What I Read October 2019

I got through four books this month, and a couple of them were pretty sizable ones. That includes my birthday present to myself, Warrior of the Altaii by Robert Jordan. It was good to read something like that, completely inessential but very interesting. Otherwise, I finally cleared something off my reading list that has been there for years and a book I got as a Christmas a couple of years ago.

Labyrinth

Kate Mosse

I have been reading this book for what seems like forever. I read its two sequels before starting this one what I think was almost four years ago. Once it gets going it is pretty engrossing. I don’t really know why it took so long for me to finish this; it just sat there partially read forever.

This works along two timelines. The first is in the thirteenth century with the Cathars as the Catholics attempt to exterminate them from Southern France. Alais is the daughter of the steward of Carcassonne, who helps her father keep certain secrets while they fight a war. In the present, Alice works at an archaeological dig near the same place and uncovers some things that have been hidden for eight centuries.

Maybe it is just the prolonged time it took me to read this, but I didn’t realize until way too far into it that it was about the holy grail. Really, how long it took me to read this makes it hard for me to judge a lot of the plot developments. I remember generally what was happening, but I don’t really remember the details. I didn’t enjoy this as much as Citadel or Sepulchre, but then again, I don’t really remember them that well either.

The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul

Douglas Adams

The second Dirk Gently mystery. This one starts with Dirk being hired by a man a giant monster with a scythe. Though not believing the man’s ravings, Dirk takes the case for the money. Things turn serious when the man is found with his head cut off. Dirk’s investigation involves all sorts of weirdness, including Norse Gods and sinister nursing homes and record deals. If you’ve read Adams, you know what to expect. I don’t have a lot to say. I liked it; it is odd and witty and a little cynical. I really enjoyed it.

Warrior of the Altaii

Robert Jordan

This is a delight if you know what you are in for. The classy, sports team logo cover doesn’t really do the pulpy, almost lurid book found inside justice. Warrior of the Altaii is a book Robert Jordan wrote in the late 70’s and this reads like a late 70’s fantasy novel. This reads like the work of a man who wrote both the Wheel of Time and a bunch of Conan the Barbarian stories.

It is, primarily, that old sort of swords and sorcery adventure fantasy. But underneath there are shades of something more complex. There is some good military strategy stuff. The book builds the Altaii as a precursor to the Aiel from the Wheel of Time. There is also a lot of gratuitous nudity, some weird slavery stuff, and some just good, old-fashioned sexism. There are also some well drawn characters and really good action. Warrior of the Altaii would have felt a little old fashioned in the 1980’s, it feels completely ancient now. There is still a lot to enjoy here, but it requires the right mindset going in.

Natchez Burning

Greg Iles

I am conflicted with this book. There is a lot to like; some truly compelling characters, a great understanding of the setting, some really interesting thematic stuff. All of it is good stuff. The problem I have with this book is that it is a 900 page mystery/thriller that does not resolve its central mystery.

Penn Cage is the mayor of Natchez, Mississippi. His life is turned upside down when his father, a respected, half-retired doctor, is accused of murdering one of his patients. That patient once worked for his father as a nurse in the 1960s. Her son believes that Dr. Cage is his father. Looking into all of this brings back a lot of stuff from the civil rights movement, including the murder of the nurse’s activist brother. Soon, Penn is working with a journalist who has been investigating the KKK and the Double Eagles, an even more KKK splinter group.

The book is bloated, but never boring. The problem is that it doesn’t really resolve anything. One of the many villains meets his end here, but it solves none of the mysteries or resolves none of the cases the book has brought up. It also goes on some wild tangents, bringing in conspiracy theories about the assassination of JFK and MLK. It wants to do a lot of wild dumb stuff and important serious stuff, and honestly balances the two well. It just sort of ends before finishing the story. I know there are sequels; I accidentally spoiled one development for myself in the next book that really put me off reading it.

The Last that Could be Done

Wheel of Time Reread Part 12: The Gathering Storm

tgscover

It is impossible to discuss The Gathering Storm without noting that it is the first book that Robert Jordan was not able to finish. While he intended to finish the series in just one book after Knife of Dreams, Jordan tragically did not live long enough to do so. His passing was tragic from any point of view; the fate of the series was insignificant in the face of his loss. Still, as a reader I wanted to see the series come to its conclusion. Luckily for readers, Brandon Sanderson was tapped to finish the series in Jordan’s stead. Sanderson is one of the best writers of the fantasy genre working today. I have read and enjoyed nearly every book he’s had published. That being said, he is not Robert Jordan. Whether one finds his writing better or worse than Jordan’s, there is no getting around that it is different.

One of the changes when Sanderson took over was that the last book became the last three books. With all that happens in these last three books, doing it in one looks like it was always a pipe dream. It would, however, fit better structurally. The first six books of the series fit nicely into a pair of trilogies; if the series had been finished in one book after Knife of Dreams, the last six would as well. Books seven through nine do not follow as thematically coherent a trajectory as Rand’s rise and fall from books four through six. Rand is faltering, after his troubles at the end of Lord of Chaos, but he has created a new weapon: the Asha’man. They appear at the end of that book, start out appearing trustworthy and useful before betraying him and showing the effects of the taint. So Rand cleanses the taint. That covers Rand’s journey through those books, seeing first-hand the effects of the taint and dealing with it once and for all. Rand’s journey though the last trilogy, albeit a trilogy that ends up consisting of five books, is his nadir before truly understanding and accepting what it will take from him to be The Dragon. Fixing what made the last part five books instead of three would be difficult. Counting all of Sanderson’s books as one it works, at least for Rand’s story. It is everyone else whose stories don’t quite fit. More than half of Crossroads of Twilight takes place before Winter’s Heart ends. Moving that stuff back, folding the rest of Crossroads back into Knife of Dreams and condensing the last three books into just two would largely fix things.

The change from Jordan to Sanderson was hard to swallow. Especially in light of how many people I heard gushing about how much improved Sanderson’s take was to Jordan’s. I can’t fault someone for liking Sanderson; I like his books an awful lot. His work is creative and inventive and the man is crazy prolific. The Mistborn books are excellent, the Stormlight Archive is a worthy successor to the sort of absurdly large scale fantasy of which The Wheel of Time is the most exceptional example and even his one off and young adult books are good reads. But he is not the same writer as Robert Jordan and I would say for this series a lesser one. At least, coming from the perspective of a Wheel of Time fan he is. Sanderson tends to be more direct and blunt than Jordan; characters were suddenly more open with each other instead of speaking in half-truths and assumptions. Character also go through a slight metamorphoses, some worse than others. Elaida, for instance, goes from being wrongheaded and stubborn to being a complete clown. It is the end of her arc as a character, but in this book she is reduced to just arrogance and megalomania. She is not the worst, though.

It is never clearer that Sanderson is not Jordan than in the few chapters in this book from Mat’s point of view. Jordan’s Mat is funny, but not from any conscience effort on his part. Jordan’s Mat doesn’t see himself as a funny guy, what makes him so fun is his complete lack of self-awareness. Mat has no clue that other people find him hilarious. Under Sanderson’s pen, Mat is doing some kind of tired shtick with Talmanes. You can almost feel all of his companions rolling their eyes at every word he says. It is painful. It isn’t just Mat trying to be funny, but Mat failing to be funny. The biggest flaw is that Mat’s stuff just isn’t amusing. It falls completely flat.

Luckily, one adjustment Sanderson made when splitting this last book was to sideline most of Mat’s and Perrin’s stuff to Towers of Midnight and have The Gathering Storm focus on Rand. Rand had been essentially sidelined for the two books previous to this. He had a few impactful chapters in KoD and a few forgettable ones in CoT; in The Gathering Storm he is again the protagonist. He had been teetering since Lord of Chaos, after the kidnapping. The madness that is the inevitable end for male channelers is starting to affect him. No longer feeling safe even in his palaces, he jumps from front to front in his attempts to combat the Forsaken and the Seanchan. And he continually build up this idea that he can’t harm women or allow them to be harmed, even trained fighters like the Aiel Maidens; turning it into a kind of especially destructive chivalry. It becomes less of a principle and more of complex. The Gathering Storm has Rand finally reaching the nadir of his fall in what is easily one of the darkest moments in the entire series. The male a’dam, the collar that lets one channeler control another, is placed on his neck by no one less than the most sadistic of the Forsaken. It was not strictly a surprise when it happened; all the pieces for this tragedy were in place. Things like secreting away the a’dam instead of getting rid of it or keeping Semirhage captive instead of just doing away with her. That is stuff that the characters should have known, there is more that the readers knew, like the fact that Elza was Black Ajah. Everything just goes wrong in the worst way possible.

Knowing that the end is coming soon makes the outcome all the more uncertain. Yes, it was easy to guess that Rand would get out of his predicament, there are two more books to go, but how much damage would done before then? The complete hopelessness when Rand is forced to strangle Min is crushing, because there could be nothing more tragic than the very real possibility at that time that he would kill her. Fortunately, thanks to some divine, or infernal, intervention Rand manages to free himself from his bonds and do away with Semirhage. Even more than the supposed victory at Dumai’s Wells, this battle left its mark on Rand. After this, all the light has gone out of Rand. It is laid on rather heavily, but Rand is now completely broken. It is disturbing seeing just how wrong things go. Everything is visibly coming unraveled and Rand is now fully a source of the problems instead of a solution. Rand gets darker and darker, even his closest allies Min and Nynaeve must turn to outside help to try to save him. But Rand’s salvation does not come from anyone’s help, but from within. He sits on Dragonmount, toying with the idea of finally giving in to Ishamael/Moridin and destroying all of creation. What calls him back is part of the very thing that nearly drove him to do it, the voice of Lew Therin he hears thanks to the Dark Ones taint. Together they find what they need to see the value in creation.

While Rand hits his lowest ebb in this book, the other major storyline is Egwene at her most triumphant. Captured in the White Tower, her rebel Aes Sedai still besieging the city from the outside, she starts her own siege from the inside. By simple strength of character she shows the completely divided sisters inside what they need to be. It helps that Elaida has been reduced to a complete fool, worried only about her increasingly tenuous grip on power and reality. For a character that had become almost as unenjoyable as Rand over the back half of the series and for much less reason, Egwene really shines here. It helps to see others react to her strength, showing why she deserves the power she now wields. And for a character who is in captivity, she manages to accomplish an awful lot. The crowning moment might be in the Seanchan raid, when she almost single handedly saves the White Tower from complete disaster.

Her second accomplishment, nearly ridding the Aes Sedai of the Black Ajah, came to her with the great help from one of the best minor characters in the series. Since The Great Hunt, when Verin stepped in for Moiraine for most of the book, she has been an intriguing figure. She was up to things that usually seem to be for the good of the Light, but using tactics that were decidedly underhanded. Here we get an explanation that was surprisingly simple but also somewhat unexpected. Verin joined the Black Ajah by mistake, wanting to study them but not herself being a darkfriend. So she played her role, all while keeping tabs on the others in the sect. Egwene is able to use her information, after one of the bravest and most touching moments in the series, to clean out a large portion of the Black Sisters. Including Sheriam, who had been given a fake-out Min viewing to fool people off of her trail, one of the only times that Jordan seems to have inserted information with the deliberate goal of misleading readers.

The Gathering Storm is easily one of the weaker books in the series; Sanderson doesn’t quite have a feel for many of the characters, though he does get better in the subsequent books. It is also one of the most focused books in the series. There are a few chapters of Mat and Perrin, but the book hinges almost entirely on Egwene and Rand, as well as the supporting characters in their orbits. The whole book feels like a weird shadow of the rest of the series, the darkest book thematically and also one where everything else seems not quite right.

Embers Falling on Dry Grass

Wheel of Time Reread Book 11 Knife of Dreams

knifedreams

I haven’t touched a Wheel of Time book since about five days after A Memory of Light was released. After I finished reading that, I put the series down and have barely looked at it since. Honestly, I haven’t read much fantasy since then, or at least not from that branch of the genre. Sure, I’ve read Curse of Chalion and Words of Radiance, among scant others, since then but it wasn’t until very recently that I have truly gotten back into things. Coming back to the series, a series I doubt I’d went a year without reading a least a couple of the books in more than a decade, is a little strange, especially one that is now finished after years spent speculating about what was to come next. It is comfortable, familiar, but also melancholy. Before, all of these characters were full of potential. Anything could happen in the next book. Now, that potential is gone, there is the reality of what happened at the end of the series. It doesn’t really make the books any less enjoyable; it merely makes reading them a somewhat different experience.

Knife of Dreams was the last book that Jordan completed and is a return to form after a trio or so of books that seem to have, in some ways, gotten away from him. Each of Books 7-10 are important chapters in the series, but none of them were as complete of works as the preceding six books were. After splitting the Gordian knot that was Crossroads of Twilight, Knife of Dreams hits the ground running. Characters that were mired in interminable storylines start to finally move forward. Path of Daggers, Winter’s Heart and Crossroads of Twilight were largely middles, with few resolutions. Knife of Dreams contains those endings. I’ve titled this post after the title of the prologue, “Embers Falling on Dry Grass”, one of Jordan’s great turns in the chapter titles. It is clearly evocative of what is going on, not just in the title but in this whole volume. The little sparks are finding the fuel to turn into great fires. The idea of Tarmon Gaidon, the last battle, has been paramount to the series all the way through. It has always been coming. But until Knife of Dreams it never felt truly close. In this book there is the constant feeling that events are spiraling increasingly out of control. The anarchy has spread beyond just Rand’s doing. The endgame is upon the world.

What is most exciting is that from the first scene things are happening. Only a fool would argue that nothing happens in the previous books, but little of what does is definitive. Outside of some really big things, like cleansing the taint, it all feels like maneuvering and small potatoes. Here, the book opens with Galad, a longtime character that was all potential and no action, finally getting involved. He challenges and beats the Whitecloak leader Valda to a duel for the rape and murder of his mother, not knowing that he is only half right. Then it jumps to Ituralde, a name that has been around forever but wasn’t seen until book 10 (I think) who springs his trap on the Seanchan, setting up raids in numerous places across hundreds of miles, living up to his reputation as a great general. The prologue also refreshes the situations with the Seanchan leaders, the Aes Sedai Black Ajah hunters and Egwene after being captured by the Tower Aes Sedai. It immediately tosses a lot of balls in the air which are followed up in the first few chapters by adding more. Perrin is moving in on the Shaido as Faile attempts to escape, Mat continues his journey northward, away from the Seanchan. And Rand is trying to make a deal with the Seanchan.

While it doesn’t exclude others entirely, Knife of Dreams in many ways pulls things back to its trio of male heroes, Rand, Mat and Perrin. Rand’s part in this book is smaller than the others, but no less momentous. He is further breaking down from the strain, the effects of the taint and his own hang ups. More and more, the Lews Therin voice in his mind is gaining power. Set in motion in his few appearances in Crossroads of Twilight, Rand meets with the Daughter of the Nine Moons, who readers know is currently with Mat. It turns out this Daughter of the Nine Moons is the Forsaken Semirhage. In the ensuing conflict Rand loses a hand. That loss furthers some of Rand’s mythological allusions, specifically his connection to the Norse God of War Tyr, who sacrificed his own hand to subdue the wolf Fenrir. It is not really a turning point for Rand, just another step in the gradual wearing down he faces in the back half of the series. Since Lord of Chaos, in each battle Rand seems to lose another piece of himself, though usually not quite as literally as here.

Mat, meanwhile, is still in his escape from the Seanchan, as well as in the middle of his courtship of Tuon. Tuon is a fun character, coming from a completely foreign culture that the completely unself-conscious Mat cannot understand. The Seanchan are one of Jordan’s greatest creations in this series, a wrench in the works and a completely vile foreign power coming in to mess things up. Their whole empire is built on almost fetishized slavery and rituals of order. Slavery for the Seanchan can be a hereditary condition or a punishment for failure or the natural state for anyone capable of channeling. The channelers are brainwashed and convinced that they are no better than animals, that they are dangerous if not leashed. It is disgusting. Then there are several other types of slavery, from hereditary servant to the Imperial family’s personal guard. Seanchan society is a nightmare. Yet Tuon, the person responsible for leading these people, comes off as entertaining.  Likeable, even.  A lot of that, though, falls to Mat, who makes any other character entertaining. Exploring the differences of high and low society with Mat and Elayne was a lot of fun a few books ago, but it is taken to an even greater extreme here. Tuon is interested in Mat thanks to prophesies, the same reason he believes he must wed her, but Mat doesn’t know that. He has accepted that they will be married and is just trying to get to know her. She is doing the same thing with him. This is one of the most fun storylines in the whole series, with Mat getting to play many roles. He is, as always, the fool. Here he is trying to herd cats with his uneasy alliance of soldiers, willing captives and Aes Sedai. Once they leave the traveling show and meet with The Band, Mat must plays the general, leading a short brilliant campaign against the Seanchan to clear the way out of Altara to Andor. Having Tuon realize that she has only seen one small side of him once they meet back up with The Band is another great moment. It is always fun to see the protagonist though other’s eyes and Tuon’s growing realizations about Mat are incredibly well done. The whole arc here is entertaining, ending with Mat and Tuon finally married, but separated.

Then there is Perrin, who as of the last book has finally cast off the axe and chosen the Hammer, forges together an alliance with the Seanchan and the Prophet’s forces to save Faile. Perrin realize how gross the Seanchan are, but he is single minded enough to not care if it helps him get his wife back. For all of Perrin’s lack of faith in himself as a leader, he has a way of binding people to him and building something. That is what Perrin is; he is the builder to Rand’s destroyer. His interactions with General Tylee of the Seanchan is the first large scale piece or cooperation between the Seanchan and the rest of the world. Egeanin working with Elayne and Nynaeve was a blip and Mat and Tuon barely count. It also shows the decadence of the Shaido. Always considered a little lesser than the other Aiel, here they have completely failed. They are shown to be largely drunk and indolent. Even those who seem to keep the Aiel ways, like Therava, are just as interested as the rest in indulging their baser desires, it just that Therava’s appetites are less immediately apparent. This storyline for Perrin, essential to his and Faile’s growth as it is, is never truly a good one. It takes way too long and is too disconnected to everything else.

Lastly, Knife of Dreams also finally finishes the interminable Andor civil war. In her own courageous yet thoughtless way, Elayne bumbles into decisive victory. I know she is a character that many do not enjoy, but I am not among them. Elayne is what she is and, unlike many others, never really learns her lessons. From the start of the series to the end, she does grow. She changes from a spoiled princess to a competent, yet still spoiled, Queen. She does become a better leader and a better politician, but she never loses the recklessness that makes her infuriating and enjoyable. Really, even her growth as a leader is mostly just her putting the lesson’s she’s learned to good use. This volume has Elayne simultaneously at her best and her worst. While she skillfully conducts the war, she also completely bungles searching out the Back Ajah Aes Sedai, getting several of her allies killed. It is the third long running plotline, along with Perrin’s and Mat’s, that Jordan finally brings to close in this book.

The relatively focused nature of Knife of Dreams makes it probably the best book in the second half of this series. The somewhat muddled nature of the previous four volumes has been wiped away. The Wheel of Time, from this book, is a boulder rolling downhill. With the end more clearly in sight, things begin to accelerate. Like the title of the prologue suggests, small sparks have started a fire that will not be put out.

What I Read in November and December ‘12

Yes, I missed a month of my reading update. This is because I didn’t read anything to cover in November. I did read a lot, but it was all Wheel of Time. Reading several doorstop sized tomes really takes some time. The Wheel of Time completely consumed my reading time for more than a month there. I did manage one other book in that time, though.

Original cover of Winter's Heart

Winter’s Heart

Robert Jordan

Original cover of Crossroads of Twilight

Crossroads of Twilight

Robert Jordan

Gaul, Galina, Perrin, Arganda''

Knife of Dreams

Robert Jordan

Cover of "Among the Mad (Maisie Dobbs, Bo...

Cover of Among the Mad (Maisie Dobbs, Book 6)

Among the Mad

Jacqueline Winspear

Another Maisie Dobbs book, and I am running out of things to say about this series. I like the books, as soon as I finish one I buy the next, but they fade pretty quickly out of my consciousness.  In Among the Mad, Maisie works with the Government to find a man who is threatening to unleash chemical weapons in London. Again, this case has its roots in the first World War. Unfortunately, they know nothing of about the person they are looking for other than that he knows Maisie. It also has her dealing with the breakdown of Billy’s wife following the death of their daughter. While the connections between Maisie’s personal life and her case usually seem very coincidental, this time it seems more organic. The combination of the race against time and the unfortunate situation with Billy, Among the Mad comes together as one of the more satisfying entries in the series.

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.

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.

Wheel of Time Reread Part 6: Lord of Chaos

Lord of Chaos is the volume when things fall apart for Rand.  Before this things have been going pretty well.  Sure, the odds are stacked against them, but each book seemed to end with Rand taking another step forward on his quest to save the world.  Lord of Chaos at first appears to end in a similar way, but when one really looks at it, it really doesn’t.  Rand’s victory at Dumai’s Wells is as pyrrhic as they come.

Lord of Chaos is also the last great WoT book, at least for a while.  Crown of Swords is really good, but not quite on the level of the four books previous, and the three after that are troubled to say the least.  LoC is the end of what I like to think of as the second trilogy of the series.  The first three books work well together, and the next three, Shadow, Fires and Lord of Chaos, aren’t quite as well tied but still work.  They cover the rise of Rand as a leader, up to the point where the wheels fall off the wagon.  It is also the last book, until maybe one of the last two, to have all the major characters active in the story.

Rand has two big problems at the start of this book, and together they are making each other worse.  The first problem is in his head.  After seeing many of his friends nearly killed, and some actually killed, at the climax of the last book, he wants to send everyone away from him because it is too dangerous.  The other is that too many of his friends have already left him.  His rise to power has been sudden and there are few people he can trust.  More and more of his close allies are being taken away from him.  He is aware of this problem, but since he knows that being around him brings trouble he is still eager to distance himself from them.

This forces him to do things that are pretty obviously stupid.  Like putting Marzim Taim in charge of his goal to bring in male channelers.  The idea of finding other men who can channel and training them is a good one.  He needs help, and he needs help he can trust.  One thing Aes Sedai have proved themselves so far is untrustworthy.  So a cadre of male channelers loyal to would be a definite plus.  But Taim is obviously bad news.  Jordan could not have made that more clear outside of having him just state it.  Rand, unfortunately, doesn’t have the time to do it himself nor anyone else to turn to.  He uses the tools he has and hopes for the best.  It is the same with his ruling of Cairhien and Andor.  He has truly conquered Cairhien, but he hold little more than Caemlyn in Andor.  He has only the Aiel to rule them, and the society difference and racial animosity between them and everyone else makes that difficult.  Especially since everyone would love to see him gone.

The only friends from Emond’s Field he has left are Egwene and Mat.  Mat he sends away as part of his strategy in his fight with Sammael in Illian and then sends him away again when he finds the Rebel Aes Sedai in Salidar.  Egwene has made herself doubly suspicious to him.  While until this point has always been on his side, she is now both Aes Sedai and Aiel.  While he trust her, he can’t really afford to use her in his planning.  Mat has probably the least going on of a major character in this book.  Rand sends him south, and he goes south.  He does find Olver on the road south, an important wrinkle in Mat’s growth as a character.  Then Rand sends him to Salidar, and he goes.  Mat is always entertaining, but he doesn’t have a big effect on the plot.

Egwene’s story takes a big turn in this volume, though.  In the first half, while recovering from her assault at the hands of Lanfear at the end of the last book, she finally starts her romance with Gawyn.  Midway through the book, though, she is summoned to Salidar to be the Rebel Amyrlin.  This is also a big change for Siuan.  Siuan is fighting to remain relevant without the ability to channel, and influencing the ruling council in Salidar to choose an Amyrlin.  Egwene is the one they choose as an agreeable alternative to giving someone else power or putting their own head on the block.  Egwene accepts, but is determined not to be a puppet, at least not longer than she must.  Siuan soon realizes this and, too her credit, is immediately on board.  Especially since Egwene doesn’t treat her like an invalid.  Even from the start, Egwene fights to show her independence, if just in small ways. The pomp and ritual of the ceremony is something that Jordan does especially well.  It is strange and alien and still somehow familiar and understandable.

After Rand sends Mat away, he does get the bonus of having Perrin return.  Perrin missed the entire last volume, and has little to do for the first two thirds of this one.  I do love the family drama of Perrin meeting his in-laws, as well as Faile being jealous of Min.

Min’s arrival in Caemlyn is part of the biggest plot thread of Lord of Chaos, Rand’s struggles to deal with Aes Sedai.  First, there is his meeting with the girls who came from the Two Rivers along with Verin and Alanna.  Alanna bonds him without permission, something that is akin to rape in the Wheel of Time world.  This is nearly a sundering of Rands trust of any kind in Aes Sedai.  Then he meets with the ambassadors from the rebels in Salidar.  Things with them are going largely well until one of those sisters is assaulted by what she thinks is an Aiel, and therefore at Rand’s order.  In truth, it is one of the remnants of Padan Fains Whitecloaks.  Their retaliation really rubs Rand wrong.  Which is unfortunate, because until that point it had been the most honest the Aes Sedai have been.  Rand retreats to Cairhien, along with Perrin.

In Cairhien he had been meeting with Aes Sedai from the Tower.  They have been treating him with absolutely no respect, as though he his is a stupid country bumpkin.  Rand does not have much more than that for them, stringing them along and playing to their preconceptions.  They aren’t stupid, though, so they eventually grow tired of his games and that leads to disaster.

I almost forgot to go over Elayne and Nynaeve.  Their story is one of the best parts of Lord of Chaos.  They are back with the Aes Sedai in Salidar and are having trouble dealing with no longer being in charge of themselves.  This is offset by their use of the captures Moghedien to help them find lost weaves from the Age of Legends.  Of course, they also have some new ones of their own.  If Nynaeve’s awesomeness was still in question, her discovering how to heal stilling is amazing. It is one of the best segments in the book.  Especially when she heals Siuan and Leane.  That is as genuine emotion as you get in fantasy novels.  By the end they have convinced Egwene to send them away again on what they hope is an important mission.  It seems to me that it is mostly to escape the strictures of the other Aes Sedai.

That leaves us with the big climax of the book, Dumai’s Wells.  The Tower Aes Sedai kidnap Rand, as well as Min, and escape the city.  Once Perrin and Aiel catch wind of this, they gather what loyal troops they can find and go to rescue them.  Along the way they meet the Rebel Aes Sedai, along with the rest of Perrin’s men, and join up.  Meanwhile, the remnants of last books bad guys, the Shaido Aiel, have betrayed their Tower allies and make an attempt to take Rand for themselves. It all culminates in a terrible three way battle.  First of all, how the kidnappers treat Rand is reprehensible.  The fact that several of them are Black Ajah is not surprising.  With the Shaido attacking, Rand is able to escape, but he remains trapped between two groups of awful people.  Also, his captivity was obviously damaging to his psyche.

That last battle has everything going on.  Aiel Wise Ones joining the battle, irrevocably changing their culture.  Perrin and the hodge podge army he leads wading into the already started conflict on a desperate attempt to save Rand with little hope of coming out alive.  Rand running free within the enemy camp, more after revenge that escape.  Gawyn having to weigh his two sets of ideals against each other.  And it ends with the arrival of Taim and the Asha’man.  I said putting him in charge was a bad idea, but it pays off here.  The mechanical precision of how they take apart their enemies is scary, doubly so since you know they are fated to go crazy.  The final image of the novel is Rand forcing what should have been his ally Aes Sedai to kneel before him.  While Rand is saved and complete disaster is avoided, he is damaged, as is the image of his power.  Rand is measurably worse off than he starts and his true enemies, the shadow, have lost nothing.

This is an amazing book.  It is the fall of Rand.  I would liken it to Empire Strikes Back, with it being a near complete loss for the good guys but still awesome.  This volume has some of the biggest changes to the cast since the first book.  While Rand has assumed his power, this book has Egwene’s rise, as well a more ascent from Nyneave, Elayne and Perrin.  While it is bad for Rand to be without allies, it is important for his allies to get away from and grow so they can truly help him.  The fall in quality after this book is inevitable, since the cast is now so spread out.  The first six volumes of this saga is the best such segment in any books series.

Go Trickster, Go Gambler Go!

Cover of "The Shadow Rising (The Wheel of...

Cover via Amazon

 

Time for more Wheel of Time reread. I’m now on to The Shadow Rising, which is really the point when the Wheel of Time goes from a traditional Hero’s Quest to something more. There were hint’s of the change from as early as the start of The Great Hunt, but here is where it takes full effect. Rand is still the main character, this is still primarily his story, but there is much more time devoted to side characters and the world in general.

That switch is what I think makes people complain about how slow the start of this book is. Because the start of The Shadow Rising isn’t really that slow. Sure, they don’t get out of Tear for more than 300 pages, but a lot happens in that 300 pages. Plus, for the last time in the series, at least until A Memory of Light, the group from Emond’s Field are all in the same place. That 300 pages in Tear set up at least the next three books for each of the major characters, as well as containing quite a bit of action on its own.

There is the prologue in all but name in chapter 1. Nearly every book in the series starts with a chapter similar, with tertiary characters and storylines getting brief spotlights. We see Min with Siuan and Leane, who are a book away from getting promoted to genuine supporting characters. There are also brief snippets of Elaida, White Cloaks and Seanchan being awful. All of there things are disconnected from the story of the rest of this book, except for the Whitecloaks, but are important to the overall story.

In Tear we start with a “bubble of evil” attack, which is interesting but never satisfactorily explained. The problems Rand, Mat and Perrin deal with are symbolic of their overall struggle, though less so with Mat. Perrin is attacked by his ax, part of his ongoing struggle in choosing between the hammer and the ax as well a being symbolic of his fear of losing control of his savage wolf nature. Mat is attacked by playing cards, which I guess could be commentary on his love of gambling, but it is mostly just seems like the reason is living playing cards are neat. And Rand has to literally fight himself, which drives much of his actions, his fear of losing control of himself. We also meet Berelain, who despite never being anything other than a good guy manages to spend most of her time messing with the other heroes. She is a character whose name tells the reader just about all they need to know. Just like Thom Merrilin is Merlin, Berelain has lain bare. Then there is the Trolloc attack, along with Rand’s struggles with Lanfear. We get our first real glimpse how some of the Forsaken work. Lanfear, unfortunately, looses something when you realize that she is just Rand’s crazy ex-girlfriend, albeit one with magic powers. You also see the Forsaken undercutting each others plans just to keep one of them from gaining an advantage.

Rand spends his time in Tear ruling and trying to learn as much as he can about his fate. Moiraine’s biggest failing is her inability to share information with Rand. Even Lan realizes this. Because she wants to be in charge she never really lets Rand in, so he doesn’t let her in on his plans. The most believable part of Rand and Elayne’s romance is her helping him with how to rule.

Perrin, in his ill-fated attempts to send Faile away to safety, finds out about Whitecloaks in the Two Rivers and decides to go home. The struggle between he and Faile is as painful to read as it is inevitable. Their characters could not have acted any differently, but it is still very obvious that they are both being stupid. Faile’s defense is that she is 16, I don’t know what Perrin’s is. His whole plot in this book is one of the best storyline’s in the whole series. It has the hero returning home to find nothing as he left it, as well as one of the most true victories anyone in the series has. It is a story that could have been a book on its own as just one part of the larger story. It really is great.

Then there is the girls. Though Egwene ends up going with Rand to see the Wise Ones, Elayne and Nynaeve go to Tanchico, keeping up their hunt for the Black Ajah. Their storyline is not quite as satisfying as Perrin’s, but it is also much shorter. We also see another group of channelers besides Aes Sedai, all of which seem to be more well thought of than the actual Aes Sedai. One thing that becomes more and more apparent as the series goes along is that the Aes Sedai are really bad at their jobs. The girls in Tanchico works because Nynaeve and Elayne are a great team, both humorous and effective. Plus, they get to team up with Bayle Domon, Thom and Juilin. They really just do not get enough time to work. (in this book, they get all too much time later on.)

Rand, meanwhile, decides to surprise everybody and go into the Aiel Waste. He travels for I think the last time by Portal Stone. He actually thought this plan through very well, despite Moiraine’s misgivings. Other than his desire to find out where he came from, he needs people behind him that he can trust, and that is the Aiel. If he can get them behind him. Once their incredibly short trip is over, they all go to Rhuidean, except for Egwene. Rand’s trip trough time in Rhuidean is one of the greatest segments in fantasy fictions. It is perfect. Two chapters that perfectly encapsulate all that is great about the genre. Once Rand returns, the intricacies of Aiel society are slowly revealed, as is a plot between one clan, the Shaido and a group of obvious Darkfriend peddlers. No matter what Rand does, the bad guys always seem to be able to force him to rush. It is the same here, with Shaido leader Couladin also declaring himself Car’a’carn, the Aiel equivalent of the Dragon. It forces Rand to reveal the Aiel’s big secret, that they were once the same as Tinkers.

The book still ends as the others do, with a fight with several Forsaken. Although this time they are not at the same place. Rand fights with Asmodean in Rhuidean in one of the less memorable book ending conflicts he has. It really is kind of an anticlimax. But there is also Nynaeve getting in on the Forsaken fighting by besting Moghedien. It is really her starting to cash in on the potential she supposedly has. Her fight is much more memorable than Rand’s, if only because there are fewer to compare it to.

This is book that is somewhat light on plot, but it is big on fleshing out the world. Ideas like the World of Dreams. It was around in previous books, but in The Shadow Rising it is really fleshed out and explained. There is the first glimpse of the Aelfinn and the Eelfinn, though they aren’t completely explained. There is also the introduction of Slayer, the strange combination of Luc, Rand’s uncle, and Isam, Lan’s cousin. I’m still not sure what is up him. Also, Birgitte starts to show up and give advice. Another big change is the fleshing out of various characters love lives. Sure, there was plenty of Rand and Egwene in the early books, as well as Nynaeve and Lan. But in The Shadow Rising there is Rand and Elayne, Perrin and Faile, a hint of Moiraine and Thom. In all there is a greater focus on character in this volume, a greater fleshing out of characters outside of Rand, Perrin, Mat and Egwene. This is the book where events have grown past just rand and his immediate surroundings, and Jordan takes the time to introduce his players.

The Grave is No Bar to My Call

Wheel of Time Reread Part 2: The Great Hunt

Before I get started with The Great Hunt, I’d like to remind everyone that there is now a firm-ish release date for A Memory of Light, the last book in the Wheel of Time series. January 8, 2013. That is a little later than I was expecting, but I am much in favor of taking the time to get it right rather than getting it out as fast as possible. No matter how long it takes, I’ll still think it was too long a wait anyway, because I want to be reading it now.

On with the hunt. We start with Rand practicing his sword fighting with Lan. Even an oblique a compliment as Lan telling Rand he is good enough not to stab himself in the foot is, from Lan at least, an indication that Rand is pretty damn good with a blade already. Despite the mistakes she makes leading the boys, Moiraine plays Rand perfectly here. Rand would likely do the opposite of what Moiraine wanted him to do, but at the very least he wants to know where she intends to lead him before he follows. By ignoring him, she gets him to delay his decision. If he doesn’t know what she wants him to do, how can he avoid doing that? In addition, he is so far from home and has just had him world ripped from him completely. Where would he go? Continue reading

Neither Beginnings nor Endings

Wheel of Time Reread Part 1:  The Eye of the World

Original cover of The Eye of the World

Image via Wikipedia

Sometime later this year, not sure yet as the release date isn’t final but almost certainly sometime in 2012, A Memory of Light will be released, bringing The Wheel of Time series to a close after more than 20 years and 14 books. Robert Jordan’s (with Brandon Sanderson at the end) epic is easily among the best of the genre. To celebrate the conclusion of this monumental epic, I have decided to reread the entire series and post my thoughts here.

I’ll start each book’s review with some general thoughts on the series. To start with, I want to discuss the setting. While at first, the world of the Wheel of Time seems like the same as most generic fantasy worlds. However, while the weaponry might be medieval, the rest of setting is less middle ages and more colonial. The setting is really just late renaissance minus the guns. The lack of guns is what makes the world seem similar to fantasy that takes it inspiration straight from Lord of the Rings. WoT is a world with civilization receding. So society is currently the equivalent of renaissance era, but it is headed towards the medieval. At least until the Two Rivers folks are loosed upon the world, and progress starts going forward.

As for The Eye of the World, it is not one of the better Wheel of Time books. It is a good introduction to the series, being the first book and all, but it is very different from much of the rest of the series. Much of that is on the experience of the protagonists. They are all fresh off the farm here. They can’t defend themselves; they are powerless. Through the whole volume, the protagonists are on the run. Everything is as new to them as it is new to us and it is dangerous. Jordan tries to play coy with who exactly the big hero is supposed to be among Rand, Mat and Perrin, but the first 300 pages or so are all from Rand’s POV, making any sort of mystery all but moot. It is Rand. But on the whole, there is less here to come back to than many of the other books. There are a lot of prophesies and foreshadowing, but the focus is almost wholly on the Two Rivers gang, plus Moiraine and Lan. The main plot is being established for all the primary characters, there is little time for sub-plots. There needs to be introductions before there can be reveals. Still, this is an all but perfect set up for the series.

Notable for The Eye of the World are the parts that faded away soon after this volume. Like talking Trollocs. I can’t remember another time that Trollocs talked, except for maybe one scene in The Great Hunt. Or Trolloc clans. Lan makes a big deal over several Trolloc clans working together, but it isn’t mentioned again. There is Moiraine using a staff as a focus for her channeling. As far as writing goes, all of the dream stuff is more dreamlike than it will be later, more metaphorical and vague. The same goes for Rand channeling. It might just be the fact that Rand doesn’t know what he is doing, but I think it is Jordan not quite being sure how he was going to represent stuff.

Now on to the plot. I had forgotten how much the start of this is playing off LotR. It begins with a celebration; the biggest news in town is that there will be fireworks. Moiraine is one of my favorite characters. She fills the Gandalf archetype (the Wise Old Man) in the Wheel of Time, but she is very different from him. Moiraine is a Wise Old Man that our heroes are never sure they can trust. It is ambiguous as to which side she is on. Moiraine is also not as competent as Gandalf. When Gandalf is with the Fellowship, they are sure of their victory. There is no foe he can’t face. Moiraine can barely keep the gang under control. Though it is not obvious upon first reading The Eye of the World, subsequent readings make it clear that she is in over her head. She is the last line against the Shadow and she can barely handle it.

For the first half of the book it is watch the bumpkins let loose in the world, up until they split at Shadar Logoth. The book really takes off after they split up. Jordan does an excellent job establishing and differentiating his pretty big cast. Rand and Egwene still seem somewhat flat, but the rest get fully developed personalities almost immediately. Mat becomes awesome by the end of book 3, but here he is an immature jerk. I know later it is due to the ruby dagger, but early on it is all Mat. Nynaeve is stubborn and competent. Perrin is quiet and thoughtful. Lan is a complete badass.

Perrin learning about his wolf powers is cool. Egwene is an interesting counterpoint to him. There seems to be almost some sexual tension between him and her, but that never goes anywhere. They also meet the Tinkers, who I’m not a fan of. It like their existence, but as a group I find them tiresome. “Pacifism for the sake of pacifism is the height of arrogance” is something I heard somewhere that fits them to a T. In a world, that has monsters like Trollocs and Myrddral, pacifism makes no sense. I also like Perrin’s sick burn of Aram (“I bet you get to run away a lot”). Then there are the just as troublesome White Cloaks. I like how Jordan showed what Perrin is going to have to deal with in the series going forward, White Cloaks and Tinkers.

Nynaeve with Moiraine and Lan is another interesting pairing. I somehow did not realize that Nynaeve had a thing for Lan the first time I read this. Her feud with the Aes Sedai drives her for several books, but I find it a very shallow motivation.

The bulk of that center portion is Rand and the increasingly deranged Mat. I bought Tom’s death the first time, but I shouldn’t have. Mat, despite growing incredibly paranoid, never seems to consider turning on Rand. There is also that ever-confusing flashback inside a flashback scene. I get it, but I don’t get why it is there.

And at the end, we get the only trip into the blight so far in the series. The Blight is my favorite nightmare wasteland in fiction. That place is straight up scary. Anything and everything can and will kill you. The fact that they went in with a bunch of useless kids is terrifying. I think not returning to it in subsequent books has been a mistake, but I think the place would lose its power with more awareness of it.

The Eye of the World is the foundational work. The rest of the series builds off this one. But the circumstances of the characters make it a hard one to reread. They are all so weak, both compared to their enemies and to what they will later become. The lack of power translates into a lack of options, giving The Eye of the World a more urgent tone than the rest of the series, but also a less expansive one. It is amazing just how much is set up in this first book, though. Even things that won’t pay off for ten books are set up here. It is a good start.