My crawl through this series continues. To be honest, I’d optimistically hoped that I’d be able to finish it by the end of 2017. I was in a good position to, having already read the first five books. Nine books in twelve months? Easy peasy. Except . . . each book has gotten progressively harder to get through. Less and less happens. The flaws stand out more as the plot thins. I’ve gotten through three of these books in ten months. Even if I manage to do one per month from here on out, I won’t be getting to A Memory of Light until April 2018 (though I anticipate my enjoyment increasing when Sanderson takes over, so maybe let’s say March instead).
What’s really frustrating about this series is that Jordan was clearly a gifted worldbuilder. Even as my enjoyment in these books decreases, it’s clear that an incredible amount of thought and planning went into their creation. The level of detail on each culture, their histories, traditions and behaviors. The ways each nation interacts with another. The ways the current situation with Rand and the Forsaken and the approaching last battle have created a complicated interlocking game of cause and effect, each player trying to seize control. But the problem here is that none of that makes for a compelling narrative. A story should not be an excuse to show off your worldbuilding. The worldbuilding should be there as support to the story, not the focus. So, so many times in this book, I found myself overwhelmed and bored by the sheer amount of superfluous characters with no arcs and no bearing on the story. So many times characters just sit around musing on things that have happened or aren’t happening or are going to happen, while nothing actually happens for hundreds of pages on end because Jordan wanted to make sure we really got that the Aes Sedai argue a lot.
So what actually happened in this book? Not much. Much more in the second half than in the first, certainly. We’ve got:
SPOILERS 1. Nynaeve, Elayne and Aviendha’s party (made up of Aes Sedai, Kinswomen, and Sea Folk) use the Bowl of Winds to fix the weather. Elayne accidentally blows things up while undoing a weave, causing the rumor to spread that the Aes Sedai have a new weapon. Elayne and Aviendha decide to officially become first sisters. They travel to Caemlyn so Elayne can take her throne. There is a traitor in their midst.
2. Perrin and Co. are trying to find Masema, the fanatic. They make an alliance with Alliandre. They travel to find Masema. (Perrin learns that if he yells at Faile, she will be less mad at him all the time.) While Perrin is off retrieving Masema, Faile (along with Alliandre and her servants, which includes Morgase in disguise) are capture by the Shaido.
3. Egwene makes her move to solidify her power with the Aes Sedai. She maneuvers so that the Hall declares war on Elaida, and the book ends with her forces Traveling to the Dragonmount.
4. Rand is finally succumbing to the madness from the taint of Saidin. He spends the whole book trying to save face and not let anyone see how sick he is. He is also paranoid. He is also paranoid with reason, as his own Ash’aman include traitors. They push back the Seanchan in Ebou Dar at great cost. Rand kills a bunch of people on both sides. Dashiva the Ash’aman for some reason decides to kill him when they are back in Cairhien. Rand decides to go see Elayne so as to formalize their little polyamorous arrangement, and also he is butthurt because he thinks she doesn’t like him anymore.
5. Various interludes showcase the Forsaken, the Shaido, etc. None of them are really significant or interesting, except the one with Cadsuane, which shows she may be the one to get through to Rand (who is a terrible leader), and the one at the White Tower, which shows some sisters finally beginning to make progress on identifying the Black Ajah within their ranks. END SPOILERS.
I didn’t leave anything important out. This book was 672 pages long. At least it wasn’t longer. I wish he would stop treading water and stop wasting precious narrative time on petty feuds and layovers and status updates, and give us the real goods: character development, characters actually talking about stuff that matters, forward progress. Unfortunately, I’ve been reliably informed that I’ve got two more books of meandering before the pace (supposedly) picks up again in book eleven.
Lastly, I just want to talk about Rand for a sec. He was a harmlessly likable main character in book one, and only mildly irritating in book two, but since then, he has just descended into this heartless, cruel, anger-ridden character who is so incredibly uninteresting to read about. He is a TERRIBLE leader. I have never before read a book where the main character is so utterly unheroic*, and the text doesn’t really take him to task for it. He doesn’t seem to be learning, and no one is telling him (in a competent, human way) that he is terrible. Take this exchange, between Rand and Narishma. Narishma is one of his Ash’aman, and he has just come back from a perilous errand to retrieve the sword Callandor, an errand that Rand sent him on. This is how he treats Narishma upon his return:
Springing from the cot, Rand snatched the bundle before Narishma could proffer it. “Did anyone see you?” he demanded. “What took you so long? I expected you last night.”
“It took me a while to figure out what I had to do,” Narishma replied in a flat voice. “You didn’t tell me everything. You nearly killed me.”
That was ridiculous. Rand *had* told him everything he needed to know. He was sure of it. There was no point in trusting the man as far as he had, only to have him die and ruin everything. Carefully he tucked the bundle beneath his cot. His hands trembled with the urge to strip the wrapping away, to make sure they held what Narishma had been sent for. The man would not have dared to return if they did not. “Get yourself into a proper coat before you join the others,” he said. “And Narishma . . . ” Rand straightened, fixing the other man with a steady gaze. “You tell anyone about this, and I *will* kill you.”
Okay, so let’s break this down: Narishma, who has given Rand no indication of being untrustworthy (in fact, Rand must have trusted him to give him such an important mission, out of hundreds of Ash’aman) has just come back, giving Rand what he asked for, and he has done so letting Rand know there were extra wards that Rand did not tell him about. Instead of thanking him for risking his life and succeeding despite unexpected peril, Rand berates him, disbelieves him. He immediately distrusts his comrade, instead of thinking that someone else might have added wards on top of his own as a trap for anyone retrieving the sword. He then dismisses Narishma seemingly without thought, parting by threatening to kill him. He has taken a moment in which he could have built solidarity with his subordinate, inspired loyalty, and instead dismissed and humiliated and threatened him. There is absolutely no reason Rand could not have expressed the same practical sentiments, even the part about secrecy being worth Narishma’s life, in more appreciative terms, in terms an actual leader would use, a leader who inspires his troops rather than rules them from a place of fear, as Rand is doing now. I kind of despise him.
*Never mind, I thought of one. Richard Rahl from the Sword of Truth (I’ve read through book five as of now). Total and utter dictator. Cruel, stupid, overbearing. And while I still hold out hope that Rand will learn to effectively lead and rehumanize himself in future books, I fully expect Richard to become even worse over time, as the author clearly believes his actions noble, and has no intention of criticizing them.
Anyhoodle, Winter’s Heart is up next, and TBH I’m a little spoiled. I don’t foresee it changing my opinion about the book one way or the other. At least I know two things that will happen, even if almost nothing else will.
[2.5 stars, rounding up to three, because it just isn’t two star worthy. I think there is still more dull to come]