Behold, oh ye faithful!
I give you – bum-bum bum-bum bum-bum BUM – the triumphal return of the Wheel of Time Re-read!
Please insert the appropriately bombastic trumpet fanfare of your choice here. Thank you, that was lovely.
We celebrate this momentous – momentous, I say! – occasion with an unprecedented and death-defying event: a recap of the Prologue of A Crown of Swords – a book which has never been recapped before!
Well. Uh, not by me, anyway. Look, don’t bother me with technical details, I just work here.
Anyway! Previous re-read entries are here. The newly created and terribly spiffy Wheel of Time Master Index is here, in which you can find links to news, reviews, and all manner of yummy tidbits regarding the newest release, The Gathering Storm – not to mention for WOT stuff in general. Because you are just that lucky.
Two notes before we begin, one on scheduling and one on spoilers.
Scheduling: Previously on the Re-read, I’ve been posting three times a week, which I’ll confess to you now was kind of a grueling amount of work even after I slowed the pace of actual material covered per post, back around TSR. That plus recently changing circumstances have compelled me to make an executive decision, that the three-times-a-week deal is just not going to fly anymore. Thus, from now on the Re-read will only post twice a week, on Mondays and Fridays.
Additionally, the holiday season has done its usual excellent job of throwing my whole damn life into chaos – no, I mean even more chaos than previously – and since I will ergo be traveling/elsewhere for the last two weeks of the year, it’s a pretty fair bet that there will be no posts the week of Christmas or New Year’s. So, yeah, I know it kind of sucks that the blog comes off hiatus only to go right back on hiatus, briefly, but, well. Christmas, end of the year, first time I’ve seen my family in six months… guess what, not going to have too much guilt about this. The Re-read’ll be back full force in January, never fear, and in the meantime you’ll be getting four, I say four shiny ACOS posts to play with before I leave. That’s a windfall, son, buck up!
So there’s that. As to spoilers: Given how much the events it portrayed have changed my view of the story and the characters, I realized as soon as I started up recapping again that it was simply not going to be possible for me to avoid spoilers for The Gathering Storm in the Re-read from here on out. Considering that TGS has been out for over a month now, I don’t think this is unreasonable; if you’re enough of a WOT fan to be following this Re-read, you’re enough of a fan to have gotten hold of and read TGS by now. Or, you’re the kind of fan who doesn’t care about spoilers, which amounts to the same thing.
So: This re-read post contains spoilers for all currently published Wheel of Time novels, up to and including Book 12, The Gathering Storm. If you haven’t read, read at your own risk.
Et voilà, n’est-ce pas? And now, with a veritable surfeit of ado, I present you: the Re-read!
Before I get to the actual recap, I have to note that contrary to many fans’ opinions, A Crown of Swords is actually my favorite novel in the series (thus far). There are several reasons for this. First is my theory that the least favorite WOT book of any given fan will more often than not correspond to the first novel that the fan had to wait for; this doesn’t pass muster as an actual scientific Theory, since I know people who have contradicted it, but it’s true enough to serve as a vague rule of thumb.
In my case, I started reading the series right when ACOS came out in paperback. Thus, the first WOT novel I had to wait for was the novel following it, The Path of Daggers, which is by leaps and bounds my least favorite book in the series. (Given that, the recap of TPOD is going to be either hilarious or the grumpiest series of posts ever. Or, possibly, both. Only time will tell!)
Contrariwise, I adored ACOS to itty bitty bits, and didn’t even notice the chief complaint of other fans – namely, that it only covers something like 10 days chronologically – until it was pointed out to me. Not that I am disputing this as a legitimate complaint; as comparison, LOC covers almost 100 days, so yeah, I can see how that might be a little infuriating – especially if ACOS was the first book you had to wait for.
But like I said, I didn’t notice. In my opinion, the stuff that happened in those 10 days was more than enough to make up for the lack of actual time passing. I mean, this was a pretty damn eventful WOT week, you know? Plus, chronology in novels is one of those things I tend not to notice unless I’m really paying attention, or the amount of time passing is a central element to the plot. Sometimes obliviousness is bliss.
(I also tend to ignore maps. This makes me officially Weird in the eyes of many a fantasy fan.)
The other big reason I loved ACOS is because it so heavily features Mat, who at the time was my favorite WOT character. (I’m not sure if he still is, for reasons I will get into later.) ACOS also has what is probably my absolute favorite scene in all of WOT – which I will tell you about when we get to it (and which may surprise you, or at least puzzle you).
All that being said, it’s been quite a while since I’ve actually read ACOS, so it will be interesting to see if my “favorite” ranking of the novel will hold up under close Re-read scrutiny.
Let’s find out, shall we?
Elaida looks down on Tar Valon from her new high quarters in the White Tower, and admires the beginnings of the construction of her new palace, which will be taller than the Tower itself when completed. She moves back inside her richly decorated rooms, and reads again the note that had come from Cairhien twelve days earlier:
The ring has been placed in the bull’s nose. I expect a pleasant journey to market.
Elaida knows only Galina could have sent the note, and that it meant Rand al’Thor was shielded and in Galina’s control, and she almost giggles. Her satisfaction at getting the Dragon Reborn under control is interrupted by Alviarin, who comes in without knocking to give her intelligence reports from the Ajahs. Elaida pretends that Alviarin doesn’t annoy her, and asks if there has been word from Teslyn (Red) or Joline (Green), both former Sitters sent to Ebou Dar as a punishment, and a warning to the rest of the Hall. Alviarin replies no, but that the Grays have discovered that Nynaeve al’Meara and Elayne Trakand are also in Ebou Dar, posing as full sisters. Elaida thinks this is nonsense, since Tarna had reported them in Salidar with the rebels, and only then does Alviarin blandly point out that they were sent sketches. Embarrassed, Elaida tells her coldly that she wants them taken.
Elaida had the Foretelling sometimes, a Talent many thought lost before her, and long ago she had Foretold that the Royal House of Andor held the key to winning the Last Battle. Twenty-five years gone and more, as soon as it became clear that Morgase Trakand would gain the throne in the Succession, Elaida had fastened herself to the girl, as she was then. How Elayne was crucial, Elaida did not know, but Foretelling never lied. Sometimes she almost hated the Talent. She hated things she could not control.
She uneasily adds to give Joline and Teslyn the information about “the Macura woman”; the reference to forkroot disturbs even Alviarin. Elaida broods about all the ridiculous obstacles in her way, but comforts herself with Galina’s note and the certainty of her eventual triumph. She moves on to the Black Tower, telling Alviarin that she wants “those men” rooted out. She dismisses Alviarin’s reports of their numbers, and tells her to have Toveine lead a force of fifty sisters to take care of the problem; Alviarin openly questions the wisdom of the move, pointing out that Mazrim Taim is supposed to be there. Elaida is furious at her lack of respect, but replies she is sure that no more than one or two of the men there can really channel, citing the fact that only twenty-four men have been found and gentled in the last twenty years, and that surely Taim would never go from claiming to be the Dragon to serving the real one. Alviarin points out that twenty-four is “a dangerous number to speak aloud,” but Elaida doesn’t see who could bring her to task for even if the truth of those years became known, and tells Alviarin that Toveine’s fifty sisters are to gentle and hang any man they find who can channel. Alviarin does not react to this flouting of Tower law, but instead drops the news that the rebels are on the march from Salidar, and have chosen an Amrylin, Egwene al’Vere. Instead of becoming furious, Elaida begins laughing, to Alviarin’s surprise. Alviarin doesn’t see what’s so funny about an army led by Gareth Bryne marching toward them with some 300 rebel Aes Sedai, but Elaida answers that Tarna’s report indicates that more than a third of the rebels are already on the point of breaking; not to mention, she adds, that the fact that they raised an Accepted scapegoat as Amyrlin means they already know their attempt will fail, since the only offense they’ve committed that actually requires stilling is pretending to be a false Amyrlin. She also thinks of “the secret” Alviarin did not know, and is sure that Bryne’s army will hemorrhage fighters as they travel, and ultimately amount to nothing.
“I mean to break them, daughter. They will split open like a rotten melon.” Her secret assured that, however many farmers and tailors Lord Bryne hung on to, but let the other woman think as she would. Suddenly the Foretelling took hold of her, a certainty about things she could not see stronger than if they had been laid out before her. She would have been willing to step blindly over a cliff on that certainty. “The White Tower will be whole again, except for remnants cast out and scorned, whole and stronger than ever. Rand al’Thor will face the Amyrlin Seat and know her anger. The Black Tower will be rent in blood and fire, and sisters will walk its grounds. This I Foretell.”
Alviarin’s cool façade cracks at this, to Elaida’s satisfaction. She begins laying out her plans, thinking of how she would go down in history as the greatest Amyrlin ever.
Sevanna stands with two hundred Wise Ones, Efalin (a Maiden), Maeric (Seia Doon), Bendhuin (Far Aldazar Din), and the rest of the Shaido, thinking of how once she weds the Car’a’carn she will no longer have to worry about maintaining control of the Shaido. A messenger appears and tells her that one of the forward scouts escaped; Sevanna orders that the Shaido attack full force immediately, keeping no reserves in check. Maeric and Bendhuin try to protest this, and the Wise Ones are very uneasy, but Sevanna shames them into silence, reminding them of what had happened to Desaine (especially the Wise Ones who had helped her kill Desaine). The Shaido move out, and attack the circle of wagons at Dumai’s Wells, where the Aes Sedai are projecting an invisible shield that blocks the Shaido’s arrows. After some prodding from Sevanna, the Wise Ones finally counterattack with fireballs and lightning, which are returned in kind; Sevanna watches the spectacle with delight until her group is almost killed by one of the lightning strikes. Then she starts laughing and shouting “Push spears!”, though she is momentarily dismayed when wolves begin attacking the Shaido. One of the Wise Ones, Rhiale, tells Sevanna that there are wetlanders and other Aiel attacking from the south, and that there are Wise Ones attacking with them. Sevanna understands bitterly that even after Desaine, Rhiale and the others will not countenance openly attacking other Wise Ones; she tells Rhiale to kill who she can, and goes back to the battle, sure of her victory no matter what. Then she hears a hollow boom from somewhere in the camp, followed by strange flashes of light among the warriors, but can’t figure any of it out. She sees that the Aes Sedai defenses are weakening, and exults at her victory until she sees that a huge invisible dome is over the camp, blocking physical attacks and channeling alike. She screams at the Wise Ones that they let them do such a thing, but the Wise Ones tell her sickly that it isn’t women channeling that did it. She turns to see Rand al’Thor’s banner being raised through an opening at the top of the dome.
The other women were thinking of retreat. Not her. She had always known that the easiest path to power lay through conquering men who already possessed it, and even as a child she was sure she had been born with the weapons to conquer them. Suladric, clan chief of the Shaido, fell to her at sixteen, and when he died, she chose out those most likely to succeed. Muradin and Couladin each believed he alone had captured her interest, and when Muradin failed to return from Rhuidean, as so many men did, one smile convinced Couladin that he had overwhelmed her. But the power of a clan chief paled beside that of the Car’a’carn, and even that was nothing beside what she saw before her. She shivered as if she had just seen the most beautiful man imaginable in the sweat tent. When Rand al’Thor was hers, she would conquer the whole world.
She commands the Shaido to press harder, but suddenly the earth begins erupting in an expanding circle around the dome, slaughtering the Shaido, who soon break and run, ignoring Sevanna’s shrieks to stand and fight. She threatens Rhiale, but Rhiale shouts back that if they stay they will die, and runs as well. Sevanna hesitates and then runs as well, glad that she had not thrown away the cube of intricately carved stone she had been given. As she runs, she begins formulating new plans.
Alviarin maintains her cool façade as she leaves Elaida, but inside she feels “wrung out like a damp cloth”, noting absently that the sisters she passes watch her uneasily except for Danelle, the dreamy friendless Brown who had participated in Elaida’s coup but since had been pushed aside. Alviarin thinks of Elaida:
A woman of many layers, Elaida. The first look at her showed a beautiful woman filled with dignified reserve, the second a woman of steel, stern as a bared blade. She overwhelmed where others persuaded, bludgeoned where others tried diplomacy or the Game of Houses. Anyone who knew her saw her intelligence, but only after a time did you realize that for all her brains, she saw what she wanted to see, would try to make true what she wanted to be true. Of the two indisputably frightening things about her, the lesser was that she so often succeeded. The greater was her Talent for Foretelling.
Alviarin thinks Elaida may have to be killed after all, but hesitates to take that step without permission. She enters her rooms, thinking of which of Elaida’s orders to have carried out and which to ignore, and immediately goes to her knees when the room darkens and Mesaana appears before her, cloaked in “dark shadow and silver light”, her voice disguised with crystalline chimes. Alviarin repeats back every word of her interview with Elaida, though she knows Mesaana must eavesdrop on them. She had also been puzzled as to why of all the Forsaken Alviarin has met, only Mesaana disguises herself so completely, and has concluded with shock that Mesaana must be masquerading as a sister within the Tower itself. She has set herself to discover Mesaana’s secret identity, but met with little luck thus far. Mesaana muses on Elaida’s Foretelling, and asks if the rebels “breaking open like a rotten melon” was part of it, but Alviarin is not sure. She tells Mesaana that Elaida is dangerous, but Mesaana replies that Elaida is still of use, and chuckles over the woman’s schemes and powerplays. Daring greatly, Alviarin asks if it is safe to send Black sisters as part of Toveine’s expedition to the Black Tower; Mesaana stares at her, and Alviarin thinks uneasily of the fate of her predecessor as Head of the Black Ajah, Jarna Malari, whom Ishamael had punished for “what she had begun”.
Publicly Gray, Jarna had never shown any interest in the ter’angreal no one knew a use for—until the day she became snared in one untried for centuries. How to activate it remained a mystery still. For ten days no one could reach her, only listen to her throat-wrenching shrieks. Most of the Tower thought Jarna a model of virtue; when what could be recovered was buried, every sister in Tar Valon and every one who could reach the city in time attended the funeral.
Mesaana doesn’t answer the question directly, but Alviarin concludes that sending Black sisters with Toveine is likely to be a bad idea. Then Mesaana demands her direct loyalty, to Mesaana only and none of the other Chosen; Alviarin agrees fervently, and as a reward, Mesaana begins to teach her how to Travel.
Pedron Niall plays stones with Morgase, thinking of how he hadn’t had such a good opponent in years. He knows it’s all a ploy to lull him into thinking she’s going along quietly with his plans for Andor, and admires her wiliness; he thinks that if he had been twenty years younger he might even have played along with “her true game”, but reminds himself that she trained with the Tar Valon witches. Morgase asks again to see Galad, but Niall has no intention of losing that leverage, and replies that Galad’s duties keep him in the north. They are interrupted by Omerna, and Niall sends Morgase away after accepting her invitation to dine with her. After she leaves, Omerna tells Niall that he has not found either Gawyn or Elayne, but Niall knows that Gawyn is with the Tower witches, and Elayne in Ebou Dar; he has sent orders to Carridin concerning Elayne. Then Omerna produces a message tube which Niall snatches from him; ignoring Omerna’s continuing report, he opens the tube to find a message from Faisar, who to Niall’s dismay confirms everything his rug seller informant had told him about Tanchico and the “second mad animal” to appear after al’Thor. As he wonders how he is to fight them both, Omerna moves closer and stabs Niall twice, saying tearfully it had to be done. As Niall falls, Eamon Valda appears; shouting “Traitor!”, he runs Omerna through.
Niall would have laughed if he could; breath came hard, and he could hear it bubbling in the blood in his throat. He had never liked Valda—in fact, he despised the man—but someone had to know. His eyes shifted, found the slip of paper from Tanchico lying not far from his hand; it might be missed there, but not if his corpse clutched it. And that message had to be read. His hand seemed to crawl across the floorboards so slowly, brushing the paper, pushing, it as he fumbled to take hold. His vision was growing misty. He tried to force himself to see. He had to . . . The fog was thicker. Part of him tried to shake that thought; there was no fog. The fog was thicker, and there was an enemy out there, unseen, hidden, as dangerous as al’Thor or more. The message. What? What message? It was time to mount and out sword, time for one last attack. By the Light, win or die, he was coming! He tried to snarl.
Valda realizes Niall is still breathing, and is about to finish him off when Asunawa appears and tells him he might become Lord Captain Commander, but not if Asunawa must report he slit the previous one’s throat. Asunawa wants assurances that Valda will give Morgase to the Hand of the Light, but Valda tells him they need Morgase until Andor is taken, and threatens to assist Asunawa’s second in taking him down as the head of the Inquisitors unless he complies. They are interrupted by Balwer, who gasps at Niall’s corpse; Asunawa tells him the official version of what happened. Disdaining Balwer as “useless”, Valda sends him to convene the Council of the Anointed to plan “vengeance” for Niall’s murder, planning to kick the twitchy man out of the fortress as soon as Valda is appointed Lord Captain Commander.
“So it seems you will be our next Lord Captain Commander after all,” Asunawa said once Balwer was gone.
“So it seems,” Valda answered dryly. A tiny slip of paper lay next to Niall’s outstretched hand, the sort used in sending messages by pigeon. Valda bent and picked it up, then exhaled in disgust. The paper had been sitting in a puddle of wine; whatever had been written on it was lost, the ink a blur.
He dismisses the message as unimportant, and assures Asunawa that he may have Morgase once Valda is done with her.
Gawyn surveys Dumai’s Wells in the distance, and wishes he could have killed al’Thor; he doesn’t believe Egwene’s assertion that the man didn’t kill his mother, and if Min was right that Elayne loved him, all the more reason to kill him. But he hadn’t, because he had promised Egwene he wouldn’t.
He hoped she would accept the compromise he had made with his honor; he had raised not a hand to harm, but none to help, either. The Light send she never asked that of him. It was said that love addled men’s brains, and he was the proof.
Suddenly he spies a woman galloping on a horse, which stumbles and throws her; he goes back to the two hundred or so of the original five hundred and eighty Younglings he’d had before Dumai’s Wells, and starts to tell Jisao they have a sister to rescue, but is interrupted as a party of Shaido suddenly top the rise and attack. There is a brief bloody battle which ends with the Aiel withdrawing; Gawyn gathers the unwounded men to go after the Aes Sedai, but only finds her horse. He decides it would be a good idea to have a sister or two with them to deflect Elaida’s wrath, and tells Jisao they will search for her after the wounded are tended to.
Turning his bay with a sigh, he rode back down to see what the butcher’s bill had been this time. That had been his first real lesson as a soldier. You always had to pay the butcher. He had a feeling there would be bigger bills due soon. The world would forget Dumai’s Wells in what was coming.
Freakin’ long-ass Prologues, mumble grumble.
Elaida: Okay, so MAYBE the delusions of grandeur were telegraphed a little more strongly than I initially remembered. If you recall, I was all giving TGS shit in my review for having Elaida more or less literally chew the scenery, but re-reading this scene in particular may make me have to soften that criticism.
I forgot, for one thing, that her stupid palace was actually supposed to be taller than the Tower, which is just beyond idiotic for any number of reasons, not least of which is that I’m pretty sure that doing it without Ogier help is basically just a structural disaster of epic proportions waiting to happen.
And even supposing it could be done without Ogier, has she no aesthetic sensibility at all? A palace taller than the centerpiece of the city? Right next to it? Ugh. Where is the symmetry? Where is the harmony? You are harshing Tar Valon’s feng shui, woman!
Sheesh. Not to mention, nothing says “megalomania” quite like spending vast amounts of resources to build a giant vanity project when half the world is dying in a drought, and oh yeah, THE END OF THE WORLD IS COMING. Priorities, we has them! Except not!
Yes, seeds of Mashadar, not entirely her fault, blah, but you know, she wasn’t exactly a ray of sympathetic sunshine before she met up with Fain either, I remind you. And evidently she’s been an idiot about her Foretellings from Day One. Though I suppose it’s a little much for me to bring her to task for not figuring out that her Foretelling about the Royal House of Andor was about the previous ruling House… although, now that I think about it, House Mantear was on the throne when she actually had the Foretelling, so maybe it wouldn’t have been that much of a leap, but then again as far as she knew everyone from Modrellen’s line was dead, and certainly she had no reason to even suspect that Rand was Tigraine’s son, and oh no I’ve gone cross-eyed.
Whatever. Nicely done as a Prophecy mis-fire, anyway.
Also: “The ring has been placed in the bull’s nose.” That’s some lovely imagery, there. Points for accuracy, I guess?
Sevanna: Is annoying. And just made me recap the same scene TWICE. Grrr.
I’m not going to dwell overmuch on the Shaido right now, since I predict you guys will get more than enough of me grousing about them in recaps to come, but I will just say that while I appreciate the device of getting the “Previously on…” section done by retelling the big ending of LOC from the opposition’s point of view, rather than just a straight recap, this is largely obscured by my irritation that it didn’t also manage to tell us anything new, except possibly that Sevanna hadn’t actually thrown away her cube. Which, okay, that’s important to the plot, I know that; I’m just not sure I needed eleven pages of rewind to tell me that one fact. Especially when it’s eleven pages of Sevanna being annoying.
(Although, I suppose it’s worth pointing out that one of the reasons Sevanna annoys me so much – besides being central to the Plotline That Wouldn’t Die – is because she is exactly the kind of woman I am most disposed to loathe. This is because she is practically the epitome of every negative stereotype about women ever, and it infuriates me that this does not actually make her an unrealistic character, for I’ve met women just like her – minus the actual “inciting to murder” bit, of course – and watching these idiots willfully undermine what fragile progress feminism has made in the past century pisses me right the hell off, to put it mildly. Grr.)
Alviarin: Remains one of my favorite villain characters in WOT. I do like me a smart bad guy, and Alviarin comes across as not only one of the more intelligent villains, but as one of the smarter characters in WOT overall. She is, in fact, rather like a Dark Side Sherlock Holmes, almost, with her methodical attempts to deduce Mesaana’s Sekrit Identity in the Tower. Plus, as I’ve said before, she’s one of the few non-Forsaken evil characters who actually performs effective acts of evil, so yay (in an odd way) for that.
I hope that she does not remain the largely non-existent cipher she became once Elaida kicked her off the Keeper job – which is, now that I think about it, one of the things that rather irritated me in TGS, that Alviarin appears to play no role at all in the Tower battle except to disappear afterwards, and (as far as I recall) basically does nothing except get walloped by Silviana up until that point.
Of course, this is all from Egwene’s perspective, who wasn’t exactly paying that much attention to Alviarin in general, so who knows. Maybe she was doing all kinds of things we won’t find out about till later. I kind of hope so.
Speaking of Mesaana, I am highly amused that we still do not know for certain sure who her alter ego is. I’m personally about 97% sure that she is Danelle. Although, the gratuitous mention of Danelle in Alviarin’s POV here is actually one of the things that gives me my 3% uncertainty, because it just screams of being one of those red herrings Jordan was so fond of tossing out. But of course maybe it is a double red herring, meaning it isn’t a red herring, because Jordan is sneaky that way. You know, with his herrings.
(Herring, herring – word has lost all meaning.)
As for all the business with Jarna Malari and Tamra Ospenya and etc. Alviarin refers to, not to mention the Red gentling scandal she and Elaida both obliquely refer to earlier, I’m not even going there, because I will freely confess I never could keep all that backstory straight. It’s not really relevant until New Spring, anyway. I promise I’ll do my homework on it then!
Morgase: Oh, man. I’m going to have some screaming to do on this plotline shortly. For now, though, I will confine myself to wondering what would have happened if Niall had actually taken the bait he imagined she was offering.
Also, bye, Niall! I quoted too much of Niall’s death rattle, but I kind of felt he deserved it, for being a character I could respect for his complexity even as I *headdesk* at how close he came to being Not An Asshole – and missing.
But like I’ve said before, Niall’s assholishness is microscopic compared to that of the wankers now at the reins of Children of the Light, Inc. I remember when I first read this I was like, Balls. There goes the neighborhood. And by “neighborhood,” of course, I mean “continent”. Valda and Asunawa: it’s like a crap sandwich on whole crap bread, with crap slaw and a turd pickle on the side.
(Now, who’s hungry?)
Gawyn: Was in this Prologue.
And that’s our show! Glad to be back, kids. I hope you are glad too. Have fun in the comments, and see you Friday!