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.