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 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.
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.