Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Eye of the World, chapters eleven, twelve, and thirteen, in which Rand's protagonism is revoked

It seriously takes them a chapter and a half to cross a ferry.  We pause for the anti-Sesame-Street moment about hating on strangers, and I see at least some indications of why this is considered a more feminist story than Tolkien--though frankly, these chapters also make it obvious that Egwene would have been a vastly better protagonist in every way.

The Eye of the World: p. 148--191
Chapter Eleven: The Road to Taren Ferry

For a couple of pages, Rand recaps where everyone is in their formation of horse-riders fleeing the monsters, and resolves to hang back to protect Egwene if her horse (his old reliable Bela) falls behind, because he is Brave and Chivalrous and suspects Moiraine and Lan don't really care if she makes it or not.  They reach Watch Hill and Mat and Perrin start talking about spending the night at the inn, and I can't decide if this is meant to be ironic.  Fellowship of the Ring, as I've noted before, basically starts with a weeks-long pub crawl as Frodo very slowly moves out of the Shire, sometimes spending months at a new place before shifting another town over.  Mat and Perrin seem to think they might be on a similar sort of journey, and Lan is all 'lol no, we keep going'.  In a welcome moment of realism, Rand points out that the horses are already run to exhaustion, but Moiraine is also all 'lol no, I cast Mass Empower Horse'. and they're instantly refreshed (though she exhausts herself).

Then they are overtaken by a flurry of similes:
A scream ripped the darkness, a sound like a man dying under sharp knives [....] The wind of the Draghkar's wings beat at Rand with a feel like the touch of slime, like chittering in the dank dimness of a nightmare.
I am 100% guilty of writing like this sometimes, I love a good simile like Haruka loves Michiru, but I like them to make sense, and I'm not sure how wind can beat at a person like chittering.  The idea of slimy wind is also weird but comprehensible, and that would have done the job.  (Also, how much does Rand know about what people sound like while being murdered with sharp knives?  Has he been hanging out with Wickerman al'Summerisle?)  The horses panic, but Lan gets everyone going again, and Rand hopes no one notices that he instinctively drew his sword like he was going to fight the draghkar.

More fleeing and monster shrieks:
Egwene's face in the moonlight was smiling in excited delight. Her braid streamed behind like the horses' manes, and the gleam in her eyes was not all from the moon, Rand was sure.
Is he implying that her eyes are literally glowing?  Because that would be suspicious.  More likely it's supposed to indicate that she's enjoying this way too much, which: Rand, I am demoting you to sidekick and giving the role of protagonist to Egwene, because so far she's way cooler than you.

Moiraine cloaks them all with thick noise-cancelling fog (Rand spends half a page angsting about the health risks of breathing in girl-magic) until they ride into Taren Ferry, a town we are told full of snobby folk who look down upon Rand's villages, and coincidentally are all thieves and cheaters themselves.  No sense of irony here, I guess, but that's what happens when your protagonists are Objectively Honest Rural Folks--other people just have to cope with their own inadequacies and jealousy.  An introspective sort of person might wonder if perhaps their own preconceived notions about strangers aren't reflected in the preconceived notions held by strangers, and whether the obvious wrongness about the slander strangers spout doesn't hint at the possibility that one has unthinkingly absorbed prejudices oneself.  There are no introspective people here.  Lan tracks down the ferryman and pours gold into his hands until he agrees to take them across immediately.

Chapter Twelve: Across the Taren

As they march to the boat, Rand overhears Moiraine talking about the ferryman remembering "too much as it is", and not wanting him to see more of her.  I don't know if there's meant to be an implication that Moiraine can erase people's memories, but I'm going to assume she can and that she doesn't want to, which is a point in her favour.

Thom, Mat, and Perrin are all muttering about food, but Egwene continues pleased:
There must be a difference in what you saw, it seemed to him, depending on whether you sought adventure or had it forced on you. The stories could no doubt make galloping through a cold fog, with a Draghkar and the Light alone knew what else chasing you, sound thrilling. Egwene might be feeling a thrill; he only felt cold and damp and glad to have a village around him again, even if it was Taren Ferry.
I love meta and all, but this just drives home the point I mentioned above, that Egwene should be the protagonist here and Rand is unnecessary.  Fantasy is already full of reluctant farmboy heroes, and I don't think Rand is breaking new narrative ground with his grumpiness.  Give me a scared but enthusiastic hero, please.

We get a full page of the menfolk making their weapons obvious to the burly ferry-pullers, including the gleeman parlour-tricking a dagger into his fingers from nowhere, eliciting claps and giggles from Egwene and smiling from Moiraine, I kid you not.  The dudes are acting tough and the gals are applauding.  That's what's happening right now.  I want to bite someone.

They cross over slowly, and--oh, really?  Rand asks Lan if he really thinks the ferry crew was thinking about robbing them, and Lan basically says 'Hey, I heard the rumours in your town; I thought you knew these guys were all thieves' and Rand feels bashful about not believing it.  That's our moral of the story: rumours about Rival Town are true and it's silly to think they might just be okay folks like us.  (None of Rand and company have ever been here before, so they have zero personal experience, just optimism to work from.)

On the far bank, Lan pays up, tips the pullers individually, and pays more when a 'freak whirlpool' obliterates the ferry they've just stepped off, such that, as Moiraine unsubtly points out, no one else will be able to cross for a while.  Mat starts to ask if she did it, but Moiraine is very 'I'm getting you to Tar Valon, don't make me justify everything I do'.  She does, however, take a minute to brag about how she extended her fog miles down the river, which will convince the Fade that they fled by boat rather than land, and she is super smart and talented.  Rand reminds us again that "He did not think the shine in [Egwene's] eyes was all from moonlight."  Girl's apparently got LCD retinas.

They stop at a tree grove where Lan apparently previously predicted they might need to rest, and so left dry wood and such.  There is much camping, angsting about the threat of having Moiraine magically re-energise them, and the dangers therein.  Moiraine is busy talking to Egwene about magic, male saidin and female saidar that make up the One Power, the evil taint on saidin, and how she sees in Egwene the potential to be a natural wielder.
"You are very close to your change, your first touching. It will be better if I guide you through it. That was you will avoid the... unpleasant effects that come to those who must find their own way."
Moiraine and Egwene practice together with a crystal, and Egwene manages to get a tiny flicker of light out of it, to Rand's deep dismay and her own exultant joy.  I'm so glad I made Egwene the protagonist, because Rand is just a twerp now.  Egwene just got told "You're a wizard, Harry" and Rand is busy anger-moping because a woman just helped his crush better understand her first touching and now it's like they don't even need men at all.  (Lan quietly contemplates telling Rand to lay off the Axe bodyspray and fedoras.  Mat quietly contemplates asking Perrin if he likes stories about gladiators.)

Chapter Thirteen: Choices

Moiraine goes to each of them in turn and gives them Magic Headrubs that purge their aches and exhaustion.  She can't do the same for herself, and she refuses food (oh my god can we have one book where wanting food sometimes isn't treated as a weakness) and curls up by the fire.  They all wake up super-rested and take off, Mat and Perrin still talking about how soon they'll get to go home, and then it's time for a week of travel montage.  Lan also starts teaching them combat; they're all already amazing archers (this is so improbable) but there's plenty to learn about the axe and sword.  Lan visibly fails to react when Rand explains that he already knows 'the flame and the void' that Lan starts explaining.  In case we forgot that Rand's adoptive dad was a super fencer.

One morning Egwene wakes up, unbraids her hair, and brushes it out a hundred times, to Rand's consternation.  (He counted the hundred strokes.)  Egwene just says that Aes Sedai don't braid their hair unless they want to, so, implicitly, screw village traditions.  Rand continues to be uncomfortable with his non-girlfriend's acceptance of her own body and attributes, and implies all non-Moiraine Aes Sedai are minions of Satan.  They end up shouting at each other until shushed by Lan.  Mat and Perrin discuss turning south up ahead to go on adventures, since they obviously ditched the monsters for good back at the ferry, but Indisputable Badass Moiraine informs them that they're still hunted by the Dark One, she opposes anything the Dark One wants, and therefore she'd rather kill them all herself than let them be captured.

Next night, Rand snoops on Egwene's magic lessons, and overhears a listing of the Five Powers, "Earth, Wind, Fire, Water, and Spirit".

But is this the true face of the Dragon... or of the Dark One?

Egwene wants Moiraine to confirm it was only male wizards who screwed up the world, and Moiraine refuses to answer, instead talking about fear and potential and unsubtly indicating that Egwene was not the only potential wizard in her village.  Egwene refuses to be thrown off, anen:
"Well, it was the men, but they were no more wicked than any men. They were insane, not evil."
LOW BAR SURPASSED!  This is the least ableism we've had since Ender's "I'm crazy but I'm okay" line, but here it's explicitly stated as a fact relevant to morality and to understanding the context of actions!  (There's no space given to the idea of degrees of culpability, the distinction between 'fully sane' and 'responsible for one's actions' or 'trustworthiness', but like I said: low bar.)

They finally arrive at the city of Baerlon, which leaves all the farmboys agape at its vastness, though Lan scoffs at calling it a city.  Moiraine says the dangers is greater here, what with magic-haters and Darkfriends about, and so they'll have to go about hidden under cloaks and using fake names.  Yes, good, everyone pull your cloaks up on this sunny day.  That will avoid attracting attention.

Just waiting for the bus, don't mind me.  Need to drop by the bakery.  For pie.  Yeah. 

The gatekeeper recognises Lan and Moiraine, already knows their fake names, and warns them that there are Children of the Light in the city (people who, Rand has heard, hate Aes Sedai and Darkfriends equally).  He's also heard that the Aes Sedai who went to fight the false Dragon have suffered casualties, and that the Dragon marches on the fortress called the Stone of Tear.  Apparently this is relevant to "the Karaethon Cycle", also called "the Prophecies of the Dragon", which says that "the Stone of Tear will never fall until the People of the Dragon come" and "the Stone will never fall till the Sword That Cannot Be Touched is wielded by the Dragon's hand".

I'm so glad this chapter is almost over.

Said untouchable sword is in found in the Heart of the Stone of Tear, and no one knows what it is or whether it's a sword at all.  Rand questions how it can be wielded by the Dragon before the city falls if he can't get at it until he's already conquered, and gets brushed off, because Rand at least continues to have his gift for genre savviness and has detected an obvious prophecy twist coming.  (My guess is that Rand will wield the sword in hopes of defending Tear from the false Dragon, but they'll lose the city anyway for some reason.)

They finally pick the lock on a gate to an inn (that seems unnecessary) and the innkeeper happily welcomes them (with their fake names) to the Stag and Lion, and the women excitedly rush for baths.  Women, with their hatred of filthiness, ugh.

Next month: I'm not sure what posting schedules will be like through December, what with weekend RPGs and visiting family and all that, but I will endeavour to keep up the usual weekly pace.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Eye of the World, chapters eight, nine, and ten, in which they bravely run away

I cannot believe how fast this book goes by, despite being a massive brick.  It doesn't ask to be engaged with at all, and the prose is pretty poetic at times, so it's really, really easy to skim through and not miss anything.  Plus so far all the characters have been recapping everything that happens to them at least twice, so if you do somehow manage to miss something, you get a second chance later on.  This is the essence of shut-your-processor-off fantasy.

The Eye of the World: p. 104--147
Chapter Eight: A Place of Safety

When I was in high school (I have now been out of school for as long as I was in school, which is very weird) I knew a guy who summed up his abandonment of the Wheel of Time by saying "Let me guess what happens in the next book: they're going to talk some more".  The quantity of unnecessary dialogue in this book really is spectacular.  It's like stream-of-consciousness writing, the type that is supposed to get edited later.  I'm sure to some readers it creates a sense of realism and makes it feel like the village really is full of lots of different people, but they're all so interchangeable they kind of blend together for me into a single six-armed eleven-eyed aberration, Rufus al'Plainspoken, the Son of the Soil, the Earth-Salted One.  So I hope you'll continue to forgive me for skimming swathes of dialogue that don't actually serve any long-term purpose.

I also hope it's supposed to be kind of funny that Rand continues to be so intense about being adopted:
While he was still coming through the door Rand's eyes went to his father--his father no matter what anyone said.
No one has said anything because no one knows except you and your dad, Rand, you can probably take a breath.  Sorry.  If I had feelings instead of this damned mechanical ticking contraption in my chest I'd probably think his anxiety was adorable and sad.  There is much shuffling and muttering as people get told where to go and then Moiraine settles down by Tam's bedside to work her mojo.
In the stories Aes Sedai wonders were always accompanied by flashes and thunderclaps, or other signs to indicate mighty works and great powers. The Power. The One Power, drawn from the True Source that drove the Wheel of Time. [....] For all he could tell, though, Moiraine might just as well have gone to sleep.
I am left wondering if there's going to be any explanation for any of the Capitalised Terms of this mythos, and if they will actually matter.  Why is it the One Power?  (Especially if it comes in male and female flavours and they apparently don't touch enough for the curse on the male part to infect the female part?)  Are there False Sources?

Lan notices Rand's sword, and explains that the herons are a mark of a master swordsman, and remarks like eight times on how strange it is for it to be in the hands of a sheepherder.  (Isn't shepherd a word here?)  Rand diverts to talk about the Black Rider, which Moiraine says doesn't matter much now and wouldn't have helped even if they'd known in advance.  She slanders carrion-eaters more as minions for the Dark One, and then Rand notes that his dad is looking better.  Moiraine explains Morgul Shayol Ghul blades for anyone who hasn't read Lord of the Rings already, and says that even her angreal can't do too much for a tainted wound.  (Not sure why exactly she flashes the holy irreplaceable relic at Rand.)  There's more capitalised talk about how the black rider was a Myrddraal which is also called a Halfman, Lurk, Fade, or Shadowman, spawned from early experiments by Dreadlords when they were making Trollocs.  There's a kind of unrepentant enthusiasm for just throwing in new words that I am starting to get caught up in again.  Dwerrow.  That's not in the book, I just like to say it.

Moiraine and Lan exposit further that the trollocs were in town searching for a boy of very specific age, in the range of Rand, Mat, and Perrin, who were all born within weeks of each other, and therefore the three of them must leave the village to protect it.  Why me, I'm not special, the Dark One couldn't possibly be interested in me, et cetera.  The threat of further battles torching the whole countryside before the Aes Sedai could kill all the trollocs and myrddraal reinforcements convinces Rand to go, and Moiraine advises him to leave his dad a note, since they'll have to take off that night.  (Rand hasn't slept yet after a day of hauling and farming followed by a night of running and murdinating; does she think he will just keep walking?)  I'm not sure if this is considered reasonable or if we're supposed to think Moiraine is heartless for being all "Time to go to the city of witches for an indeterminate length of time, leave your not-quite-dead Mystery Dad Swordsman a note on the fridge".  Rand still hopes to get to talk to his father before they leave, and et cetera domesticity and soup, he falls asleep in a chair by the fire.

Chapter Nine: Tellings of the Wheel

Is this going to be a prophetic dream?  Let me flip ahead.  Yes.  It is five pages of prophetic dream.  The landscapes are nicely described, first jagged stone ridges and mist-rivers leading to a huge black mountain where Rand feels Shai'tan demanding his service (hot), then the broken mountain from the prologue, which is now the site of Gondor Tar Valon, I think, and he's still being chased by the devil, smash cut to inside the city, full of all the wonders of architecture.  This bit is actually nicely creepy, as he keeps trying to delay going to a white tower that always seems to be up ahead, and everyone in the street gets sad and impatient, but when he relents and starts toward the tower they begin to cheer and dance for him.  At least, I think it's supposed to be creepy?  They all keep insisting only he can save them, and girls dance around him and throw flowers at him until he starts dancing, and when he finally steps inside the tower the doors shut and he's faced with a myrddraal, JUMP SCARE, fade to black.  So, he's being chased by the devil, we've had some establishing shots of Mordor and Gondor, and Rand subconsciously knows he's the protagonist.  (Unless Mat and Perrin have the same dreams.  How much fun would it be if three friends all thought that they were the only Chosen One and they had to stop each other because if anyone except the right Chosen One tried to fulfill the prophecy they'd ruin everything?  Betting we don't get that in this book.)

The food Rand didn't eat has been replaced by Mrs al'Vere, who is apparently an aggressive feeder (gender roooooles), and to my mild surprise Dad al'Thor actually wakes up and talks to Rand, there is much recapping.  Dad admits that Rand really should go to Witch City (Tar Valon) but he insists that Rand pay very close attention to the Aes Sedai's words, because she might not lie but she will happily and constantly mislead.  Women, amirite?

More exposition about how Warders are bonded (shockingly, not Bonded) to their Aes Sedai and get some generic Captain America powers out of it, fast healing and such, and Rand speculates that the Aes Sedai must get something out of it too or they'd never make a deal.  Superhuman bodyguards aren't good enough, Rand?  We've got dainty perfect lady wizards running around pair-bonded with super-ripped gruff brawlers, do we not think that most of them are doing each other like crossword puzzles?  Because I'd expect a lot of that, with or without associated romantic entanglements.

Rand never does ask his dad about Heroic Adoption, and then Lan drags him outside where there's a mob come to chase the witch out of town.  The mayor and smith intervene, pointing out how she healed everyone last night, but Moiraine steps in herself with white fire sparking off her staff and rants for about a page about how awesome this part of the world used to be, back when the river was called, I kid you not, Manetherendrelle.
"Their King was Aemon al Caar al Thorin, Aemon son of Caar son of Thorin [if I made a drinking game out of this there would be no survivors], and Eldrene ay Ellan ay Carlan was his Queen. Aemon, a man so fearless that the greatest compliment for courage any could give, even among his enemies, was to say a man had Aemon's heart.  Eldrene, so beautiful that it was said the flowers bloomed to make her smile."
So, as we guessed, al'Thor is 'son of Thor', and apparently the 'daughter of' thing was just tossed out entirely somewhere along the line.  I would have guessed that this was because the fall of the noble past led to more patriarchy, but then we find out that in the golden age the king was fearless (allowing him to take the right action in any situation, presumably) and the queen was hot (making it unnecessary for her to take any action in order to justify her existence, presumably).  This is billed as less sexist than Tolkien.  Absolutely, there are more female characters in this book, but their treatment is consistently lacklustre and they all have to be dainty and pretty (and implicitly white and straight).

Moiraine goes on talking about how the people from here were devastating warriors around the world, and how they rushed home when they heard the trollocs were attacking their homeland, how terrifying their enemies were.  All of them men, of course.  Only men.  It's a big deal when after ten days they think they're doomed and the men and women (with their husband, no single women allowed ever) finally came to their aid.

Ah, but no, Eldrene the Hot Queen is obviously a strong female character, because when she's busy evacuating civilians she can feel her husband die in battle, and on the spot she wills the whole evil army to burst into flames, at the cost of her own life as well, and the stones of her now-empty city.  (Call me ruthless, but the body count of her people at this point is, like, a billion, there's been slaughtering across the border for weeks; could she not have taken them all down with her on day one and let the army mop up with vastly fewer casualties?)  Moiraine finishes by explaining how the kingdom never recovered and now the villagers are the only descendants, so shame on them for being scared because a witch showed up in town and then orcs burned half of it down.  Bit by bit they apologise and shuffle away, and Lan tells the boys to get a move on already.
This was the real beginning, leaving the inn and following the Warder into the night...
YOU'RE NOT WRONG BUT WE'RE ON PAGE 135 COME ON.  I mean, I know Fellowship of the Ring has the slowest start in the world, book one is basically a six-month pub crawl, but of all the aspects to copy, who thinks that's the best possible one?  If Jordan is serious, I am curious if things will happen at any sort of meaningful pace now.

Chapter Ten: Leavetaking

Welp, they are going signature-weapon style: as Lan preps the horses, they tease Rand about his heron sword, while Mat's got a bow and Perrin's got a honking great axe.  They confer and recap with each other more about what's already happened (Mat and Perrin only left notes for their families, as ordered), and then Egwene arrives to declare they're not leaving without her, because she wants to see the world.  (Lan didn't hear her coming.  Lan was just chastising the others for not paying attention to their surroundings two pages ago.  Lan is bad at things.)  Twice in four pages Moiraine is all 'It's part of the Pattern now, nothing we can do about it' and agrees to bring her along.  What does that mean?  If someone starts to do something, they can't be stopped, because it's part of the pattern?  Why wasn't the destruction of the village part of the pattern?  Is this just going to be the Aes Sedai's go-to phrase for 'shut up I've made my decision'?  It turns out the gleeman Thom is also hanging out in the loft (Lan you're so bad at this) and he wants to perform in Tar Valon, and lampshades Moiraine's 'part of the pattern now' thing, so Rand fetches his family horse Bela for Egwene.
"I still think you shouldn't come," he said. "I wasn't making it up about the trollocs. But I promise I will take care of you." 
"Perhaps I'll take care of you," she replied lightly.
Strong Female Character is a go.  The seven of them finally head out (two more to go for a full fellowship?) and pass a patrol of ill-equipped villagers.  Lan judges that two trollocs would slaughter them all, but figures they're better than nothing.  I hate that.  Rand killed one trolloc by accident and Dad al'Thor took two out in two swings when ambushed.  If I'm supposed to be afraid of the Big Bad's lackeys, they need to actually be played as dangerous, not just described as more than a match for the NPCs.  (This was something that I thought Mistborn did very well--the Inquisitors are meant to be scary, and they are, to the point where it's a huge deal when they finally take one down, at terrible cost to the heroes.  More of that, less of this, please.)

Rand spots a thing that he hopes was just a bat against the moon, but he judges the distance and realises it's too massive, and they collectively identify it as a Draghkar, even worse than trollocs and myrddraal (though still under the myrddraal's command), and that means they'll be spotted soon, so they rush for the ferry.  ...The ferry.  They're fleeing the bad guys by ferry in the middle of the night.  All I can hear is Dominic Monaghan saying that the only other crossing is 'toenty muyales' away in an accent never before used by the human tongue.

We're now 148 pages in.  We're keeping pretty good pace with Fellowship, actually; on page 148 of my copy they've just arrived at the inn of the Prancing Pony, just past the movie's scene with the ferry crossing.  But those 148 pages include Tom gorram Bombadil on top of the birthday party and pub crawl and Black Riders.  I will not hear a word against Tom Bombadil, but let's not pretend he was a vital plot force, and even with him Fellowship is moving faster.

Next week: Egwene's gonna be a totally sweet wizard.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Eye of the World, chapters five, six, and seven, in which the plot begins

I started reading The Fault in our Stars this weekend, and while I don't think I could or would want to do a full series on it (most of all because I've never been directly impacted by someone's terminal disease before), I might toss a bonus post or two up about it sometime soon, because when it's good it's pretty dang good, and when it's bad it's all OH JOHN GREEN NO.  We'll see how the rest of the book goes first.

The Eye of the World: p. 62--103
Chapter Five: Winternight

Starting us off on a light but confusing note, the first page, describing the al'Thor house, looks like it's supposed to be full of double entendres:
Tam and Rang were considered out of the ordinary as much for being two men living alone as for farming in the Westwood.
'Alone' except for all the other bachelor merchants and farmboys who stop by to keep them company, of course.  Quite out of the ordinary, yes, quite strange, quite, quite queer.
The house was still in a tidy state of repair, the thatch tightly mended and the doors and shutters well-hung and snug-fitting.
Well, I mean, who doesn't like well-hung shutters snugly fitting into their tight thatch?

Apologies; I'm twelve.  Moving on.

They scope out the unspooked animals and the untainted well and decide the Black Rider wasn't here, set about doing various chores, keeping their bow and spear close at hand, making Traditional Fantasy Stew for dinner, et cetera, et cetera, pages of this.  When they finally head inside, it is extremely cozy and all the wars and magic feel very far away.  Dad al'Thor nevertheless locks the doors, for the first time in Rand's memory, because no one ever locks their doors, which causes me to wonder why they have locks at all.  Dad also busts out the secret family sword, which, by its slight curve (stop snickering), single sharp side, and heron designs, I'm guessing is a katana or wakizashi.  Robert Jordan is giving his Quaint English Whitebread farmboy hero a katana.

How exactly did all of these tropes get associated with fanfiction when best-selling authors with endless heaps of praise to their name have been doing it for years?  (Gatekeeping and sexism, the answers are gatekeeping and sexism.)

Dad al'Thor bought it a long time ago, although Mom disapproved, and he comments grimly about how impractical it is to a farmer's life and he should have given it away.  Obviously that means he's never practised all these years and so won't know what he's doing, right?  Nope.  A minotaur bursts through the locked door, Rand throws the kettle at it, and Dad kills it in a single thrust, and then the next one that comes in after it, instant-death blows that in the real world are generally reserved for decapitation.  Dad shouts for Rand to run and hide in the cold dark woods full of monsters.  Dad has made a series of bad decisions today and this might be a winner.  Rand scrambles out a window as monsters burst in the back door, there is much scurrying and echoes of steel hitting steel (so much for that beautiful unmangled sword), and Dad busts out the front window (inexplicably immune to glass shards) and leads the monsters off on a chase as Rand stumbles fearfully through the woods.  They reunite and Dad explains that the minotaurish things are Trollocs, our signature Always Chaotic Evil race.  (I have an asexual friend who remains delighted that this forms the acronym ACE.)

Dad's weak and bleeding, so Rand takes the sword and goes back to the farmhouse (sheep all slaughtered, house all wrecked) to get geared up.  One Trolloc turns out to have faked its death to lie in wait, and haltingly tells Rand to wait and talk to the Myrdraal that's coming, which is also called a Fade, so now we have two new Capitalised Names for one being without the slightest clue what it is.  (It is apparently a very tall monster.)  It then helps Rand perform the Traditional First Farmboy Hero Kill by leaping at him, and he gets his sword up just in time for it to impale itself as it tackles him to the floor.  He loots what he can from the ruin of their home, chops up a broken cart axle with the sword (even Rand realises this is improbable) and runs with it all back to Dad al'Thor, who is feverish and having nightmares and must be taken to Rivendell Emond's Field as soon as possible.

So, quaint rural homeland, Black Rider, slightly magic sword received from father figure, Morgul wound, orcs speaking the Black Tongue, need for a druid healer to cure a cursed wound... I mean, wow.  I honest to Eru Iluvatar did not expect Wheel of Time to be this severe a knockoff of Lord of the Rings.

Chapter Six: The Westwood

Rand binds his dad's wounds, al'Guyvers a stretcher out of the axles and blankets, and starts dragging him through the woods, with much narrative emphasis on how scary this is and he's only alive by luck and his sword-and-sorcery-adventure daydreams never involved anything this grim.  How old is Rand?  Sixteen?  I like him more the younger I picture him, because this all becomes more impressive and I have less desire to tell him to just shut up and do the job already.  He drags his dad through the woods (with constant yelps of pain when they go over rocks and roots).  From Dad al'Thor's epic babbling, he's either reciting legends or he had a much more heroic unmarried life than we were led to believe.  The Black Rider shows up on the road, leading the trollocs, but they go unnoticed.  Is the town screwed?  I think the town is screwed.  Especially once Rand starts extended descriptions of what the party will be like when everything settles down and they can finally take their new yacht for a spin after that police detective finishes his last day on the job.

Dad al'Thor is muttering more 'nonsense' about cuttings from the Tree of Life, Avendesora, which Rand al'Expositions to us belongs to the Green Man, who is also just legend (like trollocs, Rand admits).  He then fever-talks his way through a story of finding a baby in the snow after a battle and how he knew Kari wanted children and Rand is a good name, and Rand is genre-savvy enough to realise on the spot that this means he was adopted, which is on the one hand implausible and on the other hand oh thank god we're not having that drawn out too much.  I mean, if you must be that blatant, let the hero clue in as soon as the reader.

Chapter Seven: Out of the Woods

Is that a pun, because they're literally and figuratively out of the woods, or ironic, because things aren't going to get any better?  I appreciate good wordplay.  Good wordplay.

As day breaks and Rand is a hungry aching golem trudging through the woods, he finally reaches Emond's Field, which is indeed half burnt-down.  However, there are plenty of survivors picking through the wreckage, and Egwene leads them to Nynaeve, who takes a look at Dad al'Thor and reports that he's beyond any help she can give.  Tough luck, Tam.  At best you were going to be Obi-Wan, but it looks like you're Uncle Owen.  (Still a better role than Mother Organa.)  There is much milling and description and encounters with sympathetic villagers.  The mayor explains that the mysterious visitors are indeed and Aes Sedai and a Warder, and they saved what's left of the village via lightning magic and deadly swordplay, and finally someone remembers that Aes Sedai have healing magic as well.  But, despite the way Everyone Knows that women are the only ones who can safely use magic, Everyone Also Knows that you never want to get mixed up with their help, either, and Rand's first instinct is intense repulsion at the thought.  Even in a world where women are the preferred mages and they charge into battle to protect random villages from monsters, the menfolk might rather watch their father die from a Not-Morgul Blade wound than ask one for help.
Light, is there a story with an Aes Sedai where she isn't a villain?
I ask you.  If literally every story about Aes Sedai casts them as villains, they should be many times more terrifying than trollocs in the common consciousness, and yet still people talk about them fighting the evil False Dragons and such.  Moiraine just saved everyone's lives, so thinking she might help makes sense, but their response to her rescue wasn't 'Holy wonderballs, there's an Aes Sedai and she's helping us, oh my god, oh my god, what is this life', it was to get back to sifting the wreckage and leave her to burn the trolloc corpses with her buddy Lan.  They should be acting like Darth Vader showed up to save them all.  And then they start talking about how she's got healing magic, which--if Aes Sedai are in the habit of healing people in extreme circumstances, how do they have such a bad rep?  Are they all satanically going around demanding people's first-born children in exchange for curing a severe case of Legs Chopped Off?  Who invented this prejudice?

Rand finds them (Lan is busy with the trolloc bodies, having found sigils from seven separate clans now) and manages to ask for help from Moiraine, regardless of the cost.  She is of course happy to help (everyone else keeps refusing her), although she moves slowly, tired from all that magicking.  Lan remarks that "Even with an angreal, what she did last night was like running around the village with a sack of stones on her back", and for those of you who spend your time doing productive things unlike myself, I'll note that 'sangreal' is an old term for the Holy Grail, so we're still flush with random Arthurian references.

This is a bit of a short post, but that tends to be how it goes when chapters are 90% descriptions of settings and the way people are running around in them.  One of the explanations I heard for WOT's length, long ago, was that Robert Jordan only planned for it to be four books, but when they started selling so well he was asked to extend the series, and did so with gusto.  But we're more than a hundred pages in now and we're at the point I would probably have called the end of chapter two if I were writing this book, so I'm skeptical of this claim.  A lot of the material isn't bad, it's just filler, and not especially brilliant filler either.  There's some poetry, there's some realism, but it's also just very forgettable text.  I feel like this is the cheese sandwich of fantasy: popular, tasty enough, but just not that much going on except that afterwards you have food inside you.  The problem so far is that the worldbuilding doesn't really make sense yet and I don't care much about what happens to the sandwich, let alone whether the sandwich's father lives or dies.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Eye of the World, chapters 3 and 4, in which people talk more

Sorry about the delayed post.  This was a tiring weekend, and Sunday evening I finally cracked EOTW open again and the awareness that I was 35 pages in and nothing has actually happened washed over me like a pile of sodden blankets.  Okay.  Let's do this thing.

(Content: ableism, misogyny. Fun content: more Mallory Ortberg and a secret game of Trivial Pursuit.)

The Eye of the World: p. 32--61
Chapter Three: The Peddler

I really thought this book would take forever to dissect, but it saves a lot of time when I can summarise four dense pages with 'the peddler is a source of outside news and Rand has an emergency backup friend named Perrin, who is stocky'.  The peddler is all theatrical and tells the villagers that just getting eaten by wolves is tame compared to the bad stuff happening elsewhere in the world, like war in Ghealdan.  Apparently someone's popped up claiming to be the Dragon and everyone wants to murder him or murder for him.
"Just as bad as the Dark One!" 
"The Dragon broke the world, didn't he?" 
"He started it! He caused the Time of Madness!" 
"You know the prophecies! When the Dragon is reborn, your worst nightmares will seem like your fondest dreams!"
No one particularly likes hanging out with the al'Exposition family, but no one can deny they're very efficient.  (Is the Time of Madness over, or is it still supposed to be ongoing?  It seems weird to name an era with the expectation that it's going to end.  If it's indefinite, then 'the Madness' seems better, but if you're naming it in order to convince people that it will end, maybe don't call it 'the Time of Madness'?)  Apparently the peddlers and merchants are the only source of this news, since no one in the village goes travelling far, which further raises the question if there isn't just a cartel agreement that everyone will tell the bumpkins about distant atrocities in order to justify higher prices.

The peddler further reports that this one who claims to be the Dragon is the first one who can wield the One Power, opening chasms and crushing walls with words and beckoning lightning at will, though this is all third- or fourth-hand information.  Ewin starts shouting about how men who channel the Power always go mad and die, because it's only safe for women, everyone should know that.  You know what?  I take back my previous compliment about efficient exposition, because this is page flipping thirty-seven and we're still just getting people shouting world-building at each other in a panic.  Women who wield the Power are apparently called Aes Sedai, and bringing them up is Not Appropriate for unclear reasons, but they're the only ones capable of fighting Dragon Dude.  The Dudely Council decide they need to interrogate the peddler directly, over booze, and patronisingly tell everyone else to go home and be patient about buying stuff.

Once again, nothing happens for a couple of pages, so let's talk about this whole 'Time of Madness' and 'the One Power makes men go mad' thing.  I mean, the superficial ableism is obvious--generic 'madness' as a violent affliction that inevitably results in murder and destruction--although I note that they talked about male magicians 'withering away' as well, so I hold out some vague hope that this 'madness' could actually have some nuance to it, and that depression and other such conditions (eating disorders?) might also be considered worthy of note, rather than just the Cackling Maniac style.  Yes, that is how far the bar has fallen here; I'm hoping that the Fantasy Madness might be more inclusive.  Because from here to Lovecraft and beyond fantasy is full of things that are so powerful that they make people 'go mad', and while that has all sorts of problems on a conceptual level, the fact that this madness always takes exactly the same stereotypical form of vaguely making a person hallucinate and talk to themselves and 'become a danger to themselves' is a whole additional level of ableism.  At this point I would actually be pleased to see a case where someone says "No, Rand, don't use the One Power, you will get clinical depression and lose all energy and motivation and feeling and stop eating and die and we don't have comprehensive pharmaceuticals yet" instead of "You'll murder us all because you'll go CaRAYzy".

Obviously Rand will end up wielding the One Power and being the Dragon Reborn--I mean, I know this for a fact, spoilers, but even otherwise I would know it because on the next page we learn two more things:
"The Dragon may have started it, but it was Aes Sedai who actually broke the world."
Women fucked up and obviously that means it's going to take a man to fix it.  (What do they mean, 'broke the world'?  I haven't seen any big cracks yet.)  And:
 "I heard a story once," Mat said slowly, "from a wool-buyer's guard. He said the Dragon would be reborn in mankind's greatest hour of need, and save us all."
Apparently lots of people believe this, but they don't say so because it makes the Aes Sedai angry.  So, obvs, the end of this book will concern the ascension of Rand to his true mantle as the Dragon and the hero who will save everyone.  At least I figure it'll be the end, because this fake Dragon will be the Book One villain.  Place your bets.  Apparently 'the stories' vary on whether the Aes Sedai are actually villains, which just confuses me more.  They're the established trustworthy magic users of the world, but some villagers don't believe they exist and some say they're 'Darkfriends' and oh my various deities could we maybe do something before we get introduced to yet another Unexplained Capitalised Title?

Nnnnope.  As they're all talking about the bad luck that befell a neighbour who had the audacity to "name the Dark One", Nynaeve the Wisdom finally makes her appearance.  She is a Strong Female Character, and therefore angry and weirdly violent--she carries a wooden switch for lashing people who displease her, despite her age and her tininess (she's barely shoulder-height to them, of course).  Nynaeve tells them all off, and then Rand notices she's accompanied by Egwene.
Of a height with Nynaeve, and with the same dark coloring, she could at that moment have been a reflection of Nynaeve's mood, arms crossed beneath her breasts, mouth tight with disapproval. [...] Her big brown eyes held no laughter now.
This is more description than any other person has received so far and it includes a completely unnecessary reference to the existence of her breasts, in case we weren't sure she was the love interest.  (Join me in assuming/insisting that "same dark coloring" means both these women have deep brown skin, regardless of whether this lines up with cover art or future adjectives.)  Egwene is two years younger than Rand (+5 to Love Interest) and he fumbles over trying to speak to her.  Nynaeve demands to know what's been going on, and concludes that she will have to take charge:
"The Council is questioning the peddler about what's happening in Gealdan, are they? If I know them, they're asking all the wrong questions and none of the right ones. It will take the Women's Circle to find out anything useful."
So, first: confirmation that the two ruling bodies of the village are the Normal People's Council and the Lady Council.  Second: Mallory Ortberg is a gift that humanity has not earned.

Egwene and Rand don't exactly flirt once she's gone, because they were issued Belligerent Sexual Tension in which Rand asks to dance with her and she agrees and then they spend the rest of the conversation disdaining each other--Rand realises for the first time ever that they're both going to reach 'marriageable age' at the same time, and says vaguely they it's no good rushing things, and Egwene says she might never marry because she's going to become Wisdom at some other village, and anyway she thinks it's not as if Rand would care if he never saw her again.
He rubbed his head in frustration. How to explain? This was not the first time she had squeezed meanings from his words that he never knew were in them. In he present mood, a misstep would only make matters worse, and he was fairly sure that nearly anything he said would be a misstep.
In conclusion: ugh, women, right?  Bro.  Bro.  Level with me.  Bro.  Women.  There's just no reasoning with them and they're so angry all the time for no reason.

It turns out Perrin also saw the Ringwraith black rider and Moiraine also gave him a coin to serve her, though of course Egwene thinks they're all jumping at shadows.

Chapter Four: The Gleeman

The gleeman that everyone's been tripping themselves over finally appears, bursting out of the inn, and Rand mostly notices that he has grey eyes (like Rand, and unlike everyone else in town).  He complains for half a page about how badly he's been treated in town, and was just menaced by Nynaeve, whom he of course insists should be off chasing boys.  He proceeds to describe all of the protagonists for us,Rand's height and grey eyes, Perrin's stockiness,comparing them to fantastical beasts.  Literally nothing is happening for pages except pointless banter and the seasoned traveller mocking the rural hicks.  I'm on page 50 of this book and I feel like I'm reading someone's warmup dialogue exercise.  He does a backflip, and juggles as he lists the stories he'll tell, including:
"Tales of great wars and great heroes, for the men and boys. For the woman and girls, the entire Aptarigine Cycle. Tales of Artur Paendrag Tanreall [...]"
First, why is the entire Aptarigine Cycle only suitable for women?  Does it have feelings in it?  Kissing?  Second: Artur Paendrag are you fucking with me Robert Jordan.  Okay.  Deep breaths, Wildman.  Hold it together.  This can--oh.  Egwene asks for stories about Lenn and Salya who travelled to the moon and stars in eagles made of fire, and I suddenly realise that we're going to get cute with the fourth wall.
"But I have all stories, mind you now, of Ages that were and will be. [....] I have all stories, and I will tell all stories. Tales of Mosk the Giant, with his Lance of fire that could reach around the world, and his wars with Elsbet, the Queen of All. Tales of Materese the Healer, Mother of the Wondrous Ind."
Okay.  So.   The whole 'eventually everything becomes legend' thing is getting hammered home and this is apparently happening in our distant future but maybe also the past because time is a Wheel.  I get that, and I'm potentially on board, but I'm deeply, deeply skeptical that this serves any particular purpose to the story, and it's yet again more spewing wink-nudge worldbuilding notions at me instead of having anything actually happen.  This is the difference between having a clever idea and having a story.

Fancy Lady Moiraine and the gleeman spot each other, polite but obviously not pleased to see each other, and then people start pouring out of the bar again and the gleeman runs off for booze.  The Dudely Council has decided to set up patrols around the area in conjunction with the other local villages, and all the boys want to sign up, but Rand's dad says they need to head back to the farm immediately.  On the way home, dad al'Thor explains the intricate village politics and crowd-managing that made it actually a good idea to scare everyone with the prospect of war and roaming mages and then rush off to secret council before eventually announcing their patrol plan.  I remain skeptical.  Also, it turns out that lots of teenage boys have been spotting the Ringwraith black rider (creeper), and so the patrols will be watching for him now too.  The chapter ends with Rand feeling better, knowing that together the villagers have nothing to fear from the rider.  I'm deeply disappointed he hasn't blown the whole place up yet.  Robert Jordan needed to embrace in medias res a little harder.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Eye of the World, chapters 1 and 2, in which nothing happens

Sorry about missing last week's post; hope you all enjoyed seeing the blogqueen back in action.  I was in the American South, where it's apparently reasonable for train stations to have signs that expressly forbid all weapons "except firearms (with a permit)", which says all that is necessary about that.  On the plus side, I spent some more time with my American friends, makers of the excellent YouStar web series.  (I play EruditeConnoisseur64 and try to keep a straight face.)   So the risk was acceptable.  Everyone was very nice and I met very few huge racists.

Now, back to the Wheel of Time.

(Content: gender essentialism. Fun content: how excited are you about blatant theft from random cultures, languages, and mythologies?  No?  What about Mallory Ortberg?)

The Eye of the World: p. 1--31
Chapter 1: An Empty Road

There's a lot of advice out there about how to start your book: with action, with things happening, with decisions being made, with whatever the real inciting event is.  Famously, fantasy novels are bad at this, spending endless quantities of time meandering about with farm chores and pub crawls to be more like Lord of the Rings before they get around to the plot.  I am unsurprised that EOTW is a great example of the latter.
The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.
Nice for them as likes it, I guess.

Our Hero, Rand al'Thor (and his dad) are walking down the Quarry Road that I thought was a river but in fact just ends at the start of a river, feeling uncomfortable in his wet cloak on a blustery day, other hand on his bow in case of wolves.  Summarising the first three pages: wind, trees, foresty, cold, Dad al'Thor is a tough salt-of-the-earth man, Mom al'Thor is long dead (although it's preemptive, I'm still going to call that Fridged Women Tally: 2).  Four pages in, Rand sees a mysterious black rider on a black horse on the road behind them, who has disappeared by the time Rand points him out to dad.  They agree they need to go smoke and booze in a warm house, and dad suggests Rand wants to see Egwene, the mayor's daughter, though Rand silently disagrees because she makes him feel funny in his bathing suit area without even meaning to.
He we hoping his father had not noticed he was afraid when Tam said, "Remember the flame, lad, and the void." 
It was an odd thing Tam had taught him. Concentrate on a single flame and feed all your passions into it--fear, hate, anger--until your mind became empty. Become one with the void, Tam said, and you could do anything. Nobody else in Emond's Field talked that way. But Tam had won the archery competition at Bel Tine every year with his flame and his void.
Now we've got this randomly introduced pseudo-zen thing from Tam, but also an obvious reference to Beltane, so evidence continues to lean towards this story randomly hodgepodging cool things from various cultures however Robert Jordan whims.  Is there an actual reason this farmer dude is a zen archer?  I'm hoping so, but I'm also worried it's going to be terrible.

They arrive in Emond's Field, where the heads of houses are called "goodmen" and "goodwives" and gender roles are enforced by cosmic law.
Whether or not leaves had appeared on the trees, no woman would let Bel Tine come before her spring cleaning was done. [....] On roof after roof the goodman of the house clamebered about, checking the thatch to see if the winter's damage meant calling on old Cenn Buie, the thatcher.
I feel like I'm in the medieval fantasy version of Pepperidge Farm, except that would probably be more like Mallory Ortberg's Letters from Chris Kimball, which are masterpieces of sothothic horror.  Someone named Wit Congar stops the al'Thors to complain about the Wisdom of Emond's Field, Nynaeve, who is apparently a person and chosen by women.  She apparently badly mispredicted the severity of the last winter, and Wit wants the Village Council to overrule the Women's Circle, but he gets called out by his wife Daise, "twice as wide as Wit, a hard-faced woman without an ounce of fat on her", so as we can see when people don't conform to their expected gender positions they are whiners and nags.  The al'Thors book it before Daise notices them, because they are both single men and therefore the women of Emond's Field would like nothing more than to set Tam (and now Rand) with a widowed friend or someone's daughter.  Rand is much too stubborn to allow himself to be set up with any farmgirl he likes, or something.

I'm skipping a lot of description of the layout of the grounds and of Pepperidge-Farm-remembers type narrative, like the Pole (obviously a maypole): "No one knew when the custom began or why--it was another thing that was the way it had always been--but it was an excuse to sing and dance, and nobody in the Two Rivers needed much excuse but that."  ITS FOLKSY, GOT IT?  DO YOU GET IT?

They're also very excited about the prospect of fireworks for the first time in a decade.

The al'Thors arrive at the al'Veres' place, home of the mayor/innkeeper, and they all talk grumpily about the weather and the prospect of next winter never ending and everyone freezing to death, et cetera.  Rand instead talks with his buddy Mat, who plans to set an old badger loose in town to scare the girls, but by sheer coincidence he also immediately brings up that he recently saw "a man in a black cloak, on a black horse [...] and his cloak doesn't move in the wind" , just as Rand did, and then he vanished as soon as Mat looked away.
"I actually thought--just for a minute, mind--it might be the Dark One." He tried another laugh, but no sound at all came out this time. 
Rand took a deep breath. As much to remind himself as for any other reason, he said by rote, "The Dark One and all of the Forsaken are bound in Shayol Ghul,beyond the Great Blight, bound by the Creator at the moment of Creation, bound until the end of time. The hand of the Creator shelters the world, and the Light shines on us all."
Well, that's one way of getting exposition out of the way.  Just so we're clear on this, that's Shayol as in the Hebrew Sheol, and Ghul as in demon.  Jordan must have spent at least half an hour creating his mythology.

Mat gets roped into helping unload the booze from the cart, with the promise of then getting to go see the visiting gleeman, who is apparently made of awesome.
To have one there actually during Bel Tine, with his harp and his flute and his stories and all... Emond's Field would still be talking about this Festival ten years off, even if there were not any fireworks.
I'm going to assume that 'gleeman' is a euphemism for 'marijuana dealer'.  Nothing much else happens for the rest of the chapter as far as I can tell, beyond talking about how much people will be excited and how much the fireworks cost.

Chapter Two: Strangers

The Village Council (which appears to be all men--please tell me that the neutrally-named council isn't the male counterpart to the Women's Circle, please please please) are gathering in the mayor's home, looking grim and smoking and suchlike.  The mayor's wife arrives with food, of course, and Rand likes her because she doesn't try to set his dad up with anyone.
Toward Rand her motherliness extended to warm smiles and a quick snack whenever he came by the inn, but she did as much for every young man in the area. If she occasionally looked at him as if she wanted to do more, at least she took it no further than looks, for which he was deeply grateful.
The mayor's wife wants to jump our teenage hero, but she only gawks, so he's grateful for the relative lack of inappropriate actions.  Le sigh.  That is not how gratitude is supposed to work.  I suppose/hope Jordan just means grateful in the sense of glad, but the connotation is not the same.  Rand and Mat finish hauling in the booze kegs and meet a younger boy, Ewin, who tells them all about the strangers in town.  Not the black rider:
"And his cloak is green. Or maybe gray. It changes. It seems to fade into wherever he's standing. Sometimes you don't see him even when you look right at him, not unless he moves. And hers is blue, like the sky, and ten times fancier than any feastday clothes I ever saw. She's ten times prettier than anybody I ever saw, too."
I'm kind of charmed by the way everyone in this book at the same time has no familiarity with magic but are constantly like 'Did you see someone teleporting on the road today?' 'Yeah, and the dude in the inn can turn invisible!'  It's almost like magic realism, minus the realism.  Also, while the dudes thus far have been characterised with their skills, their philosophies, their senses of humour, their jobs, all that jazz, all of the women have been characterised based on their interactions with men and/or their physical attractiveness.  That's a lot less charming.

Oh, wait, no, we play Six Degrees of Bechdel Separation, because Rand hears from Ewin who overheard the visiting lady Moiraine talking to the village Wisdom, Nynaeve, who got all huffy because Moiraine called her "child" while asking for directions.  She apologised upon realising she was talking to the Wisdom, and asked a bunch more respectful questions.  So our two plot-relevant living women have now been characterised by their failure to get along and Nynaeve's uncontrolled temper.

Outside, Rand gets another unpleasant feeling of being watched, which apparently comes from a raven on the roof of the inn.  He and Mat both whip stones at it, but it sidesteps them, and then takes off when Moiraine appears and calls it "A vile bird [...] to be mistrusted in the best of times."  Harsh, gal.  #notallravens

Moiraine is indeed the tiny woman from the cover, only as tall as Rand's chest, young but "there was a maturity about her large, dark eyes, a hint of knowing that no one could have gotten young".  Her clothes and jewelry get a half-page of dedicated description.  They all trip over their tongues introducing themselves, and Moiraine explains that she's a historian, come to Two Rivers as "a collector of old stories".  There's some rambling chatter about the Wheel of Time and the Great Pattern and how the names for things and people change over time,and then she leaves,"appearing to glide over the ground rather than walk, her cloak spreading on either side of her like wings."

So far I have no reason to believe Rand is a more interesting protagonist than Moiraine would be.

They finally spot her bodyguard, Lan, standing by the inn, stealthy and hard-faced with a hand on his sword.  Ewin guesses he's a Warder, but Mat shoots this down because Warders are 1) fictional and 2) covered in gold and jewels and spend all their time slaying monsters in the Great Blight up north, which... look, are they real or not?  If your case is 'that's not real', maybe just stick with that, rather than adding the details of the not-real thing you're saying doesn't exist?

Moiraine hired them all as assistants while in town, and pressed a silver coin on each of them that Rand estimates is worth a good horse.  They each agree that it seems like it would be wrong to spend it, and will keep it as their bond with Moiraine, and then they see a huge eight-horse wagon rolling into town, the peddler.
It was going to be the best Bel Tine ever.
Christmas is going to be ruined and I'm legitimately looking forward to it.

So, apart from the rubbish representation of women so far, what I'm noticing is mostly that if I had actual affection for this story, instead of the cold stony husk that is my unbeating heart, I could imagine finding this crawlingly slow opening rather relaxing, the kind of thing that I would look forward to rereading on days when I just wanted something soothing and familiar to dwell in, the literary equivalent of petting a cat.  However, it should probably be noted that I recently started some really great antidepressants and I find damn near everything soothing compared to how I felt a month ago, so maybe I'm not the most unbiased opinion on such matters.