What I Read December 2019

I have a lot of books that are part way read, but I just couldn’t muster the time or interest to finish most of them. I really think there is a book I have forgotten as well, but seeing as how I’ve forgotten it, I can’t remember what that book is. So just two books finished this month, and one of them is a reread. Ehh, its fine.

The Harrowing of Gwynedd

Katherine Kurtz

I’ve now read three or four of Kurtz’s Deryni novels. No complete series, just random books from around this 15 book series. There is a lot in here that feels like it influenced Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, though that might just be that they were drawing on similar influences, namely medieval English history. I like these books; if I didn’t I wouldn’t keep buying them when the opportunity arises. But I tend to find them a little dry. They read a bit like histories. This one is one of the more depressing books I’ve read. It is the follow up to a trilogy that I have not read at all. A group of garbage nobles control the young king as his Regents. His twin brother and a group of rebels work to counter their evil.

It is the first book of a trilogy, and it doesn’t resolve a whole lot with that plot. But it does set up a lot to come. It is mostly the good guys scrambling to save who they can and try to survive until the young king comes of age and can rule on his own, if there is anything left at that time. It is relentless and depressing. There is a spiritual side of this story that does not resonate with me, but I think there is something there that I should be paying more attention to. I just can’t muster the interest to get into these books past the surface level. And that surface level is decently entertaining. Maybe if I had a full trilogy to get a whole story I would like them better.

A Crown of Swords

Robert Jordan

I read this along with a podcast. It is never going to be my favorite book in the series, but it one of my favorites in . . . I was going to write “the back half of the series,” but I just did the math and realized that this book is actually in the first half of the series. It is better than the three that follow it. It also doesn’t feel like a complete story like the first six books of the series did. I really like the Mat story in this book, as much as I think Jordan messed up with part of it. I have seen a lot of people have a very strong negative reaction to Mat’s relationship with Tylin. While I didn’t read it exactly the way they did, I think I might have the weaker read on it. This is me putting words in the writer’s mouth, but I think it was supposed to read a turning of the tables with Mat going from pursuer to the pursued, and that he is more shocked at the situation than genuinely upset by it. Reading now, though, it definitely comes off as more sexual assault-y than I found it reading it as a teenager. It is something that is really easy to fix in an adaptation without losing what I think is the intended commentary, which is flipping expected gender roles. But as it reads I don’t think it works.

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.

To Dance with Jak O’the Shadows

Wheel of Time Reread Part 5: The Fires of Heaven

Original cover of The Fires of Heaven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Sword in the Stone

Wheel of Time Book 3: The Dragon Reborn.

Before I start going over The Dragon Reborn, I have to be upfront about something. This book is my absolute favorite book. Not just in the series, but period, out of all the books I like this one the best. So if I get to gushing outrageously, you know the reason why.

The first thing that jumps out at me is that for a book titled The Dragon Reborn, the character that the title refers to appears very little. Rand dominated the first two books of the series, clearly establishing himself as the series true protagonist. However, that put his growth as a character pretty far ahead of most of the cast. At the end of the last book, he accepted his role, he now only needs to actualize it. So that leaves page time for the rest of cast to grow and develop, especially Perrin and Mat.

Mat is the breakout character of this book. In the first two volumes, Mat has been little more than a nuisance. An amusing nuisance, but as much a hindrance as a help. Yes, it was mostly due to the Shadar Logoth dagger he picked up, but picking up daggers from Shadar Logoth is just the kind of problem he causes. Elayne, Nynaeve and Egwene, affectionately or derivatively referred to as the Supergirls, also get much more than their brief chapters from The Great Hunt, getting out and getting involved as much as the guys. Lastly, Perrin takes over as the primary star of the this book, and his personal difficulties that will rage for the rest of the series are clearly outlined. So basically everybody but Rand gets some significant page time.

We start with Rand and his allies hiding in the mountains, waiting. Rand is impatient, but he doesn’t really know where to go and he doesn’t want to leave his friends. Moiraine is waiting to try to turn the situation in Almoth to hers, and Rand’s, favor. As well and Moiraine and Suian played Rand at the start of the last book, she fails pretty herd here. Moiraine still thinks she is in control. And if she would have just shared her plan with Rand, let Rand think it was at least partly his decision, then he would have likely followed her. The Aes Sedai’s habit of secrecy really hinders her plan. So after some Trollocs attack, and Rand almost loses control he leaves, sneaking away in the night to what he believes he must to become the Dragon Reborn. After the first five or so chapters, it is exit Rand for the bulk of the book. From here on there are just a few fireside snippets and the last chapters.

So Perrin, Loial, Lan and Moiraine chase after him. Perrin takes center stage. He is much more laid back than Rand, but no more eager to be under Moiraine’s control the he was. But he knows the she knows more than he does, that he can use her help. Especially due to his wolfbrother nature. His worries over that are exacerbated when they encounter a man with similar powers who has given in entirely to the wolves. That is Perrin’s struggle for most of the rest of the series, his fear that if he uses his wolf powers he will lose his humanity. We also see the effects of a Ta’veren on the world, with chance skewing wildly in the towns that Rand has visited. Soon, they stop in a town that has seen plenty of excitement, what with hunters of the horn and Aiel. The Aiel War, which took place almost 20 years before the series, is the inciting incident for many events of the series. And things such as the hatred the general WoT populace has for the Aiel. Which is why they put a captured Aiel in a cage. Perrin saves him because Perrin isn’t a horrible human being, and cares more for what is right than what people will think of him. Saving Gaul, the Aiel, also catches the eye of Faile, a hunter for the horn. Pretty quickly she worms her way into the group and into Perrin’s thoughts. Their tumultuous relationship is the other side of Perrin’s future worries. Now that Perrin is set, the book moves to the other half of the group from Emond’s Field.

The girls and Mat are headed back to Tar Valon for learning and healing respectively. The girls are simultaneously punished and elevated. They are thrust right into the web of mistrust and deceit that is Aes Sedai politics. Their plight also shows just how precarious the plans of Suian and Moiraine, the only confirmed good guy Aes Sedai, are. Whitecloaks are at the gates, the Black Ajah has revealed themselves and Suian can only trust three half-trained girls. It seems like a really dumb idea, but laid out like Suian lays it out it makes sense, if only because no Aes Sedai would willing give up information for nothing. The only people that Suian can be absolutely sure aren’t Darkfriends are the ones that were almost killed by them. So now, Elayne, Nynaeve and Egwene play Nancy Drew to try to figure out where the Black Sisters went and what they are up to.

While the girls are ostensibly being taught, it has never been clear to me exactly what the Aes Sedai know how to do. I would guess there is a significantly longer list of weaves that they no longer know than ones they are shown still knowing. Of course, we don’t see the girls doing much learning, because that would be boring, so instead we only see the aftermath of lessons and important meetings. I like how they take the Amyrlin’s lack of direction as license to do whatever they want in tracking down the Black Ajah. Despite already being caught unawares once, they are jumping headlong in once again. Also, as the book goes on the power dynamics of the trio start to shift. Nynaeve is no longer above the other two, and they start to realize that. Plus, Nynaeve is far from the best leader.

Mat, meanwhile, gets his first POV chapters. And finally, readers can find out exactly what he is up to. From the first moment we are in Mat’s head the book becomes about twice as entertaining. Jordan outdoes himself with Mat. He is the perfect rascal. He hates boundaries, hates being confined. As soon as he thinks someone is trapping him in, he starts looking for ways to get around it. Which gets him into trouble, like how he is more susceptible to Lanfear’s promises of power than Rand or Perrin. Though to Mat’s credit, he knows enough not to out and out trust her. But it also earns him some respect from the Amyrlin. She knows she can’t get far bullshitting Mat, so she is honest with him, at least as honest as an Aes Sedai can be. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Mat’s duel with Galad and Gawyn, which is one of the truly great moments in the series, moments that this book has more than its fair share of.

Poor Suian, her carefully laid plots go awry because she was forced to rely mostly on Two Rivers folk, and they help each other out. She needed, or thought she needed, Mat kept in the tower, but in order for the girls to accomplish much they had to have her notes of authority. How could she have foreseen them giving one to Mat, allowing him to escape Tar Valon? In a truly unfortunate way, the Two Rivers folk are largely responsible for her fall from being Amyrlin.

We get a few chapters of the great Mat/Thom duo. Thom playing straight man to Mat’s foolish antics is just about the perfect pairing. I think Thom sees a young version of himself in Mat, and can’t help but be caught up with the exuberant youngster. We also start to get an idea of just how much trouble the world is in, with every country seemingly controlled by a member of the now freed Forsaken. There is Rahvin in Caemlyn and Sammael in Illian and Be’lal in Tear. In just the first couple of books, the world got a whole lot more dangerous, and they were running for their lives to start with.

So with Rand sidelined, we see the rest of the cast evolve or at least learn more about them. Mat absolutely will not be forced, but given the choice he will usually do the right thing and he sticks by his friends. He rushes after the girls once he finds out they are in trouble, no matter who or what else might be after them. Perrin, always careful for fear of hurting someone, is greatly troubled by his powers and hesitant to use them, even to the point of endangering everything. And the girls are prodigies, but reckless. They know no fear, but need to learn caution. No of their obstacles are as dangerous or as life shattering as Rand’s, but in The Dragon Reborn they all truly begin the road to facing them.

One last note on Moiraine. Though she bungles handling Rand at the start of the book, it is clear that while she was gone in The Great Hunt she upped her game. Coming face to face with the Forsaken and realizing she was not up to that challenge I think forced her to reevaluate her plans. But being gone from the group allowed them to assert their independence from her, meaning that she still loses. At least until she can reassess again.

In the end, all roads lead to Tear, to the Stone of Tear specifically. That is where the girls are lured, that is where Perrin and Moiraine follow Rand. That is where the Aiel were headed. Amazing that the fortress had stood untaken for centuries, only to be breached about a dozen times on one night. Also, because I am apparently incredibly dense, I read this book about 4 times before I realized the Callandor is the Sword in the Stone from King Arthur. The last few scenes in Tear are truly great because so much is happening at once. The Aiel are attacking, Rand is having a showdown with Ishamael, Moiraine takes out Be’lal, Mat and Juilin are freeing Egwene and the rest and Perrin is fighting to save Faile from the Black Ajah’s trap. It is a breathtaking finish that puts quite an exclamation point on the end of the first part of the Wheel of Time. After this book, Rand is the Dragon Reborn, mo more hiding or doubts. In some ways it is the point where the series really gets going.

Despite or even because of Rand’s absence from the bulk of this book it is one of the best. While the scope of this series was large from the start, by leaving Rand out for a book, Jordan really emphasizes the importance of the supporting cast. When friends of mine pick up the Wheel of Time for the first time, I always tell them that the need to at least read through the Dragon Reborn. If they don’t care for it then they should stop. I’ve had a few only decide to stick with the series because they went ahead and read the third volume. It is not only incredibly good, but it also really brings the world to life more than the previous two books. I absolutely love it.