In case you missed Sunday's announcement, my posts will now be going up on Wednesdays (the alliteration of WOT Wednesday was the final tipping factor). I mean, Sundays are pretty good days already, but we need some stuff to look forward to in the middle of the week, so I decided to fill the niche. Let's get back into it, eh?
The Eye of the World: p. 230--274
Chapter Sixteen: The Wisdom
When last we left Our Heroes they were busily not telling any of the women about their important plot discoveries, and learned that the careful efforts their party wizard went through to cover and block their trail were no match for their harpy of a witch-neighbour. Naturally, the next chapter starts with them getting pulled aside by Min the prophet girl, who quickly tells Rand that Nynaeve is also radiating Plot Relevance. Rand keeps this (and all of Min's plot-sensing powers) secret from the rest of the party, justifying it with a vague wave of 'it might be dangerous'.
Nynaeve and Moiraine are found staring each other down from either end of the dining table, filling the room with an icy aura, because powerful women are automatic nemeses I guess? Nynaeve tugs at her braid, which Rand identifies as her habit "when she was being even more stubborn than usual with the Village Council". Irrationally hard-headed women being 'stubborn' is the same thing as strong characterisation, right?
Nynaeve reveals that while she had already guessed that Our Heroes would go to Baerlon, she also tracked them, using the incredible hunting skills that her father taught her (specifically because he had no sons--apparently teaching things to girls requires special justification). We are assured by Lan that almost no one in the world could do this. Sweet Bahamut, was Two Rivers settled by a party of level 20s who got tired of dungeoneering?
I've tried twice already to write this post and I keep dragging to a halt in this section because I just can't take the recapping anymore. Nynaeve wants them to come home because honestly who believes in trollocs; Moiraine says they can because obvs monsters and darkness and evil. There is much staring down and posturing, the men flee the room and mutter to themselves, and finally Nynaeve emerges, relented. There is just so much "what about monsters" "but I don't trust lady wizards" repetition I am in danger of losing consciousness.
This kitten has never known suffering like mine.
Rand asks why they sent Nynaeve rather than literally anyone else in town, and Nynaeve notes how much he's grown in a week, since he never would have questioned anything she did before. Really? Rand's been pretty inquisitive for a farmboy hero since the beginning (it's his strongest quality), and I like my character development earned. Anyway, Nynaeve explains that the village meetings were a mess--"The Light save me from men who think with the hair on their chests" is one of the better lines so far, despite its ridiculousness--and the Women's Circle took swifter action and sent her on ahead, while the men are "probably still arguing about who to send".
While I get that 'girls rule, boys drool' rhetoric has its place in a patriarchal society, it doesn't exactly make for a cohesive case for inherent equality when the story is busily saying men are incompetent but they still make up the majority of the cast, while all the women are the exceptions: the wizard, the runaway, and now the renegade doctor. I suppose there's a certain amount of realism to a setting wherein the women have to be twice as competent as the men just to earn a normal place, but this kind of 'men suck and run everything, what are you going to do' doesn't challenge that narrative so much as it reinforces a world where dudes aren't expected or required to do any better.
Lastly, Nynaeve explains that Moiraine was questioning her about the three boys' backgrounds, whether any of them might have been born outside Two Rivers, and Rand finally brings up Tam's "fever-dream". Nynaeve awkwardly confirms that Tam left home long ago and she's just old enough to remember when he came back with a hot wife and a baby, but doesn't address whether Rand was a foundling or not.
Chapter Seventeen: Watchers and Hunters
Back in the common room, Thom is telling yet another story of the Great Hunt of the Horn, which seems to be sort of a grail-quest that's been attempted a lot over the centuries.
"...To the eight corners of the world, the Hunters ride, to the eight pillars of heaven, where the winds of time blow and fate seizes the mighty and the small alike by the forelock. Now, the greatest of the Hunters is Rogosh of Talmour, Rogosh Eagle-eye, famed at the court of the High King, feared on the slopes of Shayol Ghul..."At this point I think I'd rather listen to Thom for a chapter than endure any more of this recap-happy Rivendell-knockoff, but instead we just get a list of titles of Thom's stories, then it's music time (Robert Jordan desperately wishes he were Tolkien but his lyrics are vastly less inspired), then dancing time. This reads somewhat less like swing dance and more like a swingers' party, with much talk of "passing his partner to the next man", but it's also a shippers' dream, since it means Rand dances with a series of hot local girls, Nynaeve, Moiraine, and Egwene, with increasing awkwardness. (He considers and rejects the idea of trying to talk to Egwene again, because humph and also pfah.) There's a man with a scarred face who spends the dance increasingly glaring at Rand, so presumably as usual ugly scars make you evil and dude's going to jump Our Heroes later. Ah, yes, we're informed by the innkeeper that he's a Whitecloak spy. That's what you really want in your spies: incredibly distinctive facial marks and a penchant for furiously staring at his targets. It's like Battle School levels of brilliance all over again.
The dances eventually end, Rand goes to get some pre-bed milk, and on his way back down a dark hall gets ambushed by a Fade. He can't look away from its pasty white eyeless face, which makes fleeing hard, and at the sounds of boots from above (Lan is supposed to sense these things coming from miles off, isn't he?) it draws its black sword, moves as if to slaughter him, and then just declares "You belong to the Great Lord of the Dark [....] You are his" before running off, and then Lan arrives and declares there's no point in chasing it. Really, Lan? You're supposed to be borderline superhuman; take a sprint. At this point I almost suspect that he and the Fade are working together.
So again they have to run away in the dead of night, because that hasn't gotten old. For some reason Egwene this time looks "frightened almost to tears", which hasn't been her reaction to any of the dangers so far faced. I guess with Nynaeve added to the lineup we've reached Critical Girl Mass and Egwene is allowed to relinquish her position as the cool enthusiastic adventurer, in favour of being the chick? Let's hope that doesn't last. Rand's response to seeing her teary face is to think "At least she doesn't think it's an adventure anymore" (which: shut up, Rand), but then he feels shame and actually apologises for his general jackwagonry of late. I don't hate Rand as much as I expected to--not yet, at least.
Lan bribes his way past the gate guards easily enough (there's a law against letting people into town after dark, but not specifically against letting them out) but is interrupted by a pack of Whitecloaks who do their best to make it sound like anyone who ever questions their whims is the devil's personal nutritionist and decorator. Their leader reveals himself to of course be one of the guys Mat 'pranked' fifty chapters ago, Bornhald, and declares the whole party Darkfriends in need of interrogation, but Moiraine steps up and goes wizardly-booming-voice, telling them off. Bornhald attacks:
...He slashed at her in the same motion that cleared his sword. Rand cried out as Moiraine's staff rose to intercept the blade. That delicately carved wood could not possibly stop hard-swung steel....Said no one who understands that swords are finesse weapons, not medieval chainsaws. Delicate carvings or not, her unfixed staff is going to do just fine against a panicked one-armed swing with a sword. Also, of course, wizard, so Bornhald flies back into his goons, sword half-melted and bent. Moiraine, who has already grown taller than the rest of them, bursts up higher than the wall and literally steps over it once the rest of Our Heroes have booked it on horseback.
As soon as Moiraine's out of town she shrinks back down to normal size, and insists that Egwene was just seeing things when asked about turning giant. Sigh. Moiraine, everyone saw you, and in particular you've just tantalised this young girl with her wizarding potential and you think she won't be curious about how to grow tall enough to crush her enemies and make them rue the day they--but anyway, this is not how you win anyone's trust. At this rate Egwene is going to become one of those people who experiments with powers she doesn't understand and tears holes in the firmament of reality.
A short distance from town, they look back to see a plume of fiery smoke over Baerlon, which Moiraine concludes is the inn going up in flames. Unlike the destroyed raft, this wasn't her doing, though I find myself wishing that it was--that would actually provide some real moral confusion, clear evidence that Moiraine's ruthlessness in her world-saving quest includes screwing over allies once she has no further need of them. She instead notes that she warned him but "he would not take it seriously", which we're meant to take as frustrated, but unless proven otherwise, I'm going to assume she's thinking 'If he'd only listened I wouldn't have had to burn down his life'.
But for now she'd have us believe it was Darkfriends still just a step behind them. The Darkfriends apparently have terrible recon, since they were able to implement a plan to burn down an entire jam-packed inn that night but couldn't spare a scout to catch the party of eight and their horses sneaking away after the Fade tried to hit on Rand. What kind of modus operandi are these villains even using?
Nynaeve continues to win points (as generally happens with women we're not supposed to approve of in these books, have you noticed?) by asking why Moiraine isn't helping any of the people now fleeing a burning inn because of her, and Moiraine just says she'd make things worse by drawing more attention to the victims, both from the monsters and the whitecloaks. She does, however, promise to have gold mailed to the innkeeper, enough to rebuild his inn and help out anyone who lost anything in the fire, but anything more than that and they might as well ritually sacrifice their whole families to the devil right then and there so stop asking questions this isn't a cheerocracy.
The rest of the chapter is just them wearily marching and taking an uncomfortable one-hour pre-dawn nap, with the boys muttering to each other again about how this is more dangerous than they expected and they won't be safe until Tar Valon. (Points to Perrin, who also thinks Moiraine should have done more to help the inn.) It couldn't be more obvious at this point that they won't be safe at Tar Valon either, any more than the One Ring was really safe in Rivendell. By Eru, I want to skip ahead.
Chapter Eighteen: The Caemlyn Road
We're two hundred and sixty pages in and we're still on Disc One, to speak in CRPG terms. Maybe people become Darkfriends just because they're bored. I might sign up with Satan for a chance to shake things up.
The Caemlyn Road was not very different from the North Road through the Two Rivers.I would unquestionably sign up with Satan at this point.
They ride along this road through low hills for days, occasionally stopping on top of a hill to scout. No fires allowed, ever, which means no tea, to their sorrow, since it would break up the monotony of endless bread and cheese. It doesn't sound like Egwene's been getting her magic lessons, either--if her first test involved making a stone light up, wouldn't it be a good idea to maybe try the ever-practical 'how to boil water by wishing hard' spell next? They're travelling with an awesome wizard, why isn't there any option for tea? And if you're so desperate to not be seen, why are you hanging out on hilltops instead of ditches? For that matter, you and everyone else knows you're heading for once again the Only Bridge For Miles, so why would a flying demon seek you out by daylight instead of lying in ambush? (The gleeman points this out and gets brushed aside.) I mean, if the devil knows where you were and where you're going, isn't step one 'destroy the Only Bridge For Miles'? And why doesn't Moiraine have a spell on hand for crossing water? Why does she keep leaving herself at the mercy of ferries? Why is the fate of good and evil being left up to the robustness of the public transportation infrastructure?
Echoes of hunting horns announce that trollocs are after them, and Lan scouts to determine that there are at least three Fades leading platoons. They finally decide they're being driven into a trap, and given the choice of going south into the menacing Hills of Absher or north to the Arinelle, Moiraine ignores Lan's suggestion of "a place the Trollocs will not go" and takes them north, riding hard as the trollocs close in.
Instead, Our Heroes crest a hill and find themselves staring down into a half-ready trap, a mess of trollocs with hooks and lassos led by a Fade, and with a variety of battle-cries that are all basically Tolkienish versions of #YOLO, they charge into battle. Lan and the Fade get to do single combat, of course, and their swords hack at each other exactly the way no one who knows how to use a sword would ever do oh my god they're scalpels not clubs. Sigh. Moiraine's weapon of choice is Spontaneous Trolloc Combustion--not sure why she doesn't cast it on the Fade--and the Other Wimminz stick close to her while the boys get hacking. Rand manages to chop a catchpole in half "with an awkward slash", so maybe the trollocs are just using Nerf weapons, but by sheer numbers they're all getting swarmed, Rand gets a hook in his shoulder, Perrin is halfway dragged out of his saddle, and--
Look, here's the thing, I was actually feeling some tension at this point. For all that his characters apparently wield only Vorpal (TM) Brand Farm Equipment, the language is pretty tense and bit by bit our heroes are getting dragged down by terrifying beastmen and I don't think Moiraine has a spell of deus ex machina for this scene, so for a moment I forgot that there were six hundred sequels with all of these characters and I wondered how they could possibly get out of this unscathed. Okay? I got into the story. I was onboard.
Then the trollocs en masse start screaming and falling over having some kind of fit, and Rand notices that Lan has beheaded the Fade.
Really? I mean, really. At least when they did this in Star Wars Episode One they had the decency to announce well in advance that destroying the central computer would break all the droid soldiers. The devil's legions of evil need a command unit or they bluescreen? Why would you ever send a Fade into melee combat if this is what happens?
(Also, and this is especially nitpicky, if all of the farmboys are deadly archers, why are they bothering with melee weapons at all? Why didn't they go bow shopping in Baerlon? Genghis Khan conquered most of Asia and Europe with horses, bows, and a mind like an icebreaker ship. Especially when you don't want to get roped or something, distance weapons seem like the way to go.
They take off again, since there are still more trollocs coming, but then Moiraine gets a full page describing how she throws an earthquake at them and calls up a wall of fire to buy them more time (although earth and fire are her opposed schools, so she's very tired afterwards). Nynaeve slips her some herbs, which she takes. (Nynaeve's been trying to talk to Moiraine about herbs for days, which I like to think was just really awkward flirting. Yes, I'm shipping it. Obvs.)
When they have a chance to stop, Moiraine talks about their impromptu battle-cries, because Mat in particular shouted something in a language he's never heard before, which turned out to translate to 'in the name of some of my ancestral rulers like the Rose of the Sun'. Moiraine takes this as proof that the Manetheren blood (which makes them better than everyone else, I guess) is still strong in them, and not--just as a f'r'instance--evidence that someone is messing around with his mind and memories. Questionable, is all I'm saying.
More horns sound, Lan brings up once again that they have a perfect hiding place
Is that supposed to mean something to me? If you're going to end your chapter on a dramatic revelation, make sure you reveal something that the reader actually understands. I feel like that's a pretty basic guideline. This is a bit like trying to convince Lex Luthor it's a big deal that Superman is secretly Kal-El. The fuck does that mean?
Next week: In a refreshing break from CRPG rules, Mat tries to loot the abandoned city and, instead of getting a weapon upgrade, ruins everything.