The Wheel of Time – Series Review Conclusion

DRAGON

Original cover art for The Dragon Reborn. Features Rand, Mat, Perrin, Callandor (the sword), a couple of Aiel, some defenders of The Stone of Tear in the background, and the disembodied face of Ba’alzamon in the center.

Well, here we are. I’ve reviewed all of the books in The Wheel of Time series individually in the previous for posts. I’d like to conclude with a review of the series as a whole to wrap things up. Also, I’ve included a tl;dr below for any who don’t want to read five long blog posts about the series.

The series starts off well, though it has pacing issues from the get-go that will continue throughout. The world is wonderfully complex and full of vibrant characters and locales. In fact, if anything it is too big as keeping track of all the characters, locations, terminologies, and factions can be quite daunting. Thankfully, each book includes useful glossaries at the back that readers will use extensively, especially during the first few books. The series realizes its potential with book four, The Shadow Rising, which is a superb work of fantasy and makes reading the series to that point more than worthwhile. Unfortunately, the series begins to stumble with book six, Lord of Chaos, and subsequent books in the series will vary in quality. This is because Jordan perhaps became a little too ambitious which forced him to see many side plots through to conclusion. Due to this, the series becomes a bit of a bloated mess even if several of the books are still exciting. The series hits its low point with book ten, Crossroads of Twilight. Almost nothing important plot or character wise happens in this book, and the only exciting development happens in the last couple of pages. Seriously. Luckily the series gains momentum again with book eleven, Knife of Dreams, and may have maintained that momentum had Jordan not passed away. Brandon Sanderson took the helm of the series starting with book twelve, The Gathering Storm, and, for this book at least, he was not completely ready as the plot and characters again stagnate. Fortunately, Sanderson proved himself with the last two books, Towers of Midnight, and A Memory of Light, which are considerably better than his first attempt. The series ends with a huge battle on multiple fronts and the conclusion is both excellent and unexpected.

For anyone with interest in epic, high fantasy reads, I do recommend reading The Wheel of Time. It is not a perfect series by any means, and there will be times you may be tempted to call it quits. However, the series does reward readers who stick with it through the lean times (figuratively using this word as the books themselves are thick). Also, unlike some of the other popular epic high fantasy series out there, this one is finished. So if you haven’t read them yet, and you like what you find, you can tackle the whole series start to finish without having to wait for the next book in the series to come out.

That wraps up my series review. It’s been quite the journey with Rand and friends the past few years. I may not read the series again since it is such a commitment, but I’m glad I took the time to read it when I had the chance. Definitely give it a shot if you’re interested.

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Cover art for the Japanese edition of The Gathering Storm. Features Rand, Perrin, Mat and, I assume, Egwene.

Since these posts have been very long, I decided it would be worthwhile to do a tl;dr section for those who just want the nitty gritty. Here it is:

Book One, The Eye of the World – Has some pacing issues throughout, and can be disorienting for new readers who will need to make use of the glossary at the back of the book frequently. Otherwise, it is a good start with well-rounded characters and a wonderful climax and ending.

Book Two, The Great Hunt –  Starts off with a bang, but has some pacing issues afterward. Seems a bit more focused on world-building and starting new plot threads than the characters (not a bad thing). Comes to another action-packed ending.

Book Three, The Dragon Reborn – Develops the supporting cast, including the female characters. Unfortunately, the pacing is pretty awful, and Jordan may have written himself into a corner with all the prophecies he teased in the previous books which forced him to fulfill all of them.

Book Four, The Shadow Rising –  Takes a while to get started, but once it does it goes nonstop. Lots of action and revelations about the characters and the fictional world. Arguably the best book in the series.

Book Five, The Fires of Heaven – No pacing issues! Many revelations and lots of action again. Jordan proves himself to be very adept at writing large scale battles.

Book Six, Lord of Chaos – Character and plot development stagnates for most of the book. Redeemed by an excellent, climactic battle that seriously gave me goosebumps at several points.

Book Seven, A Crown of Swords – Not as action-packed as some of the previous books, but there is some excellent character development on almost all fronts. Nynaeve in particular shines in this book.

Book Eight, The Path of Daggers – All the excitement happens at the beginning of this book. After that the rest of the book is a long protracted battle that’s sole purpose is for a minor plot development.

Book Nine, Winter’s Heart – Some very crucial and exciting plot developments happen in this book. Unfortunately, character development is kind of stagnant. Lots of action in yet another explosive climax.

Book Ten, Crossroads of Twilight – Nothing happens in this book. Seriously. The only important plot development happens in the last two or three pages. The worst book in the series.

Prequel, New Spring – Not a great, or necessary addition to the series, but it does tell the story of how two very important characters meet prior to the main series. Blissfully short in comparison to the rest of the books.

Book Eleven, Knife of Dreams – The first half of the book is slow, but the latter half is completely explosive. Many plot threads that have been ongoing for multiple books finally conclude.

Book Twelve, The Gathering Storm –  The first Brandon Sanderson book. A few plot developments, but mostly nothing happens. The conclusion may not be very believable to readers. Sanderson didn’t seem to have a grasp of the characters yet.

Book Thirteen, Towers of Midnight – Written by Brandon Sanderson. Even more plot threads that have been ongoing for multiple books conclude here, mainly involving Mat and Perrin. Lots of great character development and page-turning action. Sanderson had a much better grasp of the characters this time around.

Book Fourteen, A Memory of Light –  Written by Brandon Sanderson. Again, takes a while to get started, but once it starts it doesn’t let up. The whole book is essentially one large battle taking place on various fronts. Comes to an excellent, unexpected conclusion in many ways.

Series as a Whole – A great series that is unfortunately bogged down in the middle by too many plot threads happening at once. Fortunately, the series strong points out weigh the bad making this series worth reading for fans of epic fantasy.

SWORDS

Original cover art for A Crown of Swords. Features Rand al’Thor in Shadar Logoth, with a Trolloc behind and to his left and some soldiers in the background.

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The Wheel of Time – Series Review Part 4

This post will cover books eleven through fourteen. I have one more post in the works in which I’ll review the series as a whole. For now, time to roll the dice:

Book 11 – Knife of Dreams

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Knife of Dreams, Book Eleven of The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan. Published by Tor Books.

Rand al’Thor senses that The Last Battle is very near, but he doesn’t risk fighting the Dark One’s forces with the Seanchan invaders at his back. He determines to either make peace with them, or at least forge a temporary truce. But one of the Forsaken stalks Rand, and is ready to spring her trap. Mat Cauthon meets up with the Band of the Red Hand in the nick of time as the Seanchan have mysteriously sent a large force to hunt and kill Tuon. Lucky for Mat, few commanders have his prowess, and it will take all of his skill and luck to protect Tuon from her own armies. Perrin and his army are ready to confront the Shaido at Malden after making uneasy truces with the zealous Prophet and the Seanchan invaders. However, more is at risk than defeating the Shaido and rescuing Faile as Perrin must fight to maintain his own sanity. Finally, Egwene is a captive in Tar Valon, but the Aes Sedai in the White Tower may be underestimating the young innkeeper’s daughter from Emond’s Field.

Finally! After several books worth of many plot threads slowing to a crawl, we finally get some resolution. There are a few large battles in this book and lots of character development in comparison to books nine and ten. The character development is mainly limited to the supporting cast as the main cast still has a few books to go. The pacing is still far from perfect as the first half of the book drags on as badly as Crossroads of Twilight, and all the excitement happens in the latter half of the book. And it’s a lot of excitement with these battles. Jordan again proves he is an expert at writing large scale conflicts. The battles are excellent and the second half of the book is unputdownable as these battles tie up some plot threads and are pretty explosive. This book is made all the better after reading Crossroads of Twilight by the simple fact that things actually happen.

Book 12 – The Gathering Storm

The Gathering Storm

The Gathering Storm, Book Twelve of The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. Published by Tor Books.

The Forsaken stalking Rand has sprung her trap and it has cost him dearly. He perseveres, but the Dark One and the Forsaken are not finished with him yet. Meanwhile, those closest to Rand are beginning to fear the hardness of his heart. Knowing that Rand cannot defeat the Dark One when his own soul has grown so dark, they begin a desperate search to find the one man who may be able to help him. Meanwhile, Egwene’s success at undermining the leadership of the White Tower is proving successful. However, the Seanchan, knowing that defeating the White Tower is a key to their victory, plan a hit and run attack to capture or kill as many Aes Sedai as possible. If the White Tower is going to survive the attack and fulfill its role in The Last Battle, the Aes Sedai will need to heal the rift between themselves.

Robert Jordan, the author of The Wheel of Time series, passed away tragically young prior to completing what he intended to be the last book in the series. His widow, Harriet McDougal asked Brandon Sanderson, the author of Mistborn and Elantris, to complete the series. The two of them determined that three more books would be needed, and this is the first of the three written by Sanderson. Sadly, it shows. I can’t blame Sanderson on one hand; finishing this series would be a daunting task for anyone. However, much as I love Sanderson’s own novels, I don’t think that he had developed enough as a writer to tackle concluding the series, at least not at this point. He doesn’t have a grasp of the characters yet, and doesn’t seem to feel comfortable writing in this world. The plot putters along slowly and most of the book is spent with Rand and Egwene ruminating. Rand’s chapters are particularly bogged down considering how dark his character becomes in this book. Still, there is an exciting battle that takes place, and Rand’s character does develop. I won’t lie that I didn’t necessarily find Rand’s development at the end of the book to be completely believable, but perhaps that’s just my opinion.

Book 13 – Towers of Midnight

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Towers of Midnight, Book Thirteen of The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. Published by Tor Books.

With The Last Battle fast approaching, Rand reveals that he plans to break the seal on the Dark One’s prison to Egwene. Fearing that Rand has finally gone mad, Egwene reaches out to rulers across the world to oppose her old friend from Emond’s Field. Meanwhile, Perrin and his army are making their way slowly back to Andor when they are confronted by an army of Whitecloaks led by Galad Damodred. The Whitecloaks demand that Perrin answer for his crimes, and Perrin reluctantly agrees to a trial. But one of the Forsaken has turned her attention to killing Perrin as it has been revealed that he will play a key part in The Last Battle. Finally, Mat has returned to Andor, but the monster that has been hunting him since he escaped Ebou Dar is still hot on his trail. It will take all of Mat’s luck and cunning to defeat the monster, but he must hurry as an old friend’s life hangs in the balance and Mat is the only one who can save her.

Well, it only took one book for Sanderson to hit his stride. He seems to have a grasp of the characters and feels more comfortable writing in their world. Sanderson weaves the various plot and character threads deftly, and many dangling plot threads are brought to conclusion in this book. Where the focus in The Gathering Storm was primarily centered on Rand, Towers of Midnight turns its focus onto Perrin and Mat. Mat’s character development largely concludes in this book, and Perrin’s comes very close. There is one large battle that is pretty exciting, but mostly this book focuses on smaller, but still very important conflicts. The pacing still isn’t perfect, but it’s better than many of the other books in the series. Everything comes to a satisfying conclusion, but The Last Battle is coming.

Book 14 – A Memory of Light

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A Memory of Light, Book Fourteen of The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. Published by Tor Books.

The time has come! Rand al’Thor is meeting with the vast majority of the world’s leaders and their armies at the Field of Merrilor to discuss treaties and battle plans. However, the Dark One’s forces are not waiting. The Borderland country of Kandor has already been overrun and Lan is fighting a desperate battle against Trollocs at Tarwin’s Gap in the country of Shienar. In order to defeat the Dark One’s forces, the armies of the Light must divide and conquer. But the Forsaken are still plotting behind the scenes, and in order for there to be any chance of victory they must defeated. When the time is right, Rand makes his way to the Dark One’s prison to engage in a contest of wills for the fate of the world. But Rand is just one man, and the Darkness is infinite.

The end has come in more ways than one! The build up through fourteen previous books (if you include the prequel) all comes to a head in A Memory of Light, and what a fantastic way to end the series it turn out to be. It starts off kind of slow similarly to The Shadow Rising, but, like that book, once the boulder starts rolling downhill it doesn’t stop. Essentially, the whole book is one huge battle on various fronts. And even though most of the main cast’s character development has concluded, Sanderson still finds ways to make them develop, and brings development to many minor characters as well. The climax lasts for hundreds of pages, and is so exciting you won’t want to stop reading. Rand’s confrontation with the Dark One is particularly exciting as, despite all the build up through the series, it wasn’t what I expected it to be. I won’t really say much about the ending. All I’ll say is that it was both excellent and unexpected. After all, there are no beginnings or endings to The Wheel of Time.

That concludes this post. I’m going to make one more post tomorrow where I’ll review the series as a whole. I’m also going to write a tl;dr and include it after my series review for those who just want the nitty gritty without having to read five posts of reviews and summaries.

The Wheel of Time – Series Review Part 3

Phew. Just one more post after this one and my series review will be finished. Without further ado:

Book 8 – The Path of Daggers

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The Path of Daggers, Book Eight of The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan. Published by Tor Books.

After being repelled by Rand al’Thor’s forces in The Great Hunt, the Seanchan return to continue their invasion. Nynaeve and Elayne, having completed their mission, escape Ebou Dar just as the Seanchan arrive. Elayne feels the time is right for her to return to Caemlyn to claim The Lion Throne following the disgrace and presumed death of her mother. In order to secure the throne, Elayne must gain the support of the nobilitiy, many of whom her mother had spurned before her disappearance. Meanwhile, Rand al’Thor has heard of the Seanchan’s return, and takes his armies to rebuff the Seanchan’s fast encroachment into lands beyond Ebou Dar. Unbeknownst to him, the weapons at his disposal may not be as reliable as he may think. Finally, Perrin has tracked down and confronted the mysterious Prophet, but when the Shaido suddenly appear and abduct his wife, he must make an uneasy truce with the Prophet in order to get her back.

While A Crown of Swords made up for the terrible pacing as well as lack of character and plot development found in Lord of ChaosThe Path of Daggers plunges the series back into a glacial pace. It starts off with a bang (literally!), but the rest of the book becomes a slog through Rand’s battle with the Seanchan. In previous occasions, Jordan proved himself an excellent writer of large scale conflicts, but that is not the case in this book. The battle with the Seanchan stretches on interminably and plot and character development suffer as a result. To be sure, some important plot developments do occur, but the one that is both the most immediately important as well as the most exciting occurs very early in the book, which isn’t conducive to making the rest of the book all that interesting in comparison.

Book 9 – Winter’s Heart

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Winter’s Heart, Book Nine of the Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan. Published by Tor Books.

Rand’s battle with the Seanchan in The Path of Daggers has made him realize that he cannot continue to risk madness either for himself or his army of Asha’man. To prevent the madness from consuming him and the other male channelers, he makes a bold plan to cleanse the male half of the One Power of the Dark One’s taint. If Rand can accomplish this, it will change the world forever. Meanwhile, Rand’s friend Mat was caught in Ebou Dar during the Seanchan invasion. Having broken his leg, he is unable to escape becoming the consort of the Ebou Dari queen, Tylin. Mat thinks only of escape, and as his leg heals he sets a plan in motion to get himself, and others away from the Seanchan conquerors of Ebou Dar. Unknowingly to Mat, the Daughter of the Nine Moons, the heir to the Seanchan throne, has joined her armies in Ebou Dar, and he’ll soon find their fates are inextricably linked.

Each time it feels like the series is beginning to lose quality, Jordan comes back with another strong book. Winter’s Heart is leaps and bounds better than The Path of Daggers. However, it isn’t as good as the better books in the series. Some very crucial plot developments happen in this book, and it has an ending every bit as explosive as many of its predecessors. Despite this, character development remains mostly stagnant, so while it is a much better read than Lord of Chaos and The Path of Daggers, it isn’t on par with the stronger entries in the series.

 

Book 10 – Crossroads of Twilight

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Crossroads of Twilight, Book Ten of The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan. Published by Tor Books.

While Rand recuperates from the events of Winter’s Heart, Perrin is on the hunt for the Shaido, who have captured his wife, Faile. When he learns that the Shaido have entrenched themselves in the abandoned town of Malden, he realizes that he will need more than his current army to rescue her. His only option is to make a truce with the Seanchan forces that have slowly made their way inland from Ebou Dar. Despite his reservations at allying himself with the invaders, Perrin will do anything to rescue Faile. While Perrin broods a truce, Mat is on the run from the Seanchan. Through a twist of bad luck, he was forced to kidnap Tuon, the Daughter of the Nine Moons, and, despite Mat’s roguishness, he finds himself intrigued by Tuon. Meanwhile, Elayne is consolidating her power in Caemlyn. It has become obvious to all around her she is pregnant, and in order to protect her child she must hide the true identity of their father. Finally, Egwene and her forces have lain seige to Tar Valon. In order to end the conflict within the ranks of the Aes Sedai without resorting to a violent confrontation, Egwene must make a bold and desperate move.

I’m going to be blunt. Despite all that appears to happening in the above summary, nothing really happens in this book. The character development remains stagnant, the series’ plot screeches to a halt and readers are left with hundreds of pages of the characters ruminating and planning their next moves. The only plot development even worth mentioning literally happens at the very end of the book within the last few pages. The series had made some stumbles before, but never this badly.

Prequel – New Spring

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New Spring, Prequel to The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan. Published by Tor Books.

Twenty years prior to the events of the main series, Moiraine was an Accepted training to be an Aes Sedai when it is revealed that the Dragon has been reborn. Being one of only three present during this announcement, Moiraine and her friend Siuan are given the task of finding the Dragon Reborn. Their initial attempts at finding the him fail, and Moiraine and Siuan take it upon themselves to continue the search. They are raised to the rank of Aes Sedai and Moiraine leaves Tar Valon hoping to find the Dragon Reborn before he is discovered by the Dark One’s servants. During her travels, she encounters Lan for the first time. Lan is attempting to gain the support of the Borderlanders to help him recapture the Kingdom of Malkier, which was consumed by the Blight when Lan was only a child. Lan is still young, and caught up in the plots of others, and it will take both Lan’s skills and Moiraine’s cunning for him to escape.

One might question the wisdom in writing a prequel after the flop that is Crossroads of Twilight, but that’s what Jordan did. Luckily, this book is much shorter than all of the entries in the main series, so it isn’t too much of a commitment for fans and readers. While it isn’t a great book, or a great entry in the series overall, it does succeed in telling the story of how two very important characters in the main series met. Given it’s brevity, it’s a much lighter read than the rest of the books in the series, which I also appreciated especially after reading Crossreads of Twilight. I’ll take a good, light read over a boring, heavy read every time.

That’s it for this post! I’ll wrap up my review of the series in the next post where I’ll tackle books eleven through fourteen.

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.

The Wheel of Time – Series Review Part 1

A little less than two-and-a-half years ago, I was wanting read fantasy again. It had been a really long time since I’d cracked open a fantasy novel, and I wasn’t sure where to begin. I knew I wanted something epic, and that led me to three options to consider: The Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire, and The Stormlight Archive. After thinking about it and asking a few friends their opinions, I opted to start reading The Eye of the World, the first book in The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan as the series had recently been completed. I included a review  of The Eye of the World in a blog post I made in April 2014. To sum up, what I found was a solid, though imperfect, start to the epic series. Now, after almost two-and-a-half years, I’ve finished the fifteenth and final book in the series, and I’m ready to review the series as whole. So let’s get started!

Book 1 – The Eye of the World

Eye of the World

The Eye of the World, Book One of The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan. Published by Tor Books.

Three thousand years before the start of The Eye of the World, it was a time of peace and knowledge. Humanity lived in a veritable paradise that later became known as The Age of Legends. During the end of this age, a scientific/magical experiment went wrong and drilled a hole in the prison of the Dark One, the source of chaos and evil in the universe. The Dark One reached through the hole and began to directly affect the world plunging humanity into a bitter war. As hope began to die, a man named Lews Therin Telamon, also known as The Dragon, managed to seal the hole in the Dark One’s prison though imperfectly and at a great cost. The Dark One had corrupted the male half of the One Power, the source of the world’s magic, driving all male channelers (magic users) to madness. In their insanity, the male channelers wreaked havoc, caused chaos, and reshaped the world in what became known as The Breaking. Lews Therin, The Dragon himself, was not immune to the corruption of the male half of the One Power, and, after killing his own family in a fit of madness, he killed himself in an explosion of the One Power. But that was not the end. Prophecy speaks that The Dragon will be reborn when the time is right. When Lews Therin’s imperfect seal on the Dark One’s prison begins to slip, he will return and confront the Dark One in The Last Battle. 3000 years later, male channelers are hunted down, gentled (a term for having their magical abilities stripped away), and often executed by female channelers known as Aes Sedai (pronounced as eyez seh-dye) to prevent their going mad and devastating the world. During this time, young Rand al’Thor lives a peaceful life as a shepherd near the small village of Emond’s Field. He has two close friends, Perrin Aybara and Matrim Cauthon, and it is assumed he will marry the daughter of the mayor, Egwene al’Vere, in the near future. These plans are interrupted by the arrival of Moiraine and Lan, two mysterious strangers seeking a young man Rand’s age. Not far behind Moiraine and Lan are the servant’s of the Dark One. The seal on the Dark One’s prison is failing, and his servants search for the reincarnation of Lews Therin Telamon, The Dragon Reborn, who is the only one who can stop the Dark One from remaking the world into a place of suffering and pain. Rand and his friends must all leave their homes and face their respective destinies if they are to have any hope to stop the Dark One from destroying all that they know and love.

That’s the series premise in a nutshell, and The Eye of the World begins in earnest. From the beginning, Jordan creates well-crafted and developed characters and plops them into a large, dangerous, and fully realized world. The result can disorient new readers, and they’ll all likely be making good use of the glossary included at the back of the book to keep track of various characters, terms, countries, and etc. But the characters, the mysteries, the opening of the world with each turn of the page are enough to keep readers absorbed as Rand, his friends, as well as Moiraine and Lan leave the peaceful Emond’s Field behind to evade the Dark One’s forces. Unfortunately, pacing issues that will plague the rest of the series also begin here, and at times there are several hundred pages where it seems the plot and characters stagnate while Jordan starts weaving numerous plot threads that will continue through the first three books in the series. However, despite the pacing issues, when Jordan finally starts bringing the book to its conclusion, it quickly becomes exciting. The last 150 pages of The Eye of the World are excellent and will easily make you forget about all those pages where it seemed nothing was happening, and it comes to an exciting and satisfying conclusion.

Book 2 – The Great Hunt

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The Great Hunt, Book Two of The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan. Published by Tor Books.

The second book in the series, The Great Hunt, begins shortly after The Eye of the World. Rand and his friends have evaded the Dark One’s servants for the time being, but the battles are far from over. A man revealed to be a Darkfriend (a servant of the Dark One) escapes his prison and fixates on Rand. During his escape, he steals two items. The first will have extreme importance at The Last Battle, and the second is tied to the fate of Rand’s friend, Mat, and without it Mat will perish. Feeling a duty to his friend, and a duty to The Last Battle, Rand begins his pursuit of the Darkfriend. He is joined by new companions, including a mysteriously beautiful woman, in his travels across the continent. But when he arrives at Falme along the continent’s western coast, he finds that he must not only confront the Darkfriend, but also an invading army from across the ocean, the Seanchan.

The second book has an explosive beginning, but the pacing issues of the first book also plague this one as Rand slowly makes his way across the continent. New cities and places are visited, new plot threads are woven, and new characters are introduced. Despite the pacing issues, this book is more exciting than its predecessor, and comes to an ending just as explosive as Rand tries to help the save the world and the life of his friend, Mat. Still not perfect, but an exciting read regardless of some slow parts.

Book 3 – The Dragon Reborn

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The Dragon Reborn, Book Three of The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan. Published by Tor Books.

The burdens of destiny have begun to weigh on Rand al’Thor. He has saved the life of his friend, Mat, and retrieved an item of utmost importance to The Last Battle, but the battle has already begun in his soul. In order to learn if he is the reincarnation of Lews Therin Telamon, The Dragon Reborn, Rand ignores the advice of his friends and companions and sets off alone in a desperate flight to the Stone of Tear on the southern coast of the continent where Callandor, the legendary sword that is not a sword, resides. Callandor can only be wielded by The Dragon Reborn, and Rand seeks it to discover the truth about who he is. His friends, fearing not only for his safety, but also for the fate of the world should he die, pursue him. But they aren’t the only ones chasing Rand, and before him the mysterious Aiel have left their desert homeland in the east to meet him at the Stone of Tear with intentions as enigmatic as their veiled faces.

The third book deviates significantly from the first two. The Eye of the World and The Great Hunt mostly follow Rand,  but The Dragon Reborn mainly follows his childhood friends, Perrin and Mat, who are also learning of their own destinies. While developing the supporting cast is a nice, fresh approach, the pacing is once again not great, and most of the book is spent by the various characters wondering where Rand is. As a result, this book turns into a bit of a repetitive slog. On top of that is the fact Jordan may have written himself into a corner here. He had written of so many prophecies of the Dragon Reborn in the previous books that fulfilling all of the prophecies becomes a bit of a chore for readers. Still, it isn’t as bad as some of the books that come later in the series and comes to another explosive ending that again makes reading through the slower parts of the book worthwhile.

That’s enough for this post. I’ll tackle the next three or four books in another post.

The Providence of Fire – Book Review

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Providence of Fire, by Brian Staveley. Published by Tor. Cover art by Richard Anderson.

I have to admit, I entered Providence of Fire with no small amount of trepidation. It is the second book in The Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne trilogy by Brian Staveley. I had been excited for the first book, The Emperor’s Blades, when I heard about it and purchased a signed copy at an event featuring the author at the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in New York City. I was excited because I’d heard the book blended Eastern and Buddhist philosophies/mythologies into a unique fantasy setting filled with bird-riding warriors, gods, and cruel, emotionless immortals. My friend was the author’s publicist at the time and she introduced me to him. He was very nice and down-to-earth, and I was excited to read his book. Working in publishing gives me a unique problem: I have WAY too many books to read at any given time, and it took me a year to finally get around to reading The Emperor’s Blades. While I found the setting rich and detailed, the history fascinating, and the characters interesting, I was disappointed by the slow pacing as well as the fact that, while impending disaster loomed over the characters, it was never really clear what that disaster would be or where it would come from when it came. But most importantly, it never gave the reader a reason to care whether or not the characters prevented the approaching calamity. So when The Emperor’s Blades concluded with a cryptic statement, no doubt intended to fill readers with a sense of anticipation for Providence of Fire, all I could really do was shrug my shoulders. The Emperor’s Blades did have enough going for it to convince me to take a crack at the sequel, but I did so with the mindset that if I didn’t like what I found in the first 100-200 pages, I would abandon the trilogy. But I’m sure glad I stuck with it because Providence of Fire is a major improvement over its predecessor, and a great work of fantasy literature.

Providence of Fire begins shortly after the conclusion of The Emperor’s Blades. Valyn and his kettral wing successfully, if luckily, foiled the attempt on his brother Kaden’s life, but are now being hunted by their fellow kettral for disobeying their commander’s orders. Kaden, though uncrowned as the emperor of the Annurian Empire, has successfully achieved the emotionless trance known as the vaniate and is ready to continue his training and seek the help of the Ishien monks in combating the return of humanity’s ancient enemy, the emotionless csestriim. Meanwhile, Adare, (Kaden and Valyn’s sister) has discovered the true identity of their father’s murderer and hatches a plot to depose him. Their separate paths will lead them across hundreds of miles, through torture and imprisonment, and defeat and triumph as they each try to hold the Annurian Empire’s enemies at bay while also unraveling the riddle of the csestriim. Yet the world they live in is far more complex than they could ever have realized; a world where every positive action could have lasting, negative consequences. And in order to keep chaos at bay all three will need to learn to trust others as well as themselves.

Right from the first page, Providence of Fire addresses one of my main issues with The Emperor’s Blades: the pacing. Where the first book in the trilogy plodded along interminably before anything noteworthy happened, this entry leaps through several hundred pages at a breakneck speed from the beginning. The characters travel hundreds of miles, make startling and unexpected alliances, and see themselves through tremendous threats. With the exception of maybe Valyn, whose major character growth comes at the very end, the characters all develop believably and accordingly to the circumstances in which they find themselves and do their best to rise to the physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual challenges they face. Even when they don’t succeed, they learn from the experience and mistakes, and move on to face the next challenge with renewed determination and strength.

But really, what stuck out most to me in Providence of Fire are the complex questions and issues the characters must all face. There are no right or wrong answers to these challenges, and the characters openly admit they may be making a mistake when they choose a certain path over another knowing that they’ll have to live with the consequences whatever they may be. Yet they know they can’t dilly-dally, or hem and haw over a tough situation endlessly. Their world requires action and decisiveness, not unlike our own, and they often step forward, not because they know a solution, but because they have to step forward. It is this aspect of Providence of Fire which, I think, makes it a transcendent work of fantasy in our own very complex world. Like Providence of Fire, we must often trust to hope, faith, and chance to tackle the challenges in our life. The results may not always be pretty or what we want, but they’re what we have. And, as Kaden learns through the course of his journey, what we have is the present.

In short, if you enjoyed The Emperor’s Blades, you’ll love Providence of Fire. If you didn’t like The Emperor’s Blades, or if you were on the fence about it like I was, I’d still recommend giving Providence of Fire a shot. Not only is it a vast improvement over its predecessor, it is everything a good fantasy novel should be. Let’s hope Brian Staveley can keep it up for the final entry in the trilogy, The Last Mortal Bond, which goes on sale in March.

Book Review – Shadows of Self

Cover of Shadows of Self, by Brandon Sanderson. Artwork by Chris McGrath. Published in the U.S. by Tor.

Cover of Shadows of Self, by Brandon Sanderson. Artwork by Chris McGrath. Published in the U.S. by Tor.

Just a little less than four years ago, The Alloy of Law, the follow up novel to Brandon Sanderson’s lauded Mistborn trilogy was published. Most fans of Brandon Sanderson know the story of how he conceived of the idea for The Alloy of Law as a writing exercise he used to clear his head while finishing up Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series as well as working on his own epic series, The Stormlight Archive. Luckily, Brandon was so pleased by the creation that he decided to submit it for publication. And though it lacked the characters of the original Mistborn trilogy, readers found a whole new cast of lovable characters living three hundred years after Vin and friends prevented the destruction of their world. After finishing up A Memory of Light, and Words of Radiance, Brandon continues the story of The Alloy of Law with the publication of Shadows of Self.

Picking up after the events in The Alloy of Law, Waxillium Ladrian, his hat loving partner Wayne, and the tomboyish, but genius Marasi are now employed by the constabulary of the city of Elendel. Wax and Wayne, both Twinborn Allomancers (Allomancers with one Allomantic and one Feruchemical ability) help protect the city from criminals both seen and unseen. During a recent crime spree and a period of social unrest amongst the lower classes of Elendel’s society, Wax, Wayne, and Marasi begin to suspect that an unknown agent is attempting to stir up religious, political, and social strife in order to plunge Elendel into a state of chaos. But as the trio of heroes delve deeper into the machinations of the unknown entity at work, they find there is much more at stake than they realize. In order to stop the chaos from spreading, they’ll need to muster all their courage, push their abilities to their limits, and find the strength to endure an attack on their very faith and beliefs. Time is short, and Harmony may be at risk if they fail.

With Shadows of Self, Sanderson once again proves that he is a master of the fantasy genre. The plot moves at a breakneck pace with all the twists, turns, and shocking revelations that fans have come to expect from Sanderson’s books. But the characters themselves are the real stars of the show. They all develop and grow with such minute care and attention to detail that one has to wonder if Sanderson isn’t secretly Hoid and has been world jumping to Scadrial to see his characters’ struggles and growth firsthand. If The Alloy of Law didn’t convince fans of the original Mistborn trilogy that the new cast of characters wouldn’t be every bit as endearing as Vin, Kelsier, Elend, Sazed and the rest of the gang, Shadows of Self will. Even minor players, like Wax’s fiancee, Steris, get some developmental love almost to the point of stealing the show from the main characters at times. The return of a couple of familiar faces are the cherry on top of this fast-paced, jaw-dropping entry in the series.

Fans won’t want to miss Shadows of Self, and won’t be able to put it down. And if you haven’t read any of the Mistborn books, then you better start catching up. I have a feeling that, like the first Mistborn trilogy, the Wax and Wayne books will go down as some of the best the fantasy genre has to offer. Period.

Luckily we won’t have to wait long for the next book, The Bands of Mourning, which goes on sale in January, 2016.

Filthy Little Bookses

Okay, I guess I’m taking the Gollum reference to its logical conclusion, and slowly but surely I’m catching up on all the reading I’ve done over the past six months. I’m actually glad I don’t write about the books my company publishes as I’d never catch up at this point if I did. Rest assured none of the books included in this post are filthy!

William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily a New Hope, by Ian Doescher

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope, by Ian Doescher. Published by Quirk Books

I know what you’re thinking, and yes, this book really exists. And yes, it is completely and unabashedly nerdy. And yes, it is completely awesome. William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope, by Ian Doescher, answers the age old question of what would happen if the Bard himself had written Star Wars? The answer is simple: an entire trilogy of plays written in blank iambic verse. Guys, there are soliloquies. Darth Vader soliloquizes. Luke gives grand speeches. And Chewbacca, well ok, he still growls and roars, but he does so iambically!

Alright, so how can anyone seriously review this book? Anyone who has been even remotely alive in the last 35 years knows the story, and almost everyone loves it. The complete nerdiness of this book also makes it instantly desirable. While reading it on the train I had numerous people catch sight of it and ask me about it. I live in New York. People only talk to you on the subway if they are extremely drunk, very creepy, or just downright crazy, but completely normal and well-adjusted people politely asked me about this book. I even took the dust jacket and off and people were still asking about it! It just goes to show that this is actually a really fun idea, and what’s more is it actually works out great. Ian Doescher has done a wonderful job rewriting the movie we all know and love into Shakespearean verse, and without the obscure Early Modern English vocabulary.  The dialogue, speeches, and soliloquies are all written with care, and will make readers smirk at the cleverness imbued into each line. William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope is an accessible, enjoyable, and short read for any lover of Star Wars, Shakespeare, or both! And yes, it will be a trilogy. The second entry in the saga, William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back, was released last month, and William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return is expected to go on sale in January.

The Testing, by Joelle Charbonneau. Published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.

The Testing, by Joelle Charbonneau. Published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.

Since the success of The Hunger Games, many publishers have released similar futuristic, dystopian young adult novels to cash-in. Some of these imitators have been hugely successful in their own right, such as the Divergent series. Others have done okay, and still others have not done well at all. Unfortunately, The Testing, by Joelle Charbonneau, doesn’t leave much of an impression in a market swamped with other books just like it.

Cia Vale is the daughter of a somewhat well-to-do family living in what was once the Midwestern United States. Her father works to remove toxins from the soil and engineer hardy plant life that can grow in the inhospitable landscape of a devastated world. Cia has a loving family, she lives in a small and welcoming community, and though the circumstances of her life aren’t perfect she has little room to complain. That all changes when she is accepted as a Testing candidate that will determine if she will attend university, and go on working to rebuild and rejuvenate her country. Unfortunately for her, the Testing is intense in more than just challenging candidates’ mental faculties. It will also push them to their physical and mental limits, and the punishment for failure is death. The testing culminates in a lengthy survival exercise in which the candidates must travel hundreds of miles back to the capital of the United Commonwealth all while avoiding traps, wild mutant animals, and each other. And even if she survives, Cia won’t remember any of it.

The Testing largely fails right from the beginning. The lives of the people living in Cia’s community, while hard, are not desperate. Cia and her community actually appear to have their lives under control and live seemingly without a Big Brother-ish shadow hanging over their heads. So the first problem with The Testing is that it really doesn’t seem like anything is at stake. The next problem is the overall contrived nature of the plot. If you’re expecting someone to die, this book won’t let you down, and they’ll die gruesomely. Third, and most importantly, it shares way too many similarities to The Hunger Games. Readers could easily replace the names of characters in The Testing with those of TheHunger Games and you’d have essentially the same book. Perhaps this could be said for many other dystopian young adult novels, but they’re more forgivable because they are actually well written. The Testing is not. The prose is every bit as infertile as the toxin-ridden soil surrounding Cia’s home. If you’re hungering (Yes, I just made a stupid pun. Yes, I am ashamed.) for some good dystopian novels like The Hunger Games, I’d recommend skipping The Testing. There are much better books out there.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman. Published by William Morrow Books.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman. Published by William Morrow Books.

In the world of speculative fantasy, Neil Gaiman reigns supreme. He is the author of the novels Neverwhere and American Gods, and prior to that he was well known as the writer behind DC/Vertigo’s amazing Sandman comic book series that originally ran from 1989 through 1996. Not to mention the numerous children’s books he has written, such as Coraline. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is Gaiman’s first novel intended for adult audiences since 2005’s Anansi Boys, and it was well worth the wait.

At the beginning of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, readers learn that the narrator (who is never named), is returning to his childhood home to deliver a funeral eulogy. I don’t remember if it ever says whose funeral he is attending, but that hardly matters. While back on his boyhood stomping grounds, his mind wanders back some fifty years distant when a man was found dead in his car not far from the narrator’s old home. Shortly afterward many strange occurrences begin to happen, which eventually lead to the narrator meeting the Hempstocks, two women and a girl claiming to be a multi-generational family. The narrator soon learns that the Hempstocks are far more than they first appear to be. They are actually ancient creatures or spirits, nearly as old as creation itself, and they protect our reality from encroaches by malevolent beings from realms beyond that of human experience. The narrator tags along with the youngest Hempstock, Lettie, as she journeys into the ether to put a stop to the creature that is causing mischief in the human world, but something neither of them expect happens when the creature buries a portion of itself inside the narrator and comes returns to our world with them. Once there, the creature decides it is going to stay and lead our reality to ruin, and the price paid to stop the creature is especially high.

To put it simply, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is the best book I read in 2013. Gaiman once again proves that he is a master of his craft. Every little detail, every odd happenstance, every bit of fantasy is instantly believable and written with extraordinary care and attention to detail. If that isn’t enough, readers will share all the joy, heartbreak, and loss experienced by the various characters. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a short, wonderful read that is perfect for anyone who has ever wondered if there is more to our world than meets the eye, and is a great introduction for any reader unfamiliar with Neil Gaiman. I don’t think anyone will regret reading this book.

The Eye of the World, Book One of The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan. Published by Tor Books.

The Eye of the World, Book One of The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan. Published by Tor Books.

At the start of the year, I made it a goal to begin reading an epic fantasy series. I’d been craving a good, high-fantasy novel for a while and I asked friends which series I should check out first. Mainly I was looking at The Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire, and The Stormlight Archive. Most people I talked to said I should check out The Wheel of Time since the series recently finished and I could read book after book if I felt the need. So I purchased the ebook edition of the first book in the series, The Eye of the World. Now, I know that I may lose nerd points by the fact that I haven’t already read this series. I was always a little intimidated by the length and scope, and I was getting all the fantasy fixes I required from video games for a long time. Anyway, I was pleased to find that The Eye of the World has all the makings of a strong and expansive fantasy series.

Rand al’Thor is a young, unassuming shepherd living a secluded life near the village of Emond’s Field in the kingdom of Andor. He was blessed with loving parents (his mother having died before the book begins), and he lives a simple life. Rand and the other villagers are preparing for a Spring festival, but the preparations are cut short, however, when Emond’s Field is inexplicably attacked by Trollocs, the grotesque, inhuman minions of the Dark One. Moiraine and Lan, two strangers in the village who are actually a sorceress and her guard, know that the Trollocs are searching for a young man Rand’s age. Realizing that they aren’t safe in the village, Moiraine and Lan persuade Rand and some of his friends to flee the village in a desperate attempt to escape the Trollocs. What Rand and his friends don’t know is that the Trollocs aren’t after just any young man, but the Dragon Reborn, the reincarnation of a man named Lews Therin Telamon who had resealed the Dark One in his prison thousands of years before. As the Dark One again stirs in the depths of his prison, Rand must come face-to-face with his destiny if he, his friends, and the world are to survive the impending darkness.

The Eye of the World is a solid first entry for a series. The characters are strong and each is well-developed. The world is expansive and mysterious, and overall the book hints at great things to come. I did find the book archetypal in its approach, and by that I mean specifically the mythic story of the farm boy learning he has a great destiny and going off to save the world, princess, and etc. I also found that Jordan isn’t quite as capable as other fantasy masters at creating a world that is as alive as it is large. Finally, the book moves at a pretty slow pace that is only exacerbated by the fact that the ebook edition I read is a whopping 751 pages long (50 pages or so of that is an appendix/glossary), and not a lot of the questions brought up are answered through the extent of the book. Still, the last 150 pages or so got pretty intense, and the climax was especially thrilling. If the rest of the books in the series can match that intensity, then this could be a great series indeed. But don’t tell me! I want to find out for myself.

That’s it for this post! I only have two more books to write about, so I’ll tackle those in the next post. Afterwards, I’ll try to catch up on some of the video gaming I’ve done over the last six months.

Unholy Night, by Seth Grahame-Smith

I’ve been hard at work on the job search the last few days, so I thought I’d take a break tonight and write about Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith.

The cover of Unholy Night, by Seth Grahame-Smith. Art by The Heads of State.

For the uninitiated (including me until a few weeks ago), Seth Grahame-Smith is the author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. This is his third book featuring a classic story with a twist this time starring the Three Wise Men of the New Testament.

Before I say anything else, I need to clarify a few things about this book. The title, Unholy Night, is only an attention grabber, nothing more. Nowhere in the book does Seth make claims that Christ isn’t Christ, and the book’s story makes clear that there is a greater power protecting the child. Second, while it is an enjoyable read, the story is actually very serious. Most of the humor in the book is dark, and there are some exquisitely detailed descriptions of violence throughout.

That being said, the basic premise of the book is: “What if the three wise men weren’t really wise men at all? Who would they be?” Seth’s answer is a group of thieves and cutthroats who take refuge in the Bethlehem manger while on the run from the Judean army. After knocking poor Joseph around a bit, the three wise guys decide the new parents are a couple of crazy zealots. But the thieves soon find that Mary and Joseph share their enemy in Herod, and the trio chooses to protect Mary, Joseph, and their baby after Herod’s men slaughter the newborn children in Bethlehem. But protecting the child turns out to be more trouble then they expect, and the three thieves may not be so noble.

What results is a fun, and very well-written adventure story that centers around the thief Balthazar, notoriously known as the Antioch Ghost, and his struggles in coming to terms with his past while protecting the newborn Jesus. Balthazar’s story is solid, and told with a great sense of action and setting as he deals with his demons and comes to terms with his fate of being the guardian of Christ. Unfortunately, Gaspar and Melchyor, who you think would be pretty important characters, are very flat and they get lost in all of the plot complexities that occur as the group is traveling toward Egypt. Their ultimate fate is only revealed at the end of the book, and that fate is tacky at best. But Balthazar’s story, and the struggles the group faces trying to keep Christ out of Judean and Roman hands was more than enough to keep me coming back for more.

Unholy Night is a great adventure book that is definitely worth the time of anyone interested. The prose is spot-on, and matches the story’s tone perfectly. Even though Melchyor and Gaspar disappoint, Balthazar, Mary, and Sela (Balthazar’s love interest), are all endearing characters. So if you like some mayhem with your Christianity, check it out! And in the meantime, it has a great book trailer!

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