A Crown of Swords – Wheel of Time Book 7

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I am halfway through this incredible series, and as stressed and exciting whilst reading it as I have been from book 1! The character development throughout this half way book has been fantastic, offering a wide variety of perspectives and drama. As always, the book is so long and thorough that it’s hard to even know where to begin, so I shall just pick out a few of what I consider to be the most interesting parts and discuss them in a small amount of detail!

Resurrected Forsaken

My boyfriend may have slightly spoiled the mystery of this for me by telling me that two forsaken were resurrected (which I had worked out) into different genders (which, at that point, I had not concluded). As a result, the surprising revelation at the conclusion of the last novel that a female ‘servant’ in Salidair (Halima) could channel using Saidin was less of a surprise for me. When it came to the mystery man rescuing Rand at the conclusion of this novel by creating Balefire but Rand was unable to sense the male source, it is a logical conclusion that this man is the resurrected Lanfear, who dreads to see Lews Therin dead.

I have found the gender transition fascinating. I had assumed, when my boyfriend mentioned the resurrections to me, that everything would change gender-wise, that the new female would use Salidar and the new male would use saidin, By maintaining their original source of the power, Jordan emphasises the humanity of the forsaken, something that is easy to forget considering their penchant towards evil and their seemingly endless blood lust. They are not simply robotic minions, like the Myrddraal, but humans who fall in love (Lanfear), like special ‘toys’ (Grandael) or become very possessive over what they consider to me theirs (Sammael). It makes you wonder, since they are so insistent on hanging onto their humanity, whether the lesser of them might still be redeemed to the light.

Philosophical discussion aside, it seriously stresses me out that Lanfear and another forsaken are back, because I’ve been enjoying the count down through every book as Rand and others defeat Forsaken after Forsaken, but now they’re down two and they don’t even know it. Also, Halima has a worrying hold over Egwene – could she be causing the headaches that she is so aptly able to massage away? With Aes Sedai having no way to tell when a man is channeling, she is in the most danger of them all at this current time! Hopefully all will be revealed in the next novel.

Nynaeve’s Block – AND LAN

I stand by my dislike of Nynaeve and her attitude, temper and self-obsession, but it was really nice to see her and Lan reunited. Egwene taking control as Amyrilin and making important decisions that led to this reunion was the icing on the cake. Seeing Nynaeve surrender completely was moderately satisfying, and knowing that she can channel without having a hissy fit will hopefully make her an easier character to read for the remaining seven novels.

BUT JORDAN RUINED IT BY REUNITING HER WITH LAN THE DAY IT HAPPENED AND I’M SERIOUSLY ANNOYED ABOUT IT.

Honestly, a woman finally overcomes a huge obstacle by herself, a strong willed and independent woman, and what should happen but she is rescued, when she was perfectly able now to rescue herself, by the man she loves. And married that same night. Just as Nynaeve develops independence from the need to be angry, she is taken in by a man who makes her forget any anger. It’s all too convenient and frustrating. They were both really fantastic things to have happened, but they should not have taken place together – dare I say, they shouldn’t have taken place in the same novel. It’s extremely frustrating.

That said, it was a little bit fun to see Tylin pursuing and capturing Mat, despite the borderline rape that was taking place. Yes, it was nice to see a woman taking control and pursuing her own interests, but the entire set up was rather suspect. Visiting a land where women are clearly the stronger sex, where they are innocent until proven guilty on murdering a man, and their excuses for doing so can be quite flimsy, and we finally meet a woman not waiting on a man… It’s just all a little uncomfortable, like women can’t be the dominant sex unless they are in a land entirely devoted to that fact. It’s just rather uncomfortable to read, and as I mentioned earlier, Mat is essentially raped by Tylin, thus undermining the entire joy of seeing women think for themselves. I’m not happy with the events there, and found them quite uncomfortable to read.

Intrigue in the Tower

Elaida is not black ajah, Alviarin is, as was Galina, and now Elaida has started a hunt for black ajah that I’m pretty sure she wants to rig to lead to Alviarin… The tower isn’t broken because of the rebels, it is broken from within. The moment there was confirmation of Black Ajah, the tower lost their position as a thoroughly united power, and the tower under Elaida’s control appears very disheveled compared to the rebels, who are uniting together. I feel sorry for Egwene, as she is going to have quite the mess to pick up.

The Weather Bowl

The entire book has been based around finding the weather bowl, and they still haven’t actually fixed the weather. More than anything, it’s frustrating that it’s being dragged out so long, that there was so much manipulation needed to get everyone in position, and that just as I thought we were getting there the Seanchen invaded, Mat’s in trouble and we just left him there! Cliff hangers and suspense are Jordan’s strongest writing techniques, I have to say, and I am biting at the bit to read the next book to see what happens.

What…? I have… positive feelings towards… Mat?

Which leads me nicely onto… Mat. For whom I am developing positive feelings. It was actually really nice in this novel to see Jordan really working to dig beneath the ‘clown-ish’ womaniser that he has so far portrayed Mat to be. Mat’s pursuance by Tylin reveals a rather understated, delicate and romantic side of Mat, where his pride will not allow him to be pursued without him instigating the chase, and his desire to truly be able to provide for a woman he has a relationship with. This vulnerability, coupled with his fierce loyalty to keeping his word and his bravery in the face of a danger even Aes Sedai could not face, have given him a much more rounded character that I don’t hate… strange to say, but he really stood out in this book. That said, a lot of A Crown of Swords did follow Mat closely and was told from his perspective, and when you’re reading almost a first person account of his journeys, you can’t help but feel positive towards him. I’m sure if the novel had leaned towards Nynaeve’s perspective, I would have very different feelings now! That said, Elayne is finally appearing to come to terms with the fact that her hatred of Mat is very much founded on Nynaeve’s attitude towards him, and it was nice to see Elayne step up and start to form her own opinions.

Those bits and bobs

A few other things to mention.

I like Min, but she has been very crafty and manipulative. She knows Elayne’s feelings and spent a significant amount of time with Elayne, so you’d think her loyalty to her friend would be a little more secure than basically rubbing herself up against Rand at every opportunity as an attempt to make him see her as a woman. I can’t help but feel that their reunion will be quite difficult. That said, I am starting to see now why Min is so important to Rand – she is a calming influence, a touch of light relief, and of course her visions at least help him to be able to plan for the future and know who to trust.

Sammael is dead, but actually, although Rand’s plans were scattered throughout the story, this is almost secondary to everything else that has taken place. Also, is he really dead; I mean, I know that Rand thinks he is, and I would assume that he is because nothing survives Shadar Logoth, but we didn’t actually see him die and the Forsaken appear to be more hardy that we give them credit for.

Rand killed a woman. Out of pity, out of desperation, to save her from the darkness that would consume her, but how will he recover from this? From his perspective he basically killed her twice – once by abandoning her when darkness came, and now by erasing her from existence to stop her suffering.

Okay, actually, there is one more massive bug bear here… Balefire. Moghedien used it on Nynaeve’s boat and killed two of Mat’s men in the process – but if she did that then why does Mat remember them? It’s a bot of a logical loophole and I’m not overly happy with the concept being so easily overwritten. For example, if the middle of the boat never existed, then Nynaeve would not have been out on the water at that time because the sailors never had a whole boat to use, which eliminates the entire drowning scene and her breaking through her block… I know it’s picky, but it is a massive plot flaw which is never really explained.

Overall

It seems to me that there was a lot less of the social commentary that I have seen in other novels previously, and that Jordan really focusses in on the progression of the plot and characterisation. In a way it was nice to move forwards with such speed and alacrity, and I look forwards to seeing where book 8 takes me!

Lord of Chaos – Wheel of Time Book 6

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It has been a while since I wrote about anything I’ve been reading just for fun! I have to read this in small bites, as it’s been being read alongside curriculum texts and teaching theory books, and so it has been quite low on the priority list! But once I got my teeth back into it, I’ve barely been able to stop reading and am bowled over by the end! While reading this series, I try to read one Wheel of Time book, then another unrelated novel, to keep variety in my reading. This is the first time I’ve desperately wanted to go straight on and just keep reading the next book in the series, and it’s all to do with the last lines before the epilogue:

‘On a day of fire and blood and the One Power, as prophecy had suggested, the unstained tower, broken, bent knee to the forgotten sign. The first nine Aes Sedai swore fealty to the Dragon Reborn, and the world was changed forever.’

How did we get here?

It’s been so long since I read ‘The Fires of Heaven’ that I’ve had to go back and skim read my last blog post, and even then I’m not sure I can remember exactly what happened in the start of this book to get us so far! As always, there’s not enough space to talk about everything that’s happened, so I’ll pick up on a few key plot points and go from there.

The Amyrlin Seat

What I suppose was designed to be a shocking twist was actually really clear to me from the beginning of this novel. The sisters in Salidar were far too interested in Egwene to simply want to discipline her, and since no other sisters in Salidar were being specifically focussed on, it stood to reason that either Nynaeve, Elayne or Egwene would be asked to step us, especially as they are the strongest talent seen in many years. Nynaeve is easy to rule out – a wilder still cut off from the source when angry, she would not be a reliable or stable leader of a rebellious faction of the tower. Elayne has duties elsewhere – as the future queen of Andor, she would never be able to balance both responsibilities. That simply left Egwene.

I believe that the sisters in Salidar have made a wiser decision than they know. Egwene is strong minded and willful, but not so much so that she will dig her heels in and refused to be moved when faced with reason and logic. She is extremely powerful and in rediscovering the lost talent of dream walking, and receiving such caring teaching from the Aiel, she is clearly well versed in the power and her special skills. But most importantly, from our perspective, she has a clear head and a scheming mind. Already cleverly using Mat’s army to intimidate lords and ladies to join her rebellion, she has the ability to manipulate the key players in this story because she knows so much about them. Her developing relationship with Gawyn was a bit of a side step. To be honest, I would really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really love a female character in this series who is strong, independent, plays a key role in events, isn’t Aes Sedai and doesn’t fall in love (but I’ll come onto that rant in a moment!). But, I can understand how it’s happened, and it is a positive thing as ultimately Gawyn’s promise to Egwene saved Rand’s life, and we all know Rand can’t die till the final book!

Overall, I was really pleased with Egwene’s progression in this novel, and feel that her character has continued to grow in independence and strength.

That said, I still have my gripes – her speedy succession seems unrealistic and she is still very reliant on the older Aes Sedai to continue to receive support as a leader. It will be interesting to see when, and if, she has a united tower to follow her how she copes with the more mundane side of the job!

My biggest fuss over the Aes Sedai at this point, though, is the swearing of oaths on the rod being the step to Aes Sedai. I understand that this is a tradition, and that it is the Aes Sedai equivilant of a bat mitzvah, where the accepted finally becomes an Aes Sedai. But it doesn’t really effect their ability, their power or anything of importance. It holds them to a high standard of no violence except in emergencies, and truth telling, but in all honesty I cannot see the necessity in it. When Egwene, Elayne, Nynaeve and the others do arrive at the White Tower, I would like to see them stand up for themselves and refuse to take the oaths. They are limiting in dangerous times, and a little bit demeaning, even if the truth can be manipulated. I won’t dwell much more on this, but I don’t see why they should have to go through with swearing the oaths when they already go above and beyond, both talent and work-wise, what is expected of an Aes Sedai.

Girls, Girls, Girls!!!!

Faile, Egwene, Elayne, Nynaeve, Aviendha, Min, Amys, Berelain, Birgitte, Siuan…

Perrin, Gawyn/Galad, Rand, Lan, Rand, Rand, Rhuarc, Perrin, Gaidal Cain, Gareth Byrne…

This is a novel filled with strong and powerful women. In a world where it is only safe for women to channel and reach the source, you would think that there would be more women whose key focus is not men. I am excluding Aes Sedai from this discussion deliberately, because their decision whether to marry or not is mitigated by the warder situation, and I ranted enough about that last time. I will say that their lack of romantic relationships alienates them from ‘normal’ society, and is a part of what has them considered pariahs in many areas.

I’m just really sick of how much this reads like a romantic novel. I swear, if Mat, Rand or Perrin mention that they think the other ones have more knowledge about women I will throw the book across the room! There’s just so much going on in the novels already. I could have coped with two or three relationships – I like Perrin and Faile, and I like her because she is strong and stands up to her husband, but then she acts like a child and ignores him because another woman is showing interest. Perrin married her and she should not be punishing him for the actions of another. Similarly, Berelain is successfully holding a city in disarray in as much order as possible, and has ordered the deaths of nobles and peasants alike, and yet the minute Perrin shows up, she turns into a giggling teenage girl.

I don’t even want to get into the love quadilateral which is Rand, Elayne, Aviendha and Min. Elayne thinks she owns Rand, Aviendha slept with him and now seems to be considering sharing him with Elayne, and Min is trying to make Rand love her (which he clearly already does but still…). These are powerful and independent women in their own right driven to distraction by a man… Min was in love with him after one meeting and until this novel barely spent any time with him. Elayne is in love with him and has pushed him away and promised love to him within a week of each other, and is now frustrated because he wants to ‘give’ her the throne… SHE WASN’T THERE TO TAKE IT WAS SHE?! He has protected it from the many hands which would take it from her without a second thought, and has held onto it, as well as wanting to give her more. Elayne is entitled to it, but Rand has ‘won’ it, as it were. Of the three of them, Aviendha has spent the most time with Rand, has the most intense relationship with him, and yet withholds her love for the sake of Elayne. This is the one redeeming feature of the whole situation – Aviendha’s loyalty to her friends in unshakable, and her honesty has allowed their friendship to continue. Min, on the other hand, seems determined to ruin her friendship with Elayne! Argh, it’s all so frustrating.

I would just like one of the key characters to stop pining and get on with things… sometimes it’s like reading ‘Sweet Valley High’ – a guilty secret pleasure of mine when I was younger!

I will say, however, that the capture of Moghedian was very impressive, and showed what a group of girls can do, however the loss of her at the conclusion of the novel was not great really… however it is VERY clever that the transformations and rebirths in the prologue clearly played a role throughout the novel, and that the female of the pair was clearly actually a male forsaken. I’m interested to see where this will go!

That said, the only woman who shows true independence and thought is Alanna, and WE DO NOT LIKE HER. Well, I didn’t. I have a little more sympathy now that she has experienced Rand’s pain are understands what he struggles with every day. But Alanna bonded with Rand without his permission. She does not have the ability to compel him, thank goodness, which would have been very damaging, but what she did, as is stated in the novel, is equated to rape. She took away his ability to consent and acted without thought for the consequences. I am interested to see how their relationship develops as they must now be linked… perhaps Alanna will become Rand’s warder more that Rand will become hers!

Black vs White

This was potentially one of my favourite parts of the novel. Men who can channel have their own name – Asha’man. They have their own place to train – the black tower. Rand’s amnesty is paying off. Whilst their techniques, taught by the untrustworthy Taim, are violent and dangerous, they pay off. I am eager to see a time where Aes Sedai and Asha’man work together, train together and respect each other, and I look forwards to the beginnings of this relationship!

Insanity

One of the most interesting things explored in this novel is the descent into madness and the definitions of insanity. Both Mat and Rand remember things that aren’t their memories. They both show skills and abilities they can’t possibly know. Mat’s are memories, Rand’s is a voice. Looking at these with cold logic, there are elements of schizophrenia, multiple personality disorder and auditory hallucinations. I truly believe that the portrayal of Rand and Lews Therin is a powerful metaphor for the horrors of mental illness.

In this novel especially, Rand has struggled to define whether Lews is in fact Lews Therin, or whether he is simply a symptom off his own madness. The constant voice in his head and the battle for Saidin and reminiscent of ‘Jekyll and Hyde’, parts of which I recently re read on a school work experience which is probably why they’re brought to mind. Similarly to when Mr Hyde eventually takes over Dr Jekyll, Lews Therin believes that he is the true owner of the body. He does not recognise or know Rand, and only begins to acknowledge him in the last few pages. Lews Therin clearly has his own insanity issues to work through, but Rand’s constant fight against him is a really testament to those who have struggled with auditory hallucinations and mental illnesses in which they lose sight of themselves and give in to another personality. Jordan touches on a difficult subject, but his portrayal of Rand’s struggle to continue to be Rand Al’Thor and now Lews Therin, is heart wrenching to witness.

The True Source

The male half of the true source is tainted, but who is to say the female half isn’t as well, in its own way? Men go mad, Aes Sedai become master manipulators and ageless. They live for long beyond their years and are driven to great extents to protect themselves. The final battle is coming (in, like 8 books time), but what will its conclusion be? At this point, I believe that to make the world more fair, better, and to eradicate the dark one, all power should be wiped out. I include Saidin and Saidar in this. Just to put it out there.

The End

Then, of course, there is the quote I opened with, and the final scenes in which the first nine Aes Sedai bow to Rand, who was strong enough to break through three Aes Sedai and then to take them out one by one. I have nothing particularly critical or analytical to say about this bit, except how satisfying it was. Aes Sedai put in their place a little. Rand continuing to step up and take control and the development of the all the characters throughout have been really interesting to watch. I’m fascinated to see where the next novel goes – will they fix the weather? Will Morgase make a comeback so everyone can stop hating Rand for something he didn’t do?

Best get onto reading another book so I can move on with this series!

The Fires of Heaven – Wheel of Time Book 5

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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.

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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.

Conclusion

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.

The Shadow Rising – Wheel of Time book 4

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Book 4 of The Wheel of Time series has come to a roaring conclusion and it most certainly ended with a bang! Between The Battle for Emond’s Field and both Nina and Rand’s fights against the Forsaken, it was action packed for those last few chapters and every single page from the first to last contains a piece of information that answers something, or comes up later, or leaves you with a hundred questions. This time, rather than focussing on character as I have done previously, I’d actually like to comment on some key sections of the plot. So be warned, if you ever intend to read this series, every word from now on will contain spoilers.

Hmmmm… where to start! Book 4 raced along at a pace even I struggled with a little bit. So much has happened in a relatively short space of time.

He Who Comes with the Dawn

Okay, yes, I want to focus on plot, but actually, what has happened to Rand! He has gone from a bumbling fool walking blindly in the dark, to the uniter of the Aiel, and the defeater of a Forsaken to such an extent that Asmodean has no choice but to teach Rand how to control his power. Throughout the novel, Rand gathers more and more Aiel to himself, and during his time in Rhuidean more is revealed of the prophecies he has spent so long studying. I could spend hours on the intricacies of Rhuidean, but you would definitely start to get bored. The image of a city in the sky, the role of the Wise Ones, the dream walking… it was all very well connected and explained. What I didn’t quite understand, was how seeing the past of the Aiel could be considered a test for Rand. The Aiel are supposed to enter Rhuidean to be tested almost beyond their bearing in order to show that they have the inner strength and ability to lead their clans. Jordan very cleverly manipulated the plot when he had Muradin already in Rhuidean when Rand arrived. For the reader, it showed what the revelation of the true past could do to someone who held so strongly to their belief in who they are as Aielmen – the truth causes Muradin to claw out his own eyes. But for Rand, I do not think this really counted as a test. His interest is vague, to say the least. He is there solely to fulfill prophecy. He doesn’t consider himself Aiel. He had no idea what they thought of their past, so everything he learned wasn’t a matter of unlearning a lifetime of history, but learning something new about a foreign people. Therefore, it wasn’t really a test for him. He simply had to travel through and learn what he could. Mat was tested more when he went through the door. Yet, Rand gets two tattoos and an Aiel following. I question, therefore, the importance of Rand entering Rhuidean. It allowed the reader a valued insight into the Aiel, one which could have just as easily have been achieved as following Aviendha through the heart of the city, and would have more emotionally received by the reader as they experienced the genuine pain that such knowledge can emulate.

I view it almost as a warning. It’s like in the movie Paycheque, or the Disney movie Tomorrowland – when people have knowledge of the future, they try so hard to change it that they drive themselves towards it in all of their efforts to present it. Rand has read the prophecies – as far as he is able, he has seen into the future. He doesn’t fully understand it, and he doesn’t know what it means, but the bits that he can fulfill, he does. The prophecy ends with death, and blood, and a second breaking. Being ta’veren, I know that Rand cannot escape his destiny. But it seems that he fulfills his own prophecies solely because he knows them. This brings into question the whole concept of free will, and the Christian debate of pre-destination vs free will. It is an interesting concept that in seeing his future, as it was written, Rand cannot help but follow it because he thinks he has to. Moraine Sedai seems to understand this, and keeps trying to make Rand stop and think. But, gone is the shepherd who didn’t know he could channel, who thought he loved Egwene and whose biggest problem was seeing someone he didn’t think was there. Now we have battle hardened, magic-weary Rand, who sees people as a tool for his use. Because he has to. Because the prophecies say so. I find it frustrating and fascinating.

Anyway, the final scene of the novel is Rand bringing Asmodean home with him, to learn how to control his magic. I had no idea as I worked through the novel that this was Rand’s plan – both he and Jordan managed to keep the secret thoroughly and well. The battle scene was impressive, if, and I can’t believe I’m saying this about a 14 book series, a little rushed. Rand now hold more power than anyone could ever imagine, and he’s slowly going to be going mad. Not a good sign.

The Battle for Emond Field

I have said from book one that Perrin is my favourite character, not necessarily because of who he is but due to how well developed he is as a character, and how genuine his progression appears. And, just to get it out of my system, PERRIN AND FAILE ARE MARRIED AND I’M SO INCREDIBLY HAPPY ABOUT IT. But back to the battle.

My boyfriend is on book 10 and tells me this is his favourite scene in the series so far. It was pretty incredible. I have a pretty thorough knowledge of fantasy literature and assumed I knew everything. I knew Faile would come back. I did not link the dying man to the help coming from the other side. And I did NOT see it coming that Lord Luc was Slayer. Jordan does a fantastic job of springing little surprises on you like that. It was such an emotional and beautiful moment as the battle concluded that all Perrin could see was his wife, beautiful and bold, and their reunion was so sweet. I wish that they could now ride off into their sunset, but that’s not going to happen!

A special mention here to Loial and Gaul for shutting the Waygate. It makes me sad that we didn’t spend any time on their journey. Alongside Perrin, Loial is one of my favourite characters (I can’t tell you how happy I was when they teamed up) and it would have been interesting to see Loial and Gaul develop a friendship.

Nynaeve vs the Forsaken

For ease, I call Nyaeve Nina, as I can’t really pronounce her name, and it’s also going to be easier to type here. Nina really came into her own here. I still don’t like her. She has ‘blocked’ herself, according to Moghedien, and I find this frustrating. She clearly has great power. She clearly has immense potential. But if Nina was a man, she would have given in to the madness long ago. If she stayed too long in Tar Valon, I would not be surprised to see her become the next Elaida. I don’t quite trust Nina, because I don’t think she should trust herself.

That said, what a battle! I love the image of the male a’dam – the black colour, the need for two bracelets, and the fact that the madness is transferable even to a female. It makes you wonder – why isn’t Saidin tainted? What is it that holds the women together?

Nina and Moghedien are the first time that someone other than Rand has really had to face up to the Forsaken and hold her own. It shows how important each and every thread of the strand is. Nina followed to bring the boys home, and she has rescued the male a’dam from the hands of Black Ajah. Once again, the predestination argument seems prominant and the choices of individuals almost futile.

The Fall of Tar Valon

Of course, for me the most shocking bit was the fall of Tar Valon. By the time you get to it, you almost forget Min’s visions when she walks in to the Amyrilin Seat with news. But her visions are accurate.

Firstly, my heart breaks for Gawyn and his misguided actions which led to Siuan being stilled. I hope that he can be redeemed and forgiven. The images of teacher against student, student against teacher, friend against friend… they’re very biblical in their powerful statements hierarchy and control. Many times we cheer the young ones on as they overpower the seeming enemy, but in this case we think they’re wrong. The bible says that in the final days, there will be father against son, brother against brother. Obviously, with another 10 books to go, these aren’t quite the final days, but alongside the predestination debate as described earlier, I wonder if there is more to the battle for Tar Valon than just youth and passion overpowering wisdom and age.

Then there’s the evil. Stilling. Gentling. Such calm and soft words. They hide a myriad of evil. My boyfriend suggested that they are perhaps an analogy for depression. The sense of missing something, of reaching out for something that is not there. The fading away without a purpose. The pain of it. I can see where he’s coming from. I felt such empathy with Siuan as she reached out for the power and it wasn’t there. What’s interesting is that Siuan and Logain now have a purpose together. Perhaps, by taking away the power, the Aes Sedai have created far worse enemies than they could have imagined. Because revenge, justice and a righting of the wrong, that is all they have to survive on now, and a desperate person takes desperate risks. I worry for Leane, I don’t think she’ll make it. And when Siuan reaches her goal, what will she have left? Not a lot left to live for, in all honesty.

But do I think that Jordan is speaking of depression? Does depression give you power? Can you find a purpose that is worth more than the way your life was going before, because of the depression? Is it the stilling that relates to depression, or the power itself? I think that my boyfriend gives depression too much power – in my situation that is. I’d like to take a closer look.

Depression + The One Power

Depression is a deep blackness inside you. It climbs up your spine and into your brain almost unnoticed, taking control of limbs that you didn’t know could shake like that, and thoughts that you didn’t think you would ever think. It takes over.

The one power fills people almost uncontrollably. When people are at their best they feel powerful, invincible, and when they’re at their worst they are weak and tired and beyond healing because they have stretched themselves too far. If a person were strong enough, the power would take over completely.

Depression gives you a sense of utter helplessness. You are no longer in control of your life, your thoughts, and sometimes your body.

The one power has a way of being controlled even by the unskilled. It makes itself -as Rand shows repeatedly – into what is needed.

There are strands of depression – related to eating, sleeping, talking, breathing, exercising and everything in between. Each strand effects a person differently.

There are strands of the power, some are strong in one area while others are strong in the others. Each strand of power works differently for each person.

So yes, there are comparisons. But to what relevance?

Saidin is a drug. Its users become dependent. Its male users go made. But it does hearken to depression. The lack of control, the need for more, the loss of self – age and image.

So perhaps it isn’t the stilling, as my boyfriend thinks, that is the problem. Perhaps it is the power itself. A sickness, not only in men, that drives humankind to evil and uncontrolled ends, even at the risk of damaging themselves. I can see the links between the power and depression. I think they may be stronger than the links between stilling and depression.

So what is the solution? Well, for the Wheel of Time, perhaps it is the eradication of power altogether. Without it, there would have been no breaking, would be no second breaking. People would be more equal. Perhaps that is why the world must break again. Perhaps the one power, and not just the dark one, need to be returned to where they belong.

For anyone out there who does suffer from depression, if a farm boy from the Two Rivers can do it, so can you!

Alice, Christina Henry

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I love Alice in Wonderland. I loved ‘After Alice’ by Gregory Maguire. I adore the story and the extent to which it is possible to redesign Carroll’s original world.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so traumatised upon reading a book, and yet there’s a sequel and I’ve ordered it because I’m stubborn like that.

The Plot

Alice is in a mental asylum, next to a man called Hatcher. She is there because she was found covered in blood and weeping, and kept talking about a rabbit. He is there because he murdered 12 people with an axe. An intriguing opening, with a lot of mystery intertwined in. Alice and Hatcher escape the asylum, and begin a journey through the city to defeat the Jabberwock – a magician from the old days trapped when he turned to dark magic. In the meantime, their journey through the filthy underworld of Cheshire, Caterpillar, Walrus and Rabbit is the most horrifying and disgustingly foul thing I have ever read.

Walrus rapes girls and eats them so he can absorb their magic, but he is disappointed every time because the only girl with magic is Alice, who escaped him. Caterpillar keeps girls in a brothel dressed like butterflies, and in the meantime has a mermaid trapped and a woman surgically altered to look like a butterfly in a cage. The woman’s only escape is to beg for death, which Hatcher fulfills. Rabbit sells girls, rapes Alice when she is 16 to ‘break’ her. Cheshire seems a little more stable, but his game playing and cruelty is immeasurable.

I felt sick reading this, but at the same time, gripped by the mystery. Who is Jenny? Will Alice survive? What really happened.

And then of course there was Pipkin; a white bunny made into a giant so that he could fight in cage fights, who Alice can talk to and rescues, and who sets himself up as a protector of all the girls that Alice frees. Pipkin was a moment of light relief.

Henry has created a disturbing and horrific world, one that I only engage with because of the strong and clever interweaving of the original Alice in Wonderland stories. Based in an unnamed city, where the Old City is separated from the New City by soldiers and guards and no intermingling is allowed, Henry does not for a moment pretend that Wonderland exists. Everything is almost believable – the names, the characters. I was most impressed with Cheshire; he was the one character throughout that I felt really stayed true to the original characterisation. He is mysterious, has a great big grin, and helps only when it suits him, and even then his ‘help’ is confusing and misguided.

But nothing can excuse the rape, the murder, the blood, the horror of this story. It has all been so unnecessary. It would have been an intriguing tale without the horror that runs alongside it. But Henry overplays her hand, allowing the blood and gore to overtake the terrifying world that she has created.

Don’t get me wrong; whilst simple, Henry’s writing of place is absolutely fantastic. You can feel the difference between the Old City and the New City. There are no long, intrusive descriptions, but you learn enough about the place through what they witness. Alice and Hatcher’s amnesia both help with that, because they have to run through what is familiar to work out what they know and what they don’t.

Her characterisation is also very impressive. It helps that she is working with a much loved story and well known characters, but the development of love between Alice and Hatcher, the chase for the Rabbit, who you know as evil and are surprised by his physical state when he is found, and the creation of the over lords of the City are all very impressive. Some characters you feel you know before you actually meet them. Others, you get to know along the way. The physical descriptions were lacking a little, but again, because of the nature of the transformation, you can work with what you know about the story beforehand.

I’m just upset and slight disgusted that someone can think it’s okay to write such horror in such a blithe way. I expected a mystery, some uncomfortable-ness, but not a blaise writing of rape. It is almost as if Henry undermines the horror of the experience – rape is not bad enough, so let’s imagine someone eating their victim, or turning them into a human butterfly with broken legs… I can’t get over the imagery. It was foul and horrid.

So whilst the writing was good and the transformation interesting, overall I have hated reading this novel. I can’t help myself, the sequel is already on its way, and as Alice and Hatcher are leaving the city to hunt for Hatcher’s daughter, I hope that some of the horror will dissipate. But it has left a horrid taste in my mouth.

The Dragon Reborn – Wheel of Time book 3

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And as always, not with a quiet stutter but rather a large explosion and a cliff hanger like no other, yet another Wheel of Time novel draws to a close.

When looking at the first book, I focussed on the characters. In the second I looked not just at the characters but their links with each other and the relationship especially between Egwene, Elayne and Min. This time, it’s time to take a closer look at the boys. But not before I say this…

Nynaeve and Egwene

Nynaeve and Egwene have the most childish relationship in the entire novel! Egwene acts like a grumpy 2 year old and Nynaeve is so self-righteous and rude all the time! My boyfriend assures me that I’ll develop a love-hate relationship with them, that there are times I’ll love them and times I won’t, but right now I just wish they’d go their separate ways instead of forcing their relationship on us. Egwene’s character progression has been fascinating to watch; from the determined young lady who wanted to leave the Two Rivers, to the powerful Accepted with a fear of being chained again. I can understand her anger and fears. Nynaeve I have no such understanding towards. Her reasons for following the group originally are a bit sketchy – would someone with no blood relation or particular benefit really go through so much effort to return the Two Rivers folk home? Her relationship with Lan hasn’t really been explored enough – we’ve not really had much narrative from Nynaeve’s perspective yet and so we have been told that this exists but not been witness to much of it. Nynaeve’s lack of control of the power – only being able to channel when angry – and her sole desire to learn more control being based on the desire for revenge against Moraine are concerning factors. We worry so much about Rand and the taint on the male power, that perhaps we are not seeing the evil that Nynaeve is capable of. I do believe she is one to watch – and I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

Rand

What was nice about this novel is that Rand didn’t actually feature much in it. Certainly, he was the main focus, but aside from the odd insight into his dreams, we learned about his journey from the perspective of the other characters. This is a very clever narrative device, emphasising Rand’s isolation as well as his battle with the descent to madness. We begin to understand a little more of how Rand is being swept away by events, by power and by dreams. Lanfear’s control over him is somewhat worrying – as with the horn, he seeks Callendor because she wants him to, alongside the call of the sword and the dreams and the desire to defeat evil. It is almost scary reading paragraphs from his perspective now. He has developed some control over the power, but it still drives him to madness. He has accepted his destiny, the Aiel are his followers and he has a powerful sa’angreal now which he can channel through. Is Rand going to be able to defeat the madness? Or will his spiralling descent continue.

Perrin

Perrin and Faile, sitting in a tree… okay, a little childish, but awwwwwwwww! Perrin was, from book 1, one of the most well established and believable characters. His development into the ‘wolf whisperer’, despite his reluctance, is one of the most engaging journeys in the series so far. His relationship with the dead wolf Hopper was surprising at first, and unlike Rand, Perrin seems much more able to actively fight the connection with the wolves, whereas Rand is consistently consumed by the call of the power. But in his fight against his destiny, Perrin is learning to use and control his powers; he accepts the power of the wolf-dreams, he is able to warn people about what is coming through his dreams and he just has a great sense of smell. This is one of the things I love about Perrin’s perspective. You get a total 4D experience, and it’s so natural. The five senses are always important in writing, but smell is one of the hardest to write as it doesn’t always fit in naturally. But through Perrin’s enhanced senses, the reader gains an insight into the world he is experiencing that doesn’t feel unnatural. In fact, Jordan often describes smells before sights when writing Perrin, which is a very powerful insight into the progression of Perrin’s powers. And now, Perrin has his falcon. I much prefer this romance to any of the others so far, because although it is childish (they both openly dislike and wind each other up and express their attraction through childish mannerisms), I actually believe that they are in love. I’m excited to see how the relationship progresses, and am dreading discovering who the hawk is, because she fights with the falcon and I like Faile.

Mat

Wow, Mat really winds me up. For a protagonist, I really dislike him. Even his rescue of Egwene, Elayne and Nynaeve is so… reluctant? drawn out? childish? I’m not really sure what word to use. I find the discovery of his luck interesting, but not particularly gripping. Jordan overplays his role as the joker in the group, before they left the Two Rivers, except now it is mostly bitter and twisted and very out of place. He is a reluctant hero, which I have no problem with, but I just cannot warm to him. I don’t know whether maybe I am still putting a taint on him that is left over from the dagger. He just doesn’t feel natural. Of all the characters in the novel, Mat is the most forced. He has very little character progression, and isn’t that likeable. The novel ends with his planning to run away from events and he whines a lot about not getting any thanks etc. I just can’t warm to him.

Thom

Thom is a character I’m worried about. His injury, gained when saving Mat and Rand’s lives, is well written when convenient, but ignored when not so convenient. It’s a little inconsistent at times. The death of his lover was clearly deeply traumatic. The thing is, Mat and Thom should really be a dream team. You’d expect banter and laughter, a little comic relief. But they’re both so caught up in their woes that there seems to be little they agree on or enjoy. There is a definite darkness to The Dragon Reborn, and it manifests in Thom’s lack of story telling, lack of harp playing and, even if it’s written that he tells a story or performs, we don’t get to experience it like we used to. I hope that Jordan builds Thom’s character back up.

The Strands

Ah yes, the wheel weaves as the wheel wills, and the four individual journeys, the three ta’veren and the dark one all end up in the same place for yet another confrontation. Ba’alzamon is dead. The dark one is not. The journey is only just beginning. The forsaken are clearly going to be a key focus in the next few novels as they need to be hunted down. But that’s an aside. What I want to say here is that I am impressed at Jordan’s control of all strands of the story. Clearly knowing this was a long term project, he wrote as if it was a record rather than a novel. The detail, such as songs with the same tune but different words, or an inn that ‘feels’ different, is so strong that you can really imagine yourself there. The story is complex and in an amateur’s hands would be confusing, but Jordan knows what he is doing and has produced a world that I can really begin to live in. His control of the characters is complete but unnoticeable while you’re reading; instead it isn’t till you look back on the books that you realise how in control he is. I’ve read a lot of self-published, kindle fantasy recently and had forgotten how powerful and thorough a true epic is. Jordan is bringing me back into the fantasy landscape, and I’m really enjoying it.

The Great Hunt – Wheel of Time book 2

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It’s been a while since I last wrote because these books are so long! And so incredible. You both want to speed through them and slow down so they don’t have to end. It’s pretty incredible.

Last time I wrote about the Wheel of Time, I talked a bit about the male characters and Moraine, the Aes Sedai, as well as Egwene and Nynaeve. Now, though, there are so many more characters, it’s hard to know where to start.

Rand Al’Thor is the Dragon Reborn. Whilst none of us are surprised by the fact that he is the actual real dragon, it seems that at last he has managed to accept it himself. Rand seems determined to isolate himself, and this is not helped by Mat’s loss of the dagger and Perrin’s reluctance to explain to anyone his connection with the wolves. It was good to see by the end of the book that they were resuming their relationships and staying loyal to Rand in spite of the danger he presents.

Favourite Character of Book 2

Loial. Without a doubt, the ogier is one of the greatest characters this series has produced. From his concern and worry for his books, to his unfaltering loyalty to Rand, Loial adds both comic relief and wisdom, as well as a valid insight into the nature of humanity. Jordan has written Loial really well – he is 90 years old, young by the standards of his people, as his species youth settles well with the wisdom that comes from having been alive for 90 years. He really is a good and loyal friend and a character I look forwards to following further through the series.

Least favourite characters

I have to say, this should be Padan Fain, a terrifying mix of Mordeth and the evil of the dagger and the depth of a life long darkfriend.

But my real issues lie else where. Firstly, the sul’dam. Women chaining women and manipulating them to use their power for evil. Renna, especially, portrays such evil – the facade of friendship and equality quickly wiped away by punishment and degradation. To do this to another women, to have those physical chains between them, is such a powerful image and indictment of the treatment of women in society, even at the hands of other women. Too many escaped for my liking. There has to be some form of justice produced upon them in the coming books. I found the imagery of such slavery quite upsetting.

Secondly, Selene. Or should I say LANFEAR, a forsaken. She is manipulative, cruel and totally in control of Rand whenever he is in her presence. I thought that the three ties Min had seen would be Elayne, Egwene and Min, but it appears that it is a forsaken, Egwene and Min. But Selene represents all that is wrong with this world. She has broken out of her prison and is dangerous. I really, really don’t like her.

Team Egwene?

I couldn’t write about this particular novel without mentioning the relationship between Egwene, Min and Elayne. It’s so beautiful, they all love the same man in their own way and yet they are loyal to each other and are focussed on rescuing Egwene at great risk to themselves. They have forged a bond of friendship that almost, not quite, restores the shattered portrayal of female – female relationships created by the sul’dam. Their loyalty to each other is a pleasure to see.

Conclusion

I was kind of sad that everyone left without saying goodbye to Rand. I know Mat’s situation is pretty desperate, but I still think they could have waited a couple of days. But, as seems to be the case, Robert Jordan knows how to write an ending! He is phenomenally talented at having everything the novel has led towards wrapped up whilst simultaneously creating new threads and mysteries to be faced next time. I’m not sure I can handle the stress for 12 more novels!

I am growing to love this series, and seeing character growth is really important. Last time I complained that Rand and Mat were quite flat. I still find Mat a bit two dimensional, but Rand is coming into his own now. I guess that when you have the pleasure of writing fourteen novels, you can take your time creating characters with such depth.

Overall, The Great Hunt felt more mature and thorough than The Eye of the World. I am looking forwards to reading on, not just because of the plot, but also because I can see the character development. Time for a short break and then onto ‘The Dragon Reborn’.