Highlights from ‘The Fires of Heaven’

Saturday I woke up at a ridiculous hour and so in the absence of sleep, finished book 6 of the Wheel of Time (WOT) series, Lord of Chaos. And although still held by the plot, I finished with a tired sigh and not just because of the hour.

When I began reading the series I knew it was a long series – but my understanding of the term ‘long’ was grossly inadequate. Unsubstantiated Googling informed me that the audiobooks for the series are over 17 days long. Apparently there are also 147 unique points-of-view (more eye-bleeding stats). Knowing too, that the quality of the series dips a little (or rather that the content of the books stretch excessively) I’m feeling a little apprehensive about how much farther in the journey I have to travel. I’m not even half way there yet! But I must slog on…

Perhaps in response to an earlier tweet of mine (ha!) Amazon Studio’s has announced they’re working on a WOT TV series. This is great news and has the potential to deliver a better story than even a series of movies. Jordan has created a fantastic world, rich with wonder and plot. Needless to say though, there is plenty that can be excised.

In any case, here are my highlights from book 5, The Fires of Heaven. I had over 4,500 worth of quotes. I want to write about a few of the themes in this book, and I think to do it well I should split it into at least two or three posts.

The major theme I want to talk about in this post is the interpersonal relationships between the characters, specifically the three females (Nynaeve, Elayne and Ewgene). The oldest Nynaeve was Village Wisdom and so previously in a position of authority over Ewgene. And Elayne as Daughter-Heir of Andor is used to a privileged upbringing. It is interesting to watch how the women see the world – completely blinded to their own faults. It almost gets too much for my male sensibilities 🙂

  • Egwene said. “Unless you let your temper get the better of you. You need to hold your temper and keep your wits about you if you’re right about the Forsaken, especially Moghedien.” Nynaeve glowered at her, opening her mouth to say that she could too keep her temper and she would smack Egwene’s ears if she thought differently, (Page 262)
  • Elayne also made two bundles, but hers were larger; she left nothing out except the spangled coats and breeches. Nynaeve refrained from suggesting that she had overlooked them; she should have, with the sulking that was going on, but she knew how to promote harmony. She limited herself to one sniff when Elayne ostentatiously added the a’dam to her things, though from the look she got in return, you would have thought she had made her objections known at length. By the time they left the wagon, the quiet could have been chipped and used to chill wine. (Page 719)
  • Nynaeve knew very well why they touched her most, too. Each story could have been the reflection of a thread in her own life. What she did not quite understand was why she liked Areina best. It was her opinion, putting this and that together, that nearly all of Areina’s troubles came from having too free a tongue, telling people exactly what she thought. It could hardly be coincidence that she was harried out of one village so quickly she had to leave her horse behind after calling the Mayor a pie-faced loon and telling some village women that dry-bones kitchen sweepers had no right to question why she was on the road alone. That was what she admitted to saying. Nynaeve thought a few days of herself for example would do Areina worlds of good. And there had to be something she could do for the other two, as well. She could understand a desire for safety and peace very well. (Page 740)
  • Seeing [the palace], and knowing that, made her understand a little of Elayne. Of course the woman expected the world to bend itself to her; she had grown up being taught that it would, in a place where it did. (Page 745)

And some great descriptions on the differences between men and women.

  • ‘The more women there are about, the softer a wise man steps.’ (Page 85)
  • With a sudden grin, she ruffled his hair. “He is my little mischief maker, now.” From the horrified look on Mat’s face, he was gathering his strength to run. (Page 140)

I like the second dotpoint especially. Matt is a girl-chasing, commitment-shunning individual. Continuing…

  • [On flirting] But I am out of practice, and I think he is the kind of man who might hear more promises than you meant to offer, and expect to have them fulfilled.” (Page 29) … Her usually brisk tones were gone, changed to a velvety soft caress. (Page 33)
  • He denied her, of course. Not his love for Nynaeve al’Maera, once a Wisdom in the Two Rivers and now an Accepted of the White Tower, but that he could ever have her. He had two things, he said, a sword that would not break and a war that could not end; he would never gift a bride with those. (Page 164)
  • Elayne shuddered elaborately. “Three hams. And that awful peppered beef! Do men ever eat anything but meat if it isn’t set before them?” (Page 184)
  • Sometimes she thought the Creator had only made men to cause trouble for women. (Page 285)
  • “Men always believe they are in control of everything around them,” Aviendha replied. “When they find out they are not, they think they have failed, instead of learning a simple truth women already know.” (Page 343)
  • Fall in love with a man, and you ended up doing laundry, (Page 440)
  • There was no point in arguing. In his experience, from Emond’s Field to the Maidens, if a woman wanted to do something for you, the only way to stop her was to tie her up, especially if it involved sacrifice on her part. (Page 469)
  • But neither made fun of him for backing down so visibly. Though that might well come later. Women seemed to enjoy jabbing the needle in just when you thought the danger past. (Page 622)
  • “You did not try to talk me out of it,” he said abruptly. He meant it for Moiraine, but Egwene spoke first, though to Aviendha, and with a smile. “Stopping a man from what he wants to do is like taking a sweet from a child. Sometimes you have to do it, but sometimes it just isn’t worth the trouble.” Aviendha nodded (Page 799)
  • “The Creator made women to please the eye and trouble the mind.” (Page 814)
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Highlights from ‘The Shadow Rising’

Hi! After an incredibly busy week (in which no writing was done), here are my thoughts on the highlight-able parts in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, book 4: The Rising Shadow. This time I’ve done it a little differently and sorted the quotes by category.

(If you’re interested you can also see my highlights from book 2 The Great Hunt and book 3 The Dragon Reborn).

Genders

  • She thought the Creator must have been tired when it came time to make men; sometimes they hardly seemed human. (Page 12)
  • ‘He was an easy little boy to manage most of the time, if you handled him properly, but when you tried to push him, he was as muley as any in the Two Rivers. Men don’t really change that much, only grow taller. (Page 721)
  • Why do men always do things without asking? Does growing hair on their chests sap their brains?’ (Page 767)

These are not the first gender-based observation I’ve highlighted. Men and women are strange creatures to one another, and it would be incorrect and shallow if there wasn’t some thoughts, actions and emotions of “how strange” the other gender was. It’s a touch of humanity to make the story more real. This is even more so the case with adolescent characters who lack the wisdom and experience of age… Age notwithstanding, men and women should squint at each other strangely from time to time (Are you crazy?). The same is true of anything which would create different worldviews (cultures, religions, even professions to an extent).

Just Great Prose

This was mad panic tied with a frayed rope. (Page 81)

An excellent descriptor: mad panic tied with frayed rope. I sometimes marvel at the regularity by which Robert Jordan is able to come up with such apt expressions. I wonder if he would sit back and examine every third sentence to see if he could turn it into a beautiful piece of prose. Certainly he does it well.

Other note worthy lines:

  • Three thousand years had not dimmed that memory, even if time had altered many of the details. (Page 4)
  • It wanted him dead the way a starving man wanted food. (Page 72)
  • The clan chief of the Taardad Aiel had no visible weapon except the heavy-bladed knife at his waist, but he carried authority and confidence like weapons, quietly, yet as surely as if they were sheathed alongside the knife. (Page 86)
  • Moiraine could not lie, but she could make truth dance a fine jig. (Page 104)
  • Neither expected an easy day, but both wore stony determination like cloaks. (Page 947)

Wisdom

I enjoy having wisdom packed into a book:

  • no good decision was ever made in anger. (Page 119)
  • it was better to guide people than try to hammer them into line. (Page 121)
  • ‘You call this being protected, roofmistress?’ Bain said. ‘If you ask the lion to protect you from wolves, you have only chosen to end in one belly instead of another.’ (Page 482)
  • A general can take care of the living or weep for the dead, but he cannot do both.’ (Page 686)
  • The worst sin a general can commit, worse than blundering, worse than losing, worse than anything, is to desert the men who depend on him.’ (Page 687)

Character Insights

As I’ve also mentioned before Jordan does a wonderful job of describing the world through the characters perspective. The banker does not see the world in the same way as a homeless beggar. They act differently, talk differently and notice different things.

The classic example of this is Siuan Sanche who grew up in a fishing village. Here are quotes from her point of view, or her dialogue.

  • Everything was sailing along according to plan. (Page 773)
  • That was what had her flapping like a fisher-bird whose catch had been stolen (Page 774)
  • There were lionfish out there, and she was swimming in darkness. (Page 775)
  • This was not the first hard corner she had ever been in. A fifteen-year-old girl with nothing but her bait knife, hauled into an alley by four hard-eyed louts with their bellies full of cheap wine – that had been harder to escape than this. (Page 777)
  • ‘It’s time to stop trying to hack a hole in the hull, and start bailing. Even you can still mitigate your offense, Elaida.’ (Page 777)
  • She ground her teeth. Burn my soul, I’ll use this lot for fish bait! (Page 778)
  • I swear, one day I will feed that woman to the silverpike!’ (Page 781)
  • ‘I may no longer wear the stole,’ Siuan replied just as flatly, ‘but I still know how to ready a crew for a storm. (Page 796)
  • Just because I can hook a shark from a boat, I do no offer to wrestle it in the water. (Page 853)

I have read some opinion that Siuan’s fishing analogies are over-used. And as good as they are, I do agree. They are packed together tighter than sardines in a can. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself). They are good, but a little too numerous for my taste.

Similarly for Perrin, the blacksmith:

  • He felt as weak as the worst wrought iron, ready to bend to any pressure. (Page 685)
  • Swing a hammer in haste, and you usually hit your own thumb. (Page 689)
  • Blood trickled down his side; his side burned like a forge-fire. (Page 677)

‘Death is lighter than a feather, duty heavier than a mountain. (Page 397)

‘No.’ The word came thin as a whisper, but strong enough to fill every ear. (Page 408)

A touch of humour:

Master al’Vere put his head into the common room, and came the rest of the way when he saw them sitting apart. ‘There is an Ogier in the kitchen,’ he told Perrin with a bemused look. ‘An Ogier. Drinking tea. The biggest cup looks …’ He held two fingers as though gripping a thimble. ‘Maybe Marin could pretend Aiel walk in here every day, but she nearly fainted when she saw this Loial. I gave her a double tot of brandy, and she tossed it down like water. Nearly coughed herself to death; she doesn’t take more than wine, usually. I think she’d have drunk another, if I’d given it to her.’ (Page 486)

Some irony…

In the stories, when somebody fulfilled a prophecy, everyone cried ‘Behold!’ or some such, and that was that except for dealing with the villains. Real life did not seem to work that way. (Page 566)

And even love…

She wanted to go after Rhuarc and introduce herself to Amys – reintroduce herself – but Rhuarc and Amys were looking into one another’s eyes in a way that excluded intruders. (Page 369)

Jordan, the master story-teller is leading us through the series with prophecy.

  • ‘The stone that never falls will fall to announce his coming. Of the blood, but not raised by the blood, he will come from Rhuidean at dawn, and tie you together with bonds you cannot break. He will take you back, and he will destroy you.’ (Page 408)
  • With you …“He shall spill out the blood of those who call themselves Aiel as water on sand, and he shall break them as dried twigs, yet the remnant of a remnant shall he save, and they shall live.” A hard prophecy, but this has never been a gentle land.’ She met his gaze without flinching. A hard land, and a hard woman. (Page 573)

But that doesn’t mean we know exactly what’s going to happen. There’s still some chance at work, and some red herrings (not a pun, this time):

For a moment she let herself think of the images she had glimpsed, just for a moment, flickering around Gawyn’s head. Gawyn kneeling at Egwene’s feet with his head bowed, and Gawyn breaking Egwene’s neck, first one then the other, as if either could be the future. (Page 798)

And a memory from my own writing. The very first story I can remember writing was in Year 3 and began with the something like, “The branches scratched the window with an eerie crrrr-crrr noise”

He fought wrapped in the cold emotionlessness of the Void, but fear scraped at its boundaries like wind-lashed branches scratching a window in the night. (Page 72)

I hope you’ve enjoyed these highlights as much as I did.

Highlights from ‘The Dragon Reborn’

My highlights from book 3 of The Wheel of Time series, ‘The Dragon Reborn’:

It was not that he seemed merely capable of violence and death; this man had tamed violence and death and kept them in his pocket, ready to be loosed in a heartbeat, or embraced, should Moiraine give the word. (page 47)

This is a wonderful description of violent potential. It has been tamed and kept in his pocket. It speaks of complete mastery. Violence wasn’t something to be feared in the slightest, but ever-ready on his person.

“‘The blood of the Dragon Reborn on the rocks of Shayol Ghul will free mankind from the Shadow.’ (page 70)

The Wheel of Time, with it’s philosophies of rebirth and destiny is full of prophecy. It sets up a deep world and lays out mountains of coming-lore which must be weaved into the future volumes. (Notice too, how it’s vague. It gives us a location, but nothing more = a promise easily kept).

“Men always seem to refuse to admit they are sick until they’re sick enough to make twice as much work for women. Then they claim they’re well too soon, with the same result.” (page 205)

I swear I’ve never complained during man-flu. (Just don’t tell my wife I said that… Also, best not to ask my family or work colleagues either).

Only one who can channel can be turned in this way. The weakness of our strength. (page 230)

To give it context: only those who can use magic can be made (against their will) to serve evil. It’s a law for good magic systems. Those who have powers must always have weaknesses, and it should be in balance. A great power must come with a great weakness. Otherwise the world is unbalanced.

The pin was the smallest part of a pair of scissors, and the easiest made, but without it, the scissors cut no cloth. (page 380)

It’s little insights like this which I find to be rich little parables or observations. Note also it’s Perrin (the blacksmith) making the observation. No doubt he may have constructed scissors, and so he has an appreciation which explains his knowledge.

For the young, death is an enemy they wish to try their strength against. For those of us a little older, she is an old friend, an old lover, but one we are not eager to meet again soon.” (page 418)

(I obviously just liked it. I can’t say why now).

For a heartbeat that took centuries he hung, wavering, balanced on the brink of being scoured away like sand before a flash flood. (page 604)

This I like because it explains that in reality it took next to no time, but for him it felt as through it was painfully slow. Like the working week.

Highlights from ‘The Great Hunt’

I’m currently enjoying a reading binge, getting through all of The Wheel of Time Series for the first time. Several times I have read the earlier volumes, but I never completed the story.

I thoroughly analysed the first few chapters of book 1, so I’m jumping straight to book 2 to show you my highlights and associated thoughts. It seems I didn’t highlight much, I must have been too caught up in the story. I’ll bold the highlight, but in some cases I’ve taken surrounding text to add context.

He balanced the sword in front of him on scabbard point; it looked no different than it had before he knew. “Aes Sedai work.” But Tam gave it to me. My father gave it to me. He refused to think of how a Two Rivers shepherd had come by a heron-mark blade. There were dangerous currents in such thoughts, deeps he did not want to explore.

I liked this sentence because I can relate to it, as most could. We all have thoughts which drag us beyond the realms of safe thought. We know there are creepy-crawlies under the rock… and so we choose not to confirm our suspicions.

No two wore the same kind of armor or carried the same sort of sword, and none looked like Lan, but Rand did not doubt they were Warders. Round faces, square faces, long faces, narrow faces, they all had the look, as if they saw things other men did not see, heard things other men did not hear. Standing at their ease, they looked as deadly as a pack of wolves.

A brilliant description of dangerous men. Those who could anticipate and see threat and foe before others. The reference to wolves is an oft quote, but apt. No one I know would willingly pat a wolf.

“I am not staying here,” Mat told the rafters, “with a bigmouthed Ogier and a fool whose head is too big for a hat. You coming, Perrin?” Perrin sighed, and glanced at Rand, then nodded. Rand watched them go with a stick caught in his throat.

Two good expressions which are similar to “big head” and “lump in the throat”, but twisted slightly to be a broad step away from cliche.

“My mother,” she said firmly, “always told me the best way to learn to deal with a man was to learn to ride a mule. She said they have about equal brains most of the time. Sometimes the mule is smarter.”

This is just clever.

“… There is one rule, above all others, for being a man. Whatever comes, face it on your feet. …”

A man must seek duty, not glory.

These resonate with my manhood. Yes, it is a bit of literary license. At times life will kick us off our feet, but a man gets back up as quick as possible, sometimes with the help of another.

“I said listen, sheepherder,” the Warder growled. “There will come a time when you must achieve a goal at all costs. It may come in attack or in defense. And the only way will be to allow the sword to be sheathed in your own body.”

A prophetic comment for the story narrative.

“Man and woman, hard. I’ve fought them, and I know. They will run fifty miles, and fight a battle at the end of it. They’re death walking, with any weapon or none. Except a sword. They will not touch a sword, for some reason. Or ride a horse, not that they need to. If you have a sword, and the Aielman has his bare hands, it is an even fight. If you’re good. …

Some great world-building. Reading this makes me want to meet an Aielman or woman. On friendly-terms of course.

Women often seemed to leave things unsaid, and in his limited experience it was what they did not say that proved the most trouble.

No comment, on the grounds it might incriminate me.

People see what they expect to see. Beyond that, look them in the eye and speak firmly. …”

So true.

Someday, I am sure, you will serve a cause, and you will learn then that to serve it you must work even with those whom you dislike. I tell you I have worked with many with whom I would not share a room if it were left to me alone.

Oh, again. I’ve worked with some people like that, and I’m sure you have too. (And some of those I worked with probably thought the same of me). I’ve also sat next to some on a plane, and next to some in a shopping queue. Trolls might be only on the Internet, but strange ones walk the streets with you and I.

Feeling worse than useless, she picked up her skirts and ran, and Egwene’s screams pursued her.

This is my final highlight for the book, and it’s a goody. I like the imagery of fleeing and being pursued by the screams of a loved one. Chilling, but good imagery.

A Fantastic Weekend

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This weekend just passed was nothing short of fantastic. After a few mandatory yard-and-house chores were out of the way, I relaxed. Leisure time lately has been programming – but that still exhausts my brain and sometimes can be highly frustrating with little return for effort visible.

This weekend, I did something else.

I moved the recliner in front of the window, and opened the window wide to welcome in the cool and refreshing breeze. I made a hot coffee and sat and read for leisure… hour upon hour. And it was wonderful.

As I wrote earlier, I’ve been reading a lot of books at the moment, and not many “for pleasure”. I’d even delayed reading The Great Hunt (book 2 of the Wheel of Time series) because I wanted to continue my Wheel of Time review (but perhaps not at the same level of detail). However I decided I wanted to read for enjoyment, so I was going to crack it open anyway.

What else has been happening? I’m also trying to lose some weight, and am rewarding myself with a book each week when I eat sensibly, which will also help me buy the rest of the series. Thanks to Robert Jordan’s prolific writing, my diet plan isn’t just a month long 🙂

I’m yet to hear back from the publisher regarding Vengeance Will Come, and so am considering whether I just publish it in a mega-month of blog posts. (They ask for a 6 month window, and I’ve given 7). My decision is as yet, unmade.

But for now this blog post will end; I want to work on a new short story, tentatively called Dreamer.

The Eye of the World Review (7)

This is the seventh installment of my review of the late Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World, book 1 of the Wheel of Time series. See a list of previous posts and important caveats.

When I look at my ongoing review of The Eye of the World sometimes I feel like chastising myself for tackling such a large task. Who, in their right mind, reviews chapter-by-chapter such as large book? And then I start to read the next chapter, sitting and considering the master craftsmanship of Jordan. Before long I am enchanted, drawn into not just the story but the elegance of construction.

Pressure and Intrigue

Looking at the seventh installment of my review I examine chapter 6 ‘The Westwood’ and how Jordan builds up the pressure and intrigue.

A quick recap on recent events: Rand and his father Tam have just been attacked at their farm by creatures Rand thought, until tonight, belonged only in a work of fiction (pun intentional). Now, hunted by the fierce Trollocs and their Fade commander, Rand is desperately trying to get his wounded father to the safety of the distant village.Up until this point in the story Rand has never been alone. Even when he saw the Fade (without knowing what it was), he had Tam with him. Now he is alone, not just worried for his own safety but also for Tam’s. Though Tam’s wound is small it packs a mighty punch.

A scalding fever like that could kill, or leave a man a husk of what he had once been.

This of course, suggests poison of some kind or magic making the wound worse. It’s not just the enemy Rand must avoid, but he must also beat the clock on Tam’s illness. To make matters worse Tam is deliriously muttering, which could attract the sharp-of-hearing enemy.

The setting is scary (the dark wood), the situation is scary (hunted, with a critically ill father) and Rand’s thoughts and actions match the situation. Jordan tells us the boy is scared and also shows us:

Abruptly he realized he was holding the untied ends of the bandage in motionless hands. Frozen like a rabbit that’s seen a hawk’s shadow, he thought scornfully. …

And his daydream adventures had never included his teeth chattering, or running for his life through the night, or his father at the point of death.

Strong emotions should be matched by physical manifestations. We are complex beings and our minds and bodies are seldom (if ever) fully compartmentalized.

We read about the physical difficulty and cost to Rand taking this journey.

Uncertainty made him peer into the darkness until his eyes burned, listen as he had never listened before. Every scrape of branch against branch, every rustle of pine needles, brought him to a halt, ears straining, hardly daring to breathe for fear he might not hear some warning sound, for fear he might hear that sound. Only when he was sure it was just the wind would he go on.

Who hasn’t lain in bed alone at night and wondered what that sound was? Held their breath, and cautiously looked around, body instantly hot.

A good writer takes what he knows to be true and places it in his fiction. Doing so helps the reader to relate to the character and deepens the reader’s experience through glimmers of truth.

His father had always seemed indestructible. Nothing could harm him; nothing could stop him, or even slow him down. For him to be in this condition almost robbed Rand of what courage he had managed to gather.

Anyone who is old enough to have witnessed the deleterious nature of aging can instantly understand the emotion that Rand is going through. To have it occur so quickly through tragedy, would make it even more shocking and confronting.

And then the intrigue ratchet up again with mysteries told in Tam’s deliriums:

“They came over the Dragonwall like a flood,” Tam said suddenly, in a strong, angry voice, “and washed the land with blood. How many died for Laman’s sin?”

“The fools said they could be swept aside like rubbish. How many battles lost, how many cities burned, before they faced the truth? Before the nations stood together against them?”

How does Tam, a simple farmer know of such things? What does it all mean?

What Jordan is doing here is giving us a sprinkling of world building, of back story. But because it is delivered by Tam in delirium it is better than a straight out conversation. He’s able to provide a snippet, without the otherwise inevitable detail or curious “tell me more…” from another character. And because all of this is a surprise to Rand we know it is not something that Tam would normally choose to share. The fever is giving an insight that would otherwise be hidden.

The expected event occurs, with the Trollocs and Fade hunting perilously close.

Rand sagged, gulping air and scrubbing cold sweat off his face with his sleeve.

Rand is back into his journey and the immediate threat has passed. His mind starts to wander, and Tam’s murmuring again becomes audible. It’s all still back story, even though the importance of the words are lost on the first time reader.

The tension in Rand and the reader has lessened, almost to the point of boredom, before bang Tam’s muttering suddenly becomes more personal, more relevant, more important.

“… battles are always hot, even in the snow. Sweat heat. Blood heat. Only death is cool. Slope of the mountain … only place didn’t stink of death. Had to get away from smell of it … sight of it…. heard a baby cry. Their women fight alongside the men, sometimes, but why they had let her come, I don’t … gave birth there alone, before she died of her wounds…. covered the child with her cloak, but the wind … blown the cloak away…. child, blue with the cold. Should have been dead, too…. crying there. Crying in the snow. I couldn’t just leave a child…. no children of our own…. always knew you wanted children. I knew you’d take it to your heart, Kari. Yes, lass. Rand is a good name. A good name.”

Rand, adopted? His whole world shifts for a third time in the single night. One: mythical creatures are real and they’re attacking; Two: your father who has always been a bastion of strength is now mortally ill. Three: and now, by the way, maybe he’s not even your father?

Suddenly Rand’s legs lost the little strength they had. Stumbling, he fell to his knees.

Rand’s world has changed, his position in the world and now his entire identity is under attack. All through this chapter Jordan does a wonderful job of showing emotion through action, finishing the chapter very strongly.

The Eye of the World Review (6)

This is the sixth installment of my review of the late Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World, book 1 of the Wheel of Time series. I’d like to draw your attention to the important caveats I made in part one discussing my perspective, bias and limitations and also my respect for the author.

Catch up on the previous installments: the prologue (part 1), looked at the hook, characters and world-building (part 2), describing characters and authentic in-world dialogue (part 3,), an addendum, character perspectives and how to teach reader’s about the fantasy-world (part 4) and the role and character of Thom Merrilin (part 5).

In this sixth installment we look at the Origin Story of the main character Rand, as it unfolds in chapter 5.

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