Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Knife of Dreams, by Robert Jordan (re-post)

This article was originally posted on October 28, 2009. It is being re-posted as part of my continuing coverage of this year's Hugo Awards.

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.

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