Monday, 17 December 2012

Towers of Midnight - Chapters 21-22

In this section, the chronology gets confusing.
When Perrin’s scouts report back, readers get their first strong inkling that Perrin’s storyline is chronologically out of synch with the other ones. The reader requires some thought to sort it out. Mat’s letter established the timing of his storyline, and his meeting with Elayne establishes her chronology as well, though oddly she hasn’t commented on Rand’s mood or location sufficiently to say whether events take place before or after the final scene of The Gathering Storm. Egwene’s and Rand’s scenes are obviously placed after The Gathering Storm.
The confusing order of events has been pointed out as one of the major flaws of Towers of Midnight, even though other books had events take place in different locales without strong indications of when they occur relative to each other, primarily because they did not affect each other. Rand’s epiphany was a turning point and could have been a focus of suspense, but in this book the suspense centers on Perrin and Mat and other players, and discovering whether they survived their own perils while Rand was turning inward and ignoring them.
Confusion could have been reduced by establishing earlier in the story some stronger links to other pivotal moments in other plotlines. Alternatively, a two line preface explaining the chronology to readers would have instantly resolved confusion, but could have been seen as a radical departure from the customary format.
Aiel Wise Ones dismiss the idea of an alliance with the Seanchan, despite the fact that Rand has been working towards that very goal. Morgase learns, finally, that the Forsaken Rahvin was behind her behaviour during her final months as queen. Balwer tells Perrin he is content with his current station in life.
Ituralde’s forces panic and run before the Trolloc onslaught. A Saldaean soldier named Yoeli leads a charge to save Ituralde’s men and bring them inside the city despite orders not to. Once again, people work together, trusting to their own judgment over that of a being placed above them.
As a counterpoint, Gawyn can’t simply do what Egwene wishes, he must follow his own judgment on how to behave. This leads him to stop an assassination attempt on her which was in reality a trap designed to apprehend Mesaana. While he stopped the Seanchan Bloodknives, he inadvertently alerted Mesaana to the trap.
In Caemlyn, Mat plans his entry to the Tower of Ghenjei, and seeks out Birgitte for advice. She tells him a harrowing tale of her own demise in a world where time and space made no sense. Mat’s vulnerability is increased, since in addition to having no foxhead medallion to protect him from the gholam, even his luck offers scant hope of surviving the journey into the Tower of Ghenjei. Unrelated, though adding to the sense of impending doom, Elayne is in trouble, providing the first real cliffhanger ending to a chapter.
Mat encounters some street toughs and battles them in a seemingly pointless scene. Let’s look more closely:
Brooding as he walks the streets, the eerie solitude feels like an opportunity for the gholam to strike. He randomly stumbles upon a robbery, and three toughs leap out to mug him. Mat is relieved to see people instead of something worse.
Mat uses his staff instead of his sword, confounding his first attacker. Mat drops him with one swing and he falls into a second cutpurse, whom Mat quickly knocks out. The third man’s hesitation gives Mat the chance to leap towards him, knock him senseless, then toss a knife into the leader’s throat. This is pure action, but has little meaning, which is why it takes place so quickly.
Mat rambles some nonsense at the man he saved from the muggers, then that man recognizes Mat. Mat disarms him with his scarf, then launches two daggers into the man’s eyes, metaphorically becoming unseen by his opponent. Mat finds a paper with his own face on it, a reminder that Darkfriends and the Forsaken are looking for him. Unmentioned is the fact that wild rumours about him are circulating throughout the city, drawing unwanted attention.
Aside from acting as a reminder of the dangers Mat faces, this short battle offers little beyond a display of Mat’s prowess. Any intimidation created by the reminder about the Forsaken is undone by the astonishing quickness he dispatches his foes with. In this instance, physical action is confused with meaningful action, and the casual way in which Mat kills is contrary to other plotlines in which violence is intently avoided.

Writing Lessons:
Action can’t exist for action’s sake, it should be meaningful to the character or the story.

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