Finished A Memory of Light

The Third Age is finally over.

The Third Age is finally over. I powered through books 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14 all in a row, which has left me exhausted, yet exalted.

Say what you want about it, but you can’t deny that The Wheel of Time is EPIC. I quipped on Facebook that they should retire the category of “epic fantasy” after this because nobody else could possibly write anything as epic. I’m trying to think of anything I’ve read that had a similar scope. Lord of the Rings, obviously, but that was only three tiny, tiny books. The only other books I can think of (that I’ve read) that came close in terms of sheer immersion were Stephen R. Donaldson’s The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and possibly The Sword of Shannara, which I remember as incredibly epic in scope, even though it was only one book, and I read it when I was a teenager.

Wheel of Time completely dwarfed those two in terms of sheer complexity. The Last Battle. Wow. It was pure shock and awe in terms of how all of the plots and factions and characters wove together. As an aspiring author, I now feel like a toddler playing with plastic blocks.

It was bittersweet to read the Epilogue. Knowing it was the late Robert Jordan’s words. The end of the series. The last time I’d be seeing these characters. Knowing there would be no more, even though you could sense that the aftermath could fill many more books. And there are many things to be discussed. But alas, no more questions, no more answers. I picked up this series late in life. I can’t imagine what the people who have literally been with these characters all their lives must feel.

Sanderson Takes Over

I’ve been trying to get through the Wheel of Time books before A Memory of Light comes out on January 8, and since I am now 20% finished with The Towers of Midnight, I think I can safely say that I am going to make it. Light! What a reading frenzy.

I was keenly interested to see what Brandon Sanderson would do with the series, and so far I’m quite pleased. I can definitely see the change in writing style (mainly in shorter sections and paragraphs and sentences), but I expected that. What I didn’t expect was the emotional impact that Sanderson brought to the series. Sanderson did something that Jordan never managed: He made me actually care about Rand for the first time since the first book. Rand’s been such an insufferable, stubbornly indecipherable butthead of a hero for so long that I frankly hoped the Dark One would win the Last Battle.

A huge increase in drama was achieved simply by actually having the characters interact with each other. When you think about it, so much of the Wheel of Time has been about the characters not interacting, and not explaining themselves, and not being forthright, and not trusting their peers. Everyone, good guys and bad, has had their own independent story going on, where they have their own plan, and they think everyone else is out to get them. That makes for some interesting points of view, conflict, and tension, but when it’s everyone and it goes on for book after book after book with no resolution, it gets a bit tedious. Of course, it might have nothing to do with Sanderson and might have been Jordan’s plan all along. You can see it starting to happen in Knife of Dreams.

Because of all the lack of communication and side plots and exposition, I haven’t really enjoyed Wheel of Time since The Shadow Rising, and the last good plot development I remember was Dumai’s Wells which I believe happened at the end of Lord of Chaos. I’ve merely been enduring the series since then.

At least until Knife of Dreams, Jordan’s last book, which was good. And now I can say that The Gathering Storm, Sanderon’s first book, is good, too. Were I to recommend the series to someone, however, I would say, "Read books 1-4, skim through books 5-6, then just skip to book 11."

Home-grown Wheel of Time Encyclopedias

Thanks to all the spoilerific Wheel of Time wikis on the Internet, I have to keep my own encyclopedia as I go.

You know what the world needs? Wikis without spoilers.

I just finished A Crown of Swords, Book 7 of the Wheel of Time. If you haven’t read these books, let me assure that you will not remember everyone and everything. It is physically impossible. You’ll see a name pop up and wonder who or what it is, and where you last saw him/her/it. In those cases, there’s only three things you can do: 1) Keep reading and hope that Robert Jordan fills you in on the details, 2) Use the handy search feature of your Kindle and hope the name is found somewhere earlier, or 3) Lookup the name on a helpful Internet Wheel of Time Wiki Page.

Unless you’ve read the whole series before, I do not recommend that last one. The helpful information you’ll get will include every spoiler from the entire series, because wiki authors don’t seem to care that they’re going to ruin your day.

For that reason I have been extremely diligent in avoiding Wheel of Time wiki pages, and anything that looks like it might even hint at spoilers, so nothing too major has been spoiled for me … yet. It feels like it’s inevitable though.

My point is that thanks to those spoilerific wikis, I have to write my own frickin’  Wheel of Time encyclopedia as I go. I was all right through three books. Then there was an explosion of people, places, and things. After book five, I simply had to start a catalog. Shown below is how it looks at the beginning of Book 8 (don’t look if you haven’t read through book 7, although I don’t think any spoilers are shown). What I’m doing is saving a different copy for each book. Each one gets progressively more complicated. That way, if I go back and re-read these books later, I can pull up the one that corresponds to the book I’m on.

The Wheel of Time, Book 8

By the way, I’m using this nifty mind-mapping software called FreeMind to make this catalog.

P.S. Yes, I have spent way too much time on this.

Bad Character Habits in Wheel of Time

It’s time for an intervention to stop the bad habits of characters in The Wheel of Time.

There are a few bad habits that the characters in The Wheel of Time have that they don’t seem to be able to stop themselves from doing even after six books, so I think it might be time for an intervention:

  • Scrubbing their hands through their hair.
  • Knuckling their moustaches or their backs.
  • Gaping at anyone or anything.
  • Smoothing their skirts.
  • Sniffing.
  • Obsessing over the neckline of women’s dresses.

It’s sort of laughable to see these things in the seventh book. Here’s Rand scrubbing a hand through his hair again. Uh oh, Elayne’s sniffing again. And here are some women entering the scene. What kind of dresses are they wearing? Will their necklines be ‘swooping’ low or just ‘dipping’ low? Will there be an oval cutout?

On The Fires of Heaven

I finally finished The Fires of Heaven, the fifth book in the Wheel of Time series. I say “finally” because, compared to the three Hunger Games books, Fires of Heaven reads like an encyclopedia.

Apparently this is the book where most people gave up on the series, and I can certainly see why. It’s kind redundant at this point to say “half of the text could have been removed without any effect on the plot,” but it’s never been truer. Yes, yes, it’s all very rich and imaginative detail about the world. But in writing, story is king.

There are three main storylines in this book: 1) Rand leaving the waste with his Aiel horde, 2) Nynaeve and Elayne returning from Tanchico, and 3) Siuan Sanche, the former Amerlyn Seat, searching for the exiled Blue Ajah from the Tower.

Perrin is not in the book at all, which sucks for me because he’s the only one among the ta’veren that I don’t constantly feel like smacking upside the head.

[spoiler] Apparently each one of these books is basically about Rand defeating another one of the Forsaken. Most of this book, Rand talks about Sammael as his adversary, but in the end Jordan pulled a switch-a-roo and he actually went after Rahvin, who is Gaebril, the guy who ensorceled Queen Morgase. Everyone thinks Morgase is dead, but she just went underground.

So Morraine finally dies in this book, something that I’ve been expecting to happen for quite some time, considering how often she talks about her own demise with Lan. And in this book in particular, her behavior radically changes in a way that telegraphs both her imminent death and the fact that she knows it’s coming soon. On the plus side, she took Lanfear with her, which was a bit of a surprise to me. Of course, we never saw the bodies, so I have to assume they aren’t really dead, and they’ll be back in another book. Because everyone knows that in fiction, if there’s no body, or if we didn’t actually see them die, they aren’t dead.

I have to admit I wasn’t sad to see Morraine go. She has had no significant role in these books since the first one (besides being a constant irritant, that is).

Nothing new to report with Nynaeve or Elayne, except that their constant cat-fighting is getting very, very old. Nynaeve somehow managed to help Rand defeat Rahvin in the end through the dream world thingy, but I’m not precisely sure how that happened. Jordan has a way of describing scenery and history in excruciating detail, but he is not great at writing clear action scenes. [/spoiler]

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. :)

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.