This blogpost will be long, as befits its subject. And meandering. Ditto. Just me blethering in circles around a great series in fantasy. You have been warned! Now for some tea and chocolate, and let’s be on with it!
In the spirit of booktube – what have I been reading recently?
***Spoilers for The Wheel of Time ahead***
The Wheel of Time. The neverending, glorious, Wheel of Time. I read in bed and fall asleep fairly quickly most of the time – this leads to one chapter at a time kind of reading. This is not a good idea when dealing with a fourteen book series. (And each book is long – check this list out.) It has been over a year, and I am nearly finished the second last volume. I am very grateful to Brandon Sanderson for taking on the mammoth task of finishing such an epic cycle. I was laughing and cheering as I read this book and the one preceding it (The Gathering Storm) – it has been so long since the books provided some of those sustained crescendos of excitement that first got me hooked back in the mid 90s! (Yes there were some timeline issues, but I’ll take those as the price of the story moving forward and hitting some real highs again!)
Now I feel bad writing that (the laughing and cheering and excitement part), because I know that had Robert Jordan lived, he too would have hit those long awaited payoffs too, and they would have been amazing. But I suspect, despite his averred intention to finish it in book twelve, which Brandon Sanderson then split into three to bring us to fourteen, that Jordan would have ended up with fifteen books. Because evidently he just couldn’t help himself. Yes, Knife of Dreams did get things going again after Crossroads of Twighlight and Winter’s Heart, but I still feel that Sanderson cut to the chase far more than Jordan would have found himself able to when dealing with his own story and characters. Not a criticism, to be honest. I wish he was with us writing his outrigger tales. Or maybe still putting the finishing touches to number fifteen! Haha! I say that with love!
I started reading The Wheel of Time in the mid 1990s. The first six books were already released. The world sucked me in, the adventure, and oh, those page burning endings to the first three books! (Though it did start seeming like the Forsaken needed some basic survival lessons after a while, they were going down like dominoes! I mean, when Moiraine can take out Be’lal, you start wondering how smart and tough those folks are!)
I waited until all the Sanderson books were out in paperback before reading the whole lot in one sitting. I had previously read and reread the entire series with each release up until Winter’s Heart, each time after Lord of Chaos losing a bit more hope that the end of the series was in sight – it kept slipping over the horizon, a bit more bloated, with a few extra uniforms, cornicework and subplots I didn’t care about weighing it down. After Winter’s Heart, which was more disappointing to me than Crossroads of Twighlight, though on this re-read I really did appreciate how little went on in the latter book, I refused to read the entire series again before reading the newest instalment, and after Knife of Dreams I decided just to wait until the thing was definitively done before I read another word.
And now I’m writing about it before I’ve finished! Hahaha!
Reading these books in my forties is a very different experience from the one I had in my twenties. Much to my surprise, Nynaeve no longer made me pull on my own imaginary braid! I appreciated the character development, and laughed at her lack of self-awareness in a way I was incapable of in my twenties (and really appreciated Jordan’s skill in showing it now), when I was too overcome by her bossiness and inability (as I saw it) to ever admit fault or apologise. That drove me nuts in my youth. Now I appreciate the texturing, and time taken to flesh out her (and others’) character, though the Johari window lack of self awareness thing was perhaps over used. Who could possibly be teaching Olver all those bad habits? For four books? Catch a clue Mat! I love you man, but please. Says the guy who did not spot what Jordan was doing with Nynaeve’s character when I was twenysomething and a supposedly sophisticated reader! Perspective is a fabulous thing.
I do think in books four to eight Jordan decided to let his belt out, and invite his readers to live in the world with him, and took the time to round out his characters more than he otherwise might have. And this did rob the story of some of its propulsion. No I don’t care about Elayne learning how to tightrope walk, (will it play a role in the finale?? I doubt it, but am ready to eat crow if it does!) but what a world to live in!
I also found on this read through that some of the cliches that had annoyed me in my early rounds of multiple re-reads did not bother me anymore. The detailed descriptions of things. The repeated descriptions of Warders and their leashed violence etc. In fact – admission – I was convinced they were constantly described as having “wolf-like grace”, and waited to see it all the time this time through. Barely happened, if at all. My memories of that aspect of the text were distorted! How Severian of me!
I did find myself being amused at how he broke the rules that I keep on seeing advised for writers today. He let tension lag, he spent entire chapters on events or conversations between parties that only at the very end had anything to do with the main plot, the rest was colour and character, no threat apparent at all. And yes, sometimes that was not appreciated by this reader, especially in the past, but knowing this time that I would get to the end, and that these were steps along the way to an ending, enabled me to stay engaged and enjoy those passages in a way I did not when I was reading each newest book primarily to discover how much closer to the bloody end we would be! That impatience infected the reading of the books as they came out, and spoiled them a little I think.
Anyway, here we are, one book to go. I hope to god Brandon Sanderson saves the Aiel from that future Aviendha saw – those people deserve a break! Go Aviendha on changing the future – and screw the Seanchan! (Sorry Mat, but you can go play on another continent – no need for the precious Empire to mess with The lands of the Dragonmount!)
And I do not, for one moment, buy the romance between Thom and Moiraine. Nope. That just felt like a trick to make me go back and read the first five books again looking for clues! It felt like Morgase’s cast-offs need to get quality Aes Sedai companionship – Bryne with Siuan and now Thom with Moiraine. That hit me from left field – letter fondling in Mat’s presence aside (to get Mat to ask the question about it at long last!) I did not get a sense of M & T being a thing.
Perrin rocks. At last. Early in the series he was my favourite character, then he just became this lump, when he appeared. That Faile storyline… ugh. (Faile in general did not do much for me, but again, Sanderson has done a lot to rehabilitate her, though her forgetting why she even made Perrin ride behind her in the Ways did cause a brief spasm of irritation – then I realised I’d forgotten too, and could not be bothered going back to find out why and annoy myself further! I never really bought the start of her relationship with Perrin, and the conflict between her and Berelain ended up a very damp squib to me.) I do think there is a compact nine book series buried in the fourteen we have (nine is compact – hahahaha!), and a lot of that could be had by losing the majority of the Shaido/Faile/Elayne and Andor stuff. I’m sure many more committed Wheel of Time fans have done all sorts of revising of the texts to remove some of the less… compelling… parts and see how the books read then.
Egwene is superb now. Brandon Sanderson solved books’ worth of frustration on my part with Gawyn in two paragraphs in The Gathering Storm, and sorted the two of them out completely in Towers of Midnight. She rocked it in defending the White Tower, and is a great Amyrlin. The Aes Sedai need a firm hand at the tiller (as surprisingly fractious as they became after their initial portrayal as unflappable manipulators of all!), and she has been forged into something unshakeable. Not perfect, not always correct, but with her eyes firmly on saving the whole of the White Tower, and the whole world. For her one leads to the other, hence her potential conflict with Rand, who does not see the salvation of the world as having to go through the White Tower, just have the WT as part of the (his!) plan.
I loved it when the brown sister organising in the basement during the Seanchan attack looked up/got reports from the twenty second floor and thought, Egwene. That. Was. Awesome. I’m looking forward to her chat with Rand about breaking the seals! (Mostly because I imagine she’s going to be a little put out when he politely, and with a smile, ignores her august authority!) I fear for her survival though. Of all the major characters I fancy she is most likely to die. Gawyn and the Seanchan rings does not bode well. And why isn’t she more curious about them? She can’t sense they are Ter’angreal? Elayne has the babes to keep her alive, (aargh – horrible! The third reading of ‘the babes’ was one too many, and there were more… and no, switching in babies, while welcome, did not stop the ridiculousness.) Egwene has no such defence and she is also fond of charging into danger. Battle Ajah and all that. Also – on reflection, Aviendha’s visions could not come true with Egwene in charge of the White Tower after the last battle – no way would she allow the Seanchan a foothold on their continent, at least not without strenuous efforts to destroy the damane slave culture. Egwene HATES the Seanchan, she loves the Aiel, no way would she, with hundreds of years of Aes Sedai life ahead of her as Amyrlin, allow the abomination of Seanchan treatment of women who can channel to go unopposed. It would probably be a significant priority for her. Hell, I could see her following the Seanchan home to their own continent just to kick their asses! So with her in power, the Aiel would not be defeated and cast down, I don’t think.
I’m going on.
Lan to die? I doubt it. Nynaeve will not permit it – and this time I’m on her side! Mandarb might bite it though. If Lan cops it, so will Nynaeve. So Lan lives.
Mellar is still alive. I do not care. It was a relief when Byar finally bought it. Perrin and Galad were great – Perrin saying he liked the horse was a lot of fun – even if, to be honest, it did not sound exactly like Perrin. I mostly let that kind of thing go as all the main characters are completing personal journeys and transformations under Brandon Sanderson’s watch, so it is natural for them to sound a little different. Sanderson has done an amazing job keeping as close to Jordan’s voice as he has, to be honest. The main reason I know I’m not reading Jordan is that things are moving faster, more cuts within chapters etc., but as said above, that is great for me, I love that the story is marching forward, and we can’t tell that Jordan would not have done something similar in his own writing to increase the sense of urgency within the books as the final climax approaches.
If Mellar is supposed to be someone whose reappearance we are waiting on, what about Padan Fain? He has barely shown up in the last few books (he said hello in a prologue recently, wandering about the blight with his band of trollocs and fades), and he is supposed to be a serious antagonist, Mashadar powers and all, even though he disappears for books on end, or appears miles from the main action dribbling on about “Khaaaan, I mean, al’Thooor!!!”, and occasionally shows up in a tent to stab Rand and run away. (Why doesn’t he hate Mat more? Mat had his knife!) I feel like he would not have fallen from the story so much if so many other plotlines had not been pursued – he is a great villain, but in the whole scope of things I think underused. Is he going to play a Gollum role in the finale? Or will he somehow survive and be an evil to be defeated later, after the Dark One is dealt with? That I would not like – he was there right at the start, the vicious little sadist needs to die, badly, at the end. Hopefully in some way that robs him of any lingering delusions of grandeur. Rand accidentally elbows him in the face and kills him would do. Oversized nose through brain.
I find myself wondering – has a Padan Fain really never been spun out by the Pattern before? Is he really something new and different this time around? I find that hard to imagine – given the many many worlds and alternate realities we see – “I win again, Lews Therin” – and the supposed number of times the Pattern has already repeated itself. But then, in order for this story not to be essentially static and entirely pre-ordained, some new things must happen this time around to make changes, or else this confrontation would lack actual drama, it would simply be another end of age enactment, put all the figures back in their boxes to pull out again in three thousand years. Next! That is hardly satisfying as a concept, so we must accept novelty, difference, a reason why this confrontation between the Dark One and the Dragon is different, and could be irrevocably different for all time. I wonder if that will be made more explicit in the text near the finale. I find myself doubting it. It is easy to get caught up in these events, and forget it could all be an eternal recurrence, and thus predetermined. I’m a fan of free will, and the predetermined aspects of the Pattern, ta’veren aside (and of course philosophically you could argue they are still bound by the pattern and are as such as fixed in their fate as any other lesser actors, but merely have the appearance of greater latitude when viewed by their much more statically placed in the Pattern brethren, if you follow me, man.), are a bit of a hurdle for me to leap at times. But I do because the vast majority of the time you are sucked into the story, and not thinking about philosophical implications!
But seeing as I’m here: The freewill version of the Pattern would be one woven by the actions of people, not influencing them – that is clearly not the case here – the Pattern exerts force upon people. I suppose I have not thought that deeply about the origin of the Pattern – Creator or Dark One? I assume Creator as the Dark One is supposedly invested in breaking the Wheel of Time, which unspools the Pattern in its wake as it rolls through the ages (my understanding – could be wrong). The Age Lace etc. is referenced as a greater Pattern of the Pattern. The Wheel Weaves as the Wheel Wills very much assigns agency to the Wheel, and by implication whoever made it/controls it. If the DO breaks the Wheel, then what? Raistlin type nothingness – his hollow victory in Legends being the triumph of evil that then finds it can create nothing? That seems indicated in Rand’s journey through an alternate universe with Selene via the Portal Stones – an empty land with a big statue proclaiming trolloc victories, but nobody else there, aside from some grolm, I think. (And are the grolm real – or something Selene conjured to keep Rand and Hurin occupied? At the time I thought they were real – but why would they persist and nothing else? Plot device? Aaargh! Stop with the speculation!) So what does the Dark One ultimately want, and what does he think he can do with his victory? That is the problem with capital E evil in epic fantasy – if they win, who grows the peaches? If evil is self-defeating and works against itself as much as it works against the good guys, what is its purpose? It hates, it envies, it yearns to destroy, and does not care about consequences. If victory brings its own destruction it generally doesn’t care, because that means it won first. Evil in that form is very nihilistic. Which I don’t have an issue with – that view of evil, especially evil in the form of a gigantic bad guy with lots of minions, creates a very powerful enemy that has its own internal weaknesses which good characters can benefit from and exploit in order to win against apparently insurmountable odds. What is the Dark One’s plan, if any? Or is he Despite for despite’s sake? (Which is an entirely fair choice, as he is the adversary of the Creator.) I can see some wiki forays in my future once the book reading is done!
Last thing on the Dark One etc. I was led to believe that he just needs to win once, in this reality, for him to win across all realities. Despite the fact that he has clearly won in many many realities as he showed Rand via the portal stone sequence. Those victories, many as they were, apparently don’t count. (Or they are all an illusion to try to convince Rand he’s doomed? But didn’t Egwene see similar in a dream/testing sequence too?) So why is this reality the important one? Is that ever explained? (If it was, I missed it or have forgotten it over this last year of reading! Oops!) Or are those other realities illusions? I think I’ll go with that, as otherwise it doesn’t make sense for one win in the books’ primary reality to be the one that matters, in the absence of any explanation why this reality matters more than all others. Unless we’re talking about timelines rather than realities, and this timeline could end if the DO wins, otherwise it just carries on and the DO goes back into his box, the other realities and their stories being irrelevant to the timeline of this particular reality. Of course, Rand plans to kill the DO and end his threat forever… will Rand succeeed and break the Wheel himself, just not in the way the DO imagined would happen? And will he kill the DO in this timeline or reality only, or across all of them? Aaargh!
This is what happens when you overthink things, kids. But the story invites such speculation, and for me that is a ton of fun!
Anyway – this is the last time I’ll get to speculate – soon enough I’ll know all there is left to know!
The point is, that the early books, with their pacing, their foreshadowing of epic events, and their individual amazing climaxes, promised an ultimate showdown ending of almost indescribably intense awesomeness. That promise kept me reading through the more bloated books, which on this read I see creeping in even as early as book four, definitely by book five, when recaps are included that no regular reader needs, and why would someone jump into a set of doorstop books at number five? Those recaps about Aiel customs etc., just irked me. Anyway, the promise is still there, and the set pieces that Brandon Sanderson created in books twelve and thirteen have been fantastic, and offer the hope that the final showdown will be everything I hoped it would be back in 1995.
Tip of the hat to Robert Jordan. Thank you for the many many hours of enjoyment.
Don’t tell me what happens at the end, for god’s sake!
I’ll get back to you once I’m done and say how I feel after the dust has settled.