The Wheel of Time – Series Review Part 2

Picking up where I left off in the previous post. This post will review books four through seven.

Book 4 – The Shadow Rising

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The Shadow Rising, Book Four of The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan. Published by Tor Books.

Rand al’Thor has again pushed back the forces of The Dark One and has acquired the legendary sword that is not a sword, Callandor. If that is not enough, the mysterious yet mighty Aiel have given him their allegiance, but to win them over completely he must travel into the deserts of the Aiel Waste to the abandoned city of Rhuidean. Many secrets will be revealed to him in Rhuidean, but only should he survive the trials awaiting him in the city. Joining him are his friends, Mat and Egwene, who are seeking answers of their own. Meanwhile, Perrin returns to Emond’s Field at Rand’s request to protect their home during the coming confrontations with the Dark One’s forces. Waiting for Perrin are the Whitecloaks, who want Perrin to answer for the deaths of two of their members. But when a force of Trollocs comes to Emond’s Field, Perrin and the Whitecloaks will need to ally themselves, or all of them will perish.

Let me just be straightforward and say that my summary above is only scratching the surface of The Shadow Rising. It is the longest book in the series as well as, arguably, the best. It is an outstanding work of fantasy, and if you were unsure that reading the first three books was worth your time, this will convince you that it was. Many secrets that have been teased in the preceding three books are answered here, and the larger war against The Dark One begins. In fact, this book makes the first three books seem more like an extended prologue. Rand and his friends accept their new destinies (though some characters only do so begrudgingly), and plot threads that will continue throughout most of the rest of the series begin here. The pacing issues from the first three books is present, but only in the first two hundred pages or so. After that, the pacing is actually quite good. The characters all develop believably and well, and the action sequences are outstanding and written with feverish prose that will keep you reading well into the night. Even if you stop reading when the series’ pacing slows to a crawl in later books, at least you’ll have read this book. I can’t praise it enough.

Book 5 – The Fires of Heaven

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The Fires of Heaven, Book Five of The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan. Published by Tor Books.

Rand al’Thor has completed the trials at Rhuidean and gained the allegiance of the Aiel. But the Shaido, a large clan of Aiel, did not accept the truths he revealed about the origins of the Aiel as a people. The Shaido march toward Cairhien with the intent of conquering all of the Wetlands and Rand pursues them. But the Shaido aren’t his only foe. The Forsaken, servants of the Dark One who were imprisoned alongside their master by Lews Therin Telamon during The Age of Legends have escaped and are seeking to destroy Rand. The Forsaken’s knowledge of the One Power gives them a distinct advantage, and Rand and his friends have no choice but to risk their lives in confronting them. Mat and Egwene again join Rand in his pursuit of the Shaido, and Mat, having barely endured his own trial in Rhuidean, will be crucial in defeating them, but only if he can be convinced to fight.

Though it doesn’t have the revelations of The Shadow RisingThe Fires of Heaven is another excellent work of fantasy. All of the characters continue to grow, and develop believably and some even begin to show signs of maturity. This book also has the first really large battle in the series that Jordan writes about in detail (there was a large battle at the end of The Great Hunt, but its details were mostly glossed over), and he proves to be an adept writer of large scale conflicts. And, surprisingly, for the first and only time in the series, there are no pacing issues! The narrative moves along at a steady clip throughout the book. So while it may not be quite as excellent as The Shadow Rising, it is still a great book to read, and having no parts to slog through is a big relief.

Book 6 – Lord of Chaos

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Lord of Chaos, Book Six of The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan. Published by Tor Books.

Having defeated the Shaido in Cairhien and freeing Caemlyn, the capital of Andor, from the influence of the Forsaken, Rahvin, Rand begins to plan his next moves. Sensing that the female Aes Sedai won’t be enough to fight the Dark One in The Last Battle,  Rand joins forces with a man named Mazrim Taim to create an army of male channelers despite the inevitable threat of madness that eventually claims all male channelers due to the Dark One’s taint of the One Power. But Taim had been denounced as a false Dragon Reborn and sentenced to death pending his capture. Can he be trusted to lead Rand’s army, the Asha’man? Rand must also navigate the machinations of both Aes Sedai and nobility seeking to either gain his favor or force him into submission. Meanwhile, Perrin has had a few weeks of peace in Emond’s Field when he begins to feel that Rand needs him in the near future. He gathers a force of archers, and rides to Cairhien to meet with his old friend. He arrives just as a plot to capture the Dragon Reborn unfolds, and it will be up to Perrin to save his friend from those who intend to bend the Dragon Reborn to their will.

With Lord of Chaos, the quality of the series begins to decline. The pacing issues that plagued the first three books are back in full force, and most of this entry becomes a slog. The character development also largely grinds to a halt. There are still important plot developments that occur in this book, but it is nowhere near as bursting to the seams with plot developments and revelations as its two immediate predecessors. Despite this, like The Eye of the World, the last 150 pages or so are exciting, and the plot jumps from moving glacially into a breakneck pace. Jordan again proves himself to be an excellent writer of large scale conflicts with the battle at Dumai’s Wells at the end of the book, and it comes to a pretty explosive and unexpected conclusion. So while it isn’t as good as the previous books, the ending elevates it from being only a subpar entry in the series.

Book 7 – A Crown of Swords

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A Crown of Swords, Book Seven of The Wheel of time, by Robert Jordan. Published by Tor Books.

Rand al’Thor has survived his capture at the hand of a group of Aes Sedai, some of whom have pledged their allegiance to him. As the ranks of his army of male channelers, the Asha’man, grow, Rand decides it is time to confront the Forsaken, Sammael, who holds the country of Illian under his power. Having proved himself at Dumai’s Wells, Rand sends Perrin to confront the enigmatic man known only as The Prophet who is causing revolts and rebellions in the country of Ghealdan. Meanwhile, the seal imprisoning the Dark One has slipped further and he has exerted his influence to make the weather of the world unnaturally hot. Mat, Nynaeve al’Meara, and Elayne Trakand are in Ebou Dar searching for The Bowl of the Winds, a powerful magical item that may return the weather to normal. However, they aren’t the only ones searching for The Bowl of the Winds, and time is short before the servants of the Dark One claim it for their master.

Where Lord of Chaos was mostly a slow, plodding read, A Crown of Swords returns the series to the excellent standard set by books four and five. It still has some pacing issues, but they aren’t as noticeable as they are in other books in the series, and the character and plot development start back up again with gusto. The only downside other than the usual pacing issues, is that it seems Rand just arbitrarily decides to attack Sammael. There doesn’t seem to be much logic to it; he just decides to do it and goes for it. There was no careful build up and no overarching battle plan. Rand just attacks. Outside of these minor issues, this book is just as exciting as The Fires of Heaven, and is another excellent work of fantasy.

That’s it for that post! I’ll review books eight through ten as well as the prequel novel in my next post.

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