When last we left, I was doing my absolute damnedest to read Elyas' conversation with Perrin as "Dude, WTF" and "Yes, you are right manwolf, that was a very WTF thing for me to think", as opposed to the trainwreck I now believe it to be, in which Perrin is all "Wow, that was awful of me" and Elyas be like "Naw, dog, your plan was way better than getting eaten by ravens, don't worry that you didn't ask her if she wanted you to pre-emptively murder her".
This the first of like a fifteen-book series that is basically the icon of fantasy literature for the end of the millennium and everyone's just okay with that. Send help.
(Content: violence, animal death, misogyny.)
The Eye of the World: p. 440--512
Perrin and Elyas are still arguing about who's got a right to kill whom when the wolves beam a warning into their heads and they rush back to obliterate their camp in a panic. Elyas whisper-shouts for Egwene to douse the fire:
She rose to her feet, staring at him uncertainly, then stepped closer to the fire, but slowly, clearly not understanding what was happening. Elyas pushed roughly past her and snatched up the tea kettle , cursing when it burned him. Juggling the hot pot, he upended it over the fire just the same.My first question: after weeks on the run and facing death that very afternoon, why are we to believe that Egwene--quick-witted, daring Egwene--would just not clue in that she needed to hurry when she spotted Perrin and Elyas sprinting toward her with hissed warnings to douse the fire?
My second question: how daft does Elyas have to be to not realise that pouring water all over a fire is going to create an enormous plume of steam towering over their campsite and marking it better than a properly-shielded flame ever could?
My answer to both these questions: Egwene understands the danger, you incompetent wannabe lycanthrope, but she knows that the safe way to kill the fire is to smother it and she's looking for the appropriate tools to do so, since you, Hairy Manly Survivalist, didn't think to prepare something in advance, no doubt because you were too busy unbending weeds behind yourself to exactly the most natural 82-degree angle?
I look back fondly on the days when I liked Elyas, but, as I might have guessed, Egwene the True Protagonist remains the only worthy person present.
With the fire doused and the girl chastised for her girly lack of initiative, Elyas immediately determines that there's no way of actually hiding their camp, and so they have to split up before the danger gets here, not that he's willing to spare a breath to say what the danger is, though he does say that it's not the ravens, which seems unnecessarily uninformative. Finally, as they ride away, Perrin says that the wolves saw a great bunch of humans on horses, and "they smell wrong [...] the way a rabid dog smells wrong."
There's a lot wrong with that comparison, as we shall shortly see, but first they have to scamper away into the darkness where Perrin (who has already revealed he's mind-linked with the wolves) lies about his newfound night-vision to Egwene. Egwene, literally and figuratively in the dark, proves to still be the best person by trying to reassure Perrin of their safety and get his mind off the danger (she asks if he'll dance with her if they're home by Sunday, which I take to mean the midsummer festival). Perrin is treated to a four-camera telepathic slasher flick as the humans and horses hunt the wolves in the dark and get mauled over and over again. Eventually, they're spotted hiding anyway, and we find out these people are Whitecloaks, though Perrin maintains there's something unusually evil about this batch. Perrin's about to surrender at lancepoint when Hopper, the wolf who loved to jump and wished he could fly, leaps in to the rescue, begins slaughtering, dies in a heroic sacrifice, and Perrin goes into a berserker rage before blacking out.
We have now had two sympathetic characters die, Thom and Hopper, and they both got biographical retrospectives within a couple of pages of their deaths. Is this going to be a thing? Are we going to have a bunch of two-dimensional characters running around until it's time for them to die, at which point they abruptly get a poignant backstory stapled on? It works much better here than it did for Thom, but that has everything to do with wolf telepathy and not with Jordan finding his groove on the whole death-by-backstory thing.
They waken, heavily bound, in a Whitecloak tent, where the inexplicably malicious Byar gives the gaunt Lord Captain their post-fight statistics, drastically overestimating the number of wolves they fought and inventing a bunch of Darkfriends as well. The Lord Captain knows better, and introduces himself as Geofram Bornhald, which I think makes him an ancestor of the dude back in Baerlon? There's much questioning and threatening (Perrin gets smacked with his own axe) and wild theorising by Byar before Perrin and Egwene put together a pretty solid half-true cover story, but they make the mistake of naming Shadar Logoth, which convinces the Lord Captain that they've still lied about something. He insists no one is irredeemable, especially Egwene, but some punishment awaits Perrin, who axed a couple of whitecloaks before he passed out. Conveniently, they're on their way to Caemlyn as well (they Must Not Be Late, though of course we're not told for what) so I'm not overly concerned that Perrin will get anywhere near his gibbet.
I realise that this point (as I should have long ago) that Egwene and Perrin have been split off from the main party to be our ripoffs of Merry and Pippin, minus the other heroes' desperate and sympathetic search for them. Hoping against hope that Egwene is also our Gandalf the White and saves the day with sweet wizardry.
Chapter Thirty-One: Play for Your Supper
All good things come to an end, by which I mean it's a Rand chapter next. The first several pages mostly assure us that nothing unpredictable has happened or will ever again happen: Rand and Mat are headed to Caemlyn, they hide in hedges and such whenever they see dust trails on the road ahead or behind, Mat is still ensorcelled by his evil dagger, and Thom is still dead. Villages they pass make them homesick and there's an evil voice whispering demoralising things in Rand's head. They can't sell their stuff for cash (no economy to take a heron sword or a ruby dagger), and they don't like thieving (mostly because of ever-present watchdogs).
Occasionally they do a few hours' work on a farm in exchange for room and board, but Rand gets nervous because this is time the Fades have to catch up with them. One extended episode at the Grinwell farm concerns Rand's desperate efforts not to have sex with the eldest daughter. Let me pause to note here that we're more than 460 pages in and I have no idea why Rand desperately wants to not have sex with this hot farmgirl. He's not promised or devoted to Egwene; he's barely mentioned her in chapters, although he's had enough turned-on reactions to make me think he's not asexual. Is he just generally nervous? Afraid of the consequences if they get caught? Is he a member of a religion with strict rules on sexual conduct? (I did some googling just to check up on Jordan's religion, which he described as "High Church Episcopalian", which is a welcome change from the intense LDS theology and morality underlying so much of Orson Scott Card's works. And Brandon Sanderson, for that matter, who finished WOT after Jordan's death.)
But my point is more that while this book's character exploration has at least been more show than tell, it still hasn't actually shown us much of anything. I know nothing about what Rand wants in life that would explain to me why he'd do everything to subtly indicate to a farmlady that he wanted her to stop her hot daughter from getting in his pants. I know more about the architecture of cities our characters have never been than I do about Our Hero's values. What's up with that? Is he meant to be a cipher, a blank slate onto which The Reader can project Himself? IS RAND AL'THOR THE ORIGINAL BELLA SWAN?!
Anyway, Rand starts playing the flute and Mat starts juggling (as Thom taught them), and they are able to make much better time, earning rooms in inns and aboard merchants' carts:
If there was more than one inn in a village, the innkeepers would bid for them once they heard Rand's flute and saw Mat juggle. Together they still did not come close to a gleeman, but they were more than most villages saw in a year.A year? These poor bastards live in the worst of all possible worlds. A few days' flute tutelage (or 'flutelage') makes Rand a better musician than anyone in the average town? My god. Let the Dark One win.
Chapter Thirty-Two: Four Kings in Shadow
Four Kings is mentioned at the end of chapter 31, ominously, and proves to be a small town that gets a full page of description to start with, which is more than we can say for Rand's identity. It's dusty and barren and the women are getting catcalled so badly that "even Mat gave a start at some of them". (I assume Mat didn't try to get naked with the farmgirl because he's in a devoted relationship with his cursed dagger, which is also a clearer explanation than we have for Rand.) The misogyny continues with an innkeeper who slaps a barmaid for dissing the local musician, further driving home that these are terrible people, though Rand and Mat do zero to protest her treatment and 'these men hate women' does not feature on Rand's list of reasons he doesn't like the town. The grime is much more important. So here I guess we have another example of highlighting misogyny in order to make dudely readers feel better about themselves (they would never do such a thing) while also letting them glide past it instead of having to engage or, y'know, do anything at all ever. (Rand does threaten the innkeeper with violence if he gives them less than the food and bedding they agree upon. Priorities: sorted.)
There's some basic but serviceable foreshadowing with the occasional thunder and rising pressure as a storm rolls into town and finally bursts as they play. Casual violence and sexual harassment of barmaids continues to be the order of the day. (Rand is baffled that any of the women stay and put up with this treatment, and I'm just going to repeat what I said back in Speaker for the Dead: There are a lot of answers to that question, because people won't stop asking it, because they don't want any answer except the one they've already got, which is that if she stays, it's her own fault.) Rand and Mat agree that the evil skinny innkeeper is definitely going to rob them, but they don't leave because they're still ravenous and they don't want to sleep in a rainstorm. I'll spare y'all the prolonged pseudo-detective business that goes into working out that the one fancy dude who shows up at the inn and makes everyone uncomfortable is a rich merchant from Whitebridge who is definitely a Darkfriend.
The rest of the evening is unsurprising but serviceable Our Heroes Are Trapped tension-building, which I'd probably enjoy if I actually cared about anyone here. The innkeeper and his bouncers are menacing, the inn is described in effective decrepit terms, and as Mat and Rand try to pry the bars off their room's window, they are engaged by the merchant, Howal Gode, who does not pretend even slightly to not be a nefarious villain. The most interesting thing to get out of his monologuing is that he believes Rand and Mat are two of the new Dreadlords who will meet the devil when he awakens. I say 'interesting' because for all the random fantasy bits thrown at us, we don't actually understand how pretty much anything is structured, and I'm inexplicably hoping that 'Dreadlord' is actually a title of some defined meaning which will shed further light on bad guy logistics if we ever get it defined. I don't know why I think that's going to happen any time soon. Maybe I'm just excited that the bad guys have prophecies too.
Our Heroes are saved by a bolt of lightning that happens to hit the inn at the exact moment that Rand silently wishes for "a way out", HINT HINT, and he and Mat make their getaway in the rain as Gode's lackeys smoulder on the ground. Wow, saved at the last moment by improbability that precisely lined up with the simultaneous wishes of the character. Again. It's almost like there's magic in this world.
Chapter Thirty-Three: The Dark Waits
We ALL wait, Dark. You're not special. You're waiting for the end of all things, I'm waiting for a plot development. Want to take bets on which of us will get what we want first? Come on, I'll give you odds.
We cut to Rand and Mat riding into another village on a farmer's wagon, where they see uniformed Queen's Guards on patrol, and in a startling development, some worldbuilding actually answers my questions: Rand's never seen Queen's Guards before, and he reflects that he's vaguely aware his hometown is part of the kingdom of Andor, but they never have problems so big that they can't be settled with a meeting among a few villages' councils. (He specifically mentions Village Councils, which y'all will recall are entirely made up of men, while the Women's Circles apparently aren't involved. So feminist, y'all.)
Oh, lord. After they hop off the farmer's wagon and keep walking for Carysford, we then cut back to the end of the last chapter so Jordan can detail for us every single that happened after the lightning strike. I was not feeling deprived. This turns out to be yet another dream, in which he is somehow able to confirm that the evil Gode is dead because Rand meets Ba'alzamon wearing his charred corpse like a snuggie. Rand wakes up when he gets a fireball to the face, and Mat wakes up at the same time screaming about having lost his eyes, leading to Rand cradling Mat tenderly in the dark. (For the record, as much as I dislike most of these characters most of the time, I'm still 100% in favour of them being gay, bi, trans, or really anything other than hetero cis dudes with gender roles instead of bone marrow.
It's practically a montage: more villages and nourishing stew and gifts from farmers who would do more but always include the two-word sentence "My family" as an explanation to why they can't get more involved, more random villagers turning out to be Darkfriends, more questions raised in my mind about how and when Ba'alzamon is capable of making telepathic contact with his minions. In another inn, Rand suddenly falls ill with chills, then fever, then hallucinations, which go on for pages and tell us nothing about anything or anyone. The woman who arrives to try to treat him also turns out to be a Darkfriend, who tries to murder Rand with a magic burning dagger, and Rand has to give the usual they-are-evil-but-we-are-not speech in order to keep Mat from killing her before they stagger away.
The chapter ends with them getting on the wagon that we saw them getting off in the first scene of this same chapter, which is basically a metaphor for this entire series and also the Sisyphean hell in which I have trapped myself. It's not that this chapter was badly written at all, it had solid imagery and creepy stuff and I can legitimately feel the exhaustion that Our Heroes are forcing their way through. The problem ain't that. The problem is that we're on page 512 and this book is made of filler.
Next week: they make it to Caemlyn, but your guess is as good as mine whether anything actually happens there.