Reading The Wheel of Time: “The Path of Daggers” (Book 8)

So, we come at last to The Path of Daggers. At first, I thought this novel was going to be as boring and tedious as my previous readings, but I forgot just how much happens and how many leaps it makes in terms of plot. In this novel, the Kin and the Sea Folk join with Nynaeve and Elayne to begin returning the weather to normal, Rand makes an aborted attempt to throw back the Seanchan, and Perrin has to contend with some new arrivals to his entourage (including Queen Morgase).

It was quite a relief to have the Bowl of the Winds finally put to the use for which it was intended. One gets the sense that this is an action that will have far-reaching consequences, and it is one of those moments where an action in this world does not immediately show its full effects. If their efforts are successful, it means that they will have made a significant strike back at the Dark One, whose attempts to mold the Pattern in his dark image have resulted in this unseasonable weather.

This novel also sees Rand make some substantial gains, though he also continually finds himself beset at every corner. The Seanchan continue to push against his efforts, and he even has to confront betrayal by his Asha’man, who have either begun to go mad or, more sinisterly, have been subverted by Rand’s unsteady ally Mazrim Taim. Jordan writes evocatively of these incidents, and there is a sense of breathless dread as we wait for the next proverbial shoe to drop. As much as Rand attempts to build the unsteady network of alliances that will enable him to at last face the Dark One with the world united at his back, there are a thousand forces that work to shatter that unity. The tendency of Jordan’s universe, like our own, tends toward chaos, the good always subverted by those too blinded by their own ambition to see the truth of what needs to be done.

Just as importantly, this novel makes it very clear that Rand has begun to lose parts of himself. The toll of being the Dragon Reborn–the hope and bane of his entire world, is finally wearing away at his sanity. All of this before the taint on saidin has really sunk in (as far as we know). It is this sense of crushing obligation and its heavy price that it exacts that makes him a compelling and sympathetic character, even if he is at times more than a little insufferable (particularly with his very retrograde views on women).

I have to say, though, that one of my favourite characters has to be Cadsuanne. She serves a similar function to Moiraine, though it turns out that she is vastly older than any other Aes Sedai that we have yet met. There is just something about her that stands out. She is proof that Jordan does know how to write female characters with true grit and strength, though the real pity here is that she doesn’t get more stage time. If only Jordan would allow these side characters more scenes and POVs…

If I have one complaint, it would have to be the kidnapping plot, in which Faile, Morgase, and others are abducted by a party of Shaido. To me, this felt like a tacked-on bit of intrigue to give Perrin something to do. Of the three principal characters, his own role in the Last Battle still seems ambiguous, though it will no doubt have to do with the fact that he can speak with the wolves. Hopefully, the kidnapping plot will have some sort of payoff, but I guess I will just have to wait and see.

Despite its relatively short length, The Path of Daggers manages to move the overall plot of the series forward in significant ways, while also opening up a number of new threads. If I have one complaint, it is precisely that nothing really gets resolved by the end. By this point, we can certainly see that Jordan had become somewhat lost in the intricacies of his own plot. Note that I’m not saying that there won’t be a pattern that emerges later on, only that by this point it’s very hard to see (even for the author), how to get from where we are now to the Last Battle.

Next we’re on Winter’s Heart. Stay tuned.

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