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