Tag Archives: epic fantasy

The Gathering Storm revisited

You know, my experience reading The Gathering Storm has not been much different this time than last. Most everything was the same, but a little bit more muffled[1]. Egwene was every bit as cool and seemed less troublesomely preachy, Mat seemed less wrong, Rand was… well, okay, that’s a difference. I don’t precisely recall how I felt about him last time, but I know that this time all I felt was pity. And that’s really all I have to say about the things that happened in the book.

Yet the experience of reading it, that I have a bit more to natter on about. Every time I opened the book[2], I plunged ahead voraciously, for hours at a time. And I’m quite apt to do the same tomorrow as I continue the early chapters of this book’s second half. But every time I didn’t have it open, I would stare at it in trepidation, thinking about how little is left. (Well, also, the book was telling me that. I know I knew how bad things are in Randland, but it seems that watching it happen all in a row is actively horrifying. How do you defeat an enemy whose very existence is so antithetical to, well, everything, that reality fails the closer he gets? And, y’know, how did he get here and why does he exist in the first place? There are a lot of open questions to be addressed in the finale, is my point. But all of this is a digression.) And this is the essential tug-of-war I’m dealing with. I want to read something else. I want to be done. I want to know what happens. I want the false comfort of believing there will always be more of this story left to tell. I want to live in this book forever, just like I want to live in…. okay, at least a few other books that I love, anyway, just like I want to live in those ones forever. It doesn’t make sense, obviously, the logical conflict at least and probably the rest of it.

I guess my point is, I’m afraid of change.

Well, what else is new?

[1] I’m not sure how to describe what I mean. Maybe everything was a little less immediate instead. Probably all I’m saying is, “I knew what was going to happen, so there weren’t as many surprises”, but it doesn’t feel like I’m getting it right when I say that.
[2] Even more than the protection and the built-in light, what I think I appreciate most about my Kindle case is that act of flipping the cover open to read it. The touchstone to how books used to be is of great comfort to me, and not only because it gives me an excuse to make otherwise dishonest claims.

Knife of Dreams revisited

There are some distinct differences in my opinions of Knife of Dreams between the last time I read it and today. Well, okay, more like “…and a week or two ago.” But still, the differences have stuck with me. All of them are down to my knowledge acquired between now and then, of course. The book certainly has not changed, but I have.

One change is a matter of expectations. I made some notes about Perrin’s character development that I stand by for now, because, sad as it seems, I really remember almost nothing about what happened in the next two books. Which is to say, books I’ve already read may have satisfied my complaints, and yet I wouldn’t know it. But except for that, a lot of things happened that, yep, my opinion has subtly shifted over the intervening seven years. I’ve already made the point several times, I think, over this reread that the two year gaps between each book harmed the flow of the story a great deal, in peoples’ perceptions at least. This time, that realization has unlocked another thought in my head, as to how Jordan uses prophecy and how a decade on rec.arts.sf.written.robert-jordan may have come between my understanding of the plotting of these books and the author’s actual intent. My example, which of course contains spoilers, will fall in a footnote[1] below the cut.

But the other change related to my knowledge of reality. See, a few years after the book came out, its author died. I am still grateful that there are more books to read and review, but knowing that this was the last book in the series entirely written by Robert Jordan of course changed the way I felt about it, this second time. For one thing, I’ve slowed down a lot again. Part of that, I’m sure, is because I’m also drawing near the end of the story, and I don’t want to leave. I know I’ve not wanted to leave stories before, but this is the most immersed I have ever been, and a brief depressive period is bound to follow. But so be it, I’m still just as grateful as I was  three sentences ago that it didn’t end in 2005, incomplete, as it might well have done.

Still, despite my sadness, there’s a last thing different between this book and all the others. It’s the first one I’ve only read twice (at least, in years upon years), and it was good to note that there were still a few scenes where my blood got pumping and my sense of wonder kicked up a notch and I was genuinely excited, even having a decent idea of the outcome, to see what would happen next. Because, despite some missteps, Jordan really was an incredible author, and I’m still sad that he’s gone. I hope I don’t forget that, now the story’s over and done. Because the original versions of the final entries in his series are not the only ones collected in Morpheus’ library of unwritten books.

Continue reading

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?