For those of you hiding under logs that may not know this, Chapter 1 of Towers of Midnight has been released on Tor’s site (and various other places). The chapter’s title is “Apples First,” and reading through it, it has a very different feel from the last few books. We get reacquainted with a character waaaaaay back in The Eye of the World, and for possibly the first time EVAR in an epic fantasy series, we get to see how a minor, relatively unimportant character (whom most of us most likely thought we would never see again) has fared over the last few years of story time. And Mr. Bunt has not fared well.

The chapter concerns itself with a farmer named Almen Bunt, who has taken over his brother-in-law’s apple orchards after the death of said B-i-L, and is struggling with the fact that the area, region, even world seem to be dying. His family back home is starving as worms eat all their potato crops, and everyone around in his current little village are hoping for the best, but seem resigned to the fact that the world is ending. As the chapter begins, all the apples on all the trees, after struggling to even bloom for months, have fallen off and onto the ground, withered and dead. Almen discusses this misfortune with his relatives and friends, and then sends them back up to the farm to see if they can find something to salvage the tiny, shriveled apples.

Suddenly, from behind, he feels a direct ray of sunlight, for the first time in quite a while, and sees a stranger walking up the path. The stranger is none other than Rand, who seems to be faring very, very well after his epiphany on Dragonmount at the end of the previous novel. Now, instead of a dark, shadowy “warp in the air,” following Our Hero around, a warp of light follows him. Almen looks on in shock as the apples on all the trees grow back. Rand tells him to harvest them as quickly as possible, and those harvested now should remain good. He then walks on towards Tar Valon, for a meeting with Egwene that we have been waiting for for about six books now.

This chapter is an extremely warm and light chapter by the end, and is quite frankly a huge change of direction from the previous books, and even the prologue to Towers of Midnight. Of course, based on Jason Denzel’s and Leigh Butler’s (p)reviews, things are still going to get very, very bad by the end, but it’s nice to see that Rand seems to have taken things in the right direction mentally.

A few notes:

First of all, I really am now digging Sanderson’s take on Rand. After reading the prologue, Chapter 1, and Chapter 8, I feel very, Very confident in his abilities to finish the series. Those of you who have read my previous thoughts on Sanderson know that I had misgivings the first time I read The Gathering Storm . . . those misgivings are completely gone. And I love his presentation of Rand now after Our Hero’s conclusion last book.

Rand himself comments that he may be insane (indirectly, by telling Almen, “It’s not you who is mad, friend”). I find this interesting, especially with all his vehement denials in previous books of “I’m not Mad! Yet!” and such. A turn of heart also added rational and logical thought back into his head, apparently.

Rand seems to be in the right frame of mind to hear whatever Egwene is going to tell him, but I still can’t help but feel like she really needs to think first once they have their confrontation. If he actually accepts her “Righteous Anger,” without so much as a comment – especially if she starts comparing her jail time to his time in the box – I’m going to have some serious issues. We all know Rand has done some Very Bad Things, many of which I’m sure we still haven’t seen the full repercussions of yet, but Damn It All, he’s our hero, and the only one who can save the world. And Egwene is a carbon copy of whomever she currently finds herself wanting to emulate, always willing to try out a new fad, so I just don’t find the situations equal. But hey, that’s just me. Many disagree.

Also, what war is going on in Seanchan? What craziness have I completely forgotten about after not having read books 10 and 11 in three or four years now? I know the ruling family was killed, I guess it has to do with that? If so, it seems like the amount of destruction mentioned in this chapter reaches a lot further than a typical coup d’état. Feel free to let me know.

Can’t wait for this book.