John S. Novak, III wrote ...
The problem, though, is that the Aiel fundamentally don't make sense.
One can, if one holds one's nose and closes one's eyes, imagine that
their society works the way it's been outlined in the reaches of the
Hi all, long time lurker, first time poster and all that. Can hardly believe
I'll make my first post by disagreeing (even if only in part) with John
Novak but here goes..
It makes no specific sense-- the Aiel are out-armed, out-armored,
out-platformed, out-logisted. They are light infantry against heavy
cavalry, which is a mismatched pair strategically, but loses
(horribly!) in a stand-up fight. Their only chance for victory in
detail is to perfectly decide the battle, and that's pretty difficult
when you've got no fucking clue about the environemnt.
It makes no general sense-- cultures in an environment optimize for
their environments. There's simply no reason to think that tactics
and strategies and command structures developped in threee thousand
years of tribal and clan desert warfare would do any good in any other
environment. And yet, by authorial fiat, they kick everyone's ass.
I disagree with your general statement but agree with your specific
statement. The Mongols nicely illustrate both points.
The arms, tactics and strategies created by the Mongols in their desert
environment were extremely effective against Chinese, Muslim and European
armies. Not just for a few decades either. The Mongols were basically
unbeatable for almost two centuries. This shows that the general idea of a
barbarian, desert force subsisting mostly by hunting and herding conquering
powerful civilizations is not impossible.
OTOH, the strengths of the Mongols show _how_ they could defeat European
armies and the Aiel do not have the same strengths, making the specific case
of the Aiel unbelievable.
In arms, Mongol bows were considerably superior to European bows, with a
much longer range. I could be wrong but I don't recall any mention of Aiel
bows being superior to Randland bows. In fact ISTR Two Rivers bowmen having
a longer range than Aiel. Furthermore, since they could shoot from
horseback, Mongol archers could shoot to the rear of their direction of
travel, inflicting casualties on their pursuers even as they retreated.
In command and control Mongols were vastly superior to European armies, both
tactically and strategically. Mongol tumens were hierarchically organised
and constantly drilled. They had decades of training and experience in
fighting large scale wars, involving many thousands of warriors on each
side. They communicated with flags on the battlefield giving the general
much more control over the movements of his troops than European generals.
Strategically, the Mongols were able to communicate between wings of their
armies dispersed across hundreds of miles and informed by reliable, fast
scouts. The Mongols nearly always had strategic surprise.
The Aiel, as pointed out by others downthread, had no experience of fighting
large scale wars prior to Laman's Sin and thus no need to develop large
scale command and control structures and no way to practice them even if
they were devised.
Finally, contrary to the popular image, Mongol armies did not consist only,
or indeed primarily, of light cavalry. Mongol heavy cavalry was easily a
match for and in many ways superior to European heavy cavalry. Mongol
archers were used to soften up opponents and/or draw them out of position
before the heavy cavalry charged. After the invasion of China, Mongols also
acquired siege equipment. Prior to that they had been unable to take any
The Aiel seem to consist almost entirely of light infantry. After
skirmishing and weakening an enemy army, they have no troop types capable of
going head to head with the enemy as the Mongol heavy cavalry did. The Aiel
also don't use siege equipment. They shouldn't be able to take fortified
cities or castles any more than the Mongols could prior to the conquest of
The great Mongol advantage of speed, both tactically and strategically, can
only be matched by the Aiel due to their magical ability to keep up with
horses. Since this ability is not explicitly said to be magical in nature,
nor the magic enabling it explained, it is not very believable.