tony

tony

In my own words, from elsewhere, I am "Slightly geeky, overly cynical and delusional about my own self importance." You can find me here on my blog or here on Twitter

Aug 292014
 

The Shadow Rising: Book 4 of the Wheel of Time: 4/12 The Rambling Introduction

The mighty book four, The Shadow Rising.  Fifty-eight chapters, 393 thousand words, and in the paperback edition, near on 1000 pages.  It is the longest book in the entire Wheel of Time series, the next closest come in at around 350 thousand words and are books 5 and 14 (the final one in the series).

Even holding this paperback is hard work, it’s pretty much at the limit of what can be held in one hand.  It’s taken 5 days to finish it, reading at lunch times and in the evenings.  The last stretch, Friday evening, was around 200 pages in a four hour sitting.  Most of the time I was able to just read through, but a few sections had me taking short breaks to think things through or to calm down due to annoying characters.

The epic nature of the overall story is finally revealed here, and some important links are made.  Onward!

The Review

The Shadow Rising is absolutely a story of two halves. One half (which covers more than half of the physical book) picks up where book three left off and sets up a number of threads.  The second half of the story, in roughly the last third of the book brings them all to a climax of sorts.  It’s a formula that should be familiar to anyone who’s read the previous three books, because it’s pretty much how they play out as well.

Sadly, despite the very enjoyable ending, the start of the book begins to display serious pacing issues.  After around 150 pages, pretty much nothing significant happens in the story.  We get a little bit of background, some hints at the ongoing struggle, and a bubble of evil causing havoc – but that’s it.  In most fiction, 150 pages would give you something pretty significant.  It’s fair to say, in my view, that after 300 or so pages, there’s still very little story progression overall.

The protagonists are all in Tear, as they were at the end of book three, and despite talking about it and planning it, they don’t actually start leaving Tear until around 300 pages in.  Some of the events in those first pages are interesting, but they’re not defining moments, and it’s at this point you have to make a choice with The Wheel of Time.  Either you’re reading a fantasy story about Rand al’Thor battling The Dark One, or, you’re reading a book about the world inhabited by Rand al’Thor and the others, and about the epic struggle affecting all nations of the land.  If you’re here for the former, then you’re going to get bored quite quickly.  If you’re here for the latter, to be immersed in the epic struggle, to hear about nations and groups and individuals who might never be mentioned again, and to watch their struggle against the Dark One, then you’re probably in the right place.

When the main characters finally leave Tear, the story splits into three threads.  I’ll keep spoilers to a minimum.  We follow Rand and those that travel with him in one thread, we have Perrin and his group in another, and finally we have Nynaeve and friends in the final group.  The book weaves between those three primary groups from around 350 pages in. all the way until the end, with minor diversions to visit other locations and individuals.  Depending on who you like most, and what you like reading about most, you may enjoy the three threads differently to me.

Personally, I absolutely loved Perrin’s tale, I enjoyed Rand’s section, and I tolerated the story of Nynaeve.  Those impressions remained until around the last 100 pages, at which stage, the Rand and Nynaeve elements finally picked up and approached, but never quite attained, the level of enjoyment I had from the Perrin tale.

The story of Perrin is full of emotion, courage, duty and love, and I’m pretty sure it would have made an excellent 200,000 word novel in its own right.  It does so well because it builds on everything that has come before it, and it contains a whole array of the most interesting characters.  We get to meet some we thought we’d left behind, and it really pushes the development of Perrin and those with him forward.  It also speaks to the wider story, and we really begin to see what being Taveren might mean beyond causing mass weddings.  The climax to this story is simply superb, supported by an excellent beginning and a thoroughly enchanting middle.

Rand’s tale is no less interesting, but it is less emotionally impacting.  His journey reveals a significant amount of new information about the Aiel, The Age of Legends and the Breaking of the World, and it’s fascinating from that angle if nothing else.  I do so love the Aiel and so I was continually pleased to come back and read about them, but Rand is closed and alone, and that not only comes over in the story but it makes it hard to empathise with him at times.  Still, the outcome of his tale in book 4 is brilliant, and the Aiel sections make it engaging and funny (as well as thrilling).

I don’t know if it’s a gender bias, or something else, but I just find Nynaeve’s behaviour so frustrating, so annoying, that I always feel a bit reluctant to read the sections with her in them.  That goes for her female companions as well.  However, it’s an important part of the story in The Shadow Rising, and there are plenty of reveals, and some exciting moments.  The story of Nynaeve and her gang doesn’t really peak until very late in the book though, but when it does, it is just about worth the wait.

In my view, The Shadow Rising starts to show that the story is just getting away from Jordan.  The scale is just so epic, so vast, and so intricate, that he struggles to contain it within the format of a typical fantasy book.  I don’t know how it could have been avoided, if he felt everything in the book needed to be presented.  I do wonder if a series of smaller books with more focussed stories might not have worked better.

Despite that, and despite the lack of progress, bad pacing and frustrations at the start, The Shadow Rising has the most thrilling ending of any of the books so far, without a doubt.  We really are starting to get a sense of how big this whole thing is going to be.  Worth reading, but give up any notions about this being a story of Rand al’Thor, and instead, accept it’s the story of the world he inhabits, and everyone else within it.

The Retrospective

I try and avoid actual plot spoilers in this section, but I do reveal some of my frustrations with the overall series to date, so you may want to read carefully if you’ve never read the books.

When I started the re-read, I had assumed that I pretty much remembered everything in the books.  I was wrong.  As the story progresses, and I get further through the series, I realise it has been a very long time since I read them, and the latter books are far less memorable to me in their detail.  So it’s sort of good news, I’m enjoying detail that I don’t remember even if I kind of know where the overall story is going.

The Shadow Rising contains my favourite story thread so far, Perrin, Faile and their arrival in The Two Rivers.  I looked forward to any chapter which started with Perrin or Faile’s name, and despite knowing how it kind of turned out, every single page with them in it was a joy.

My memory of the sections with Nynaeve and Elayne was particularly blank, and I know why, because their treatment of other people, especially Nynaeve’s treatment, just annoys me so much I don’t like reading it.  Who wants to read about bullies?  That’s the only way to describe her, and I don’t like it.  The others try and temper her behaviour, but the bottom line is she’s offensive.  I know that eventually she calms down a little and that is the only reason I can get through the sections.

Rand’s story is great, and I was looking forward to reading about him learning of the birth of the Aiel.   I had forgotten how sidelined Moiraine was in this book, and I was a little sad we don’t get more from her PoV because she’s so interesting.  She seems to have so much scope that I wish Jordan had dropped one of the other women and given Moiraine more PoV’s.

I had totally forgotten that it’s this book that Rand obtains a teacher (and it happens only right at the end).  I knew it was coming, but felt sure it was book five or later, so that was a pleasant surprise.  However, knowing about the tinkers in advance took some of the shock out of that section of the tale.

When I started reading the series again, there was one event that I wasn’t looking forward to reading about and that’s the betrayal of Suin Sanche.  I will say no more, about which way that betrayal flows or what happens, but I was still sad when it did take place.

One new thing that struck me while I was reading, were comments from Verin and Moiraine (may have been in the previous book, not just this one), that they had been stupid not to realise all three Taveren would be important, rather than just Rand.  It strikes me that this could be Jordan admitting he didn’t expect Perrin and Mat to continue being such central characters, or his way of telling us we should have expected it as well.  Or a bit of both.

Overall, The Shadow Rising confirmed my fears but gave me plenty of enjoyment as well.  As I said in the review, I think this is the point where the story explodes away from Jordan’s control, and despite trying to show us all the threads, he struggles to keep it contained.  There’s a sense of spending too long building up to each ending, as if it’s become a caricature approach based on the first three books.  The redeeming feature is that the endings are very good when they finally arrive.

Another bitter-sweet read, so much to love, but plenty to frustrate, annoy and irritate as well.

The Angry Spoilers

There are spoilers here, for the book and possibly for the series.  Stop reading if, somehow, you’ve never read these books before.

Seriously, spoilers.

There are three things that make me angry about The Shadow Rising, and I’ve hinted at two of them already.  Firstly, why does it take so long for the characters to get moving.  There’s no good story reason, only that Jordan felt he had to include detailed descriptions of everyone who wears clothes and what everyone eats for every meal.  Or that’s how it feels.  I get that he wanted Moiraine to be chomping at the bit, frustrated by Rand’s lack of action, but that doesn’t mean he has to make us feel like that.  300 pages before anyone even leaves Tear, without much actually happening, is just too long.

Secondly, Nynaeve.  To a lesser extent Egwene, then Elayne.  They’re bullies.  Nynaeve especially so.  I don’t know if this is a gender bias on my part, or intentional on Jordan’s part, and I don’t know if female readers (or other male readers) get a different feeling.  To me though, Nynaeve among them all is a bully.  Maybe it’s fear on her part, maybe it’s just a personality trait, but it makes reading about her interaction with other people really hard work.  If Jordan was trying to make us dislike her, he did quite well.

Lastly, general stupidity again.  I wrote a long blog post on this one on my personal blog.  In summary though, despite Elayne, Egwene and Nynaeve knowing about the Forsaken in Illian and Tear, they totally fail to spot the obvious reference to Morgase’s new advisor even though they discuss it in the same flipping conversation.  I refuse to believe these people can be that stupid.  Jordan either has little respect for them, or little respect for us.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Robert Jordan
  • Series: The Wheel of Time (4)
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Aug 232014
 

I’m six books through The Wheel of Time.  I’ve already read something like 8 or 9 books in the series before (I’m kind of vague on exactly which book I gave up on while they were being first published), so this is a sort of re-read followed by new read for the the last few books.

You can follow my reviews and retrospectives of the books as they get published, by checking the ‘The Wheel of Time‘ tag.  Before I embark on book 7, I thought I’d spend a bit of time reflecting on what I hope the last 8 books in the series deliver, and what questions they answer.

For all I know, some of these could have been answered in the books I’ve already read beyond this point, some may get answered later in books I’ve not read, and some may never be resolved, but I thought I’d write them down anyway.  I’ve turned off comments on this post, so that no one is tempted to try and comment with any spoilers for book 7 onwards.  However, be warned, there are spoilers for everything up to and including book 6 below.

When asking these, I’m assuming the Dark One doesn’t win at the end, with the only issue will be how much do the good guys lose in order to win.  As it goes, this is pretty much a boring list of stuff, but when I’ve finished the series I might come back and tick off the ones that get resolved.  So, here goes (don’t forget, spoilers)

  • Does Moiraine survive, who rescues her if she does (does she rescue herself)?
  • What did Moiraine see in Rhuidean, and how much of that is ever revealed to us?
  • Mat – just everything about Mat.  What does he end up doing, does he end up using the Horn? Does his death mean he’s no longer linked to it? Does anyone else realise that?
  • Who is Olver, and is he Gaidal Cain?
  • What is the taint on Saidin?  Does it ever get explained?
  • Just exactly what is going on with the seals?
  • How important was Herid Fel and which of the Forsaken did him in?
  • What is going on with Lews Therin inside Rand’s head.  Are they really talking to each other?  Does Lews hear Rand in his own timeline?
  • What happens in general to the Aiel after it’s all done.
  • Do the Tinkers ever find the song?
  • Do the Tinkers and the Aiel ever forgive each other?
  • Do Moiraine and Thom end up together?
  • Does Elayne ever work out Mat’s fox-head medallion and does that play any role later?
  • Do they ever relearn the art of healing without having to use energy from the patient (i.e. can they heal with just the One Power, like in the Age of Legends)?
  • Just what the hell is Verin really up to?  Who is she, how old is she, and how long has she known about the events leading up to where we are in the books?
  • Does Elayne ever work out how to make angreal and sa’angreal?
  • Does someone, anyone, finally realise that if you don’t just talk openly and honestly with your allies, you don’t get anywhere?
  • Does someone, anyone, finally realise men and women must work together and trust each other to succeed both in the battle and in life afterwards?
  • What happens with Lan’s heritage, and does it play any role?
  • Do the Ways ever get cleansed?
  • Does the taint get removed from Saidin (I’m cheating, I know the answer to this one already, one of the few things I remember from later books)?
  • What’s going on with Moridin (again, cheating, I’m not sure he’s been introduced yet)?
  • Are some of the characters meant to be stupid for a reason?
  • Is it ever explained that the ability to channel is genetic and hence killing male channellers before they have kids is the reason why fewer people in general can use the One Power, or is it only ever alluded to?
  • Does someone chop Nynaeve’s braid off to save us all from ourselves?
  • Does Elayne ever take up the Throne of Andor?
  • Does Rand end up with all three girls or does that dream ever get abandoned / explained?
  • Does Perrin hold out and remain human?
  • Does the Tower become whole? Do they stop using the Oath Rod? Is that ever fully explained?
  • Padan Fain – what happens to him?
  • Who does and doesn’t survive the last battle (people, nations, structures, cities, etc.)
  • Does Rand fully seal the prison, so that it looks like the bore never existed, is this the age in which that happens, or is it just another patch?

That’ll do for now.  I’ll come back and edit this, perhaps after each book going forward to see which questions are answered, and which new questions are posed and need answering.

Update 1: 25th August

Have now finished book 7.  The following questions come to mind (spoilers for book 7).

  • Once again, who’s Moridin?
  • Who’s in the second mindtrap?
  • What was going on with Liah in Shadar Logoth?  How did she survive so long?
  • Do we ever know what happened when the two balefire beams touch?

Aug 222014
 

The Dragon Reborn: Book 3 of the Wheel of Time: 3/12 The Rambling Introduction

So I picked up and finished The Dragon Reborn in one rainy Sunday.   With a week of work ahead, it’s unlikely that book four will see the same progress (and it’s over 390,000 words, longer than any of the previous three books by some margin).  However, book three was definitely easier going than the second book, with much less loin girding required to get through it.  Whether this is because I got a full clean run rather than having to read in fits and starts I’m not sure, but anytime I have to gird my loin a little less is a good time for me.

The Review

The deep irony of Jordan’s third book in the Wheel of Time series, The Dragon Reborn, is that the Dragon hardly takes part. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is somewhat amusing. Essentially, early on, Rand decides or is pushed towards a goal, a place he has to go to, and the thing the Prophecy says he should do there. To achieve it, after a little bit of preamble with the whole gang, he sets out alone. And other than literally, one or two half chapters, that’s all we see of him until right at the end.

The original book cover basically gives away the ending of the book, in case you’re wondering.

The rest of the story then, is filled with the adventures of Mat, Perrin, Moiraine, Lan, Loial, Egwene, Nynaeve, Min, Elayne and The Bad Guys.

The Dragon Reborn is the shortest of the first three books, but still rolls in at a meaty 250 thousand words. That time is spent covering the separate journeys of three groups, Moiraine, Lan, Perrin and Loial; Egwene, Nynaeve, Elayne; and Mat. Sometimes their paths cross, or they travel together, but they spend large periods of the book separate from each other.

The relationship between Lan, Moiraine and Perrin is interesting, and Perrin grows significantly in the Dragon Reborn, discovering more details of his ‘condition’ and some of the dangers it brings. However, close behind in terms of development are Mat and the girls. If Jordan had all this planned out from the start, then my hat off to him, but if not, it does feel like he suddenly realised Mat needed ‘something else to do’, and some quirk, to hang it together and he gets it in spades in this book. From a virtual back seat passenger (always ill) in the first two books, he develops into a significant player in this one.

The majority of the book really focusses on The White Tower and the continuing education (planned or otherwise) of Egwene, Elayne and Nynaeve, and their adventures drive most of the story even if it isn’t obvious what’s going on initially. There is intrigue and danger throughout The White Tower and the girls struggle to stay above it.

We get a few new characters thrown in, and some old characters take form properly, and all the time we are driving towards the first big proof of the prophecy.

There are some less exciting moments, and the continual ‘all women think men are stupid and need women to pull them out of trouble and all men think all women need saving and protecting from the world’ thread is bared more than ever and it grates. Sometimes the major players seem to act out of character, and not just because of events forcing them, but because Jordan needs them to; they act dumb when they should be clever. However, as before, those things can be overlooked when the story is gripping, and The Dragon Reborn is mostly just that.

The story is like 20 rivers, all running down from the mountains towards one city, one event, one moment, and it brings together characters, races and creatures from all over the land in that one moment. Like the books before, Jordan spends a long, long time writing the set-up, and then the conclusion is over in less than a chapter. But that chapter packs a punch. The Dragon Reborn feels like the most scripted, and carefully planned of the three books at the start of the series, and shows Jordan’s skill in bringing together many threads at once.

The Retrospective

I try and avoid actual plot spoilers in this section, but I do reveal some of my frustrations with the overall series to date, so you may want to read carefully if you’ve never read the books.

I had completely forgotten how little of Rand there is in book three.  It was a real surprise to me that we’d only seen him a few times by the time we reach the end.  In my mind, I had a memory of him going increasingly crazy – but I guess that must be one of the later books.

On top of that, during the read, I kept remembering things that are yet to happen, and then wondering if they happened in this book or not, which did lead to a little bit of confusion (wait, that can’t happen until the other thing happens, but that hasn’t happened yet, so when does the first thing really happen).  I tried to squash those feelings, because they were getting in the way of enjoying the book, but it’s always going to be an issue with such a complex story over so many books, read so long ago.

However.

There’s a lot in The Dragon Reborn that I look forward to, and a lot that comes after it as well.  These may be more spoilerish than previous retrospectives, so be warned.

I love the Aiel, I love the mythology and their delivery.  So I enjoy anything that has them, and they start creeping into the story here.  Their arrival really cheered me up.  I also enjoy the truth we’ve had hinted at, that the Forsaken are loose and it is they, and not directly The Dark One who Rand et. al. have been battling.  It’s a great reveal, and it adds depth to the story.  Now we know what we’re up against, and the strong hints that the bad guys aren’t all pulling in the same direction counter-balances the truth we’ve known all along, that the good guys certainly aren’t doing that either (for a myriad reasons).

In fact, it’s ever more clear that there’s not much in the way of black and white going on here.

I love Rand and Moiraine developing their powers, Moiraine starting to show signs of being increasingly bad-ass, and Rand showing us (confusingly) how powerful he can be.  He hints at some of my favourite things later in the books where lots of the characters learn new and powerful things to do with the One Power.  No more lighting candles, we get a whole slew of powerful skills.  So the little hint of Rand picking them up is excellent.  Jordan does show his handle a little early here, with the apparently simple defeat of two Forsaken, but there’s a twist in that tail later.

The Dragon Reborn plants its feet firmly and gives Jordan a really solid footing to move on from in the next few books, growing Rand and everyone else in power while increasing the complexity of the threat three-fold.  So that memory of what is to come definitely enhanced my enjoyment of the book.  So it’s definitely a two-sided coin.  I know what’s coming so it enhances my enjoyment, but some stuff I can’t remember leading to confusion.  Overall, the stuff I do remember coming wins out in the end.

The irritation is still there, my memory of it matching the reality.  Too many repeat phrases (okay, we get it, Nynaeve tugs her braid when she’s angry, but once or twice is example enough), too many over-stated themes (yes, all women think men are fools and all men think women are over-bearing bullies who need to be saved), and too many out-of-character dumb moments.  But the story, pacing and reveals in the Dragon Reborn get you past them, still.

The Dragon Reborn was as good as I remember, but not always for the reasons I remembered.  Bring on book four.

The Angry Spoilers

There are spoilers here, for the book and possibly for the series.  Stop reading if, somehow, you’ve never read these books before.

Seriously, spoilers.

Was Jordan an idiot?  Was he a genius?  Was he living in a world where men and women have broken relationships and no shared understanding, no ability to realise their own commonality?  Or, was he just trying to write a world in which that was true?  Intentionally, or accidentally?  Is it a real theme, is the world broken not because of the physical breaking, but because of the sin of the male channelers, their pride, and their subsequent madness?  Is that in some way an allegory for the idea of ‘original sin’, some attempt to redress that balance?  To show men what a dumb idea original sin is?  Or does it just feel like a theme, because it’s some weirdness stuck in Jordan’s head and authors ‘write what they know’?

I still don’t know yet, and it’s irritating me.

I like to try and give him the benefit of the doubt, that the behaviour the two genders have for each other is a metaphor for the broader conflict, a mirror of the male and female channelling breakdown.  That the Age of Legends, when men and women channelled together was better not because of the channelling, but because men and women liked each other, respected each other, enough to work together towards the same goal with open hearts.  Instead of deceit, subterfuge, bullying and contempt?

Is the misogyny and misandry intentional, part of the story, part of the whole point, or is it casual, just something Jordan included, or worse perhaps, unthinking, a revelation about Jordan’s psyche?

Check the ‘net, there’s plenty of discussion about it.  Right – moving on.

There’s the usual collection of Jordanisms.  It could be a drinking game (I bet if I searched the ‘net now, I’d find someone had already created it).  Braid pulling = angry.  Rand / Mat / Perrin all think the others know how to handle girls while they can’t.  Girls mooning over good looking men.  Men mooning over good looking women.  Women who are ‘handsome’ rather than ‘beautiful’.  Men falling into three camps, so boring as to not warrant a description, ugly due to some facial injury or beautiful and being mooned over.

We don’t learn a massive amount of new stuff in this book, unless I’m missing something.  We have some things confirmed, we meet another couple of monsters, and we have some stuff clarified, but not a huge deal is new.  We learn more about the cultures, about the prophecy, but nothing substantial about the One Power, or the world.  Jordan has pretty much introduced everything we need to know by this point – and from here on in, it’s how those things are applied, how the world is explained that becomes his focus.

What really happens in book 3?  Rand confirms what we all knew, takes Callendor, and the gang get back together.  Egwene leans how to move around in the world of dreams.  That’s pretty much it basically.

So it’s slowing down, I hope book 4 doesn’t piss me off so much I give up (and then book 5, and then book 6, and then book 7 ……)

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Robert Jordan
  • Series: The Wheel of Time (3)
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Aug 162014
 

The Great Hunt: Book 2 of the Wheel of Time: 2/12 The Rambling Introduction

Despite some crazy long days (and nights) working, I did manage to pick up book two of The Wheel of Time and give it a good read.  Managed only about 1/4 of it during the week, but made a big dent on Thursday night, and then pretty much finished it Friday and into Saturday.  I still have an appetite to read them all – we’ll see how strong that is after the expected food poisoning around book 7 – and I’ll keep reviewing them.

The Review

Book two of The Wheel of Time picks up literally where book one left off. We are with Rand and the others in Fal Dara, near the Borderlands after the battle at the end of The Eye of the World. From here, things progress at a reasonable clip, and Jordanisms aside, are pretty interesting and engaging until about a third of the way into the story. Then however, it becomes hard going.

I found it hard because the characters are inevitably split up, which happened in book one as well, but it’s not handled as smoothly in the early parts of The Great Hunt. In The Eye of the World there was always an obvious goal for the whole group – get to Tar Vallon. It drove all their decisions (right up until it changes, for reasons I’ll leave to those who’ve not read the first one). In The Great Hunt though, the reasons are less well defined in some ways. Or they are well defined, but less interesting, I’m not entirely sure which. Despite the obvious risks that Jordan introduces if the goals aren’t achieved, it’s just not quite enough to flow properly.

Along with that, a new character is added, and her presence irritates me because I never like significant personalised deception as a plot device. That’s odd I admit, but I just never enjoy it. I don’t mind the deception of politics or war, and non-personalised deception, but when I know there’s some deception going on, and can see a character being fooled by it, I struggle.

However, once beyond the middle of the book, the plot tightens up again, the pace improves and it’s a much more enjoyable rush to the finish than it feels like it might be in the middle.

There are some moving moments in the book, and some really touching scenes as well. If you like honour and justice there’s plenty of that to go around too. We follow all the characters from the first book, we learn more about them, and most of them grow, we meet a few more legends, and for the first time (I think) we get point-of-view pieces for Moiraine.

Also, Verin makes an appearance, and I love her.

The book features my favourite scene so far, out of both the first and second books, where Lan takes Rand under his wing and teaches him a little Borderlands pomp and ceremony to bolster him against the Aes Sedai.

Of all the major characters that transfer from book one, Egwene and Nynaeve make the most progress in terms of character development, they also suffer more than the other characters (along with a friend or two that started as possibly minor characters in book one). Rand, Mat and Perrin do make some progress, but it’s more subtle overall. Moiraine and Lan even show a little bit of development here as well, which is good considering how static they are during the first book. The end though, as so often in Jordan’s novels drives all of the characters forward in a big leap, and changes them for ever.

The Great Hunt isn’t quite as polished as The Eye of the World, and the annoying habits that Jordan brings get in the way more than they did in the first one, but it’s still worth a read, it’s still entertaining, and it’s still unique.

The Retrospective

I try and avoid actual plot spoilers in this section, but I do reveal some of my frustrations with the overall series to date, so you may want to read carefully if you’ve never read the books.

I don’t remember anywhere near as much of this book as I did the first one.  I remembered most of the basics, how it started and roughly how it ended, but the detail eluded me until I was in it, which was a surprise.  In some ways it was good, I saw a lot more than I did the first few times I read it, and in other ways it was frustrating because I knew something was going to happen, but couldn’t remember when.

I’ve already alluded to the most frustrating bit for me plot-wise in the review section, which is basically the introduction of Selene.  Because I know who she is and how that plays out, I found it harder to cope with than normal.  Also, I sometimes think that Jordan assumed his readers were as stupid as his characters.  If you have to make it that obvious that someone is lying or behaving oddly, but not let your characters notice it, then you need to think about it and give your readers more respect.

So overall, not as memorable as the first one, and I think it suffers from ‘middle of a trilogy’ syndrome.

The Angry Spoilers

There are spoilers here, for the book and possibly for the series.  Stop reading if, somehow, you’ve never read these books before.

Seriously, spoilers.

Jordan allows his main flaw (in my view) to really show through during parts of The Great Hunt.  At times, his characters behave as though they have no common sense or are plain stupid.  However, we know that’s not true.  We know his characters can be clever, and intelligent and observant, so when they step out of character and act dumb for plot reasons, it’s really quite infuriating.

I’ll give you a specific example.  In book one, we witness the descent of Mat into madness thanks to carrying the dagger.  Egwene and Rand, among others, see this and know it to be true.  Egwene isn’t stupid.  Yet Egwene upon visiting Fain regularly, a man she knows to be a darkfriend and who Morgaine has described as dangerous, comments on but otherwise ignores the fact that the guards around Fain are becoming more surly, more rude every day.

At no point does she connect to the two things together.  At no point does Rand make the connection when it’s described to him.  Yeh yeh, I get it, they were both under stress, but it’s out of character to not even question it (unless there’s some great mystery yet to be revealed to me).

Equally, Ingtar’s behaviour descends towards the same kind of crazed intensity in the search for the Horn, and yet Rand pays it no attention.  Rand, a man who knows he’s going to go crazy, who has watched Mat do it basically twice, ignores Ingtar’s increasing switch from ‘we will find the horn’ to ‘I MUST HAVE THE HORN FOR MYSELF’.

It grates on me.

Moving on.

The second book once again reveals a bunch of stuff, the plot moves forward a great deal (eventually).  We learn about ter’angreal, we learn about a bunch more cities, the Seanchan, loads of channellers every-fucking where, the Aiel make a show, other worlds, other possibilities, portal stones, and a whole bunch of other things.  Not as much as book one though, never as much as book one.  The flood of stuff has slowed ever so slightly to only a strong torrent.  As the books progress it will eventually turn into a wasteland of nothing new happening (in my memory).

One final thing, and I’ll expand on this in the book 3 rant.  If you search the web for ‘Wheel of Time Feminism’ or ‘Wheel of Time misogyny’, you’ll get a million hits.  There’s a theme here, with Jordan, of men and women failing to work together.  It sneaks everywhere in his writing, and he’s either trying to introduce themes and concepts and make us think, or he’s got the oddest world view ever about how men and women operate.  We’ll keep an eye on how that progresses.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Robert Jordan
  • Series: The Wheel of Time (2)
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Aug 072014
 

The Eye Of The World: Book 1 of the Wheel of Time: 1/12 The Rambling Introduction

Is there any value in reviewing books that have been out for a long, long time?  I don’t know.  There are probably several hundred thousand reviews on the web for The Eye of the World (Book 1 in the Wheel of Time series).  This is true for many old books, but given the history of The Wheel of Time, it’s even more likely to be true.

The Wheel of Time is a series of books that grew up with the Internet.  It was really the first time I’d seen a community (rec.arts.written.sf.robert-jordan, or rawsfrj) form around a set of books, grow, flourish, expand and then collapse again.  The politics, emotion and inquisitiveness of that community is forever tied to my experience of reading the books themselves.  The community was almost bigger than the books.  That community was all over the Internet, web pages, ftp sites, usenet, irc, and so the web is littered with reviews, polemics, papers and discussions of the series ad infinitum.

So, is there any point?  No, probably not.  But it’s not going to stop me.

You didn’t think it would, did you?

Of course, that doesn’t make reviewing it easy.  I’ve read the book at least twice, maybe three times before my current re-read (which at the point of starting this review, I haven’t quite finished).  I know what’s coming up, both in terms of the story and in terms of the quality.  The Wheel of Time is famous for many things, but not least among them is the debate about the quality of the books in the middle of this long, long series.  Greatest among them of course, is the untimely and tragic death of Robert Jordan himself, and then eventual completion of the series by Brandon Sanderson.  So while I have not yet read all the books in the series (and starting with book 1 is my attempt to fix that), I have read many of them.

Reviewing a book you’ve already read is hard enough, reviewing it objectively when you know how later books turn out is problematic, and this is further coloured by the question of who cares now anyway, and why am I reviewing a book that’s so old?

Is this a review then, or a retrospective?  It’s both! I promise, and I’ll try and be at least a little bit entertaining.

The Review

The Eye of the World will feel familiar to anyone with a love of epic high fantasy.  Queens, wizards, farm boys with prophecy in their veins, Kings, ancient evils and quests abound from start to finish.  The world is rich, filled out, complex, political and deadly.  The story is engaging, interesting, and feels as though it’s grounded in a solid mythology that can only bode well for the following books.

The Eye of the World tells the story of a small band of would-be not-quite heroes from a small village, guided in their journey by a powerful magic wielding woman and her powerful warder companion.  The pace is pretty solid, despite the size of the novel, and the adventures take the characters through many places and cultures, before culminating in what all good epic high fantasy books culminate in, a fight, and a cliff hanger.

It’s not all roses.  Jordan has a tendency to use the same phrases over and over again, and you will constantly hear about how two of three of the boys in the group are much better at talking to girls than the others, and the girls will constantly rail about how the boys are wool headed.  There will be braid pulling, and there will be repetition.  If you can deal with that, then there’s a lot to be found in the book.

If you get into it, and start feeling like it’s familiar, you’ll be forgiven if you’ve ever read Lord of the Rings.  A quest, an evil artifact, a powerful wizard guide, a stern taciturn warrior of noble heritage, and a collection of young farmhands, at least one of which likes to get into mischief will set off alarm bells.  Jordan himself said he ‘styled the first 100 pages on Tolkien to give people something familiar to get into the story’.  I suspect he actually styled the entire first book on Tolkien, but have no fear, it’s a homage not a rip-off, and he wouldn’t be the first, or the last (The Sword of Shannara <cough>).

If you like epic fantasy, if you like prophecy riddled rich worlds, then read The Eye of the World,  you’ll enjoy it.

The Retrospective

I try and avoid actual plot spoilers in this section, but I do reveal some of my frustrations with the overall series to date, so you may want to read carefully if you’ve never read the books.

The Eye of the World is a bitter-sweet experience for me.  It’s really quite good, as far as epic fantasy goes.  It has some lovely mythology, some careful and clever connections, and the characters, magic and places are engaging.  It clips along at a fast enough pace, and loads of stuff happens (seriously, loads).

But in that regard, it’s like watching the first Police Academy movie, knowing the steaming pile of shit they turn into.  Are the later books steaming piles of shit?  Probably not quite that bad (read later reviews to find out) but certainly I know in my heart (from memory, I may change my mind) that Jordan loses his way.  His tight story becomes flabby, his characters become caricatures, and the world gets too complex for its own good.

So reading it, I found myself longing for 10 more books like it, knowing it’s not to be.  But I was also surprised at just how good it was, and just how much happens.  The later books had skewed my memory and left me feeling sad about The Eye of the World, when it fact, it’s a very good read indeed.

The Angry Spoilers

There are spoilers here, for the book and possibly for the series.  Stop reading if, somehow, you’ve never read these books before.

Seriously, spoilers.

Argh! Jordan!  Why?  So so much happens in the first book.  I had forgotten how much of the world is revealed to us.  We learn more in the first half of the first book, than in all of books 4 to 8 (as far as I can remember).  In book one we have, in no order (excuse my spelling, I’m writing these through the red haze of anger in my eyes),

steddings, ogier, saidin and saidar, the taint, the ways, warders, aes sedai, fades, trollocs, draghkar, Aiel, travellers, the ages, forsaken, dream walking, darkfriends, red ajah, blue ajah, black ajah, the heroes of the horn, the horn, machin shin, shadar logoth, mashadar, loads of ancient place names, loads of history, plenty of prophecy, false dragons, wolf brothers, old skills, angreal, gentling, whitecloaks and so much more.

There is so much promise in the first book, so much content, so much to interest you, and yet within 4 or 5 novels Jordan will have utterly lost his way and the story will become flabby.  New characters turning up well past the point where we need to start resolving threads.  I know it’s coming.  It’s hard to read the book knowing that is around the corner.

Why Jordan!? Wwhhyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!

But seriously, read book one, it’s good.

Book Information
  • Author: Robert Jordan
  • Series: The Wheel of Time (1)
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Dec 172013
 

Hi Readers & Book Fans.

As we approach the end of 2013, I just wanted to write a short post to let you know how things are going, both with the site and in life.

In life, things have been up and down for Greté recently in terms of her health.  She suffers from long term depression (dysthymia specifically) and despite the support and medication there are days, and sometimes weeks, where she is just not able to deal with reading, or writing reviews.  At times, reviews from other folk who contribute will pile up in the background on the site, and Greté’s illness will just prevent her from reading them, approving them and publishing them.

Greté is very much dedicated to the site, and is very much dedicated to getting back and posting some more content.

The website has been Greté’s hobby for a few years, and she is proud of what she has built, and grateful for your readership, support and comments.  As soon as she’s feeling well enough, she’ll be writing reviews and posting them again.  Thanks again for your support and understanding, and here’s to a better 2014.

In closing, here’s hoping you have a very Merry Christmas, and an awesome New Year.

Apr 292013
 

The City The City is a fantasy tale of intrigue, deceit, hate and revenge, and yet it cloaks all of that beneath a layer of honour, loyalty and love.  The eponymous City is a vast and ancient state.  More than merely a single construct it covers many leagues, and it is at war.  Beneath the City, where the story starts, live the Dwellers, people who make what life they can living in the sewers, and it is here we meet the first characters in the story that is about to unfold.

I am challenged by stories which have many characters, especially when the story is then spread across them.  I prefer a small number of characters on which I can focus and understand in detail.  The City has a dozen or so characters of importance, and early on I struggled with my usual challenge, knowing who to like, who to root for, and who to hate.  Not because it isn’t always obvious what’s going on, but because the story has eight or nine people who could be considered the main protagonists.  The actual tale however is compelling, and that helped me work through my issue and I’m glad I did.  The story moves from character to character, or group to group, each progressing the narrative and revealing a little bit more of the history of The City, or the underlying war and rebellion in which everyone appears to be embroiled.  There are some leaps where things I felt were important happened ‘off page’, and I was sad for that, because Stella’s words are so graceful that I would have preferred to read them first hand, rather than hear them second hand through another character.

Stella’s prose is fluid, interesting and engaging.  Her touch is delicate, and her descriptions are vivid and long lasting.  I am left with a strong visual image of The City in my mind; it’s sprawling landscape and sewer system as much a character in the story as any of the people.  The pace throughout the whole story is even and measured, with only a gentle increase towards the end.  In some ways, I struggled with that, always expecting the story to explode and be driven forward at pace, and always being pulled back.  On reflection, I think it’s intentional, playing back the behaviour of some of the characters, and in particular a game in the story referred to as urquat in which great patience is required.

The City is not a riotous novel of warfare and combat.  There are certainly moments of action, vividly described, but the story is more subtle than that, a deeper reflection of the motivations of the characters, and a slow reveal of the people who inhabit The City and those who wish them toppled.  The characters throughout the story are well rounded, real and solid.  There are touching moments between two specific characters that brought tears to my eyes every time.

Although this is a fantasy novel, there is little magic, and the small amount is revealed slowly over time.  The magic is sinister, and woven in carefully to make sure we know it is powerful, closely guarded and mostly reviled.

Stella’s first solo novel is intelligent, compelling fantasy fiction, with enjoyable characters, and moments of true emotion.  If I could have one thing it would be to have spent longer with some of the characters, to have enjoyed more of the emotional moments with them.  But it is a small desire amongst an otherwise entertaining and enjoyable read.

I find myself left wanting to know more about world, the people, the magic and the Serafim.  The City is like a dance viewed from the outside, where many dancers move in beautiful and unexpected patterns, eventually settling into a final position that is both satisfying and mysterious at the same time.

Caveat emptor: I personally know Stella Gemmell.  My copy of The City was purchased from Amazon.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Stella Gemmell
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Feb 132013
 

It’s that time of year again, when Hollywood celebrates it’s own achievements.  Yes, it’s The Oscars (or the 85th Academy Awards).  As usual, many of the films up for awards are book adaptations, so I thought it would be worth having a look at some of them.

Life of Pi Life of Pi (by Yann Martel) is variously described as indescribable, and unclassifiable.  It has also been described as un-filmable, but I think many screenwriters these days simply take that as a challenge.  The book was rejected many times before finally being published, but the movie has drawn instant acclaim and already won a slew of awards.  Many of those awards are technical in nature, because the film looks incredible, with sublime special effects.  At the Oscars, the movie is again up for several technical awards, as well as Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, as well as giving Ang Lee a shot at Best Director.

Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History I’m a little confused about Argo, it’s either based on The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA by Antonio J. Mendez and Malcolm McConnell, or it could be based on Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History by Antonio Mendez and Matt Baglio, or maybe it’s a mix of both.  I’m not sure if the latter book was actually written alongside the screenplay or not.  Anyway, the film (directed and starring Ben Affleck) is up for or helping to provide a good number of awards this year, including Best Picture, Supporting Actor, Editing, Music, and Adapted Screenplay.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln Despite my initial expectation that Lincoln was just based on history, it turns out to be based on Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln written by Doris Kearns Goodwin.  Again, up in multiple categories including Best Picture, I suspect this will be the vehicle for an Oscar win, in Actor in a Leading Role, for Daniel Day-Lewis.  You read it here first folks.

The Silver Linings Playbook The Silver Linings Playbook is adapted from the debut novel (of the same name) written by Matthew Quick.  In loose terms, it’s a romantic comedy, but is also realistic look at the challenges thrown up mental health, both for sufferers and those around them.  This film is up in Best Picture, but also gives many of the cast a chance at acting honours in all four of the categories (supporting and leading actor and actress).

Les Miserables (Classics) Technically, Les Misérables is based on the musical.  But since the musical is based on the book, it’s in the list!  Also up in the Best Picture category, it will be a miracle if it wins.  There have been 9 or 10 musical winners of Best Picture, the last being Chicago in 2002, and the one before that was Oliver! in 1968 – as you can see, it’s going to be a challenge.

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! (or Pirates! Band of Misfits! in America), is loosely based on the book of the same (UK) name by Gideon Defoe.  In line for Best Animated Feature Film, it’s actually pretty good.  I recommend the film, but I’ve never read the book!

There may be other films in the various categories adapted from books (Beasts of the Southern Wild is adapted from a play, so I didn’t include it, likewise The Sessions is adapted from an essay), but those are the ones that jump out at me most.  Enjoy!

Jul 172012
 

Something weird is going on, and I can’t decide if it’s a scam or if people are being given bad advice, or a single agent is behaving oddly.  BookThing has received four review requests in the last few weeks, all in July, and all with exactly the same boilerplate format.  In each of them, the author name, book name, and a few of the words are different, but the overall message is virtually identical.  Each request offers to send out a review copy (in PDF) of the short story (around 8000 words).  Each also includes a link to Image Shack which hosts a picture of the book cover.

Here are three of the e-mails, I’ve taken out the author name, and the book title, but left everything else intact.

Example 1
Hey,

I am [author name removed] and I write Vampire Romance Thrillers
and was wondering if you might be interested to receive a Review
Copy of my new book.

The title is "[title removed]", [series removed] series.

This is a short story of over 8000 words for easy reading.

Even though it's short, I am confident that you will love the 
plot and characters!

Several reviewers have given me rather positive and encouraging 
feedback and I hope you will enjoy it as much as my other 
reviewers!

Here's the awesome book cover:

[url removed]

Thanks for your time.

I would be grateful if you could review my book and post it 
on your blog.

[author name removed]
Example 2
Hey,

This is [author name removed]. I write Fantasy short stories 
and novels and was wondering if you might be interested to 
receive a Review Copy of my new book.

The title is "[title removed]", [series removed] series.

This is a short story of over 8000 words for easy reading 
and won't take much of your time.

Nonetheless, I am confident that you will find the plot and 
characters intriguing!

Some readers have given me encouraging feedback after 
reviewing the book and I hope you will enjoy it as well!

Here's the book cover that I commissioned an artist to design:

[url removed]

Thanks for the time.

I would be truly grateful if you could review my book and post 
it on your blog.

Awaiting your reply!

[author named removed]
Example 3
Hey,

I am [author name removed], a horror thriller writer and was 
wondering if you might be interested to receive a Review Copy 
of my new book.

The title is "[title removed]", [series removed].

This is a story of over 8000 words for easy reading. 
Nonetheless, you will find the plot intriguing and I know you 
will love it!

Here's the book cover:

[url removed]

Thanks for taking time to read this email.

I would be truly grateful if you could review my book 
and post it on your blog.

Hear from you soon!

[author name removed]

As you can see, despite them being subtly different, they’re all the same message, delivered in the same format.  Are other book review blogs getting these?  Other review sites for things other than books getting similar stuff?  I can’t decide if it’s some weird scam, or just some misguided or badly advised authors using a completely generic boilerplate e-mail from some common source.

In any case, it doesn’t increase their chances of having their stuff read, because I trust the PDF’s about as much as I trust a Bond villain.

Lastly, why the magic 8000 words?

May 272012
 

Sorry the post is a little bit late, but we’ve consulted with Fizz the Book Guardian who has pulled the following two names out of her little cat-hat, in the Larissa Ione give away.

Sam – wins the first prize pack (all 5 books in the Demonica series)

Amanda J – wins the second prize pack (all 3 of the Lords of Deliverance series)

Grete will be in touch via e-mail soon to get your mailing addresses.  Sorry for those who didn’t win anything this time.  Congratulations to those lucky enough to be chosen at random!