In this entry of my readthrough of The Wheel of Time, it's the beginning of the end: Isam receives a new mission, Leilwin seeks audience with Egwene, the Forsaken convene, and Talmanes seeks to rescue Caemlyn from the fires of Trolloc invasion.
Bayrd and other guards accompany Jarid Sarand, who is increasingly erratic. Bayrd crafts a stone spearhead as all the metal in the camp melted away. Jarid blames this on Elayne and the Aes Sedai, intent on giving Elenia the throne. His soldiers finally decide to start abandoning him. The guards bind Jarid to a tree, leaving him to die. They decide to head northward to fight in the Last Battle.
Talmanes leads the Band towards blazing Caemlyn. Refugees flood from the gates and the whole city is in flames. Talmanes is intent on locating the dragons before the Trollocs seize them. Sandip reports that the nearby mercenaries are not contributing. Trollocs attempt to block the gates.
Isam waits in the inn of the enigmatic Town, as summoned. He has horrific memories of a childhood in the Town. Men outside wearing red veils, known as Samma N’Sei, prowl. Moridin walks past, causing the veiled men to disperse. After Moridin passes, a woman enters, presumably a Chosen. She informs him that he is to kill Rand, and accept orders from none but the Great Lord. Two Samma N’Sei enter, and the woman explains they will accompany him in his task.
Talmanes and his soldiers drive the Trollocs from the gate, but he is wounded by a Fade. They contemplate on how to rescue the dragons. Talmanes manages to recruit the mercenaries to help hold the gate.
Leilwin and Bayle slipped through a gateway from Tar Valon to the Field of Merrilor, and search for Nynaeve and Elayne. She wishes to end the injustice of the damane. Sleete escorts them to Nynaeve, who berates them for relinquishing the sad bracelets to Suroth. Nynaeve then escorts Leilwin to Egwene.
Melten applies blisterleaf to Talmanes’ wound, which is killing him. The Band fights at the southern gate while the mercenaries secure the west. Talmanes insists on proceeding to the Royal Palace first, to locate Aes Sedai.
Aviendha arrives at the Field of Merrilor and meets with the Wise Ones, reporting what she witnessed in Rhuidean. They decide to dispatch another Wise One to confirm, and Bair later volunteers. Aviendha inquires about Nakomi, but Bair only recognizes it as an ancient name.
Talmanes and his companion fight towards the Palace, but are overwhelmed by Trollocs. The wound weakens him. The Queen’s Guards suddenly attack the Trollocs from behind, dispersing them. The Palace stands, for the moment. Guybon wants to defend it, but Talmanes convinces him to escort the refugees out of the city. Trollocs have seized the walls. Talmanes is determined to locate the dragons, and Guybon decides to accompany him.
Androl and Pevara converse while he works on a saddle. They have been considering escape methods, and Androl mentions a rebellion in Murandy. He decides to think of a plan.
One of the few remaining Kinswomen cannot save Talmanes from the poison. The soldiers slowly proceed to the dragon warehouse only to find it burned. They hear booming, and proceed down the street to face more Shadowspawn. Talmanes manages to kill another Fade. Aludra and the townspeople suddenly appear, with the dragons secured.
Moghedien arrives in Moridin’s dreamshard in Tel’aran’rhiod, a stone platform floating in the ocean. She has been permitted to carry her own mindtrap and channel without permission. Moridin still claims Cyndane’s. Demandred appears, soon followed by a hideous woman: Hessalam, whom Moghedien recognizes as Graendal’s new body. A new Chosen appears: Mazrim Taim, known as M’Hael. He was raised because of his creation of a new generation of Dreadlords. Moridin assigns Moghedien to assist Demandred.
Talmanes collapses from the pain while Guybon argues over how to utilize the dragons. The Trollocs have them cornered by the city wall. Talmanes decides to use the dragons to blow through the walls. The dragons blow the Trolloc-secured battlements to pieces, but Talmanes falls unconscious.
So this was a lengthy prologue, but quite action-packed! A nice ominous way to begin the end. I initially thought, since several pages were dedicated to such a minor character, that Jarid Sarand and his supporters would somehow play a somewhat important role in this book for some reason (perhaps more Andoran politicking, gasp), but it seems it was just a loose end resolved. In that case, it seems sort of irrelevant. I think we could’ve done without seeing what happened to freaking Jarid, but perhaps it’ll be of importance later. Doesn’t look like Jarid is getting out of it alive, though. Seriously, pretty callous to leave him to starve, there’s no way he’s getting rescued.
And Isam! Damn, that section was confusing, I still don’t know exactly what this Town is, except that Isam apparently had a horrific childhood there, largely because of these red-veiled Samma N’Sei. Well, that’s one mystery from ToM resolved. Partially, ‘cause I still don’t know exactly what they are. Shadow Aiel or something? Still, they seem nasty, and I’m sure Isam’s new assignment to hunt Rand will display just how dangerous they are. I’m not sure who the Forsaken is, though. I’ve definitely liked Slayer as a villain in the last few books, though. Yeah, he didn’t really appear until ToM, but he certainly has a presence.
Not much to comment on, regarding the Leilwin scene. Her character, and Domon’s, never particularly interested me, although her desire to fight against the injustice of the damane system is telling. I’m not entirely sure what she intends to do about it, and how Egwene will react, as Nynaeve was naturally pissed to see them. Seriously, Leilwin really dropped the ball with the sad bracelets, the consequences were nearly apocalyptic.
Aviendha’s part is rather self-explanatory. I can tell that her primary storyline in this book will be attempting to avert the end of Aiel civilization, which is pretty damn awesome, although I’m not sure how she intends to change the future. Considering how visceral that revelation in ToM was, this is one element of AMoL I’ll definitely pay attention to.
Androl and Pevara’s section was pretty uneventful. Considering there’s been seven books of buildup regarding the Black Tower shenangians, I’m just frothing for progress here. Sanderson’s really been protracting it.
And another Forsaken meeting! Damn, their numbers have really thinned. I mean, we’ve lost Semirhage, Aran’gar, and Mesaana in the last two books (that’s everyone, right?). I can understand how Moridin’s getting nervous. So…Mazrim Taim is a freaking Forsaken now. Well. Considering he’s been more competent than several of the Forsaken combined, that makes sense. It’d be stupid for the Dark One not to utilize this devious villain to a greater extent. There’s still so much that’s a mystery about Taim, though, I hope the story in the Black Tower sheds some more light on his dubious activities and his motivations. He’s one of my favorite characters in the series, and he’s certainly different from the other Forsaken, considering how young he is. There’s another new Forsaken on the scene, though: Hessalam. I like the irony of Graendal becoming punished with a hideous form (very much like the Balthamel – Aran’gar shift), but she didn’t stay dead long, did she? This also marks a return from Moghedien, who I don’t believe we’ve seen since WH. Finally she’s doing something: working with Demandred. Are we finally gonna get answers on the ever-mysterious Demandred? Well, this is the finale, we’d better.
Finally, Talmanes. I like how Sanderson dispersed this miniature storyline throughout the prologue. Damn, it was sort of surreal to see Caemlyn burning. An excellent way to start the Last Battle, in my opinion, to shockingly destroy one of the oldest, most hallowed locations in the series. Sure, I expected Caemlyn to play a pivotal role in the Last Battle, but to see it razed at the very beginning? Very unexpected and visceral. And Talmanes is dying! Considering this is WoT, I’m a little skeptical about him not making it through this, but this is the Last Battle, and such a major death would be a very shocking way to set the mood. So, I definitely liked the battle scenes. Even with the city burning and the trolloc hordes amassing, I expected Talmanes to somehow reclaim Caemlyn. But he’s not Mat, and it became clear the place was lost. Damn.