long chapter piecing together a mystery, so we’ll take a closer look at how this mystery is presented.
A sick boy met on the road home allows a chance to show off the skills Nynaeve will use to find clues, particularly Delving to find symptoms of illness. Nynaeve is looking for clues without knowing what they might look like, but readers aren’t even immediately told she is looking for clues leading to Graendal, all they know is that she is looking for some means to get Rand to listen to her. Vague language keeps the reader guessing: A plan began to take root in her head. By the time she reached the mansion, she had an idea of what to do.  
Nynaeve recruits three soldiers, and uses them to recruit a handful of servants, never telling the reader why. Curiosity over the lack of context and her out-of-character actions keeps the reader interested. The author could simply have presented readers with Nynaeve busting down the door of the chandler’s shop and offered a quick explanation of why she was there and who she had brought with her, but keeping it a mystery accentuates the feeling that she is looking for something, because the reader is also looking for something.
Nynaeve procures her first piece of information, the dungeon’s location, and thinks: Good. She didn’t intend to withhold information. Revealing this location tells the reader what to think about, what to try make connections to. Nynaeve’s thoughts tell that more information will be forthcoming, but not until it is needed. The author withholds each piece of information as long as possible, allowing readers time to try figure it out and maintaining their sense of curiosity as long as possible.
At last the reason for Nynaeve’s interest is given: the timing between Rand’s request for the messenger and his death. Too coincidental for her taste, she wants to investigate further.
The dungeon’s questioners are captured, but Nynaeve doesn’t directly them what she most wants to know, instead going through the facility one step at a time.  The person she is looking for is ignored at first while she questions the torturers, and nearly manages to escape later. This is a typical distraction, presenting the reader with an obvious target for their attention, such that the true solution has been shown but is overlooked.
The torturers weave an incredible story, casting doubt on their version of events. Having already promised not to punish them for past sins if they cooperated, Nynaeve has no choice but to accept what they tell her.  She decides to Delve and Heal Milisair before leaving in failure, which is when she discovers traces of poison, something so out of place she knows it is the link she has been looking for.
Writing Lessons:
When writing mysteries, the character and reader must both be looking for something, but not necessarily for the same thing.
To sustain the mystery, reveal each dribble of information as late as possible.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

The Gathering Storm - Chapters 28-30

In this section, the Heroes get a taste of the wrong choice.
Mat is in Hinderstap when the sun goes down, and the villagers turn insane as soon as the last of the light slips behind the mountains. This is yet another of the series’ metaphors that cut across the various storylines, as Mat experiences a village outside the Light, representative of Rand’s moral trajectory. With no guiding set of morals, the inhabitants turn on one another quickly and savagely. There are a few subtle, and a few direct hints of this in the text: The village was dark. Not a light burned, or there didn’t seem to be an ounce of humanity left in them, or Thom’s analysis:  It’s as if the darkness itself intoxicates them, as if the Light itself has forsaken them, leaving then only to the Shadow. Even Mat and his followers are dragged down to that level because the danger and the darkness limit their ability to act as morally as they should with unarmed villagers.
This bubble of evil, like several others before, not only do nasty impossible things but also symbolize current events on the book, particularly with respect to Rand’s character. Were all the bubbles of evil veiled symbols of Rand’s mood? If so, the author managed to hide the fact well with subtlety. Recent bubbles of evil are easier to match to Rand’s mood. The bubbles of evil also began only after Rand took Callandor. Is holding Callandor what makes the Dragon one with the land? Did the bubbles of evil start off somewhat gentle and get nastier as Rand’s mood got darker and darker?  If these are attuned to Rand, and not the Dark One, what does that mean? I’m leaning towards an eventual revelation that the Dark One can’t simply be killed or sealed away, he is now part of Rand, or always was metaphorically.
Continuing the metaphor of the Light-forsaken, Arad Doman‘s capital city is as hopeless a place as has been shown. No food, no medicine, no order, no hope. It is a second, larger example of a city outside the Light, once again representing Rand’s mental state. Rand sees no one who stands out amongst a people noted for standing out. No one is special. Two balconies collapse at the same time, a ta’veren twist or a bubble of evil, or a result of using the Dark One’s own power? Rand ponders this without offering succour to the wounded. Every person near Rand is suspicious. Merise must be plotting with Cadsuane, Dobraine is Cairhienin, Min must be remembering what he did to her. No one is special enough to elicit emotion from the Dragon Reborn.
Rand recognizes Lanfear may yet live. He resolves to use balefire on her, Graendal, or any Forsaken, still unknowing that the Dark One benefits each time he uses it.
Gawyn can’t get help from the Aes Sedai to rescue Egwene, but is still desperate to do so. Gareth Bryne questions him closely, and the questions are the same ones Rand should be asking himself. The author often shows older mentor characters as already having all the right answers and trying to guide the younger heroes along the right path. What if Egwene doesn’t want help? Will he force her to go? Will he become a bully and a footpad, remarkable only because of his ability to kill or punish those who disagree with him? Gawyn’s journey lags Rand’s, for Gawyn has yet to commit to a path while Rand strides headstrong down the path he has chosen, the path everyone tells him is the wrong one.
Let’s see how a description of Mat’s battle differs from Gawyn’s in the last section:
Chapter 28, Night in Hinderstap begins with the battle already underway, even though the previous chapter was from Mat’s perspective as well. This helps sell the idea that everything changed as though with the flip of a switch. Three attackers are quickly dispatched, then the mood is set with several paragraphs describing screams and yells, primal tactics, and manic violence. Wounded men in the street are finished off by more roving maniacal villagers. The reader now understands the context, and had to do so in the same way Mat did, hurriedly and only after dealing with the immediate problem.  
They see Mat. Mat curses and orders them to mount. There is a loss of control as Mat cannot keep from killing despite his best efforts. The danger and the darkness make it inevitable.
A brief respite as the remaining groups turn on each other. The mayor sees Mat but attacks two other men from behind instead. Mat orders a retreat. The villagers pursue on all fours, like animals.
The difficult battle conditions are described yet again, but no strategy is announced. The effect is one of concern. Mat hasn’t the abilities, the men, the power or the strategy to get out of this situation. Even his eventual decision is instinctive: find Thom and the women, protect them.
On the main street, conditions are worse. Mat charges in headlong. One of his men falls, and Mat goes back for him despite Talmanes’ protests. The strategy is one of necessity, other strategies he could have used such as trampling the attackers are unusable in the darkness. This once more adds to the feeling of loss of control. Traditional tactics are useless since he cannot anticipate the blind stupidity of his attackers. There are no sword-forms, no depictions of graceful mastery, it is all simple, instinctual, desperate moves.
Delarn acts as a man should, distinguishing himself from the mass of shadows, allowing Mat to fight to reach his side. Mat gets Delarn onto his horse, but remains under continual attack. Highlighting the desperation, the sentences become quick and clipped: They just kept coming! Surrounding him! Coming at him from every side. Bloody Ashes!
Thom rides in to save Mat, and Talmanes comes as well, and they all ride towards the Aes Sedai.
The language throughout the battle is heavy on audible sounds instead of sights, treats the foes as indistinguishable and interchangeable creatures, and never gives Mat a chance to think or plan. As a result, it is quite different from any other battle in the series.
 Writing Lessons:
Make scenes original instead of generic by highlighting a few aspects of them differently than expected.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

The Gathering Storm - Chapters 24-27

In this section, the heroes learn that power must not only be wielded, but wielded properly.
Like Rand, Gawyn has the power to do anything he wants, which he displays by casually dispatching a handful of guards in the Rebels’ camp. Bryne criticizes him for it, acknowledging that the power is in his hands, but questioning what he will do with it. What guides Gawyn’s hand? He says love for Egwene does, but he has no actual idea what she wants, he is simply making his best guess. Unlike Rand, a mentor’s intervention doesn’t drive Gawyn away, but gives him pause. Gawyn bristles at his mentor’s scathing words about his mother. Bryne’s point is that the truth may be uncomfortable and may shatter heartfelt illusions, but it must be heard nonetheless. Gawyn would like to believe his mother was special, but she wasn’t in this circumstance, she gets no special dispensation. By extension the same is true for Gawyn and Rand, who both wield great power but will be judged harshly if they do not wield it properly.
With Rand abandoning the Light, and Gawyn poised on the precipice before being hauled back, it’s timely to look in on the Black Ajah Sheriam. There were still many holdouts over Sheriam’s allegiance to the Shadow in the Theoryland forums, some positing that Sheriam must have been turned against her will, since she just could not possibly be evil. Jordan had established her kindly character well, as discussed in posts on The Dragon Reborn, and the fact that she was not confirmed as evil allowed readers to stick to their emotion-based judgment of her. Sanderson uses some of the same techniques here, even as she is finally convincingly revealed as a villainess. Ambiguous phrasing, such as ‘the one who had sometimes lurked inside’ tells readers nothing about whether that person was an interloper or a Great Mistress commanding her, and in proving nothing one way or the other create fertile ground for deeper emotional commitment to deep-held beliefs about Sheriam.
We learn that the Forsaken helped raise Egwene as rebel Amyrlin, in the hope that it would further split the Aes Sedai, and that plan paid off very well until now, when Egwene’s status is rising to that of her title and threatening to heal the rift.
Egwene learns she has escaped the headsman for now, but Elaida’s outburst of rage has only unsteadied her, not toppled her, and she may yet recover. Egwene’s options are very limited, but she maintains she will never kneel to Elaida, and she will continue to resist until her trial, and possible death sentence. She still feels her resistance may provide, even in death, the means to heal the Tower and oust Elaida in time for a better candidate to lead the White Tower in the Last Battle.
Aviendha becomes a Wise One after finally standing up for herself. In a plot similar to Shemerin’s, Aviendha learns that only she can raise or debase herself, the power to establish her own  worth is entirely in her own hands.
Romanda listens to Shemerin’s tale and is disgusted that Elaida could cause such a change in an Aes Sedai. A sudden swarm of beetles ruptures the floor of the tent, a bubble of evil which represents the fate of the rebels, the first beetle a precursor to the others as Shemerin’s treatment presages the treatment the rebels will receive. Romanda burns her tent, unable to contemplate touching things that had been touched by such filth, in effect destroying her identity as thoroughly as Elaida could. She wonders if she could submit to Elaida to save the Tower. Like Gawyn, Aviendha, and the other examples, she now wields the power to decide, but may not have the means to reach a decision.
Mat brings some followers to Hinderstap to gather supplies and have some fun. The question of saving Moiraine comes up again, and Mat realizes that Lanfear may well be trapped too. He wonders if he would save her from a fate amongst the Aelfinn and Eelfinn, even knowing how evil she is. Based on the thought “You’re a fool, Matrim Cauthon. Not a Hero. Just a Fool”, readers should recognize the familiar mindset of the character who will go out of his way to do the right thing. It’s the first time anyone has considered saving one of the Forsaken; most of Rand’s interactions merely confirmed they weren’t interested in being saved. As I’ve posited before, Lanfear has close parallels in the myths of Eve and Pandora, myths which also include their redemption and salvation.
Why not attach that earlier Mat section to this one? Probably to get a bit of humour in before Rand’s grim scene sucked all the smiles out. It’s a surprise when the next chapter is also Mat’s; two in a row from one character for the first time in the book. Splitting the viewpoints changes the flow of the story, and since some of the split scenes involving the same character fit reasonably well together and could have fit the typical Robert Jordan format, it’s further confirmation that this was a stylistic choice of Brandon’s or the editor’s.  
Mat remembers the dagger from Shadar Logoth, a dagger that filled Mat and Padan Fain with all-consuming hatred for the Shadow. Once freed of the dagger, Mat’s carefree attitude is almost opposite to the single-mindedness of purpose that the Shadar Logoth taint filled him with. Mat expressly will do the least possible to rid the world of the Shadow, adopting a live and let live lifestyle, and even contemplating saving dire enemies.
Let’s quickly look at Gawyn’s short battle scene:
The four soldiers are portrayed as competent, taking their duty seriously. Gawyn’s emotions are irritation and anger, fuelled by the soldier’s dismissal of his claims. A cluster of dialogue ends with the sergeant laying a hand on his sword. Words end, action begins.
Gawyn leaps from his horse, an explanation for the strategy behind it is given.
Gawyn begins a sword form, an explanation for the strategy behind it is given.
Gawyn slams into the sergeant, an explanation for the success of the attack is given (wearing helmet the wrong way)
Gawyn repels a few blows, and strikes the halberdiers, an explanation for the necessity of wounding them is given.
Gawyn finishes the battle leaving all four wounded and winded soldiers on the ground.
The author succeeds in demonstrating that Gawyn is intensely analytical during battles with immediate and frequent explanations of his actions.
Writing Lessons:
Where you place explanations for actions in the story affects how readers perceive those actions.

Monday, 12 November 2012

The Gathering Storm - Chapters 21-23

In this section, one of the most intense scenes in the series unfolds.
This blog had its 10,000th visitor last week while I was facing writer’s block over this extra-lengthy post. Thanks for reading! Don't be shy, contact me if you have feedback, questions, or suggestions.
First, on a much less intense note, Perrin and Faile have a minor squabble as they try to reintegrate their lives together in the aftermath of her abduction and possible dalliances on the side for both of them. What intensity exists is quickly dissipated as Faile overlooks the odd, sorrowful gaze in his eyes, tells Perrin she does not believe the rumours about him and Berelain, and bluntly admits in her own thoughts that she did not sleep with Rolan. She explains that she is jealous, in one of those moments where the author lays bare the truth about how men and women act with each other.
I am bothered by the blunt treatment of this revelation. Throughout the series, I’ve shown how Robert Jordan consistently made almost every character, background, action, and description fit a theme and represent more than just the action on the surface. Masema was unbridled adherence to a code of behaviour, and Faile killed him in secret. Does that really mean nothing more than tying up a loose end? Galina, even as a Black Ajah, was truth, and she made a jumble of dirty timbers trap Faile. Did that mean nothing more than the betrayal it was? If Faile considered sleeping with Rolan for the possibility of escape, is it not possible that Perrin could do the same to tie Berelain to him and use her to free Faile? For those events to be devoid of deeper meaning  would signify that Robert Jordan had gone against the behaviour he exhibited over ten earlier novels, suddenly deciding that it was no longer appropriate to create layers of meaning so he could rush towards the end. That possibility rings far less true than Faile’s declaration that she did not sleep with Rolan. Sanderson’s writing style does not easily allow for unreliable narrators, given that he typically reveals emotions as facts, and not through the prism of that character’s world-view.
So, I’m left with the uncomfortable possibilities that either the text means exactly what it does on the surface, or that Sanderson deliberately or erroneously overlooked the cheating that took place off the page. I fully recognize that I am in the throes of one of those theory-making episodes spurred by having emotionally committed to a position in earlier posts, in fact, blogging in this format without complete knowledge of what is coming lends itself to this type of mania. Once you are committed to a point of view, even blunt evidence refuting it tends to be dismissed for the simple reason that it inconveniently contradicts what you know in your heart to be true. This sort of thing happened regularly at Theoryland, and really opened my eyes to how people think and why they think that way. But the disparity remains, and in my mind can only be resolved in favour of Jordan’s original intent. It is unfortunate that a blunt statement is given when it seems to me Jordan went out of his way to pointedly never show Perrin or Faile directly addressing what happened, choosing instead to focus on what other characters think happened. It strongly undermines the efforts put into several books covering their trials, unless you adhere to the point of view that Faile is lying even to herself.
Faile and her followers gather to remember the kindness of Rolan and the Brotherless. Her explanations and feelings fit perfectly with the stated facts. She keeps Rolan's turquoise stone, for remembrance, not regret. The Saldaean proverb is equally fitting for what the women remember as it would be had Faile actually slept with Rolan. The past was a field of embers and ash, the remnants of the fire that was the present. Faile's story arc is complete, she has proved what she will do to save Perrin, including keeping secret the facts about Rolan's death that would undermine Perrin's faith in himself. It's worth noting that Rolan's fate is similar to Rand's, dying to save the one he loves, willingly accepting his own destruction.
Just to reiterate one more time, I find the topic of unreliable narrators never revealing whether certain events ever took place fascinating, especially given the intense quote-based scrutiny fans apply to the text.
In any case, Faile’s character arc is complete, and there is nothing left to add except the obvious moment in the Last Battle when Perrin must choose between her and his duty to Rand. Jordan frequently used the technique of setting up several examples of growing significance before getting to the final version. Perrin made tough choices to save Faile in the Two Rivers, upon returning to Cairhien, and again when freeing her from the Shaido. The same scenario will crop up again in the Last Battle, and Min’s Viewing tells us something bad will happen to Rand if Perrin isn’t there. Perrin will not be there, and the bad thing will happen to Rand, because Perrin has consistently chosen Faile over all else. Don’t be sidetracked by Sanderson’s text stating that Perrin thinks only the Last Battle matters.
Semirhage’s collaring of Rand is the most intense version yet of Rand being held prisoner by fate. Ishamael ranted about this repeatedly in the early books, and Rand denied being trapped by the Wheel. Rand was captured by Aes Sedai and beaten, yet broke free. Rand was locked away in darkness in Far Madding, and was freed. And now, Rand is finally, utterly trapped. The Black collar and bracelets are the latest, and most potent, representation of the eternal theme of will vs. fate. As one in a series of such events, the build-up to this moment is part of the fabric of the series, beyond the particular words used in this book building up to this scene.
When Rand frees himself, he does so by using the True Power, the Dark One’s own abilities, accessed through a surprising link between himself and Moridin. The True Power allows reality to be reformed according to the user’s will, typically by replicating alternate versions of weaves the user already knows. Unconstrained by any force, Rand is able to do whatever he wants, unlimited by anything so far as he can tell. This is the power of freedom, and free will.
Cadsuane represents the Light, and Semirhage represents living completely outside the Light. When the confrontation is done, Rand has decided to live outside the Light, relying solely on his newfound power. Let's take a closer look at the symbolism and how it is subtly presented.
Semirhage sat alone in the small room. They had taken away her chair and given her no lantern or candle. She is literally cut off from the Light. What light she desires is man-made: glow-bulbs.
Semirhage considers resisting Cadsuane in the same manner Egwene resists her captors. Unlike Egwene who sees each punishment as an opportunity to show resistance, Semirhage has no victory to claim from each punishment. She can embrace pain easily, it is torture of the spirit she is unprepared for since her focus is entirely on the physical, not the spiritual. 
Shaidar Haran lists her failures, not least of which is the loss of the entire Seanchan Empire as pawns.   Rand was not to be killed, but is that by the Dark One's order, or out of concern for the link with Moridin? Even Moridin wasn't fully aware of their link until Rand lost his hand, so keeping him alive must have been part of the Dark One's plan.
Semirhage's cold detachment established her usual behaviour, so when she is anxious upon hearing Shaidar Haran's voice, and she holds her breath opening the door to her cell, tension is immediately created. Returning to her prior state of mind as she learns her captors are dead, she has an ally, and the black bracelets and collar are in her hands, the tension increases even as it shifts targets, for readers must recognize the immediate danger to Rand.
A time-honoured technique in horror is to tell the reader what awful event is about to take place, and then to delay showing it for as long as possible. As soon as Rand's name begins the next section, readers expect the confrontation, but the author delays it by showing Rand engaged in mundane affairs in Saldaea. It is more effective that Rand's affairs are ordinary, simply giving orders to his generals, rather than being riveting or action-oriented. The reader could understand if Rand is surprised because he is distracted by important affairs, but the feeling of being blind-sided is more palpable when he is going through, what are for him, everyday motions.
Rand reflects that the most dangerous enemies are those who you thought you could trust, while Lews Therin rails that none of the Asha'man can be trusted, they will turn on him. This sets up his frame of mind for embracing the True Power later and also for blaming Cadsuane. Rand thought he could trust the Pattern, and the Light to guide him, and has been sorely disappointed so far.
Rand reflects on invasions, both the physical ones in Saldaea and Arad Doman, as well as the metaphysical presence of Moridin in his dreams. Semirhage waits to conduct a personal invasion into Rand's quarters, and the reader can't help feeling that Rand will now be blind-sided as he ponders the very thing he is about to face.
Rand focuses on the one person he does trust, wondering if he can trust her far enough to do as she says and not become hard. The reader can’t tell if this scene takes place before, during or after Semirhage’s escape, so far all they know Min has already become a pawn of Semirhage’s. The uncertainty created by keeping that detail from the reader heightens the tension further.
There is no coincidence in the timing or nature of the argument between Rand and Min. Rand worries that Cadsuane is trying to manipulate him through her, and mistrusts her motives. On the verge of turning on Min because of her possible association with Cadsuane, Rand is in fact contemplating turning his back on the Light itself. And then Semirhage collars him. Language relating to constraint and feeling trapped is used frequently in horror scenes, telling readers that the outcome is terrible, yet dragging them inexorably towards that outcome. This scene plays out bit by bit with visceral and literal horrific constraints placed on Rand and Min.
The collar itself forces obedience to the will of the woman wearing the bracelet, in this case Semirhage. Rand is forced to act according to her logic, a logic that places no value in the emotion of love. He is forced to destroy Min, for she serves no purpose in a world with no love. Even though Rand is able to free himself of Semirhage’s constraints, he has still embraced her way of thinking, shutting down his emotions, closing himself off from love and the Light.
When Rand uses the True Power, Lews Therin’s rantings about it replace tension with dread. How can it be worse to use the True Power than to murder his own loved ones?
Rand banishes Cadsuane, saying he never wants to see her face again, completing his metaphorical rejection of the Light. Following a logic focused on the outcome, not the means, Rand teaches balefire, insisting on its use.
Writing Lessons:
Guide the reader’s emotions as you building towards a climax by using the right language, establishing similar scenes to frame context, and pushing your characters beyond their limits.