Tuesday, 6 November 2012

The Gathering Storm - Chapters 17-20

In this section, new difficulties present themselves to the characters.
The way in which Brandon Sanderson jumps from character to character makes it harder to identify themes in the fifty-page portions I post about. Where in earlier books there was time to delve deep into a character’s psyche, in this format there is hardly time to start thinking in the same way the character does before the perspective changes to a new character. This format is a good fit for Sanderson’s sketchy descriptive style, where he is able to use minimal description to give the illusion of a fully-imagined location. Longer descriptions would hinder this jumping about, and would also have delayed publication in all likelihood. I can see ways in which several Cadsuane or Perrin viewpoints could have been combined into a longer single chapter or two to retain the format of earlier books. Sanderson may also have divided the chapters into these short bursts to better follow the chronological order of events, although the fact that Tuon is only now agreeing to meet Rand when her agreement was revealed to the Aiel several chapters earlier undermines that possibility.
Cadsuane breaks Semirhage by damaging her pride, and humiliating her. Semirhage will still never talk, but Cadsuane has at least proved who is the greater of the two. Recalling that in past books Cadsuane represented the Light itself, how can her interactions with Semirhage be viewed? On the surface, Semirhage represents pain, but her personality is sheer pride. She knows everything worth knowing, and whatever else Cadsuane may know is dismissed by Semirhage. She is cold and without feeling, the only emotions she expresses are calculated to raise her standing and diminish others. While Cadsuane knows that “a statue with no feelings could not face the Dark One”, she is faced with just such a personality in Semirhage. She has a staunch reliance on her intimate knowledge of the human body, seeing it only for its parts and treating the human spirit as worthless, something only to be destroyed.  Semirhage may dismiss the Light, or believe is has no bearing on her, yet Cadsuane’s simple punishment strikes at the core of her certainty very effectively.
Perrin can’t move refugees away quickly enough, and they cling to his protection, refusing to leave even if Gateways are provided. This is the second Perrin section in which he hardly spares a thought for Faile, concentrating on his unwanted leadership and his duty to Rand even though he has just complete a multi-volume single-minded quest to free Faile. While Perrin alludes to single-mindedness as his problem, and thinks he has a need to strike balance between these competing forces in his life, the switch to his current mindset is startling. The story demands that Perrin return to the Wolf Dream, and the rationale offered involves a character-driven plot that it is claimed has been set aside for some time. Perrin quite deliberately used his followers desire to follow him to serve his selfish purpose of freeing Faile, so it’s true that he doesn’t want to be their leader, and ignored that aspect of his personality in order to regain Faile. He used the wolves similarly, but now he resolves to treat both groups as they deserve, which has nothing to do with his broken relationship with Faile. The fact that he has dwelt this long on what still stands between them, when he has forgiven her any betrayal, implies that the fault still lies with him.
Since it’s unclear where Robert Jordan’s guidance ends and Brandon Sanderson’s ideas begin, I will accept general plot lines as being Jordan’s influence, but with Sanderson’s words telling them. This means that Perrin’s angst was planned by Jordan, and must have some deep-seated reason for existing. I still see this as confirmation of an event that Perrin doesn’t want to confirm, regarding his night with Berelain.
Grady explains the problem with moving so many refugees in engineering-lingo, placing a mathematical word problem in the text. It gets the point across, but does anyone in this fantasy world really calculate things with ‘per second’? A better suited measure would have been knowing how many men can march past a certain point in an hour, which has a practical application in the military forces of this world, and phrased the measurement as “Balwer and I figure we can move about seven thousand men through the gateway in an hour,” leaving Perrin to do the sums for his hundred thousand refugees.
Siuan learns Elaida can travel and figures out the implications for the army very quickly. With Sharina’s help, Siuan learns that Lelaine is trying to foment discord, and is angling to take over the rebels in Egwene’s absence. Again, this section could have been juxtaposed with Siuan’s earlier section, and presumably her later ones, to keep the format of earlier books.
Tuon hears of Trollocs in Altara, forgives Beslan for a rebellion, and prepares a raid on Tar Valon, before finally agreeing to meet Rand. After some reflection, it seems that Perrin, Mat and Tuon are in the same timeframe, while Rand’s sections may be several days ahead. It is certainly confusing and jumping from character to character with several days gap between each time we see them only adds to the confusion. The advantage of the format in earlier books is that readers had to perform these mental gymnastics once much less frequently. The disadvantage is when too many events are crammed into a single day, straining believability, yet it works quite effectively in this throne room scene, which compels characters to save their important business for this particular day.
Mat is in love, and is bound for Hinderstap. His section starts with rampant humour, which is startlingly out of place given the intensity and pacing of earlier chapters. Yet any humour has to be here, because in a few short chapters, the intensity will not allow for any humour but gallows humour.  
Writing Lessons:
Short viewpoints, writing style, description, pacing, and clarity all affect each other. Use them coherently so they support each other, and do not undermine each other.

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