It has been a while since I started this particular book – having been distracted with academic reading, buying books (I cannot be trusted to go to WH Smith on my own) and general health issues, I have been putting off investing time into this particular series. But, then I got signed off work for 2 weeks with a bad back (long story cut very short, absolute agony, all the time) and I thought it was worth investing that time into something productive… like reading fiction and ignoring everything else I could be doing! So, of course, that is exactly what I did! And Robert Jordan has done it again.
Whenever I’ve spoken to people who have read this series, they have consistently told me that in the middle few books it gets quite confusing, because you read one book about one set of characters and all of a sudden you don’t hear from them for a book or two while you’re following others. I can see that playing out properly for the first time in The Fires of Heaven, with only brief mentions of Perrin, my favourite character, being the biggest disappointment. So, in keeping with the theme of the next few novels, I’ll address this book in journeys and their current conclusions.
Nynaeve, Elayne, Thom, Julilin Sandar and Birgitte
Perrin holds a special place in my heart, but I have to say that when Birgitte started playing a larger role outside of the dream world, I did have to announce to my boyfriend that I have a new favourite character. Birgitte adds a little more character and humour to some otherwise frustrating characters. In the previous novel, Elayne and Nynaeve did a brilliant job against the forsaken and the black ajah, but their clumsiness in this particular installment leads them time and again into the same problems and mistakes, the worst (and yet best) of which is pulling Birgitte out of her ‘inbetween’ state, and perhaps destroying her immortality, and being born again as the wheel of time turns. But I love Birgitte. She is funny and relaxed, a perfect contrast to the uptight and overemotional Nynaeve.
I have never really had much time for Nynaeve. She winds be up, and she is head strong to a fault. She bullies the others and cannot seem to accept that she is wrong. This was illustrated craftily and with much flair by Jordan when, after leaving the menagerie, Nynaeve considers how her attitude hasn’t changed at all, but that the others are starting to be a little kinder and cause less problems. She is self centered with a remarkable certainty that she is right all the time, despite the fact that she is blocking her own power and can only channel when she is angry. That said, she has definitely been put in her place this time. She has been humbled by the childish nature of her actions. She has been put in her place by those she considers beneath her. She has returned to the Aes Sedai and is back to being the student, rather than the master. It is satisfying to see others standing up to her, but if Jordan is attempting to create sympathy for her character then he is failing miserably, because I cannot stand the girl.
The relationships be Elayne and Min and Elayne and Birgitte are a far more interesting study. Elayne and Min love the same man, but have promised not to let a man come between them. As the Aiel Customs allow, they are near-sisters, and could be in a relationship with the same man, but that is a long way off yet. It will be interesting to see whether their good natured intentions can hold. What I am truly hoping for is the development of the relationship between Birgitte and Elayne. Finally, a strong and independent woman, weathered by age (literally ages and ages of age) who has not the impulsive stupidity of almost every woman we have come across so far – even the Wise Ones have been self centred and cocky. Birgitte knows she is not perfect, she is a talented warrior and she can’t channel but holds as much importance in the history of the ages as any Aes Sedai. And now she is the first ever female Warder, connected to Elayne, who is not yet full Aes Sedai. It’s going to be a fascinating development of relationship and a power struggle, and I can’t wait to see how it progresses.
It does, however, bring me to a slight bug-bear.
Aes Sedai. Nynaeve and Elayne and Egwene (who we will come onto in a bit) are Accepted. They have experienced more battle and demonstrated more power than many of the Aes Sedai we have met so far. I understand that they have a lot to learn, but what I don’t understand is why they can’t be established as Aes Sedai. I know that at this moment in time they cannot take the oaths, but is there any point in holding to that? The change of age is bringing a new order – the dragon has been reborn and the end of the times as we know them are coming. As a result of my dissatisfaction with the lack of Aes Sedai flexibility, I HAVE A HUGE ISSUE WITH ELAYNE AND WARDERS.
Why should she assume that she is going to bond with Rand as a warder. He is a man who can channel. He is the Dragon Reborn. What RIGHT does Elayne have to assume that he will sacrifice his own independent life as a person to become her Warder. Being a Warder isn’t about loving who you serve, and in fact I don’t believe that if you truly love a person you would choose that life for them. Elayne is presumptuous and frustrating. Her major problem with joining with Birgitte is that she will now have to join the green Ajah so that Rand can bond with her. NO. This is not a fair representation of women, marriage or society and it’s a terrifying idea at that. So I’m incredibly frustrated with Elayne and want to knock some sense into her really!
Min, Siuan Sanche, Leane and Logain
I am impressed yet annoyed with Min, disappointed with Galad and Gawyn, intrigued by Siuan and Leane and fascinated with Min’s viewings of Logain. Their journey to Salidar has been very clearly crafted by the Wheel of Time, with Gareth Byrne chasing them and agreeing to lead an army against the white tower.
Min rescued Siuan and has travelled with her to keep her safe. She is kind hearted, loyal and brave. But she doesn’t have that spark that many of the female characters have. She has fallen in love with Rand, and yet done nothing about it. They really barely even spoke. She has travelled for months with Siuan and despite showing some interest in learning their destination, never pushes the point quite enough. She has become weaker through the novel, and I hope that reuniting with Elayne and Nynaeve will help develop her backbone a little more!
The Amyrilin Seat has fallen, yet she still has control over Aes Sedai without them even realising it. She is a crafty, clever woman, and I have been impressed throughout at her dedication to her plans and scheming. Weaker women than both Siuan and Leane would have died or become nothing by now having been stilled, but they fight because they have to. Their inner strength after such a loss is a powerful representation of the perseverance and resilience of women and what they can achieve.
I’m a little frustrated at the whole Salidar situation. They are some of the most well-educated, intelligent and powerful women in the world. They should have been able to put more of a resistance together than they did.
Rand and the Aiel, Egwene and the Wise Ones
Just when you think Rand is the main focus, Mat defeats an Aiel chief, Egwene stands up to Nynaeve and wins, not only in the moment but in causing Nynaeve to back down a little more permanently, and the third woman in the love square appears. Aviendha…
These love sick women frustrate me. They fight their feelings, but they’re so strong they eventually give in to them and even though they appear independent, they are still totally dependent on a man for their happiness. I was almost grateful when Melindhra took a stand and tried to kill Mat. Not because I don’t like Mat. I’ve actually grown quite fond of him. But she’s not been taken in by the good looks, the feelings and the emotions and she’s stayed true to her calling. Yes, it was to follow the dark one, destroy the Ta’Veren and kill Mat, but at least she has a little back bone.
This has to be one of my biggest problems. There seem to be so many strong and independent women, but they are all weakened by men and their relationships with them. The Aiel seem to have the best, most independent representation of females through the Maidens, who choose the spear over a long term relationship, but THEY HAVE TO GIVE UP THE SPEAR TO BE IN A RELATIONSHIP. No. No. Women can have a career and be married. They can continue to achieve and develop as individuals.
I’m not a feminist. I’m just sick of this world where women are either themselves or the weaker part of a relationship which makes them give up what they love. There is a way to do it both.
Lanfear and Moraine are not dead. It was too easy.
Balefire is dangerous, and Rand is risking a lot with using it on the forsaken, although I am glad he did.
I don’t know what’s coming next, but I really hope that it continues to develop the characters. As frustrating as I find them, there has been some real character development of Nynaeve, Siuan, Egwene and Mat in this installment. I hope this continues through other characters as the novels progress.