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.