Book Review – Crossroads of Twilight By Robert Jordan

Title: Crossroads of Twilight
Author: 
Robert Jordan
Format: 
Paperback
Written & 
Published: 2003

If you’re still reading the Wheel of Time by book 10 in the series, then you deserve a commendation medal for perseverance. Or you’re a masochist. Perhaps, like me, you’re just a fool who is willing to throw perfectly good hours at a painful project, hoping desperately that it will pay off in the end.

Without wanting to go too deeply into spoiler land – a remarkably hard thing at this point in the series – something significant actually happened at the end of book 9. I was elated, and considerably relieved, that the series finally seemed to be going somewhere again. Then along came book 10. My elation and relief promptly left in disgust.

My copy of the book is the large, trade paperback size. The prologue begins on page 15. It is page 540 before the main character appears. For a novel that ‘only’ has 680 pages, I consider this impressive.

Obviously, there is a lot that happens in 500+ pages. There was, um… Well, let’s see. Perrin bought some grain. Ooh, grain! There were also beans. Thrilling. I’m sure 20 pages were dedicated to descriptions of the gilding and carvings on various pieces of furniture. We probably lost another 15 pages to pouring tea into Sea Folk porcelain. There were the obligatory pages describing the dress worn by each woman, and far too many observations about breast sizes that we have already observed in previous books. Setting the scene is important, but the limits are stretched beyond reason.

The main thrust of this novel was making sure nearly every character we have ever been introduced to got their chance to react to the main event at the end of book 9. Any character who was at risk of doing something about it was glossed over; why would readers want an action scene instead of a laborious conversation between characters?

A standard piece of wisdom for the writing community is “show, don’t tell”. This relates to the tendency to say “Elayne felt angry” rather than demonstrating Elayne’s anger. This piece of advice has been enthusiastically ignored in this book, replaced with “show and tell”. It’s an utter bonus for readers who are tuning out of the story, because you can skim the three paragraphs that describe the emotional reaction and skip straight to the summarising statements. Perhaps future copies of the book could highlight these sentences to save readers time and effort.

In the interests of being fair to the book, I do have to concede that something significant happens in it. Of course, to be fair to people considering reading it, I feel obliged to point out that the significant event takes place over the last 3 pages. The significance of it might be lost in the vague storytelling that supports the chapter, especially for readers who skimmed over an incredibly dull passage several chapters earlier. But don’t worry if you miss the point – it is explained in detail in book 11.

Following the decline of the series to this point, I give this book 1 out of 5 pages. It is too large and sprawling to include a clear story arc, and I consider a cohesive plot to be essential to any novel. Especially painful is the knowledge that other books in the series are substantially better, and that the problems here are not the result of an inexperienced author.

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Book Review – The Shadow Rising By Robert Jordan

Title: The Shadow Rising
Author: 
Robert Jordan
Format: 
Paperback
Written & 
Published: 1992

The Shadow Rising is the fourth instalment from the Wheel of Time, and it marks an important structural change in the series. Until this point, every book has included a clear story arc. Book 2, The Great Hunt, focused on the Horn of Valere. Book 3, The Dragon Reborn, focused on revealing the Dragon Reborn. The Shadow Rising takes a turn in which it introduces the cliff hanger. Even the title steps away from the previous convention, moving away from a specific detail of the world to a generalisation.

Unlike the first book of the series, there are now too many characters to dedicate sufficient space to all of them. The increasing number means that significant world events are now happening away from the central trio, and the narration follows these external twists and turns. This changes the feel of the story, because in many ways it is no longer about the main characters. Where the first book was tight and controlled, this book sprawls into a full and rich universe. If you love expansive storytelling, you’ll be much more excited than with earlier books. If you love tight narratives, this book marks the beginning of the end.

Despite the narrative shifts, the underlying story remains relatively cohesive. Most diversions away from the central narrative stem from chronological necessity, and lay the foundations for later books. This is not such a problem now that the series has been completed, but for slow readers there is a chance that significant events could be forgotten before their ramifications are reached.

The most infuriating detail with this novel was the artwork. Each chapter began with the symbol of the character who influenced the narrative in a particular way. Combining chapter titles with chapter artwork effectively destroyed any chance at surprise that the author created. Instead of relaxing into the story and waiting for it to unfold, I found myself growing impatient that I had worked out what was happening several chapters before the narrative gave the necessary clues.

While the first stirrings of narrative problems for the whole series are beginning to emerge in this book, it is still an enjoyable read. Therefore, I give it 3 of 5 pages.

Book Review – The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

Title: The Eye of the World
Author: 
Robert Jordan
Format: 
Paperback
Written & 
Published: 1990

The Eye of the World is the first book of the Wheel of Time. It begins the epic story of three young men from an isolated village, all of whom are potentially destined for greatness. In the tradition of epic fantasy, the story begins with terrifying monsters and heroic guides who have come seeking just these boys. There is a dramatic escape and subsequent journey through exotic places as they try to find a place of safety where they can understand their destinies.

A lot of time-honoured fantasy traditions are upheld in the story, carefully adapted to this particular world. Dwarves and elves are absent, replaced with fearsome Trollocs and wise Ogier. The one young hero has been replaced with three, and their companions are plucky young women instead of plucky young men. A wise old crone figure is central to guiding the heroes, but while she might be old she could hardly be described as a crone.

Against a simplified backdrop of good vs. evil, the character relations are complex. Many of the motivations begin clearly enough, but emotional reactions shift the dynamics of the group. While some stories will include characters whose disagreements are born from differing opinions on what should be done, this book is filled with characters who take an active interest in hating each other. Animosity leads to an occasionally childish level of spite, and there is little hesitation in pointing out to others how stupid they are.

Women have an important place in this fantasy world, and the backstory leads to some interesting gender dynamics. Men are still blamed for a disaster that occurred millennia earlier, and women still work hard to ensure it can never happen again. This sense of moral superiority forms a sharp contrast with the might is right attitude of the economic and political landscape and, as a result, values beyond mere brawn play a role in power relations.

The plot of this story is tight, but enough attention is given to detail to make the world seem fully imagined and realised. In some instances this can go too far, particularly where incidental characters are concerned, but it is otherwise an easy read. I give this book 4 out of 5 pages.

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