Continuing my log of this epic fantasy series!
Reviews tend to be spoiler free for that novel, but contain full spoilers for preceding books.Jump to sections below:
#4 The Shadow Rising
Read: 29th March 2022
The Shadow Rising felt like the fruition of previous efforts, and continues Jordan’s trend of each book being better than its successor in the Wheel of Time series. Despite the overall story actually finishing up as a set-up for future events, I was moved by both the scope and successful payoff within this book’s events.
No prologue this time 😯 but a heavy Chapter 1 regardless, setting up a lot of plot points across three factions (Tar Valon, Whitecloaks and Seanchan) for this novel and further ones. The opening chapters are spent in Tear, where Rand has claimed the legendary Ter’angreal sword Callandor and fortress with the assistance of loyal Aiel. The man he defeated at the conclusion of The Dragon Reborn was Forsaken member Ishamael and not The Dark One, and whilst the Dark One is still locked away, his taint slips through the Pattern and attacks our three ta’averen Rand, Mat and Perrin. On top of this, the other Forsaken plot against the three young heroes, and the Black Ajah continue to be a tantalising target for the Accepted ranked Aes Sedai Elayne, Egwene and Nynaeve following their escape.
How many more points like that had there been, where a single decision one way or another affected the weave of the Pattern for thousands of years? A thousand times a thousand tiny branching points, a thousand times that many, all twitching the Pattern into a different design. He himself was a walking branching point, and maybe Mat and Perrin, too. What they did or did not do would send ripples ahead, through the Ages.
Thus our ensemble cast splits, with four plotlines running throughout The Shadow Rising.
- Pressured by both fearful and greedy Tairen Lords and haunted by the Prophecies of the Dragon, Rand sets his own path by using a portal stone to travel to the Aiel Waste, seeking an army that will follow him loyally. Egwene, Moraine, Lan and Mat follow him, encountering a dizzying number of clans and learning the shocking true history of the people.
- Perrin however hears rumours of Whitecloak trouble in The Two Rivers relating to a man with Golden Eyes. He asks Loial to travel back to his home through the Ways, yet his efforts in trying to keep his new partner Faile safe have mixed results.
- Whilst Egwene has much to learn about dreamwalking from the Aiel Wise Ones, Elayne and Nynaeve head West to the seedy town of Tanchico in pursuit of the Black Ajah. They are accompanied by Thom and Juilin at the behest of their respective partners (newly-found Rand for Elayne, stone-faced Lan for Nynaeve), and we learn fascinating information about the Sea People’s culture in particular.
- Finally, Min returns to the White Tower as Lady Elmindra, having puzzling yet tense viewings of both Warders and Sisters under the watchful eyes of Siuan Sanche.
Most men want to believe in something larger than themselves, something wider than their own fields. That is why there are nations, Perrin, and peoples.
With plots like that, epic truly feels like the appropriate word for this world-spanning journey. Like in The Dragon Reborn, Jordan gives each perspective a significant amount of time before switching, and I found myself equally engaged in all four (the first three take up most of the page count). I loved getting Rand’s perspective again, if only because in this book I felt myself understanding him and his burden for the first time. His struggle felt personally relatable, and Jordan’s worldbuilding on the other side of the Dragonwall was excellent. Additionally, Rand and the Forsaken are playing games within games within games, leading to a jaw-dropping conclusion. On the other hand, Perrin’s storyline unexpectedly had me emotional. A little because of his return home (there was a head-spinning amount of characters named and developed/ dropped in a very short time), but mostly due to his character interactions and more sombre personal voice. There were also some great battle descriptions here.
"That mountain can grow awfully heavy sometimes. When do you find a chance to put it down a while?"
"When you die."
On the journey to Tanchico, Elayne provides a mature and regal worldview as Nynaeve handles significantly more responsibility. What ties The Shadow Rising together is everything’s relation to the Dragon, with each plot having their own repercussions on characters elsewhere. Every character’s actions impact the plot heavily, making them feel like active agents rather than swept up bystanders in this tale.
My only qualms relate to the vertiginous amount of characters across factions introduced, and Jordan’s surprisingly out-dated writing on women. The latter in particular rankled me. The series was published in the early 90s and portrays powerful women, but somehow these powerful women end up in scanty clothes or nothing at all. Jordan also seems to be pushing Rand’s relationship into one where women share him, and I don’t know how to feel about that at all in a modern fantasy story.
These concerns aside (I really do have to put them aside to continue reading the rest of the good stuff), there was a lot to like in book four of the Wheel of Time series. I am going to jump straight into book five and keep this momentum going before I hit the dreaded “slog” of the series.
#5 The Fires of Heaven
Read: 18th April 2022
Epic title! Jordan’s high fantasy series picks up right where book four ended, with even better action despite a less focused storyline. Whilst not as emotionally resonant as its predecessor, the novel grows the characters and lore in satisfying ways.
At the conclusion of The Shadow Rising, Rand had split the Aiel people by revealing the truth of their past when claiming the title of Car’a’carn, chief of chiefs. He also outmanoeuvred the Forsaken Asmodean, stripping him of his access to the One Power and now possessing a teacher of Saidin. Mat travelled through twin twisted red door frames, with his second trip giving him a unique bladed staff and the best military insights from history’s best generals. Egwene, Moraine, Lan and Aviendha followed this group into the Aiel waste. Elsewhere, Nynaeve and Elayne just escaped the grasp of Forsaken Moghedien and the Black Ajah in Tanchico, Tarabon after destroying parts of the city and Panarch’s museum. Perrin was happily wedded in the Two Rivers, and finally Min, Siuan, Leane and Logain also avoided the conflict of the White Tower’s breaking.
"The Light shine on you, Mat," he added, sticking out his hand, "and send you smooth roads, fair weather and pleasant company until we meet again."
The Fires of Heaven follows these three threads:
- Min, Siuan and Leane trying to find the Aes Sedai who reject new Amyrlin Elaida’s rule.
- Elayne and Nynaeve similarly trying to understand what has happened in the White Tower, and exploring more of Tel'aran'rhiod.
- The clans who recognise Rand’s leadership crossing the Spine of the World into Cairhiern in pursuit of the Shaido led by false Car’a’carn Couladin.
Throughout there was a lot of politicking about the Aiel, Cairhien Sun Throne, Andor’s Lion Throne, the loose Forsaken, rebel Aes Sedai, reckless Dragonsworn and a funny menagerie (circus).
One more dance along the razer's edge finished. Almost dead yesterday, maybe dead tomorrow, but alive, gloriously alive, today.
In terms of pacing, this book has five distinct sections. An exciting beginning (from the Prologue and all) is followed by a slow trawl due to a lack of communication between parties, with the middle of the book featuring some fantastic action sequences. The second slow section is caused by a lack of agency in the characters as they basically wait for an inciting incident to push them to another action-packed climax. Action really was the highlight for me this novel - especially since book four did such a great job setting up the conflict at the heart of this story. Balefire had a significant presence from start to finish, enhancing a conclusion that I initially felt came out of nowhere.
However, when action was tied to introspection the book was even better. There are some big beats here tied to spoiler characters, and some delightful developments stemming from the growth of other characters, in particular Nynaeve and Mat. But they pale in comparison to Rand, who in this book is just so so good. Not necessarily morally good, but his struggles as a character are at times enthralling to read. This becomes especially evident when we realise that his madness, the madness of all males who channel saidin, means he has begun hearing the voice of Lews Therin in his head.
How long now had he been doing what was necessary instead of what was right? In a fair world, they would be one and the same.
Overall, all the characters are a little more introspective and spectacular action sequences just make up for the slower sections. Straight on to Lord of Chaos, which I'll be partially "reading" through the audiobook format to assist with the slower parts.
#6 Lord of Chaos
Read: 5th May 2022
The last lines of The Fires of Heaven had me excited for the sixth chapter in the Wheel of Time series. Whilst the promise of more male channelers definitely delivers in Lord of Chaos, there’s other glaring issues in pacing, gendered writing and repetition that I have unfortunately come to accept in these books.
Quick plot update:
- The Dark One is influencing the world through global warming, and has some problematic new henchmen who will inevitably end up influencing events far beyond this book’s.
- Now controlling Andor and Cairhiern, Rand continues setting up his assault on Southern country Illian, currently ruled by the Forsaken Sammael. He also tasks Mazrim Taim with training an army of male channelers, a source of wariness and jealousy, whilst Devram Bashir from Saldea builds an army in Caemlyn. Naturally, Mat and Perrin orbit him as ta’averen, with the former leading his Band of the Red Hand and the latter having not as much focus as you may expect.
- Meanwhile, Nynaeve and Elayne restlessly sit in Salidar, half watching Moghedien and making advancements with saidar. Egwene is recovering from Lanfear’s attack at the end of The Fires of Heaven.
"The lions sing and the hills take flight. The moon by day, and the sun by night. Blind woman, deaf man, jackdaw fool. Let the Lord of Chaos rule."
I did enjoy seeing the magic system continue to be explored by both male and female sides, and the mysteries of Tel'aran'rhiod being further unravelled at the same steady pace as previous books. The political manoeuvring was similarly entertaining, with Aes Sedai in particular being put in questionable positions as individuals and an organisation. The problem is that solutions seem obvious, but we have to get through 1000 named characters and a quirky physical/ personality trait and perhaps even some backstory before we can start solving the massive backlog of issues that these societies and world face.
Death rides on my shoulder, Lews Therin muttered. Death walks in my footsteps. I am death.
Another issue is that there’s just so… much… pondering. Characters get lost in their thoughts for pages, which could be amusing a few times when something significant is happening in the background, but unfortunately that’s not the case. And the problem for series readers is that a significant amount of the pondering is just recapping previous events or re-establishing perspectives. Again, the audiobook format at 2.15x speed was well-appreciated here.
The worldbuilding at this point is a bit underwhelming. New locales are introduced but because of the series’s pacing they won’t become relevant or have anything significant happen for at least a book’s time. Old locations and people are similarly underserved, with any exciting plot points being left hanging for a future instalment. The payoff of this series better be worth it!
The Wheel of Time and the wheel of a man's life turn alike without pity or mercy.
A final note on the climax. The ending to the Lord of Chaos is oft mentioned as one of the series' high points, but I think you shouldn’t approach this conflict with a lot of anticipation. Whilst there were some shocking moments, the overall battle did not live up to the hype in my opinion. It will be interesting to see how the fallout from this event will affect future books, especially since this is close to the midpoint of the Wheel of Time.
Read here for part 1: Reviews of Books 1 to 3
Read here for part 2: Why the TV show disappointed me
Currently reading #8 The Path of Daggers. Will create another article for books 7 through 11 when completed in (hopefully) a couple of months.
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