What up, yo: welcome back to the Wheel of Time Re-read!
Today’s entry covers Chapter 37 of The Gathering Storm, in which we discuss crimes against humanity, weapons of mass destruction, and self-imposed antisocial personality disorders. And other fun topics!
I truly did not intend to do another one-chapter post, but the next two chapters really need to go together for narrative-flow reasons, and so here we are.
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!
Quick news bulletin for the maybe four of you who haven’t heard already, but just for the record: Michael Whelan has officially been tapped to create the cover art for the print edition of A Memory of Light.
Which is, in a word, kickass. In lieu of having Darrell Sweet finish out the series (which I honestly would have vastly preferred no matter how harshly I may have criticized his work), I think just about everyone can agree that this is the next best possible alternative. Awesome.
Chapter 37: A Force of Light
Min watches Rand dress and tries to get him to talk about the failed talks with the Seanchan, but Rand refuses to admit he is either frustrated or angry about it. Min sees a viewing of a mountain she thinks might be Dragonmount, covered in dark shadows with a hole blasted out of the side.
Dragonmount in shadows. It would be important to Rand in the future. Was that a tiny prick of light shining from the heavens down onto the point of the mountain?
The viewing vanished. Though Min knew what some of them meant, this one baffled her.
Min had thought of herself as a last line of defense for Rand, but now thinks that maybe Rand had been right to try and send her away. Min asks if he is going after Graendal, and Rand replies that the least he can do for Arad Doman is remove one of the Forsaken from its soil. Min thinks it could be a trap, but Rand disagrees, and says he must strike now before she finds out he has a lead on her. Min decides to go with him just to prove her earlier doubts wrong, and is surprised when he does not argue. He takes the access key ter’angreal with him and sends for twenty Maidens. Min wishes he would lose his temper the way he used to.
He’d exasperated her then, but he’d never frightened her. Not as he did now, with those icy eyes she couldn’t read, that aura of danger. Since the incident with Semirhage, he spoke of doing “whatever he had to” regardless of cost, and she knew that he must seethe at having failed to convince the Seanchan to ally with him. What would that combination of failure and determination lead him to do?
Rand sends for Nynaeve and Lord Ramshalan, and examines the map where he’d marked the location of Natrin’s Barrow. He tells Min that it is a former fort that became a favored retreat for the kings of Arad Doman before it was forgotten, and that it is just the kind of place Graendal would favor for her stronghold. Nynaeve and Ramshalan enter, and Rand pretends to ask for Ramshalan’s advice on how to outthink an enemy smarter than himself who refuses to face him head on.
“I have to peer into her eyes, see into her soul, and know that it’s her that I face and not some decoy. I have to do that without frightening her into running. How? How can I kill a foe who is more clever than myself, a foe who is impossible to surprise, yet who is also unwilling to confront me?”
Ramshalan suggests an alliance, which Min finds absurd, but Rand pretends to think it an excellent idea, and tells Ramshalan that he shall be Rand’s emissary, and creates a gateway to outside Natrin’s Barrow, telling him to go and make an alliance with the “minor Domani merchant family” within. Ramshalan is immensely flattered and goes with only a small amount of hesitation. Nynaeve wants to know what’s going on, and Rand asks how Nynaeve would beat her.
“I don’t care to play your games, Rand al’Thor,” Nynaeve replied with a huff. “You’ve obviously already decided what you intend to do. Why ask me?”
“Because what I am about to do should frighten me,” he said. “It doesn’t.”
Rand, Min, Nynaeve and the Maidens go through the gateway as well, and stop at a ridge where Natrin’s Barrow is visible in the distance, close enough that Min can see the many guards and workers moving about it. Nynaeve asks what the point was of sending Ramshalan to die. Rand replies that Graendal won’t kill him, but will instead use Compulsion on him and send him back to Rand, programmed to do something devious and clever that Rand will not anticipate or be able to counter. Nynaeve doesn’t understand why Rand would allow it, then, but Rand refuses to explain, and stares Nynaeve down unnervingly. After some time, Ramshalan returns, and Rand orders Nynaeve to check him for Compulsion. She does, and confirms that he is under Compulsion. Feeling dread, Min urges Rand to go back, but he tells her there is something he must do.
“Think about it some more,” Min said. “At least take some advice. We can ask Cadsuane, or—”
“Cadsuane held me in a box, Min,” he said very softly. His face was clasped in shadow, but as he turned toward her, his eyes reflected the light from the open gateway. Orange and red. There was an edge of anger to his tone. I shouldn’t have mentioned Cadsuane, she realized. The woman’s name was one of the few things that could still get emotion out of him.
“A box, Min,” Rand whispered. “Though Cadsuane’s box had walls that were invisible, it was as binding as any that ever held me. Her tongue was far more painful a rod than any that was taken to my skin. I see that now.”
Nynaeve is incensed that Rand allowed Ramshalan to suffer this, and tells him she will refuse to remove it this time. The globe on the statuette begins to glow, and Rand tells them how Callandor failed him twice, and the reason was because it was a trap: it cannot be controlled by a man alone, but only if he puts himself “in a box” to use it. Rand whispers that he can no longer kill in anger, but that each death he causes must be “deliberate.” Min and Nynaeve are speechless, and Min thinks that she wasn’t afraid of Rand when Semirhage was forcing him to strangle her, but she is afraid of him now.
“I’ve done it before,” he whispered. “I once said that I didn’t kill women, but it was a lie. I murdered a woman long before I faced Semirhage. Her name was Liah. I killed her in Shadar Logoth. I struck her down, and I called it mercy.”
He turned to the fortress palace below.
“Forgive me,” he said, but it didn’t seem directed at Min, “for calling this mercy as well.”
Something impossibly bright formed in the air before him, and Min cried out, backing away. The air itself seemed to warp, as if pulling away from Rand in fear. Dust blew from the ground in a circle around him, and the trees groaned, lit by the brilliant white light, the pine needles rattling like a hundred thousand insects scrambling over one another. Min could no longer make out Rand, only a blazing, brilliant force of light. Pure power, gathered, making the hairs on her arms rise with the force of its nebulous energy. In that moment, she felt as if she could understand what the One Power was. It was there, before her, made incarnate in the man Rand al’Thor.
And then, with a sound like a sigh, he released it. A column of pure whiteness exploded from him and burned across the silent night sky, illuminating the trees below it in a wave. It moved as quick as a snap of the fingers, striking the wall of the distant fortress. The stones came alight, as if they were breathing in the force of the energy. The entire fortress glowed, transforming into living light, an amazing, spectacular palace of unadulterated energy. It was beautiful.
And then it was gone. Burned from the landscape—and the Pattern—as if it had never been there. The entire fortress, hundreds of feet of stone and everyone who had lived in it.
Something hit Min, something like a shocking wave in the air. It wasn’t a physical blast, and it didn’t make her stumble, but it twisted her insides about. The forest around them—still lit by the glowing access key in Rand’s hands—seemed to warp and shake. It was as if the world itself were groaning in agony.
It snapped back, but Min could still feel that tension. In that instant, it seemed as if the very substance of the world had been near to breaking.
Min sees that Rand looks like he is in ecstasy before forcing himself to shut it off, and she tries to comprehend what he has just done, horrified by the lives he just ended. Nynaeve declares that he is out of control, and what he has done is loathsome, but Rand only tells her to test Ramshalan, to see if Graendal’s Compulsion is gone. Reluctantly, she checks, and confirms it is gone, and Min realizes that he had used Ramshalan as insurance, to make sure that Graendal had been balefired and thus her recent actions (such as Compelling the man) erased. Ramshalan doesn’t understand any of it, and Rand tells him he forgives him for slandering Rand behind his back, and leaves him there to walk to the nearest village rather than execute him. Min and Nynaeve and the Maidens follow Rand back through the gateway to Bandar Eban.
“What you have done is an abomination, Rand al’Thor,” Nynaeve said as soon as the gateway was closed. “There looked to have been dozens, maybe hundreds, of people living in that palace!”
“Each one made into an idiot by Graendal’s Compulsion,” Rand replied. “She never lets anyone close to her without destroying their mind first. […] I did them a favor.”
“A favor?” Nynaeve asked. “Rand, you used balefire! They were burned out of existence!”
“As I said,” Rand replied softly. “A favor. Sometimes, I wish the same blessing for myself. Good night, Nynaeve.”
He leaves, and Nynaeve mutters that she wishes Moiraine was there. Min tells her they have to do something, but Nynaeve wonders if Rand was right, and if he’d been this ruthless from the start whether it might not have saved more lives than it destroyed. Min counters that he cares about nothing but winning anymore, and it won’t be a victory if Rand becomes as bad as the Forsaken to do it. Nynaeve suddenly agrees, and sighs that Cadsuane was right, and that they have to find the “insufferable woman” and convince her to let them in on her plans to handle Rand. Min wishes Nynaeve and Cadsuane would be more concerned with helping Rand as opposed to “handling” him, but goes along. They find the cottage where Cadsuane is staying; Merise tries to prevent them entering, but Nynaeve says loudly that Rand just burned an entire palace full of people from existence with balefire, and Cadsuane lets them in. Amys, Bair, Melaine and Sorilea are also there, and Nynaeve tells them what happened. Sorilea tries to dismiss her afterward, to Nynaeve’s outrage, but Cadsuane points out that “this child” is still close to the al’Thor boy, and could be of use.
“Perhaps,” Sorilea said. “But can she be obedient?”
“Well?” Cadsuane asked of Nynaeve. They all seemed to be ignoring Min. ”Can you?“
Nynaeve’s eyes were still wide with anger. Light, Min thought. Nynaeve—obey Cadsuane and the others—She’s going to explode at them!
Nynaeve tugged on her braid with a white-knuckled grip. “Yes, Cadsuane Sedai,” she said through clenched teeth. “I can.”
Cadsuane observes that she might be the only one of the “current crop” who is salvageable (Merise flushes), but Amys insists that Egwene also has much honor. Cadsuane tells her that Nynaeve’s job is to find out where Perrin Aybara is; Nynaeve is upset to learn that she is to learn only of her role in the plan rather than all of it, but forces herself to be silent, and agrees. Min listens silently, and gives herself her own job: to watch out for Rand, who she is sure must be destroying himself inside over what he’s done.
There were plenty of others worrying about what he would do at the Last Battle. It was her job to get him to that Last Battle alive and sane, with his soul in one piece.
“Uh. So... wow, that... happened.”
That’s a direct quote from my original review of TGS regarding this chapter, and I stand by it. To say I was stunned by what Rand did here would be the understatement of the decade.
I still am not sure how to express how I feel about it, or about the appalling crimes against logic and reasoning Rand employs to justify it to Min and Nynaeve, except to flail my arms at it all despairingly, whilst searching for a handbasket for Randland’s express trip to much, much hotter climes. Because Min is totally right: if the savior of the world is this guy, the world is SCROD.
Moral relativity being the slippery thing that it is, it’s hard to define exactly why this act was (in my opinion) unacceptable when so many other things Rand has done that’s gotten people killed isn’t – even though, if you tally up together the number of people who have died in one way or another because of Rand’s various decisions since the beginning of the series, the total unquestionably vastly outstrips the casualties of Natrin’s Barrow. Hell, the Battle of Cairhien in TFOH alone probably killed ten times as many.
And yet, none of those other decisions, in my view, were anything near as deeply wrong as this one was, or left such a bad taste in my mouth, or made me truly worried that our hero had maybe passed the point of no return on the redeemability scale.
It’s not about the number of people who died, or even the manner in which they were killed — although it should be noted that this really is the Randland equivalent of dropping a nuclear bomb on a city, and there is a difference, morally, between killing people with so-called “conventional” weapons and killing them with weapons of mass destruction, even if the casualties are equivalent. For environmental reasons, if nothing else. (From that perspective, actually, balefire could be considered much worse than nuclear weapons, because while nuclear armageddon could theoretically wreck the earth for centuries, the earth would eventually recover. Contrariwise, if the fabric of reality itself is torn apart, then… not so much.)
I think I lost track of my point there… oh yes. It’s not the numbers or the method that’s the worst part of this in my opinion, though both of those are plenty bad enough. It’s not even that Rand’s decision crossed the line from “allowing for collateral damage” to the equivalent of “kill ‘em all and let the Creator sort ‘em out” – except the Creator can’t sort them out because they’ve been erased, so it’s even worse. All those things are awful, but I really do think that the thing that pushes it to actually abominable is that Rand doesn’t care that he did it.
Or, at least, he’s sublimating any feelings of caring about it so hard that he might as well not be having them, which might actually be worse, in a “watch what happens when this boiler runs dry!” kind of way. I don’t think you can just decide to become a sociopath one day, dude. It Don’t Work That Way.
And again there is the whole teleology thing: you are the Hero, Rand, you don’t get to not care. If you don’t care it doesn’t work. If you don’t care it all goes BAD.
All the “logic” he uses to justify the act is repellant, too. And that’s where it even makes sense: Liah was ALREADY DEAD, Rand, Mashadar had her and she was toast, she just hadn’t stopped kicking yet. That is totally different from straight-up executing people who might have been saved. No, really; even if it was an incredible long shot that any of their minds could ever be healed, that’s still a better chance than none.
Except not anymore, because you took that chance away from them, and also erased any chance of them having another life to enjoy while you were at it. And just because YOU would be grateful to be erased from existence, doesn’t mean the rest of us want it!
Bluh. So depressing.
And naturally the whole thing is made even worse in light of the revelation from ToM, in which we discover, of course, that it didn’t even work, and Graendal survived. Which, for the record, I totally called, neener.
(Although I do think that if she had died here, that would have been an incredibly lame way for a major villain to go. First-tier bad guys at least deserve to have their deaths happen on-screen, sez me.)
So, yeah. This is about the point at which I was like, okay, can we not have Rand in this book from here on, because I kind of don’t want to read about him anymore? Or maybe, ever?
And, you know, this is just not the kind of thing you want to be thinking about the protagonist of the story. I truly thought, at the time, that this maybe might constitute pushing the envelope too far. Even now I sort of wonder whether it did.
Sigh. Oh, and Cadsuane and the Wise Ones and whatever, and I’m back to wanting to smack Cadsuane, partly because I already know now how this Plan of hers is going to turn out, and also because I am very protective of Nynaeve and am vastly irritated that Cadsuane treats her the way she does regardless of whether or not Nynaeve actually deserves it. Which she does a little, deserve it I mean, but not to the extent Cadsuane takes it. If You Ask Me. Hmph.
Also, more tangentially:
[Rand] stood, reaching for the sword which leaned against his clothing chest. The black scabbard, with its lacquered red and gold dragon, sparkled in the light. Such a strange weapon those scholars had found beneath the submerged statue. The sword felt so old.
*stares* “Submerged statue”? What submerged statue? When did this happen? Did I miss a daytrip to the beach or something? What scholars? I feel like I’m insane here!
Seriously, the whole “Rand acquiring Artur Hawkwing’s sword” thing is one giant brain fart as far as I am concerned, because I can never remember if any of the details surrounding it were actually explicated somewhere and I just forgot, or if they really weren’t and Team Jordan is just getting their Scrooge on with the how and when and why of it all. And this aggravates me, O my peeps. Not that they are being Scroogelike, but that I can’t remember if they are being Scroogelike. If that makes the slightest amount of sense.
I’m pretty sure the only reason I know it is Hawkwing’s sword, in fact, is because people said it was in the comments to the Re-read at some point. If it was stated before now in the books themselves, I sure don’t remember it. And I certainly don’t remember anything about any expedition to get a sword from some
watery tart submerged statue!
In conclusion, this chapter is fired, but it’s one of those “firings” where you go across the street and have a coffee until the boss realizes he doesn’t know how to work the fax machine and calls you up and re-hires you, not that this has ever happened to anyone I know, ahem. Because it’s terrible and I hated that it happened, but at the same time, wow with how you pulled off that gutpunch, Team Jordan. Well done.
And I am also Done, so have a week, as is your wont, and I’ll see y’all next time! Cheers!