The Fires of Heaven by Robert Jordan

WoT05_TheFiresOfHeaven In the final 150 pages of The Fires of Heaven — book five of the Wheel of Time series — Robert Jordan hits his storytelling stride.

While this book — like all the others — covers a lengthy, often tedious journey to an epic battle, the battles were worth the time I spent reading the book. Bossy hypocrite Nynaeve squares off against dark wench Moghedien not once but twice. Rand defeats Rhavin in a balefire duel and finally learns that his well-meaning yet chivalrous unwillingness to put women in danger has cost him one close ally as Moiraine sacrifices herself against Lanfear.

While all of the characters (even Nynaeve) evolve and grow within the scope of this book, the ever-present stereotypical Women! Who can understand them?!? / Men! They’re all wool-headed fools! idiocy detracts from and cheapens what could become a much deeper narrative about men and women and relationships.

Perrin Aybara makes no appearance in book five. What’s going on in the Two Rivers? On to book six to find out.

September and October, 2014

The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan

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The Shadow Rising, book four of The Wheel of Time series, is another long, tedious, lead-up to an eventual clash with members of The Forsaken — the minions of the Dark Lord, though at least this time, Rand doesn’t get all the fighting fun. Nynaeve helps out by capturing and almost stilling Moghedien. Interestingly, the Dark One makes no appearance in this book.

Perrin Aybara’s storyline gets serious attention and he becomes a hero in his own right, rallying the Two Rivers farm community to vanquish seemingly impossible Trolloc odds, with a little help from his new wife, Faile.

I enjoyed the interesting similarities between Aiel women going to Rhuidean to become a “wise woman” — entering three rings — which resembles the ceremony to become an Accepted in the order of the Aes Sedai. I sense that Aiel and Aes Sedai are linked in some way, deeper than the Aiel subservience to Aes Sedai the book depicts.

Perrin isn’t the only character that sees some growth in the novel. Bossy biddy Nynaeve manages to overcome prejudice in seeing a former enemy — Eaginin, a member of the channeling slavers, the Seanchan — become an ally, if not a friend.

The book is over twenty years old, but sometimes the predictability of the patriarchy gets tiresome: Rand is going to need to get over the fact that he may need to kill a woman (Lanfear) if he wants to remain the Dragon Reborn, for long.

Speaking of Lanfear, her appearance at the end of the book is ham-fisted and abrupt. She appears out of nowhere, without foreshadow of any kind. As a reader, it left me scratching my head. Jordan, you had 900 pages to clue us into the fact that she’d appear in the final battle.

Books one through four all feel overly long and all the novels’ pacing flags at times. They feel like a great warm-up to something more interesting just about to happen.

After reading The Shadow Rising questions remain: why did Moraine go into Rhuidean? Why do only women need to strip naked to enter Rhuidean while men entering Rhuidean get to wear their clothes? Will Nynaeve ever stop yanking on her braid and being a bossy toad?

Why am I reading on, despite the tedium? I guess I’m hooked. I want to know whether Elayne becomes Queen of Andor. I want to know precisely how powerful Egwene becomes as an Aes Sedai. I want to know if Nynaeve ever marries Lan and eventually becomes Amyrlin Seat. I want to know whether Perrin fathers a litter of wolf puppies with Faile. I want to know whether Rand vanquishes the Dark One.

July and August, 2014

The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan

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The Dragon Reborn is book three of the Wheel of Time series. In book three, Rand appears only briefly as the book follows Egwene, Elayne, and Nynaeve’s storyline as Aes Sedai, interspersed with chapters from Perrin’s and Mat’s point of views. As a reader it was disappointing not only to know what would happen at the end of the book before reading it (Rand goes another round vs. B’alzamon. Who knew?) but also to find out the epic battle you’ve been waiting 600 pages for is short, perfunctory, and unsatisfying. It’s almost as if Robert Jordan became bored while writing the book. There’s almost no denouément whatsoever.

I’m currently reading book four, The Shadow Rising though not sure if I’ll continue reading the series beyond that.

July, 2014

The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan

WoT02_TheGreatHunt The first half of The Great Hunt (book two of the Wheel of Time) series, suffers from the same tedium as The Eye of the World. The last third of the book is action-packed and nearly impossible to put down. Getting there is a bit of a slog, at times.

What intrigued me most were some very cool scenes that mirror the superposition principle of quantum physics. As Rand moves through the Portal Stone to Toman Head, he experiences the many variations of the path his life could have taken: with Egwene, without Egwene, honouring his position as the Dragon Reborn or rejecting it.

The sul’dam and the damane were compelling, yet revolting and bizarre at the same time. This idea of magical slavery was so brutal and cruel that as a reader, you want to see the Seanchan come back somewhere in the series so that you can see their empire destroyed.

The visit to Stedding Tsofu late in the book reveals more about Ogier life and culture — some of the most interesting scenes in the book.

Character development has improved in The Great Hunt, though the fact that some characters can survive battles and slavery and remain so innocent is baffling and annoying at the same time.

May and June, 2014

The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

WoT01_TheEyeOfTheWorldThe Eye of the World is book one of the thirteen-book Wheel of Time series. I bought this book over a year ago and it took me a long time to start reading it. I began the book, telling myself that I could stop at any time and abandon not only book one, but the idea of reading the whole series.

The story starts slowly, focusing on Rand Al’Thor and a few friends from Emond’s Field: Mat, Perrin, and Egwene, and two strangers (Moraine Sedai and her Warder Lan Mandragoran) who come to town around the feast day, Bel Tine. Implausibly, these strangers convince Rand and his gang to leave the Two Rivers area in a bid to end the recent and unprecedented Trolloc attacks on their village. (This is a place they’ve barely left their entire lives. It’s all they know, and these intriguing strangers convince them to leave on a moment’s notice. Hmm…)

The middle of the book is repetitive to the point of tedious, where (of course) the fleeing group gets separated into smaller groups. The story mainly follows Rand and Mat, who get attacked by Darkfriends in various guises in every stop they make.

This long middle section reminded me of Scooby Doo where meddling kids are repeatedly attacked only to foil the evil forces. The book is over 800 pages and it covers this one lengthy and perilous journey. I was almost ready to abandon the book when the action began in the last couple hundred pages. Additionally, Loial the Ogier‘s appearance added a much needed element of intrigue. (Who doesn’t love a thinking being who adores books?)

My other major qualm with the writing is the golly-shucks-hayseed innocence to the interior monologue of some of the characters, notably, Rand, Perrin, and Egwene. Greater character development would make them feel less wooden. They’re young adults, though they think like children. Sometimes this book felt like a YA novel.

The action in this book hooked me enough to read to the end. I enjoyed learning about the world and about the various inhabitants, dark forces, and magical beings enough to start book two: The Great Hunt. Two hundred pages in, it’s moving slowly as well. Will I read book three? The jury is out.

May and June, 2014

Minister Without Portfolio by Michael Winter

ministerwithoutportfolio Henry Hayward is the Minister Without Portfolio — a man free of the entanglements of a significant relationship and children, after having been left by his girlfriend Nora, because she wants to live a dangerous life.

What Nora doesn’t know or fails to notice is that living a dangerous life doesn’t mean putting your life in physical danger. It means being vulnerable — truly being in love with and loving someone — no matter what, overlooking and absolving the messy awkwardness inherent in relationships to build something worthy — a happy life together.

Together, Henry and Martha live the most dangerous of lives — trying to make a life together despite the looming ghost of Tender Morris — trying to build a family with Tender’s unborn child on the way, rebuilding a ramshackle home, literally from the ground up.

This book is a great read. Winter’s spare style reminds me of Lisa Moore — who also writes of Newfoundland. Worth your time.

February and March, 2014

The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

the-wise-mans-fear-large-patrick-rothfuss The Wise Man’s Fear is book two in Patrick Rothfuss’ epic fantasy trilogy, The Kingkiller Chronicles. I enjoyed this book very much. As I approached the end — as 1285 pages in the story of Kvothe began to draw to a close — I lamented the dwindling number of pages remaining.

As in the first novel, The Name of the Wind, I struggled with Denna as a character. I find her motives vague and her constant disappearances frustrating.

After 2000+ pages of The Kingkiller Chronicles, I still only have a superficial understanding of her. I want to like her; I really do. As a reader, you learn very little about her in this book. She remains an enigma wrapped in a mystery.

Rothfuss starts to reveal more about her character during a passage in which Kvothe follows Denna into an unsavoury part of town at night. In the end, the mystery and frustration around her deepens because that night ends, and we never find out anything further about that scene. Without knowing anything about Denna’s backstory (a chapter or two in the book told from her perspective might have been helpful) you question Kvothe’s judgement as he continues to flail at a relationship with her, only to be repeatedly rebuffed with Denna’s familiar and frustrating refrain, “you’re just like all the other nasty men in my life.” Sometimes you wish that she’d disappear for good.

Despite Denna, I’m looking forward to book three, which is due out sometime in 2015.

February and March, 2014

Truth, like liquid leaking out

Then he saw the truth pass out of her face. Sometimes truth is like a physical liquid that can leak out, or when it turns into liquid there is no container for it. His dog had been fine. His parents had argued. His parents were splitting up, he knew that, but what he did not know until this moment was that no one had a practical answer for the dog. The pure truth of the event leapt off the orb of her eyeball, it was a visual story that bounced off his eyes.

Minister Without Portfolio by Michael Winter