Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Winter's Heart, by Robert Jordan (re-post)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 0
This article was originally posted on September 22, 2009. It is re-posted here as part of my continuing coverage of this year's Hugo Awards.

Winter’s Heart
Robert Jordan

This *should* go without saying, but just in case it doesn’t…this is the 9th volume of a series and the book has been out for a number of years. I’m going to spoil the hell out of it. Stop reading now. Really. Stop. Now.

Winter’s Heart. The Cleansing. When I first read Winter’s Heart I was blown away by Robert Jordan’s ending to the novel. The Cleansing. Rand announces earlier in the novel that he plans on cleansing saidin, the male half of the Source. The taint of saidin was a major cause (if not THE cause) of the Breaking of the World 3000 years ago. It was the counter-stroke of the Dark One as he was being sealed in his prison by Lews Therin the Hundred Companions. The taint on saidin was what caused all male channelers to go crazy and destroy the world, and is the reason for the fear and (rightful) prejudice against male channelers for the last three thousand years. That’s what Rand wants to fix. In terms of what happens in Randland, it’s a really big deal. I was staggered by the conclusion and the actual Cleansing. So much so that I still capitalize the word Cleansing when referring to that event. The Cleansing loomed so large over the rest of the novel that any potential flaw was washed away by that conclusion. It led to several years of anticipation by how awesome the fallout would be.

The thing is, Crossroads of Twilight removed most of those warm fuzzies, and re-reading Winter’s Heart did not provide that first blush of awesomeness that the Cleansing did the first time. Don’t get me wrong, that was a pivotal moment in the series and it was treated with an extended pitched battle (seen in snippets), an despite the inherent awesomeness of the event, it doesn’t hold the magic it used to. Winter’s Heart as a novel is a big step forward after the last two volumes, but it does not quite reach the comparatively fast pacing of the earliest volumes. Big things happen, but they are surrounded by forests of quietness.

Let’s talk about Mat and his Daughter of Nine Moons. If you’ve been paying attention, you know that waaaaay back in The Great Hunt Jordan reveals that the Court of Nine Moons is Seanchan. This is before Mat is told in The Shadow Rising that he was to marry the Daughter of the Nine Moons. The official reveal of the Daughter of the Nine Moons is in Winter’s Heart, though most readers probably guessed it before the reveal. There’s just a little too much focus on Tuon for her not to be. Maybe it’s just obvious in retrospect. Here’s the big moment where they meet, and despite Mat’s insistence for the last several novels that he would run if given the chance, he repeats three times that he will marry Tuon. The repetition is important.

Actually, what I really want to mention is a character named Noal Charin. We first meet him in A Crown of Swords, but he becomes a named character here. I don’t know when I figured it out, but Noal is easily one of my favorite characters. Not because of anything he does here, but because of what it is. See, Charin is the family name of a Malkieri family. There is Jain Charin, a legend of Malkier and the author of Rand’s favorite book The Travels of Jain Farstrider. Noal has serious gaps in his memory, but remembers stories that should have been Jain’s. Something bad happened to Noal, something with the Forsaken, and Jain was broken and took the name Noal. Now, I don’t know if Noal Charin will be a hugely important character, but I think it’s awesome that such a legend is walking around with Mat and nobody knows it. He’s just an old man with a broken memory of past deeds and past skills. It’s just damn cool, ya know? Maybe you don’t, but I’m endlessly fascinated with Noal Charin. Jain Farstrider. To think, I used to be annoyed with all the mentions of Rand’s book early on. Then I realized what Jordan was doing. It wasn’t pointless. You just have to look for it. Noal is described as a “natural storyteller”. Indeed, sir. Indeed.

There’s other stuff. The bonding of Rand by Elayne, Aviendha, and Min. The resulting pregnancy and prophecy. The Seanchan Ogier Gardeners. Who’d have expected that. The Ogier in Randland (the continent, not the world) are gentle giants, but Jordan gets across a sense of menace of the Seanchan Ogier. Awesome.

As a whole novel Winter’s Heart is a bit uneven. There’s a sense of anticipation, but you don’t get the sense that anything will really happen (the Cleansing notwithstanding). That Winter’s Heart looms so large in my memory is due entirely to the Cleansing at the end of the novel. Much of the rest suffers from a bad case of stuff almost happening. Got a new mystery in whether Mat will figure out what an Illuminator might use a bellfounder for and whether this will introduce artillery to the world. Rand got Elayne knocked up and eventually she’ll take back the throne of Andor. The Shadow has an agent in the Palace. Bayle Domon never did get to dump the male a’dam into the ocean. That’ll be a problem (or a solution) for Rand. In retrospect there are enough interesting tidbits that you’d think Winter’s Heart is a stronger novel. It isn’t. It’s stronger and most interesting and compelling than the last two, and a sight better than my memories of the next volume, but the Cleansing is really the big deal here. It has to be, but even that isn’t as awesome as I remember it being.

Which is the overall impression of Winter’s Heart. It’s not as awesome as my memory of the experience reading it. It’ll do, but it used to be better.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Path of Daggers, by Robert Jordan (re-post)

Monday, July 21, 2014 0
This article was originally posted on September 3, 2009. It is re-posted here as part of my coverage of this year's Hugo Awards.

The Path of Daggers
Robert Jordan

I'll just be upfront here, The Path of Daggers is a little tedious. The novel fares a bit better now than it did back when it was first published because there is no longer a wait for the next volume. It's not that nothing happens in The Path of Daggers, but Jordan uses more pages to cover a smaller amount of time than he had in previous volumes.

Spoilers be here.

One of the more important things to happen in The Path of the Daggers is something that is only introduced, and not necessarily ever explained as to what it means. The legendary Aes Sedai Cadsuane meets with the Aiel Sorilea and together they decide to work together to try to make Rand less "hard" and more "strong.
Cadsuane drew breath. A chance she would have scoured anyone else for taking. But she was not anyone else, and sometimes chances had to be taken. "The boy confuses them," she said. "He needs to be strong, and makes himself harder. Too hard, already, and he will not stop until he is stopped. He has forgotten how to laugh except in bitterness; there are no tears left in him. Unless he finds laughter and tears again, the world faces disaster. He must learn that even the Dragon Reborn is flesh. If he goes to Tarmon Gai'don as he is, even his victory may be as dark as his defeat."
The whole thing with Rand being "hard" is a major aspect to the last handful of novels. Rand thinks he needs to be "harder" to prepare himself for Tarmon Gai'don, that being human and caring would lead to his downfall. On one hand Rand does have his eye on the ball. He knows that everything he does must be in preparation for that final conflict, the one which only he can fight (he believes). The "hard" thing, though, is making him cold and callous to others - others who are not Min, Elayne, or Aviendha. His behavior towards Perrin in A Crown of Swords is an example of this.

There are other things going on. We see Moridin watching Aviendha / Elayne / Nynaeve in Ebou Dar and when Aviendha unravels a weave, Moridin realizes she just did something they did not know of in the Age of Legends. And there's a gholam watching Moridin. Which is interesting, if unexplained.

The A / E / N trio eventually travel from Ebou Dar to Caemlyn, but on the way the Bowl of Winds is used to fix the weather. It's a major development that is seven volumes coming, but as important as it is, it is almost glossed over because the women still have things to do. It's weird how something that big and important is almost overlooked right after it is done.

As interesting as anything else is the introduction of Cyndane, a character who appears with Moghedien and is rather commanding with Graendal. There is no explanation as to who Cyndane is at this time, but by the next novel we realize fairly quickly that Cyndane is the reincarnation of Lanfear. We also learn that Cyndane is sort of in charge of Moghedien, though both are terrified of Moridin. And that Moridin was named Nae'blis, which makes him the most important person in service to the Dark One. Besides the weirdness that is Shaidar Haran.

A great line later in the novel:
He could remember as a boy hearing men laugh that when rain fell in sunshine that the Dark One was beating Semirhage
I only point that out because it's such a sweet throwaway line.

By the end of the novel, here's where we are left:

Egwene takes full control of the rebel Aes Sedai in Salidar and begins the siege of Tar Valon.

Faile, Maighdin (Morgase in disguise), and Alliandre are captured by the Shaido Aiel (along with Bain and Chiad)

Rand is attacked in Cairhain by renegade Asha'man. Fedwin Morr (a likeable young man) has his brain addled to that of a small child. Rand gently kills him with poisoned wine.

Perrin intends to bring The Prophet (Masema) to Rand so he can answer for the slaughter done in Rand's name.

This is more of a novel recap than a proper review, but at this point there is not much to say in review. With 600+ pages, there are long gaps of unexplained plans and minor plots with brief flashes of development and action. If I had to wait two years for Winter's Heart, I would probably be really disappointed. As it is, The Path of Daggers is what it is: a long novel that only sets up a couple things for the future but overall doesn't move the timeline along very much.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Crown of Swords, by Robert Jordan (re-post)

Sunday, July 20, 2014 0
This article was originally posted on August 4, 2009. It is re-posted here as part of my coverage of this year's Hugo Awards.

A Crown of Swords
Robert Jordan

A Crown of Swords is the seventh volume in The Wheel of Time and it opens with the fallout of the Battle of Dumai’s Wells from the conclusion to Lord of Chaos. Dumai’s Wells was the rescue of Rand from Elaida’s Aes Sedai and the first time readers really get to see the Asha’man in action and what using the One Power against humans in battle can do. Rather than strike back against the Aes Sedai, Rand keeps his eye on the ball (sort of) and continues his plan to take out Sammael in Illian. But, because of the his kidnapping and subsequent torture, Rand believes he must now be “hard”, harder than ever before. To counteract this, Robert Jordan introduces the character of Cadsuane, a Green Ajah Aes Sedai who is the oldest living Aes Sedai and is a legend in her own time. Cadsuane attaches herself to Rand, despite his rude ill temper and distrust, in an attempt to teach Rand to be soft again, believing that there is no way he can get to the Last Battle and win if he is so hard that he cuts himself off from anyone.

As I understand it, Cadsuane has been a controversial addition to the cast of characters and generally not a welcome one (she’s yet another self-important Aes Sedai who doesn’t explain anything. She’s like Moiraine Squared, only without the chance to see the personal perspective of Moiraine), but I have generally found Cadsuane to be an interesting character and a solid addition. Given the spread out nature of the Aes Sedai, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are some out in the world doing their work that we never see, and that they come out of the woodwork when it is clear the Dragon has been Reborn and the world is heading towards Tarmon Gaidon. Cadsuane works for me.

Meanwhile (because with Robert Jordan there are always a couple of meanwhiles going on), Egwene is the Amyrlin Seat of the rebel Aes Sedai in Salidar and with the help of Suian Sanche (the Stilled former Amyrlin), is trying to build her own power base and not be a puppet, while also trying to direct the rebels to move against the White Tower and truly united the Aes Sedai. Egwene

Elayne, Mat, and Nynaeve search the city of Ebou Dar for the fabled Bowl of Winds, a ter’angreal able to control the weather (and potentially undo the touch of the Dark One on the world’s weather). Mat is involved in a strange sexual relationship with Queen Tylin (strange in that it is presented as undesired on Mat’s part, but even though we get Mat’s viewpoint there is still question that Mat really doesn’t want it…which may well be Robert Jordan’s commentary on gender imbalances and can you “force” a man? Am I reading too much into this?). The most interesting aspect about the search for the Bowl of Winds is the discovery of The Kin in Ebou Dar. The Kin are cast-offs and runaways from the White Tower, a secret society that gathers and protects women who can channel and could not make in the Tower or were too old to learn or all sorts of possible reasons. Now, there is much more to the Kin and two somethings about them that makes this a very important discovery, but I won’t get into that because it would be a spoiler (in case one hasn’t read the book / series and is still choosing to read a review of the seventh volume)

There is plenty to like in A Crown of Swords, and there are several memorable scenes (the one with Mat and the gholam in the hallway / staircase is excellent). There are good action sequences, nice political intrigue (though Rand is beginning to be a major pain in the ass as a character), and there were some important developments (the kin, the revelation of the True Power, the Bowl of Winds, some other stuff), but this continues the trend begun with Lord of Chaos where Robert Jordan is very much slowing down the plot. There is less travelling and it feels like fewer days pass. There is more conversation with people sitting (or standing) around. There is plotting, but less action. There are plans for the future that do not develop. Jordan’s pacing slows down compared to the earlier volumes.

In the end, this is still a volume that satisfies. Looking back at the series, though, it is easy to see where Robert Jordan began to test the patience of his audience. With the major characters all spread out so much and all doing their own things, the novels expanded laterally and with less forward movement. Even so, Robert Jordan looms large in my fantasy reading in high school and college and even when the entire novel doesn’t deliver the goods, there are enough outstanding parts to each book that the memory remains untainted. This is big and epic fantasy. While a tight six volume series would have been the new standard for fantasy, you can do far worse than Robert Jordan and The Wheel of Time.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Lord of Chaos, by Robert Jordan (re-post)

Saturday, July 19, 2014 0
This article was originally posted on July 14, 2009. It is re-posed here as part of my coverage of this year's Hugo Awards. The Wheel of Time is nominated as a complete work for Best Novel.

Lord of Chaos
Robert Jordan

Early on in the novel Sammael is given an instruction by the Dark One: “Let the Lord of Chaos rule”. Now, the introductory quote tells us that this is a chant from a children’s game in the Fourth Age in Great Arvalon*, but in the context of the novel (and the series), Jordan is not clear about what exactly this means. The most straightforward reading that I can come up with is that this refers to Rand. As the Dragon, Rand is the Lord of Chaos, and the Dark One is giving Rand a fairly free reign to mess things up and turn the nations against him. To the Dark One, Rand is little more than a babe with a sword. Rand has been lucky, but will ultimately fail. That, at least, is the presumed perspective of the Dark One.

Is this the correct reading? Sammael aligns with Graendal and neither makes an overt move against Rand during this volume (at least not until Rand makes his own move). This is the reading that makes the most sense to me, but Jordan never spells out what he means.

An alternate reading would be that Padan Fain is the Lord of Chaos. This makes a certain amount of sense. After all, Fain is quite mad by this point and is barely controllable by anyone, so letting him do his thing could (and does) cause a variety of muddles…mostly regarding the Whitecloaks at this point, though they don’t need any help. Fain, or Mordeith, or Ordeith, or whatever he is calling himself at this point can certainly be considered the Lord of Chaos. Except that as interesting an option as Fain represents, he doesn’t make nearly as much sense in the context of the novel as Rand.

And what is up with that being part of a children’s game? That’s an awfully morbid game. On the other hand, we have our Lizzie Borden rhyme and the whole deal with standing in a dark bathroom with the door closed and saying “bloody mary” over and over again, so who are we to judge “let the Lord of Chaos rule”?

Now, in terms of the novel itself, we are beginning to settle into a routine at this point. As Adam Whitehead points out, we are into the political phase of the series and fairly well out of the adventure phase. Readers will respond very differently during the political phase and many who thoroughly enjoyed the first three or four novels will be less enamored with Lord of Chaos and the subsequent volumes. Yes, there are major action sequences that are iconic in the Wheel of Time series. Dumai’s Wells is a prime example of this and is perhaps the crowning moment of Lord of Chaos. Want to see the One Power used as a weapon in battle and the horror of what it can do? Look no further than Dumai’s Wells.

The bulk of Lord of Chaos, however, consists of the characters sitting around, plotting, no longer confiding in each other, Rand being “hard”, and strategizing as to what to do next. Or, more specifically, waiting. Lord of Chaos is not pure stasis, but some readers may perceive it as such.

Back when I first started to write about Lord of Chaos, two months ago, I wrote down a quick jottings of things I then wanted to touch on: Bit of plodding, Egwene as Amyrlin, Dumai’s Wells, more Rand being “hard”, beginning of the Min / Rand relationship, Asha’Man as warriors – what does the title mean?, re-emergance of Lan (barely), Alanna / Rand, Verin spending a lot of time looking mysterious and suspicious, getting Mat in Ebou Dar to meet Tylin, escape of Moggy, a couple of Halima / Aran’gar actions but otherwise not much there, Elaida.

At this point I don’t really want to discuss any of it, except that for me, those were the high points – or just the stuff that came to mind and worth calling out.

The thing is, this may not be enough for some readers and that’s okay. Robert Jordan cannot be all things to all people and he is telling a particular story in the best manner he knows how. This is not to excuse any perceived lapses or the decreasing speed of the narrative pacing. It is just to state that the style of the series has changed and by this point Wheel of Time is not a story of grand adventure. The characters are growing up. There is some development, though they retain most of the traits they had before, only now writ large. Rand is perhaps the notable exception because Rand is the blank canvas on which Jordan is painting this novel. He began as a fairly standard and generic heroic boy of prophecy, only now we see Rand carrying the weight of the madness of saidin and the weight of the expectation of prophecy. Being the Dragon Reborn was always something to be feared, not celebrated.

The following statement can be leveled at more than a couple of Wheel of Time novels: The Lord of Chaos is an uneven novel. Overall, I’d consider it to be a good one.

*Great Arvalon? Assuming that this is a quote from the NEXT age and not the last Fourth Age (which should be long forgotten), one can guess that it is part of the how names change over time – something explicitly mentioned more than a handful of times in this series. So, Great Arvalon was once Tar Valon. But who can say exactly how the city of the Aes Sedai has changed?

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Fires of Heaven, by Robert Jordan (re-post)

Friday, July 18, 2014 0
I originally posted this on March 15, 2009. It is re-posted here as part of my coverage of this year's Hugo Awards. 

The Fires of Heaven
Robert Jordan

I still maintain that the answer to the question “Who Killed Asmodean?” is Bela, and that Bela is, in fact, the Creator. With that said, for all the times I have read The Wheel of Time and for all the times I have read the first five books of this series, I have still not been able to figure out who the hell killed Asmodean.

Supposedly the answer is somewhere in The Fires of Heaven. I can’t figure it out. Not with anything I would consider a reasonable theory.

It began in The Shadow Rising, but in The Fires of Heaven Jordan makes a point to show Rand as forcing himself to be “hard”, to do what he feels he needs to do in order to get to and survive the Last Battle. For readers (or, perhaps just for this reader) this begins a distancing effect towards Rand. A character forcing himself to be uncaring and hard is a difficult character to engage with. This is not so much of a problem because the side characters are the real stars of the show.

The Fires of Heaven, more than The Shadow Rising, is also where Jordan begins to slow down and drag out the series. At this point I do not mean that as a negative, but rather as my perception of the pacing of the storytelling and action. There is more sitting around and waiting. To be fair, The Great Hunt opened with a chapters-long waiting in Fal Dara sequence, but the perception becomes more pronounced here. Adam Whitehead had this to say about The Fires of Heaven and the story arcs Jordan appears to be using.

With The Shadow Rising, Robert Jordan moved The Wheel of Time series out of its 'adventure' arc into a 'political' phase as the characters finally moved into positions of high authority and influence amongst different nations and cultures, and could begin the process of uniting the world to face the Last Battle. Whilst adventure storylines would continue to appear, a lot more time from this point onwards would be spent on political maneuverings. Indeed, some storylines would unfold almost entirely within a character's office as they fired off letters, received intelligence, and debated strategy. That, at this stage anyway, Jordan is able to make this readable and compelling is a testament to his often-underrated storytelling skills.

I think Adam is spot-on here. This is more of a political phase. The Shadow Rising opened with the politics of Tear and moved into that of the Aiel. The Fires of Heaven opens with the Aiel and the growing threat of the Shaido Aiel and Couladin’s hatred and fear of what Rand represents and shifts focus slightly when Rand takes his Aiel across the Dragonwall into Cairhein and we get a combination of a siege and Cairhein politics. Cairhein, of couse, is a city / state that just cannot catch a break from the Aiel.

And yet, Robert Jordan does not provide the nitty-gritty of politics. What Jordan provides is Rand running rough-shod over Cairhein, just as he did Tear. Taking control through the strength of who and what he is. Through Rand’s need to be hard and his need to unite the nations behind him before the Last Battle. Through force, if needs be. The political aspect is there, and is only going to grow, but Jordan does not forget about major plotpoints and action.

There is a conversation between Mat and Lan in which Mat lays out strategy for a battle that closely mirrors what war-leaders came up with independently. Mat, of course, is nothing more than a young man from Emond’s Field who never saw war or danger until Moiraine saved the three from Trollocs and the Fade. Nothing more except a young man with memories of lives he never lived and unnatural luck. Mat has been a character who has become more and more interesting with each passing book, but now he becomes the general and leader he never wanted to be. There is no good reason why Mat should be this special, but he is and the novel (and series) is all the stronger for it.

Other moments of note that make The Fires of Heaven stronger as a whole than each of its individual parts might suggest: Rand and Aviendha (in general, but the…sequence through the snows of Seandar), Asmodean’s end, Nynaeve vs Moghedien Pts 2 and 3, Birgitte ripped out of TAR, the return to Salidar, Elayne performing in Valan Luca’s circus, the resolution of Couladin but not the Shaido, the Band of the Red Hand forming against Mat’s desires, Rand vs Rahvin, the use of balefire, and most importantly – Moiraine vs Lanfear. This last bit has set years of theory and rumor about the ultimate fate of Moiraine, a fate that for years was not addressed in series until Knife of Dreams opened that door again. There’s big stuff here.

The quiet moments of the novel, the ones where all the characters are waiting for something to happen? Well, that’s where The Fires of Heaven drags a bit. I still feel like the high point was in the first four volumes of this series, but The Fires of Heaven is overall still a satisfying novel. One which still pushes the reader into wondering what will happen next. One which isn’t perfect, but is still a good story, a good book. One which still raises more questions than answers, and that the questions are just as fascinating as the answers might ever be.

Unfortunately, I’ve put a stop to my official Nynaeve Braid Count. I wanted to keep track of it, but midway through the book I stopped paying attention to it and after I remembered I counted three by page 150 but nothing after it and that I wasn’t even looking. What disappoints me is that after googling this, I have not found an official count. I would really, really like a book-by-book breakdown of Nynaeve’s braid-tug-count, because unless it gets worse, I think it has been overstated by many (including myself). I just can’t verify the count in The Fires of Heaven. Sorry about that.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Shadow Rising, by Robert Jordan (re-post)

Thursday, July 17, 2014 0
This was originally posted on February 8, 2009. I re-post it here as part of my coverage of this year's Hugo Awards.

The Shadow Rising
Robert Jordan

Robert Jordan concluded The Dragon Reborn with Rand Al’Thor holding the Stone of Tear and the crystalline sword Callandor, the sword that is not a sword. Taking the sword and holding the stone were the two primary signs to the world that Rand was, in fact, the Dragon Reborn. The surprise was the desert dwelling warrior Aiel helped Rand take Tear, believing he may be their Car’a’carn, one spoken of in their prophecies the same way the Dragon Reborn is spoken of, except that the Aiel actively search for their Car’a’carn and the Dragon Reborn is dreaded.

The Shadow Rising deals with the fallout of Rand taking Tear. The novel opens with stagnation, with Rand refusing to act (much to Moiraine’s frustration), but after a couple hundred pages (really) Robert Jordan begins to move the action. Perrin returns to the Two Rivers to protect his home and his people. Rand travels with the Aiel to Rhuidian, though he may not know exactly why. Mat, too. Moiraine and Egwene follow, Egwene to study with the Aiel Wise Women to learn more of being a Dreamwalker.

I can grant the argument some readers may make about the opening stagnation, but even there Jordan lays out some fascinating stuff. Weird things occur to Rand, Mat, and Perrin. They are each randomly attacked – Rand by his reflection, Perrin by his axe, and Mat by playing cards. Jordan pulls it off, though when written down in a single sentence it may not sound very thrilling or dangerous, but this is evil tainted and well done. Lanfear makes another appearance, telling Rand that he will need to learn to control saidin or the other Forsaken may destroy him…and that Rand needs a teacher, a male Forsaken to teach him. Rand and Mat each step through a ter’angreal leading to the world of the aelfinn, weird creatures talking in riddles.

Mat is told that his fate is “to marry the Daughter of the Nine Moons”, “to die and live again, and live once more a part of what was”, “to give up half the light of the world to save the world”. Just in case anyone thought that Mat might NOT be important…yeah, Mat is important.

See, this is part of what I like best about The Shadow Rising. Robert Jordan doles out mystery and history throughout the novel and more than his skill at storytelling, the weaving of the history and foreshadowing draws me in. If we’ve been paying attention we know already that the Court of the Nine Moons is Seanchan, though it is easy to overlook because we don’t know why those mentions in the previous two books might be important. This is why.

The main reason I am so fond of this book, though, is Rhuidian. When Rand walks through the ter’angreal rings at Rhuidian he gets to live scenes from his ancestry, scenes of the history of the Aiel, who they are and who they were. What they were. Through these sequences we get our second glimpse of the Age of Legends – before, during, and after the Breaking of the World. For me, Rhuidian is worth the price of admission. But, there is more, some of which I thought was in the next book – the uprising in the White Tower, Nynaeve besting Moghedien, Rand fighting Asmodean, Rand discovering how to Travel, Slayer, Lord Perrin, more.

The Shadow Rising is ultimately an uneven book. There are long, long passages with little of note occurring and we may well feel that we’re just waiting for the next major set piece to come up, but at the same time Robert Jordan’s world is an old friend and though this is the fourth book in the series Jordan delivers several major events that continue to build towards something potentially very big. Jordan has not yet hit the wall, and while The Shadow Rising is a bit slower than I remembered, there was also more goodness than I remembered.

Nynaeve Braid Tug Count
The Eye of the World: 0
The Great Hunt: 0
The Dragon Reborn: 8
The Shadow Rising: 1

Okay, giving The Shadow Rising a braid-tug count of 1 is an arguable position but I feel confident about it. There are several moments throughout the novel where Nynaeve grabs her braid or holds her braid, but only the one tug that I noticed. Nynaeve “gripped the end in her fist” on page 85 and “gripped her braid hard” on page 90. The braids don’t make another appearance (that I noticed) until page 586 where Elayne observes that Nynaeve “seemed to have given up trying to pull at those braids when she was angry.” It is only on page 596 that Nynaeve tugs her braid for the first time in the novel. It is unclear if there are multiple tugs in this passage or just one, so I’m going with a count of 1 for The Shadow Rising. So far the braid tugging doesn’t seem overwhelming, with only 9 total tugs over the 2000+ pages of text.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Dragon Reborn, by Robert Jordan (re-post)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014 0
This was originally posted on November 18, 2008 and is re-posted here as part of my coverage of this year's Hugo Awards, where The Wheel of Time is nominated as a complete work.

The Dragon Reborn
Robert Jordan

So far in the series the reader has known the Rand is, or will be, the Dragon Reborn, the prophesied hero who will "break" the world even as he saves the world from The Dark One. At the end of The Great Hunt Rand proclaimed himself as the Dragon and those who were at Falme (and lived) saw Rand battle Ba'alzamon in a vision in the sky. Rumors of Rand with crude drawings of the battle are racing across the land. Sick of fighting the dreams and unable to control saidin, Rand journeys to Tear so he can somehow take callandor, the "sword which is not a sword" in the Stone of Tear. This will be a major public fulfillment of prophecy and more than the vision of battle, will proclaim Rand to the world as being the Dragon Reborn.

In a bold move, except for a small handful of scenes, Robert Jordan pulls the focus off of Rand and places it firmly on Perrin, Mat, and the girls. Despite the fact that novel is titled after what Rand is, and the fact that knowledge of Rand permeates every aspect of the novel, Rand is barely in The Dragon Reborn. It is strangely refreshing. Moreover, pulling the focus off of what can be viewed as the primary and most important character of the series could mess with the overall rhythm of the series, but somehow it works.

There is a lot to like in The Dragon Reborn, some which only take on extra importance knowing what happens in the next eight volumes, others feel important but we don't know why, and yet others that are just interesting. Oh, and the story is good, too.

Jordan does an excellent job at foreshadowing certain events, both for the series and for the book. Early on, Lan mentions that "The Dark One has killers you don't notice until it is too late", the "Soulless". There is mention of balefire. Small comments, but there is a sense by this point that Jordan is introducing elements that will come into play later in the novel, or later in the series. With Jordan there is no telling which, but in these two cases the elements will be introduced in The Dragon Reborn.

One of the major storylines of this novel is that Suian Sanche, the Amyrlin Seat herself, sets Nyneave and Egwene on a mission - to hunt the Black Ajah in the White Tower. With Elayne in tow, this hunt takes them from the White Tower all the way to Tear. Actually, even though the characters begin the novel in different places and doing different things, they will all end up in Tear together. At times this feels a bit forced, but Jordan's storytelling is so strong that much of this doesn't matter.

One of my favorite aspects of the series, and of this book in particular, is the transformation of Mat. He begins the series as Rand's best friend and a weasely little prankster. He turns out to be ta'veren, one who shapes events and pulls people towards him. Early on Mat yelled phrases in the Old Tongue, but now, that Mat has been freed of the taint of the Shadar Logoth dagger, he has been changed somehow. There is no explanation if this is something that would have occured in his life anyway, or if the dagger changed him. But now Mat speaks more and more of the Old Tongue, has incredible luck, is able to hold off two master swordsman with just a quarterstaff (excellent scene, that one), has visions of past lives, and is proving to be one of the strongest characters in the series.

Regarding Mat, the Amyrlin relates a story of her uncle that perfectly describes who Mat is and who he will be throughout the series.

The Amyrlin gave an exasperated sigh. "You remind me of my uncle Huan. No one could ever pin him down. He liked to gamble, too, and he'd much rather have fun than work. He died pulling children out of a burning house. He wouldn't stop going back as long as there was one left inside. Are you like him, Mat? Will you be there when the flames are high?

He could not meet her eyes. He studied his fingers as they plucked irritably at his blanket. "I'm no hero. I do what I have to do, but I am no hero." pg 183

That's Mat. Perfectly captured in two paragraphs that imprinted so strongly in my memory that I waited for that conversation ever since I first read those words.

There are character introductions in The Dragon Reborn: Julian Sandar, Faile, and Aviendha. Important characters, each. The Forsaken. We find out that more of the Forsaken are loose and in some cities and countries - they rule.

The only aspect of The Dragon Reborn I really didn't like was for the first time in the series, Nyneave began to tug her braid in anger or frustration. It's become a long running joke about the series, but it begins here, on page 93. Nyneave tugs her braid eight times. Given that Jordan switches the POV chapters around, it feels like more and it is only going to get worse.

One last thing to note - the end of the book features a quote form The Fourth Age. Ths is is a song fragment "Composed by Boanne, Songmistress at Taralan, the Fourth Age". Taralan. Tar Valon? Does this relate in anyway to the "Great Aravalon" mention in Lord of Chaos? It is something that will never be answered, but I wonder all the same.

Despite the absence of Rand, or perhaps because of it, The Dragon Reborn is one of the strongest entries in the series (though I have immense respect for Book 4, one sequence in particular). This is a point where even people who later become disillusioned with the series are still fully engaged and fully in. This is Robert Jordan still at the top of his game and, to use a cliche, firing on all cylinders.
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