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.