Revisiting the Wheel of Time: Lord of Chaos

[This is part of a series analyzing Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time novels. Previous installments can be found under the tag. Comments on old posts are welcome, but please, no spoilers for books after Crossroads of Twilight, as that’s the last book I read before starting this project.]

In my post on The Fires of Heaven, I said that we were beginning our journey into the swamp of bad pacing.

With this book, we jump into it feet-first.

This is rather worrisome, since my recollection was that this aspect didn’t get really bad until The Path of Daggers (two books from now). I’m hoping that was just when I took off the rose-colored glasses, as the alternative is that the pacing tanks twice: once here, and again there. I’m rather afraid to see the result, if that’s the case. But it cannot be denied that the story starts wandering badly in this book, much more so than previously. Stuff happens — this isn’t Crossroads of Twilight, thank whatever deity you like — but it’s padded out with a whole bunch of crap that doesn’t deserve nearly so much page time.

We get off onto the wrong foot with the prologue. The funny thing is, back in the day, I quite liked the prologues. Remember that I didn’t pick the series up until just before the publication of A Crown of Swords; by then, Tor had gotten into the habit of posting the prologue online, some time before the book’s street date, as a kind of “trailer” to get people excited. It worked, at least for me; the prologues touch base with a lot of characters, reminding you of where they are and what they’re doing, and providing hints of what’s to come.

The problem is, outside of that context — a pre-publication goodie — they really don’t work at all. They fundamentally aren’t prologues, not in any meaningful sense; the only thing separating them from ordinary chapters is their (increasing) length and the number of points of view packed into them. Furthermore, they rarely contain anything truly exciting: their main function is to remind you of the current state of affairs, rather than to launch anything important. The significant content of most of these scenes could be condensed to a single sentence — and not a complicated one at that.

While I was reading this book, I kept picking out scenes I would use as my example of unnecessary padding, and kept choosing new ones as I went along — not a good sign. Ultimately, I settled on the opening scene of Chapter 45, which introduces the character of Vilnar Barada, an underlieutenant to Davram Bashere. If the Wheel of Time Wiki is to be believed, this is the character’s sole appearance in the entire series. (Speaking of which: no sign of Alteima in this book. My opinion that she was unnecessary in TFoH is reinforced.) Vilnar’s scene accomplishes two things of any relevance whatsoever: he gives us an outsider’s perspective on Perrin’s Two Rivers posse, and he recognizes Faile.

For this, the man gets point of view rights and two pages of scene, which are mostly filled with irrelevancies: musings on the girl Vilnar would like to marry, comments on the Aes Sedai, reflections on how thieves in Caemlyn would rather be taken by the Saldaeans than the Aiel, etc. Basically, stuff that has no purpose being in the story, except to justify switching to this guy’s pov in the first place. Furthermore, of those two “relevant” things, the latter one is flubbed. It would work if we the readers knew Faile had been spotted, and that her father was in Caemlyn, while Faile herself remained ignorant; that would create a bit of narrative tension, as we wait for the other shoe to drop. Unfortunately, it drops a couple of paragraphs later, when we switch to Perrin’s pov and Vilnar introduces himself to the group, greeting Faile and announcing her father’s presence. So why exactly did we need that scene, with a new character and a new perspective? We didn’t. And I regret to say that decision is symptomatic of the entire book.

Even when we’re in more central points of view, there’s lots of unnecessary crap. Mat’s dance scene early in the book is fun, but what does it accomplish? There’s too much scene-setting in general, and not just of the sort everybody usually cites, i.e. Jordan’s tendency to describe what every Aes Sedai is wearing. It’s good to know that Mat keeps discipline in the Band, but do we need to know the entertainment in every tavern he reviews? (Maybe it’s meant to set up a contrast with their sudden departure later, but it doesn’t need that much setup.) When Rand departs from Cairhien in Chapter 19, we get an entire paragraph describing the Aiel who show up to see him off, another paragraph for the Cairhienin, and a third for the Tairens, with a fourth to cover how they’re all interacting; there are eighteen named characters in those four paragraphs. Then more fluff, telling us how all of them respond to his departure. If the story were more closely focused on the politics, it would be worth spending time on this stuff: all the tensions of who says what and when and in what tone, and what they’re wearing at the time (okay, maybe not that) — but there’s too much, and it isn’t relevant enough for me to care. I’m left with a sense of fatigue, rather than intrigue. By the time Meilan dies, near the end of the book, all I really remember about him is that he was Tairen.

Jordan is, by this point, leaning far too heavily on multiple points of view. Sometimes it’s the gimmick of rapid-fire scenelets, each only a couple of paragraphs long, trying to do the something like a movie montage: showing us Egwene’s allies manipulating the Salidar Hall, or the Tower embassy doing the same to Cairhienin nobles, or whatever. What works in a film, though, does not work in a book. More often it’s a matter of showing us things the protagonists don’t know, i.e. what the villains are up to. During the course of this book, we get the pov of every single living Forsaken (Demandred, Mesaana, Sammael, Graendal, Semirhage, Moghedien) and one of the resurrected ones (Osan’gar). Also Katerine (who gets all of two pages in the prologue, serving only to tell us that btw she’s Black Ajah and so’s Galina), Galina herself (likewise about two pages in total), and Sevanna (who gets only one page in the prologue, and another half-page later).

The funny thing is, the Forsaken don’t even do much. I find it funny because it reminds me of something Shekar Kapur says in the commentary track for his film Elizabeth: when you get down to it, the Duke of Norfolk does very little in the story, and so Kapur deflects you from noticing this by having him constantly in motion. Damn near every time you see Norfolk, he’s energetically striding somewhere, with other men following along at his heels, which conveys the impression that he’s very busy with something important. The Forsaken scenes in this book serve the same purpose, I think, only less successfully — and with the net effect of making them a lot less scary, as I’ve said before. Getting into their heads makes them human, and petty, which would be an interesting device if I thought Jordan was out to depict the banality of their evil. Alas, I don’t think he is.

Also, if it’s a bad idea to give your ubervillians pov? It’s an extra bad idea to give the Dark One a speaking role in the story. (Especially in the opening scene of the prologue.)

Other bad ideas: resurrecting villains. I can’t help but feel this was a decision driven primarily by the expansion of the story. Our Heroes have been killing off Forsaken at a good clip (two in TEotW, two in TDR, three in TFoH); at this rate, we would run out of them before long. Not to mention that the top ones, by which I mean Ishamael and Lanfear, are already gone. I could could forgive bringing those two back — especially Lanfear, who’s not even properly dead — but Aginor and Balthamel? The obvious interpretation is that Jordan regretted bumping them off so early, and never would have done so if he’d known the series would run so long.

(As for the plot-convenient but ideologically problematic ramifications of Aran’gar, the resurrected Balthamel, channeling saidin, see my post on gender.)

More maybe-villain stuff: I don’t remember whether the books I read back in the day settled the long-standing fan question of whether Taim is Demandred in disguise — don’t spoil it for me; I’d rather not know — but holy anvilicious hints, Batman. Whether it’s the case or not, Jordan clearly wanted you to think it. Demandred, who until this point has been a non-entity, features prominently in the prologue, right before Taim shows up; he also gets the final tag in the epilogue, asking if he has not done well, right after Taim deploys the Asha’man meat grinder at Dumai’s Wells. Lews Therin starts screaming about Sammael and Demandred the instant Taim shows up; Bashere doesn’t immediately recognize him; he hasn’t gone mad, and knows how to do things with the Power; and finally, there’s an implied irony when Rand lists the crimes of the Forsaken, asking if Taim did anything that bad. All of the ones he names are women . . . except Demandred. (The only counter-hints here are that he seems willing to play second string to Rand, and his shocked reaction at Rand nearly breaking the seal. Which impulse I still don’t understand, anyway: why, aside from general lunacy, does Lews Therin want to do that?)

Because I mentioned it before, I should add that the “bubbles of evil” thing does make a reappearance here — but as we said at the time, it doesn’t do so correctly; from what Moiraine said, they should flock most closely to the ta’veren trio, but instead they mostly happen to random extras offstage.

Returning briefly to the topic of women, Rand’s comments about the benefit of men bringing their families to the Black Tower reminded me a lot of something I noticed when I went to my sister’s law school graduation. A handful walked across the stage with babies in arms or toddlers in tow . . . but all of those who did so were men. How many women can spare the time to raise kids when they’re busy with law school? How many have husbands who can and will take over primary childcare duties? I agree that it’s not good for the White Tower to close itself off from the world the way it does, but I don’t know that they have much choice; no woman could take care of her family while dealing with life as a novice — and that presumes her husband could put up with his wife devoting all her attention and energy elsewhere, not to mention having such power over him when she was done. It’s an interesting contrast, a fruitful bit of worldbuilding; I just wish I felt more that Jordan recognized it as such, rather than meaning it as an actual criticism he set the White Tower up for.

On a brighter note where gender is concerned — it may be plot-device-y, but truth be told, I like Egwene being raised as Amyrlin. Aside from the fact that it gives her an Awesome Title like the boys’, it sets her up for what I remember as some very pleasing bits of political badassery. Siuan’s reflection that training Egwene to be a first-rate Amyrlin is the next best thing to being Amyrlin herself always makes me smile, especially because it’s one of the few instances of honest political alliance in the series. Plus, that team-up allows Egwene to be cool without it falling full on into Mary Sue territory (though the critical will say she’s there anyway.)

Also, I actually kind of like Berelain in Cairhien, at least when Perrin isn’t around. If you overlook the lingering echoes of her encounter with Rhuarc in Tear, back in TSR — echoes I’m more than happy to ignore, since they’re pretty damned offensive — the relationship between them in this book doesn’t suck; Berelain is politically effective, and seems to work pretty well with Rhuarc, with a degree of partnership we rarely get between men and women in positions of power.

(On the other hand, when she’s around Perrin? FAIL. Which makes me kind of glad that Perrin is very nearly Sir Not Appearing In This Book Either. I can’t help but wonder if Jordan got bored with him, compared to Mat and Rand, and for that matter all the women. Aside from Faile’s pov scene in the prologue — in which Perrin only shows up at the end — we don’t see him until Chapter 45, nearly six hundred pages into the book. Whereupon, for those playing the “what the hell is wrong with Faile” game at home, he immediately falls into the pit of Berelain, and the completely unanswerable question of what logic — I use the word loosely — determines when Faile smells jealous, and when she smells hurt.)

A few random things, before I get to the end of the book:

The whole not-sweating thing really perplexes me. I’m not sure why Jordan decided to say it was a trick of concentration, rather than the Power, but being a native Texan, it makes my head explode; Taim comments on how he’s taught it to the men at the Black Tower so they don’t “sweat themselves to death,” and I’m over here going “your body sweats so you WON’T die, idiot!” Seriously, how do they not all keel over of heat stroke?

With the secondary characters multiplying like kudzu, I find myself noticing something odd in the realm of names: to whit, they are all unique. It’s a disjunct between fiction and history, really; my poor copy-editor for the Onyx Court books is forever querying whether Edward Fitzgerald is supposed to be the same person as Edward Greville or Edward Carey, whether I meant the church of St. Laurence Pountney when I said St. Laurence Jewry, whether St. Giles-in-the-Fields is a typo for St. Giles Cripplegate. We don’t tend to repeat names in fiction because it can be confusing for the reader. But with the cast of thousands in this series, not to have any repetition starts to look decidedly odd. Even in the absence of a homogenizing force like the Church with its saints’ names, there really isn’t a tradition of naming boys after Artur Hawkwing? Or lots of Andoran girls bearing variants of Eldrene or Ishara?

On a broader sociological front, the more I look at this world, the more obviously I see that it’s in decline. Like Middle-Earth, it has large stretches of essentially uninhabited wilderness, with an even clearer sense that those stretches were once populated, and are slowly falling away. It makes sense in the Borderlands, where they’re constantly fighting the Blight, but why areas like the Plains of Maredo or the Caralain Grass, further from the Trolloc threat? Since the fall of Artur Hawkwing’s empire, it seems like the main continent has undergone a population drop more severe than, if also more gradual than, the Black Death in Europe. Wars can’t explain it all — not even the Trolloc Wars; those were centuries ago, and the real world had plenty of wars of its own without depopulating a continent. We don’t hear a lot about high infant mortality (and not enough of the population is urban for that death rate to get truly grotesque), nor are there plagues on a scale with the Black Death. But the decline is real; entire kingdoms no longer exist not only because of political disintegration, but because there’s no longer anybody there to rule. It’s a puzzle — and a disturbing one, from an in-story perspective; one gets the sense that even if the Blight went quiet for a thousand years, humanity might still die out, at least on that continent.

Okay, so the end of the book: the big throwdown at Dumai’s Wells.

I remembered a hell of a lot more lead-up to this than there really is. I seriously expected Rand to get grabbed a hundred pages sooner, with a lot more scenes of him being stuck in the box. In retrospect, it’s probably good I’m wrong, since that whole plan is kind of OMGWTFBBQ anyway. Okay, so Galina’s Black Ajah and they have a vested interest in making Elaida’s end of things go spectacularly badly (I snerked at the line about how Elaida has become a “strong and capable” Amyrlin — my ass, she has), and moreover Galina’s also Red Ajah of the worst man-hating sort, but jeebus, her treatment of Rand. I don’t know if it’s just an overloading of the villain circuits (there were no puppies handy to kick?), or Jordan’s penchant for characters beating each other going off the rails, or what — I should note in passing that while Nynaeve calls their treatment of Moghedien “just short of torture,” I would say it is torture, though I allow that by the standards of a society that regularly practices physical punishment it probably wouldn’t count as such. Anyway, it might work better if Jordan showed us the scene where Rand goes batshit and kills two of Erian’s Warders; then we’d see the ramp-up that leads to him being stuffed in a box and beaten twice a day. Once we’re there, I like the interactions with Lews Therin; for the first time, I feel like there’s a real relationship there, one that’s rather creepy and disturbing. But we go from zero to systemic torture awfully fast.

As for the battle itself, I can’t help but think of the Dramatis Personae at the beginning of Good Omens, which, after listing all the named characters, ends with “Full Chorus of Tibetans, Aliens, Americans, Atlanteans and other rare and strange Creatures of the Last Days.” In this case, we have a Full Chorus of Aiel, Wise Ones, Mayeners, Cairhienin, Two Rivers bowmen, Aes Sedai, Warders, Shaido, Asha’man, and wolves. To be honest, it’s a trope I’m occasionally weak for; I like it when the plot causes motley assortments of people to ally together for some great battle. (This happened once in a D&D game I was in; by the time we were done calling in favors from people we’d helped in the past, we had half the Forgotten Realms there.) And in this case, you can justify it with ta’veren, though it’s never explicitly said. The result . . . again, it’s shorter than I remembered, but on the other hand, the ending is far more horrifying than I recalled. The Asha’man “meat grinder” was a nifty trick when I was sixteen; revisiting it now, holy shit is that appalling. I’m curious to see what fallout that has in A Crown of Swords; I suspect the answer will be “not enough,” for what is functionally the Power equivalent of deploying a machine gun for the first time.

(Back in high school, I think A Crown of Swords was my favorite book; I waited just long enough for it that I had anticipation, not long enough that I grew jaded, and if memory serves it’s pretty Mat-centric. (Part of my dislike of The Path of Daggers stems from the total absence of Mat thererin.) I doubt I’ll think ACoS is better than The Shadow Rising, now that I’m looking more critically at the story, but I hope I still enjoy it this time through.)

. . . whew. I’ve made it through a whole year of this: six books’ worth of blogging, plus a couple of side posts. A bit terrifying to think that’s less than half of the way, but still, it’s a good start. I know one post every two months or so isn’t the best pace, from a blogging point of view, but it seems to be right for sustaining my momentum — fast enough not to fall off, slow enough not to burn out. Look for the ACoS post in January, most likely, and then we’ll see how the series fares when I’m simultaneously mired in the WoT books I don’t like as much and a new book of my own.

0 Responses to “Revisiting the Wheel of Time: Lord of Chaos”

  1. mastadge

    Is this the one with the Asha’man “rolling ring of earth and fire” or whatever that was? Anyway, I remember in high school I really enjoyed the short paragraph movie montage thing. Not sure what I’d think of it today. I keep thinking of reading through this series again, since I stopped at #8 or so, but I doubt I ever will, so I’ll just continue reading the notes from your revisiting.

    • Marie Brennan

      Yes, that’s what the Asha’man do after the “meat grinder” stage.

      I must say, it gives you a very clear sense of why the Aes Sedai take the second and third of their Three Oaths, once you see what a sufficiently twisted mind can do with the One Power, I’d want anybody who uses it to swear off it as a weapon.

  2. starlady38

    I’ve seen fairly convincing arguments that high central Asia is still recovering from the combined predations of the Black Death and the death throes of the Mongol empire even today; I think you could make similar arguments about large chunks of the Americas, at least through the 18th & 19thC. But it takes truly horrendous combinations of wars + disease, like in the Americas and central Asia, or really prolonged, vicious wars, like in central/NE Europe after the Hundred Years’ War, to get that sort of astonishingly high mortality and prolonged demographic consequences. So if there’s not any of that going down in TWoT, and people aren’t practicing infanticide and late marriage to excess, the only explanation left that I can think of is low fertility/fecundity. (Particularly since you start to see extreme social dislocation once mortality rates go above about 30%, as in the Black Death.)

    • Marie Brennan

      I should have phrased better that I think the Trolloc Wars (which went on for about three hundred years, and covered more or less the entire continent) would justify a massive population drop; what puzzles me is the sense that there’s been a further decrease since then. Subsequent conflicts like the Aiel War aren’t major enough to explain it, and although you have sort of ongoing endemic conflicts like the fight between Arad Doman and Tarabon over Almoth Plain*, those are kind of self-correcting; when you have few enough people, you can’t sustain that fight anymore. And besides, Almoth Plain isn’t depopulated; it’s just contested.

      Possibly I just misunderstand Jordan’s chronology, and what we see now is actually a recovery from the post-Trolloc Wars days. It doesn’t really seem like it, though.

      *Not that I expect these names to mean anything to you; it’s more for anybody else who wants to hop into the discussion.

      • Anonymous

        Re: depopulation: I remember in college a Russian classmate telling me she predicted the end of Russia in the next hundred years because of extreme depopulation. I asked how that could be possible, with more than 140 million citizens. She said I had to think about relative population increase, and how many Russians there would be if Stalin and Hitler hadn’t eliminated the portions of the population they had (say, vis a vis, the increase of the American population over the same time period; they should be direct correlations). Line that up against the vast geography and the impossible fiscal burden of stretching state resources to remote areas, and it all adds up to a dying country.

        I don’t know if she’s right (obviously; I know very little about these things) but I did read a novel a couple years ago called PETROPOLIS, about the realities of a modern Russian mail-order bride (although it’s not at all what you’re thinking right now), and it made me remember this. The author’s depiction of modern Russia rather fit into that above-mentioned college girl’s prediction.

        • Marie Brennan

          That’s definitely a modern scenario, though. Absent the travel and communications technologies that facilitate a state of that size, and the interconnections that make individual communities less self-sufficient, you couldn’t really get a situation like Russia, I don’t think. Other situations, certainly; there’s more than one way to depopulate a region. But a continent-wide drop, in a vaguely late-medieval/early Renaissance society, requires different factors to make it happen.

          • Anonymous

            like plaaaaaaague!

            i mean, we don’t REALLY know what happened in the New Age besides that moment of Trolloc Wars and that other moment of Hawkwing.

          • Marie Brennan

            A plague would make sense, but we haven’t had any mention of one. (Pity; I think it’s an underused device in fantasy. And it would make for interesting history in the Yellow Ajah.)

  3. time_shark

    Heh. A Crown of Swords was where I gave up.

    Edit: To break it down further so this doesn’t seem like a random swipe: I thought Book One was okay, loved Book Two, felt meh about Book Three, loved Book Four, mostly loved Book Five, thought Book Six was kind of maybe okay, and just got left cold by Book Seven, which I felt ended with nothing significant happening. I haven’t yet decided whether I’ll try again when the series is finished.

    • Marie Brennan

      Oh, come on! #7 ends with the Seanchan invading Ebou Dar and a wall falling on Mat’s head!

      And then you don’t see him for a whole book and when he reappears it turns out nothing interesting was going on while he was away. I still haven’t forgiven Jordan for that; I thought Mat vanished because he’d been shipped off to Seanchan.

      • time_shark

        My frustration stemmed from the summary-ness and inertia of most of the book, and then the pursuit of Sammael, which had an ambiguous ending, which I found hugely disappointing, as in Jordan, No Body = Not Dead.

        • Marie Brennan

          Hell, even Body = Maybe Not Dead, since the only sure way to kill a Forsaken is with balefire, which writes the corpse out of existence.

          I don’t remember hardly anything about the book that isn’t the hunt in Ebou Dar and (I think) Egwene’s martial law-style coup — oh, and doesn’t Rand’s final throwdown happen in Shadar Logoth, where Fain knifes him? — so I’ll have to see what I think when I get to it.

  4. Anonymous

    darn it. these posts always pop up in my ereader on my busiest days! you seem to have some kind of magical prescience. of course i will come back and read the whole thing carefully during lunch.

    slightly off topic, do you know if you’re going to be coming to Sirens in 2011? if you are, maybe there should be a roundtable about this…

    • Marie Brennan

      I hope to come to Sirens, yes. Not sure if this would make the best roundtable, though; on a gender front, it would mostly be a giant group rant, and that’s maybe not the most productive thing to do. 🙂

      • Anonymous

        what about just monsters in the wheel of time? anyway, no need to dignify this comment. just something to think about. i don’t believe you and i were the only two WoTers there.

        • Marie Brennan

          Huh — you just made me realize the extent to which the monsters in the series are masculine. Trollocs and Myrddraal are described in terms that either come across as masculine or at least not-feminine; then there are Darkhounds, Gray Men, gholam, etc, none of them with female markers. Feminine evil is all human (Black Ajah, the lady Forasken, some Darkfriends), and aside from the Black Ajah it’s all outnumbered by male counterparts.

          Under the circumstances, I’ll count that as a good thing, given fantasy’s general problems with the the monstrous feminine.

  5. Anonymous

    I couldn’t wait until lunch.

    So on my reread (last year, in prep for GS) I found a lot of surprising revisits, too. I read the series when I was in junior high–um, twelve, to date myself–and at the time only the first 7 had been written. So like you, I’d only read a portion, and reacted differently to certain things the second time around. SHADOW RISING was always my favorite, but I had a much harder time getting through LORD OF CHAOS–not least because of the teeny tiny font!

    In my adult self this ignited the editorial impulse. Part of me is dying to go back with a pen–or maybe even scissors–and just edit the series down to what it could be, if only. Of course … that’s not going to happen. But a nicely abridged edition–wouldn’t it be GREAT?

    Re: Forsaken: this is the point where their impotence begins to increase geometrically, which forces Jordan to revise his concept of Archvillain. I like your point that if the series had in fact wound down at this point–perhaps where it was originally intended–this problem may not have presented itself, and many aspects would have been tighter. But I can’t help but feel the Forsaken are suddenly much less dangerous, and mostly a waste of time, once Lanfear goes through the doorway.

    Finally, with this you reminded me of a conversation I was having with Faye last week about death. I’m currently reading Sherwood Smith’s INDA, and was totally distraught when a sympathetic secondary character died in it–Faye said, “why are you so people upset? Don’t characters die in The Wheel of Time?” at which point I realized … well, they don’t. Certainly not the good guys, but not even the bad guys! I mean, the only good guy who dies in Bk 1 is Thom, but hey! He’s not really dead. In Bk 2, it’s Ingtar, but he’s kind of a Darkfriend so really he’s a bad guy, sort of. Etc, etc. I won’t bore you. I don’t actually have a point to make here, just an observation.

    • Marie Brennan

      The funny thing is, TSR is actually longer than LoC, by about three or four thousand words. (Which ain’t much, when the total is wandering perilously close to 400K.) But I found them very different reading experiences: as I said when I re-read TSR, I think that’s the book where the scope and complexity are a feature rather than a bug. The points of view haven’t started to spiral out of control, and everybody’s plotline is doing something important.

      I’ve thought for years that I would love to see an edited version of the series. It’ll never happen, but it would be fabulous — bringing everything together in a far denser form, with less empty space.

      Your observation about death is one that actually crossed my mind as I was finishing LoC: hardly anybody of significance dies (and stays dead). Rahvin, Be’lal, and presumably Asmodean; a variety of random women Rand angsts over; the occasional caravan of Tinkers; other side characters here and there. I never have the slightest fear that anybody third-string or higher is going to bite it, unless (as you say) they turn out to be a Darkfriend and therefore we don’t really care. Contrast this with George R.R. Martin, where there are only maybe three characters I feel moderately certain will live to see the end of the series — and maybe not even them . . . .

  6. Anonymous

    LoC is definitely not one of my favorites.

    I know you don’t want spoilers, but about Alteima: she kinda-sorta shows up again, in a relatively logical place when you consider it, but… yeah, “unnecessary” is one way of putting her.

    Is it Crossroads of Twilight where the “prologue” ends up being about 20% of the book or some other outrageous percentage? After a while, they just got ridiculous; Sanderson has actually returned the prologues to their appropriate length and content.

    I think at this point Jordan wasn’t even thinking much about pacing as such and had just decided to give into worldbuildingmania, which for my nerdy side is great because I love world building, but for narrative wasn’t the best thing.

    And OMG, YES! to your observation about the names. It’s been bugging me for a while that absolutely no one shares the same name. I think, maybe, there was a maid once who shared a name with an Aes Sedai, but that’s about it; everyone else has totally unique names. Really, RJ? Really?

    About the depopulation, Jordan intentionally created a “fading” continent. Supposedly, it’s part of Ishmael’s manipulations, somehow, in some unspecified way. It’s not totally insane, though; the War of the Hundred Years left a bunch of not-terribly-strong kingdoms and an exhausted and depleted population. The weak kingdoms collapsed, and I bet a lot of people just left. Plus, as Russia shows us today, if people just stop having babies, a big population can shrink fairly rapidly.

    • Marie Brennan

      I really liked LoC back in the day, but I was inhaling the books rather than looking at them critically.

      Alteima: yeah, I was pretty sure she comes back eventually. But since I can’t remember how or when or why, it seemed a fair judgment to say we really didn’t need her pov in TFoH.

      CoT prologue: maybe, I dunno. God, I hated that book, and essentially remember only one thing from it, which is what happens to Egwene at the end.

      I think at this point Jordan wasn’t even thinking much about pacing as such and had just decided to give into worldbuildingmania

      I don’t even think it’s that, because what pads out LoC isn’t worldbuilding. In a comment above, I contrasted this book with TSR, which is actually slightly longer, but doesn’t feel like it: that one definitely had a lot of worldbuilding, as Rand went off to the Waste and started to learn about the Aiel. This book largely jumps around Tear and Cairhien and Andor, though — places we’ve already been. We start getting Ebou Dar, but that’s more in ACoS; beyond that, it’s little things like the Black Tower or the utterly screwed-up gender dynamic of Saldaea.

      I can only speculate as to what was going on in Jordan’s head as he wrote this, but to me it seems like with this book, he stopped feeling in control of his own sprawling narrative. All that padding is him reminding himself of where people are and what they’re doing . . . and then it didn’t get cut out in the editing process. Or him marking time with certain plots because he wasn’t sure how fast they should proceed (since he’d thrown out most of the benchmarks an author would ordinarily use to judge such pacing). Or just being afraid his readers couldn’t keep up — but I don’t even think it’s that.

      Names: I understand it, since fiction almost always hews to a rule that characters have unique names. It just starts to be terribly noticeable here, because of the sheer size of the cast.

      Depopulation: yes, it feels deliberate; I just found it interesting. But neither of those mundane answers really answers it for me. “I bet a lot of people just left” — and went where? Unless they emigrated to Shara or Seanchan or joined the Sea Folk, they’re still there, just in different places. But it can’t be the cities, because you need vast farmland to support big cities, that doesn’t seem to be the demographic distribution here. As for “people just stop having babies,” that is extremely unlikely outside of a modern industrialized society, with access to birth control and electricity (yes, electricity: the fastest way to drop the birth rate in a country is to provide it with TV at night. No, really.) I’m fine with it being chalked up to Ishamael — it certainly would make him a more effective villain than most, though I’m curious as to why he did it — I just wonder how. Did he do something with the Power to drop fertility rates? Fostered a high level of interpersonal violence even when population density wasn’t high enough to sustain it? I dunno; I just wonder.

      • Anonymous

        Alteima comes back in ToM, actually, but you have to keep your eyes open.

        Maybe worldbuilding isn’t the right word, exactly, but “epic sweep” may be closer. I think at some point Jordan decided that since he now had the luxury, we were going to see this snapshot of time in Randland from the eyes of more than just six characters. It’s sort of like how they used to have those epic books about one place that were a thousand pages long and covered a million years (wasn’t Robert Mitchener one guy who did those?) except epic fantasy and even longer. I don’t know; we’ll never really know, unless Harriet starts talking, which I doubt.

        I don’t think the depopulation has a very satisfying “explanation.” I think it’s all just an authorly handwave signifying a “declining age” slouching towards Tarmon Gai’don. As for why Ishmael would dastardly do it, well, a weak, fractured, underpopulated Randland is really good for the Shadow’s chances of winning by sheer weight of Trollocs. Also, there seems to be some sort of metaphysical component, too, where “unity gives strength” and the Shadow’s power wanes where there is unity and order.

        • Marie Brennan

          Does Alteima reappear before ToM?

          Maybe worldbuilding isn’t the right word, exactly, but “epic sweep” may be closer.

          Some of it is that, certainly, but some of it is simple flabbiness. The pages devoted to Rand ending his Cairhien visit don’t add to the world, nor to the epic sweep; they just fill time.

          • Anonymous

            No, I don’t think so. But maybe I just blinked and missed her in another book.

          • Marie Brennan

            Sheesh. Okay, yeah, nail in the coffin of any possibility that her appearance in TFoH was crucial enough to justify the time spent on it.

  7. Anonymous

    Thomas Wolfe was your height; I believe he used to stand at his refrigerator and use that as a desk. If that helps…

  8. Anonymous

    Exactly. It’s presenting conspiracy theory as plausible/factual.

    On the other hand, given the popularity of, say, Fox News, this is probably a shrewd moneymaking scheme.

  9. Anonymous

    Thanks for posting all the links! This has always been one of her chewier books for me, so I’m glad to see there’s a reason for it. I remember being totally blown away by the now-here/no-where vases. So much so that when the show Miracles had a similar wordplay, I had to immediately reread F&H.

  10. Anonymous

    Glad to hear it!

  11. Anonymous

    Oooh, looking forward to reading that! *bookmarks*

    Recently I’ve really been enjoying Seanan McGuire’s Veleveteen vs. series (about a retired superhero just trying to get to Oregon), as well as her Sparrow Hill Road series (about a hitchhiking ghost and her travels through the midnight America).

    The Edge of Propinquity, the semiprozine where the latter is hosted, has a number of series that I haven’t had a chance to look at yet, but it’s on my list…

  12. Anonymous

    It’s more than enough reference for my purposes; I don’t expect to need more than passing amounts of conlang for the kind of thing I write.

  13. Anonymous

    Ditto on this being how it works for me – I learned to listen for buried lines by shifting back and forth from Bass to Baritone to 2nd Tenor in choir, as needed (usually to keep the tenors from all drifting up to the 1st Tenor melody part…).

  14. Anonymous

    If she didn’t know anything about knots beforehand, I’d wager the rope would end up tightening around her ribs a lot. It also takes some experience to figure out how to walk/bounce down the rock face; torn-up knees, if nothing else.

  15. Anonymous

    I had a couple of those moments in the movie too. But not with so good a reason.

  16. Anonymous

    In a country that small, there’s going to be a whole generation where it’s normal to know someone who was killed, or shot at, or lost family or friends.

    I hope as few of them as possible see that horrible Hitler Youth comparison.

    A couple of the victims who’ve been confirmed dead were Muslim refugees- there were girls born in Iraq and Kosovo. They were integrating, participating in democracy, doing exactly what all these demagogues claim immigrants don’t do, and it got them killed.

    But this story (about increased political participation, and a 93-year-old getting involved for the first time) gives me hope. I really admire how Norway’s been responding.

  17. Anonymous

    Welcome home.

  18. Anonymous

    I frankly appreciate the lack of sentimentality, both before and after; Mat may be in love, but Tuon’s priorities are still on the bigger picture, as well they should be. For all my issues with the two of them, they’re probably just behind Nynaeve and Lan for relationships I like — ahead of Rand and all his ladies, and WAY ahead of Perrin and Faile.

    Agreed. I really enjoy Mat and Tuon for many of the reasons you lay out — we actually see their relationship develop over time, and though they both come to care for one another, it’s clear that neither forgets the other responsibilities weighing on them. Which, honestly, is far more romantic to me than Perrin’s all-encompassing obsessive devotion to Faile. Mature adult relationship for the win!

    I also appreciate that Tuon’s physically very different from most of the other female main characters and from the other women Mat’s admired, but still presented as attractive and desirable to him. Not just that she’s not white (which… effing finally we have at least one main character who isn’t) but her lack of hair and “boyish” non-curvy figure, etc. And I like that she challenges him but also values his competence and sense of honor — qualities that most of the other characters he’s been interacting with the last few books have had trouble acknowledging.

    Also, is it bad that I was happy to see Aram go?

    If this is wrong, I don’t want to be right. Aram was really freaking annoying. 😉

  19. Anonymous

    I’m not going into town, that’s for sure. The hotel restaurant is good, anyway.

  20. Anonymous

    Re: KOD

    Which was even worse because our point of view character knew what they were up to, and yet the narrative never said.

    Jordan got into a habit of doing this sort of thing, it seems. He did the same thing with Verin compelling the Aes Sedai, in the other major scene in the prologue of TPOD. He actually hides two things there: Verin’s motives and what she compels them to do. The first is justified — Verin’s motives are a major mystery throughout the series, and get revealed revealed exactly when they should. The second though — we find out soon enough that she compelled them to swear fealty to Rand and make sure he survives until the last battle (or something like that), so why hide it in the first place?

    Back to the Borderlanders though — Having read TGS and especially TOM, there actually is justification for Jordan to hide what they’re up to — it would give away to much to reveal their motives before the end of TGS, I think. The problem is that the scene in TPOD prologue is totally obnoxious; it should never have been included. We should have just found out about the Borderlanders secondhand.

  21. Anonymous

    Blanket octopuses rip the tentacles off man-o-wars and use them to kill their own prey.

    …I know.

  22. Anonymous


  23. Anonymous

    I stopped eating pizza when I was a kid because the sauce was too spicy. It hurt to eat it. I’ve gotten used to it now and will even seek pizza out, but some is still too spicy for me.

    My friend Angela lived in a place with a diner that delivered until at least three in the morning, located next to a really nice ice cream place. So you could order french fries and ice cream to your door at midnight.

  24. Anonymous

    The dogsitting house has a big tub. Deep, too, which is important. I’m not sure of the water heater, though– most places I’ve lived haven’t had enough hot water to fill the inadequate tubs, let alone as deep as I make them with clingwrap over the drain. Between that and a few bad experiences with lightheadedness (I am no longer allowed to read in the bath) I find that what I wish for is a perfect hot bath, not one that I can actually have.

  25. Anonymous


  26. Anonymous

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  27. Anonymous

    What about it intimidates you? I find it extremely easy to navigate.

  28. Anonymous

    It should — presuming I know what I’m doing on my end! — be anonymous automatically. I don’t know if there’s a way to be anonymous if you don’t go through the “fulfill” button; I don’t see an option for that on the usual posting screen. But the collection itself is set to make everything anonymous until we uncheck that box on the back end (thus revealing the authors).

  29. Anonymous

    Also, I keep forgetting to suggest that you check out this game, if you haven’t found it already:

    The premise: Victorian London gets dragged into the underworld. It sounds like something you’d create.

  30. Anonymous

    This A) reminds me of my favourite HP Fanfic: B) reminds me of the Precinct 13 pilot that Once Upon A Time got picked up instead of.

  31. Anonymous

    Yay for The Westing Game. This was my favorite book as a child, and when I reread it several years ago I was happy to discover that it held up exactly as well as I remembered. Turtle was (and is) my favorite character, but on rereading I realized how much I hadn’t noticed about the other characters. For example, it had gone completely over my head that Angela really doesn’t want to get married, and how important this fact was for the dynamic in their family.

  32. Anonymous

    I remember really liking Cart and Cwidder, though after reading your post, I can’t remember why… Still ,it was one of my favourites out of the Dalemark series. The Spellcoats was my absolute favourite though. I never really went in for DA or “Crown.”

  33. Anonymous

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  34. Anonymous

    I mentioned to your husband upon his posting of pictures that it has been snowing here. The snowing has stopped, but the cold hasn’t. If you need me, I will be hiding under blankets and thinking longingly about building with insulation. 😛

  35. Anonymous

    Then I may well start using that word, to fill in the gap between run-of-the-mill friends and in-bed-together lovers.

    In Homeric Greek, your φίλοι are anyone who is dear to you, whether that means family or friends or lovers or some mix of the above; you love someone (φιλέω), so they are φίλος. I find it a very useful word.

  36. Anonymous

    But – but – but! This is entirely legible! That is so cheating. Handwriting should be a chaotic scrawl, or what is the point of typing?

  37. Anonymous

    Comparing these people to hyenas is an insult to many fine hyenas.

  38. Anonymous

    Oddly so far my beta readers seem to be split about 50/50 with respect to which of the two characters they enjoy more

    Heh. I get that a lot, since I often have two protagonists in my novels. 🙂

  39. Anonymous

    All this stuff makes me want to cry. *sigh* That’s why we have to keep speaking out, I guess.

  40. Anonymous

    I don’t know if I want to read your paper or not 🙁

  41. Anonymous

    With Wings and Fire

    (Just ignore the fact that it rhymes perfectly with With Fate Conspire)

  42. Anonymous

    That seems reasonable.

  43. Anonymous

    Given the topic of my graduate thesis, I’m very much in agreement here.

    Re: your point about predictability taking you somewhere you want to go, I think it’s largely that the overall direction and the rough shape of the destination need to be acceptable to the reader, both generally (do I want to read a story this dark/about a character who’s this oblivious?) and specifically (do I feel like the place the author is heading has been set up properly?). There are people who insist on happy endings no matter what, and then people who will feel cheated by a happy ending achieved via Deus Ex Machina. The difference there is between varying expectation structures and standards for entertainment/art.

    Expanding on that point a bit, I like feel different modes of reading also mean that people have different reactions to perceived predictability, because people who read with more attention to structural choices are much more likely to be able to see plot twists and endings coming. As such, modes of reading themselves implicitly mandate or at least conflict with expectation structures – a capable structural reader, for example, is much less likely to insist that they be surprised by everything they read, because if they do, they’re almost certainly doomed to repeated disappointment.

  44. Anonymous

    I think you would love it.

  45. Anonymous

    Amen, here, here, and I will do my voting ritual tomorrow with great glee.

    And of course I’m voting for Obama. My ovaries would rebel if I didn’t. So would my brain.

  46. Anonymous

    In California there’s a slateful of state and county and city initiatives in addition to federal offices, which also have a huge effect on The Future, so it’s way important to vote on those as well. I’m really glad California is more or less guaranteed blue, but there’s a lot else to get done. So I get up early and go vote, on election days. Actually, most people I know have already voted by mail, but I’m doing it the old-fashioned way at least once more.

  47. Anonymous

    I loved “No Harm Ever Came From Digging Up the Past” when I read it pre-reveal, and I still have it open in a tab to remind me to send it to my sister.

  48. Anonymous

    I’m hoping I’ll be around for the San Francisco reading. I still have no idea when this trip to Pittsburgh is happening.

  49. Anonymous

    Huh … I may need to check this out. Thanks!


  50. Anonymous

    Thanks for this 🙂 At least there’s a lot of dragon-y goodness on the internet to tide me over – it turns out my bookstore’s shipment of ANHoD (all 5 copies, one of which is reserved for meeee) has been delayed by last week’s East Coast snowstorm… Norway really feels like the back end of nowhere sometimes.

  51. Anonymous

    I’ve been seeing a number in libraries, including the Bodleian. Since there are now apps that will display tracked changes, I feel it’s viable.

  52. Anonymous

    I agree with this message 100%. My only addendum is that high def displays are worth it for reading.

  53. Anonymous

    I don’t remember if electronics break down, but it doesn’t preclude wizards from coming up with some form of word processing more efficient than a quill and a scroll. (Rita Skeeter has an automated quill, but it’s unreliable, and doesn’t address the other problems.)

    Anyway, yeah. This isn’t to say that any book which fails to address such issues is bad; I enjoyed Harry Potter hugely. But for me, that enjoyment was contingent on not looking too closely at the worldbuilding. Not just for tech reasons, but others — the comment about how any real witch caught could escape being burned with trivial ease (and some of them enjoyed it, saying the flames “tickled”) just about drove me out of my mind, on account of the blithe disregard for all the ordinary people who died horribly in those flames. I had to ignore those things to get to the stuff I enjoyed.

  54. Anonymous

    I’d say the later Guards novels are stronger: Men at Arms, Feet of Clay, Jingo, Night Watch. I particularly like the latter two.

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