Highlights from ‘A Memory of Light’

The dog didn’t eat my homework, but the browser and/or WordPress sure chewed and swallowed my post 😦 Thankfully I wasn’t finished but it still set me back a long way.

Earlier this year I began to re-read the Wheel of Time tomes. I’d never read the whole series, so I thought it was time. After reading 14 books and a staggering 4.4 million words the journey has ended. This is my final post where I discuss the last book – and share my favourite highlights from A Memory of Light. You can see all of my other reviews here:

This is spoiler-filled.

Writing the final book in this long series was always going to be a hard task. The reading audience is heavily invested and they expect to be rewarded for lasting through the previous 13 books. All the promises have been made and now all that remains is to fit all of the puzzle pieces together. Oh, and in case that isn’t hard enough the majority of the book is a battle. The Last Battle (i.e. it better be epic) where the forces of Light and Darkness clash for the final time. And the change in author (due to Jordan’s death) was always going to increase scrutiny. Certainly it was never going to be easy to write. Additionally the battle had to be stretched out to the length expected of a Wheel of Time book. No pressure, none at all… Brandon Sanderson deserves credit for taking on such a difficult task and doing it so well.

Making the Pieces Fit. I hadn’t considered it before read it, but it made sense that the Last Battle would have to involve time distortion. Even a fictional battle between the ultimate forces of Good and Evil can’t extend for 350k words; fights are intense and tiring; rarely prolonged. Time dilation allows time to crawl infinitely slowly near where Rand fights the Dark One (and his mini-boss) and it moves in days (or weeks) the further away. This allows the cast of lesser-heroes and villains to get in on the action. It means the battle can be more nuanced that a choreographed fight scene.

Keeping the tension up in such a book would be challenging. Jordan has set the context of the novels and it’s a different tone to George RR Martin. Readers going in can be confident that Rand will win the Last Battle. And further, they can be confident that the cost of that victory isn’t going to be too high. The victory would come (potentially) with some losses but not the obliteration that would be almost expected had Martin written the series.

Plot Twists are a very Delicate Balance. A very delicate balance. A successful plot twist is surprising yet inevitable. The reader has to be surprised by a plot twist, but then with the benefit of hindsight see that there have been hints along the way and this is the logical outcome.

One of these which worked excellently for me, was the genius of Matt and the Horn of Valere. Early on in the series Matt blows the Horn and summons up the ghostly apparitions of heroes to push back the Seanchan army. Everyone knows that in doing so he is linked to the Horn until death. The heroes will only come at his horn blow. He’s also recounted many times that he died or near-died (I think both are used) when he was hung from the tree and saved by Rand. And though he tells us he’s died because he’s alive and well I hadn’t connected the two. And so as the Last Battle rages and the forces of Evil are winning with the Horn on the wrong side of the battlefield I had no idea how Matt was going to get to it. It turns out, he didn’t need to. Genius.

I didn’t see the connection between the events. Undoubtedly others did. To say it another way, the plot twist worked for me. One that didn’t work for me (at all) were the Sharans.

As the Last Battle is progressing the Sharan army appear through a Gateway from a distant land and surprise the forces of Light by joining the Dark side. A vast army with a lot of male and female wielders of the One Power, they are a counter-balance against the White Tower and Seanchan channelers. (The Black Tower is split down the middle).

The Sharans have scattered mentions throughout the books, often by alternate names. And the Forsaken, Demandred, was mentioned to have been notably absent a lot, as in “what’s he doing?”. They were referenced so infrequently that I had assumed they were referenced to expand the world. I thought it was Jordan pointing at shadows to assure the reader the world was deeper and broader than that which the reader had seen. I didn’t think they were important, and honestly, had largely forgotten about them.

In the later book they were given a greater prominence but coming so late in the series the sections felt clunky. I assumed that Jordan was pulling a ‘Tom Bombadil‘: letting his imaginative expression override his this-fits internal editor. I actually found the sections annoying because they were taking me out of the story.

So when the Sharan appear in the Last Battle, it didn’t click for me. I didn’t think it a brilliant plot twist; more of a deus ex machina to help balance the Dark side of the forces. That might be harsh but the plot twist didn’t work for me.

Speaking of deus ex machina: the new form of Travelling using the True Power. I suspect it was added so that the enemy could zip in-and-away constantly.

I did like the fact that the Great Captain’s were all corrupted (or at least taken off the playing field). Though it doesn’t rise to the level of a plot twist, it was a clever plot turn. Here is this resource that we expect the side of the Light to have, and yet in one foul swoop it is taken away.

The ending… it didn’t really leave me feeling satisfied. I think I would have preferred if Rand had died in a final heroic act.

Onto my highlights:

  • The approaching refugees would soon discover that they’d been marching toward danger. It was not surprising. Danger was in all directions. The only way to avoid walking toward it would be to stand still. (Page 70)
  • The bored soldier there had a face like an old shovel—it was half-covered in dirt and would be better off locked in a shed somewhere. (Page 261)
  •  He did not go into the Rahad. The place looked different, now. There were soldiers camped outside it. Generations of successive rulers in Ebou Dar had allowed the Rahad to fester unchecked, but the Seanchan were not so inclined. Mat wished them luck. The Rahad had fought off every invasion so far. Light. Rand should have just hidden there, instead of going up to fight the Last Battle. The Trollocs and Darkfriends would have come for him, and the Rahad would have left them all unconscious in an alley, their pockets turned inside out and their shoes sold for soup money. (Page 262)
  •  “Being in charge isn’t always about telling people what to do. Sometimes, it’s about knowing when to step out of the way of people who know what they’re doing.” (Page 295)
  •  The entire land wilted faster than a boy at Bel Tine with no dancing partners. (Page 336)

 And some more funny one-upmanship between Rand and Matt.

Rand: “What did you do to your eye?”
Matt: “A little accident with a corkscrew and thirteen angry innkeepers. The hand?”
“Lost it capturing one of the Forsaken.”
“Capturing?” Mat said. “You’re growing soft.”
Rand snorted. “Tell me you’ve done better.”
“I killed a gholam,” Mat said.
“I freed Illian from Sammael.”
“I married the Empress of the Seanchan.”
“Mat,” Rand said, “are you really trying to get into a bragging contest with the Dragon Reborn?” He paused for a moment. “Besides, I cleansed saidin. I win.”
“Ah, that’s not really worth much,” Mat said.
“Not worth much? It’s the single most important event to happen since the Breaking.”
“Bah. You and your Asha’man are already crazy,” Mat said, “so what does it matter?” He glanced to the side. “You look nice, by the way. You’ve been taking better care of yourself lately.”

“Sure,” Mat said. “By the way, I saved Moiraine. Chew on that as you try to decide which of the two of us is winning.” Mat followed Tuon, and behind him rose the laughter of the Dragon Reborn. (Page 368)

It seems late to make the decision, but I think I like Matt’s point-of-views best. He has more of a cheeky disposition which is fun to read:

  • Her new clothing looked very nice on her … Min’s was a dark green shiny silk with black embroidery and wide, open sleeves that were at least long enough to stick your head into. They had done up her hair, too, sticking bits of metal into it, silver with inset firedrops. There were hundreds of them. If this whole Doomseer title did not work out for her, perhaps she could find work as a chandelier. (Page 544) 
  • “Please, if I might make a humble suggestion, Highness? You are unprotected; let me at least give you some proper armor.” Mat thought for a moment, then agreed that her suggestion was a prudent one. A person could get hurt out there, what with arrows flying and blades swinging. Tylee called over one of her senior officers who seemed to be about the same size as Mat. She had the man remove his armor, which was extremely colorful, overlapping plates lacquered green, gold and red, outlined with silver. The officer looked bemused when Mat handed him his coat in trade, saying that he expected it to be returned at the end of the day in the same condition. (Page 558)
  • If you do not learn from your losses, you will be ruled by them. (Page 425) 

This below quote is worth a mention. A murderer standing over you is scary. One who is thoughtfully considering an everyday thing about you takes it further.

  • Still, bedding down here was like trying to sleep while a murderer stood beside your bed, holding a knife and contemplating the color of your hair. (Page 629)
  •  “Thank you.” She glanced at the sword.
  • “I’m a Warder now.” He shrugged. “Might as well look like one, eh?” He could cut a Trolloc in half with a gateway at three hundred paces, and summon fire from inside Dragonmount itself, and he still wanted to carry a sword. It was, she decided, a male thing. (Page 697)
  •  Some men would call it brash, foolhardy, suicidal. The world was rarely changed by men who were unwilling to try being at least one of the three. (Page 885)  
  • Below, the battle churned like a meat grinder, ripping men and Trollocs into chunks of dead flesh. (Page 950)

 And just a couple of interesting words:

  • starveling (Page 70)
  • occluded (Page 477)

Thus ended the Wheel of Time. If you’ve read it, I’d be curious to hear how you felt about the ending?

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Highlights from ‘Towers of Midnight’

This is my penultimate Wheel of Time series highlights post, where I pull out my favourite lines and reflect on some of the themes or writing style that I observed.

I read through book 13 of the Wheel of Time with a near insatiable hunger. I normally read on my daily commute but also found myself reading in every spare minute I had (including, when I should have been doing other things). I read with great anticipation. It felt as though I had journeyed so long through the series, and the end of the journey was in sight. For twelve long books the story has been reaching slowly toward a climax and now I knew it was just around the corner. The prophecies would be fulfilled, the Last Battle would finally come. With anticipation (and a tinge of sadness) I looked forward to finishing the journey with the myriad of characters who I’ve spent the more than half a year with.

There were two other things I particularly liked about this book (especially now that I consider them in hindsight). I’ll be a little vague so as not to spoil it. The first is the treatment of the character of Noal Charin. This elderly – and yet surprisingly spritely and dangerous – senior citizen first appears in book 7. He pops in and out for a while, until he begins traveling with Matt. Noal is very suspicious and we’re used to seeing assassins and Darkfriends hiding in plain-sight, so it’s no surprise that the reader assumes he’s somehow nefarious. Not until Towers of Midnight do we understand who he really is. He has a secret, only it’s not the one we think it is. At least that’s how I felt.

The second is the fulfilment of the prophecy where Matt would have to trade “half the light of the world” to rescue Moiraine. I always wondered what that meant, and how it would be achieved. Now I know, and it was excellently plotted. And of course, finished off with some trademark-quality Matt irreverence:

Mat stepped back and tipped his hat to the creatures. ‘Looks like the game can be won after all,’ he said. ‘Tell the foxes I’m mighty pleased with this key they gave me. Also, you can all go rot in a flaming pit of fire and ashes, you unwashed lumps on a pig’s backside. Have a grand bloody day.’ (page 897).

Now onto my highlights:

Dull green moss hung from the branches, drooping like shreds of flesh from rotting corpses. (Page 22)

I love some good descriptive phrases; words that really paint a picture that flourishes in the imagination. What’s particularly great about this one is more than just the vivid description: the phrase reinforces the theme and setting. One wouldn’t use a description like this to describe trees at a wedding, but trees in a world that is literally ‘spoiling’ fit it perfectly.

Like an old friend. A dear, beloved old friend that you were going to stab through the eye, open up at the gut and consume by handfuls while drinking his blood. That was the property way to treat friends. (Page 36)

This block starts off one way, making you think about a friend; and then pivots 180 degrees to show that it’s actually the opposite. (It is a terrible block. For context: it’s an evil villain who has been entirely corrupted by darkness. The thought-process also reveals the character’s warped madness. At the time I didn’t really understand this passage. Only now with hindsight – having finished book 14 – do I understand it. I guess it was foreshadowing and my memory may be foggy – perhaps it does play a bigger part in book 14?)

Continuing the theme I’ve mentioned before about a character understanding and relating to what they are familiar with: Faile comes from a culture noted for their cavalry and adeptness with horse bows.

Faile was actually a perfect complement to Perrin. Where he was a blunt and leveled lance at charge, she was a subtle cavalry bow. (Page 123)

And, Androl a master craftsman who worked with leather:

Logain was a hard man, broken around the edges, like an old scabbard that hadn’t been properly lacquered. But that scabbard still held a deadly sword. Logain was honest. A good man, beneath the scuff marks. (Page 746)

Also, taking what is a cliche for us, and bending and twisting until it’s different enough so as not to be boring. ‘A face only a mother would love’ becomes “Berg had a face ugly enough to make his own mother wince.” (Page 149) and the ‘long arm of the law’ becomes

There were many who would think to exploit a lone wanderer at night, particularly outside the city walls, where the arm of the law was a little on the flabby side. (Page 377)

Some gender-based humour, where men and women looked askance at one another:

  • She was not there at the wagon, fortunately for Mat. She would complain at him again for not having gotten her a bellfounder. She seemed to think him her own personal messenger boy. An unruly one, who refused to do his job properly. Most women had moments like that. (Page 259)
  • there was nothing a woman liked better than finding men who were relaxing, then giving them orders. (Page 266)
  • Nothing was more dangerous for the sanity of men than a woman with too much time on her hands. (Page 266)

‘Nobody walks a difficult path without stumbling now and again. It didn’t break you when you fell. That’s the important part.’ (Page 208)

Besides, I can only fight in one place at a time. What is coming will be grander than that, grander and more terrible than any one man could hope to hold back. I will organize you, but I must leave you. The war will be yours.’ (Page 554)

This passage explains what we should expect in the final book. Rand will face the Dark One, but the cosmic battle between good and evil will not be the only battle. The forces of darkness are many, and the full cast of characters will be used to hold-back the enemy.

Truth, veiled in fiction:

  • But also because it was for the best. If two bards tried to play different songs at the same time, they both made noise. But if one stepped back to give harmony to the other’s melody, then the beauty could be greater than either made alone. (Page 626)
  • The men who don’t want titles should be the ones who get them, it seems. (Page 681)
  • Small things were important. Seconds were small things, and if you heaped enough of those on top of one another, they became a man’s life. (Page 746)

Some great repartee:

‘I don’t like this,’ Birgitte said.
‘You don’t like anything, lately,’ Elayne said.
‘I swear, you’re becoming more irritable by the day.’‘It’s because you’re becoming more foolhardy by the day.’
‘Oh, come now. This is hardly the most foolhardy thing I’ve done.’
‘Only because you’ve set a very high benchmark for yourself, Elayne.’ (Page 833)

And

Mat just shook his head. ‘Well, we’re out, one way or another. But Thom, next time I want to do the bloody negotiating, sneak up behind and hit me on the head with something large, heavy and blunt. Then take over.’

‘Your request is noted.’ (Page 907)

Just great phrases:

  • Eventually, the wind encountered another continent, this one quiet, like a man holding his breath before the headsman’s axe fell. (Page 46)
  • He was a young man, but the way he stood – relaxed, yet poised, hand on the pommel of his sword – indicated he was a practiced soldier. Too bad he had such a pretty face. A life in the military would probably end up wrecking that. (Page 303)
  • at night, the holes and scars on the White Tower were patched with a bandage of darkness. (Page 361)

Some interesting words that I’d either not heard before, or seldom:

  • whelp – A young offspring of a mammal, such as a dog or wolf. (Page 85)
  • succor – To give assistance to in time of want, difficulty, or distress (Page 95)
  • expurgations – purging, cleansing from anything noxious, offensive, sinful or erroneous (Page 316)
  • fecund – Capable of producing offspring or vegetation (Page 429)
  • bittern – a type of wading bird (Page 721)
  • superlatively – Of the highest order, quality, or degree; surpassing or superior to all others. (Page 784)
  • sonorous – Having or producing a full, deep, or rich sound (Page 895)

Highlights from ‘The Gathering Storm’

When I pushed to complete my scifi/fantasy novel, Vengeance Will Come, it was for professional reasons. I wanted to divert some time from writing into learning c# and polishing up my programming skills. In my next blog post I will reveal some of the early fruits of that work. (Hint: it’s Nerd-Author Fun on steroids).

For this post, I’ll share my highlights from The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson, book 12: The Gathering Storm. This book was released after Jordan’s death, and completed by Sanderson (working with Jordan’s notes) to finish the series. It is my opinion that Brandon has done a wonderful job in giving readers the end of the series, admirably trying to imitate the series’ voice. As per usual to keep the size of the post manageable I’ve selected only those quotes I liked the most.

I found it a great surprise that on the very day I published my scifi/fantasy novel: Vengeance Will Come, I later read this passage:

…ignore this insult, Corana. Vengeance will come. Once this war is… (page 257)

What’s the chances of that? 🙂

There is humour which beautifully occurs over multiple pages. Everyone has sat on a chair before and wondered how long it is going to be before they collapse, or if they’ll be able to get out of it. Camping chairs are particularly notorious. It’s something 99% of readers can relate to. First the set up, with a funny description of the chair’s craftsman:

Mat asked, still suspicious as he seated himself on the pillowed bench. He hated the thing; it was completely impossible to sit on it in any way that was comfortable. Pillows didn’t help. Somehow, they made the seat more awkward. Bloody thing must have been designed by insane, cross-eyed Trollocs and built from the bones of the damned. That was the only reasonable explanation. (Page 588)

Notice how the funny description is reinforced by it being “the only reasonable explanation.” The story then continues, and the last paragraph in the scene returns to the humble bench for a final laugh:

Mat tucked the folded paper into his belt, then started to leave. ‘And have somebody burn that bloody bench. I can’t believe we carted the thing this far.’ (Page 597)

In book 12 Egwene really develops as the head of the Aes Sedai, the Amrilyn Seat. We see how her earlier time with Aiel is used to fashion her and help her to overcome Elaida’s punishment as she embraces pain, and is able to laugh through it. Multiple books worth of adventure and experience are beginning to make sense and we see how they fit into the narrative of the character arcs and broader story. The loose threads of the story are being woven together before our eyes.

‘You are a coward and a tyrant. I’d name you Darkfriend as well, but I suspect that the Dark One would perhaps be embarrassed to associate with you.’ (Page 283)

Plus some great descriptors:

  • The monster was a nightmare, given a body and let loose to kill. (Page 21)
  • many of his men were ill trained or too old for fighting. He almost lumped himself in that latter group, as the years were beginning to pile on him like bricks on a pallet (Page 31)
  • Some men were made weak by age, others were made to look tired or slovenly. Bryne had simply become distinguished, like a pillar, crafted by a master stonemason, then left to the elements. Age hadn’t reduced Bryne’s effectiveness or his strength. It had simply given him character, dusting his temples with silver, creasing his firm face with lines of wisdom. (Page 142)
  • He could feel the palace around him shaking from the earth’s own sobs. (Page 816)

For the majority of the last 10 or so books the main protagonist, Rand Al’Thor aka The Dragon Reborn, has been mentally and emotionally hardening himself. He has accepted his own death as inevitable and has transformed from a caring young man into a hardened fatalist. We have seen him push his friends away, use them as tools for his cause and grow impenetrable, the anger raging like a fire inside of him. His mind and heart have become hard, assuming that ultimate strength comes from overcoming emotions.

‘You believe the Last Battle is close, then?’ she asked.
‘Close?’ al’Thor asked. ‘It is as close as an assassin, breathing his foul breath upon your neck as he slides his knife across your skin. It is close like the last chime of midnight, after the other eleven have struck. Close? Yes, it is close. Horribly close.’ (Page 581)

Narratively, we know that he must change. Various side characters have repeatedly described how important it was that he “laugh again”. We knew the darkness inside of him somehow had to break or he wouldn’t be able to stand up for the Light. He, and the world would be lost to the Dark One.

I wasn’t sure how it was going to happen. And then, beautifully-written, it occurs. A masterstroke of plotting. It isn’t a trusted advisor, an old friend or a lover who draw the moment out, but between a father and his son.

Maybe you can’t pick where you are forced to go, but you still have a choice.’
‘But how?’ Tam laid a hand on Rand’s shoulder.
‘The choice isn’t always about what you do, son, but why you do it. When I was a soldier, there were some men who fought simply for the money. There were others who fought for loyalty – loyalty to their comrades, or to the crown, or to whatever. The soldier who dies for money and the soldier who dies for loyalty are both dead, but there’s a difference between them. One death meant something. The other didn’t. (Page 794)

You may not be able to choose the duties you’re given. But you can choose why you fulfil them. (Page 795)

And, importantly it isn’t a conversation which brings about the plot resolution. They have the conversation, then in a fit of rage Rand almost kills his father. He then almost destroys everything… but it is the conversation with the father that changes his mind, that pulls him back from the brink. A mere conversation wouldn’t have been enough; it would have been too quick, unbelievable. But how it happens is fantastic writing.

‘How do you fight someone smarter than yourself?’ Rand whispered. ‘The answer is simple. You make her think that you are sitting down across the table from her, ready to play her game. Then you punch her in the face as hard as you can. (Page 616)

And the word-power words:

  • diaphanous – Of such fine texture as to be transparent or translucent (Page 21)
  • cairn –  A mound of stones erected as a memorial or marker (Page 244)
  • sagacious – Having or showing keen discernment, sound judgment, and farsightedness (Page 708)

Note that there are less of them. It could be I marked less, but I suspect that Sanderson choose to use less than Jordan did. A good decision, I think.

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)

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 Winter’s Heart

My highlights and thoughts on book 9 of the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan, Winter’s Heart.

This post is longer than normal, because I want to share with you a passage which I found particularly good.

For several books Jordan has talked about the Aiel, a culture with complex family relationships most unlike our Western ones. In this passage, Elayne undergoes the ceremony to become first-sister to Aviendha. (The closest parallel for Westerners would be two friends who completely and without limit adopt one another as though blood-relations).

(For background, the ceremony uses the female-half of Jordan’s magic system, saidar, and they talk about the Aiel custom of ji’e’toh, “honor and obligation” which is essentially their shame-resolution system within the culture).

The quote starts with Monaelle, a Wise One speaking after Elayne and Aviendha are brought into a private room filled with Wise Ones.

“You will both do as you are instructed. If you waver or question, your dedication is not strong enough. I will send you away, and that will be the end of it, forever. I will ask questions, and you will answer truthfully. If you refuse to answer, you will be sent away. If any here think you lie, you will be sent away. You may leave at any time on your own, of course. Which also will end this for all time. There are no second chances here. Now. What is the best you know of the woman you want for a first-sister?”
Elayne half-expected the question. This was one of the things she had been told to think about. Choosing one virtue among many had not been easy, yet she had her answer ready. When she spoke, flows of saidar suddenly wove together between her and Aviendha, and no sound came from her tongue, or Aviendha’s. Without thought, a part of her mind tucked away the weaves; even now, trying to learn was as much a part of her as the color of her eyes. The weaves vanished as her lips closed. “Aviendha is so confident, so proud. She doesn’t care what anyone thinks she should do, or be; she is who she wants to be,” Elayne heard her own voice say, while Aviendha’s words suddenly were audible at the same time. “Even when Elayne is so afraid that her mouth dries, her spirit will not bend. She is braver than anyone I have ever known.”
Elayne stared at her friend. Aviendha thought she was brave? Light, she was no coward, but brave? Strangely, Aviendha was staring at her in disbelief.
“Courage is a well,” Viendre said at Elayne’s ear, “deep in some, shallow in others. Deep or shallow, wells go dry eventually, even if they fill again later. You will face what you cannot face. Your spine will turn to jelly, and your vaunted courage will leave you weeping in the dust. The day will come.” She sounded as though she wanted to be there to see it come. Elayne gave a curt nod. She knew all about her spine turning to jelly; she fought it every day, it seemed.
Tamela was speaking to Aviendha, in a voice almost as satisfied as Viendre’s. “Ji’e’toh binds you like bands of steel. For ji, you make yourself exactly what is expected of you, to the last hair. For toh, if necessary you will abase yourself and crawl on your belly. Because you care to your bones what everyone thinks of you.”
Elayne nearly gasped. That was harsh, and unfair. She knew something of ji’e’toh, but Aviendha was not like that. Yet Aviendha was nodding, much as she herself had. An impatient acceptance of what she already knew.
“Fine traits to love in a first-sister,” Monaelle said, lifting her shawl down to her elbows, “but what do you find worst in her?”
Elayne shifted on her chilling knees, licked her lips before speaking. She had dreaded this. It was not just Monaelle’s warning. Aviendha had said they must speak the truth. Must, or what was sisterhood worth? Again the weaves held their words captive until they were done.
“Aviendha . . .” Elayne’s voice said suddenly, hesitantly. “She . . . she thinks violence is always the answer. At times, she won’t think beyond her belt knife. At times, she’s like a boy who won’t grow up!”
“Elayne knows that . . .” Aviendha’s voice began, then gulped and went on in a rush. “She knows she is beautiful, knows the power it gives her over men. She exposes half her bosom sometimes, in the open air, and she smiles to make men do what she wants.”
Elayne gaped. Aviendha thought that of her? It made her sound a lightskirt! Aviendha frowned back and half-opened her mouth, but Tamela pressed her shoulders again and began to speak.
“You think men do not stare at your face in approval?” There was an edge in the Wise One’s voice; strong was the best anyone would ever say of her face. “Do they not look at your breasts in the sweat tent? Admire your hips? You are beautiful, and you know it. Deny it, and deny yourself! You have taken pleasure in men’s looks, and smiled at them. Will you never smile at a man to give your arguments more weight, or touch his arm to distract him from the weakness of your arguments? You will, and you will be no less for it.”
Red flooded Aviendha’s cheeks, but Elayne was having to listen to Viendre. And fight blushes of her own. “There is violence in you. Deny it, and deny yourself. Have you never raged and struck out? Have you never drawn blood? Have you never wished to? Without considering another way? Without any thought at all? While you breathe, that will be part of you.” Elayne thought of Taim, and other times, and her face felt like a furnace.
This time, there was more than one response.
“Your arms will grow weak,” Tamela was telling Aviendha. “Your legs will lose their swiftness. A youth will be able to take the knife from your hand. How will skill or ferocity avail you then? Heart and mind are the true weapons. But did you learn to use the spear in a day, when you were a Maiden? If you do not hone mind and heart now, you will grow old and children will befuddle your wits. Clan chiefs will sit you in a corner to play cat’s cradle, and when you speak, all will hear only the wind. Take heed while you can.”
“Beauty flees,” Viendre went on, to Elayne. “Years will make your breasts sag, your flesh grow slack, your skin grow leathery. Men who smiled to see your face will speak to you as if you were just another man. Your husband may see you always as the first time his eyes caught you, but no other man will dream of you. Will you no longer be you? Your body is only clothing. Your flesh will wither, but you are your heart and mind, and they do not change except to grow stronger.”
Elayne shook her head. Not in denial. Not really. She had never thought on aging, though. Especially not since going to the Tower. The years lay lightly even on very old Aes Sedai. But what if she lived as long as the Kinswomen? That would mean giving up being Aes Sedai, of course, but what if she did? The Kin took a very long time to grow wrinkles, but grow them they did. What was Aviendha thinking? She knelt there looking . . . sullen.
“What is the most childish thing you know of the woman you want for a first-sister?” Monaelle said.
This was easier, not so fraught. Elayne even smiled as she spoke. Aviendha grinned back, sullenness gone. Again the weaves took their words and released them together, voices with laughter in them.
“Aviendha won’t let me teach her to swim. I’ve tried. She isn’t afraid of anything, except getting into more water than a bathtub.”
“Elayne gobbles sweets with both hands like a child who’s escaped her mother’s eye. If she keeps on, she will be fat as a pig before she grows old.”
Elayne jerked. Gobbles? Gobbles? A taste, now and then, was all she took. Just now and then. Fat? Why was Aviendha glaring at her? Refusing to step into water more than knee-deep was childish.
Monaelle covered a slight cough with one hand, but Elayne thought she was hiding a smile. Some of the standing Wise Ones laughed outright. At Aviendha’s silliness? Or her . . . gobbling?
Monaelle resumed dignity, adjusting her skirts spread out on the floor, but there was still a touch of mirth in her voice. “What is your greatest jealousy of the woman you want for a first-sister?”
Perhaps Elayne would have hedged her answer despite the requirement for truth. Truth had jumped up as soon as she was told to think on this, but she had found something smaller, less embarrassing for them both, that would have passed muster. Perhaps. But there was that about her smiling at men and exposing her bosom. Maybe she did smile, but Aviendha walked in front of red-faced servingmen without a stitch on and seemed not even to see them! So she gobbled candy, did she? She was going to get fat? She spoke the bitter truth while the weaves took her words and Aviendha’s mouth moved in grim silence, until at last what they had said was loosed.
“Aviendha has lain in the arms of the man I love. I never have; I may never, and I could weep over it!”
“Elayne has the love of Rand al’Th . . . of Rand. My heart is dust for wanting him to love me, but I do not know if he ever will.”
Elayne peered into Aviendha’s unreadable face. She was jealous of her over Rand? When the man avoided Elayne Trakand as if she had scabies? She had no time for more thought.
“Strike her as hard as you can with your open hand,” Tamela told Aviendha, removing her own hands from Aviendha’s shoulders.
Viendre squeezed Elayne’s lightly. “Do not defend yourself.” They had not been told anything of this! Surely, Aviendha would not—
Blinking, Elayne pushed herself up from the icy floor tiles. Gingerly she felt her cheek, and winced. She was going to wear a palm print the rest of the day. The woman did not have to hit her that hard.
Everyone waited until she was kneeling again, and then Viendre leaned closer. “Strike her as hard as you can with your open hand.”
Well, she was not going to knock Aviendha on her ear. She was not going to—
Her full-armed slap sent Aviendha sprawling, sliding on her chest across the tiles almost to Monaelle. Elayne’s palm stung almost as much as her cheek.
Aviendha half pushed herself up, gave her head a shake, then scrambled back to her position. And Tamela said, “Strike her with the other hand.”
This time, Elayne slid all the way to Amys’ knees on the frozen tiles, her head ringing, both cheeks burning. And when she regained her own knees in front of Aviendha, when Viendre told her to strike, she put her whole body into the slap, so much that she nearly fell over atop Aviendha as the other woman went down.
“You may go now,” Monaelle said.
Elayne’s eyes jerked toward the Wise One. Aviendha, halfway back to her knees, went stiff as stone.
“If you wish to,” Monaelle continued. “Men usually do, at this point if not sooner. Many women do, too. But if you still love one another enough to go on, then embrace.”
Elayne flung herself at Aviendha, and was met with a rush that nearly knocked her over backward. They clung together. Elayne felt tears trickling from her eyes, and realized Aviendha was crying as well. “I’m sorry,” Elayne whispered fervently. “I’m sorry, Aviendha.”
“Forgive me,” Aviendha whispered back. “Forgive me.”
Monaelle was standing over them, now. “You will know anger at one another again, you will speak harsh words, but you will always remember that you have already struck her. And for no better reason than you were told to. Let those blows pass for all you might wish to give. You have toh toward one another, toh you cannot repay and will not try to, for every woman is always in her first-sister’s debt. You will be born again.”

Within the ceremony they answer 3 questions

  • What is the best trait of the other woman? The Wise Ones acknowledge the virtue of the quality, before pointing its limitations, tearing down any sense of pride. The good quality at some stage will falter.
    (Aviendha is independent … but she is prideful)
    (Elayne has courage … her courage will fail her at some stage)
  • What is the worst trait of the other woman? The Wise Ones reply by identifying that same trait in the accuser, and highlighting the frailty of the trait.
    (Aviendha is quick to use her knife … her physical strength will fade)
    (Elayne uses her beauty … which will pass with years)
  • What is the most childish thing the other woman does?
    (Aviendha is afraid of large bodies of water)
    (Elayne gobbles lollies).
  • What is your greatest jealousy of the woman you want for a first-sister?
    (Aviendha is jealous that Rand loves Elayne)
    (Elayne is jealous that Aviendha has slept with Rand)

The women then strike each other before being told “always remember that you have already struck her. And for no better reason than you were told to. Let those blows pass for all you might wish to give.”

I like this passage because I think it is perceptive. It humbles the individual and lets them know the best and worst that their (future) sister thinks of them. All pretense gone they start their new relationship with complete honesty.

Other quotes I liked:

Funny:

  • “Me?” Gill wheezed once he could talk. “You want me to tell her? She’ll crack my pate if I mention a thing like that! I think the woman was born in Far Madding in a thunderstorm. She probably told the thunder to be quiet. It probably did.” (Page 152)
  • When a woman adjusted her clothes for no reason, it was like a man tightening the straps of his armor and checking his saddle girth; she meant to drive home a charge, and you would be cut down like a dog if you ran. (Page 496)
  • “And on you, my Lord,” their stocky officer replied, ambling forward, and Mat recognized him, Surlivan Sarat, a good fellow, always ready with a quip and possessing a fine eye for horses. Shaking his head, Surlivan tapped the side of his pointed helmet with the thin, gilded rod of his office. “Have you been in another fight, my Lord? She will go up like a waterspout, when she sees you.” Squaring his shoulders, and trying not to lean so obviously on his staff, Mat bristled. Ready with a quip? Come to think on it, the sun-dark man had a tongue like a rasp. And his eye for horses was not all that fine, either. “Will there be any questions if my friend here beds down with my men?” Mat asked roughly. (Page 364)

Perceptive:

  • Brave words made scant covering for bare skin. (Page 104)
  • Whoever the woman was, she might get the thief-catcher beheaded yet, but that sort of fever had to burn itself out before a man could think straight. Women did strange things to a man’s head. (Page 381)
  • Great captains earned their reputation not just for laying brilliant plans, but for still being able to find victory after those plans began to fall apart. (Page 584)
  • Alone of the prisoners they were unbound—except by custom stronger than chains. (Page 107)
  • “You can never know everything,” Lan said quietly, “and part of what you know is always wrong. Perhaps even the most important part. A portion of wisdom lies in knowing that. A portion of courage lies in going on anyway.” (page 619)

Tantalising clues:

  • Aviendha would have Rand’s babies, too. Four of them at once! Something was odd about that, though. The babies would be healthy, but still something odd. (Page 296)
  • Verin slipped the small vial back into her pouch unopened. It was good to be sure of Cadsuane at last. (Page 509)

Emotive:

  • Mat knew he should eat, too, but he felt as though he had swallowed a stone, and it did not leave room for food. ( Page 591)
  • One by one he summoned up the names on that long list, patiently forging his soul in the fires of pain. (Page 643)
  • “I really did find what I needed here.” If a sword had memory, it might be grateful to the forge fire, but never fond of it. (Page 650)
  • “I myself would not believe him dead unless I sat three days with the corpse.” (Page 210)

Highlights from ‘The Path Of Daggers’

My favourite quotes from The Path Of Daggers: Book 8 of the Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan.

  • “Be certain to hold your tongue, Verin Mathwin, or you will use it to howl.”  (Page 21)
  • The Fisher was always worked as a man, a bandage blinding his eyes and one hand pressed to his side, a few drops of blood dripping through his fingers.  (Page 34)
  • she could tell you to your face that you were a blind idiot, yet let anyone else say it, and she would defend you until she went hoarse. (Page 72)

And this one is a good moral for work, or sometimes, writing too/l

  • You hammered the iron that lay on your anvil instead of daydreaming about working silver. (Page 160)

 

  • Faile was smiling, pride shining through the sweat on her face. Her look washed away some of Perrin’s revulsion. He would walk barefoot through fire for that look. (Page 176)
  • …he could not pick one from another, yet these women smelled like wolves studying a tethered goat. (Page 223)
  • If need demanded, she would use them both for mulch, and others too, but she did not intend to lose either because they grew careless. (Page 286)
  • Despite the men following, he felt alone. Despite the Power, he felt empty. (Page 305)
  • But she still carried compassion in her eyes as she herded them out. (Page 321)
  • Exhaustion made as thick a blanket over the camp as the snow. (Page 331)
  • The only one not in fine array, he looked as he always did, plain and slightly battered. A rock that had weathered storms and would outlast more to come. (Page 375)
  • “If all we’ve heard is true, then at best, allowing you to pass through Andor unhindered may seem like giving aid, or even alliance, in the eyes of the White Tower. Failure to oppose you might mean learning what the grape learns in the winepress.” (Page 383)

I’ve written before about the over-abundance of Siuan’s fishing analogies. This paragraph then stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb:

  • Siuan snorted. “I don’t mind sailing the Fingers of the Dragon in the dark if I must,” she muttered half under her breath. “We discussed that; we weighed the dangers, and anyway, there doesn’t seem to be a gull’s last dinner for choice. But you have to set a fire on deck just to make things interesting. Netting lionfish isn’t enough for you. You have to stuff a prickleback down your dress, too. You aren’t content trying to wade a school of silverpike—” (Page 390)

An excellent description of being surrounded by enemies:
(a sigil is a banner which shows the allegiance of the soldiers who follow it).

  • Half the sigils I saw out there belong to men who’d bite their tongues if they saw a fellow behind you with a knife, and most of the rest to men who’d try to hold your attention. If they hadn’t paid the knife man in the first place.” (Page 453)
  • When you die, people begin to forget, who you were and what you did, or tried to do. Everybody dies eventually, and everybody is forgotten, eventually, but there’s no bloody point dying before your time comes.” (Page 463)
  • A raken appeared in the east ahead, skimming low over the treetops, twisting and turning to follow the curves of the land like a man running his hand down a woman’s back. (Page 479)
  • “Do you think to abandon your men?” Jadranka snarled. “We rally them and attack, you—!” He cut off, gurgling, as Karede’s swordpoint went neatly into his throat. There were times fools could be tolerated, and times not. (Page 482)
  • Sword in hand, Bashere barely reined in before leaping from his saddle. (Page 489)
  • Semaradrid looked like a man who had eaten an entire bowl of bad plums; (Page 504)
  • when I first had the suspicion you might be suckling at your mother’s breast. Just before I decided to go back into retirement. Babes are messy things, and I could not see how to find you before you stopped dripping at one end or the other.” (Page 587)
  • Trust was a knife, and the hilt was as sharp as the blade. (Page 620)