With great vengeance and furrrrious anger, it’s a Wheel of Time Re-read!
Today’s entry covers Chapters 19 and 20 of The Gathering Storm, in which I am Unthrilled, a lot, and tell you why. At length. No, really.
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.
Before we begin, scheduling note: Christmas and New Year’s doth encroacheth, y’all, and thus the Re-read is going to take a wee bit of a break, so that your Auntie Leigh can honor the season by actually not sitting in front of a computer for two minutes. Therefore, next week’s post (on the 13th) will go up as usual, and there will probably be a post on the following Tuesday (the 20th), but that’s not a guarantee. After that, the Re-read will be on hiatus until January 10th.
So there’s all that. And now, the post!
One other note before we get to it: in case you didn’t see it earlier, I am very sad to report that Wheel of Time cover artist Darrell K. Sweet has passed away.
I have thoughts on this, but they will need to wait until I can organize them sufficiently; for now, I merely wish to formally extend my sincere condolences to his family and friends, which of course most definitely includes all of Team Jordan and the WOT fandom at large. Rest in peace, Mr. Sweet.
Chapter 19: Gambits
In her audience hall in the palace, Tuon contemplates the peace and order the Seanchan have brought to Ebou Dar even as their efforts elsewhere are stymied and Seanchan itself has fallen into civil war, not to mention Suroth’s betrayal, and thinks bringing that order to the rest of the world was going to be difficult.
Here I am, Tuon thought, surrounded by my might, damane on one side and Deathwatch Guard on the other. And yet I feel no safer than I did with Matrim. How odd, that she should have felt safe with him.
She knows that once the war ends in Seanchan, the victor will declare themselves Emperor or Empress, and Tuon will need to bring him or her down. She announces to the room that Selucia is her new Truthspeaker, and thinks at least this time she can be sure her Truthspeaker is not a Forsaken. Tuon is not completely sure she believes Falendre’s story, but Anath at the very least had been a traitor. Dismissing the matter, she sends for Beslan, and confronts him with evidence that he has been planning a rebellion against her. Beslan begins to speak defiantly, but Tuon stops him and tells him that with the situation in Seanchan so unstable, she cannot afford to tolerate rebellion on this side of the ocean. Beslan asks why he is still alive, then, and Tuon replies, because he started his plans before news reached them of the chaos in Seanchan, and also because she knows he plans to rebel not out of ambition or greed for power, but because he loves his people.
All kingdoms on this side of the ocean would need to bow before the Crystal Throne, eventually. Each marath’damane would be leashed, each king or queen would swear the oaths. But Suroth had pushed too hard, particularly in the fiasco with Turan. A hundred thousand men, lost in one battle. Madness.
Tuon needed Altara. She needed Ebou Dar. Beslan was well loved by the people. Putting his head on a pike after the mysterious death of his mother… Well, Tuon would have stability in Ebou Dar, but she would rather not have to leave battlefronts unmanned to accomplish it.
She tells Beslan that she does not know whether Suroth was involved in his mother’s murder, but if it turns out to be so, she herself will apologize to Beslan and to Altara. This shocks everyone else in the room. Tuon makes her case to him, arguing that Altara is already safer and more prosperous under the Seanchan than it was before, and provides him with statistics to prove it. She offers him a choice: an honorable execution, or choose to accept the crown of Altara and have absolute rule save for her. She promises not to interfere in his governance except for demands for resources and men to prosecute her efforts elsewhere, and promises to make Altara the permanent seat of the Empress on this continent, which will make it the most powerful kingdom there once the Seanchan have conquered the rest.
She leaned forward, unlacing her fingers. “But understand this. If you decide to join with us, you will give me your heart, and not just your words. I will not allow you to ignore your oaths. I have given you this chance because I believe you can be a strong ally, and I think that you were misguided, perhaps by Suroth’s twisted webs.
“You have one day to make your decision. Think well. Your mother thought this to be the best course, and she was a wise woman. The Empire means stability. A rebellion would mean only suffering, starvation and obscurity. These are not times to be alone, Beslan.”
She dismisses him, but Beslan hesitates a long moment, and then kneels to her and swears fealty to her in the style common on this side of the ocean. General Galgan begins to protest this, but Tuon silences him, reflecting that Matrim had had no problem at all breaking the Seanchan-style oaths, but when he gave his word in this manner he had kept it. She finds it odd, but thinks she must learn to understand these people. She accepts Beslan’s oath and bids him rise; he asks if she is certain she is not ta’veren, which Tuon dismisses as yet another silly superstition. She turns her attention to Galgan, who reports to her that the Dragon Reborn has requested another meeting with her. Tuon announces the omen she saw that morning, which indicates difficult choices to come, requiring boldness. Galgan is against the meeting, suggesting they have other concerns, but Tuon replies that ensuring the Dragon Reborn kneels to the Crystal Throne before the Last Battle begins is of paramount importance. Galgan then has Lieutenant-General Yulan explain his plan to neutralize the threat of the large number of marath’damane gathered in Tar Valon, which is to take eighty to a hundred to’raken and perform a nighttime raid on the White Tower, with the objective being to capture and leash as many marath’damane as possible.
[Galgan:] “I believe General Yulan’s plan has much merit. It is not without potential for great loss, but we will never have another such opportunity. If brought to bear in our conflict, those marath’damane could disable us. And if we could gain access to this weapon of theirs, or even their ability to travel great distances… Well, I believe that the risk of every to’raken in our army is worth the gains.”
Yulan adds that they would also want a small group of Bloodknives, which indicates to Tuon how committed the generals are to this operation. Tuon points out that the Dragon Reborn will not react well to this raid; Galgan counters that there are just as many rumors that he opposes the marath’damane as there are that he is allied with them, but believes that the raid will be worth it even if it enrages al’Thor, for it will also weaken him and give Tuon an advantage in negotiations. Tuon thinks the decision seems obvious, but remembering her omen, hesitates to order the strike. They are interrupted then by the announcement that Lieutenant-General Tylee has returned and requests an audience. Tuon allows it, and Tylee enters and shows her the heads of the deformed monsters that had attacked her forces ten leagues from the city. Tylee says she believes these creatures are what the locals call “Trollocs,” and she thinks they are heading toward Ebou Dar.
So Matrim was not mistaken about this, she signed covertly to Selucia. And she had assumed Trollocs to be nothing more than superstition. She glanced at the heads again. Revolting.
Selucia seemed troubled. Are there other things he said that we discounted, I wonder?
Tuon hesitated. We shall have to ask him. I should very much like to have him back. She froze; she hadn’t meant to admit so much. She found her own emotions curious, however. She had felt safe with him, ridiculous though it seemed. And she wished he were with her now.
Tuon announces to the room that this changes little, except to make it even more urgent that she subdue the Dragon Reborn. Very boldly, Tylee speaks up and offers her opinion that based on what she has seen in her recent campaign, the Dragon Reborn and those associated with him would make far better allies than enemies. In her role as Truthspeaker, Selucia comments that in this case, perhaps a difficult decision involves accepting a small amount of culpability. Tuon thinks it would be better to meet the Dragon Reborn from a position of strength, with his armies defeated and the White Tower destroyed, but given her current precarious position, perhaps it would be worth it to delay the raid and meet with al’Thor with her eyes slightly lowered. She orders Galgan to send word to the front to cease active engagements with the Dragon Reborn’s forces, and reply to him that she will meet with him. She finds herself wishing that Matrim were there with her again.
Stay well, you curious man, she thought, glancing back at the balcony, northward. Do not dig yourself into trouble deeper than you can climb to freedom. You are Prince of the Ravens now. Remember to act appropriately.
Wherever it is you are.
So, just about everything in this chapter pisses me off, with the sole exceptions of Tylee, who is awesome, and whenever Tuon thinks about Mat, which is adorable. Of course, the latter is rather ironic, considering my thoughts on the next chapter, but we’ll get to that.
But everything else? SO MUCH PISSAGE, YOU GUYS.
There’s Tuon’s entire recruitment speech to Beslan, for one, which I don’t remember annoying me that badly the first time but kind of made me want to throw the book at a politician this go-round, featuring as it did gems like this:
“You assume that the Seanchan dominance of your homeland will mean your people lack freedom. That is false. They will be more free, more protected, and more powerful when they accept our rule.”
I don’t know what’s worse: that this is such a filthy pack of lies, or that Tuon doesn’t even understand how much bullshit it is. She’s being sincere, which just makes it that much more painful to read.
And it is such bullshit, y’all. For one, there is the “protected” and “powerful” bits, which I note are two things very much contingent on a set of circumstances which have not actually yet come to pass (i.e. Seanchan victory over everyone else). Which, granted, Tuon may consider an inevitable outcome, but blithe overconfidence is not exactly a point in favor of her reliability, here. Maybe it’s splitting hairs, but whatever - they are conditional lies, or whatever the formal term is for writing checks with your mouth that your ass might not be able to cash.
But much, much worse than that, is the “freedom” part.
That, my friends, is total, utter, too-deep-to-even-shovel bullshit. So much so, that I’m not even sure I consider Tuon - or any Seanchan - to even have the right to use the term.
FIRST of all, any culture in which you can be flogged for literally looking at a person wrong, let alone, say, speaking your mind, is many things (“insane” is the first that jumps to mind), but “free”? Ain’t one of them. Seriously, just no. Second and far more importantly, Tuon using the word “free” in reference to a system which includes institutionalized slavery is a level of hypocritical that makes me want to either beat myself unconscious against my desk or take up heavy drinking to make the stupid stop. Oy.
Yeah, sure, Altarans, you will be more free than you were before - as long as you don’t happen to be born with the ability to channel, of course, in which case you’re rather thoroughly fucked re: that whole freedom thing. Sowwy! Oh, and also, even if you’re not charmingly defined as subhuman for an inborn trait you can’t control, you can be made a slave for a whole host of delightfully arcane and arbitrary reasons that don’t even make sense to anyone not raised in this loony bin of a culture. So good luck with that; I mean, what could possibly go wrong, eh?
And oh, I get that she doesn’t think she’s being hypocritical! Of course she doesn’t; a sadly large percentage of pre-Civil War Americans didn’t find it hypocritical either. It doesn’t make the assertion any less of a lie just because the person saying it doesn’t recognize it as one.
So, yeah, I think it’s safe to say that roused a little bit of ire, there.
I’m also pissed about the whole raid on the White Tower thing. Which may seem a little odd, considering I already know how (awesomely) badly that’s going to go for the Seanchan, but the entire concept of preemptive strikes pisses me off on principle, for reasons which I should hope would be obvious.
And we won’t even speak of Tuon’s attitude toward Rand. All I’m saying is, if that prophecy about him kneeling to the Crystal Throne doesn’t turn out either to be total crap, or to mean something completely different from what it seems to mean, I will be Extremely Put Out. To say the LEAST. Grr.
And lastly, I am kind of wearily pissed at Beslan for buying into Tuon’s bullshit. I’m not going to actually condemn him for it, because hey, I like survival, too, and if I had been in his position I most likely would have made the same choice, but I’m kind of pissed at him from the future, where if I recall correctly it seems like he didn’t just pretend to drink the Seanchan Kool-Aid but actually really did convert to the cult, which is just disappointing. I keep hoping maybe I’ll be proven wrong later but I kind of doubt it. Oh well.
In conclusion, the Seanchan suck, the end. Moving on!
Chapter 20: On a Broken Road
Mat rides with Talmanes, leading the Band along an ancient and half-destroyed road through the foothills of northern Altara. He is trying to decide if women are more like mules or goats, before going on a long diatribe in which he explains how trying to reason with women is like playing a dice game with no rules and no pips on the dice. He demands of Vanin to know where they are; Vanin isn’t sure, but points out they have no choice but to keep to the road anyway. Vanin goes to scout ahead, and Talmanes chides Mat to cheer up, reminding him they’ve just won a battle. Mat points out that they also lost a thousand men, but Talmanes divines that the casualties are not what’s really bothering him. Mat thinks of Tuon and the title he now has that he doesn’t understand, and whether she would send anyone after him now that their agreement is over, but he is truly most concerned about whether she reached Ebou Dar safely.
“She could still be in danger,” Mat said, almost to himself, still looking backward. “I shouldn’t have let her out of my sight. Fool woman.”
“Mat,” Talmanes said, pointing at him with the pipe again. “I’m surprised at you. Why, you’re starting to sound downright husbandly.”
Mat takes loud exception to this, and Talmanes lets it go, but then Mat asks if he’d ever wanted to get married. Talmanes replies “No, thank the Light”, and then hastily amends that he’s sure it will work out for Mat, though. Mat scowls, and announces he’s not giving up gambling or drinking; Talmanes agrees with a straight face, and then tells Mat that getting married is not going to make him soft, pointing out that at least two of the Great Captains are married themselves.
“No, you won’t go soft because you’re married.”
Mat nodded sharply. Good, that was settled.
“You might go boring though,” Talmanes noted.
“All right, that’s it,” Mat declared. “Next village we find, we’re going to go dicing at the tavern. You and me.”
Vanin returns to report that there is a village called Hinderstap ahead, just as Joline, Edesina, and Teslyn ride up in time to hear him. Mat thinks that you’d never know from the way they look at him that he’d saved their lives, and promises himself that next time he won’t bother. Joline is pleased at the notion of a decent inn and better fare than Cauthon’s “ruffians” have come up with. Teslyn cuts in, ignoring Joline, to ask how far they are from Caemlyn; Mat knows they have been at each other’s throats lately even though they’ve tried to hide it. Vanin tells Teslyn it would take about a week to get to Caemlyn if he were going alone and with an alternate mount, but with the army it will be at least twenty days. Joline is not happy with this, and Mat tells her she and the other Aes Sedai are welcome to go on alone. Joline then demands twenty horses as well as coin, provisions, fodder, and men to take care of the horses. Mat flatly (and rudely) refuses, and tells her they can have one horse each and fodder for the animals, and no more. He then gives orders to make camp, and tells Vanin to make sure the men stay away from the village. Joline sniffs and rides off, and Edesina and Teslyn follow; Teslyn gives him a disappointed look that makes Mat uncomfortable. Talmanes comments on how rude he was to the Aes Sedai, and Mat replies that he is no lap dog to be pushed around.
“You really do miss her,” Talmanes said, sounding a little surprised as their horses fell into pace beside one another.
“What are you blathering about now?”
“Mat, you are not always the most refined of men, I’ll admit. Sometimes your humor is indeed a bit ripe and your tone on the brusque side. But you are rarely downright rude, nor intentionally insulting. You really are on edge, aren’t you?”
Mat said nothing, just pulled the brim of his hat down again.
Talmanes assures him that Tuon is fine, but Mat changes the subject. They discuss their low rations; Mat says they will buy provisions at the village, but Talmanes wonders if they will be willing to sell, now that food is growing increasingly scarce. Mat grinds his teeth, and then tells Talmanes they are taking his personal coin into the village.
“You’re going to kindly take me up on my offer to go enjoy ourselves at the tavern,” Mat said. ”And while we’re at it, we’re going to resupply. If my luck’s with me, we’ll do it for free.”
So, I completely hate this chapter and wish it did not exist.
I considered trying to soft-pedal this and tone down the strength of my hatred for this chapter and how it treats my favorite WOT character, but anyone who’s here for my dazzling displays of not saying exactly how I feel about things is clearly in need of cognitive therapy, so I figure that’s kind of pointless.
I hate this chapter in a way that’s completely different from the way I hate the Tuon chapter. I hate the Tuon chapter for things that, while I find them infuriating philosophically, I nevertheless acknowledge are totally believable and in-character beliefs for the Seanchan in general and Tuon in particular to possess. In other words, I think the Seanchan suck, but they suck legitimately, if that makes sense.
By contrast, Mat also sucks in this chapter, but he sucks in a way that I just do not accept as legit based on what I knew of him as a character up to this point. Sorry, but he came off completely wrong here in my opinion, and there’s no way around it.
And I get it; Mat has to be an incredibly difficult character to write, so much so that even Jordan, who bloody invented him, sometimes veered off the mark (in my opinion) in balancing his delicate ratio of jerkishness to awesomeness. That said, for all Mat’s historical outspokenness on the topic of women and how much they annoy him, this is the first time I can recall that I’ve ever been actually seriously offended by his thoughts on same. His whole “women and dice” rant was so weird and sexist and just off that I couldn’t even bring myself to summarize it in the recap with more than a sentence, and the damn thing was like three pages long.
It was just painful. And while there is an in-story justification given for his behavior, which is that he’s excessively worried for Tuon, I just don’t believe the Mat-of-now would talk like that. Maybe I would have bought it from pre-TDR Mat, who was much more of an immature dick, but at this point? No. It doesn’t help that Talmanes strikes me as being “off” in this chapter too, so the two of them together is just ow.
Sigh. The thing is, Mat is supposed to be funny, and here he just isn’t. But then, Jordan’s style of humor, of which Mat’s character is generally a prime example, is kind of an odd, understated, almost backhanded kind of thing which I’m sure has to be a nightmare to try to reproduce, so I don’t want to harp on this excessively. Especially since later it really does get much better.
But right here, at this point? Ow.
Yeah. And rather than twist the knife further to no purpose, I think we’ll end things here. Have a lovely week, chickies, and I’ll see you next Tuesday!