Winter’s Heart Reread

Winter’s Heart has the opposite problems of Path of Daggers. Instead of having a strong central structure but lacking in memorable scenes and a decent conclusion, Winter’s Heart is just a collection of scenes with little structure to speak of, but fortunately those scenes include some of the greatest moments in the series. For the most part, though, Winter’s Heart is just the continuing stories inching along.

While it started in the last book, Perrin starts looking for the captured Faile in at the start. Despite Perrin being one of my favorite characters in the series, this is one of my least favorite storylines. The biggest problem is that it goes on for four books when it really should have been resolved in two. Perrin spent the last two books collecting relevant characters from the south central area of Randland, now he has to deal with Shaido. This should be a good story. But instead of doing anything interesting, Perrin has to deal with Berelain making it appear that they slept together and everyone else believing despite most of them knowing Perrin personally. We are also treated to Perrin being angsty about his wolf powers, a plot that had been dormant for a couple of books and really needed to be resolved. In this book, Perrin is so grief stricken over Faile that he isn’t much of a leader. I guess I just really don’t like this story much.

Then we get Elayne in Caemlyn. I don’t have much to say for her prologue scene with Aviendha. It is somehow both a neat bit of magical ritual and somewhat offputtingly porny, but maybe that is just me letting my own prejudices shine through. At least what happens is important in what comes later. Like Perrin, she is dealing with a mélange of different peoples and trying to keep them in order. The Kin, some Seafolk, the Aiel, some Sul’dam and damane, not to mention her own problems with both Aes Sedai and trying to win the crown. At least for the start Nynaeve is still around. There are tons of machinations, and while it often gets too close to stories that could, and probably should, have been glossed over, having a handful of characters I like, Nynaeve, Lan, Elayne, Aviendha, push off each other is mostly enjoyable.

Rand reenters the picture about halfway through the book, coming to Caemlyn to ask Nynaeve for help. I like that Nynaeve is the one he still trusts, excluding Elayne and Aviendha not just because he doesn’t trust himself around them. Readers are finally let into what his plans are. He is finally undertaking something that obviously needed doing since Rand started channeling; he is going to cleanse the Source. Rand’s visit to Caemlyn doesn’t quite go as planned, he does recruit Nynaeve but he also is forced to face Aviendha and Elayne. They put what they learned in their sister bonding ritual to good use to devise a three person warder bond. While it literalizes the women’s bond with Rand, it also shows their audacity. In a world where so much of the magic is tied up in customs and rules, they all pretty much ignore them and do what they want. And it’s awesome. Jordan has made it perfectly clear that the White Tower is thoroughly corrupt, due mostly to centuries of secret, subtle undermining, and anything that helps to break from that brokenness is a good thing. It also features the closest thing to an explicit sex scene in the series. Elayne does have one more bit of awesomeness in this book, meeting with the Borderland rulers and sending them closer to Rand while also having them serve her needs.

Then there is the best sequence in the book and one of best in the whole series. I am of course talking about Mat’s escape from the Seanchan controlled Tarasin Palace. His escape is actually more of a heist, with him, along with some Aes Sedai being what is stolen. He has got so much to worry about and few of his conspirators, or watchers, take him seriously. Also, Tuon, whom readers know is the Daughter of the Nine Moons but Nat doesn’t yet, arrives and watches Mat closely. At first, Mat is just trying to escape with his friends; the remaining Redarms, Thom and Juilin. But while looking for a way out, he ends up agreeing to help free Joline. Since he agreed to help her, he also decides to help Teslyn, since she helped him. Meanwhile, the Gholam is back and is searching for him. And Tuon is watching him. And Juilin has a slave girlfriend he wants to rescue. And Tylin is becoming more and more Seanchan. Then there the crazy scheme imagined by one of the Seanchan Listeners that tie Egeanin and Domon to Mat, plus a handful of sul’dam. His plan keeps getting more complex and elaborate and Mat just keeps on fighting through it. It is Mat at his best, sliding through troubles that would bog Perrin or Rand down, never giving up on his goal of being free. As always, Mat just wants to get away.

Then you have the same events from Tuon’s eyes. She has had a prophecy similar to Mat’s, and knows Mat is whom she will marry. Knows or suspects. So she follows him, watches him. She knows him only as Tylin’s Toy, but she catches him sneaking around the palace doing strange things. While readers get it only from Mat’s perspective, it is still fun. Finally, the plan comes together and Mat makes his escape with only a few unforeseen changes. The first is the addition of Noal, who saved Mat from the Gholam earlier, and the other is Tuon, who catches Mat in his escape and Mat finds out who she is. So he takes her. It is one of the best Mat sequences in the series, up there with his raid on the Stone of Tear.

The big story in Winter’s Heart is Rand’s, though. First, he lures to renegade Asha’man to Far Madding. He knows that cut off from the Source he can take them all, since they have shown disdain for armed combat and he is one of the best in the world. While he eventually accomplishes his goals, more or less, there is a lot to learn about how it happens. First, he is forced to ally with Cadsuane, who continues to be unbearable. The second is that Padan Fain finally returns to the action, actually accomplishing part of Rand’s goal and almost killing him. We also see that Rand is not so far gone to abandon his friends. He could have escaped being captured, but he stays to try to save Lan.

And finally we have the end, the great conclusion. Without Cadsuane and the rest of the Aes Sedai, this would have been a disaster, but they are there. And so are all of the living Forsaken. We see the Forsaken at their worst here. They are not soldier, not fighters. They travel in and walk straight at Rand, with no communication amongst themselves and little strategy. They are out of their element, but they are still powerful. And the small circles of mostly good guy channellers fight them off. The way this scene is written is great, with glimpses in on each little group, with some knowledge of the overall battle. Meanwhile, Rand and Nynaeve are striking one of the most important blows for the good guys in the series. It is as awesome as Dumai’s Wells, but without the knowledge that the battle has already been lost.

Winter’s Heart is a shining diamond in the coal that is the surrounding books. The logical conclusion is to eliminate one of those two to fix the pacing problems, but there is no easy way to do that. Still, the overall quality of the writing doesn’t dip, only the plotting. And Winter’s Heart is really good.

What I Read in October

I was still below my four book average this month, but I did read most of Winter’s Heart this month. Still, October’s reading didn’t branch out much from what I’ve been reading this year.

An Incomplete Revenge

Jacqueline Winspear

An Incomplete Revenge is a continuation of the Maisie Dobbs series, and maybe it is just because I’ve been reading them one after the other but I am having trouble differentiating them, other than remembering the core mysteries of each. I guess this is something of a testament to the general high quality of the series, because I like them all. This one is notable in that Maisie and Billy get out of London for the bulk of the book, solving a mystery involving the biggest douche of a nobleman imaginable. That is the biggest weakness of an otherwise enjoyable book: a cartoon villain in a series that usually has more sympathetic bad guys. Otherwise, it is a fine addition to a fine series.

The Emperor’s Soul

Brandon Sanderson

I didn’t really believe that Sanderson could tell a complete story in this small amount of space. The Alloy of Law, which I liked a whole lot, was not a complete story but an opening chapter. The Emperor’s Soul is not even half the length of that book, but it is just as enjoyable and more complete. Sanderson lays out an intriguing magic system, giving the reader a crash course in its mechanics over the one hundred or so pages. At the same time he tells a tale around three principle characters: Shai, an artist in the story’s magic system, Gaotona, one of her captors who needs her skills and the Emperor whose soul must be repaired after a failed assassination attempt. While there isn’t space to give them more than the illusion of depth, those three characters are all very human. The Emperor’s Soul is as complex and enjoyable as its space allows.

Mansfield Park

Jane Austen

This is the last of Austen’s works for me to read, and it is easily the least. It fails largely because its protagonist, Fanny, is a passive, wet-blanket. She doesn’t really do anything. She watches and judges her friends and companions, but doesn’t try to curb their sometime excessive behavior. She gains the affections of the trifling Henry due to her pliable disdain for him. She is too timid to just tell him what she thinks and knows about him. He, of course, won’t take a hint since he believes her hesitation is due to timidity. While there are glimmers of what makes Austen’s other novels so enjoyable, Mansfield Park is largely as dull as its protagonist. There is no reason to read this when one could read, or reread, Pride and Prejudice or Emma instead. They are both multiple times more enjoyable.

That is all for this month. I think I am still going to hit my goal of fifty for the year, especially if I include all the crappy ebooks I read that I didn’t cover here.

I Got Me a WiiU

I usually wait a year or so after it comes out before I buy a console. That gives them the time to work the kinks out of the system, the launch games to come down in price and for me to get a better idea of the kind of support the system is going to have. I broke that policy with the WiiU. Not because I think it is going to be a must have, unbeatable powerhouse. I see it being a modest success, with plenty of unique asymmetrical multiplayer games to play. But my Wii was on its last legs, unable to play dual layered discs and getting progressively noisier when playing any game. Since I still have a sizable stack of Wii games to play, I decided rather than get a new one or pay to fix mine, I would just get a WiiU. As of right now, I am very happy with that decision.

I of course bought the deluxe edition, because I buy enough downloadable games that having the still too small size of the Deluxe’s internal memory was a must. That and I would have likely bought Nintendoland anyway made it a no brainer. I do have to say I like the look of the white system better, though. I wish the colors weren’t split between the two SKUs. The system itself is tiny, significantly smaller than even the slim PS3. It does look really nice. The big selling point of the system, the tablet controller, is nice as well. It is light, weighing only a little more than a regular controller and fitting comfortably in your hands. While light, it doesn’t feel cheap. It continues Nintendo’s track record of comfortable, if unique, controllers.

Nintendo has been closed mouthed about the technology inside the machine, and honestly, I don’t really care. It seems likely that the WiiU is roughly on the same level as the PS3 and 360, meaning that In a year or so they will be in the same position they were last generation. I see this as being even less of a problem than it was with the Wii. There were very few gameplay improvements in the last generation. Scale increased, but the games are largely the same as they were before. The jump from PS2 to PS3 was not unlike that from NES to SNES. The games looked better and were larger but at the base level the games were mostly the same. I don’t see even the graphical increase being as large this time around. The important thing for the WiiU is not being on a technological level with their rivals, but in providing interesting games to play for their system.

So far, Nintendo has done a fine job of providing the games. Most of the launch games are ports of games released in the last year. All the games are solid, though some of the ports are rough. Still, the variety is something worth noting. There is also a good number of original games. ZombieU has gotten good buzz and Scribblenauts looks great. I bought New Super Mario Bros. U and Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed to go with Nintendoland. All three are have been good fun. Sonic Racing is buggy as shit, but the racing is good. It has a very arcade, very Sega feel. Plus, I get to race as Vyse, which is a big plus. Nintendo Land is the Wii Sports equivalent for this system, but I would say it is even better. Instead of a handful of simple sports, it has nearly a dozen games that have surprising depth. Sure, some of them are as simple as they seem, but others seem to never get old. Me and my brother have had a lot of fun playing the Metroid themed shooting game, and playing Mario Chase with a full complement of players is like the best game of Pac-Man ever. The best has been Donkey Kong’s Crash Course, a tilt controlled obstacle course that is as difficult as it is addictive. In all, I have been more than satisfied with Nintendo Land. The stand out title, though, has been NSMBU. While most of the NSMB games have felt like updates of Super Mario Bros or SMB3, NSMBU is a follow up to Super Mario World, which is the best Mario game. The level design is pitch perfect, and the controls are as good as ever. It is truly great.

A highlight for the system so far has been asymmetrical multiplayer. With Nintendo Land’s Mario Chase, one player with the tablet runs away from up to four players with Wii Remotes. It only works because the tablet, so one player has his own screen. With NSMBU, a player with the tablet can make platforms for the other players. More often, the tablet player puts out platforms to screw up the other players. It isn’t exactly useful for beating the game, but it is a fun experience. I hope for more of this sort of content.

The WiiU has the potential to be something great. Even just the ability to just move the video to the handheld screen is worth the price of entry. I like the system a lot. As long as it has Nintendo’s games on it, then I’ll have fun with it.

Wheel of Time Reread Part 8

Original cover of The Path of Daggers

Original cover of The Path of Daggers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Path of Daggers

While I didn’t note this in my reread of Crown of Swords, I do intend to finish all of these rereads before A Memory of Light comes out. It will be tough, I kind of messed around and didn’t get it done this summer, but I’ve just finished reading Winter’s Heart and I’ve moved on to Crossroads of Twilight. I’ll be pushing it, but I can get it done. I kind of lost steam when I hit this rough patch in the series, and thought I had more time to pace myself getting it finished.

Path of Daggers is among my least favorite entries in the Wheel of Time series. Part of that is due to unavoidable story reasons, like Rand going full asshole, which is just a natural consequence of his character arc. The bigger part is that it is a short book that focuses on some of my least favorite storylines and ends with an anticlimactic whimper. In rereading it, I didn’t really like Path of Daggers any better. I did come to a greater appreciation of its structure, though. Of any of the books past The Dragon Reborn, Path of Daggers is in some ways to most complete in itself.

This volume is all about the Bowl of the Winds, and the effects of its use. It starts with Elayne, Nynaeve and Aviendha around Ebou Dar, herding the various groups of channeling women out of the city to a place where they can use the bowl. This whole sequence reads as chaotically as the scene is supposed to be. Theirs is Avi’s problems with the gateway, Elayne’s fiddling with the massive number of ter’angreal they just found and Nynaeve’s chasing after Lan rather than leading the party. There are the Windfinders refusing to take orders, the Aes Sedai doing their own thing and the many women of the Kin trying to figure out where they belong with their world seemingly crashing in around them. The authority that Nynaeve and Elayne gained in the last book is slowly eroded here, as their inexperience and preoccupation leading everyone to try and take matters into their own hands. It is easy to forget how young Elayne and Aviendha are, but these early chapters really show it. Especially with the attempted interrogation of the Black sister Ispan. Eventually all the cats are herded to the top of a hill, and the bowl is used. AS far as big magical scenes in WoT, the use of the Bowl of the Winds is kind of disappointing. Usually, Jordan does a wonderful job with these, like the scene in Rhuidean. While this is of great importance, it breaks the Dark One’s eternal world burning summer and fixes the weather; it doesn’t quite match up to other similar scenes. Still, the vast importance can’t be missed.

As soon as they are done they sense channeling in Ebou Dar. To her credit, Nynaeve immediately wants to go back for Mat. Their relationship continues to be the best. But Elayne recognizes a raken and immediately orders that everyone who can channel is traveling with them right then. A wise move, even if it does leave Mat to fend for himself. The women of the Kin’s farm are rounded up and they travel just as the Seanchan reach there. While it is a convenient bit of writing that Aviendha just happened to unravel a weave earlier, something not mentioned before, and now Elayne needs to do the same to keep the Seanchan from following them. This is one of the very good action scenes in the series, with Avi and Birgitte fending off Seanchan while Elayne tries to untie the gateway. It has a sort of mythic bravery to it, more apparent when attempting to summarize the scene than when actually reading it, like Rand pulling the sword from the stone in TDR. When the weave eventually collapses, the Aes Sedai are finally proved right about something, since it blows up like an atom bomb. This scene is the highlight of the book. Really, this whole first section, while meandering at times, is pretty solid. Most important, though, is that the Bowl has been used.

The book then switches to Perrin, who is collecting the west central area for Rand. I had forgotten how much the plot actually moves here. In a few short chapters, Perrin connects with Morgase, though he doesn’t know it, gains an ally in Alliandre, Queen of Ghealdon, and strikes the first blow in his eventual battle with the Prophet. While all of this is happening, the ever infuriating love triangle between Perrin, Faile and Berelain continues. I do like Elyas showing up and much like teaching Perrin about the Wolves he also teaches him a bit about Saldea. Also, the weather is starting to change here. There are more threads in play here than I remembered. Between the Seanchan, the Whitecloaks, the Dragonsworn and the Aiel, there are tons of parties active in the area. And Perrin is trying to navigate through all of them. I had placed this mission at the bottom of what was necessary, but now I think it was more important that I realized, even if the good guys don’t gain anything out of the Prophet’s men.

The weather continues to change through a villain checkup, with the introduction of Cyndane, who is Lanfear reborn. I’m not sure what her role will be down the stretch, but she is back. And Cadsuane continues to be infuriating and maybe awesome, but more infuriating. Finally, we come to Rand. Rand is a complete, unlikeable jerk in this book. The fall that started with the end of Lord of Chaos and was only briefly turned in Crown of Swords is back. He is arrogant, and unable to trust anybody. Rand has his first contact with the Black Tower in a while, and it is obvious that bad things are going on. But Rand has supposedly more important things on his mind. Like the return of the Seanchan.

By the time the book reaches Egwene, winter is in full swing. She even has her big meeting on a frozen pond. Egwene, after a book and a half of playing the lapdog Amyrlin Seat, makes her power play and succeeds. The whole sequence is pretty awesome, a plan coming together flawlessly. Given what we now know about Black ajah members, sections of Egwene’s story read quite differently. There isn’t a whole to say about Egwene’s story here; she and Siuan are awesome and this is a cool sequence. That is all.

Now little Rand goes to war, with one of the most brilliant hare-brained schemes ever. Instead of taking his trusted followers, he takes all the people he is sure are would like nothing more than to see him dead. Because he’d rather risk the lives of people he doesn’t like rather than ones he does. In all he seems off-balance. The whole war with the Seanchan is ugly. It is not enjoyable to read, Rand is a jerk, and the weather is bad. It is war. Rand’s initial plans are successful, and despite misgivings on all sides and strangeness in the power caused by the Bowl, he pushes on to try and push the Seanchan out of Ebou Dar. So he pulls Callandor, and on top of being a jerk goes full crazy, killing as many of his own men as enemies. It all comes together terrible perfection. The Bowl that helped save the world also helped add to the confusion of a grisly battle. Were it not for the strangeness, maybe Rand would have pushed them into the see. Or maybe they would have beaten him soundly. In the end, both sides feel that they lost. It should have been the end of the book. It is the end of the immediate effects of the Bowl, and it would have made a fitting conclusion to a downer of a volume, but it goes on.

So Rand returns to the Palace, where some of the obviously evil Asha’man, upset with how the battle turned out, try to kill him. It is short, confusing and anticlimactic. It is the end of him forcing people he doesn’t trust to fight for him, but other than them blowing up a big chunk of the Palace in Cairhien, nothing really happens. The beg event at the end is Fedwin Morr losing his mind. That scene is why this should have been the start of Winter’s Heart rather than the end here. Once Rand sees firsthand what awaits all make channelers, he knows he must fix it, and that is what Winter’s Heart is about. The other big ending is the kidnapping of Faile, plus Morgase and Alliandre. That whole storyline is too drug out and unsatisfying for the most part, but it barely starts here.

I still don’t like Path of Daggers. I think it would work better if most of it was the second half of Crown of Swords and the rest was the first half of Winter’s Heart. But the whole thread of the effects of the Bowl of the Wind that runs through this book is effective. It gives it a nice hook that could have been better emphasized or even alluded to in the title. Like all of this weakest part of the series, books 7-10, the events are vital even if the books itself doesn’t feel so.

The Wii’s Last Story

Of the two prominent Wii RPGs released this year, Xenoblade Chronicles has gotten the bulk of the attention. Whether this is due to it epic scope, its fluid yet strategic battle system or simple because it came out first, I don’t know. What I do know, now that I’ve played both equally and beaten The Last Story, is that The Last Story deserves at least as much love a Xenoblade. The Last Story is a classic JRPG filtered through an action game and the result is amazing despite its flaws.

While the action RPG is in no way new, The Last Story is different than the usual in that hybrid genre. It doesn’t just give the player direct control of the fighting, it is paced and structured like an action game. While there is plenty of very RPG-like gadding about town, the mission play out like action game levels. Players are pulled from fight to fight, set piece to set piece at a breathless pace. There is excitement and immediacy that games like the more meandering Secret of Mana or the Kingdom Hearts series can’t match. It is actually more like something from God of War. The game is helped by solid, though not perfect, fighting mechanics. Waling away at opponents is a valid strategy, but the game rewards attacking at a measured pace, alternating attacks with allies to get damage bonuses from chains. Magic attacks leave elemental circles that the player can dispel for status effects. The balance of keeping beneficial elements and hitting status effects give some nice strategy to fights that can break down into chaos. Aside from just firing their one element of magic about even if the enemies are resistant to it, the AI controlled allies work just fine. It is a frenetic, chaotic battle system with just enough strategy to keep being interesting.

The RPG parts are good as well. The Last Story takes cues from numerous classic RPGs and rolls them into a not wholly unoriginal adventure. Its penchant for limiting party members for different tactical challenges is right out of FFIV. I don’t mean to spoil the surprisingly good story, but the plot takes plenty of elements from numerous FFs and Chrono Trigger. There are also some spots that are very reminiscent of the Legend of Zelda. It plays like a greatest hits of all your favorite RPGs

Fortunately, there is more to it than that. In sharp contrast to the expansive, epic scope of Xenoblade, The Last Story is a rather intimate game. There aren’t that many characters and the majority of the story takes place in one city. Though it can’t seem to help itself from escalating events to world shattering proportions, the story is primarily of one man’s attempts to better himself and the world. It all works together very well, especially since Lazulis City has enough personality to remain interesting for as whole game.

There are some flaws, like some overly fiddly battles, especially with a limited party, and an upgrade system that can’t be fully utilized without multiple playthroughs, but none of the flaws significantly diminish what is an excellent game. With the Last Story and Xenoblade, the Wii has received a terrific one-two punch of RPGs. One is perfect for quick play sessions and quick run throughs, the other will keep anyone busy for as long as they want. I wouldn’t say one approach is better than the other, but it is nice to have games that fit both. The Last Story is a perfect send off for the Wii.

Wheel of Time Reread: Crown of Swords

Original cover of A Crown of Swords

Original cover of A Crown of Swords (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Crown of Swords seems to be one of the not very well thought of books in the Wheel of Time series. If this is true and not a misperception on my part, it is a great disservice to one of the better books in the series. It does have a tighter focus than most of the rest of the series, taking place over the course of something like ten days. It is also the start of a few of the seemingly endless plotlines in that bog down the later part of this series. This is added to the fact that the momentum of the central storyline of Rand’s battle, has been completely sundered by the events of the ending of Lord of Chaos. While the future of plotlines introduced here are not among the series best, their start is well done. The failures of later books, specifically Path of Daggers and Crossroads of Twilight, should not reflect poorly on Crown of Swords.

The book starts with some fallout from the last book. Elaida is still imaging her victory in a plan that nearly doomed the world. She is the perfect impediment villain, a person who genuinely believes she is doing the right thing even when she is massively screwing everything up. It also makes her perfectly frustrating to read. Alviarin also plots, though her victory is more genuine since she is playing for the other side. There are also check ins with some of the other losers in the battle at Dumai’s Wells, the Shaido and Gawyn’s Younglings. Both have all that they fought for completely rearranged. The big scene of the prologue is the death of Pedron Niall, Lord Captain Commander of the Children of the Light. While he was at best just a male equivalent of Elaida, Eamon Valda is just what most Whitecloaks seem like, a zealous thug. His taking over the Children is the worst possible thing. Not that is matters much for what he manages to accomplish, but he is one of the most thoroughly awful non-darkfriends in the series.

The early chapters here are suitably gruesome. Rand’s fragile coalition that won the pyrrhic victory at Dumai’s Wells sit in the unnatural heat of an endless summers while Rand tromps through piles of corpses. It is an ugly sight. None of the various groups quite trust each other, and all fear that Rand has gone crazy. They are not far wrong. The madness that must eventually consume him has begun to do so. Up until this point Rand has been constantly moving forward to his goals. He has had failures and trials, but nothing has long put him off his goals of uniting the world to face the last battle. After Dumai’s Wells, he is in retreat. It doesn’t help that he has sent off most of his trusted allies.

We are also introduced to the interminable plotline for Perrin. He flat out says that the only thing that matters to him is Faile, not Tarmon Gaidon. While this is romantic, it is also terrible. He has to learn the there are things that are more important. There are also his constant attempts to protect her that end up seeming to ignore her contributions while also emphasizing Berelain’s, which enrages Faile even though Perrin is nearly oblivious to their rivalry over him. Perrin’s trials with Faile happen while Rand tries to split the Gordian knot that is the situation with Colavaere, who has proclaimed herself Queen in his absence. He cannot let himself kill her due to his personal hang-ups, but according to the law she must be killed. He finds a way that should be satisfactory, and send the appropriate message to the scheming nobles of Cairhien. Too bad she takes the easy way out.

Then there is Egwene’s struggle to become the Amyrlin Seat they named her in the last book. The Aes Sedai refuse to be anything but incompetent, though later revelations make some of their actions make more sense. Still, Egwene is building strength, while also generally doing things right. Interestingly, none of her allies are traditional Aes Sedai. Siuan and Leane were, then weren’t and now are again while Faolain and Theodrin are not quite. Aes Sedai have a blind spot when it comes to anyone that falls out of the usual Aes Sedai power structure, even when they only barely do so. She is able to use their slight knowledge of her supposed allies various schemes to make them her actual allies, even if she coerce and blackmail them into it.

The last story introduced is also the best, defining plotline of Crown of Swords, that of the dueling search for the Bowl of the Winds. Mat is there to help, but they do their best to ignore him, all while dealing with the numerous dangers of Ebou Dar. The success of this story is largely due to the number of “fun” characters there. Nynaeve and Mat are easily the two most entertaining characters in the series, and Thom is always fun. The rest of the crew there just makes it more fun. I especially like Elayne finding out just why Rand keeps a supposed lout like Mat around. For the first half of the book, it is just the girls failed search attempts and their successful attempts to ignore Mat, while he tries to stay busy/not stabbed.

Perrin’s story in this volume is cut short, as he is soon sent away to gather the Prophet and Ghealdon for Rand, and just to keep it infuriating, he sends Berelain along as well. Rand also finally consummates his relationship with Min, though he feels guilty about it. Those two things combined put Rand in a funk, that is pretty much his problem. His mind is not right after his capture, and he is both less trusting than he was before and more eager to send his friends away to keep them safe. After hashing things out with Min, he goes far the opposite way, becoming almost giddy. His quick change from one mood to another is not normal. But is it useful, as he gets the important parts of a bargain with the Seafolk done that will be of use to him. He then pushes his luck by going after the rebels in the countryside. This works out well at first, gaining him tenous allies in two of the three leaders, but also out there is Padan Fain and eventually a bubble of evil. Rand is saved only by the timely intervention of Cadsuane and her crew of Aes Sedai.

Cadsuane is an interesting mid-series addition. She is infuriating and almost always pushes the wrong buttons when it comes to Rand, but she is also one of the few Aes Sedai that is actually trying to help his cause and not furthering some other goal. While she does help out some, her help towards Rands goals is grudging and her supposedly helpful attempts rarely seem to do any good. She is Moiraine without the trust Rand had in her.

In Ebou Dar, the girls realize they need Mat’s help, and he is forcibly moved into the Palace. They also find the Kin, the secret group of Tower failures that the Aes Sedai use to catch runaways. Mat has encounters with Queen Tylin that reverse gender dynamics of the usual ruler and consort story. Despite the usual attempts of the Black Ajah and forsaken, they find the Bowl and most escape the city just before the Seanchan come back.

What Crown of Swords most has going for it are big exciting scenes. The stories are small and the focus is tight, but a lot of cool things happen in this book. There is Mat realizing who Birgitte is, Mat fighting the Gholam over the wounded Elayne, Rand swordfighting Toram Riatin, Lan saving Nynaeve just before she drowns, the foggy bubble of evil. This book is just packed with cool scenes. And it ends with Rand fighting Sammael in the ruins of Shadar Logoth.

Also, for a book that covers little time, many big events are covered. Niall is killed. Elaida loses her power. Morgase formally gives up the crown of Andor, and the Shaido are scattered across the West. It is a world changing book, with status quos changing all the time. The world of the first half of the series is gone, and the new reality must be dealt with. Crown of Swords may not be the biggest book or have the most important scenes in the series, but it has a large number of events of medium importance. This books serves as the set up for the next four or so books, for better or worse. The loss of Rand’s leaping forward progress makes many of the later books, starting with this one, seem aimless. That criticism isn’t wrong, but it misses the point. Rand’s quest feels like it has been derailed because it has been. Like the author, Rand is getting bogged down in the nitty gritty. Still, Crown of Swords is a fine entry in the series.