Saturday, 29 September 2012

Knife of Dreams - Prologue Part 2 to Chapter 1

In this section, Aes Sedai, both good and bad, find reason to hope.
We left off the last section with the Black Ajah Hunters worried about being found by their prey. Alviarin has already been cast down to a status well below where she ranks with her strength in the Power, so her mood has nowhere to go but up. Since she is the very prey the Black Ajah Hunters are seeking, it is natural for the story to move from their unfortunate discovery and Talene’s failure to appear before the Black Ajah, to Alviarin’s thin hopes to restore her standing. The reader knows, but Alviarin doesn’t, that the two women she is having followed will not only lead her to Talene, but to the very plot she needs to fulfill the mission assigned to her by the Dark One.   
Alviarin’s rank raised a thought. The Black Ajah meet hooded, and only know a handful of members’ names, but any Aes Sedai can feel not only another woman’s ability to channel, but their strength in the Power. Some of them must have been able to deduce the identities of other Black Ajah with this method. Any particularly strong or weak Aes Sedai would be easier to identify in another setting if there are few candidates to match with what they sensed. I suppose the entire Black Ajah never meets at once, but meetings of up to fifty seem possible. Even with that many there is risk of drawing attention with so many conspicuously absent.
Galina is believed dead by the White Tower and is trapped under Therava’s thumb. She has waited patiently for Faile to deliver the Oath Rod to her, but learning of Perrin’s plans makes her need more desperate. She plans to motivate Faile, then kill her, and then escape her captivity at last. Unwilling to take a chance that she is discovered lying and exposed as Black Ajah, she sees killing Faile as the only solution. Ironically, it is being able to lie that binds her in this predicament. Had she freely helped Perrin, she likely could have been freed when he attacks, and escaped soon after. Perhaps the Oath to the Dark One compelled her down this path of reasoning, since she must not betray her secret.
With a message to Faile passed along, Perrin now appears ready to attack, holding off for a few days only to see whether the Seanchan can be of help. Presenting his readiness through an outsider’s point of view lets the author present only the most essential information, avoiding getting bogged down in the actions and reactions of every person in his camp.
Egwene is an outsider to the White Tower, and in short order she understands that the Ajahs are divided, sniping and challenging each other. She realizes this presents an opportunity to topple Elaida, and once she learns she will not be stilled or executed, she resolves to take advantage of her captivity in the Tower.
Siuan was in a sorry state when Egwene’s boat was found, but the message delivered in her sleep assuages her, summons the Hall to meet in Tel’aran’rhiod, and gives her leverage over a number of Egwene’s ‘loyal’ Aes Sedai. Importantly, Beonin has found the loophole she needs to escape, so off-page she avoids learning anything that may close it.
A variety of information has to be presented in Egwene’s section to set the stage for later chapters with Siuan, Beonin and Elaida. I’ll take a closer look at her section, in order to understand the structure of what is presented and when it is presented.
Her first realization is that her clothes are dry, which implies she is being physically cared for, not something that is done to those who will be executed, even though the women who captured her do not know that yet. This is the author’s trick, rationalized by the need to preserve the dignity of all Aes Sedai, for if grinding Egwene down had been the intent, they could have left her sopping wet, cold, and miserable when she gets dragged before Silviana.
Next, the state of Tar Valon’s streets shocks her. Refuse lies out in the open, a metaphor for the ugly divisions between the Aes Sedai in her carriage.
Third, upon being woken with a slap, Egwene learns she was drugged with Forkroot. Noting small divisions in the women who captured her, Egwene realizes she is not afraid.
These three concepts, punishment, division, Egwene’s reaction, will be revisited several times over, each time with more detail. One, two, three. There is near certainty Egwene will be executed. The Aes Sedai openly argue. A shield is woven before the Forkroot dose runs its course, provoking a mild sigh from Egwene.
There are taunts Egwene will lose her head this very night, the Gray sister is taunted as well by the Reds, and Egwene states the harbors will remain closed, but chooses to remain silent rather than be slapped yet again.
Egwene makes plans for what she can do before her execution, the Aes Sedai mistrustfully all hold the Power in each other’s presence, yet Egwene feels she has come home.
Now there is a slight unexpected change in the first concept. Egwene is to be handed over to the Mistress of Novices, the Red Sisters intimidate the other Aes Sedai, and Egwene is incredulous that they can give in to fear so easily.
There is a switch to the parallel situation with Leane. Leane is being flogged, the rancor between Ajahs almost cost them their chance to capture Leane, but Leane won’t budge from her story.
The Mistress of Novices takes charge of Egwene and sends the Reds away, not before they almost refuse to hand her over. Silviana notes that Egwene is not hysterical.
Egwene is told she is to be a Novice again, Silviana notes the difference between herself and her kindly predecessor Sheriam, Egwene means to resist as long as she can, doing as she must.
With the situation regarding punishment and division in the Tower now fully known, Egwene remains in control of her situation and her emotions. Other topics, such as her dreams about Seanchan attacking the Tower, Nicola’s defection, the state of the cuendillar chains in the harbours were brought up at the earliest available opportunity where a conversation could be carried out about them. Communicating with Siuan is only brought up at the last, when Egwene has a chance to muse over all she has seen and heard, and she has a chance to sleep.
Writing Lessons:
An outsider’s point of view can help the author focus on the most important details, and speed the story along.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Knife of Dreams - Prologue Part 1

In this section, secondary characters face danger.
Crossroads of Twilight focused on the weighty choices each character had to make. The opening sequences of Knife of Dreams keep that theme, but also go further to reveal the dangers and risks faced as a result of the choices made by each character.
Galad faces his commander in single combat because Morgase deserved justice. Ituralde raids the Seanchan after recruiting disparate forces to his side in the last book. Suroth hardly hesitates to seek Tuon’s death after a tortuous search for her turned up nothing. Pevara is hand picked to seek alliance with the Asha’man after recognizing the need for the Red Ajah to bond them. Pevara also learns that Elaida can offer no protection in the Black Ajah hunt she has undertaken. In each case, the character has previously or just now committed to a course of action, and faces real danger as a result.
The first point of view is Galad, followed immediately by Ituralde, and both contain a battle scene. The utter lack of physical conflict in Crossroads of Twilight is abruptly brought to an end, and these sections signal a welcome change in the pacing. The prologue serves as an advertisement for the book to follow, and the choice of action scenes to start the book off is meant to reassure readers that the slow part is in the past.
I will examine Galad’s point of view sequence in detail, to once again examine Robert Jordan’s technique when describing battle.
From the very beginning, descriptions match Galad’s mood and intent. He walks down a straight road, his shadow stretches ahead symbolizing that his actions may have far-reaching effects, he spares no thought for the nearby Lost Mines of Aelgar which symbolizes his unwillingness to be distracted. Every detail of the location was built around Galad’s mission, and was not created that way for any other reason. Building this part of the world around Galad, as opposed to creating it before knowing when it would show up in the story, if at all, saves time and effort, and gives immediacy to the description that might otherwise be hard to achieve. Similarly, the description of Valda’s manor house represents Valda himself, neatly summarized in the line: “An image of normality where nothing was normal”.
As Galad enters the grounds, his opponents are fleshed out: Asunawa can only be called to account by the Lord Captain Commander, a man who demands obedience. Valda dresses richly, wearing a ring outside his gauntlet to symbolize the even greater force that demands his obedience. These relationships and symbols demonstrate how their approval matters to a soldier such as Galad.
Valda disapproves of Galad’s appearance, as he dismounts, which is contrasted with the obsequious actions of the grooms who take his steed. Valda tries to assert his own independence from the Seanchan through small actions, yet brooks no such behaviour from his own men.
Trom brings his own odd actions under the umbrella of correct actions, by telling Valda he is carrying out his duty under the law. This is underscored by his bow to Valda, which is precisely as deep as required by protocol.
Asunawa, worried about appearances before their new Seanchan masters, tries to take control of the situation but is rebuffed by Valda. Valda invokes the law and the Light, adding a new top level to the hierarchy of relationships introduced earlier. He sets the rules and judgment, intending for himself to be seen as occupying that topmost level, synonymous with the Light and uncontestable.
Trom acknowledges the conditions set for the Trial beneath the Light, and in so doing associates himself with the law and the Light.
At this point, the reasons for Galad’s challenge and accusation are revealed, his mother suffered at Valda’s hands, indicating an emotional weakness. This personal connection also elicits the reader’s emotional involvement.
Valda has no time to answer the charge before Asunawa tries to circumvent the trial by arresting Galad. Valda would have been willing to respect Asunawa’s actions despite how they undermine his own authority. The Children of the Light ringing the courtyard draw swords. They have heard a higher authority be invoked, and they now answer to it, not to Valda nor Asunawa, despite the likelihood that those closest to Valda are his cronyest cronies.
Valda takes credit for his men’s actions, again attempting to place himself at the topmost level of the hierarchy. They drew swords by his will, not their own. He denies the accusation.
Representing the soldiers, Valda’s closest aide, Kashgar, is reluctant to help him. They want to see who is right, under the Light, by the conditions set down in law.
We are reminded of Valda’s skill, by way of his heron-mark blade. Valda flings his own accusations at Galad, reminding everyone of his associations with Aes Sedai. Both of these points undermine confidence in Galad, and the soldiers have doubts now, represented by Dain Bornhald’s sudden worry and shifting of feet.
Byar gives Galad advice, warning about Valda’s favoured techniques and a possible weakness. Galad analyzes what he has been told, and we have renewed confidence in his ability. Galad is surprised and thankful for the help.
Valda tries to take charge, but Trom puts him in his place, taking over the role of arbiter smoothly thanks to the groundwork he laid earlier. Galad worries that if he loses Trom will have made an enemy of Valda, but realizes that he likely already had. Nonetheless, Galad has added the allies he came here with to the people whose lives are at stake in this battle.
Galad sees the Questioners for what they are, even if Bornhald doesn’t. He tells Bornhald to watch them closely, thinking ahead to the end of the Trial.
The ritual beginning to the trial is recited. Valda is arrogant and confident, and tries to anger Galad by humiliating him by insulting his mother.  Through his rank and his rape of Morgase, Valda is in effect a monstrous father figure, a standard villain in fantasy stories.
Galad’s weakness is his emotional reaction to his mother’s fate, but he overcomes it with the Oneness, taught to him by true father figures such as Gareth Bryne and Henre Haslin. Bornhald is alarmed about the anger on Galad’s face, but Byar says not to distract him. With the Oneness, Galad cannot be distracted by himself, and once again a dip in confidence has been restored.
Valda shows off his swordsmanship, and the heron-mark blade he earned when he was younger than Galad is now. Galad reckons his odds are poor, and resolves to take a fatal hit if that is what is required to kill Valda.  
All of this has been prelude, now the battle begins.
Valda acts as Byar said he would: despite two verbal feints and a physical one targeting Galad’s head, Valda’s true target was the thigh. Seeing through the deception, Galad scores an early hit. The sword forms invoke images of the direction the blades move. Plucking the Low Hanging Apple aims at his throat but turns into Leopard’s caress, a grazing attack on his thigh. Galad deflects it with Parting the Silk. The Dove Takes Flight strikes upward but is pushed away by Galad’s circling motion of Kingfisher Circles the Pond. Six other sword forms are named as they dance back and forth, more than enough to make readers believe the battle is going on and on.
Galad quickly fatigues from his wounds and the effort, and knows he must win soon. He uses Valda’s own trick against him, advertising one move while setting up another. He repeatedly tries the same sword form, executing it more slowly than he is able, even allowing himself to take hits to the thigh to enhance the illusion that he has lost his speed. On the fifth try, as Valda’s blade automatically reacts, Galad unleashes his speed, changing the stroke to get past Valda’s sword and cut his belly open.
Valda dies, messily. Galad is fatigued and hurt, and realizes his vengeance is incomplete; his mother’s return is the only thing that can grant him peace.
The Children of the Light clap in support. They express concern over Galad’s wounds, while Valda lies forgotten on the ground.
Galad expresses concern for all the Children of the Light: those whom Asunawa may target and those held captive by the Seanchan. By stating so openly, Galad takes on the rank of Lord Captain Commander and the role of the Light itself; all men are his concern. The Children of the Light will march to the Last Battle, allied with whoever opposes the Dark One and the Seanchan. Marching to offer the same to the other Children of the Light in Nassad, despite the possible danger if they refuse, Galad presses on. “He had to go. It was the right thing to do.
Robert Jordan used the prelude to the battle to yank emotion and expectations up and down several times before the physical conflict began. The outcome of the battle affects more than just the characters directly involved, but in their case it affects their identity. Galad’s journey is a micro-version of Rand’s own expected journey. Galad is shown as having done things right, giving an example for Rand to either follow or ignore.
Writing Lessons:
The prelude to a battle is the place to establish the stakes, relationships, and emotional ups and downs that will give the battle its intensity.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Can*Con 2012

I took a few days off from posting to attend Can*Con 2012, a science-fiction convention in Ottawa, Ontario with a heavy lean towards producing works of science-fiction (and speculative fiction, fantasy, horror, etc.). Since this is a writing blog, I’ll give you some details on what you can get out of conventions as a writer.
This convention is well worth attending! I can only tell my part, but with three rooms booked with panel after panel all day, I can at best see a third of the Convention. What a third it was!
Can*Con gathered some 200 fans, writers, editors, artists, scientists, and media folk involved with or interested in science-fiction. In attending, you not only get to rub shoulders with veterans of the field, they will happily give you advice, encouragement and guidance related to various panel topics.
Conventions often involve writer’s workshops, which are great, though there were sadly none this year. However, a pitch session in which writers have 5 minutes to present their novel projects to a panel and receive feedback on how to perfect their pitch was my personal highlight of the weekend. The editors at ChiZine and the wonderfully direct and helpful Violette Malan made up the panel. I wish I’d had a completed or near-completed project to pitch instead of the short story idea I had to whip out from the back of my brain, but the experience was still insightful and confidence-building. I’ll be ready next year.
Through a variety of panels I learned there are several times more markets to sell short fiction and novels than I had previously known. Fans and writers are very eager to share what they know, and there is a real community feeling that everyone wants everyone else to succeed as much as they want to succeed themselves. Not all markets pay, but many of those still have material you can read online for free.  Reading from each of these teaches you what that particular set of editors looks for in a story, which matters, because the main reason editors buy or publish stories is that they like them, and what they like varies from editor to editor. So does the allowed story length! In the order they were mentioned to me over the weekend, consider ‘reading’ or submitting stories to: Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Pseudopod, Escape Artist, Podcastle, EscapePod, AE SCIFI, Ideomancer, Clarke’s World, Lightspeed, Nightmare, Strange Horizons, Tor, Drabblecast, Starship Sofa, Asimov’s, Analog, Fantasy And Science-Fiction Magazine, Abyss & Apex, OnSpec, Angry Robot, Science Fiction World (China!), ChiZine, Imaginarium, and the many anthologies published by individual authors and small presses such as Tesseracts, or new release Blood and Water, many of which are advertised on Ralan or Duotrope. Phew!
Panels on the business end of writing were fascinating. Consistent advice is that you should learn about contracts, dollars and cents, tax codes, agencies, differences between countries, creator’s rights; in effect, the entire business of writing and publishing, since one way or the other it will affect you somehow. Several resources recommended and panned by those who’ve tried them.
On a panel about self-publishing, the irrepressible Melissa Yuan-Innes reminded me why I always had a yearning for self-publishing in my heart, and vigourous assent from sci-fi humorist Ira Nayman, Gaelic  fantasy writer S.M. Carriere, and comic book self-publisher Tara Tallen reinforced the feeling.
Doing this year-long (formerly 6 months) analysis of the Wheel of Time, I can’t help analyzing any writing I read, or in this case hear, as several writers read fascinating excerpts of their books. Some have strong dialogue, some have spot-on humour, some pull you gently along. Noting the presence or absence of several of the techniques I’ve identified in this blog was rewarding. Not that there is anything wrong with each of these particular writer’s works, I’m just happy that my brain seems trained to do this analysis on its own, picking out spots I would have substituted a word, reinforced the theme, or simply appreciated the perfection of a well-crafted paragraph.
It’s also immense fun meeting people whose dreams mirror yours so well, you can easily fall into meaningful conversation with someone you met moments ago. Can’t help smiling when you talk with Pam, Derek, Paul, Violette, Tim, Jean-Louis, Hayden, Kate, Sonia, Liz, Ira, Emily, Becky, Brett, Brian, and a host of others on panels, in the audience, or behind the scenes.
In summary, conventions are opportunities to learn more about your craft, make contacts for future publication, make friends who share your goals, gain confidence, and be inspired. If you have a local writing convention, attend it. If you can make it to Ottawa next September for Can*Con and the 33rd Canadian science fiction convention with the Aurora Awards, do it. It promises to be an even better experience for writers.
Writing Lessons: Ask questions. Listen well to the answers.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Crossroads of Twilight - Summary

Crossroads of Twilight is widely regarded as the least favorite book in the Wheel of Time because “NOTHING HAPPENS!” There are several reasons for this view.
It is the only book where the situation at the end is little different from the end of the previous book. Perrin is still seeking to free his wife. Elayne is still trying to gain the throne of Andor. Rand is still resting from his efforts. Egwene’s army is still mired outside Tar Valon. Mat is still traveling with the circus folk and wooing Tuon. Black Ajah hunters are still hunting the Black Ajah.
Typically, when the story is divided across several locales, the author has come back to the locale three times, with some progress being made each time that set of characters is revisited. Over half of the locales are shown only once in this book and even those shown twice don’t substantially change anything plotwise. These short scenes limit what the author can do to progress the plots.
So pacing is affected by the limited time devoted to each locale, and a lack of events to change the status quo. Something must happen though, right?
The book is very strong thematically, as each character has time for introspection and faces a very difficult or momentous choice. The choice is first framed with respect to the cleansing of saidin, which is the most important event to take place in the series so far. The author wanted the cleansing to have an epic scope, which required every character to take note of it, no matter where they were in the world. Often books will have a brief epilogue, revealing some of the reaction to the climatic events of the final chapters. Crossroads of Twilight is such an epilogue, 681 pages long. Cramming in everyone’s reaction bogs down the story and forces it to take place over a short period of time, about a week, which again limits how far events can progress.
The other ta’veren ignore the cleansing, concentrating on the task at hand. Elayne and Aviendha see it as something wonderful. Cadsuane disbelieves it, while other Aes Sedai mistrust it, thinking it the work of the Forsaken, which propels them in surprising directions.
Perrin’s inner turmoil is the most vivid, as he ignores the cleansing to save Faile at any cost, and taking a step too far, then realizes that not limiting what he is willing to do would destroy any chance of his reunion with Faile being a happy one. Other characters must also choose between what they want most and what they are willing to do to achieve it. Each variation brings to mind Shadar Logoth, and the price its citizens paid for their choice. Shadar Logoth is gone now, the last reminder of the price to be paid if you are willing to pay any price.
Crossroads of Twilight was published in 2003, the first book in the series to be written and published after the September 11th attacks. Of all the characters, Perrin’s amputation of an Aiel prisoner is the most symbolic of the public discussion surrounding the appropriate response to the attacks. Perrin’s followers all insist he do what must be done, but he realizes taking the actions they want would destroy who he is. Yet he struggles to find what other courses of action he can take. He throws away his axe, choosing the hammer instead; he chooses forging, not cutting. In contrast, Mat’s choice to kill Renna to save his followers is declared justice and a righteous punishment for traitors. Rand and Egwene decide to try to find common ground with opponents, in order to fight a greater menace. As with plot elements in earlier books, modern American Mythology is blended into the story, with these plot elements applying to both the Vietnam experience and current events. In addressing these themes, a quieter, more introspective story was in order, yet another reason for the markedly slower pace of this book. I feel that wanting to give the story the right balance in this regard may have been a reason for the longer time it took to write.
Much of the trademark metaphorical language that the author uses to make descriptions mean something more is missing or more subtle. This is a deliberate way of fuzzing the reader’s understanding. Few things are blunt and direct, most descriptions, events, or revelations are vague, incomplete or unclear, which fits in tightly with the overall theme of the book.

Writing Lessons:

Make the voice you tell the story in match the theme.

Make something happen by the end!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Crossroads of Twilight - Epilogue

The epilogue offers a rare opportunity to do a very detailed analysis of almost every word. My old friend Scartoe says that every word a writer chooses serves a purpose. Why is each word there? Why this word and not that one? The epilogue is 267 words long. First, read the full passage, then below, the analysis. In terms of action and plot, this is as simple as it gets. Rand is waiting for Bashere. Bashere enters and gives Rand the news he’s been waiting for.
Rand stared out of the window at the steady rain falling out of a gray sky. Another storm down out of the Spine of the World. The Dragonwall. He thought spring must be coming soon. Spring always came, eventually. Earlier here than back home, it should be, though there seemed little sign of it. Lightning forked silver-blue across the sky, and long moments passed before the peal of thunder. Distant lightning. The wounds in his side ached. Light, the herons branded into his palms ached, after all this time.
Sometimes, pain is all that lets you know you’re alive, Lews Therin whispered, but Rand ignored the voice in his head.
The door creaked open behind him, and he looked over his shoulder at the man who came into the sitting room. Bashere was wearing a short, gray silk coat, a rich shimmering coat, and he had the baton of the Marshal-General of Saldaea, an ivory rod tipped with a golden wolf’s head, tucked behind his belt next to his scabbarded sword. His turned-down boots had been waxed until they shone. Rand tried not to let his relief show. They had been gone long enough.
“Well?” he said.
“The Seanchan are amenable,” Bashere replied. “Crazy as loons, but amenable. They require a meeting with you in person, though. The Marshal-General of Saldaea isn’t the Dragon Reborn.”
“With this Lady Suroth?”
Bashere shook his head. “Apparently a member of their royal family has arrived. Suroth wants you to meet someone called the Daughter of the Nine Moons.”
Thunder rolled again for distant lightning.

Short and powerful. Here’s the analysis:
Rand stared out of the window at the steady rain falling out of a gray sky. Another weather-as-mood analogy. Steady rain implies long unhappy times. Staring implies he’s been looking for a while, which makes it a better choice than ‘watching’ or ‘looking’. Another storm down out of the Spine of the World. Saying ‘another storm’ amplifies the rain to a concept of continual rain and bad times. Using ‘down’ adds to the negative mood. The Spine of the World evokes a forlorn place, much better than a storm out of Haddon Mirk, or elsewhere. The Dragonwall. He didn’t have to say Dragonwall at all here. It has a dual meaning here, referring to the walls Rand has erected in his heart. He thought spring must be coming soon. Now Rand is looking for hope, symbolized by spring. “He thought it must be” is a statement that almost guarantees the speaker is wrong. Spring always came, eventually. This sentence starts out as an affirmation, but ends with doubt. The word ‘eventually’ has more impact placed at the end of the sentence, where it can undermine the entire section that precedes it. Earlier here than back home, it should be, though there seemed little sign of it. The words ‘it should be’ again showing that Rand is wrong. This sentence is not necessary given the earlier part of the paragraph, but it introduces the concept of home, with associated feelings of warmth and comfort. The reference to home shows regret on Rand’s part. He wants to get back to a place of comfort and peace. Lightning forked silver-blue across the sky, and long moments passed before the peal of thunder. A sentence with no apparent relevance to the plot. At first glance it only describes the storm further. But the choice of words makes it resonate very closely with the mood being crafted. ‘Forked’ is used to evoke a choice. ‘Long moments’ pass to evoke waiting. ‘Peal’ is close to ‘appeal’.  Distant lightning. If the lightning represents the Light, then it is far, far away from Rand. The wounds in his side ached. The wounds are always a representation of the Shadow and of the evil that comes from fighting the Shadow at all costs. Light, the herons branded into his palms ached, after all this time. Another reference to a long period of unhappiness. His brands never really hurt before; this is about the burden that comes with those Herons. It shows Rand in a state of mind where the pain caused by the Shadow is no greater than the pain caused by the Light.
The first paragraph is thick with mood, showing Rand moping, waiting, faintly hoping. It tells us where the story is happening and a bit about the environment where this scene will take place.
Sometimes, pain is all that lets you know you’re alive, Lews Therin whispered, but Rand ignored the voice in his head. Rand ignores Lews Therin like he would ignore his conscience. Lews Therin doesn’t ‘say’, he only whispers, indicating he is weak or timid. His idea is introduced with the word ‘sometimes’, as though he is scared to commit to an idea that Rand might dismiss. His tortured thought is still striving to find a bright side to the pain, but Rand won’t even allow that mild of a happy thought, which is a good direct example of his mood.
The door creaked open behind him, and he looked over his shoulder at the man who came into the sitting room. No knocks, no calls of “hello”, just a creaking door. Looking over his shoulder is an expression of mistrust. The man’s name isn’t given immediately, to heighten that mistrust. It could be anybody, maybe even an assailant. Bashere was wearing a short, gray silk coat, a rich shimmering coat, and he had the baton of the Marshal-General of Saldaea, an ivory rod tipped with a golden wolf’s head, tucked behind his belt next to his scabbarded sword. Bashere’s accessories convey wealth and power. His formal rank is given to remind the reader how powerful he is, which will be relevant soon. His coat shimmers, his rod is ivory and gold, all of which convey brightness and light. His sword and rod represent power, which is tucked away but ready at hand.  His turned-down boots had been waxed until they shone. Another representation of light and brightness. ‘Waxed’ has another meaning which implies he is in a state of fullness. ‘Turned-down’ and ‘boots’ have other meanings too, associated with rejection. Rand tried not to let his relief show. Rand’s first fully described emotion is relief. But he tries not to show it to the man he is relieved to see. They had been gone long enough. Is Rand worried they might have been captured or killed? Is he impatient to start his next endeavour? A blunt statement like this tells readers what Rand’s concern was, but provides no context, making it a mystery.
“Well?” he said. Using ‘said’ or ‘replied’ keeps the conversation normal. Normal for Rand is a vague monosyllabic demand which Bashere must interpret. Rand’s impatience and unreasonableness is conveyed powerfully by this single word.
“The Seanchan are amenable,” Bashere replied. Bashere also keeps the conversation normal. His response is blunt too, but uses a grandiose word. ‘Amenable’ implies the Seanchan can be persuaded or controlled. “Crazy as loons, but amenable. Loons have been used several times to describe crazy people, but lunatics only once, by Mat. The idea that they are crazy adds to the prejudice that Rand can control them. This sentence is the only one that gives an idea of what negotiations may be like. Without it, the conversation would be blander. They require a meeting with you in person, though. Persuading the Seanchan means meeting a condition or two. This is the first condition. The Marshal-General of Saldaea isn’t the Dragon Reborn.” This is the payoff for stating Bashere’s full title earlier. Despite his resplendent outfit Bashere isn’t who the Seanchan want.
“With this Lady Suroth?” Danger! Readers know she’s a Darkfriend.
Bashere shook his head.  The author could have just said no in the reply, but an action conveys the same and keeps this short discussion from being a pair of talking heads.  “Apparently a member of their royal family has arrived. Using the word ‘apparently’ shows Bashere doesn’t take everything the Seanchan say at face value. It’s a short way to convey that, because it would probably require a full sentence otherwise. Suroth wants you to meet someone called the Daughter of the Nine Moons.” This revelation should cause unease and confusion. It is uncertain whether this scene takes place long after Mat’s recent scene, so it is unclear whether Tuon is back in Ebou Dar. Using her title instead of her name adds to that confusion. ‘Someone’ makes the statement less precise, and may indicate more doubt from Bashere.
Thunder rolled again for distant lightning. Going back to the earlier metaphor, Rand is no closer to the Light than he was before, and the thunder has an ominous feel to accentuate the last paragraph’s revelation.
Robert Jordan isn’t always this crisp, so this epilogue is a pleasure to read.
Writing Lessons:
Every word a writer chooses serves a purpose.

Crossroads of Twilight - Chapters 29-30

In this section, Mat and Egwene are the last characters to commit to their chosen path at a symbolic crossroads.
Mat promised never to kill a woman again. In the first chapter, and again in the last chapter, Mat reflected on having killed a woman. “He had killed one woman in his life, and left another to be butchered. He was not going to add a third to his soul.” Melindhra attacked him and was killed before he even realized he had thrown the dagger. Tylin was murdered by the gholam. Now Renna has fled the circus, and is riding hell-bent for the Seanchan army in the last town they passed. Mat means to stop her and bring her back, if he can.
This standing promise not to kill women is tested after Mat makes good on another promise to let Tuon do some shopping in the town of Jurador. Mat’s progress wooing Tuon is based on keeping promises. She believed his promise to release her unharmed enough to promise not to escape. She rode up front of the wagons in front of Seanchan soldiers that she could have called out to, but didn’t, upholding her promise.  He trusts her enough to take her into town, and when she evades him while he is distracted, he manages to find her and not be angry at her, beyond the price he pays for the silk she bought. The premise that Mat keeps his promises is well proven by these examples.
Faced with a split-second decision, Mat orders his men to shoot Renna in the back. Even with the sun blazing in their eyes, there was no question of either of them missing. Something flickered and died in Mat as he gave the order. He swears, “never again, if I have to die for it, never again.” That is a strong promise, but this was never a question of Mat’s life being on the line, but those of the circus folk, and his followers, and Tuon.
Upon his return to the circus Mat finds Tuon has written a warrant placing the circus under Tuon’s personal protection. Tuon had anticipated that Mat might fail, and seeing how Mat did his utmost to preserve their safety, Tuon took actions to ensure they would not pay for their role in Tuon’s abduction and captivity. She shared Mat’s goal, and absolves him of guilt for his actions, proclaiming them just. As a symbol of her growing respect for Mat, she is wearing the gift he gave her pinned to her shoulder. Mat is never what he seems, which is what a Seanchan noble should be.
Egwene’s decision is whether to send a novice from her home village to perform a dangerous task. Bode’s participation is necessary now that a second Aes Sedai has been murdered using saidin. The camp grows more and more afraid about the unknown assailant in their midst but the planned talks with the Black Tower still haven’t been derailed.
Egwene and Siuan run through a number of comparisons with former Amyrlins. Their names or roles aren’t as important as the fact that they are remembered for something. Egwene isn’t yet concerned about what history will say about her, but she already has rumours about her severity being told. Sheriam offers her a chance to spare her best childhood friend from a severe punishment, and she easily chooses not to save Larine from her own mistakes. She further convinces herself that even novices serve the White Tower, rationalizing Bode’s upcoming role in the siege. Then, she realizes that what applies to novices, applies to Amyrlins as well. She decides to take Bode’s place.
The direct explanation for Egwene’s decision is not well explained. The reasoning starts with “Bode must do what needed doing… Aes Sedai, and those who would become Aes Sedai, served the Tower.” And becomes “The White Tower was good at teaching both things, but the first always came first. Bode’s future would be brilliant. Her potential almost equaled Egwene’s. But Aes Sedai, Accepted or novice, the Tower required you to do what was needed for the Tower. Aes Sedai, Accepted, novice or Amyrlin.” It’s logical for Egwene to do the task given her talent for making cuendillar, and the proclamation of war provides the loophole that allows Egwene to put herself in danger, but the magnitude of the decision is lacking. It seems a rather small decision compared to some of the others she has made, but it is as fateful as the other turning points each of the main characters has come to.
Egwene’s explanation to Bode is also weak, lacking a firm foundation for the reader to grasp the idea: ““Some things I shouldn’t ask a novice to do when I can do them better.” Perhaps that was not a great deal milder, but she could not explain about Larine and Nicola, or the price the White Tower demanded of all its daughters. The Amyrlin could not explain the one to a novice, and a novice was not ready to learn about the other.” If not to Bode, it could have been explained to the reader, at least. All that is understood is that Egwene decided to do it herself because she is better at it, and the rationale she provides is gobbledygook which probably requires flipping back a few pages to see what she had said about Larine and Nicola, and getting a similarly unclear paragraph as explanation.
The book ends with a cliffhanger: Egwene has been captured by the Tower Aes Sedai. It is most surprising because every other plotline ended like a television show, with everyone finishing in almost exactly the same situation they were in at the beginning of the story. Only Egwene achieved a change in the status quo. It’s a big difference from all of the preceding books.
Writing Lessons:
When your characters do something odd, or decisive, a clear rationale helps the reader accept it.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Crossroads of Twilight - Chapters 27-28

In this section, Perrin makes a fateful choice and Mat courts Tuon
The sifting of grains in So Habor represents Perrin’s introspection. No matter how much effort is put into removing the weevils, there are always some that just can’t be winnowed out. Yet, the constant effort eventually makes the food cleaner. Berelain gives Perrin words to consider: “You cannot save everyone, Sometimes you must choose.” Perrin thinks that So Habor’s troubles are insignificant next to Faile’s life. Annoura says people are just threads to be woven in the pattern, and any protest about their choice in the matter makes no difference. There is still no indication why the Aes Sedai met with Masema in secret, except for a cryptic comment that they don’t always get to choose how they serve, which is another reference to having no choice.
With all those thoughts hanging over Perrin’s head, he learns that five Shaido have been captured, and that anyone not involved in their torture is lamenting that they would have been better at torturing the prisoners than any of the others. Arganda, Masema and Aram have them now, with the Wise Ones’ blessing while Sulin is bitter she wasn’t given a crack at them.
The Gheladanin camp is calm and orderly, the men eating and doing chores do so in a manner calm and orderly, just doing the tasks that need doing, and Perrin finds the prisoners being tortured while they are ringed by his followers, who observe in a manner calm and orderly, just doing a task that needs doing. Once again, two examples precede the main situation.
Perrin ends the torture immediately and instinctively by kicking the coals off of a bound Shaido. Masema, Arganda, and Aram appeal to Perrin in three different ways. Masema uses contempt, Arganda uses anger, and Aram whines and pleads. They all want to hurt the Shaido, eagerly. Of the women present, only Berelain expresses slight distaste at what has been taking place. The Ghealdanin mutter about Sulin and Edarra, a sign that their hatred is not limited to Shaido, but extends to all Aiel, despite the alliance under Perrin.
The expectations of the gathered crowd and his urgent desire to find Faile are too much to resist, and Perrin chops the prisoner’s hand off. The axe was light as a feather. Death is lighter than a feather. The similarity to an oft-repeated Borderlands expression is deliberate. The blood sprayed on him further symbolizes death. Perrin’s action risks being the death of the Perrin we know.
Mutilating the prisoner provokes no reaction, asking the Aes Sedai to heal him gets a rebuke that this wound cannot be undone, but it is the threat to consign the Aiel to a life of begging that shocks the assembled crowd to the core, leaving even Masema flabbergasted. Perrin is ready to consign men to a life with no hope and no escape.
Perrin throws his axe away, worried that he might come to like using it the way he just did. He is certain Faile would no longer love him if that happened. Faile is his goal, and so he is able to recognize his error and correct his path. After the prisoners give their answers, he keeps them prisoner, but does them no further harm.
When the food arrives, carefully winnowed, it brings a new hope. Tallanvor has found potential Seanchan allies for Perrin. Perrin is no longer willing to let Faile be an excuse for any action he takes, but he is willing to consider any action that gains Faile back, including making alliance with a distasteful enemy. He is now the third major character to begin talks with an enemy, seeking a truce.
Mat’s section opens with the humourous contrast of the hyperbole in the name of the circus and Mat’s poor opinion of it: “traveling with Valan Luca’s Grand Traveling Show and Magnificent Display of Marvels and Wonders was every bit as bad as Mat’s darkest thoughts had made it.
Mat’s strategy to move slowly is enough to drive him mad, but while the efforts to find him have fanned out ahead of him, the circus hardly merits any scrutiny at all. The Aes Sedai just can’t sit still though, cloaking themselves as they walk about in public, drawing their sul’dam guardians behind them. The sul’dam recognize Mat’s authority, while the Aes Sedai do not. It comes down to who has the gold, an unapologetic and pragmatic ranking system you would never see any of the other main characters follow, concerned as they are with ranking systems using force, or honor, or strength in the Power.
Noal is first to suggest killing one of the inconvenient women, leading towards the next chapter’s conclusion.
Rumours of Suroth’s alliance to a king reach Mat’s ears, but it is unclear whether this is a reference to Perrin’s overture, Rand’s envoys, or someone else entirely.
Mat decides to begin courting Tuon, and his initial strategy is to look acceptable by staying near less acceptable people, such as the traitorous Egeanin. It is unsuccessful, resulting in Egeanin being renamed by Tuon. Leilwin, as she is now known, puts such stock in Tuon that her word acts as law, and she changes her identity to conform to Tuon’s desires. Mat changes to a hard-to-get strategy, pretending to court Tuon’s maid instead. Tuon is delighted that Mat can be so tricky and maintain the pretense to her face. He learns that saying the marriage vow three times, as he did, completes a Seanchan marriage. She has complete control over the outcome, all Mat can do is court her as best he can.
All of Mat’s abilities, memories, and magic items are of no avail; only his charm and other personality traits can win her over. Fortunately, Seanchan aristocracy favours scoundrelous behaviour.
Writing Lessons:
Deliberate and repeated use of an expression in one context will maintain that context when you use the same expression elsewhere.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Crossroads of Twilight - Chapters 23-26

In this section, Rand reappears and makes the first of several fateful decisions to come
The title of the book, Crossroads of Twilight, implies a choice of roads, either of which could be leading toward darkness or light. Rand is the first character faced with a decision that involves major concessions on his part. Readers have already been warmed up for this since the Rebel Sitters voted to enter talks with the Black Tower, and Tarna has proposed a course of action that is anathema to other Red Ajah.
Cadsuane’s introductory paragraph describes a dividing line “The air in the room was just sufficiently warmer than outside…”, and uncertain outcomes “…to put a mist on the glass panes set in the red-painted casements, and the glass contained bubbles besides, but Cadsuane stood peering out as if she could see the dreary landscape clearly.” Descriptions of the farmers outside and the weather also act as metaphors for the situation she and Rand are in. It’s one of the more obvious uses of this technique in this book, which has had subtler than usual metaphors worked into the descriptive text. So subtle I often can’t tell if one is even there.
Cadsuane ponders everything she sees, perceptively picking up on many subtleties, and continuing to represent the Light itself. She still can’t figure Verin out completely, another clue that the Brown has some Shadowy motivations. Cadsuane tells Merise that however she decides to handle her Warder is probably right, implying that such matters are not affairs the Light mixes in. Cadsuane judges Nynaeve, who acts as Rand’s conscience, as a frivolous girl, full of passions, who only rarely demonstrated that she had a brain. Nynaeve is still wearing her angreal and ter’angreal, either to protect Rand or out of wariness of him. Cadsuane remains uncertain about whether saidin has been cleansed of the Dark One’s taint, trusting more to Merise’s bond with Narishma than to either of their own observations from linking with one of the men. She would have more faith if she had that bond herself, leading her to reflect once again on the wilder in the Black Hills who taught her that what must be endured, can be endured, and who may have given Cadsuane her collection of ter’angreal. Is that the same lesson Cadsuane must teach Rand? Since this reminder has come up, it seems likely to be so. She wonders at the affinity between Rand and Alivia, not knowing of Min’s viewing regarding her helping Rand to die. Rand himself is in a poor place, hardened, tired, and nearly disabled from the sickness caused by the taint.
As has so often been the case, Robert Jordan uses the sun to describe a character’s mood and situation: Midafternoon sunlight should have been slanting through the windows of Rand’s bedchamber, but a hard rain was falling outside, and all the lamps were lit to hold off a twilight darkness.
Rand too can almost see visions of his fellow ta’veren when he thinks of them. Other times an almost familiar face appears, accompanied by dizziness. Rand grasps saidin and we get the first description of clean saidin, for once not accompanied by a description of the taint. He has begun thinking of his weaves as webs, as Lews Therin does.
Logain has traveled to Rand’s hiding place, accompanied by several warders, Asha’man, Bashere’s men and Loial. Logain’s aura still speaks of glory to come.
Loial managed to have the majority of Waygates closed and guarded. This isn’t quite attacking the Shadow’s supply lines, but it is the only defense humanity has put up as of yet.
Rand and Cadsuane learn about the bonded Aes Sedai with Logain. It was a very nice and unexpected twist to have the Aes Sedai become the Warder. Rand worries that the Tower will want to balance things by asking to bond Asha’man, a suggestion Tarna has already brought up and Cadsuane has independently decided should be done.
Logain warns about Taim’s influence on the Asha’man, and the orders he gives which supposedly come from Rand. Rand is irritated that Logain isn’t thankful for the cleansing he performed. Rand gets philosophical about the Creator, thinking “A gardener did not weep for each blossom that fell.” He is trying to convince himself that is true.
Rand puts the Black Tower to the side, and broods upon the attempts to acquire the seals on the Dark One’s prison. He can’t fight the Shadow and Seanchan at the same time, so he sends Logain, Bashere and Loial to arrange a truce with the Seanchan.
His decision is based on recent conversations with Alivia, but also on his failed attempt to stop the Seanchan from invading Illian. He set them back for a few months, but their way is to learn and adapt and overcome. A useful trait to have on his side, if he can get it. Making a truce with an enemy to fight a greater enemy is the choice that each character will have to make in the lead-up to the Last Battle.
Perrin needs food for his troops, so he is setting off to the walled town of So Habor. While this is a realistic problem a commander might face, it is also mundane, making it likely readers will find it uninteresting as a focal point of the story. As it happens, the town of So Habor is one of the most interesting locales in the book, which is unfortunately a poor reflection on the rest of the book.
His first view of the area is abandoned fields and seemingly uninhabited houses. Empty. Men manning the town’s walls are filthy and unkempt. They ask how they can tell whether Perrin is alive. It seems a foolish question but it points to the moral turmoil from which he is suffering. We don’t get an immediate answer to what happened in the town, but the consequences are plain enough. Fear, living in filth, distrust. Perrin sees that the clean grain samples are kept in sealed jars, with well-cut threaded lids.  Their best is kept hidden away unless they need to show it off to someone. He demands to see the rest of the grain. It is heavily contaminated with vermin, crawling with weevils. Each sack is almost half weevil, half grain. The grain can only be cleaned by sifting through it carefully, winnowing out the insects. It is a metaphor for Perrin’s fate. He is at the halfway point, like a sack of grain, teetering towards being devoured by the weevils, needing to be winnowed to preserve the grain. He judges that ghosts and weevils don’t explain all that is wrong with the people of So Habor; they have simply given up, and in doing so the badness has been allowed to fester and grow inside them as it has consumed their warehouses. It’s all explained away as the Dark One’s touch, but the scene was placed here to show a possible fate for Perrin. So Habor serves a similar purpose as Shadar Logoth did in The Eye of the World.
Writing Lessons:
Location, weather, events, behaviour: anything can be used as a metaphor.
Mundane problems make a mundane story.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Crossroads of Twilight - Chapters 20-22

In this section, there is harsh reaction to failures.
Tel’aran’rhiod makes its first appearance in some time. Egwene meets with Aviendha, and finally discuss Rand’s cleansing of saidin from their perspectives. Egwene shares the view that it was the Forsaken, and how that has driven the rebels to commence talks with the Black Tower. Aviendha doesn’t think the Wise Ones would have taken such a radical course of action. She manages to be evasive about what she knows, while probing Egwene’s reasoning. Even if the Forsaken didn’t scoop Shadar Logoth out of the earth’s crust, the Asha’man still must be dealt with, so Egwene will proceed with the Hall’s decision, but recognizes the danger Mazrim Taim poses.
Egwene has a number of prophetic dreams, and catalogues them. This is blatant foreshadowing, and is of course of interest to the reader who has the means to decipher some of them. Mat will kill men with an Illuminator’s help; Egwene will be saved by a Seanchan; the Seanchan will attack the White Tower. These give readers something to look forward to, and create expectations that can either be fulfilled or foiled, depending on the author’s desire.
Anaiya is killed, along with her warder, obviously by Aran’gar who is looking to reinvigorate the distrust between Aes Sedai and Asha’man that seems to have fallen to the side with the recent vote to open talks between them. Nisao may uncover the killer, but it’s more likely Anaiya was simply killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, for any Aes Sedai killed with saidin will do.
In the White Tower, Alviarin returns from Tremalking. There is no clue why Mesaana sent her there for a month, though perhaps she went to other places as well, giving orders to Darkfriends? She doesn’t even reveal exactly what is happening there after the use of the Choedan Kal fulfilled an Amayar prophecy. She notes wards are failing in the White Tower, similar to how Egwene noted rotting food that had been preserved using the One Power. Was it Rand’s use of so much of the One Power that did it, or is this a new result of the Dark One’s touch?
The three Sea Folk Aes Sedai manage the most secret records of the White Tower. It would be funny if they had been passing the most privileged information to the Sea Folk all these years.
Alviarin gets anxious about some rumour that every one has heard but her. The other Aes Sedai watch her in a way that indicates they know something she doesn’t. She soon learns Elaida has replaced her, and becomes certain that she is in danger of being revealed. In her panic she summons Mesaana, bringing her into the open for the first time since saidin was cleansed, and into the clutches of Shaidar Haran. Her failure to follow orders merits a punishment even Alviarin doesn’t want to see. Alviarin is set a task to deliver the Black Ajah Hunters to Shaidar Haran. Obviously, she does not intend to fail.
Elaida treats the negotiations the same way as Egwene, not taking them seriously at all unless her all but impossible conditions are met.
Pevara, one of the Hunters, has received a message from Toveine, revealing they have been bonded by Asha’man. Tarna, the new Keeper, thinks this news is inconsequential to her plan to bond Asha’man. Pevara disagrees, implying it is too late to bond Asha’man, they might instead be bonded by them.
The happenstance that both Rebels and Tar Valon Aes Sedai are entertaining the idea of joining with the Black Tower in some fashion provides both a question of who will get there first and implies that one way or another, there will be some treaty between the two forces before the Last Battle.
Alviarin’s evil isn’t depicted directly here, but she has enough peculiar characteristics and behaviours to give readers a queasy feeling about her:
Her pride is to the point where any rumour of weakness is avoided, but more so if others are aware of it: To have anyone hear such things said, and to her face!
She considers inconveniencing others for no reason but to spare her own inconvenience: Today, though, by the time Alviarin had climbed close to eighty spans, she was seriously considering making Elaida move back down.
She strives to act in a manner which is aloof from the general population: She prided herself on her icy detachment, always presenting a cool unruffled surface.
She is mean: She almost wanted to tell Zemaille what was happening on Tremalking, just to see whether the other woman would flinch.
She lacks common human emotions: Mercy was for those afraid to be strong.
Writing Lessons:  
You don’t need evil actions to make a character villainous; their unconventional thoughts can give effective and subtle feelings of wrong-doing.

Crossroads of Twilight - Chapters 18-19

In this section Egwene is plunged into the deepest depths of Aes Sedai intrigue…
The final part of this Egwene section is a study in Aes Sedai politics that makes your head spin. There have been several mentions of the too-young Sitters, and Siuan has discovered that Elaida has the same problem. In Tar Valon there are at least three, maybe four Sitters who are too young by custom. Egwene has another eight. It would have stood out as strange in either place, but together they point to somebody who has a hand in all Ajahs and is directing their decision-making. Once the Black Ajah has been ruled out, Siuan and Egwene can’t even conceive that the Ajah Heads not only know each other but may be communicating secretly with each other.
This is the behaviour Talene was investigating, which led to her capture by the Black Ajah hunters. Some of the Sitters had been meeting secretly, but Talene and the Black Ajah and Mesaana herself did not know their purpose. Interestingly, the Ajah heads meeting and the too-young Sitter mysteries solve each other, so we know who is behind it, and some of what they have done, but their motive is still lacking. Some readers may have the intuition to look at the unknowns and wonder how they may fit together to get this far, but I think most often they remain categorized as two separate mysteries.
Egwene’s meeting with the Hall goes on for pages, with every mannerism and action potentially laden with meaning. The author convincingly shows how much noise there is covering the true signal. One tool to help simplify our understanding of this mess is a grid showing common stances on certain issues.

Now we can more easily see the pattern that Siuan was getting at. When those five Sitters started pressing for negotiations, Egwene should have wondered whether it meant that Romanda and Lelaine were supportive of it, given the affiliations those five shared. It is much easier to see that long-time Sitters outside the Blue Ajah viscerally oppose talks with the Black Tower and favour all reunification measures, including refusal to declare war on Elaida.  
The question is why didn’t the author make this plainer to the reader? He could easily have had Egwene notice this pattern and comment on it, or summarized the votes as “the newly raised Sitters were amenable to change, the ones raised before the split would die before agreeing to this proposal.” Instead, he spread one vote over six entire pages, challenging readers to cobble together clues from this section as well as from several other books to even have a clear idea of who is in the Hall and what the factions may be. He wanted readers to work for the answer and to have a life-like representation of the political complexities the Amyrlin faces with every proposal. I wonder how much of the time it took to write Crossroads of Twilight is as a result of this decision to present this vote in such a detailed way. So many characters, so many details.
Egwene’s migraine headaches are an original disability. They don’t affect her ability to channel, but they do give an opportunity for Halima to get close to her. It’s debatable whether Halima could in some way be causing the headaches, but there is a grave risk of discovery if someone discovers a saidin resonance centered on Egwene’s tent. The metaphor works better if headaches are a natural outgrowth of Egwene’s difficulties with the Sitters and Halima’s touch offers to make the problems go away, which Egwene won’t accept, preferring to slog it out in the Hall.
To reinforce Egwene’s stance about Halima staying in her tent, one chapter opens with Egwene considering the rumours about her in the camp. The novices compare her to the stern Sereille Bagand, and Egwene recognizes that there is often little truth to rumours about her. This is soon contrasted to rumours about Halima breaking a man’s arm and being too free with her favours. If Egwene rejects gossip for personal reasons, because she knows it to be false, she now has a personal stake in not accepting gossip about Halima. That decision made, she becomes steadfast in the woman’s defense. She also has a personal need for Halima’s presence, since she is the only woman with whom she can stop being the Amyrlin for a few minutes. Ironically, this relationship helps Egwene remain grounded and not become a typical Aes Sedai.
The seed planted back in New Spring takes root, as Siuan reveals her suspicion that Cadsuane is Black Ajah. Just when we had started to trust her a bit.
Egwene proves she will do anything to reunite the Tower, holding her nose at having to use Rand’s apparent Compulsion of Aes Sedai to prove that he must not have submitted to Elaida. A foul-tasting tea acts as the metaphor throughout the discussion.
Writing Lessons:
Clues and solutions to mysteries can be hidden in noise, but the amount of noise can also be a deterrent to readers.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Crossroads of Twilight - Chapters 15-17

In this section, Elayne’s rivals conspire and Egwene keeps the war effort alive
Elayne’s rivals Arymilla, Naean, and Elenia travel from camp to camp every night as they lay siege to Caemlyn. Despite having been knocked out of the contest, Elenia still sees a way in which she can emerge from this impasse as the Queen of Andor. While her drive and perseverance are admirable, her selfish reasons for seeking to become Queen are a stark contrast to Elayne’s rightful claim and interest in the well-being of the people of Andor. Despite the fact that Elayne hasn’t taken a very active hand in events so far, it is obvious that no hand at all is better than a hand like Elenia’s or Arymilla’s. Arymilla sees the Queen’s coffers as a means to upgrade her lifestyle even further while Elenia seeks the love and approval of the unwashed masses all the while thinking of them as foolish peasants. Her ego and intolerance instantly make her unlikeable, and make Elayne a more attractive choice despite whatever faults of her own she may have.
One of Elenia’s men, perhaps even her husband Jarid, has been meeting with the ringleader of the Caemlyn Darkfriends, the Lady Shiaine. Shiaine has two Black Ajah under her thumb, as per Moridin’s express wishes. She has her agent Mellar in a position of influence in the Royal Palace. She has a secret plan which Moridin has assigned her, and it remains unclear whether Elayne is meant to live or die, and if she is to die then to learn when that is to take place. It takes considerable effort to establish Hanlon’s position, keep a low profile for weeks, and wait until all Moridin’s conditions have been met. Does Moridin know something about Caemlyn’s role in the Last Battle? Does he suspect Elayne is pregnant with Rand’s children? Or does he know it for fact? How is what he is planning for Elayne any more effective than what Semirhage will later do to Rand? The only plausible answer is that the Last Battle is the battle for Rand’s soul and identity, and Moridin thinks Elayne offers a means of prodding Rand in some way. It’s incredibly vague and convoluted, and only rationalized by the fact that Rand has twice showed up where his girlfriends were in danger, in Falme and Tear.  
Darkfriends inherent mistrust and self-preservation instincts always seem on the verge of undermining their plans. Only fear of the Forsaken keeps everyone in line, knowing that their punishment will be severe, even if served years after their betrayal or failure. Hanlon wonders whether his would-be assassin had been sent by Shiaine. Falion arranges to be bruised so Shiaine won’t learn she and Hanlon are trading secrets. The level of suspicion is so high it’s a wonder they can get anything accomplished. When one of the heroes starts veering down a path of mistrust, it’s easy to see the negative context and its implications.
In the rebels’ camp, Egwene pines for her home, the White Tower. As with several other characters, she thinks of her goal in absolute terms: Whatever was required to keep the rebellion alive and pull Elaida down, she would do. Whatever was required. The author frequently uses repetition of a key phrase to emphasize the character’s level of commitment. Egwene’s goal requires she pretend at negotiations with Elaida, so that the rebels will see they haven’t come all this way for nothing. In some instances, when a character is aiming at one goal while secretly targeting some other goal, that detail is kept secret from the reader to allow for a surprise revelation later on. In this case it’s important that the reader understand exactly what Egwene is hoping to achieve, because the politics among the Hall of the Rebel Tower are convoluted enough. If the reader didn’t know Delana was Black Ajah, that Halima was a Forsaken, that Sheriam was most likely Black Ajah, and that Siuan and Leane were in her pocket, and a handful of other details, then none of the conspiratorial meetings between Sitters or other Aes Sedai would make as much sense. These waters are muddy enough that there is good reason to provide clarity to the relationships between the major and even minor players.
Egwene does keep one new surprise, which is her plan to blockade Tar Valon from receiving supplies. The reader can guess it involves cuendillar given the context in which it is stated that this secret exists.
The other secret which is not plainly revealed involves the Young Sitters. Having our attention brought back to this again implies the author has something worthwhile tucked up his sleeve. We’ll see soon enough.
A new peril facing the heroes is the revelation that foodstuffs are rotting, obviously an effect of the Dark One’s touch. Interesting that he first targeted the weather which caused a drought and affected crops, and is now attacking food. He went straight for the supply lines while his minions floundered after Rand. No one amongst the Heroes has even considered how to locate or affect the Shadow’s supply lines.
Writing Lessons:
Complex plans are unbelievable and fallible. Find the simplest way for a character to attain their goal and overcome obstacles.