Stilling his irritation – and Lews Therin’s mutters – Rand reached out for saidin, launched himself into the now familiar battle for control and survival in the midst of emptiness. The taint oozed through him as he channeled; even within the void he could feel it seeming to filter into his bones, perhaps into his soul.
Warning: full of spoilers for books 1-6.
Controversial Book Six
Most people seem to end up agreeing that Lord of Chaos pales in comparison to the punch in the face just over the horizon. There’s a four-book nightmare of inaction coming up, which is, as The Believer puts it, “arguably one of the most bizarrely boring stretches in any kind of contemporary fiction.” If you don’t hear from me on this blog for a while, send help, because I’m going to try and read them anyway. J says it’s worth it for the final few books – I don’t know what The Believer says on the matter because I had to stop reading due to spoilers – but by this stage I have significant sunken capital in the project, namely, hours and hours of my time. And I need to test my own personal theories about what’s going to happen: will Moiraine come scooting out of the Door Ter’angreal, resurrected Gandalf-style with enhanced powers? Will Rand somehow ‘fix’ saidin and make a kind of unisex version of the One Power? Will someone explain what is going on with Matt and his luck? Will we get more flashbacks to the Age of Legends? Will Faile get run over by a bus? (Pretty pleeease.)
The low point this book does achieve, though, is with the cover. Good lord, constipated Fabio anyone? I read this book in a heap of different public places – including the cafe on top of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney – and ended up hunched awkwardly over the table so I could lie the book flat and hide the cover. Not so much because I felt ashamed people would judge me, but because I wanted to spare them the view. (OK, mostly because of the judging.)
The other reason the book’s boringness dominates discussion is that by now, people have talked about pretty much every other aspect of the writing. Bad sentences, gender stereotypes and recurring tics (‘Nynaeve tugged her braid’) have already been dissected. So all that’s left is the plot.
Things actually do happen in this book – as a matter of fact, I thought it was a bit better than the last one. Morgase goes to the Whitecloaks in Amadicia (whyyy?); Rand sets up the ‘Black Tower’ and a few universities; Perrin comes back; both Aes Sedai factions send emissaries to Rand; Egwene leaves the Aiel and gets a significant promotion; Nynaeve, Elayne and Mat go to Ebou Dar; and – the only bit of real action in the book – Rand is kidnapped and a huge battle ensues.
There were times something massive happened and I texted J: ‘OMG Alanna just bonded Rand’; ‘Egwene Amyrlin WTF.’ And the last 150 pages were full-on: I sat up in my hotel room bed reading until 3 am, half on the edge of my metaphorical seat about what was going to happen, and half wanting to punch Jordan in his fucking face for making me slog through so many interstitial pages of description and sideline drama to find an answer.
When the answer came, it was satisfactory (we got an answer) but deeply disappointing (it seemed to have little significance). The baddie Aes Sedai are defeated and the goodies bow to Rand. So what? Yes, Elaida’s Aes Sedai have been captured and can probably be used as good bargaining chips. But the Salidar Aes Sedai pledging fealty to Rand? A frustratingly meaningless finale. Firstly, he hasn’t won them over – he has simply defeated them with force. Secondly, he hasn’t won over everyone, but only this particular emissary of a faction which has changed their leader in the meantime. Big strong Fabio-man rough-hands a group of smart and powerful ladies and they have to bow to him or he’ll kill them. To me that says nothing except Rand’s a dick, and whoever has the biggest stick can bludgeon everyone else into submission. Great arc for what’s meant to be part of a coming-of-age, good-versus-evil morality tale.
What stops this from being even more disappointing is that we have lost most respect for the Aes Sedai by now, anyway – even the heroes. For a group of elites who have ruled the world for thousands of years, they seem to have no grasp of basic managerial practice (they squabble between themselves and treat their new recruits like dirt), public relations, leadership, tactical thinking, organisation, objective appraisals or even basic interpersonal communication. Their reasons for choosing Egwene as Amyrlin were never even mentioned – presumably because to do so, they’d have to break the fourth wall and start discussing kludges for plot advancement.
There are 2200 characters in Wheel of Time. I kid you not. That number does not even include ‘fictional characters’ within the world, like people mentioned in poems or songs, or historical figures from long ago.
There is nothing more annoying than reading at pace to find out What Happens, and instead getting dropped into a political discussion between thirty or so named characters from different factions. Just saying.
For the first time in this book, the limitations of the 23-page glossary really started to get to me. By this stage we don’t need to be reminded who Egwene is (though I admit I do need to be reminded it’s Eg-WAYN not Eg-WEEN) – we need someone to tell us whether Halima, who is doing something very suspicious on page 1009, has been up to stuff before now that we didn’t pay attention to at the time. An index is what we need.
While searching for one online, I came across this. Angels sang. You have to read it carefully to avoid spoilers, but it’s wonderful. My brown-ajah brain can read this sort of thing til the cows come home – just keep it out of my escapist fiction.
Read my writings about all the others in the series so far here.