Thursday, 31 January 2013

A Memory of Light AUDIOBOOK Chapter 3

Writing for a listening audience is different from writing for readers. An audio performance can add dynamism to the story, but it can also cement a certain interpretation in a listener's mind when emphasis is placed on one word over another, or when a character is portrayed in a certain way.

I have the good fortune of presenting a short audio clip from Chapter 3 of A Memory of Light, provided courtesy of Macmillan Audio. Let's examine the difference. You may find it fun to play the clip as you read the analysis.

Fans have awaited the resolution of the Black Tower plotline for three books. Sanderson makes use of their impatience, maintaining a slow boil, inching the plot forward slowly. Setting the mood for the Last Battle, the author continually dangles hope before the characters then yanks it away soon after. In this audio clip, Welyn’s proclamation deflates the reader’s hope that Logain will prevail over Taim. Hope is restored by the scepticism shown blatantly by Jonneth, or more subtly by Androl. But that scepticism must remain muted or those who express it will be crushed.

The actor’s distinct voice for each of the speaking characters in this clip makes it easy for listeners to distinguish between them, and it replaces or adds to the other tags used in the text to distinguish characters from each other. Welyn doesn’t have a Seanchan slur, or an Illianer’s distinct grammatical structure, nor does he have tag words assigned for his sole use (such as curse words for Mat, Uno,  or Elayne), yet the tone and pacing of his speech are distinct from any of the other characters in the scene.

Written text retains the possibility of easily flipping back a page, or a few paragraphs, to remind yourself of a detail, or replay the conversation. Paragraph division itself helps the reader understand structural and conceptual leaps. Yet with an expressive voice, an audio presentation of the same text commands the reader's attention, adding a dimension to the story that didn't exist as a text alone. Other media such as comic book and film adaptations offer similar trade-offs, possibly altering the original vision in order to augment some particular aspect of the story. Sanderson's compact and to-the-point text lends itself well to the audio format, since he prefers to paint a cursory sketch of the locale and let the audience fill in the details. His focus on dialogue over description allows the audio presenters to take a more active role in bringing the story to life.

A few elements of this section keep the listener’s emotions flipping between fear and doubt. No context is given for when this takes place in comparison to Rand’s activities, so the listener has to consider that Welyn may be telling the truth. Withholding context creates uncertainty, and the primary concern it raises is that Logain has yielded to Taim and Rand remains unaware of the danger at his side. 

Androl is ‘feeling chilled’ as he listens to ‘the thing with Welyn’s face’. Up until those phrases are uttered, the description of the room and the people gathered are unremarkably normal. The abrupt shift to these strange descriptions establishes instant doubt in Welyn’s tale, which then raises more questions about Logain’s situation, whether Rand has been in contact with Taim’s men, and how Androl and his friends will avoid notice and escape.

Writing Lessons:

Use tags or other tools to give each character a distinct voice.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

A Memory of Light - Preview and Predictions

This is the fun part, where I fearlessly predict what will take place in A Memory of Light! I’ve done something similar for each of the past books, and my record is almost perfect misses, a consequence of my willingness to defend an implausible theory until the end, and beyond.
These are not spoilers, but predictions!
Based off of the research conducted over the last year, these predictions are based on a writer’s perspective, what I’ve learned about how Robert Jordan thinks and writes, and are in line with the major themes I identified. I read most of the promotional chapters, but have ignored them for the most part in this exercise. Some parts are so important to the story that despite the lack of attention they received in this reread, I had to commit to a position. So be it. Forward!
Read them before A Memory of Light as a preview, or after you’re done as a probably mostly incorrect review for further amusement. It’s quite detailed, with lots to reflect upon.

The opening scene will be Rand confronting the assembled nobles of the world at Merrilor, telling them that he should break the Seals and face the Dark One while the forces of humanity are still strong, as well as setting conditions for his participation at the Last Battle. These conditions include a peace treaty lasting beyond the Last Battle, except the Aiel.
Rand’s attempt to broker peace will fail. 
Aviendha wants the Aiel included in the peace but other Wise Ones argue against it because of the Seanchan. Egwene can't agree to the peace without getting the Seals in return, and can't abide letting the Seanchan exist or keep their damane. Elayne sides with Egwene, while Perrin sides with Rand, dividing Andor. The Seanchan Empire needs to accept as well, and Rand has no link to them which he could use to persuade even his friends.
Despondent, Rand decides to go it alone, having no other choice but to face the Dark One.
Do Rand's enemies want the seals broken? There is no clear indication they have any interest one way or the other, but they do have an interest in acquiring the Seals so that they can control the time and manner of their breaking.
So, Rand's public declarations about the meeting at Merrilor have drawn out his enemies, and they have attacked Caemlyn in order to disrupt his meeting with the Amyrlin. They may hope to distract him at a time when the Seals are less well defended.
Caemlyn is the heart of the world, the crown jewel of cities, and it is burning. Olver is lost in the chaos, and his disappearance represents the loss of the accord between Rand and the Nations. The Dragons are at risk, and they represent ingenuity and mankind’s ability to overcome obstacles on its own.
A large number of characters have links to Andor and Caemlyn, and the question is whether they will return there to save it, or leave it to its fate as the allies of Malkier and Manetheren did when they were overwhelmed by the Shadow. The locale once again mirrors the larger plot, where all that is good risks being lost because allies bicker.
The Hall of the Tower
The Hall of the Tower deposes Egwene for her utter failure to stop Rand and unite the Nations against the Dark One.
Mat realizes no one will be happy to hear he married the Empress of the forces they all oppose. He hightails it out of town, hoping to bring his wife to see that she needs to join the other nations or all is lost.
Perrin resolves to save Caemlyn and Andor. Faile insists on participating as a Saldaean wife should. She falls in the fighting, and Perrin follows soon after, having nothing to live for even if Rand should win.
The Black Tower
Once readers see the bleakness of the other locales, a glimmer of hope can be introduced, though Brandon’s rapid chapter beaks will allow this to play out over several hundred pages. Androl is a repentant Darkfriend, and Pevara is the Darkfriend hunter who should hate and destroy him, yet they find common cause. Pevara and Androl use the precision of a circle to create a Gateway where none should be possible, defeating the Dreamspike by making the Gateway of both saidar and saidin.  The union of male and female represents power, freedom and lack of constraint, and they elude their captors easily, moving through the Black Tower at will.
Lan at Tarwin’s Gap
Lan leads a valiant ill-fated charge into the Blight. He is awesome, and will fight straight through to the slopes of Shayol Ghul, though as with Caemlyn, there will be much hand-wringing over whether any help will come. Standing alone leads only to death. Help does come. With the failure to reach an accord amongst Nations, Rand will send the Borderlanders to aid in the charge, and they should arrive at Shayol Ghul in time to see the eclipse.
Rand’s death
Perrin’s death depresses Rand. Learning that Rand has no intention of destroying the Seanchan, Alivia avenges herself on Rand, killing him. The remaining heroes are aghast. Hope is dead.
Morgase is still in Caemlyn and finds Olver, keeping the lowest born of Andorans safe through the destruction, preserving the heart and essence of the Nation in the form of a child, as the women of Manetheren did. Olver keeps her safe as well.
The White Tower
Assaulted by the Seanchan and their newfound command of Gateways, the White Tower is attacked yet again, this time more successfully. Few Aes Sedai escape being collared, including Egwene.
Aviendha, Min, and Elayne
The women burn Rand’s body.
Mat tells Tuon that Rand is dead, softening her stance.
Moiraine reveals that since Rand used the True Power, the Dark One is able to resurrect him. The world has a three-day reprieve before a suitable body is found and the transmigration completed. After that, Rand will be the Dark One’s captive and will turn, believing the world has forsaken him. Then, the balefire will be unleashed, undoing reality. Rand’s death and the hope of his resurrection are the catalyst for the rulers and heroes to make concessions.
Pevara and Androl locate and free Logain, adding him to their circle. Logain’s followers are added as well, and they become powerful enough to stand against and overthrow Mazrim Taim, destroying the Black Tower with no outside help. Logain’s victory is one of character, for his judgment raised Androl and gave him back his self-worth when no one else would. Logain leads the Asha’man to glory, and with his Asha’man and Aes Sedai followers, he commands the only force capable of creating a 72-channeler circle.
Trapped as damane, Elaida and Egwene work together to escape. They succeed with Egeanin’s help. Egwene and Elaida and Egeanin confront Tuon and Mat. They decide they can work together.
Perrin lives on in the World of Dreams. He and the wolves in Tel’aran’rhiod lead an assault on Moridin’s otherworldly lair to free a newly-resurrected Rand. Amongst Moridin’s treasures is the Horn of Valere.
Rand’s resurrection
Rand returns to find the nations gathered together, committed to protecting each other or dying in the doing. When he breaks the Seals, Rand has acknowledged the Dark One may briefly become more powerful, and during that time is when Rand is most at risk of losing.
Min tells Rand the secret to using Callandor is that it forces him to work with women. She later dies. No one knows what the future holds.
Knife of Dreams
Rand wears the Knife of Dreams, so the Dark One can’t see him coming. He is accompanied by Egwene and Nynaeve, and Gawyn.
Joline and Teslyn
Joline and Teslyn sway the Hall to support peace with the Seanchan, in part due to Mat’s rank as Prince of the Ravens. Egwene is appointed to accompany Rand on behalf of the Hall.
The Crystal Throne
Mat and Rand Travel to Seanchan, where the Seanchan prophecies are corrected and Tuon kneels while Rand sits upon the Crystal Throne.
Demandred’s forces of Black Ajah and the remaining Asha’man Travel the world, balefiring whatever most damages the Pattern. Reality wavers.
The Last Battle
The armies of mankind Travel to Shayol Ghul for the Last Battle. Darkhounds, Sea Folk, Jumara, Whitecloaks, Trollocs, Asha’man, Black Ajah, Aludra’s cannons, red-veiled Aiel, Ogier, Heroes of the Horn, and so much more!
Slayer escapes Lan in the waking world only to be killed by Perrin when he appears in Tel’aran’rhiod.
Cadsuane still represents the Light itself, and she will die in the battle at Shayol Ghul to symbolize how badly events are going.
The Forsaken
Each of the Forsaken played a specific role or represented a specific philosophy. Graendal’s hedonism, Be’lal’s envy, Sammael’s competitive nature, Semirhage’s indifference to the spiritual, Rahvin’s vanity, all of them stood for something. Each of the five survivors has a role to play, and that role will determine if they live or die.
Ishamael represented doubt, which Rand overcame with willpower. Moridin now represents a nihilistic philosophy, in which nothing matters and there is no purpose, for everything dies in the end. Rand’s epiphany disproves that philosophy, showing redemptive purpose to the cycle of birth and rebirth, and that knowledge will destroy Moridin. His identity blown to dust, Rand defeats him in the penultimate confrontation in Tel’aran’rhiod, but he’ll get another chance to get it right when the Wheel next turns.
Lanfear was lust, for power, knowledge, and lust itself. Her selfish act which released the Dark One will be redeemed. Her sincere plea for help will be heeded, for Rand knows she drilled the Bore and can explain its nature so he can repair the Dark One’s prison. The entire purpose of marching to Shayol Ghul is to save Mierin, for Rand needs to save all of humanity, even the awful people, perhaps especially them. She is no longer forsaken by mankind, they are coming to give her a last chance. She dies, happily, at Rand’s side and in his aid.
Moghedien’s fearful identity was destroyed, as exemplified by her statement that she would never be afraid again. She could say or do anything, but she will most likely take a chance that she never would have before, even a slim one, in order to be free of the mindtrap. She’ll die in the attempt, having unwittingly aided the heroes, but she’ll be happy to have overcome the cringing caution that she personified.
Graendal has been remade, we learned in the prologue, giving her a new identity as well. She will be unrepentant, and succeed where she failed last time, killing Perrin. She shall be restored to her original form as a reward, and with all her sneaky undercutting deviousness, she will be Nae’blis at last, just in time for the Dark One’s defeat. She will have sacrificed all to advance to the pinnacle, to find she is in command of absolutely nothing. She lives and will be brought to justice in the White Tower.
Demandred is a gambler, and he gambles his immortal soul that eternal life is better than constant rebirth. He is an atheist playing the safe probable odds that the Dark One wins, and therefore forsaking the Light. He’ll get one last chance to change his bet before it’s too late. He won’t get a chance to face Rand though, as Mat will defeat him in single combat after his army defeats Demandred’s in the field. Demandred’s death will be representative of life without the Light, either tumbling through blackness forever like the gholam, or death by balefire so that he neither lives forever nor can get resurrected. 
Breaking the Seals
The Dark One's only known weakness is his inability to step outside of time; he is bound to linear time as much as any other character. If Rand balefires the Seals, they will have been destroyed at an earlier time, but the Dark One will neither have perceived the opening of his prison, or acted upon it. Rand can have his allies weaving the new Seals before he acts with balefire, so that they are ready to place them immediately after the balefire has been used. The Dark One's window of opportunity will have been missed.
This means that Rand should either wield the balefire, or weave the Seals, but not both. Whichever role he takes, his chances of success are higher if he and his allies are in different locations, keeping the Shadow uncertain which group they should dedicate forces to attacking. Rand communicates with his allies, using the ta'veren ability to 'see' what each other are doing so the timing is perfectly coordinated.
Padan Fain
Padan Fain interferes at the Pit of Doom, and the Dark One is free to touch the world. Fain gleefully wants to destroy everything out of unbridled hate for Rand and the Shadow. He represents the nuclear victory option, cutting off the nose to spite the face.
Nynaeve, as always acting as Rand’s conscience, crushes Padan Fain. Rand will not destroy himself to win.
Shaidar Haran
Rand battles Moridin, then Shaidar Haran, finally standing before the Pit of Doom.
The Dark One
The Dark One brags that he has destroyed everything outside of the Pit of Doom, only Rand and Nynaeve still stand. Reality is a dissipating fog, the people tenuously hold to existence through their belief in Rand. All depends on his willpower, his identity, his dedication not to give in to the Dark One even when all is lost. Every bit of True Power is exerted at Rand, trying to bend or break him. Using the power of Tel’aran’rhiod, the True Power, Rand rejects the Dark One, forcing reality back into existence, drawing on the strength of Nynaeve, then Perrin, Logain, and others who stand together, in an ever expanding circle, until all is set right. The Dark One’s prison is reconstructed better than new thanks to Lanfear’s guidance.
Mat is believed dead, but he’s a tricksy one. Olver is safe.
Tel’aran’rhiod is a realm where what you will becomes reality, which is the situation the world finds itself in. A tenuous peace rests on the faith each person has with their neighbour. Ill thoughts breed ill acts, but faith, tolerance and acceptance breed a world where self-reliance is supported by community.
Aviendha gives new purpose to the Aiel by bringing them back to their roots as singers that make the barren world fertile again. They are no longer killers, but creators. They even let the Tinkers join. This new identity allows them to maintain a lasting peace with Seanchan, who now also use the glass columns to learn their history and atone for their mistakes.

While I’d love to have nailed every facet of the book, I am pretty satisfied that these predictions fulfill major known prophecies, fill in oft-theorized gaps, and reflect the themes accurately. In about nine hours, I buy A Memory of Light and start reading to see how close or far I was.
Writing Lessons:
Take a Stand. Defend it. Don’t be wishy-washy.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Reread complete! For now...

This blog was possible because I had previously read the entirety of The Wheel of Time and could use my foreknowledge when I examined the writing techniques employed. Since I have not read A Memory of Light even once, the blog will go on hiatus for a few months while I let the final book percolate in my mind before filling in the posts on the last book.
However, I’ll have one more post before I take a break, which is a lengthy set of predictions for A Memory of Light based on the work posted here.
In the meantime, I offer a quick review of my objectives with this blog project, and some advice to writers.
First, I wanted to reread The Wheel of Time, and I did, enjoying it thoroughly yet again, and it only took me twelve months, twice as long as expected yet comfortably within the allotted time, with almost 24 hours to spare before I acquire my copy of A Memory of Light.
Second, I wanted to learn from Robert Jordan’s writing, and I did, leaving myself some 200 Writing Lessons, which I will consolidate at some not too distant date, for both my use and yours.
Third, I wanted to establish writing habits. The 50 page review format gave enough material to fill 700-1100 words per post, and I was able to post slightly more than every 2nd night over an entire year. A handful of posts took 3 hours to write, the quickest were 800 words per hour. Aiming to write every day is critical. Most of my writing was before 6 a.m. or after 10 p.m., often up until 2 to 3 a.m. In total I wrote approximately 200 000 words, a nice chunk of a typical Wheel of Time novel. Without having to do the reading, study, and analysis, I feel confident project Woolly Coelodont can proceed at a decent pace as I attempt to write a full novel of my own this spring.
Fourth, I wanted a last chance to theorize about the final book of the series. That post should be up tomorrow.
Lastly, I created a permanent tool for fans of Robert Jordan’s work, and for budding writers like myself. Creating something unique is rewarding. I hope you will find what I made here fun and useful.
Thanks to Tamyrlin at Theoryland for a plug or two and driving some traffic to the blog. I decided that the tool would be most rewarding and useful for readers if it was scholarly, had no ads, and aimed to be direct and to the point, focusing on theme and writing over plot, influences and humour. I apologize if it’s dry by times, but that was an intentional attempt to fill a new niche.
Let me know what you thought!
Writing Lessons:
Set realistic daily writing goals. Accomplish them.

The Wheel of Time - Act 3 - Books 10-14

Treating The Wheel of Time as one long novel, the books Crossroads of Twilight, Knife of Dreams, The Gathering Storm, Towers of Midnight, and A Memory of Light make up the third and final act. The beginning and end of the story are bookends, what shows up in one should be resolved in the other. As of this writing, I have yet to acquire A Memory of Light, but the concept of the story’s end is simple to guess at.  
Rand was told he must save the world, which he grows determined to do despite what the world may have to say on the matter. He tries repeatedly to force people to act as he thinks they should, eventually using the Dark One’s own seductive True Power to exert his will on them. The end justifies his means, a philosophy once espoused by Mordeth, who viewed any cost as worth paying to be rid of the Shadow. Rand finds that even unbelievable achievements such as cleansing saidin earn him little gratitude or respect, pushing him further down a path where he seeks to validate his accomplishments and soothe his ego.
Other characters face their own intense desires and duties, each of them successfully fending off thoughts of absolute adherence to some objective at any cost. Each of them finds a balance, weighing the need versus the cost, never entirely certain how hard each objective must be strived for, yet willing to stand for their values at great personal cost. They all learn that only they can find the balance, and when they do they become free and powerful.
Rand’s balance is much harder to achieve, coming only after he has nearly abandoned his humanity in a misguided attempt to protect his loved ones. He callously murders and rationalizes his actions, and even Nynaeve, the stand-in for his conscience, considers that he may be right. Only when faced with his father, does he relent and reflect upon his actions as he holds the power to end the Pattern.  Rand realizes that the Pattern allows people a second chance to correct their mistakes, and that strength comes from fostering relationships, not cutting them off. Rand has finally overcome the delusion that he has to face his destiny alone, a falsehood perpetrated on him by Lan, who has now come to the same realization.
From the early books the characters used their formidable force of will to overcome obstacles, and after fumbling about for a while, they finally know when and how to use it. The heroes have acquired followers in the thousands, and have learned how to lead them after stumbling a few times. They no longer require mentors, having earned equality and rank equal to those who used to guide them. The greatest foes they faced, gholam, Forsaken, otherworldly creatures, have all fallen before them. The heroes are adults, full-fledged members of their community, and have attained the pinnacle of their power and influence, and have learned how to use them well, just in time for the challenge of their young lives.
Almost every character has entered into a romantic relationship, many choosing to be bonded as well. Battles showing large circles of bonded men and women have not yet appeared, but promise to reveal the full glory and importance of male-female relationships, drawing on the power of creation to defeat the forces of the Shadow.
Every book in Act 1 ended with a battle in Tel’aran’rhiod. The last book should also end in Tel’aran’rhiod. Lanfear freed the Dark One and is especially knowledgeable about Tel’aran’rhiod. She was last seen begging to be saved from the Dark One, opening the door for her to fulfill her role and have her sins redeemed by the Dragon. The rules governing Tel’aran’rhiod have at last been explained, almost in full, allowing the final confrontation to take place there.
The last final message Rand leaves should fit the themes running throughout the story: man needs guidance but has to be trusted to stand and act on his own; choices and attitude dictate who you are, no one can impose identity on you; it is wrong to impose your will on someone else; standing for and against what you cherish most is worth dying for; no philosophy should be adhered to absolutely.
Following the earlier comparisons of the series to American History, this final act covers the modern era, when world-changing events demand absolute commitment to fighting the enemy, and a grudging realization that the cost of rigid adherence to winning battles may cost the war. The Wheel of Time’s characters find a different path, one that balances on a razor’s edge, one that questions the value of conflict and the identity of the enemy and proposes a different solution. Rand will face the very nature of evil, and learn that it is often within oneself.  
The Seanchan’s role as foreign invaders with a strange culture and vastly different treatment of some residents has its modern parallel. How can the heroes make peace with these aggressive people and get them to join the fight against the true enemy? The myth of the self-made man, the lone cowboy, is laid to rest and replaced with a multicultural community-minded set of values, wherein each person stands alone, in exactly the way they want, every difference laid bare and celebrated, and despite the differences is accepted and supported by the community.
Brandon Sanderson weaves the tale he took over with great skill, preserving the thematic elements and essence of the characters. His writing style is more direct than Robert Jordan’s, uses modern language, and short choppy chapter breaks which increase the pace of the story, and act as a structural version of the breakdown of the Pattern affecting the world. Like several of his characters, Robert Jordan had to delegate his life’s work to the next generation, living the very scenarios he wrote about, entrusting loved ones to carry on with his duty. Life didn’t imitate art so much as Jordan wrote about the essence of life and purpose of existence so well.
Writing Lessons:
Know your story’s message and themes.

Towers of Midnight - Summary

Towers of Midnight is the next to last book of the series, and sets up an epic character-driven confrontation before the Last Battle, bringing everyone tantalizingly close to working together. Almost every hero and heroine will be at Merrilor to stand for or against Rand’s plan to break the seals on the Dark One’s prison. The lead-up to this reunion pervades the book, driving several plots forward while the remaining sections allow characters to tidy up loose plot threads.
Perrin resolves rumours about his dalliance with Berelain, understands his nature as a Wolfbrother, defeats Slayer, and confronts his guilt over killing for the first time. Egwene beseeches Gawyn to obey her, yet finds treating him as a partner is the path that leads to his love, his bond, and saving the Tower. Elayne gains cannons, another throne, an army, and uncovers a plot to invade Andor. Mat dispatches the gholam, creates cannons, and enters the trickster realm of the Aelfinn and Eelfinn to rescue Moiraine, who still has a role to play. Lan grudgingly accepts help on his quest, then leads his people towards a final confrontation with the Shadow. Aviendha becomes a Wise One but learns of a fate far worse than death for her people unless they find new purpose. And Rand fears nothing, unperturbed by any events or threats, whether a circle of channelers or an army of Trollocs, for he can seemingly do anything.
All of the characters have now attained the summit of their power and influence in the world, ruling nations and people, just in time for the Last Battle. While the title Towers of Midnight refers to the Forsaken, they are squashed before the newfound might at the Heroes’ command.
Several aspects of the book echo events early in the series, particularly The Great Hunt, with Ingtar and Noal’s eerily similar self-sacrifice to save the heroes, Lanfear’s presence twisting at Rand’s heart, or Morgase returning to Caemlyn. Tel’aran’rhiod reappears with great importance, and both Perrin and Egwene learn how to use it to its fullest potential. The Seanchan prepare their boldest invasion yet. It stands to reason that the author put the key elements in the story early on, and as the end approaches those elements resurface.
The last remaining unfinished plot lines in Towers of Midnight will present some of the most insurmountable difficulties yet. Setting up the dire circumstances surrounding each of these was an important part of this book. The Black Tower stands impenetrable as Taim secures his stronghold, turning its inhabitants to his side one by one.  The Seanchan remain unwilling to bend until Rand serves them. The Malkieri charge to their doom, alone.
Many of the early books had a magic item that acted as the focus of the story. The Eye of the World, the Horn of Valere, Callandor. Later books got away from this, but a new ter’angreal is introduced here. The dreamspike is a powerful tool, and one of them remains in the hands of the villains.
Also reintroduced is Dark Prophecy, last seen staining the walls of a cell in Fal Dara, now promising the death of Perrin before Rand is defeated. There seems no reason why these dark prophecies would be any less accurate than Min’s viewings or Egwene’s dreams or Elaida’s Foretelling. With strong allies and more personal power than ever before, the Heroes are more ready than ever to face a challenge head-on, but those foreboding elements are a reminder that there will be a price to pay for victory.
Aviendha’s future visions once again make the dire outcome of the Heroes’ decisions personal, affecting their descendents personally, and tying their future to the chain of cultural duty and responsibility stretching three millennia into the past. No matter how epic in scope the story gets, the authors bring it back to a personal level.
Writing Lessons:
Obstacles must remain challenging, no matter how powerful the characters are.

Towers of Midnight - Chapters 54-57 and Epilogue

In this section, Mat saves Moiraine! And the final confrontations are set up.
Rustling and motion at the edge of their vision makes Mat, Thom and Noal jumpy. They find the slagged remains of one of the redstone doorways, leaving them only one other doorway or a bargain with the Eelfinn as possible escape routes. Mat compares himself to a cow behind led to the slaughter by captors who know and control all.
Eelfinn appear, urging them to set aside their iron and fire, vanishing into shadows if threatened, threatening Mat in turn. Dozens of them! Mat has his dice stolen, losing a tool to help them find their way. Attempts to hit the Eelfinn with weapons fail, unless they are iron. Music stops affecting the Eelfinn. The Eelfinn are swift and cunning, taunting Mat’s group, getting Thom to expend knives. The humans quickly find themselves overwhelmed, being toyed with by the Eelfinn.  
Mat uses a trick of his own, setting off a firework, then decides to run in a random direction, and commits to it, finding a hidden passage, which leads to a bargaining chamber where they find Moiraine.
Mat makes his bargain. Will Mat ever see life the same way again? Half the light that he’s given up represents the way he sees the world, and this sacrifice on his part means he’ll accept the rules society imposes on him, particularly Seanchan society. Sometimes. The Eelfinn frown during the only part that actually gives them a loophole to exploit, which is a clever way to keep the reader from noticing the loophole themselves. As though anyone could slow down and think during this frantic sequence! The loophole is quickly pointed out, forcing Mat to give up the quick and simple path to the exit which he bargained for. Only more cheating with fireworks buys the group enough time to make a hasty plan.
Noal will hold back the Aelfinn long enough for Mat to be able to reverse his path at the next chamber. Noal’s farewell speech mirrors Ingtar’s from long ago. Can you tell which parts are from which? These corridors are narrow. Good choke points. A man could stand there and only have to fight one or two at a time. He’d last maybe a few minutes. We knew this place would demand a price. One man could hold fifty here. One man holding fifty at a narrow passage.  There has to be a price. There is always a price. Perhaps I can pay it here. Neither Noal or Ingtar were who they seemed, they both redeem themselves, sacrificing their lives in a vain attempt to let their friends escape safely.
A bit if extra time allows Mat to make his way to the chamber where the redstone doorway should take him back to Tear, but it has been destroyed, reduced to rubble. Now there is only one exit left, far away and inaccessible. Mat is forced to play by the rules, and closely scrutinizing the rules and gifts from his previous visits, realizes that he holds a key to leaving.
Mat Cauthon wins again, but the last opponent he’ll face at the Last Battle has great luck of his own, and still holds a ter’angreal that twists luck in its favour.
Moiraine recounts her captivity, revealing that she got three wishes, as did Lanfear. Moiraine did not wish for freedom and since Moridin or Slayer came looking for her, it seems plausible that Lanfear did ask to be released or saved from their realm. Another wish may have been to speak to Rand, anticipating the Dark One’s punishments. Moiraine and Thom decide to wed, and bond, surprising Mat. Mat says he’ll never allow himself to be bonded, then is reminded that his wife can learn to channel. If he can adapt to some Seanchan cultural behaviour maybe she will adopt some from his land?
Rand has an immediate effect on the weather wherever he appears.
The Black Tower is still impervious to Gateways. Androl and Pevara find they are all too willing to take a chance on each other to escape the Black Tower.
Graendal is revealed as Asmodean’s killer when Shaidar Haran attributes three deaths to her actions. We would have argued lengthily over whether the third was Asmodean or Sammael, except that the Glossary states it outright. No matter how gloriously some readers chortle over this, the mystery is diminished by stating something as fact outside of the story that is a matter of conjecture inside it. The identity of Asmodean’s killer is not central to the story, but it was central to the early interactions with fans, and has taken on added importance because of it. The Wheel of Time may not be in the mystery genre, but I still expect the answer to an important mystery in the story, not in the dust jacket, appendix or index. Whenever the answer to some question was too sensitive to answer without giving away more than he wanted, Robert Jordan responded ‘RAFO: read and find out’, and a few more decades of RAFO is more respectful than closing the discussion this way. A simple insertion of it as fact in the story could have mitigated these feelings.  The obvious place to insert the fact in the story is between these two lines:
“Three Chosen, destroyed by your actions. The design builds, a lattice of failure, a framework of incompetence.”
Three? The Great Lord knew of her hand in killing both Asmodean and Aran’gar? Who was the third? Of course!
“I had nothing to do with Mesaana’s fall.”
A little bit of introspection on Graendal’s part could have easily made her role in the deaths more clear in the story, and still allowed the fact to be repeated in the Glossary. But, since the author can’t satisfy everyone, they might as well satisfy themselves and maintain a thick skin.
Perrin meets Boundless, who appears as a wolf in Tel’aran’rhiod, and learns that he is a wolf by choice, not from losing control. Perrin has been freed from all doubts about himself, just in time for the Last Battle.
Olver wins the game of Snakes and Foxes, which is a nice way to mirror the fact that Mat won, but may also be yet another sign that the regular rules governing the world are breaking down. Reminders of that were less intrusive in this book than in The Gathering Storm.
Olver opens Verin’s letter to Mat, revealing a plot to invade Caemlyn from within. Mat defied expectations once again by not acting as curious as Verin had hoped, and as a result Caemlyn is aflame.
Picking up exactly where the prologue ended, a merchant escapes the Trolloc hordes which have overrun Heeth Tower, but is then murdered by a trio of red-veiled Aiel with filed teeth.  Ending the section by calling them ‘something terrible’ veers slightly into omniscient narration.
Rand is sequestered in his dreams, pondering his meeting on the morrow, when something perturbs the dream. Only the Mistress of Tel’aran’rhiod could have done this, and she is revealed as a desperate woman, regretful and pleading for release from the Dark One’s torments. This development disturbs Rand in a way that nothing else does, bringing up conflicting emotions. It was this section that provoked me to consider that Rand’s role is to break all bonds and save all humanity, even the Forsaken. Casting Lanfear as Pandora or Eve means she can be redeemed at the Last Battle. There is no doubt that she is truthful here, and used a narrow window of opportunity to attract Rand’s attention, only to be discovered almost immediately.
Lan prepares to make a fateful charge into Tarwin’s Gap, certain to be overwhelmed. Help never came to Malkier, or Manetheren, and only just in time for Maradon. Will Lan and the Malkieri fall alone?
The dark prophecy which Graendal read is presented, and confirms that the Towers of Midnight from Egwene’s dream are the Forsaken. And that they will kill Perrin. Then the Dark One will kill Rand.
Writing Lessons:
An author can’t please every reader. Write your story the way you want, with passion, and readers will respond.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Towers of Midnight - Chapters 51-53

In this section, Mat learns the rules while other heroes unite nations.
Brandon Sanderson doesn’t mind using a modern term if it succinctly conveys the imagery he wants. Quite possibly the only in-world characters who would use the word ‘research’ are Brown Ajah, since the very concept of research for its own sake hardly exists. A quick check reveals only Siuan and Graendal ever used the word before Brandon took the reins, and Verin and Forsaken account for most of the uses of the word in these two most recent books. So when Min talks about ‘her research’, it stands out a bit, but it still conveys intelligence, certitude, and competence. Simply talking about her research, especially after continual reminders through half the series that she has taken up this task, implies that when Min tells readers what she has found, it will be factual and trustworthy.
Rand has tried to travel to the Black Tower, but the second dreamspike has prevented him from doing it. Perrin or Egwene are the best suited to help him assault it and depose Mazrim Taim, since one of them would have to use Tel’aran’rhiod to destroy it. What kind of defenses could Moridin have placed in Tel’aran’rhiod to stop them? Before Elaida’s Foretelling about the Black Tower’s fall can take place and it is rent in fire and blood, there has to be some way for the remaining Aes Sedai to Travel there. It would be ironic if Elaida, or Suffa as she is now called, led the Seanchan portion of an assault on the Black Tower, assuming they can see eye to eye with the other nations.
The Borderlanders relied on a Foretelling of their own, one that predicted that Rand would have all of Lews Therin’s memories, and if he did not, then he was to be killed. Rand names this reckless and foolhardy, but it implies that in all the delicate weaving of the Pattern, the only path to victory for the Light is once Rand has integrated Lews Therin’s life into his own. If he had not yet done so, perhaps his death would cause the needed integration, though the matter of his resurrection would then likely be more difficult, since it too is a delicate affair relying on certain other events. The Borderlander prophecy is a failsafe, allowing the Pattern an extra more farfetched chance to set up events as needed.
Rand unites the Borderlanders behind him, thanks to Lews Therin’s memories, while Elayne gains the throne of Cairhien thanks to her ancestry and deft political maneuvers.
Two fantastic comparisons make use of other characters to not only make the comparison but provide humour and describe other parts of the world.
People knew about his scar, but there was no need to show it off like one of Luca’s bloody wagons.
Her dress was after the Ebou Dar style, with the side pinned up to reveal petticoats colorful enough to scare away a Tinker.
In the Black Tower, Pevara learns that Tarna has been turned to Taim’s side. Pevara is not yet sure, but readers feel confident this is as a result of being forcefully turned to the shadow by a circle of channelers and Myrddraal. The result is that Tarna speaks and moves normally, but her smile is all wrong, the only visible sign of being coerced to serve the Dark One. I recall that Javindhra is Black Ajah, which would be obvious in any case since both she and Tarna now share the same opinions.
Perrin reveals he will side with Rand, which unnerves Faile. But his men, now humbly apologetic about the rumours they started, will follow him anywhere, unquestioning.
Mat’s discussion of boots with Setalle Anan fits much better on a reread than when I first read it. It is the author’s humour about metaphor which throws it off, because it feels like Anan’s comments on the topic are for the reader, not Mat. Mat still makes his point, it’s not about anything but boots. Mat is simple and straightforward, and saves his best for himself, setting his own rules. The rules and expectations around nobles, Aes Sedai, and lords make it too hard to know how to behave properly and certainly prevent one from acting the way they want to. The intent of the discussion is to show Mat’s attitude towards rules just before he enters a realm where the rules make no sense, and are as anarchic to him as he is to the people around him.
Another fantastic description sets the mood before entering the Tower: A trickling, musical stream gurgled behind them.  ‘Trickling’ sounds like tricking, the musical quality speaks to the rules inside the Tower, and of course the stream is not before them or beside them, but behind them, the best place to do trickery without being seen.  
The always necessary foreshadowing has Mat remembering what he will need to remember, just not quite in the right way yet: The Eelfinn had given him the weapon. Well if they dared stand between him and Moiraine, then they would see what he could do with their gift. By providing a particular context, it is less likely the reader will think of a second context until the author reveals it dramatically later. Any hint of an incomplete thought here might leave such an opening. A second later example: “Mat had asked for a way out. They had given it to him, but he could not remember what it was. Everything had gone black, and he had awakened hanging from the ashandarei.”
Mat discovers that even in this chaotic realm, there are rules. Openings can be made to enter the tower, but there’s a trick regarding their size. The openings work in both directions, but they close once you exit the Tower. For each surprise, Mat and his companions logically think their way through, seeming capable of overcoming the obstacles placed in their path. The reader is lulled into a sense of confidence and short-lived complacency.
Despite the surroundings looking different than in past visits, Mat proceeds down two passages before doubling back to check that the map is accurate. It is not, so Mat relies on his luck to set their path. Doubling back established that reversing direction doesn’t take you where you came from, so Mat’s continued doubling back has a proven basis for working before the author shows its success.
An Eelfinn appears and tries to charm them, but is put to sleep by Thom’s song and Mat’s singing. So far, Mat thinks he has the rules all figured out.
Writing Lessons:
Foreshadow your dramatic revelation by discussing the relevant clues in a complete context so that the reader’s mind doesn’t wander down the paths you want to keep it away from.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Towers of Midnight - Chapters 46-50

In this section, a glimpse of the future is given.
Faile participates in negotiations with Perrin and Elayne over the fate of the Two Rivers. Elayne cannot enforce her writ, so she avoids being a tyrant or a fool and creates bonds to tie the fledgling nation of the Two Rivers to Andor. Elayne soon does the same with the Cairhienin, binding their fates together with an exchange of lands and nobles.
Fortuona questions Elaida, and the Seanchan gain Traveling. Ominously, she decides to use this tool to subjugate the remaining Aes Sedai in an attempt to get Rand to serve her as prophesied.
Mat explains his quest to Perrin.
Aviendha goes through the glass columns in Rhuidean, in another fan-favourite scene. I’ll contrast this scene with the similar scene in Chapters 24-25 of The Shadow Rising, when Rand originally went through the glass columns to learn the history of the Aiel.
The glass columns scene in The Shadow Rising sets expectations for Aviendha’s visit. It isn’t possible to surprise readers with the mystery of Rhuidean, or the Tree of Life, or the visions because they are already all well known. The fog has lifted from Rhuidean, and there are no more mysteries. The author wisely decides to skip over what is known and expected, instead leaving Aviendha questioning “is that all there is?” Rhuidean is mundane now, just like the decisions which led the Aiel to pick up spears and fight.
Restoring a bit of mystery, Aviendha wonders about whether the columns have more capabilities that only what use they have been put to in Rhuidean. The mundane is made extraordinary again, and the weighty purpose of the columns is hinted at, but kept shrouded.
Aviendha’s first vision builds on prior knowledge of how she experiences the lives of the people seen in the columns.  Unlike with Rand’s earlier visit, there is no crafting of links between Malidra and Aviendha, no emphasis on how these two are really one. This first vision contains several links to the present and the familiar, referring to the Waste, Aiel, and a railroad which brings the steamwagons to mind. The mystery is about why Aiel are living like scavengers and why is Aviendha seeing life through the eyes of a random Aiel girl? The revelation is not only the details in the vision, but the fact that this vision exists at all. A need is established immediately, but it is mundane, a quest for food, instead of the character oriented need of Mandein in Rand’s visions. There is no firm historical link between Aviendha and Malidra yet, largely because Malidra has no character or identity, she is simply a scavenger looking for food.
As with Rand’s visions, each subsequent vision establishes more detail, eventually revealing that the visions are linked along Aviendha’s, and Rand’s future bloodline, containing links to each other, and to the current day. Whereas Rand’s visions began as known to be his personal and cultural history, of which he was then learning the details, Aviendha’s reverse this by showing the details and then establishing that this is her personal and cultural legacy.
Rand’s visions used parental relationships to convey the passing down of cultural responsibility from one generation to the next, giving great weight to the losses suffered by each of the lives he lived, and great importance to the sacrifices. Aviendha’s visions are bereft of such attachment to identity of the next generation, as shown with the casual indifference to the loss of children. In each of Aviendha’s visions, the women try to maintain the culture of the Aiel, at the cost of the people, overlooking that sacrifices are made for family, not only for the sake of sacrificing itself.
The lives of the women take on personal importance to Aviendha. Each of their failures is hers, and Rand’s. While so much of the history of this world has built towards the day when Rand faced the Dark One, until recently there was little attention to what happens after the Last Battle. Rand is not the end point of the cross-generational burden, he is a link in a chain which extends as far into the future as into the past.
Once again, the reverse chronological order the visions are presented in is effective in drawing the reader in, and the revelation puts the emphasis back on Rand and Aviendha to correct mistakes.
How can Aviendha find a new identity for the Aiel and overcome the Seanchan menace, or even craft an alliance with them that outlasts the Last Battle? One possibility is the Aiel clan chiefs and Wise Ones singing the lost Tinker Song, since they all learned it in the glass columns. The song is an act of creation, and can overcome the blight afflicting the crops of the world. Such a life offers an honourable and productive alternative to clan warfare. The Aiel once sealed a promise with a sapling of the Tree of Life, and they could do so again with the Seanchan, even offering them Avendesora itself. What good could come of Seanchan nobles walking through the glass columns, seeing the mistakes and errors of their ancestors? With this insight, the Seanchan and Aiel should be able to avoid some of the decisions Aviendha saw in the glass columns.
Writing Lessons:
Withholding context while establishing links to other parts of the story creates effective mystery.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Towers of Midnight - Chapters 44-46

In this section, characters reunite!
With the Last Battle impending, and no other identity to resume, Morgase finally allows herself to love Tallanvor and gets married. Didn’t take much.
Mat has a badger for Perrin. There is no build-up toward this reunion, as is appropriate for Mat where everything must be unanticipated. The author cleverly uses the word children just before revealing Mat’s presence, which is as good as saying someone immature is behind the acorn tossing.
Elayne discusses the politics of Cairhien with Dyelin, fresh back from a scouting expedition. It’s confusing that on the one hand I don’t want to go through yet another political plotline with gaggles of nobles angling for the throne, yet I also find it disconcerting how Elayne dictates the simplicity with which she’ll take the throne, moving Mat’s band where it needs to go, and using her new cannons.
Galad enters and reveals Morgase. Mother and daughter happily reunite. Any awkwardness in the dialogue is excused by drawing attention to it through Birgitte’s comment: “It’s good to see you two acting like mother and child, or at least woman and woman, rather than staring at each other like two posts.” Attention is drawn to the next conflict, resolving Perrin’s rebellion in the Two Rivers.
Aviendha contemplates Rhuidean, the future of the Aiel, and both her and her people’s relationship with Rand. The offhand way in which she reflects on Nakomi’s words before reaching the exact same conclusions on her own reinforces that Nakomi was no one special, just a scene added to make Aviendha’s reflections on these matters seem more believable to readers.
Since the end of Knife of Dreams, there has been no sight of Mazrim Taim or the Black Tower. Even Logain made only a short appearance. The point of view showing readers the current state of affairs belongs to Androl, the weakest of the Dedicated, remarkable only for his talent with Gateways. Immediately, it is assumed Androl will play the role of kingmaker, predictably demonstrating that men can make a difference in many ways, even when they appear weak. Despite being a regular and standard plot device to evoke sympathy, it rarely fails, because the character is usually wise on some way. Androl is perceptive, and recognizes the value of waiting for the right time before taking action. Cementing sympathy is often done by showing the character being bullied, which in this case also illustrates that the head bully is so highly ranked, all the bullying is delegated to his acolytes. Any one who joins Taim’s faction gets promoted above those he left, while those who won’t join, languish.
None of Taim’s acolytes have Aes Sedai bonded, which is unsurprising when you consider that men and women working with the One Power together is even more fulfilling than using either half on its own. Bonding is deep and profound sharing, and has been suggested as a key element of how Rand can defeat the Dark One, while strife between the sexes has always been a goal of the Dark One.
Androl’s visions of shadows creeping toward him remind readers that the male channelers who began their training before the cleansing of saidin are still afflicted with madness. This is representative of all who have trained at the Black Tower under Taim, and lingering madness and distrust can still undermine the fragile alliances being built. Building an alliance with Taim’s men looks next to impossible, even if Taim were to be removed.
Writing Lessons:
Draw attention to a weakness in the story to make it appear intentional.

Towers of Midnight - Chapters 39-43

In this section, peculiar characters take center stage and banners are raised.
Aviendha’s appearance in Chapter 39 is awkward because it is only the third time her name has been mentioned in this book. Long time readers will of course know who Aviendha is, yet it is odd to leap into her quest without even a reminder that she had been sent on it. Only a few short chapters ago, the Wise Ones were speaking with Egwene, which offered an excellent set-up for her to learn her friend was making her second trip to Rhuidean.
Aviendha doesn’t tell anyone that she has traveled some distance from Rhuidean so that she can run the last stretch to get there. She meets an Aiel woman named Nakomi, who bizarrely appears as though from nowhere and vanishes just as mysteriously, after leaving Aviendha with some troubling thoughts to ponder. The manner of her abrupt departure despite Aviendha’s keen senses and tracking vaguely implies a greater purpose to her appearance, rather than a random encounter. Aviendha doesn’t dwell on her words much later, so the reader is left to wonder whether this was a dream, a time-disjointing hallucination brought on by burning brush, a visit from a more knowledgeable person such as another Wise One, a Forsaken, an Aes Sedai, or a future Aviendha, or worst of all, a divine intervention. I cross my fingers for random encounter, because Aviendha could have had these thoughts on her own with no need for mysterious old women.  
Perrin forges a hammer, and becomes powerfully linked to Norse myth. He also decides to be a leader of men, and raises his flag. He realizes the truth of one of his dreams, and decides to save the Children of the Light, for he thinks they are still in danger from the trap laid for him.
Berelain and Faile discuss Perrin’s identity, and later Alliandre reflects on it as well. Perrin is not calculating and does not do what is advantageous, he does what he feels is right. This is what led him to defend the Children of the Light instead of attacking them. Faile was right about him, and Berelain was wrong, and one last time, I can’t help but see that even when these women are honest with each other, they are not honest with each other. Faile’s and Berelain’s feud ends as agreed, with Faile using her own political acumen to give Berelain some help in reeling in her new man and free Perrin from her clutches for good. It wouldn’t have happened any differently if Perrin had slept with Berelain to gain her help in freeing Faile.
Why show Alliandre’s perspective at all, given that we’ve never been shown it up until now? One hint may be the silk shirt that she salvages from the pile of garments being rent for bandages. Cutting clothes up for bandages is a metaphor for tearing up something good like a marriage, but when Alliandre rescues the shirt that she intends to make a sash out of, it represents that even troubled relationships may sometimes be saved, and something worthwhile made out of them. Alliandre’s point of view is the only one from an outsider which comments on Faile and Perrin’s relationship, effectively reaffirming that they are the ones best able to decide whether to pursue or end it, and their opinions of each other outweigh any other truths.
Elyas leaves to join the wolves. For Perrin to lead wolves effectively, he’ll have to be in Tel’aran’rhiod, leaving Elyas to lead the wolves of the waking world, if they congregate rather than spread out.
Gawyn gets the Bloodknives’ rings, an ominous development that leaves readers wondering whether he’ll put them on, knowing the cost.
Lan raises his banner to lead his people, just as Perrin did. Lan’s reluctant rise to leadership was much shorter than Perrin’s, but conveyed quite effectively. Lan cannot change his character, part of which is his horse, which is what causes him to be recognized at last.  
Writing Lessons:
Remind readers of what characters are doing if they’ve been off-screen for too long.