Sunday, September 7, 2014

Knife of Dreams by Robert Jordan: Week 8

If you haven't read the book, or the whole series, why not join in and read along with the rest of us? This week the links to the other posts can be found at the bottom of this post.

This week we read through to the end of the book.

1. As we predicted, Birgitte was left to rescue Elayne from certain maiming at the hands of the evil Black Sisters. Were you surprised by her solution to Elayne’s capture? What did you think of the way that she manipulated the Windfinders: do you see this causing problems for Elayne in the future?

I had expected Birgitte to take a much more direct approach to rescue Elayne, so her decision to dash off and gather as many soldiers as possible surprised me quite a bit. However, I suppose that she has very clear memories of trying to fight Aes Sedai in her former lives, so perhaps I should have expected her to be this cautious when going into such a fight. Her knowledge that at least one of the Sisters with Elayne was Black would also make her more cautious as well, so perhaps I was being rather stupid to expect her to rush into the house with her bow drawn!

I thought that she handled the Windfinders and everyone else quite beautifully. She repeatedly thinks of herself as not being a general, but she seemed to have a very good tactical understanding of what resources she had to use. It was also interesting to note that everyone is quite happy to follow her commands without question, which suggests that they have no doubts about her command ability. The way that she manipulated the Windfinders showed a good understanding of their culture and attitudes, and was the only effective way to gain their cooperation without the prolonged negotiation of a bargain to buy their services. It showed that Birgitte may not have true memories of all her previous lives, but the residual wisdom has remained: she has a true understanding of what motivates people and knows how to exploit that knowledge. I suspect that the Windfinders will never mention this episode again, because it touches on the matter of their shame and a threat to the crucial Bargain that they have with Elayne. I am quite sure that they will try to pretend that it never happened.

2. Arymilla is defeated and Elayne is suddenly alone in her claim to the Lion Throne. Did you expect a more difficult fight for the Far Madding Gate, or did you think that Arymilla’s plan was doomed to fail? What did you think of Elayne’s assessment of Sylvase Caeren: did Lord Nasin’s sudden incapacity surprise you at all?

We know that Arymilla had numerous advantages over Elayne, such as superior numbers, but I think it was pretty obvious that she would never succeed in claiming the Lion Throne. Or, at least, I really hoped that Mr Jordan would not push the plotline in that direction because we have wasted enough time dealing with it when there is the small matter of the Last Battle looming large ahead of us. Throughout our encounters with Arymilla she has been shown to be relatively competent in her manipulation of the other nobles but also over-confident. This is admirably demonstrated by her choice of clothing for the attack and her mistake of not setting a rearguard. I was quite surprised that she had not foreseen the use of a Gateway to attack her forces from behind, which I thought was a blazingly obvious choice.

As I had mentioned previously, I was pretty certain that Sylvase was not as vague or useless as Arymilla had assumed. I think that Elayne’s assessment of the young woman is a much more realistic appraisal and will allow the new Queen to treat the new House Head in a more sensible way. One of Arymilla’s major faults was that she made assumptions about others motivations and personalities without truly observing their behavior: this made her vulnerable to making miscalculations in how her followers would react in certain situations. I had always thought that Lord Nasin was not really as crazy as he pretended, because it allowed his House the option of supporting either side without accruing serious suspicion. I am quite sure that his sudden inability to lead the House was simply a very convenient ploy to allow his heir to swap sides without being labeled a traitor. A very smart ploy, and one that has worked stunningly well for them.

3. We finally get to really meet one of the Ogier Gardeners, who are surprisingly similar to their cousins on this side of the Sea. Were they what you expected or did you expect them to be more violent or aggressive than Loial? What do think that each group of Ogier would think of the other?

I have been very intrigued by the Gardeners ever since we learned of their existence. I found it very difficult to imagine that they would be somehow very different from Loial and the other Ogier that we have seen on this side of the sea, simply because they are so long lived. Even with a total separation from their cousins in Randland, I could not imagine that they would be all that different culturally or in their underlying personality. Rather than being violent or aggressive they seem to be grim and determined, which matches Loial and Elder Haman during the recent Trolloc attack.

I suspect that both groups of Ogier are aware of the other’s existence, but there may be a degree of sadness about their separation and the differences in their lifestyles. I would expect Loial to be regretful of the Gardeners’ decision to be lifelong soldiers, although we do not know if all Ogier in the Seanchan Empire are actively involved in a military lifestyle. However, I suspect that he would be very interested to learn their reasons for serving the Empress and he would want to know why they have chosen such a seemingly un-Ogier lifestyle: they would also add weight to his argument that the Ogier should choose to stay and fight in the Last Battle.

I find it much more difficult to predict the Gardeners’ attitude to the Ogier in Randland. Without knowing their history and the reasons for their service in the Deathguard, it is difficult to anticipate their attitude to the more traditional, peaceful lifestyle. They could envy their cousins’ isolation and ability to lead peaceful lives, or they may see this as weakness and a choice to avoid taking a role in world events. I wonder if we will see a schism similar to the one shown between the Aiel and the Tuatha’an, whose histories mirror those of the Ogier groups to certain extent. Either way, I look forward to seeing these two groups encounter each other and I am sure that we will learn more about them when this happens. 

4. Frankly, I was amazed by the way that Luan and the others capitulated so easily, giving Elayne an uncontested path to the Throne. Were you surprised that we finally saw the resolution of a plotline? Do you think that Ellorien will cause any real trouble, or will she remain loyal to Andor?

I have to admit that this book and the last one have set up far too many unresolved plotlines for my liking. Last week we saw Faile’s rescue and the fall of Sevanna, so I was not really expecting anything else to be tied up before we moved on to Book Twelve: I had assumed that we would finish the book with both Elayne and Egwene held captive. Whilst I am not complaining about Mr Jordan’s decision to free Elayne and remove all opposition to her position as Queen, the very fact that I had expected a more drawn out and protracted episode meant that I was left somewhat dissatisfied by the sudden turn of events.

The capitulation of Luan and the others came too quickly after Arymilla’s defeat to my mind. I know that this is completely illogical and that her total defeat would cause any wavering support to switch over to Elayne very swiftly, but it still left me feeling slightly dissatisfied. Perhaps if we had simply had a different ordering to the chapters, so that there was more reading away from this plotline between the victory at the Gate and the audience with Luan then I might have felt that it was all too easy and hasty.

I suspect that Ellorien will be unswervingly loyal to Andor. She may never be an unquestioning supporter, but I doubt that she will do anything to endanger the country or directly undermine Elayne’s rule. In some ways, I am happy to see that Elayne still has some opposition amongst the ruling Houses: it will help to keep her honest. I also think that it adds a little depth to the characters and storylines if our heroes do not simply get their own way all the time.

5. Speaking of resolutions: Mat is married! We knew that it would happen, but how far did your jaw drop when Tuon made her declaration? We learn some of her reasons for saying the words, but do you think that the marriage can survive their positions on opposite sides of the Seanchan invasion?

I had already realized that I had little idea about Tuon’s true motivations, so I guess that I should not have been surprised by this abrupt change of status for our favorite scoundrel. However, it did rather fall out of a clear sky, so I was as shocked as Mat when she spoke the words. We knew that it would happen eventually, but that did not prevent the surprise when it finally occurred. I notice that I seem to be doing a lot of complaining about the way in which Mr Jordan choose to resolve some of the plotlines in this volume. I cannot decide if this is because he is really good at manipulating his readers’ expectations or because he has been annoying in the way that he has handled the pacing and foreshadowing of the resolutions in question. Certainly my expectations have been jarred by his decisions, and I am not sure that I am happy about it! 

I was interested to learn a little about the Foretelling that Tuon had been given about her future and how Mat figured into it. They certainly helped to explain a lot of her confusing behavior and tolerance earlier in their journey together. I can see why she would be very cautious when confronted by the man that she is ‘supposed’ to marry, especially as he seems so unlikely at their first encounter. However, she obviously takes the prophecy very seriously, along with many other Seanchan superstitions, and so she does not fight against it. In exactly the same way as Mat, she accepts her future as inevitable and yet is wary about rushing into it.

I suspect that their union will eventually help to create an alliance between Tuon and Rand against the Dark One, because it will help her to understand and trust Mat’s oldest friend. However, I predict that their marriage will remain very exciting and interesting until they are separated by death: it will certainly never be dull! :D

6. Suroth’s treachery is revealed and Tuon takes direct control of the Return. Did you expect Suroth to be removed so easily? Do you think that the remaining Seanchan nobility, such as Galgan, are loyal to Tuon or do you suspect that further Darkfriends are lurking in their ranks?

Let us all have a solemn moment of sad reflection for the passing of Suroth as she passes into her new life a slave . . . I am playing a sad, sad tune on my tiny, tiny violin to mark the occasion! :D

As with so much in this week’s reading, I have a mixed reaction to this event. Given the strict protocol and adherence to hierarchy and order, it makes sense that Tuon could remove anyone from their position in the wave of one tiny finger. However, I had expected Suroth to be a little more difficult to displace, like a tick that has dug itself very deeply into a difficult to access position on the nether regions of a very nervous tiger. Of course, this was merely an illusion reinforced by our occasional visits to her point of view, where her smug overconfidence gave us a false impression of how much true power she could wield. In the end, she was completely delusional in believing that she could stand against Tuon and her position as the Empress’ heir.

It certainly seems that Suroth is unaware of any other Darkfriends amongst those leading the Return, as she never thinks of any of them in those terms (as far as I can remember). Of course, this does not mean that they have not been turned to the Shadow, but it does suggest that they are less likely to have been corrupted. It is easy to see why those loyal to the Empress would be antagonistic to Suroth, but the politics of Seanchan culture make it very difficult to guess the real motivations of many of them.

7. Taim ‘welcomes’ a delegation of Reds looking to find Warders. Does Taim’s demeanor, trappings and attitude give you any hint that he might NOT be a Very Bad Man? Do you expect the Red Sisters to leave the Black Tower alive and will any asha’man agree to Bonding?

Taim really should just get a sign that says, “Hey, Rand, I am an enemy, you idiot!”

I know that Rand has a lot to do, but I cannot help thinking that his lack of action over the Taim problem is a huge mistake that will return to bite him in the backside at the very worst moment. He has Lews Therin crawling around in his head, so he should already know that the Forsaken began their lives as apparently good, upright citizens. If Taim does not aspirations to become one of a new order of Forsaken, then I will eat my hat! Logain has already split the Black Tower and told Rand that he needs to deal with Taim, but I suspect that we will see him go into full cackling evil mode before the Dragon Reborn decides to deal with this viper in the nest. This is a great shame, as he appears to have corrupted a great number of Asha’man, thus creating many more enemies for the forces of Light to defeat in the Last Battle.

I am not sure if Taim intends to let the Reds live, but I suspect that he would have simply killed them if he wanted to harm them. He obviously sees their idea of Bonding Asha’man as a way to create more chaos. Possibly he expects his corrupted men to somehow twist the Sisters to the Shadow once the Bonding has occurred, although I find it difficult to believe that any of them would agree to becoming Warders. I have no doubt Taim that has something evil in mind, but I am not sure what it is just yet.


  1. 1. Quick thinking by Birgitte. I have read this part three times now and I still found myself wondering how she was going to find Elayne again if she left... Yeah, I'm not a smart man.

    As is well known, I'm not a big fan of the Sea Folk. I pretty much expect them to cause trouble just by being around, so Birgitte can hardly have made it much worse.

    2. Kind of... and also, kind of not. It's really difficult to mount a wall, so by the time it was evident that the turncoat mercenaries were not going to be enough to win her the wall, Arymilla should perhaps have retreated. She must have expected Elayne and Birgitte to be occupied with other things. No doubt she was informed of the timing. But she's a dimwit without the mind for war, so that's good I guess.

    3. This is one thing I wish we could see in the books, but as far as I remember, there is never a big clash between the two groups. At least not 'on screen'. I also wonder what would happen to the Seanchan Ogier if the wetlander Ogier decided to open the Book of Translation. Would they just vanish and come with them, or do you have to be present at the opening and actually do something? If not, how can the wetlander Ogier justify making a decision when half their race isn't even represented?

    4. Robert Jordan finally took the axe to his plotlines in this book. Faile is free, Elayne is queen and Mat has married Tuon. But we saw the Perrin thing last week, so I was prepared there could be more. :-)

    Ellorien seems to be a level headed antagonist. She's an opponent of Elayne, but not of Andor.

    5. This is an odd marriage if I ever saw one. I'm sure we haven't seen the end of these two. ;-)

    With Rand aiming for an alliance with Tuon, hopefully they can have a fruitful meeting and Mat won't have to face his wife on the battlefield.

    6. Yeah, that was remarkably quick. Mat and Tuon spent two books trekking across Altara, and Tuon is back in two chapters? And I don't know what Suroth spent her time doing, other than badgering Liandrin I suppose. 'Prepared' is not a word that describes her.

    7. Taim should have been stopped several books ago. I'm afraid this is going to become a serious problem that has to be dealt with at the worst possible time. But it's simply too dangerous... you'll need a concerted effort from many channelers, probably both Aes Sedai and Rand together. Not sure how soon that can happen.

    And there's a good reason for why Taim welcomes the sisters... But I can't spoil what it is. ;-)

    1. Yeah for Birgitte! I say her reward should be that she is allowed to wear whatever the hell she wants to in her official job.

      Great question about the Book of Translation! If it is just a few making the decision for the many, that is always a bit messed up (though it happens often in history). But it would also make the Book a kind of weapon, right? So I wonder how they keep it locked up and/or guarded.

      Yes, I did feel that Tuon's sudden appearance back at the Seanchan stronghold was a bit sudden since we took so long going away from it.

  2. Out of our main characters, Birgitte and Perrin are turning out to be the most logical, and in some ways, brutal (when needed). Sigh.....I kind of wish they had hooked up instead of Faile.

    For some reason, I thought Nasin was completely out of the picture, instead of simply stepping aside for his grandniece (granddaughter?). Either way, it worked out well for their house.

    I too felt that Luan's capitulation and Elayne's victory to Queendom was a bit swift. But this is probably because Elayne was so easily captured by some Black Ajah and a Forsaken, and lots of people knew about it. I felt that she had to do something grand before her peers could feel good about putting her butt on the throne in a time of turmoil and forthcoming battle.

    Yes, I too am starting to worry about Rand's ability to defeat the DO and his numerous minions in the forthcoming battle.....especially since he has been ignoring Taim, a man he put in power. I can only hope that once Taim gains Rand's undivided attention, that Rand is capable of a quick assessment and decides to balefire the jerk.


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