Tag Archives: the wheel of time

Reading The Wheel of Time: “Crossroads of Twilight” (Book 10)

Ugh. What to say about this book? While it is entertaining as far as it goes, I’m afraid that it really does lack the dynamism and energy that kept the other books in the series moving along at a fairly brisk pace. If I’m being completely and bluntly honest, I couldn’t wait to finish it. Maybe that was because I was really trying to get beyond it so that I could immerse myself in Knife of Dreams, but I also think it has to do with the fact that it is such a filler of a novel that doesn’t stand very well on its own.

Basically, the plot consists of pretty much every character taking a few minutes to look to the place where Rand has managed to channel so much saidin and saidar (the latter through Nynaeve) and wondering what on earth could have happened that would require using that much of the Power.

I exaggerate, of course. There are a number of developments in this novel. Most of the characters’ arcs move at least slightly forward, though not nearly as much as I would have liked (this, despite the fact that the novel is actually quite long).

However, it is largely hamstrung by the fact that the characters are too far enmeshed in their own respective plots to be able to effectively move in any meaningful direction. Perrin continues to insist that he will do anything necessary to rescue his wife from the hands of the Shaido (no surprise there). Faile continues to struggle against the Shaido. Rand hopes to make peace with the Seanchan, and Egwene is still dug in with the siege of Tar Valon. Meanwhile, Elayne continues the long, slow slog of consolidating her power within Andor, quite a tall order considering the many forces arrayed against her.

This novel really renders visible Jordan’s greatest failing as a writer: his unwillingness (or inability) to wrap up storylines. I understand this reluctance. It really is difficult to push any form of writing into its final stages, but that can be very trying to read, even when it’s an epic fantasy novel and you’ve already invested a lot of emotional energy into the reading project.

I was very excited to learn that Elayne is pregnant with Rand’s twins. It really does make you wonder how this entire saga will end up. Though we know that Rand will ultimately face off with the Dark One during the Last Battle, Elayne’s pregnancy suggests that there may be a future for the other characters. It may well be that the royal family of Caemlyn will continue to bear the blood of the Dragon into future generations. While epic fantasy is always, to an extent, predicated on the idea of a decisive battle that will determine the fate of the world (it is called the Last Battle, after all), this particular plot twist suggests that the Wheel will continue to turn and that, just perhaps, the future might be assured after all.

The real star of the novel would have to be Egwene. I remember when I first read this novel being shocked and dismayed that she was captured by those in the Tower, which I thought would bring about an end to the rebellion. But we know that Egwene is one of the most powerful characters in the entire series, a woman with formidable abilities and a will as full of iron as Rand or anyone else. If you don’t love Egwene, I don’t know what to tell you.

It’s worth noting that this is the last book that I had read all the way through when Robert Jordan passed away in 2007. I had managed to read about half of Knife of Dreams when it was first released, but I just wasn’t able to make it through to the end. I think I’ve got the wind in my sails now, though, so that will help to see me over the finish line.

Okay, now we’re on to Knife of Dreams, the first novel that I have not finished at any previous re-reading of the series. I’m very excited to share my thoughts on that book before moving on to the final three books.

Onward and upward!

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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!

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.

Reading The Wheel of Time: “Lord of Chaos” (Book 6)

Well, I’m charging headlong through “The Wheel of Time,” and now that I’ve finished Lord of Chaos and am on the cusp of finishing A Crown of Swords, I thought I’d take a few moments to catch up on my blog posts about the series.

In this novel, a lot happens and, simultaneously, a lot doesn’t happen. The pieces on the game board are shuffled a bit here and there, but it’s not really until the final third that the major action happens. The high point of the novel comes in the last few chapters, in which Rand is captured by Aes Sedai from the White Tower. The battle that leads to his escape is one of the most powerfully written sequences of the book (and the series as a whole up to this point), and makes the whole book worth it.

However, there were a number of important developments in Salidar, in which Nynaeve discovers that stilling can indeed be healed, and both Siuan and Leane are given back their ability to channel. Though they are weaker than they were–the idea that some things can never truly be changed is a hallmark of the series–the fact that they can be healed at all is extraordinary. And it’s hard not to feel a rush of emotion when these two extraordinary women are at last given back a measure of the life they had thought forever lost.

However, I also found this to be a challenging book for a number of reasons. First there is the sheer length of it. There is a lot that goes on in this book, but the major plot points either come quite near the end or are drowned in the sort of bickering and endless squabbling that seems to mire the characters every other chapter. I know that some people enjoy this aspect of Jordan’s writing, but for me it is its greatest flaw. (I don’t mean to suggest that he is alone in this. Almost every epic fantasy that goes beyond three or four volumes falls into this same trap).

While I’ve always appreciated the sprawl and scope of the series as a whole, there are times when I believe an editor’s ruthless scalpel could have trimmed out some of the less necessary bits. This isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy the scope and the breadth of the storytelling; it’s just that I wish it weren’t mired by all of the parts that are so infuriating to read that I just skim them.

This is also the point where I start to get increasingly irritated with almost every main character. Perrin’s constant whining about Faile (and her equally infuriating inscrutability), Mat’s endless cursing and ranting about women, and Rand’s just general whininess, do not age well. The women come out somewhat better, though even they start to wear thin. One gets the feeling that Jordan doesn’t really understand human psychology that well, and the clunky character development bears this out.

I’ve often thought that this series would have been infinitely more interesting if Jordan had just focused on the POV of the Forsaken, who are almost always much more compelling to watch than the ostensibly “good” characters. Let’s face it. Who doesn’t love reading the parts with Graendal? Or Sammael? Or Demandred (who gets a brief cameo in the Prologue?) They reveal so much about the depth of this world’s history, and their POVs tend to not fall into the same repetitive patterns. But then, perhaps if we got more of them they would fall into the old patterns.

This extends to characters like Elaida, whose own allegiances (other than to herself) remain unclear at this point in the narrative. As hard as she is, her viewpoint chapters are always a welcome relief, and they show us just how far-reaching is the chaos that Rand has created in this world. The fact that she doesn’t even know her Keeper is a high-ranking member of the Black Ajah–and that one of the Forsaken is even now in the midst of the Tower–makes her chapters are the more intriguing.

For all of my complaints, I will say that I still very much enjoy this series, and there is much to recommend it. No one spins a complicated plot like Jordan, and the world he has created does have such a breadth and depth that it’s very easy (and pleasurable) to lose oneself in it.

Now it’s onward to the next book. Stay tuned!

Reading The Wheel of Time: “The Fires of Heaven” (Book 5)

I have now made it through The Fires of Heaven. Boy howdy, this book manages to cram a lot in. While it is a fairly brisk read, there were a few points where I was left skimming in an effort to make it through.

This is also the book where the narrative strands start to decisively diverge. We don’t see anything of Perrin during this book, and while his absence is felt, it does also help this book to retain a tighter focus than some of its predecessors. I’m a little frustrated by the addition of some characters who are ancillary to the action and who seem tangential (Min and Morgase are particularly egregious, IMO).

At this point, we also get a stronger sense of what it is the Forsaken have been up to while Rand has been developing his powers. While Sammael has seized power in Illian, Rahvin has managed to wrap Queen Morgase around her finger, though he ultimately has to cope with the fact that she is not nearly so biddable as she first appears (and this book also sees her introduced as a viewpoint character in her own right). He remains one of the most enigmatic of the Forsaken but also one of the most compelling. Too bad he exits the stage almost as soon as he entered it.

When Rahvin is stricken with balefire during his duel with Rand, it unravels his brutal (and quite shocking!) murder of Aviendha and Mat that had occurred out of the blue. While we have known that using balefire against someone burns out their presence on the Pattern and all of the effects their life has for a short time, we now know that truly powerful balefire could indeed be catastrophic were it to be used without caution. The ending doesn’t feel quite as rushed as the last several books, but one does get the feeling that Jordan was feeling the pinch of the various narrative threads that he had going and so felt the need to dispense with not one but two of the Forsaken in one swoop.

And of course, this novel also sees what is arguably the most important event so far in Nynaeve’s life: her final confrontation with the Forsaken Moghedien. There is something tremendously satisfying about seeing the Spider brought low, especially when she thought she would be the one who was subjecting her enemy to the worst sort of torture. It’s even more satisfying to know that she will be subjected to the power of the a’dam in the living world (for if anyone deserves to be used for what she knows about the uses of the Power, it would have to be one of the Forsaken). As infuriating as she can be, Nyvaeve is also one of the novel’s standout characters, the one who at last begins to move the plot forward in some significant ways.

I’m still devastated by the fact that Moiraine sacrifices herself in this book (I haven’t yet finished the series, so her final fate remains a mystery to me. Please no spoilers!) Her absence will be keenly felt during the next several books, as Rand finds himself caught up plots that he cannot entirely see. As manipulative and opaque as she could sometimes be, there is no question that Moiraine was an important resource, one that Rand will no doubt miss now that she has seemingly met her fate in her sacrifice.

Overall, the novel is both narratively rich and philosophically compelling. It continues to pose the question: to what extent are we the agents of our own lives and to what extent are we drawn along in a pattern in which we have no say? Mat for one seems completely at a loss, guided by a power that he cannot control, and the same seems to go for Rand (who may at last be falling into the dangerous pit of madness). The series continues to hold free will and predetermination in a productive tension.

I’m chewing my quickly through Lord of Chaos. Fortunately, I had re-read this book more recently than I had several of the others, so I’m confident that I will be able to finish it in short order. So, stay tuned!

Reading The Wheel of Time: “The Great Hunt” (Book 2)

Well, I’ve now finished The Great Hunt for the umpteenth time, and I find that I enjoy it more each time I read it. While the first book set out the terms of the quest, now things get a bit messier as the full enormity of the task before Rand becomes enmeshed in a far greater set of plots and counterplots than he had ever imagined possible.

This is the first part of the series where things start to get really dark. People are brutally murdered in the middle of a fortress, a horde of soldiers with leashed Aes Sedai launch attacks on the western coast of the continent, and there is a villain that is truly evil enough to make your skin crawl (I’m looking at you, Padan Fain). This novel has all that I love the most about epic fantasy, and it doesn’t yet show the most egregious signs of repetitiveness and sloppy prose that will mar some of the later entries in the series.

So what specifically this installment so compelling and so unsettling? Well, to begin with there are the Seanchan.

I have always found the these invaders incredibly strange and alien, since they are so unlike any of the characters are cultures that we have met so far. Their collective willingness to enslave those who possess the inborn ability to channel the One Power always makes me feel gross, and this feeling is heightened by the fact that they use other women who could learn to channel to do the controlling.

There are also those aspects of the novel that make it stand out from the crowd, particularly its ability to weave together the particular pleasures of a variety of other genres. For example, who doesn’t feel a thrill of horror when Padan Fain nails a Myrdraal to a barn door or feeds one of the Darkfriends in his train to his pack of Trollocs? Who doesn’t find Fain in general to be one of the most terrifying villains to emerge in the annals of epic fantasy? Who doesn’t love the spinning wheels-within-wheels of politics as Rand finds himself sucked into the Great Game?

And of course, who doesn’t love the presence of the Forsaken Lanfear, who makes her first appearance in her attempt to sink her claws into Rand and use him for her own ends.

Lastly, there are the great characters that we meet. This is where we met the redoubtable Siuan, the Amyrlin Seat and leader of the Aes Sedai. While she plays a fairly limited role in the novel, it is still a substantial one, and it reveals a great deal about just how deep her plans with Moiraine run. They both know the enormous stakes with Rand, and they are determined to do everything they can to save him, though they might destroy themselves in the process.

And can I just say how very much I love Moiraine? She has always been, and will always be, one of my favourite characters in the whole series (and I always feel her lack once she disappears). Unlike the other characters in the series, I actually identify with her.

If I have one major complaint about this book, it’s that the pacing seems a little off. When I first began re-reading it, my memory told me that Egwene is briefly captured in the middle of the novel, but it turns out this doesn’t happen until very close to the end. What’s more, she doesn’t stay captured for very long, and so we don’t get a really in-depth glimpse of what it’s like to be a captive of the Seanchan. A similarly rushed feeling accompanies Rand’s duel with the Lord Turak and Mat’s blowing of the horn. These are two huge events, but the novel rushes through them with breathtaking speed.

I’m speeding through The Dragon Reborn, so hopefully I’ll get around to posting my update on that book in the next couple of days or so.

Cover note: I have to say, this is without a doubt the worst of the Wheel of Time covers. I’m not really sure Sweet thought he was doing, but this one is a major fail (who thinks that Ogier really look like that???)