In this section, the quest, the Great Hunt, gets underway.
With no friends speaking to Rand, his mentors gone in a different direction, and his love interest perhaps never to be seen again, the stakes seem particularly high for Rand as he undertakes this quest. The dual quests, one for friendship, the other for glory, will be undertaken together, even as success in one may oppose the other. I particularly like the way these two motives leave Rand no choice but to chase after the villains, it is a powerful setup, a classic heroic quest.
Little clues indicate that retrieving the Horn is the greater of the quests. The description of humankind’s fate to be swept away by darkness without something to rally around provides a deeper understanding of the fractures between the nations of men, and gives a strong rationale for Ingtar’s drive and insistence.
Mat realizes Rand is not as stuck up as believed, and is determined to help heal him. Despite Rand’s apparent benevolence, Perrin and Mat give Rand similar advice: run away. Perrin adds, maybe he should also consider what to do if he can’t run. Rand’s options for running get fewer as Moiraine sneaks the Dragon Banner in his saddlebags and contrives for Rand to earn some leadership experience to prepare him for becoming king of Illian.
Moiraine, Fain, and Lanfear all seek to herd Rand in the direction they want. If Moiraine and Fain have the most control as the Hunt begins, Lanfear soon finds a way to get Rand on his own to offer him her own incentives. She spends some time tracking the party, and weaves a small trap to test Rand’s ability to channel saidin. Merely touching saidin is enough to break free.
Unlike the previous book, where Rand was unable to form the void properly, Lan’s training helps him perfect the ability, an ability that will help him touch saidin more easily. The Amyrlin showed some alarm about the void, or the Oneness, as the Gaidin call this common focusing technique, perhaps because she understood it might facilitate his channeling. The void has an added benefit: it masks Rand from Fain’s senses. Nothing else Rand was doing can explain his vanishing from the bloodhound senses Ba’alzamon bestowed on him. It also gives a clue as to how Fain can be eluded. Within the void, Rand feels no emotion. Does emotion play a special role in the battle between Light and Dark? Does the Oneness represent anything beyond centeredness and self-knowledge?
Fain’s struggle for control of himself, and the resulting battle for control with the Myrddraal, left a jagged trail across the countryside. Even if the Myrddraal was placed in command, Fain quickly overthrew its authority. The spirit of Mordeth gives him vast knowledge, great charisma, and apparent immunity to Shadowspawn powers, such that the Myrddraal managed only short periods of control over the Darkfriends and Trollocs. Fain is the ‘something worse’ that should have been evident to the reader before the increasingly disturbing clues are found. Since we already knew that Fain was as bad as they come, and gave clues about Mordeth’s cohabitation of his body, the payoff for this suspense had to come quickly. The sycophantic bleatings of the Darkfriends blend in well with the sounds of Trolloc slaughter of innocents, which might tell readers what the author thinks of self-preservation over duty and honour.
In a similar fashion as in the Eye of the World, learning about saidar provides clues, perhaps the only ones possible given the cast of characters, as to what the reader can expect Rand to go through as he too learns to channel the One Power.
In another similarity to the Eye of the World, three characters act as potential mentors, each with different degrees of trustworthiness: Moiraine, acting with too much secrecy and sneakiness to maintain the trust of the Emond’s Fielders; Verin, whose mannerisms and quirks may make her more appealing to those who have come to mistrust Moiraine; and Liandrin, untrustworthy but cloaked in the same veil of authority as the other two Aes Sedai.
There have been more Aiel references already than in the entire last book. The reader now expects Rand to get confirmation he is Aiel, and to learn more about these born killers. How close is the Waste from here?
Many of the channeling sections in this book and the previous one left readers confused, partly because we have no frame of reference to know this is channeling, partly because they are written to portray the confusion of the characters. I’ll analyze the infamous House of Flies scene:
We’ve already had one abandoned village where a woman in white mysteriously disappeared. They say Uno is jumping at curtains. A second abandoned village is entered. Curtains beat in an open window. The curtains are a cue to the reader to make the association with the previous village, to note that the situation is exactly the same, so they should expect… a woman in white who can’t be found. Instead, when Rand enters the dining room…
He blinks, and sees a scene from the recent past.
He blinks, and is in the present, cold, with louder flies on the table.
He blinks, and the scene from the past repeats.
He blinks, and is in the present, colder, with a lot more flies on the table. He seeks the void.
He blinks, and the scene from the past repeats.
He blinks, and is freezing, flies crawl into his mouth. He touches saidin.
The weave is destroyed.
It won’t be until Egwene dreams of the Woman in White a chapter later that the reader can confirm any suspicion that she was involved in the House of Flies scene.
This technique of gradual revelation builds suspense. It allows for a quick build-up as seen here, or a camouflaged longer term build-up as when Rand gradually began to channel in the Eye of the World. First, a danger is mentioned; second, a strong reminder; third, an immediate threat. A similar example is the unseen eyes on Rand, then Liandrin, and finally a fleeting image of the owner of those eyes. It’s like a variant of a joke in which you repeat the principal situation twice, and the listener knows that the third time you say it will be the time something funny happens. The material between each bit of revelation is less important than the space it provides between them, so that it is not as obvious as in the joke that there will be a third time, when the third time will be, and that a noteworthy event will take place on the third time.
Some techniques to use for building suspense or laying groundwork for a future payoff are: repetition, gradual revelation, distraction using surrounding material, and spacing.