Comic Reviews for May ’12

I have three weeks worth of comics to review instead of only two this time, so there are quite a few more. I also hand out mostly good grades again, because nothing I bought was awful. Maybe I should rate these thing tougher, but I know how bad comics can be and none of these issues are really bad at all.

  • Action Comics 9:  Morrison gives us a fun look at a pair of alternate reality Supermen here, with only a few connections to the overarching run he is building in this title. It is an illuminating look at what makes Superman work, and what doesn’t. The two realities that collide here couldn’t be more different, but that collision makes for a nice done in one story. Gene Ha’s art is always a plus, as is Cully Hamner’s in the back-up story. While this issue seems disconnected from the rest of the run so far, I expect major parts of it to come back and influence this title at a later date. A

 

  • Animal Man 9:  Lemire continues his dark, weird and awesome run on this title. Steve Pugh’s art doesn’t miss a step from Travel Foreman’s (I know he’s been around for a while now). Here Buddy “dies” kind of, and one of the baddies steals his skin. It is weirdly fun. A-
  • Batwoman 9:  JH Williams III and Haden Blackman continue to experiment with their storytelling, but letting the story in small chunks from a multitude of viewpoints. I’m not sure it is working, but it is still an interesting story. Trevor McCarthy takes over art for Amy Reeder, and it is miles better. His art put this book back on the must read list. B

 

  • Captain Atom 9:  Another excellent issue. This is easily writer JT Krul’s best work to date, and it is possibly artist Freddie Williams II’s as well. The strands of this series are beginning to tie back together, in what I cynically assume is the beginning of the end, with Cap Atom’s time traveling being responsible for some unexplained parts of previous issues. This series has been largely terrific, as is this issue. A-

 

  • DCU Presents 9: Savage  This is just Robinson and Chang doing Silence of the Lambs with Vandal Savage and one of his numerous offspring. It is well done, but it doesn’t really go beyond its premise yet. The only real compliant I have is that Sook only does the cover, but that is a complaint nearly every time Sook does a cover. B

 

  • Earth 2 1:  James Robinson has a whole world to play with here. I question the wisdom of using nearly the whole first issue to spotlight characters that won’t be a part of the series as it goes forward, but I do like the seeds laid here. This isn’t going to be the old JSA, but it looks to be shaping up into an interesting series on it own terms. Still, this issue feels like a lot of wasted pages. B-

 

  • Exiled 1, Journey Into Mystery 637, New Mutants 42:  This crossover should have been a lot of fun, with the New Mutants and Kid Loki trying to fix a reality altering magic spell, but it really isn’t. This has got to be the most boring alternate reality, with all of the Norse Gods becoming normal people. Not with any sort of interesting twist, just normal. It is an adequately executed story, so far anyway, but not an especially good one. Just like the rest of Abnett and Lanning’s New Mutants run. C

 

  • Frankenstein Agent of SHADE 9:  Lemire ends his run with a touching and fun tie in to his Animal Man series. Frank and Nina try to track down a cop that disappeared in Animal Man and needless to say things get weird. The monster protecting us from monsters is just a fun concept, I don’t care that they stole from Hellboy. I wonder is the growing concerns about Father Time are going to carry over when Kindt takes over, but I hope that the book remains as fun. A-

 

  • GI Combat 1:  The first story, soldiers vs. dinosaurs, is exactly what the cover makes it look like: soldiers fighting dinosaurs. It isn’t anything special, but it is kind of fun. The back-up Unknown Soldier story is better. Not great, but it works. This issue is verging on crazy enough to work. C+
  • Green Lantern 9:  This issue is all exposition, all the time. We get a look into Sinestro’s past, and what helped turn him to the villain everyone one has known. We also get the sordid history of the Indigo Lanterns, finding out that they are all forcibly reformed villains. And lastly the Guardians go full bad guy. Not a bad issue, but not the most exciting one. B-

 

  • Green Lantern Corps 9:  John is on trial for killing a lantern a few issues ago, and it is all revealed to be a further plot by the Guardians to undermine the Earth Lanterns in their ongoing plot to eliminate the Green Lantern Corps. I’m not sure I like where this is going, because the series is best when it is about space heroics rather than pseudo-political hand wringing. C+

 

  • Justice League 9:  Geoff Johns seems like he is having a lot of fun here, and it shines through in how fun this series has been. He and Jim Lee are starting up the second big arc on this title, trying to give the Justice League another legitimate villain in Graves. I really like what Johns is doing with Steve Trevor, and I sure hope he comes out of this okay. The back-up, starring Shazam, is excellent. Billy Batson may not be the angel he has been in most previous incarnations, but he feels very real and is still a good kid, if a damaged one. I wish it was going faster, but such is the way of 8-page back-up stories. B+

 

  • Mega Man 13:  A new arc, a new artist. The art looks significantly more sloppy here than in previous issues. This in between games arc is starting better than the previous one, with an interesting debate on the ethics of humanoid robots. It is also sowing seeds for games past 3, with Dr Cossack and Pharaoh Man running around a robotics convention. B
  • Saga 3:  I don’t have a lot to say about this issue. Saga continues to be good, even with its rather juvenile sense of maturity (look at us, we have cusses and boobs!). Characters are fleshed out a little more and the story continues, in a mostly entertaining fashion. B

 

  • The Shade 8:  Robinson teams with Jill Thompson to take another look into Shade’s past. Shade helps his grandson extricate himself from an indiscrete relationship, by destroying the demon that had taken over his boyfriend. It isn’t an especially complex story, but I don’t think Robinson can tell a bad Shade story. Plus, it is always nice to see Thompson on art. Just an all around great comic. A
  • Supergirl 9:  Mahmud Asrar is rapidly becoming one of my favorite artists. His work on Supergirl has been uniformly excellent. This Supergirl series has been mostly very good too. This issue is about 80% fight scene, which I don’t really like, but it does help flesh out Kara some more, as well as Siobhan, the now possibly heroic Silver Banshee. I’d still like the see Supergirl acclimate to Earth a little faster, but so far this series has been good. B+

 

  • Swamp Thing 9:  This title has been kind of forgotten, what with Batman stealing all the Snyder attention ( I mean from fans about Snyder, not that Snyder is putting less effort into this series) and Animal Man getting the bulk from the dark line. But Swamp Thing has been really good. This is the end of this story, with Swamp Thing taking on Sethe. It emphasizes that this is a horror love story, and it works. Especially the art from Paquette and Rudy. Good stuff. A-
  • Wonder Woman 9:  I get the feeling that Azzarello is having a lot of fun with his romp through Greek Mythology on this title. I hope to get to see Wonder Woman find a way out of her predicament next issue. I rather like his take on Hades, but I hope he isn’t supposed to be a full on villain. The one thing that this book has established is that the Gods are dicks, with the possible exception of Hermes. I don’t expect Hades to be a nice guy, but I don’t like him as a villain. He isn’t the devil. Akins is no Chiang on art, but he isn’t bad. I would probably quite like him in any capacity except filling in for Chiang. B+

 

  • Worlds Finest 1:  This is light and fun, preserving a lot of the good stuff of previous incarnations of these characters while telling a fresh story. I like the flashback scenes, if only for Maguire’s art, but the ‘current’ stuff isn’t bad either. Power Girl and Huntress have been forcibly transferred across realities and PG wants to go home while Huntress is trying to create a new life on this Earth. It is a good set up, one where either one could get what they want. I hope this series keeps its peppy attitude. B

What I Read in April ’12

April was not really a banner month in reading for me, but the arrival of my new Kindle at the end of the month should turn things around.  I only managed three books last month, once you exclude the one book that was a reread.  AS of writing this, though, I have already surpassed that number in May.

 

Arsene Lupin

Maurice LeBlanc and Edgar Jepson

I have found out that this is a novelization of a play written by Maurice LeBlanc and not actually part of his series of Lupin mysteries.  This makes perfect sense after I learned it, because this book doesn’t quite fit with the other Lupin I’ve read.  I had already realized something was up when Lupin gave up crime at the end; also nearly all the action, which would be shard to stage, takes place off the page.  Still, its not all bad, though it is rather obvious.  There is no mystery here.  The story goes through the motions with little life or charm, like a play that is expecting its performers to carry the show.

Fires of Heaven

Robert Jordan

 

The Well of Lost Plots

Jasper Fforde

The third Thursday Next novel takes place entirely in “bookworld,” as Thursday solves book crimes and Fforde plays with his metafictional world.  There is a plot to take over the bookworld, and someone is killing Jurisfiction agents and it is up to Thursday to get to the bottom of it.

It has all of Fforde’s trademark profound silliness.  There are stock characters learning to be more believable, a mind reader erasing Thursday’s memories and counseling for the cast ofWutheringHeights.  The plot is a still a standard detective story, but it wrapped in such a fun interesting world that that is hardly a concern.  The best part of this series has always been just how much Fforde’s love of literature comes across.  There is some gentle ribbing of popular classic novels and threads drawn from so many that it can be hard to unravel, but it is always worth it.  The Thursday Next books satisfy on at least two levels, and I defy any fan of literature to not have a near constant grin from all the in jokes.

Midwinter

Matthew Sturges

I knew Sturges from his comic book work, which I liked well enough to make a point of tracking down his novels.  Midwinter, as the back flap says (though since I read this on my Kindle there is no backflap) is a fantasy Dirty Dozen.  As long as it stick to that set up it was really enjoyable.  Unfortunately, as the book goes on it gets further away from that set-up and much less enjoyable.

Midwinter struggles with tone.  Sometimes it tries for deadly serious drama, others it skews toward jokey.  All of the element here could have gelled into a compelling world, but it falls just short.  Sturges does succeed in putting some genuinely compelling characters on the page.  Mauritane is the stereotypical stoic badass, but he is a well done rendition of that sort of character.  Raieve and Silverdun are also entertaining.  While the plot is nothing special, there are several great scenes as Mauritane and his crew try to complete their mission.  My biggest problem with Midwinter is some half baked subplots.  Outside of the mission itself there is little resolution. Worst of all is the storyline of Mauritane’s wife, which gets just enough time to be insulting but not enough time to seem at all real.  I found it hard to believe that anyone involved there even knew each other. 

I wish I could give Midwinter a glowing review, and when it is good its really good, but the book is very uneven.  Still, I have already purchased the sequel and will likely have it finished in the next month or two.

The Avengers Review

The Avengers is something of a unique phenomenon; a big budget, super-hyped blockbuster that is actually as good as the advertising campaign wants you to believe it is. It isn’t perfect, but it is amazing how close to perfection The Avengers came. Especially considering how many things could have and possibly should have gone wrong. For the most part, The Avengers is superb, the only flaws being a somewhat weak, impersonal 3rd act and some unresolved clashes between characters. Those flaws pale in comparison of how much the movie flat out gets right. Especially with the personalities of all the team members. The Avengers is definitely the best movie that Marvel Studios has put out and rivals the Dark Knight for best superhero film to grace the screen.

What really shines in the Avengers are the characters, from the glib Iron Man to the disaffected Black Widow. It helps that they are played by a host of stars or budding star. Best of all is Mark Ruffalo as Hulk, who steals nearly every scene he is in. He plays the on edge Banner with the perfect nerdy awkwardness. Joss Whedon does a great job balancing all the characters, giving each a chance to shine, though it does kind of become the Iron Man show near the end. For the first two thirds of the movie Loki does a great job as the villain, perfectly showy and Machiavellian. The fear that it might be trouble for all of these characters, many of which can and have carried a movie on their own, to share the screen was unfounded.

Another great part is the films use of humor. Viewers are expecting action and adventure, and The Avengers has those in spades, but it is also a genuinely funny movie. Whedon seems to have realized that the premise is inherently ridiculous, with super soldiers and extra-dimensional Gods and super powered robot suits, so he just has fun with it. Anytime it feels like the movie is getting too heavy, if things are too serious, there is a moment of levity or a jokey line. The Avengers invites viewers to have fun. I am not saying it is a movie that requires the viewer to “turn their brain off,” as some action movies seem to do (coughTransformerschough). It knows the premise is out there, so it uses humor to pull the viewer in, while not losing the humanity or reality of the characters themselves. The humor is what sets The Avengers above most action fare.

The big flaw with the movie is the final act. Until the (spoilers) aliens attack, the movie is great, but the aliens themselves lack personality. There is no reason to care about the aliens, any reason to want to see the Avengers defeat them. They are just a faceless horde. After a fight with Thor, Loki disappears as well. It is fun to see the team take out the aliens, but there is no dramatic weight to it. Then the ending happens just because the script calls for. As good as the few heroes are doing, you would think they would try to send in some soldiers to fight the invaders rather than jumping straight to the nuke, but no, nuke it is. As soon as the gate opens, the viewer knows that the good guys are going to have to close it, but going on the word of Loki that it can’t be closed they leave it alone until it is time for the movie to end. Also, why do the aliens all die when their ship is destroyed? For the first part of the movie there is plenty of heart beneath the spectacle, but at the end it is just spectacle.

Still, I really liked the movie. I continue to look forward to Marvel Studios offerings, especially Thor 2, because Thor is the best. But I hope that the next Avengers movie will fix the flaws with this one, slight as they might be. The teaser at the end of this one reveals a foe that could actually challenge the Avengers now that the team is formed. Even though this movie limps to the end, the first half is good enough to sustain good feelings past the end of the movie. The Avengers is really, really good.

Some thoughts on Downloadable Games and Samurais

One of the best things to come out of this console generation has been downloadable games. Not DCL so much, though I don’t begrudge companies trying to soften the hit of skyrocketing development cost with some cheap extra revenue. But full downloadable titles are great. Not every game needs to be a blockbuster, that kind of thinking leads to skyrocketing development costs. Some games can just be short diversions, worth an afternoon or three of enjoyment and priced accordingly. That is exactly the sort of game Sakura Samurai is, and I like it.

Sakura Samurai: Art of the Sword is basically Punch-Out! with a sword. It is not so much an action game as it is a rhythm game. Much like Punch Out, the player must watch the enemies movements and dodge or counter accordingly. With the exception of the bosses, though, the enemies have much less complex move sets, as does the player character. You can dash in any direction and swing your sword, but that’s about it. The advantage it has over Punch Out is that you face more enemies at once. Instead f just one opponent, there are as many a five squaring off with you.

It is simple, but it is fun. This is a game with personality. It is addicting, as you get into a rhythm dodging and slicing you won’t want to put it down. And I lasts, if what I assume is the last boss is the last boss, just about as long as its simple gameplay warrants. No padding to excuse its price, it last just long enough to fully explore its mechanics. This is the kind of title download services were made for. Short, sweet and fun.

And the best part, the best part of the 3DS’s downloads specifically, is that it is always on the system. The biggest drawback of portability of portable games has been the desire to have more than one game. It is often not convenient to carry extra game carts around. But downloaded games are always right there. I might just have Ocarina of Time in my cart slot, but I have a dozen games sitting on my system if I’m traveling and want a change. It is a perfect combination. Now that its here I can’t imagine ever giving it up.

First Impressions of Xenoblade Chronicles

Xenoblade, to my knowledge, is the first game to actually follow up on  Final Fantasy XII’s attempts to breath life into the stagnating RPG genre. It may be too little, too late but nevertheless Xenoblade makes an admirable attempt at moving forward.  I am not necessarily referring to the traits from MMOs that both games adopted, though I think the streamlined battle system is used to great effect; I am talking about a shift in focus from the story to the gameplay.  Not by just adding increasing opaque and complex systems, but changing the way the games are actually played. This is not just what I think, this sentiment is echoed by Xenoblade’s director in an Nintendo Power interview.  The story is the usual anime-inspired pap, but the entirety of the gameplay pushes the genre somewhat closer to its western brethren while not losing any of its eastern charm.


Even if it were a by the numbers, vanilla exercise, Xenoblade Chronicles would be somewhat remarkable.  Sprawling JRPG epics are not so common as they once were.  In the previous two console generations big games like this abounded, but like Bison they are now quite rare. The craving for an epic made it hard to accept the hubbub around Xenoblade’s disappearing reappearing release date.  Was the actually good enough to warrant such attention?  For once, the answer is yes.  Most games get that great reverse sour grapes reputation, that the game we didn’t get was actually really great, but only a few times has this been true.  It was true of Final Fantasy V and of Mother 3.  Fortunately it was also true of Xenoblade Chronicles.


I haven’t actually played it enough to make any lasting judgments.  The first twenty hours are fantastic.  The story isn’t great, but it is more than tolerable.  I’m still not sure how some of the more complex battle mechanics will work, but so far battles are engaging.  Where the game shines, though, is in the scope.  I have played games like Skyrim or Fallout 3, but I still say that Xenoblade has the most impressive landscapes I’ve encountered in a video game.  They are not quite as expansive, though they are far from small, but they a significantly more interesting.  Xenoblade is a serious attempt to create a world, and it succeeds in spades.  The first three open areas: around Colony 9, the Guar Plains and the Satorl Marsh, are all interesting, well populated landscapes.  The grassy hills and cliffs of the plain, occasionally beset by torrential downpours and the moody, foggy marsh are especially entrancing.  I was impressed by the big, empty Sandsea in FFXII years ago, but that has nothing on this.  Even if all other part of the game fall apart before the end, just exploring the world makes Xenoblade worth the price of admission.  Fortunately, so far the rest is pretty good too.

To Dance with Jak O’the Shadows

Wheel of Time Reread Part 5: The Fires of Heaven

Original cover of The Fires of Heaven

Original cover of The Fires of Heaven (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Fires of Heaven is about Rand ascendant.  The first three books of the Wheel of Time was about Rand finding his place in the world.  The Shadow Rising was Rand taking control.  Fires of Heaven sees Rand actively and effectively pursuing his goals.  He is know wise enough to see his enemies goads for what they are and strong enough to not play directly into their hands.  Unfortunately, Rand is also losing something of himself in this.  He now finds that he must use people, even his friends, to accomplish his goals.  All that being said, the true star of this book is Nynaeve.  Every book is about a further step in Rand’s journey, he is a constant presence, but other characters come and go.  The Shadow Rising was as much about Perrin or even Elayne as it was Rand.  Perrin doesn’t appear in Fires, and Elayne is mostly there to play off Nynaeve, who is finally forced through changes that her younger companions have been facing since the first book.

Fires of Heaven has a lot going on.  It is easily the most expansive book in the series so far.  The continued splintering of the the central characters is upped by POVs from new characters and more running subplots.  There is Rand and the Aiel and all of the attendant characters: Aviendha, Egwene, Mat, Moiraine, Lan.  Then there is Nynaeve and Elayne in the east.  And Suian, Min and Leane traveling south.  And finally, new to this book, Morgase plays a significant role.  Each of these stories could have carried a book on its own, but they are all crammed in here.  The structure of the book is such that Rand’s part of the story doesn’t really get going until about the halfway mark and by then Siuan’s and Morgase’s are mostly finished.

Siuan must deal with the radical change in standing that has happened to her.  Before she was arguably the most powerful member of the world’s most powerful group, now she has not only lost her position, but also the very skill that made her part of that group.  What is amazing about Siuan is that she doesn’t blink.  Her life has been shattered?  Well, she’ll salvage the pieces she can and keep moving forward.  She has lost everything that defined her as a person, but manages to keep going on sheer anger.  Characters think of stilling in WoT as fatal, but this seems to be primarily because most Aes Sedai define themselves by that ability.  It is as though crack addicts were lauded for their drug use, but then when it’s taken away must deal with both the withdrawal and the loss of prestige.  Siuan takes to her quest to unseat Elaida not for revenge, or at least primarily not, but because she needs that to keep her from becoming despondent over her stilling.  She doesn’t need any help to realize this, she knows it and will do what she must to survive.  It also gives her a reason to push past the indignities that she must suffer as a part of her loss of prestige. No one would deliberately embarrass the Amyrlin Seat, but plain old Siuan is fair game. Leane is not quite as strong as Siuan, but she realizes the closest thing to an advantage that her situation provides.  Losing her old life means she can create an entirely new one; that she can become the person she wishes she had been all along.  It seems kind of odd that someone as successful as Leane could have such great regret for her life choices, but it is not as though her change comes out of left field. Ever since Leane showed up in The Great Hunt she made no secret of her appreciation of men, commenting on Perrin’s shoulders and the like.  The strength of The Wheel of Time is that comparatively minor characters, like Siuan and Leane, can carry large parts of a volume or two.  Min, a more important character to the narrative than either of the two former Aes Sedai, doesn’t have anything to do until the next book.  Her being with the others is only a way for her to get from where she was to where she needs to be.

Morgase has an even rougher time than Siuan, I would say.  Readers have known since the third book that she was a thrall to Rahvin, but no one was really in a situation to help her.  The Forsaken are everywhere and Rand hasn’t really been in a situation to confront them directly.  Still, Morgase’s story is a tough one to deal with because she has essentially been raped.  Raped and brainwashed.  Nobody in the books seem to notice.  Of course, as far as most of them know, at least in this book, she was merely in love with a douche bag; they do not know that she was compelled by one of the Forsaken.  Rahvin goes almost out of his way to humiliate her in his path of taking the throne.  He methodically erodes her support among the nobility and the army, moreso than he probably needed to since he is one of the Forsaken. We know he must get rid of her because he comments on how hard she is to control, even with compulsion, but I am not sure there is a character in this series that is more thoroughly degraded than Morgase.

Which brings us to Nynaeve, and Elayne I guess.  Nynaeve gets crapped on in Fires of Heaven.  By everybody.  Some, much even, of it is necessary.  Of all the people that came out of the Two Rivers, she had changed the least.  But she had to learn that she was Wisdom no longer.  She needed to admit she had much to learn so she could begin learning it.  At the end of The Shadow Rising she bested Moghedien, but that was mostly a combination of luck and surprise.  Now Moghedien knows to be on the lookout for her.  The best part about Nynaeve in this book is her complete lack of self-awareness, despite be pretty good at deciphering what other people’s problems are. She gets all of her preconceptions about herself broken down from the start.  Nynaeve thinks she knows everything about herbs and healing without the power, but early on she is shown just how incomplete that knowledge is when she and Elayne are doused with forkroot.  She also realizes that she does need Thom and Juilin around to watch her back.  Then she has to let Elayne take charge, due to their masquerading as Lady and maid.  Then there is the big shift in power between Egwene and Nynaeve.  Before, Nynaeve had been a teacher to Egwene, a friend, but a friend in charge.  Now with her newfound World of Dreams skills, Egwene turns the tables on her. She forces Nynaeve to face some the punishment’s she doled out as wisdom. Yes, Nynaeve ceded her authority by lying to Egwene, but Egwene only presses her advantage to cover her own lies.  Nynaeve’s comeuppance was overdue, but Egwene was not is a position to deliver it.  I know this is just another step on her path to becoming Amyrlin, but Egwene comes off as seriously childish and petty in that scene. It’s this big pivotal, necessary scene and instead of showing her growth as a character, Egwene comes off as a heel.  After their forays into the World of Dreams, Nynaeve and Elayne meet the now Whitecloaked Galad.  I think Elayne serious underestimates how Galad feels towards his family here.  He does always try to what’s right, but I think for family makes it a big right for him, given his family history.

So they run away and join the circus.  And again Nynaeve has a hard time.  She inadvertently flirts with Valan Luca, another example of her complete lack of self awareness.  She fights with Seanchan Elephant trainer Cerandin, and with the bear tamer.  To cap it all off, she gets in an altercation with Moghedien in Tel’aran’rhiod, nearly getting herself killed and causing Birgette to be ripped out of there.  Then she has to be the fake target for Birgette’s archery show.  For 90% of this book Nynaeve is having bad things happen to her.  Which makes her eventual triumph over Moghedien all the sweeter.  Nynaeve gets broken down over the course of The Fires of Heaven, then builds herself back up better than before.  Though she gets little training at the tower, this is Nynaeve learning how to be an Aes Sedai.

Now we have Rand and friends, whose story is actually pretty straightforward in this book.  For most of the book it is Rand and company chasing the Shaido into the ‘wetlands.’  Rand and Aviendha consummate their ‘romance,’ but everyone knew that was coming.  Mat becomes a General, with was a great twist.  I love how he tries to aviod it, but can’t help spilling out his knowledge at the slightest provocation.  He tries to run, but the battle for Cairhien won’t let him.  Despite his every effort, Mat becomes a hero.  There is Moiraine, who makes tons of cryptic comments about her future, but I was still surprised the first time I read Fires of Heaven.  This book does more the cement her as a hero than any of the previous ones, despite all the good she’s done.  She finally stops trying to order and lead Rand and starts advising him.  And then she has more pull than she ever had before.

After Couladin and the Shaido are defeated it seems like everything is winding down to the lowest key ending the series has seen.  Then some of the various story lines intertwine.  Morgase escaping Rahvin forces him to proclaim himself King of Andor, which causes Rand to assume that he’s killed Morgase.  Rahvin had no way of knowing how Rand would react to that.  So Rand uses his newly discovered traveling method to launch a raid on Rahvin, but is interrupted by Lanfear attacking.  She is not just a crazy ex-girlfriend, she is the craziest ex-girlfriend.  Rand, who had been teetering but ultimately successful thus far absolutely fails against Lanfear.  Which means it is time for Moiraine’s crowning moment of awesome, taking out the much more powerful Lanfear.  It is an amazing and terrifying segment.  Which makes the deaths of everyone else in Rand’s inner circle in Caemlyn about 20 pages later all the more numbing.  At this point I could believe that anything was possible.  Fortunately, Rand defeats Rahvin, with help from Nynaeve, with Balefire, restoring all those he recently killed.  Robert Jordan absolutely knew how to write an ending.  Even though I still don’t quite understand how the battle with Rahvin went, the whole last few chapters of Fires of Heaven are amazing.

Despite the lack of Perrin, Fires of Heaven is one of the best books in the series.  This is the last glimpse of hope for quite some time.  After this book things get progressively darker.  At one point Min (or Elayne, I’m not sure) comments that they are winning and the other replies “Are you sure?” For the longest time I was with the thought that the good guys were winning.  With this reread I am not so sure.