It’s the Wheel of Time Re-read, yo! Hollah!
Today’s entry covers Chapters 11 and 12 of Knife of Dreams, in which we weird language, deconstruct density, and invade California, at least theoretically.
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 11: A Hell in Maderin
The circus sets out the following day in a hurry to put distance between them and the ghost village, and Mat worries about Tuon’s broody silence until they reach the town of Maderin. Selucia comes to summon Mat to see Tuon while the circus folk set up, and Mat deliberately takes his time responding. In her wagon, Tuon demands to see an inn or tavern, as she has never been to one. Mat agrees easily, but then Tuon specifies that it must be a “low place,” what they call a hell. Mat is appalled, as he knows very well how dangerous hells can be.
“It’s out of the question, Precious. I walk into a hell with a woman like you, and I’ll be in six knife fights inside the hour, if I survive that long.”
Tuon gave a pleased smile. Just a flicker, but definitely pleased. “Do you really think so?”
“I know so for a fact.” Which produced another brief smile of delight. Delight! The bloody woman wanted to see him in a knife fight!
He and Tuon fight over the idea until Thom enters, whereupon Mat asks him sarcastically if he knows a hell in Maderin he can take Tuon to, but to his surprise Thom suggests a place called The White Ring. Mat quickly figures out that this place isn’t a hell at all, and agrees. Thom questions the guards at the gate as they enter the town, and determines from their answers that they don’t resent the Seanchan presence, and are unlikely to fight them.
Thom exhaled heavily. “It’s very strange. I’ve found the same everywhere from Ebou Dar to here. These outlanders come, take charge, impose their laws, snatch up women who can channel, and if the nobles resent them, very few among the common people seem to. Unless they’ve had a wife or relation collared, anyway. Very strange, and it bodes ill for getting them out again. But then, Altara is Altara. I’ll wager they’re finding a colder reception in Amadicia and Tarabon.” He shook his head. “We had best hope they are, else ” He did not say what else, but it was easy to imagine.
Mat glanced at Tuon. How did she feel hearing Thom talk about her people so? She said nothing, only walked at his side peering curiously at everything from the shelter of her cowl.
They reach the inn, and Selucia and Tuon have a short fight in sign language which Tuon wins before they go in. It definitely is not a hell, though there’s a girl singing a bawdy song. Doubtfully, Tuon goes off to inspect the singer, and Mat tells Thom that she’ll never buy that this is a hell; Thom counters that Tuon is more sheltered in some ways than Mat thinks, and is proved right when Tuon returns and pronounces herself satisfied. Tuon orders ale, which she has never had, and asks the innkeeper if there’s any chance of a fight soon. Mat admonishes her that she shouldn’t ask questions like that.
Tuon nodded thoughtfully. “Your customs are often very peculiar, Toy. You will have to teach me about them. I have learned some, but I must know the customs of the people I will rule in the name of the Empress, may she live forever.”
“I’ll be glad to teach you what I can,” Mat said, unpinning his cloak and letting it fall carelessly over the low back of his chair. “It will be good for you to know our ways even if you end up ruling a sight less than you expect to.”
Mat makes fun of another of her superstitions, and in retaliation Tuon comments that maybe instead of a cupbearer she’ll make him a running groom, with robes decked in pink ribbons. Mat realizes from this that Tylin must have confided in her, and flushes. She questions him on customs, and determines from his answers that he has traveled widely, but is not nobly born; Mat agrees emphatically, and Tuon studies him before demanding he prove his earlier statement about being a gambler. Mat consents, and leads her over to one of the dice games. He notes in passing that one of the players goes stiff when he asks to join, and leaves shortly thereafter. Enjoying himself, Mat plays with his usual luck, explaining the game to Tuon as he goes, until half the patrons are gathered around to watch as his winnings grow. He notes that his fellow players are starting to get suspicious, though, and buys a round for the house before declaring his next toss will be his last. It comes up the Dark One’s Eyes, and Mat loses back almost everything he’d won up till then, to the delight of his opponents.
“So your luck is not endless, Toy,” Tuon said as he escorted her back to their table. “Or is it that you are lucky only in small things?”
“Nobody has endless luck, Precious. Myself, I think that last toss was one of the luckiest I’ve ever made.” He explained about the Taraboner woman’s suspicions, and why he had bought wine for the whole common room.
At the table, he held her chair for her, but she remained standing, looking at him. “You may do very well in Seandar,” she said finally.
She and Selucia head off to use the facilities, and Thom tells him then about a murder in Jurador he’d heard about right around when they’d left: a man with his throat ripped out, but not enough blood, which Mat realizes must be the gholam, and that it is still following him. Thom also tells him there is a Seanchan army gathered on the Murandy border, who are looking for not Tuon, but a Tuon imposter, and intend to kill her the moment they find her. Mat agrees with Thom that they can’t take the chance that these Seanchan will realize their mistake in time to keep from getting the real Tuon killed, and he starts making plans to leave the circus and find a route north or east instead. He hustles Tuon and Selucia out when they return, and explains the situation once they are outside. Tuon speculates coolly on which of her siblings might be behind this, and Selucia makes a comment that makes Tuon turn on her in a fury; Selucia prostrates herself, and they have a sign language exchange which ends in hugging and tears. They are interrupted when a group of armed men attack them; Mat shouts for Tuon to run and counterattacks with knives, killing two of the men instantly and closing with the others. He takes down all but the last of them, who proves to be a woman. He defends himself, but refuses to attack, and knows he’s about to die.
Abruptly Tuon was there, left hand seizing the young woman’s wrist—not the wrist of her knife hand, worse luck—twisting so the arm went stiff and the girl was forced to double over. And then it mattered not at all which hand held her knife, because Tuon’s right hand swept across, bladed like an axe, and struck her throat so hard that he heard the cartilage cracking. Choking, she clutched her ruined throat and sagged to her knees, then fell over still sucking hoarsely for breath.
“I told you to run,” Mat said, not sure which of the two he was addressing.
“You very nearly let her kill you, Toy,” Tuon said severely. “Why?”
“I promised myself I’d never kill another woman,” he said wearily. His blood was beginning to cool, and Light, he hurt! “Looks like I’ve ruined this coat,” he muttered, fingering one of the blood-soaked slashes. The motion brought a wince. When had he been gashed on the left arm?
Her gaze seemed to bore into his skull, and she nodded as if she had come to some conclusion.
Thom makes an odd comment to Selucia about being old and forgetful of things he sees sometimes; Selucia nods to him, and Mat has no idea what that’s about. Tuon coolly stabs the choking female brigand, and comments that she won: Mat said her name first. Mat is astounded anew at her toughness. He realizes one of the dead brigands is the man who left the dice game earlier at the inn; he doesn’t understand why a respectable merchant would attack them like this, but decides not to stick around to find out. He tells the others that they are leaving the town, and the show, immediately.
I really don’t understand why I find it completely impossible to compress these summaries more. It’s incredibly annoying.
Well, no, I do know why, and it’s because Jordan’s prose is almost absurdly dense, and has only gotten more so as the series has gone on. Even once you cut out all the (for my purposes) extraneous descriptive passages, you still have to deal with all the rest of it, and I say again: DENSE. Robert Jordan prose :: Brazilian rainforest, for reals.
Jordan, you see, is rarely content to let a sentence say one thing when it can say four, especially when it comes to interactions between characters. So it’s all, as you have no doubt noticed, twisty turny nuances and layers and shades of meaning and significant eyebrow twitches and telling silences and whatnot. And that’s all very fun and meaty and rich to read, but I’m here to tell you it is a bitch to summarize in a way that still makes the whole thing make sense. My own tendency toward verbosity probably doesn’t help either.
Yes, my life is a vale of tears, I know. Woe, woe, etc.
Anyway. I am not really meaning this as a criticism, by the way, at least not as a reader, because for my money I’d honestly prefer complex and subtle to simplistic and snappy, even when it’s frustrating. Because I can believe in character interactions that are complicated and frustrating. Which, erm, probably says something about me, and I am distinctly uninterested in examining what it is.
It’s kind of adorable that Mat completely misses the reason Tuon looks pleased about his comment about getting into a knife fight at the beginning of the chapter. It’s not because she wants to see him get into a fight (well, okay, it’s not totally because she wants to see him in a fight, because she so does), it’s because he said it would be because he walked in with a woman like her. Apparently Mat doesn’t even realize the compliment he paid her there, which is, as I said, adorable, even with the caveman-like behavior it assumes on the part of men in general. Well, men in “low places,” anyway. Which I would label as rather sexist (not to mention classist) on Mat’s part except for how, well, it’s pretty much true. Even in supposedly-more-enlightened Randland, apparently.
I think I speak for a fair number of women when I say it’s rather confusing when we find men’s more caveman-like tendencies to be endearing instead of the much more common opposite. As usual, though, it always ends up being a question of degree. Protectiveness is nice; possessiveness, not so much. Of course, that applies to any relationship, romantic or otherwise, opposite gender or otherwise. And, I kind of lost track of the point I was making, there.
Re: Thom’s comments on the common people’s acceptance of the Seanchan presence: I think I’ve commented on this before (really, at this point there isn’t much I haven’t commented on regarding WOT), but I find this aspect of the Seanchan occupation to be alternately believable and unbelievable. It’s believable because I think it’s undeniably true that when it comes standing on principle versus taking the path of least resistance, people have a regrettable tendency to choose the latter. And maybe it’s not even regrettable so much as it is a survival mechanism, even.
But then again, I can’t help translating the situation into my own terms, thinking of what it would be like if, say, some other country invaded and occupied California, with superior or at least comparable military puissance to America’s own (pretending a lack of capacity for WMDs on both sides), and started enslaving a certain percentage of the population. Maybe I’m being over-optimistic or jingoistic or whatever, but I sincerely can’t believe that California, or any state for that matter, would take that lying down.
But then again (again), I guess it’s very easy to imagine that you would totally behave so much more bravely than anyone else in a given situation, when you’ve never actually been in that situation. We would all like to believe that we would always choose the tough-but-right way to respond to adversity, but the fact is you’ll never know until you’re there. And if you’re lucky, you’ll never have to find out in the first place.
Like being in a knife fight, for instance. Luckily for us (and for him), this ain’t Mat’s first rodeo. I do enjoy getting to see him be badass, especially after such a long stretch of him not getting to do much else except be everyone’s butt monkey, more or less. Of course, I can’t decide whether to be irritated at Mat’s typical Two Rivers-induced suicidal chivalric tendencies, or pleased because it gave Tuon a chance to kick ass herself. Decisions, decisions!
The dice game was also very cool, not only because it gave Mat a chance to enjoy himself (however short-lived), but because it also gave Tuon a chance to see him in his element, in a context other than being, well, a butt monkey. The knife fight was awesome for that, too.
In case you can’t guess, I’m back to rooting for Tuon again, after the Aes Sedai debacle. Because either she is confusing, or I am fickle. Or both. (Or, she is an interesting character and still a person in spite of her horrible cultural beliefs, and I am forced to acknowledge that, whichever.)
Also, this is totally random and unimportant, but I am amused because I have a pretty fair suspicion that this chapter just may be the first time a character in WOT has ever mentioned having to go to the bathroom. Someone will no doubt come up with a quote to prove me wrong about that, but even if I am wrong, this is certainly the first time I can recall noticing it, which amounts to the same thing as far as I am concerned.
I have no real point here, it just always tickles me when the boring mundanities of life find a plot-related excuse to creep into a work of fiction that has previously made a (perfectly legitimate) point of ignoring them. Someone once said that fiction is life with the boring parts cut out, and taking a crap is definitely one of those parts.
Except when it isn’t, of course. I am probably not alone in hoping “taking a crap” in WOT stays safely boring, though.
Chapter 12: A Manufactory
Perrin rides into the town of Almizar, in Amador, with Tylee, Mishima, Balwer, Neald, Tylee’s sul’dam and damane, a dozen of Tylee’s soldiers, and twelve of Faile’s people to match them. Perrin feels for wolves, but is unsurprised that he finds none in such a populated area. He notes the five Tinker caravans parked around the town, and frowns, thinking of The Aram Problem. Noting his frown, Mishima inquires if he thinks the Tinkers are trouble, and Neald replies with a laugh that they steal occasionally, but have not the courage for more than that.
“Twice they offered me shelter when I needed it, me and my friends, and asked nothing in return,” Perrin said quietly. “Yet what I remember best about them was when Trollocs surrounded Emond’s Field. The Tuatha’an stood on the green with children strapped to their backs, the few of their own that survived and ours. They would not fight—it isn’t their way—but if the Trollocs overran us, they were ready to try to carry the children to safety. Carrying our children would have hampered them, made escape even less likely than it already was, but they asked for the task.” Neald gave an embarrassed cough and looked away.
[ ] “I think your life might make a story,” the general said, her expression inviting him to tell as much of it as he would.
“I’d rather my life were ordinary,” he told her. Stories were no place for a man who wanted peace.
Mishima comments that he’d like to see some of these Trollocs, and Perrin tells him he really wouldn’t. Balwer and Medore slip off to gather information as they enter the town, and Perrin doesn’t really care that their cover story for that to Tylee was flimsy. They reach the farm commandeered for the raken staging area, and Tylee comments to herself that there should be many more raken here than there are. The soldiers dicing remind Perrin of Mat, and the colors show him Mat heading into a forest with a party of others on horseback, but Perrin doesn’t care where Mat is going.
Fifty-one days [Faile] had been a prisoner. He hoped she had been a prisoner that long. It would mean she was still alive to be rescued. If she was dead His hand tightened on the head of the hammer hanging at his belt, tightened until his knuckles hurt.
The Banner-General and Mishima were watching him, he realized. Mishima warily, with a hand hovering near his sword hilt, Tylee thoughtfully. A delicate alliance, and little trust on either side. “For a moment, I thought you might be ready to kill the fliers,” she said quietly. “You have my word. We will free your wife. Or avenge her.”
Perrin, Tylee and Mishima enter the farmhouse, where clerks are doing paperwork. As they wait for the man in charge, one of the clerks begins coughing loudly. A Captain Faloun enters and bows to Tylee, but before she can speak to him, the coughing clerk stands up and vomits a black stream of live beetles.
The young man stared at the beetles in horror, shaking his head to deny them. Wild-eyed, he looked around the room still shaking his head and opened his mouth as if to speak. Instead, he bent over and spewed another black stream, longer, that broke into beetles darting across the floor. The skin of his face began writhing, as though more beetles were crawling on the outside of his skull. A woman screamed, a long shriek of dread, and suddenly clerks were shouting and leaping up, knocking over stools and even tables in their haste, frantically dodging the flitting black shapes. Again and again the man vomited, sinking to his knees, then falling over, twitching disjointedly as he spewed out more and more beetles in a steady stream. He seemed somehow to be getting flatter. Deflating. His jerking ceased, but black beetles continued to pour from his gaping mouth and spread across the floor.
Everyone is freaking out, but Perrin crushes some of the beetles underfoot and tells them all he has no time for common borer beetles. Faloun is dumbfounded, but takes them into his office after ordering the clerks to clean up the mess. Tylee tells him she needs replacement raken and fliers, to Faloun’s dismay.
“Banner-General, if you lost raken, you know everything has been stripped to the bone because of ” His one eye flickered to Perrin, and he cleared his throat before going on.
He talks Tylee down to four raken; his reaction to the letter from Suroth is much the same as Tylee’s had been: discomfort, but no questions. Tylee shows Faloun on a map where to send the raken, and Perrin stipulates that their supplies must be in carts, not wagons. They go back into the outer room, where the clerks are trying to clean the beetles without touching them; they stare at Perrin when he just crunches across and out. Outside, Faile’s people are freaked out as well, but Perrin tells them that the beetle thing has nothing to do with rescuing Lady Faile, and therefore nothing to do with them. Ashamed, they all shake it off and begin boasting among themselves. Tylee is watching him, and Perrin asks what sent all the raken away, but Tylee only answers that now Suroth’s letter faces a real test.
“Why should it fail? It worked here.”
“Faloun’s a soldier, my Lord. Now we must talk with an Imperial functionary.” She imbued that last word with a wealth of scorn.
They head across town to a former stable, and Tylee cautions Perrin to follow her lead and try not to speak, but if he does, to speak only to her. Inside, the functionary keeps them waiting for twenty minutes before deigning to acknowledge them. Very respectfully, Tylee asks how much forkroot the manufactory has on hand, and the functionary eventually tells them, with some pride, that she has almost five thousand pounds currently. Tylee has Perrin show her the letter, and then tells her they require all of the forkroot as well as the carts and drivers to transport it. The functionary declares this impossible. Tylee seems about to begin haggling for a lesser amount, so Perrin cuts in and remarks to Tylee that Suroth promised “death and worse” if her plans were hindered. Tylee answers that she is sure the functionary will not be punished, not sounding sure at all, and the functionary bows deeply to Perrin and capitulates. Outside, Tylee congratulates him on a risk well-taken, and Perrin supposes that no one wants to chance death.
“You didn’t know,” the dark woman breathed. “That woman knew she stood in the shadow of death as soon as she read Suroth’s words, but she was ready to risk it to do her duty to the Empire. A Lesser Hand of the Third Rank has standing enough that she might well escape death on the plea of duty done. But you used Suroth’s name. That’s all right most of the time, except when addressing the High Lady herself, of course, but with a Lesser Hand, using her name without her title meant you were either an ignorant local or an intimate of Suroth herself. The Light favored you, and she decided you were an intimate.”
Perrin barked a mirthless laugh. Seanchan. And maybe ta’veren, too.
Tylee asks a question about Faile which makes Perrin twist to look at her, which is the only reason the arrow hits his arm and not his heart. Tylee shouts at Mishima that she saw archers on the roof opposite, and Mishima charges off. Faile’s people cut the arrow and pull it out for him, and Tylee tells him her eyes are lowered that he was injured. Perrin’s not sure what that means, but tells her it’s not so. Neald goes to Heal him, but Perrin tells him to wait until they’re away from prying eyes; Tylee is astonished that Perrin would be willing for the Asha’man to use the One Power on him, but Perrin tells her it’s certainly preferable to a hole in his arm.
Mishima joined them, leading his horse and looking grave. “Two men fell from that roof with bows and quivers,” he said quietly, “but it wasn’t that fall that killed them. They hit the pavement hard, yet there was hardly any blood. I think they took poison when they saw they’d failed to kill you.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.” Perrin muttered.
“If men will kill themselves rather than report failure,” Tylee said gravely, “it means you have a powerful enemy.”
Perrin decides not to mention that sometimes the Forsaken have tried to kill him. He tells them that any enemies he knows about don’t know where he is, and suggests they find an inn.
These two chapters are, unintentionally on my part, something of a matched pair, because both of them show how the campaign to take out the two lesser legs of the Superboys’ “tripod” (i.e. Mat and Perrin, duh) has begun.
So, uh, there’s that. Which I have pointed out to you, now. You’re welcome.
Anyway. I rag on Perrin a lot, deservedly I think, but damn if my heart didn’t swell with pride for him when he put Neald in his place re: the Tinkers. That’s right, baby, credit where credit is damn well due. And a nice reminder that courage and strength aren’t always about the willingness to deal out violence. Which is, incidentally, a fairly fundamental aspect of Perrin’s central conflict as a character. So, nicely done there, Jordan.
It’s kind of hilarious how Perrin’s emo re: Faile is totally (in general) pissing us the readers off, but at the same time makes him appear to be ridiculously badass to all the other characters. His whole dismissal of the beetle thing was cold, y’all, and I mean that in a good but slightly incredulous way, because seriously? I don’t know that I could channel enough emo in the WORLD to shake off seeing a guy beetle himself to death, and be all “whatever” about it.
On the other hand, I just made “beetle” into a verb, so all is not lost! Or, um, something.
What was I talking about? Oh yes. Beetled to death = DO NOT WANT. I mean, the death itself was horrific enough, but I think the total randomness of it was even worse than the actual way the guy died, and that’s saying something. There are no nice ways to die, but at least most of them are ways you can see coming. If I had to sit around and wonder if every random cough might presage some bizarrely gruesome death, you might as well fix up the padded room for company, because no.
In other non-news, apocalypsi suck. Who’s shocked?
Nice little subtle hint here of the upcoming attack on the White Tower, which I’m pretty sure I totally missed before TGS came out but of course is screamingly obvious in retrospect. As most things are once you have all the facts. Funny how that works.
Five thousand pounds of forkroot? That’s some serious herbage, y’all. It’s kind of hysterical that I keep picturing this manufactory as looking a great deal like an illicit pot farm. If I were about ten times geekier I would spend some time contemplating how a drug could only affect people with the channeling gene, but I’m not, so I won’t.
Except (okay, I am that geeky, deal), is there really any kind of herbal drug, ever, that affects people so completely differently based on what is essentially a genetic deviation? A pretty major one, admittedly, but still. I’m seriously asking, because maybe I’m having a massive brain fart but I can’t think of one.
I mean, different people have different degrees of responses to, say, marijuana, but unless I seriously missed something, everyone is affected in some way by smoking it. Forkroot, however, apparently has no effect whatsoever on people who don’t have the channeling gene, and yet completely knocks out people who do have it, which seems to me kind of like the equivalent of supposing pot can’t get anyone high except people who are colorblind, or have red hair, or something.
I’m probably overthinking this, but it’s always slightly laughable to me how very specific (and effective) plot-induced drugs can be in fiction, and WOT is guilty of this particular cliché rather a lot. Another example is Min’s “heartleaf tea,” which is the miraculous presence of a completely natural and (apparently) 100% effective contraceptive, which I rather sigh wistfully over the complete lack of existence of, because man would that have made history different.
And yeah. That’s what I got for this one, kids. Share and Enjoy. Ciao for now!