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.
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.