The Eye of the World: p. 689--731
Chapter Forty-Six: Fal Dara
We left off last time with Our Plodding Heroes escaping the Black Wind in the Ways, a creation from the Time of Madness or possibly the War of the Shadow which was also called the War of Power. (I kid you not, that's the explanation we get, with all of those namedrops.) They have arrived in Shienar, in a frigid spring, and Lan cheerfully tells them it'll be warm when the get to the Blight, mythic land of monsters and eternal war. They pass by a lot of abandoned farms--Egwene and Nynaeve note that they were recently abandoned, since the windows have light spring curtains hung instead of heavier ones for winter. Perrin laughs at this because he's the worst, but when glared at he whirls on Mat to say that the abandoned scythe they saw only had a week's rust on it, which should have made it obvious even to him.
There's something spectacularly patronising about the constant implications that the scariest thing a woman can do to a man is glare at him like a miffed governess.
Rand tries again to convince The Girls to run off somewhere safer, and Nynaeve gets a full page of shutting him down, which is nice, apart from a few really stupid lines, such as:
"I have little liking for any Aes Sedai,and this one least of all, I think."NYNAEVE SHE HAS LITERALLY SAVED YOUR LIFE MULTIPLE TIMES AND IS DRAGGING YOU TO SAVE THE WORLD. Other Aes Sedai impacts on your life have included 'nothing' and 'actively trying to cause harm to your friends'. This is nonsensical.
She also throws in calling them "you boys... you men", which thrills or baffles Mat no end. Egwene decides to take the opportunity to ask Rand if he's upset that she danced with Aram, because Girl Priorities. Rand flashes back to Min (SPOILER: one of his three future wives) who told him that he and Egwene were not destined to go at it like a sack of weasels, and then that bit is over with no impact on the rest of the scene or other plot relevance except to mind us of a prophecy that we might have forgotten in the intervening five hundred pages. This book is so long that it includes 'Last time on our show...' within the same book.
They arrive at the fortress town of Fal Dara, where it's forbidden to hide your face for fear of Fades moving in unnoticed. In the hands of a better author, I'd be interested to see a resolution of a conflict if heroes showed up (like Rand) from a culture that had strict rules about coverage with veils/hoods/scarves. A resolution that wasn't just 'well, I guess I'll just ignore my religion while I'm here', but found a way to accommodate honoured guests and the needs of security as well. The guards are hella psyched to see Lan arriving, shouting "Glory to the Builders!" and addressing him as Dai Shan. (This might just be generic syllables, as it apparently means 'battle lord' in this world, but I think it also could mean 'tall mountain' in Chinese, written 大山? I am in no way an expert in Chinese, but I suspect neither was Robert Jordan, and he does seem to want Lan to be vaguely Asian-flavoured. ...Oh my god, but in Japanese it might be translated as 'big beautiful' this is the best thing people.)
Anyway. The description of the fortress town is pretty vivid, if only descriptions of mundane pretty things were the reason I showed up to this story. Lan is also called the Golden Crane, because having only one title is a hanging offence in WOTland. We meet a bunch of the local soldiers, who assure Lan that things are never as bad as they look in spite of heavy raiding, and there's a lot of use of 'formal language', which appears to be vaguely Japanese--it's polysyllabic, unlike Chinese, but heavy on particle usage (ga, no, ni) and the phrase "kiserai ti wansho hei" appears to be a greeting. (Or not; it's used later like a lament. What?) Agelmar, their leader, states instead that the trollocs are massing for a full invasion, cities are falling, they desperately need hope, and they need Lan and Moiraine to help--Moiraine for badass wizardry, Lan because he is "a Diademed Battle Lord of Malkier" and they need him for "the last Ingathering of the Lances".
So, in case we weren't sure, Lan appears to be the Aragorn of the story, heir to ancient titles and leadership but convinced he can and must only follow the humble path of the outlander. After dinner, he recites a rhymeless verse about beauty and death.
Poetry out of Lan? The man was like an onion; every time Rand thought he knew something about the Warder, he discovered another layer underneath.
(In contrast, ogiers really are more like parfaits, minus the part where everyone likes them.)
The guards arrive to announce that they found a "madman" trying to get in to see Agelmar, who turns out to be the peddler Padan Fain who's been following Our Heroes since the start of the book. He's really obviously half-possessed (interestingly, the locals believe that the Light protects people who are insane, and might even be the cause of insanity--is this ever expanded upon in later books?) and tries a sort of good-intentions-tempting spiel on Agelmar before Moiraine does the Vulcan nerve pinch and drags him away for questioning.
Chapter Forty-Seven: More Tales of the Wheel
Even the chapter title sounds done. Book three, chapter twenty-seven: Yet Another Fricking Tale of the Wheel Are You People Satisfied Yet. We don't get to see the interrogation, just people milling around impatiently. Filler filler filler... oh, how delightful, Lan's backstory. He's the son of the last king of Malkier, which makes him "al'Lan Mandragoran, Lord of the Seven Towers, Lord of the Lakes, crownless King of the Malkieri". Political treacheries and jealousies explain how the last generation of Malkier's rulers obliterated themselves with the help of Cowin Fairheart, secret Darkfriend. Lan's parents apparently saw nothing fucked up about swearing an oath to fight evil and defend the Malkieri on behalf of their infant son, whom they literally had holding the oath-making sword while he was in his cradle. They charged off to fight a doomed last stand and Lan was sent off with a mess of loyal bodyguards to be raised as the ultimate warrior. He is the best of the best of the best, SIR, and the only reason he hasn't rallied an army (as would instantly happen if he flew his Golden Crane banner) is that he doesn't want to lead anyone but himself to their deaths.
TL;DR: Aragorn. He's literally Aragorn, with the exception that a lot of people just thought Aragorn was a weird loner instead of literally everyone flinging themselves at him in desperate war-puppy adoration.
So Padan Fain has been a Darkfriend for forty years and a special hound of the devil for the last three, homing in ever more closely on Rand al'Thor And His Amazing Friends, with regular vacations to perform unspeakably vile deeds and rituals that bound him more closely to Satan. Which... I really hope after all that time he had a better plan for this part than 'walk in and get caught', but it doesn't seem like it. Also, he was the guy following them back in the Ways that Lan declared they had no time to stop and investigate, and the Black Wind inexplicably spared him, probably because he's full of devil juice. Nothing else actually happens in this chapter except recapping their plans: Moiraine is going to drag the most plot-relevant people she can to the Eye of the World in hopes of defeating the devil through narrative superiority, time is running out because he's starting to be able to project his thoughts into physical form, and no one else can go with them. Et fucking cetera.
Chapter Forty-Eight: The Blight
More nice scenery as they march to Tarwin's Gap, the pass into the Blight. So much scenery. Occasionally I see something really cool and purely visual, like a photo list of abandoned places, and I think "Hey, 33 places, 33 chapters, I wonder if I could write a book on the premise that each major scene occurs in one of these locations?" I feel sometimes like Robert Jordan did that, except he had six places and eleven thousand chapters so he filled the rest with dream sequences, bland banter, and unexpected capitalisation.
More description of where regiments of soldiers marched and when--these, at least, are of a different descriptive flavour than the parades of interchangeable inns and Inexplicably Identical Innkeepers we've been living with for all these pages. Of course, references to the last guards left in the fortress, "soldiers and a sprinkling of old men, their wives dead and their grown children making the slow way south" remind us that while individual women are powerful plot-relevant in this series, women as a whole would never be accepted as regular soldiers for an army that desperately needs every fighter it can to hold back the literal legions of Satan. What are you, some kind of feminist?
The Blight is all wrong, warm for no reason, and the sun is red despite being high in a cloudless sky, which I feel raises a variety of meteorological questions. Our Heroes are warned not to touch anything--Lan describes, for example, a stick insect with an unspeakable dissolving venom that can only be stopped by severing your bitten limb. This is a fantasy environment I can get behind--for whatever reason, I have always loved a vile and malicious wilderness. Bring on your best horrors, Jordan.
We get a quality lake monster (tentacles with hands on the end, giant stingers, good stuff) before they camp for the night, and Moiraine throws a cloaking field around the camp. Straight up invisible, I tell you no lie. WHY HAS SHE NEVER DONE THIS BEFORE?! I can think of a few times when invisibility might have been useful, such as their many, many failed stealthy escape attempts. If said field is stationary, okay, but they've been interrupted in the night way too many times already for this to have not been relevant. What in the hell. What have I said about just randomly giving heroes problem-solving magic, Robert Jordan? Come back from the dead and answer to my blog for these books you wrote twenty-five years ago!
And one more WTF moment to close the chapter: after Egwene talks about everyone going to Tar Valon after this and Rand becoming her Warder (he thinks about how he's deeply in boners with her but Min said they're not fated), they get to sleep, but Rand awakens to find Nynaeve and Lan sitting up together. Nynaeve wants him bad, apparently, and Lan doesn't think he's good enough or safe enough. Plus, you know, misogyny:
"Aes Sedai marry as seldom as Wisdoms. Few men can live with so much power in a wife, dimming them by her radiance whether she wishes to or not."Even the metaphor doesn't work--standing next to something radiant doesn't make you dim, it makes you shine. The moon is bright because of the sun, not in spite of it. Fucking patriarchs.
"Some men are strong enough. I know one such. [....] Will you shame me to the point of asking you?"Wait, it's shameful for a woman to ask a man to marry him? Since when? Why? Aes Sedai and Wisdoms and queens regnant and Daughter-Heirs--shouldn't this culture be brimful with the idea that women take leadership, take initiative, make decisions? Why should it be a mark of shame for a woman to decide she wants this guy instead of having to sit there waiting for him to approach her?
And, quite apart from the philosophical questions: what the fuck Nynaeve why are you asking Lan to marry you since when do you care about him at all you have nothing in common and he's oath-bound to a woman you claim to hate--ohhhhhh. She figures Lan and Moiraine are a thing and she wants in on some threesomes. It all becomes clear.
The chapter ends there, because the charge towards the climactic semi-conclusion is obviously the right time to slow down for regular romantic subplot speed bumps.
NEXT TIME: In a desperate rush to cram a few more Tolkien ripoffs into this book, Robert Jordan just straight-up copies Treebeard.