Happy tax day, Wheel of Timers! There is no postage necessary and no forms to file to enjoy this Wheel of Time Re-read, I totally swear!
Today’s entry covers Chapters 49 through the end of The Gathering Storm, in which a battle is won, and appropriately for the date, a decision is made to pay it forward.
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!
First, traditional last post look at the cover art!
And, um. I kind of feel really bad saying negative things about the work of someone who’s recently died? And yet, I kind of also feel giving less than my honest opinion on something just because of that is a little like copping out? But the fact that I’m even posing these hypotheticals like this probably conveys my thoughts on the cover pretty clearly anyway? So maybe I should just shut up? And also stop phrasing everything as a question?
But, uh. The sky is very pretty!
Seriously, I do like the colors, in all of it, and even though the manor house looks oddly anachronistic to me, it’s well done, just as all Mr. Sweet’s architecture invariably is. But then, I rarely or never have had a problem with any of the backgrounds in the cover art for WOT over the years; it’s always been the people who have bothered me.
I think I just have a basic dislike of how he draws the human figure. I am in no way any kind of expert on artistic technique and the merits (or lack thereof) of the myriad methods of rendering the human body, but as a purely personal predilection, I tend to prefer people to be depicted in either a very realistic fashion (or maybe I mean proportional fashion, because I’m not necessarily talking about photorealism or anything like that), or in a very stylized one. There are exceptions to this, of course, but for the most part it’s so.
And to me, the people on the WOT covers, who are mostly realistically depicted but always seem to have something about them that’s just a little bit off, proportionally (e.g., Rand’s upraised fist above, which to me seems too small in relation to the rest of him), have always landed in a sort of amorphous middle ground between those two extremes that just puts me off. *shrug* It is what it is. I wish I felt differently but, well, I just don’t.
Once again and for the last time, scheduling note: JordanCon 2012 is here! I will be in attendance, and speaking on some panels, and meeting people, and generally having the blast I always have whenever I go to this shindig. I hope to see some of you there! And I shall be blogging the con, as is my wont, so I hope your wont will be to want to er, want that.
Given that, and also given that we are finishing off TGS today, I will be taking my traditional between-book break before starting Towers of Midnight, because your Auntie Leigh needs to unmelt her cortical vertices, or, you know, whatever I should have said there that actually makes sense. (See?) Therefore, the Re-read will be returning full blast on Tuesday, May 8.
Got it? Good! Let’s bring this baby home, shall we?
Chapter 49: Just Another Man
Rand walks the streets of Ebou Dar, bothered that it seemed so peaceful. He felt that it should be suffering under the tyranny of a people who treated channelers the way they did, but it was not. Rand thinks of the large groups of Tinkers camped outside the city, there for weeks and talking of staying, for the Seanchan gave them food in return for sheltering travelers and sent them custom. After staying the night with them, Rand had traded his fine coat to the Tinkers for a rough brown cloak and a walking staff, which he slouched over to disguise his height.
He had nearly killed his father. He hadn’t been forced to by Semirhage, or by Lews Therin’s influence. No excuses. No argument. He, Rand al’Thor, had tried to kill his own father. He’d drawn in the Power, made the weaves and nearly released them.
Rand’s rage was gone, replaced by loathing. He’d wanted to make himself hard. He’d needed to be hard. But this was where hardness had brought him. Lews Therin had been able to claim madness for his atrocities. Rand had nothing, no place to hide, no refuge from himself.
Rand thinks of how his own friends fear him, and sees that none of the Ebou Dari seem afraid at all, even praising the Seanchan for conquering them. He tells himself he is not here to people-watch, but to destroy his enemies; but he wonders how many others will die. He feels odd that no one recognizes him, that he is just another foreigner, and he thinks they will not know him until he destroys them.
It will be a mercy, Lews Therin whispered. Death is always a mercy. The madman didn’t sound as crazy as he once had. In fact, his voice had started to sound an awful lot like Rand’s own voice.
He can see the palace, where the Daughter of the Nine Moons should be, from where he stands, and he plans what he will do: destroy the palace and the ships in the harbor with balefire, and then rain fire down on the city to create panic and chaos. Then he would Travel to the garrisons at the gates and the supply camps beyond the city, and from there to Amador, Tanchico, and so on.
A flickering light of death, like a burning ember, flaring to life here, then there. Many would die, but most would be Seanchan. Invaders.
He seizes saidin, and the sickness is so bad that he collapses and vomits, groaning. He sees people approaching, and knows he must attack now, but the people look concerned for him, and he cannot. He screams and makes a gateway to the Skimming place and throws himself through before any of the onlookers can do anything. Curled up on the black and white disc from his banner, he Skims through the void, wondering why he can’t be strong enough to do what he must.
They called the black half [of the disc] the Dragon’s Fang. To the people, it symbolized evil. Destruction.
But Rand was necessary destruction. Why had the Pattern pushed him so hard if he didn’t need to destroy? Originally, he had tried to avoid killing—but there had been little chance of that working. Then he’d made himself avoid killing women. That had proven impossible.
He was destruction. He just had to accept that. Someone had to be hard enough to do what was necessary, didn’t they?
Rand arrives at his destination, which is the meadow where he’d tried to destroy the Seanchan with Callandor and failed. He stares at it for a while, then weaves another gateway, stepping out onto a snowy, wind-blasted landscape the peak of Dragonmount.
Why have we come here? Rand thought.
Because, Rand replied. Because we made this. This is where we died.
Rand looks down into the fiery chasm of the volcano hundreds of feet below him, and then at the view from the peak, the land around visible for miles in every direction. Then he sits down, and sets the access key ter’angreal before him in the snow, and starts to think.
I think saying “poor darling” about goes without saying at this point, but just in case: poor darling.
That aside, this chapter (as intermediary as it is) brought to the forefront an issue that I myself have been struggling with pretty much throughout this Re-read, which is The Problem Of The Seanchan.
Ever since our first real encounter with them i.e. Egwene’s period of imprisonment with them in TGH and all the horribleness that entailed I have been fairly vehement in my dislike of their culture, even while I grudgingly admitted liking actual individuals within that culture to greater or lesser extent (Egeanin, Tuon, etc.). And we all know where that dislike is rooted. While there are lots of little niggly things you could get shirty about re: Seanchan culture, in the end it’s really come down to one thing: their practice of institutionalized slavery.
Which is, as I’ve said before and still say now, an utterly reprehensible, unconscionable and morally disgusting practice, end of story. It is not acceptable, no matter what the rationale given. Human beings are not chattel, and that is all there is to it, and anyone who says otherwise is wrong, wrong, wrong.
There are many ethical issues in which (I feel) one side or the other can be reasonably debated, but I myself feel no qualms whatsoever in declaring this particular issue Closed on that score. Slavery = Bad, straight up. Go to Hell, go directly to Hell, do not pass Go, do not collect two hundred dollars, game over. Yeah.
The problem here, of course, is that declaring “X = Bad” is really an extremely easy thing to do. Probably because it’s also (generally) a functionally useless thing to do. Saying something is bad means nothing.
Well. Not nothing, because speech is always important, and speaking out about injustices, to bring them to the attention of a larger world, is always important, too. But nevertheless, actions still speak louder than words, and they always will. In the end, what we do is almost always going to have more impact than what we say.
Saying “X = Bad” is easy; what’s hard is deciding what to do when you are confronted with X. When you are presented with people who blithely and self-righteously declare that the thing you find reprehensible is not only okay, but in fact is the logical and moral thing to do, and insist on doing it no matter what you say to the contrary.
Or, perhaps I should qualify, the hard thing is being confronted with this kind of people when you have the ability to do something substantive about it. Because if you have no power to affect matters, then it’s largely an academic exercise anyway, but if you do, well, what then?
What, then, is the right thing to do?
If you could reach out your hand (or give an order, or press a button) and wipe these reprehensible people practicing their reprehensible practices from the face of the earth, is that the right thing to do? If committing one unconscionable act (even if it is mass murder, or even genocide) prevents another unconscionable act from occurring any longer, does that make it justifiable?
When considered from a remove, perhaps this question is easily answered. Maybe it’s a no brainer as long as you couch it all in abstracts. It’s almost always easier to answer a thorny ethical question, after all, when you aren’t staring the consequences of that action eye to eye.
And so perhaps we should consider, then, how Rand may have subconsciously sabotaged his own ethical quandary, by going to where he would have no choice but to look his enemies in the face, and see not just the ways in which they are reprehensible, but the all the ways in which they are not reprehensible at all.
Because the Seanchan practice slavery, and yet they simultaneously offer honest shelter and true protection to a people who have never once received it from anyone else, in all their long history. It’s not an accident that the leaf icon, the icon of the Tinkers, graces this chapter’s head, because that is the central question, isn’t it?
If you are not dealing with actual agents of certified FDA-approved Evil, where do you draw the line between where their good outweighs their not-good? And where do you draw the line about what you can do about it?
Difficult questions. But, ultimately, not so difficult at all. As, thankfully, Rand retained enough humanity to realize. And so we come to the real question, eh?
Why have we come here? Rand thought.
Because, Rand replied. Because we made this. This is where we died.
On initial reading, I spent a probably ridiculous amount of time trying to work out if this passage contained a typo or not. It doesn’t, of course.
Chapter 50: Veins of Gold
Rand sits at the top of perhaps the highest point in the world, only able to breathe because he is using Air to compress the atmosphere around him; he doesn’t know how he knows the weave. He has been there for hours, and he doesn’t dare let go of the Power.
What was he? What was the Dragon Reborn? A symbol? A sacrifice? A sword, meant to destroy? A sheltering hand, meant to protect?
A puppet, playing a part over and over again?
He is angry at the Pattern and the Creator, for leaving people to fight the Dark One with no guidance. He is angry that he had offered his life for it, and yet that did not seem to be enough. He had tried to make himself hard enough not to feel the pain, thought making himself hard was the only way to shoulder his burdens and remain sane, but he could not.
He hadn’t been able to stamp his feelings out. The voice inside had been so small, but it had pricked at him, like a needle making the smallest of holes in his heart. Even the smallest of holes would let the blood leak free.
Those holes would bleed him dry.
He thinks that the quiet voice had vanished when he’d attacked Tam, and wondered if he dared continue without it, if it had been the last part of his old self. He stands, picking up the access key, and begins shouting at the land below, asking, what if he doesn’t want the Pattern to continue?
“We live the same lives!” he yelled at them. “Over and over and over. We make the same mistakes. Kingdoms do the same stupid things. Rulers fail their people time and time again. Men continue to hurt and hate and die and kill!”
[ ]”What if I think it’s all meaningless?” he demanded with the loud voice of a king. “What if I don’t want it to keep turning? We live our lives by the blood of others! And those others become forgotten. What good is it if everything we know will fade? Great deeds or great tragedies, neither means anything! They will become legends, then those legends will be forgotten, then it will all start over again!”
The access key begins to glow, and the sky grows dark. Rand shouts, what if it’s better for this all to end, what if the Light is a lie, and this is all just a punishment? He bellows that none of this matters. He draws in more and more Power, even more than when he cleansed saidin, or when he had created this mountain. He thinks that Lews Therin had been right to kill himself, except he hadn’t gone far enough. He remembers Ilyena’s broken body.
He could feel the palace around him shaking from the earth’s own sobs. Or was that Dragonmount, throbbing from the immense power he had drawn into himself?
He could smell the air thick with blood and soot and death and pain. Or was that just the scent of a dying world, spread before him?
He thinks Lews Therin made a mistake in leaving the world alive after him; there is no escaping the Wheel without ending everything. Aloud, he demands to know why they have to do this again, why he must relive his failures again. He holds more Power than perhaps anyone ever has, and he prepares to use it to end everything.
He would end it. End it all and let men rest, finally, from their suffering. Stop them from having to live over and over again. Why? Why had the Creator done this to them? Why?
Why do we live again? Lews Therin asked, suddenly. His voice was crisp and distinct.
Yes, Rand said, pleading. Tell me. Why?
Maybe… Lews Therin said, shockingly lucid, not a hint of madness to him. He spoke softly, reverently. Why? Could it be… Maybe it’s so that we can have a second chance.
Rand hesitates, and remembers what Tam had said to him about the reason he does his duties being more important than anything else, and the question he had asked:
Why, Rand? Why do you go to battle? What is the point?
All was still. Even with the tempest, the winds, the crashes of thunder. All was still.
Why? Rand thought with wonder. Because each time we live, we get to love again.
That was the answer. It all swept over him, lives lived, mistakes made, love changing everything. He saw the entire world in his mind’s eye, lit by the glow in his hand. He remembered lives, hundreds of them, thousands of them, stretching to infinity. He remembered love, and peace, and joy, and hope.
Within that moment, suddenly something amazing occurred to him. If I live again, then she might as well!
That’s why he fought. That’s why he lived again, and that was the answer to Tam’s question. I fight because last time, I failed. I fight because I want to fix what I did wrong.
I want to do it right this time.
He turns the Power within him upon itself and drives it through the access key to the great sa’angreal near Cairhien, uses its own power to destroy the Choedan Kal. The statue explodes, and the Power winks out. Rand opens his eyes and knows that he will never hear Lews Therin’s voice in his head again.
For they were not two men, and never had been.
He regarded the world beneath him. The clouds above had finally broken, if only just above him. The gloom dispersed, allowing him to see the sun hanging just above.
Rand looked up at it. Then he smiled. Finally, he let out a deep-throated laugh, true and pure.
It had been far too long.
The WOT books have always been consistent in that the one thing each one of them delivered, if nothing else, was what I always liked to call the Big Ass Ending. There was always some monumental showdown between the forces of Light and those of the Shadow; a fight on which hung, if not everything, than at least the survival of Our Hero and the continuation of his fight. Which, in the context of Rand’s role as Savior, amounts to much the same thing.
But TGS’s Big Ass Ending is unique in that its cataclysmic battle was, for once, solely a philosophical one. It was a showdown between Good and Evil, and the fate of the world did indeed hang in the balance, but this battle was fought entirely within the mind of Our Hero. Rand’s enemy here was himself, and it is a testament to how well it was choreographed that I didn’t feel, reading it, that his victory was assured until it was.
I think this is something I didn’t really grasp on first reading. I mean, I got it, but I remember thinking even so that it seemed a little anticlimactic, that the Big Ass Ending was basically a guy sitting on top of a mountain yelling at himself.
On reflection, that characterization of the end of TGS was a serious disservice to how important this confrontation was, and how impossible it would have been to go forward without resolving this essential conflict in the heart and mind of WOT’s protagonist. It had to be done. We could not have continued forward with a hero whose purpose had been so thoroughly lost. Rand had to win the battle with himself if he was to have a hope of winning the battle with the Dark One; he could not have had a hope of succeeding if any part of him still agreed with his opposite number’s goals.
And yes, his revelation that it was All About Love is a cliché. It’s probably, actually, the cliché, the ultimate trope. This does not, in fact, make it the trite thing that the word “cliché” implies. Things become clichés for a reason, after all. There are still some universal constants, after all, in fiction if not in reality, and while I might have had a kneejerk instinct to snort at this one I think that it was exactly that, a kneejerk reaction.
Because really, what else does make life in this sometimes seriously shitty world worth living, but the love of family and friends? To have people who care about you, and have people to care about in return? I guess if someone said to me, will you go through hell if that means your loved ones don’t have to? that I might truly have to say, okay, yes. So I guess that’s what it all comes down to.
Also, there is something very compelling about the idea that you might have a chance to fix the mistakes you made in a previous life in the next one. It’s funny how looking at life as a circular occurence (as the Wheel of Time cosmology obviously does, hello, it’s a wheel) can be so easily spun, no pun intended, as either a profoundly positive notion or a profoundly negative one. In a kind of hilarious way, this chapter can be viewed as Rand talking himself around to switching his view of the whole reincarnation thing from “glass half empty” to “glass half full.”
Yes, I’m being flippant here (I know, contain your shock), but seriously, isn’t that about what it boils down to? As a wise fictional man once said, you got to either get busy living, or get busy dying. And when put that way, what else makes sense?
Besides all these weighty issues, I really had to giggle madly at this chapter because oh, Team Jordan, with the slyness on the Is Lews Therin Real Or Not Real conundrum! Because, I hope we’ve all realized, this chapter manages to resolve the Lews Therin Problem without ever once resolving the Lews Therin Issue. Which of course is the one the fans have been arguing about for a thousand years or so: was the Lews Therin in Rand’s head for all these books the real Lews Therin, or was he an alternate personality Rand constructed to reconcile the memories from the his former life as Lews Therin leaking into his head?
Because the way it’s phrased here quite deliberately, naturally could be interpreted as supporting either theory, depending on how you twist it. I can see how this might have annoyed some fans, but personally I found it hilarious, because while I did sort of have a pony in this race (I subscribed to the “alternate personality” theory), I wasn’t nearly committed enough to it to be upset if it turned out to be untrue or if it was left open to interpretation, either.
As a matter of fact, I don’t think there really could have been a better way to address it, really. This way everyone gets to believe what they prefer to believe, and the Wheel rolls on. And I, for one, am pretty well satisfied with that.
Plus, I was mostly just incredibly relieved that the Lews Therin Thing might finally actually be done with after umpty million books of it driving Rand crazy, literally. I didn’t know at the time what the ultimate result would be, but I remember thinking, at least it’ll be something new. Which it definitely, definitely was.
Last but not least, I was surprised to realize, on re-reading, that the titular “Veins of Gold,” the (sort of) literal ones that represented how Elayne and Aviendha and Min saw Rand’s love for them through their bond, are never actually mentioned in the chapter text at all.
But then, I guess they didn’t need to be mentioned specifically, eh? It’s all there between the lines. Best way to do it, really.
In conclusion, I was a bit uncertain about this ending for TGS on initial reading, but on reflection and re-reading I really can’t even imagine how else the book could have ended. So bravo, Team Jordan. Bravo.
Though of course this isn’t quite the ending yet, is it?
Epilogue: Bathed in Light
Egwene goes through paperwork on the desk in the study that is now hers, with all of Elaida’s things removed, though Egwene had ordered the possessions guarded until she could look through them, hopefully finding clues to Elaida’s plans before any of them came back to bite her or the Tower. She is going over Silviana’s report, and reflects that Silviana’s is proving to be both a better Keeper than Sheriam ever was, and an effective bridge between the rebels, the loyalists, and the Red Ajah together (though Romanda and Lelaine are still deeply unhappy about it). The report itself is troubling, though: nearly forty women, over two dozen of them full Aes Sedai, had been captured by the Seanchan.
Those women would be beaten, confined and turned into nothing more than tools.
Egwene had to steel herself from reaching up to feel her neck, where the collar had held her. She wasn’t focusing on that right now, burn it all!
Worse, none of them had been on Verin’s list of Black Ajah. And though the Black sisters on the list had been accounted for after the raid, nearly all them had escaped before Egwene had returned to the Tower, including a few more who hadn’t been on Verin’s list, like Evanellein. Egwene thinks it was probably the purge she had conducted in the rebel camp that had alerted them, but there had been no way to avoid that. Some sixty Black sisters in all had escaped, including Alviarin, leaving only the weakest behind.
They’d captured three more Black sisters who hadn’t been on Verin’s list. Only three. What accuracy! Verin had proven herself once again.
Including those who had escaped from the rebel camp, that made some eighty Black Ajah still at large. She vows to herself that she will hunt them all down. Egwene had had the captured Black sisters in the Tower executed, and then had all the loyalist sisters remaining reswear the Oaths. Silviana had been the first to volunteer. But this worries Egwene in another way, for between Verin’s information and Sheriam’s confession she is sure that Mesaana is hiding in the Tower, yet all the sisters there have resworn the Oaths and affirmed she was not a Darkfriend. She supposes it is possible Mesaana could have captured by the Seanchan, but highly doubts it.
That gave her a chill. Was Mesaana still hiding in the Tower?
If so, she somehow knew how to defeat the Oath Rod.
Silviana enters, and says there is something Egwene should see. Curious, she follows Silviana to the Hall, where masons are working to repair the gaping hole behind the Amyrlin Seat; Egwene has ordered that a rose window should be fitted there as a memorial and a warning both. Silviana leads her to the gap, and Egwene sees:
After all this time, the clouds had finally broken. They had pulled back in a ring around Dragonmount. The sun shone down, radiant, lighting the distant, snowcapped crag. The broken maw and uppermost peak of the blasted mountainside were bathed in light. It was the first time Egwene could remember seeing direct sunlight in weeks. Perhaps longer.
Silviana comments that it has caused quite a stir, and even though she says it shouldn’t be a big deal, she trails off, and Egwene thinks that it is both beautiful and pure in some way. Silviana asks what it means. Egwene replies that she doesn’t know, but that the opening in the clouds is too regular to be natural.
“Mark this day on the calendars, Silviana. Something has happened. Perhaps, eventually, we shall know the truth of it.”
“Yes, Mother,” Silviana said, looking out through the gap again.
Egwene stood with her, rather than returning to her study immediately. It felt relaxing to stare out at that distant light, so welcoming and noble. “Storms will soon come,” it seemed to say. “But for now, I am here.”
I am here.
At the end of time,
when the many become one,
the last storm shall gather its angry winds
to destroy a land already dying.
And at its center, the blind man shall stand
upon his own grave.
There he shall see again,
and weep for what has been wrought.
from The Prophecies of the Dragon, Essanik Cycle. Malhavish’s Official Translation, Imperial Record House of Seandar, Fourth Circle of Elevation.
Ah, the poem at the end reminds me to note that these last chapters in TGS did apparently fulfill one of the few prophecies we ever got from Perrin, who saw Rand in the wolf dream in TSR dressed as a beggar with a bandage over his eyes. Min also saw a beggar’s staff around him at some point. So good, we’re done with that.
And, I really like the imagery of Rand finding new purpose in this life while standing on the grave of his previous one. That was quite clever, y’all.
Other than that, I don’t have a great deal to say about the epilogue, except that while I was annoyed initially that so many Black sisters had escaped the Purge, on reflection it’s only appropriate. After all, there have to be some Dreadlords (Dreadladies?) for the Aes Sedai and Asha’man to face at the Last Battle, right? Which, sadly, bodes ill for the success in stamping out the Darkfriend factory Taim’s running up at the Black Tower, for much the same reasons. Bah.
But that’s all next book! And we shall come to it anon, but anon is not now, and so I leave it.
And so we come to the end of The Gathering Storm, the first book of the series co-written by Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan. It was not without flaws, some of them fairly serious in my opinion (most particularly the characterization of Mat), but as a shakedown cruise of a what had to be a monstrously intimidating collaborative effort, I think overall it did an wonderful job of maintaining the tradition and furthering the story of the Wheel of Time series, and on re-reading it improved even further.
And, best of all, I know now that there is even move improvement to come.
But that is for next time, kiddies! I am off to JordanCon day after tomorrow, so watch this space for my likely-redonkulous blogging of the madness, and join me starting May 8th for the beginning of the penultimate novel in the series, Towers of Midnight. We are SO CLOSE, you guys. Whoo! Yeah! Whoo! Yeah! See you soon!