Tag Archives: epic fantasy

New Spring

I remember, when the announcement was made that Robert Jordan would be expanding his Legends short story into a novella or so, how irritated The People were by this distraction from an already quite expansive and never-ending main story. And it certainly seemed like a fair cop. I remember that I liked it the first time I read it, if nothing much else beyond that, but I have definitely learned something useful about New Spring on this, my second time reading the book. (Which, not to beat a dead horse, would have probably been harder to spot if this were not a consecutive read-through of the entire series.)

First, though, I’ll point out what I remember from the subsequent book, Knife of Dreams. It is that I liked it a surprising amount the first time through, far more than I’d liked any of them the first time in years (excepting only the climax of Winter’s Heart.) Given that factor[1], I can now praise NS highly indeed, because this is the book where Jordan remembered that his series can be focused on exciting events and spread itself out over significant spans of time at the same time as worrying about politics and natural consequences of previous events. And the payoff since has been nothing short of spectacular. ….except for the part with the amyloidosis. That part sucked.

But yeah, every part is good. Tower life, Black Ajah, a desperate quest, the Aes Sedai testing ceremony, Elaida’s tragic fall from humanity into caricature, swordplay… it was the first wholly exciting book in such a long time, and even better, it wasn’t the last. I guess this is evidence not to complain about a writer’s process when you are waiting for a book to come out and the author isn’t writing it?

[1] Which, lucky you, you didn’t have to wait until my ongoing reread of KoD is completed for me to know about it even though I know almost nothing about what will happen in the book, thanks to this website right here.

Crossroads of Twilight

One thing I can say for Crossroads of Twilight: it reads pretty fast. …yeah, that’s all I can say for it. I didn’t hate it as I was reading these last couple of weeks, but now I look back upon it and realize I can summarize what happened in about two paragraphs, and I kind of hate it all over again. It is a relief to me that I can start another book in the series immediately, and I really do understand why people rage-quit when this one came out.

From here on out, I remember almost nothing; perhaps ironically, from here on out is also the span over which I have been reviewing these books already. So even if it sounds ironic on first glance[1], it actually makes perfect sense. I’ve reread almost no books of any kind since 2004, and this series in particular I used to reread with almost alarming regularity. Anyway, it will be interesting to compare my thoughts now with my thoughts when the books were new after lengthy spans of time since the last one. Below the footnote, spoilers!

[1] Don’t start.

Continue reading

Winter’s Heart

Another week or two, another book down. Of course, I’m now six days over my allotted time to finish the series, which is, to say the least, unfortunate. On the bright side, I only have… four and a half books to go before I get to read the new one. Woohoo? That said, already things are happening that I explicitly did not remember, and each successive book from here on will be far worse in that regard, so I’m still glad I’m doing what I’m doing for my befuddled memory every bit as much for the experience of this one uninterrupted pass through the series.

Anyway, before I go into the spoilers, I should say that Winter’s Heart is a genuinely good entry in the series, even if it took a little time to spin up to full speed, because it is chock full of selfless heroism and also of one of the coolest single scenes in the whole series to date. And I think it marked the moment when Jordan stated writing all of a character’s scenes in one big chunk rather than interspersing them, if that is the kind of archaeology or warning notice that you are interested in. Next, the cut!

Continue reading

The Path of Daggers

I’m trying to figure out how to fill at least one non-spoiler paragraph of my review of The Path of Daggers, a problem which is clearly only going to worsen over the five books of the reread that I have left. [One episode of Arrested Development passes] So, okay, right! Over the last couple of books, the Kindle transcription has gotten noticeably worse. Not hideous like some others I’ve seen that were scanned and then not checked for OCR errors, just iffy. Either words are not checked closely for, e.g., nn –> m errors (that was mostly the last book though, or maybe the one before? Who can remember.) or, in this case, there have been a lot of words that were hyphenated for no apparent reason. My guess is, it’s just a much better quality of OCR transcription software, and it’s been picking up words that went across two lines of the paper book. Still, though, it wasn’t happening in the older books, and I wonder what changed.

Yep, that’s all I’ve got in no-spoiler town. So, onward! Continue reading

A Crown of Swords

I consider A Crown of Swords to be the most underrated volume in the Wheel of Time. Not because of how incredibly good it is (although, to be clear, it’s very good), but because of how fashionable it was to absolutely hate the book upon release. Yes, there were people dismissing the series by the sixth book and even the fifth[1] one, but here in book seven is where it became fashionable to do so. And I will not lie, I was very much That Guy my own self.

I even know why I was so put out at the time.[2] Part of it was the horror of only ten days passing. Not because those ten days failed to be exciting and action-packed, but because each successive book had already represented a slowing of the pace, and if things had continued at that rate (they did not, but who was to know at the time?), future books were apt to dedicate entire chapters to treatises on the inflexibility of Lan’s facial expressions or on Elayne’s bathing habits. But mostly it was that the driving plot of the book (the quest for weather rectification in Ebou Dar) ended so abruptly, both without a satisfactory resolution and more importantly with an imperiled cliffhanger for my favorite character. And that was before I knew it would be a four year cliffhanger instead of the already untenable two I expected at the time!

So yeah, annoyances. But that’s the joy of this reread in a nutshell: no delays between one book and the next, I am reading the entire motherfucking series from start to finish, with nothing in between, no other distractions of any kind, just the story all in one piece. It’s fair to say I came around on this book for its own merits years ago (it is the last one I had read three times already, I reckon) when I could see it as part of the whole, er, pattern instead of just for what it disappointed me by not delivering Right Now. But it’s also the book that has improved the most for me over time for that specific all-of-a-piece reason. Sure, it has slow chessboard parts, but the main-plot excitement parts are absolutely as exciting as any in the series, which I fear I will not be able to say about this next book.

We’ll see, I guess!

[1] I have a friend who was a little annoyed by my cavalier mention of Moiraine’s storyline in The Fires of Heaven, just as if he ever actually plans to finish the series, even though he stalled in that book something like eight or ten years ago now.
[2] Okay, immediately after the time, I should say. I do not believe that there is more than one book in this series (and quite possibly not that many) that I disliked while reading it. Only after the fact, when I was digesting what I had just experienced and contemplating what was (unfairly?) delayed to future volumes, have these annoyances ever cropped up.

Lord of Chaos

So, these are certainly getting harder. I mean, yes, Lord of Chaos is a hard book. “Let the Lord of Chaos rule” indeed. Not only is it the book where the first real convolutions of Aes Sedai plot mystery and basically every other type of political mire that you can imagine begin to rear their heads, but it’s also hard to watch such a trainwreck. I don’t mean that in the plotting sense, of course, just in the “Shit just got real” sense.

But it’s damn hard to review. I would claim that this is because of my self-imposed spoiler moratorium from here on out, but that’s not it really. Anything that I would put behind a spoiler cut[1] has already been discussed in every conceivable iteration when I was still young enough to read all of it in all its glory and even participate now and then. (Google Groups may even still have most of it.) And any theme I would try to tease out is right there in the title.

So, I will instead report on the two things that really stood out to me on the reread, although they’re not new either. One is what a huge fan of Min I am. The other is what a huge non-fan of the endless summer I am. Because of how evocative it became, which is certainly praise for Jordan’s talents, but I suppose of the backhanded variety. But not really. Good writing about uncomfortable things should make the reader uncomfortable. Right? (But for so long? Sure, like six months in Randland, but more like six years out here. Hell, even at the pace I’m reading, it is lasting less than regular summer, but I still feel it worse in the book.)

That said, it does raise a discussion point I don’t remember seeing crop up back in the day. Non-specific magic weather, or stopped-the-earth-in-its-orbit magic weather? I’m sure the latter has more physics consequences than I could shake a pointed quark at, but it’s kind of cool to consider nonetheless.

[1] Taim. I paused several moments to consider, and that’s the size of it. It doesn’t properly capture the scope of the discussions I would rehash, of course. Man, that guy is a compelling character, and one of the best examples of the cyclic nature of the Wheel of Time. All the moreso if he had never knowingly spoken to a Darkfriend when he first met Rand.

The Fires of Heaven

Yes, it really did take me this long to read The Fires of Heaven. (Yes, I really haven’t watched a movie in this long either.) No, it’s not because I suddenly liked the book a lot less than I have liked the previous ones during this re-read. Yes, it spells all-but-certain doom for my hopes of being caught up with the series by the time the last one comes out in three-ish months. Yes, that makes me pretty sad.

But damn, it doesn’t make me as sad as watching Moiraine’s noble-tragic march through the book, every bit as cognizant of the outcome as I am.[1]  It doesn’t make me as melancholy as the loss (in one way or another that is probably not as lossy as you might expect) of three characters I would like to have watched for longer than I got to.

The metaphor breaks here, because most of the rest of what I have to say is good. So much of what isn’t melancholy trending toward tragic is ridiculously awesome (Mat finding his place in the world, finally) or downright hilarious (any given scene from Nynaeve’s point of view, and I feel bad relegating her to the hilarious when there is so much awesomeness to be had by her along the way). Plus, this is the first book where we see into the minds of the bad guys in a sincere and meaningful way. Those sections have always been my favorites, I think, once they were not solely the province of Ishamael, the 4,000 year old lunatic.

If I have to pick a character to dislike (and save for Elaida, this is probably my first time in the read), it’s Egwene. Her rise to power is cool in its way, I like how much she is learning and how much she wants to learn, but the way she turned the balance of power on her friends solely to keep them from ratting her out for doing something she had sworn she would not do, and especially for her feeling so gleeful about being able to upset that balance of power for such an ignoble end? Pretty icky, Egwene. Just saying.

[1]I have read this book at least four times, and every one of them (well, okay, not the first one in 1994[2]) I have felt increasingly more sad over the course of her scenes and inevitably become teary by the time Rand is reading her letter.
[2] This was the first book in the series I had to wait to read. I did not have to wait long at all, maybe only a month or so? But I did have to wait.

The Shadow Rising

I think that I was a little hard on The Shadow Rising in my mind, when I claimed that The Dragon Reborn was the last book in the series that had a solid structure to bring everyone into the same storyline. I mean, yes, some of the characters have fully divergent stories for the first time, and they will remain diverged until the end of the series from here on out. I mean, some people reconverge at certain times, but never everyone all together. (P.S. Still spoilers, for now. Probably not much longer, I’ll be more careful, but they still exist for now.)

But the plotlines in this book constantly mirrored each other thematically in ways that I would be able to describe rather than assert if I had not waited so very long after the book for the review. (This is a real problem that I will try to avoid in the future. Because, pretty embarrassing, right? I mean, even one “for instance” and I’d be satisfied. But my brain is a blank slate on the point, other than having been impressed by it as I was reading. This is one of the upsides of re-reading a book when you know all the things that are going to happen in it. You can get a lot more deeply into the structure of the thing, the themes, the foreshadowing, develop a real appreciation for the craft of writing. When craft exists, at least, which it did here, despite my lack of proof.)

Plus also, some of the coolest scenes in the series, right? Well, at least, the highest concentration of them. Redstone doorframes? Rhuidean? I’m just saying, cool shit went down. Plus… so, this was the first of these books that I read any of. I was at UT for a weekend “come be at our school” trip, in the summer of 1992, and my occasional girlfriend was reading it, and I glanced at what she was reading, a scene where Mat was trying to convince Perrin that they should both ditch Rand, because, crazy channeler guy even if he is the Dragon, right? She explained to me that Mat was less of a dick than he sounded in that scene, and I eventually picked them up based on the recommendation. (Later, I realized that when she sent me through a three-ringed art installment on the UNT campus  hoping I’d have some kind of vision, that was a reference too.) My point is, it will always be special to me not just because I haven’t entirely gotten over the collapse of the Age of Legends and the Da’shain Aiel, but also because it marks the first words I read in the Wheel of Time.

Anyway, good book. But then, haven’t they all been, so far?

The Dragon Reborn

It occurs to me that every review after this one will be much harder. Because, see, The Dragon Reborn has a cohesive storyline that weaves its way apart and back together again, although arguably Perrin is barely involved in the climactic action, or for that matter any of the rest of the events, which mostly bring everyone together via traps and/or the whims of fate, and meanwhile Perrin is only being dragged along by Moiraine while causing ripples that will have future rather than current consequences. So I suppose I’ve just made a liar of myself, and the truth is that Jordan was already starting to drift away from everyone being a part of the same grand plan for a book’s arc.

But all the same, this is the last time that was even mostly true, and so it’s still noteworthy. Because Rand is… so, here’s a thing people talk about, why he seems so much crazier in this book as though the taint of saidin was ravaging him, then Jordan took stock and realized how much time was left and kind of backed off that plan for a while. Also, this may be a good time to mention that I’m still not caring about spoilers yet. Good? Good. So anyway, that’s a valid stance to take, authorial error. Whether it is such and I’m being apologist or not, I still think the text, especially the preceding events in the overall story, support another explanation. Which is, Rand is experiencing actual regular psychological trauma based on having just had a prophetic fight in the skies above Falme, taking a magical unhealable wound during said fight, being praised by everyone around him as the savior / destroyer of the world, and still not even being able to control the power he’s supposed to use to do whichever of those things turns out to be accurate. My point being, you don’t need magic evil to explain why he might have experienced a temporary break with reality that reset itself once all his doubts had been erased. Sure, he ended up with the crappy end of the bargain, but at least it was no longer just sitting there, unknown and unknowable. “Am I really really the Dragon? Fine, let’s get to work, then.”

I, uh, may have gotten ahead of myself there. So, anyway, you have Rand running off to fulfill the one part of the Prophecies of the Dragon he knows about, just so he can be once and for all sure instead of awaiting Moiraine’s pleasure. And you have Moiraine vexedly following, never so angry before or since at her own inability to to make it happen the way she wants to, and you have our three Aes Sedai in training headed off to spring a trap so it won’t get Rand instead, even though they know that’s probably why they know about it in the first place, and most of all you have Mat finally getting to be Mat, which is nice because I will like him for the whole rest of the series, except for the book he’s not in and the book where his voice is wrong, but it’s better than disliking him, which I have had to do now and again.

And this is me considering the reviews still pretty easy. Oy. The one bright side of reviewing books I’ve read lots of times and that furthermore almost everyone reading the review has read lots of times as well is that nobody has much in the way of expectations. Oh, also, Egwene? Totally binty. I wonder if this is objectively true or more a function of me liking Nynaeve so much better in my old age. I think it’s an objective truth that is undercut by her eventually growing into what she wrongly thought she already deserved in this book. Alright, I’m done. The next one may be a while in coming.

The Great Hunt

So then Rand got this idea about running off and living a hermit’s life in the middle of nowhere, one of very many middles of nowhere scattered throughout the continent because of how humanity is on a long gradual decline ever since the Breaking of the World, some 3500 years ago. This? This is why we don’t drill holes into the Dark One’s prison. Anyway, Rand’s idea made a lot of sense, because in the middle of nowhere he could not kill all his friends nor be gentled by Aes Sedai. The only downside is that, being the Dragon Reborn, he would also fail to save the world, which is probably worse than those other two outcomes. So naturally the plot ta’veren strikes in the form of creepy little Padan Fain stealing the Horn of Valere and riding into the sunset with it, right before Rand could have snuck off into obscurity. Et voila, a book.

This may leave you with the impression that I am meh on The Great Hunt, and really I’m not. (Truth be told, I expect to be meh on few if any of these books when read in one desperate gulp as I am doing. I’ve long had a theory that the problem with the books was two-fold: 1) far more repetition than non-casual readers need, and admittedly the huge gulp will eventually make that a trial, yes, and 2) too much space between books in which not enough happens, whereas the gulp will make that vanish entirely because over the course of the whole series, yep, quite a lot happens. Sure, there are other problems, but I think those are the two biggest ones. If I’m right, even a book that should be far more annoying upon re-read than the first time when I didn’t even know what to expect will also probably seem fine, and much moreso an old standby of basically good like the one from which I have just digressed broadly.) It’s just that I don’t have a lot to say, and even less to sum up, so that’s where my brain went.

It occurs to me that I possibly shouldn’t like this book, just because of the role it plays. The Eye of the World set up the central conflicts of the story, between Rand and Ishamael, between Rand and Fain, between Rand and his destiny, and of course between the entire world and the Dark One. Whereas this book sets up the some of the biggest distractions from those conflicts with the introduction of the horrible and functionally irredeemable Seanchan society and Rand’s debilitating, messianic spear wound. Plus, it introduces someone who should by rights have been an interesting distraction in the form of Lanfear, the original Dragon groupie, only to squander her before the series was even half over. I wonder if her character arc would have made more sense in a much shorter series. That said, her attempts at seduction (both the sexual kind and the “dark side of the Force” kind) were awfully clumsy here, and I wonder if that was about Jordan or about her character?

Am I rambling? Yes, yes I am. So let me leave you with this. Remember that time when they went through the Portal Stone and something went wrong and they each of them in the group lived the entirety of somewhere between hundreds to maybe infinite lifetimes? If you do not, then it is because you’re not aware that I am wildly unconcerned with spoilers for these early books, even though I announced it in front of the previous review. So that probably sucks by now, huh? Anyway, before I was so rudely interrupted, I was making a point. Sure, Jordan described each lifetime in just a few paragraphs, but they were still entire lifetimes. How horrible is it to imagine that you could be a person in the midst of some kind of scientific-magic overload, a dim reflection of someone’s incorrect fate, granted the entire lifetime that everyone gets, yes, but eventually doomed to be only a fading memory punctuated by Elan Morin Tedronai laughing that, as always, he has won again and your faded reflection was an exercise in futility.

Say what you will about Robert Jordan, but the man could be incredibly evocative. Which reminds me that, as a devotee of the post-apocalyptic, I’m disappointed that the dimming light of humanity which persuaded Ingtar to sell his very soul[1] has kind of fallen away from the story. At least, my memory of the latter books is that the land is never so vastly empty as it is right now. Probably I’m wrong objectively and it only seems thus because of Travelling. But it was tragic and beautiful, and I miss it.

[1] What, you’re still here complaining about spoilers? Seriously? I thought I had made myself clear! (I’ll start trying to keep track of them somewhere in the book 7 range or so, I reckon.)