Winter’s Heart – Part 2

The middle section of this book focuses on some smaller parts of the story and less with the larger story arcs concerning Rand and the looming battle against the Dark One.  Once again, this is a large part of why this book tends to be one of the slower reads on your first time through the series, but both times that I’ve been re-reading the series (before book 12 came out and now) I’ve enjoyed the book quite a bit.

Anyway, the first of these events is something that probably would have fit it well with the last discussion that I had for this book, but I’m randomly deciding when to stop and talk about the books, so you end up with some weird breaks, so sue me.  When Rand comes to Caemlyn to find Nynaeve for help in trying to cleanse the source, he meets with Min, Elayne, and Aviendha together for the first time.  After a rather awkward scene where they all confess their love for each other – much to Nynaeve’s shock – all three of them bond Rand as a warder.  As odd as it is to be in love with three women who all accept it, Rand is also now bonded to four different people.  The warder bond increases the strength of the person who has been bonded, so would being bonded to four different people mean that his strength is increased that much more?  I don’t think that it’s ever mentioned in the course of the books how it affects him, but then again I don’t recall it ever being talked about after he was bonded by Alanna early on in the series.

This part of the book also deals largely with getting back to Mat’s storyline, including the introduction of a character that we’ve been waiting for since early in book four, the Daughter of the Nine Moons.  It’s interesting to watch when Mat is thrown off because of something he doesn’t understand.  He has the dice in his head that serve as a warning for him, and they stop when he first sees Tuon, well before he knows who she is.

Although there are some entertaining scenes involving Mat and Tuon, the bigger part of Mat’s storyline at the moment is dealing with Aludra, the Illuminator who has dreams of creating something big to use her fireworks for.  This is one of the best examples in any fantasy book of using the course of technology in our own history to influence that in a book.  The Chinese uses fireworks for hundreds of years before it was ever used as a weapon, and we’re seeing the same thing in the course of the book here.  Yes I’m spoiling things by saying what she wants to do with them, but I’m assuming some knowledge of history here when talking about this, and aside from that you know Aludra wants revenge for the destruction of her chapter hosue, so of course she’s making weapons.

Another interesting part of Mat’s storyline here is going back to something from the second book when the Seanchan first arrived at Falme.  We learned then that the Seanchan Sul’dam are women who could learn to channel, whereas the Damane are women who are born with the spark in them and would eventually start channeling no matter what.  With several viewpoints from the Seanchan characters we can start to see how much that knowledge could affect the Seanchan army when the Damane really are the core of their army.

Along with the Sul’dam, there is also an Aes Sedai hidden in the town who asks for Mat’s help in escaping the Seanchan, along with two other Aes Sedai who have been captured as Damane that Mat plans to help escape.

One of the biggest parts of this series that comes across very well here are the cultural clashes that come up when the various people interact.  We’ve seen a lot of this from the Aiel to the mainlanders, and another large part of this is coming to light as we start to get more viewpoints from the Seanchan characters.  In all kinds of Science Fiction and Fantasy books one of the hardest things to do is to make a different culture seem alien.  Jordan does a fantastic job of this, and he does it through the subtle differences: the way they look at water, the meaning of a veil, how servants are viewed.  These are all very simple things that don’t really impact the overall story, but they really do an excellent job of distinguishing the cultures in the books.

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