Tag Archives: The Wheel of Time

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.)

The Eye of the World

It is likely that I’ve read The Eye of the World more often than any other book. But not in the last eight years or so, I guess? Hence this review, which is kind of difficult to put together. What can I say that hasn’t already been said extensively? In any event, the book is over twenty years old, so expect spoilers from here forward, and I can’t promise there won’t be spoilers of future books. But certainly not of the last several.

One thing is that I watched the Lord of the Rings extended trilogy on blu-ray last weekend, and there are large swathes of the book that feel a lot like The Fellowship of the Ring, far beyond the opening hundred pages with black-cloaked riders invading the idyll of the Two Shires, only to be turned away by a wizard and a ranger. Still, given the length of the series and only one aspect truly remaining similar throughout the series (I refer here to the Padan Fain / Gollum connection), it still basically feels like the first few pages were written to be familiar, rather than that a full-scale rip-off occurred. Still, I’m surprised I didn’t see more people saying that it had back in the day. (Until I remember I didn’t pick up one of these books until 1993, by which time four had already been published, so I suppose those cries had already echoed their way out into the void.)

As usual, the biggest tragedy of the book is Rand’s innocence, so soon to be shattered. I also notice that Perrin’s broodiness here matches his future multi-volume obsession with being the guy from Taken, and that Nynaeve is by far the best female character in the series (except maybe Moiraine, but it’s not really fair to count her, because she spends so much of her time as a cipher, mostly to be observed with only the barest of glimpses into her head). There is little that has made me so happy of late as her current position on the board.[1]

Otherwise, I only have two things to add about the kindle version and my current re-read. One is that through some quirk of odd fate, every instance of the word ‘whatever’ was capitalized. I really wonder whose search and replace thought that was a good idea? The other is a thing that I need to compare against a physical copy, so just a moment while I do that. (You can pretend while reading this sentence that the sentence isn’t here, and there was a pause while I hopped into the other room to dig through my bookshelf and make sure whether the copies are identical or not. This pause is also a good time to stop if you are worried about future spoilers somehow, because I take a lot of knowledge as self-evident in the rest of this paragraph.) And what hey, they match! So, here’s the thing: The grave is no bar to my call, right? The Horn of Valere? Here’s what is actually written on the Horn, though: Tia mi aven Moridin isainde vadin. Based on the rest of what I’ve seen of the Old Tongue, which tends to be pretty consistent, the literal translation is ‘To my call, Death is not a bar’. Unless, of course, one were to notice that a newish character has taken the name Moridin, and then one were to wonder why bother to capitalize that one word there, and then one were to notice that the Horn of Valere has been absent for pretty much the entire series, and having it just being Heroes of the Horn out again after all this time would feel kind of anti-climactic, and anyway, here’s my newest loony theory[2]: the Horn is going to somehow affect Ishamael reborn, directly, as has been prophesied for the duration of said Horn’s existence. And if the Horn is older than the Age of Legends (I wonder if we know that either way?), it is also an indication that this is the actual Last Battle after all, not just one such along the turning of the Wheel.

[1] Because that would be a spoiler for recent books.
[2] not obviously addressed in the current version of the FAQ, though my searching was not exhaustive by any means, and of course if someone has said it on rasfwrj in the past 8 or 10 years, I wouldn’t be in a position to know that.

The Eye of the World: The Graphic Novel, Volume 1

Skwid, in a stunning reversal, loaned me a graphic novel last week. While I was reading it, Brandon Sanderson announced the completion of the Wheel of Time series, which in turn reminded me that I’ve got this Kindle full of the series and have not read half of it but once nor in many years. (Well, a third of it, for sure.) And I might just have enough time to get the whole thing done (and still read a few other things) before the final book is published. The upshot of which is I cannot tell if I read the first (or so) of the Wheel of Time graphic novels at the best or worst possible time. At the very least, I’m pretty sure I could have safely skipped ahead to the chapter where this story leaves off even if I hadn’t just read it in visual form. Y’know, if I were / turn out to be so inclined.

So anyway, I’m not going to talk about the plot; what would be the point? The art is interesting. The people are not quite well enough differentiated for me, in many cases, though I was getting better at it by the end. There is very offputting scene in which Moiraine looks like a happy anime chick, if anime had never developed stylizations for “happy”. (But then, I think to myself, the book described her in that moment as clapping in girlish delight, if I am remembering the scene right. So maybe the art is right and the rest of my Moiraine perceptions are coloring me in the wrong direction?) By and large, I think they did justice to the story, both in terms of certain panel experiments[1] and in terms of the general look of things / people. Pacing is going to destroy the project long before it comes to fruition, though.

(Then again, the source project was completed despite pacing issues so profound that the author was completed years sooner, so what do I know?)

[1] Particularly the story of Manetheren, with which I have a certain resonance.

Towers of Midnight

So, wow. By all appearances, there really is only one book left in The Wheel of Time. I mean, now that I have finished Towers of Midnight, as obviously there were still two more when this week began. And as you’d imagine in a series with a serious dent into its fifth figure worth of pages, the penultimate book was a roller coaster ride with only a handful of spots to slow down and catch your breath before the next dizzying ascent or fatal plunge. If this were the kind of review site where I dove headfirst into Spoiler Bay and splashed around all day, it would be quite the long review, as there are plot revelations and gut-wrenching aplenty; but since it isn’t, I find myself in the odd position of having not a ton to say. It’s an extremely good book, one of the best I’ve read in the series. Sanderson’s inability in some places to match Jordan’s voice in the previous book has been smoothed out, undoubtedly assisted by my having read no actual Jordan in the past few years. Plus, you know, it’s nearly the end. At sixteen years, I haven’t been doing this as long as some, but it’s still just about half my life, and that has its own kind of impact.

I guess my point is, if you used to like this kind of thing, I can guarantee you that you still do, even if you maybe didn’t for a little while there in the late middle. And if you never liked this kind of thing, I doubt you’d start now, not even counting the multiple books of missing backstory.

The Gathering Storm

This has been a strange experience, probably from start to finish. The last time I read a Wheel of Time book, I think Robert Jordan wasn’t sick yet. I had certainly never heard of Brandon Sanderson. And it’s probably been that long or longer since I last bought a new book in a bookstore, instead of used or (rarely) Amazon. But, it’s been four years since that last book, which I suppose leaves a lot of room available for changes of this type. It’s just weird, is all I’m saying. Anyhow, expect no particular spoilers, but also expect me to think you’re familiar with the series. If you aren’t, this wouldn’t really be the right place to start anyhow.

The Gathering Storm is an accurate title for a good book. The Last Battle is drawing closer day by day, and the Pattern is unraveling at the same rate as Rand al’Thor himself. ‘Cause, y’know, Fisher King metaphor. And nobody else’s life is much better, at least what we saw of them. All of the characters were visited, but Rand and Egwene were the mainstays; I think I can therefore expect a lot of Mat and Perrin in the next book, due out a mere year from now. Anyway, that’s plot if you know what’s been going on, and if you don’t, I still wonder why you’d bother to closely read a review of the twelfth book in a non-standalone series.

The thing is, we all know that plot review is boring and completely disregards the s’redit in the room. How did Brandon Sanderson do at (all too literally) ghostwriting from Jordan’s notes? And you know… it’s hard to compare. The plot was much tighter even than the previous book, much less than the several that preceded it. But then again, Jordan swore for the last years of his life that he’d be finishing the series in one book. So plot tightening was, one hopes, guaranteed. Plus, there’s no guide to who wrote which sections[1]. So all I have are sense impressions. Some of the language is different, but not in a way that was bothersome. I mean, I noticed it, and it took me out of the trance for a moment, but, what can you do? The characters were mostly the same, though there were outliers. Mat especially seemed a little off, but I think it was mostly because he didn’t have any plot moves to make, and that he will thusly seem far more familiar in the next book.

The biggest weirdness came in the Egwene scenes. Not that she seemed not herself, but the way she talked was… there was a lot of lecturing in there, and some pontificating as well. You know what it reminded me of? Take away the solid characterization and plot points, and just look at tone, and it kept reminding me uncomfortably of the polemics Terry Goodkind has been placing in his characters’ mouths for the past five years. She never sounded objectivist[2] or crazy, but the manner in which she spoke and all of the people around her took careful notice and nodded wisely while stroking their ageless faces? It hurt what was otherwise the best sequence in the book.

But, to break it down: this is really a minor complaint, and it did not hurt the book or even plot surrounding said complaint. And my other complaints, mentioned and un-, are far more minor still. Whether Sanderson or Jordan had more words typed, this was an excellent Wheel of Time novel that has me as excited for the next release as I last was over a decade ago in my college days. I think I may even reread the series, before the last book drops, to get it all in one gulp. But that’s a couple of years out, so, we’ll see.

[1] Jordan had been writing at the concluding volume[s] for months or years before he died.
[2] I toyed with saying “Randian”, but, you know.

Knife of Dreams

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.
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