Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Knife of Dreams, by Robert Jordan

Knife of Dreams
Robert Jordan
Tor: 2005

With Knife of Dreams Robert Jordan picks up the relatively glacial pacing of the previous two to three novels (the cleansing notwithstanding) and begins to move the characters to a point where readers can reasonably say that an end is in sight. Even if that end is still one large novel told in three volumes away. To be fair, while Knife of Dreams reads faster than the previous volumes we shouldn’t assume that what we have is anything like the first four novels in the series. This is still a novel in which characters wait around for things to happen and Elayne still spends much of the novel trying to maneuver herself onto the throne of Andor while her rivals besiege Caemlyn. That said, there is much to like here.

One of the freshest storylines in Knife of Dreams is that of Egwene al’Vere. Egwene is the rebel Amyrlin Seat and, at the end of Crossroads of Twilight, was captured by the Aes Sedai of the White Tower after partially blocking the harbor. Though she is prisoner, Egwene decides to act as the Amyrlin she knows herself to be and allow her actions and words to slowly bring about change inside the White Tower and be a quiet pocket of resistance. She receives regular beatings as penances, but never wavers in her stance and gradually, over a period of two weeks (or so) begins to see results.

The Egwene chapters are some of the most effective and most interesting in the novel. Egwene in the White Tower gives a true comparison in how things have changed since she was first a novice and also a stark demonstration of the growth and maturity Egwene has experienced over the year(s) from when she first left Emond’s Field to now. As much as any other character, Egwene is a far different woman than the girl who we met in The Eye of the World, and her quiet leadership in Knife of Dreams is a storyline which promises to have as much impact on the world as anything Rand or the Seanchan do. Plus, Egwene’s determination is just compelling storytelling that gets beyond the regular machinations of the Aes Sedai in Salidar or the Tower itself.

My Noal Charin watch continues and for the first time Mat asks Noal straight out if he was Jain Farstrider. Noal reluctantly admits that Jain was a cousin, but given how Robert Jordan has set all this up, there’s no reason to actually believe that. Tuon’s presence here allows her to ask a question nobody else would have, which is asking who Jain Farstrider was. Everyone from the Randland side of the ocean would have already known. But, this lets an outsider ask the question and Noal answer. His answer is revealing.

“He was a fool,” Noal said grimly before Mat could open his mouth, though Olver did get his open and left it gaping while the old man continued. “He went gallivanting about the world and left a good and loving wife to die of a fever without him there to hold her hand while she died. He let himself be made into a tool by---“ Abrubtly Noal’s face went blank. Staring through Mat, he rubbed at his forehead as though attempting to recall something.

Young Olver is a huge fan of Jain Farstrider comes to Jain’s defense and reminds Noal of of some of the great things Jain did.

Noal came to himself with a start and patted Olver’s shoulder. “He did that, boy. That much is to his credit. But what adventure is worth leaving your wife to die alone?” He sounded sad enough to die on the spot himself.

This may not be the heart of the novel or the series, but the Noal Charin / Jain Farstrider bits are some which add so much richness to the history and shape of the world and story. It also provides something to wonder about. If Noal really is Jain Farstrider as an old man, what happened to him? The most common theories is that he ran afoul of the Shadow at some point and was captured by either Graendal or Ishamael and was left a broken man. But, the question is whether Noal can be considered a potential sleeper agent with a hidden compulsion. Probably not, but just maybe. It’s worth wondering about.

Another interesting thing around is the storyline is Mat with Aludra the Illuminator and what appears to be the introduction of gunpowder and artillery cannon to the world. How will this change things and can it be accelerated enough to make a difference in the Last Battle? Between Aludra’s cannon and the inventions created as a result of Rand’s school, the world is about to undergo its first technological revolution since the Breaking some three thousand years ago. Rand’s got people inventing “steam wagons”, which is an early version of cars / trains.

Now, Knife of Dreams has a solid focus on Perrin and a couple of climactic battles near the end of the novel and it features the resolution to the Faile kidnapping story (finally!), but more than anything else, what people will take from this novel is the letter from Moiraine to Thom and the confirmation of what many people were guessing for years: Moiraine isn’t dead. She needs rescuing. Hell yeah.

For me, The Wheel of Time has always been about the little things more than the big story arcs. It gets me through the times when the major story arcs had slowed to a crawl and it adds richness to the times when Jordan is absolutely nailing the major story arcs. Knife of Dreams succeeds as well as it does because of those smaller moments as well as the battles (also finally, another Trolloc battle here). The Ogier. Nynaeve beginning to rally the Borderlands so that Lan won’t ride alone. Steamwagons. The changing corridors and the loosening of the pattern. The detail about the Amayar. Rand briefly seeing “black flecks” in his vision, which makes me wonder about that link to Moridin and the saa. The revelation to folks that Rand really is hearing voices. Anytime the Forsaken get together. Seriously, Knife of Dreams is a novel loaded with awesome bits to quietly thrill longtime fans of the series and reward them for their wait.

Is this a better book because the last couple weren’t quite as good? Yeah, maybe. I’m not exactly unbiased here and I can only admit that I love this series and frequently overlook flaws. But, this one is just better than Wheel of Time had been for a while and the Egwene chapters are top notch.

All that is left now is A Memory of Light, the three volume conclusion to The Wheel of Time which begins with The Gathering Storm.

Except for whenever I write about New Spring, this will be the last trip through memory lane. The Gathering Storm has been published and it is all new content from now. I have thoroughly enjoyed the re-read of the series and I’m ready to jump back into a new Wheel of Time story*.

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
Winter's Heart
Crossroads of Twilight

*at this point I am 300 pages into TGS.


Anonymous said...

Ive been waiting patiently for this review for awhile now. after the last few books, Knife of Dreams is definitely a much more exciting book. I will give you that it starts out at the same pace as the previous, but it does pack a lot of great stuff in.
I am a bit surprised that you didnt highlight more of the end of the book. I found the last 1/4 of the book riveting ... major battles, major stories, major action and some answers. A great finish before the new works come out.
(although, I am a rookie ... so it may feel different. I just read all 11 books over the past 12 months for the first time. While many WoT die hards would look down upon that ... its been an sweome to experience to read them all in a row (as your first time) and finish 2 weeks before 12 comes out.
thanks for your reviews ...

Carmen P said...

Excellent review. Thanks for the bits about Egwene. Ive been wondering how she will bear up. And I particularly like the details about the minor things in the series that keep people going through the times when the main story arcs crawl. I think you nailed exactly what makes people such die hard fans despite the lack of quality of the later books. I have my own list as well: is Olver Gaidal?(most say no and he's a red herring but I'm not sure. Anytime Jordan said no he sometimes meant yes). If not, and Birgitte is losing her memories of Gaidal is he maybe back in the world and will she find him? How will the wolves be involved in Tarmon Gaidon, what is going to happen to the aes sedai now that they are bonding asha'man? And is the voice in rand's head really Lews Thermon, or just a hallucination? And the love affairs: do Siuan and Gareth end up together, does Egwene find Gawyn, how will Lan and Nynaeve fare? These are the things I look forward to in the books.
Thanks for the review. I just purchased my copy of the gathering storm. As soon as I finish Knife of Dreams I'm going to jump in.

Joe said...


You know, I thought about the last quarter of the book and the rescue of Faile and the capture of Semirhage and I agree that it was riveting. This may be the difference between a first read and a second, but this second time I read Knife of Dreams I was less excited by those battles and far more excited by Egwene in the White Tower. That's what thrilled me this time around.

Plus the Noal Charin stuff is of perpetual interest.

Carmen: RJ said "no" to Olver / Gaidal Cain. This time I believe him. I don't remember his age, but let's say that Olver is ten. It was only in the last two years of in-universe time that Gaidal went missing from the World of Dreams and that Birgitte has been in Randland.

Now, you can say that time doesn't work exactly the same way in T'AR as it does in Randland, but all the meetings of Elayne / Nyn / Birgitte seemed to happen in a certain chronology and within that chronology Gaidal was born.

I think Gaidal is in the world, but he's an infant.

Worst case scenario - one of Elayne's twins is Gaidal Cain and he isn't born yet. I don't think there is a realistic chance that he's Olver. Could be wrong.

Glad y'all enjoyed the reviews!

Anonymous said...

Forgot to mention something esle about your review. I thought about it last night while reading the first couple chapters of TGS. One key thing you forgot to mention (and something I was frustrated with RJ about in the latter books for not delving into) is Mazrim Taim's private army within the balck tower. That section about the Reds showing up at the black tower to talk about bonding was creepy and I believe has a bigger role in the books to come.
Again, Thanks!

Joe said...

I think Taim will be showing up in the last two books. There's a confrontation waiting to happen, but Rand has even said that so long as Taim is fighting the Shadow, it's something to deal with AFTER the last battle and not before.

Rand's problem is, it's been demonstrated and / or just suggested damn heavily that Taim isn't fighting the shadow and that he's a Darkfriend. He's not Demandred, though.

I was talking to some folks today at Sanderson's signing in Minneapolis (well, suburb of) and I just couldn't shut up about the Egwene chapters in this book (and TGS, to be honest).

I think what we're getting here is just a change in my focus as a reader. I absolutely loved Egwene's chapters, almost to the point that I wanted less of everything else and more of her in the White Tower. Taim, for me right now, is an afterthought.

He does have a seriously important position of power, though I want to see Logain smack Taim down and take over the Black Tower.

Anonymous said...

I do agree with you (esp after reading 90% of TGS)... Egwene is stealing so much more of my attention in these books. And thinking more on KOD after reading your thoughts, her chapters were really well done.

Cant wait to read your TGS review...

Thanks again!