We come at last to the seventh novel in “The Wheel of Time,” Crown of Swords. Rand faces loss and victory in equal measure, while Elayne and Nyvaeve (with Mat’s unwilling help) find the Bowl of the Winds, and Perrin does not appear at all.
Jordan continues to demonstrate that he has a firm and thorough knowledge of his created world. I personally found Ebou Dar to be one of the more charming cities that he has created, and I was particularly drawn to Queen Tylin. There’s something intensely amusing at seeing Mat caught flat-footed by a woman who is as rapaciously sexual as he is. Indeed, it’s quite refreshing to see the ways in which the women in Jordan’s universe–for all of their foibles–have a measure of agency that they lack in many other epic fantasies of a similar scope. Say what you will, but it is rather nice not to see women be the subject sexual violence and torture all the time (I’m looking at you, Martin).
The high point of the novel, however, has to be the moment when Rand is finally able to lure the menacing and cruel Sammael to his death in Shadar Logoth. Sammael is hardly the most subtle of the Forsaken, and it is precisely his arrogance that ultimately leads to his demise. It really is a fitting punishment for a man who is willing to do whatever it takes to prove that he is better than the Dragon (though of course he isn’t). It’s only fitting that he is at last stricken by Mashadar, a malevolent spirit that is as dark and rotten as the Forsaken himself.
There is a strong sense in this novel of the tremendous toll that his destiny is beginning to take on Rand. While I’ve always found him to be a bit insufferable, I think I have a better grasp of his character. He is a man tormented by the knowledge that he has to break and save the world in equal measure. And of course there is also the fact that began life as a rather simple farmer but has no had to take on the burden of leading all of the nations of the known world in a fight for their lives. Add to the fact that he has to continue contending with the impending madness caused by the taint on saidin (as well as the voice of the former Lews Therin tormenting him in his mind), and one can see why he might retreat at times into a bit of navel-gazing.
A Crown of Swords paints a picture of a world teetering on the brink of utter destruction. It almost feels like this is the deep breath before the plunge, when all the world seems to be holding its breath, waiting for the final axe-stroke to fall. There are some truly gruesome and dark scenes, such as when the gholam attacks Nynaeve and Elayne, wounding and killing several others in the process. The attack is a potent reminder, if any were needed, that the weapons from the Age of Legends–and the knowledge that the Forsaken possess-give them an undeniable edge in this world. Sometimes, it feels as if the odds are truly too great for any of the characters to win in the final struggle, no matter how valiantly they might attempt to do so.
All in all, I quite enjoyed A Crown of Swords. It’s a more briskly-paced volume than its predecessors, and while some might fault the novel on that grounds, I actually think it marks one of the high points in the series as a whole, when we finally begin to see the end-game. Of course, there are all sorts of pieces that remain in play, but it’s smaller size means that it is able to accomplish more than the previous novel. Things are finally getting real.
I’ve already finished The Path of Daggers, so expect an update on that to be appearing here shortly. I’m also about halfway through Winter’s Heart, so I’m (finally!) on the cusp of the novels that I haven’t read yet. I have to say, I’m very excited to have finally reached this stage. So, it’s onward we go!