The Fires of Heaven, A Rant On Dense Characters

I’ve read ten chapters of The Fires of Heaven, the fifth book in the Wheel of Time series. In Robert Jordan’s world, ten chapters is about 205 pages. I really have a love/hate relationship with these books. Sometimes they are brilliant. Other times they make you want to throw the book (aka. Kindle device) at the wall. And it’s almost never in the middle. It’s usually one of those two extremes.

I get that sometimes the characters aren’t supposed to pick up on things that the reader sees, because we, the reader, have the benefit of seeing everyone’s point of view. But holy crap sometimes Jordan’s characters are incredibly dense. I mean, this thing with Aviendha and Rand is driving me crazy. Nobody could possibly be as blind as Rand. Maybe I could let that slide because in these books, men and women aren’t supposed to understand each other. (Which I’m getting a bit tired of, actually.) But Egwene! What is her excuse? Even she is blind to what is going on. As far back as the middle of the last book, I thought Aviendha had a thing for Rand, and it wasn’t all that subtle then. But in this book the reason for Aviendha’s odd behavior is so obvious it might as well be on neon signs for everyone to see. (It’s so obvious that I’m suspicious that Jordan is trying to trick me, and he will reveal something entirely different that’s going on.)

My other problem with this book is that so far, it’s not clear what the goals for the book are. That is, what are the problems that our heros need to overcome? In the first book, we were trying to get to the Eye of the World. In the second book, we were trying to recover the Horn of Valere. In the third book, we were all running toward Tear and the Sword of Callandor. In the fourth book, the storylines diverged. Perrin, at least, had a clear goal of saving Emond’s Field. Nynaeve and Elayne had a goal of finding Dark Sisters in Tanchico. Rand hung out with the Aiel, though it was never clear to me why. (I did not care for Rand’s part in that book. I would have been just fine if the enter rest of the series did like the third book and simply left him out.)

After 10 chapters (I remind you, that is 205 pages), the path and the destination are not clear at all. I stopped reading The Fifth Sorceress because I didn’t see a plot in the first 200 pages. All I can tell is that Rand has just started moving his Aiel army into Shienar. Why? Don’t have a clue. Rand’s keeping it all secret, and he’s acting like, well, like Rand always does: An idiot. I am always very happy when the Rand chapters end. It’s tempting to literally just click the Go To Next Chapter button when I see Rand’s name.

Nynaeve and Elayne, I think, are trying to go back to Tear. At least that’s the general direction they are heading on the map, except they keep saying they want to return to Tar Valon, which is in a whole different direction. I guess they are going to take a boat up the river? So I’m not really clear where they are going or why. I guess they are heading back to get new orders. (Boy are they going to be in for a surprise if they actually reach Tar Valon in this book.)

And speaking of dense characters, do not get me started on Nynaeve and Elayne just up and drinking strange tea made by strangers acting strangely in a strange town. From now on, whenever they start talking indignantly about how insulted they are that the stupid men (Juilin and Thom) are with them and they don’t need any help from them and they’d be better off without them, they should get a good thumping about the head and shoulders, because the men totally saved them from their own stupidity.

Okay, I’ll go back to reading now. 🙂

Book and Chapter Word Counts

Since I’m an aspiring writer, I am intensely curious about some of the "inside baseball” facts of the books I read. A took a random selection of Kindle books (the ones that just happened to be on my hard drive at the time) and figured out the approximate word count for each book when converted to plain text.** In the table below, the number of pages is as shown by Amazon.

Author Book

Words

Pages

Robert Jordan The Shadow Rising

396k

1051

Terry Goodkind Stone of Tears

393k

996

Brandon Sanderson The Way of Kings

383k

1009

Robert Jordan The Fires of Heaven

356k

926

George R.R. Martin A Clash of Kings

334k

1040

Terry Goodkind Wizard’s First Rule

305k

*580

Jacqueline Carey Kushiel’s Dart

278k

934

Robert Jordan The Dragon Reborn

253k

632

John Brown Servant of a Dark God

179k

624

Fred Saberhagen The First Book of Swords

85k

219

* I am not sure what is up with Terry Goodkind’s Kindle books, but they seem very screwed up. I’m pretty sure that book had more than 580 pages.

Another question that comes up among writers a lot is: How long should my chapters be? Obviously there’s no right answer, but here is how long the first three chapters (not counting prologues) are in the above books:

Book

Ch. 1

Ch. 2

Ch. 3

The Shadow Rising

15.8k

15.1k

7.3k

Stone of Tears

2.8k

3.9k

6.3k

The Way of Kings

4.5k

5.0k

5.2k

The Fires of Heaven

13.9k

9.1k

7.1k

A Clash of Kings

2.5k

4.8k

5.6k

Wizard’s First Rule

2.5k

5.2k

6.7k

Kushiel’s Dart

2.7k

2.7k

3.3k

The Dragon Reborn

4.1k

4.8k

3.5k

Servant of a Dark God

2.4k

2.2k

1.5k

The First Book of Swords

5.3k

8.0k

5.5k

I don’t know about anyone else, but at least now I know why it took so frickin’ long to read The Shadow Rising.

** Don’t ask how I did it.

P.S. For comparison, the longest novel I have written is 138k words, and my chapters tend to be between 2k and 4k words. I suck. 🙂

Four Is Enough?

I thought I would next tackle The Fires of Heaven, the fifth book in the Wheel of Time series. But I don’t seem to have the same enthusiasm I did with the first four books. After reading the prologue and one chapter of Fires, I’m getting a bad feeling.

The Prologue was a mind-numbingly gigantic info-dump that went on forever. Chapter One follows Min with Siuan, Leane, and Logain. It wasn’t terrible but Min is the only one I care about in that bunch. Then Chapter Two gets us back to Rand, who, I’m sorry to admit, is one of my least favorite character in the books. (Possibly eclipsed only by Mat.) Reading Rand and Mat chapters always feels like a chore.

Jordan’s prose in Fires seems much more verbose than I remember, too. And it was pretty verbose in the first four. Don’t get me wrong, it’s richly detailed and descriptive, and a worldbuilding tour de force, but it’s considerably more detail than is needed to advance a story. So I’m starting to think to myself, maybe the first four books is enough for me.