The Wheel of Time – Is It Worth Reading?

The Wheel of Time is epic fantasy like no other. It divides opinion, and it’s hugely variable in quality as the series progresses. It is though, one of the great pieces of art of our generation and it would be a shame not to at least give it a shot.

The Eye Of The World: Book 1 of the Wheel of Time The first book in the Wheel of Time (The Eye of the World) was published in 1990, the 14th and last book (A Memory of Light) was published in 2013.  Close to a full 23 years between the two books (it was 22 years, 11 months and 24 days).  If you include the short story / prequel ‘New Spring’, then there are 15 books, totalling 4.4 million words, and almost 12,000 paperback pages (all data from Wikipedia).

I can’t really remember when I read the first book.  I guess I might be able to find out if I dredged enough Internet history or e-mail, but if I had to take a stab, it would likely be between 1993 and 1995.  That feels right, and puts me around Fires of Heaven or Lord of Chaos as the last one published at the time I was reading them.  I probably had to wait therefore for either A Crown of Swords or The Path of Daggers, maybe both.

Waiting for new books isn’t anything new, and anyone who’s read a ‘live’ series will know the experience.  Waiting for a Wheel of Time book though, became a lottery.  It killed a lot of fans, because the ‘middle’ books were so slow, and made so little progress.  Some people didn’t mind, and obviously, it didn’t kill the series, but many, many people were put off and couldn’t go on.

I was one of them.

Waiting a few years to find out what your favourite characters were up to, only to find out they weren’t in the book because there wasn’t room, despite the 300,000 words, and you had to wait another two years was hard.  Finding out the main plot didn’t advance, but new characters and threads and complexity turned up, was hard.  Finding out that you didn’t find anything out was hard.  So I stopped reading them.  My wife still bought them, but even she gave up in the end.  I read some on-line summaries for one or two of the books and then put them out of my mind.

Sadly, Robert Jordan fell ill and passed away in 2007.  At that stage, I pretty much gave up hope of finding out how the story ended, which against the loss of another person’s life is a tiny inconvenience.

Eventually, news started to circulate that Robert and his wife Harriet had picked someone to continue and in fact complete the series after he passed away – Brandon Sanderson.  I’d never read anything of his, and I wondered honestly, how much of my problem with The Wheel of Time was Jordan and how much was just the source material.

Then more news – the single book was going to be three, the first one due in 2009 and the last one, well, sometime after that.  I refused to end up waiting to read another Wheel of Time book and I pretty much forgot all about them (or pretended to).

I made the occasional blog post, threatening to go back and read them all, and be ready for the new ones, or go back and read them all when the new ones were out, but I wasn’t reading fantasy really.  Or much at all.  So those plans never came to fruition.

Then, a few months into 2014, a friend on Facebook mentioned having just finishing listening to the series on audio-book and that the boring stretches weren’t as bad as he remembered.  Either audio book made them better, or the pain had eased with time.  I resolved then to re-read the whole series.  The final book was out, it had come out in 2013, so there was nothing stopping me reading them end-to-end and finally getting some answers.

It started out okay, like greeting old friends.  The Jordanisms weren’t too bad, and the first three books were enjoyable.  Then the rot set in.  Oh, not straight away, there are still some good moments after book 3, and in fact, some very good books by Jordan after book 3.  Knife of Dreams, the last he completed on his own is excellent in fact.  Sadly though, many of the middle books are dire in parts or their totality.

This is obviously my personal opinion, and different people will have different views about the books.  For me however, Jordan was too interested in telling us how the world looked, smelled, sounded and felt, and not interested enough in telling us what was going on and making progress.  Major plot threads stalled and vanished for entire books, we spent a lot of time being told what people were wearing and why it was or wasn’t appropriate, how men and women just couldn’t get along, with all men being stupid selfish children and all women being bitchy hags at heart.

It grated and it dragged.

But I knew there was some light ahead, because I knew no matter what happened, there would be a final battle and the good guys would win.  As I said in the review for A Memory of Light, the truth of epic fantasy is that the good guys always win, the only question is the cost.  So I knew Rand would beat the Dark One, somehow, and that the Wheel would continue to turn.  What I wanted to learn along the way, were the answers to questions Jordan had posed early on, and the cost of that victory.

All I had to do, was to keep reading.

Then something odd happened.  Book eleven, Knife of Dreams, was really quite good.  Jordan had recaptured the magic.  He drove the story forward, he wrote emotional character pieces.  He answered some questions, sure he posed a bunch more, as normal, but he actually answered a few.  I really enjoyed Knife of Dreams, and that made me even more angry.  Robert Jordan can write superb fantasy.  He can put down complex and detailed plot threads, weave lots of ideas together, deliver complex political and military situations, and make us feel like we know people through limited PoV writing.

He proved it in book eleven.  So where the hell was he in book 10, or the other dire books?

Anyway, with book eleven behind me, I read the first of the Brandon Sanderson books, and it was also excellent.  Book thirteen was good, and the finale, book fourteen, A Memory of Light is as good as you can expect given the constraints.

Books 12 and 14 were particularly emotional in parts.  Book 13 slightly less so for me, due to the nature of what is going on, but none-the-less it was very enjoyable.

I’d done it, in just over a month I managed to read all fourteen books, I’d pushed through the hard times and got my reward at the end.

Was it worth it?  Is it worth it?  I’ve you’ve tried before, or never read them, should you pick them up from book one and give them a shot?

My answer is, maybe.

A Memory Of Light: Book 14 of the Wheel of Time They’re very long books.  They’re very, very slow in places, even the good ones, and they have a lot of characters.  Despite his best efforts, Sanderson can’t close down every thread properly, and some are left hanging.  There’s no grand epilogue telling you how everything works out at the end (something I felt I might have enjoyed), and so you’re going to need to fill in some blanks if you get there.  Some of the characters are irritating beyond recognition, your gender may affect which you find more irritating.

Sometimes the characters are stupid.  Sometimes you wish they’d just sit down and tell each other what they were thinking or doing and everything would be a lot easier.  Sometimes you wish they would just jump off a cliff and let the Dark One win.

But.

You can’t deny the genius of Jordan at times.  The complexity of some of the plot threads, the groundwork laid down in early books come to fruition in later ones.  The complexity of the world, the colour, the depth of vision, and the varying political landscapes.  Despite their annoyances, the characters are often engaging and interesting.  Some are just superb, Lan for example.  It’s fantasy on a truly epic scale.  Sure, it draws on a lot of sources, but it blends them into a unique and ultimately engaging story.

I’m happier for having finished them, and if I had never read them at all, I’d be poorer for it.

The Wheel of Time is epic fantasy like no other.  It divides opinion, and it’s hugely variable in quality as the series progresses.  It is though, one of the great pieces of art of our generation and it would be a shame not to at least give it a shot.  There is an end in sight, you just have to keep your head above the water during the choppy bits and keep going.  I did it, you can too.


My reviews of the books (reviews are spoiler free, but the sections below the reviews are not, reviews for later books may spoil books before them).

  1. The Eye of the World
  2. The Great Hunt
  3. The Dragon Reborn
  4. The Shadow Rising
  5. The Fires of Heaven
  6. Lord of Chaos
  7. A Crown of Swords
  8. The Path of Daggers
  9. Winter’s Heart
  10. Crossroads of Twilight
  11. Knife of Dreams
  12. The Gathering Storm
  13. Towers of Midnight
  14. A Memory of Light

A Memory of Light

At some stage, I realised that every time a chapter or paragraph started with a character name I started fearing their death, or worse.

A Memory Of Light: Book 14 of the Wheel of Time: 14/14 The Rambling Introduction

The final book of The Wheel of Time.  Can’t believe I made it.  Epic in so many ways, not least, the four million odd words it includes.

The Review

A Memory of Light is the final book in the epic 14 book Wheel of Time series.  A combination of work from Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, it’s the fourth longest of the books, and the longest of the three that Sanderson wrote.

The plot is pretty straight forward, with the early part of the book dedicated to the final steps in preparing for the Final Battle, and then pretty much two-thirds of the book dedicated to that battle.  There are some early twists and surprises, and some prophecy-filling moments, and then it’s an epic, in all sense of the word, battle for survival.

Everyone gets a mention, old names, new names, bad folk, good folk, armies you’ve barely heard of, people you met 10 books ago, it’s all here.  It’s not going to be easy to review without giving a lot away, but I’ll try.

The prologue and the first part of the book cover the preparation, where Rand reveals his plans to various factions, both for the war and for what is to come after.  He and a number of people have very strong words about those plans, and ultimately someone has to smooth things over.  I felt this section of the story was handled really well, and although I didn’t ‘like’ the positions taken by some people, they made sense within the context of the world, and it’s testament to Jordan’s groundwork again, that it all made sense.

Jordan, and Sanderson, have spent thirteen books putting together massive armies.  Mat’s Band, Perrin’s army, the Aiel, the Borderlanders, the Seanchan, and all the rest.  It was obvious there was going to be some kind of epic engagement, and A Memory of Light doesn’t let us down in that regard.  Without giving too much of the structure away, the are smaller battles which build towards a massive, complex last stand of the armies of light.  The army engagements are complex, moving, and riveting.  They cover most of the last half of the book, and they make good use of the space they occupy.  If I have one complaint, it’s that the Aiel are under described.  They’re used, but Sanderson doesn’t seem to get under their skin as well as Jordan did, and the battle felt like it was lacking their energy at times.

In contrast to the massive staged battles, there are a number of very personal fights going on.  Perrin fights with Slayer, and Rand battles the Dark One.  In order to prevent Rand’s fight being over in a few pages, Sanderson spreads it throughout the staged battles, which take place over many weeks.  This is achieved by explaining that time around the bore is warped, and so while Rand’s battle takes place in many minutes, the other armies observe many weeks passing.  This works quite well, allowing two very differently paced battles to run alongside each other.

The pacing for me worked very well, and I never felt as though things weren’t progressing.  I did feel the book reached a natural crescendo before the end of the final battles however, and that perhaps some of that timing could he been changed a little.  It’s hard to say more without spoilers.

Overall, Brandon worked well with the characters he had.  His interpretations of Mat, Perrin and Rand were excellent, and I think he’s smoothed over some of the most frustrating elements of Elayne and Egwene.  Sadly, I felt Nynaeve and Min were totally underused in the book, and while Moiraine played a part, again, I would have loved to have seen more of her.  In some ways, parts of the story was rushed, despite the insane length and the promise from Jordan to put all of the last three books worth of material into one volume.  Sanderson has admitted there were some parts he wanted to expand upon, but just didn’t have room.

For me, that’s the biggest disappointment with the book, there are some threads which don’t really get a resolution and some which just get shut down because they needed shutting down.  Overall, many of the closures and endings are well done, and gratifying, but some just felt like it could have done with another volume.

Of course, the reality there is that there were so many threads, Sanderson could probably have written another 5 books, but at some stage, it would have just needed Rand to sit around for months while everyone else had a conclusion to their story.

All that said, there were some exceptionally emotional sections in A Memory of Light, some terrible, some joyous and some very funny.  Mat’s story in particular was utterly engaging, and Egwene was brilliant.  Annoying, Aes Sedai-like, infuriating, spoilt brat central, but brilliant none-the-less.

Ultimately, epic fantasy has a great flaw.  When good fights evil, we all know good is going to prevail.  There aren’t many books where the bad guys win.  Especially when we know in The Wheel of Time the cost of losing is the utter end of everything.  The skill of authors like Jordan and Sanderson is to ensure that, while we know the good guys will win, we’re never sure of the price.

They have to make us love the characters so much, that we come to dread the cost of victory.  With this series, there are so many characters, that it isn’t easy to make us love them all.  So many of them are irritating and infuriating that loving them is even harder.  I think, however, that Sanderson’s injection of pace and trimming of the fat means that by the time the army of the light starts paying the butcher’s bill, every death strikes hard.

At some stage, I realised that every time a chapter or paragraph started with a character name I started fearing their death, or worse.  Jordan and Sanderson make sure the price of victory is no less than the price of failure deserves.

Sadly, the final battle between The Dragon and the Dark One is anti-climactic, despite being clever.  It’s unavoidable though, given the nature of the world and the nature of epic fantasy.  I was expecting it in many ways.  To balance it, Brandon pulls out all the stops with the armies and their battle, and it works I’m pleased to say.

As I said, with epic fantasy it’s rarely a question of whether they’ll win, and much more often a question of that the cost will be.  A Memory of Light is a fitting, but not perfect, end to The Wheel of Time.  It delivers plenty of emotional and compelling scenes, weaved throughout a complex and thrilling battle.  It closes the story with most threads brought to an end, but leaves enough questions and openings for people to keep the world alive in their own heads.

Farewell, Rand, Mat, Perrin, Egwene, Nynaeve, Elayne, and Aviendha, it’s been, well, it’s been a blast.

The No Longer A Retrospective

No spoilers that I’m aware of for this book, but spoilers for the previous ones for definite.

Brandon Sanderson had an unenviable job.  Jordan apparently wrote the final scene of the book, and left plenty of notes, but Brandon had to move the story all the way to that final scene without being able to change it, while still making sense.

I’m not sure I liked the final scene overall (more in the next section), but given he had no choice, Sanderson did a good job.  Was the book what I was expecting?  Yes and no.  There were some exceptionally emotional parts for me (anything with Lan, Tam or Moiraine), some surprises, some shock deaths, and some parts where I felt it was rushed.

But overall, I think it’s a fitting conclusion to the series, and I’m not sure he could have done much better without being able to change the end or write another book.  I’m sad there aren’t going to be any more Sanderson-paced Wheel of Time books, because frankly, his pacing and Jordan’s world were an exceptional combination.

The Angry Spoilers

Major spoilers here.  Be warned.  I’m absolutely serious.  This section will ruin the book and the series for you if you keep reading.

No where near enough Min in this book, although the parts with her in were superb.  I wanted to see much more of her supporting Rand.  No where near enough action for Nynaeve or Moiraine.  Totally wasted and under-used.  That alone makes me super sad because Nynaeve had so much potential.  Yes, she helped cleanse saidin and she can cure the madness for the remaining male channellers, but still, Sanderson could have written them into Rand’s struggle with the Dark One, surely?

I felt Egwene’s death was justified and timely.  Who better to destroy the head of the Black Tower than the head of the White Tower?  I think one of the reasons why it felt a little out of place is that Sanderson didn’t make Taim feel dangerous enough.  Perhaps if Taim had done more of the fighting rather than Demandred, it would have been more obvious what the only solution was.  Still, I felt it was fitting.

The whole Lanfear thing annoyed me – where did that compulsion come from and her story ending so suddenly smacks of just not having enough space.  Rushed and fumbled.

The final scenes are pretty annoying.  I don’t mind Rand surviving, although I wouldn’t have been unhappy if he’d died, but the method of it makes no sense.  Pure Jordan – I’m the author and I can do what I want and you can just pretend there’s a reason for it.  No hint at how some of the elements are achieved, and no hint of remorse for the dead in Rand.  I get that he had to ‘let go’ to win the final battle, but it’s not in his nature to be jolly and happy when people have given their lives.  He should have been relieved, optimistic, but at some level solemn.

Also, I don’t buy that he didn’t let Moiraine and Nynaeve know.  They among anyone should know the truth, since he trusted them with the world at the end.

Despite all that it’s a good book, a good story, and a fitting enough end given the restrictions.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Brandon Sanderson, Robert Jordan
  • Series: The Wheel of Time (14)
  • Format: Paperback
  • Publisher: Orbit
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Towers of Midnight

Towers Of Midnight: Book 13 of the Wheel of Time The Rambling Introduction

The penultimate book.  I started this journey at the beginning of August 2014.  Well, technically, I started this journey in the mid-90’s, but I started this new journey at the start of August.  It’s now the middle of September 2014, and I’m writing this after having finished the Towers of Midnight, the 13th book of The Wheel of Time, and the second of the Brandon Sanderson volumes.

If I’ve had any free time in the last 6 weeks, I’ve read.  I’ve read in my lunch break, I’ve read in the evenings, and I’ve read at weekends.  I’ve watched almost no TV, and played virtually no computer games since the start of this re-read.  If I’m not reading the books, I’m reviewing them.  Has it been worth it?  It didn’t feel like it, during the middle books, when the Jordanisms were so strong my will to live was sapped by every word, but beyond the horizon I could see the bright light of hope in the three books written by Brandon Sanderson.

On the way, I was surprised by the last Jordan-only book, better than I had hoped, and then the first of the Sanderson volumes was blessed relief.  Like a cooling anti-inflammatory rub on your feet after a hard and painful walk.  I don’t think Towers of Midnight is quite as good as The Gathering Storm, but it’s a hundred times (not actually 100 times) better than the middle Jordan books.  So here we at, near the end of all things, one book to go.  Dare I continue?  How can I not?

The Review

Towers of Midnight is the calm before the storm; the deep breath before the plunge; the moment of reflection before inevitable and unstoppable battle.

Brandon, his publishers and Harriet aren’t silly.  They knew that the length of time between book eleven and book twelve, the change of author, and the overall impressions of book six onwards meant that book twelve (The Gathering Storm) had to be hard hitting.  Not just hard hitting, but it absolutely had to move the story forward at an impressive pace.

There’s no denying that it did exactly that.  Although it focussed on Egwene and Rand, it touched on the other characters, and it fundamentally changed our view of the Last Battle (well, it did mine, hopefully it did yours).

However, that focus and drive meant that we didn’t get as much progress with Perrin, Mat, Elayne, etc.  Brandon took the decision to write book thirteen so that the time-line happens in parallel with book twelve for about the first three quarters of the story.  Given how much negative feedback Jordan got for doing something similar earlier in the series, this was a brave move.  Sanderson had already said he enjoyed the time Jordan did it, but that’s not how many fans felt, so there must have been some nerves on his part.

Where Jordan failed though (in my view), Sanderson excels.  This is in no short measure due to his much cleaner writing.  Sanderson doesn’t dwell on things that don’t matter, doesn’t spend his time describing the same things over and over again, and so even though we know time is progressing slowly, or covering old ground, it’s much easier to accept.  I was briefly confused – Tam al’Thor is present in both time-lines, and having seen him in one place in The Gathering Storm I was momentarily confused by his presence somewhere else in Towers of Midnight.  However, once it clicked, it actually helped me work out where in the time-line we were.  Once Tam leaves, to carry out the actions we’d already seen in the previous book, it was like a marker in a calender, allowing me to synchronise the two stories in my head.

So, as alluded to at the start of what might be a very long review, Towers of Midnight is slower than The Gathering Storm.  It’s more reflective, and it’s much more geared towards moving everyone into their positions before the Final Battle.  That isn’t to say that great things don’t happen – I wept, shouted with joy, and despaired along with the cast.  Sanderson closes a number of long running threads, none of which I’ll even hint at to avoid spoiling them, and answers some critically important questions.

Not least of which – what’s actually going on with Rand al’Thor.  You are going to love the answer, I promise.

There’s a specific and incredibly touching moment, which is only possible because of the overlapping time-lines, and that scene alone justifies the decision for this approach in my view, regardless of the other excellent reasons.

Sanderson’s pace is very good, although at times, I did feel a little shunted around by some of the fast PoV changes in the chapters.  That issue aside, at least he uses the PoV changes to drive the underlying story, and the exchanges between Galad and Perrin are sublime.

The Seanchan presence in Towers of Midnight is sinister and confusing, pretty much how they appear to the characters as well.  Their almost alien approach to interacting with other people is kind of frustrating, but it sets them apart well enough that you’d never confuse who is who.  I really want that to get resolved, so that Tuon stops being ‘an idiot’, but I have to keep reminding myself she’s got a thousand years of convention to get past first.

I enjoyed both Gawyn and Galad’s stories, it’s a very clever combination of contrasts and demonstrates both the brilliance of Jordan’s planning (assuming this was all planned) and the subtlety of Sanderson’s writing.

Speaking of planning – if Jordan had many of the events in this book planned out from the start, and it appears based on certain things written that he might have, then my hat goes off to him once again.  His genius of being able to weave so many complex threads from tiny starting points and bring them together into significant conclusions is unequalled in anything I’ve read.  That is what makes the story epic.

For me, Brandon has totally subsumed the identities of Jordan’s characters into his writing now.  I can’t see where Jordan’s characters stop and Sanderson’s begin – the edges are smooth.  Nothing felt out of place or awkward at all, and despite the fears expressed by a friend of mine that Mat loses some of his humour, I found him excellent in this book, and very well represented.  The revelation is Rand, but I’ll leave that to you to discover.

There are so many little touches through the book that I just can’t give away, because reading them is so much of the joy of the book, but if you’ve persevered, then like the last book, you’ll be pleased at the pay-offs in this one.

Towers of Midnight is less explosive than The Gathering Storm, but it’s no less impressive, and it’s only marginally less enjoyable.  I felt just a little too shunted about by the rapid point of view changes to really get into a good flow, but it’s a minor quibble in an otherwise excellent read.  Where The Gathering Storm is big and bold, the Towers of Midnight is lithe, multi-faceted and cautious.

A final two words on selfless heroic sacrifice.  Lan Mandragoran.

Need you hear any more words than that?

The Decreasingly Retro Retrospective

Nothing really to reflect on here.  Haven’t read this before, hadn’t read any reviews of it before I did read it.  Brandon had an impossible job, and he’s pulled it off beyond any level of hope or expectation I held.

The Angry Spoilers

What’s to spoil?  What’s to be angry about?  It’s not a perfect book, which one is, but it’s mostly easy to read, it’s mostly pretty awesome and it’s mostly full of moments of bad-assery from all your favourite characters.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Book Information
  • Author: Brandon Sanderson, Robert Jordan
  • Series: The Wheel of Time (13)
  • Format: Paperback
  • Publisher: Orbit
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

The Gathering Storm

If book eleven was the pay off you deserved for reading the previous ten, then The Gathering Storm is the whole reason you read fantasy in the first place.

The Gathering Storm: 12 (The Wheel of Time) The Rambling Introduction

It wasn’t without trepidation that I picked up book 12 of The Wheel of Time, The Gathering Storm.  Written by Brandon Sanderson, from notes and other work left by Robert Jordan, would I be able to deal with the different style?  Would it still be the Wheel of Time?  Would there be any progress?  Was it finally time for the effort it took to read the middle Jordan books to pay off?  Or would I be left adrift, unable to cope with Sanderson’s interpretation, and so unable to finally discover how the story plays out?

The Review

Jordan promised he would finish the series in the 12th book, even if it had to be 2000 pages long.  Not long after taking up the duty of completing the book, Sanderson said it couldn’t be done.  Given how much happens in The Gathering Storm, its length, and the amount of things still unresolved, I have to agree with him.  Even a massive single tome would have felt rushed if it had concluded the story.

Yet despite the decision to make it three volumes or three books, Sanderson doesn’t shy away from making significant progress in the story.  To be fair, I think Jordan finally realised he’d spent too long laying the ground work and book eleven was pretty good at tying things up, but it pales next to the progress in book twelve.

However, let’s get the other aspects out of the way first.

Brandon Sanderson is not Robert Jordan and had he tried to write like him, it would have been a monumental failure.  Luckily, he’s no idiot and hence he writes in his own style, tempered he admits, to match that of the world, but he makes no apology for that.  Brandon writes that he tried to keep the soul of the characters intact.  At first, that style difference is grating.  Sanderson’s characters have much longer sections of internal dialogue, explaining their own actions and feelings in a detail that Jordan didn’t seem to try and achieve.  That took some getting used to, and I was worried early on that it wouldn’t work for me, but trust me, by the end, it’s a godsend.  I feel closer to all of the characters we’ve seen in The Gathering Storm than I have at any point in the series.

Secondly, and more blessedly, Sanderson isn’t afflicted by any adjective based diseases.  Yes, he still tells us about the odd piece of clothing, he still has people gritting their teeth, and there’s braid pulling.  However, if something is described once, it’s not described again, and the paragraphs and chapters are full, chocked full, of dialogue, internal monologues, action and plot.  There’s little fat here, instead there’s lean active writing, delivering lean active action.

It would have been easy to lose the emotional connection with that approach perhaps, but it doesn’t happen.  I cried several times throughout The Gathering Storm, for good, bad, joyous and sad moments, and like any author good at the craft, Brandon lets the story live in our hearts through his words.

The Gathering Storm progresses two of the major plot lines of the world, focussing heavily on Rand and Egwene.  Most of the other major characters make an appearance, and often they make some progress too (including Mat and Perrin), but this book is about Rand and Egwene.

Rand continues to prosecute his war, and Egwene continues to prosecute her attempts to unify the White Tower.

Those two sentences have been true for so many books that you might be forgiven for just skipping over them, but in book 12, they both take massive leaps forward.  The story of Rand is crushingly bleak, and he suffers again and again at the hands of his enemies and his own mind.  Will he survive to even reach the final battle?

Sanderson handles the story of Egwene with superb deftness, using all of the ground work laid by Jordan and bringing them together in a way that befits the complexity of the world.  Within that, many other threads are dragged out and progressed, some characters get fitting ends (no more said), and there are many truly moving scenes.

The final battle is fast approaching, the world is falling apart, darkness seeps out of every crack, is there no one who can help the Dragon Reborn, is there no one who can stand next to him in the face of the Shadow?

The Gathering Shadow is a monumental return to form for the series as a whole, and possibly one of the best books in it.  It succeeds in part due to the ground work laid in the previous books, but it flourishes because it’s been given new life by Sanderson.  He may claim the story is Jordan’s for the most part, and he may claim he was continuing Jordan’s work, but he will have to accept that his approach saved the series.

If book eleven was the pay off you deserved for reading the previous ten, then book twelve is the whole reason you read fantasy in the first place.  Epic battles, physical, mental and political.  Intrigue, death, glory, love, magic and prophecy.  Stick with the changes in style, push through the first few chapters where it feels like Sanderson is finding his footing, give it the due it deserves and book twelve will not let you down.

The Retrospective

I said it in the review, but this book has saved the series.  If 13 and 14 are anywhere near this good, I’ll be happy.  I think Jordan may have pulled the story out of the bag if 11 is anything to go by, but I think his desire to finish it in 12 was either flawed and would have changed under pressure, or it would have killed the series.  There were too many threads that needed closure, too many people that needed a story, too many characters that need space to finish too quickly in a rushed panic.

I’m glad it’s three books, and I think it was the right decision.

Jordan built this world, he shaped these events, and it’s only right he takes most of the credit for the creation, but in his absence Sanderson brought a freshness to the prose and story telling that was largely missing.  It lifted it back above the miasma of the previous books and has returned the fantasy crown to it’s rightful position.

The Angry Spoilers

Hilariously, I struggled in places because the pace was quick.  From previous books, I was used to having pages and pages of nonsense to get used to things which had happened.  Here however, each chapter was key, something happens in each one, something important, and that doesn’t leave a lot of time for reflection.  By the end of course, I was loving it, and it’s only a niggle because I’d done nothing but read Jordan for weeks, and weeks.  There’s nothing really annoying about this book, and there’s nothing I’m going to spoil and give away.  It’s not perfect of course, but what is?  But it’s solid platinum compared to the rusted iron of so many previous books.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Book Information
  • Author: Brandon Sanderson, Robert Jordan
  • Series: The Wheel of Time (12)
  • Publisher: Orbit
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Knife of Dreams

Knife Of Dreams: Book 11 of the Wheel of Time: 11/12 The Rambling Introduction

So here we are – the last of the Jordan only Wheel of Time books.  This book and three after it – I’m finally getting to the stage where we might get some answers.  I was eager to press on, hoping that once through this I could get to Sanderson’s books, and read about the characters and places I love, without sitting through Jordan’s writing habits.  But burning like a half dead candle, buried in the back of my mind was a hope, kindled by reviews on the ‘net suggesting book eleven was Jordan’s best, or at least, a return to form.

The Review

Knife of Dreams is an excellent book that I found hard to put down.  While it has some flaws, they are more than compensated for by the highly emotional content and the feeling of real progress in the world of The Wheel of Time.

Who would have imagined I’d be writing those words after the last few reviews?  Actually I did.  At least I hoped I would.  I had heard from many people that Jordan’s book 11, the last one he finished on his own before his tragic death, was a return to the quality of the earliest books.  People rated it as one of the best he’d written – so I was holding out for something special and Jordan delivered it.

Knife of Dreams covers multiple plot lines, as with the previous books, but this time, no one is left out.  We have coverage of the three boys (Rand, Mat and Perrin), the three girls (Elayne, Nynaeve, Egwene) and all the threads around them as well (Min, Birgitte, Thom, the White Tower, the Black Tower, the Aiel, the Seanchan, etc.)

One of the reasons the book is so much better than the previous ones, is that each of those story lines is focussed, emotional and also progressive.  Some of the long running activities are finally resolved, some outstanding questions are answered and generally, lots of good stuff happens.  Don’t get too excited, it’s not like Jordan has changed his writing habits, there’s plenty of dress and hair descriptions, and the constant male / female divide to keep you agitated, but it’s as if he realised he really did have to finish this thing, and he couldn’t get away with dissembling any further.

Most of the book is good, but there were some truly stand-out moments for me.  All of these are built from hundreds of pages of ground work in previous books and so when they finally bear fruit, it’s truly emotional.  I’ll discuss them all individually, no spoilers, I promise.

Egwene’s storyline is the epitome of everything she has worked towards.  She demonstrates in spades why she is the true Amyrlin Seat.  Her back-story, all of it, comes together into a single, stiff backed, proud but not haughty approach that wins over hearts and minds.  If you liked the bit in Dead Poet’s Society where the pupils all stand on their desks, you’ll love Egwene’s story line.  I cried, several times.

Nynaeve and Lan.  What can I say!  If you like your heroes bleak and tragic, and if you like your heroism understated and yet as solid as granite, you’re going to enjoy the short thread that these two get involved in.  I cheered, I cried, I read it again, and cheered and cried a second time.  The scenes with these two characters in this thread are without a doubt, my favourite in the entire series so far.  Jordan shows his class, and his skill, once again, weaving threads over 10 books into a single perfect moment.

Rand, ah, Rand al’Thor.  Rand’s thread is pretty short overall, spread throughout the book, but the two major events he’s involved in are both superbly written.  There are battles, massive and small, epic and trivial, there’s loss, tragedy, victory and shock, and it’s all cleverly and beautifully delivered.

Elayne’s story takes up quite a bit of space in the book, but it’s truly epic, engaging, funny and emotionally complex.  Finally we have some progress in her claim on the throne of Andor, and the conclusion to her story lines in this book were again emotional and epic.  I cried (seeing a theme?)

Perrin and Faile.  There was so much here to like, such a clever set of circumstances (more in the retrospective), and I had so much hope for an emotional conclusion, but for reasons I can’t explain and don’t fully understand, it fell flat.  Happy, but not the tear stained sobbing joy I was hoping for.

Mat and Tuon were perfect in book eleven, and the two Tuon PoV’s were superb.  Hearing her refer to him as Toy even in her head was just brilliant, and a clear insight into her psyche.  Mat is great, everyone around him is great, and every story line he touches is great.  There’s a moving moment between him and Thom as well, which offers some hope for the next book.  I had hoped that thread would lead somewhere in this one, but it wasn’t to be (I’ll say no more). Mat might start out a clown, but he’s not going to finish with anything less than the mantle of a hero.

The White Cloak story line takes an exciting step, the White Tower is interesting, the Seanchan are great, those rebelling against the Seanchan are great, ahhh there’s just so much great stuff.

There is, in fact, so much good stuff that I couldn’t stamp out a rising anger towards the end.  Where was this Jordan when he wrote the previous books?  Sure, you can’t have some of the reveals in this book without all the ground work, but the skill Jordan shows here was simply lacking in the previous outings.  You don’t need thousands of pages of ground work to deliver this material, you just need concise, well laid ground work over a few hundred pages to achieve it.

The pacing was generally very good, although the prologue was tough going in parts, and it took me a while to warm up in the early chapters, but once I was in, I wasn’t getting out, and every chapter had something to enjoy.

Knife of Dreams is a great read, you won’t want to put it down, and if you’ve made it this far in the series this book is a pay off that you both deserve and need.

Bring tissues.

The Kind of Retrospective

No spoilers this time, I promise.

I had read nothing about this book in advance, and knew only one tiny spoiler which covered a single paragraph near the end of the story.  So what do I have to reflect on?  Let’s get one thing straight – Robert Jordan was an excellent and talented author.  While I might decry some of the books, it’s impossible to deny his skill and his success.  I could never emulate him, and the series, whatever happens, will retain a near legendary status.

However, even the best of people have bad days, or in Jordan’s case, bad years.  Had I still been reading as the books were released, Knife of Dreams would have made me furious.  Because it’s so very good.  Furious that Jordan (in my personal view) wasted so much paper in the previous books when he should have been delivering KoD level quality all along.  For every paragraph in KoD that has an emotional scene, or progresses the story, there are literally chapters in the previous books in which nothing happens and you feel nothing for anyone present.

So my abiding memory of KoD will be that it was both brilliant and infuriating in equal measure, and that I’m just glad I wasn’t still trying to plough through the series as it originally came out.

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.

The whole Perrin rescues Faile while Faile rescues herself took too long.  Far too long.  When it finally resolved itself, it had lost much of it’s emotional urgency.  There were some nice touches, and the final scenes before the battle were emotional, but only one or two sentences (when Perrin drops the knotted string, and when Tam and the Two Rivers boys arrive).

I know what Jordan was doing.  Rescuing Faile is the goal, but the Pattern is ensuring that Perrin destroys the Shaido, forms an alliance with the Seanchan and learns plenty about them in the process, destroys most of the Prophet’s men, along with a number of other elements.  That’s all nice and clever, and the rescue is clever, but it felt laboured.

We hear the wolves, but never see them, Aram’s death is wasted, we don’t get a scene showing us the horror of ~400 collared Wise Ones, etc.  Maybe that will be covered in the next book.

Frankly, I feel churlish moaning about it – because those scenes were surrounded by plenty of awesome moments with Rand, Mat, Nynaeve, Lan, Egwene, and compared to previous books, the rescue scene was fantastic.  It just felt too sterile, and maybe looked weak against the rest of the strong action sequences.

But it makes a change to be angry about that, and not about 90% of the rest of the book for falling flat.  Knife of Dreams is anything but flat.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Book Information
  • Author: Robert Jordan
  • Series: The Wheel of Time (11)
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Crossroads of Twilight

Jordan truly lost himself with this book. He lost sight of the point of reading. For enjoyment. There’s little enjoyment to be found in Crossroads of Twilight, and nothing of note. You could skip this book entirely and miss almost nothing of events in the world. Given this is the first book I hadn’t read anything about, it’s disappointing to confirm it’s also one of the worst.

Crossroads Of Twilight: Book 10 of the Wheel of Time: 10/11 The Rambling Introduction

I have very definitely never read this book before.  Also, I’m pretty sure I’ve not read (to any serious extent) the chapter summaries.  As such, it’s the first book in the series that I was actually ‘excited’ to read, in my current re-read.  I was interested in re-reading the previous ones, because I love many aspects of the story, but this is the first one that was going to feel new.  It’s hard giving honest reviews of books you’ve read a few times, simply because so much is wrapped up in previous readings and expectations.  It’ll be nice to be able to review this one without any pre-existing experience.

The Review

Brandon Sanderson defended book 10 in a blog post he wrote.  He noted then, in 2008, that the book had received a score of around 1.5/5 on Amazon.  He went on to describe why many people didn’t enjoy the book, and to try and explain why he did.  So that you can avoid reading this review if you like – I’ll tell you where I stand before we get going.  At best, this is a two star book.

Crossroads of Twilight takes place just before, in parallel with, and just after the events in book 9.  Massive book 9 spoiler coming up.  At the end of book 9, the climax of that story pretty much, Rand cleanses Saidin.  He does it using the two huge sa’angreal.  Using them is like a beacon to everyone in the world who can channel, so even the female channellers know something is going on, even if only the men realise what it achieves.

In this book, we get the stories of Mat, Perrin, Egwene and Elayne (all separate threads), and in each of them, there’s a moment where they all realise some huge amount of channelling is going on.  We also get a short bit of story around Rand as well, clearly post-cleansing.

I don’t really mind how much real time passes in the story, as long as the story makes progress.  The problem with book 10, like several of the previous books, is that the plot seems mired in it’s own complexity and we don’t make any progress.  Oh, there’s manoeuvring of epic proportions within several groups, and a few small steps in various plot elements, but nothing significant really happens overall.

You really, really, have to love the political aspect of the Aes Sedai at this stage, or the history of Andor, to get any joy out of those story lines.

People seem to think the complaints about the book hover around the way Jordan tried to incorporate the cleansing in other character’s story-lines.  To me, it’s neither here nor there.  I don’t dislike it, but I don’t think it was brilliant either.  The point is that it would have been achievable even if the plot actually made serious progress at the same time.

So we have Jordan’s long-winded prose.  His desire to describe every camp-site again and again even if you know exactly how they look.  If you leave one group of people for a few chapters, when you come back they’re all described for you in explicit detail once again.  To that we add complex political and social manoeuvring that never actually affects the overall story.  All surrounded by emotionally stunted characters.

Seriously, what’s not to hate?

There are some amusing moments with Mat and Tuon, but for me, that whole relationship is flawed, I assume Tuon is going to announce she knew this was coming because she’s read a prophecy or seen an omen, but it’s just too insane for it to work.

The most frustrating part of the book for me, are the Aes Sedai.  There are 5 groups of Aes Sedai (rebels, tower, Rand-sworn, Cadsuane-posse, Aiel-apprentice) and each is split into further factions.  That’s politically very interesting, but it must encompass about 50 or 60 characters you have to remember.  When you’re dropped into another conversation in the White Tower between a bunch of Aes Sedai it takes you most of the 10 pages spent discussing their dress code just to remember who they are, even if you can remember.

I’m not good enough with names to do that, and I felt having a character card for each of them that I filled in as I went was a little bit over the top.  It might be intriguing but it’s so heavily wrapped in useless words that it’s impossible to engage with.

Jordan truly lost himself with this book.  He lost sight of the point of reading.  For enjoyment.  There’s little enjoyment to be found in Crossroads of Twilight, and nothing of note.  You could skip this book entirely and miss almost nothing of events in the world.  Given this is the first book I hadn’t read anything about, it’s disappointing to confirm it’s also one of the worst.

The Retrospective

Some quite nasty spoilers here for the series to date and this book.  Be warned.

I haven’t read this book before, so the retrospective is going to focus on how it stands up so long after it was written.  I think Jordan accepted that the book didn’t work as well as he’d hoped, and it was pretty much universally panned by critics.

After such a long build up, and a promise by Jordan that the series would end around book 12, people expected at this point for story threads to be coming together, nearing their end.  However, the book showed no signs of that and instead we got the following,

  • Mat – making almost no progress physically or mentally in his escape from Ebou Dar
  • Perrin – making almost no progress in rescue of Faile
  • Egwene – making almost no progress in her siege of Tar Valon
  • Elayne – making almost no progress in her claim on the crown of Andor
  • Rand – having one idea, and in the space of 6 paragraphs confirming a deal with the Seanchan

I don’t understand how Jordan’s editor at this stage could read book 10 and think it was good and okay to publish.  It only confirms my worst fears, that Jordan’s editor (I believe it was his wife, I could be wrong) was not objective enough, and/or not strong enough to guide Jordan to properly edit his work.

The Angry Spoilers

No spoilers, but plenty of anger.

Every time Jordan described the perfectly in-line cook fires in the cavalry camps, I wanted to murder someone.  Every time Jordan told me the same thing about the same people over and over again, I wanted to burn the book.  Every time someone ground their teeth, smoothed their skirts, pulled their braid, thumbed their knife blade, or made any quality of bow, curtsey or knee that wasn’t quite perfect, somewhere, a unicorn died.

Rating: ★½☆☆☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Robert Jordan
  • Series: The Wheel of Time (10)
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Winter’s Heart

Winter's Heart: Book 9 of the Wheel of Time: 9/12 The Rambling Introduction

Ah Winter’s Heart.  the ninth book, there’s no going back now.  If you’ve made it this far, there are so many questions you need answering that you know you’re going to go all the way.  Even if it means walking the last 10 miles barefoot across broken glass.  Which is good, because in the back of your mind there’s a voice telling you that’s exactly how painful it’s going to be.

The Review

Winter’s Heart is the 9th book in the Wheel of Time series.  The primary story threads this time focus on Mat, Rand, a little bit of Perrin, Elayne, and Nynaeve.  They have all pretty much split up by this point, with some of them crossing paths, but all of them getting some time on their own.  There’s no mention of Egwene other than a brief visit.

Rand’s story is engaging, thrilling and moving in parts.  Mat’s story is both funny and sad, and in one moment very moving.  Nynaeve and Perrin are what they always are.  Elayne’s plot is engaging, but other than some brief flickers of life, it felt dry and forced to me.

As with other books in the series, book nine feels like 600 pages of build up and 7 pages of climax.  It’s a familiar pattern now with Jordan, but it no longer holds the magic like it used to.  There’s just not enough in the final few pages to justify the extended story before it.  What happens is huge, momentous, it’s just the delivery is too distracted, too fragmented to do it justice.  It’s a real shame.

Character-wise there are some excellent moments.  We finally see what Verin has been up to, we discover some startling things about a bunch of other characters and we learn some new things about the One Power.  Mat shows once again that he has a heart, and Rand shows that his is turning into ice before our very eyes.

I still can’t decide if the relationship between Rand, Elayne, Min and Aviendha is a stroke of amusing genius or some kind of weird wish fulfilment on Jordan’s side.  At least it finally comes to a head and gets ‘resolved’ during Winter’s Heart, which cheered me up.  I hated all the confusion and doubt, and some of the scenes are worth reading.  However, Jordan still uses more words than necessary and ruins what could have been a good moment with repetition.

I could read an entire book filled with nothing but Rand and Lan going on adventures together.  We could call it ‘Rand and Lan go on some adventures’.

Winter’s Heart is neither amazing nor terrible, it once again delivers some interesting developments hidden among too many words, far too many adjectives, and more skirt smoothing than is good for anyone.  Read it because you have to, not because you want to.

The Retrospective (partial)

Mild spoilers!  Well, maybe not so mild.  You’ve been warned.

Only half a retrospective this time, since I don’t think I’ve actually read the whole book before.  What I have done, is read chapter summaries, and maybe some snippets from the book.

When I started Winter’s Heart I was sure I’d read it before.  After all, it’s the one where Rand cleanses Saidin.  However, two pages in it was clear I had no clue what happened in the prologue.  A few chapters in and it was clear I’d never read the whole book.  However, every now and then a page or two would be familiar, a conversation, an event, something would trigger a memory.

I either read this book while I was very drunk, or I read snippets of it without reading the whole thing.  The latter is more likely, the former is probably wiser.

So it was a curious mix of ‘yes, yes I know that’ and ‘Wait, really?’  Some questions I had were answered, such as what Verin was really up to, and some events were true surprises, such as the four way bonding of Rand and his Girls.

It’s clear then that this was the point previously where I just gave up on the series, and stopped reading it properly.  I may have scanned summaries for one book after this one, but probably not in any detail and so we’re arriving at the point where there might not be a retrospective at all.  Virgin territory.  A hundred thousand adjectives all crying out for attention for the first time.

I’m not sure how good that news is, to be honest.

Despite the lack of having read it before, I still found myself skimming some pages.  I don’t need to read about the dress of every woman in Ebou Dar, nor about the moustache of every man anyone ever meets.  I don’t need to hear about skirt smoothing, or dry hand-washing, nor about smooth faces and the lack of sweat.  I just want to get to the meat, and wish Jordan would stop serving peas and carrots over and over again.

The Angry Spoilers

No spoilers really, just the sad lurking memory of them from the past, when I cared enough.

As with the previous book, there’s not a lot to get angry about in Winter’s Heart, which I guess is good news.  The annoying characters continue to be annoying, but they’re slightly tempered now, and there isn’t as much glaring stupidity that there was at one time.

The only thing I can get worked up about is that when this whole bloody thing started, it felt like it was going to be ‘The Story of Rand al’Thor’, but has turned out to be ‘The Story of everyone around Rand al’Thor which sometimes includes bits about Rand as well’.  I wanted to read an epic fantasy with Rand at the centre, but Jordan’s story is too big for that and so despite being The Dragon Reborn, so far, he’s been only one of many parts, and not always the most interesting.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Robert Jordan
  • Series: The Wheel of Time (9)
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

The Path of Daggers

The Path Of Daggers: Book 8 of the Wheel of Time: 8/12 The Rambling Introduction

I started writing this introduction and realised I was really writing the retrospective, so I had to start again.  The Path of Daggers is the shortest of all The Wheel of Time main series books (at ~226,000 words).  It made it to number 1 on the New York Times hardcover fiction best seller list, the first of The Wheel of Time books to do that.  Given how low I rated some of the books before this one that’s quite an achievement.  I think at this stage, pure weight of numbers of people who need to know what happens next probably had a lot to do with it.

Given both my memory of the book and the low reviews on Amazon, I wasn’t really looking forward to it – let’s see how it faired.

The Review

The Path of Daggers is a bit like someone you know, who you don’t like spending time with but you can’t really describe why.

The book, as we have come to expect now, flits about with many different PoV’s and many different threads.  The main groups are still, Nynaeve & Elayne (Nynlayne as I will call them for a while), Rand and whoever he drags with him, Perrin and Faile (Peraile from now on, although Failin might make more sense), Egwene and the rebels and then a bunch of also rans.

Mat doesn’t make any appearance in the book, which given my irritation with him in the last one, might not be a bad thing overall.

What we have in The Path of Daggers is a small collection of events, described in conflicting amounts of detail.  A walk through the woods for a few Aes Sedai might cover 10 pages, covering their complete thoughts and conversations about almost everything.  A battle between Rand’s forces and say, a large group of enemies might be tossed out in 30 words or less.  What Jordan chose to focus on at this stage is legendary in its annoyance factor, but if you’re not used to it by now then you’ve not been paying attention.

The actual events themselves are certainly interesting for the most part.  Nynlayne use the Bowl of Winds and have a run in with an enemy they’d rather not meet again.  Egwene manipulates the rebel Aes Sedai until she gets what she wants.  Peraile go after the Prophet and have some fun doing it.  Rand, well, Rand has some of the best scenes but essentially consolidates his position from the last book and then puts the boot in at the end of this one.

The problem is that we don’t need to hear the thought processes of every character involved in every one of those actions, as a stream of consciousness.  It’s just dull.  I’ll admit, I wasn’t in a good mood when I read the book, but I’m trying to remain objective.  I have absolutely no doubt that Jordan could, and should, have condensed the last three books into a single novel.  It would have had better pacing, and delivered a much better story.

However, Path of Daggers isn’t as bad as some of the books before it, and it wasn’t as frustrating as it could have been.  There are some good scenes, with Perrin, Rand, Egwene and Elayne all getting moments that are enjoyable.  Some of the bit part characters reveal stuff, and there’s some ‘mystery’ with the One Power going on.  Those good scenes balance the tedium and The Path of Daggers comes in at just around an average read.  Hardly any progress, but not so offensive that it sticks in the mind.  The worst thing a piece of art can do is leave you disengaged, neither loving it nor hating it.  A Path of Daggers is just bland.

The Retrospective

Here be spoilers!

There’s a theory that the Wheel of Time book you dislike most is the first one you had to wait for.  I can’t remember if The Path of Daggers was the first one I had to wait for, but I do remember being really unhappy with it when I first read it.  It was slow, nothing happened and there was no progress in the overall story.

I’m not sure now, that that is a fair assessment of the book.  It reads okay, and while not a lot happens, there are certainly some story-progressing events, it’s just that they’re wrapped up in so many useless words they’re not easy to remember.

I wasn’t expecting the book to be so bloody bland.

I’d forgotten most of the big events in the book to be honest, remembering them only vaguely and as they started to unfold, but none of them were a real shock even then.  Rand and Min are the best thing in the book, and I had forgotten how good she was for him.

I was waiting all the way through for Dashiva to betray Rand so it was a surprise when it turned out not to be just him at the end.  I think I remember how that plays out but it must happen in the next book since it didn’t in this one.

I want to be more passionate about the book, but I can’t.  It’s like a naughty school child you’ve given detention to 30 times already.  They’re never going to change, they don’t care, and there’s nothing you can do to improve the situation.  This book was like that – it just is, it exists, and in order to read the next one you must read this one first.

The Angry Spoilers

One minor spoiler, wafer thin, nothing really at all to worry about.

In order to be angry, you need passion, and there’s no passion to be found in A Path of Daggers.  Bland page follows bland page, where the actors we’re used, to carry out the same actions they’ve carried out in previous books, with pretty much the same outcome.  Even momentous events such as the use of the Bowl of Winds are surrounded by so much adjective laden junk that by the time it happens you no longer care about it.

I can’t help but think that Jordan wrote some of the books by sitting down every day, writing 1000 words, and then when he’d written 230,000 of them, he stopped, spell checked it, and handed it in.  There’s no sign of an editor here, no sign of someone asking him to keep the story tight.  It’s just a stream of words.  He may have had amazing notes, and he certainly had a plan, but his journey towards appears to be based on just putting one word after the next until it happens.

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Robert Jordan
  • Series: The Wheel of Time (8)
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

A Crown of Swords

A Crown Of Swords: Book 7 of the Wheel of Time: 7/12 The Rambling Introduction

One of the things I have to be careful of in my re-read is ploughing ahead without really reading the books.  I need to avoid thinking I can remember enough of what has happened that I don’t need to really concentrate, in some way trying not to get bogged down in the annoying bits.  A Crown of Swords has reminded me very clearly that I do not remember the story well enough, and that I do have to pay attention (mostly).

The Review

Despite covering a very short period of time (around 10 days), A Crown of Swords packs an awful lot of events in to the story, and that more than anything, sets it well apart from the previous two books.  I accept I think, that Jordan believes political and emotional/relationship developments are just as important to the story as real progress in the war, or character development.  However, to me they’re worlds apart and that’s why I enjoyed A Crown of Swords so much.  The characters develop, the world progresses and we edge forward more in 10 days than we did in the entire previous 100 days in Lord of Chaos.

The story follows three different threads.  Rand and his group, and their continued progress towards the attack on Illian, Egwene and her role with the rebels, and Nynaeve/Elayne and their progress in Ebou Dar.  As before, the story picks up exactly where it left off in the previous book, and in fact, a little bit before that.  In the prologue, we get the Shaido view of the Battle of Dumai’s Wells, which I really enjoyed.  From there, the story progresses at a good clip, covering mostly those around Rand and Egwene for the first 12 or so chapters.

They were, I have to say, refreshingly good after Lord of Chaos.  I found myself almost jubilant by the time I got a third of the way through the book.  This was everything Jordan had promised previously but not delivered for a long time.  Consistent characters, excellent exchanges and true character development.

After that the story starts to jump around a bit, with more PoV’s, spread between the three major groups.  It did start to slow down for me here, and there were some truly agonising exchanges between Mat, Elayne and Nynaeve, but they were spread through with Birgitte and a few others, to put some honey on that kaf bitterness.

However, there’s a clear direction, and clear character progression for Elayne, Nynaeve, Min, Rand, Mat and a few others, and I really enjoyed that.  The plot elements make sense, and I didn’t feel there was much wasted paper in general.  Don’t get me wrong – there are still paragraphs of descriptive text that I just totally skipped across, and don’t feel I’ve missed anything at all, but generally I don’t feel there were too many chapters that could have been dropped altogether.

Generally the pace is good, and there are some very, very enjoyable scenes here.  A favourite character makes a strong return, Elayne and Nynaeve make a startling discovery, and we begin to think just for a moment that it might not all be so bleak after all.

Until Padan Fain makes an appearance.

A Crown of Swords shows just how much change The Dragon Reborn is likely to bring to the world.  It’s one of the better books in the first seven, and it was a real surprise to find how enjoyable it was against the memories of the two before it.

The Retrospective

Be warned – the retrospectives are getting more spoilery, and this one may be very spoilery, for this book, the series, and all the books before it.

Well well, this was a real surprise.  I’m not sure how much I enjoyed A Crown of Swords first time around, but I certainly did this time.  Oh sure, there are annoying bits, and I had to skip over some paragraphs, but other than that it’s far better than I was expecting.

Once it got rolling I remembered a few of the things coming up (The Kin, Moghedian) but not anywhere near everything, and some of the reveals were like new.  Very enjoyable.

I wasn’t looking forward to any of the scenes in Ebou Dar, I had memories of them dragging and dragging, but they weren’t as bad as I feared, and I quite like the moment Elayne snaps and truly discovers her backbone.  I think the Aes Sedai are in for the biggest change of everyone in the land, and not all of it driven by the Dragon Reborn directly.

I have memories of the backlash this book faced when it was first released, covering only 10 days.  How was the series ever going to finish people feared.  I still understand that, but given how much the book actually drives the plot forward, I think it’s a moot point.  The previous 100 days in Lord of Chaos changed almost nothing in the world until the very end, so I’m willing to forgive Jordan the short time-scale if he finally drives the story.  I fear though, that book eight covers a longer period again, with even less happening – time will tell.

The Angry Spoilers

At this point, I’m too angry to care what I spoil.  I might even spoil books by other authors (not really).  Who knows.  Reader beware.

Spoilers!

What can I say that hasn’t been said in the previous 6 iterations of this section.  Jordan uses too many adjectives, he focuses far too much on what people look like, how they dress, how they think about how they and other people dress, and the colour of every wall and piece of furniture in the world.  I skipped paragraphs of this junk, especially in Ebou Dar.  I know what they look like, you’ve told me two hundred times.

I was overjoyed when Nynaeve broke her own block.  Firstly, it’s an excellent piece of writing from Jordan, with plenty of emotional undercurrents (that’s an awesome pun, read the book to find out why).  Secondly however, it dispenses with the need to make her insanely angry all the time just to get her to channel.  Hopefully Lan can take the girl in hand and finally get her calmed down.

I have come to realise that one of the reasons I dislike some of the characters is not only because they are stupid, but because they make constant and non-stop assumptions about everyone and everything around them.  I try not to assume anything in life, I find it leads to making mistakes, upsetting other people and generally fucking things up.  Of course, it also leads to far too much thinking and planning and stepping carefully around people – but I’d rather do that than make an assumption and screw someone else over.  However, Jordan’s characters never ask, never engage, never discuss, they just assume.  About each other, about the weather, about their intentions, and it’s that which leads to their downfalls, and that which leads to me hating them all so, so much.  Elayne & Nynaeve are the two worst offenders, and so each time one of their chapters came up, I groaned inside.

There is one moment of contempt from Jordan, one reminder that this is only just the middle of his story.  A moment in which I think he panicked about having gotten rid of Moiraine, and having polarised the Aes Sedai (Kill Rand vs. Obey Rand).  Jordan introduces ‘the most powerful Aes Sedai ever’, a legend in her own time, Cadsuane Melaidhrin.  It’s irritating on both levels, why someone so ‘important’ so late (and she’s not the only one, Moridin /cough), but also, she just happens to be the most irritating woman in the whole of Randland bar none.  Ever.

But having said all that – there’s not a huge deal to moan about in this book.  We make some progress and we resolve a few small threads.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Robert Jordan
  • Series: The Wheel of Time (7)
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Lord of Chaos

Lord Of Chaos: 6/12 (Wheel of Time) The Rambling Introduction

So book 6 is done, started on Monday and finished on Friday, but only because Friday was a holiday.  Otherwise it may well have dragged over a full week and weekend.  Partly that’s just because I can’t actually spend every waking moment reading, even if I’d like to, but also because there were times I just needed a break from it all.  I know if I take too long a break, I may not start up again, but a few hours every now and then is necessary to remain sane.

I’m not quite half way through the grand re-read yet.  That accolade goes to the final page of book 7, but I am almost two million words into the series now.  I’m skipping an increasingly large number of those words though, and there are entire pages of book 6 that I did nothing more than skim.  One page in particular I remember had dialogue in the first and last lines, and those were the only two lines I read.

The Review

As The Wheel of Time series progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult to review individual books for two reasons.  Firstly, how good the story is depends on the weight of the previous books, and secondly, talking about pretty much any aspect of that story is going to reveal stuff or rely on knowledge of stuff that’s already happened.

But I’m going to give it a bloody good shot.  There are spoilers here for books 1 through 5.

As is now common, Lord of Chaos picks up pretty much where the previous book finished.  The number of threads in the story expands quite dramatically thanks to the split in the White Tower, the number of cities Rand now holds, and the fact that most of the major characters are now on their own or in very small groups.

There are a lot of adjectives in Lord of Chaos.  If you like adjectives you’ve come to the right book.  Jordan is increasingly obsessed with describing everything, even things he’s described pretty much all the time in previous books.  He seems to believe that you could pick up book 6 having never read any of the others, and so need to learn all over again what the various cities look like, how people dress, and what colour every single persons facial hair is.   It’s inconceivable however that anyone could need this.  At the time this book came out, fans of the series were so obsessed that they didn’t need the reminder, and no one new to the series would start with this book.  The result is endless padding between actual action.

A classic example is the reminder about how the weather is weird – it’s too hot.  We get it, a couple of clear statements at the start, or a reminder say every 400,000 words would be enough to drill it home that the weather is broken.  But we do not need reminding on every page, or every few pages, when someone comments about how it’s too hot, or how they’re sweating, or how the winter seems too far away.

This isn’t just a problem on its own – the point is that the long descriptions, the repetition and the insistence on describing everything 10 times pad out an otherwise pretty empty story arc.

Wikipedia has a plot summary for Lord of Chaos that is two paragraphs long, and they don’t miss out anything essential.  That’s important.  Two paragraphs to describe a story that took 1000 pages to deliver.  If Jordan had been describing new stuff, and new places, and new plot threads it might be forgiveable, but he’s not.  He’s covering old ground.

Of the three or four things that do happen in Lord of Chaos, they’re pretty high up on the excellent scale. The first one involving the Two Rivers Girls is an example of why, in my view, so many people stick with the books.  There’s a single line in the story, a single statement from one of the characters that even now, thinking about it, makes my hair stand up.  That line was 5 books in the making.  It is the culmination of threads and weaves set out in book one and worked on in every book since.  I love the event it results in, and I love the line and I love how people deal with it.  But, and it’s a big but, it could have been just as dramatic and just as emotional if it had been woven in three or four books less.  Jordan is a master of setting out a hundred threads and pulling them to a single point later, but he takes too long and he spends too much time on things that don’t matter.

The conclusion to book six, involving Rand,  is similarly excellent, it’s been a long time coming, and while it’s not quite worth the wait, it is one of the better moments of the series so far.

There are 47 unique points of view presented in Lord of Chaos,  i.e. in 1000 pages, we see the story through the eyes of 47 different people (including the narrator).  Many of the PoV’s are from Rand and Egwene, but there are around 22 characters who have a single PoV scene in the book.  That makes for very disjointed reading.  First you have to work out who’s PoV you’re in, then you have to try and remember what they’re like as a person (if you know them), and finally you get to view the world through their eyes.  All of that can be hard work.  I appreciate Jordan wants to show us a lot of the world, and much of the time, the main characters aren’t in the scenes he wants to show us, but it’s not always necessary and it is always hard work.

Many of the PoV characters only used once have between 100 and 400 words.  They might be really interesting, but they interrupt the flow of the story, and it’s the story that should take centre stage here.

Lord of Chaos is a book with some interesting vignettes, spoiled by far too much descriptive text we have seen before, fractured by far too many PoV switches, which only just manages to deliver a worthwhile reading experience thanks to the three or four scenes which really matter.

The Retrospective

Be warned – the retrospectives are getting more spoilery, and this one may be very spoilery, for this book, the series, and all the books before it.

I went into Lord of Chaos looking forward to the Dumai’s Wells battle.  I spent 983 pages out of 1000 wondering if I’d got the wrong book, and then realised essentially, the whole battle is covered in one chapter right at the end.  In some respects, that might be considered unfair.  Jordan spent a long, long time setting that battle up, and most of those events fill the preceding pages.  You could argue without those, the battle wouldn’t have been as interesting.  It’s odd too, how vividly I remember the battle when it’s described frankly in so few words, so Jordan clearly did a good job in one respect.  The problem is that I wanted that battle so much, I was irritated more than ever by the pointless description of the world that Jordan repeats in so many chapters, slowing down the arrival of something I truly wanted to read.

Overall, Lord of Chaos wasn’t quite as bad as I feared, but it was pretty close.  The scenes with the Two Rivers Girls and the Men were as irritating as ever, and the strong focus on politics within the rebel Aes Sedai camp was as boring and long winded as I remembered as well.

I just can’t help feeling that cutting 400 pages from the book would have improved the story tremendously, giving it some pace and energy without the repetition.

The Angry Spoilers

At this point, I’m too angry to care what I spoil.  I might even spoil books by other authors (not really).  Who knows.  Reader beware.

Spoilers!

I almost didn’t read book 6.  The fucking prologue is 73 pages long.  That’s almost a quarter of a full fantasy novel in some cases.  A short novel I admit, but a novel none-the-less.  The prologue isn’t even that interesting, it’s mostly scene setting and catch up for things Jordan felt were vital but hadn’t found room to tell us in the previous book.  Most of the prologue meat would have been much better woven into the story, given room by dropping all the constant fucking dress descriptions.  I had to stop reading the prologue every few pages and suck in air before I exploded in rage.

The one thing more annoying that the prologue of course, is the astoundingly fucked up epilogue.  Three important things happen in the epilogue but are tossed in like so much salad.  One of them in particular would have made quite a nice chapter on its own.  However, because Jordan spends so much time describing the sun bleached leaves crunching beneath the feet of the warder, his Colour Shifting cloak making him almost invisible in a way that gives you a queasy stomach, his face showing no sweat despite the tremendous and very out of place hot weather we’re having right now it turns out he has to slip stuff into an epilogue that we actually care about.

There are far too many points of view presented in the book, and many of them from characters we don’t know and frankly, don’t give a shit about.  I get it.  Jordan wants a rich and varied world and wants to show us stuff when there’s no one around except for a badly dressed beggar with missing teeth.  So he feels like he has to write the story from the PoV of the beggar.  No!  Stop!  Does it drive the story forward? That’s the question Jordan just stopped asking himself sometime around the middle of book 4.

Not, is it pretty, or does it make you look clever, or do you want to tell us again what the weather is like Mr Jordan.  But, does it drive the story forward.  Too often those scenes do nothing of the sort, and the information they do contain could have been delivered by any of the regular PoV characters, in a way which did drive the story forward.

Jordan’s finest moment in this book, the point where Siuan realises Egwene has backbone is truly sublime.  That moment was thousands of pages in the making.  From her leaving the Two Rivers, to joining with the Aiel, her apprenticeship to the Wise Ones, learning ji’e’toh, travelling with Moiraine, everything, all combines to make Siuan realise they’ve appointed someone they thought they could control, but who in fact, is hell bent on doing the job for real.  It’s so sharp, so perfect in its execution that it makes me sad.  If Jordan had edited his own thought stream better, if his editor had edited his work more aggressively it could have been all like that.  All tight, meaningful, taut.

Instead, his story is loose, flaccid and turgid all at the same time; a story punctuated by moments of excellence that only go to highlight the pages and pages of morbid costume fascination.

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Robert Jordan
  • Series: The Wheel of Time (6)
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)