I read book 3 in one day (one lazy Sunday). Book 5 took just over two days – Saturday and Sunday, and I still had 2 chapters left that I had to finish at lunch time on Monday. It’s 351,000 words vs book three’s 251,000 words, so not twice as long, but certainly much harder to simply sit down and read through in one sitting. For a number of reasons I’ll probably explain below.
I’m now five books in to the grand re-read and it’s starting to feel like work. After the first couple of books I was still excited about picking up the next one, now, I’m looking at book 6 with some trepidation. At one end of the scale, you feel Jordan’s writing is complex, detailed, rich and love him, at the other end you figure he’s wordy, obtuse and overly descriptive and get annoyed by him. In the middle is a long curve of people, and I slip towards the obtuse end of that slide. Luckily, you can skip big sections of a page without missing out anything important in book 5. By book 7, I fear you can skip large sections of the book without missing anything important.
But, onward! Ever onward, to the end, to secrets revealed, to threads closed, to character stories resolved and to a conclusion! I will make it to book 14, even if Samwise has to drag me bleeding and crying across Mordor to do it.
The Fires of Heaven is a long, descriptive, detailed description of a number of events which take place in the lives of the characters that inhabit Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. There are many characters, most of them we’ve seen before, some are new. There are many places, a few we know, many are new. There are some things which happen, some are a continuation of events that started earlier, some are new, and some are things that have been happening without us knowing.
All of those things are described by Jordan in lots, and lots of detail.
Is it a story? Is it a novel? Is it gripping?
In parts it is. One of my favourite parts of all the books I’ve read is in Fires of Heaven, and I was looking forward to it arriving from the start of page 1. Alas, in many parts, it is not gripping. It is merely a description of life in a complex and dangerous world. A colourful menagerie plays no role other than backdrop, a selection of detailed characters come into the lives of our protagonists, and then float out of them again with little obvious reason. Words, and clothing and food and fights (the kind using voices, not weapons), sulking, bitching, brawling, all described in the most vivid detail. To no avail.
The book starts slowly, stays slow, and only really delivers much of interest toward the end. Much like previous books, it feels like a lot of setup and then a minor event at the end. What saves it really, from being utterly average, is the over arching story, some of the character interactions, and one or two of the more critical events.
Another author could have delivered this book, with just as much detail, just as much background, and far more punch in half the words.
Jordan dismisses with the principal of Chekhov’s gun – that everything must have a purpose in the story. He dispenses with it, buries it, and then tramples over the grave of Chekhov’s gun. Unless by book 14 there’s some critical reason why everyone is wearing low cut, silk dresses, which show too much skin, he should have stopped telling us about them.
I’m prepared to eat my words if I’m wrong, I really am, but I can’t review Fires of Heaven in isolation without commenting on the amount of extraneous stuff.
So, that out of the way – what happens? Not much – the story really centres on Rand, Mat, and the girls. Perrin makes no appearance in The Fires of Heaven, I suspect this is to allow the others to catch up with his story thread in the previous book. We also get more glimpses of the split White Tower, and what has happened to everyone involved in that. The primary part of the story is Rand’s further journeys with the Aiel, and the girls further journeys with their own story threads continued from the previous book.
There’s a lot of travelling, a whole bunch of minor things which happen, but really only 3 critical things take place. One of them is wonderfully written and highly emotional, the other is pretty much just described word for word without any flourish, and the final one is a long drawn out battle that has some funny scenes with Mat, which I always love.
But the over riding memory of book five, is that not much really happens, despite the significant number of words involved.
Be warned – the retrospectives are getting more spoilery, and this one will be very spoilery, for this book, the series, and all the books before it.
I found the book hard going. I had to take significant breaks, to get over the continued stupidity and arrogance displayed by a number of the characters, and without much happening there wasn’t anything to grip me to get beyond that. Really, Jordan needed to make this book a lot smaller.
I knew this was coming of course, I know that by now the books are slowing down, covering less time and more characters. But I’d forgotten just how little happens in this one. I moved the worst spoilers down into the next section. Suffice to say – we learn nothing new and I was ready for it.
Perhaps that coloured my enjoyment. Perhaps if I just sat back and read the words and visualised the world, I would enjoy it more. Certainly people kept buying the books after this one, and certainly I had the patience to read it again, but I don’t know. There could have been so much more.
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.
Seriously, Rand marches out of the waste, and defeats Couladin; two of the girls capture a forsaken; Mat does some battle commanding and we find out that Aes Sedai are devious even when they can’t channel. That’s it.
Sure, there’s some ancillary stuff, little bits and pieces here and there. Another forsaken or two, some stuff about the prophet, a riot, a lot of descriptions of dresses and how they may or may not be appropriate, some king and queen bits, a fight or two and some intrigue, but nothing new. We don’t learn anything really new about the world what-so-ever in this book. The story barely moves forward an inch, despite the number of words it takes to describe it.
Fires of Heaven feels like crib notes that never made it into book 4. The two books could easily be combined into one, around the same length as book 4, without having to lose anything significant. At this stage, Jordan has lost control utterly. His editor should have been playing a much stronger role, telling him to cut the chaff. I get that he loves the world, and the depth and richness, I get that. I get that some people who read them love that richness too. But Jordan should have, in my view, shut the fuck up about the dresses and just gotten on with the story. Drive the story Jordan. Chekhov’s gun.