Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Eye of the World, chapters 19 and 20, in which no one makes good decisions

It's honestly harder to carve into this book than it was for any of Card's works.  Not because this is more horrifying, but because Card is, in comparison, an incredibly concise writer, while Jordan apparently takes pride in writing pages of description I couldn't cut through with a hacksaw and a Loggingbot 3000 Automatic Hewing Droid.  For that reason, please accept my apologies as we only get through two chapters this week.

The Eye of the World: p. 275--313
Chapter Nineteen: Shadow's Waiting

The title trips me up here.  'Shadows Waiting' I would understand to mean 'there are shadows which are waiting', generic but okay.  The apostrophe means it's either a contraction, which seems deeply unlikely (casual language is always less MYTHIC), or a possessive gerund, in which case this chapter is about the waiting that some particular shadow has done, which sounds like really boring performance art.  I've gotten this far in life without seeing Godot and I'm not going to start now.

When last we left Our Heroes, they were creeping into the ruined city now called Shadar Logoth, which is of course hella impressive, as all ancient ruins must be.  Every giant building is capped with one to five marble domes, "each one shaped differently", and I'm not even sure how you do that with a feature that's literally named for its shape.  Very, very creative use of convexity, apparently.  There are also long pillar-lined streets leading up to sky-scraping towers, and I would like to know how it is that Rand didn't see any of those buildings from a distance.  Every intersection has a fountain, monument, or be-pedestalled statue, which must have made for terrible traffic flow back in the day.

Lan picks a ruined tower with an intact main floor and no door whatsoever for their camp.  The doorway is literally so big that they bring the horses inside in pairs, but apparently that's secure enough for Lan's liking.  Nynaeve immediately starts try to herb Moiraine up, and shuts Lan right down when he interjects, but Moiraine says all she needs is a power nap.  She does, however, accept some herbal tea to help with that.  These two were practically made for hurt/comfort fanfic.

The farmboys explore for a while, Mat seems kinda hypnotised by an alleyway, and Rand is bright enough to still be feeling weird about the way he shouted ancient war cries earlier, like he was possessed.  Thom the gleeman tells them not to joke about possession and resurrection, because it's a Big Deal.  Hasn't that already been made very clear with talk of the Dragon Reborn, harbinger of the salvatiomageddon of the world?  Rand angsts more about maybe being adopted.  FORESHADOW FORESHADOW.

Mat, whom I am tempted to only call by his ancient Manetheren name, Makes Bad Decisions, wants to go explore the ruins, and explicitly says not to ask permission because they know they won't get it.  Goddammit, Mat, you are hiding from the devil's besties with the help of a witch who can set you on fire by wishing hard enough.  I hope Perrin leaves you for Rand.  But the three of them obviously go off exploring, and it's time for more of those nudge-wink-modern-world references, as they puzzle out what could possibly be the purpose of a building that's clearly a sports stadium.  There's another building that's just a huge dome covering a single large room; please tell me that's not supposed to be a capitol building like the U.S. senate.  Aridhol isn't just DC, right?  Please?

Mat's talking about climbing a tower when the Most Suspicious Man In The World pops up out of nowhere and introduces himself as Mordeth oh my god I can't.  He claims to be a treasure hunter and says things that are supposed to be sly while a huge neon sign blinks the words VILLAIN over his head.  He asks them to help carry all the loot he's found, and leads them down into a huge trove of gold and weapons, before Rand finally notices Mordeth doesn't have a shadow.  He briefly turns into a huge monster before his illusion fades and he wisps away through a crack in the walls, at which point Rand and Perrin forcibly drag Mat out by his arms.  The lights go out behind them, and on the street again they're still convinced they're being watched, but they make it back to camp, where Moiraine chews them out and gives them another giant history lesson.  TL;DR: Mordeth was an ancient advisor who turned the noble kings of Aridhol evil and sowed chaos until the people of the city destroyed themselves under the influence of something called Mashadar.  'Shadow's Waiting' is the short form of 'the place where the shadow waits', the literal translation of Shadar Logoth.

This is all stuff that would be way more interesting in the hands of someone who was telling a story instead of telling us about telling a story.  Moiraine rattles off a chain of loosely-connected events with no actual explanations, about the last noble prince and how he was betrayed and ran away and found a wife and they both ended up dead, possibly Romeo-and-Juliet-style, but since it lacks much poetic value, it's only compelling if you tell yourself the story.

We did talk, back in Ender's Game, about how the strongest stories are often the ones that we invent for ourselves, and how popular books often seem to try to tap into a null zone where the reader is the one actually filling in the details and explaining things however they like best.  I'm starting to wonder if Robert Jordan's success wasn't that he did that on a grand scale, and for every generic fan of fantasy, not just bitter geeks or teenage girls with unhealthy romantic notions.  What I'm suggesting is that Wheel of Time might perhaps be a book that tries to pretend to be a better book, the way butterflies sometimes have camouflage patterns that look like jaguar eyes.

It makes as much sense as anything else so far.

Anyway, Moredeath Mordeth wants a new host body that will let him escape the city, but they're safe as long as they didn't do any of the fairy-rules types of things that would let him enthrall them, like accepting gifts or whatever.  They all try to rest, but Lan arrives in the middle of the night to report that Trollocs (which we are assured are far too scared to enter the city, that's the point) have entered the city, with sufficient prodding from Halfmen.  I'm 90% sure Our Heroes haven't slept properly since before Baerlon.  How are they not all dead, again?  Magic?  Super.

Chapter Twenty: Dust on the Wind

Our Heroes bravely run away into the nighttime streets, but tendrils of fog creep in at ground level and Moiraine commands them to stop.  The fog is the body of Mashadar, and it kills instantly on contact, so they have to split up to avoid it.  (Jumping over a tendril "as big around as a leg" is apparently not an option.  What did I say last time about CRPG heroes?  Find the jump button, Rand.)

Rand bravely leads the rest of the party on, but they run into trollocs and run madly off in all directions.  We get to see Mashadar eat some trollocs and a halfman, and I'm left wondering: if we know that Moiraine has the power to ward away Mashadar And Friends, why isn't this city the favourite battleground of the forces of good?  Live in its buildings, have your wizards ward away the evil magic, no one goes out at night, and when the forces of evil try to invade again, just drop the street wards and flood them with murder-fog.  BRB, writing a more interesting fantasy novel based on this concept.

Rand finds Mat and Thom again and they escape the city, and we get the first scene from someone else's point of view: Perrin, staring at the path out of town, testing his axe blade and thinking carefully.  He is, we are told, a careful thinker, since he has Mat as his cautionary example of quick decision-making.  He quickly gets found by Egwene and they also run off together.  (I note that for our first non-Rand scene, we've got the hulk's point of view instead of, say, the wizard-apprentice who might have much more extensive thoughts about everything she's seen tonight.)  Perrin manages to drive his horse right over a cliff and into the river, struggles not to drown for about a page, and finally realises that he's actually managed to get all the way across to the far side.  With his heavy cloak, boots, and fricking battle axe.  He's not even a good swimmer.  And Moiraine's plan to cross the river was 'place a magical ward around us while we build rafts'?  Apparently all you need is hip-waders and the strength to dogpaddle for forty seconds.

Back with Rand, they get ambushed by trollocs in the woods and Thom suddenly proves ninja by throwing "my best knives" into the backs of three of them.  All of those big-name heroes are seeming less and less impressive as our backwoods randos laugh off the evil hordes.  They find a boat, there's much scuffling, and Rand is once again moments from death under a trolloc when the ship's boom smacks it overboard.  The narrative all but says 'Yes, that was a deus ex machina'.  Oh, but then there's an extended argument among the crew about whether the boom was secured or not, which I'm guessing is foreshadowing that Rand actually willed it to save him because he is magic.

Captain Domon is kind of a no-win situation in terms of racism, because he speaks in broken English, but it's also not quite clear if he's supposed to be white or not, so either we continue to have the palest cast ever or our first POC has questionable language skills.  Thom bluffs a whole backstory out of the dangers that have assailed them thus far, living the gleeman's life, travelling "like dust on the wind".  But it's not enough to buy passage, and since Rand refuses to give up his sword, he and Mat hand over their silver coins from Moiraine instead.  The chapter ends with Rand leaning overboard, repeating that he tried to convince Egwene not to come with them.  Despite the fact that he's on a boat with a sketchy bard and a ship captain who wants his sword and doesn't care about throwing him overboard, I'm not sure why Rand thinks she'd be safer with him than with the wizard and her pet super-knight.

I apologise for cutting short this week, but my loathing of this book has overwhelmed my work ethic.  Instead, I offer you this:

Next week: sudden unexpected extended Bechdel pass.  I'm looking forward to it.


  1. Been a while but I vaguely remember that the captain is an "Illianer," the race of people who wear beards but shave their moustaches and speak some kind of dialect of pirate.
    If he's the guy I'm remembering then I think he's white. This is the series with the white Arabs and white Japanese people. The only PoC I can recall are the "Sea People" who I don't think we meet for several books yet.

  2. Captain Domon -=Captain Demon? o-0

    I found my copy of this and tried to read along, but for the life of me I absolutely could not manage to get through the prose this time. More luck next time, maybe.

    The murder fog is pretty interesting. I rather don't think I'd want to live in a city with murder fog (what if a nice strong wind blew it in through the windows?), or be too keen in jumping over it and risk tripping and touching it. How good are the wards? Can a gang of wizards really manage warding off the fog 24/7 until needed or would that exhaust them?

  3. Much is made in city scenes over people from different countries being different skin tones, and the spectrum's pretty wide. Our Heroes also mention nationalities that are paler than they are, for what that's worth (it's not much). Reading between the lines, most Wheel of Time nationalities are middling brownish in skin tone. The Big Bad Wizard (Forsaken) lineup also features the full Captain Planet racial spectrum, although each person's coloration is mentioned like once, so I'd recommend the wiki for relevant quotes. Generally in WoT people only mention skin color when it'd make sense for them to do so, i.e. when it's important or surprising enough for the character to notice. This is, in my opinion, fairly admirable. The trouble the series runs into is that it "feels" white, or at least recognizably European, right from the get-go. And since there's a whole bunch of cultural mix-and-match going on, it's really easy to go from a place of "OK, I'm picturing boring middle-earth" in book 1 to "Hmmmm, that is a white man dressed like a chinese emperor" in book 2, without picking up on the times the colors are reversed. For example, the Tairen nobility dress like Spanish conquistadors, so when you read it you're like "ok, they're white. AGAIN" and it's easy not to notice that they're usually described as being dark skinned. You don't notice the palette swap because dark person with European trappings is so much less obnoxious than white person with "oriental" trappings. Impersonal you, obviously.

  4. Jordan also really loves to bang on about how racially diverse Seanchan is. The first important Seanchan you meet in the series is a white guy dressed in a mixture of Chinese and Korean clothing, so it's not an auspicious start, but the royal family is explicitly black (or at least mixed race, we only really see the one royal but she's described as being very dark, and her hair grows in "tight curls" when it isn't buzzed), there are several mentions of "honey-colored complexions," and their oppressed ethnicity has red hair and blue eyes.

  5. "But the three of them obviously go off exploring, and it's time for more
    of those nudge-wink-modern-world references, as they puzzle out what
    could possibly be the purpose of a building that's clearly a sports
    ...Why would a sports stadium be puzzling? It's not like the idea of a ring of terraced seats around a big open center space is new or modern. Granted these characters may be country bumpkins unused to the sophisticated facilities of big cities, but it strains credibility that they'd never have even heard of an amphitheater or equivalent.

  6. It seemed like the murder fog only came out at night? Otherwise, I think it depends on how your magic works and how long the wards last. If casting a ward takes a lot of energy, but it's a one-time cost and you only have to recast the ward every 5-10 or more years, that's worth it. Especially if you have lots of mages. If it's a continual energy drain to maintain the ward, then that's definitely less efficient. In that case, maybe just try to get enough mages together that you could exorcise/destroy the evil spirit creating the murder fog, and then recast some magical traps yourself in key locations.

  7. This book makes far more sense as the chronicle of a D&D game than it does as a regular story. There is something really off about how the characters act, particularly the trio of "heroes." When they decided, after being pursued across the countryside by an army of monsters to go exploring, any hope of my believing in them as people went right out the window, never to return. They just consistently act like gaming characters. There's no reasonable reaction from them to about half the things that happen in this book.

  8. Rand focuses mainly on the size of the stadium - "why would you need to make something that could fit that many people?" Which is a silly thing to think, having just wandered through an obviously massive city with plenty of housing. I don't think it's all that strange for him not to have heard of an amphitheater. He's never been to a city, and the Two Rivers is essentially an independent community so there aren't cavalcades of foreigners flocking through to tell him things. It wouldn't be that weird if he had heard of one either, to be fair ("what's an amphitheater Mr. Trader?" "Big ring with seats so you can watch the horses race") but it's often difficult for a modern mind to grasp just how little exposure to different cultures it was possible to get in a medieval setting.

    As a side note, I think there's only one functioning race circuit in all of Randland, and we don't get there for ages. But given how novel the character who visits it treats the place, my impression was that they weren't at all common. Which again, not implausible but still pretty weird. People like horses and gambling.

  9. Lots of places had horse racing without necessarily a formal structure for it, though. Quarter races in Virginia began by racing through city streets for example.

  10. I could see a highly curious but oblivious person deciding to explore without any regard to danger, but an entire group of people? Eh, could be charitable and say they were scouting for better camping spots or potential danger, but... doesn't seem like that was what was going on here.

  11. Nope, it was pretty much just "Let's sneak off and explore! :D"

    It would have come off marginally more believable if they woke early after a good night's rest and decided to go poking around. If any of them had an established interest in ruins or history or the like, that would have helped, too. Or if they were, oh, say, eight. (And I may still be insulting eight year olds.)

    Time and time again, it feels like the characters forget about the danger the moment it isn't in sight. They have no sense of object permanence when it comes to monsters, or something. Or possibly no sense of object permanence, period. On top of everything else, I don't know how they fail to realize that the other four are certain to miss them and will go looking for them. Not only are they mysteriously uninterested in sleeping (you'd think they'd be both physically and emotionally exhausted after the chase/battle in the last chapter), but they're fine with screwing up everyone else's rest, too.

    Not that the rest of it makes a lot of sense, either. I'm not sure how running around in certain-doom-fog and monster filled streets is safer than finding a place to hide and waiting for the certain-doom-fog to solve the monster problem for you.

  12. Captain Domon's phrasing just sounds like regional English dialect to me. Benny (a slow-witted character in an ancient British daytime soap, Crossroads) used to speak exactly like that e.g."I do be off to feed my goat, Miss Diane."
    Totally agree on the Mordeth scene.Not one hackle of suspicion raised by some stranger luring you into a dark place? Didn't they used to tell fireside or bedtime stories back in Two Rivers? No 'Be Careful With Strangers' lectures? OK, he might not have turned out to be an actual Monster, but bandits and highwaymen are a thing aren't they?

  13. Assuming we can trust Moirane she actually says, "Mashadar is vast, girl, as vast as Shadar Logoth itself. The whole White Tower could not kill it." Which is likely true, though might not always have been true from indications when you learn more about THE AGE OF LEGENDS *thunderclap*

  14. A quick read-over doesn't show it, but that "woke early after a good night's rest" makes me think I just missed it cause that fits perfectly the the "magic- now you don't need sleep" thing that happens so often, thinking about I think comparing it to magic caffeine isn't a bad idea, and while, I'm pretty sure not intended, a lot of decisions make so much more sense if you consider every hopped up on caffeine and suffering from sleep deprivation so that their faculties and judgement are clouded.

  15. But in that case... if Mashadar is so powerful and vast, why hasn't it won/taken over everything? Why is it just lurking in this ancient ruin, not doing anything?

  16. She didn't, but then, she never does...gotta keep all the vital info secret cause knowledge is power or somesuch nonsense!

  17. I did not know that! Cool. Horse races aren't mentioned often in WoT, but I think there are a few casual mentions. It seems like rich people generally use them for hunting.

    Horse street racing sounds super dangerous.

  18. Secrets are like manufactured drama and exposition all at once!

  19. When you're a young aristocrat, doing dangerous things is how you get your 'street cred'.

  20. I'm still not sure why they're going to the place where there is doom fog. If the idea is to try and shake the pursuit, surely they can do so without running for some other danger.

  21. Sadly, the entire party used wisdom as their dump stat.

  22. I really anjoy your work on novels, though I find myself a bit torn I can really tell the different between your approach to say Dr Who, the Wheel of Time, and even Ender's Game and the WOT is clearly the least enjoyable to read, so while I'd never say stop what your currently doing, if the purple prose of this annoys you the rest of the series only gets worse in the that respect so it might be worth considering a different series at that point. I don't think its nostalgia for this series making me thing that way but having enjoyed it I feel like it could be...

  23. I meant for the people in the street, which of course would be way less of a consideration.

  24. I think the sports stadium and the domed building are references to buildings in ancient Rome, not modern DC. Specifically, to the Colosseum and to the Pantheon.

  25. For the sake of completeness, it bears mentioning that at least one Tairen native is explicitly white with blue eyes, and I believe there are a few other light eyed people mentioned there in passing. So the genetics there seem to be fairly varied, which I suppose makes sense for a city-state known for being a port and trading hub. They also grow bamboo and bananas, so it's all sort of mixed together. See also the Shienarans, who are very, very Japanese about everything except their clothes and armor, which is distinctly European, and who are neighbors with Mongolians and American Indian/Turkish people (that's a mashup, not a suggestion that those two ethnicities are interchangeable).
    Wheel of Time does a lot of things exceptionally poorly, and the cultural mashup game it plays with its nations does NOT always work too well, it does at least feature a variety of ethnicities and cultural mindsets. Lots of them even avoid falling completely into the Fantasy Russia (or wherever) trope.

    The white Japanese people you mentioned could be the Shienarans (ethnically Japanese with European trappings), the Carhienin (white, predominantly a French-German cultural hybrid, but they're also into fireworks and have Japanese back banners and military haircuts over European armor), or the Seanchan (racially diverse empire that is literally just a mashup of every various imperialistic cultures: Japanese armor, Chinese and Korean cultural trappings, love of coffee and thick American Southern accents), none of which are quite as simplistic as all that. You might also be thinking of the exoticized, Orientalist Blademaster katana-worship, which is thunderously stupid and an embarrassment, but is at least a cross-cultural thing. Not that that helps. It's terrible.

    The white Arabs are basically Irish Fremen, but even they are at least 50% Hopi Indian, from their crops, architecture, half their clothing, and even some of their made-up language. Also Bushido, because why stop gushing over your love for imperial Japan, I guess. On the other hand, they also have a genuinely alien sense of humor that nevertheless follows consistent rules, and after reading enough of it I started to actually get the jokes for things that would initially have seemed nonsensical, and I think that's a pretty neat trick of writing.

  26. I think in theory Mashadar hates Shadowspawn more than it hates anything else (I think it's meant to be a metaphysical equivalent to the Whitecloaks' self-righteousness and witch-huntiness, which makes very little sense under the metaphysics we're given later on) and since they haven't yet got to the point where a single protagonist can blow up an army I guess we're supposed to believe they're just that desperate (but not desperate enough that they can't risk the chosen one's life with pointless secrets, naturally).

  27. And... in all the time since it infected the city, no hapless traveler or animal has wandered in that it could possess...? Even though all crows are evil or whatever? No evil wizard made a Coleman or vessel to carry it in?

    Man. Evil in this verse is terribly lacking in creativity.