Sunday, 31 March 2013

A Memory of Light - Chapters 7-9

In this section, the long war begins.
The ink is hardly dry on the Dragon’s Peace before planning for the conflict begins. Splitting the conflict onto three immediate fronts in Andor, Shienar and Kandor allows the author to showcase more characters playing roles and to balance momentum, so that even if one battle front goes well for the heroes, other dire situations maintain tension. If there is a downside, it is that with so many plotlines to juggle, some may get only short attention, if they show up at all, and if they play off each other, the complexity of the plotting increases. This intricacy, and the time needed for the author to handle it, is one of the reasons that The Wheel of Time came to feel bogged down. Much of what the author needs to establish now is the setting and placement of characters in each locale.
One of the four great captains is assigned to each of the battle fronts. Merrilor is maintained as Elayne’s central command location, a seemingly trivial decision that will dictate the setting of the Last Battle. A countdown for two locations will run out if a victory is not achieved in Andor quickly. Loial sticks his head in the story long enough to announce the Ogier will fight alongside the humans. The Horn of Valere is entrusted to Faile, who originally left home hunting for it. Lan sets the tone for the coming battle: no sadness, no mourning, only pride that when the time of their testing came, and victory all but impossible, the soldiers were ready, and did their duty, even unto death. Most importantly, the men of many nations fight together, as they never have since the Age of Legends.
The events beginning the conflict have an air of finality. Elayne torches her home city, and reveals the father of her children, admitting there can be no safety for them since she herself is a target. Evin is turned to the Shadow with little fuss, and it seems inevitable that Androl will receive no outside help. Bulen and other Borderlanders give their lives for small, but meaningful causes in their battle. Their sacrifices buy time, but Agelmar tells Lan that even so, they will eventually retreat and give up the land their comrades paid for in blood. Each painful decision is made in the name of duty, necessary evils meant to improve their marginal chances against the Trollocs. Lan grudgingly realizes he will abandon his lost home of Malkier yet again, because duty to his fellow men compels this grim course of action.
Through the preparations, the author maintains each character’s personality, highlighting the unique way in which they think instead of committing solely to plot-based descriptions. Elayne held out for the most advantage when the Dragon’s Peace was signed, and now Egwene can’t help but lament that all of the choices arrayed before her undermine her authority, regarding Elayne’s place at the head of the armies: Refusing her would set a bad precedent. As would obeying her.
Egwene also keeps up her intense hatred of the Seanchan, despite that humanity needs the two forces to be allies. Egwene embraces the use of the name Leilwin for the hated Seanchan woman Egeanin, happy to remind her that she is less than nothing in Egwene’s eyes.
Despite the overwhelming military aspects of the story, small introspective moments point to the possibility that some non-violent means may give the key to victory. Lan prefers to use Aes Sedai as useful tools rather than weapons, and Rand considers grand philosophical questions as he evaluates his chances for success. Was the flame alive? It ate, it moved on its own. You could smother it, so in a way it breathed. What was it to be alive? Could an idea live? A world without the Dark One. A world without evil. There have been clues in earlier books as well, notably Verin’s assertion that the Last Battle would not be fought in the way that Rand imagined. Little reminders such as this one will keep the reader from being distraught if the greatest battle of all time isn’t resolved through battle.
Elayne and Rand share a last night together, exchanging gifts and revealing their deepest feelings and secrets. Elayne represents Rand’s present, while Aviendha and Min were his past and future. Elayne embodies Andor, especially now that Caemlyn is burned. Andor itself represents a set of morals and ideals that Rand was raised with, given to him by Tam. Through these ideals, Elayne represents what is best in Rand, the core of his being, his shining heart, like the gleaming city on the hill, the oldest and most respected of the Nations to rise after Hawkwing’s empire shattered. Elayne is all that is good, and when Rand tells her who he is now, her reaction is acceptance and love, unlike anyone else’s.  
Writing Lessons:
Keep your characters in character, no matter what exciting events are taking place.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

A Memory of Light - Chapters 5-6

In this section, Long-anticipated and hoped-for happy things happen.
With the Last Battle slated to bring mankind to the brink of extinction, the author knows that some upbeat moments are needed to balance out these dire events, or the reader may grow weary. There are several reminders that this is the last quiet time the heroes expect to have, such as Rand’s shower with Aviendha. In the morning, she asks him for a future favour and he agrees to hear it when the time comes.
Rand reveals more of his peaceful weaves as he erects a pavilion with the Power while grass flourishes beneath his feet. Despite that he can wield great destructive power, in these scenes Rand shows off the value of utilitarian weaves which impress as much or more than any aggressive weave might. As much as the assembled people might wish for weaves that can save them, Rand inspires more hope simply by making grass grow.
News from Caemlyn is handled perfunctorily. Egwene and Elayne cannot afford to let it affect their decision-making, yet the summary discussion of the city’s demise gives a feeling that the author needs to simply drive the plot forward, explain the strategy quickly, and not belabour the point. This feeling will arise often throughout the book, but given the length of the conflict, it may be just as well to have events recited rather than seen, even if it goes against one of the cardinal rules of show, don’t tell.
The Sea Folk make what might as well be their final appearance, without even one of them named. The Sea Folk played an important role in earlier books, if irritating to many readers, being one of the first groups which the heroes had to accept rather than overcome or bring under their wings. This proved to be a key theme of the series, that of acceptance of others, despite vast gulfs between the cultures that separate them. The Seanchan would later drive that point home even more forcefully, remaining a final obstacle to the Dragon’s Peace when the meeting at Merrilor concludes.
Entire chapters of past books were dedicated to preparations for meetings such as this one, so things feel rushed when six pages after showing up on the field, the meeting begins. Illian and Tear are used as proxies for all the rest, yet the threat of Nations coming to blows feels minimal. Egwene correctly sees that no one will move until the true conflict between Amyrlin and Dragon is resolved.
Rand himself had suspicions of Demandred masquerading as Roedran, given his late decision to show up, and wonders where he is hiding, a blunt reminder that the secretive Forsaken may play a major role in the Last Battle.
Rand makes his three demands, setting off frantic discussions amongst the world’s leaders. Despite his attempts to eradicate war, flaws are shown which undermine his objectives and make his treaty untenable. The old friendship between Rand and Egwene ought to stave off a stalemate, yet even their trust of each other has been damaged. “I’ve known the White Tower’s guidance, Egwene. In a box, beaten each day.”
Consensus is as far away as it has ever been, Rand’s plan seems destined to fail, Egwene has resorted to hurling insults at him as when they were young, the Dragon’s peace offends the pride of every nation, and Rand can’t even get his closest allies to agree.
Into this, pulling Rand back from the edge of the precipice, comes Moiraine.
She has a knack, as she says, for showing up at the right place just in time. Years of traveling the world in search of Rand have allowed her to forge lasting bonds with Borderlander rulers. Her cousin is betrothed to Darlin, and she is aunt to the leader of the Children of the Light. She brought the current Amyrlin Egwene to Tar Valon, bonded the uncrowned king of Malkier, and was in line to a throne herself. Moiraine is as well connected as anyone in this story could be, and she alone can bring order where this group dissents.
Quoting the Prophecies of the Dragon, the Karaethon cycle, Moiraine directs gentle barbs at each of the attendees, reminding them what will happen, not what must happen. She presents the prophecies as a done deal, beyond negotiation or appeal, they are simply fact.
Once she has quelled the group, and they are willing to listen again, she steps to the sidelines as others begin serious discussion of flaws and possible solutions. Rand must get the Seanchan to sign, or it is all void. Possibility of disputes is solved when Aviendha insists on including the Aiel, who are assigned the role of protectors of the peace.
Rand’s other conditions are then addressed. He easily agrees to let someone else command the forces of the Light, so long as there is agreement. When Egwene’s name is put forth, talk returns to breaking the seals, and Moiraine easily sways Rand’s position, so long as she signs. With her major complaint addressed, Egwene concedes, leading a flurry of other nations to do the same.
Of all those who should follow the Amyrlin’s lead, longtime friend and lower-ranking Aes Sedai Elayne should be amongst the first, yet she holds out until the very end, petulant as ever. Though it annoys her many detractors, Elayne behaves as one trained by Merrilin and Morgase, exacting the greatest price for her aid, perhaps making subtle use of her rumoured love with Rand to position herself above all other rulers.
The emotional high note comes as a result of them all setting aside their differences to work together. Unified, Rand sets them a first task, one they eagerly accept. Lan’s army fights alone, in a war that cannot be won, an extension of his own personal war. They haven’t been seen since marching into Tarwin’s Gap at the end of the last book. Having attached themselves to Lan, they now face the same fate he always foresaw for himself. Within the hour, they will be overrun and killed, and Lan leads a final charge, hoping to deny the Trolloc hordes until his last breath. Unlike the fall of Malkier, when nations and Aes Sedai failed to come to Malkier’s aid for selfish or political reasons, this time those reasons have been set aside in favour of a more important need, to stand together. Lan’s charge gave the world another chance to do things right, and they do so in force. Even Lan can’t help himself: He didn’t just smile, he laughed… “Malkier lives on this day!

I had previously identified that Nynaeve plays the role of Rand’s conscience, which begs the question of what Moiraine’s role is. Moiraine represents Rand’s sense of duty. It is a duty to protect his fellow townsfolk that leads him to set off into the world, following Moiraine. It is Moiraine who continually tried to push Rand towards what he must do, just as she does to the participants at this meeting, though much more gently.  Rand rejects Moiraine and his duty when he sets off into the Aiel Waste. Moiraine is being dutiful when she destroys Lanfear, doing what Rand cannot bring himself to do. And now at last, it is no coincidence that her reappearance immediately leads to fulfillment of the duty to Lan, her former warder, providing uplifting closure to the woeful tale of Malkier.
Writing Lessons:
For an event to be uplifting, it must have personal meaning to the characters and readers.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

A Memory of Light - Chapters 1-4

In this section, Rand returns as a point of view character while dire events transpire at the Black Tower.

The familiar opening shows a world failing, withering, dying, awaiting the end. Rand’s appearance disrupts that imagery with happiness: Laughter broke the air.

While Moridin’s forces feel assured of victory, Rand is more hesitant, concocting a plan he isn’t sure can work, revealing that he wishes to kill the Dark One himself. The key element of the plan involves breaking the seals on the Dark One’s prison, which drives a wedge between him and Egwene. Egwene has a clue left by a Dreamer, a well known and oft studied clue: Wait upon the Light.

Rand pays attention to Roedran, inciting the reader to do the same, yet it seems unlikely or undesirable to the reader that such a minor character can suddenly play a meaningful role. It turns out that this is a feint; Roedran is being mildly played up to attract attention while keeping the reader guessing about Demandred’s whereabouts a little while longer.

Rand correctly surmises the Shadow wants to prevent the heroes from unifying, and the bold attack on Caemlyn threatens to do just that. More importantly to the story, Caemlyn is the central city, the gleaming jewel on the hill, the heart of the civilization that emerged after Hawkwing’s death. Its fall symbolizes the last cutting of ties to the old, the end of all that was good. It symbolizes that all the people of the world have left is each other now, even though most of their nations and cities still stand.

Talmanes’ overly heroic death is averted by Nynaeve’s healing.  This doesn’t sit well, as it indicates an unwillingness to let even a secondary character die, and cheapens the stakes. On a reread, it may instead have been intended to deliberately mislead, so that when well-established heroes die later, it will be even more shocking. If an author goes to such great lengths to keep this character alive, a payoff is expected. Does Talmanes have a critical role to play which no one else can do? Is there some clue in the way he embraced death which he can teach a main hero? Or is this just one of many death and resurrection parallels throughout the story?

Perrin and Elayne urge Rand and Egwene to talk, not argue, when they meet on the morrow.

At the Black Tower, Androl commits to a course of action, abducting and questioning one of Taim’s men. While the characters at Merrilor debate what to do and talk about events at a distance, it is Androl’s sections which provide the excitement. No matter that Androl is a new character and Pevara is a Red Sister, and that readers generally identify with Rand and Egwene closely, having followed their adventures for thirteen books. All it takes is a lack of action on their part to thrust Androl’s plotline to the forefront. It helps that readers are mildly unsure whether Androl’s events take place precisely on the eve of the meeting at Merrilor, and that they expect Taim’s men to play some role in disrupting those proceedings. Readers expect that the Black Tower storyline will play directly into events surrounding Rand. The fact that this turns out to be false doesn’t lessen the excitement immediately felt as Androl’s plan comes apart and he and his followers are overwhelmed as they rescue Logain. Logain’s own role and foretold destiny also help lift this plotline above the main storyline.

Aviendha comes to Rand, and for the last time he makes a halfhearted attempt to try spare a woman any pain. As always, the woman points out that she is truly an equal, and must therefore be allowed to choose on her own what pain and risks she will accept. Rand finally accepts this, and immediately reaps the rewards.

The dreamshard scene reminds readers that Moridin and Rand are linked somehow. The possibility that many of their early interactions took place in a dreamshard is raised, and offers an explanation for many small mysteries from the early books.

However brief the Moridin-Rand scene is, it contains emotive power in the cool verbal parrying between them. In just four pages it covers Lanfear’s relationship with Lews Therin, Moridin’s self-loathing, Rand’s desire to protect his loved ones, dreamshard physics, discussions on fate and destiny, Rand’s ultimate plan revealed to his enemies, and a surprise ability that sends Moridin scurrying. Any interaction between the principal hero and antagonist is bound to excite the reader, and this short section hits with everything it can. Hammering at the raw nerves of either character and addressing their worst fears is wonderfully effective here.

On the back of the hope raised by Rand’s small victory over Moridin, everything runs smoothly for Androl up until the last second, when hope is dashed. This too is a great example of stringing disparate sections together based on the mood the author wants to convey. Rand’s victory leads to Androl’s early success which reinforces expectation of Androl’s ongoing success, right up to the last second.

Writing Lessons:

Readers will perceive importance with the things the author treats with importance.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

A Memory of Light - Prologue

Sorry for the lengthy wait, life struck and added to the time I needed to digest A Memory of Light.
In this section, new point of view characters foil readers’ expectations.
Oddly, Bayrd the Andoran soldier is introduced as a new character. It’s odd because there are already a multitude of other characters in which readers are already emotionally invested. Why introduce him at all? In this case, Bayrd’s story ties up a few loose ends, telling what happened to one of Elayne’s enemies and showing that across the world, ordinary men recognize the signs of Tarmon Gai’don and decide to join with whatever army they can find so they can march against the Dark One. Bayrd and his companions stand in for all the other people which the author can’t afford to show. It’s still meager benefit against the risk of displeasing the reader, but the other possible reasons for including are misleading. Weapons failing? Rejecting immoral authority figures? The act of creating as a ward against the Dark One? The lack of other good explanations for this section gives each of these possible other explanations added weight, whether it is intended or not.
Talmanes appears between every other scene in the prologue, leading a desperate defense of Caemlyn. The alternating structure of the prologue increases the sense of urgency over what a straightforward telling would have done. This structure is highly atypical of most Wheel of Time books, which would normally avoid interruptions in the midst of an action sequence, except to show other players within that same action sequence. It is however common in other fantasy stories, serving to delay resolution and increase the reader’s curiosity and emotional involvement. The difficulty here is that Talmanes is a secondary character, and spends a great deal of time searching for cannons, two things which reduce a reader’s engagement. The author wisely first portrayed Talmanes’ actions in saving the citizens of Caemlyn, forging an emotional bond with Talmanes before sending him off to save the new weapons, which so far offer more hope than proof of effectiveness.
Isam offers a peek inside his grim upbringing in the Town, a way station in the shadow of Shayol Ghul itself. The initial description represents Isam’s life: “The building would have been called an inn elsewhere, though Isam had never seen anyone inside except for the dull-eyed women who tended the few drab rooms and prepared tasteless meals. Visits here were never for comfort. He sat on a hard stool at a pine table so worn with age, it had likely grayed long before Isam’s birth. He refrained from touching the surface overly much, lest he come away with more splinters than an Aiel had spears.” Women, food, and simple furniture all fail to live up to the most meager of expectations. What isn’t bland is likely to hurt him. It’s all symbolic of life under the Dark One, and the reader can’t help but feel a twinge of pity for Isam, or hope that there is something of him to be salvaged. These feelings come from the way Isam stands in contrast to his surroundings. Longtime readers know Isam is nasty, but as presented here he becomes rather sympathetic in comparison to the red-veiled Aiel called Samma N’Sei, or the Forsaken who use and discard him. Coming so soon after Lanfear’s appeal for help at the end of the last book, there is reason to wonder whether Isam, or Luc, has any interest in ending his service to the Shadow. Once again, such an assumption will prove to be misleading.
Clues reveal these Samma N’Sei are Aiel men who can channel, but have been captured and turned to serve the Shadow. This secret army of channelers made a surprise appearance at the end of Towers of Midnight, stacking the odds against the heroes, who don’t yet know they exist. Having successfully avoided revealing the existence of these evil channelers throughout the entire series, readers expect a big payoff when they enter the fray. Readers may dread the outcome for their heroes, they may resent their sudden appearance, but they will expect big things from the Samma N’Sei.
Leilwin approaches Nynaeve to offer help, but finds her past mistakes impede her chances of having her offer accepted.
Aviendha returns from Rhuidean, and realizes this is the last possible night for her to be with Rand.
Androl and Pevara act out the same tale that recurs throughout the series; that of deciding whether to trust someone who is very different from yourself. A quick exchange of background stories aims to make the reader care about these men but it is Androl’s drive which creates the greatest interest. The overwhelming sense of danger built up over the last several books outweighs all other considerations though, and now a countdown element is added as Androl’s group suspects their time is dwindling. Allies turn to Taim’s side overnight. Androl is weak, his Talent useless. Yet more than Bayrd or Talmanes, readers want to see him rise up and succeed. Connecting Androl’s personal desires to the Black Tower’s fate, which is already foremost in readers’ minds, allows them to care deeply about him despite his sudden appearance at the end of the series.  
Moghedien learns that Taim has joined the ranks of the Chosen. Her perspective also allows readers to learn about Sindhol, Dreamshards, Demandred’s whereabouts, Graendal’s fate, and other tempting morsels of Moridin’s plan. Disappointingly, Taim and Demandred appear together, at the same time, seeming to drive the final nail in the magnificent theory that Demandred is Taim. But if Kari al’Thor can be a dreamshard fabrication, why not one of these two? HA! I’ll never yield!
Moridin’s last command is chilling, setting the stage for the Last Battle: “The last days are upon us. In these hours, you will earn your final rewards. If you have grudges, put them behind you. If you have plots, bring them to completion. Make your final plays, for this… this is the end.”
Those words rev me up every time I read them! AAAAAAAAA!!!!

Writing Lessons:
Make a character appear sympathetic by showing them in contrast to something worse.