Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Winter's Heart, by Robert Jordan

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

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.

Previous Reviews
The Eye of the World
The Great Hunt
The Dragon Reborn
The Shadow Rising
The Fires of Heaven
Lord of Chaos
A Crown of Swords
The Path of Daggers


Val said...

Of his later books I think this one is the most unappreciated. I guess it suffers from being sandwiched between the two poorest books in the series. I liked it pretty well on the first read and a number of rereads.

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