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.
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.
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.
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.