Monday, March 9, 2015

Wheel of Time Read Along: Some Final Thoughts

Hello, my name is Sue and I am addicted to Read Alongs.

The Wheel of Time Read Along was certainly massive, but it was not my first venture into this form of extreme reading. I was enticed into the seedy world of shared book dissection by a reTweet advertizing a Read Along of The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch that began in March 2012. At the time I was new to book blogging and excited to throw myself into the full experience of book discussion over the ether because I was already an enthusiastic participant in a local book group. If only I had known that this seemingly innocent decision would have such a profound impact upon my life . . .

At first it was just supposed to be a five-week commitment. But soon I was introduced to a world full of interesting people reading and writing and discussing, and it was simply too tempting to ignore. Ten titles later, I had been exposed to some amazing authors and was ready to commit to something seriously silly. So, on December 16, 2012 I posted my discussion for the first week of this epic journey through the entire Wheel of Time series. At first I tried to continue with my normal blogging regime, and even signed up to do multiple Read Alongs at a time. I think four in one week was the craziest that it got before real life put an abrupt stop to my madness. What, you might ask, could possibly shake me of this never-ending desire for discussing books? Quite simply, I found employment. It is strange how suddenly having to NOT read and write about books all the time cuts into your ability to run a book blog. A quick look at my archive will show that I tried to continue at first, but soon realized that I had a simple choice to make: continue my normal blogging routine or drop The Wheel of Time Read Along unless I could somehow stop sleeping.

Whilst I was tempted to drop out of the massive Read Along, I have always been the type of person who tries to live up to my responsibilities and fulfill my commitments. I had said that I would do this, and so I was going to do my utmost to try. If this meant that my other blogging had to fall by the wayside, then I would be sad but would stick to the schedule and keep going for as long as possible. Also, by the time that I had to make this decision I had become completely engaged by Mr Jordan’s series and really wanted to continue with it. I can proudly state that I have managed to post every week, even whilst travelling in Europe, and now that I have reached the end of the series I am very glad that I stayed with it.

How massive is massive?

Without wishing to be overdramatic, I can safely say that this series is the longest that I have ever read. At the beginning I had an intellectual understanding of its size, but that did not really translate into an understanding of the actual task involved. Perhaps I never really thought that we would finish, or perhaps I was simply delusional about what was involved.

The original plan was for a twelve volume series, but then Mr Jordan added New Spring, which is a prologue, and the final volume had to be split into three in order to tie up all the story lines. It could be argued that there was enough material left unaddressed at the end of Volume 11: Knife of Dreams to fill four or even five massive tomes, but Mr Sanderson felt that he could do the job in three, though each of them is ginormous.

To give you a feel for the enormity of this series, here are a few interesting statistics. The 15 paperback volumes stack to a height of 26 inches and weigh in at a total of 13.5 pounds. They include 4,410,036 words spread over 11,916 pages and divided into 684 chapters. The extensive cast list includes 2,782 named characters, of which 145 provide their unique point of view. We read approximately 100 pages each week, and the total experience took us 114 weeks.

Why choose this particular series?

My original encounter with the series occurred back in the 1990s when it was first published. I read The Eye of the World and then the next two or three in quick succession, but then I had to wait for Mr Jordan to actually write some more. I distinctly remember having to reread the earlier books several times when the new volumes were published so that I could get back into the world and reconnect with the characters. Eventually I decided to wait until he had finished the whole thing before restarting it yet again. Then he went and died, and I rather gave up on idea of ever reading it: why bother if we would never know what happened in the end?

The excitement about Brandon Sanderson writing the final ‘volume’ was rather lost on me because I had not yet been exposed to the epic awesomeness that is his writing, and I rather assumed that it would provide a second class ending to a first class series. However, once I was introduced to the Mistborn series (through a Read Along, of course) I immediately saw that Mr Sanderson was the perfect person to complete the series and I vowed to get around to reading it once the final, final volume was published.

Would I have enjoyed it as much as a solo read?

I have always been terrible at identifying the motivations behind characters’ actions when I read fiction. I simply do not think on that level and so my experience of epic literature can often be a little confusing and even frustrating as I try to understand why people are behaving in irrational and stupid ways. The great advantages of a Read Along are the slower reading pace and the ability to discuss and speculate as you go along. Knowing that I will be answering questions about a section of reading makes me concentrate on it slightly more than normal. It also gives me the time to review and digest what I have read so that I can spot connections and hints much more easily. Then there are the wonderful group discussions, which will almost inevitably produce ideas and theories that had never occurred to me. Every person who reads a book takes different things from it, so sharing those thoughts enriches the experience for everyone. I find this in my physical book group meetings, but it is greatly magnified in Read Alongs, which are more frequent and concentrate on shorter sections of reading.

So, it is an exciting story, but as it really affected your life?

Whilst many might dismiss this series as simple escapism, I have found it to be a thought provoking and often profound read. It does follow in the tradition of the epic battle between Good and Evil, and we certainly see history unfolding at a world-changing level, but the characters are firmly grounded in everyday reality and show a degree of three-dimensionality that is refreshing in a genre that can rely on cliché to a woeful extent.

Our heroes are flawed, reluctant or unexpected and my only real criticism is that too many of the ‘bad’ characters are similar in their personal ambition and blindness to reality. Whilst a few of our heroes show little personal development, for example Gawyn, most have truly impressive character arcs that transform them utterly by the end of the series. This is most true for the young people that we meet right at the beginning of the first book, being particularly startling in the development of Egwene, the youngest of group. However, we see similar reversals in even the most stubborn individuals, such as Galad, who finally emerges as a decent and wise human being after spending most of the series as a pedantic do-gooder. This ability to take characters in unexpected directions, that do not feel forced or contrived, is one of the things that sets this series apart from other, lesser, offerings in the field.

Not only are our characters growing and changing in response to the massive challenges that they face, but they are most definitely not perfect. They make poor decisions, often for very good reasons, and ignore things that they expect will be difficult to face. This makes them very frustrating to read, as you find yourself shouting at them whilst reading, but it also makes them so much more human and appealing. We can see ourselves making the same mistakes or at least identify behavior that we recognize in other people. This helps us to bond with our heroes, some of whom we grow to love over an amazingly short time frame: I am thinking particularly of Androl and Ituralde at this point, two characters that appear close to the end of the series and yet are wonderfully engaging.

However, I think that the thing that I found most impactful about the series is that it truly made me think about the human condition. By presenting a variety of societies and cultures, I have been placed within the mindset of a wide variety of belief systems. Some of these have been very alien to me and I have struggled to be non-judgmental of certain characters. Perhaps the most difficult for me was the pacifism of certain groups. Whilst the Ogier live a mostly peaceful life, they will take up arms in order to protect themselves if pushed to the extreme, whereas the Tinkers refuse to fight even when faced with their imminent demise. Perhaps it is a sad indictment of my world experience that I find their attitude to violence so much more difficult to understand than any other belief system presented in the series, even the acceptance of slavery by those held in chains.

Throughout the series I have been forced to consider the relationship between Good and Evil, and their impact upon Free Will. Again and again we have seen characters doing what they believe to be the right thing and yet ultimately they have been serving Evil with their actions. Especially in The Memory of Light, the necessity of Evil to provide an incentive for Goodness is a recurrent theme that has placed the emphasis upon the actions of humans with Free Will. By the end of the series it seems as if the Creator could have stepped in at any point and simply removed Evil with a flick of His finger, but this would have removed Man’s need to choose a side. Ultimately, the series is about those who make the hard choice and willingly risk death for what they believe to be in the greater good. Those who act out of self-interest and baser emotions are baffled by the concept of self-sacrifice and are, therefore, defeated.

In the end, the final chapters of the final volume are indicative of the whole series. Horrible things happen to perfectly nice, brave people because the world is full of evil and individuals who are more than happy to do the Wrong Thing. This does not diminish their sacrifice but, in fact, elevates it because they act without certain knowledge that they can be victorious. Their hope and belief in the fundamental goodness of humankind is a wonderful message to take away from any book and this series shouts it loud and clear.

Do I have any criticisms of the series?

Obviously I would like to know much more about many of the characters and the history that is not explored in detail within the series itself. But that merely shows how addictive and immersive the experience has been. As with Tolkien, Martin, Sanderson and a few other Fantasy authors, I want to learn everything about their universe . . . and I do mean everything!

I would also argue that the final fate of our hero, Rand, is unsatisfying. I have great respect for authors who refuse to provide a Happy Ever After for all of their characters, even though it can be upsetting to read the death of someone that you have grown to care about. However, this shows an acknowledgment that facing the ultimate Evil in a battle to the death is a life-changing experience that may not leave a character unscathed. As we see at the end of The Lord of the Rings, Frodo survives, but is no longer able to live a normal, happy life. Whilst I find this deeply upsetting, I can accept that it is a realistic outcome after all that he has suffered. I do not want to be more specific over my criticism of Rand’s fate, because it is more than a little spoilery, so I will just say that it left me feeling a little cheated.

However, I think that these are relatively minor criticisms considering how much I have enjoyed this experience and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading Fantasy. If you can get someone else to read along with you: even better!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan: Final Week

This week we read through to the end of the series . . . what will I do now that we are finished????

1. Egwene speaks to Rand from beyond the grave and he has a hard time "letting go" of those who've died on the battlefield. What did you think of this part and it's solution?

I liked this section because it fulfilled several roles in the larger story.

Egwene’s words were simple and yet they allowed Rand to release his guilt and sense of responsibility to the whole world. Only someone who knew him very well would have understood this aspect of his character and could make him see how arrogant it is to assume that nobody else can help. It also showed how much both of them had grown and matured during the series. Finally, it elevated her death into a true act of heroism, rather than an overly dramatic suicide provoked by the loss of Gawyn. Probably only Egwene or Nynaeve could have played this role of mentally slapping Rand with the utmost love and support.

I was rather grateful that many of the deaths were listed rather than shown in a drawn-out series of detailed scenes. Not only did this save us from it becoming rather maudlin, but it also conveyed the speed and apparent randomness of the battlefield. This increased the sense of the desperation and intensity of the fighting, and showed us that there was a very real danger that the forces of Light could be swept away. We needed to be shown the possibility of defeat for us to feel that Rand’s efforts were truly momentous.

Of course, the deaths were also metaphorical blows raining down upon Rand’s consciousness. They were weapons that the Dark One could use to destroy his confidence and will to continue the fight, and they almost succeeded in breaking Rand. Whilst I did not enjoy reading the list of the dead, I could appreciate the decision that some of our beloved characters could not survive the battle: sometimes Fantasy loses its grip on realism when all our heroes survive the End Of The World uninjured. Although I am still not happy about Bella’s fate . . .

2. There's a new horn blower, and we see more of Brigitte, Noal, Artur Hawkwing, and others. Comment on what you liked of this section. What did you expect, not expect?

To be honest I thought this was pretty much inevitable at the end of Chapter 37. It seemed highly unlikely that anyone would rescue Olver and we had already deduced that Mat’s death in Caemlyn had severed his link to the Horn. This was a suitable solution and gave Olver a great excuse to swagger about shoving his face into ladies’ bosoms for the rest of his life.

As soon as the Heroes appeared and one dashed off towards Olver, I knew that it had to be Noal. Again, this was not much of a surprise, but it was nice to see the old guy again, and looking much fitter than in his last few years. I was also rather revealed to learn that he was not being held by the Finn and tortured.

Birgitte was suitably badass, although I would have preferred that Mellar suffered more horribly for a much longer period of time before he died. I had hoped that he would have had his nether regions dissolved in a bath of acid over several hours . . . :D

I had hoped that Hopper might return with the Heroes, and I am quite certain that Bella should have been there all tripped out in gold-plated shoes, etc . . . grumble, grumble . . . and what about Egwene: surely her death was suitably heroic! :(

I wish that we could have seen Tuon’s reaction to her great-great-ancestor turning up for a quick chat. Perhaps even she was a little shaken by that encounter.

I couldn’t help noticing that Gaidal was notable for his absence amongst the Heroes. Could this mean that Olver is Gaidal????? Although young Olver is possibly ugly enough, I do not think that he old enough as Gaidal answered the summons when Mat blew the Horn at Falme and I do not think that was ten / eleven years ago. I am not sure if we have encountered any truly ugly baby boys, but I imagine that he is out there just waiting for Birgitte’s next return. I wonder if she will be reborn as one of Elayne’s twins?????

3. Lan lives, Alana dies, and Thom is successful at killing many members of the Black Ajah outside the pit. Questions? Comments? Happy dances?

Hurrah! Lan survives to sweep Nynaeve off her feet and breed lots of grumpy little Borderlanders. Of all the people who really, truly deserved a happy ending I think that Lan was at the top of the list, so I was very happy to learn that he had not only been super-badass, but had also survived.

Alana survives long enough to release Rand and so prevent the end of Life As We Know It. What a waste, but I am not overly bothered by her loss.

Thom’s casual knifing of the Black Ajah was excellent. It was very nice to get a good laugh during all this pain and misery, plus it showed why Channelers really do need Warders. He and Moiraine are going to have such fun.

4. Androl impersonates Rand to trap the evil idiots, Grady opens a gateway to Hinderstap (dah!), and Logain breaks the seals. What was your favorite and why? (Feel free to comment on all.)

Androl leading Taim’s supporters into the stedding was another laugh-out-loud moment. I particularly enjoyed the elderly Ogier lady and her opinions about keeping the nasty people ‘safe’. I wonder how long they will last before they puncture their own eardrums to stop the incessant bumblebee-like rumbling! :D

I wondered what that was all about with the dam. I thought it was odd that we had a specific mention of a squad of supposedly normal looking villagers being sent that way earlier in the battle. It was a good thing that Grady stayed put and followed his instructions to the letter otherwise Mat’s plan would have been a bit of a damp squib. I can only imagine how terrifying the reappearance of all those ‘dead’ people was to the Darkfriends. As a side note: I wonder if the curse was broken when Rand completed his task.

Phew! Logain finally stopped being an idiot and did the Right Thing. Saving children AND rehabilitating the image of male channelers all in one move: he certainly earned his moment of glory. I feel a lot happier about him leading the Black Tower into the future now that he has stopped being a douche bag. Plus he will have Androl to keep him on the straight and narrow.

5. Aviendha vs. Graendal. Aviendha loses her feet (ouch!), and kills Rhuarc. Ultimately Graendal's compulsion backfires. What did you think of the final solution here?

Aviendha was so totally badass in this fight! I loved the way that they both ended up exhausted and crawling along the floor. I expected Aviendha to finally beat Graendal to death with a rock, but the reverse Compulsion was hilarious. Considering how close she came to seriously upsetting all the Light’s plans, I was highly delighted to see Graendal receive a massive dose of her own medicine. I hope she cleans lots and lots of blocked toilets in her new role as Aviendha’s slave! :D

I was saddened by Rhuarc’s passing, although it was necessary to show how subtle and effective Graendal’s actions were. It also mirrored Rand’s dilemma about allowing people to die: Aviendha could have tried to save her dear friend, but she did what was needed, which is pretty much what I would expect of her.

6. Perrin takes out Lanfear and Slayer, and the worlds flicker. Meanwhile, the Wild Hunt comes to Thakandar and the spirits of dead wolves appear on the slopes. Um, discuss!

Way to go Perrin! Of course, I have been voting for someone, anyone, to strangle Lanfear since about 2 pages after we met her, so I was very, very happy about this. It served her right for trying to use Compulsion on him! :D

My feelings towards Slayer are somewhat more mixed. We know very little about his backstory, but he would probably have been a decent person if had not been corrupted by the Dark One and the Blight. Isam’s life in the Town as a child sounds as if it was horrific beyond imagination, but I am not sure how he and Luc met or merged. I seriously doubt that either of them was particularly good by that point, but I am not sure that they would have been truly evil if they had experienced different circumstances.

The Wild Hunt was not much of a surprise, although we have not seen the Darkhounds for a very long time. I am not sure why they had been kept in reserve until this point, but I am not going to complain that the Shadow made that decision. The dead wolf spirits were epic . . . although I was very disappointed that Hopper was not one of them :(

The biggest “WTF!” moment was the reappearance of Fain and his companion alien parasite buddy, Shaisam. It has been so long since we last saw Fain that I had almost forgotten about him amongst all the other excitement. I have to wonder where he has been during the preparations for the Last Battle, but, then again, I was quite happy not knowing anything more about him. At least he gave Mat a chance to kill off something epically evil on a one-to-one footing. We had seen him being an uber general, but he had not claimed a massively significant scalp, unlike both Rand and Perrin. I was most intrigued by the suggestion that Shaisam was an alien entity of some sort . . . I wonder if it travels between worlds like the Ogier . . .

7. Rand, Nynaeve, and Moiraine exploit the flaw in Callandor to trap Moridin. How well-thought-out was that? Are you surprised it worked?

This was obviously planned out well in advance, although I did not see it coming. In retrospect it was a sensible approach to using Callandor in light of the way that Rand and Nynaeve worked together to cleanse saidin. In that case, Rand had to use both forms of the One Power, so it was a logical step to see that Callandor could be used to merge them with the True Power. Throughout the series we have been told repeatedly that the greatest works were accomplished using both forms of the One Power, so it makes sense that even more wattage would be needed in this situation.

The idea of turning the Bad Guy’s minion against his master is a classic plot device. Of course, Moridin was an unwilling accomplice in this action, but it is still a common twist, and one that is much more believable than a last minute change of allegiance (you did not fool us at all, Lanfear). At least he did not profess to be Rand’s father and then throw the Dark One into a deep hole at the center of a Death Star . . .

8. What did you think of Rand's final solution for the DO's prison? Will it hold?

We know that Lews Therin had to try to seal the Bore without the assistance of female channelers, so we can only hope that Rand is more successful in this attempt. As it stands, it seems as if the Dark One will be prevented from touching the Pattern in the future, but I suppose that he will have a very long time with nothing to do but try to break through again. However, it seems that he was completely contained before the Bore allowed him to escape in the first place, so perhaps Rand’s solution will be permanent until the Pattern is repeated.

9. Comment on some (or all) of the aftermath: our ta'veren heroes are ta'veren no longer, Ilturalde will rule, Tuon is pregnant, Moghedien a damane!!!, Faile lives, Cadsuane as Amyrlin, Rand vs. Moridin and the three women around the funeral pyre, and Loial's writing makes an appearance. In the end, Rand doesn't channel, but thinks his pipe is lit and it is. What does it all mean? What did you like/dislike? Was there anything unresolved you wanted to see? General thoughts, feelings, reactions. (This is your last chance to geek out! :D)

I guess the Pattern has been restored to the Creator’s original design, so he no longer needs ta’veren to tweak it for him. I wonder if Mat will lose his luck . . . that could be inconvenient for him! :D

I imagine that the Little Wolf will make an excellent king, though I am quite sure that he will always feel unworthy of the position.

Good going, Mat! I wonder if Tuon will decide to get rid of him now that he has done the necessary??? Perhaps this would be a good test of my luck question! :D

Moghedien as a damane is a very satisfying and suitable punishment for this vile woman. However, I find it interesting that although they were a minority of the Forsaken, most of the female ones managed to survive the Last Battle, and Lanfear made it almost to the end as well. I know that Mesaana is a drooling idiot, but she, Moghedien and Graendal accomplished something that none of the male Forsaken did: they lived! Is this an indication of sexism from the writers, or an indication that they believe that women are greater survivors because they tend to be more careful and intelligent than their male counterparts?

I thought Perrin’s discovery of Faile in Tel’aran’rhiod was quite lovely, but my dislike of her made me care much more about his emotional wellbeing than her survival.

Cadsuane being bullied was hilarious! I am quite sure that Moiraine needed to change her smallclothes when she found out! :D

Maybe I missed something in amongst the mad rush of final details, but I could not work out why the Rand / Moridin swap occurred. Obviously, it fulfilled many of the prophecies and viewings without actually killing Rand, but I was slightly ambivalent about it. In some ways it seemed like cheating that he could survive the ultimate battle between Good and Evil with a very neat witness protection scheme in place. However, we did have hints that the Creator himself was involved with the Last Battle, so this could be His direct action. Perhaps He thought that Rand and the girls deserved to have some peace after all the mayhem. Plus, this gives Aviendha an opportunity to conceive those four children that she is supposed to have with Rand . . . perhaps she will not have quadruplets after all, just four in total over several pregnancies.

This leads on to Rand’s newfound magical pipe-lighting ability. There is no suggestion that the One Power has disappeared in general, so this must be a Rand-specific change. Again, I assume that this is a gift from the Creator: perhaps it is His version of the True Power. It would be interesting to discover if Rand can do other things with it, but I suppose that we will never know.

I was very moved by Tam’s words at the pyre. This and Bella’s death were the points that moved me to tears. However, I was a little surprised that Rand’s women were so useless at covering up his non-death. They could have tried to look a little bit sad . . .

I am sure that I have missed something, but I suspect that there will be plenty to discuss when I read the other posts! :D


Sunday, March 1, 2015

A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan: Week 7

This week we read through to the end of Chapter 37 – next week we will read the remaining chapters and reach the end of the series.

Before I answer Eivind’s questions I just need to get something off my chest:


(deep breath)


Holy epic chapters, Batman! I have never before read a single chapter that has included so much action and mayhem, such death and destruction. It had everything: despair and triumph, bitter loss and the sweet promise of hope! I doubt that I will ever read another chapter that can match this for its complete and utter epicness!

And now on to the questions . . .

1.  What did you think of the structure?  That is, one huge chapter with no breathers.  Was it appropriate for the battle, or did you find the difference from before jarring?

It certainly left me feeling as exhausted and breathless as those fortunate enough to survive into chapter 38. The use of many points of view and such short sections made it very difficult for me to stop reading last night so that I could go to bed! This was the page-turning chapter to rule them all: and I imagine that very few writers would risk this structure for fear of their readers throwing the book away in disgust. However, I think that it was very appropriate for the prelude to the climax of the series. We were shown just about every important action and managed to touch base with quite a few characters before they met their ends, which was rather touching when they had happy thoughts or chose brave and selfless courses of action.

Rather than finding this different from the rest of the series, I felt that it was as if Mr Sanderson had turned the volume up from something comfortable to an eardrum imploding level. It was a similar structure to the one we are accustomed to, only writ large. But this is the End Of The World, so it is supposed to be a little more dramatic than normal. It certainly conveyed the desperation and despair seeping through the armies of the Light as their end becomes inevitable . . .

2.  Tuon orchestrates a fight with Mat, and decides to return only after some careful deliberations.  Ice-cold gamble or foolhardy move by Mat?  Am I the only one who thinks the Seanchan have gotten away with very little fighting so far?

This was certainly a gamble, and it is not clear that the return of the Seanchan will seal the win for the force of light, unless Lan truly has done for Demandred. I was rather surprised that Moghedien fell for this ruse, as I thought she might suspect that it was a set up. But, of course, she is biased by her own personality: she would abandon a failing fight in order to save her own skin in the blink of an eye, so she accepts Tuon’s bluff as a reasonable action. It was just about the only way that Mat could use the enemy spy to his own advantage without alerting her to his knowledge of her existence.

Yep: the Ever Victorious Army is starting to look like a massively unearned title at this point. Not only has the branches of it left behind at home fallen to rebellion and civil war, but also their showing in Randland has been patchy at best. They have not proven to be quite as epic in this battle as I had hoped they would be. Perhaps it is all weird haircuts and painted fingernails with very little to back up their sense of superiority.

3.  Androl and Pevara spend much of the battle behind enemy lines to recover the seals, practicing telepathy and other fascinating effects.  Why not another lava trick?  Logain also challenge Demandred.  What do you think of his motivations?  Where will his glory come from?

I guess a giant flow of lava would be a little inaccurate in targeting only Taim, and it might just damage the Seals a little bit . . . or make them rather difficult to recover later! :D

Androl and Pevara are rapidly becoming my highest ranked characters for further books in the series: they are so entertaining! They also seem to be rewriting the rule book with their double Bonding connection, which I am quite sure will prove helpful in the end. I was rather sad that Androl did not get the chance to Gateway Taim into oblivion, but his slight of hand theft of the Seals did make me chuckle quite a bit. I am quite sure that Taim was furious when he discovered that they were missing . . . oh dear, let me reach for my tiny violin! :D

Logain’s motivations seem to be rather mudded at the moment. He went after Demandred with some wild idea of grabbing his scepter and then making every one bow down before his awesomeness. This was the one case where I was actually cheering on Demandred, as I was not sure that Logain winning the duel would be a good idea. It does not look like he has much of a chance of glory at the moment, but there is still time for him to validate our trust in him.

4.  In the meantime, Rand and the Dark One exchange visions for the future.  What do you think of all these?  Can Rand really kill the Dark One now?

These have been rather interesting in their variety and been genuinely intriguing and surprising. They have certainly made me think about the role of evil with regards to personal freedom and the implications of trying to remove it from the universe. It seems as if the Dark One has a very good understanding of Rand’s personality and weaknesses, some of which Demandred has commented on in his various ramblings. I was most interested to see that the Dark One offered Rand the chance at oblivion: I wondered if this was a genuine proposal or simply a trick. If it was genuine, it suggests that the Dark One is seriously worried about Rand’s ability to defeat him, although it appears to be highly unlikely at the moment.

From what we have seen I am not sure that killing the Dark One is either possible or desirable. Whilst I understand that what we are seeing is heavily biased by the Dark One’s attempts to defeat Rand, I do worry that a total lack of temptation removes the need for people to choose to do good rather than evil. We have seen so many examples of bravery and self-sacrifice in this chapter that I wonder if Mr Sanderson also sees the threat of Evil as something of a necessity. Having said that, I am sure that Rand will be victorious, but I have no concept of how he will do it.

5.  Some choose not to fight for various reasons.  What do you think of Ila's thoughts on violence, now, at the Last Battle?  Did you expect the gai'shain to fight?  Any difference between them and the reluctant mercenaries from the prologue?

I find the whole concept of the Way of the Leaf very interesting because it shows a strength of commitment that I find difficult to understand. In certain situations I can see how non-violence is actually effective, as we have seen in peaceful demonstrations throughout human history. However, it will only work if your opposition has a moral compass and will finally stop massacring you because they feel bad about it. The Dark One and his minions have no compassion and will not stop killing any humans that they encounter: they simply see pacifists as easy targets, just as they view the young, elderly and infirm. When the Way of the Leaf was at its most prevalent mankind was living in a time of enlightened peace: I do not think that it is particularly appropriate in the Last Battle.

However, I can respect the Tinkers’ dedication to their beliefs and commend them for offering aid to those who are willing to fight. I wonder if the Last Battle will cause more to question their willingness to allow others to die to protect them. It would certainly be expected that many would have their faith shaken by what they witness at Merrilor, and it could cause a dramatic change in their society.

The gai’shain may be a rather different case. Their refusal to fight is based upon ideas of honor rather than pacifism, but, again, they are applying a societal protocol that does not fit this situation. The Shadow has no honor and deserves to be shown no respect. Also, they will surely gain much dishonor if they stand aside and allow the world to end when they could have joined the defense, which might persuade them to postpone their term of servitude for a day or so. If they still refuse to see sense I would suggest that they have to endure a few seconds of Sorilea’s very worst evil stare . . . that should have them grabbing spear in no time at all!

Reluctant mercenaries are either cowards or very sensible, depending upon your point of view. I can see how many people would be unwilling to throw themselves into a hopeless fight, but I can also understand the irritation of the people who realize that every able body needs to be fighting on the battlefield.

6.  Faile and Co. make it to the battle, only to be betrayed by Aravine.  Do you think anyone other than Olver made it out (Faile, especially)?  What did you think of Bela's heroic death?  Where does the Horn go from here?

Whilst I have always found Faile to be a very irritating character, I do like Perrin, so I hope she survives for his sake. Also, I think she is now the Queen of Saldaea after Tenobia and her father’s deaths, so she does have a role to play in the reconstruction after the Light prevails.

I am certain that Vanin and Harnan will survive as they seem to be particularly indestructible. I could almost believe that some of Mat’s ‘luck’ has attached itself to them! I loved the way that they arrived through the Gateway so much earlier and were trying to create mayhem in the enemy camp: Mat would be so proud of them! Also, I knew that they were not Darkfriends, although Aravine was a total surprise.

Olver will obviously blow the Horn and become a great hero of legend surrounded by large-bosomed ladies for the rest of his life. Good luck to the little scamp! :D

Being the irrational animal lover that I am, I was overjoyed with Bela’s return and her miraculous conversion into a super-horse. Then Mr Sanderson killed her and I burst into tears . . . I could go off certain authors . . . :(

7.  Gawyn, Galad and Lan all decide to challenge Demandred.  Gawyn pays the ultimate price: foolish move, or a reasonable gamble to remove the most dangerous enemy on the field?  Galad tries to avenge him, and fails, only for Lan to do the deed and finally fulfil his series-long death wish.  What do you think of these events?

Well, we could all see that Gawyn was going to come to a bad end once we knew that he had triggered one of the rings. I had hoped that some of Egwene’s good sense might have rubbed off on him, but his fate was sealed from that moment on. Following his ‘thinking’ on this challenge does not make me any more inclined to think of his death as a ‘reasonable gamble’. He must have known that his death would incapacitate Egwene, and thus weaken the forces of Light dramatically. His action was mostly driven by a selfish need to be important and show off his prowess, with very little thought of the consequences of his failure or even his chances of accomplishing his goal. I suppose that the use of the rings might have affected his thinking, but his pervious idiocy makes me disinclined to be generous to him.

I thought that Galad had a seriously good chance of succeeding. We know that he was always supposed to be more skilled than Gawyn, and much more clear in his thinking. I also think that there are subtle hints that he might be able to Channel, or at least learn to. Both here and in his defeat of Eamon Valda, we see him attaining a form of the void that seems remarkably similar to that reached by Rand. Of course, we have now seen Tam and Lan doing something very similar, so I might be over-reaching here, but he is related to both Rand and Elayne . . .

Of course, if anyone was going to finally succeed it had to be Lan, Mat, Perrin or possibly even Loial, though I thought Androl might have had a go with a Gateway to something nasty. I loved the imagery of the Two Rivers archers lighting his way and clearing a path through the Trollocs: I was almost cheering by this point! I was pleased that Mandarb managed to get in some badass horse fighting without dying . . . unlike poor Bela . . . grumble, grumble, grumble . . . I am so dumb that I did not even predict the Sheathing the Sword move that Lan would employ, even though he taught Rand about it right at the beginning of the series. By the way, he will most certainly NOT die: can you imagine Nynaeve letting him get away from her that easily! :D

8.  Egwene, having lost her warder and husband, slays M'Hael (WITH a sa'angreal) and then lays waste to the Sharans, and kills herself, Lews Therin style.  Did you expect Egwene to be the first out of the original crew?  Was her fate sealed already when Gawyn died?  What will her legacy be, as Amyrlin?  And what of this new weave---the Flame of Tar Valon?

I did not see this coming, although her despair did seem to be pushing her beyond the bounds of common sense. Of course, her actions were probably necessary and the outcome was a massive blow to the Shadow. Would the forces of Light be in a stronger position if she were still alive? Possibly, but her death was a rather neat balance to that of Taim. I did enjoy his horror as she beat him into submission and then anti-balefired him out of existence. I suspect that she might possibly have recovered from her grief over Gawyn’s loss, what with her being as stubborn as a rock and all that, so I did not see her death as inevitable though her sacrifice was nowhere near as upsetting as Bela’s death . . . I am not going to forgive you for that one for a very long time, Mr Sanderson!

Whilst the Flame of Tar Valon was very impressive, it did leave me with a few questions. Why did Taim’s death not reverse the effects of the previous balefire strikes and revive many of the Forces of Light? Why did Demandred survive it, even though he probably counts as one who had ‘given himself over to the Shadow’? How was Leilwin supposed to find Logain and get the Seals from him in time to break them when Egwene released the Flame? I do not know if these questions will be answered in the remaining chapters, but I do hope so because they are annoying me.

9.  Elayne, having suffered huge losses for the whole battle, is taken by Mellar, threatening to cut her babies out.  What will come of this?  Is Birgitte now permanently dead, or is she just waiting on the other side for the Horn to blow?

It was too much to hope that Mellar had unfortunately died of an infected paper cut, but I had rather hoped that he would not reappear to cause more mayhem. I have no idea what the Dark One plans to do with the Randlings, but I doubt that it is anything good . . . perhaps he plans to file their teeth and give them nice red veils . . .

Obviously, Elayne will be saved by someone, although the list of potential candidates for savior is woefully short at the moment. Unless someone completely unexpected suddenly steps into the breach, such as Thom, who has been noticeably absent throughout this whole mess, my guess is that Birgitte’s death came at a very, very opportune moment. We now know that Olver is going to blow the Horn out of sheer desperation, and her death will allow her to answer its call to action. I suspect that she might feel a slight inclination to kill Mellar once she reappears . . . This will also allow her to rejoin Gaidal and regain her memories, which seems like an appropriate end for her story arc.

10. Anything else you feel I missed?  Ogier?  Dragons?  The beautiful Shendla?  Demandred's approach to the battle?  All the minor deaths: Hurin, Mr. and Mrs. Bashere, Bryne and, dare I say Siuan?  Min's spy-hunting?  Leilwin?

So much has happened this week that it is difficult to get a grasp of what else I want to comment about.

Loial going to help Lan, even though he now thinks that he will never get the chance to write his book: heartbreaking!

Talmanes and his merry band: will they be able to do anything useful with the hastily patched together Dragons?

Demandred’s complete fixation with the one person who is very obviously NOT taking part in the battle: a full day later and he is still trying to taunt Rand into facing him! What a lunatic! :D

I thought that Hurin and the Basheres deserved slightly more than a minor footnote, but the lack of detail added to the shock that their deaths dealt to both us and Rand.

I thought that Siuan’s death was somehow fitting. She made a conscious decision to abandon her own safety in order to do what needed to be done: something that proves that she was truly a Blue. Poor Gareth could never have lived an hour without her.

During the attack on the Seanchan command tent I was rather distracted by all the excessive clothing in evidence. Poor Min could hardly move for all the silk and Tuon had her quick release dress on. It does rather make me wonder why they do not have slightly more practical dress uniforms for times of war.

One thing that I did like to see was the unification of the Tower, or should I say TowerS. We know that it is common for people to be united against a common enemy, but so many prejudices were abandoned during this battle that I am hopeful that real change can occur in the aftermath. I am sure that Cadsuane will be cross that she missed all this excitement!

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