Wednesday, September 20, 2023

The Wheel of Time Reread: Lord of Chaos

Welcome back, dear readers, to The Wheel of Time Reread. Today we’re going to talk about Lord of Chaos, the sixth book in the series.

We are almost to the midpoint of the series and the farther we get away from those first books the less I have specific memories of which events happened in which books. Lord of Chaos is Dumai’s Wells, but everything else was a complete mystery - with the caveat that reading the previous book reminds me of what is upcoming in the next, like Nynaeve being the first, possibly in history, to heal stilling. I can tell you the major event in Winter’s Heart and a significant storyline in Knife of Dreams and the Tower of Midnight, and obviously A Memory of Light being the last book, but until I read Lord of Chaos I could not tell you what happened in A Crown of Swords - which is fine because I’m actually hear to talk about Lord of Chaos and not the next two books.

So - before I digress myself into submission let’s move into these charted sections of the map where they may not be dragons but there will be spoilers. You have been warned.

I’m also writing this as the first episodes of Season Two of Amazon’s Wheel of Time adaptation have dropped and I am incredibly pumped and motivated for Wheel of Time content, so I’m feeling good right now. Let’s go!

Lord of Chaos introduces Demandred, who is absolutely not a major character in this book, though it does lead to one of the most significant theories in Wheel of Time fandom until A Memory of Light’s publication and his identity was revealed to be someone we hadn’t seen at all on page and from a land only talked about.

The Demandred intro in the prologue is cool and interesting, though, because it provides a solid glimpse of a Forsaken visiting Shayol Ghul, what that entails, and The Dark One actively speaking. Plus, Shaidar Haren, the Myddraal who is now in charge of all sorts of stuff, including some Forsaken - the Osan’gar and Aran’gar of it all. More to come on that.

Lord of Chaos also introduces Mazrim Taim, who is absolutely not Demandred, visiting Caemlyn to accept amnesty and is immediately put to work testing and training men who wish to learn to channel to build an alternate school / army. I do appreciate the moments where Rand having a bug nuts crazy Lews Therin in his head pushing to the front and everyone, including those with a lot of personal power, pauses and realizes how close to the edge Rand is and thus how close they are as well because if Rand goes, so do they. Even Taim, who has this supreme confidence of being a grown-ass man who has mastered his power, takes a step back to pause. It’s amazing.

Despite how it all worked out in the books, I think Demandred should have been revealed as being Mazrim Taim. Taimendred. It’s the fan theory I mentioned, and if memory serves it is a plot point that fans picking up on really quickly that Robert Jordan may have actually changed it to something much less satisfying than Demandred being from Shara. Apparently there were notes left behind after Jordan passed away that confirmed Taimendred, though perhaps not the author’s reason for the change. Taim has a very strong story arc regardless of also being Demandred, but Taimendred seems like a lost opportunity.

To the Taim of it all, I appreciate that besides the Black Tower school Rand founds for male channelers, he is also founding schools. Places of learning, but also, functionally, libraries - places that consolidate knowledge so that maybe when Rand Breaks the World again something will be saved. It’s a fascinating bit of forward thinking for Rand, which is all the more remarkable when we consider that he’s only 20 years old. Rand is maturing, to a point, with all this “hardening” he is doing and into the leadership role that he has placed himself into. It’s really interesting when we look back to The Eye of the World and the Great Hunt and then forward to Lord of Chaos. For some of the characters it seems like more time has passed than actually has.

Also, In case I forget to write about this when I get to the final book of the series in a few years, I had a moment when I thought about what happens next if they win the Last Battle. Obviously, the focus is Rand being able to fight and win “The Last Battle” whether it is truly final or not. I think that’s why I appreciate Rand trying to build something to last - because once they survive, they have to live. It’s also something I like about the flash forwards in those final books. I’d also really like a short story showing how Rand is living after the end. I assume the answer is similar to that coda to The Hunger Games, which is that he’s dealing with the trauma of surviving and overcoming. It’s not without cost. He’s living quietly, which is why he fakes his own death. I’ve gone far afield, but with some extended Rand chapters, I’m thinking about the future we’re never going to get to read about.
“But I have been thinking. It can’t be the Last Battle. I don’t think it can. Maybe every Age has a Last Battle. Or most of them.”
This has come up in the past with Ishamael claiming to have fought Lews Therin again and again in the turnings of the Wheel, but this hits differently because it’s a regular world thinker working through the idea of what the Wheel of Time truly means - that at some point the seal on Dark One’s prison will be made truly whole and time enough for the Dark One to be forgotten - that this really is an unending cycle, though I suppose how would anyone know? I did really like Herid calling the whole thing about the wheel of time turning and “ages come and go” to be a catechism. It’s a nice self aware touch. Every now and then Robert Jordan has these really nice turns of phrase.

As often happens in this series, there are stretches in Lord of Chaos of what feels like stagnation. As much as I tend to appreciate Nynaeve and Elayne’s overall storyline, their time in Salidar feels like a huge pause - though my consolation we’re building up to what I ultimately know is Egwene being selected as Amyrlin by the rebels in Salidar and I wonder how many of those clues are obvious without hindsight. But everything else about Nynaeve and Elayne is treading water. To be fair, at least *they* also feel like they are treading water - though Nynaeve is getting the lessons from various Aes Sedai to help break her block so she can channel saidar without needing to be angry. And also, though Elayne and Nynaeve discover The Bowl of Winds through the world of dreams, though they don’t know what it is. They just know it is important.
“Gathering every scrap of courage she could find, hoping it was enough, Egwene put the silk dress aside and stood. Strangely, beginning seemed to make going on easier. She still had to look up to meet their eyes, but she did it proudly, head high, and she did not need to force the words at all. “I have toh.” Her stomach was not fluttering any longer. “I ask the favor, that you will help me meet my toh.” Salidar was going to have to wait.
Everything about what I love of Egwene’s storyline comes together here (and shines later in Knife of Dreams) - her maturity and self possession is developed and trained by the Aiel and it has shaped her into the woman who is going to wrest her own power as Amyrlin from those who want to control her as a puppet and who stages such a perfect rebellion in captivity later in the series. Of course, we need to get to and through the bullshit with Egwene and Halima later, which is something that I remember being frustrated by. But that moment when Suian thinks that Egwene would develop into an Amyrlin to make thrones tremble - perfect. She would know.

“This woman has no toh to me” - after Egwene finally confesses her lies to the Wise Ones and accepts the consequences. Just so beautifully done.

I’ve apparently skipped over Dumai’s Wells - which is such an explosive conclusion to this book. Rand is captured and beaten by Red Sisters from the White Tower - which will do nothing for his ability to trust anyone and especially not Aes Sedai, and then rescued by Asha’man from the Black Tower. This is literally explosive and we see a hint of what can happen when the Power is used as a weapon. Hooooooo, when Robert Jordan wants to write action he writes an incredible action scene.

Other smaller notes on the book

*Perrin is back and I immediately sighed because it is told through Faile holding court in Emond’s Field, basically forcing Perrin into being a Lord - though ultimately I don’t mind most of that building of the greater Two Rivers into a growing center of importance not quite in opposition to Andor. I enjoy that as a concept. And then, of course, there is a loooong gap of no Perrin in this book.

*I actively dislike Morgase with the Whitecloaks. One thing that I do appreciate is that communication across distances are difficult and there is a general lack of trust. Morgase knows that she escaped Gaebril, but maybe not that he was a Forsaken. She knows that Rand has taken Caemlyn and Andor, but I don’t believe she knows that he is holding it for Elayne (nor do most people). So now there is this other rebel holding the throne. Connected to this, Elayne doesn’t quite understand what Rand is thinking, and certainly will not take her throne as a gift (that’s a decent future storyline, if I recall correctly).
*Bonus Forsaken - meaning Osan’gar and Aran’gar, the reincarnated Aginor and Balthamel. Aran’gar is hiding in Salidar and leads to the revelation that one of Siuan’s oldest friends is Black Ajah.

*I should spend more time on this, but there’s the holy shit moment where Nynaeve heals stilling. She heals Logain first and freaks out, but it allows for such a great and weird moment when she is immediately whisked away and then Siuan and Leane are brought before her for their own healing. An interesting bit is that Logan is basically back at full power whereas Siuan and Leane are much, much weaker.

*Holy shit Nynaeve healed stilling. This is one of her Crowning Moments of Awesomeness (her second such, thus far). She healed Logain first and freaked out - but such a great / weird moment when she is whisked away and then Siuan and Leane are brought before her - but that Logain is basically at full power where Siuan and Leane are much, much weaker.

Well, that’s it. Thank you for continuing on this journey back through The Wheel of Time with me.

Next up, A Crown of Swords, in which things happen (probably). Plus: The return of the Seanchan, secret societies, Cadsuane, Sea Folk, another bonus Forsaken, and a broken block with a surprise marriage.

Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, Hugo Award Winner. Ignyte Award Finalist. Minnesotan. He / Him