The Rose and the Dagger, Renee Ahdieh

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The Premise

Returned to her family and separated from the man she loves, Shazi must now reconcile her love for a ‘monster’ with the family that believe they have rescued her. But there are darker forces at work – the curse which drove Khalid to his initial killings is rearing its head now that he has stopped bowing to its requirements, and the whole kingdom stands poised to fall as nature and greed stand firm. With betrayal coming from every angle, who can Shazi and Khalid trust with their secret? And can the curse really be broken?

The Verdict

It’s nice to read a duology which is truly that – two books in which all the action takes place and everything is wrapped up, even more so when some of the issues I raised before are addressed.

So let’s start there with the gender imbalance of power. Ahdieh showed a stubborn young woman and her maid, )really a spy in her chambers), in the first novel, as exceptions to the rule, where they stood out because of their independence and strength in a very male dominated world. I commented on this last time, and was pleased to see the development of a few more female characters in The Rose and The Dagger, namely the character development of Shazi’s sister Irsa, probably my favourite character. Unlike Shazi and Despina, Irsa is not the exception that surprises everyone because a woman is strong. Rather, Irsa is a true representation of the progression from childhood into womanhood – a character with faults who learns to overcome them. She is overplayed initially as the ‘perfect’ younger sister, who rarely has a temper and is loyal to her family but also her kingdom. Ahdieh begins to unravel this as Irsa helps Shazi to hide the ring belonging to Khalid, and continues to do this throughout the novel, such as where Irsa uses her innocent reputation to steal the book her father clings to. Ahdieh begins to develop more rounded and believable characters that are different to the standard ones that plagued the first book. You could lift Shazi and Khalid and plant them into any young person’s book and they would fit (with a little tweaking), whereas Irsa moves away from this generic characterisation and begins to show some of Ahdieh’s talents in creating unique fictional characters. I believe she still has a way to go, but this was definitely a step in the right direction.

As a result of this improved characterisation of Irsa, the focus on the strength of the male characters was drawn away – in fact, Ahdieh exploited more of their weaknesses and highlighted the importance of the female role. This was most apparent at the conclusion, where Yasmine replaces her father on the throne and is considered a far more fitting ruler. There is a lot of potential in this novel for the development of characters that was left unexplored, and Yasmine was one who suffered – she was a means towards an end rather than a person in the narrative, which was a shame.

The plot was satisfying and the conclusion was well done. I always prefer a nice big twist, which the reveal that Despina was in fact the Sultan’s daughter didn’t quite satisfy, but for a young person’s novel, everything was well wrapped up and explained. I enjoyed the ‘battle’ scene, if it can be called that, and found Ahdieh’s descriptions eliciting very visual images, demonstrating her skill with descriptive language. All the different strands of the story tied up, and the cliched happy ending was nice – a break from some of the more serious stuff I find myself reading sometimes!

Overall, the series was a creative retelling of a popular tale, filled with likeable characters, one stand out little sister, and descriptions that brought the location to life. I enjoyed the plot, although I found it predictable, but I would definitely read something by Ahdieh again if I came across it.

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The Wrath & The Dawn, Renee Ahdieh

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Chosen for me by my loving fiance, who thought that I needed something a little lighter than some of the stuff I normally read, I have raced through The Wrath & The Dawn with eagerness. A well written tale based on the Arabian Nights, Ahdieh paints a picture of a tortured king and the young woman stubborn enough to save him with finesse and skill.

The Premise

I have never read a version of Arabian Nights (Disney’s Aladdin does not count!) but was familiar with the concept prior to starting this novel, and a few chapters in had to put the book down and check that it was deliberately following the popular framing I knew already existed. Once satisfied that this was a deliberate narrative choice, I was able to settle down to enjoy the novel.

Shazi has volunteered to marry a troubled young prince, who executes his brides at dawn and has done for several months. The death of Shazi’s best friend has driven her to seek retribution against the man who caused the death, but instead she finds herself puzzled by the quietly spoken boy-king she faces. Two young people carrying heavy secrets, seeking to be understood in a world that can’t understand them find comfort in each other… but this is not to everyone’s pleasure.

The Verdict

I have enjoyed this novel surprisingly much – so much so that its sequel is on the way already (it is nice to read a duology rather than a 14 book series for a change!). Ahdieh takes a well known narrative frame (that of the queen telling stories to save her life), but focusses more on the surroundings of the story than that stories themselves, which from what I know is what the original Arabian Nights does. Her subtle nods to the original tales are clear and respectful, but it is obvious that her real fascination was with the couple, the development of their relationship and their individual motivations.

The parallel between the two main characters, Shazi and Khalid, is striking. Khalid, a murdering king, meets Shazi and decides for one night to hold her execution. Shazi, an innocent girl in love with another man who has never hurt another person, has entered the royal palace with the intention of killing Khalid. Her murderous intent is driven by the death of her best friend, while Khalid’s breaking of habit is driven by wanting to get to know the girl in front of him. Her anger and his interest collide several times, creating the complex romantic narrative outside of the normal ‘boy meets girl’ trope. Ahdieh shows their confusion with depth and skill, exploring how the couple can possibly come to be in love when their motivations are so against each other. The real heart break is when Shazi learns why Khalid does what he does, and suggests that he should kill her too. His determination to keep her alive, at the risk of losing his kingdom, is the greatest show of love the novel contains, as is the lead up to the final love-making scene in the novel – a stark contrast to the business-like transactions that have gone before. Ahdieh shows the internal conflicts of both protagonists thoroughly, and whilst there are occasional overt comments that stand out for the obviousness of the statement they put forwards, it is mostly done subtly and gently.

Ahdieh shows a world very dominated by men, where women have a role to play in the grand scheme of things, but always in a subservient manner. This suits the setting and style of the writing, but does raise several questions – why is Shazi the first to halt the king? What right does Tariq have to demand she go with him? Is her father wrong in not stopping her from marrying the king? There are 2 women in the novel – Shazi and Despina. Shazi is in an arranged marriage with the threat of death hanging over her, and Despina is a pregnant maid who dares not dishonour the father by telling him the truth.  Both are, in their own way, strong characters, but the perceptions around them are that they need rescuing, taming and controlling. Shazi can hold her own against Khalid’s enemies, but Tariq cannot accept her independence and still sees her as a beautiful thing to be rescued. Khalid is the only male who comes to any realisation concerning Shazi’s independence, when he agrees that she is not a ‘thing’ to be sent away, but it is his love for her and fear of losing her that drives this and not a change of attitude towards women. Some of the repression experienced is difficult to read, albeit culturally sensitive.

It is interesting that when putting this into a genre I immediately went for ‘fantasy’. Magic and the supernatural only play a small part in the main narrative – the curse that Khalid is under happened prior to the events of the novel, and whilst Shazi’s father’s experiments with magic are interspersed throughout, they only really appear towards the end of the narrative. However, there is a strong sense of a fantastical culture and the writing suits the fantasy genre. I will be interested to see how this develops in the conclusion to the series.

This was an interesting take on an age-old tale, filled with innovative thinking and expression. It wasn’t full of surprises or shocks, not for a seasoned reader, but it was a nicely decorated and intriguing narrative filled with some stunning descriptions, especially of the clothes, and characters with depth that was expressed with skill and charm. Definitely recommended, though likely to a teenage audience!

The Fate of the Tearling, Erika Johansen

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Dear Erika,

Unfortunately, due to the nature of this concluding novel, I do not feel comfortable writing a generic blog post, so I’ve decided to write you a letter.

As an author, you created a contract with me, which started when you wrote your first novel and continued after I bought and read it. I invested in your books, you, as the author and creator, wouldn’t let me down.

Well, let me tell you now, Erika, you have let me down, deeply. The conclusion to your series was not of the standard I was expecting. I will caution everyone who has not yet read the finish to look away now, because the next sentence will spoil the ending if they decide to risk the surprise.

YOU CAN’T USE TIME TRAVEL TO ERADICATE ALL THAT YOU HAVE WRITTEN!

Kill characters off, that’s fine and I’d be disappointed if you didn’t. Break their hearts, make me cry, make my heart break… but don’t put me through all that only to make it so worthless. It’s like you literally watched Days of Future Past (an extremely sore point of a movie that my friends are scared to talk to me about) and thought ‘oh, I know, I’ll create a whole world AND MAKE IT WORTHLESS’. I mean, you literally had quotes from history books running through the series, from start to end, but you made all of that history, all of that research and passionate planning and historical development pointless.

Time travel is a risky device in the best of novels and has blown up in many an author’s face. I don’t really understand why you felt the need to risk it. Your story was fantastic. Your protagonist had gone on such a brilliant journey of change and growth. The power of the sapphires was overwhelming and their mystery intact. All of your antagonists – The Red Queen, Row ‘the orphan’, Brenna… they all had well developed pasts, shades of grey that they struggled to over come. They weren’t the two dimensional disappointment of Voldemort or Sauron, but rather solid, multi faceted characters that you both hated and pitied. Kelsea wasn’t perfect – she committed murder, she made poor decisions and she was pig headed. Your characters were so well formed and so realistic throughout.

I’ll pause here to give you credit that you deserve. What I said previously is true. Your characters are some of the best formed in a short fantasy series that I have read for a long time. You manage to fit in the depth that Robert Jordan creates with his characters in a very short amount of time. Your techniques are a little elementary – a lot of flashback and exposition – but you did so well creating those gritty, uncomfortable characters that make your audience sit back and think, not only with your main characters, but with others such as the Mace, who were important to the story line, but in less able authors’ work, often left to the side in terms of depth. I felt for you characters – I loved them, spent time with them and understood their struggles. In that lies your greatest strength.

You got very preachy, though. That was probably my first warning sign. There was a lot of anti-religious propaganda spread throughout. I’m a little at a loss that you managed to write this series without a single mention of a religion outside of Christianity. Surely, if Tear truly had selected the ‘best’ for his journey, there would be equal representation. Instead, you focus on Christianity, followers of Jesus, and you condemn them throughout. It is clear that in your version of utopia, religion cannot play a part. But you can’t simply write out other religions to get to that point. There will always be faith, and it won’t be quieted just because the Tears are killed. I found this very unbalanced and single minded.

Secondly, you created a final world where it seemed that Tear’s vision had worked. He had to be dead, both his sons had to be dead, but the vision that he had succeeded. It is unrealistic and against human nature. Row gave other people a purpose, an outlet for their discontent, but that discontent wasn’t going to go away just because Caitlyn created a constitution or ruled well for 70 years. Human kind can achieve a lot in 300 years, but they wouldn’t be able to do it under the strictures that Tear’s paradise laid down. You create a utopia which goes against the grain of humanity.

Which brings me to my biggest issue. Kelsea. I don’t understand how time travel works, which is why it makes me so mad as a story telling device, but I don’t think Kelsea or her mother would exist as they do, and by concluding the novel from her perspective, you lose the power of the time travel. Nothing would be the same. Kelsea would not exist. The Mace would not exist. Nothing and no one would be as Kelsea remembers because the world wouldn’t have journeyed that way. Assuming that Kelsea is descended from Katie’s child – how did that happen? With the monarchy being abolished, many of the marriages and alliances that led to Kelsea’s birth would not have happened. It simply doesn’t make sense, and as a result the final ten pages of the novel are nonsense.

Also, the anti-climax of the identity of Kelsea’s father was unacceptable. You can’t just decide that it was some minor character she killed a little while back after you’ve made such a big deal of it throughout the novel. He had no purpose; he was no more a part of Kelsea’s identity than I was. It’s okay to keep a secret and then reveal it to be something unexpected, if that change of pace had a purpose. For example, Row or Fetch or even Aisa’s father would have made really good but surprising choices, but you went with a side character we could barely remember. It was too obvious a shock tactic, and I was really disappointed in you – and this was before it became clear what you were going to do with the time travel.

Your books excited me. They created a world I could engage with and enjoyed reading about. They were always a bit preachy, a bit obvious, but you were innovative and interesting. Instead, you’ve turned yourself into a let-down of an author who has fallen back on a traditional trope because you backed yourself into a corner. Unfortunately, as result, despite the strong start your series had, the innovative tale that you told and your impressive characterisation, I can’t trust you as an author again. This was the series that made me want to write my blog again, that inspired me back to reading after depression had taken that joy away from me, and you’ve ruined it.

I was looking forwards to this conclusion for a long time, and I feel incredibly let down by the final effort. If you haven’t started this series yet, don’t bother.

Labyrinth, Kate Mosse

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It’s been a while since I read any historical fiction, and always this departure from my more common picks was recommended by my boyfriend, who decided that I had read too much teaching theory and far too many curriculum texts and needed a break! Since I have now started my teacher’s training, it has taken me a while to get to the end of the novel, and then a few days to actually get round to reviewing it, but it’s Saturday and I’m procrastinating, so is there ever going to be a better time?!

The Overview

The story follows Alice Tanner as she discovers cave containing two bodies whilst volunteering on an archaeological dig in France. She is surprised at the anger and intrigue that surrounds the discovery, and quickly realises that the place she has discovered is familiar, although she knows she has never been there before. With many factions vying to use the cave and call on its power, Alice must solve the mystery before it’s too late.

The Verdict

This was a really enjoyable novel. It was described to me as similar to Dan Brown, and I would agree in theory. There is a search for the grail, protected by a secret sect, and the power the grail provides can be utilised for good and evil. Its protection is paramount to the survival of mankind. But Kate takes such a different story line to Dan Brown that it does her a disservice to compare the others beyond the initial concept.

I really enjoyed the parallelism of Alice and Alais, but I thought this was cheapened by their shared memory. It would have been equally effective if the story had simply been told as it is, without Alice passing out and having recurrent nightmares about Alais’ life. I never really felt like this was adequately explained, and alongside Sajhe’s eight hundred years of life, was extremely unnecessary in furthering the plot. Just the passing down of the traditions and stories would have been enough.

Labyrinth gets off to a bit of a slow start, and there are places where the descriptions could be cut down. But the action doesn’t take too long to begin, and as you journey with the characters, there was never a moment where I thought ‘NO I don’t care about him, what’s happening to her’ which means that Mosse structured her story really well and without too much unbearable suspense.

Overall, it was an interesting, historically accurate and well structured novel, with a driving plot, really well developed characters and excellent writing. Despite the obvious twist and unexplained nature of long life and reincarnation, overall it was an excellent story. I recommend reading it if historical fiction is your thing!

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.