Reading The Wheel of Time: “Winter’s Heart” (Book 9)

Hello, friends. It’s been a while since I published an update on my progress of reading through the Wheel of Time series, I thought I’d try to get myself caught up. And so we come to Winter’s Heart.

The novel picks up immediately where the preceding novel left off: Faile is a captive of the Shadio and Perrin is attempting to rescue her; Mat manages to escape the city of Ebou Dar and in the process kidnaps the Seanchan princess Tuon; and Rand has to confront the darker parts of his psyche while preparing to undertake a mission to cleanse saidin of the taint that has kept it from being a viable resource for almost three thousand years.

Overall, I would rank this in the middle tier of the series. It has some of the strengths of the first three books and some of the weaknesses of the middle volumes. It has a strong narrative momentum that keeps the action moving forward, even if in the long run many of the storylines remain unresolved.

For all of its narrative weaknesses, we have what is arguably the most important event to happen in the series thus far: the cleansing of saidin. The sequence is a tightly-woven one, with multiple switching viewpoints and alternating lush and staccato description. As with so many other incidents that occur in this universe, the consequences of the cleansing will be tremendous, but the irony is that many will continue to refuse to believe that Rand has succeeded in this most momentous of events.

Say what you will about Robert Jordan: the man knew how to write a battle scene. The ending duel between Rand’s soldiers and the Forsaken is one of the most breathtaking ones in the entire series, and I know that I for one was holding my breath the entire time. The fact that we also get the perspectives of several members of the Forsaken–most notably Moghedien–makes this part all the more compelling. As we will later find out, it will also reveal that Halima, the reincarnated Balthamel, has finally stumbled dangerously close to being revealed for who she really is.

Unfortunately, several plot lines also don’t move very far forward. The capturing of Faile–the payoff of which still eludes the reader–is one of the most frustrating parts of the entire series. One wonders what, exactly, is the point as far as Faile’s character goes. I suppose you could argue that it reveals the extent to which Perrin still thinks in terms of his own desires rather than the grand stage upon which he is acting, but I’m still frustrated by it. This is one of those rare points in the series where I find Perrin more insufferable than either Rand or Mat, and that is really saying something.

There are a few bright spots in this sluggish plot. Elayne continues to be a character I like, even though she doesn’t really accomplish very much in this book. She nevertheless proves that she is a canny and cunning manipulator, a fitting successor to her mother and someone who will make a fine Queen of Andor when she finally manages to solidify her power. I personally find it very refreshing that Jordan actually gives a great deal of attention to another powerful female character, one who is determined to forge her own destiny. Compared to Min, she also thinks about Rand a remarkably small amount, and that too is refreshing.

At this point, it’s hard to ignore one of Jordan’s most notable shortcomings as a writer: his chronic inability to wrap up a storyline. By this point, we have so many characters and they are all doing so many different things in so many parts of the world that it feels as if we are never going to see the Last Battle. At the same time, we are also forced to realize that each action and thread is pregnant with possibility and significance, each instant a step forward along the road to the Last Battle.

Next up I’m on to Crossroads of Twilight. I am going to go out on a limb and say that I won’t be spending too much time on that one. It is, even now, my least favourite novel. But I’ll still try to find something interesting to say about it.

Stay tuned!

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