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Wheel of Time Cycle Re-Read

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#5 - Thom!

This weekend wasn't very good for reading. I think I managed a chapter and a half; not really ideal. That said, if I had to pick a single chapter to read, reading the chapter that first introduces us to Thom Merrilin is not a bad one to pick. He rates pretty high on my list of favorite character's from this series, and has stayed there for some time as well. Kicked out of the Inn for having the audacity to want a smoke and a drink while the Village Council had a meeting Thom was rather grumpy but quickly brightened up as he met Rand, Mat, Perrin, Egwene and a number of the other villagers. He even performs a little, giving us a glimpse of what a Gleeman is.

Which is a bard.

If I didn't know just how awesome Thom would turn out to be I might still think Bards were lame. However sometimes all it takes is one person doing justice to a role, concept, or archetype to see how good it can be. When done right Bards are apparently cool.

I know, in bits and pieces, a fair number of RPG systems. I'm comfortable and familiar with a subset of that number, and would feel that I could go so far as to design a character whole cloth, special traits and all, in even fewer. Palladium, White Wolf, Mutants & Masterminds. Of those three I am most comfortable with the last. So without further ado....

In one small scene Thom displays a handful of skills and advantages, and he does so with style. Let's break it down:

  • He jumps into the air, does a flip, and lands on a narrow wall.
  • Whilst doing the above he produces numerous balls and begins to juggle.
  • Whilst juggling he regales the crowd in some pretty good self promotion and marketing.
  • During his oratory he implies a seeming encyclopedic knowledge of songs, tales, poetry, and myth.
  • He switches to one handed juggling of several balls ... with each hand.
  • He finishes by palming and concealing all of the juggling balls on his person as smoothly and discreetly as they appeared.

That's not bad for what amounts to perhaps five minutes of "game time". Lets break things down into the broadest reasonable mechanicalcomponents.

Most game systems I know, and I've known a few, break acrobatics off from more general athletics. In these situations acrobatic often governs learned physical ability. Flips, tumbling, balancing (which is learned), and the like. Athletics covers the basics, running, jumping, swimming, and such that do not usually require specific and and specialized training (though I argue that point on swimming, I can't even tread water). In this case Thom is probably getting use out of both skills. Athletics to give him a decent jumping height, and a acrobatics to cover the flip, the landing (he stuck it) and keeping his balance.

Juggling. This is also a learned skill, and depending on the coarseness of the system you are using it could be rolling into something like Slight of Hand, or it could stand as its own skill. Thom is pretty good at it, able to do it reflexively it seems which means he's hand eye coordination, and muscle memory, are probably very good. Juggling one-handed is probably a simple expression of his mastery over the skill.

Juggling one handed with each hand holding its own loop is demonstration of ambidexterity, a trait which seems to find its way into systems in forms ranging from merits, feats, skills, in-born abilities, and even racial and occupational special traits. Suffice to say that it can be useful for certain characters, but in this case its not doing anything except allowing a stunt. Later when we see Thom fight our opinion of ambidexterity may need a revision, but for now its probably safe to call it a cheap feature and move on.

Oratory. Thom plainly has either a well developed skill for performance or a high social attribute, possibly both. He not only captures the attention and impresses those nearby but causes more people to gather around. He's a showman, and in most game systems this would likely need to fall to a specialized skill or possibly default to an attribute if performance/arts skills are not to be found. During that same oratory he displays a depth of skill in various knowledge and lore based skills. History, literature, poetry, song, instrument playing (implied) are all highlighted and "advertised". Thom, like the typical bard, is a fount of knowledge.

Lastly he palms and conceals his juggling balls within his outfit as easy as can be in full view of the spectators. Again, depending on the coarseness of the skill system that may fall into a single skill (Slight of Hand?, Stealth?) or may even be broken down into separate skills, or specialties of a single skill. Whatever the case may be Thom proves adept at hiding and producing objects from his person, be they balls or knives; again displaying high degree of skill.

Of course it goes without saying that Thom is "high level." Regardless of whether or not you use a level based system Thom is a very skilled and experienced character. His level of power relative to the story changes drastically as time goes by. Early in the Wheel of Time there are relatively few people able to throw any amount of real Power (capital P) around, and Thom, a skilled man with a great deal of knowledge and connections holds his own nicely. As the tale goes on however Thom begins to become out matched by the growing number of shockingly powerful Aes Sedai and other channelers (male and female). By splitting him from the high power characters however RJ was (and presumably is in the newer books) able to keep Thom at the forefront without danger of him becoming overshadowed.

So a bard proves cool, interesting, useful, and well done. Thank you RJ for taking a character type that had proved only pitiable and making them capable of greatness again.

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Min, and the power of ... whatever the heck she does!

So my reading has progressed, mostly at pace, though hurricane Irene made me slow up a bit.

Mostly the kids went to Baerlon, and Rand had some bad dreams ... And then Rand met Min.

Min's power, such as it is, is some kind of precognitive aura reading, which is interesting in that I don't recall anywhere else where those two things are melded in this way. She notes a bunch of things which at the moment mean little to nothing to the reader, but will mean a lot more in the books to come. Notably she sees:

  • Around Mat - a red eagle, an eye on a scale/balance, a laughing man, and a horn
  • Around Perrin - wolves, fields of flowers, and a crown
  • Around Rand - lightning, Rand pouring water on sand, Darkness being filled by glowing "fireflies", the fireflies increase in number and intensity when Mat and Perrin are near.

Some of these have already come to be fulfilled, or have had their meanings explained. The Darkness and the Light are fairly obvious, being the struggle against the Dark One. Rand pouring water on sand is probably a reference to his making it rain in the Aiel Waste. Perrin's crown is likely his lordship over the Two Rivers in later books, the wolves of course are his status as a wolf brother. The red eagle is the old symbol of Manetheran that Mat will ressurect as part of his company's battle standard. The horn is the Horn of Valere which we know Mat to be the bearer of during this current age.

I'm once more stricken by how far ahead RJ planned things for this series, and how much he planned ahead, given that his original plan for the series was reportedly only for 3 books.

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Aridhol ... The Place Where the Shadow Waits

Labor Day weekend proved busy and so instead of reading at least 3 chapters I read one, and I had hoped to have read more like a dozen. Oh Well....

On the bright side I did manage to get to Aridhol, a.k.a. Shador Logoth, a.k.a. a place so evil that the minions of the Dark One are scared of it.

Nice.

The story within the story goes that during the Trolloc Wars Aridhol was a stalwart ally of Manetheran and one of the Compact of Ten Nations. Good guys then right? Well, yes, until Mordeth came along. Mordeth gets himself a nice cushy position advising the king of Aridhol on all matters and slowly turns the king, and his nation/city toward a rather extreme view of victory. The victory of the Light is all, became the rallying cry of the people of Aridhol and that "ends justify the means" philosophy soon corrupted the city utterly and gave birth to Mashadar which apparently consumed the city and the people rendering the place dead and abandoned. It was renamed Shadar Logoth, The Place where the Sahdow waits, and was singlehandedly responsible for the destruction of a large force of Trollocs and their masters in a single night, an event that the modern day Trollocs know and fear.

We also get to meet Mordeth himself (who is always Mr Mordeth to me because he reminds me so much of Mr. Morden from Babylong 5) and he temps Rand, Mat and Perrin with treasure. Unknown to them had he managed to get them to the city limits he would have possessed one of them and finally been able to leave Shadar Logoth and travel the world once more. Instead, at the mention of Aes Sedia he freak out, scares the kids straight (well .... mostly) and set them running for their lives back to the camp.

The chapter ends with Mashadar awakened and the pursuing Trollocs entering the city to locate the boys. Things don't look good for the heroes as they set out to leave the city in the middle of the night.

Shadar Logoth is the counterpoint to the Dark One for this series, in that it represents the true depths of evil that humans can fall to, and evil great enough and powerful enough to birth an abomination like Mashadar. Despite the thorough corruption and evil however the hate for all things related to the Dark One remains and Rand would later use that fact to his advantage in one of the series major pivotal scene (and one of the most satisfying payoffs from the later novels that I can remember). No spoilers on that one 'till I get there though.

I compared Mordeth to Mr. Morden from Babylon 5 and I think the comparison is apt. Both are men who appear to leaders and offer services that prove corrupting and destructive. Mr. Morden is responsible for the second Narn-Centari war and the fall of both people (one that almost destroyed both). Morden offers the young races power, and true to form, some of them grab for it without looking to see what the price would be.

Aridhol's fall also reminds me somewhat of the fall of Saruman and Isengard. Saruman fell not by council from without, but by way of arrogance in thinking that he could master the palantír of Orthanc as a weapon against Sauron. Sauron proved more powerful and the seeds of corruption were laid. Saruman started to build up an army of wolves and Uruk-hai to oppose Sauron; "in rivalry of Sauron, and not in his service yet".

Looking forward Shadar Logoth does figure strongly in story past this first novel. Mordeth eventually escapes and becomes an agent of evil that scourges both the dark and the light, and, as for the city itself, as I mention above, it's fate proves of great importance to the story much later (book 9) in true epic form.

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Wolfbrothers, Steddings, & Tinkers

So, as this book goes I am rediscovering just how spare the plot is in the middle. We get chapter after chapter of walking, floating, riding, or otherwise moving from one locale to another. What keeps us going however is the promise of getting to where we are going and the slow reveal of more and more of the setting.

Rand, Mat and Thom go downriver and aside from Mat's growing paranoia as the Shadar Logoth dagger twists his mind, and Rand's growing fear that he's starting to lose it, we get one thing that is a blink and you'll miss it foreshadowing: a tower of metal hundreds of feet tall with no apparent windows, doors, or markings, nor rust, pits, dings, dents or other wear. It's there, maybe a paragraph at best and then gone, but it'll be back in a few thousand pages...

Wolfbrothers. Perrin and Egwene meet Elyas and his wolfy friends who can talk via telepathy, hang out in dreams, and claim that Perrin is likewise gifted if only he would stop denying it. I enjoy that this didn't devolve into a werewolf thing, Elyas can't turn into a wolf, but he is more than a little bit wolfy despite his human guise. I likewise found the telepathic speech and the hints of dream awareness a nice touch, it makes the Wolfbrothers feel different than the normal "human who is spiritually a wolf" clichés.

Tinkers. So RJ tosses in Gypsies, and then proceeds to make them kind cool in a weird way. We meet Aram who will come back later and become somewhat disturbing. We learn of their pacifistic "Way of the Leaf" and their search for "the song", not that we have any clue what that is, nor will we for some time yet. They even pass along a warning about "The Eye of the World" which, along with Ba'alzamon's rants to Rand in his dreams is about the only time we've heard of the Eye. I honestly can't recall what the Eye itself was, only what happened at it's location. I guess I'll find out soon; 300 is pages to go.

Stedding. So RJ has a rather elaborate and potent system of "magic" in this world and then he goes and does and invents a place that is basically a permanent and natural anti-"magic" zone. We'll have other interactions with stedding later on but it seems like RJ is going deep here, showing as much of his world as he can to us in as minimal a page count as possible (EotW is downright slim at only 657 pgs compared to some of the later books). It's an interesting idea though, a place where even the magic that "turns the wheel of time" is unable to function, or at the least, is unable to be manipulated by mere men and women.

It all makes for a pretty fantastic journey for the characters, and a great way for Jordan to lay it all on the table and dare us to not be drawn in by the rich complexity of the world, its people, and the events within.

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Loial, Ogier, and the slow march of reading

Sometimes it takes a while for something of significance to happen. And I'm not content to blog about the 5th chapter of Rand and Mat walking to Camelyn. Thankfully they finally got there, and there was much rejoicing ... yay.

Mat is increasingly paranoid and useless, Rand is determined because he's scared of what he knows to be true. Scared that Tam isn't his biological father, and scared that all the weirdness around him and Ba'alzamon's interest in him are signs and portents of something more. Unwilling to go out into the city and deal with maybe getting caught in something Rand decides to visit the inn's library where he meets everybody's favorite non-human.

Loial is the better part of a hundred, but apparently that's like reverse dog years or something because he's not supposed to have got out of the stedding alone. But he did anyways. He's hasty. Which reminds me of how Treebeard talked to the Hobbits in The Two Towers. Ogier are like ogres and trolls, stuck in a blender with a university and then poured into a large mold to set. They are gentle, smart, large, long lived, and have a thing for trees. ... OK so less the ogre and troll than one might expect...

Long story short Loial explains things to Rand, and the reader and then listens to Rand's story, in full detail, which is weird since Rand was playing everything close to the vest up till then. Ta'veren! he proclaims Rand to be, explaining that while the wheel spins and the tapestry of ages is woven things occasionally call bollocks on free will and weave everything around a person or two to force events to resolve.

Rand gets an even sinkier sinking feeling that he's in way over his head. We know that he's pretty much screwed, and by now the astute reader has noticed the couple of times that Rand has channeled the One Power thus far. Sorry buddy, but you're the Dragon and you're going to do what you need to do come hell or high water...

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Gingers, Evil Daggers, False Dragons, Oh my!

This'll be quick again because while a lot happened very little of it moved the plot forward. I'm really now seeing why it took RJ 14 books to muddle his way through this series...

The False Dragon - Logain

We don't actually meet him at this point, and if memory serves we won't for quite a while, but he does strike an imposing figure as Rand looks on. Despite his capture, his being cut from the Power, and his being in a cage he retains his bearing that he is no simple common man. It sticks with Rand how Logain retains an aura of command and lordliness through, and despite, it all. There are times later on when one can imagine that Rand acts the way he does because of this and his brushes with Royalty ....

Gingers! On a Throne!

Elayne meets Rand in a tree. She says hi and he falls down into the palace grounds proper. Its played for very little humor but it is an amusing scene. Speaking with future knowledge this is the second of Rand's wives that he meets. Daughter of the Queen of Andor, future Aes Sedai, and a ginger to boot Elayne seems to be an amalgam of all that Rand would have never met were he not Ta'veren.

Eladia - Fortune Teller and Knitter all in one

Luckily for Rand, Elayne is stubborn, her brother is supportive, and her mother is (despite a penchant for temper) a reasonable woman. He manages to get out of the palace safely, apart from a brush with Eladia, the Aes Sedai adviser to the throne. Eladia foretells that the world will be divided and that Rand will be at the center. This disturbs him more than meeting a Queen that he didn't know he had scant weeks before.

Reunions & Evil Stabby Blades

Rand gets back to his inn in time to greet Moiraine and the others as they finally catch up to he and Mat. The reunion however turns grim as Moiraine detects the evil of Shadar Logoth in Mat. We learn for the first time (at least in concrete terms) that the dagger is full up on evil and is infecting Mat with the shadow of Mashadar and Shadar Logoth. He's sick with it and if he is not treated it will destroy him and unleash an evil into the world that until then had been locked within the old city.

Mat is a fan favorite character, of this there is little doubt, but as I had been reading this book for the first time in many years I was struck by how unlikable he was at this point and how the progression of the taint from the dagger was so subtle. In time he will be healed, and then have the holes in his memory filled, and be given both more to do and a stronger, more defined, personality, but at this point that seems so very far away...

... OK, not so quick, but still ...

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The Ways

A little more depth here because I liked the idea of the Ways from the first read.

To Save the Eye of the World...

But first a digression. For the whole damn book now (or at least it seems that way) we've been hearing of the Eye of the World. The book is called The Eye of the World, so you expect that maybe at some point it will get explained just what the Eye of the World is. Nope. At least not in the first 550 of 650 pages. *headdesk* Oy! I'm holding out hope that its coming up but I don't honestly remember ever being clear on what it was...

... One must risk the Ways...

I disgressed, but I'm back. The Ways, as Loial explains, are constructs of the power; a gift from the male Aes Sedai during the breaking of the world for the temporary sanity that they were granted while they lingered in the stedding with the Ogier. That's nice, but one must be wary of gifts from mad men. What the Ways are is a bit hard to explain, which is what we are told, they are a semi-living place that exists outside of the world. Portals, or Waygates, are grown using a ter'angreal (this isn't said, but I recall learning it at a later time), and allow access into the world of the Ways.

The Ways are some kind of sub-dimension, a place where time and distance are apparently at the beck and call of plot and convenience. ;) Basically they are a kind of inconsistent wormhole-type-thingy. You go into the Ways through one gate, wander around a bit in a surreal landscape of bridges and floating islands in a land that is lit without having and source of light, and always has fresh fruit and water (despite having no apparent weather or source of water) and then you exit. Maybe you walk for a few hours, or even a day, you end up a hundred, or five hundred, or a thousand miles away.

Time is all wibbly wobbly though so sometimes what took a day inside the Ways takes less outside, sometimes it takes more. Distance is also pretty subjective. Going between the same two gates may take half a days journey (inside the ways) and a days time (outside) on one trip, and on another it could take two days inside but only several hours outside. Its basically a great big deus ex machina in order to get the heroes where they need to be and away from the many many trollocs and myrdraal that we are told are hunting them, but at least its well done and interesting.

A bad wind blows ...

Unfortunately (oh! didn't see that coming!) there's a catch. Turns out that because the Ways are a product of sadin (at least partially) they eventually became tainted. They got darker, the stone bridges and islands became treacherous and decrepit, and the Machin Shin, the Black Wind which is some kind of soul eating quasi intelligent breeze started to hunt down the ways. At first people would go in and never come out, then others would return bereft of their minds or sanity. Eventually the Ways were so tainted, so dark, so dangerous that they were closed with the intention of never being used again...

...'Till now!!

The Eye of the World

Turns out that the Ways are literally the only way for the heroes to save the world and avoid their enemies (for now) to me this seems like "out of the frying pan and into the fire" but hey, the Eye of the World is at risk .... whatever that means.

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Fain, The Eye, and the End of Book 1

Extra supah size edition!

Padan Fain, evil is as evil does...

Fain is captured in Shienar having been following Rand, Mat and Perrin since the Two Rivers. Moiraine put him to the question and we finally learn just what it means to be a darkfreind, and it's not all its cracked up to be. Fain was modified by the Dark One to be made into a hound of sorts able to sniff out the Dragon reborn after a fashion. Since Baerlon he had been following the group, first to and through Shadar Logoth, where he barely escaped alive. In Camelyn he was forced to follow them through the Ways where he encountered the Black Wind, and scared it off. It is unclear if at this point he has already become host to the Mordeth entity, though there are hints that make me think so.

The Blight, its bad n stuff...

North of the borderlands companies is the blight that emanates from Shayol Ghul. The blight is taint and corruption wrought on the land itself. Trees that bleed corrosive sap, insects that can kill with a bite, and creatures that should not exist; twisted mutations with too many limbs, mouths, eyes, and more.

Look! Its a big EYE!!, or, Meeting The Green Man ...

The Eye turns out to be a place, hidden from all who see it by the Green Man who only allows those with true need to find it and supposedly only once. The unfixed nature of its location, and its responsiveness to the need of those seeking it, has by now been drilled into us for enough time that Rand's party stumbling into the Green Man's domain, right as they fear they cannot escape the creatures chasing them, doesn't ring as dues ex machnia; which doesn't mean it's not.

The Green Man is apparently a sort of plant elemental being. A force of life and nature given human form from the very stuff of trees and plants. He seems to see and sense that which is hidden to the characters; calling out Perrin as a Wolf Brother for instance. He comments to Rand saying such things as, "Child of the Dragon," "People of the Dragon," and "First Covenant"; terms which will not be fully explained until the 4th or 5th novel.

Moiraine explains the need to see the Eye of the World and at last we finally see what it is that has driven this quest and this novel for 600+ pages. A stone arch topped with the symbol of the Aes Sedai, that being the almost yin-yang. Inside, after a short walk down an improbable hall is the chamber of the Eye. The Eye appears to be an eye shaped pool of water, but what it really is, is a pool of pure saidin, distilled thousands of years before during the breaking by 100 male and female Aes Sedai who gave their lives to make it pure and without the Dark One's Taint.

Why? Beats us! Hopefully it was so Rand could use it to kick some ass, because it would suck to find out later on that he used it up prematurely...

The Two Stooges, Three if you Count the other guy...

Belthamel and Aginor, two shriveled up Foresaken who could really use some moisturizer, greet the party when they exit the Eye and proceed to do what the Foresaken are good at doing: being annoying and dying like little bitches. Belthamel becomes a rather tidy mushroom garden at the Green Man's hands, but kills him in the process. Aginor is immolated by Rand as he taps into the Eye before traveling to Tarwin's Gap where he wipes out much of the Trollock horde with a firestorm.

Call him Ishamael...

No really. He prefers Ba'alzamon, but a little future tense knowledge let's us know he's not. Well... he is, but that doesn't mean what people thought it did... He's all talk, at least in this book; being vanquished when Rand severs his connection to ... something. We're not sure what, and it probably doesn't much matter anyway.

I killed Ba'alzamon and all I got was this lousy t-shirt...

Once you kill the big bad you get to check out the loot drops, everybody knows that. One Seal on the Bore, slight broken; check. One Horn of Valere, plays taps for the dead; check. One banner of the Dragon, omen for the coming end of days; check.

There is neither a beginning nor an ending ...

The book ends in Shienar, as the character recover and plan to travel south to Tar Valon. Rand however says he will not go, and tells Egwene that he has to go away, because of what he is; all of which happens as Moiraine eavesdrops on Rand and Egwene and declares the Dragon reborn.

Closing thoughts...

In the end the book is clearly a setup piece for a larger story. What amazes most though is just how much is set up and how far ahead. There are comments made, names, dropped, and phrases uttered that will not be resolved for some time. A couple of books for some, and nearly a dozen for at least one. Jordan clearly had put a great deal of forethought into this before and during its writing, and its something amazing to be able to see that in a reading like this where I both know what lies ahead, but have forgotten much of the path that the story must follow.

Onward to the Great Hunt!

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The Great Hunt - first hundred pages

Not much of weight at the moment here, just a bunch of little things.

Fain & Mordeth...

I had said earlier that I thought that RJ was hinting that Fain and Mordeth were already joined, and there are more and more clues that lead me to be certain at this point. For one thing he speaks of Mordeth here, and for another his presence in the cells at Fal Mora is having an adverse effect on his keepers and cell mates. The man is toxic evil and I wonder what his ultimate fate in the series will be.

Sword Forms...

I love that RJ took the time to invent an elaborate system of named sword forms and decide that this form counters this, but not this, etc etc. It's a wonderful touch of added depth to the world.

The Amyrlyn...

We find that Siuan can see ta'veren, and that Rand is like a sun for the strength at which the pattern weaves around him. We also get the first glimpses of her friendship with Moiraine, and their scheming to guide the Dragon. Cannonical glimpses, since New Spring wasn't yet written when this saw print.

Attack on Fal Mora...

Trollocs and Fades attack the keep and free Fain and steal the Horn of Valere. Fain manages to get the Shadar Logoth Dagger from Mat as well. Prophetic script is left in blood that hints that the end is nigh (as if we didn't already know this). Mat is treated by the Aes Sedai again, but without the dagger they cannot properly sever the connection and he will die if they cannot get it back. Since Fain has the Horn that gives them two reasons to hunt him down.

Rand fighting his fate...

He really wants to avoid his fate (what he knows of it) but events conspire to make that difficult or impossible. Some are the plotting of other characters, some are the weavings of the Pattern, and some are, I think, Rand making the choice to do right by his world. At this time his world is his friends, but that will continue to expand until the weight of the world falls to his shoulders and he willingly accepts it.

Also ...

We first meet Verin, Liandrin, Leane, and a couple other Aes Sedai. We get hints about Slayer (the Luc/Isam entity), and there is a great deal of talk about Toman Head and Falme, setting up the back half of the book.

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Hurin, Jerks, and Something Worse Than a Myrddraal

Quick shots ...

Hurin the Sniffer

Hurin is a man from Shienar with a rather interesting ability; he can smell violence and track, via that smell, the perpetrator. This is apparently not uncommon in the borderlands and many lords employ them as the equivalent of police detectives and bounty hunters. It is apparently a Talent (capital T) much like Dreaming, Wolfbrothers, and others and has nothing to do with the one power, at least not directly. He joins Rand, Mat, Perrin, Uno, Ingtar, Masema, and other Shienarians on the hunt for the missing Horn of Valere and the escaped Padan Fain who stole Mat's dagger.

Speaking of Mat & Perrin ...

Mat's behaving like a douche. Yes, ok, Rand was douchey first, but Mat's not giving him any chance to apologize and has Perrin on his side (though acting less the douche for his Perrin-ness). I really just cannot wait for them to cut the dagger's influence to Mat, he's such a little prick right now, and I really want to get to the awesome Mat the Scoundrel phase...

Worse than a Fade...

The boys and their party follow the Darkfriends & Trollocs out of Fal Dara. Hurin tells them that here are Drakfriends, Trollocs, Myrddraal, and something worse. Foreknowledge tells me that Fain is responsible, but by the book the reader can only guess, and only guess what "something worse" means. Until they come on a village. Abandoned, devoid of human or animal life entirely a horrific quiet settles over the group as they search. What they find is a ultimately proof of something worse, a Myrddraal, pinned to a barn door with spike through its shoulders, wrists, and where its eyes would go. Evidence shows that it was alive when this happened. Something worse indeed....

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A Brief Word About Alternate Worlds

The Rand band camped out in an odd hollow one night and Rand woke the next morning in a strange new world. No, that isn't the start of a bad joke, its our first encounter with the Portal Stones/Columns. These large stone obelisks are covered in weird glyphs and allow a user of the power to move between the different alternate worlds woven by the Wheel.

These are rather unlike the Twisted Doors in that the user doesn't end up in a different world, they end up in an alternate one. A world were Rand never leaves the Two Rivers and eventually goes mad & dies. A world where Rand is raised and Aiel. Countless others. I'm not sure how much more they get used in the series, but it is an interesting device, a way to show and tell stories that might not otherwise fit into the framework of the series.

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Selene, Thom, Seanchan & more

Lots of reading done this weekend (I had little else I could do w/o power) ...

Selene

Selene (a.k.a. Lanfear) makes her appearance after Rand accidentally uses a portal stone (or did he? She could have done that herself to insinuate herself into Rand's company). She's hot, she's in need of a big strong man, and she's a little insistent about the whole fortune and glory thing. Later on we learn who Selene really is, and come to understand her stalker-y ways (and boy is she ever a bad stalker ex-GF to have). For now though she's mysterious and maybe even a little suspicious.

Thom's back, or "I'm not dead yet"

Apparently the Myrdraal at Whitebridge didn't feel like playing, and after giving Thom a crippling injury left the Gleeman (and former court bard) to continue hunting Rand & Mat. We find him in the Foregate of Cairhein, where he's shacked up with a girl and decidedly done helping Rand out. At least until the girl ends up dead less than a hundred pages later and we get a scene that reminds us that Thom really is bad-ass with knives. Don't worry Thom, your would-be GF hasn't been pushed through a dimensional doorway just yet. ;)

Daes Dae'mar

Could I live in Cairhein? Hell no. I'm not sneaky or duplicitous enough to put up with the so-called "Great Game". It does make for many a hilarious scene with Rand wondering what kind of crazy country he's visiting.

Seanchan

So invaders from across the ocean. Check. Crazy anti-channeler society. Double-check. Monsters. Yup. These guys are the whole package. When we meet them they don't have anything that we can see as redeeming qualities (and not many crop up over the course of the series). They deal in slaves, the press gang conquered people (kinda), and they treat women who can channel as ... pets? WTF? I'm sure I'll have more to say on these guys later but right now I just shake my head.

Machin Shin, comin' atcha!

The Black Wind is apparently impressionable. It apparently picked up on the whole "hate Rand" thing from Fain. Also it won't let Rand use the ways. *wah wah*

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A'dam and WoT's most despicable concept

So with the Seanchan come the a'dam, and WoT most despicable subject.

The a'dam are silvery items that consist of a bracelet and a collar connected by a leash. They are used to subjugate and control women who can channel, by women who can channel (although that little tidbit doesn't get revealed for some time yet). The way that the Seanchan employ them, and the degradation that the damane (those who wear the collar) are put through is pretty despicable. It's not just slavery, but slavery by the reduction of the damane's self. These women are treated as pets a best, and often "trained" via punishment & reward as one would an animal. Many regress to a childlike state, eager to please the sul'dam who controls them in order to avoid punishment and win reward via "good behavior".

Of all the concepts in the WoT cycle this one is easily the most despicable and reprehensible, and I can't help but wonder what was going through RJ's mind when he came up with this and brought it into the series in such a major way. At this point in The Great Hunt, Egwene has been taken as a damane, and in a few short pages the extent of the a'dam's evil has been demonstrated utterly to the reader. The Seanchan have been utterly vilified by this, and, at least at this point, there is little I can think of that would redeem them to the reader.

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End of Book 2, The Dragon Reborn

The Great Hunt comes to a head over the course of less than a hundred pages and all of the handful of asynchronous plots threads come partially together and are resolved in a frenetic series of chapters.

Rescuing Egwene

Nynaeve, Min, and Elayne rescue Egwene from the Seanchan and it is revealed that the sul'dam, are women who can learn to channel, but are not born with the spark. Egwene's mistreatment results in her sparking off a battle within Falme.

The Horn Found (again)

Mat, Rand, Perrin, Ingtar & Hurin go into Falme to get the Horn of Valere and find Mat's dagger o'death. They find it and we get the first instance of the dagger being used in the books which results in a man dying grotesquely as his body turns black and apparently rots/corrupts from within. Rand faces down a genuine blademaster and with the help of Lan's training and the Void he manages to defeat Lord Turak. Ingtar is revealed a Darkfreind, a repentant one, who chooses to stay behind and give the others the window to escape with the Horn.

The Grave Is No Bar To My Call...

As they ride out Rand, who had caught a glimpse of the captured Egwene, chooses to go back into Falme to save her. Mat, Perrin, and Hurin refuse to let him go alone. Mat sounds the Horn and summons up the Heroes of old, who will help them to drive back the Seanchan and rescue Egwene (never mind that she's already kicking ass and taking names). The Heroes all recognize that Rand is the Dragon and repeatedly call him Lews Telamon. They almost seem amused by his insistance that he's Rand al'Thor.

Round 2, Fight!

Rand ends up in some kind of cloudy battlefield which is apparently in the sky over Falme, or maybe just projected in the sky ... or something. He sparrs with Ba'alzamon once again, and after a back and forth with neither gaining ground Rand allows Ba'alzamon to strike him in exchange for a fatal return blow. Of course we know that it won't be that easy (since this is book 2, and we know from future knowledge that Ba'alzamon is actually Ishamael), but for now Rand is victorious, but wounded in his side with a hurt that even Aes Sedai healing cannot help.

And on it goes...

So coming out of this we get a bunch of little bits and pieces.

  • The various lady channelers are all top tier in strength, easily some of the most powerful in generations if not in thousands of years, Nynaeve especially ranks very very high in strength with the power.
  • Egwene is strong in earth, we're not sure what that means right now, but it probably explains why she was able to re-invent cuendillar in the later books.
  • Mat is Rand's piper, linked to the Horn of Valere, and now bound to play a major part at Tarmon Gai'don.
  • Perrin appears to be Rand's standard bearer, with similar implications as Mat.
  • Rand is a genuine Blademaster now. Its impossible to know if that is all due to his ability and Lan's training, or if Lews Therin is already starting to bleed over into Rand.
  • We get the first hints that Rand is going to be *ahem* with three women, and Min doesn't see terribly happy about that at all. No Egwene for that matter.
  • Liandrin is known Black Ajah, even the character's know this at this point, there's no other explaination.
  • Probably other stuff too ...

The Dragon Reborn

We get a 15 page prologue which introduces us to Pedron Nial, the Lord Captain Commander of the Whitecloaks. Revelation that at least one of his men (and one of the Questioners to boot) is a Darkfreind, and worst we find that Fain is alive and well, and has insinuated himself as Nial's advisor. This will not end well, but then, we all knew that the Whitecloaks weren't going to be comedic relief way back in TEotW...

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The Dragon Comes

Hoo boy, folks this is going to be a long rambling mess, I did a lot of reading last week and additionally was unable to post as I usually do about the week prior, so bear with me if you can ...

Ramblin' Rand, or One Crazy Mutha

Rand is a guest start in his own book, he disappears early one, and makes a bee line for Tear, The Stone, and Callandor, all while teaching himself to use the Power and going (apparently) rather batshit crazy. I'm not really sure what to make of the crazy since we don't get a whole lot of it, and it seems to disappear almost completely in the next book. Maybe its the pattern forcing him to do what must be done, weaving a course correction to ensure that Rand is proclaimed the Dragon and set on the road to Tarmon Gaiden. What we get are little two and three page vignettes that break up the narrative every 50 or so pages between the other 3 foci of the story. In some ways its not enough, but in others its just the right amount.

See You in Anotha Life Wolf Brotha

Perrin keeps falling into the rabbit hole of Wolf-brotherhood. He starts visiting Tel'aran'rhiod and finds, much to his surprise, that Hopper is there, despite having died. It seems that wolves, like the Heroes of the Horn, hang out in the world of dreams between lives. Perrin oscillates between pushing his gifts away, and embracing them, often in the same scene. One gets the impression he'd keep all the physical enhancements if he could leave behind all the mental aspects.

Speaking of Dreams

Egwene gets the infamous Möbius ring from Verin and starts going into the dream world as well. What she sees there she doesn't understand, nor even control, but its clear that this is something that will become a focus for her in the coming story. We also see her and the others get captured while going to Tear, and lets just say that Egwene has a few issues about that after her time with the Seanchan. What she, Elayne, and Nyneave do to the Myrrdraal is a frightening display of how powerful a weapon the One Power can become.

Oh yeah, and Nyneave manages to "accidentally" discover balefire, which just goes to show you, do not piss off a channeler with the kind of power she has at her disposal.

Aiel and Falcons, new characters, new companions

Perrin rescues Gaul from a town where he had improbably been captured by a pair of Hunters for the Horn. He disappears just as quickly, but we get a chance to see that Perrin is by far the solid rock at the center of the Ta'verene trifoil. For his trouble he gets a girlfriend, whom he dislikes initially. Faile is a Hunter for the Horn, at least until she finds out that its been found (oops). The attraction between her and Perrin is almost immediate, as is their resistance to the same. Its amusing watching them spiral around each other on a collision course, especially Perrin, who is oblivious to the entire thing.

We also meet the threesome of Bain, Chiad, and Aviendha, (and Rhuarc) who are, like Gaul, looking for He Who Comes With the Dawn, a.k.a. The Dragon Reborn, a.k.a. Rand. We get to see for ourselves that the Aiel are indeed as dangerous as we've heard (and then some), as well as some insight into their culture (sister bonds, wise ones, maidens of the spear, etc). Many of the Aiel will come to be among my favorite characters of the series, and its clear that RJ really loved these people and their culture as he created it.

Speaking of Fan Favs ... Mat's Back

Healed of the tainted influence of Shadar Logoth, Mat quickly reestablishes his irascible nature and banishes the asshole-ish behavior he had for a book and a half before. He also establishes his nature as ta'veren and the luckiest man in Randland. By the time he leaves Tar Valon, headed for Camlyn with a letter from Elayne in hand, he's left a wake of broke gamblers behind him, and made the laws of probability into mere suggestions.

Hazy memory aside he also quickly demonstrates that just because Rand is a One Power using blademaster, and Perrin can fight with a berserker wolfen ferocity and strength, does not mean that he's a slouch in the combat department. With a quarterstaff he bests Galad and Gawyn well before he regains his full strength and stamina after being Healed. A handful of other combats show that martial prowess and extreme luck will make him a force to be reckoned with.

Forsaken and you; how to rule the world in 1 easy step...

The forsaken are loose. It's official now, and before the book ends we have clear indication that Sammael is IN CHARGE in Illian, and that somebody (Rhavin) has all but taken over in Andor. We also have strong hints that somebody else controls Tear (his name escapes me, but he doesn't escape Moiraine's balefire, ouch). Apparently phase one of the Dark One's plan to ruin the world was to destabilize nations, and set up an environ for war. Seems to be going rather well at the moment, actually. Score one for Ishmael.

And all the rest

The stables of the Dark are filling out (and will continue to do so for a little while longer), Grey Men make their first appearance. So bland that they are invisible. Soulless. Assassins. They seem to be in ample supply and provide the main thrust of the Dark's offense during the first 3/4 of the book.

Darkhounds too make a showing. Demon dogs who leave no tracks save on hard stone, they cannot be outrun, once on your trail you just have to turn and face them, or they will run you down in time.

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Callandor, Balefire, and Two More Foresaken Down (for now)

And it's done. As usual for these books hundreds of pages of build up exploded in scarcely under a hundred pages as characters came together, battle was joined, and the light triumphed once more.

Callandor, better than a letter opener by far

Rand made his way into the Stone by scaling the outer walls and ninjaing into the Heart of the Stone. Once there Bel'al confronted him and goaded him repeatedly about how he was not himself, how they had once been friends, and mostly how he wanted Rand to grab Callandor (since only the Dragon could claim it from its protective force field thingy). Bel'al turned out to be a blademaster, and one of skill far exceeding Surak (from TGH) or Rand himself.

Balefire, a magnet on the hard drive of time

Despite everything he could do Rand was not in a winning way finally on the verge of being defeated by Bel'al. Enter Moiraine who quickly (and very nearly anti-climatically) defeated Bel'al with a single bolt of Balefire. We still have yet to get any discussion of what it does to the pattern in the books; lucky we've read ahead and know that its pretty badass, erasing the threads of the target's life backwards in time, and killing them dead enough that even the Dark One cannot save them. Count Bal'al as one Forsaken we will not being seeing again, in any way.

Oh yeah, Mat was there too

The lucky hero stumbled on his quarry when he brought Thom to get his cold looked at. Turns out he was a little late and Nyneave, Egwene, and Elayne (henceforth NEE) were already captured by Liandrin and the Black Ajah and trapped in the Stone. Not that an impregnable fortress would stop Mat from saving the damsels. Mat simply made some minor alterations to his big bundle of explosives fireworks and proceeded to blow a whole in the side of the Stone. After that rescuing NEE was a "simple" matter of getting Juilin Sandar (replacing Hurin as Mat's sidekick for the time being ;)) to show him to the cells. Along the way he once again demonstrated his mad skills with a long stick, and his mad luck.

Dream a little dream ...

Granted NEE had managed to get themselves mostly free by the time he got there. Egwene had gone into Tel'ahran'riod (TAR) and done some pruning of the BA by way of Dream channeling to cut the women off from the power and keep them bound in spot.

She wasn't the only one busy in the world of dreams. Perrin found himself there as his only means of saving Faile's life. One can only assume that when you have the whole "reluctant love at first sight" thing going on, it takes a life or death moment to push you over the edge. Perrin dove head first into a dream trap left by the BA and made his way through TAR to save Faile with Hopper's help. He very nearly killed himself by being in the dream "too much", which probably means a coma that his body couldn't sustain without his spirit.

Loial, almost a badass ...

Almost. Maybe next time. Perrin asks Loial to guard his body while he rescues Faile from TAR and the Ogier replies with a slightly scary hint that maybe the gentle giant isn't always so gentle.

"Loial, I am going to try to help Faile. But I will be helples myself while I do.l Will you guard my back?"

Loial raised those huge hands that held books so carefully, and his thick fingers curled as if to crush stone. "None will pass me while I live, Perrin. Not Myrddraal or the Dark One himself." he said it like a simple statement of fact.

... and then Ba'alzamon showed up ...

... and got spanked down hard by Rand. They two fought in dream world and real world, with both the power and their weapons, but in the end Rand with Callandor was simply too much for the leader of the Forsaken, and reputedly the second most powerful male channeler in all of history. Callandor cut the man's link to the Dark off as easily as a knife through hot butter and then Rand ended his miserable life with a stroke of the crystal sword that aint. After the fact it is revealed that Ba'alzamon was not the Dark One himself, but Ishamael, who had been Lews Therin's rival during the Age of Legends. Still, they accounted themselves well off, for he was dead and Rand was now proven the Dragon Reborn.

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Bubbles!! ... of Eeeeeevil!!

The Shadow Rising picks up shortly after the end of book three, with everybody still in Tear. Rand is apparently the de-facto ruler of Tear now, and Perrin and Mat both are getting the lordly treatment, which both claim to not want, and yet both are slipping rather inevitably toward.

The Seanchan

Apparently the Corenne isn't over, the high lady Suroth has taken over in the wake of Turak's failure and death. We get a little scene where she is on the Sea Folk island of Tremalking, preparing for another invasion attempt on the mainland.

Whitecloaks

The Padan Fain/Mordeth being, now calling itself Ordeith, has attached himself to the Whitecloaks and is preparing an invasion force into the Two Rivers. Fain still burns to get revenge on Rand whom he sees as the cause of his condition. Ordeith means "wormwood" in the Old Tongue, and I can only assume, given how he acts and manipulates, that RJ intended an homage to Tolkien's Wormtongue character. It's certainly apt.

Bubbles of Evil

Perrin gets attacked by his axe, suddenly given life of its own, and intent on slaying him. Mat, whilst playing cards with some of the Tearian lords and gambling for gold (gee Mat gambling? I wonder if this if going to be a character trait ;)) gets attacked by the face cards he holds in his hand. The painted figures growing to life size and stepping out of the cards before some quick knife-work fixes their cards to the walls and ends the threat. I'm reminded of a criminally under-watched movie Young Sherlock Holmes, which featured a very early CGI stained glass window come to life to murder a character.

All of this is apparently the result of the continued weakening of the Dark One's prison. Somehow bubbles of concentrated evil are emanating from him/it and twisting reality in dangerous way. Stop feeding the Dark One baked beans people, this brings silent but deadly to a whole new level; and, yes, I just made a fart joke.

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End of year brain dump

Incoming!!

Doorways, Foxes & Snakes

Two ter'angreals, one leads to the realm of the Foxkin (Eelfinn) and one to the realm of the Snakekin (Aelfinn). The snakes give true answers to any three questions, the foxes grant three "wishes", though there is a price to be paid in return. Mat goes into the first in the basement of the Stone and is told by the Aelfinn that he will marry the Daughter of the Nine Moons, that he must go to Rhuidean, and that he would give up half the light of the world to save it. In Rhuidean he demanded a means to be free of Aes Sedai, that the holes in his memory be filled, and that he be returned to Randland. Failing to negotiate the price however led to him being returned hanging by a noose from the haft of what would become his signature weapons, a naginata like spear/staff. His memory is filled, but not with his lost memories but instead with those of great generals of Randland's past (possibly even some or all of his past lives), making him an expert tactician, fluent in the old tongue, and a natural leader of men. Lastly he gains a foxhead medallion that destroys the weaves of the One Power that touch it or its wearer.

Secret Origins: the Aiel

Rand enters Rhuidean and learns of the history of the Aiel through the eyes of his paternal ancestors via a ter'agreal set into the center of the city by Aes Sedai just after the Breaking of the world for that very purpose. The Aiel were once the peaceful, pacifistic, servants of the Aes Sedai. During the Breaking they were charged to be custodian of thousands of items of the One Power, to carry them to safety. Over time the Aiel split into three groups. The Tinkers, who retain the Way of the Leaf and search for the Songs of growing and peace; the Jenn Aiel, who remained faithful to the Way of the Leaf and duty to the Aes Sedai, who built Rhuidean before dying out; and the Aiel, who have all but forgotten their origins, only clan leaders and Wise Ones knowing the truth.

The Sea Folk

Not much to say here without going overboard (*looks up* too late) ... the Sea Folk have their own legends and prophecy about the Dragon Reborn, a.k.a. the Cooramoor. They count among themselves a number of non-Aes Sedai power users who can manipulate the weather with the One Power.

Return to the Two Rivers

Perrin returns home, to head off the depredations of the White Cloaks who are out to get him and led by Padan Fain who still seeks revenge against Rand. Perrin's homecoming isn't a happy one as he is too late to save his family, with all his relatives having already been killed by Fain. Perrin, Faile, Gaul, Bain, Chiad, and Loial meet with Rand and Mat's fathers, free Whitecloak captives, and proceed to hunt down and exterminate Trollocs within the Two Rivers area while prompting the citizens who lie on outlying farms to move to Emond's Field for mutual defense. While in the Two Rivers Perrin et. al. meet Lord Luc, a Hunter of the Horn who also happens to be a minon of the Shadow that can step bodily into Tel'ahran'rhiod as Slayer where he kills wolves in the dreaming.

eh, you know, that wasn't as much as I expected ... ;)

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Shadow Risen

Showdown in Tanchico

Elayne, Nynaeve, Thom, and Julin infiltrate the Panarch's Palace in Tanchico looking for a ter'angreal that means bad mojo for Rand as it would allow a woman (of the Foresaken or Black Ajah flavor) to control him, much in the same way that sul'dam control damane through the a'dam. Damn, that's a lot of dams.

What's interesting here is we get the first instance of a Foresaken being taken on by anybody other than Rand without just pulling the now classic "balefire ambush" (I don't even want to get into the discussion of paradox here so I won't). Nynaeve goes toe to toe, or more accurately, power for power, against Mogehdien, and proves, at the very least, to be her match in the One Power. Nynaeve has been channeling for some time, so we don't really know if this is her full potential or not, but we do know through various character comments that Nynaeve is grossly powerful, easily the most powerful contemporary Aes Sedai (even if she isn't one yet) of the female variety.

I don't recall where in the power scale Mogehdien falls among her fellow Foresaken chicks except that Lanfear was believed the most powerful of them. At a bare minimum this means that Nynaeve is probably in the top 10 or top 5 all time most powerful female channelers; not too shabby, and we know that she's on the Light side. Go us!

Unfortunately the Foresaken escapes, as do all the Black Ajah sisters, but the heroes manage to secure one of the 7 seals and the ter'angreal which is given to Bayle Domon to dump into the deep ocean. When you can't destroy it, dump it, which makes one wonder why there isn't just a fuckton of cuendillar and old ter'angreal from ages past (and past, and past, and past ...) cluttering up Randland. Maybe we'll get a nice little reason for that, we know after all that the seals are breaking down, so maybe cuendillar isn't all that after all.

The Battle of the Two Rivers, a.k.a. The Second Battle of Amon's/Emond's Field

As far as I'm concerned this is when RJ proves he can write a kickass massive battle. Yeah, I know, Falme was pretty cool, but it has nothing on this which is just a preview for the awesomesauce that is Dumai's Wells (yeah, yeah, I'm getting way ahead of myself). Two Aes Sedai, two Warders, three Aiel, one Wolfbrother ta'veren, a Hunter for the Horn, and Blademaster (inferred) and a whole bunch of really stubborn farmers and villagers. Naturally the thousands of Trollocs never stood a chance.

Emond's Field is fortified about as well as they can manage, and after a number of probing assaults the full body of the Shadowspawn army attacks on two fronts in full force. The Whitecloaks, black hats that they are, and perpetual annoying shitstain on Randland, just sit back and watch the carnage because they believed Perrin to be a darkfriend, and thusly decided that the whole of the Two Rivers must be as well.

Which is lame. I mean I get that Bornhald, and Byar, both zealotous revenge and hate filled psychos are blinded by their emotions, but I find it hard to believe that the other 398 men at Emond's Field all felt the same way or were so duty bound that they wouldn't lift a finger to help. It strain credibility, and in the end makes the Children of the Light into a flat, one dimensional mockery of a proper antagonist.

Not that it matters, because without the Whitecloaks to back them up the farmers begin to fall and the lines start to crumble. The Trollocs would have broken through if not for all the women coming to the aid of their menfolk, wielding pitchforks, cleavers, knives, and what-all else, they bolster the lines just long enough for the men from Watch Hill and Devon Ride to arrive. The tide is turned, the battle won. The Two Rivers stands victorious over a massive army of Trollocs on its own, all thanks to the workings of a single ta'veren. That they all seem to be proclaiming Perrin their lord now is almost incidental at this point in the story, and yet I imagine that this will lead somewhere, and prove an eventual boon for Perrin and Rand as the Last Battle approaches.

Tinker with a Sword

The other meaningful event to come out of that chaos is Aram, the Tinker we met way back in The Eye of the World, picking up a sword and abandoning the Way of the Leaf. There's a lot of significance in that act, and I think in part it's a mirror to later events in the book that see Aiel throwing down their spears. More ta'veren at work to be sure.

Schooled

Rand gets the last two chapters, and drops a heap of planned, and unplanned awesome on us. Arriving at Alcair Dar, where the Aiel do all their big events it seems, he proclaims himself the Car'a'carn, Chief of Chiefs, and the de facto leader of the Aiel. Not that it goes smoothly. By means that we don't find out (and I don't recall) Couladin, the Shaido douche bag, reveals his own twin dragons and proclaims himself at the same time. In order to prove his station Rand reveals the true history of the Aiel, for all those assembled to hear. The clan Chiefs proclaim him, but the Aiel people break, some join the Shaido, who refuse to follow Rand, and the rest throw down their spears. What remains (presumably the first of "a fraction of a fraction") is loyal to Rand, and becomes the first of his armies.

After making it rain, because he can, and maybe because he needed some other sign (which I doubt), Rand is off to chase after Asmodean who is making for Rhuidean like a bat outta hell because he wants the male key to the Choedan Kal. Their running battle (literally) very nearly levels the city before they both get hands on the acess key statue, at which point they very nearly level the area, and destroy the protection bubble that surrounds Rhuidean. Rand wins by using his little fat man angreal to sever Asmodean from the Dark One, and making him vulnerable to the taint. Lanfear, who is playing her own angle, and still seeks to somehow get Rand to love her, shields Asmodean almost completely, just enough to allow him to still teach Rand, but not so much that he could challenge Rand. With his new teacher in tow, and finally assured that he will be able to learn enough of the power to not kill himself, or be killed by his ineptitude, Rand returns to the Aiel.

Having a turncoat Foresaken to act as Rand's teacher is a nice trick. RJ could have relied on Rand simply using the power instinctively until such time as the Lews Therin brain doppelganger showed up, but I think that allowing Rand to learn properly, and to do so by turning one of his enemies back to his side is a better element to add to the story (for as long as it lasts, which isn't long). During his prior battles Rand won by means of being ta'veren and having an instinctive control over the power, but he was always at a disadvantage, never fully able to take a proper offense because he didn't know what he was doing, or what he could do. With an opportunity to learn to use his power, and his capabilities, Rand becomes a more dynamic force, one who can act on his own and follow his own plans, and, most importantly, one around whom the story can tell itself without falling back to dues ex machina situations like in Dragon Reborn, or chasing after MacGuffin's of questionable worth (not that this ceases entirely, but at least it gets diluted by other things).

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And now for something completely different ....

I've been thinking about this little blog some and I find I have somewhat gotten away from what I had wanted to do originally. Recaps and discussion of plot points yes, but I wanted to do other stuff. I'm going to remedy that.

Specifically I'm going to start working up and/or discussing rules and/or builds for WoT related things. Builds will generally be done in my system of choice, Mutants and Masterminds 3rd Edition, but I will try to keep things in general term for clarity's sake as well as for people who may want to attempt this using another system.

Wolfbrothers

I figured I'd start with something relatively "easy" as it were. Via Perrin we have a good idea what the Wolfbrother is capable of, the limits and drawbacks of said condition, and, unlike some other WoT concepts (*cough*channeling*cough*) this one is pretty straight forward.

The pros and cons of having a psychic link with wolves. Most obvious are the boons that being a wolf brother grants. Increased sensory acuity and range, improved physical strength, endurance, and (possibly) speed, mental communication with wolves, and the ability to enter tel'ahran'riod. Downsides, range from the minor (yellow-gold eyes), to the major (berserker rage), to the potentially destructive (losing oneself to the wolf).

Senses are pretty easy to model in M&M so let's start there. Perrin has demonstrated a longer range of sight, ability to see accurately in low light, an increased sense of hearing, and a far more acute sense of smell, allowing him to identify people by scent and to sense their emotions based on the same.

Sight is easy enough, a rank of extended range will change the normal incremental penalty from -1 per 10 feet to -1 per 100 feet, ten times the vision of the average person. Low Light vision is similarly easy, costing a single rank of senses to remove any penalties from poor lighting up to but not including full darkness.

Hearing is likewise easy enough to deal with. A rank of extended range once again increases his auditory perception by a factor of 10, and a rank spent on Ultra Hearing allows for a broader range of hearing. The second may not actually be needed, but since Randland doesn't really have dog whistles and ultra low frequency stuff we simply don't know either way.

Smell is a little tricky. It's unclear if his sense of smell is better, or simply more refined. Hedging my bets I'll add a rank to extend it by 10x, as well as a rank to make smell Acute allowing him to distinguish people by smell and the like. The ability to smell emotions is the tricky part however. Since its based on his ability to smell pheromones, sweat, and the like the ability needs to be built as a sense and not from an effect like mind reading. I'm going to fudge things here. We know what the effect is meant to do, and how it should work, so rather than try to kludge an effect together I'm going to add it as a single rank Feature (smell emotions). In the alternate I could add Accurate and Analytical to his Olfactory senses to allow for the same thing, but that would be potentially up for abuse as well since both of those have a wider scope than just smelling emotion.

Perrin's senses would look like this:

Senses 7 (Extended Sight, Low Light Vision, Extended Hearing, Ultra Hearing, Extended Smell, Acute Smell, Feature (smell emotions)) - 7 power points

In a point buy game enhanced attributes are fairly easy enough to do, you just buy more of them. M&M does give you a second option however. One can buy Enhanced Abilities, which cost the same but have certain advantages, namely they can be subject to extra effort, and can be used to create an array/alternate effect if one desires. In this case the number start to get abstract but I will grant wolfbrothers the following:

Enhanced Abilities 2 (+1 Str, +1 Sta) - 4 power points

Since Perrin was a blacksmith's apprentice prior he was already very large, strong, and had good stamina, applying more than this as a bonus could be done but I'm assuming that most of Perrin's established abilities comes from his own self and prior life's training and not from being a Wolfbrother. There's anecdotal evidence that Wolfbrothers may be able to run faster than normal, but I'm going to assume instead that they merely run longer than most people can, and no apply any ranks of speed to the template I am building.

The Wolfbrother's ability to communicate with wolves is a twofold power, they can sense wolves at a distance, and communicate mentally with them. It's unclear what the range is, though it does seem to be local-ish. To detect wolves' minds we build a sense thusly.

Senses 7 (Detect Wolves 2 (mental), Extended 3, Acute, Radius) - 7 power points

This lets the Wolfbrother detect wolves mentally, with a perception increment of -1 per 10,000 feet (basically 2 miles) in a radius around him, and tell who they are via that sense. At extreme range that means around 20-40 miles radius with a good Perception skill modifier. Communication is relatively easy at that point. Comprehend to allow the Wolfbrother to understand and speak to wolves and Communication to use it over distance.

Comprehend 2 (Animal Speech; Flawed (wolves only)) - 2 power points

Communication 3 (mental, long range; flawed (wolves only)) - 9 power points

Lastly is the ability to enter tel'ahran'riod via the Wolf Dream. This one I'm going to need to cover on its own as part of discussion of the ability of Dreamers. So for the time being we'll have to wait.

Moving on to the flipside of things we have complications and flaws that come with being a Wolfbrother. There are two big ones, not counting those that go with being a dreamer, namely the golden-yellow eyes, and the risk of losing oneself to the Wolf. Eye color may not seem like much but in a setting where the normal eye colors prevail yellow-gold will stand out and make a person memorable in appearance. We could use the Noticable flaw (a flat -1 power point) to represent this, but I feel like this is better a complication instead. It doesn't provide a restriction on his abilities, but it can potentially cause the character problems when people recognize him. We'll call it a Quirk complication, and since its a complication he'll get a Hero Point (Fate Point, etc) whenever his eye color proves to be a problem, like when he is prejudiced because of it, or recognized, or even tracked down and located by an enemy.

The second complication is one entirely of role play and Game Master adjudication. Wolfbrothers seem to cede control to the Wolf side of their nature when under stress, especially while in combat. There's always the risk that they won't come back at the worst, but even at the best they lose control. Perrin killed a few men the first time that happened, and wasn't even aware of it. For lack of a better category we'll file that under Quirk as well.

Complications:

Quirk - Golden Eyes - The Wolf Brother's eyes are a unique color that stands out from the norm and may cause people to recognize him for what he is, and may make it harder for him to avoid notice. People following the Wolf Brother may find it easier to do so if other people remember the stranger with the yellow eyes.

Quirk - The Curse of the Wolf - In times of extreme stress, especially combat, the character may lose control and enter a berserker state. The GM may dictate the players actions and use of power attacks, all out attacks, and similar to represent the uncontrolled fury of the Wolf within. In rare cases the Wolf Brother may not find their way back and lose their identity to the Wolf entirely.

In summary Wolfbrothers end up with the following effects and costs. A total of 29 power points spent.

  • Senses 7 (Extended Sight, Low Light Vision, Extended Hearing, Ultra Hearing, Extended Smell, Acute Smell, Feature (smell emotions)) - 7 power points
  • Enhanced Abilities 2 (+1 Str, +1 Sta) - 4 power points
  • Senses 7 (Detect Wolves 2 (mental), Extended 3, Acute, Radius) - 7 power points
  • Comprehend 2 (Animal Speech; Flawed (wolves only)) - 2 power points
  • Communication 3 (mental, long range; flawed (wolves only)) - 9 power points
  • Complications:
    • Quirk - Golden Eyes - The Wolf Brother's eyes are a unique color that stands out from the norm and may cause people to recognize him for what he is, and may make it harder for him to avoid notice. People following the Wolf Brother may find it easier to do so if other people remember the stranger with the yellow eyes.
    • Quirk - The Curse of the Wolf - In times of extreme stress, especially combat, the character may lose control and enter a berserker state. The GM may dictate the players actions and use of power attacks, all out attacks, and similar to represent the uncontrolled fury of the Wolf within. In rare cases the Wolf Brother may not find their way back and lose their identity to the Wolf entirely.

If you liked this give it a +1 or drop a comment. If you disagree, drop a comment (ha! there are no -1s, sucka!).

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The Long, Slow, March of Progress

... or a lack thereof.

No excuses. I haven't been posting regularly. That's because I haven't gotten very far in the past 2 months. I have hit the muddy middle and my pace has slow from 70-100 pages a week on average to less than half that. The pace of the books themselves has likewise slowed, with so much time being spent on secondary characters, or overly details overland journeys that I haven't really had anything to talk about.

But I am still here. Slowly, painfully, making my way through The Fires of Heaven, and just as soon as I have something of worth to discuss I will ... hang in there, I know I am.

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Fires Extinguished

After an embarrassingly slow read through I finally finished Fires of Heaven last night. Thankfully the second half of the book had more going on that the first, including the introduction of another major character (seriously the roster is getting crowded and there are still plenty more to come), a pair of major battles, and three Foresaken down.

Brigitte gets credit for probably one of the more original character origins out there, having been an eternal spirit of a constantly reborn here who lived between lives within the world of dreams. Ripped bodily out of TAR by Mohgedien she get's bonded as a Warder by Elyane to save her from death. She's got an unknown number of lives worth of experience, a sassy attitude (oh, wait, they pretty much all do), and a personal grudge against one of the Foresaken. Welcome to the party!

In other news Rand is marching his plan to unite the world forward regardless of the desire of the rulers of the many nations. After conquering Tear he liberates Cairhein and adds it to his belt before closing out the book by doing the same in Andor. Davram Bashere meets him there and mentions that when it comes time he believes Saldea will join him freely as will the other borderlands nations.

Two dead but not dead characters are added to the story, with Mat and Aviendha having been killed and then "resurrected" by way of balefire. Their deaths probably don't count, not like Mat's in Rhuidean, but it still provides a clear mind twisting cause and effect on the use of balefire, and underlines just what the danger of overusing that particular weapon could lead to.

Lanfear and Moiraine are out of the picture for a while. A little more for one than the other (and by a little I mean has Moiraine come back yet? No, don't tell me, I have a lot of reading ahead still). Mohgedien is now a prisoner of Nyneave and Elayne, and Asmodean is killed by an unknown assailant (another unsolved mystery to my knowledge, and RJ said it should be easy to figure out, HA!).

Lord of Chaos starts today, as does my attempt to get to a book a month pace so that I will be wrapping up the penultimate novel shortly before/after the last book comes out in January. We'll see how well I do...

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OMG Two in Two!

The Prologue of Lord of Chaos is a thing of terrible savagery. By that I mean that it savages you, the reader, over the course of its 50 ish pages by showing you just how many character's Jordan is following and setting up, for this novel alone. It's a punishing read, not because it is not interesting, but because it makes you weep for the present and yearn once more for the bygone days of a narrative that was merely bifurcated, even if it was drawn out.

Still we get a little something something here:

  • We get to semi-see the process by which the Myrdraals' black blades are forged
  • We meet Shaidar Haran the super Myrdraal
  • We get a little insight into some of the remaining Foresaken
  • We get our first glimpse at two of the dead Foresaken in their new bodies
  • We get the setup for Rand's kidnapping which leads to Dumai's Wells
  • other stuff of less worth

There are more than a couple irons in the fire at this point. Some of them are worthwhile, others not at all, and some come in skewed with a WTF?

I've set for myself a pace of roughly 20 pages a day which should carry me through LoC by month's end or possibly in early June. Time will tell if I can stick with it.

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Almost There ...

The target was Lord of Chaos finished by May 31st, I'm about 175 pages from the end with 2 days to go. I will probably slide a little into June, but thankfully Crown of Swords is shorter and so I should gain a little slack there. Still much has happened in book, some of great relevance, others of set-up importance. Here we go ...

Taim and the Black Tower

Rand makes an offer of amnesty to any man who wishes to learn to channel, and begins the formation of what will later be the black tower. While this is a fairly major plot point on its own the real meat comes from the man whom he appoints to lead and teach; Mazrim Taim. Taim is a former false Dragon, a man with a superior air, and somebody who sets off the Lews Therin within Rand. Speculation over Taim has been rather rampant, from a Darkfreind, to one of the Foresaken, and while I doubt the latter is true, I suspect the former may be.

Egwene al'Vere, Amyrlin Seat

Yeah. That's right. Ta'veren work at play? Maybe, though Rand, Mat, and Perrin have been no where near Salidar the Wheel Weaves as it wills. It does set up for an even clear pro-Rand and anti-Rand split within the White Tower.

The Bowl of Winds

Nynaeve and Elayne locate the Bowl of Winds in Tel'ahran'rhiod using need, which thankfully does not smack of deus ex machina since it does not allow them to solve the issue of the endless summer, merely points them at the solution. The issue I have with this is that once located within TaR there is no indication that they cannot find it again, within TaR. This becomes an issue because Egwene figures out how to use TaR to travel between places in the real world nearly instantly. They should be able to go into TaR, locate the bowl again, and then step out into the real world to retrieve it. Being that locating, and retrieving, the Bowl is a major part of the upcoming book(s) this feels like a rather significant plot hole at worst, or a minor one at best where it should be explained why they can't do what I proposed.

Those're my thoughts for the time being. Dumai's Wells is approaching, ans likely more in the next 175 pages. Stay tuned!

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Not the end, but an end

Spoiler city here folks, I'm going to brain dump my feelings on A Memory of Light so if you haven't read it walk away...

...Seriously.

Twenty some odd years ... to say that there was some anticipation, and even some dread, going into this book is a grand understatement. After twenty some years could a story that I've been reading since middle school end in a satisfying way? In the end the answer is largely yes. Was it perfect? No, but it was close enough that I can forgive the bits I felt were missing.

Sanderson did the impossible, he managed to stick the landing on a series not of his own creation after the death of the original author. These last three books might be colored by his own writing style, his own wit, his own method of pacing, but for me they felt like a return to form for the series and A Memory of Light proves a powerful ending as much because of those things as despite it. Sanderson deftly weaves the dozens of characters Jordan left behind into the final threads of a tapestry of humankind's eternal struggle against the darkness.

Every character of note gets a moment to shine, even if only just that moment. The book is thick with the major players though, with Perrin and Mat anchoring the first half and the second half respectively as Rand faces his destiny. For a book topping 900 pages it reads quickly, incredibly so, as a chapter that is nearly 200 pages long breezes by with shifting focal points and highs and lows that run the reader through and emotional wringer.

What works? Basically everything, enough so that trying to pin down speaking topics is largely impossible, suffice to say that the major plot points get resolved, for good or ill. Particularly strong are the various fates of the Forsaken and the first and second tier heroes. Not everyone survives, on the side of the light, but even in death ... well, as Lan says, "Death is lighter than a feather."

What didn't work for me was the final actions and fate of Padan Fain/Mordeth. Considering the implied importance of the dual wounds in Rand's side, the way that Shadar Logoth aided in the cleansing of saidin, and the implied power that Mordeth was amassing, apparently beyond that of the Forsaken, it seems odd that Mordeth doesn't show until the last hundred pages and that he never even comes within spitting distance of Rand's battle with the Dark One. Either he was a red herring all along, or he could have been removed from consideration a few books ago.

Still. One thing out of so many.

After twenty years the Third Age is over and the next age has begun, by the time the Third age comes again it will have long faded from memory, and the events after Tarmon Gai'don will have come around again to be the distant past. There is no beginning or end to the Wheel of Time after all, but at long last we have come to an ending, and for me I think that for all its many ups and downs over the years I am satisfied with the ending of this tale, and the implications and glimpses at those tales yet to be told, and long since forgotten.

Rest in peace Robert Jordan, Brian Sanderson did you proud, and this book can act as a fitting finale for your magnum opus.

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