I hated this book. There was nothing in here that was offensive, like using rape as comic relief in A Crown of Swords. But the key plot points in here could’ve easily been interwoven into the last book. In fact, doing so (and trimming quite a bit of the fat) would’ve improved the story considerably. A great deal of this book does absolutely nothing to develop the characters or move the plot forward in any way. If anything, there is a needless addition of numerous characters that aren’t needed.
To give one example, the following characters all play a non-negligible role in Chapter 19.
- Lyrelle Arienwin
- Moria Karentanis
- Janya Frende
- Delana Mosalaine
- Malind Nachenin
- Magla Daronos
- Salita Toranes
These aren’t characters mentioned in passing. These characters are described. These are characters Jordan put effort into creating. And while I can admire the passion he had in creating this world – it’s painful as a reader. None of these characters matter. None of them advance the story. It’s just fluff, increasing the word count. And, for the most part, none of these characters take part in the rest of this series. They just get brief mention here, or one of the previous books, and then cease to exist.
It’s exhausting, and that’s just one chapter.
And, look, this is part of epic fantasy. A Song of Ice and Fire has at least 2,040 named characters. The Wheel of Time has at least 2,782 named characters. This surprised me before I looked it up, because I never feel overwhelmed by all the characters in A Song of Ice and Fire. I think there are a couple of reasons. For starters, we’re talking about epic fantasy. There are going to be a ton of characters. If you were to tally up the number of characters in the Malazon series, you’d probably also come up with a few thousand. I couldn’t find a number for the characters in The Lord of the Rings (which is surprising), but the estimates I’ve seen are around 1,000. The bigger issue for me is that Jordan fills his books with named characters who take an active part in the story, complete with full names, motivations, and full descriptions – and then they disappear.
In A Song of Ice and Fire, I don’t think that’s really the case. Characters will interact with other characters, but you never lose sight of who the principle cast is. The background characters give flavor to the world – but they never supersede the main cast. Toveine Gazal gets a POV chapter in this book. You can read the chronology of her character arc. She isn’t an important character. There’s really no reason she’s given an entire chapter from her POV. She has a small role in this book, and an even smaller role in the next one. And that’s it.
There are so many false starts in this series that never go anywhere.
In chapter Five, Elayne is searching through things gathered by the Kinfolk, trying to find angreal to empower her, Nyaneve, and Aviendha during their use of the Bowl of Winds. They spent 800 pages looking for the damned thing in the previous book, and by chapter five of this book they still haven’t used it. Anyway, Elayne’s mind kind of wanders and she’s thinking about the deal made between the Aes Sedai and the Sea Folk, which reminds her of a joke. We, the reader, then get the joke explained to us. It’s not funny. And it’s explained.
And all I could think is: what the hell does any of this have to do with anything?
That’s this book, in a nutshell. Elayne and Nynaeve are walking to Caemlyn so that Elayne can take the throne. Nothing really happens after they flee the Seanchan invasion. Egwene is also marching, but she’s going to Tar Valon at the head of an army. She’s also being treated like a child by the Aes Sedai, making her chapters fairly insufferable. For much of the book, Rand is (wait for it) traveling. He’s going to Ebou Dar to fight the Seanchan, and he’s also an asshole to everyone while repeatedly reassuring himself that he isn’t going mad.
Page after page. Chapter after chapter.
The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher is a long, multi-book series that has sometimes seen years pass in between installments. Something that always annoyed me in those books (apart from the misogyny) was that Butcher kind of rehashes what’s happened in previous books in the first few chapters. Obviously, this is done to keep things fresh in the mind of the reader who is reading them every year or two. To the binge reader, however, it can be pretty tiresome. I don’t expect authors to cater to the whims of a person ten years in the future who’s going to blow through all fifteen books in a month – but it’s still an annoyance.
In these books, however, the summary feels like it is the book. Jordan repeats himself all the time. The easy example is the perpetual bombardment of people whining about the other gender. I think I’ve beaten that dead horse enough. It goes beyond that, though. Rand’s obsession with putting women in danger, or his obsession with “death is lighter than a feather, duty heavier than a mountain” (which is actually a Japanese proverb), or his obsession with being “hard” – which I take to mean him being an asshole. More than anything, by this book, he’s obsessed with madness. Going mad. The Asha’man going mad. It’s like a metronome in his chapters. He’s been hearing Lews Therin’s voice in his head for a few books now, and it seems apparent (to us) that this isn’t madness but some kind of connection between Rand and Lews Therin (who lived thousands of years prior) that hasn’t been fully explained yet. Rand thinks he’s crazy.
I don’t know. Maybe he is going crazy – but it’s something that’s always talked about without really being shown. The old adage, “show don’t tell” really applies to these books. Robert Jordan spends a lot of time telling us things without really showing us. It’s like the “joke” I mentioned earlier. He didn’t have one character telling a joke, he had a character thinking about the joke and reflecting on its accuracy.
It doesn’t feel like Jordan is trying to keep these things fresh in our minds, it feels like we aren’t going anywhere. It’s like he wants to accomplish one thing in each book, and the rest is just filler.
Chapter 24 sees Rand attacking the Seanchan outside of Ebou Dar. This is an area in which Robert Jordan shines. It’s raining, and the battle rages amongst trees. There’s confusion and screaming, and everyone is tired. Thousands have died, and Rand wants to keep pressing the Seanchan. He wants to drive them off the continent. Despite pleas to count their losses and flee, Rand makes one final, desperate grab for victory: he uses Callandor to pull the power of 100 men and rain down lightening on his enemies. He’s blinded by his thirst for victory, and doesn’t realize the lightening has gotten away from – that he’s killing his own people. When he does, we finally get a glimpse of his humanity. For what is perhaps the first time, Rand actually shows concern for the dead men that surround him, and he realizes that he’s lost.
Of course, this bitter, touching moment is nullified at the end of the chapter when Jordan switched to the point of view of the Seanchan commander to reveal that they are fleeing. Rand actually does win.
For a brief moment, it felt like this story might actually be going somewhere.
The next chapter is of Elaida and the Aes Sedai in the White Tower. They are arguing about whether the things we, the reader, know to be true (that the Seanchan use a leash to control women who can channel, that the Asha’man have discovered how to Travel, that anyone could learn how to create ter’angreal after the knowledge being lost for so long, etc) are actually true. Aaaaand we’re back to none of this book actually progressing the story or being interesting.
So much of this book (and the last couple) have left plot threads hanging. What is the Black Ajah doing? Yes, in the White Tower they’re working to destabilize things and weaken the Aes Sedai. What about Liandrin, the Black Ajah who fled Tar Valon back in The Dragon Reborn (causing Elayne and Nynaeve to chase them to Tear)? We haven’t heard anything about her in…..four books now? According to this page, she is absolutely invisible in the story between The Shadow Rising (book 4) and The Towers of Midnight (book 13). That’s absurd. She was a major plot point for two books – and she’s just forgotten about until Brandon Sanderson takes over. I still don’t know what the Forsaken are doing half the time. There are a few that pop up in this book – but they seem awfully chill considering Rand has been picking them off.
Like, no one in these books seems to really give a damn about whatever their agenda is. THE END OF THE WORLD IS NIGH! Why does no one take this seriously? Everyone is falling in love with one another (even though no one actually seems to like anyone else), and their all quibbling about pointless shit. It’s supposed to be winter, and it feels like the height of summer (because the Dark One is close enough to breaking free that he can actually influence things in the world) – yet Elayne and Co. arguing with the Seafolk over the right to use the Bowl of the Winds to fix the weather. The nobles in Caemlyn are arguing over who’s going to sit on the throne. The Aes Sedai are arguing over who’s in control of the White Tower. The Kinfolk are arguing about whether or not to join with the Aes Sedai. The Whitecloaks are arguing over everyone and everything. The Aiel….seem pretty happy to be following Rand in whatever he’s doing. The Seanchan want to take over the world because…..they are descendents of the heirs of Artur Hawkwing and think they’re owed everything. On, and on….
My issue isn’t that there’s infighting. We’re still dealing, in the real world, with a pandemic in which roughly half the United States population refuses to get a vaccination – which is allowing variant strains of the virus to run wild through the population, killing people. I don’t expect people to not be stupid in the stories I’m reading. But I do expect there to be people saying, “what in the ever loving fuck is wrong with you assholes! There’s important shit that needs to get done.” No one is really doing that, because they’re so busy mooning over how finely turned some dude’s calves are.
Good lord. I’ve been telling myself that I’ll just muscle through these books until I get to Brandon Sanderson – because I’ve only heard good things about what he does. And I’ve read enough of his writing to know that he’s good at what he does. But I don’t even know if I’ll care about these books by the time I get to him. I think this book is the lowest point in the series – at least, that’s what I remember from my original read of them. But Robert Jordan doesn’t have a high bar to clear with Winter’s Heart.
To finish this off, here’s the plot, such as it is:
Elayne, Nynaeve, Aviendha, and a selection of Kinfolk and Seafolk use the Bowl of Winds to fix the weather. They are then attacked by the Seanchan before traveling to Andor. Ebou Dar has fallen, and we get no word from Mat (who was left behind). They then spend most of the rest of the book walking to Caemlyn. Perrin is in four chapters, which means he’s officially still in this series. He was tasked with confronting Masema (who we met in the first book) in A Crown of Swords, and he finally makes it to Ghealdan. The confrontation doesn’t happen, but Faile ends up taking Elayne’s mom (in disguise) on as a handmaid. And then she (Faile) gets captured. So we’ll have to wait for at least one more book for this thread to be tied off.
Egwene (with the second most POV chapters in the book) gets more control over the rebel Aes Sedai. That’s it. She spends the entire book trying to solidfy her role as Amyrlin Seat, and convince the rebels to declare war on Elaida.
Rand attempts to end the Seanchan threat, but fails. He’s also attacked by Asha’man under the leadership of Dashiva. They fail.