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:
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!