Greetings and salutations, people! Welcome back to the Wheel of Time Re-read!
Today’s entry covers the Prologue of The Gathering Storm, in which Prophets are down, (plough)shares are (taken) up, and of necessity, a trade is made.
Previous re-read entries are here. The Wheel of Time Master Index is here, which has links to news, reviews, interviews, and all manner of information about the Wheel of Time in general, including the newest release, Towers of Midnight.
This re-read post contains spoilers for all currently published Wheel of Time novels, up to and including Book 13, Towers of Midnight. If you haven’t read, read at your own risk.
And now, the post!
So, most of you reading this are already well aware of the events surrounding TGS and the books following, but as I acknowledge that there are those of you who might not be, here’s a very brief summary:
As I mentioned in the previous post, Knife of Dreams was the last book in the Wheel of Time series that Robert Jordan completed and published before his death. Subsequently, his widow and editor Harriet McDougal decided to ask up and coming fantasy author Brandon Sanderson to finish the series, using the notes, research and pre-existing material Jordan had left behind. I don’t think I need to get into too much more detail here about the specifics of all that; either you already know all about it, or you can read about it elsewhere.
Thus it came about that the last three books in the Wheel of Time series are (or will be) written by both Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, beginning with Book 12, The Gathering Storm. Which, as you may have noticed, is the novel we are about to begin recapping today.
I confess, I have a small amount of trepidation about this. Not a huge amount, but a little.
Turns out, it makes a little bit of a mental difference writing these posts when one of the authors whose work you will be dissecting is someone who (a) you’ve met, liked, and (very) sporadically hung out with in a social context, and (b) is at least theoretically likely to actually read said posts at some point.
However, it really is only a small amount of trepidation, because I feel pretty confident standing on my record of being honest and forthright about my opinions, both negative and positive, and that everyone, Brandon included, understands that I state them not to be either pointlessly cruel or mindlessly sycophantic, but because they are the truth, and the truth is what is owed.
Otherwise what’s the point of doing this in the first place, right?
And… yes. There’s probably a lot more I could say on this subject, but I think the above sums it up about as well as it’s going to get summed at the moment. And so, without further ado, I will finally get to the damn Re-Read part already. Game on!
Prologue: What the Storm Means
In the Borderlands, Renald Fanwar sits on the porch of his farmhouse and watches the strange, unnatural black and silver clouds in the distance, like none he’s ever seen before. For a moment he thinks he sees them jump forward toward him and cries out, but then they return to their earlier position, and Renald tries to convince himself he is addled with worry over his crops, which have failed to sprout. Thulin the blacksmith comes over the hill, driving a wagon which Renald realizes carries all Thulin’s mobile possessions as well as his wife and daughter. Thulin tells Renald that he buried his anvil and tools, and asks Renald to take care of them if he doesn’t return. Renald asks where he is going. Thulin tells him there’s a storm coming, and so he’s heading north. Renald doesn’t understand, and Thulin says there will be an army up there, and they’ll need smiths. He starts explaining to Renald how to turn his farming tools into weapons, and tells him that if he comes north, to bring all the provisions he has. Dazed by all this, Renald asks Thulin why.
“I don’t know what that storm is. But I know what it means. I’ve never held a sword, but my father fought in the Aiel War. I’m a Borderlander. And that storm means the end is coming, Renald. We need to be there when it arrives.”
He leaves, and Renald’s wife Auaine comes out of the house. Renald tells her what Thulin said, and Auaine thinks that they should listen. She sends him to inform the farmhands. After, he pulls out his small forge and, after some hesitation, begins melting down his best scythe to make a polearm. One of the farmhands, Veshir, approaches and asks what they are doing, leaving the farm to rot, but Renald knows Thulin was right, and tells Veshir that if they don’t go, it doesn’t matter if they planted crops or not. He pounds the anvil, shaping the scythe into a weapon.
As he worked, the peals seemed to form words. Like somebody muttering in the back of his head. The same phrase over and over.
The storm is coming. The storm is coming...
He kept on pounding, keeping the edge on the scythe, but straightening the blade and making a hook at the end. He still didn’t know why. But it didn’t matter.
The storm was coming and he had to be ready.
Falendre tries to hold herself together, as an example to the other sul’dam, as the hard-eyed young man asks if she will deliver his message. She says she will, and stumbles over calling him “my Lord Dragon.” One of the marath’damane (Nynaeve) tells him that she still wants to Heal the sul’dam and damane, to their horror, and Falendre pleads that they will receive aid in Ebou Dar. The man tells Nynaeve to let it go. Nynaeve tells him that he knows sending the damane back isn’t right.
For a moment, his eyes were even colder. Not harder. That would have been impossible. But for that long moment, they seemed to hold caverns of ice. “Right was easy to find when all I had to care for was a few sheep,” he said quietly. “Nowadays, sometimes it’s harder to come by.”
The marath’damane and Asha’man and soldiers begins filing back through their hole in the air, and the young man asks her to repeat her instructions: she is to tell the Daughter of the Nine Moons that he bears her no malice for the attack, and he still desires a meeting with her, as there must be peace between their peoples, and also that Anath was actually the Forsaken Semirhage. Falendre is still stunned at the idea. The Dragon Reborn tells her that the High Lady can find him in Arad Doman, where he will stop the fighting there as a gesture of goodwill, as he does not blame either her or Falendre for being manipulated by Semirhage.
“In a way, I rest more easily, now. I worried that one of them would have infiltrated the Seanchan nobility. I should have guessed that it would be Semirhage. She always preferred a challenge.”
He spoke of the Forsaken with an incredible sense of familiarity, and it gave Falendre chills.
He dismisses her and leaves. Falendre frets over the consequences to her once she delivers her news and the message, and thinks that perhaps she might not deliver that message right away.
Lieutenant-General Tylee Khirgan watches her army march down the road below. It has been two weeks since her fight with Perrin Aybara against the Aiel, and she hopes that it will never happen that she has to fight against Aybara, and not just because she likes him. Mishima approaches, a bit more respectfully now that she has been raised to the Blood, and she asks him what he thought of Aybara; Mishima opines that he was a bit too “driven,” but a good soldier. They discuss the recent odd sightings of men who then disappear, and Tylee comments that she thinks the trees should have started budding by now, but they haven’t. Mishima only comments that “trees don’t bleed,” so he isn’t interested, but Tylee feels it is of a piece with the strangely rotting food and the disappearing people. She thinks Perrin knew more about the cause of it all than he’d said.
We can’t afford to be fighting these people, she thought. It was a rebellious thought, one she wouldn’t speak to Mishima. She didn’t dare ponder it.
She sighs and turns to Mishima, only to find he has an arrow through his throat. Something enormous charges her, and she is thrown from her horse, screaming a call to arms. Before she kills the thing that attacked her, she sees that it is a hideous blend of man and boar, and now hundreds more of the creatures are pouring out of the trees. She cannot understand how the things had gotten so close to Ebou Dar, and charges down the hillside to join her army, more monsters in pursuit.
Graendal is lounging in her palace when a gateway opens and a (very pretty) messenger in Moridin’s livery comes through to tell her that her presence is required. Graendal is annoyed, but knows she has no choice, and so walks through the gateway to a strangely hot black stone building, which she realizes from the scenery outside must be in the northeastern Blight. Demandred and Mesaana enter, and she notes their surprise at her presence, and so pretends she knows what is going on to irritate them. She reflects that Demandred annoys her. She knows what the rest of the surviving Forsaken are up to: Mesaana is in the Tower, Aran’gar with the rebel Aes Sedai, Semirhage with the Seanchan, and Cyndane and Moghedien hunting the two ta’veren Aybara and Cauthon, while Moridin is marshaling the Great Lord’s forces, but Graendal still doesn’t know what Demandred is doing. She considers that he might have infiltrated the Borderlander army, but she has spies in that camp and yet has heard nothing. Moridin enters, and Graendal appreciates how much more handsome his new body is from his old one. Mesaana immediately says that they must rescue “her,” but Moridin counters that Semirhage deserves her imprisonment, as she was not supposed to try to kill al’Thor. Mesaana says that the fireball was an accident; Semirhage intended to capture him. Moridin roars back that she failed, and forbids Mesaana from going to her aid.
Moridin looked down, flexing his left hand, as if it were stiff. Graendal caught a hint of pain in his expression.
“Let Semirhage rot,” Moridin growled. “Let her see what it is to be the one questioned. Perhaps the Great Lord will find some use for her in the coming weeks, but that is his to determine.”
He orders Mesaana and Demandred to tell of their preparations. Both are humiliated to be interrogated in front of Graendal, but Mesaana answers that she is “perfectly poised,” and the Tower will soon be hers, and the Aes Sedai will fight on their side this time. Graendal thinks that Aran’gar has claimed that the rebels will win, and wonders who is correct, and whether it matters. Demandred simply says that his rule is secure, and he gathers for war.
Graendal itched for him to say more than that, but Moridin did not push. Still, it was much more than she’d been able to glean on her own. Demandred apparently held a throne and had armies. Which were gathered. The Borderlanders marching through the east seemed more and more likely.
Moridin dismisses them abruptly, and turns to Graendal and tells her the Great Lord approves of her initiative; being present for this meeting was her reward. He tells her that al’Thor is going to Arad Doman, and while he must not be harmed, he also must not be allowed to establish peace there; Graendal must prevent it. She agrees, and goes to leave, but he stops her.
He seemed to be staring at nothing, just looking at the black stones of the far wall. Strangely, he looked a great deal like al’Thor—of whom she had numerous sketches via her spies—when he stood like that.
“The end is near,” Moridin said. “The Wheel has groaned its final rotation, the clock has lost its spring, the serpent heaves its final gasps. He must know pain of heart. He must know frustration, and he must know anguish. Bring these to him. And you will be rewarded.”
She nods, and returns to her palace to plot.
Rodel Ituralde watches the Seanchan advance on the fortified city of Darluna, a hundred and fifty thousand strong, with flying beasts to carry messages and at least a hundred pairs of sul’dam and damane.
Ituralde would have traded ten thousand soldiers for one of those flying beasts. Other commanders might have wanted the damane, with their ability to throw lightnings and cause the earth to heave, but battles—like wars—were won by information as often as they were by weapons.
He watches as the Seanchan scouts reach the gates and demand entrance for the army, and one of Ituralde’s officers, Lidrin, breathes that “they didn’t notice.”
There was one problem with superior scouts like the raken. When you had access to a tool so useful, you tended to rely upon it. And reliance like that could be exploited.
Ituralde tells him to give the order, and the “farmers” in the fields outside the city grab their weapons and attack, accompanied by a sortie from the city.
The Prophet climbs a hillside with the tattered remains of his army — less than a hundred men — and raves to himself about the filth surrounding him, and dreams of the glorious day when the Lord Dragon would rule all the land and his Prophet would be at his side. He curses Aybara and fantasizes about strangling him.
The Dragon had appeared to him the night before the attack. Appeared in glory! A figure of light, glowing in the air in shimmering robes. Kill Perrin Aybara! the Dragon had commanded. Kill him! And so the Prophet had sent his very best tool, Aybara’s own dear friend.
He decides Aram’s failure meant he had been a Darkfriend too. The Prophet reaches the top of the ridge, and determines that he will push north to Almoth Plain, where he will begin to rebuild. He enters a clearing.
“Hello, Masema,” a quiet voice said.
He sees the speaker is Faile Aybara, and screams for his followers to take her, but arrows fly from the trees and cut his men down; one bolt strikes the Prophet. He wonders why the Dragon had not protected them, and then he whispers that it was his fault, and falls to his knees. Faile walks up to him and pulls a knife with a wolf’s head on the hilt. She thanks him for helping to assault Malden, and stabs him in the heart.
“Sometimes, a wife must do what her husband cannot,” he heard Faile tell her women as his eyes fluttered, trying to close.
She orders that Perrin is never to know of what happened here, and the Prophet remembers his name, Masema, and the day he’d earned his sword, and his father’s pride.
It’s over, then, he thought, unable to keep his eyes open. He closed them, falling as if through an endless void. Did I do well, Father, or did I fail?
There was no answer. And he joined with the void, tumbling into an endless sea of blackness.
Back in 2009, I attended the very first JordanCon in Atlanta, as I recounted to all y’all, at length, right here on Tor.com. And among many other wonderful events that happened there, one of the most amazing was that we were privileged to be allowed to listen to an audio recording of Robert Jordan himself, taped about twenty days before he passed away, describing a scene from the prologue of what was then the final book of the series. Here’s what I said about it then:
I can’t claim that I specifically remember what Mr. Rigney’s voice sounded like when I met him five years ago, but I would have remembered if it had sounded any different from what a big, self-assured man generally sounds like, so hearing what he had sounded like near the end was something of a shock. The voice on the tape was hoarse and cracked and exhausted and determined, and altogether... I hesitate to use the word “eerie,” for fear it seems disrespectful, but, well, I can’t think of another way to describe it. Combined with the scene he was actually describing, which was entirely for the purpose of creating a sense of ominous foreboding, the effect was... I don’t know what it was.
The scene was simple, with largely nameless characters who are unlikely to appear in the larger narrative, starting with a farmer sitting on his porch, watching a cloudbank in the distance, one which is behaving in a manner unlike any clouds the farmer had ever seen before.
[…] The thing I remember most was the repeated phrase: “The storm is coming. The storm is coming.” He said that over and over again.
It was sitting in that room in Atlanta two and a half years ago, and listening to that recording, that I remembered when reading the opening scene of this prologue, and I can’t tell you how much it added to the feeling of… well, as then, I don’t even know what the correct word to use might be. Again, “eerie” seems like a slightly disrespectful term, but it probably comes closest to what I felt, then and now.
I also had the slightly more mundane thought that this opening scene was the most prologue-y Prologue we’ve had in the series since, well, TEOTW. Of course we got right back down to the more WOT-prologue-like wrapping-plotlines-up business after that, but right there, for a moment, we had what I personally think prologues should be: a scene that was more about setting the tone and establishing the atmosphere than it was about progressing the plot.
So that was nice. It’s also nice that even with the plotty stuff after the first scene, this is the first Prologue short enough to actually contain in one Re-Read post since TFOH.
And, of course, the other thing that has to be said about my reaction when reading this prologue for the first time (and again just now) is that, to me at least, it was immediately obvious that there was another writer at the helm.
This is one of those things upon which I really don’t know how much emphasis it is worth placing, because I honestly can’t determine whether it’s a thing that, if you weren’t a person who has been analyzing the Wheel of Time literally almost line-for-line for the last two and a half years (!!), like, say, me, you would ever even notice otherwise. I think you would, but I can’t be sure, and so I dither on how much to make of it.
It’s just little things, at least thus far. A turn of phrase here, a vocabulary selection there; words and sentence fragments and italic emphases that I can tell Jordan would never have used, just from reading all his words that went before. Little itty bitty things, so small that I hesitate to even point out specific examples, that nevertheless jump out at me and say different from before.
And as I’ve said before when talking about what I admit I think of as The New Books in the series, either way I don’t think it is fair to call this a criticism, as such. Brandon had been, from the beginning, very upfront about the fact that he was not going to attempt to slavishly imitate Jordan’s writing style. He said (and I agree) that to do so would be an exercise in futility, not to mention disrespectful in its own way, and so he wasn’t even going to try it. And he was right to approach it that way, I firmly believe.
So it’s not a criticism, per se. But there’s no point in pretending that I don’t notice it.
And there’s also no point in pretending that, sometimes, it doesn’t throw me out of the story, a little bit.
But it is what it is. I’ll probably talk more about this later, but for now we’ll leave it.
As for what actually happened in this Prologue, I honestly only feel the need to comment on two things: Moridin and Masema.
(I’m not commenting on Demandred, because I give up on frickin’ Demandred and his whereabouts, personally. He’s somewhere, okay, and we’ll find out in AMoL, I’m sure, and beyond that I am exhaustified and y’all can fight about it in the comments if you want, but I’m done. Phooey on you, Demandred!)
So, yeah. First, Moridin, and his oh-so-interesting little arthritic flare-up in his left hand that Graendal notices, concurrent with his extreme irritation at Semirhage, who just so happened to have charred Rand’s left hand off in the previous book.
Coincidence? I THINK NOT.
We’ve long been given hints, of course (and we’re going to get oh so many more soon), that there is some kind of semi-mystical connection between Rand and Moridin, which I (and, I presume, many others) assume came about because of the infamous crossing-the-True Power/One Power-streams incident in ACOS, but this is the first real indication (that I recall) that it’s not a one-to-one correspondence, at least. Because, you know, Moridin still has a left hand, and all. So, lucky for him, I guess?
I persist in being convinced that this connection is somehow key to how Rand will end up resealing the Dark One in his prison like new at the Last Battle, but I also persist in not feeling the need to speculate any further than that on the hows and whys of it all, because I like to be surprised, so I’m-a gonna leave it there. Ain’t I a stinker?
Then there is Masema. And aside from my vague wonderings over who exactly impersonated Rand to him in his dreams (though based on Graendal’s observations it almost has to be either Cyndane or Moghedien), my Lord, the conflicting feelings I have about his particular shuffling off of this fictional mortal coil, let me show you them.
On the one hand, YAY MASEMA IS DEAD. He sucked, I’m not sorry he’s gone, awesome show great job. Extra helpings of glee all around, because now the Plotline of Doom isn’t only dead, it’s really most sincerely dead. So, yay, yes.
On the other hand: what the hell was that?
Sorry, but from a froofy meta narrative feng shui perspective this felt all wrong. The only redeeming value to Masema’s entire existence was the way I was looking forward to him finally meeting up with Rand again, and getting deliciously (and, hopefully, savagely) disabused of the notion that he was anything other than a seriously delusional douchebucket and a monstrous embarrassment to Team Light. Then kill him, fine. Or leave him a broken shell of a man, whatever, I’m not picky.
But this, this was just… random. Yes, you could argue Faile had cause to kill him, and she did, by proxy, but again, going from the froofy meta outlook, it should have been someone with more direct cause; someone who had been hurt by Masema’s Propheteering ways personally. In my humble opinion, Faile was… just not the right person to end him. Maybe this only makes sense to me, but if Faile should have gotten to kill anyone from the Plotline of Doom, it should have been Sevanna, not Masema. But she didn’t even get that much, grr.
It should have been someone else. If it couldn’t have been Rand, it should have been Perrin. Or, hell, I’d even have preferred Alliandre, who at least had a very personal axe to grind with the Prophet.
Really, though, it should have been Rand to confront and remove him from power (whether by killing him or otherwise). And I understand that logistically that would have been very difficult to pull off, and I also agree that Rand already has too many balls in the air as it is, but… well.
It just bugged me. And with that you will have to be more or less satisfied.
Hopefully more satisfied, as we always aim to leave you pleasantly full here at Wheel of Time Re-Read. Just like Snickers! But less likely to raise your cholesterol, at least in theory. Yeah, I have no idea what I’m even talking about anymore. Say goodnight, Gracie, and I’ll be back next week with Moar!