A Series of Fortunate Events: Ranking Mat Cauthon’s Gambles

This article contains spoilers for the entire series.

Reluctant hero, ta’veren, and commander extraordinaire, Mat Cauthon undoubtedly has some of the best scenes in the series. His charismatic blend of wit, impulsiveness, skill, and luck consistently make for compelling reading (particularly, in my opinion, once we’re past the whole fiasco with the dagger in the first two books). Although he famously complains about the situations he finds himself in, Mat is a consummate risk-taker who frequently gambles with far more than money. “What’s life,” he asks, “if you don’t take a chance now and then?” (ACoS, Ch. 39)

“Prince of the Ravens,” by EdselArnold on DeviantArt​

 

I’ll say right off the bat that my own personal rankings for Mat’s best gambles often change based on my most current re-read, and I’ve had to leave a lot of scenes I love off this list. Like many fans of The Wheel of Time, Mat is one of my favourite characters, and I read most of his chapters with relish. The following, however, are always highlights for me no matter how many times I re-read them.

 

5. The Malvide Narrows

“She goes with you. But you leave me a dozen of your Deathwatch Guards and some of the Gardeners. If I’m going to take these people off your back, I need them to think I’m you.”
–Mat to Furyk Karede, A Memory of Light, Chapter 36​

I always love seeing other characters trying to keep up with Mat. Here, it is the Seanchan who are left confused while Mat directs a brilliant decoy that ensures Tuon’s safe return to Ebou Dar. Mat has to juggle a lot of different things to pull this off. The timing needs to be right; Tuon’s would-be-asassins have to buy the decoy and walk into Mat’s trap, thinking they’ve caught Tuon unawares; Aludra’s weapons have to work; and the Aes Sedai have to find themselves in enough danger to channel killing weaves at humans. And all the while, leading a force that would normally be at each other’s throats, Mat can sense “so many tensions in the air he could almost feel that hanging rope around his neck again” (KoD, Ch. 37). In the end, it all comes together, but it’s a little like watching a puzzle.

 

4. Rescuing Egwene, Elayne, and Nynaeve from The Stone of Tear

“At least I know where they are, now. All I have to do is get them out.”
“Get them out, you say. Just like that. Out of the Stone.”

–Mat and Ailhuin Guenna, The Dragon Reborn, Chapter 52​

In this sequence, Mat not only sneaks into an impenetrable fortress—he gets to play with fireworks in the process! Despite the fact that it is supposedly impossible to do, Mat manages to break into the Stone of Tear with only Juilin as backup. It is a feat that even Birgitte later says she would not attempt for anyone but Gaidal. In order for his rescue plan to succeed, Mat has to count on numerous things going his way—not the least that Juilin is trustworthy and Aludra’s fireworks don’t get them both killed.

 

3. Freeing Nestelle din Sakura South Star from the Seanchan

“‘I want you to answer a question,’ he whispered. Blood and ashes, what if he had mistaken the room? What if this was not a Windfinder at all, but one of the bloody Seanchan women? ‘What would you do if I took that collar off your neck?’ Lifting his hand, he held his breath.”
–Mat, Winter’s Heart, Chapter 31​

Mat’s escape from Ebou Dar is one of my favourite plotlines in the series, but his encounter with Nestelle din Sakura South Star in particular always gets to me. Realizing that he cannot leave the Atha’an Miere Windfinders as prisoners of the Seanchan, he decides to take a chance on freeing them. Despite the fact that this might jeopardize his own escape, he ultimately decides that “if he could not take the chance, then who could?” Mat spends a lot of time throughout the series insisting that he’s not a hero. However, in moments such as this, we repeatedly see him go out of his way to help others at great risk to himself. Although Mat later feels guilt over those who died in the Atha’an Miere rebellion, he also knows that “Freeing the Sea Folk Windfinders had been the right thing to do, the only thing he could do” (CoT, Ch. 1).

 

2. Rescuing Moiraine from the Tower of Ghenjei

Matrim Cauthon was the only man to have diced with the fate of the world itself in the prize pouch.”
–Mat, A Memory of Light, Chapter 15​

One of the most long awaited moments of the series, rescuing Moiraine is risky business indeed. In her letter to Thom, Moiraine confesses that she has seen many possible futures in which the rescue does not go well. Mat agrees to help anyway, both for Thom’s sake and because he feels he owes a debt to Moiraine; inside the Tower of Ghenjei, he learns he has made the right call. It is here that Mat will fulfill the Aelfinn’s promise that he will one day “give up half the light of the world to save the world” (TSR, Ch. 15). This is the gamble that ultimately has the biggest payoff in the series—without Moiraine, Rand is doomed to lose the Last Battle, and Mat’s presence in the Tower of Ghenjei is necessary for her rescue.

 

Mat, Gawyn, and Galad, by Ariel Burgess​

1. Fighting Gawyn and Galad in Tar Valon

“I have to win this. I opened my fool mouth, and now I have to win. I can’t afford to lose those two marks. Without those to build on, it will take forever to win the money I need.”
–Mat, The Dragon Reborn, Chapter 24

This is hands-down my favourite scene of Mat’s in the series. Still recovering from the intensive Healing that severed his link to the dagger, Mat decides on the spot to challenge Gawyn and Galad to a duel. He bets two silver marks against two from each of them that he can beat them at once; as he tells Elayne’s brothers, “You can’t have fairer odds than that.” I think what I love so much about this scene is that Mat doesn’t yet have his memories or much experience with his enhanced luck. Thus, he’s really just taking a chance on himself and his own skill with a quarterstaff. His win sets so many things in motion for him; with the marks he wins from Gawyn and Galad, he goes on to start his fortune.

 

Honourable Mention: The Last Battle

“Without a gamble, we’re dead. Finished. Buried.”
–Mat to Elayne, A Memory of Light, Chapter 37

When I was drafting and redrafting this list, I couldn’t quite decide what to do with the Last Battle. The problem is that there are so many moving parts that I didn’t want to lump them together as one point on the list. The complexity of the Last Battle is such that Galad describes Mat as playing “the Game of Houses on the battlefield.” From sending one of the foxhead medallions to Galad, to his staged fight with Tuon, to his use of Hinderstrap, the Last Battle is full of so many brilliant plans and gusty moves from Mat that it really deserves its own list. Because I couldn’t leave it out entirely, I opted to place it separately from the man portion of the list.

 

What are your favourites?

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On This Day in Randland: Sunday

This article contains spoilers for the entire series.

Occurring midway through Amadaine, although not officially considered one of the twenty-eight days of that month, the festival of Sunday corresponds to our own June solstice.[1] Mentioned more frequently in the books than any other holiday except Bel Tine, we as readers have a wealth of information on the importance that this holiday holds within the Westlands. Although the vast majority of these references are by characters from the Two Rivers, the glossary to The Dragon Reborn states that Sunday is “widely celebrated in many parts of the world.”

 

Observing the longest day of the year, on Sunday communities gather for celebration and feasting. It is one of the few times of the year when Tuatha’an caravans meet in groups larger than three (KoD, Ch. 12). In the Two Rivers, merriment abounds: people dance, give gifts, decorate carts, and participate in competitions of speed, strength, and archery. If the Village Council is able to arrange for it, a gleeman and fireworks can occasionally be a special part of the festivities. It is a day that also provides ample opportunity for other, less officially sanctioned shenanigans: in the words of one Matrim Cauthon, there is little as fun as “stealing applecakes at Sunday” (TDR, Ch. 46).

 

As much as it is a day of public celebration, Sunday can also be a day of personal remembrance. It is a day on which Rand routinely leaves flowers at his mother’s grave (TEoTW, Ch. 1), and this type of remembrance appears to be common; while telling stories to a crowded common room in Cairhien, Thom finishes a tale of Rogosh Eagle-eye and Dunsinin by describing how Dunsinin lays “a single rose, one crystal teardrop like dew upon petals” upon Rogosh’s grave every Sunday in remembrance (TGH, Ch. 25).

 

Seamus Gallagher, The Eye of the World Graphic Novel, Volume 1​

References to Sunday in the books are linked to memory in other ways as well. Especially in the early books, thoughts of Sunday are linked to feelings of nostalgia and homesickness for the Two Rivers characters. On several occasions, Egwene especially feels sadness at missing the celebrations in Emond’s Field, and she hopes to share in them again. One particularly poignant moment occurs when Egwene and Perrin are hiding from the Whitecloaks in The Eye of the World. Concealed within the massive stone hand of Artur Hawkwing’s statue, Egwene suddenly asks Perrin: “Will you dance with me at Sunday? If we’re home by then?” (TEoTW, Ch. 30). He promises that he will, and hopes, through the terror, that they will survive. It is a moment that Perrin later recalls in The Towers of Midnight when he is on trial for killing two Whitecloaks that night long ago. As Bornhald recites his own version of the story, Perrin recalls pain, and shouting, and Egwene’s voice in the dark as she speaks of home.

 

While Sunday holds great importance as an annually reoccurring festival, there are a number of particular Sundays on which important events have occurred. Yurian Stonebow is said to have proclaimed himself the Dragon Reborn on a Sunday around the end of the Trolloc Wars, and to have been captured on a Sunday some few years later (Companion). Much more recently, it is in 994 NE that Hurin gains his talent and becomes a sniffer (TGH, Ch. 9).

 

As one final point of interest, Sunday in the year 998 NE appears to have fallen early in The Great Hunt, approximately around the time the Two Rivers characters depart Fal Dara. Although the exact date is not directly mentioned in relation to the timeline of the book, we can approximate it through other references. It is around this time that the Feast of Teven occurs, an Illianer festival that also takes place in the month of Amadaine. In this particular year, the Feast of Teven is known to have “coincided with the calling of the Hunt for the Horn” (Companion), an event that Bayle Domon is in Illian to witness (TGH, Ch. 10) and which occurs roughly around the departure from Fal Dara. There is something poetic, in a way, about watching Rand, Mat, Perrin, Egwene, and Nynaeve begin to set off on separate journeys so near to a holiday they are accustomed to spending together. These journeys will take them far from home, and while they will experience many wonderful things, some of them will never return to Emond’s Field.

 

Footnotes:
[1] In the calendar observed in the Westlands, Amadaine is the seventh of thirteen months. For more information on calendars and dating systems in The Wheel of Time, see The Wheel of Time Companion and The World of Robert Jordan’s “The Wheel of Time.” For more on how the days of these calendars correspond to our own world, see the article on the Farede Calendar in TarValon.Net’s Library.

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Ranking The Wheel of Time Books – Part 3

This article contains spoilers for the entire series.

 

Here we are, almost at the end! Are you excited to find out the top 5 favorite Wheel of Time books? Here we go!

 

NUMBER 5 – The Dragon Reborn

 

Yes, The Dragon Reborn is indeed a favorite of many people. I can only assume it’s because it is a fast paced book, a lot of things are happening, and there is even a bit of foreshadowing to some future events. Plus we finally find out the prophecy is completed and the Dragon has been reborn.

 

In this book, we get to see the real Mat also. He is not mad with the dagger’s taint, nor is he just a shadow of himself without it, like in the Great Hunt. He gets Healed in the White Tower and also kicks both Gawyn and Galad’s behinds in a fair duel only with a quarterstaff! I think this is one of the most memorable scenes in the whole series. We also get to see how powerful Moiraine is when she kills one of the Forsaken.

 

We meet several Aiel, which to this point we have only heard mentioned as some sort of legendary creatures who must be feared. Instead we see them vulnerable (the scene where Nynaeve heals the Aiel girl) and I think this is the beginning of the the fandom’s love of the Aiel.

 

This book is both an ending (we have confirmation that Rand is indeed the Dragon Reborn) and a beginning (to the rest of the story). All in all a strong book!

NUMBER 4 – Knife of Dreams

 

I hope you know why this book is so high up here. Yes, after several hard to read books, we finally get one that is fast paced and has a lot of stories finally untangling. Most of all, we are glad that Faile gets freed from the Shaido so we can stop that storyline. Finally.

 

Also, Elayne gets the throne of Andor. I personally was not really interested in the whole succession story, since it’s politics, but maybe some people like it because .. politics.

 

I think the biggest surprise in this book is Egwene’s resistance. I don’t know what you thought would happen with Egwene once she was captured, but I did not expect such resistance from her. And I was pleasantly surprised! This was what she was studying with Siuan for the last couple of books.  

 

And the last thing is…. Mat is finally married! I was really surprised and maybe a bit relieved when it happened. He does know how to charm a woman, even if she is as stone-hearted as Tuon seems.

 

NUMBER 3 – The Eye of the World

 

This is where it all started. This is where we all got hooked! I believe The Eye of the World earned this third place spot very convincingly. 

 

The book starts slow but it gets so much better with each page. We get just a taste of how big this world is and how many things are yet to come.

 

I think the book is paced really well for a first book in a series, and the ending is the biggest, most interesting part. I am sure this book will stay in our hearts as one of the best in the series because it started our love affair with The Wheel of Time.

 

NUMBER 2 – Lord of Chaos

 

This is no surprise to anyone I’m sure. Lord of Chaos is one of the most liked books of the series. There is so much to love here, and one of the most memorable scenes in the entire series: the battle at Dumai’s Wells.

 

For me the best thing, the part I really enjoy reading, is Egwene’s raising to the Amyrlin Seat. This was so surprising for me, I did not see it coming the first time around.

 

I think this book shapes how the Aes Sedai part of the story plays out for two main reasons. First, the Salidar Aes Sedai choose Egwene as their leader. Second the Tower Aes Sedai capture and try to abduct Rand, firmly moving Elaida and her Aes Sedai to the enemy camp in Rand’s mind.

 

This book also shows us that this Age is bringing lots of changes to the world, like Nynaeve Healing Stilling, a condition previously thought to be impossible to Heal.

 

NUMBER 1 – The Shadow Rising

 

We’re finally here, the number one spot in the ranking! Most readers call The Shadow Rising the best book in the series. I think this has a lot to do with how much we learn about the Aiel (a major fan favorite) in this book.

 

As with the previous book in the series, here again we experience the fulfillment of a prophecy. In this case, Rand destroys the Aiel by revealing the truth of their history. Also, Mat receives interesting information from the Aelfinn and Eelfinn; even if we don’t understand it at this point, we know that Mat is destined for big things.

 

The battle in the Two Rivers is very important. Perrin’s path to becoming Lord of the Two Rivers starts here; we finally get a feel for what his future holds. But the battle is personal for readers as well. We fondly remember the start of the whole adventure in the Two Rivers, and we know the epic story of Manetheren from Moraine’s telling. The Two Rivers is our symbolic home, and reading about this battle is almost like reading about a battle in our own home town.

 

This book has a lot of all the good things we love about The Wheel of Time, and it is very enjoyable to read. I think it’s the the high point of the series.

 

 

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Now that you’ve read through my rankings, what do you think? Which book is your favorite? Which would you put at the bottom of the list? Feel free to share your own rankings in the comments!

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Minor Key: Ingtar Shinowa

This article contains spoilers for the entire series.

 

“The prophecy says, ‘Let who sounds me think not of glory, but only salvation.’ It was my salvation I was thinking of. I would sound the Horn, and lead the heroes of the Ages against Shayol Ghul. Surely that would have been enough to save me. No man can walk so long in the Shadow that he cannot come again to the Light. That is what they say. Surely that would have been enough to wash away what I have been, and done.”

–Ingtar to Rand, The Great Hunt, Chapter 46​

 

As The Great Hunt draws to a close, a Darkfriend is revealed and a redemption arc laid bare. Rand listens, heartsick, to Ingtar’s confession of guilt and his yearning for salvation and Light. It is one of the earliest betrayals of the series, and for Rand, who has counted Ingtar a hero and friend, it is almost beyond the realm of belief.

 

Lord Ingtar of House Shinowa is one of the first Shienarans we meet in The Wheel of Time. An experienced warrior stationed in Fal Dara, he maintains a trusted position within the command of Agelmar Jagad. In The Eye of the World, he escorts Moiraine and the others to the edge of the Blight on their quest to seek the Green Man’s aid. Later, in The Great Hunt, he is chosen to lead twenty men in search of the stolen Horn of Valere, charged in public with the fate of the Last Battle and “the hope of the world” itself (TGH, Ch. 9).

 

Outwardly, Ingtar strives to project an unflagging confidence that Shienar will withstand the Shadow. His apparent pride is remarked upon by Agelmar himself: “If Ingtar had to ride alone to Tarwin’s Gap,” the Lord of Fal Dara tells Moiraine and Lan, “he would ride the whole way proclaiming that the Trollocs would be turned back once more” (TEoTW, Ch. 46). And yet, from the very beginning we see cracks in Ingtar’s façade—a slight hesitation before boasting, a smile that won’t quite stay in place. These slips gesture to what lies behind Ingtar’s mask: a categorical despair he seems unable to shake. Convinced, in truth, that Shienar will otherwise fall to the inevitable advance of the Blight, Ingtar has chosen to “make […] peace” with the Dark One in the hope that his nation will be spared (TGH, Ch. 46).

 

Guilt-ridden over his own abandonment of the Light, Ingtar hopes to redeem himself by performing a legendary feat. He becomes consumed by a desire to retrieve the Horn of Valere, thinking to use it against the Shadow in atonement for his crimes. His dream is, of course, never realized. Instead, trapped in an alley in Falme with the Seanchan a breath away, Ingtar gives his life so that Rand and the others can escape with the Horn. It is, he tells Rand, the price he has chosen to pay for his oaths to the Dark One.

[​IMG]“Ingtar’s Last Stand.” Credit: Corporal-Nobbs on DeviantArt.​

Although Ingtar’s story concludes early in the series, it is intriguing to read it retrospectively in light of later events. The parallels between Ingtar and Verin, who both die defying oaths to the Dark One, cast a curious light on their interactions in The Great Hunt. We might wonder, for instance, about the alternate lives they experience when travelling to Toman Head via Portal Stone. Verin admits to being unnerved by some of the choices she might have made, and Ingtar is likewise shaken. He later reveals to Rand his recurring inability to break free of the Shadow: “I tried to escape what I’d become, but I never did. Always there was something else required of me, always something worse than the last” (TGH, Ch. 46).

 

Aravine Carnel’s exposure as a Darkfriend in A Memory of Light, along with her relationship to the Horn of Valere, offer equally interesting lines of comparison. Aravine’s fate recalls Ingtar’s fear of eternal service to the Shadow. She, too, expresses a wish to return to the Light, confessing to Faile that she had hoped herself forgotten by the Dark One. Like Ingtar in his alternate lives, however, Aravine ultimately learns her mistake, and it is here that their paths diverge. Where Ingtar chooses death to prevent the Horn from falling into enemy hands, Aravine obeys her orders to deliver the Horn to Demandred, failing only when Faile overcomes her.

 

Finally, in some ways we might see a kind of affinity between Ingtar and Rand. As Rand leaves Ingtar to his sacrifice and flees Falme with the Horn, he wishes that “he did not feel as if he were running away from Ingtar’s cry, running from what he was supposed to do” (TGH, Ch. 47). In the moment, Rand is thinking of his own wish to stay in Falme, to face the Seanchan and free Egwene from her captivity. He is torn between what he sees as competing duties—to Egwene, to Mat, to the Horn—and any decision he makes thus feels like a betrayal.

 

However, we can trace deeper connections as well. Like Ingtar, Rand is terrified of what he is and will become, continually seeking routes of escape. And like Ingtar against the Seanchan, Rand will make the choice in Falme to face what he is and Sheathe the Sword against Ba’alzamon. Considered by many to be little better than a Darkfriend himself, the Dragon Reborn knows that he is prophesied to sacrifice his own life after bringing devastation in his wake. It is perhaps, then, no wonder that Ingtar’s final desperate words ring in Rand’s ears: “The Light, and Shinowa!”

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Ranking The Wheel of Time Books – Part 2

This article contains spoilers for the entire series.

 

Previously I made a case for why five WotT books should be ranked the lowest. Now we’re at the middle five, and these spots are the weirdest for me. The books in this group aren’t favorites but neither are they the bottom of the barrel. There are enough interesting scenes to keep the reader hooked but at the same time those scenes mostly aren’t memorable. This makes the books forgettable and we sometimes stop to wonder, what exactly did happen in that book? You know that feeling? Yes, me too. 

 


NUMBER 10 – Towers of Midnight

Many people rank The Towers of Midnight somewhere in the middle or toward the bottom of their list. This book is sort of a sequel to The Gathering Storm (which we waited a LONG time for) but some of the scenes overlap with scenes from the previous book.

 

A lot of things happen, and to me the most precious moment is the saving of Moiraine. I waited so long for this! Another important event is Aviendha’s travel to Rhuidean and using the glass columns to see the future of the Aiel. I was shocked when I read those scenes. But the uncertainly of the futures portrayed here is a bit of a disappointment to me.

 

The first Power-wrought weapon of this Age is created! That gives new and exciting possibilities for the future! Too bad they didn’t really use this later, but I guess there wasn’t really much time to create more Power-wrought weapons.

 

I believe the best thing we got to finally experience in this book is Rand’s changed character. He finally accepts who he is and what he has to do to save the world and he becomes a character worth reading about.

 

NUMBER 9 – New Spring

 

You may argue that New Spring shouldn’t be included in the ranking as it is a prequel novel. But I think it’s a really well written backstory for Moiraine, Lan,and Siuan, and it gives us some more insight into life in the White Tower, so I think it deserves a place in the list.

 

This book is solidly in the middle because although the events don’t drive the overall plot forward, readers love getting to know Moiraine and Lan in a new way.

 

NUMBER 8 – A Crown of Swords

 

I can understand why some people think this book is slow and boring. It has mostly to do with Aes Sedai business, the Game of Houses, and the Kin in Altara. But all of these things drive the story forward and were necessary to the plot development.

 

The mere existence of the Kin is a huge revelation for readers. Then they aid in finding the Bowl of the Winds, so they’re actually useful in addition to being interesting. Plus this book shows us Nynaeve overcoming her block, which I believe we have all been waiting for!

 

Also important: Rand kills Sammael, reducing the number of Forsaken, and takes the Crown of Swords, becoming king of Illian and continuing on his journey to unite the world.

 

NUMBER 7 – The Gathering Storm

 

I am so excited for this one. I really like The Gathering Storm and it seems to fall in the middle of the ranking for most readers. We waited for this one for several years and I believe we were not disappointed.

 

There are a lot of things happening in this book. I will jump straight to the point and say that the most interesting thing happened with Egwene. Her character grew to unbelievable heights in everyone’s eyes. She did not attack Elaida like an unruly child but instead united the Tower behind herself in a very interesting way – by showing everyone that she is the rightful Amyrlin, that she cares more about the Tower being whole. It cannot go unmentioned how she took it upon herself to resist the attack on the Tower by the Seanchan. Now that was what we’ve been waiting for, am I right?

 

On the opposite side, this book was the lowest point for Rand. He continues to think that he must become stronger to save the world. Finally, at the end of the book it dawns on him that he mustn’t. That gives hope to the reader that we may finally experience how Rand should have been from the beginning.

 

NUMBER 6 – A Memory of Light

 

Some people will agree and others will not, but I have seen a Memory of Light in the middle 5 in the rankings more often than not. While we wanted an ending, I think many people were disappointed by the ending we got. It didn’t give us the satisfaction of having everything wrapped up nicely. Which is understandable. For one thing, the author is different. For another, we can really expect to know all the answers, right? Maybe Robert Jordan wanted to leave some endings open so that we can theorize on them. I think that’s a nice touch.

 

This book was a total mix of emotions. Happy, sad, angry, glad … I don’t know which emotion was missing! I believe it was a good ending to an amazing story overall.

 

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And here we stop with the middle 5 of the ranking. I believe you know which 5 are on the top, but how are they placed? Come back for Part 3 to find out!

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