New Spring

After finishing up A Memory of Light, I decided to read the one Wheel of Time book that I hadn’t read recently, the prequel novel New Spring.

I’ve read New Spring before, and while it’s a great story, you don’t need to read it to understand anything within the main story.  New Spring is the story of Moiraine’s first several months as an Aes Sedai, as well as how she met Lan and bonded him as her warder.  I think the most interesting thing about this book is watching Moiraine when she is younger and more impatient than she is in the main books of the series.

Moiraine starts this book as an Accepted, and the first thing we see is her relationship with Siuan Sanche, as well as some of their animosity with Elaida.  Along with this we’re shown more of the test to become an Aes Sedai, along with showing more of the secrets of the Blue Ajah.  This book came out after book 10 of the main series, and I think it does an excellent job of showing the history of the characters as well as just how deep the world really is.

Along with showing Moiraine’s story, the book also gives more of Lan’s history as well as showing what kind of man he was before becoming a warder.  Compared to Moiraine, Lan didn’t go through as much change in the 20 years between this book and The Eye of the World.  He knew from a very early age what had happened to Malkier when he was a baby, and he knew what he was ultimately going to have to do in trying to fight the shadow.

This book is a lot lighter than the rest of the series, and if you haven’t read any of the books, it’s as good a place to start as The Eye of the World is.  I knew someone in college who had started out trying to read The Eye of the World and couldn’t get into the series.  But she later started with this book and was hooked by the series, so in some ways it might be better to start with this book when reading the series.  Either way, it’s another fantastic book by Robert Jordan.

And thusly I have my thoughts up for all 15 Wheel of Time books.  And for the first time since October I have to actually decide which book I’m going to read next, so it’s time to go through my pile of books and probably update my TBR page on the blog as well.

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A Memory of Light

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As I start to write this, it’s almost 7:30 in the morning, and I just finished reading A Memory of Light, the final book in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.  That alone can tell you many things, it’s been a long time since I’ve stayed up all night to finish a book, and it’s been quite a while since I read a 900 page book start to finish within a day.

A Memory of Light 1I thought about what I was going to write when I finished the book, starting to talk about the series at all meant I was eventually going to come to this point, and yet here I sit, not really knowing what to say.  And what can you say about something that has been a huge part of who you are?  I’ve talked before in my blog about how The Wheel of Time books are the reason that I read as much as I do today, and that is such a huge part of who I am that I can honestly say that these books have had a large impact on who I am today, in some ways larger than many people I have met in life.

Robert Jordan once described this series in a very succinct way.  He said that at its core, it’s about a man who is destined to save the world, but doomed to go mad doing so.  And while that is the core of the story, it isn’t the slightest fraction of what these books are really about.

More than anything else, these books are about the people.  I started reading these books 9 or 10 years ago, and over that time I have learned so much about the characters that they feel as though they are more than just characters in the story, I feel like they are my friends.  I laughed with them, feared for them, and cried for them.  I watched them grow from children who never thought for anything beyond their simple village, to adults who held the fate of the world in their hands.  And in that time, I’ve grown with them.Wheel of Time Characters

I waited for years to read the ending to this story, I was heartbroken when I learned that Robert Jordan had died, and upon learning that Brandon Sanderson was chosen to finish the series, I immediately went out to buy one of his books, because I had to read something from the person who was picked to finish the story.  I was immediately reeled in by Sanderson’s writing, and I couldn’t be happier that he was the one chosen, as these final books in the series were wonderful.A Memory of Light 2

But as happy as I am to have gotten the conclusion to the story, I’m also sad, because there are no more Wheel of Time books to look forward to.  This story is so large, so powerful, that to realize that it is finite is a strange feeling.  Each of the books proclaims that they are not the beginning, but simply a beginning.  To know that I have read every word that of the story, that there will be no more beginnings, is a strange feeling.

Robert JordanThank you, Robert Jordan, for starting to tell this story.  Thank you, Brandon Sanderson, for taking up the mantle and finishing the story when it looked as though it’s finale would be lost to us.  Thank you, Harriet McDougal, for helping to craft this story into the masterwork it has become.  I have never met any of you, and I have no idea if any of you will ever read this, but thank you for all that you have done in bringing this story and it’s characters to us all.

“May you shelter in the palm of the Creator’s hand, and may the last embrace of the mother welcome you home.”

Towers of Midnight

I just finished my re-read of Towers of Midnight, and I’m excited and anxious to start reading A Memory of Light, even though I probably won’t start it until this weekend.  While the previous two books started events in motion that would lead to the end of the series, this book amps everything up and says that the ending is coming, and it’s going to be bigger than anything you’ve ever seen before.

But I’m here to talk about this book, so here we go.  One early thing you notice about this book is that the chronology of the chapters is a little strange.  Much like Crossroads of Twilight told different parts of the story that happened concurrently with Winter’s Heart, several events in this book took place during the same time as The Gathering Storm.  The reason it’s weird is that not all of the events do.  Perrin and Mat have their timelines taking place during the events of The Gathering Storm, but there are also chapters where Rand and Egwene are the viewpoint characters which clearly take place after The Gathering Storm.  But for once I know the reason why it ended up that way.  Jordan originally planned for the twelfth book to be the last, after Sanderson was chosen to finish the story and had seen the outline, he talked with Harriet (Jordan’s wife and editor) and they ultimately decided to split the ending of the story into three books.  If a little weird chronology is all that we have to deal with to get the ending of the series, it’s well worth it.

Anyway, on to the events that actually happened in this book.  One of the most notable is that Perrin finally, at long damn last, accepts leadership.  This builds slowly over the course of this book, but it pays off brilliantly.  He is up late one night, and he goes to a forge in his army’s camp to try and clear his head.  Without realizing what he is doing at first, he starts to make a war-hammer.  One of the Asha’man with him offers to hold the metal at a steady temperature, and ultimately places different weaves upon the metal while Perrin is working on it.  This ends up giving Perrin a power-wrought weapon, the kind which hasn’t been made in thousands of years.  So much of what Perrin has gone through for 13 books is summed up in two short paragraphs:

“The tool he left behind was the hammer of a simple blacksmith.  That person would always be part of Perrin, but he could no longer afford to let him lead.

From now on, he would carry the hammer of a king.” – Towers of Midnight, chapter 40: A Making

This is one of the scenes that I went back and found to read well before I got to that part of the book.  I probably re-read that scene 4 or 5 books before it happened, maybe some impatience at not being able to read the books as quickly as I wanted to.  It’s a wonderful scene that shows everything that Perrin was in the past, as well as everything he has become throughout the series.

Along with Perrin, Mat has a lot going on in this novel as well.  The first thing that he has to do is defeat the gholam, because you can’t have that thing running around with the last battle coming up.  I really enjoyed the scene where he finally is able to get rid of the creature.  It’s a solid combination of Mat’s impulsiveness, trickery, battle skill, and good luck.  After Elayne is able to make several imperfect copies of Mat’s foxhead ter’angreal, he uses them to surprise the gholam, he then tricks it into a gateway that a member of the Kin opened for skimming.  After the gholam is on the playform inside the gateway, Mat simply kicks it off the platform, into the nothingness for eternity.  Again, it works really well for everything about Mat’s character and I enjoyed the scene greatly.

The other scene that Mat really shines in was foreshadowed way back in book 4, and now that I think about it, it was early in book 4, probably in the first 1/3 of the book.  When he visits the Aelfinn he is told that he will have to give up half the light of the world to save the world.  And we know from earlier on that Mat is going to travel to The Tower of Ghenjei with Thom and Noal to try and rescue Moiraine.  This is yet again a great scene, and it works well to show how odd the world of the Aelfinn and Eelfinn really is.  The Aelfinn and Eelfinn also show off one of the biggest strengths of the entire series, the depth.  There is so much going on within the main storyline, but then you look deeper and you see an expansive history to the world.  And then you look deeper and see the subtlety of the foreshadowing throughout the entire series.  And then you look deeper and see how well Jordan played with cultural norms and taboos.  Every time you look for something else in these books, it’s there for you to see.  I’ve only read through the series three times (books 12 and 13 only twice), but there are people who have been through the books 10 or 12 times, and the reason is because of the depth.  While this will be my first time finishing the entire series, this will not be the last time that I read these books.

Hmm, what other things to talk about?  Rand has a wonderful scene in this book that I completely forgot about until I got to it.  After leaving Ituralde to defend Saldaea, Rand succumbs to his near madness and forgets about him for a long time.  After defending for far longer than anyone should have been able to, Ituralde finally realizes that his cause is lost, at which point Rand of course shows up.  The city is besieged by thousands of trollocs, and Rand declares that they won’t take over the city, and promptly goes out and kills thousands upon thousands of trollocs on his own.  It’s a great scene, and one that also reflects the line from The Shawshank Redemption that I quoted talking about The Gathering Storm.  After finishing the chapter that this scene takes place in, I went back and read it two or three more times, because it’s just that good.

But while so much in this book seems to be so good, the epilogue ends the book on a very threatening note.  We’re introduced to a new kind of warrior for the shadow, similar to the Aiel but with their teeth shaved into points.  And while all of the previous books have had a page of prophetic writing after the ending, this is the first one that features one of the Prophecies from the Shadow.  From what the prophecy says, it seems like everything that we’ve been led to believe will lead towards the light overcoming the shadow is also right in line with what the shadow believes will lead it to victory.  It’s a very dark turn right at the end of the book, and I can’t wait to FINALLY read A Memory of Light.

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The Gathering Storm

I mentioned far too many times to count that The Wheel of Time is one of my favorite series, after finishing my re-read of The Gathering Storm, I’m very tempted to say that this is my favorite book in the series.  There’s so much going on in this book, after 11 books of building the story up more and more, this book really starts to bring all of those storylines towards their conclusions as we prepare for the ending of the series.

The biggest question here is where to start, I’m not breaking this book up into separate posts, so expect this to go on for a while.

Aviendha plays a smaller role in this book, but it’s still interesting to watch, so I’ll start with her.  Towards the end of the last book, the Aiel that Rand had gathered around Caemlyn were sent to Arad Doman.  Immediately once this book starts, she is constantly punished by the Wise Ones under whom she is studying.  I have to say that I think their punishments are extremely creative, she is constantly given worthless things to do until she finally snaps, which of course is exactly what they wanted her to do.  I’ve talked before about the differences in the cultures in this world, and this is one of the most blatant examples, Amys even says it in this scene.  The Aes Sedai rank their hierarchy by their relative strength in the one power.  This obviously leads to trouble among the Aes Sedai, whereas the Wise Ones are far more stable even as the Shaido split apart from the rest of the Aiel.  It’s a wonderful conclusion to the storyline of Aviendha’s training, even if there is just a bit more to it in the next book.

Mat isn’t in this book very much, the way that they decided to split the final book that Jordan had planned for was to have this book focuse mostly on Rand and Egwene while the next book focused more on Mat and Perrin, but even with only occasionally chapters from Mat, he was still entertaining in the book.  One of my first thoughts when I read this book the first time was that Sanderson didn’t quite get Mat’s ‘voice’ to be the same as it was when Jordan wrote the books, but this time through I didn’t have a problem with it.  I’ll get to my overall thoughts about the transition from Jordan’s writing to Sanderson’s writing in the series.

I’ll talk really quickly about Perrin, because he was also in very few chapters when compared to Rand and Egwene.  Perrin is still dealing with the aftermath of having rescued Faile, and readjusting to not having a single goal driving everything about his life.  It’s interesting that he decides that his next step is going to be learning more about the Wolf Dream.  I say that mostly because I thought he was already well versed in surviving in the Dream, but he does make the point that he wasn’t using it very much as he was trying to rescue Faile.  He still has to make peace with his wolf side, and once again that’s something that will wait for the next book.

So now we come to one of my favorite parts of the entire series, let alone this book: Egwene back in the White Tower.  Yes I know she was there for large parts of the last book as well, but this is where she really shows just how much she has grown as a character.  One of the strangest parts about her time as a captive of Elaida is the mixture of subtlety and manipulation with being completely honest.  She has said that she is trying to live by the Three Oaths even though she hasn’t taken them, and she works through the entire book always telling the truth.  It’s remarkably effective, I think in large because they don’t expect it from her.

Another one of the interesting juxtapositions in this book is between Egwene and Semhirage.  Rand captured Semhirage, and he left the Aes Sedai with orders to interrogate her, but not to torture her.  Cadsuane ultimately comes up with a great solution (with Sorilea’s help of course), don’t stand in awe of her, act as though you are superior to her.  The easiest way to do this for Cadsuane is to simply bend Semhirage over your knee and beat her like an unruly child, or a novice.  Egwene is going through the exact same punishment that Semhirage is, but while Egwene quietly endures because the punishment doesn’t matter in the long run, Semhirage immediately becomes furious being degraded.

Egwene of course ultimately succeeds in reuniting the White Tower, after working to save as much of the Tower as possible from the attack by the Seanchan.  But in the midst of this comes one of my favorite scenes in any series ever.  Egwene’s visit from Verin Sedai.  I’ve wanted to talk about Verin several times throughout the different books, but I’ve always pushed it aside because there were other things to talk about.  But there’s no better time than the present to talk about her, especially since she gave her life to help Egwene solve the Tower’s problems with the Black Ajah.  The firs time I read that scene I was surprised, but looking back through the series knowing what Verin was, there were plenty of hints throughout the books that something was just a bit off with Verin.  But even without knowing the truth about Verin, she was always one of my favorite side characters to read about.  She was always a little too knowing, and while she always supported Rand and company, she did it in very odd ways.  I liked Verin as a character, and it was sad to see her go this way, but at least she got a fantastic final scene out of it.

And now we finally come to Rand.  In one of the videos posted online by Tor talking about A Memory of Light, Robert Jordan said that the series as a whole centered around the idea that one man would find out that he was going to save the world, but then be told that he was going to go insane in the process of doing so.  Watching Rand’s slow descent into madness is largely what this book is about, and then towards the end he reaches rock bottom.  It’s impossible to imagine what having the pressure that has been put on Rand would do to you over time, but I have to say that the way it’s handled in this book is probably pretty accurate.  I also love the way that he finally breaks out of it, and the biggest part of the reason is that reading it reminded me of The Shawshank Redemption.  Rand asks himself the same question that Tam had asked him: why do you fight?  And I love the answer, because maybe this time I won’t fail, maybe this time I’ll get it right.  You could put the exact words from the end of Shawshank into that scene and it wouldn’t feel out of place at all.

“Hope, is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

I love this book, and I love the way it ends.  I have one more book to go through and then I’ll have be at A Memory of Light.

And now I come to one of the bigger parts of the overall series, the fact that Brandon Sanderson is finishing the books as opposed to Jordan due to his untimely death.  If you’ve followed my blog at all or even looked through my Total Score page, you know that I’m a huge fan of Sanderson’s work.  But however much of a fan of his own stories I am, the question is how well did he do adapting his writing to Jordan’s world, and my thoughts after reading this book, very well.  All of the characters sounded like themselves, and the story worked wonderfully.  The biggest change that I noticed came in the earlier chapters of the book.  Sanderson constantly switches from one character to the next after each chapter.  Jordan tended to stay with one character for several chapters at a time rather than bouncing back and forth quickly.  It’s a very subtle difference, and it works well because it shows you where all of the characters are despite the fact that many of them aren’t a big part of this book.  I loved this book, and I look forward to re-reading Towers of Midnight and then making my way through A Memory of Light.

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Knife of Dreams

I was going to stop halfway through the book and split my thoughts up into two sections since I’ve been splitting every book into multiple parts thus far, but I wanted to finish Knife of Dreams this weekend, so I decided to wait until I finished the book and to talk about the book all at once.

The first thing you notice when you’re reading this book as compared to Crossroads of Twilight is that this book immediately looks forward whereas Crossroads was mostly reflecting on the events of Winter’s Heart.  In the prologue we see Perrin meeting with Galina and planning on how to free Faile.  We also see Galad becoming the Lord Captain Commander of the Children of the Light, which is just one more example of the countless times throughout this series that we see a character who was young and largely inexperienced when the series began rising to a place of great authority.

But it’s time to start talking about all of the characters that we’ve followed for the rest of the series.  I’ll start with Egwene since she’s the first viewpoint character that we get to (as good a reason as any to start there).  After the Aes Sedai still in the tower kidnap Egwene, she immediately notices all of the divisions that have been created in the tower, inadvertently by Elaida and deliberately by Alviarin.  The way she goes about trying to subvert Elaida’s power is inventive and works well to show she has become over the course of 11 books.  She immediately tells the rebels outside of the tower not to rescue her, even though it would be easy to do since those Aes Sedai know how to travel while those in the tower do not.  It’s interesting to watch how she goes about her goal, quietly resisting all of the Aes Sedai, undermining their authority while showing her own strength of character.

It’s also interesting to watch how Perrin goes about working to rescue Faile, as he says making a ‘deal with the dark one’ by seeking the help of the Seanchan.  But the more interesting part of watching this part of the story is watching how Perrin continues to grow as a leader, being willing to take responsibility when he needs to and showing a willingness to make difficult decisions even when he doesn’t want to.  It also works to show his resourcefulness and willingness to use everything he has at hand.  Everything from the letter Masema had from Suroth, to the Ashaman, Raken, and forkroot tea, everything he has at his disposal goes into his plan to rescue Faile.  It’s also a reminder of how far he has come that when he finally does rescue Faile, the Seanchan banner-general he was working with says that she would not want to meet him on the field of battle, not bad for a blacksmith after all.

But now it’s time to get back to one of my favorite pairings in the entire series, Mat and Tuon.  Both characters have plenty of secrets, and they come out over the course of the time that they spend traveling together.  After several chapters from Mat’s point of view where he says that he will never understand Tuon, it’s interesting to see a chapter from her viewpoint where she says that she doesn’t understand him at all.  It’s also very entertaining to see the way that Mat deals with the Seanchan army and works to help Tuon escape from those who are following her.  Their interaction was easily the high point of this book and largely the high point of the last book as well.  Seeing Mat’s reaction once Tuon completes the marriage ceremony is another fun moment between them.

And speaking of Mat as a general, he also figures out what Aludra wanted with a bellfounder after she asked him that question two or three books ago.  She wants to use her fireworks as a weapon, she names it a Dragon but it’s very easy for us to see that she’s talking about making cannons, which would be a great change to the way that war has been waged throughout the history of the world in these books.

Elayne also goes through a lot in this book.  She finally makes the progress towards becoming queen, and in the process also manages to capture several Aes Sedai who are of the Black Ajah.  She’s another character who becomes more assertive in her personality, this was shown clearly when an Aes Sedai advisor was sent from Elaida to help Elayne, and she is quickly told off and sent away.  It’s also interesting to watch how she interacts with Birgitte, especially once she and Elayne realize that they begin to mirror each other’s emotions that they share through the Warder bond.

This book has another one of my favorite scenes from the series (I’ve notice that I have a lot of favorite scenes in this series, but then again it’s 14 books long and there are an awful lot to choose from) involves Nynaeve and Lan.  After a large trolloc attack, Lan feels as though he should be in the blight fighting his war there.  Of course Nynaeve agrees to send him.  But rather than leaving him close to Malkier, she leaves him on the far western end of the blight, at World’s End.  She then visits several towns along the blight, and though it only shows her interacting with people in one of those towns, it’s a very powerful scene.  So many scenes in this series are powerful because of the buildup that Jordan does for them, in several cases leaving tens of thousands of pages between the setup and payoff, which just makes it that much more effective.  Talk about the fall of Malkier and Lan’s heritage as well as his personal war with the blight starts from book 1.  There was also talk that if he ever claimed the crown of Malkier he would raise an army, well, he doesn’t do so on his own, but Nynaeve pushes him towards doing so, and the result is yet another great scene.

Hmm, I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to talk about Rand would it?  He has two major aspects to his storyline in this book.  The first occurs during the trolloc attack that I mentioned earlier with Lan.  The biggest part here is showing that he is not completely in control of himself as Lews Therin is able to seize control of the power rather than Rand.  The second comes later after he deliberately walks into what he thinks could be a trap.  It ultimately ends with him capturing Semhirage, but she explains what has been happening to Rand throughout the course of the past 5 or 6 books with his hearing the voice of Lews Therin.  Apparently from time to time when a person is reborn in the pattern, they contain the minds of both themselves and the person who they are reborn from.  It’s interesting to see an explanation of everything that Rand has been going through for the past several books, and also a warning of what may come for him.  While she admits that Graendal knew more about it than she did, Semhirage knows enough of Rand’s condition to know that it usually doesn’t end well for those who suffer from it.

All of the earlier books have been laying the groundwork for a huge conclusion to the series, and this is really the beginning of the end of the series.  The first five books are really an introduction, ending with Moiraine dying at the end of book five, and the next five books show the characters gaining positions of power, largely ending with Rand cleansing the source at the end of book 9 (once again, book 10 largely covers the same time period as book 9).  And the final 4 books are the lead up and execution of the final battle.  It also means that I’m that much closer to reading A Memory of Light, and I still can’t wait to get started on it.

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Crossroads of Twilight – Part 2

Having finished Crossroads of Twilight for the third time, it’s surprising just how much this book shrinks the scale from the previous books.  The biggest single plot event of this entire book takes place in the last chapter.  So I’ll say it again, if you’re reading this book trying to focus on the plot that has been building more and more over the previous books, take a step back and realize that this book focuses more on the characters.  It’s a slower read than some of the earlier books, but if this book weren’t here, parts of the later books would seem very out of place.  So now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to talking about what did happen in this book.

One of the first things that I’m going to talk about deals with one of my favorite characters in the series and one of his best moments to this point in the series.  Perrin’s search for Faile has gone on for some time, and he comes to a breaking point.  After some of the Shaido are captured, he considers torturing them to find out what they know about Faile, he’s quickly told that they won’t succumb to torture.  This is one of the few times that Perrin ever snaps throughout the entire series.  He cuts off the Shaido’s hand and threatens to leave all of them alive but maimed.  Afterwards he walks into the forest and slams his axe into a tree and leaves it there, saying that some “fool gleeman” can make up a story about it.

I love this scene because it does a perfect job of showing just how stressed Perrin is.  But even when he is pushed beyond the breaking point, it still rings true to his character.  This is also a great example of two other things that I’ve talked about before, Jordan’s foreshadowing and just how mean he can be to his characters.  In the first book when Perrin meets Elyas, Elyas tells him to get rid of the axe once he stops hating it.  This also shows how mean Jordan is to his characters.  This scene is so well written that I could easily see myself opening up the book just to read this one scene (as it is, I’ve already done that with a couple of scenes from the later books, one from book 12 and one from book 13).  I love this scene.

Another fun aspect of this book is watching Mat and Tuon.  About 2/3 of the way through the book, Mat realizes that he went through with his half of the Seanchan marriage ceremony, and he knows from the Aelfinn that Tuon will eventually finish the ceremony and marry him, but he doesn’t know when.  So he ends up trying to court her, and it’s an interesting proposal at best.  I’ve talked before about how different all of the cultures in this book are, and this section illustrates it better than just about any other part of the series.  It’s also a very fun and lighthearted series of events in the midst of what is becoming an increasingly darker and more serious story.  And once again this is a strength of Jordan’s, he knows that he needs to have some lighter moments to balance the rest of the series.

Another big part of this book deals with Egwene and the siege of Tar Valon.  Egwene has done a lot to make sure that the rest of the Aes Sedai realize that she is the Amyrlin, and she continues that throughout the course of this book.  She shows how well she looks ahead in this book, planning the siege and hiding how she is going to overcome the biggest challenge of the siege, blocking the river.  Egwene learned how to make Cuendillar, and she plans to turn the large chains that the city uses to close their harbors against them by turning the to Cuendillar so that they can’t open them, effectively cutting off the river.  But then after she converts one of the chains to Cuendillar, she is captured after someone else realized that she was channeling.  And there we’re left with a big cliffhanger for the next book.

So once again, this is one of the hardest books to get through, but at the same time, it really is one of the stronger books of the series.  Finishing it also means that I’m only three books away from reading A Memory of Light, I can’t wait.

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Crossroads of Twilight – Part 1

I managed to make it about halfway through another Wheel of Time book before stopping to write out my thoughts about it, albeit half of this book is a little over 400 pages as opposed to The Path of Daggers, which totaled just under 700 pages total.

Anyway, the first thing that I was going to talk about from my list of notes is from the prologue, but upon looking back at everything else that I was going to talk about, I’m going to once again talk about the structure of the book first.  Many people consider this to be the worst of the Wheel of Time books, and a quick glance at the Amazon ratings (for what they’re worth) show this book at a 2 star rating, while every other book is at least 3 1/2 if not 4 stars.  And the reason for this is the structure of the book.  The first half of this book takes place over the same time period of the ending of Winter’s Heart.  After watching Rand cleanse Saidin using the Choedan Kal, it’s very odd to have several different chapters where we watch every person who can channel stare directly at Shadar Logoth from hundreds – if not thousands – of miles away wondering what is going on.  But we already know how that turns out, so the viewpoints from all of the rest of the characters seem redundant in this book.

So we return to the prologue and what I wanted to talk about there.  The first viewpoint character in the prologue is Rodel Ituralde, a well-respected general from Arad Doman.  One of the things that he discusses in his short section is that he was receiving very confusing orders from his king, and at the point of the where he is at in the opening pages of the book he is making a concerted effort to avoid any further instructions from the king so that he can go through with his plan.  There is even a comment that the last message he received had come through a rather bloody path.  This might not make much sense unless you remember that Graendal in an earlier book talked about sending a letter, and telling the person she sent it with to make sure that there was some blood on it to make it seem like he had to struggle to get it there.

That short section with Ituralde encompasses everything that the first half of this book is about.  This book covers a lot of the behind the scenes action that isn’t as interesting on it’s own, but if it wasn’t there you would be completely lost.  What all does Elayne have to go through in effort to claim the throne of Andor?  Why is Tuon cooperating with Mat when he kidnapped her, threatening the Corenne?  What is going on with Rolan in the Shaido camp, and why is he trying to help Faile?  What is Perrin doing to try and rescue Faile at the same time she is trying to escape?  How does Masema play into all of this?  All of these questions are discussed in this book, and while the main plot of the story suffers a little in this book, the motivations of the characters as well as their goals are all brought into light in this book.

Does that make this book an easier read in any way?  No, it’s a difficult read compared to many of the early books, especially on your first time through the series.  But if you’re on a second or third reading of the story, so much of the foreshadowing from earlier books comes to light in this book, as well as much of the character motivation in the later books.

It seems like Winter’s Heart and Crossroads of Twilight were originally intended to be one book, and then later split in half.  The reason that they were split the way they were is simple.  If you wrote out the entire story chronologically, and then found the midway point to break it in half, it would be very unbalanced and unruly.  By splitting it the way he did, Jordan is able to focus on the stories of Rand and Mat in Winter’s Heart, and then come back and pick up talking about Elayne, Perrin, and Egwene in Crossroads of Twilight.  For once referring to the future books in the series rather than the past books, this is the same thing that happens with The Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight, but for most people it seems to work better in those two books because they’re closer to the end of the series and the overall plot is faster.

As much as this is the lowest rated book in the series, it’s really one of the most interesting and impressive from a technical standpoint.  Unfortunately for this book in the eyes of many readers – many who are devoted fans of the series – it’s not always easy to see that on your first time reading the book.  So what probably happens is that they read the book on their first time through the series, dislike it because of the slower pace, and then on any future times through the series they could very well skip this book.  And it’s their loss, because the full scope of what this book is trying to do doesn’t really become apparent until you’ve read it two or three times, at least it didn’t for me.

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Winter’s Heart – Part 3

So we reach the end of another Wheel of Time book, and wow, what an ending.  We’ll get to Rand of course, but we’re going to start with Cadsuane for a moment.

Cadsuane is an intriguing character from the time she first appears, a legend among Aes Sedai, she is also one of the few people in the world who isn’t impressed by Rand at all, and she really comes to shine in this part of the book.  We’ve seen in her viewpoints that she is also one of the people in the world who really does care for Rand’s well being, to the extent that she says she has to teach him to be able to laugh again.  I don’t think it’s ever mentioned in the books – it certainly hasn’t been to this point – but I would imagine that Cadsuane had visited the Aelfinn at some point or other, either that or met with another Aes Sedai who had a foretelling talking about her helping the Dragon Reborn.

Most of my favorite stories are those in which you get to see a character grow over time.  One of the reasons that I love this series so much is because of the great job Jordan did with making all of the characters grow.  But there are other kinds of stories as well, and sometimes it’s fun to read about a character who is extremely powerful and always in control.  A great example of this would be James Bond or Liam Neeson’s character in the movie Taken.  That is Cadsuane’s role in the series – at least to this point.  She is the character who has seen everything, done everything, and isn’t impressed by much anymore.  Considering that so many of the other characters throughout the series have been people who are just coming into adulthood, she is a perfect foil to what we’ve been seeing for the past 4 books since Moiraine died.

And we also go back to Mat, who has been trying to figure out how to do the impossible and rescue not one, but three Aes Sedai from the Seanchan, and then manage to escape with his life.  The best part about watching this part of the story was seeing how it was both similar and different to Rand’s storyline.  In both cases, we know what the end goal is, Rand wants to clean the source, and Mat wants to rescue the Aes Sedai.  But the way that Jordan tells the two stories is very different.  With Mat, we get to see all of the planning that is going into it.  There are things that he has to do beforehand, and as he accomplishes each of the tasks to move closer to his goal, he gets new challenges that come up.  Compare this to Rand’s goal, where all we know is what he wants to do, but nothing about how he plans to accomplish the goal.  There is no step-by-step planning; all that we see is that he is going to use the Choedan Kal with Nynaeve’s help.  Even when he plans to start, it is Cadsuane who organizes everyone with him to set up a defense so that he doesn’t get killed well before finishing his goal.  The juxtaposition between the two methods of storytelling is interesting to read about and – like everything else in these books – very well done.  And even when Mat’s plan starts to fall apart, everything ends up working out well for him as he finally discovers that Tuon will be his wife, so he’s got that going for him.

So what else happened at the end, oh yeah, Rand cleansed Saidin, nothing major there, we’ll just move on to the next book.  This is one of the most interesting parts of the series because it shows the similarities and the differences between Saidin and Saidar.  The book clearly says that the struggle of trying to surrender to Saidar while trying to force Saidin to do what you want was difficult for Rand.

Along with cleansing the source being one of the most impactful scenes of the series, it’s also one of the most interesting fight scenes in the series thus far.  Cadsuane did an excellent job of planning the defense, and it shows that it was needed since all of the living Forsaken outside of Moridin show up to try and kill Rand.  It was also interesting to see even the Forsaken comment on just how much power Rand and Nynaeve were using.  You know exactly what the ending of this book is going to bring as soon as you read the prologue, and it’s still a fantastic final chapter.

It also means that I’m that much closer to reading A Memory of Light, and I still can’t wait till I get to do that.

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Winter’s Heart – Part 2

The middle section of this book focuses on some smaller parts of the story and less with the larger story arcs concerning Rand and the looming battle against the Dark One.  Once again, this is a large part of why this book tends to be one of the slower reads on your first time through the series, but both times that I’ve been re-reading the series (before book 12 came out and now) I’ve enjoyed the book quite a bit.

Anyway, the first of these events is something that probably would have fit it well with the last discussion that I had for this book, but I’m randomly deciding when to stop and talk about the books, so you end up with some weird breaks, so sue me.  When Rand comes to Caemlyn to find Nynaeve for help in trying to cleanse the source, he meets with Min, Elayne, and Aviendha together for the first time.  After a rather awkward scene where they all confess their love for each other – much to Nynaeve’s shock – all three of them bond Rand as a warder.  As odd as it is to be in love with three women who all accept it, Rand is also now bonded to four different people.  The warder bond increases the strength of the person who has been bonded, so would being bonded to four different people mean that his strength is increased that much more?  I don’t think that it’s ever mentioned in the course of the books how it affects him, but then again I don’t recall it ever being talked about after he was bonded by Alanna early on in the series.

This part of the book also deals largely with getting back to Mat’s storyline, including the introduction of a character that we’ve been waiting for since early in book four, the Daughter of the Nine Moons.  It’s interesting to watch when Mat is thrown off because of something he doesn’t understand.  He has the dice in his head that serve as a warning for him, and they stop when he first sees Tuon, well before he knows who she is.

Although there are some entertaining scenes involving Mat and Tuon, the bigger part of Mat’s storyline at the moment is dealing with Aludra, the Illuminator who has dreams of creating something big to use her fireworks for.  This is one of the best examples in any fantasy book of using the course of technology in our own history to influence that in a book.  The Chinese uses fireworks for hundreds of years before it was ever used as a weapon, and we’re seeing the same thing in the course of the book here.  Yes I’m spoiling things by saying what she wants to do with them, but I’m assuming some knowledge of history here when talking about this, and aside from that you know Aludra wants revenge for the destruction of her chapter hosue, so of course she’s making weapons.

Another interesting part of Mat’s storyline here is going back to something from the second book when the Seanchan first arrived at Falme.  We learned then that the Seanchan Sul’dam are women who could learn to channel, whereas the Damane are women who are born with the spark in them and would eventually start channeling no matter what.  With several viewpoints from the Seanchan characters we can start to see how much that knowledge could affect the Seanchan army when the Damane really are the core of their army.

Along with the Sul’dam, there is also an Aes Sedai hidden in the town who asks for Mat’s help in escaping the Seanchan, along with two other Aes Sedai who have been captured as Damane that Mat plans to help escape.

One of the biggest parts of this series that comes across very well here are the cultural clashes that come up when the various people interact.  We’ve seen a lot of this from the Aiel to the mainlanders, and another large part of this is coming to light as we start to get more viewpoints from the Seanchan characters.  In all kinds of Science Fiction and Fantasy books one of the hardest things to do is to make a different culture seem alien.  Jordan does a fantastic job of this, and he does it through the subtle differences: the way they look at water, the meaning of a veil, how servants are viewed.  These are all very simple things that don’t really impact the overall story, but they really do an excellent job of distinguishing the cultures in the books.

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Winter’s Heart – Part 1

So I once again stop at roughly the 1/3 mark of a Wheel of Time book to stop and talk about it.  This is one of the books that often gives people a hard time when they’re reading through the series because it definitely slows the pace a little bit.  The pace has been slowing for the past several books, but this one seems worse than the other for a couple of reasons.  The first is that this is the first book for a while to focus parts on all of the main characters and storylines (Rand, Elayne/Aviendha, Nynaeve, Mat, Egwene, Perrin), and the second reason that this book seems a little slower is because we’re told at the very beginning of the book what is likely to happen at the end of the book.  In the prologue of the book Rand talks about wanting to cleanse the male half of the one power.

It’s a very different kind of storytelling from what the rest of the series has been doing, and it creates tension for a different reason.  You’re not wondering what is going to happen to the characters, you wonder if they’re going to be able to succeed in what they’re trying.  Compare this to book 7, where Rand knew for quite some time that he was going to attack Sammael in Illian, Rand had his plan in place since book 6, but the reader was never shown exactly how Rand was going to try and pull it off.  I suppose a lot of people would say that it’s unsuccessful overall – and I agree that your first time through the series this book is an onerous read at best (once again, I’m on my 3rd time through the series) – but there is still a lot of stuff going on in this book and I still enjoy it.

Getting back to the rest of the stuff going on in this book.  The most notable event from the early part of the book is that Faile was captured by the Shaido and made gai’shain, even though it is against Aiel tradition to take anyone other than an Aiel as gai’shain.  This of course sets Perrin off as he starts to try and rescue her, but of course Faile immediately starts to plan her escape without waiting for Perrin to rescue her.  There will be a lot more to talk about as this goes forward in the next couple of books, so I’ll talk about it more then.

The next thing that starts to be set up in the early part of this book is Elayne finally reaching Caemlyn and putting in her claim for the Lion Throne.  Even though we know that Morgase is still alive and that the crown should be Elayne’s since Morgase essentially resigned and left it to Elayne, she still has to go through all of the chaos of trying to become Queen through the support of the nobles.  I’m not generally a big fan of politics in storytelling, but there’s a lot of other stuff going on concurrently with Elayne trying to get the throne to keep it interesting.  One of the biggest is something that Rand left for Elayne, 20 some sul’dam and 5 or 6 damane that he captured from the Seanchan forces near Ebou Dar in the last book.  It’s interesting how the characters in the book try to get those former soldiers to adjust to the society that we’re used to seeing in the books.  It’s a really interesting idea, particularly trying to free the damane and watching their reaction.  Even though they’re obviously people, many of them believe that they deserve to be prisoners who are treated at pets.  It’s an interesting look at how difficult it really is to look accept the lifestyles of another culture, and much like everything else in his books, Jordan does an excellent job of writing about it.

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