Tag Archives: The Wheel of Time

A Memory of Light

For the past twenty years, which it to say, about as long as it takes to grow a human, I have been reading the Wheel of Time. For the past nine months, which is to say, about as long as it takes to gestate a human, I have been reading nothing except[1] the Wheel of Time. As of sometime shortly after I finish this review, those days have ended, I guess. It’s pretty hard to think past that, so far.

This also marks the end of the Kindle experiment. After going more than eight months of just that little screen, I picked up and read a physical book again. And let’s not kid around, A Memory of Light is a monster of a book. So, how was the adjustment? It sucked having to find light in the dark instead of the light being built in right there. And it sucked having to lug around such a huge beast of a thing instead of a thin rectangle that fits in my pocket and holds more than enough books to choke a zorse. And, call me Luddite however you will, it was a relief to be turning pages and not having the words vanish mid-screen when I turned back to the open surface after a few minutes of distraction by work or whatever. I don’t know if it’s that the ritual act is subtly different and I missed it, or what. But I am quite sure I’m not finished with legacy paperbooks yet. (Not to worry, though, the Kindle is still 100% awesome for re-reads and Dresden Files paperbacks that have lately been manufactured using non-Euclidean geometries that hurt my brain.)

And there’s the story inside the book. See, I do not think there will be spoilers here, just sensory impressions. Nonetheless, I make no promises depending upon your sensitivity. Let’s see… First, I’m glad it was three books. The first two books could have been combined into one monster, but this deserved to be separate. It was not the same story, it was not the same stage of story, and although between them they probably did not need three entire books’ worth of pages to tell the last of what Jordan left behind, they probably did need two and a half.

I just had to delete half a paragraph (and an accompanying footnote!) when I realized that it was incredibly spoilerish in its implication. You probably don’t need to know that, but if the rest of this seems a little thin, that’s why. But, here’s what left of what I can say: A Memory of Light is a very apt book title. This is such a grim story. It should be; with terms like ‘the Last Battle’ and ‘the Dark One will break the Wheel of Time and remake it in his own image’ floating around, if your world isn’t on the brink of total destruction by the last book in your series, then you’ve been writing the previous books wrong. Anyway, my point is this. There were ways I might have hated the way the story ends (The Great Lord’s victory not being among them, and I’m not just saying that in an effort to avoid the appearance of spoilers[2]), but none of them came to pass. Which is to say, I can unreservedly recommend that people who have not made up their minds should go ahead and finish. There are a couple of bad parts to the story, but it is, taken as a whole, a solidly good story that I’m glad I read and that I do not think has let me down, not after either the nine months or the twenty years.

And, okay, one or two spoilers behind the cut.

[1] I mean, yes the internet, and yes some of the articles in Playboy. But no books, no comics, no graphic novels.
[2] Though I find that secondary outcome decidedly convenient!

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Towers of Midnight revisited

Yeah, it’s fair to say that I really don’t know what I’m doing at this point. My previous review was right, and that covers almost anything non-spoilerish that I am able to say. It’s a big exciting brick of a book with very few flaws that aren’t related to my personal sadness with being so very near the end now. It sets up a big ending, it shows a world in as much turmoil as I think I’ve ever seen a world be in, and it leaves me as worried for the outcome as I have ever been in long-form fiction, which actually says quite a lot considering the decades of snickering about how no major character can ever die.

And you know what? The spoilers I would have discussed all come down to the second half of the previous sentence anyhow, so why bother with actually spelling out said spoilers at this point? So, to be clear: I haven’t read the last book yet, and so of course I might change my mind. But if it’s anything like this one, I’m going to be impressed with it. If it’s too much like this one, I might hate it, but not because of any lack of skill or care for the plot. (Man, it would be a hell of a thing if I discover after 20 years that the story Jordan has been telling is not actually the story I want to hear.)

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.