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.

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