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.
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.
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.
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.