OK, so I'm switching things up a little bit here. After doing two books of one series, I'm starting a book in the series DM is actually dedicated to. And yes, I know I'm starting my WoT blog in the middle of the series; it just happens to be the first WoT book I have started since joining DM. I was halfway through Book Five when I joined, and didn't think of posting my reading thoughts till I was almost done. I was going to do what I did with my coverage of ASOIAF and make the first post about the prologue and first chapter, until I got a look at the table of contents. The prologue by itself is fifty pages. There aren't any regular chapters that are even half that long. Really, RJ? Couldn't this have been split in two? I normally tend to think of prologues and epilogues and short little wind-ups and wind-downs from the main part of the book. Prologues should be short! There are several good spots in this that could have served as a dividing point, with the rest forming a first chapter. So the prologue will be covered on its own here.
But first, I want to take a few minutes on the cover of the book. The actual, physical, hardcover book. I've gathered the covers to the e-books are much better for WoT, but I'm prefer to go for real books whenever possible. The cover art is the first thing you see of a book, therefore it should be the first thing I get into. This is awful. Rand (presumably, it isn't like he's wearing a nametag... Hello, my name is Rand al'Thor) is standing in the center of the front cover, looking like nothing more than a big hunk of beefcake. I'm sorry, but the Dragon Reborn is not Fabio. Did they get someone used to doing covers for Harlequin romance novels for this? Off to the upper right, a Dragh'kar is flying. Whether it's hovering aimlessly, doing surveillance on Rand, or preparing to attack, I have no clue. I'm not sure that Darrrell K. Sweet, the artist, had a clue either. On Rand's left, we have a kneeling Aes Sedai. We know she is an Aes Sedai because she's wearing a shawl, which looks to be a bluish-gray, and the shawl has the Flame of Tar Valon prominently on the back. I'm guessing that she is either Blue or Gray Ajah, but won't wager on which of the two. I don't know who she may be specifically. The Wikipedia article for LoC (which I left as soon as I checked out the caption for the pic, to avoid spoilers) just says she is an Aes Sedai. For some WoT books the cover characters are identified on Wiki, but no help here. The Flame on the back is white with a background of... purple?? Maroon?? Now, there isn't a Purple Ajah, and the shawl doesn't look purple. Maroon could be a shade used by a Red, but again, the shawl is the wrong color. Rand has his hand facing her clenched into a fist. Is he just generally angry? Is he threatening her? Is he actually going to hit her? Threatening a channeler with your fist seems pretty ineffective, and why should a man who can channel as strongly as Rand feel a need to use physical violence (with his bare hands and no weapon!) as a threat? In the background we have some wagons in ruins. Their covering is gone and it's pretty clear they won't be used as wagons anytime soon. Kindling, maybe. There's another wagon, closer to the viewer, on the back, in similar condition, with the occupants killed by arrows. Two men that I can see, with a sword that one of them may have owned stuck in the ground. The Aes Sedai was in the wagon, I figure. In the background on the back, there's a few tents with a tattered banner of a white boar. Hey, that's Gawyn's symbol. So Sweet apparently paid attention to the details of the story. Or at least he read the appendix. And Gawyn does show up in the prologue with his white boar symbol. Whether this is meant to depict a specific scene from the book, or Darrell K. Sweet just pulled this out of nowhere, I don't know. But I'm only on page 63.
When this series began to be a big seller, couldn't they have upgraded to a better cover artist? If they wanted a consistent look, there isn't anything stopping Tor from re-issuing the older books with work by the new artist. When a sports team sucks, they don't keep an incompetent coach hanging around to maintain a consistent level of play. Sweet's covers are the work of a hack; he should have been fired from the series a few books ago. And given the way some characters change from book to book, I wouldn't even say Sweet gave them a consistent look. My personal choice would be the late Keith Parkinson, who would have been alive for most of the WoT books. At the time of LoC, there was no way to know Parkinson would not survive this far. And his work on Goodkind's Sword of Truth books blows my mind. Seriously, Goodkind's cover art is full of win.
Okay, now for this giant prologue. Demandred, who we haven't actually gotten to see yet, travels to Shayol Ghul and has a chat with the Dark One. In person. I'm figuring anyone not a Forsaken, even if they are a Darkfriend, wouldn't be able to handle being there live with the Dark One. There's a very unusual Fade present: tall, not named like other Fades, and the Dark One values this Fade very highly. We haven't seen the last of Shaidar Haran, have we? He reports that Rahvin has died, and Lanfear and Moghedien are missing, just like Asmodean. Asmodean got cut off from the Dark One at the end of Book Four, and apparently none of the Forsaken figured out what happened to him. Or at least they didn't tell Demandred. This also says to me that we can cross Demandred off the list of whoever killed Asmodean, since he has no clue what happened there. Asmodean dying came out of nowhere for me when I read it! I wonder how long it takes to solve this. The Dark One sounds like he knows Asmodean is dead. Demandred gets appointed Nae'blis, which seems to be some sort of Head Forsaken. Now, the Forsaken aren't exactly known for getting along with each other. How well are they going to take the news that Demandred has been placed above the rest of them? The Dark One lays out an evil plan, but we don't get to hear it.
Nynaeve is trying to Heal Siuan and Leane's stilling. Siuan and Leane think this is crazy to try. Nyn has an a'dam that Elayne made from "a special source" of silver, and the necklace part is around Moghedien's neck. Even with the power of a Forsaken behind her, she can't unstill them. I would think that she's nuts to try this too, but if this is a dead end, then why would RJ even waste time on it in the story? So sooner or later, stilling will be healed somehow. The only silver Nyn and Elayne would have had would be Birgitte's arrow that came from the dream world into the real world. Elayne busts in with the news that the Salidar Aes Sedai are sending an embassy to Rand in Andor, and she's quite mad that she isn't part of it. Siuan and Leane knew about the embassy all along. Gee, even stilled, Siuan knows a lot about stuff going on in the Aes Sedai. There's a rumor going around that Rand killed Morgase. That could make things interesting, even though we know it's false. Elayne isn't going, but Min is. That should make their relationship awkward! Elayne goes to say goodbye to Min, and runs into a couple of Sisters, who want to congratulate her on all the discoveries of new weaves that Moghedien has taught them. Which they've officially come up with on their own, cause Mog's true identity is a closely held secret between Nyn, Elayne, Siuan, and Leane. Invisibility. Long-distance eavesdropping. Inverted weaves so other channelers won't even know there is a weave present.. And a couple they've kept secret, hiding your ability to channel from other channelers, and disguising your looks with the Power. What do you want to bet that at least one of these will play an important role in the plot at some point? Maybe not in this book, but sometime, one of the good guys will find some of these handy when they've only been mentioned in passing. Chekhov's Gun? Or would it be Chekhov's Weave? Elayne excuses herself, finds Min, and they have a nice chat. Min agrees to take a letter to Rand, and reveals that she is being sent on the embassy to spy on Rand. One interesting bit is that Min hasn't been told who Birgitte really is. Only Nyn knows that Birgitte is Elayne's Warder, too. That includes Min.
Now we go back to the Two Rivers. It's been a whole book since we got to see Perrin. Faile is holding court, and still trying to get Perrin to accept that he is a Lord now. She even had thrones made for the both of them. Perrin, meanwhile is still trying to get everyone in the Two Rivers to accept that he isn't a Lord, and quit treating him like one. Fat chance of that. I hate Faile. Easily the most annoying character in the books thus far. Perrin feels Rand calling to him somehow. The call of ta'veren to ta'veren, or something like that. Rand may not know it, but he needs Perrin's help with... something.
Cut to the White Tower. Gawyn is commanding the Younglings, his little private army of castoffs and Tower trainees he's gathered together. It seems the Tower is getting a delegation from the Shaido while sending an embassy of their own to Rand. Gawyn thinks that the White Tower means to proclaim its support for Rand. I seriously doubt Eliada would do this. Remember them? Couladin is dead, and good riddance, but his widow Sevanna is running the Shaido now. The Sisters give the impression they are making an alliance, but really have other ideas. Gawyn hears from a peddler that Morgase is dead and Rand killed her. That rumor sure does get around! The version that Gawyn hears also has Elayne being killed by Rand. Now, we know that neither one is dead. But Gawyn is shocked to the core, and swears vengeance to himself. That should make for an interesting meeting. Meantime, Elaida and the rest of the Aes Sedai usuarpers don't want Gawyn and his bunch around because they can't be controlled, and hope that maybe the Shaido will handle getting rid of them. That way Morgase won't be angry at the Tower over her son's death. That one sentence is interesting. All those eyes and ears the Aes Sedai have, and they haven't heard what the rest of Randland is hearing about Morgase being dead? The one Sister whose POV we have here shows a classic ethnic bias, thinking of the Aiel as total savages even while she treats with them. She's Black Ajah, by the way. So is Galina, head of the Reds. Yeah, the Reds seem totally penetrated by the Blacks. The only Red I've seen who conclusively isn't Black is Elaida, and she's being manipulated by them flawlessly. Meantime, the Shaido aren't entering these discussions in good faith, either. They mean for the White Tower to be eventually looted, just like all the other wetlands. The Shaido hope to kidnap Rand from the Aes Sedai embassy and hold him prisoner. And Sevanna decides she has no intention of allowing the Shaido to send a man to Rhuidean to learn the truths there.
Cut to Morgase, about whom we've heard so much made-up scuttlebutt so far. She is very much alive, and in the royal palace in the last place you'd expect: Amadicia. A country where the king has no real power, and the place is really run by the Whitecloaks. And Morgase is Tower-trained, and cna't even legally be in the country. She wants the King to give her soldiers to recapture Caemlyn from the evil clutches of Gaebril, who was actually Rahvin, and is actually dead, but she doesn't know that. Rand really did kill this one. The rumor mill missed the one person he really has killed. Her entourage is small. Lini, her elderly nursemaid, who is fond of proverbs and sayings, Basel Gill the innkeeper (should I refer to him in first-person?), his hired goon Lamgwin, Lamgwin's girl Breane, and Tallanvor her guard. Breane is Cairheinin, and doesn't consider herself one of Morgase's subjects, and doesn't seem to have a problem letting the Queen know about it. In fact, she's quite snotty. Pedron Niall comes in, tells her (truthfully, I think) that the King can't do squat to help her, but the Children of the Light can... for a price, no doubt. It's from Niall that she finds out Gaebril is dead, and Rand killed him while conquering Caemlyn, and thus Andor along with it. She doesn't sound unhappy about Andor being in Rand's control. After Niall leaves, an Andoran shows up and offers to help her escape the Whitecloaks. Seems like Morgase has gone from Rahvin's trap to Niall's. Niall goes back to his Fortress and arranges for the Whitecloaks to leave the Saildar Aes Sedai alone for the time being. Not that he likes them, but he doesn't want his struggle to be seen as just a fight with the Aes Sedai.
Quick cut to Demandred, who fills in the rest of the Forsaken on the Dark One's plan. The reader's still don't know what the plan is. Sammael doesn't show up for the meeting, and so it gets determined he won't be told anything. I think Sammael has decided to go with his own plans against Rand; he wants all the Dark One's favor and the glory for himself and wants nothing to do with Demandred's plans. Another cut to two new Forsaken, who we are told were resurrected from the dead by the Dark One in new bodies and new names. The man is Osan'gar, the woman is Aran'gar. Aran'gar apparently used to be a man, and isn't happy with the change. Shaidar Haran shows up again and makes it plain that he doesn't have to obey them. A Fade ranked higher than the Forsaken? A Fade that shows a sense of humor and smiles? What is this thing? Haran tells the both of them to deal with it, they still serve the Dark One, or they can die for good this time. Now the Dark One told Demandred that he can't resurrect anyone from balefire, so that leaves few options as to which Forsaken these used to be. Aginor and Balthamel died through other means toward the end of Book One, and Ishamael died after Rand stabbed him with Callandor at the end of Book Three. I don't think I'm missing anyone, but can't be sure. Whichever of the three isn't included here could be brought back later on.
Whew! Okay, that's done. Next installment should be of a more manageable length with shorter chapters.