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Sylas K Barrett

Reading The Wheel of Time: Building Rand’s Identity through the Heron-Marked Blade

It came as quite a surprise to me when Rand’s heron-marked sword was destroyed during the climactic battle with Ba’alzamon at the end of The Great Hunt. The sword has been something of a talisman for Rand ever since he left Emond’s Field, and in a remarkably complex way. On the one hand, Rand imbued this gift from Tam with his deep desire and need to believe that Tam was his true father—for him, carrying the sword was proof and symbol of their bond as father and son. But the heron-marked blade had a very different significance to those around Rand, drawing often-unwanted attention to him and marking him as a dangerous man and a blade master. The fact that Rand is neither of these things caused a certain level of danger for him, but then again, it’s not so much that he isn’t a blade master—it’s that he isn’t a blade master yet. And as for being dangerous… well, a stranger might be deceived by the looks of a young shepherd (unless they know the Aiel, anyway) but those close to Rand certainly know better.

And then of course there is the verse in the Prophecies of the Dragon, which alludes to a completely different purpose to the mark of the heron, one that will identify Rand as the Dragon Reborn. These, of course, are the two scars burned into Rand’s hand by wielding the sword while channeling.

In this way, the heron imagery, and indeed the sword itself, at one time separate Rand from his true identity as the Dragon Reborn and at the same time irrevocably tie him to it.

[Once the heron, to set his path. Twice the heron, to name him true.]

Series: Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: Ba’alzamon’s Secret Identity

It seems to be a standard of epic fantasy that all the important characters have a ton of names. I mean, it’s Aragorn’s fault, right? The guy spent so many years traveling incognito, and he picked up all those names along the way, plus there are his elvish names and the names that relate to his heritage! Elessar, Estel, Longshanks, Strider, Thorongil, Wingfoot, Envinyatar… and I’m sure I’m missing some. Now that’s set up as a standard, and we get al’Lan Mandragoran, Lord of the Seven Towers, Lord of the Lakes, Dai Shan, uncrowned King of Malkier, and Rand al’Thor, who’s the Dragon Reborn on his own merit even before he inherits Lews Therin Telamon’s titles, like Lord of the Morning. I guess being reincarnated throws a unique twist in this game of many names.

It can sometimes be difficult to keep track of who’s who when everyone has a plethora of names and titles and lives, and that’s before they’re adopting disguises and calling themselves “Selene” or “Bors.” But of all the tricky name business in the first two books of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, the man who calls himself Ba’alzamon might have claim to the most intricate of all. And he certainly has claim to the one that pulled the wool over my eyes the most.

[I have been known by many names, but the one by which you shall know me is Ba’alzamon.]

Series: Reading The Wheel of Time

Jenn Lyons’s The Ruin of Kings is Darkly Beautiful and Deliciously Complex (Non-Spoiler Review)

Any fan of the type of complex epic fantasy world-building found in works like J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion or Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series will understand the excitement I felt when I was handed The Ruin of Kings, the debut novel in Jenn Lyons’s new five-volume series, A Chorus of Dragons. My advanced proof clocked in at 740 pages (not counting the additional addendum of the glossary and pronunciation guides) and is exactly the kind of unwieldy, doesn’t-fit-well-in-my-normal-bookbag novel I want to be reading. None of these 200-odd page stories, finished in a day or two! The Ruin of Kings demanded my time, my determination, and my most interrogative reading skills.

And my friends, I am here for it.

[What do you mean by ‘beginning’ anyway? Whose beginning?]

Reading the Wheel of Time: The Heron Names Him True in Robert Jordan’s The Great Hunt (Part 27)

Welcome back to the Read of The Great Hunt! Today is the last day of The Wheel of Time’s second novel, and although the climax is over, there are still a few gaps to fill in, and a few choices left to make. Also, Moiraine is here, Gandalf-ing back into Rand’s life now that all the dangerous things are over, to explain (somewhat unconvincingly, I might add) that she’d been doing her own important stuff all this time.

[Let me explain… No, there is too much. Let me sum up.]

Series: Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: Ba’alzamon’s Lies in Robert Jordan’s The Great Hunt (Part 26)

Well, this is it, my friends: the big showdown chapter. The challenge of writing a recap for “The Grave is No Bar to My Call” is that it is so superbly written. A lot happens in a short space of words, and the narrative is so tight and the descriptions so perfect that I kept finding that my “summaries” were longer than the passages themselves. I did my best not to rely too much on quoting passages from the chapter, but honestly there are so many good ones it was very hard to resist.

Seriously, my hat’s off to Jordan for this one.

[Death is lighter than a feather, duty heavier than a mountain.]

Series: Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: Despair and the Shadow in Robert Jordan’s The Great Hunt (Part 25)

In The Eye of the World, when Moiraine learned of Ba’alzamon’s plan to find the Eye of the World, she remarked that the Pattern had brought all the threads together, first to let them know of the threat to the Eye of the World, then to provide them a way to get to it in time. It was one of the first times I really understood what ta’veren meant in this world, as Moiraine explained how Rand, Mat, and Perrin could be shaping the Pattern around themselves, or the Pattern could be forcing them where they need to be.

However, compared to the nearing climax of The Great Hunt, the Pattern’s work in The Eye of the World doesn’t seem quite so impressive. Here in Chapter 46, not just multiple people but multiple units of people are being drawn together into a great conflict with little or no knowledge of the others. Nynaeve, Elayne, Egwene, and Min have no idea that Rand and company are in Falme, the Seanchan don’t know about either of them, and the Whitecloaks know very little other than that the Seanchan are invaders that must be faced. I actually feel a little bad for Captain Bornhald and his company; they are in so far over their heads and they don’t even know it. In a few chapters the Dragon Reborn is probably going to show up, and maybe Ba’alzamon too, and then there’s the issue of the damane to worry about. I really wonder what Verin is up to right now, how much she knows of the unfolding events, and what her motivations might be.

But first, let us recap Chapter 46: To Come Out of the Shadow.

[The Web can still be woven many ways, and some of those designs would be disastrous. For you, for the world.]

Series: Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: The Hubris of the Seanchan in Robert Jordan’s The Great Hunt (Part 24)

It’s week 24 of my read of The Great Hunt, and so much happens in these two chapters (44 and 45) that I don’t know where to start. It’s fascinating to see all the strings being pulled together. Here Nynaeve and the girls are on their own rescue mission so close by to Rand and Ingtar and the rest, both brought to someplace they never thought they would be by rather remarkable circumstances, at odd times that just so happened to perfectly coincide. And meanwhile the Children of the Light are stumbling around, thinking they’re in charge of everything when really they have no idea what they’re actually on the edge of. Geofram Bornhald seems convinced that he’s going to die, though, so maybe he does have some inkling of what is truly at stake in Falme and on Toman Head.

The Wheel is certainly weaving this week.

[Five ride forth, four return.]

Series: Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: What’s in a Name? Egwene the Damane in Robert Jordan’s The Great Hunt (Part 23)

This week in Reading the Wheel of Time, we cover Chapters 42 and 43 of The Great Hunt, in which Nynaeve is calculating and Elayne and Min do their best to keep up. Poor Egwene is either practical or despairing, depending on your point of view, and Bayle Domon and his pirate speech make another appearance.

I have to admit, I really love Captain Domon (although I’d like to know where his accent comes from in-universe) and I’m amused at how the Pattern keeps shoving him around so that he’s always in position to ferry one or another group of Emond’s Fielders away from certain doom. I would get such a kick out of that remaining true throughout the series. We also have Nynaeve being badass, and Egwene and Min making compromises in order to survive. Oh, and Elayne’s here too. Doing something.

[I mean, the apples were useful, I suppose.]

Series: Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: A Variety of Villains in Robert Jordan’s The Great Hunt (Part 22)

Among the essential ingredients of any great fantasy series is the need for a varied assortment of interesting villains, and The Wheel of Time certainly doesn’t disappoint in that arena. Be it Myrddraal and Trollocs, powerful Darkfriends of a bygone Age, Padan Fain and his obsessive madness, the mysterious Seanchan, or Mr. Flame Eyes himself, Rand and his companions certainly aren’t lacking for a creative set of antagonists, and that’s not even getting into the complicated question of the Children of the Light.

This week in Reading the Wheel of Time, we get to spend time with several villains both petty and dangerous, and Egwene gets to learn about a kind of danger and suffering that isn’t quite the same as the fear of death at the hands of Darkfriends or Trollocs. We’re covering Chapters 40 and 41 this week, one of which is quite dense and full of information, and one of which is much quicker but features a nice return visit from Ba’alzamon and his pointed taunts.

[And now on to the recap.]

Series: Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: The Truth You Hear in Robert Jordan’s The Great Hunt (Part 21)

Despite having been given glimpses of Moiraine and the Amyrlin Seat’s secret plans back in Chapter Four of The Great Hunt, I think this week’s chapters have given me the best example of Aes Sedai double-talk thus far in the read. What I enjoyed most about this week’s read was also the thing that had me grinding my teeth the whole time; because we got the section in which Liandrin used channeling to exert influence over Lady Amalisa, the reader knows more about Liandrin and her evil ways than Egwene and her friends do, and therefore has a much greater reason to be suspicious of her motives. In knowing that she is a Darkfriend (I feel quite safe in calling this one) I had the opportunity to examine the ways in which she avoided answering questions, or responded in such a way that convinced Nynaeve and Egwene of her sincerity without Liandrin actually speaking any falsehoods. Of course all Aes Sedai seem to be fairly adept at speaking guarded and concealed truth, but any member of the Black Ajah would have to be especially skilled at such duplicities.

Still, I feel like if the Aes Sedai took the prospect of the Black Ajah seriously, they could ostensibly ask a question that could not be gotten around; “Have you sworn allegiance to the Dark One, answer yes or no,” would probably do it. I bet Moiraine wishes she could walk the halls of the White Tower asking the other Aes Sedai that… and everyone would probably be super offended.

More on this later, but let’s get to the recap first.

[I have brought you where you must go.]

Series: Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: Many Worlds, One Fate in Robert Jordan’s The Great Hunt (Part 20)

Welcome to Week Twenty of my read of The Great Hunt. This post means that the installment for The Great Hunt is now as long as the one for The Eye of the World was, and we still have a lot left to cover! Somehow I get the feeling this is a trend that will only continue as the Read does.

There is a lot of really interesting world building in Chapters 36 and 37; we learn a little more about the Ogier and about the Machin Shin, and through Rand’s experience of the other worlds, we get to see a view of this one that neither he nor we have quite had yet. We also learn some more about what happens to a man who can channel, and that there are other effects besides just losing their mind. And it’s not pretty.

[Flicker flicker flicker flicker.]

Series: Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: The Game of Gender in Robert Jordan’s The Great Hunt (Part 19)

Welcome back to Thom being a total badass and some questionable gender relations in this week’s Reading the Wheel of Time. I’m not going to lie, I’m a little annoyed with the way the ladies in this section have been handled by the narration, but there’s also a lot of great stuff in Chapters 34 and 35, and I have so many questions about the Seanchan and the Ogier. Also I love Thom.

[Time to get back in the Game, Mr. Sexy mustache man.]

Series: Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: Suspecting Darkfriends in Robert Jordan’s The Great Hunt (Part 18)

Woohoo, it’s Week 18! Spoiler alert, this week I become suspicious of Ingtar! Which I guess might be a big deal to y’all if I’m right, but just sort of amusing if I’m wrong. But either way, fun, right? I’m feeling a bit punchy today so let’s just get right to the recap.

[I wonder what happens to introverted Cairhienin.]

Series: Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: A Shepherd is Growing Up in Robert Jordan’s The Great Hunt (Part 17)

Despite a fire that almost takes Hurin’s life, the pacing of Chapters 30 and 31 of The Great Hunt have a slightly slower feel to them, perhaps because they aren’t packed quite as full of new information as the few chapters previous. As a result, our characters have a bit of a chance to breathe and take stock of themselves, and since that pause is coinciding with the reunion of Loial, Hurin, and Rand, with the party they were so abruptly separated from back in Chapter 13, we get to see the interplay of a lot of relationships and observe, as Perrin does, how things are beginning to change for Rand. A lot of questions still remain to be answered, including how long Mat can go on without the dagger and what Verin is really after, but first let’s check in with Rand and the others after the harrowing ordeal in the Illuminator’s chapter house.

[Let us recap!]

Series: Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: The Theme of Return in Robert Jordan’s The Great Hunt (Part 16)

Welcome back again to Week 16 of Reading The Great Hunt! There’s a huge amount of info in the chapters we’re covering this week (28 and 29) and a lot of it is difficult to understand, because our pov characters—Perrin, Geofram Bornhald, and Bayle Domon—are encountering a lot of things they don’t understand. Domon in particular is going to have a lot of words and information talked at him that he can’t really follow, and the significance of these things, for Domon and for us, will only become clear later down the road.

So buckle up for a nice long recap of Perrin and Domon’s adventures! Oh, and also Bornhald Sr., I guess.

[Read more]

Series: Reading The Wheel of Time

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