Hey, kids. Welcome back to the Wheel of Time Re-read!
Today’s entry covers Chapter 5 of Knife of Dreams, in which, well. You’ll see.
Please note that this post contains discussion of a sensitive and controversial topic which tends to get people riled up and emotional. Therefore I ask that everyone exercise their usual respect and restraint in the comments discussing it. As always, constructive debate yay; ad hominem attacks and trollery, nay.
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!
Chapter 5: Something Strange
Faile serves Sevanna wine in her tent, and hopes that pretending to be tamed does not turn into actually being tamed; she frets that she will not escape in time to keep Perrin from getting himself killed trying to rescue her. Sevanna asks Therava how long she intends to continue beating Galina, and Therava tells her that as long as the bruises on Galina’s face last, the rest of her will be bruised as well. Faile tries not to look at Galina, who is naked and weeping on the floor, all of her hair singed off, and worries that the Aes Sedai might truly be broken now, and might blurt all her secrets to Therava regardless of whether Faile manages to get the rod from Therava’s tent. She further frets about the number of gai’shain who have sworn loyalty to her, and the increasing difficulty of keeping it all secret. Therava and Sevanna have meanwhile begun arguing about whether to move on or stay in Malden, and Therava taunts Sevanna about her mad plan to marry Rand al’Thor, even still.
[Therava:] “There is much feeling against staying here. Many of the sept chiefs press the red disc on their nar’baha every morning. I advise you to heed the Wise Ones.”
Nar’baha. That would mean “box of fools” or something very near. But what could this be? Bain and Chiad were still teaching her about Aiel ways, when they could find time, and they had never mentioned any such thing.
[…] “We remain here,” Sevanna said angrily, flinging her goblet to the carpets in a spray of wine. “I speak for the clan chief, and I have spoken!”
“You have spoken,” Therava agreed calmly. “Bendhuin, sept chief of the Green Salts, has received permission to go to Rhuidean. He left five days ago with twenty of his algai’d’siswai and four Wise Ones to stand witness.”
Faile has to leave the tent before she can hear more, and tells herself the struggle between Therava and Sevanna is not her concern. She heads to the gai’shain portion of the camp, and runs into the Wise One Meira on the way, who makes a comment about wondering if some “drunken fool had pulled [her] into a tent.”
“No one accosted me, Wise One,” Faile said quickly. Several had in the last few weeks, some drunk and some not, but Rolan always appeared in the nick of time. Twice the big Mera’din had had to fight to save her, and once he had killed the other man. She had expected nine kinds of uproar and trouble, but the Wise Ones judged it a fair fight, and Rolan said her name had never been mentioned. For all that Bain and Chiad insisted it went against all custom, assault was a constant danger for gai’shain women here. She was sure that Alliandre had been assaulted once, before she and Maighdin also acquired Mera’din shadows. Rolan denied having asked them to help her people. He said they were just bored and looking for something to do.
Meira commands her to report on Sevanna’s activities, which Faile dutifully does (preening and lounging, mostly), until she is interrupted:
[…] everything in front of her eyes rippled. She rippled! It was not imagination. Meira’s blue eyes widened as far as they could go; she had felt it, too. Again everything rippled, including herself, harder than before. In shock, Faile stood up straight and let go of her robe. A third time the world rippled, harder still, and as it passed through her, she felt as if she might blow away in a breeze, or simply dissipate in a mist.
Panting, Faile asks Meira what it was, but Meira doesn’t know, and hurries on her way. Everyone in the camp is upset, touching themselves to make sure they are still there. Faile goes to her tent to find Alliandre, who had been beaten for not pleasing Sevanna enough the day before and is deep in a black depression. Faile tries to cheer her, reassuring her that the ripples change nothing about their plans, until Aravine summons her to meet with Alvon and his son Theril, who are famous among the gai’shain for having run away three times and almost making it each time. Theril, it turns out, has managed to steal the rod from Therava’s tent, and he gives it to Faile, who quickly hides it up her sleeve.
It felt like glass, and was distinctly cool to the touch, cooler than the morning air. Perhaps it was an angreal or a ter’angreal. That would explain why Galina wanted it, if not why she had not taken it herself. Hand buried in her sleeve, Faile gripped the rod hard. Galina was no longer a threat. Now she was salvation.
She promises Alvon and Theril that even if she cannot take them with her in the initial escape, she will come back for them no matter what. Alvon scoffs, replying that he already knew Faile would not abandon them. Faile then sees that Rolan is standing there listening, and hurriedly sends the others away. Rolan comes up to her and tells her to be careful with her dangerous plan, as he might not be here to protect her much longer; the Mera’din are thinking of returning to the Three-Fold Land, as the Shaido have begun to sicken them. Faile pretends not to know what he is talking about with “dangerous plans”; Rolan starts putting flowers in her hair, and informs her that she plans to escape. She asks if he will tell on her, and he says no.
“Jhoradin thinks he will take Lacile Aldorwin back to the Three-fold Land with him even if she is a treekiller. He believes he may convince her to make a bridal wreath to lay at his feet.” Lacile had found her own protector by climbing into the blankets of the Mera’din who had made her gai’shain, and Arrela had done the same with one of the Maidens who had captured her, but Faile doubted that Jhoradin would attain his wish. Both women were focused on escape like arrows aimed at a target. “And now that I think on it, I may take you with me if we go.”
Faile tells him she loves her husband, but Rolan counters that whatever is done while in gai’shain white doesn’t count, and he intends to let her go afterwards, if they leave. Faile stares in shock, and begins punching him for letting her think he wouldn’t have helped her escape; he grins and tells her a man cannot seem “too eager.” Faile begins to laugh and cry at the same time, caught between trusting to Galina’s plan, or relying on Rolan, who might not even leave, and would continue trying to seduce her in the meantime. Later, she hides the rod and is glad she did, as Therava proceeds to turn the camp upside down looking for it.
All Faile could do was think about her hiding place inside the town and pray. Hope and danger, and no way to untangle them.
It doesn’t count. It doesn’t count. YOU GUYS, IT DOESN’T COUNT.
AHHAHAHAH *headdesk* HAHAHAHAHAHA ow.
*wipes tears* Oh my God, that is hilarious. That is horrible. It’s both. It’s hilarious and horrible. It’s hilarrible. It’s horrablious.
Seriously, are we in Vegas now? What happens in gai’shain white stays in gai’shain white? WTF, over?
Okay, okay, fine, I get it, whatever, but I’m sorry, that’s just so… heh. Gai’shain sex doesn’t count? Well, now it all makes sense! No kinks in Aiel culture, nosiree. Hahaha.
I’m glad this is amusing me, really, because it helps distract me from what fills most of the rest of this chapter, which is that as the Shaido degenerate culturally, life in Malden is becoming more and more like – well, like real life. Which is disturbing on more levels than just the obvious.
I’m… really kind of conflicted here on how I feel about this development, and I’ve been trying for literally hours to figure out how to express what I’m having a problem with here without either sounding too dismissive or overly… something about the whole thing. I’m still not sure I succeeded, but it’s already two o’clock in the morning and this thing has got to get posted, so here’s my best shot.
See, here’s the thing, and it’s kind of crazy I feel the need to state this up front, but anyway: I would be wildly, deliriously happy to live in a world where there was no rape. I would be thrilled beyond description to live in a world where women could live free of that constant, oppressive undercurrent of faint (or not so faint) threat, that nagging worry that infuriatingly and unavoidably borders almost every aspect of women’s lives, and informs so many decisions it should have absolutely nothing to do with, and yet does.
(Anyone who feels the impulse to argue this point, consider this: approximately one out of every six women in the United States will be the victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault in her lifetime. Don’t believe me? Look it up. Fear of rape isn’t paranoia, it’s playing the fucking odds.)
A world without that endless, draining, low-grade fear would be, and this is the understatement of the geological age, totally fucking awesome. And for the most part, up until this point this is more or less exactly the world Robert Jordan created in WOT.
Think about that for a moment.
It follows logically, you see: in a world where women are the dominant gender, rape of women as a commonplace crime – which is all about dominance and power, and targeting the weak, and rarely if ever actually about sex – would not exist. It can’t, not without making your entire worldbuilding thesis a big lie. And Jordan obviously realized this.
So sure, in Randland you might get robbed, or swindled, or murdered, or cooked in a Trolloc cookpot, or, you know, wiped out of existence in a fiery world-ending apocalypse… but raped, no. Not as an ordinary thing, the way it is in the real world. (And that last might be the single most depressing sentence I’ve ever typed, but that doesn’t make it any less true.)
Before this point, the only mention of rape in WOT as a common practice that I can recall is in reference to Myrddraal, various Forsaken, and Fain – which only proves the point. Basically, in Jordan’s world you had to be more or less literally a monster to even consider the notion.
Until this chapter. Well, until this storyline, but especially highlighted in this chapter.
And it’s awful. For the obvious reasons, for one, but also because it throws into sharp relief the fundamental problem that’s been there all along, which is that Jordan’s supposition of a mostly rape-free world is, sadly, completely unrealistic.
And that fucking sucks, not to put too fine a point on it.
Because again, in the end it’s about power. Yes, sure, in Randland any female channeler is automatically the most powerful person in the room (until the Asha’man showed up, anyway), and thus more than able to live free of fear of all but the most extraordinary assault, but it’s really never been adequately explained why that immunity washes over onto the 95% of women in Randland who can’t channel.
The problem is that Jordan, to all appearances, made the decision to have certain things simply not exist in Randland, without really addressing any of the logistical issues involved with making them disappear. The most glaring omission (often pointed out by fans) is the total lack of any organized religious institutions, but this one in my opinion runs a close second.
And I’ve always been extremely divided on how I feel about this in my own mind. On the one hand, I love it, and want to compare it to the kind of deliberate artistic statement characterized by practices like color-blind casting: don’t like the world the way it is? Pretend it isn’t that way, until it really isn’t. Perception as a projection of a wished-for reality, or something. If life isn’t fair, let art be, right?
So the idealist in me thinks it’s great. The cynical part of me, on the other hand, is forced to observe that rape, or the threat of it, is an evil so endemic and pervasive in women’s lives that it must be considered one of the single greatest factors preventing gender equality in the world today, and that perhaps achieving fictional gender parity by simply disappearing the issue, without even attempting to provide a rationale for how such a thing would be accomplished, is, well, maybe a little bit cheap.
Either way, though, it seems like the better artistic choice would have been to stick with the decision once made, and not call attention to it so sharply by having events go this way in Malden, where every single patriarchal stereotype in existence, practically, seems to be all of a sudden rearing its head, in total blithe disregard of what went before, and by extension casting all that went before it into doubt. Which, as I might have already mentioned, really fucking sucks.
Have I also mentioned that I really bloody loathe this storyline?
Okay, I really was going to lighten things up after all that with a nice Mat chapter, but unfortunately I am about to die and it’s just not going to happen. However, if you all promise to play nice in the comments, I’ll promise in return to get you three, count ’em THREE whole chapters of Mat for next week. How about them apples, eh? I thought you’d like that! So be excellent in commentage, people, and I will see you next Tuesday!