Friday, 29 November 2013

A Memory of Light - Chapter 37 - Part 4

In this section, Lan fights the Last Battle.

Leane is about to order the retreat of the remaining Aes Sedai, until Egwene shows up, devastating the enemy with her sa’angreal. Even at this late stage of the story, two new Aes Sedai is named. As Keeper of the Chronicles for ten of the last twelve years, Leane has better reason than anyone to know every Aes Sedai’s name and face. Had she not named these two, it would have been out of place, and it would be equally out of place if readers only saw Aes Sedai they had already met.

Talmanes is leading the repair of the dragons. The return of the dragons offers some hope so it is well juxtaposed with Egwene’s return to the field of battle.

Faile chases Aravine and the Horn, riding barebacked on Bela, the mare who has carried many of the heroes throughout their adventures. Stalwart Bela has always been dependable, like her owner Tam. Bela represents the way Rand was raised, his foundation and moral compass that will always carry him through and help him bear his burdens, which is why she has never faltered. Faile appeals to Bela to give her all in the chase: Faile scrambled to Bela’s side, cutting free the saddle – and all of its burdens – with a few swipes of the knife. And then, “Run, Bela,” Faile said. “If you’ve kept any strength back, now is the time to use it. Please. Run, girl. Run.” Bela’s imminent death signals the end of the last vestiges of Rand’s childhood.  

Faile learns that Vanin and Harnan had just been hoping to steal back some tabac, not the Horn. They clear her a path, and she kills Aravine with a dagger in the back. Realizing there is no way she can escape her pursuers, she gives the Horn to Olver while she leads them away. She is certain they will kill her. The feeling of desperation is heavy, with Faile’s imminent death and this essential task passed into the hands of the meekest of heroes.  “I’m sorry to place this upon you, little one. There is no one else. You did well earlier; you can do this. Take the Horn to Mat or all is lost.”

Logain keeps the Seals and goes hunting for Demandred, his sa’angreal, and something to fill the void within him. Logain is one of the only remaining characters who has not yet completely joined one side or the other. While he opposes the Shadow, he feels no affinity for the Light.

Egwene leads her assault and encounters Mazrim Taim, the M’Hael.

Raen and Ila triage the dead and wounded. Raen wonders what alternative there is to fighting the Shadow, since Trollocs would never stop chasing them no matter where they ran. He decides he will not think quite so poorly of those who follow a different path. Though he did not ask anyone to sacrifice their life for his, he recognizes that they have made the sacrifice nonetheless.  Ila considers Raen’s words. When she sees but fails to recognize the Darkfriends who have infiltrated the civilians helping with the wounded, she begins to see the world in greys, not the stark black and white she has seen all these past years. Her strict adherence to a viewpoint which had only two polar opposites drove her grandson away. This rejection of strict moral boundaries is very similar to what Rand will soon come to understand.

Olver has been abandoned. He is chased into a crevice. Simple use of verbs and adjectives strongly convey how hopeless his situation is while retaining his childlike view of the world.

Alone. He’d been left alone again.

Olver whimpered.

No safety.

There were hundreds of them back there, chasing him.

The tantalizing hope of escape ends as Bela is shot dead by arrows. In a little cleft, Olver hides, with Trolloc claws tearing at his clothing. Take the Horn to Mat or all is lost. Can the reader have any doubt that the Horn will never reach Mat, and that all is indeed lost?

Logain attacks Demandred, but is quickly overpowered. He relies on his training to escape, and not only the power. He wonders how they will ever beat Demandred. He is the third to face the Forsaken, and third to fail. Perhaps they will lose unless Rand comes to their aid. The only thing which cuts through Logain’s frustration is the realization that his Aes Sedai Gabrelle actually was concerned for him.

Egwene overpowers Taim, but he escapes using the True Power. She ponders the nature of balefire. This is a second attempt to prepare the reader for Egwene’s surprise weave.

Hurin’s nose describes more violence than has ever been wrought. He manages to keep fighting, but the worst is yet to come. His own faith in Rand is the only certainty any of the characters feel.

Berelain has had to order that only those who can be saved may be tended, rationing the care of the wounded. She further must cajole the gai’shain into helping collect and tend the wounded. Berelain discovers Annoura has burned herself out as a sacrifice of atonement to bring Galad back to Mayene. This final kindness to restore a friendship before the end was one that brought tears to my eyes. For other readers it may have been this scene, or another, since they all build on waves of hopelessness, courage and redemption. Where they finally break through depends on the characters you identify with. The author makes excellent use of the most minor characters such as Ila, Annoura, Hurin, and others to prime the readers for what may be in store for their favourites.

Galad passes out before he can tell Berelain about the medallion.

Rand watches as friends and allies die. His ability to see the battle unfold in detail even while in an otherworldly dimension is an efficient way to compress many emotional moments into a small amount of text. Minor characters are dying, quickly. Now that they are out of the way, the author can move on to the main characters. The Dark One weaves…

Taim receives a loan of the sa’angreal Sarkanen. Egwene is commanded to be destroyed by balefire. Taim forces himself to think of himself as M’Hael. When Fortuona renamed Mat as Knotai, he made no similar effort despite acknowledging Karede’s insistence he go by that new name; he still thinks of himself as Mat. M’Hael’s forced effort to adopt the identity thrust upon him by another is contrary to how each of the Heroes has resisted changing their identity when it was dictated by others.

Elayne is attacked by mercenaries. Mellar’s control of her is displayed as Elayne is even denied the chance to spit in his face properly. He then kills Birgitte in a bloody and awful manner. The suddenness of her death is jarring, lacking any heroism, and emphasizes Elayne’s lack of options. Mellar even gets to brag about how good it felt. A substitute blonde corpse convinces her army that she is dead, so none know she is missing. Her children will be cut out of her and delivered to Shayol Ghul. This looks bad.

Rand receives the Dark One’s final offer to annihilate the world, eliminating pain suffering and existence itself. He can stop Elayne’s forced caesarean, end the violent deaths, and end the betrayals and the burdens. The Dark One offers suicide. Rand rejects the offer. He does not seek an end, he seeks a solution.

Min unmasks Moghedien using her ability to see Viewings. It is one of the only times when a character’s abilities trump their personality in overcoming an obstacle. In past examples, there has almost always been an overt decision or affirmation made by the character before the abilities or happenstance come into play. Nonetheless, it is rewarding to have a non-channeler such as Min best one of the Forsaken. The Seanchan will soon join the fray.

Egwene delivers destruction unto her enemies. Despite bonding Leilwin, she is distraught, and fueled by rage. In most circumstances this ends badly for an Aes Sedai, and her suicidal frontal assault would normally end poorly, if not for the entirety of the White Tower’s channelers providing defense while she recklessly advances.

The use of balefire in large quantities is shown to have the expected effects, but in such a chaotic battle, there is no use in dissecting the chain of events that has been rewritten. This provides some cover to the author, who is free to dictate what has happened and what hasn’t, with no further explanation. Egwene discovers a new weave, as she has done in the past, yet the explanation feels contrived and I wonder if less explanation may have been more convincing than this blaze of illogic: Two sides to every coin. Two halves to the Power. Hot and cold, light and dark, woman and man. If a weave exists, so must its opposite.

The counter-weave to balefire and Egwene’s death have deeper meaning. M’Hael sought to undo Egwene, erasing her from existence. Egwene represents Rand’s childhood. She needed to die so that he could truly pass from childhood to adulthood. The manner of her death by balefire would represent that Rand had forever lost his childhood ideals and the love of the community that raised him. With Egwene’s final assertion, embodied in the new weave, she instead protects that childhood, stopping its erasure, preserving it for Rand to draw upon in times of need.  

Rand gets very angry at Egwene’s death. THE DEAD ARE MINE. I WILL KILL THEM ALL, ADVERSARY. Rand feels her loss like part of him has been cut away. He remembers all his failures.

Leane discovers Egwene is gone, and a crystal column stands in her place, that will likely stand forever. The balefire damage has been repaired. Word of the Amyrlin’s demise begins to travel.

Berelain hears a whisper from her beloved Galad “…Hope…”, and she rushes out to return Mat’s medallion. Once again, I am impressed how even the least powerful characters have essential roles to play, and could easily have carried a story on their own.

Mat learns Egwene has eliminated almost all the enemy channelers, leaving a battle between armies. And Demandred.  He has no brilliant strategy to give Lan, asking him to check on reserves from Mayene. He calls on his luck, and receives word Elayne is dead, which is fitting as she represents both the present and the gleaming promise of civilization itself. Andor and the Queen have always been foremost among humanity’s champions. Mat delivers orders to Tuon and Talmanes, his last reserves. Mat can’t win, but he fights on anyway, “Because I’ll be a Darkfriend before I’ll let this battle go without trying everything, 
Arganda.” As Mat makes his final preparations, Lan has gone on to fight Demandred alone.

Trollocs tear at Olver. He stands in for all humanity, enemies mercilessly clawing, the ground caving in on him, trapped with no hope of escape.

Loial must witness the fall of the last King of the Malkieri. Predicting his death with a reliable character works convincingly. All other opponents before have lost, why should Lan fare any better? Loial is trustworthy, which means Lan will die.

Tam sees Lan, a dim spark of Light in the Shadow: Tam almost lost Lan’s figure atop the midnight stallion, despite the bonfires burning on the Heights. Their light seemed feeble. He paves the way for Lan with a hail of fiery arrows. Lan’s spark alone can’t do it, but with a second to join with Lan’s? Rand’s father figures unite for a last desperate strike.

Lan intends to destroy Demandred, implausible as it seems. First he must get close, and even knowing the impossibility of it, he tries, and finds that Tam has come to his aid. Even as he nears his objective, he shows care for his horse by leaving its saddle, though it seems likely Mandarb would not stand idly by, and could end up just as dead. Lan offers no opening, shows no hesitation. There is no glory, no pride, no contest of equals. He is the man who will kill Demandred. Who then is Demandred? He is the man whose pride could not abide being less than first, who chose to gamble on being first for the Shadow’s cause, who traded ideals for a chance at prominence. Demandred is pride, and too much pride has been one of Rand’s weaknesses.

Min sees signs of the end, or so it seems. Once again she is a reliable character whose viewings are never wrong, and this confidence in her statements transfers easily to her opinions, which have also proven mostly correct. She represents the future, and she watches the lights flicker, the last embers of a fire that would soon be extinguished. She feels Rand tremble.

Rand thinks he has failed. In his pride he believes that all of these deaths were his fault, their lives were his responsibility. And then he remembers to let go. Rand has a role to play in people’s lives, but he does not bear final responsibility for everything that befalls them. He is there to give them a chance to choose who they will be, and how they will stand, or fall.

Lan calls himself just a man, which is why he succeeds when the prince of Andor, the Dragon’s Brother, and the leader of the Black Tower all failed. While the medallion and swordsmanship allow him to stand on almost equal terms with Demandred, it is his dedication to what he stands for and understanding of who he is and the battle that he fights that allows him to anticipate his enemy’s moves, whether with sword or the One Power. Mirroring what he taught Rand near the beginning of the series, Lan impales himself on Demandred’s sword, immobilizing it, then drives his own blade into Demandred’s throat. He never cared about winning as Demandred did, so full of pride. A tie is all he needed. He came to do what needed to be done, and he slays false pride. He quotes “Death is light as a feather”, sends his love to Nynaeve and dies.

The Last Battle is apparently over, and surprisingly, it was not Rand’s, but Lan’s.

Writing Lessons:

 The identity and reputation of the character delivering the message matter as much as the message itself.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

A Memory of Light - Chapter 37 - Part 3

In this section, Mat commits all his resources to his plan.

Tam fires arrows at Trollocs. Throughout the battle, it has been regularly shown that Tam and the other Two Rivers archers hardly ever miss. Having enjoyed some amount of success with their bows, the archers abandon them for lack of arrows. They enter the fray in wedges, trying to split up Trolloc armies assaulting the Whitecloaks.

Making an example, Fortuona dispatches Karede, a beloved guardian, and others of her Deathwatch guards to the front lines as punishment for letting her be put in danger. Then she publicly turns her ire on Mat. While safety is presented as the foremost reason for their rift, the final nail in the coffin is, as always, one of personality. She deftly diverts the attention from the strategy and its results to the man behind them. “This entire battle has been a disaster. You lose ground each moment. You talk lightly and joke, refusing proper protocol; I do not think you approach this with the solemnity befitting your station.”  For readers and Seanchan nobles, it is clear Mat will never abide by her rule. Readers know Mat better than they know tactics. The author marries the irrefutable reason of Mat’s behaviour to a debatable reason in the form of his tactics.

The Dark One spins a new reality for Rand, one in which there is no value to human life. Children are murdered callously, might makes right, and the very concept of compassion is absent. The Dark One’s words are chilling: MEN WHO THINK THEY ARE OPPRESSED WILL SOMEDAY FIGHT. I WILL REMOVE FROM THEM NOT JUST THEIR WILL TO RESIST, BUT THE VERY SUSPICION THAT SOMETHING IS WRONG. COMPASSION IS NOT NEEDED. WHAT I SHOWED BEFORE IS WHAT MEN EXPECT. IT IS THE EVIL THEY THINK THEY FIGHT. BUT I WILL MAKE A WORLD WHERE THERE IS NOT GOOD OR EVIL. THERE IS ONLY ME. Rand responds by beginning to spin a world without the Dark One.

Mat sends Min to follow Fortuona, but keeps Karede and the other exiled Deathwatch Guards. Surprisingly, the Seanchan only comprise a quarter of his forces.

Tam fights Trollocs. He wins. Lan meets him and salutes him. Both of Rand’s father figures are solid, unchangeable, and are able to stand against anything. No reed practiced how to bend in the wind. It simply did. Tam watches children and elderly take to the field of battle, to collect arrows and identify the wounded. As in the Two Rivers back in The Shadow Rising, the battle is not just the men’s battle, it is everyone’s battle. This depth of involvement, down to the least trained and least able indicates the level of desperation. It proves to be an effective way to raise the stakes without resorting to a contrived battle scene putting heroes in danger. In fact, it works despite Tam’s victory over the Trollocs only minutes earlier.

Elayne lays Bryne to rest. Adding to the desperation, Elayne hears a summary of the bad news: “The camp at Dashar Knob has been abandoned,” Birgitte said. “I don’t know where Cauthon is. The Seanchan have forsaken us.” Elayne responds by raising her banner, to offer some point of hope to the troops. Nonetheless, she concludes that humankind did not have days remaining, but hours.  Demandred begins sending balefire into Elayne’s troops trying to kill her, so Birgitte pulls her from the field.

Galad attacks Demandred, announcing his identity. Everything feels right to him. The right thing had always seemed clear to Galad before, but never had it felt as right as this. With Mat’s medallion in hand and an introduction like that which ties his very identity to the action he is about to take, readers are easily led to believe Galad is going to pull this off.

Nynaeve sews to save Alanna’s life. The most mundane of skills and Nynaeve’s creativity and stubbornness may be all that keeps Alanna alive long enough to save Rand. Of all the scenes of courage in this book, I don’t think any stole my breath as much as this one. For all her power, Nynaeve’s ability to care and to try save lives, her desire to heal is what makes the difference. Her brief scenes packed a strong emotional punch.

Mat orders Bashere to carry his orders. “I don’t care if you’ve bloody been touched by the Shadow!” Mat said. “Every man has had the Dark One’s fingers on his heart, and that’s the bloody truth. You can fight through it.”  He then gathers his remaining forces to keep Demandred pinned on the plateau. A ta’veren twist brings Teslyn at an opportune moment.

Egwene feels the absence of Gawyn deeply. She needs something to fill the void, someone to watch her back when she goes back to the battle.  Leilwin is the only potential warder available who has loyally served and saved her. Egwene finally embraces her former enemy and completes her character arc, making peace with the decision to bond Leilwin, bringing the representative of her most hated opponents as close as her beloved Gawyn was.

Demandred wounds Galad, and is wounded in turn. Then Demandred lops off Galad’s arm, and seemingly kills Galad. Despite that Demandred was worried and is wounded, Galad did everything the heroes are supposed to do, using a ter’angreal, being one of the world’s best swordsmen, and never giving in, even going so far as to spit at Demandred in defiance as an Aiel would. If Galad can’t beat Demandred, can anyone?

Androl approaches Taim in disguise and manages to steal the seals. It would have been easy and simple to use a Gateway to sever Taim’s hand off and drop it into another Gateway to send the Seals directly elsewhere. More believable too. Echoing the reader’s thoughts often works to suspend their disbelief, but seems to fall short on this occasion. “You’re not going to believe this, but…”

Arganda’s battle with a Trolloc plays off of Demandred’s taunts, with him falling to a Trolloc. He faced just the one, and lost. Only wounded, he is later revived and concludes they are doomed. “To win… Light, to win we’d need to break these Sharans, rescue the pikemen – they will soon be surrounded by the Trollocs – and each man of ours would need to kill at least five of those beasts! That’s not even counting Demandred.”

Rand weaves a reality which is too good, and demonstrates that removing the Shadow would change those he loves as surely as the Dark One would remake them. IN KILLING ME, I WOULD WIN. NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO, I WILL WIN. YOU CANNOT SAVE THEM.

I am thrilled with the way Mat contrasts the battle to a game of cards, how I recognize that it is playing out like a game of cards, and that one of Robert Jordan’s hobbies was playing cards. It feels right. Mat and Demandred have been slowly adding chips to the pot, neither one committing all their forces. Keeping the Seanchan in reserve with their damane has kept Demandred from committing too strongly, lest Mat use them to gain some advantage. Demandred holds the advantage of both time and numbers. Mat can hold him off for only so long. With no reserves after the Seanchan departure, Mat’s armies look more vulnerable. Demandred poses a problem to Mat’s attempt to contain him until an attack from Egwene begins drawing channelers away.

Olver and Faile’s caravan infiltrates a Shadow supply line, and get brought to the fighting at Merrilor. Aravine has been a Darkfriend all along, but the traitor’s identity is not as important as her story. She had hoped to leave that life behind and return to the Light, but even a small step in the Shadow is one too many. There is no return. Despite this warning, the earlier attempts to cast Lanfear in an uncertain light are too effective, and readers may retain some hope for at least one Forsaken to be redeemed.

Events seem set in stone now. Mat is committed, Rand is losing hope, Perrin is still wounded. The few bright spots shown by Elayne and Tam have been quickly overturned. Only Egwene and Androl offer a glimmer of hope. And Olver.

With the Horn taken by Darkfriends and his friends captured, pitiful Olver has been ignored. Knowing that all is lost, he still makes a desperate attempt to kill the Dreadlord holding Faile captive. The moment when the meekest of characters tried to win in the face of impossible odds felt like a turning point, when once again, momentum can begin building for the heroes.

Writing Lessons:

Use character to motivate actions, rather than strategy or logic.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

A Memory of Light - Chapter 37 - Part 2

In this section, the heroes suffer setbacks and losses.

Deep in the Blasted Lands, on the approach to Shayol Ghul, Faile discovers the village supplying the Shadow’s armies.

Perrin awakens to find hours have passed and he is still weak from his ordeal. The rationing of healing for even heroes of his stature indicates how poorly the battle is going. Perrin insists Faile is alive even though her caravan vanished in a bubble of evil. As well he might, for the Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, and the Horn must be at the Last Battle. Since nothing guarantees she is still the one carrying it, the scene still plays nicely as a point of faith, as opposed to counting on divine providence.

Androl and Pevara flirt as they make plans to find Taim. They sit on a hillside looking down on fields where nothing grows, surrounded by dead trees. Androl feels that mirth and love have a place even in the face of such desolation, perhaps it is even the best place to have them so they can build something up.

Rhuarc stalks the valley of Thakan’dar, killing Trollocs and red veils until Hessalam finds him. He looked up and someone beautiful stepped through the storm to inspect him. She had wonderful eyes, though the two were offset from one another. He’d never before realized how horribly balanced everyone else’s eyes were. Thinking of it nauseated him. And all other women had too much hair on their heads. This creature, with thinning hair, was far more marvelous.

The first thoughts are portrayed neutrally as though they could be Rhuarc’s or a narrator’s. The second sentence shows a slight resistance, as Rhuarc is still able to describe the offset eyes in a neutral, slightly pejorative manner. By the third sentence, Rhuarc is well and truly her creature, comparing her to all other women, with not even a thought of his wives, even to dismiss them. His memory of them is completely overwhelmed by his immediate need to please Hessalam. Rhuarc’s conversion jabs the reader with the speed and totality of his change of allegiance, undercutting the positive emotions displayed in the earlier sections with Perrin, Androl and Pevara.

Mirroring this example of good things turning suddenly bad, Rand weaves a world where all is well, and finds it overtaken by the Dark One very quickly. THESE PEOPLE ARE MINE NOW. I WILL TAKE THEM. The Dark One goads Rand with uncharacteristic explanations to point out the flaws in his creation, and attacks Rand when he wavers slightly. IT IS NOT ENOUGH, AND WILL NEVER BE ENOUGH. YOUR DREAM IS FLAWED. YOUR DREAM IS A LIE. I AM THE ONLY HONESTY YOUR WORLD HAS EVER KNOWN.

Whatever hope came from Rand’s triumphant dismissal of the Dark One’s reality is now seriously undermined. It is good that this pivotal confrontation not end too easily or quickly, and with the Dark One taking the upper hand, things once gain look bleak for Rand. At least readers expect a second round of battle. It is another stroke of genius to have this confrontation rely on character and imagination instead of ability with the One Power. Outside of the Pattern, weaving reality into being, Rand is more powerful than he ever was as a mere channeler.

Silviana offers to take Egwene’s bond so that she doesn’t suffer from his death during the Last Battle. Egwene defends keeping the bond, a link of love and trust that she fought hard to create. She believes the importance of her role will be enough to see her through his loss, but she nonetheless hurries to try rescue him.

Birgitte describes Gaidal in a way that makes her loss poignant, and relates directly to what happens when a loved one or warder is lost. Discussion of the deep personal nature of the loss adds a lot of emotional intensity to the story.  Readers have seen several supporting characters killed or destroyed, and forcing the reader to contemplate what those losses mean to the main characters heightens the tension over which of them may perish. The reader is being primed to feel the losses as deeply and personally as the characters will.

Galad receives orders and Mat’s medallion. He is to kill as many channelers as possible. Bryne arrives searching out Gawyn.

Mat is excited about playing in the highest stakes game ever. Having previously stated that both Mat and Demandred are master generals and master gamblers, the effect is reinforced with their mutual admiration for each other’s talents. This saves the author much trouble in actually conceiving of brilliant battlefield tactics, as the impression of skill can be conveyed far more convincingly than the skill itself.

Logain is given permission to seek out Taim. Mat looks for a good reason to fake a rift between himself and Tuon. He is not convinced Tuon’s safety is a good enough reason to pick a fight, yet his luck intervenes and a band of Gray Men and Sharan channelers makes Tuon’s point admirably. Having given away his medallion, the stakes are suddenly higher for Mat.

Min saves Tuon with the help of Siuan who dies in the effort. Siuan’s almost last words under pressure reveal her character, one reminiscent of the people of Manetheren: “Whatever you think you did, the viewing has not been accomplished yet, It’s still there.”

Siuan stood frozen for a moment. “Cauthon is in danger.”


“I don’t care, girl!” Nearby, the ground trembled with the force of the One Power. The damane were fighting back. “If Cauthon falls, this battle is lost! I don’t care if we both die from this. We must help. Move!”

Egwene tries desperately to reach Gawyn in time.

Demandred considers how to defeat Mat, and opts to drag things out, so as to avoid committing himself to a potential trap and to maintain full control of the battle and his eventual confrontation with Rand. Demandred’s girlfriend Shendla is devious, capable, powerful, but not enough to change his heart. “I would cast it all away,” he said, looking into her eyes. “Everything for a chance at Lews Therin.” Demandred considers whether he could change, given the new feelings budding with him. This is the third Forsaken given an option of redemption in this book. Surely, readers think, the author wouldn’t show three such situations unless at least one of them will take it? The very fact that three options were presented implies that an option will be chosen, creating an expectation for the author to fulfill or surprise readers with. Precious insight into the twisted mind of this opponent creates interest and excitement. Will Demandred get his wish to confront Rand? Will he find out Rand isn’t coming and crush Mat? Many tantalizing possibilities are made available with a short jaunt into Demandred’s thoughts.

The M’Hael is admonished by Demandred and is assigned a specific task of confronting the Aes Sedai.



 “Lies,” Rand said.


Juilin fights and keeps on fighting. His uncertainty about what to do other than keep resisting mirrors Rand’s predicament.

Androl and Pevara in disguise are able to learn Taim’s whereabouts from Demandred. This scene would have lacked some credibility without having seen Demandred just before, so that readers are already familiar with his whereabouts and state of mind. Demandred’s ability to detect Gawyn wreathed in shadows doesn’t extend to an inverted Mask of Mirrors. Demandred is too preoccupied to notice if whipping Androl’s cheek breaks reveals the disguise. Androl points out that even Trollocs battle in shifts, a reality shown earlier with Lan, yet unexpected here as the battle rages. If Mat’s armies are doing the same, it hasn’t been shown because it would detract from the perception that every last person is needed. It is more difficult to portray dire need when a third of your army is sleeping and another third is in reserve. The fact that the Trollocs can afford to do this demonstrates how badly the good guys are outnumbered.

Galad has a number of plans which he signals to his men by holding up a number of fingers. Memorizing a handful of plans may not be too difficult, but do men remember them under the pressure of battle? It seems risky given that they would have had under an hour to develop the plans.    

Galad finds Gawyn as he dies and learns Rand is his brother. Gawyn’s extraordinary survival so far is explained by his Warder bond, another fantastic invention that gives the author a lot of leeway to make events play out as needed. Galad is motivated by his brother’s loss, and maybe by his newfound brother’s existence, to seek out and destroy Demandred. He is a better swordsman than Gawyn was, and has a medallion to negate Demandred’s channeling, and he’s taken down several channelers easily, and his desire for vengeance seems so right that his victory feels fairly certain.

Egwene feels the crippling loss of her Warder. A short amount of text is dedicated to this, for the good reason that every character in sequence is building up emotions of worry, frustration, fatigue, and loss. Each character’s point of view not only describes their own situation, but builds up to or builds on the points of view presented before and after. The rhythm of the Last Battle and Rand’s conflict play off each other emotionally more than they do temporally. Egwene’s realization of her naiveté plays very well with Rand’s imminent next round against the Dark One.

Writing lessons:

Set or maintain the emotions you want from one point of view to the next, using them as parts of a whole, not only to advance plot.

Monday, 28 October 2013

A Memory of Light - Chapter 37 - Part 1

In this section, the Last Battle begins!

Lan offers the first point of view in this epic nearly 200 page chapter, the significance of which won’t be understood until the chapter ends. New Spring made Lan the central character of the series by starting with his point of view as the first window onto this world. With Rand as the central character through the main body of the series, it has long been assumed the Last Battle was all about him facing the Dark One. It is not at all obvious to readers that the Last Battle applies to Lan as well.

Elayne fights Draghkar and gets healed by a damane. Then Mat explains his strategy to her, by telling her he can’t tell her the plan. Uno escapes the destruction of the Dragons by Demandred. Logain prioritizes Rand’s orders over anyone else’s: Find the Seals. Gawyn is losing steam, but feels better when he puts the bloodknife rings back on. Tam and Galad fight Trollocs. Egwene splits up Siuan and Bryne, sending one to watch the command tent, the other to fetch Gawyn.

Tacticians’ comments, such as Bryne’s and Galad’s, explain to readers what the troop movements mean in terms of the overall strategy. By darting from one person to the next, the author allows the battle to progress at a steady pace, telling the reader more from the varied points of view than any one character could know. Similarly, interest is heightened when more than one character wonders what is happening on the heights, driving the reader’s interest as well.

Pevara and Androl take advantage of their unique bonds to use one as bait while the other kills anyone tempted to strike. Their telepathy provides a unique advantage for this tactic, allowing the quickest possible reaction time. They are hit by lightning, lose control, and merge in a new way where they are fully bonded. Now they have fewer limits or rules on their use of the power, as each is able to channel while within a circle, and is able to use the other’s Talents.

This new channeling ability appears to come out of nowhere, yet it closely mirrors other developments earlier in the series where character development drives plot. Pevara has just finished overcoming her last Red Ajah prejudices against Androl, seeing him as a potential husband or lover. This change of character, and her acknowledgement and acceptance of it, are what leads to the new link between them later on that same page. These two are complete opposites, yet in finding common ground in their admiration and respect and growing love for each other, they have smashed down any barriers that restrained them from working together more fully than any two people ever have.

 Mat orders Galad to stay at the ruins. He learns that Demandred has a spy in his tent. He gives a bit of insight to Elayne, and now must prepare to manipulate Tuon.

At the ruins, Galad realizes Mat does know what he is doing. New orders confuse him as he gathers 12 men and goes to the ford to meet with Elayne.

The Dark One scours Rand with his power, but Rand’s self-assurance allows him to resist. Rand seems to abandon his plan to destroy the Dark One, or even defeat him, since he can just barely hold on to his identity. As always, it is self-knowledge that empowers Rand against his adversaries.

“That is all you have?” Rand growled.


“You made me strong,” Rand said, voice ragged. “Each time you or your minions tried to destroy me, your failure was like the blacksmith’s hammer beating against metal. This attempt…” Rand took a deep breath. “This attempt of yours is nothing. I will not break.”


“For what?”


The Dark One’s overbearing smugness, his blunt assurances that all is over, his condescending gloating over knowledge that he has gives readers the terrible feeling that he is in fact going to win. There is no doubt, no gambit, no challenge, the Dark One’s victory is inevitable, his power absolute.  Villains don’t get any more confident than this.




“IT HAS NOT YET BEGUN!” Rand screamed.

Use of the weaving metaphor established early in the series works to great effect, and is a natural fit. When the Dark One weaves reality to create Dark Emond’s Field, readers understand the stakes are higher than ever imagined, that everything they know can be remade. Dark Emond’s Field is designed to goad Rand into emotional instinctive action, putting himself in danger. Rand shatters the false reality, and promises to show the Dark One what is going to happen, giving readers hope and optimism, just in time for Gawyn to enter the fray.

Riding the emotional high off of Rand’s challenge to the Dark One, readers have every expectation that Gawyn will at least wound or disable Demandred, evening the odds. Gawyn faces Demandred armed with powerful magic and skill and still loses handily. Demandred is unnaturally skilled at sword fighting, and uses a burst of strength to drive his sword through Gawyn’s armor, while his eyes were closed. Hope turns to horror, because no matter how a reader feels about Gawyn, it is insinuated that Demandred can’t be stopped by anyone less than a powerful channeler who can also swordfight. In other words, Rand. And since he isn’t bound to show up any time soon, the other heroes are in a real spot of trouble.

Writing Lessons:

To lessen info-dumping, spread insight you are giving the reader across several different characters’ perspectives.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

A Memory of Light - Chapters 33-36

In this section, the heroes show determination in the face of the worst odds yet.

Perrin battles Slayer in Tel’aran’rhiod, showcasing a variety of tactics granting either of them a momentary edge. Perrin has no trouble running through the sky, but is so used to swimming that he can’t maintain his focus when underwater. Exhaustion impedes his ability to manipulate the World of Dreams, and Slayer finally hits him with an arrow.

Lanfear finds Perrin, and scorns him, easily switching her favour to the victor of the battle. Alone in Tel’aran’rhiod, with no energy, Perrin realizes his hammer is warm, giving him enough clarity of mind to wake up from the Wolf Dream. He lands where he expects Faile to be, at the Field of Merrilor, where the Last Battle is upon them.

Faile begins her transit to Merrilor with the Horn of Valere, but a bubble of evil disrupts her departure. She concludes that there is likely a traitor in her midst, which she thinks is Vanin. Aravine is the one who would best be able to divine the nature of Faile’s cargo, though, so my suspicion fell on her. The traitor’s identity is not as important as the suspicion that one exists, and that Faile is without resources in a hostile land while this person bides their time. With a number of nameless travelers killed by such trivial things as mud and plants, the feeling of helplessness and paranoia is well established. Her own attempts to weed out the traitor backfire, and she is forced to flee, afoot, into the Blasted Lands with creatures in pursuit.

The perfect accentuation of this feeling of powerlessness comes with Olver’s perspective. Olver is the only child of note in the entire series, and despite training with his uncles in the band, it is obvious to the reader that Olver is well and truly outmatched by everything. By placing Olver’s perspective here, just before the Last Battle, the author greatly increases the feeling that humanity is overwhelmed by the forces arrayed against it.

At Shayol Ghul, Aviendha learns about male Aiel channelers and is forced to admit what she has discovered to Cadsuane. Aviendha sets the strategy for how to stand against so many, with so much uncertainty: set plans together to counteract any one man having too much influence, in case he is under Compulsion, and “don’t try anything clever. We just hold.”

Hessalam escapes a skirmish with Aviendha, taking a deeply-Compelled Sarene with her. Sarene, a well-developed secondary character who hunted the Black Ajah, is irreversibly converted to the enemy ranks so brutally quickly that it is hard not to feel frustration. This is a warning to readers that anyone can be lost, and it can happen very quickly. A plan is concocted between Aviendha, Sorilea and Cadsuane to eliminate this threat.

Rand stands outside the Pattern and speaks with the Dark One. The author uses imagery established long ago, threads in a Pattern, to describe the otherworld in which Rand exists. The Dark One is dismissive of Moridin now that he has delivered the Dark One’s prize into his grasp. The Dark One makes an analogy, which of course is rooted in deathly imagery: SMALL TOOLS CAN BE EFFECTIVE. THE THINNEST OF KNIVES CAN STOP A HEART.

At the same time, but at a different rate of time, Nynaeve grows impatient and discovers Alanna chained to a wall in the Pit of Doom, slowly bleeding to death. This discovery puts the Dark One’s statement in context, adding a layer of extra meaning. The jolt of dread and excitement would be lessened if Alanna had been discovered before Rand’s first meeting with the Dark One. Now that it is too late for him to do anything about it, and Nynaeve seems powerless to save her, it is the equivalent of readers being shown a drawn weapon raised at Rand which he is oblivious to.

A map is provided for the Last Battle. Maps are one of the best parts of fantasy worlds, and the inclusion of this one to help the reader navigate the upcoming battle is priceless to following the action.

Mat trains his troops. His bluster fits well in a normal context, but he completely fails to acknowledge this is the Last Battle, and the overwhelming fear his fighters must be feeling. Perhaps portraying a commander who expects to live, and his soldiers to live, is the appropriate way to motivate them to hold and not break ranks. It feels far less effective than Elayne’s earlier rallying cry, but still maintains credibility because it is interspersed with solid advice and tactics the soldiers can use.

Delarn’s association with the nameless villagers is a clue to their identity. By having Mat recall the moment he saved Delarn, the author is subtly pointing at the town where Delarn was saved, and where certain events happen every night.

Mat learns the Horn is lost, in a strange conversation where Egwene has reverted to her younger self, and accidentally gives away more than she intended. The amazing author’s trick of ta’veren, though not cited in this case, always provides an easy explanation for falling out of character.

Mat is changing the plan, realizing the Shadow likely knows everything his army has planned. He intends to heap everything in one pile, providing a chance to wipe out humanity’s forces all at once, a target the Shadow is incapable of resisting. The Shadow’s armies arrive early, because somehow all of the commanders have forgotten that Trollocs can march through the night, a mistake that recently nearly undid Elayne’s forces.

The final set-up for the Last Battle is done. The forces of humanity are vastly outnumbered and surrounded. The Horn of Valere and the Seals on the Dark One’s prison are lost. Yet another weakness of Rand’s has been exposed. Perrin is grievously wounded.  Nynaeve, Olver and other characters are nearly powerless. Forsaken appear and leave the battlefield unscathed. Several heroic characters have already been lost or removed from power. If any of the Heroes, anywhere, fail, then the Shadow falls across the world. The excitement level is off the charts.

Writing Lessons:

Use association to place clues: for example, show a person associated with an event, to represent some other aspect of that event you want to reveal only later.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

A Memory of Light - Chapters 29-32

In this section, the Great Captains are removed and Mat takes over everything.

The next chapters contain a bit of overlap, as we see closely-spaced events from several perspectives. Since they all concern the erratic behaviour of the Great Captains and the events on the field, they mesh together well, though they remain strongly plot-driven.

Lan investigates Agelmar’s tactics, and finds disturbing facts. Lan resolves the problem with dutiful competence. He doesn’t grow, he doesn’t learn, he simply applies what he already has, and solves the problem. Perhaps the fact that the solution is to admit defeat constitutes character development of a sort, but it feels much more like plot-driven necessity. The scene is perhaps most successful in how it sets up later expectations. Lan does not consider a final stand to fulfill his long-awaiting destiny to fall fighting the Shadow. He instead tries to save as many lives as he can with a hurried withdrawal, carrying on in the way he promised his Malkieri followers.

Mat scouts the battle with Tuon in tow. In true ta’veren fashion, he learns what he must do to save humanity, capturing a new damane and other followers in the process. The Seanchan captain won’t work out in the end though, if this paragraph follows the same type of symbolism used in earlier books: The Seanchan captain reminded him a little too much of Talmanes, and Mat had enough people following him about. I wonder if he plays dice, Mat thought idly, stepping into the water. His boots were good, but all boots eventually leaked, and his feet squished inside his stocking as he walked across the ford with Pips. The way the author leaps forward with the action throughout the book makes it harder to tell if this set-up was intentional, but the section is so introspective I think it must be.  

The following sentences both succeed and fail to capture Mat’s personality: Any man who wanted to wield the One Power was already crazy, so far as Mat considered it. Adding more crazy to them would be like pouring tea into an already full cup. The physical analogy of an overflowing cup is common enough that readers easily identify it with a man who yearns for the simple life. His disdain for the men who channel saidin is equally well captured, consistent with his previous thoughts on the subject. Where the analogy fails, is that Mat rarely drinks tea, and tea has no association with erratic behaviour. A better choice to bring out Mat’s personality even more could have been to make the analogy with an alcoholic beverage, such as a cup of wine or a mug of beer. He speaks about his bedtime mug of ale only two pages later!

Perrin enlists Elyas to help stop Ituralde from sabotaging his own army in the waking world.

Rand’s leg slipped backward, and brushed the darkness behind, which waited like a pool of ink. A light brush is more effective than a plunge or other motion in conveying the danger.

Elayne’s army almost wins, having overcome Bashere’s treachery too late. She fires a final ball of flame to protect the Dragons, the symbol of human innovation. Almost as if summoned by her gesture, Logain’s Asha’man rally her forces and quickly devastate the Trolloc horde in a particularly inventive fashion. Androl leads the first ever circle of male and female channelers cooperating on a large scale. Differences are set aside in desperation, here as has happened elsewhere. Once control has been established, Elayne asserts that the Trollocs will be slaughtered down to the last one standing, lest they get up to havoc while she helps elsewhere.

Egwene has the hardest time of everyone accepting that her trusted general is a traitor. She finds that she trusts Mat more than even Bryne, despite his carefree ways. This is justified by her memories of his past actions, newly minted to reinforce that she knows his true heart despite staying an arm’s length from him for years. A couple of plot-driven reasons to trust also are invoked: he broke Bryne’s orders to the Seanchan cavalry to save many men, and he is the only one who they can be sure is under no Compulsion.

Assessing the situation, Mat decides to assemble all the Light’s forces in one location, close enough to the Shadow’s two main forces to draw them irresistibly into battle, before they can ravage elsewhere, or return to Thakan’dar. Displaying weakness should work, after all it was the Shadow who launched the initial attacks against humanity, putting them on the defensive. Rand used their desperate plight as cover for his own daring raid on Shayol Ghul, yet the Shadow must not be worried, as only a handful of Dreadlords and Graendal have intervened there. Perhaps keeping the good guys penned up just trying to survive is the minimum objective, as they would be powerless to help Rand. Who would benefit most of everyone just Traveled to Shayol Ghul?

Galad’s perspective is well-suited to state the blunt awful truth about how bad things are, and how much worse they are about to get. Tam and Elayne counter grim reality with hope, spreading the message that all must focus on what has been won, not what has been lost.

Writing Lessons:

Analogies must fit the character making them as well as the situation they describe. 

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

A Memory of Light - Chapters 25-28

In this section, Egwene makes uneasy alliance with her personal Dark One.

Egwene has good reason to detest the Seanchan, having endured a short time in their clutches as a damane. She is tolerant of their help when she first hears of their arrival, but the matter of who leads who must be decided. So, she and Fortuona must meet face to face for the sake of expediency, despite the risk to their status being seen doing so.

She wore a glittering dress whose train extended a ridiculous distance behind her, carried by eight da’covale, those servants in their horribly immodest clothing. The use of the adjectives ‘ridiculous’ and ‘horribly’ not only describe the physical appearance of Fortuona’s garments and entourage, but also Egwene’s judgment of it. This sort of deep and personal attribution of adjectives is one way the author succeeds in crafting the third-person limited point of view.

In her confrontation with Fortuona, Egwene takes up the familiar theme of freedom to choose. Many of the evils in this world limit people’s freedom, and Egwene’s cause is one that Rand recently supported, and will again in his imminent confrontation with the Dark One.

Both Fortuona and Egwene can be excused for spontaneous bouts of uncharacteristic blurting out what they are really thinking when their minds should be keenly focused on the politics of this encounter.  Their minds may be sharp as diamond-studded bear traps, but all preparation and logic go out the window once a ta’veren is part of the conversation. If Mat weren’t present, readers might frown over the women’s lack of formality and veering off topic. I suppose Egwene’s eagerness to publicly beat Fortuona account for some of her behaviour.

Elsewhere, the generals are caught making mistakes, and Bashere is arrested as a result. Lan has verified his suspicions about Agelmar as well. Perrin would like to investigate this matter more, but he has been battling Slayer and protecting Rand.

In his battle Perrin sees an image of snakelike men battling as well. Are the forces of evil also attacking the Aelfinn? Or are the Aelfinn and Eelfinn secretly participating in the battle at Thakan’dar, staving off the threat to their own existence?

The dreamspike serves a major plot related purpose, keeping Rand safe from outside interference, though it may later slow his escape. The wolves add to Rand’s defense, summoning Perrin whenever Slayer approaches.

Perrin’s encounter with Slayer ends in victory as the other man is driven off before he can harm Rand. Perrin and Gaul also fight several red-veiled Aiel, defeating the last by changing them into idiots. I wonder whether the turning process somehow weakens their willpower, thus affecting how easily they are altered in Tel’aran’rhiod, or perhaps it is simply lack of training as Perrin surmises. Lanfear even shows up to aid Perrin yet again, and despite misgivings, it is difficult not to wonder if this most Forsaken of them all might be swayed back to the Light.

Moridin has no such second chances in his future: “Now? Now you beg me to return to the Light? I have been promised oblivion. Finally, nothing, a destruction of my entire being. An end. You will not steal that from me, Lews Therin! By my grave, you will not!” Moridin came forward swinging.

Shaidar Haran’s demise is anticlimactic, yet not without interest. The giant Myrddraal’s husk lies on the ground before an infinite Blackness, whose touch may spell the end of Rand. Moridin will try to bleed one last time to weaken him enough for the Dark One to prevail, perhaps even to defeat Rand himself. The stakes, emotion, and uneven odds all contribute to the intensity of Rand’s slow progress to the Bore. The slow pace of Rand’s battle, explained by the time differential, also keeps the tension high. The book is half over, and he’s just facing his opponent now. How much can be left? What will happen? So, so good.  

A raken hit by a fireball crashes atop a messenger in Byrne’s camp. With no one else to carry a plea for help, Min offers her aid. Necessity is a very believable reason for improbable coincidences to take place. In this case, it provides the desired motivation for Min and Bryne, and is quicker and more elegant than any other convoluted attempt to place her with the Seanchan could be. Added to Fortuona, Min and Mat now offer another convenient pair of viewpoints to show events from a more Seanchan perspective.

The use of an Ogier song of mourning makes the reader’s mood more downcast, especially in contrast to how the Ogier’s manic battle rage had provided an uplifting source of hope in an earlier chapter. Loial’s sections are short, and used to punctuate the plot with the desired emotion each time he shows up.

Writing Lessons: Use adjectives to simultaneously describe physical and symbolic elements, as well as reveal character.  

Use necessity as a means to make improbable scenarios more believable.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

A Memory of Light - Chapters 21-24

In this section, Demandred finally appears in person, and the day dawns twice as Rand enters Shayol Ghul.

Siuan and associates escaped the Sharan attack by diving through a pre-existing Gateway to fall hundreds of feet to the ground, and readers are informed of this via a short flashback. The flashback allows the author to skip right to the introspection by Bryne, which is the key element of the scene. A scene with Siuan falling towards a crash landing even as she surveys the battle from above could have been awesome, but longer than the 2/3 of a page for the flashback. A narrow escape might also have raised the reader’s spirits a bit, and the intent here is to keep them very low.

Lyrelle gives a solid example of just how self-serving some people can be, even in crisis times when altruism is the desired virtue. She gets her Warders, but only because there were enough men who actually wanted to be Warders. The point once again, is that the Asha’man choose their own path, marching to the Last Battle not because they must, but because they want to. It’s a nice mirror to Rand’s own storyline.

Egwene witnesses Bao the Wyld, Demandred, as he executes prisoners and questions Leane. There are so many hints of an epic back story to his dominion over the Sharans, but thankfully it’s used to tantalize and not bog down the story with exposition.

The Sharan culture is a sharp downturn from even the Seanchan culture which readers and characters have grudgingly had to accept. In Shara, there is no hope of rising, only fear of falling to an even worse position. Even the ‘lords’ “had hollow, haunted expressions. They slumped forward, eyes down, faces wan. Their arms seemed thin, almost skeletal. So frail. What had been done to these people?”  This culture symbolizes what Demandred and the Dark One offer. Nothing.  Had they been introduced earlier, the symbolism would not have been as effective as now, when the other Nations and their various cultures stand together in opposition to a nihilistic way of life.

Perrin confronts Graendal in Tel’aran’rhiod, bending balefire as a matter of course. Lanfear, the Age of Legends’ premier researcher into space-time, then tells him how time is being affected by the Last Battle, even in the waking world. The use of time distortions, with the Bore acting as a black hole where time runs slowest is a brilliant way to make the battles in each location last an appropriate amount of time, and to pass off any disparity as a random fluctuation instead of author error. It also speaks to the finality of the Last Battle, if time itself can no longer be counted on and reality frays away.

Lanfear offers Perrin even more aid, and a chance to be her consort. She scorns his refusal, jabbing him with the revelation that his father-in-law was Graendal’s target. Now readers have the big piece of the puzzle they were missing, and know that the generals are subject to the Forsaken’s influence. Bryne’s bond with Siuan ought to protect him though…

In desperation, Gawyn uses the Seanchan Bloodknives’ rings to move Egwene from the Sharan camp. Leilwin helps her along the way. When confronted with a Sharan who has captured her, Egwene is able to let herself feel intense fear and then control it.

At Shayol Ghul, Aviendha leads the channelers against the first Forsaken and Dreadlords who appear to thwart the strike. She finds ways to defend against balefire, and devises methods to fool their opponents should they strike again.

Rand enters the cave with Moiraine and Nynaeve, Duty and Conscience, at his side. They have always played these roles, nagging at him to do what he knows he must. He has found a way to balance the two driving forces in his life. He wasn’t certain if he should be pleased that the two of them had started to get along. Nynaeve’s new short-haired maturity shows how Rand’s conscience has found a way to adapt to the other moral frameworks he has encountered, staying the same but just a little different because of that exposure. Rand wears a coat bearing the thorns representing Manetheren, a reminder of the tale Moiraine told long ago to give Rand the bedrock of confidence he needed to face his greatest opponent.

Thom guards the entrance as an eclipse occludes the sun. The sun’s return heralds Rand’s victory, a symbolism that is so obvious that the author spends only two paragraphs dwelling on it each time a character sees it in their location. Except Elayne, who makes a speech that would fit Manetheren’s last stand as easily as the defense of Cairhien she now leads.

Moiraine gasps as a voice shakes them, the voice of the Creator. It portends no victory, only the inevitable confrontation that the Pattern has pulled Rand towards with thousands of threads. As with Rand’s own drive to save mankind so they can continue trying to live their lives and solve their problems, the Voice can’t or won’t help Rand, it can only give him the opportunity to do things right this time.

Fortuona makes an observation about Mat which mirrors what has happened with Rand: He has changed, yet is the same. Mat is chaos, Fortuona order. The ability of Seanchan to accept a change in station is funnily portrayed with Mat’s response to being renamed, told from Fortuona’s perspective: “Knotai?” Knotai said. Knotai convinces Fortuona to send aid to the Aes Sedai.

Elsewhere, Agelmar, Bashere and Ituralde seem to be doing everything right. The Sea Folk make their last appearance of any import when Zaida reports the Bowl of the Winds is all that is keeping the Dark One from scouring the valley of Thakan’dar.

Writing Lessons:
Know what your characters represent so that you portray them consistently.

Monday, 2 September 2013

A Memory of Light - Chapters 17-20

In this section, events are more dire than ever!

Rand comes to see Tuon, more humble than last time they met. Mat establishes that his allegiance is with the Seanchan. Mat is the only character who could have made the linkage with this alien culture, as he is perpetually the outsider. Now he will truly be a man with a foot in each world, belonging fully to neither.
Rand must concede the lives of many channelers to procure an alliance. Many times throughout the story, characters have had to act contrary to one ideal in order to achieve a greater goal. Those who could not or would not concede became a different sort of evil, such as Aridhol’s, or the Whitecloaks. Rand has come to realize that he can’t take responsibility for every problem men face; people will have to figure those problems out after he faces the Dark One. Cadsuane reminds him of this again when she reveals the men of the Black Tower freed themselves without his help.

Rand’s burden has him reflecting on many philosophical matters, such as whether Trollocs have souls, yet another way to ponder how his actions affect the world, another matter he must set aside in order to focus on his current goal of the Last Battle.

Rand knows Alivia must help him die, so he entrusts her care to Cadsuane, who in turn is placed near Aviendha, whom he trusts. Cadsuane confirms Rand is ready, and insists he maintain hope for life, even if the odds seem insurmountable. Note Cadsuane’s continued role as a stand-in for the Light itself in this interaction with Rand:

“Our interactions have not always been smooth, Rand al’Thor.”

“That would be one way to say it”

“However,” she continued, eyeing him, “I will have you know that I am pleased. You have turned out well.”

Elsewhere, Gawyn has much talent which isn’t being used well. Egwene keeps him in line for now, but he is eager to do something of value. Gawyn also learns more about the Bloodknife rings, and the danger they carry. A false expectation is laid, with the Aes Sedai wondering when Taim will bring his Dreadlords to confront them on the most important battlefield.

Lan speaks to Mandarb, his faithful war horse, about his dream of making a new home for them and Malkier. His love for Nynaeve has truly changed his view of the world. Lan confronts Agelmar about suspected mistakes he has made and receives a very good explanation that is a catch-all for any author’s errors in strategy: “I am not without flaw, Dai Shan. This will not be my only error. I will see them, as I saw this one, and learn from them.” Bashere also makes a mistake, giving a second clue about the generals’ behaviour, but his explanation is also reasonable.

Egwene visits Tel’aran’rhiod for the last time. The World of Dreams is disintegrating, an unexpected complication. Aiel Wise Ones want Rand to move more quickly, yet he has already received advice from Moiraine, and Cadsuane, on that point. Egwene explains the new hazards of balefire, reminding herself that it is only another weave, despite the strong importance place don its unique nature. It is an unimportant observation now, and will still seem unimportant when she refers back to it later at a crucial moment. She bids the Wise Ones a fond farewell, an opportunity for closure that few other characters will have had, and then she gets another with Rand.

When Rand visits Egwene, he realizes the seals he gave her are fakes. This is shocking and risks upsetting all his plans! However dire things felt before, this is much worse!

Gawyn learns how Galad and Rand are related in an awkward conversation. This detail didn’t have to come from Rand’s mouth, did it? We’ll see how important this detail is in a later chapter.

Mat gets a new outfit for the Last Battle. And I had predicted it would be one of the girls who got a new dress. Rats. Mat realizes he has achieved everything in life he set out to do. What now? Nothing is working out as he expected, which is fitting since he never does what is expected. Reminding readers how different the Seanchan are even in terms of dress adds to the sense of mistrust felt as the reader wonders whether Rand’s treaty with them will hold.

At last, the chapter titled Into Thakan’dar tells readers that the really serious stuff is about to begin. It begins with a clunky piece of exposition, which is effective at quickly placing it in time for the reader’s comprehension, but is a violent way to introduce the situation: “Later in the day after her meeting with Rand, Egwene thrust Vora’s sa’angreal out in front of her and wove Fire.”

When Gawyn deciphers the Myrddraal’s tactics, and an immense Gateway opens revealing a surprise army, there is not even a moment’s consideration that this might be Taim or another Forsaken. Demandred has finally made his grand entrance, with as much impact as readers could hope for. Quickly and brutally, his Sharans devastate the Aes Sedai’s army and ranks of channelers.

Despite Aviendha’s belief that one could not describe Thakan’dar, but had to experience it, the author does a masterful job of revealing the utter despair of the place. Another unexpected twist about time is foreshadowed in the planning:

“Let us assume,” Ituralde said with a smile, “that there is going to be more to it than a duel.”

“I am not a fool, Rodel Ituralde,” Amys said coolly. “I doubt that the Car’a’carn’s fight will be one of spears and shields. However, when he cleansed the Source, did that not happen in the space of a single day? Perhaps this will be similar.”

“Perhaps,” Ituralde said. “Perhaps not.” He lowered the glass and looked to the Aiel. “Which possibility would you rather plan for?”

“The worst one,” Aviendha said.

“So we plan to hold out as long as the Dragon needs,” Ituralde said. “Days, weeks, months… years? As long as it takes.”

Years? Aaaaa!

Aviendha also reminds Rand that the greatest victory would be taking the Dark One gai’shain. It seems even crazier than killing him, but if he can’t be killed, it seems like the next best thing.

Nynaeve confirms that Callandor is a trap, allowing anyone to seize control of him. His allies ambushed, the seals stolen, carrying a tool that can turn against him, facing a dark deity, in a battle that could last years, how much worse can things get? I am so excited!

Writing Lessons: Foreshadowing works better with a strong explanation for the crucial detail you are placing in the text, instead of a weak or random observation.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

A Memory of Light - Chapters 14-16

(Sorry for the long delay, life intervened... how did I ever maintain this pace last year?)

In this section, the Black Tower plotline is resolved!

Contrary to established rules, it is now possible to enter Tel’aran’rhiod from the Blight, which is explained with the mild observation that barriers are weakening between worlds. Importantly, it will allow Perrin, Lanfear, and Slayer to later interact with Rand at Shayol Ghul while they are in Tel’aran’rhiod. While the story is rife with examples of impossible things becoming reality, when the author starts tweaking rules which remove well established restrictions, there is a chance that readers will find it too convenient to be believable. This is overcome to some degree by simply establishing that a change in rules has taken place, with no commitment towards it being of benefit or detriment to the heroes.

Perrin not only feels he has to stay near Rand, but also needs to investigate dangers to Rand, appointing himself as a sort of bodyguard.  While it was expected that Perrin might take on this role, it was both thrilling and surprising to see Gaul join him. So they set off to the Black Tower where Lanfear makes an appearance. Two opposing ideas are now associated with her. The first is her obsessive thirst for power and prestige, which Perrin recalls quite well, and is wary of. The second is the recent idea of her coming back to the Light, as introduced through her dialogue with Rand. Due to the elements of Eve and Pandora I identified in her mythical roots, I am predisposed to her seeking or gaining redemption. The nearly equal weighting of these ideas adds to the mystery around her goals, indicating she could go either way and no one would be surprised. “I chose my master. This is my price – unless I can find a way free of it.” Whatever she is after, she achieves it by helping Perrin, allowing him to remove a dreamspike at a very opportune moment.

The coincidental timing of Perrin’s actions is a little hard to accept, but the Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, and that logic-defying clause allows the author to push the limits of coincidence in a manner that is explainable, if not entirely satisfactory.

Androl’s Talent for Gateways allowed him to make a miniscule Gateway over a very short distance even when the dreamspike was activated. The small Gateway he uses to catch Taim’s balefire presumably also only carried it a very short distance. Perrin’s deactivation of the dreamspike then frees Androl to make Gateways of any size, and he uses some exciting techniques to devastate Taim’s cronies and send two Forsaken running. After such an intense build-up, the resolution is nothing but satisfaction. Importantly, Androl and the other Asha’man have claimed their own freedom, usurping control from Taim with no observable outside help.

Androl isn’t the only character whose desperate actions amazingly bear fruit. Rand did the same on several occasions, notably at the end of The Eye of the World, when he thrice appealed to the Light to intercede and save him, and then was able to regain control of the situation. Androl makes no such appeal for deliverance, instead drawing on his defiance and will to displace the barrier which prevents his Gateways from forming. Why does this work?

The simple explanation is that time runs differently in Tel’aran’rhiod, and Perrin’s deactivation of the dreamspike is mirrored over a longer time frame in the waking world.

A different explanation requires delving into Androl’s character and the reason for his Talent. Androl is a dreamer and a searcher, and has traveled far and wide across the world trying to find the elusive conditions that will give him closure and peace. He may have traveled to more places and tried more paths in life than almost every other character. He knows himself as much as he knows the places he has been. Androl’s Talent and lack of ability in other areas is therefore a metaphor for his inner quest and lack of satisfaction with what he has found so far. Knowing himself is equated with knowing where he is, a condition required to form Gateways. When Androl finally succeeds in crafting his tiny Gateway, he has dug deep within himself and found that which he always sought elsewhere: the will to make part of the world fit his needs, to take his place as the heart and soul of the Black Tower, to defy Taim with his last breath and create the place he has long searched for. With this understanding comes his salvation, just as the dreamspike is deactivated.

The Black Tower itself has been a metaphor for Rand’s inner turmoil over the last several books. As he allowed his humanity to wither away, the Black Tower festered. At first the Black Tower represented a cherished dream for Rand, a safe place for men like him. By failing to nurture this dream, it could not sustain itself, and eventually went bad, until it grew to the point where it threatened his life and the world itself. Androl demonstrated that a powerful dream will draw others to it, others who can share in keeping it vibrant and secure. Rand’s naive hope that his project would be successful simply by establishing initial conditions, and then walking away, was proven to be foolish. The failed Black Tower experiment serves as a precedent for the upcoming conflict with the Dark One, where Rand will again try quick and easy solutions that will predictably fail.

With the Black Tower plotline resolved, it isn’t long before Taim shows up in the Borderlands to disrupt the desperate tactics of the Borderlanders. Lan can survive a duel with two Myrddraal at once, and repeated sorties on the field lancing Trollocs, but must flee before the Dreadlords’ siege engine. There is some entertainment in comparing how Byrne’s later use of Gateways as windows provides immensely more advantage than simply elevating channelers on a siege engine to have a better view of the battlefield. But for now, the edge goes to the Shadow.

In Ebou Dar, Mat once again entertains readers with his banter with Selucia. Mat is either thinking out of character or subconsciously adopting Seanchan ways of thinking: She had shaved her head again properly, now that she was no longer hiding. Tuon’s adoption of Mat’s ways is much more in character, and funny: “Are you bloody insane?” Mat asked. “Are you bloody stupid?” she asked.

The Heroes’ ability to spot Gray Men is uncanny. Even when wounded, a Gray Man is unnoticed by the keenest eyes in the Seanchan Empire. I attribute the Heroes’ success versus Gray Men to the ta’veren effect, increasing the dim likelihood of noticing them into a certainty. I think channelers and Warders were the only others to ever notice a Gray Man. There’s been some debate as to why the Shadow didn’t use more of these assassins. I reason that there was simply a lack of good targets, with most potential targets either unfindable or able to notice and kill them. I also suspect they are not very numerous, since their creation requires a sacrifice on par with Padan Fain’s, a dedication that is decidedly rare.

Rand has a swordfight with Tam, allowing him to learn how the loss of his hand has affected his perception of himself.  The missing hand has been more of an inconvenience than an obstacle in terms of Rand’s abilities to confront opponents, since he can channel even without it. By showing an example of weakness, the author is able to better showcase the inner turmoil Rand feels in the face of the Last Battle. Rand regularly tries to express certainty about his plan to kill the Dark One, but just as with his sword prowess, there are deep-seated doubts and weaknesses he worries about. Aviendha previously suggested taking the Dark One gai’shain might be a better path, and Moiraine now tries to dissuade him from his chosen course of action even as she urges him to commence his assault now.

Moiraine gets good tasting tea from Rand, a symbol that he does indeed have the right balance that so many of his motherly mentors have sought. Each of them has correctly foreseen that  as with so many of the obstacles faced by the characters, it is not Rand’s battle training or ability to channel that will lead to victory, but a matter of his character.

Galad and his Whitecloaks are perturbed by the Ogier’s violence. Their first instinct upon witnessing their savagery is to consider them Shadowspawn.  Galad understands that evil does not reside in the act of chopping down opponents, but the reasons for that act can be good or evil. If the Ogier’s violence is startling in its intensity and rivals the murderous actions of Trollocs, it is because once riled and forced to actions the Ogier would rather not have contemplated, their resolve to carry them out is unwavering. They embrace violence as the tool that will best allow them to continue their peaceful lifestyle.

Writing Lessons:

Do not break your daily writing habit. Once missed, writing time is lost forever.