Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Eye of the World, chapters 43, 44, and 45, in which Our Heroes meander through the infinite void

We're close enough to the end of this book that I, ever eager, have begun to look to what we'll be investigating next.  Suffice to say it will not be Wheel of Time Book Two unless something absolutely gobsmackingly unexpected happens in the next 150 pages.  I'm currently leaning towards The Way of Kings, book one in Brandon Sanderson's Stormlight Archive mega-series.  My reasons are manifold: I actually like Sanderson's work, but I have yet to read anything of his that didn't still have some substantial issues with women at the least, with some options on implied racism as well.  (He has identified a handful of characters as lesbian/gay, but no one's confirmed in text yet.  Apparently Ranette will be explicit about it in the next Mistborn novel.)  I've also been plagued by friends to read Way of Kings since it came out, but I haven't been able to summon the energy because the first thing that drew me to Sanderson's books was his ability to write fantasy that wasn't a ten-part doorstopper, and Stormlight Archive is his ten-part doorstopper.  So with any luck, a series on Way of Kings will be less painful than Eye of the World, will still give us some issues worth talking about, and might go a bit faster, like Ender's Shadow versus Ender's Game.

However!  I'm always open to other suggestions for reading materials that you, my dear and clever readers, think would be worth a dissection (keeping in mind that I will have to somehow acquire a copy of anything terrible that we carve up, and I have moral objections to giving money to terrible people).  The first alternative that comes to mind is H.P. Lovecraft, whose works are public domain and famously brimming with every possible kind of bigotry.  I loves me some sothothic horror, and it's best to do so with an understanding of how fucked up its great propagator was.  (I prefer instead to reference Robert Chambers' prior masterwork, The King in Yellow, which is hardly progressive but at least isn't gross.)

But before we can move on to such business, we have to finish up this rollicking epic timeless exceptional memorable adequate published book second draft.

The Eye of the World: p. 646--687
Chapter Forty-Three: Decisions and Apparitions

We left off last time with fearful discussion of the safety of the Ways, and open now with Loial and Moiraine taking a couple of pages to spit out that the Ways were a gift from not-yet-fully-broken male Aes Sedai to the ogiers that gave them sanctuary, and they let a person tunnel through time and space to hop across the world.  There's a lot of talk about aspects of ogier culture and magic--the Exile, the Long Wandering, the Longing--all of which are capitalised and none of which are explained.  You might at this point be thinking "Make up your mind, Will, do you want things to be brief or do you want them to explain what every term means?", and the answer is that if you don't have time to explain what a term means, there had better be a good excuse for dropping it into the conversation six times.  If you can use a term that much without having to explain what it means, maybe it's not actually relevant to the topic at hand and you're just bragging about how many things you've capitalised today.

Although the Ways survived the Breaking, they were still apparently tainted by Dude Magic and so began to rot a millennium ago, thus Loial's conviction that they're all going to die.  Moiraine counters, with shocking savviness, that they've heard far too many warnings about the Eye of the World and thus their best move now is to drag the ta'veren there and just let a big ol' destiny pile-up happen.

I'm trying to move at a pace now, but Rand and Egwene haven't seen each other in chapters and they've about to plunge into peril, so their brief scene together is worth a closer look, because oh my gods and monsters.  Rand tells Egwene that she's not predestined and she should take the safe route, not with them, and she tells him he's very sweet but she is plot-relevant thankyouverymuch and she's going anyway.  With her strength and importance thus duly noted, she asks again who this hot Elayne girl is.
For a minute he stared at her, then told the simple truth. "She's the Daughter-Heir to the throne of Andor." 
Her eyes seemed to catch fire. "If you can't be serious for more than a minute, Rand al'Thor, I do not want to talk to you."
Rand mentioned Elayne during his explanation about meeting the queen, but obviously meeting the princess is a heartless fiction meant only to toy with Egwene's emotions and cover up... actually, I can't even imagine what Egwene thinks he's lying about.  Some random girl Rand hooked up with at an inn along the way and decided to spontaneously namedrop in the middle of rambling about meeting their monarch?  This exchange is 100% pure not-from-concentrate Oh Those Hysterical Ladyfolk.  Faith and begorrah.

We get another (final? please?) dream sequence, which Rand recognises as a dream.  He focuses all his energy on thinking about how much he denies the devil, who takes the opportunity to exposit at us: time repeats itself, this is the jillionth time they've faced off and Rand's choices are always to die or to become the Vader to the devil's Emperor, and by the way the Black Ajah (secret devil-worshipping Aes Sedai) are totes real.  Is it just me, or do secret societies get a lot of their effectiveness from their secrecy?  Why confirm one?  If anything, this ought to be a ruse wherein the devil is trying to set the Aes Sedai on an internal witch hunt in order to weaken and distract them.

Apart from that, it's a pretty good creepy atmosphere, but it's still just a dream sequence, so wevs.  Rand awakens to find Mat is still asleep in the other bed and muttering constant devil-denials.  There's still a giant splinter in Rand's palm from the dream, which vanishes when he pulls it out, but the wound remains.  Like I said, decently creepy if we weren't supposed to be in the third act rush to the climax.  Fortunately, Moiraine arrives to insta-mend his palm and tell them to get moving already.

Chapter Forty-Four: The Dark Along The Ways

I've skimmed ahead far enough to know that it's going to take us two solid chapters to complete the 'dimensional tunnelling' adventure.  Let's keep things brisk.  Several pages detail Our Heroes acquiring their horses from the infinitely helpful innkeeper and creeping through the shadowy streets to find the Waygate, which is (all these centuries later) now part of someone's basement.  Conveniently enough, there's an external cellar door big enough to fit their horses, and Moiraine prepared knock this morning.  An intricately leaf-carved wall opens up to reveal a stargate shiny portal surface.  On the other side, everything turns out to be total darkness apart from the lantern glow and an old, broken stone path to follow.

Left to right: Rand, Lan, Egwene, and Loial bond* fraternise on their interdimensional journey.

(*I only just discovered what 'bonding' means in this series, thanks to some wiki'ing, and I'm slightly creeped out.  No, in order to consider someone an honorary sibling I don't actually need to experience a mental pseudo-womb with them, thanks.)

This chapter does not feature plot developments, and is thoroughly devoted to convincing us of how creepy the atmosphere of the darkened Ways is: they move along the road to Islands connected by bridges, where engraved stones called Guidings give directions in Ogier.  (Although according to Loial, it's not enough just to speak Ogier to understand them?)  Rand resolutely refuses to believe that they could have left one Island by a long curving upward slope and arrived on a second Island that is directly above the first one.  I truly and honestly cannot comprehend why he's convinced that's impossible, but he's quite definitive about it.

Everyone is always on horseback in here as well, apart from maybe whomever is leading their giant packhorse, which I'd like to point out is also a mistake.  Humans are vastly better endurance runners than basically any other animal.  Don't get me wrong, horses are pretty good, but the real advantage of horse-based travel is their carrying capacity and the fact that a person in a hurry can switch horses periodically to maintain top speed.  If you're just going to plod slowly along the Ways for a couple of days, there's literally no reason to ride instead of walking.  Walking is the only thing humans excel at.  Our Heroes are just lazily throwing the burden onto the horses who have done nothing wrong and frankly Bela deserves a medal for not kicking anyone to death yet.  Trollocs?  Bela didn't sign up for trollocs.

I know that the slowness of their plodding is supposed to help with the creepy atmosphere, but honestly at this point in the story we desperately need some urgency, and I especially think that racing around through interdimensional voids at top speed could tap into some readers' lingering nightmares:

For film producers' consideration, I submit "Mad Max: Rainbow Road".

The chapter ends when they come to a broken bridge.  Le gasp.

Chapter Forty-Five: What Follows in Shadow

Loial is pretty sure he can still get them to Fal Dara, but they'll have to take the scenic route.  Our Heroes take the opportunity when they stop for the evening to tease Rand and Egwene about all of the reasons they might be jealous of each other: Mat brings up psychic waif Min's crush on Rand, Perrin counters with Egwene's vigorous dancing with Aram, Mat references Else the farmers' daughter, and Rand and Egwene both pointedly and embarrassedly go to bed at each other.  This is definitely the gripping interlude we need right now to remind us that these characters are deeply in love and deserve our attention.

This chapter is also mostly boring, so I'd like to detail again: Rand and Egwene are not in love.  The book tells us they are, but they don't actually like each other.  They have a good neighbourly protective attitude at times and they both kind of want in the other's pants, and that's it.  The only conversations we've seen them have in the last, what, 400 pages have been 1) I'm glad you're not dead, 2) are girls real people, yes/no, and 3) stop being attracted to anyone but me.  That's a truly godawful foundation for a relationship.  (Out of morbid curiosity, I just wiki'd who Rand's actual love interest is.  He basically marries three different women, and by the end of the series at least one bears his children.  Twins.  What.)

Also, Moiraine informs the party that's she's pretty sure Thom Merrilin isn't dead, because he's too plot-relevant.  I am in no way exaggerating.
"And Thom is a part of the Pattern that weaves itself around you three. Too important a part, I believe, to be cut off yet."
If it's possible to survive by being plot-relevant how is anyone in danger?  The hell.  I mean, her corroborating evidence is that no one in Whitebridge had mentioned a dead gleeman--I don't remember when Moiraine passed through Whitebridge, but I question the circumstances in which she heard about a gleeman but didn't specifically get to ask 'oh, when was that and where did he go?'  Is there a good reason I'm forgetting?  I'm not even sure which chapter to check.

They realise the next day that they're being followed, but brush it off as less relevant than pressing on ahead.  Literally three minutes later they find one of the guidestones has been carved up with trolloc runes, proving that the Fades have found their way into the Ways and have been using them to transport trollocs across the country, which is how they were able to build up such a huge army around Caemlyn so stealthily.

Y'all know what?  This is the best plot development yet.  It involves characters actually taking advantage of a feature of their fantastical world and making intelligent use of it instead of just treating it like a curious museum piece.  The devil's power apparently suffuses the Ways at this point, so why wouldn't he use it as a troop transport?  Praise be to Eru Iluvatar, we now have two cases in a single post wherein people make intelligent decisions based on their knowledge of the structure of the world.

Lan investigates and finds that the closest bridge to Tar Valon is a total mess of melted stone and mutilated trollocs--Moiraine concludes that the wizard men who built the Ways also incorporated anti-monster traps, thus quickly removing the tension that the scene had accidentally started to develop.  Some hours later, a different random threat gets thrown at them instead, as Rand notices a slight breeze in the supposedly wind-free void, which Loial identifies as the Black Wind.  You can tell it's evil because it's black, as is traditional.

(One of the many story notions bouncing around in my head has to do with a universe that has largely been overrun by sothothic horrors, and the remnants of civilisation live their lives in space stations that are basically submarines permanently running silent.  For such people, 'black' means not giving off any signals, light or otherwise, that might draw the attention of monsters, and is thus also a colloquial term for 'safe and secure', and consequently for good things in general.  "Everything all black in here?"  "Yeah, we're doing fine."  Creating good slang is one of the hardest things to do in speculative fiction, but every once in a while I find something I really enjoy.)

Our Heroes make a breakneck sprint for the door, which is missing its keystone, but Moiraine turns her staff into a cutting torch, burns through a large arc, and Lan's horse shoulder-checks it out, breaking open an escape route, and Moiraine wards off the approaching wind with her flamethrower while everyone slips through.  In the last moments, Rand can hear the wind muttering, and ten points to Robert Jordan: it's creepy as hell, talking about carving flesh and braiding it back together.  Mind you, it's still just yet another random threat tossed at the protagonists to force them to end a chapter in a sprint.  Maybe in some future book it'll become relevant again?  I would prefer to read a book without feeling like I had to read a further dozen in order to get any kind of narrative payoff.  It has become eminently clear to me that this is the wrong series for that.

Next week: Lan's mysterious backstory becomes slightly less mysterious and possibly slightly Asian?  (I guess that would help explain why he's got a kabuto on the cover.  Maybe not justify it, but explain.)

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