What ho, WOTrians! Welcome back to the Wheel of Time Re-read! I hope you have enjoyed my “vacation”; I didn’t particularly, but, well.
Today’s entry starts a brand new novel, Winter’s Heart, and will be covering Part 1 of the Prologue, because ye gods and little fishes this thang is lengthy.
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 all that is fit to print above the cuttin’ line, so click on to read the rest!
So, Winter’s Heart.
I haven’t read it in years, but WH sticks in my mind as an oasis of goodness in between the depressery of TPOD and the gerbil exercise-wheelity of COT. It will be interesting to see if the Re-read of the book bears this impression out.
(“Wheelity”? Look, I don’t know.)
I think it probably will, though, because I’ve come to realize that my judgments on whether I like something, be it a movie, book, or whatever, tend to be based more on how much I like the parts of it, and less on the sum of those parts. In other words, ACOS is my favorite WOT book basically because it has my most favorite part of the series in it (and a bunch of other awesome parts too), and that seems (in my mind) to often outweigh whatever flaws (*cough*Cadsuane*cough*) the novel had as a whole.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m even more thrilled when the entire kit and caboodle is awesome, as well, but I’m willing to extend a lot of leeway to a work that may not be fantabulous in every last aspect, but still manages to bang that kneecap of Awesome at least once or twice. This is, for example, why I am not able to hate the first Transformers movie; to me, it was pretty much worth it just for Optimus Prime’s introduction scene, which was pure Peter Cullen-y grinning nostalgia fun, and never mind all the rest of it. (It wasn’t quite enough to induce me to go see the second film, true, but anyway.)
So, to veer back on topic, I’m pretty sure I will like WH just fine this time around simply because I know that there are at least three scenes waiting patiently just ahead, idling tapping their tendon hammer until I get there. (Yay!)
So, that’s what that is. And now, let’s get on to the first part of the long-ass Prologue, and some ominous ominosity to start!
The seals that hold back the night shall weaken, and in the heart of winter shall winter’s heart be born amid the wailing of lamentation and the gnashing of teeth, for winter’s heart shall ride a black horse, and the name of it is Death.
—from The Karaethon Cycle: The Prophecies of the Dragon
Prologue: Snow [Part 1]
Seaine watches the door of the basement room, and tries to distract herself from what is going on behind her by thinking about the rats that had inexplicably appeared in the Tower, and then about the mysterious meetings between the Ajah Heads, but Talene’s crying and moaning won’t be blocked out, and reluctantly Seaine turns around. Doesine is operating the ter’angreal they are using on Talene, which is called the Chair of Remorse.
Criminals caught in Tar Valon were brought down here to experience the Chair of Remorse, to experience carefully selected consequences of their crimes. On release, they invariably fled the island. There was very little crime in Tar Valon. Queasily, Seaine wondered whether this was anything like the use the Chair had been put to in the Age of Legends.
Seaine asks what she’s experiencing, and Doesine replies hoarsely that she’s being flogged by Trollocs; Yukiri is worried that it’s taking her so long to break, and frets that if they’re wrong they’ll all be unchaired and exiled, possibly stilled. Pevara snaps at her that not even “stupid Green Ajah pride” would be enough reason for Talene to refuse to reswear the First Oath after all the rest had done it. Saerin shuts them both up by dryly observing it’s too late to go back anyway, and Seaine is disgruntled that Saerin has taken such complete charge; her own standing in the group is low now that Sitter’s rights no longer applied. They bring Talene out of it, gasping and shuddering, and Pevara tries to make her take the Oath Rod, but Talene still recoils. Saerin threatens not to stop the vision before Talene lands in the cookpot this time, and they’ll repeat it “until summer” if necessary. Sobbing, Talene accepts the Rod, and forswears all the oaths that bind her. She screams in agony, convulses and then collapses; everyone but Pevara is shaken, who orders Talene to reswear the Three Oaths again, plus the extra one to obey the five of them absolutely and Talene obeys, shaking. Saerin asks her if she is Black Ajah, and Talene answers that she is.
The simple words froze Seaine in a way she had never expected. She had set out to hunt the Black Ajah, after all, and believed in her quarry as many sisters did not. She had laid hands on another sister, on a Sitter, had helped bundle Talene along deserted basement hallways wrapped in flows of Air, had broken a dozen Tower laws, committed serious crimes, all to hear an answer she had been nearly certain of before the question was asked. Now she had heard. The Black Ajah really did exist. She was staring at a Black sister, a Darkfriend who wore the shawl. And believing turned out to be a pale shadow of confronting. Only her jaw clenched near to cramping kept her teeth from chattering. She struggled to compose herself, to think rationally. But nightmares were awake and walking the Tower.
Pevara opines that they should get everything they can out of Talene before handing her over to Elaida, and Talene says if they do they are all dead, because Elaida is Black Ajah. Seaine, Doesine, and Yukiri are all horrified, but Pevara points out that just because Talene believes it doesn’t mean it’s true, and Saerin asks Talene if she has proof. Talene replies sullenly that she doesn’t, but that the Supreme Council knows every report Elaida receives and every decree and decision she makes, sometimes weeks in advance, so how else would they know? She pleads with them to flee the Tower and hide, and Seaine wonders if maybe Elaida hadn’t actually meant her to hunt down the Black Ajah. Saerin, though, opines that while Elaida is a fool, she doesn’t believe she’s Black, and Pevara agrees. Yukiri points out that nevertheless, they have to decide what to do with Talene before she’s missed. Saerin considers, and declares that they can’t go to Elaida until they can take down the Black “in one blow,” but is worried about how to do that with so few. Pevara reluctantly prompts Seaine to tell the others about Zerah and the ferrets. As the others argue about whether to use them or not, Seaine goes to the corner and throws up.
Elayne sits with Birgitte and Dyelin in the Palace, and tries not to be annoyed that Nynaeve and Vandene are not there. She knows that both are very busy, Nynaeve with planning how to retrieve the rest of the Kin out of Seanchan-controlled territory, and Vandene with secretly hunting for the Darkfriend in their midst, but Elayne wishes that she had the advantage of their counsel. She tells Birgitte and Dyelin that they will have to hire mercenaries and Hunters of the Horn to flesh out the men Birgitte is recruiting; normally Birgitte and Dyelin are “oil and water,” but this time they agree that this is a bad idea. Dyelin points out that mercenaries are loyal only to gold, and difficult to control, and Birgitte (who is still annoyed that Elayne had both ennobled her and made her Captain of the Queen’s Guard), growls that Hunters aren’t much better, and liable to take off if they hear a rumor about the Horn.
The Warder bond carried what Elayne had been sensing all morning. Frustration, irritation, determination. Some of that might have been a reflection of herself, though. They mirrored one another in surprising ways since the bonding, emotionally and otherwise. Why, her courses had shifted by more than a week to match the other woman’s!
Elayne counters that the situation is dire, and they know it; the Guard is a shell of its former self, and with the Saldaeans and Aiel leaving the city, order is growing more and more difficult to maintain. To herself, she thinks that if she can’t even control the capital she might as well announce publicly that she’s unfit to rule. Birgitte and Dyelin want to argue further, but Elayne declares the discussion over, and they acquiesce grudgingly; Elayne can’t help but wonder if Dyelin is only waiting till Elayne bungles everything to step in herself, and is grateful for the lessons in Daes Dae’mar she learned from Thom and the Aes Sedai in Salidar. She tells Birgitte that by spring, she wants the Guards to be an army “equal to anything ten Houses can put in the field.” Dyelin does a spit-take, and Birgitte nearly panics.
“Oh, burn me, Elayne, you can’t mean…! I’m an archer, not a general! That’s all I’ve ever been, don’t you understand yet? I just did what I had to do, what circumstances forced on me! Anyway, I’m not her, anymore; I’m just me and…!” She trailed off, realizing she might have said too much. Not for the first time. Her face went crimson as Dyelin eyed her curiously.
Elayne realizes Birgitte’s mortification is making her blush, and curses the inconvenience of the mirroring effect of their bond. Making herself be calm, she tells Dyelin that she has three declared challengers, and three more Houses support one or the other of them; of the nineteen Houses that matter, therefore, six are already against her, and she only has two. She doesn’t mention the three Houses that have already all but declared for Dyelin (Carand, Renshar, and Coelan), grateful that Egwene has them bogged down in Murandy for the moment. Dyelin doesn’t mention them either, but is sure that Luan Norwelyn, Ellorien Traemane and Abelle Penshar will come over to Elayne, and argues that this is not a Succession, but Elayne’s plan with the Guards may make it into one. Elayne shoots back that even if those three come to her, it’s still five to six, and in her opinion they won’t do anything until the matter is settled one way or the other anyway.
Light, most people were sure Rand had killed her mother, and few believed that “Lord Gaebril” had been one of the Forsaken. Mending the damage Rahvin had done in Andor might take her entire lifetime even if she managed to live as long as the Kinswomen! Some Houses would stand aside from supporting her because of the outrages Gaebril had perpetrated in Morgase’s name, and others because Rand had said he intended to “give” her the throne. She loved the man to her toes, but burn him for giving voice to that! Even if it was what reined in Dyelin. The meanest crofter in Andor would shoulder his scythe to pull a puppet from the Lion Throne!
Elayne continues that Dyelin may not consider it a Succession, but Naean, Elenia, and Arymilla certainly do, and the only way to prevent Andoran fighting Andoran is for Elayne to be so strong they don’t dare attack her. Not to mention, Elayne has no intention of letting the Seanchan have Andor either, which is another reason they must have this army. Dyelin is backing down when suddenly Birgitte declares with relief that Gawyn can take command when he gets here.
“Mother’s milk in a cup!” Elayne snapped, and lightning flared in the windows for emphasis. Why did the woman have to change the subject now? Dyelin gave a start, and heat flooded back into Elayne’s face. By the older woman’s gaping mouth, she knew exactly how coarse that curse was.
Elayne assures Birgitte that he will come, and thinks that she needs him desperately with Birgitte so convinced she can’t command anything. They are interrupted by Renaile din Calon and Zaida din Parede (Wavemistress of Clan Catelar and ambassador from the Mistress of the Ships to Rand), who barge in unannounced. Elayne tries to fob them off till later, but Renaile curtly declares that Elayne has been avoiding her, and she wants the rest of her bargain fulfilled, now. Zaida adds that Elayne had promised twenty teachers, but so far has delivered only one, and Elayne notices that Merilille has entered as well, looking permanently startled. Dyelin growls at them to watch their tone, and that their bargain will be fulfilled in good time. Renaile begins to threaten her, but Zaida shuts her up with a snap of her fingers; Elayne sees how that grates on Renaile, and wishes she could think of a way to exploit that to keep them out of her hair. Elayne calmly turns her back on them and says that the bargain will be fulfilled, but it takes time to gather nineteen more sisters. She suggests in the meantime they Travel to their people in Tear to help them against the Seanchan, but Zaida counters that they must stay here until they can meet with Rand al’Thor. Casually, she remarks that there are five other sisters already in the Palace; perhaps some of them might teach.
“Oh, yes, that would be wonderful,” Merilille burst out, taking a step forward. Then she glanced at Renaile and subsided, a blush suffusing her Cairhienin paleness. Folding her hands at her waist once more, she snatched meekness around herself like a second skin. Birgitte shook her head in amazement. Dyelin stared as if she had never seen the Aes Sedai before.
Elayne agrees cautiously that something might be worked out, but for no more than a few hours a day; Zaida formally accepts her words, and Elayne blinks at having it taken as a formal bargain. Reene Harfor enters to tell Elayne that Mazrim Taim has arrived, and then Taim and two other Asha’man (one leering, one sneering) come in uninvited right on her heels. Instantly, Elayne embraces saidar and links with Merilille; to her surprise, Renaile joins the circle too. The men sense it, and Taim’s lackeys grow angry, but Taim points out to them that there are only two Aes Sedai; Elayne realizes he doesn’t know Renaile can channel, and wonders if three makes a difference. Reene Harfor mutters about “sneaking rats” and then realizes everyone heard her, blushes, and tells Elayne that there are rats in the storerooms, very odd for this time of year, and she will see about getting rid of them.
“Stay,” Elayne told her coolly. Calmly. “Vermin can be dealt with in due time.” […] Walk in on her without so much as a by-your-leave, would they? “You can show these goodmen out when I’m done with them.” Taim’s companions scowled at being called “goodmen,” but the man himself merely flashed another of those almost-smiles. He was quick enough to know she had been thinking of him when she spoke of vermin. Light! Maybe Rand had needed this man once, but why would he keep him now, and in a position of such authority? Well, his authority counted for nothing here.
Elayne sits, facing away from Taim, and Dyelin, Birgitte and Zaida take up deceptively casual positions nearby. Elayne remarks on Taim’s tardiness in answering her summons, and Taim comments in return that he sees she’s taken down the Dragon banners, and the Saldaeans and Aiel are leaving. He wonders what “he” will say when he finds out.
“And after he’s sent you a gift, too. From the south. I’ll have it delivered later.”
Elayne replies coldly that Andor is the Dragon Reborn’s ally, not his conquest, and if Rand objects, she will deal with him. Taim raises a suggestive eyebrow, and she curses herself for using Rand’s name. Moving on, she informs Taim that no one gave him permission to wall in four miles of Andor, and she will cut off his local food supply (forcing them to Travel for all their food) if Taim does not allow the Queen’s Guards the same access as they have everywhere in Andor. Taim doubts that she could do anything further than ten miles from Caemlyn anyway, but he is willing to allow “controlled” visits, as he wouldn’t want any “accidents.” Elayne wonders if that’s meant to be a veiled threat, and suddenly realizes her fury and Birgitte are each amplifying the other’s, and forces it down with difficulty. She tells Taim that the Guards will visit every day, and she might come herself with some sisters; nothing is to be hidden.
Taim’s bow was mocking—mocking!—but there was a tightness in his voice. “I understand you perfectly. Understand me, though. My men are not farmers knuckling their foreheads when you pass. Press an Asha’man too hard, and you may learn just how strong your law is.”
Elayne opened her mouth to tell him exactly how strong the law was in Andor.
“It is time, Elayne Trakand,” a woman’s voice said from the doorway.
“Blood and ashes!” Dyelin muttered. “Is the whole world just going to walk in here?”
So, in all honesty, the first thing that came to mind upon reading this Prologue had nothing directly to do with the content at all, but rather with the controversy at the time over how it was marketed.
Previous to the release of Winter’s Heart, it had been Tor’s tradition to post the prologue of the upcoming WOT book online as a free preview. “Snow,” by contrast, was the first of the WOT Prologues to be sold as an e-book instead. Which, naturally, completely outraged the fanbase. And I was initially going to be derisive about that, but some poking around in Ancient Internet History brought me the surprising information (even though I obviously must have known it at the time) that upon initial release, “Snow” was being sold for $5.00 a pop.
Not to put too fine a point on it, that’s bonkers. Even for a monster of a prologue like this one, the sheer length of which (amounting to 10% of the entire novel, if I’m not mistaken) leads me to suspect was part of the reasoning behind the decision to start charging for the prologues rather than releasing them for free in the first place. It’s even wackier when you consider that full-length novel ebooks are being sold nowadays for an average of about seven to nine dollars, give or take. So, perhaps the outrage was not all that misplaced, at that.
But in defense of… whoever made this decision (and it was probably not Tor, as the rights had been sold to Simon & Schuster), the commercial ebook Thing was a brand spanking new concept back in 2000, and like any emerging market there was initially an enormous amount of debate/controversy/bitchslap fights over how much it should cost the consumer. Of course, “initially” is rather silly to say, since everyone’s still fighting about it ten years later, but the misty beginnings of the ebook Drama were particularly histrionic in this respect.
“Snow” is just a typical example of this. And to their credit, the Powers That Be seemed to accept in retrospect that charging five bucks a Prologue was… overenthusiastic, shall we say, and subsequent WOT Prologues have been much more reasonably priced.
(To the inevitable protestations of “but we shouldn’t have to pay for it AT ALL!,” I say that (a) well, you don’t have to, actually, and (b) enh. And then mumble something educated-sounding about demand and supply/what the market will bear/economic theory stuff, and move on.)
I can’t honestly remember if I paid the five bucks to read the WH Prologue ahead of time or not; I know I did for at least one of the latter four books, but I’m not sure whether WH was one of them. All things considered, I kind of hope I didn’t.
ANYWAY, onward, to the actual Prologue.
The Karaethon Cycle: not fluffy bedtime reading, apparently. You know when people start bringing up teeth-gnashing that things are going to get nasty. As a side note, I have never seen anyone actually gnash their teeth, but the image is deeply cringe-inducing. Ow, my enamels.
Also, nice sidewise shoutout to the Book of Revelation there, as is only right and proper in any self-respecting apocalyptic thingy. Though in the Biblical version, of course, the black horse belongs to Famine, not Death. (Death rides a pale horse.) But, you know, in the end it kind of amounts to the same thing if it goes on long enough. And it’s a nice harbinger of the whole decay/rotting food/vermin thing coming up, which we see right here in the Prologue, with the first mentions of rats in the Tower and in the Caemlyn Palace. Ick.
There was debate, as I recall, over who exactly is supposed to be “winter’s heart” riding that black horse, and again, even though a case can be made that it is Rand (who does literally ride a black horse, after all), I don’t really think it’s meant to be anyone in particular, but rather more of an abstract personification—the same as I thought with “Lord of Chaos.” However, my case against is weakened by a quote I remember finding from somewhere in an earlier book (possibly TPOD), where Rand specifically thinks to himself that he has to become “winter’s heart,” so there’s that. On the other hand, some of the things that actually happen in WH contradict the whole “frozen heart” thing rather strongly, so I dunno, really.
Seaine’s POV, I find I don’t have a lot to say about. That Talene is Black Ajah is no more than a confirmation of what we knew at the end of their last scene in TPOD, and since we know her belief that Elaida is Black is totally erroneous, there’s really not much to do with that either. I’m pleased that the Black Ajah Hunters are well on their way, though I’m still less than thrilled that they are apparently all on board with putting Zerah and Co. into what amounts to indentured servitude. I have to admit, though, that I would possibly be much more sanguine about this decision if I weren’t in the position of believing that Zerah and the other ferrets are on the “right” side. Maybe that makes me a hypocrite? Not sure.
Andoran Succession, Part Deux (or something): I had to look up a chart of the Andoran noble houses in order to keep this conversation straight, which makes me wonder how on earth anyone reads this series sometimes without the Internets to help them, because damn. But, if it was easy to follow it wouldn’t have sounded like politics, so in that respect I must give Jordan kudos.
Speaking of the Internets, the thing that most struck me about this scene was a comment that someone (possibly Rich Boyé) made on the newsgroup about Elayne’s intention to increase the Guards to an army “greater than any ten Houses.” Which was, that no nation in the series has a national standing army, owing allegiance solely to the state; and that as a historical side-note, the decision to fashion such an army has always been the death knell for the feudal system.
This is something of a simplification—historically feudalism declined for other reasons (mostly economic) as well—but the replacement of sworn vassals “loaned” by nobles to the crown with mercenaries paid directly (and loyal directly) to the state is unquestionably a huge factor in that change, in Europe at least. So in that sense Elayne’s decision marks the harbinger of a sea-change for Randland just as much as Rand’s proto-universities do.
Mirror bond effect: mostly interesting to me in that it casually brought up the issue of menstruation, for the first time in ten books. I’m not really implying this as criticism, but I did find it somewhat amusing confirmation that Jordan is male. Because believe me, if you’re a non-menopausal adult woman on months-long, continent-crossing, sleeping-rough journeys, as many of our main characters are or have been, menstruation is not a casual afterthought. I’m just saying.
It’s difficult, I admit, not to get annoyed with Elayne for the way she harps on how Rand cannot “give” her the throne, but she has a legitimate point if the statement will genuinely undermine her ability to take power. And really, there’s no reason (other than catty ones) to suppose Elayne doesn’t know what she’s talking about on this score, so I think Elayne has cause to be irate. Yet another reason why I’m glad I never went into politics, where one badly-chosen word or phrase can haunt you for the rest of your life.
Mother’s milk in a cup: For the first time in this re-read, I am forced to resort to an emoticon, and it is this one: o.O
That is all.
Sea Folk: Worst houseguests EVER. Ugh. Though I do give Renaile and Zaida small props (small!) for presenting a united front against Taim and Lackeys.
Taim: When Elayne wonders why Rand gives the man such authority, I was all EXACTLY, THANK YOU. Taim is so long overdue to blow up in Rand’s face (possibly literally) it isn’t even funny. ToM, perhaps? We Shall See!
Oddly enough, it hadn’t really occurred to me until Elayne brings it up here that the Black Tower is on Andoran land. I see the logic of putting it near a major capital in terms of supplies and such (though I’m a little unclear on why having to do everything via Traveling is the burden Elayne and Taim evidently agree it is), but it’s just kind of funny when you consider Randland is riddled with vast swathes of land that are completely unclaimed by any nation. And if any organization would be able to take advantage of the isolation that affords, it would be this one, wouldn’t you think? Oh, well. Maybe they just didn’t want to be lonely!
And scene. My, what a lovely cliff we’re hanging off of here, don’t you think? Why don’t you take a few days to contemplate its, er, cliffiness? Excellent, I’ll be back on Friday to pick you up. Don’t let go, now! Hang in there! Ha, lookit, I made a funny. Bye-ee!