Hey-o, people. This here is a Wheel of Time Re-read, in case you couldn’t tell.
Today’s post covers only Chapter 53 of Lord of Chaos, because it turns out I had a lot more to say about it than I thought I would. What is it about 53rd chapters and controversial subjects? It’s uncanny, I tell you!
Yes, I know. I totally promise that your hearts will go on somehow.
Previous entries are here. This and all prior posts contain spoilers for all currently published novels of the Wheel of Time series up to and including Knife of Dreams, so if you haven’t read, don’t read.
The Prologue of The Gathering Storm, “What the Storm Means,” is available for download here on Tor.com or at multiple online vendors. Chapter 1 is still available as well, and Chapter 2 is available in audio format. Please refrain from posting spoilers for either the Prologue or Chapters 1-2 in the posts for the Re-read, in order to protect those who have not yet read them, or do not intend to before the release of the entire book. Spoiler discussion is going on at the respective posts announcing the releases, linked above; please keep them there. Thanks.
And so, read on for maximum verbosity!
Chapter 53: The Feast of Lights
Perrin makes his way through the streets of Cairhien, appalled at the licentiousness on display, as the Cairhienin make up for a year of reserve with wild abandon on the Feast of Lights, the last day of the year. But he’s more concerned with Rand, who has been gone for six days now, and so has Min. Sorilea has told him bluntly to stay out of Aiel business, and no one else seems to know anything; he is coming back from Rand’s school, a last resort, but even there they were too busy celebrating to be helpful.
He could feel Rand’s need like an itch everywhere under his skin, stronger every day [...] Burn Rand! He had gone off without a word, when he knew about Min’s viewing, knew he was going to need Perrin desperately. Even the Aes Sedai had grown disgusted, apparently. Just that morning Perrin had learned they were three days on their way back to Tar Valon, having said there was no further point in remaining. What was Rand up to? That itch had Perrin wanting to bite something.
Perrin reaches the palace, where the Aiel look as disgusted with the goings-on as he, though he suspects the Maidens’ disgruntlement is due to Rand’s absence more than anything else, and heads to his apartments, where Faile is playing stones with a very uncomfortable-looking Loial. She ignores Perrin as usual, and Perrin can smell disappointment from her even more strongly than jealousy or anger, and wishes she would give him just one word. Sulin enters with pillows, and Perrin thinks she smells worried and afraid, which he finds odd for some reason; she goes to open the door for Dobraine, and sneers at first, but then suddenly forces herself to curtsy to him, and Perrin notes that her smell of shame suddenly becomes almost overwhelming. Dobraine notices none of this, and tells Perrin that this morning Lord Maringil was found poisoned in his bed, and Lord Meilan was knifed in the streets a while later, apparently by a footpad. He continues that Colavaere dined with a number of heads of smaller houses to discuss support for Colavaere’s bid for the Sun Throne, and made little effort to hide what she was doing. After a moment, Perrin gets what he’s hinting at, and asks why he doesn’t take it to Rhuarc (changing from “Berelain” at the last moment). Dobraine is disdainful of the “Aiel savage” being able to do anything, and doesn’t think Berelain will do much better, opining that Colavaere will “have her sliced and cooked with peppers”, and cuts off as he realizes Berelain has entered the room, carrying a long bundle. Infuriated that she would dare come in his rooms, Perrin jumps up and roars at her to get out; everyone including Berelain stares at him in shock, except for Faile; Perrin can’t understand why she should so suddenly smell hurt. Then he sees that the bundle contains Rand’s sword and the belt with the Dragon buckle; he doesn’t think Rand would have left without those, and growls.
“They have taken him!” Sulin wailed suddenly, shockingly. Head thrown back, eyes squeezed shut, she moaned at the ceiling, and the sound of her voice was enough to make Perrin shiver. “The Aes Sedai have taken my first-brother!” Her cheeks glistened with tears.
“Be calm, good woman,” Berelain said firmly. “Go into the next room, and be calm.” To Perrin and Dobraine she added, “We cannot allow her to spread word—”
“You do not recognize me,” Sulin broke in savagely, “wearing this dress and with my hair grown longer. Speak of me again as though I am not here, and I will give you what I hear Rhuarc gave you in the Stone of Tear, and should have since.”
Everyone else is puzzled, but Berelain flushes crimson. Sulin flings the door open and flags down a passing Maiden, ordering her to go get Nandera, and to bring her cadin’sor and scissors for her hair. Faile gapes, and Dobraine proposes tying and gagging the crazy maidservant, but Berelain tells him Sulin is a Maiden, though she doesn’t get the rest of it. Then she pretends that Sulin unnerves her and starts moving toward Perrin, and they end up doing a sidle/shuffle around the room as Perrin tries to get away from her and discuss what could have happened to Rand at the same time.
Whirling to face her, Perrin shoved stiffened fingers against her chest hard enough to make her squeak. “Stop right there!” Abruptly he realized exactly where his fingers were nestled and snatched them away as if burned. He managed to keep his voice hard, though. “Stay right there!” He backed away from her, glaring hard enough to crack a stone wall. He could understand why Faile’s jealousy was a cloud filling his nose, but why, why, why did she smell even more hurt than before?
“Few men can make me obey,” Berelain laughed softly, “but I think you are one.”
Then she returns to business, and explains that she searched Rand’s apartments after the Aes Sedai left, since it made no sense to her that they had given up. She also tells them how the Aes Sedai had visited her on a number of occasions and made it clear that she should go back to Mayene, or risk being sent back there involuntarily.
Sulin muttered under her breath, but Perrin’s ears heard clearly. “Rhuarc is a fool. If she was truly his daughter, he would have no time to do anything else for having to beat her.”
Dobraine points out that Rand had stated he meant the throne for Elayne Trakand, who has a much better claim to it than Colavaere; he thinks Colavaere would never have made such an open bid if she thought the Lord Dragon was coming back to Cairhien. Berelain puts in that she has proof that Colavaere was behind Maringil’s poisoning, and thinks they must start thinking of how to stay alive in the current situation. Perrin growls that he will get Rand back if he has to go alone, and Loial quickly throws in his lot with Perrin; Dobraine says he has five hundred men he can send, though he’s not sure what good they will do against Aes Sedai, but questions whether they can trust “the savages”. Sorilea, Rhuarc, Amys, and Nandera enter, and Sorilea wants to know in turn whether they can trust “the treekillers”. Nandera tells Sulin it’s about time, and they go off to change her clothes. Perrin wants to know how they knew, and Faile says “Maiden handtalk” only loud enough for him to hear, though she avoids his grateful glance. Perrin asks if Rhuarc will send his hundred thousand Aiel in Cairhien against Aes Sedai, and Rhuarc tells him he cannot send so many, for the Shaido are moving back into Cairhien in force. Perrin thinks worrying about Cairhien is ridiculous when the Dragon Reborn is captured, and Sorilea studies Perrin and abruptly tells Rhuarc to tell him everything, as he is Rand’s “near-brother”. Rhuarc tells Perrin that only the Maidens and siswai’aman will fight against Aes Sedai, and he will not tell the rest for fear the bleakness will take them. Perrin doesn’t really know what any of that means, but thinks he still has the wolves, wondering how many of them will die, and Dobraine stiffly assures him that he has five hundred Cairhienin at least.
Even Sorilea’s cackle was leathery. “Do not fear the Aes Sedai, treekiller.” Suddenly, shockingly, a tiny flame danced in the air before her. She could channel!
She let the flame vanish as they began planning, but it remained in Perrin’s thoughts. Small, flickering weakly, somehow it had seemed a declaration of war stronger than trumpets, war to the knife.
Galina tells Min that her life would be “more pleasant” if she cooperates; Min glares back sullenly, shifting painfully on her stool. Galina wonders what information she has, and whether Min or Elmindreda or whoever she is might be able to give her leverage against Elaida; then she senses a change in the flows being channeled outside and takes her leave, telling Min to “think carefully on how many tears a man is worth”. She strides through the camp (now with thirty-three Aes Sedai, plus Warders and Gawyn’s Younglings) to where Erian stands near the six Aes Sedai shielding the brass-bound chest containing al’Thor, which Galina suspects Erian wants to keep him in the whole way to the Tower. Erian, with red-rimmed eyes, tells Galina that he tried to break through the shield again, and she wants to be the one to punish him. Galina thinks it would be much more effective to punish Min again.
He had certainly raged enough seeing her punished for her outburst last night, which had in turn come from seeing him punished. The entire incident had begun because al’Thor discovered Min was in the camp, after one of the Warders carelessly allowed her to walk in the darkness instead of keeping her closely confined in her tent. Who would have thought that al’Thor, shielded and surrounded, would have gone mad that way? Not just trying to break through the shield, but killing a Warder with his bare hands and severely wounding another with the dead man’s sword, to such an extent that the second died in the Healing. All that in the moments required for the sisters to overcome their shock and bind him with the Power.
Galina would have gentled him days ago, but that was prohibited. Since both of the dead Warders had been Erian’s, she thinks it would be better to let the Green sister get her rage out now, so she can “admire that porcelain face unruffled” for the rest of the trip. She agrees.
Rand flinches as the chest opens, knowing what’s coming, and Lews Therin goes quiet. He is lifted out of the chest, and Erian faces him with a furious expression. She begins flogging him with Air without a word; Rand tries to hold onto the Void, but fails. He refuses to cry out, though, and thinks that they mean to break him and make him crawl to Elaida. As the beating continues, he makes himself smile at Erian; she hisses, and the beating intensifies.
The world was pain and fire. He could not see, only feel. Agony and inferno. For some reason he was aware of his hands trembling uncontrollably in their invisible bonds, but he concentrated on holding his teeth shut. This comes of—Won’t cry out! I will not cry ou—! Never again; not an in—! Not an inch; not a hair! Never agai—! I will not! Never a—! Never! Never! NEVER!
After it is over and Rand comes back from semi-consciousness, he sees that there are Wise Ones in the camp, and recognizes Sevanna with a shock. She comes over to him, and Rand realizes with incredulous amusement that she’s checking to see if he’s looking at her breasts; she runs a finger around his throat, and announces that the Aes Sedai have kept their part of the bargain, and she will hers. The Aes Sedai double him up again and cram him back into the chest, and Rand agonizingly fights to assume the Void again, whereupon Lews Therin starts fighting to seize saidin ahead of him.
Burn you! Rand growled in his head. Burn you! If you’d only work with me just once instead of against me!
You work with me! Lews Therin snapped back.
Rand nearly lost the Void in shock. There could be no mistake this time; Lews Therin had heard him and answered.
He answers that they could work together; Lews Therin laughs crazily, and agrees, “whoever you are”. Rand feels along the shield again, and notes the six soft points once more; Lews Therin tells him they are soft because they are being held. If they knot the flows, he can unravel the web, but not while they hold it. Then he asks if Rand is real, and disappears. Rand tries to plan, thinking he should let them think he was broken so he could seize his chance – if he gets one. He realizes he is laughing uncontrollably.
Galina frowns after the departing Wise Ones, disturbed that all but one of them could channel strongly, and then dismisses them, thinking they are only needed to get rid of Gawyn and his men. She goes back to Erian, who tells her that al’Thor is weeping in the chest, and suddenly starts crying herself; Galina tries to get her to come back to her tent for tea, offering to “lay a damp cloth on her brow”, but Erian says she must go to her remaining Warders and comfort them, and leaves. Galina frowns at the chest, unable to decide if it’s weeping or laughing coming from inside, and decides from now on he will be beaten each dawn and sunset until they reached Tar Valon, twenty days from now.
Sevanna asks the Wise Ones if they can duplicate what the Aes Sedai are doing to hold Rand al’Thor, and Therava confirms they can. Sevanna nods, fingering the cube the strange wetlander had given her and told her to use once al’Thor was captive, but Sevanna decides she is going to throw it away instead.
She was the widow of a chief who had been to Rhuidean and of a man who had been called chief without making that visit. Now she was going to be the wife of the Car’a’carn himself. Every spear of the Aiel would be grounded to her. Her finger still retained the feel of al’Thor’s neck, where she had traced the line of the collar she would put on him.
She tells Desaine, who had grumbled about Sevanna’s elevation, that “it is time”, and Desaine screams as the other Wise Ones literally tear her apart, as it is very important that her death be obviously accomplished with the Power. Sevanna watches with fascination.
Yeah. So, I think about the only person in this chapter I don’t want to backhand with a two by four, other than Rand and Min of course, is Dobraine. Holy Christ.
Okay, so I don’t want to backhand Rhuarc. Or Sorilea, actually. Or any of the Aiel, really. Or Loial. So, uh, basically I want to smack the Aes Sedai, the Shaido, and the Love Triangle of DOOM. But that’s mostly everyone! Or something. Look, shut up.
Speaking of which, SERIOUSLY, Berelain? That is SUCH BULLSHIT, with the chasing around the room while Rand is freaking kidnapped. I am, shockingly, kind of in agreement with Sulin that Rhuarc should beat your ass at this point.
(Parenthetically, okay, so somehow Rhuarc has decided Berelain is like a near-daughter, or whatever the actual term for that would be for the Aiel. Hey, they have near-sisters and brothers, why not near-daughters/sons? But... why? I don’t think we ever get an explanation for this. Not that it matters in the grand scheme of things, I suppose, but it continues to bug me.)
Faile: So, what is the correct response Perrin should have done here? Because I’m stumped, personally. Anger = bad, avoidance = bad, so... what should it have been? I’m not being sarcastic here, I’m honestly trying to figure it out. Lofty disdain, perhaps? Indifference? Weeping self-flagellation? Brazen flirting back? Or was it that he didn’t take the anger far enough, and was supposed to, I dunno, beat the crap out of Berelain or something? Or even kill her? I don’t know! The world may never know, because Faile won’t freaking tell us. Oh, and also, GAH.
Dobraine: I kind of wish we could get a POV on him at some point. In an overall sense he is fairly minor, of course, but I’ve always been somewhat curious as to why he’s so steadfastly loyal to Rand when every other Cairhienin noble is like a weather vane in a tornado with the allegiances. But in lieu of an explanation, I guess we are left to conclude that that’s just how he rolls. Which makes him pretty awesome, when all’s said and done.
Sulin: Interesting random detail, that it’s forcing herself to bow to Dobraine-the-treekiller that finally shames her enough to be like “okay, enough.” It was mostly just kind-of-strange comic relief anyway, I think.
Sevanna: Is annoying. And throws away her box. The End.
Okay, no, I have more: I’m a little confused, because if I’m not mistaken Sammael doesn’t tell Sevanna that he can give her something to control Rand until ACOS, and yet Sevanna has been all cackling over her “brilliant” scheme to marry Rand and make him make her the Boss of All Aiel for like two books now. And ya know, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that that is so never in a million years going to work – without squeegeeing Rand’s brain to mulch first, that is. So am I misremembering something, and Sevanna already thinks she will have something to Compel (or even just compel) Rand with, or is Sevanna really that much of a blithering idiot? Because, if the latter, damn.
Rand: Aahhhh. Even now, after *mumble* number of times reading this, my heart just hurts for him, even as I kind of defiantly rejoice in his badassedness in killing two Warders in five seconds flat.
That said, even while being utterly horrified by Rand’s treatment here (I mean, my God), I remember I read Rand’s repeating “no trust” litany with a kind of sick sinking feeling, kind of oh, this is so bad and it’s going to screw things up so very, very badly. And was I ever right, not that it took a genius to see that.
This is a true gift Jordan has, for recreating the very real-life-like dilemma of being able to make the reader totally understand why a character is induced to do the most counter-productive thing imaginable for their goals. No one in the freaking world could blame Rand for not being able to trust Aes Sedai after this, but oh, how it’s going to trip him up! And it’s just kind of heart-breaking in general to me, to see good people’s trust and hope mangled this way. Such a painfully accurate representation of how things can go so terribly wrong, all through nothing more than misinterpretation coupled with a few malicious people’s despicable scheming. It’s really beyond infuriating.
And then there’s the other thing in this chapter. Namely, Galina.
Ugh. Loathe as I am to even stick my foot in this particular quagmire, it has to be said: as well as being a generally horrible character who even aside from what she’s doing here is partially responsible for dragging out my least favorite plotline in the series later on, Galina is also representative to me of Jordan’s most conspicuous Fail as an author, and that is the treatment of homosexuality in WOT.
For all the good things Jordan does for sexism in WOT (and yes, he does – I may have my criticisms of it in the specific, even severe ones on occasion, but I’ve never wavered from my praise for his examination of the subject in general), in the arena of sexual orientation WOT falls woefully, nay, even painfully short.
How? Well. After six books and umpty-thousand pages and nearly as many characters, we finally meet a gay character – and it’s Galina. Seriously? A character who is evil, creepy, bitchy, hates men, and, oh yeah, evil. And we find out she’s gay because she’s all ickily up in Erian’s Kool-Aid, and basically acting like every worst stereotype of homosexuals ever. Seriously, I weep.
Now mind you, if Galina had been only one of several gay characters, with some of them being, you know, not stalkery and creepy and evil, I would have been more than happy to let it go, because in reality, one’s sexual orientation should (and doesn’t) have anything to do with whether one is a nice person or not. However, that is not the case; instead, after six novels’ worth of not even acknowledging the subject’s existence, we are suddenly smacked in the face with a character whose gayness is pretty clearly meant to contribute to her overall nastiness as a human being.
And that... that is really not cool.
To add insult to injury, while later books made what I believe was an effort to redress this issue, by implying (and then outright stating) the commonplace presence of “pillow friends” in the Tower (a concept I have no problem with on the face of it, though I have issues with the implementation once you start to really look at it), this is undermined by the extremely conspicuous lack of parallel phenomena on the male side of the equation. And when I say “lack”, I mean nothing. In a cast of thousands, I cannot think of one single male character in WOT who has been presented as even possibly ever having engaged in a same-sex relationship. I mean, forget social politics, that’s full of Fail just from a statistics standpoint.
So it’s actually the double whammy of bad stereotypes: lesbians are either “fake” (as in “well, only since there are no men available...”) or devious man-haters, and gay men don’t exist at all. I headdesk, I really do.
And no, Jordan was hardly alone in contributing to the invisibility and/or vilification of homosexuality in sf (or, indeed, in Western culture at large), and I recognize that. However, this does not makes it all right, and his otherwise quite laudable attention to other issues of privilege and prejudice makes the omission on this front all the more glaring, in my opinion.
So. There's that. However.
However, in Jordan’s defense, even with all I’ve said above, I honestly do not attribute the dearth of (non-evil) gay characters in WOT to either maliciousness or homophobia on Jordan’s part. Rather, I think it was the same unintentional blindness that plagues so many writers coming from a background of privilege with regard to the particular minority in question. In other words, as a straight married man with a strong military background, there’s a distinct possibility that addressing the issue of homosexuality simply never occurred to Jordan – especially in the earlier novels.
And when it did occur to him – well. The thing is, being aware of a sensitive topic and knowing how to address/incorporate it in your own works are two very different things, as anyone in sf fandom with access to the Internet in 2009 is probably in a position to know.
I don’t know that I intend for any real conclusion to be drawn from this. My modus operandii for this re-read has always been to simply note the things which jump out at me as I read, and expand/muse upon them. And this is what jumped out at me here. I certainly am not suggesting that this makes Jordan a horrible person or that the series is worthless as a result of his issues on this score (to head some of the more ridiculous possible accusations off at the pass), but I could not in good conscience let it pass without giving my honest opinion on it. I certainly think, as readers and writers and general participants in the human race, that this is a topic which we ought to give thought upon, and so I have. Make of it what you will.
And, that’s about the size of it. I’ll be polishing off the rest of LOC Monday, barring disaster, and I think I’ll have some interesting news for you then as well, so definitely stay tuned. Have a lovely weekend, and as always, be excellent to each other in the comments. Remember: intelligent debate yay, ad hominem attacks and vituperation nay. Also, “vituperation” is a really good word. Say goodnight, Gracie!