Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Eye of the World, chapters 41 and 42, in which questions are often raised and never answered

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends.  This is how we live now: reading the Wheel of Time (Book One), which we are more than three-quarters of the way through and yet somehow only just finishing what feels like the prologue.  Sometimes the chapter numbers seem to change when I'm not looking, sneaking down lower, shuffling themselves around.  Did I already read this part, or are they just going into round one of recapping?  Maybe the things they're recapping haven't happened yet.  Maybe they happened a long time ago, too.  We are beyond the ideas of past and future now.  There is only this page, standing at the forefront of the legions that surround it.  There is only ever this page.

The Eye of the World: p. 619--645
Chapter Forty-One: Old Friends and New Threats

Rand returns to the inn, finds his latest plot-recruited helpful innkeeper playing a game with Loial the elf-ogre, and spends several pages recapping the spectacularly improbable events which we literally just read in the previous two chapters.  The innkeeper is at first skeptical, while Loial just mutters 'ta'veren', listens intently, and asks to join the quest.  Rand and Mat must leave the city immediately, apparently?  I'm not clear on why, but they seem pretty sure that Chief Wizard Elaida is going to send guards to hunt Rand down again imminently, despite the queen declaring him innocent and setting him free.  Does Elaida regularly ignore the queen's decisions?  Do we have a precedent?  This is an important thing to know in any circumstance, but no one says anything like 'she'll have you grabbed quietly in the night, just like that shady diplomat who vanished off his boat two days away from the city'.  Is this just part of typical anti-Aes Sedai mistrust and propaganda?  I mean, Rand is specifically running to Tar Valon, which is basically the Greater Wizardtropolitan Area, so isn't he in at least as much danger there?  For that matter, might Elaida not be very interested in helping him get there, if he explained that it was Moiraine's idea?  Does Rand have any idea what faction of wizard Elaida is from?

Only Robert Jordan could raise this many questions (and answer none of them) for no good reason in such a short period of time while mostly talking about rats and those vile vile anti-monarchists.

Rand get outright angry when Loial uses the same phrasing as Elaida, saying that "The Pattern weaves itself around you, and you stand in the heart of it".  I feel like after 600 pages Rand should have picked up enough characterisation that I would know why he's angry at the prospect of having a really dramatic fate.  Is he so intensely humble that the notion of being important offends him?  Is he scared to death of conflict and wants to believe that once he gets to Tar Valon everything will be peaceful and boring forever after?  Did he have hopes and aspirations for his life that he feels have been taken away from him?  Is he just really opposed to the notion of destiny overriding free will?  Throw me a bone, Jordan.

We have a brief and unnecessary interlude with whitecloaks in the inn's common room, who are armed and armored and angry but are inexplicably driven out by the out-of-nowhere, natural-20-intimidation-check warnings that the innkeeper gives them.  (We do get the informational tidbit that the whitecloaks "hold no writ in Caemlyn", though it's not clear to me what that means.  Are they not tax-exempt?  Do they have to obey all of the laws instead of only some of them?)

The whitecloaks are also very dismissive of the queen, which is clearly supposed to further outline how villainous they are, but to my mind it raises yet another damned question: why do we like Queen Morgase?  She's apparently abandoned substantial tracts of her queendom for generations, even as the number of monsters roaming the world increases.  She allows religious extremists to wander her cities harassing people at random.  She has no great diplomatic successes we're aware of.  She does apparently maintain some kind of substantial food security program within the capital, although the rules under which it functions aren't clear and we have no indication if it helps on other issues of health, shelter, or safety.  The two things we really know about her for certain are that she decided to let Rand go literally right after her Chief Wizard said he was super plot-relevant, and that she regularly receives prophecies from said wizard that are so mystically vague that no one has the slightest clue what they mean.  Neither of these choices reflect well on her as a protector of her realm and its inhabitants.  Near as I can tell, we're supposed to like her because she's got a crown, her family is attractive, and she was nice to the protagonist (sort of).

Just saying it's possible the white-flag revolutionaries have a point.  Of course, they don't seem to have any ideas about what they want instead of the queen, because they are evil and therefore heavily organised around the idea of taking things apart, not creating something new.  Those are the rules.

Let's get a move on, plotwise.  The moment we're done with the whitecloak interlude, someone else shows up looking for Rand and Mat, and at gorram last it's the rest of the party: Moiraine, Lan, Egwene, Nynaeve, and Perrin.  Rand hugs the girls (who of course bury themselves face-first in his chest) while also shaking Perrin's hand AS MEN DO, and the innkeeper falls all over himself for a couple of pages in subservience to Moiraine.  Rand takes them all to see Mat, and praise Buddha they immediately identify that there's something the fuck wrong with him as he hacks at them like Gollum bingeing on conspiracy theory websites and The Exorcist.
"How do you know they're really who they look like? [....] Perrin?  Is that you? You've changed, haven't you? [....] A Wisdom isn't suppose to think of herself as a woman, is she? Not a pretty woman. But you do, don't you? Now. You can't make yourself forget that you're a pretty woman, no, and it frightens you."
Nynaeve just thinks he's got a fever, but Moiraine arrives and all but leaps on him.  She quickly infodumps all the stuff we already knew about Shadar Logoth being cursed, and Mat attacks her with the knife he stole, gets stopped by Lan, and Moiraine sets about wizard medicine.  The knife is apparently a beacon of evil as well, and thus why Rand and Mat have been endlessly plagued by darkfriends and trollocs on their journey, and why (Lan informs us) the Fades are building a trolloc army outside Caemlyn in preparation to take the city.

You had one job, Rand.

Chapter Forty-Two: Remembrance of Dreams

Leaving Moiraine to exorcise Mat, Rand introduces the party to Loial in the Double Secret Parlour, where Perrin immediately starts asking Loial about steddings and whether they're really magic havens.  I have to assume at this point that Robert Jordan was badly distracted by something, or perhaps looked up from the keyboard and realised thatthe manuscript was due tomorrow, because it's only been two pages and Moiraine shows up with Mat, a bit spaced and embarrassed but otherwise completely cured of his evil possession.

Well.  That de-escalated quickly.

Moiraine quickly and quietly explains to Rand that Mat still has the knife and it's still magically bound to him, but she has purged the evil from Mat's system for now and they can get a permanent fix in Tar Valon, but Moiraine is vague about whether that's where they're going next after all.  She also warns Loial that all of the other Aes Sedai are Red Ajah, which--okay, screw it, there's a glossary in the back of this book and I am tired.
Ajah (AH-jah): Societies among the Aes Sedai, to which all Aes Sedai belong. They are designated by colours: [Blue, Red, White, Green, Brown, Yellow, and Gray]. [...] The Red Ajah bends all its energies to finding and gentling men who are attempting to wield the Power.
Well, they did just bring in the Renegade Man Wizard Logain, so maybe that's not startling, although surely Elaida isn't included in "every one but I".  I can't imagine that spending all of her time giving vague advice to the queen counts as bending all her energy to 'gentling' men.

There is yet more recapping again as Rand tells the rest about meeting the queen, and if I were running with my theory of 'the queen is actually not inherently good by right of being the queen', I would get Manchurian Candidate vibes from the way Rand spaces out as soon as he thinks of her:
"Can you imagine me meeting a Queen? She's beautiful, like the queens in stories.  So is Elayne. And Gawyn... you'd like Gawyn, Perrin."
Very nice wingmanning, Rand.  Your buddy just got into town and already you're trying to hook him up with a hot prince. (Egwene, of course, is quietly very jealous that Rand said the princess was cute, because Robert Jordan solved feminist fantasy forever.  Egwene, whom we may recall was cheerfully all up in that Traveller boy's business a few... weeks ago?  I'm fuzzy on timelines here.)  Perrin mentions the Travellers, which sets Loial talking about the Travellers who wanted to learn the tree songs from the ogiers back in his home stedding of Shangtai--


I can cope with a lot of this nonsense, I really can.  I can roll with Mosk and Merk the warring giants, and I will roll with the cool descriptions of places and vitally important magical locations and objects that we'll apparently never see again, but when the ever-helpful non-human servitor-race guy comes from a place called Shangtai I just want to bite through someone's neck.  I desperately hope that's just a throwaway thing and not an indication that the ogiers are going to be the fantasy Asians here.  It's bad enough Rand is apparently a pasty redhead of the noble desert tribes.

Loial gets around to repeating a story that the Dark One seeks to blind the Eye of the World, and Egwene and Perrin mention hearing the same from the Travellers, and the boys finally get around to admitting to Moiraine that they've been having dreams with the devil hassling them.  Praise be to Gargamel, no more attempting to draw out tension by having people just not talk.  (For now.)

Moiraine concludes that all three boys are ta'veren (what, not Egwene and Nynaeve, previously described as potentially the most powerful wizards of the age?) and they need to leave Caemlyn immediately by unorthodox means.  She also gives us this destiny explanation:
"Sometimes being ta'veren means the Pattern is forced to bend to you, and sometimes it means the Pattern forces you to the needed path."
So... how is that different from regular free will and chance, then?  People are self-evidently bad at prophecy, so it's not like you can tell in advance whether you're making a choice because you choose to or because you've been chosen to, so what are the practical consequences of this?  It sounds like an excuse to go about your life in a normal way but make regular exclamations about how mystical it all is.  "You stole my last cupcake!" "No, I was fated to eat the last cupcake."

Actually, that could be a fun way to live.  Try it out and report back in the comments.

Speaking of which, Moiraine and Loial debate for about a page on how to leave the city, using the Ways that they can reach from a Waygate that is probably buried under the New City and will lead them to Fal Dara that was once known as Mafal Dadaranell.  (That deluge of unexplained capitalisation is a taste of what this book is like without me as your buffer.  I do actually sometimes appreciate Jordan's persistence in giving things names that change over time, like how Mafal Dadaranell's name clearly got abbreviated, but good lord, does everything on this planet have a business card the size of a surfboard?)  Loial exclaims that if they enter the ways they will all die or "be swallowed by the Shadow", and on that no-context salvo of 'dun, dun, DUNNNNNNN', the chapter abruptly ends.  The next chapter starts up immediately on the next line, no scene break or anything, which makes that a really, really odd point to choose to cut us off, but I think I can live with it.

Next time: backstory, dimension-tunnelling, and Moiraine's instincts for manipulating the narrative.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Eye of the World, chapters 39 and 40, in which it appears that the plot starts up again

Sorry about the delayed post--I had written something up for Wednesday about Terminator Genisys, which I thoroughly enjoyed, especially in the way it recentered the storyline away from 'Sarah is important because she's the mother of Slab Hardcheese John "Manly War Messiah" Connor' and onto 'Sarah is important because she's a colossal badass who takes control of her own life, and her victory is that she reclaims her agency from the cycles of predestination'.  But reading that post over again, I found that I didn't have much else good to say about the movie in terms of politics or representation (the Dysons, a black father-son team of computer geniuses, get sidelined compared to T2, everyone is straight, and there's an awkward new patriarchal dynamic between Predestined Love Interest Kyle Reese and Sarah's foster dad).  So I shelved that post for future considerations and instead you get more WOT after all.  Take it.  Take it and feel my pain so that catharsis may purge your own anguish

(Content: villainously pretty men.  Fun content: villainously pretty men.)

The Eye of the World: p. 582--618
Chapter Thirty-Nine: Weaving of the Web

We're back in Randland, where Robert Jordan once again taunts me with the prospect of a timeskip that didn't actually happen:
Next to the day when Egwene and Perrin walked in, alive and laughing over what they had seen, this was the day he had been waiting for most.
Egwene and Perrin have not actually walked in yet; Rand is just looking forward to it.  Mat is exactly the same as he's been for the last 300 pages, surly and paranoid and not wanting to do anything, and I'm not clear on what this special day is that Rand has been looking forward to, but apparently it means everyone is rallying in the street.  The innkeeper informs Rand that a beggar has been seen in the city, asking for Rand and friends by name, and this is Deeply Suspicious--not because random strangers looking for visitors by name probably have secret motives, no, but because Caemlyn has a welfare program and therefore there's no excuse to beg.
"...Even with things as hard as they are. On High Days, the Queen gives it out with her own hands, and there's never anyone turned away for any reason. No one needs to beg in Caemlyn. Even a man under warrant can't be arrested while he's taking the Queen's Bounty."
Which: really?  Okay, but really?  Props to Caemlyn for establishing a no-questions-asked food program, but these matters are far too complicated to just be waved off.  Logistics: who decides how much bounty a person gets?  Can they collect for their family as well?  Who checks what they are and aren't allowed to take?  Can a person pick up the Bounty for their neighbours, and what kind of documentation is needed?  Or can a perfectly self-sufficient individual just pick some up anyway, since no one's turned away, and then deliver it to whomever they choose?  What if they need to pick up Bounty for multiple neighbours, because they live in a building that houses multiple seniors with mobility issues?  Can someone take the Bounty, drop it off elsewhere, and then get back in line for a second helping?  Is any kind of identification needed?

Is medication included in the Bounty?  What happens to the family head with a sole income who loses her job because of a fire in the dairy and not only has to get food enough for her husband (veteran, blinded in combat with those vile Darkfriends) and four children but also pay rent on the apartment and also pay the apothecary for regular elixirs to help Tiny al'Timmy with his bad lungs and her husband's frequent infections?  How much help does the Queen's Bounty give to her?

And you can't be arrested while taking the Bounty, okay, but what's the statute of limitations on that?  If the local cops decide that last week's murder was probably committed by Dayo ay'Oade, on the basis that he's foreign and brown and they just knew he couldn't be trusted, how safe is he when getting the Bounty?  Is he free game once he leaves the plaza, or after sunset, or what?  Is there anything at all to stop the cops from following Dayo six blocks away from the Queen and then making with the truncheon-based brutality?  Or grabbing him while he's on his way there?  What if Neal al'Caffrey runs into the Caemlyn Museum of Pretty Artifacts With Complicated Backstories, grabs The Sword That Was Broken And Reforged And Then Cracked Again But You Can Hardly Notice It, sprints out the door and straight into the welfare line?  Do the cops just have to stand there uselessly while our thief waits to get his municipally-allotted bread?  When are they allowed to start chasing him again?  Can honest citizen Strangleford ay'Killsman successfully avoid incarceration for his entire life by hanging onto the right baguettes?  IF YOU WANT TO WORLDBUILD FOREVER THEN AT LEAST JUSTIFY YOUR WORLDBUILDING, JORDAN.

But where was I?  Right: there are lots of reasons that the Queen's Bounty can't be as simple and perfect as we're told, and thus reasons why some people might beg anyway.

Rand leaves the inn, having been warned to keep an eye out for trouble.  We finally get a sense of the tensions, because people are wearing significant amounts of red or white around town, with political significance: red says "Yay Queen Morgase" and white means "The Queen and the wizards have ruined everything".  Rand didn't realise this when he decided to disguise his heron sword with a red wrapping, and now he's part of it too, to his regret, since the reds are heavily outnumbered.  But--ah, at last we get some explanation, because apparently people are celebrating the capture of the false Dragon, who is to be presented to the Queen today before he's dragged off to the wizards.

Rand, political genius, notices that a crowd of white-banded citizens charging down the street thinks nothing of intentionally shoving aside some Whitecloaks and stampeding onwards, showing a level of defiance and fearlessness that, in his estimation, means that could try to depose the Queen any day now.  Rand disappears into a singing crowd, providing us with this Tolkienesque lyric:
Forward the Lion / forward the Lion / the White Lion takes the field. / Roar defiance at the Shadow. / Forward the Lion / forward, Andor triumphant.
I can't make that scan, let alone fit a catchy tune, and it doesn't even pretend to have a rhyme.  That is maybe the worst rallying song I've ever heard.  Rand follows the crowd until it reaches the palace, guarded by red soldiers against a near-rioting crowd of white, but he's forced to run when the aforementioned beggar finally appears and spots him.  Rand thinks about going back to the inn, but isn't willing to miss his sole opportunity to ever see the Queen, having apparently forgotten that the Queen literally shows up to hand out food bundles to the poor on every holiday.

After a couple of vitally important pages of Rand running around the city to no avail, he finally climbs a hill and a wall to get a view of the plaza, and the procession arrives with hundreds of soldiers guarding a sixteen-horse wagon, flanked by Warders and bearing a cage guarded by eight Aes Sedai.  For a change, we get some description I actually like:
Logain was a king in every inch of him. The cage might as well not have been there. He held himself erect, head high, and looked over the crowd as if they had come to do him honor. And wherever his gaze swept, there the people fell silent, staring back in awe. When Logain's eyes left them, they screamed with redoubled fury as if to make up for their silence, but it made no difference in the way the man stood, or in the silence that passed along with him.
I'm assuming he's a villain, although right now I feel like I'd enjoy seeing him as a protagonist too, as long as he wasn't Our Hero.  A good guy who has his own goals and concerns that aren't identical to Rand.  Or if he's just a villain who wants something other than the end of the universe.  I'm good with either of these things.

Rand wonders what the Aes Sedai are there for, gets told by a previously-unnoticed little girl that they're stopping him from using magic, and is so surprised that he falls off the wall.  Cliffhanger!  Well.  Clifffaller.

Chapter Forty: The Web Tightens

Rand dream-hallucinates a bit and wakes up on the ground, bloodied and rattled.  The girl arrives, climbing down a tree in very fancy dress that goes on for a paragraph, including velvet slippers and much embroidered silk.
He could not begin to imagine who would choose to climb trees in clothes like that, but he was sure she had to be someone important.
This is it.  If ever anyone asks you to summarise the Wheel of Time book series for them, just flip to the second page of chapter forty and show them this line.  This is the truest most finely distilled essence of this book, cold-pressed and oak-aged until it could cut through anchorwood.  Reading this sentence and understanding its every nuance is exactly the same experience as reading the entire book.  You're welcome.

She's also, he can tell at a glance, deeply self-possessed and (shocker) stunningly beautiful (blond and red-lipped, which Rand possibly thinks is just how girls look, because he can't conceive of makeup).  She's different but, in his estimation, just as hot as Egwene.
He felt a twinge of guilt, but told himself that denying what his eyes saw would not bring Egwene safely to Caemlyn one whit faster.
I--wait, what?  He's creeping on some random girl who just startled him into injuring himself, his first thoughts on seeing her are '10/10, would bang like a gong', and he assuages his guilt at ogling someone who isn't his not-girlfriend by telling himself that he can't save her by not ogling other women?  Does that compute for anyone?

She's followed by her younger brother, and they quickly identify each other (unnecessarily, but for the reader's benefit) as Elayne and Gawyn, and since Elayne has a habit of playing vet to the injured animals she find, she immediately busts out her first aid kit to patch up Rand's skull.  While doing so, the siblings have a bizarrely private discussion that serves as a huge infodump about how the Queen is semi-secretly in love with her First Prince Regent and they both want to get married but neither one will 'bend' to... something that we're not clear on.  It becomes increasingly obvious, but eventually Rand needs them to spell out that they are children of...
"Morgase, by the Grace of the Light, Queen of Andor, Defender of the Realm, Protector of the People, High Seat of the House Trakand."
The prince and the 'Daughter-Heir' (ye gods that's a bad title--if the queen always rules, why isn't her daughter just 'heir'?) are legitimately surprised Rand didn't realise he had climbed into their backyard, and insist on knowing his name before he leaves.  On hearing he's from Two Rivers, Gawyn starts spouting off regional facts, until they get interrupted again:
The young man who stood there was the handsomest man Rand had ever seen, almost too handsome for masculinity.
I... wow.  He no-homo'd so hard he tried to reassign someone's gender.

Rand, if you think a dude is hot, that doesn't mean he's a woman, that means you think some dudes are hot.  It's not a big deal.  I was so much more comfortable with myself once I acknowledged that was a thing for me.  You can repeat "he's so smokin' I could almost swear he's a gender I'm attracted to" all you want, but if you want to insist that you're so straight you sleep on a bed of rulers, maybe don't follow that up with:
Dark of hair and eye, he wore his clothes [...] as if they were of no importance.
Aw yeah they aren't.  Just cast aside those unimportant clothes, Galad.  Apparently Galadedrid Damodred (I kid you not) is half-sibling to the royal kids, sharing a father but not the queen as his mom, and he's quite popular with both the loyal reds and unruly whites in the city.  He tries to convince Elayne to get rid of Rand immediately for her own safety, but Elayne tells him to shove off.
"I hate him," Elayne breathed. "He is vile and full of envy."
Ohhhh, right, villainous prettyboys, gotcha.  There is definitely something maliciously suspicious about beautiful men who go around making perfectly good straight boys question their orientations.  On the plus side, Gawyn vouches heavily for Galad, saying he's saved his life twice, so maybe there's a chance he's not evil?  Wait, I just remembered his name is Damodred.  Carry on.

The palace guards arrive and there's some back-and-forth of orders and superseding orders between the captain and Elayne until word arrives that the queen demands to see the intruder and also her kids, so they march off, though not before Jordan realises he forgot to give us a long description of the gardens, so Rand abruptly remembers that scenery exist and takes it all in before they leave.  There's another page of Rand trying to figure out what position to take in the procession and when he's dragged before the throne, and another describing the carved walls of the room and the woman seated behind the queen, knitting furiously.  The queen is of course beautiful and flawless and commanding, and the knitter quickly proves to be Elaida, the queen's personal wizard.  The children are scolded for going to get a look at Logain, ridiculously dangerous as he is, and questioned about Rand, but Elayne says that meeting a commoner face-to-face with no attendants has been an important bit of education.

Morgase rapidly rises several ranks in my listing of favourite characters by pointing out that Two Rivers hasn't been taxed or hosted royal soldiers in generations, which makes Rand's status as a queen's subject somewhat suspect.  I could have done with someone making that explicit five hundred pages ago, instead of leaving me wondering what in blazes this world was doing, but at least we have canon now.

Elaida in the meantime notes that Rand is a pasty ginger and thus unlikely to be from that region, and when she notices the heron sword, all the guards freak out.  There is much suspicion, et cetera, Elaida declares that the sword is rightly Rand's even if he's too young to have earned it, and that he's dangerous.  Morgase does what a queen must do: put exposition ahead of remotely natural dialogue.
"Is this a Foretelling, Elaida? Are you reading the Pattern? You say it comes on you when you least expect it and goes as suddenly as it comes. If this is a Foretelling Elaida, I command you to speak the truth clearly, without your usual habit of wrapping it in so much mystery that no one can tell if you have said yes or no."
That is definitely how real people talk to other real people with whom they have a long history of this exact process.  Sigh.  Elaida does indeed Foretell, but it boils down to the shocking plot twist that bad things are happening and Rand is plot-relevant.

They recommend locking him up, but Queen Morgase declares that she trusts him and she's willing to gamble that he isn't telling super-outrageous lies in the hopes that people will think no one would tell a lie that outrageous, and she commands him escorted away to go free.  Elayne takes a final opportunity to tell Rand he's hot, and Gawyn does the same tells Rand that while Morgase thinks Rand has a Two Rivers accent, he looks like an Aielman.

Wait, aren't the Aiel people from a desert or something?  What kind of vengeful author-god would populate a desert with pasty gingers?  (No points for the obvious answer: 'one who will eat his own hands before he makes someone brown plot-relevant'.)

Oi. That's enough recapping for now.  But for the first time in many weeks, I didn't feel like I could blithely skip past multiple pages at a time without commenting on the stuff contained, which I have to take as a sign that the plot has begun happening again, even if this chapter didn't apparently have any plot consequences apart from introducing us to the royals.  Unlike the parade of interchangeable wagon-drivers and innkeepers up to now, at least I can be confident we'll see all of these folks again.

There are fewer than two hundred pages left to go in this book, folks.  Who wants to lay bets on whether Jordan is capable of writing something that resembles a climactic sequence in that much time?

Thursday, July 9, 2015

404 Post devoured by the void

There was supposed to be a post today, I wrote one and everything, but as Will and I were editing it an Eldritch being popped into existence and the only way to keep it from consuming the world was to feed it my post on Bletchley circle.

Typical, right?

So no post from me this week, and tune in next Wednesday for Will's Wheel of Time.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Eye of the World, chapter 37 and 38, in which Egwene is best at everything

Apologies for the delayed post; it was my country's birthday and I had a torrential rainstorm to get caught in.

The Eye of the World: p. 557--581
Chapter Thirty-Seven: The Long Chase

The long chase?  Really?  I've been struck by a prophetic vision that this chapter will include lots of running around to create the illusion of plot development.

I have also formed a hypothesis there's some kind of rule every chapter must start with four pages that don't do anything to advance the plot or reveal character in any way.  Nynaeve, Moiraine, and Lan continue on Perrin's magic trail (not that they know which farmboy they're after) and eventually find the Whitecloak camp where we left him and Egwene.  Nynaeve snarks at Lan for implicitly impugning her willingness to face peril to save a neighbour, or her knowledge of wolf behaviours, which is presumably supposed to be a reminder of what a capable and courageous Lady Heroine Woman she is.  Personally, I think it'd have played better if Lan had been all 'You're a village Wisdom despite your youth and you've stuck with us this far, so obviously you're a colossal badass, here's what I need you to do'.  In fact, why hasn't Lan internalised that yet?  He's bonded with Moiraine; he knows better than to underestimate someone just because they're a woman or small enough to fit in his backpack.  Do better, Lan.
"There are two guards on that side of the camp, beyond the picket-lines, but if you are half as good as I think you are, they'll never see you." 
She swallowed hard. Stalking rabbits was one thing; guards, though, with spears and swords... So he thinks I'm good, does he? "I'll do it."
There's something ironic that the one skill of hers he is willing to notice is her ability to not be noticed.  Also, hasn't Nynaeve been fighting trollocs?  A few unwary guards don't strike me as unusual threat for her these days.  But she still freaks out a bit as she creeps in, dodges patrols, and starts cutting the ropes to loose the horses for purposes of distraction.  She almost runs after she's cut four out of five, and thinks for a moment about how Lan wouldn't judge her for running away now (given that she's just a little mortal), but Nynaeve is struck by a vision that if she leaves any horses secure, some of Our Heroes will die in the escape, and so cuts them loose too.  (The possibility that she just got an actual prophecy further freaks her out, because Nynaeve was trained to use magic but she didn't think it was Capital Letters Magic, I guess?)  The final group includes faithful horse Bela and another friendly one, and Nynaeve flees into the night with them as Moiraine starts fulminating the camp with a rain of lightning (go Moiraine), and wolves join in the fight, confusion, running, et cetera.

Well, that chapter wasn't nearly as prolonged as I expected it to be.  It helps, of course, that on my first read I accidentally skipped about a third of it and didn't notice.  Which is a reasonable measure of the breakneck crawl we're proceeding at.  Let's savour this opportunity to talk about Nynaeve, because she's one of my favourite characters so far.

We're more than 550 pages into the book, and Nynaeve's motivations are starkly few.  She chased after Our Heroes because she had no patience to sit around and wait for a Manly Decision, and she's stuck with them because it's her job to protect her neighbours.  That takes a hell of a lot of dedication.  She's been told that she has incredible potential to wield earthshakingly powerful magic, but she doesn't appear at all tempted by the prospect.  Admittedly, she doesn't have great reasons not to trust Aes Sedai, but tell the average person 'By the way, I can teach you to perform miracles' and see if that doesn't shake their convictions even a little.  Nynaeve doesn't even know that she's plot-relevant; she's just here because she knows who she is (or who she wants to be) and that person won't let her neighbour brats run off to get murdered on their own.

And somehow the main gorram character of this book still isn't her, but the brat who thinks it's insufficiently heroic that he has to sleep in haystacks while everyone tells him how incredibly important he is (quarry of the Darkfriends, warper of the Pattern of reality, first-name-basis with the fricking devil who hangs out in his dreams).

Rand al'Thor might be (shpoilersh) the Dragon Reborn, but as far as I'm concerned he's a case study in mediocre men inexplicably drawing attention away from extraordinary women.  I'm sure he's going to get 'character development', but I'm not at all convinced that said development will consist of him actually gaining sympathetic qualities to compare with Nynaeve's fierce loyalty, courage, and conviction.

Anyway, let's get back to Nynaeve and Moiraine saving the day.

Chapter Thirty-Eight: Rescue
Perrin shifted as best he could with his wrists bound behind him and finally gave up with a sigh.
Do y'all know why this book is precisely seven hundred million pages long?  Because Jordan thinks that it's quality storytelling to give us an unnecessarily long depiction of rescuers catching up with hostages, making plans, enacting plans to save the hostages, and then leaping backwards in time to show us yet more of what things were like for the hostages before they got rescued.  Surely we could just have Egwene recap for Moiraine what their captivity was like afterwards?  (If we get all this description and then a recap as well, I will burn down the sun.)

General advice: if you can timeskip something in a story and not leave the reader confused about how you got there, there's a good chance you should timeskip it.  More specific advice: if you can timeskip something in a story, for the love of gay shipping, please don't pretend to timeskip it and then go back to explain.  This is like episodes of TV shows that start with a Dramatic Scene, go to opening credits, and then come back with Three Days Earlier... which never fails to annoy me.  (Not least because it's used to set up shocking swerves like Why Are These Two Bros Pointing Guns At Each Other and then forty minutes later we discover they were both actually aiming at ambushers behind each other.)


BUT BACK TO PERRIN.  He's spent the last few days walking tied to a horse and getting regular updates from Byar about the inventive ways the Questioners will torture him into confessing when they get to Amador.  They're also in a rush to Caemlyn, though, and one day Byar shows up, tosses him a sharp rock, and says it'd be much more convenient if Perrin somehow managed to cut himself loose and vanish into the night.  Perrin rolls just well enough to realise that there's something fishy about this generosity, but not quite enough to realise that if he makes a getaway they'd have ample reason to just kill him on the spot and wrap matters up that way.  He gets a telepathic ping from Dapple that there's a rescue coming, and stalls long enough for Lan to arrive and karate the guards into submission.

Lan, Egwene, and Perrin meet up with Moiraine, who reports that she's lost track of Nynaeve, whom she fears has "done something foolish".  Hey, why hasn't Moiraine given the rest of the party those tracker coins like she did the boys?  Can she only maintain three of that charm at once?  It's not like they haven't had time for her to make more.  Anyway, Lan turns and almost charges back to find Nynaeve, but Moiraine tries to stop him:
"Some things are more important than others. You know that. [....] Remember your oaths, al'Lan Mandragoran, Lord of the Seven Towers! What of the oath of a Diademed Battle Lord of the Malkieri?" 
Perrin blinked. Lan was all of that?
Lan was all of those things that we don't understand and have no context for and therefore I don't care about?  ASTONISHING.  (Also, I see Jordan is one of those authors who thinks that bemusement is best identified by a character's blinking, which strikes me as particularly weird in this high-tension high-action scene where presumably they're running around a lot and blinking away sweat or dust from one's eyes might be expected rather a lot.  Suggestion: if a character's shock is so understated that it can best be expressed through blinking while they flee homicidal religious zealots, maybe you're not dealing with as dramatic a moment as you'd like to think.  Shout something gaspworthy, at least.)

Nynaeve returns with the horses and as she leaps off to embrace Egwene she gets intercepted by Lan who just grabs her arm for an intense second.  He wants to tap that, if we hadn't noticed yet.  He wants to tap that like he's sending a telegram.  Nynaeve has picked up on this, as highlighted by the way she gives "a low laugh" as she runs to hug Egwene, which Perrin figures doesn't have "anything to do with happiness at seeing them again".

Let us take a moment to contemplate the situation: our split party has just started to mend itself after eight thousand chapters of running around scattered, they're being hunted by religious zealots, and this is the moment that Jordan has decided to drop in a romantic subplot with all the grace and versimilitude of a new fanfic author.  We got none of this last chapter, when Lan was actually talking to Nynaeve about sending her into danger, but now they're reunited and there is Needful Tension.  Priorities, Jordan.  Lan is the male character I hate least, but that's such a low bar.  Try to remember you had a plot in here somewhere.

They make their getaway, and the wolves leave Perrin with a mental note that they are ordained to meet again someday.  The next day, Nynaeve tends their wounds, treating us to a scene in which she rubs ointments all over Perrin's bare chest--he's been gruesomely bruised, but his ribs were protected from breakage because he's so incredibly ripped.

If you unlock the secret ninth ab, you become fireproof.

Nynaeve's ointments basically heal his mangled torso instantaneously, which either means they have some really sweet herbs in this world or she should have realised she was a gorram sorcerer a long time ago.  Nynaeve notices Perrin's wolf eyes, but doesn't know what they are; Moiraine does, but doesn't say what it means; Nynaeve is upset that Moiraine won't 'heal' Perrin's eyes, but is weirdly uninterested in knowing what's actually going on.  Lan just hears the name Elyas MacWolferson and says he used to be a Warder until the Red Ajah came after him, and assures Perrin that communing with wolves isn't of itself satanic.  He does note how improbable it is that Perrin would have the ancient gift and meet someone who was capable of teaching him:
"The Pattern is forming a Great Web, what some call the Lace of Ages, and you lads are central to it. I don't think there is much chance left in your lives, now."
In fairness, if Jordan doesn't find a new word to capitalise every four pages, his keyboard will explode.  Lace of Ages?  Honestly, at this point I almost want to congratulate him on so thoroughly committing: he actually made it an emphatic plot point that incredibly convenient coincidences and contrivances swarm around our heroes.  That's so much more audacious than just trying to make the story feel plausible.

I also feel like this chapter highlights a certain weakness of prophecy: Lan claims that Perrin's life is basically already set in the world, but it's only thanks to Lan's intervention just now that Perrin's life wasn't a very brief sprint in the night or several long days of torturous dying at the hands of the inquisition.  So, Perrin has no choice in what happens to him next, but Lan apparently does, since he had the option of turning and running.  Or a lucky whitecloak could have murdered them all with a few quick sword strokes.  At what proximity to Our Heroes do people stop having choices?  If there are certain people who bend fate around themselves, shouldn't the Dark One's central plan be to stay the hell away from those people as much as possible and stick to working with the people who have no fates at all and therefore might be capable of anything?  Lan implies that the Dark One can manipulate events a little, but when he says the three boys are definitely super-prophesied for either good or evil, he doesn't make it clear whether he thinks that has been determined yet.

Basically, what I'm saying is that there are at least three kinds of prophecy and it matters a lot which kind we're dealing with.  There's contingent prophecy ("If/unless this happens, this other thing is guaranteed to happen"), total predestination (choice is an illusion and all future events are fixed), and fate in the ancient Greek style ("No matter what choices you make, sooner or later you're going to X").  Lan doesn't appear to believe in predestination, but his talk about the lack of chance in Perrin's life implies that fate is a thing, except that he obviously still thinks Rand and Mat can be and need to be saved from evil, which suggests that his non-predetermined actions still matter.

Jordan could have saved me a headache by dropping the vague prophecy talk and just saying "The universe has willed that the three of you are main characters, so please do better".

That's it for me; come back next Wednesday to see if I managed to convince Erika to watch Bring It On for her next post!