Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Eye of the World, chapters 30, 31, 32, and 33, in which a montage could have done all this work in six pages

Sorry about the lack of post last week; I was apparently run ragged (I don't know how) and needed to pass out for many, many hours.  In an attempt to make up for it, I shall forge ahead through four chapters today.  Gods have mercy on our et cetera.

When last we left, I was doing my absolute damnedest to read Elyas' conversation with Perrin as "Dude, WTF" and "Yes, you are right manwolf, that was a very WTF thing for me to think", as opposed to the trainwreck I now believe it to be, in which Perrin is all "Wow, that was awful of me" and Elyas be like "Naw, dog, your plan was way better than getting eaten by ravens, don't worry that you didn't ask her if she wanted you to pre-emptively murder her".

This the first of like a fifteen-book series that is basically the icon of fantasy literature for the end of the millennium and everyone's just okay with that.  Send help.

(Content: violence, animal death, misogyny.)

The Eye of the World: p. 440--512

Perrin and Elyas are still arguing about who's got a right to kill whom when the wolves beam a warning into their heads and they rush back to obliterate their camp in a panic.  Elyas whisper-shouts for Egwene to douse the fire:
She rose to her feet, staring at him uncertainly, then stepped closer to the fire, but slowly, clearly not understanding what was happening.  Elyas pushed roughly past her and snatched up the tea kettle , cursing when it burned him.  Juggling the hot pot, he upended it over the fire just the same.
My first question: after weeks on the run and facing death that very afternoon, why are we to believe that Egwene--quick-witted, daring Egwene--would just not clue in that she needed to hurry when she spotted Perrin and Elyas sprinting toward her with hissed warnings to douse the fire?

My second question: how daft does Elyas have to be to not realise that pouring water all over a fire is going to create an enormous plume of steam towering over their campsite and marking it better than a properly-shielded flame ever could?

My answer to both these questions: Egwene understands the danger, you incompetent wannabe lycanthrope, but she knows that the safe way to kill the fire is to smother it and she's looking for the appropriate tools to do so, since you, Hairy Manly Survivalist, didn't think to prepare something in advance, no doubt because you were too busy unbending weeds behind yourself to exactly the most natural 82-degree angle?

I look back fondly on the days when I liked Elyas, but, as I might have guessed, Egwene the True Protagonist remains the only worthy person present.

With the fire doused and the girl chastised for her girly lack of initiative, Elyas immediately determines that there's no way of actually hiding their camp, and so they have to split up before the danger gets here, not that he's willing to spare a breath to say what the danger is, though he does say that it's not the ravens, which seems unnecessarily uninformative.  Finally, as they ride away, Perrin says that the wolves saw a great bunch of humans on horses, and "they smell wrong [...] the way a rabid dog smells wrong."

There's a lot wrong with that comparison, as we shall shortly see, but first they have to scamper away into the darkness where Perrin (who has already revealed he's mind-linked with the wolves) lies about his newfound night-vision to Egwene.  Egwene, literally and figuratively in the dark, proves to still be the best person by trying to reassure Perrin of their safety and get his mind off the danger (she asks if he'll dance with her if they're home by Sunday, which I take to mean the midsummer festival).  Perrin is treated to a four-camera telepathic slasher flick as the humans and horses hunt the wolves in the dark and get mauled over and over again.  Eventually, they're spotted hiding anyway, and we find out these people are Whitecloaks, though Perrin maintains there's something unusually evil about this batch.  Perrin's about to surrender at lancepoint when Hopper, the wolf who loved to jump and wished he could fly, leaps in to the rescue, begins slaughtering, dies in a heroic sacrifice, and Perrin goes into a berserker rage before blacking out.

We have now had two sympathetic characters die, Thom and Hopper, and they both got biographical retrospectives within a couple of pages of their deaths.  Is this going to be a thing?  Are we going to have a bunch of two-dimensional characters running around until it's time for them to die, at which point they abruptly get a poignant backstory stapled on?  It works much better here than it did for Thom, but that has everything to do with wolf telepathy and not with Jordan finding his groove on the whole death-by-backstory thing.

They waken, heavily bound, in a Whitecloak tent, where the inexplicably malicious Byar gives the gaunt Lord Captain their post-fight statistics, drastically overestimating the number of wolves they fought and inventing a bunch of Darkfriends as well.  The Lord Captain knows better, and introduces himself as Geofram Bornhald, which I think makes him an ancestor of the dude back in Baerlon?  There's much questioning and threatening (Perrin gets smacked with his own axe) and wild theorising by Byar before Perrin and Egwene put together a pretty solid half-true cover story, but they make the mistake of naming Shadar Logoth, which convinces the Lord Captain that they've still lied about something.  He insists no one is irredeemable, especially Egwene, but some punishment awaits Perrin, who axed a couple of whitecloaks before he passed out.  Conveniently, they're on their way to Caemlyn as well (they Must Not Be Late, though of course we're not told for what) so I'm not overly concerned that Perrin will get anywhere near his gibbet.

I realise that this point (as I should have long ago) that Egwene and Perrin have been split off from the main party to be our ripoffs of Merry and Pippin, minus the other heroes' desperate and sympathetic search for them.  Hoping against hope that Egwene is also our Gandalf the White and saves the day with sweet wizardry.

Chapter Thirty-One: Play for Your Supper

All good things come to an end, by which I mean it's a Rand chapter next.  The first several pages mostly assure us that nothing unpredictable has happened or will ever again happen: Rand and Mat are headed to Caemlyn, they hide in hedges and such whenever they see dust trails on the road ahead or behind, Mat is still ensorcelled by his evil dagger, and Thom is still dead.  Villages they pass make them homesick and there's an evil voice whispering demoralising things in Rand's head.  They can't sell their stuff for cash (no economy to take a heron sword or a ruby dagger), and they don't like thieving (mostly because of ever-present watchdogs).

Occasionally they do a few hours' work on a farm in exchange for room and board, but Rand gets nervous because this is time the Fades have to catch up with them.  One extended episode at the Grinwell farm concerns Rand's desperate efforts not to have sex with the eldest daughter.  Let me pause to note here that we're more than 460 pages in and I have no idea why Rand desperately wants to not have sex with this hot farmgirl.  He's not promised or devoted to Egwene; he's barely mentioned her in chapters, although he's had enough turned-on reactions to make me think he's not asexual.  Is he just generally nervous?  Afraid of the consequences if they get caught?  Is he a member of a religion with strict rules on sexual conduct?  (I did some googling just to check up on Jordan's religion, which he described as "High Church Episcopalian", which is a welcome change from the intense LDS theology and morality underlying so much of Orson Scott Card's works.  And Brandon Sanderson, for that matter, who finished WOT after Jordan's death.)

But my point is more that while this book's character exploration has at least been more show than tell, it still hasn't actually shown us much of anything.  I know nothing about what Rand wants in life that would explain to me why he'd do everything to subtly indicate to a farmlady that he wanted her to stop her hot daughter from getting in his pants.  I know more about the architecture of cities our characters have never been than I do about Our Hero's values.  What's up with that?  Is he meant to be a cipher, a blank slate onto which The Reader can project Himself?  IS RAND AL'THOR THE ORIGINAL BELLA SWAN?!

Anyway, Rand starts playing the flute and Mat starts juggling (as Thom taught them), and they are able to make much better time, earning rooms in inns and aboard merchants' carts:
If there was more than one inn in a village, the innkeepers would bid for them once they heard Rand's flute and saw Mat juggle. Together they still did not come close to a gleeman, but they were more than most villages saw in a year.
A year?  These poor bastards live in the worst of all possible worlds.  A few days' flute tutelage (or 'flutelage') makes Rand a better musician than anyone in the average town?  My god.  Let the Dark One win.

Chapter Thirty-Two: Four Kings in Shadow

Four Kings is mentioned at the end of chapter 31, ominously, and proves to be a small town that gets a full page of description to start with, which is more than we can say for Rand's identity.  It's dusty and barren and the women are getting catcalled so badly that "even Mat gave a start at some of them".  (I assume Mat didn't try to get naked with the farmgirl because he's in a devoted relationship with his cursed dagger, which is also a clearer explanation than we have for Rand.)  The misogyny continues with an innkeeper who slaps a barmaid for dissing the local musician, further driving home that these are terrible people, though Rand and Mat do zero to protest her treatment and 'these men hate women' does not feature on Rand's list of reasons he doesn't like the town.  The grime is much more important.  So here I guess we have another example of highlighting misogyny in order to make dudely readers feel better about themselves (they would never do such a thing) while also letting them glide past it instead of having to engage or, y'know, do anything at all ever.  (Rand does threaten the innkeeper with violence if he gives them less than the food and bedding they agree upon.  Priorities: sorted.)

There's some basic but serviceable foreshadowing with the occasional thunder and rising pressure as a storm rolls into town and finally bursts as they play.  Casual violence and sexual harassment of barmaids continues to be the order of the day.  (Rand is baffled that any of the women stay and put up with this treatment, and I'm just going to repeat what I said back in Speaker for the Dead: There are a lot of answers to that question, because people won't stop asking it, because they don't want any answer except the one they've already got, which is that if she stays, it's her own fault.)  Rand and Mat agree that the evil skinny innkeeper is definitely going to rob them, but they don't leave because they're still ravenous and they don't want to sleep in a rainstorm.  I'll spare y'all the prolonged pseudo-detective business that goes into working out that the one fancy dude who shows up at the inn and makes everyone uncomfortable is a rich merchant from Whitebridge who is definitely a Darkfriend.

The rest of the evening is unsurprising but serviceable Our Heroes Are Trapped tension-building, which I'd probably enjoy if I actually cared about anyone here.  The innkeeper and his bouncers are menacing, the inn is described in effective decrepit terms, and as Mat and Rand try to pry the bars off their room's window, they are engaged by the merchant, Howal Gode, who does not pretend even slightly to not be a nefarious villain.  The most interesting thing to get out of his monologuing is that he believes Rand and Mat are two of the new Dreadlords who will meet the devil when he awakens.  I say 'interesting' because for all the random fantasy bits thrown at us, we don't actually understand how pretty much anything is structured, and I'm inexplicably hoping that 'Dreadlord' is actually a title of some defined meaning which will shed further light on bad guy logistics if we ever get it defined.  I don't know why I think that's going to happen any time soon.  Maybe I'm just excited that the bad guys have prophecies too.

Our Heroes are saved by a bolt of lightning that happens to hit the inn at the exact moment that Rand silently wishes for "a way out", HINT HINT, and he and Mat make their getaway in the rain as Gode's lackeys smoulder on the ground.  Wow, saved at the last moment by improbability that precisely lined up with the simultaneous wishes of the character.  Again.  It's almost like there's magic in this world.

Chapter Thirty-Three: The Dark Waits

We ALL wait, Dark.  You're not special.  You're waiting for the end of all things, I'm waiting for a plot development.  Want to take bets on which of us will get what we want first?  Come on, I'll give you odds.

We cut to Rand and Mat riding into another village on a farmer's wagon, where they see uniformed Queen's Guards on patrol, and in a startling development, some worldbuilding actually answers my questions: Rand's never seen Queen's Guards before, and he reflects that he's vaguely aware his hometown is part of the kingdom of Andor, but they never have problems so big that they can't be settled with a meeting among a few villages' councils.  (He specifically mentions Village Councils, which y'all will recall are entirely made up of men, while the Women's Circles apparently aren't involved.  So feminist, y'all.)

Oh, lord.  After they hop off the farmer's wagon and keep walking for Carysford, we then cut back to the end of the last chapter so Jordan can detail for us every single that happened after the lightning strike.  I was not feeling deprived.  This turns out to be yet another dream, in which he is somehow able to confirm that the evil Gode is dead because Rand meets Ba'alzamon wearing his charred corpse like a snuggie.  Rand wakes up when he gets a fireball to the face, and Mat wakes up at the same time screaming about having lost his eyes, leading to Rand cradling Mat tenderly in the dark. (For the record, as much as I dislike most of these characters most of the time, I'm still 100% in favour of them being gay, bi, trans, or really anything other than hetero cis dudes with gender roles instead of bone marrow.

It's practically a montage: more villages and nourishing stew and gifts from farmers who would do more but always include the two-word sentence "My family" as an explanation to why they can't get more involved, more random villagers turning out to be Darkfriends, more questions raised in my mind about how and when Ba'alzamon is capable of making telepathic contact with his minions.  In another inn, Rand suddenly falls ill with chills, then fever, then hallucinations, which go on for pages and tell us nothing about anything or anyone.  The woman who arrives to try to treat him also turns out to be a Darkfriend, who tries to murder Rand with a magic burning dagger, and Rand has to give the usual they-are-evil-but-we-are-not speech in order to keep Mat from killing her before they stagger away.

The chapter ends with them getting on the wagon that we saw them getting off in the first scene of this same chapter, which is basically a metaphor for this entire series and also the Sisyphean hell in which I have trapped myself.  It's not that this chapter was badly written at all, it had solid imagery and creepy stuff and I can legitimately feel the exhaustion that Our Heroes are forcing their way through.  The problem ain't that.  The problem is that we're on page 512 and this book is made of filler.

Next week: they make it to Caemlyn, but your guess is as good as mine whether anything actually happens there.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Eye of the World, chapters 28, 29, and 30, in which I am the least disappointed I've ever been

At some point I apparently stopped doing content notes, on the basis that most of the stuff being covered no longer seemed half as startling and triggery as Ender's Game got, but this week it's back with a vengeance because oh my god Perrin that had better have been Satan's idea and not yours.

(Content note: misogyny, discussed murder-suicide.  Fun content: candids of Moiraine and Elyas.)

The Eye of the World: p. 414--440
Chapter Twenty-Eight: Footprints in Air

We catch up with Nynaeve and her amazing pals as they also arrive at Whitebridge, and they have experienced zero change in party dynamic over their many days of travel since Shadar Logoth.  I mean, if things don't even happen on page I can't really expect them to start acting like real people off-page, can I?  She still fumes at Moiraine all day while Moiraine stays perfectly calm and says they're going to Tar Valon once they find the boys.  The only new addition to this is that Nynaeve protests a little too much inside her own head about how she totally doesn't have a boner for Lan.  Nynaeve is made of self-repression and indignation.

They arrive at Whitebridge and a bunch of homes have been burnt to the ground.  Oh no, are our heroes oh screw it if Jordan can't be bothered to create tension I'm not doing it for him.
In the next moment [Moiraine] was down off Aldieb and speaking to townsfolk. She did not ask questions; she gave sympathy, and to Nynaeve's surprise it appeared genuine. People who shied away from Lan, ready to hurry from any stranger, stopped to speak with Moiraine. They appeared startled themselves at what they were doing, but they opened up, after a fashion, under Moiraine's clear gaze and soothing voice.
So at first this seems like yet another redundant 'Moiraine is actually nice and Nynaeve should trust her' moment, but the bit about people startling themselves suggests that Moiraine is in fact using Old Jedi Mind Tricks on these folks who've just had their houses burn down.  From a narrative standpoint, I fully approve--morally, I think that's really inappropriate, but the Moiraine who steamrolls other people because she's a fricking wizard and she has things to do is the best Moiraine.  Give me all your dangerously intent wizard ladies.  She's the most compelling character we've met.

Moiraine [pictured without her magic soothing glamour].

So most people lie in spite of the glamour, and others have a host of useless rumours, but the gist of it is that folks (including a gleeman) showed up by boat, there was evil magic trouble, and the boat left again just before the mob arrived.  Nynaeve wonders aloud if this was Rand and company, because she is not Moiraine and therefore she must be wrong (they did not leave by boat).  They eat at the same inn as Rand, and Moiraine does some psychometry to confirm they were there recently, while Lan sniffs around and announces there was a Fade as well.  Nynaeve, showing again why she's actually a better person than everyone else, asks what Moiraine intends to do for Egwene, whom she never mentions in spite of Egwene supposedly being a potential superwizard, and Moiraine basically says "Oh, yeah, her too, totally, right, like totally, but shit happens, you know?"

And... oh, that's the end of this chapter.  It gave us another view of the White Bridge, and a recap of what happened last chapter, but with fewer details.  How extraordinarily unnecessary.

Chapter Twenty-Nine: Eyes Without Pity

Back with Elyas, Perrin, and Egwene, they're making double-time across the grasslands, and Elyas is trying harder to cover the signs of their camps, but...
The fires he made were small, and always hidden in a pit carefully dug where he had cut away a plug of sod. As soon as their meal was prepared, he buried the coals and replaced the plug. Before they set out again in the gray false dawn, he went over the campsite inch by inch to make sure there was no sign that anyone had ever been there. He even righted overturned rocks and straightened bent-down weeds.
Are you... are you serious?  Bent-down weeds?  Fact one: these are explicitly described as grasslands; you can't possibly erase all the footprints created by your teenage tagalongs.  Fact two: weeds can bend on their own.  Fact three: if you cut a fricking hole in the ground, anyone who's paying enough attention to notice a bent weed is going to notice the carved earth, even if you did slap it back in place like a peaty jigsaw puzzle afterwards.

We don't know what Elyas is afraid of chasing them--not trollocs, we're assured, partly because Perrin knows the wolves can't small trollocs.  He throws this in casually, despite having sworn last chapter that he would never let the wolves inside his head again.  I'm starting to feel like that last chapter was supposed to get edited out, since the dream-raven-in-the-eye and his vow against wolf telepathy have apparently been ditched this fast.

They just barely manage to (probably) not get spotted by a flock of a hundred ravens and Elyas mutters about places they can hide, noting that ravens roost at night.  Apparently the devil can control ravens' every move (we saw the flock do an abrupt about-face) but can't order them to stay up past their bedtime.  They do, however, demonstrate the scientific fact that ravens have the same jaw structure as piranhas, as they flock a fox and devour it in moments.  A raven spots Perrin, but Egwene takes it down with her sling, which apparently means that it can't report back to the rest of the flock.  I do not in any way understand the rules of the devil's raven telepathy.  It can't be one-way only, or they'd make terrible scouts, but apparently it can't give the flock orders based on what that one raven spotted?

Perrin catches the wolves' thoughts as they skirmish with the flock, but the ravens give up after just injuring them a bit.  Perrin reveals this, and apparently this is the first confirmation Egwene's had that he's got wolf telepathy, so there's all the usual 'oh no now she'll think I'm terrible and gross because I have innate magic' business, apparently forgetting that Egwene has already been marked as Future Best Wizard by Moiraine.  They move on without addressing it.  When Perrin calculates they have an hour before the second flock catches up with them, he decides not to tell Egwene, but he does wonder to himself if he'll "have the courage" to mercifully kill her first rather than let the ravens do it.

Perrin, you monstrous tool.

I mean can we just.  He doesn't ask Elyas if there's any hope of finding shelter before then (their hiding spot is two hours off, apparently), or if he's got any other solutions or defences.  He doesn't ask Egwene if she'd prefer a clean death if they know they're doomed, or if she'd rather fight to the last the way he apparently intends to do.  He doesn't ask himself if he could stomach offing himself before the ravens get him either.  This isn't a matter of grim mercy, this is a matter of a man seeing a woman as a subordinate object and himself as the one who has the responsibility to prevent her from being despoiled.  Does anyone think there's the slightest chance Perrin would be puzzling this murder-suicide business over if he were with Rand or Mat?  He sees Egwene as his lesser, incapable of bearing burdens or making difficult decisions, and above even her own life needing to be preserved in her pretty naive state.  This is a thing that happens in the real world and it's horrifying.  I can't actually think of an adequate obscenity or profanity to sum this up with.

(But he cries while he contemplates this, so we know he's really just scared and sensitive.  Retch.)

And then, conveniently enough, they walk into the safe zone ahead of schedule: a 'stedding',a haven of legend, where the One Power doesn't work and no one can touch the True Source and there's a strict limit on the use of Significant Capitalisation.  It's actually nicer inside the stedding, more green grass shoots, presumably because the devil doesn't have as much power to poison the land within.

Which... huh.

Remind me again why these places aren't incredibly important settlements where people build fortresses the forces of magic can never touch?  Would a stedding not be an ideal community spot to keep all your male wizards in to prevent them from getting magic madness?


They get to a cold pool and drink deeply and Perrin decides to never talk to Egwene ever about his mercy-kill plan, though a voice (guessing the devil) in his head tells him he would have done it.  There's actually some further taunting about that, about how easy or difficult it would have been, but none of it addresses the underlying misogyny that riled me in the first place, so whatever.

We get another history lesson, about how this place was going to be the capital of the empire of Artur Hawkwing, beloved king of legend who ruled most of the world under the law of Pax "I Have A Sword And No Conscience", i.e., criminals and tyrants got shanked right quick.  He also hated magic, and thus no one could heal him of his final sickness/poisoning, and then his whole peaceful world crumbled as everyone fought for the throne.  And apparently in the thousands of years that followed, no one else who hates magic ever decided to build here either.  So that question remains unanswered.

Chapter Thirty: Children of Shadow

I wasn't planning to start on another chapter, but I scoped out the first couple of pages and PRAISE ERU ILUVATAR Elyas calls out the misogynistic stupidity of Perrin's mercy-kill plan.
"You were ready to kill her because you despise her, always dragging her feet, holding you back with her womanish ways. [....] If she had to choose her way of dying, which do you think she'd pick? [....] I know which I'd take."
"I don't have any right to choose for her."
Elyas [pictured after a shave and a mani/pedi].

I am honestly blown away that this was addressed at all, and not just a throwaway moment to show that Perrin was taking the situation seriously.  I'm filled with so much less hatred right now.  My venom glands aren't even a little swollen.

Of course, these are Manly Men, so when Perrin is filled with disgust just looking at his axe, thinking about throwing it away, Elyas tells him to keep it, use it against the people who actually need an axe in the face, and only throw it away if he ever feels like he is okay with casual murder.  Can't get too soft.

[Edit: The more I thought about this after posting, the more I realised that, in the complete context of the scene, it's much more likely that Elyas is being ironic when he says 'you were ready to kill her because you hate her' in order to shake Perrin into realising that he doesn't hate Egwene and his mercy-kill plan was a completely blameless scheme of generosity, not a terrible thing at all.  BUT I CAN'T DEAL WITH THAT RIGHT NOW so I'm going to allow the above to stand.]

And that is where I will leave it for this week, because then we get into more stuff with how nowhere is safe and Jordan has the gall to kill off Hopper the bouncy wolf.  Note to my readers: if you ever feature a bouncy wolf in your stories, don't kill it off.  Make it the backup protagonist.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Eye of the World, chapters 26 and 27, in which there is a shocking and unpredictable death

We come at last to the end of the beginning: this book is 782 pages long, which means the middle is page 391.  To recap for those who fell asleep sometime in the late 1990s when I'm pretty sure I started these posts: Rand al'Thor is a Simple Farmboy (adopted by a master swordsman) who was born at the right time for a prophecy, so he and his besties and his not-girlfriend Egwene (the real protagonist) and his neighbourhood witch have run away from home, under guidance of a wizard and her bodyguard, to escape the hordes of the devil and take refuge in Wizardopolis.  They are also accompanied by a crotchety old bard who has been helpful but formed no close personal bonds with any of our cast members, so I'm sure he'll live to see the end of the book.  Everyone has magic powers and the devil haunts the three boys' dreams.  Girls are scary but okay as long as they know their place.  Our Heroes got split up but are making their separate ways toward the same city.  Ballads are cool, and so are apostrophes.

Is there anything of real substance in the last 400 pages that I actually missed out on, there?  Things that a reader would be confused not knowing if they jumped in now?  I suppose I could detail more prophecies, or the specifics of their magic, or speculate on exactly what 'the sundering' was, but honestly we've only been told fragments of those things already, and they're mostly easily intuited stuff that would take the average reader about four sentences to pick up on.  'The dark lord was fought once before and sealed away but some of his power leaks through and that's how he's able to have armies of minions'--well, fricking obviously.  In terms of Epic Fantasy, that's like saying 'gold can be exchanged for goods and services' or 'none of the protagonists are black'.  There are certain things a reader learns to take as given.

The Eye of theWorld: p. 378--413
Chapter Twenty-Six: Whitebridge

On the boat still, Thom the gleeman and Mat have exactly the same conversation they had last chapter, about Thom taking his 'pretend the kids are your apprentices' story too seriously.  Rand is shocked to hear Mat speak matter-of-factly about the possibility the rest of their party is dead, but then a voice pops into his head asking if he thinks this is all a cheerful fireside story:
The heroes find the treasure and defeat the villain and live happily ever after? Some of his stories don'tend that way. Sometimes even heroes die. Are you a hero, Rand al'Thor? Are you a hero, sheepherder?
FORESHADOW FORESHADOW.  They turn a bend in the river and finally see the White Bridge, a huge smooth white-stone bridge with implausibly thin supports and no seams, and one end in the town of Whitebridge.  We're told it looks like glass but it's never slippery, and it's apparently indestructible, a remnant of the Age of Legends,when apparently Aes Sedai just did this kind of thing regularly.

There's a lot of generic ship-crew-work described, the captain fires the token sailor we hate (who kept trying to get rid of Rand and company), and gives them back the money they paid for fares, plus some, because of all the morale-boosting work Thom did.  (Silver coins from Moiraine: recovered.  Oh no, our heroes almost actually lost something.)  The captain wants them to keep sailing with him, down to some bard competition in Illian, but Rand insists they have friends to meet nearby.  Thom warns them all to be stealthy and cautious, and then completely forgets that his patchwork cloak marks him as a gleeman, the most exciting thing to ever happen to any of these peasants in their whole lives.  (I'm not clear on why gleemen are such a big deal.  Storytelling is important stuff, but folks in this book act like Thom is one in a million.  It played much better in Backwoodston back in chapter two than it does here at a major shipping junction.)

Times are hard in fantasyland:
Hawkers [...] tried to interest the passersby in their skimpy trays of fruit or vegetables, but none was getting much interest. Shops selling food had the same pitiful displays of produce Rand remembered from Baerlon. Even the fishmongers displayed only small piles of small fish, for all the boats on the river.
I... no, that's the opposite of how famine works.  If the best anyone can get is 'hardly anything' then even really unimpressive cabbages are going for heaps of cash and no one can keep them in stock.  People are desperate for any fish at all--meat; real meat!  The only reason for people to ignore the food for sale is if they already have enough themselves, which they can't if the grocers can't get any better than this.  What are these people eating?  (Please say it's tourists.  It's time for something proper scary; let's have a town full of desperate folks eating adventurers.)

Thom leads them to an inn where they can decide on a course of action.
Rand wondered idly if all innkeepers were fat and losing their hair.
It take some chutzpah to write interchangeable self-parodying stereotypes and then have your characters comment on how These People Are All The Same.  After some more meandering, Thom shakes news out of the innkeeper that Logain, the guy who said he was the Dragon Reborn, has been captured by Aes Sedai and they're taking him to Tar Valon via Caemlyn, where the Queen lives.  (These people have a queen?  But--wait, is this feudal?  Are they serfs?  Do they pay taxes?  Are they granted military protection?  Who governs the territory around Two Rivers?  I thought every town was an independent body in a semi-anarchic city-state sort of model.  You can't just stick a queen on top of that and just act like it makes sense!  Why was the first concern of Two Rivers not to inform their marquess or baron or something?  HOW DOES THIS WORLD FUNCTION.)

We also hear that a proclamation has gone out asking everyone to sign up for book two--I mean, swear their lives to the Great Hunt for the Horn of Valere,which must be found before the final battle with the devil.  At last, Thom carefully describes the rest of Our Heroes to the innkeeper, asking if anyone has seen them, and the innkeeper does a full about-face and tells him to literally get out of town.  Apparently first a locally-known 'madman' asked about them, and then a Fade started appearing out of nowhere to ask people about the three farmboys, although by cleverly keeping its hood up all the time it prevented anyone from noticing that it was an eyeless hellspawn brimming with evil powers.  Our Heroes disagree further about whether they should go to Caemlyn as planned or continue to Illian, which Thom would have us believe is the Greatest City Ever, and Mat is near to shanking him with his Evil Knife when that one sailor we hate arrives in the inn and they have to book it quickly.

Thom swiftly exposits to the boys that the reason he's trying to keep them away from Tar Valon is because he was too slow (busy with work) to save his nephew Owyn, who "got in trouble" and within a few years "you could say Aes Sedai killed him", which Rand figures means Owyn had Illegal Boy Magic.  Thom, who is no Abed Nadir, doesn't seem to realise that giving us his poignant backstory is like turning both keys simultaneously on his personal doomsday device, but he disappears briefly and returns in a black cloak that freaks Rand and Mat right out.  They make their way out of town, and half a page later the actual Fade shows up in the middle of a marketplace.  Thom rushes it, daggers out, and yells for them to run, then screams a lot in blue light while everyone everywhere runs away.  Outside town, Rand and Mat agree to follow Thom's instructions (go to a Caemlyn inn called the Queen's Blessing), and off they go, harrowed by the series' first Named Character Death.

Today's aesop: If you have to shoehorn in a character's sad backstory in the last two pages before their death in order to give it any kind of emotional impact, you should probably workshop that character a bit more.

Chapter Twenty-Seven: Shelter from the Storm

Back to Perrin, Egwene, Wolfbrother the Brother of Wolves, and the Irish Rovers Travellers.  Because carelessness and laziness are not in any way problematically coded for Travellers and Romani (I'm not clear if Jordan knew the difference) we are told that they make slow time, never getting moving until mid-morning and sometimes stopping mid-afternoon if they find a nice spot.  Le sigh.

There's actually a huge amount of exoticism going on with the Travellers, who are one and all "joyful on their feet", constantly dancing or singing or otherwise making music.  Sweet Non-Allegorical Lion-Jesus, I just caught sight of a paragraph two pages later where it's still talking about how every last one of them "went about a myriad domestic chores as if they had not a care in the world".  The kindest guess at authorial intent here is that the Travellers are analogous to Tolkien's elves, who were much the same in their song and dance, except that with the elves it was supposed to highlight how otherworldly and implausible they were, so here, applied to a particular human culture, it serves more to Other them as shallow flights of fancy with none of the serious thoughts or concerns that weigh down Our Heroes.  And Aram, with whom Egwene spends much of her time dancing, is thus the most sexualised man we've encountered so far, if only because it's the first time a named girl has been blatantly attracted to anyone.  (Egwene's belligerent sexual tension with Rand does not count, since we've seen exactly zero forms of healthy human affection pass between them.)  Oh, joy, and then on the next page Perrin sees some Traveller women dancing for the first time and he gets the most turgid boner of his entire life.  Othered, exoticised, and sexualised.  I'm like a goddamn prophet.

Perrin tries to talk Egwene out of enjoying herself (and at least nominally Perrin is worried about bringing trollocs down on a pack of pacifists) but she counters that this might be their last chance to do so before Wizardopolis.  There is much distress about pacifism and Perrin insistently carrying his axe, and he's increasingly aware of the thoughts of their wolf entourage as well, et cetera et cetera no plot development.

Perrin hasn't had any devil dreams for some days, but at last he does again, and in it Ba'alzamon incinerates his wolf guardian and throws a raven into his head, declaring "I mark you mine".  He wakes, screaming (as are the wolves), and Elyas finally declares it's time for them to leave.

We're more than halfway through this book and pretty much every plot arc has been 'our heroes arrive somewhere comfy, our heroes try to settle in, the devil Does A Thing, our heroes decide they must run faster'.  Please, for the love of sugar gliders and slow lorises, let them get to Tar Valon soon.

They have a rushed but extended farewell with literally everyone in camp, Perrin gets more boners from hugs from every girl (twice), Egwene refuses to stay with Aram, and when Raen gives them their formal farewell, Elyas replies formally as well, swearing that someone will find the song and it will be sung soon: "As it once was, so shall it be again, world without end."  That... is a really weird choice of moment to toss in a King James Bible reference.  The Travellers echo it back, and off they go, with Elyas gruffly explaining he was just being polite about the ceremony.

The wolves bring Elyas up to speed on Perrin's dream (they call the devil Heartfang, pretty badass) and they try to explain to Perrin that he'll only be safe when he accepts them, but Perrin makes bad decisions and forces the wolves out of his brain fully.  There's a final gender joke, when Perrin asks Egwene what she was always talking to Aram's grandmother about ('advice on how to be a woman', she says, which I assume in context means flirting and maybe some HJ pointers), and he says no one needs advice on how to be a man, which Egwene says is why they're so bad at it.


Instead, I share with you an exchange related to me via ye olde tumblre, between a girl and her mother, bemoaning menstruation.
Mother: You're not really a woman until you've got blood on every pair of pants you own. 
Girl: What about women who don't have periods? 
Mother: I didn't say it had to be your own.
Next week: More Nynaeve, no Rand.  Still some Perrin, but I'll take what I can get.