Hola, chicos y chicas! I have no idea if I spelled that right, but the sentiment is sincere, as is my welcoming you to a brand new section of the Wheel of Time Re-read!
Today’s entry begins the eighth novel of the Wheel of Time Series, The Path of Daggers, in which we cover the Prologue. It is definitely a beginning!
Previous re-read entries are here. The Wheel of Time Master Index is here, in which you can find links to news, reviews, and all manner of information regarding the newest release, The Gathering Storm, and for WOT-related stuff in general.
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.
And that… is the introduction. Except for the rest of the intro, of course, which is below the cut. Click it and see!
So, The Path of Daggers. Which, as some of you may recall, I am on record as considering my least favorite novel of the entire series. So to say I approach this portion of the Re-read with…trepidation…is probably to understate the case.
I reeeeally don’t know how this is going to go. My policy throughout this re-read has always been to be honest about my reactions. Which sounds like a “duh” statement, but you don’t know how many times I’ve been tempted to soft-pedal some of my harsher or more controversial thoughts regarding what I’m reading, because I know the kind of reaction it’s going to generate.
But then again, if I’m just going to toe the party line and nod and smile and be a yes-woman the whole time – well, that’s not only crappy ethically, but I also think it would have made for a pretty boring re-read. There can be no doubt whatsoever that I am a very big Wheel of Time fan, but I have never made any bones about the fact that for all its wonderful virtues, I also believe that it has many flaws. Intellectual integrity compels me to be as honest about the latter as the former, and I have a feeling that this is going to be a portion where we’re going to be reminded of that a lot.
…That being said, though, I’m not 100% positive that this will be the case, either. I’ve mentioned before my theory that more often than not, the WOT novel any given fan tends to like the least is the first one they had to wait for, and this is definitely the case with me. But the other result of that is, out of all the novels in the series (with the obvious exception of the most recent novel, TGS), TPOD is the only one I’ve actually almost never re-read in its entirety, at all.
As a result, a lot of what happens in TPOD is very vague to me. I remember certain very significant plot points, but most of the details are totally gone. Therefore this re-read will really be in a lot of ways much more like reading the novel for the first time than any other WOT book. And I’ve already been surprised more than once by how different my reactions were on this go-round than they were before.
So, in conclusion, we will see. I can’t promise that this whole section won’t be me complaining bitterly the whole time, but we can hope that I – and you – might be pleasantly surprised.
Let’s find out, shall we?
Prologue: Deceptive Appearances
Ethienielle, Queen of Kandor, rides through the Black Hills with fifty retainers, her First Advisor, Lady Serailla, and her Swordbearer, Lord Baldhere, who since Ethenielle’s husband’s death twenty years ago has also commanded Kandor’s armies. Ethenielle considers how lucky they’ve been to get this far without anyone noticing, and asks Serailla if she made the right choice. Calmly, Serailla answers that all her other options were just as risky as this one.
“Whatever the truth, Majesty, the White Tower appears to be paralyzed as well as shattered. You could have sat watching the Blight while the world crumbled behind you. You could have if you were someone else.”
The simple need to act. Was that what had brought her here? Well, if the White Tower would not or could not do what had to be done, then someone must.
She asks Baldhere’s opinion, and he replies that he doesn’t like hiding who they are; what they do will get them either killed, in the history books, or both, so it might as well be known “what names to write.” A scout returns with the signal that they are nearing the meeting point, and Ethenielle sighs to see Baldhere order a watch; she thinks the times breed suspicion even between allies of long standing.
Too many rulers to the south had died or vanished in the last year for her to feel any comfort in wearing a crown. Too many lands had been smashed as thoroughly as an army of Trollocs could have achieved. Whoever he was, this al’Thor fellow had much to answer for. Much.
The meeting place is near an Age of Legends relic, a spire of “gleaming golden lace” that supposedly kills anyone who touches it, which is why they can be sure no one will see them here. In the clearing, Ethenielle meets with King Paitar Nachiman of Arafel, Paitar’s advisor Ishigari Terasian, King Easar Togita of Shienar, his councilor Kyril Shianri, his shatayan Alesune Chulin, and General Lord Agelmar Jagad. Ethenielle greets her fellow rulers (and relatives by marriage), and hopes they’ve come without detection; Easar snorts and comments that if they’ve been seen they may as well turn back now. Shianri makes a cutting remark to this, implying cowardice, but Alesune counters that “foolhardiness is not courage,” pointing out that what they do could end with their heads on pikes even if they succeed, and meanwhile they’re leaving the Blight all but unguarded. Terasian comments that he’s never seen the Blight so quiet as it has been, but Jagad answers that “the Shadow never sleeps.” Ethenielle interjects that what she’s left behind will guard the Blight “short of the Trolloc Wars coming again,” and asks if any of them can really contemplate turning back now. Queen Tenobia Kazadi of Saldaea chooses this moment to gallop up dramatically (accompanied by one of her uncles, Kalyan Ramsin) and declare that she will not turn back for any reason; her dear Uncle Davram was supposed to bring her Mazrim Taim’s head, and instead has somehow ended up working with him under “this al’Thor,” and she intends to show Bashere and al’Thor both who rules Saldaea. Ethenielle exchanges sardonic looks with her advisors, and thinks Tenobia is going to be a problem. Ethenielle muses for a bit on why Tenobia has never gotten married:
Tenobia’s requirements for a husband were on a level with everything else about her. He must be able to face and slay a dozen Myrddraal at once. While playing the harp and composing poetry. He must be able to confound scholars while riding a horse down a sheer cliff. Or perhaps up it. Of course he would have to defer to her—she was a queen, after all—except that sometimes Tenobia would expect him to ignore whatever she said and toss her over his shoulder. The girl wanted exactly that! And the Light help him if he chose to toss when she wanted deference, or to defer when she wanted the other. She never said any of this right out, but any woman with wits who had heard her talk about men could piece it together in short order. Tenobia would die a maiden. Which meant her uncle Davram would succeed, if she left him alive after this, or else Davram’s heir.
Then she realizes Easar and Paitar are discussing Aes Sedai, and asks what about them; her own Aes Sedai advisor (Nianh) and Easar’s Aisling had both disappeared after receiving news of the trouble in the Tower. Paitar’s, however, had not left, and he confesses to them that not only does he have Coladara with him, but she’d just happened to have had seven more sisters visiting with her, and they’ve come along too. Ethenielle is aghast, and then Tenobia blithely adds that she has five more with her; they had run into Tenobia as she was traveling – by accident, Tenobia believes – and insisted on coming along (and their leader, Illeisien, was insistent that their presence be secret). Ethenielle is sure the White Tower knows their every move, then. Paitar is fatalistic about this.
“Further south,” Easar added, “it may be well to have thirteen Aes Sedai with us.” That brought a silence while the implications hung in the air. No one wanted to voice them. This was far different from facing the Blight.
Tenobia laughs and suggests they have dinner at her camp that night, and adds to Ethenielle that Kalyan would be honored to sit next to her at the meal. Ethenielle looks at Tenobia’s uncle and is shocked to see him looking at her as a woman, not a queen. Tenobia smirks, and Ethenielle is outraged at the woman’s blatant manipulation for a moment, but then has to ruefully admit to herself that she was playing matchmaker for her relatives when even younger than Tenobia. She looks at Kalyan again, and is not unpleased by what she sees, but turns the subject back to doing what they came for; this meeting had only one purpose, a ceremony that has only been performed seven times in the Borderlands since the Breaking, that would commit them “beyond anything words could do.” The four rulers move close to each other, and each slashes his or her palm.
Four hands reached out and met, gripped, heart’s blood mingling, dripping to the ground, soaking into the stony dirt. “We are one, to the death,” Easar said, and they all spoke with him. “We are one, to the death.” By blood and soil, they were committed. Now they had to find Rand al’Thor. And do what needed to be done. Whatever the price.
Verin leaves a weak and shivering Turanna (White) in her tent to poke her head out, feeling rather tired herself. In the vast Aiel camp outside, she sees another of the Aes Sedai prisoners hauling rocks, with a Wise One shielding her and Maidens switching her whenever she falters. Verin wonders if it’s coincidence that she sees that one, as she had come across Coiren earlier that day and Sarene Nemdahl the day before. Perhaps the Wise Ones want her to know that this could be her fate too; Verin has been unable to determine how their hierarchy works, though she thinks there might be an advantage in noting that no one ever ordered Sorilea around. Sorilea had demanded to know that morning what would shame Aes Sedai most; Kiruna and the others had not understood, but Verin has prepared a list she intends to give Sorilea later.
Life was going to grow much more difficult for the women in black. And her own efforts would be aided no end, with luck.
She tells one of the two Aiel guards outside that she’s done with Turanna, and asks that they send Katerine Alruddin to her next; she wants to deal with the sisters with no Warders first. One leaves, but the other stays to watch her, seeming to wait for her to make a mistake, but Verin thinks to herself that it had been “seventy-one years” since she had last made a serious mistake. Verin spots Irgain, formerly Green before Rand stilled her, grinding flour, and ducks back inside feeling sick to her stomach. She worries that Irgain was also a subtle message, and also worries what will happen if Sorilea decides to break her, Verin, before dismissing it as a useless worry. She vaguely comforts a despondent Turanna until two Wise Ones (Daviena and Losaine) enter the tent and link to shield Turanna; Verin frowns, sure that the Wise Ones had not known how to make a circle only a few days ago. Turanna is hauled out, and as Verin waits, she thinks about the disturbing appearance of Cadsuane Melaidhrin, accounting her both dangerous and unpredictable. The Wise One Aeron enters the tent, and Verin scrambles up to curtsy deeply, even though Aeron cannot channel at all, dropping her notebook. Aeron grabs it and criticizes coldly that it only contains notes about plants and such; Verin answers meekly that she likes to write down what she sees.
One day she would have to write out the cipher she used in her notebooks—a lifetime’s worth of them filled cupboards and chests in her rooms above the White Tower library—one day, but she hoped not soon.
Verin reports that she hasn’t learned much from the prisoners yet, but is sure she will; Aeron stares at her, and Verin remembers that she had said Aes Sedai have no honor. Verin is not afraid of Aeron – she has faced much worse – but she does not want to waste this opportunity, and strives to appear meek and compliant. Two Maidens bring in a sister Verin recognizes as Beldeine Nyram, a very young Aes Sedai, and Verin asks diffidently why she was not brought Katerine. One of the Maidens spits that Katerine escaped the night before.
“You let her escape?” she burst out without thinking. Tiredness gave no excuse, but the words spilled from her tongue before she could stop them. “How could you be so foolish? She’s Red! And neither a coward nor weak in the Power! The Car’a’carn could be in danger! Why were we not told of this when it happened?”
The Maiden answers that it wasn’t discovered till this morning, and Katerine had killed four people, including a Wise One, to do it; Aeron shuts her up, and tells Verin that though her concern for the Car’a’carn does her honor (reluctantly), an apprentice does not speak that way to a Wise One. Verin apologizes profusely, and the Maidens give Beldeine over to her. Aeron warns her not to mention Katerine’s escape to the Car’a’carn, as he has enough on his mind as it is. Verin agrees quickly, thinking perhaps a note would do, and Aeron leaves. Verin offers Beldeine wash-water and Healing, but Beldeine only spits at her for “revealing Tower secrets” to a bunch of savage wilders. Verin tsks irritably.
Who should know better than an Aes Sedai that a sister had to wear many faces in the world? You could not always overawe people, or bludgeon them, either. Besides, far better to behave as a novice than be punished like one, especially when it earned you only pain and humiliation. Even Kiruna had to see the sense of that eventually.
She offers water to Beldeine, and Beldeine observes bitterly than Verin’s dress is very nice, and tells her that the Aiel burned all her possessions except her Great Serpent ring, which she supposes even they didn’t dare destroy. She goes on that she knows what they intend to do: break the prisoners so that they will swear to al’Thor the way Verin did. She asks how Verin could do such a thing, accounting it even worse than rebelling against the Tower. Verin wonders briefly if it would have been better if all the prisoners had been caught up in the same “ta’veren swirl” as she had at Dumai’s Wells, but then thinks of how Kiruna et al are still arguing over what exactly their oath means, and decides it’s better this way. She explains to Beldeine what it means to the Aiel that she and the others are da’tsang, and that the purpose of their treatment was to shame them; Verin says she doesn’t think they would let them swear to al’Thor even if they wanted to. Beldeine is shaken by this, but not enough, so Verin prattles on, imagining out loud different ways they could humiliate her, which unnerves Beldeine more, but she replies stoutly that they will be rescued, or – Verin finishes, or escape? She’s afraid there’s no chance of that; Beldeine is all alone, but she can at least let Verin Heal her. This time Beldeine allows it, and after Healing Verin begins weaving something else:
Spirit predominated by far, but there was Wind and Water, Fire and Earth, the last of some difficulty for her, and even the skeins of Spirit had to be divided again and again, placed with an intricacy to boggle a weaver of fine carpets.
Beldeine asks groggily what she’s doing, and Verin reassures her that it is nothing that would harm her, though to herself she thinks Beldeine “might die inside the year, or in ten” because of this, but the weave itself wouldn’t hurt her. She questions Beldeine as she lays the complicated weave, trying to ascertain if Rand’s confidence that he had secret allies in the Tower is true, but Beldeine knows nothing about it. Beldeine insists on the necessity of keeping Rand “safe” in the Tower, but admits that she thinks his treatment after capture was “wrong.” Verin thinks “disastrous” was the better word for it, considering what it did to Rand’s opinion of Aes Sedai, and shudders to think of the consequences of a ta’veren of his strength actually being inside the Tower. Meanwhile she concentrates on her weaving, and thinks to herself that nearly every wilder who came to the Tower had a “trick,” something she did unconsciously with the Power before learning she could channel, and almost invariably those tricks fell into one of two categories: a way to eavesdrop, or a way to make other people do what they wanted. The Tower didn’t care much about the first, but the second was far too close to Compulsion for comfort, and the very impulse to even think of doing it was usually wrung out of any novice long before she attained the shawl.
From bits and pieces and scraps of half-remembered weaves created by untrained girls for very limited purposes, Verin had reconstructed a thing forbidden by the Tower since its founding. In the beginning it had been simple curiosity on her part. Curiosity, she thought wryly, working at the weave on Beldeine, has made me climb into more than one pickling kettle. Usefulness came later.
She thinks it is interesting that Beldeine is one of those sisters who seems to think that Rand needs to be protected from the world, as well as the other way around. She finishes her weave and activates it, and gives Beldeine her orders, though she knows that the weave is imperfect, and if Beldeine could not come up with reasons inside herself to obey, it wouldn’t work. As Beldeine thrashes from the effects, Verin muses that it’s a pity the weave also requires trust from the subject to work, since that means it’s very difficult to make it work on a man, few of whom ever trust Aes Sedai. Beldeine comes out of it, and has forgotten the whole thing; Verin goes to tell her guards that she’s done, and adds that Beldeine knocked over the water pitcher, which she knows will be passed on to the Wise Ones, and hopefully help speed Beldeine’s decision. She sees Irgain again, and asks the guards to bring her next.
How would her life have gone if she had not been so curious, Verin wondered. For one thing, she would have married Eadwin and remained in Far Madding instead of going to the White Tower. She would be long dead, for another, and the children she had never had, and her grandchildren, too.
[…] The pain in her muscles tomorrow would be a small penance for Beldeine’s suffering over that spilled water, but that was not why she did it, or even her curiosity, really. She still had a task. Somehow, she had to keep young Rand alive until it was time for him to die.
The furnishings in the windowless, doorless room are grand, but Moridin doesn’t care. He occasionally strokes one of the two mindtraps strung around his neck as he contemplates the game board before him, of a game called sha’rah, of which the most important piece is called the Fisher.
Only nine people living even remembered the game. He had been a master of it. […] The first object was capture of the Fisher. Only then did the game truly begin.
Of all the pieces, only the Fisher’s capabilities vary depending on where it is on the board, and when experts play, the Fisher switches sides many times in a game. Moridin thinks that there are generally three ways to win the game; two involve strategy, but the third always degenerates into a bloody melee, with total annihilation of your opponent the only way to win.
He had tried that, once, in desperation, but the attempt had failed. Painfully.
He is enraged suddenly, and almost crushes both the Fisher piece and the two mindtraps before easing off.
The Fisher was always worked as a man, a bandage blinding his eyes and one hand pressed to his side, a few drops of blood dripping through his fingers. The reasons, like the source of the name, were lost in the mist of time. That troubled him sometimes, enraged him, what knowledge might be lost in the turnings of the Wheel, knowledge he needed, knowledge he had a right to. A right!
He calms himself and thinks there is no need for destruction yet. Maybe the Fisher figure did come from a faint historical remembrance of Rand al’Thor, but he thinks it doesn’t matter, and realizes he is laughing.
On the board, the Fisher stood waiting, but in the greater game, al’Thor moved already to his wishes. And soon, now… It was very hard to lose a game when you played both sides of the board. Moridin laughed so hard that tears rolled down his face, but he was not aware of them.
Well, it’s a start!
Actually, as WOT Prologues go this one is pretty inoffensive. Only three scenes, and one of them a first-time-ever Verin POV, so that’s really not too shabby. So far, so good.
All three of these scenes are of a specific type, really, the kind Jordan does with any POV characters he wants the reader to be in doubt about. I always think of this type of POV as the “oblique POV”: you’re getting the character’s point of view, but it’s not necessarily going to lead you in the direction you ought to be going, or tell you what you want to know about the character’s motivations, or sometimes even let you know the character’s identity.
I am little undecided, myself, whether (in hindsight) I regard this type of POV to be clever, or just manipulative. Some of both, I suppose. One line in particular that jumps out at me in Verin’s scene, for example, is her thought to herself after she sends for Katerine Alruddin, that she wants to deal with the sisters with no Warders first. We know now that Verin knew Katerine was Black Ajah even before the revelation that she murdered people to escape (which, granted, isn’t absolute proof that she is Black per se, since she used poison instead of the Power to kill her victims and thus technically violated no Oaths, but it certainly is a pretty strong argument that she is, you know, evil). And yet in Verin’s thoughts, we only get the information that Katerine doesn’t have a Warder.
Which, first of all, duh, she’s Red, but in retrospect it’s a little much to suppose that Verin wouldn’t have also thought to herself, Oh, and also, she’s Black Ajah. But of course, to have Verin think that “out loud” at this point, so to speak, would be giving too much away to the reader; so she just… doesn’t think about it. So from a certain point of view (heh), in an oblique POV we’re not really in the character’s head at all.
So, does that make it awesome authorial sneakiness, or cheating? Give me your thoughts!
Either way, though, I think we can all agree on the awesome sneakiness of Verin herself.
But first, the Borderlander Conference of Ominous Vagueness. Okay, quick: without looking, name everyone at that meeting!
Yeah, that’s what I thought. Sheesh.
So obviously, this was written to make it seem like the Borderlanders are planning something Not Fun for Rand, with the thirteen sisters they happen to have with them to add a little extra Uh-Oh. However, the fact that they didn’t start out with those thirteen sisters indicates that the worst case scenario we’re all thinking of is clearly not what they were thinking of – at least not originally.
(As a side note, I’m sorry, but the name “Illeisien” has got to be violating some law about vowel-to-consonant ratio. Srsly.)
So what are they planning? Well, obviously I don’t know for sure, but I think I always assumed that the Ominous Ominosity of this scene was total misdirection on Jordan’s part, and really they just wanted to go find Rand and swear loyalty to him, maybe after shaking their finger at him a bit first. Even all that business about ending up with their heads on pikes can fit this scenario, when you consider that (if I’m right) this is four ruling monarchs agreeing to hand over all their sovereign authority to a guy destined to go crazy. From a certain viewpoint that could be considered treason to their respective nations, after all.
Of course, later events… well, actually I don’t know what later events indicate. The stuff with Elayne was pretty much completely extraneous – both in general (ooh) and in the specific sense of what the Borderlanders’ ultimate intentions were. I know that Rand later has a sort-of confrontation with them in TGS (if you count standing outside Far Madding and yelling Come out, come out or I’ll blow your house down!, and then… not doing that as a confrontation), but I don’t think that really cleared anything up either, since Rand was pretty much completely Crazypants at that point, and I probably would have run and hidden from him too, no matter what I eventually intended to do. If there was more to that scene I don’t remember it; I’ve only read TGS one and a half times, after all.
Ethenielle: I like her. (Though there seems to be some confusion about her surnames.) She comes across as being very down to earth and common sensical, which is always going to earn you points with me. Her and her advisors being all “Oh Lord” when Tenobia shows up was pretty funny, too.
Tenobia herself was amusing in an obnoxiously endearing kind of way. I have to assume that Ethenielle’s musings on Tenobia’s impossible husband standards (which was also funny) was a kind of indirect commentary on Faile’s also-occasionally-psychotic standards for Perrin. Or maybe it’s meant as a Could-Be-Woise panacea: if you think Faile’s bad, check out her loony cousin! In either case, I find myself agreeing with Ethenielle’s conclusion that Saldaeans are collectively all nutcases. Adorable nutcases (mostly), but nutcases.
And, of course, we also get the obligatory foreshadowing of Faile-n-Perrin’s enRoyalling. And… well, yeah. There it is. Still annoyed that Bashere has to die, though.
Next up, Verin!
Well. THIS is certainly different to read, post-TGS, eh? It certainly makes a hell of a lot more sense, that’s for sure. So much sense, in fact, that I’m not sure what to say about it that isn’t just stating the obvious, other than to paraphrase what someone on the newsgroup once said (quite presciently, it turns out): that Verin is not Black, exactly – just very dark Brown.
“Dippy, good-natured ruthlessness” is not a character trait I can honestly say I’ve come across that often, and I enjoy it quite a lot in Verin. I had to laugh at Verin’s blithe statement about whipping up a handy list of good humiliations for Aes Sedai to give to Sorilea, just for example. Not to mention, of course, her use of a very Dark Side tool – namely, Compulsion – to ultimately further the cause of the Light. Which, in a way, sums up Verin’s entire life, we now know. Slightly creepy, yet totally awesome: that’s Verin.
As a side note, I’m assuming the “cipher” Verin thinks about here is the same one she gave to Egwene for her Black Ajah notes; at least I hope it is, because in a geeky way I think it would be a terrible shame if all the other things Verin studied over the years was lost.
One other interesting thing in this scene is Beldeine. I remember many fans were rather excited at her appearance, since we assumed that this was the same Beldeine who was Egwene’s Keeper in her Accepted test vision way back in TDR. It seems, though, as of TGS we were wrong, since to date Egwene’s never even laid eyes on Beldeine, and has named Silviana to be her Keeper instead. Of course, there’s nothing to say things can’t change later, but, well. I suppose it’s not that important in the grand scheme of things, but one could regard it as a missed opportunity for symmetry, or synergy, or something.
(Jem is outrageous!)
Last but not least, Moridin and his Fake Chess of Symbolic Portent. The Fisher piece that Jordan introduces here is one of the most symbolically fraught items introduced in WOT, and that’s saying quite a lot, all things considered. There’s not a lot I can say about the legends it refers to that hasn’t been said already, and better, by others, so I will let them.
There was a bit of discussion in the comments, I saw, about whether Moridin’s musings here that the Fisher often changes hands in the course of the game means that his earlier statement to Rand that the Dragon has fallen to the Shadow before is correct, or if Rand’s later assertion in TGS that he knows he has never turned to the Dark Side in any incarnation is the truth.
Personally, I tend to think Rand is right, and Ishydin was lying. And though I also seem to recall someone coming up with a signing/interview quote from Jordan that proves me wrong, I have decided I don’t care, and am going with this notion unless and until it is definitively disproven in the text. Because Rand’s declaration just feels right, and nicely fits with my earlier also-possibly-already-disproven notion that the only way the Shadow can absolutely win is if the Dragon turns (as opposed to just dying).
Why? Because I like it, dammit. It is all symmetrical and nobly good-and-evil diametrical and stuff. And anyway, I have to be irrationally stubborn about SOME loony theory, don’t I? Well, here it is. Nyah!
And since childish petulance is the perfect note to end on, here’s where we stop! Have a fabulous weekend, guys and gals; those of you going to JordanCon have a grand time, and raise a glass on my behalf if you get a chance. See you next week!