So, I’ve been kind of dreading this review, in the back of my head, ever since I got going with the whole ‘review things’ idea. (Which, clearly, was mine alone, never before conceived in the scope and breadth of human experience.) It’s like this. I’ve got these books that I started reading in 1993 (when there were just the four of them) (sidebar: I can still remember reading over my girlfriend’s shoulder about some guy named Mat whining about whether to go home with Perrin or what he should do if not that; funny how much better I like him now than I did in that moment of first exposure), and they’ve shaped my life, if only to a small extent. Sure, none of my big life decisions have been informed by them, but they account for about half of my friends and at least a quarter of my entertainment budget; and when you think about it, the stuff you do because you enjoy it really is the important part, so I guess it’s fair to say they’ve shaped my life to more than a small extent.
My point is, there are these influential books, only the quality has declined over the past, well, sadly, more than half the years since I first picked one up. And every time a new one comes out, there’s this balancing act between sufficient excitement to get and read the book and sufficiently lowered expectations to not loathe it afterwards. And now I have to review Knife of Dreams. So, yeah, that’s the source of the dread.
Only: it wasn’t that bad. I can do you one better. It was actually pretty good. Sure, there’s the overdescription gene he got from Tolkien. Sure, there’s a chapter that had me rolling my eyes at the pointlessness of dwelling on a single event for that many pages. (In fact, it involves Elayne being wet, just like in the last book.) But that stuff was the small part, not the large as it has been for so long. Plotlines advance in significant ways, and some of them resolve. Some of them even resolve satisfactorily. And if some others seemed like he was working on completing a checklist rather than presenting high drama, well, at least the little box did get checked.
And I can do better than that. There were multiple scenes that had me talking to the book, in anger, in disbelief, in excitement. None of them bad things about writing or lameness, though; all about plot elements that I was engaged by. Better still: there was a solid sense of wonder moment, and I thought those had been long gone, this far into the series (because of familiarity with the world as much as because of the author’s failures of late).
If the author wrote like this for a standalone book, I’d roll my eyes a few times, but I’d have enjoyed myself. It’s nice to be able to say that again, even if it’s not the ‘You have to read these books, now!’ diatribe I inflicted on people until about 1998 or so.
A few spoiler-like materials lay beyond. Before that, though, one thing. As much as I enjoyed myself, and as much as I was impressed by the way the plot appeared to have momentum: No, I don’t believe he can finish in one more book, unless he really does cram in 1000 pages of small font with as much plot density as the sixth book. Still, this one was a lot longer than they have been since, well, they were last good. So I suppose that’s a positive sign.
Specifics, which I’ll be sparse with, I think. Mat’s stuff was all good. This is usually the case, though. Egwene’s stuff was all good, if a bit thin. Elayne’s stuff was mostly lame, but at least it’s over. Seriously: why not take a dozen of the Kin along to arrest the black sisters? What possible benefit in not doing? Rand’s stuff was good, but wooden. I believe this is due to the character having carved himself into stone, and while I appreciate the skill involved in progressing a character from vibrant wide-eyed openness to a sense of numbness that even pervades the reader, I have to say that it has a certain drawback. Nynaeve’s scene pretty well stole the show.
This leaves Perrin. My problem is, I don’t buy it. For three or four books now, all he’s done is make sure we know that he cares about no other outcome for the world, as long as he can keep Faile safe. That’s a lot of chapters’ worth, a whole lot of pages. The point has been made, and made well. After all that… I don’t buy it. If Faile survives, then she stays in danger. Sure, not from this specific threat, but the world is a bad place just now. Faile alive equals Perrin in character stasis. The only viable outcome to this plot thread is Faile dies and Perrin fundamentally changes, in some way that allows him to think of the world instead of himself. Except, Faile is still alive and they’re back together again. I sense that when the so-called last book comes out, Jordan will not be able to convince me of Perrin’s sudden about face toward duty. And that’s a real pity, considering how well everything else went.
Well, and thus concludes my review. Every time I read one of these lately, I’m left a little depressed and empty inside. I wondered if it was maybe the low quality, but I guess it’s just the knowledge of how very, very long I’ll have to wait to see what happens next. Since the quality decline and the long waits started at the same time, it was hard to guess which was the problem. It’s pleasant to have that bit resolved, anyway.