A Feast of Reading

I’ve had several weeks holiday recently and read a number of fiction books. In this post I’ll provide some of my thoughts on them – some touched on briefly, and others with more detail. This list includes Leviathan Wakes, Caliban’s War and Abaddon’s Gate by James S. A. Corey, The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly and Murder Mile by Linda La Plante.

I couldn’t help myself, there are some spoilers.

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Book Review: Guns, Germs, and Steel

I’ve recently finished reading the non-fiction Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond. In the book, Diamond applies his extensive background and strong intellect to try and explain why and how the world has developed as it has. For example: why is it the West colonised Africa instead of Africa colonising the West? Why has technological advancement been more apparent in some regions than others?

It is an informative book under-girded by substantial research and well thought-out hypothesise. I particularly appreciate how Diamond often discussed several competing academic ideas, comparing and contrasting them. Diamond deserves congratulations on his research goal and the depth of approach he takes to answer it. Though a challenging book to read due to it’s dense subject matter, I feel as though it is a condensed master class on many topics.

Spoiler alert: I’m about to dot-point his findings and reasoning as best I can summarise in a short fashion. I’ll not be caveating, so it’s true only in broad-brush terms.

  • Only some crops can be domesticated, and they were not evenly distributed in the world. Land-masses that are stretched East-West favour crop-spreading better than a North-South orientation due to lesser climate changes.
  • Only some animals are suitable for domestication (which is different to taming). On some continents the large animals became extinct before the opportunity to domesticate them. Domesticated animals provide important protein, labour (farming), transportation and military advantages.
  • The spread of crops and domesticated animals is affected mainly by climate and geography, lesser by trade. Inhospitable environments and impassable terrain provide natural barriers.
  • Agricultural societies with crops and domesticated animals produced substantially more food than hunger-gatherer societies. This means a far denser population, and some members of society are freed freed from the food-production role. This enables them to specialise: giving rise to technologies, better organisation through bureaucracies and religion and (eventually) professional military.
  • Hunter and gatherer societies were often displaced, subsumed or eradicated by agricultural societies due to their higher population (‘the weight of numbers’).
  • A denser human population in close proximity to animals develops diseases (and then immunity to them). When these people come in contact with more isolated peoples’ disease often wiped out more than were killed militarily.
  • The development of writing facilitated “political administration and economic exchanges, motivating and guiding exploration and conquest, and making available a range of information and human experience”.
  • Technology is most often iteratively developed, and seldom from a single “brilliant” person. However, a greater population with more education is likely to develop more technology.
  • All of these factors snowballed and built-upon themselves to grow the power of the state: the larger groups often overwhelmed the smaller.

A couple of other interesting points Diamond mentioned:

  • Environment plays a huge factor. “In ancient times, however, much of the Fertile Crescent and eastern Mediterranean region, including Greece, was covered with forest. The region’s transformation from fertile woodland to eroded scrub or desert has been elucidated by paleobotanists and archeologists. Its woodlands were cleared for agriculture, or cut to obtain construction timber, or burned as firewood or for manufacturing plaster. Because of low rainfall and hence low primary productivity (proportional to rainfall), regrowth of vegetation could not keep pace with it’s destruction, especially in the presence of overgrazing by goats. With the tree and grass cover removed, erosion proceeded and valleys silted up, while irrigation agriculture in the low-rainfall environment led to salt accumulation.”
  • Political decisions have ramifications. “The end of China’s treasure fleet gives us a clue. Seven of those fleets sailed from China between AD 1405 and 1433. They were then suspended as a result of a typical aberration of local politics that could happen anywhere in the world: a power struggle between two factions of the Chinese court (the eunuchs and their opponents). The former faction had been identified with sending and captaining the fleets. Hence when the latter faction gained the upper hand in a power struggle, it stopped sending fleets, eventually dismantled the shipyards, and forbade oceangoing shipping. The episode is reminiscent of the legislation that strangled development of public electric lighting in London in the 1880s, the isolationism of the United States between the First and Second World Wars, and any number of backward steps in any number of countries, all motivated by local political issues. But in China there was a difference, because the entire region was politically unified. One decision stopped fleets over the whole of China. That one temporary decision became irreversible, because no shipyards remained to turn out ships that would prove the folly of that temporary decision, and to serve as a focus for rebuilding other shipyards.”
  • The modern keyboard layout was actually designed to be inefficient. Originally for typewriters where too much typing speed meant the typewriter would jam. Faster keyboard layouts exist, but the current layout is so ubiquitous that we are resistant to change.

Highlights from ‘Knife of Dreams’

In blogging about my own book, Vengeance Will Come, I got a little behind in sharing my highlights as I read through the Wheel of Time series. Getting back on track here are my thoughts and comments on Book 11, Knife Of Dreams.

One of the things which I have commented on several times – because it is worthy of repetition is how Robert Jordan explores the differences between the genders. It seems that confusion and the up-is-down way that men and women think and act toward one another are endless fodder for jokes and character tension. (And much of it based in some truth).

  • only a fool thought he knew what was in a woman’s head just because she had a smile on her face. (Page 229)
  • Women could compress a great deal into one look. (Page 233)
  • When a woman went silent on you, there usually was trouble in the offing (Page 280)
  • A man wanted to stand well in his wife’s eyes. (Page 438)
  • “We’ll talk about it,” she murmured, the bond filling with stubborn resolve. The most dire words a woman can say short of “I’m going to kill you,” Rand thought. (Page 460)
  • She stood there giving him one of those looks women carried in their belt pouches. (Page 487)
  • …Caraline paused her talk with Min to give him a look that would have had him hunting for the stab wound had he noticed it. (Page 494)
  • “Still, a cold bath helps a man keep his mind off his troubles.”“I thought that was for keeping your mind off women,” Perrin said. He was in no mood for joking, but he could not expect everyone to be as grim as he was. Elyas laughed. “What else causes a man’s troubles?” He disappeared into the water, and Tallanvor replaced him. (Page 617)

There have been a few points throughout the series where Jordan’s writing has elicited an emotional response from me. It’s impressive to consider that even though I know something is pure fiction, it can still register an emotional response of sadness or elation. (In much the same ways as animation can). One such scene is where Nynaeve tricks her husband Lan, by depositing him as far away from his dangerous goal as she could (while still keeping her word), and then Travels (ala teleports) to every village along his route, calling for soldiers to join him.

“My name is Nynaeve ti al’Meara Mandragoran. The message I want sent is this. My husband rides from World’s End toward Tarwin’s Gap, toward Tarmon Gai’don. Will he ride alone?” (Page 472)

The Wheel of Time is undeniably an EPIC fantasy. The world is populated by numerous cultures; each with their own customs, fashion and architecture. Not to mention biases against each-other. Oops, I guess I did mention it.

Commoners in these lands seemed to believe themselves equal to everyone. Selucia gave the same sort of instructions to the lanky young man who took …[her horse]…  The young man stared at Selucia’s chest, until she slapped him. Hard. He only grinned and led the dun away rubbing his cheek. Tuon sighed. That was all very well for Selucia, but for herself, striking a commoner would lower her eyes for months. (Page 609)

For us in the West, a woman slapping a rude man would be (fairly) appropriate. The idea though that it would result in shame for the woman is so contradictory. It adds a flavour to the story; a richness and a difference to the culture. Jordan turns our social norms on their head: women are often more respected than men, blond-hair and Caucasian skin seem to be rare.

Being an epic fantasy, the series is full of prophecy which is used as a foretaste of what is to come, and then as a reward when it is paid off (especially when in a surprising way). However, prophecy isn’t always fulfilled with a trumpet sounding and a big climax – sometimes it occurs out of happenstance:

The ring was a carver’s try-piece, bought only because it stuck on his finger; he would give up those memories of Hawkwing’s face along with every other old memory, if it would get the bloody snakes out of his head; and yet those things had gained him a wife. The Band of the Red Hand would never have existed without those old memories of battles. (Page 809)

It never hurts to throw in a little bit of superstition or a lack of understanding. Characters after all, aren’t all-knowing.

His companion waved a plump, dismissive hand even while staring at the Maidens. “Worms?” he said absently. “Everybody knows silk grows on trees.” Walking deeper into the common room, Rand shook his head as the proprietor advanced to meet him. Worms! The tales people could come up with to try prying coin out of somebody else. (Page 483)

And just some good quotes:

  • flattery oiled the insignificant as well as it did the mighty. (Page 72)
  • yet the biting, sulphurous smell that filled the chill night air seemed an ill omen, and hardened men offered their prayers aloud as fervently as the beardless boys. (Page 98)
  • Birgitte was the first to arrive, the bond filled with weary discontent. “A ride?” she said, and when Elayne explained, she began raising objections. Well, some of it was objections; the rest was just insults. “What hare-brained, crack-pated scheme are you talking about, Birgitte?” (Page 733)

And a great quote to remember when plotting stories:

It was never this way in stories. In stories, everything was always wrapped up neatly by the end. Real life was much . . . messier. (Page 798)

And the list of words which I either didn’t know, or don’t use enough. Whilst I do love good words, and enjoy being educated by what I read, personally – I would hesitate to use so many “big words” in my own writing. Granted, they are few among thousands… still, I would hesitate.

  • hale (Page 9)
  • salubrious (Page 90)
  • tincture (Page 91)
  • zephyr (Page 97)
  • androgynous (Page 142)
  • griddle (Page 217)
  • derrick (Page 220)
  • coppiced (Page 307)
  • desiccated (Page 309)
  • perquisite (Page 400)
  • andirons (Page 414)
  • demure (Page 434)
  • gobbet (Page 449)
  • charnel (Page 450)
  • detritus (Page 567)
  • susurration (Page 581)
  • grouse (Page 590)
  • suet (Page 596)
  • asperity (Page 638)
  • ebullience (Page 729)
  • vituperative (Page 787)
  • visages (Page 791)

Genre-Melding

lunar-landscape-1978303_1920Picture if you will a large planet named Fantasy. It’s home to an array of creatures, each with their own societies and cultures; some primitive and some advanced. The laws which govern the world are far different from the physics, chemistry and biology that we Earthlings are familiar with.

A neighboring celestial body, the planet Xi belongs to the Sci-Fi Federation of planets. Xi and it’s galactically renowned bazaar is home to an assortment of aliens and Artificial Intelligences. Some aliens are sentient and others are not, depending on whose definition of sentient you adhere to. Naturally the aliens, though sharing a planet, each come from different homeworlds and customs.

Each planet – or literary genre, if you will – has a gravity well and loyal fans orbiting, some within the ionosphere and others at the very edges. They are loyal to their own planet, but the thought of traveling between planets is foreign…

Perhaps it is my own biases, and I’d like to think it’s breaking down… but once upon a time a fantasy novel was constrained to a single planet? No planet-hopping allowed. And if dragons exist on the planet, for some reason the inhabitants can’t develop space-faring technology? Why can Jaja Binks exist, but a dragon cannot? (Because we all know which one we’d like more).

The professionals on the Writing Excuses podcast talk about the importance of knowing which genre you’re writing to, so you can maximise appeal to that audience. (This advice was back in Season 1, so quite some time ago…)

cover-1Personally, I don’t see why genre blending isn’t more acceptable. When I wrote Vengeance Will Come (available soon), I didn’t write it for a particular genre… I simply wrote a book that interested me. It has elements from both science fiction (aliens, space travel, forceshields) and fantasy (telekinesis and other mystical powers and tied into arcane prophesy). In some ways it’s also an adventure story (fast-paced) that just happens to have those other elements as part of the setting. I don’t see how fantasy and science fiction can’t co-exist more.

Admittedly it’s been too-long since I read the masterpiece Dune, (particularly the first 3 books) but that successfully straddles the line between the two genres: a lot of science, but also brushed with a touch of fantasy in the Bene Gesserit.

Do you think genre-blending is more accepted by the reading communities in recent years, or do the rules of orthodoxy still hold true?

Highlights from Crossroads of Twilight

My highlighted sections (and a few associated thoughts) from Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, book 10 – Crossroads Of Twilight. I have pruned these comments quite hard, taking only a few picked from the bunch.

One important aspect of being a writer in my opinion is the skill of observation. (Which is quite funny, because at times I can be very un-observant). It’s looking at an object or person and noticing details. For example: not just that Sally was angry, but how that affected her face and body in minute detail. How it changed the words she used and the way she said them. (And how that could be related to other things or animals etc for similes). It is then those details which help to paint a vivid word-picture, or an interesting and insightful phrase. I can only presume, Jordan must have been watching at least one rain storm as he wrote these lines:

  • the only thing truly certain was that none of that mattered a spit in a rainstorm. (Page 25)
  • Rain fell by buckets, (Page 92)
  • driving the rain like stones from slings (Page 93)

As I’ve said numerous times, I like wisdom written down in a story:

  • how the horror of yesterday became merely the uneasiness of today, once you grew accustomed. (Page 61)
  • Loyalty to the Crystal Throne is precious above the breath of life, followed closely by knowing when to keep silent. The more who speak of a thing, the more will learn of it who should not.’ (Page 142)
  • Cowardice was the sort of rumor that stuck like greasy mud; you never could wash it off completely. (Page 258)
  • Hard times uncovered hard talents in the most surprising people. (Page 325
  • Truth almost always did come out in the end, but by the end, truth was often so wrapped around with rumors and speculation and absolute lies that most people never did believe it. (Page 393)

The differences between men and women provide endless fodder:

  • In his experience, if a woman did not want to hear something, she could ignore it till you yourself started to doubt you had spoken. (Page 89)
  • A woman started hissing at him like a kettle, a man with any brains found a way to cool her down fast. (Page 125)

I’m not sure if ‘humorous’ is quite the right word, but this was an interesting device I saw used a couple of times. First, the set up: relate someone or something

[She was like] A motherly farmwife amused by the antics of others in the village. Even some sisters were foolish enough to dismiss her that easily. (Page 394)

And then a few sentences later pay it off, by introducing a twist to the descriptor:

‘And why would we want to allow that?’ Anaiya said finally, in a dangerous voice. ‘We didn’t come all this way to talk to Elaida.’ She was a farmwife with a cleaver hidden behind her back and a mind to use it, now. (Page 395)

And three more lines I liked, for good measure:

  • The steps that led to the throne were as delicate as any court dance, and if the dance sometimes came to resemble a tavern brawl, you still had to make your steps with grace and precision in order to gain your goal. (Page 271)
  • They were generally accounted a thieving, unlettered lot who only bathed by accident, when they had to wade a stream. (Page 396)
  • She was not afraid. She was a skin stuffed to bursting with terror. (Page 495)

And something I started to do part way through book 10 was to highlight interesting words. Being a bit of a logophile, I like interesting words. (Yes, I once highlighted great words in a dictionary). Definitions are from Wordnik.

  • pomander – A mixture of aromatic substances enclosed in a bag or box as a protection against odor or infection, formerly worn on one’s person but now usually placed in a dresser drawer or closet.
  • ruction – A riotous disturbance; a noisy quarrel.
  • voluble – Marked by a ready flow of speech; fluent.
  • nimbus -A radiant light that appears usually in the form of a circle or halo about or over the head in the representation of a god, demigod, saint, or sacred person such as a king or an emperor.
  • lading – The act of loading.
  • inured -To habituate to something undesirable, especially by prolonged subjection; accustom: “Though the food became no more palatable, he soon became sufficiently inured to it” ( John Barth).
  • sibilant – Of, characterized by, or producing a hissing sound
  • languorous – lacking energy, spirit, liveliness or vitality
  • vulpine – Of, resembling, or characteristic of a fox.
  • avarice – Immoderate desire for wealth; cupidity.

Unfortunately, my love of words doesn’t help me beat my wife at Scrabble. I still get utterly decimated.

Highlights from A Crown of Swords

This is approximately the seventh in my series of posts where I share the highlights I made in the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. This post covers book 7, A Crown Of Swords. Given the lengths of the books, this selection is ‘the best’ highlights; otherwise there’d be several thousand words worth of quotes. As it is, this post is longer than intended…

Serious Matters: Dealt with First

It seems odd to start my ‘highlights’ post by talking about something which I found genuinely disturbing. But it needs to be discussed. Matt Cauthon, who frequently seduce any willing woman, finds himself aggressively pursued by Queen Tylin. No, I’m going to call a spade a spade: she rapes him. I’ll post the encounter here in full and then discuss it.

It was too much. The woman hounded him, tried to starve him; now she locked them in together like . . . like he did not know what. Lambkin! Those bloody dice were bouncing around in his skull. Besides, he had important business to see to. The dice had never had anything to do with finding something, but . . . He reached her in two long strides, seized her arm, and began fumbling in her belt for the keys. “I don’t have bloody time for—” His breath froze as the sharp point of her dagger beneath his chin shut his mouth and drove him right up onto his toes. “Remove your hand,” she said coldly. He managed to look down his nose at her face. She was not smiling now. He let go of her arm carefully. She did not lessen the pressure of her blade, though. She shook her head. “Tsk, tsk. I do try to make allowances for you being an outlander, gosling, but since you wish to play roughly . . . Hands at your sides. Move.” The knifepoint gave a direction. He shuffled backward on tiptoe rather than have his neck sliced. “What are you going to do?” he mumbled through his teeth. A stretched neck put a strain in his voice. A stretched neck among other things. “Well?” He could try grabbing her wrist; he was quick with his hands. “What are you going to do?” Quick enough, with the knife already at his throat? That was the question. That, and the one he asked her. If she intended to kill him, a shove of her wrist right there would drive the dagger straight up into his brain. “Will you answer me!” That was not panic in his voice. He was not in a panic. “Majesty? Tylin?” Well, maybe he was in a bit of a panic, to use her name. You could call any woman in Ebou Dar “duckling” or “pudding” all day, and she would smile, but use her name before she said you could, and you found a hotter reception than you would for goosing a strange woman on the street anywhere else. A few kisses exchanged were never enough for permission, either. Tylin did not answer, only kept him tiptoeing backward, until suddenly his shoulders bumped against something that stopped him. With that flaming dagger never easing a hair, he could not move his head, but eyes that had been focused on her face darted. They were in the bedchamber, a flower-carved red bedpost hard between his shoulder blades. Why would she bring him . . .? His face was suddenly as crimson as the bedpost. No. She could not mean to . . . It was not decent! It was not possible! “You can’t do this to me,” he mumbled at her, and if his voice was a touch breathy and shrill, he surely had cause. “Watch and learn, my kitten,” Tylin said, and drew her marriage knife. Afterward, a considerable time later, he irritably pulled the sheet up to his chest. A silk sheet; Nalesean had been right. The Queen of Altara hummed happily beside the bed, arms twisted behind her to do up the buttons of her dress. All he had on was the foxhead medallion on its cord – much good that had done – and the black scarf tied around his neck. A ribbon on her present, the bloody woman called it. He rolled over and snatched his silver-mounted pipe and tabac pouch from the small table on the other side from her. Golden tongs and a hot coal in a golden bowl of sand provided the means for lighting. Folding his arms, he puffed away as fiercely as he frowned. “You should not flounce, duckling, and you shouldn’t pout.” She yanked her dagger from where it was driven into a bedpost beside her marriage knife, examining the point before sheathing it. “What is the matter? You know you enjoyed yourself as much as I did, and I . . .” She laughed suddenly, and oh so richly, resheathing the marriage knife as well. “If that is part of what being ta’veren means, you must be very popular.” Mat flushed like fire. (page 515-517)

It is such a tricky situation. Matt does complain about it, clearly uncomfortable. It is culturally appropriate in the city of Ebou Dar for women to do the pursuing. Matt doesn’t entirely hate the situation or Tylin. But he does feel so uncomfortable that he seeks his friends out for help…

“You listen to me! That woman won’t take no for an answer; I say no, and she laughs at me. She’s starved me, bullied me, chased me down like a stag! She has more hands than any six women I ever met. She threatened to have the serving women undress me if I didn’t let her—” (Page 653)

I suspect the scene was written in a failed attempt to be funny. The gag was probably supposed to be the chaser becomes the chased. Only it isn’t funny. If you swap the genders and have a man forcing a woman into bed at knife-point it’s rape. It doesn’t matter what the individual’s sexual past has been.

It’s important to note in the world-building of WOT, it isn’t rape. Matt never describes it as such himself. It’s in a grey area that has and can be argued over. However the problem is in modern times it equates to rape in the reader’s mind. At least in this reader’s mind.

Not everyone will agree that it was rape, citing plausible arguments. That’s OK. From a writer’s perspective is it a good thing that a significant portion of your readers will be uncomfortable about the scene? (When that isn’t the goal of the scene). I would say not. I found it incredibly jarring when I realised that’s what it was. I was shocked and disturbed.

Now I’ve read other books with rape or similar uncomfortable material. (I think of Rage by Wilbur Smith in which I couldn’t warm to any of the characters due to their despicable and abhorrent natures). Part of the reason why it disturbed me so much was because I wasn’t expecting it – it doesn’t fit the rest of the WOT books. Some author’s have made their careers by making readers squirm, but Jordan wasn’t one of them.

I don’t think Jordan is bad because of the scene; it was a poor choice with unintended ramifications. Who, among us though, hasn’t had a joke which has backfired horribly? It’s just that Jordan’s mis-fired joke was written down and mass-marketed. A good warning.

Onto Better Things

Now onto the good highlights.

“The White Tower will be whole again, except for remnants cast out and scorned, whole and stronger than ever. Rand al’Thor will face the Amyrlin Seat and know her anger. The Black Tower will be rent in blood and fire, and sisters will walk its grounds. This I Foretell.” (Page 16)

What I particularly like about this is it’s a prophecy of the future that is guaranteed to come true. Only, the interpretation that the character puts upon the Foretelling is a different outcome to what will happen in reality. I knew this because it’s not my first time reading the book, but for a new reader it would throw them off-track. A clever manoeuver.

More on the differences between men and women:

  • Standing on the ground, she somehow made it seem that she was looking down at him. Not an Aes Sedai trick, that; he had seen Faile do it. He suspected most women knew how. (Page 71)
  • Only a fool thinks a lion or a woman can truly be tamed. (Page 354)
  • “Women keep promises in their own way,” (Page 646)
  • Usually when a woman was in the wrong, she could find so many things to blame on the nearest man that he wound up thinking maybe he really was at fault. (Page 652)

And some real-life humor, a dig at us authors:

Loial strode up, bubbling with energy despite his obvious weariness. “Rand, they say they’re ready to go, but you promised to talk to me while it’s fresh.” Abruptly his ears twitched with embarrassment, and that booming voice became plaintive. “I am sorry; I know it can’t be enjoyable. But I must know. For the book. For the Ages.” Laughing, Rand got to his feet and tugged at the Ogier’s open coat. “For the Ages? Do writers all talk like that? Don’t worry, Loial. It will still be fresh when I tell you. I won’t forget.” (Page 87)

Other good quotes:

  • The wind shook the banner hard and was gone quickly, as if glad to be away. (Page 50)
  • Defeating Aes Sedai was not easy; making them admit defeat lay on the far side of impossible. (Page 57)
  • Perhaps they would only still them. From the little he had picked up, stilling an Aes Sedai amounted to a killing that just took a few years for the corpse to lie down. (Page 59)
  • “You think I can’t teach them as well as you?” Rand’s voice was soft, the whisper of a blade sliding in its sheath. (Page 82)
  • In Cairhien, maybe in most lands, ordinary folk could be crushed unnoticed where the mighty walked. (Page 116)
  • He floated in the Void, surrounded by emptiness beyond knowing, and saidin filled him, trying to grind him to dust beneath steel-shattering cold and heat where stone would flash to flame, carrying the Dark One’s taint on its flow, forcing corruption into his bones. Into his soul, he feared sometimes. It did not make him feel so sick to his stomach as it once had. He feared that even more. And larded through that torrent of fire, ice and filth – life. That was the best word. Saidin tried to destroy him. Saidin filled him to overflowing with vitality. It threatened to bury him, and it enticed him. The war for survival, the struggle to avoid being consumed, magnified the joy of pure life. So sweet even with the foulness. What would it be like, clean? Beyond imagining. He wanted to draw more, draw all there was. (Page 144)
  • It was always better to know than to be ignorant, but sometimes ignorance was much more comfortable. (Page 269)
  • A yellow-haired woman in red belt and plunging neckline made a faint sound as her eyes rolled up in her head and she slid bonelessly from her red chair. (Page 552)
  • “Yes, but there is the matter of the Bargain.” That word was plainly capitalized in Harine’s tone. (Page 597)
  • Mat crashed into the killer’s back, and they all three hit the floor together. He had no compunctions against stabbing a man in the back when it was necessary, especially a man who could tear somebody’s throat out. (Page 666)
  • Insults to Thom’s flute or his harp were insults to himself. (Page 684)
  • Rand blinked, and snatched one hand from the crown to suck on a pricked finger. Almost buried among the laurel leaves of the crown were the sharp points of swords. …  Gingerly he set the circle of laurel leaves on his head. Half those swords pointed up, half down. No head would wear this crown casually or easily. (Page 739)

Highlights from ‘Lord of Chaos’

Here are some of my highlights from book 6 of the Wheel of Time series, Lord of Chaos. After having so many quotes for the last book I had to split the post in two, I’ve really chosen only the best-of-the-best this time.

I want to make a special note of this recap on who the primary protagonist is.

Despite his having been raised in the Two Rivers by Tam al’Thor and, until her death when he was five, Tam’s wife, Kari, Rand’s true mother had been a Maiden of Spear who died giving birth to him on the slopes of Dragonmount. Not an Aiel, though his father had been, but still a Maiden. Now Aiel customs stronger than law had touched him. No, not touched; enveloped. No Maiden could marry and still carry the spear and unless she gave up the spear any child she bore was given to another woman by the Wise Ones, in such a way that the Maiden never knew who that woman was. Any child born of a Maiden was believed to be lucky, both in itself and to raise, though none but the woman who raised the child and her husband ever knew it was not her own. Yet beyond that, the Aiel Prophecy of Rhuidean said that the Car’a’carn would be such a one, raised by wetlanders. To the Maidens, Rand was all those children come back, the first child of a Maiden ever to be known to everyone. (Page 119)

This passage is good, because it provides a concrete and plausible explanation of why the Maiden’s are so loyal to Rand. It is not only because he declared ‘they carry my honour’ but also because he is a symbol of the children they have given away. Loyalties, thus explained, would be far stronger than to any individual under normal circumstances.

I’d love to know if Jordan had this in mind all along, or if he realised he could knit it together further down the track. In any case, it’s brilliant.

He had abandoned them to this. If he had gone, there might not have been such a long list of the dead, so many names that he knew. But if he had gone, he would not have the Aiel behind him. Cairhien would not be his, as much as it was, and Rahvin would likely be sending a united Andor against him and the Two Rivers. There was a price to be paid for any decision he made. There was a price for who he was. Other people paid it. He had to keep reminding himself that it was a far smaller price than they would pay without him. (Page 283)

Hear the emotional turmoil for Rand. The necessities of events (the plot) are in conflict with what he would choose to do in relationships. The grinding together of tensions of plot and character.

A salient truth:

How people see you first is what they hold hardest in their minds. It is the way of the world. You can step down from a throne, and even if you behave like a farmer in a pigsty, some part in each of them will remember that you did descend from a throne. But if they see only a young man first, a country man, they will resent him stepping up to his throne later, whatever his right, whatever his power. (Page 391)

An intricacy of the sweeping plot explained, how history and past are woven together into a tapestry of the now and into the future.

Everything folded back into itself, in endless circles. Tigraine went to the Waste in secret, which made Laman Damodred cut down Avendoraldera, a gift of the Aiel, to make a throne, an act which brought the Aiel across the Spine of the World to kill him—that had been their only goal, though the nations called it the Aiel War—and with the Aiel came a Maiden named Shaiel, who died giving birth. So many lives changed, lives ended, so she could give birth to him at the proper time and place and die doing it. (Page 397)

A strong line:

“Take this message back to Sammael,” he said coldly. “Every death he has caused since waking, I lay at his feet and call due. Every murder he has ever done or caused, I lay at his feet and call due. […] But I will see justice done now. Tell him, no truce with the Forsaken. No truce with the Shadow.” (Page 400)

I loved the imagery used in this paragraph. To me it just resonated and I could see it playing out in my mind’s eye.

“I sent them [guards] away as you insisted,” Sulin said disgustedly. “Give me a slow count of one hundred.”
“Ten.”
“Fifty.” Rand nodded, and her fingers flashed. Jalani darted away inside, and Sulin’s hands flickered again. Three gai’shain women dropped their armloads of maps looking startled—Aiel never looked that surprised—gathered long white robes and vanished back into the Palace in different directions, but quickly as they moved, Sulin was ahead of them. As Rand reached twenty, Aiel began bounding into the courtyard, hurtling though windows, leaping down from balconies. He almost lost the count. Every one was veiled, and only some Maidens. They stared about in confusion when they found only Rand and three Ogier, who blinked at them curiously. Some lowered their veils. The palace servants huddled together. (Page 467)

The lovable rogue, Mat Cauthon:

  • Mat slipped back and left them to it. The general who leads in the front of battle is a fool. That came from one of those old memories, a quote from somebody whose name was not part of the memory. A man could get killed in there. That was pure Mat Cauthon. (Page 490)
  • “By the look of you, Nynaeve, I could almost think you were angry, but I know you have such a sweet disposition people ask you to dabble your fingers in their tea.” (Page 592)
  • He had four rules concerning action and information. Never make a plan without knowing as much as you can of the enemy. Never be afraid to change your plans when you receive new information. Never believe you know everything. And never wait to know everything. The man who waited to know everything was still sitting in his tent when the enemy burned it over his head. (Page 630)

Here is a highlight I made for the wrong reasons. Read it first and then I’ll explain why.

Then there were the Cairhienin, outside the ring of Aiel. Colavaere, strikingly handsome in her middle years, dark hair an elaborate tower of curls, and horizontal slashes coloring her gown from high gold-embroidered collar to below her knees, more slashes than anyone else present. Solid, square-faced Dobraine, the front of his mostly gray hair shaved soldier-fashion and his coat worn from the straps of a breastplate. Maringil, straight as a blade, white hair touching his shoulders; he had not shaved his forehead, and his dark silk coat, striped like Dobraine’s, nearly to his knees, was fit for a ball. Two dozen or more clustered behind, mostly younger men and women, few wearing horizontal stripes even as low as the waist. “Grace favor the Lord Dragon,” they murmured, bowing hand to heart or curtsying, and, “Grace honors us with the Lord Dragon’s presence.” The Tairens had their contingent as well, High Lords and Ladies without lesser nobles, in peaked velvet hats and silk coats with puffy, satin-striped sleeves, in bright gowns with broad lace ruffs and close-fitting caps of pearls or gems, making their respects with “The Light illumine the Light Dragon.” Meilan stood foremost, of course, lean and hard and expressionless, with his gray pointed beard. Close beside him, Fionnda’s stern expression and iron eyes somehow did not diminish her beauty, while willowy Anaiyella’s simpers lessened hers. There were certainly no smiles of any sort on the faces of Maraconn, a blue-eyed rarity among Tairens, or bald Gueyam, or Aracome, who looked twice as slender alongside Gueyam’s solid width if just as steely. They—and Meilan—had been thick with Hearne and Simaan. (Page 440)

Did you get through it? I’m not sure I did. Way too much detail on the clothes of people who aren’t important. Whilst some of these characters do make a re-appearance – and so possibly become more important – I think this passage is an example of waffling.

More great lines:

  • “‘The right medicine always tastes bitter,’” Lini murmured softly. “Most of all for a child who throws a sulky tantrum.” (Page 60)
  • Any man would have to be aware of them, sudden death in their eyes, their hands. (Page 99)
  • A woman’s eyes cut deeper than a knife, another Two Rivers saying. (Page 121)
  • The simple form of it was this: where a spymaster should doubt his own face in the mirror, Omerna believed anything. (Page 255)
  • If you took risks, sometimes the bill came due when you least expected, in the last way you expected. (Page 292)
  • Elayne’s first wincing instinct was to smooth it over somehow, though how was a question she could not begin to answer. As easy to smooth over a mountain range. (Page 384)
  • “Women do not become exhausted,” Haman said, “they only exhaust others. That is a very old saying among us.” (Page 464)
  • Rumor might cross a hundred miles in a day or take a month, and it birthed ten daughters every day. (Page 506)
  • We are always more afraid than we wish to be, but we can always be braver than we expect. (Page 666)
  • ‘Fools only listen to themselves (Page 733)
  • “If you pursue two hares, both will escape you,” (Page 789)
  • She always touched him. Not blatantly, just fingers on his hand for a moment, on his arm, his shoulder. Hardly worth noticing. The third day a thought occurred that made the hair on the nape of his neck rise. When you were taming a horse that had never been ridden, you began with light touches, until the animal knew your touch would not hurt, until it stood still for your hand. After that came the saddle cloth, and later the saddle. The bridle was always last. (Page 910)
  • Rand let Sulin hold his coat for him to put on, for the simple reason that he would have had to rip it out of her hands physically to do otherwise. As usual, she tried to shove the garment onto him with no regard to details such as where his arms happened to be. (Page 916)