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.

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

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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.

A Bit of Halldor Laxness – Book Reviews

Since I’ve been reading a lot of medieval Icelandic sagas over the past year, I’ve often thought to myself that I should read a bit of more  contemporary Icelandic literature. A simple Google search prominently displayed Halldór Laxness‘s name. Laxness was an Icelandic author who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his novel, Independent People, in 1955. I marked Independent People as a book to read some time ago, but I’ve held off on reading it because it is a longer work and I was unfamiliar with the the author’s style. So I resolved to see if he had any other, less daunting books on which a new reader could cut their teeth. Upon deciding that, I promptly forgot about Laxness until I made a literary pilgrimage to Concord, Massachusetts and Walden Pond this past October. My wife and I were exploring downtown Concord, and being a bookworm I had to visit The Concord Bookshop especially considering the town’s literary heritage. Whenever I go into an independent bookstore, I always feel the obligation to buy something. As I browsed I came across some prominently displayed Halldór Laxness books on a shelf in the middle of the store, and my notion of reading some of his shorter works before attempting Independent People came rushing back into my mind. There were a few options (though I don’t remember what all those options were). After reading the descriptions of each book I opted for the shortest, Under the Glacier, as the back cover claimed it to be a funny novel. It sat on my shelf for a month before I finally got to it (most books on my shelf wait much, much longer), and what I found was a real treat and a new favorite author (I have several).

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Under the Glacier, by Halldór Laxness. Translated into English by Magnus Magnusson.

Under the Glacier tells the story of an unnamed protagonist whose acumen and ability to write in shorthand has caught the attention of the Bishop of Iceland. The Bishop calls the young man into his office one day to ask a favor, and asks the narrator to go to the town near Snæfellsjökull to investigate the state of Christianity in the town and its residents as there have been disturbing reports of strange occurrences in the area for some time. Chief among them are the fact that the pastor has apparently boarded up the local church, allowed a mysterious building to be built next to the church, has refused to perform funerals, and has reportedly deposited an object resembling a casket atop the nearby glacier. Not to mention the pastor has been abandoned by his wife, but has not sought out divorce and remarriage as a clergyman should. The young man is given the title “Emissary to the Bishop of Iceland,” or “Embi” for short, and told that the church just wants the facts; they don’t want him to adulterate the report with his own, negligent opinions. Embi quickly finds himself in the village under the glacier where mystics from around the globe gather to “overcome death.” Poor Embi has to put up with these frustrating characters as he tries to perform the duty entrusted upon him by the bishop, and in doing so learns of the haunting presence of a woman named Uá, who, when he meets her himself, will lead him both to the utmost passion and frightful devastation.

Let me start off by stating outright that Under the Glacier is not a book for everyone. That doesn’t mean it is a bad book by any means! It is actually quite excellent, but the narrative style may not appeal to many readers. The narrative is told in a semi-stream of conscious style as a report both written and recorded on cassettes by Embi. As such, Embi usually refers to himself as “the undersigned,” “Embi,” and sometimes in the first person. The narrative style also leads to confusion to know who is talking at any given moment. Compounding all this is the heavy symbolism that pervades the novel. If you can make it through all this, then you’ll love Under the Glacier. It is a wonderfully literary work that is unafraid to wear its influences on its sleeve, ranging from the Icelandic sagas, Norse and Christian mythology, American modernism, and Derridaean Deconstruction, and it reads like an amalgamation of these influences with a dash of Faulknerian southern gothic style thrown in. Students of literature, and especially literary theory, will find fertile, humorous ground under Snæfellsjökull, even if Embi does not. Others may find it a difficult read that begins and ends nowhere whilst making little sense in between, but maybe that is the point after all.

Paradise

Paradise Reclaimed, by Halldór Laxness. Translated by Magnus Magnusson.

While I enjoyed reading Under the Glacier, I began to suspect that it was not very indicative of Laxness’s other works. I wanted to get a better sense of Laxness’s typical writing before tackling Independent People, so I decided to check out his other books that are readily available in English. While reading descriptions I came across Paradise Reclaimed and without hesitation decided it would be the very next book I would read because it tied my interest in Icelandic literature to Utah, which is where I grew up.

Steinar of Hlíðar is an impoverished farmer living in Iceland during the latter half of the nineteenth century with his wife and two children. By luck or magic, Steinar becomes the owner of a wonderfully beautiful horse that is the envy of his neighbors and the great love of he and his family. Hoping to improve the situation of his children, Steinar takes the horse to Þingvellir to present it to the Danish King who is visiting to commemorate the 1000th year of the settling of Iceland by Vikings. The king thanks him profusely and Steinar wends his way back home on foot. At Þingvellir, he had happened across a Mormon missionary, Bishop Þjoðrekur, who he encounters again on his way home tied to a post outside a Lutheran church. Steinar unties the Mormon. These two actions, presenting the horse to the king and assisting a Mormon missionary, set in motion a series of events that will leave Steinar’s family destitute and Steinar himself far away in Spanish Fork, Utah where he works as a brick maker of no small skill to fund his family’s immigration.

This is an achingly wonderful book. It is beautifully told with many layers of symbolism and narrative enveloping. It often reads like a saga of old and is definitely in conversation with some of the great sagas that relate Iceland’s adoption of Christianity around the beginning of the eleventh century. Laxness doesn’t shy from criticizing where criticism is due, but his criticism isn’t generalized and is quite fair. Layered symbolism permeates the novel and may often leave readers pondering if the real world is just a magical illusion, or vice versa. And, at the end, it all circles back to where it began with Steinar of Hlíðar mending a fence in his own, personal paradise. Few books have left me quite so emotionally exhausted as this one, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in modern Icelandic literature, any Utahn who may have an interest in the Icelandic immigrants that settled in Spanish Fork during the latter part of the nineteenth century, or anyone who just likes to read a good book.

With these two books under my belt, I feel confident in tackling Independent People in the not too distant future.

 

The Providence of Fire – Book Review

staveley_anderson_providence-of-fire

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.

About Weland’s Work

About Weland’s Work.

My Blog is a Failure Part Two: Wonder What’s Next?

In my last post, I determined that my blog has been a failure primarily due to my inattention, but also because of my own diminishing knowledge of pop culture. But I’m not going to give up on blogging. I’ve blogged for just about ten years now (though at times, and especially recently, I have done so infrequently). And I don’t see me stopping any time soon.

So the question is, what is next for my blog? I’ve thought about that a lot over the last few days, and came to a decision. Truth be told, I am beginning to prepare myself for completing a PhD in English Literature, with an emphasis in medieval literature, and most specifically northern European literature. In order to help me accomplish this goal, I’m going to start working on flexing my analytical muscles. And no, I’m not going to practice on medieval literature on the blog as I know a lot of people find that boring (though I can’t deny that medieval literature will come up from time to time). Instead, I’ll mostly practice on some of the same pop culture topics I wrote about before, plus anything else that I find noteworthy. This could end up being politics, current events, movies, video games, books…and medieval literature. Anything that I find worth analyzing I will analyze. I’d say it will be most like the post I wrote on Metroid: Other M a few years ago.

I’ll get to my first topic as soon as I can. I’m not going to get much time right away though as I’m leaving on vacation for two weeks this Thursday, but I will be ready to type a post by the time I get back.

My Blog is a Failure

That’s right. I said it. Through my own inactivity this blog has been a failure.

It’s also a failure in the fact that I really don’t know what pop culture is anymore. I think I was pretty up on everything until I started grad school four years ago, and I do still stay abreast on a lot of things that are happening. But as I’ve seen over the last few months online, at expos, and in recently having some interaction with children for the first time in a long time, I’ve seen the errors of my ways! I’m so far behind on pop culture that I would have to immerse myself in it to catch up, and I quite simply do not have the time or energy to do that. As such, it makes no sense for my blog to continue in its current format as a pop culture blog. 

 So is this the end of Jimmy’s blog? That answer is no.

Though I’ve almost always updated sporadically, the fact is that I’ve been blogging since shortly after graduating high school. My first blog started on a tool that, I think, is long since defunct, Great Journal. Honestly, I don’t even remember what that blog was about anymore. I then made the move to LiveJournal, where I blogged pretty regularly for a while. It was a personal blog though I talked a lot about video games since many of my LJ friends were gamers from an online message board I used to frequent (and still do frequent, though not as often). At some point I killed the LJ. I deleted my account and with it all of my content and not long afterward I began blogging on Google’s blogging tool with a blog solely focused on video games. It’s still there, and surprisingly enough it still gets views even though I haven’t updated it in two years since I made the move to WordPress. I even transferred all of my old blog posts from the Google blog to this one. I started this blog because the NYU Summer Publishing Institute required we have a WordPress account and to post in it as often as possible throughout the program. I forget why exactly, but I assume it was to give the students online visibility to employers when applying for jobs. During that summer of two years ago, one of my posts had over 70 unique views over the course of 24 hours. I know that sounds meager, but it is my personal best. Though once I got a job and fell out of the habit of blogging regularly, I was never able to reach that number again, and now my posts struggle to get even two or three views since I update so infrequently.

I digress, however. A blog is more than just its page views and sharing things with friends and followers. A blog is a personal tool for whatever use a blogger chooses to use it. I’ve blogged for personal reasons, I’ve blogged to share my love of all things video games, I’ve blogged to give myself a professional presence, and I’ve blogged to share the stories from various medias that I consume. 

The point is this: my blog isn’t going away. It will change; that much is certain. I won’t pull another LJ stunt though and delete my account and all of my content. I’m going to work hard at getting my blog going again, and this time with a new emphasis. A new mission. I’ll be detailing that mission over the next few days, and revamping the blog somewhat in the process. Stay tuned, because as the immortal Arnold Schwarzenegger once said, I’ll be back.

We Loves The Bookses Forever!

Last post about books for now. Next up will be video games.

Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson. Published by Square Fish.

Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson. Published by Square Fish.

I’d been hearing great things about Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak ever since I started working with YA literature; one friend even placing it right up with S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders in terms of its importance to the YA genre. I stumbled across a copy one day and decided to finally see what all the fuss was about, and I was definitely not disappointed.

Melinda Sordino is a normal teenage girl even if she is a tad on the dorky side. At least she was normal until the party over the summer that she broke up by calling the police. Now Melinda finds herself isolated at school. Her friends shun and mock her and her reputation as a spoilsport casts its shadow over the eyes of other students that don’t know her personally. What Melinda isn’t telling them all is that she had a very good reason for calling the cops the night of the party, but she is too traumatized to be able to say anything about that night. As the months go by, Melinda’s social and academic life continue to deteriorate due to her repressed emotions. But when she notices one of her old friends headed for trouble, Melinda must choose to either speak out or let her friend get hurt.

I was immediately impressed by Speak. Anderson really knows how to write in a voice that is familiar and comfortable to teens, and Melinda is a wonderfully complex character battling demons both within and without. The circumstances for the plot aren’t contrived or unrealistic at all. In fact, the realism is one of the major reasons that I was drawn into this book. What happens to Melinda can happen. It has happened before, and sadly it will continue to happen. Speak is a fantastic book in the sense that it can let the victims of sexual abuse know that they aren’t alone in the world, and that it isn’t shameful for them to let the world know what happened to them.

Justice for the Damned, by Priscilla Royal. Published by Poisoned Pen Press.

Justice for the Damned, by Priscilla Royal. Published by Poisoned Pen Press.

Justice for the Damned is the 4th in Priscilla Royal’s Medieval Mystery series. I first learned of this series while working as an intern at the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press. The novelty of a monk and nun solving murder mysteries in 13th century England was too good to pass up, and I first read the 8th book in the series, A Killing Season, and was pleasantly surprised by it. Royal is an expert at crafting a setting, and, while the mysteries themselves aren’t very complex, the characters are believable and lovable as readers follow them through their struggles and adventures. I was impressed by A Killing Season, so I started reading the series from the 1st book shortly after completing the 8th.

Prioress Eleanor of Tyndale Abbey has returned to her aunt’s home in Amesbury to recover from a deadly fever she’d had during winter. Her friend and healer, Sister Anne, has journeyed with her, and Anne alongside the warming weather of Spring are helping Eleanor to recover. Brother Thomas, the handsome young monk, has also come to Amesbury with Prioress Eleanor and Sister Anne with a mission from his mysterious superiors to investigate rumors that a valuable manuscript is in danger of being stolen. But much more awaits the trio in Amesbury than a recuperative rest and rumors of thievery. Shortly after their arrival, they hear rumors that a vengeful ghost of a local woman (who supposedly committed suicide haunting) the surrounding area. The ghost turns deadly when a man is found beheaded nearby, and Eleanor’s aunt asks the trio to help investigate the murder to determine who or what committed the foul deed. But with Thomas’s own covert mission, and Eleanor’s weakened state, the group will need all the help, divine or otherwise, to protect others and themselves from the murderous specter.

As I already stated, the mysteries in this series are not complex, and, with the small cast of characters and small community, it may be easy for readers to point out the murderer pretty early into the story. Royal does a good job though of giving readers enough red-herrings to keep them occupied. Meanwhile, the Prioress and Brother Thomas are once again facing their own trials. Eleanor laments her physical attraction to Thomas, while Thomas continues to face the consequences of his battle with same-sex attraction. These two characters in particular are richly drawn, and very relatable for readers. A book, or story, will never be good if the characters that populate it are not well-rounded and dynamic, and this book easily succeeds.

That’s it for the books. Next up I’m going to write about Batman: Arkham Origins.

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