Wow. Just wow.
I finally sat down and listened to the audio books of the Wheel of Time, and my mind was blown. So blown that I sat down some more and listened to them all again, from start to finish.
So before I go and start posting a series of blog posts on each of the individual books and a couple on the series as a whole, I need to preface this very large blog post with the following statement (lest I be misinterpreted):
I’m about to make a series of criticisms about the Wheel of Time. Before you take this out of context, keep in mind I just sat through and listened to the entire series twice. The Wheel of Time will always hold a soft spot in my heart, and it is undeniably a work of brilliance. The genre of fantasy has been forever changed for the better, and Robert Jordan will be a candle against which all future epic fantasy authors are held.
In my heart of hearts, I truly believe that. That’s how much I liked the series. I’ll probably reread it several more times. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t without its flaws.
So how is this post organized?
The first five chapters are all things I liked quite a bit and Robert Jordan did remarkably well. And the next five things are points of irritation with The Wheel of Time. Certainly, there are many more, but I think they have been covered in the numerous reviews since the series’ publishing sufficiently well. These are my top points of praise and complaint.
Those who do functional programming will be familiar with the concept of futures and promises - they are results that will be fully computed “at a later time”. The computer essentially says that there will be a very complex value that will take a long time to complete calculating. So while I’m off doing those complex things, why don’t you use this temporary value for your purposes? When you’re ready to actually use the complex value, it’ll be ready for you.
Authors employ very similar techniques. They make promises. They leave hints. They place clues. And eventually, those promises have to be fulfilled at some point in the future. Jordan does this masterfully.
Every book has a learning curve - and epic fantasy novels often have a particularly steep one. You are, after all, introducing the reader to an entirely newly constructed world. This is why most epic fantasies start off in the wild countryside with a main character who knows nothing. This makes instructing the reader about the world far less cheesy, as it serves a plot point simultaneously.
But Jordan simply does it better: he uses them to make promises. Nearly every point in the novel where the reader does not yet have the information to understand something is actually serving a function of being a promise. Promises - be they contained within a single chapter, an entire book, or even spanning across multiple books - are fulfilled with the utmost care.
They neither lost plausibility in an attempt be to overly clever and provide plot twists nor do they become so predictable. Instead, they keep a careful balance of keeping the reader guessing and engaged while always seeming to be just a step ahead.
Nearly every time the reader faces something new, it is simultaneously a lesson in immersion in this new world while serving as a promise. He inserts passages that are far too mysterious and simply says, “While you’re learning about my new world, why don’t you mull over this bit of information. And by the time you understand my world a bit more, this will make perfect sense for you.”
You, lad. You’re a tall one. Not with your full growth on you yet, but I doubt … The point is, you’re an axe handle across the shoulders and as tall as an Aielman
Thom Merrilin to Rand
Before we even know what an Aielman is, the gleeman quickly rambles about how he will tell tales of warders, ogier, and even Green Man and the eye of the world. It’s remarkable how quickly the novel’s title is mentioned, and so casually in passing. Robert Jordan carefully includes the novel’s title to make sure to reader realizes that this isn’t simply a section of rambling the reader can skim by; this is our first and last warning as readers that, from now on, everytime you think you don’t understand something, be sure there is something important there.
It makes readers engage in actively learning about the new world in the same way Mat, Perrin, and Rand would as they step out of the village for the first time. The reader should be as curious as three village boys confined their whole lives, and the promises transform the ardor of learning about a whole new world into pleasure.
The best example of a novel-length promise is in the first book itself: Rand is able to channel. The promises are particularly wonderful because it keeps the books interesting on re-reads. Rather than simply skimming through pages, the reader actively look through what were once very confusing passages and actively sift through hints to confirm Jordan’s fulfillment of promises to come.
Listening to The Eye of the World a second time was wonderful - not only was I watching out for all the places I expected Rand to channel (the scene with Bella in particular was so striking upon a second read,) but the scenes between Thom and Moiraine are particularly striking because it was so unexpected on a first read. But sure enough, on a second read, the hints are placed (however sparsely).
Overall, I was very impressed by how well Jordan made promises throughout his novels, but in the first book most of all. The multi-book promises are as satisfying as the intra-novel ones.
An Adult Series
The American Library Association calls this includes this series in its “Best Books for Young Adults” series. Um, no. I don’t care that the first novel was re-released in 2002 to aim itself at Young Adults. This is a very adult series.
But pleasantly so.
Too many books these days take “adult” as an excuse to lose all subtlety and simply soak the plot in unnecessary violence or write borderline pornography.
“A man only curses because he doesn’t know the words to express what is on his mind.”
Let me offer a corollary for authors: An author only writes overt brutality becasue they do not know how to truly horrify. Only those who cannot inspire love need to write sex into their novels.
Jordan conveys all the adult themes you can think of without needing to derail the plot or become an HBO title show. Homosexual relations? Done. Transexuals? Done. Horrific mind-control slavery? Done.
And it’s all done in a manner where nothing really quite needs to be said so obtusely. It’s classy and somewhat subtle. In other words, it doesn’t have to be Game of Thrones. Just because it’s adult doesn’t mean it has to hit you on the head and scream “see how adult I am!?”
Before you clever readers out there boast about how un-subtle Jordan really was, and how you understood everything all the time, there are examples quite easily found where younger readers who may have accidentally stumbled into such a novel did not understand everything.
And that’s a good thing.
For comparison, I’m not sure really anyone wouldn’t understand that they chopped off Robb Stark’s head, and sewed a wolf’s head on instead as they paraded his dead body throughout the town.
It’s not that I hate Game of Thrones or Martin per se, there’s just been a trend recently of numerous immitators who have forsaken all class in the name of being “adult”. Being an adult also means showing some maturity.
I find fridge horror as the best description for the type of horror Jordan’s The Wheel of Time induces.
Fridge Horror is, simply put, when something becomes terrifying after the fact. Maybe you thought about this or that plot point a little too hard, and suddenly you realize that everyone was trapped in stasis forever, or that the lovable child will grow up in a world where everyone around her is dead.
There are plenty of horrific things in Wheel of Time. Compulsion stands out easily as an example of classic horror. The ability to warp someone’s mind - often to such a degree that they could never go back to being who they were. Used for everyting from nefarious spying to the casual rape.
“[Graendal] uses her pets in rites to cause the roughest soldier I ever knew to swear celibacy.”
Birgitte in The Fires of Heaven, “A Silver Arrow”
Compulsion is horrific, certainly, but it’s obvious and it stands out. Slavery, too, is quite horrific. But at the end of the day, with both of these things, there is some solace is knowing that it is done against your will. Your mind was physically altered into a different state, or in the other case you were held against your will by some external force.
There is a difference when you willingly surrender to becoming a something like a dog. There is a world of a difference when you are reduced to begging for your owners to put a collar on you. There is, undeniably, an order of magnitude difference when you can feel yourself slipping away by the day, until you can no longer fight the urges. Until you willingly give yourself up to the control and surrender being who you were.
We’re talking about something that allows the “owner” to read every thought of the wearer until the wearer must force herself to think “proper” thoughts that the owner would approve of. This is worse than traditional mind control. You are the one thinking it; you are the one internalizing these rules until they rule who you are and everything you do.
The single most memorable passage in all of series to me is something that happens to a random character we barely meet: Sheraine Caminelle. And perhaps, because it happens to her instead of a main character, it remains as fridge horror rather than something else.
Six damane they did put around her, stepping out of the alleys of a sudden. I did think she would… do something - you know what I mean - but… One moment she did look as if she would destroy them all, then a look of horror did come on her face, and she did scream.
But I will remember it until I die. Ryma, help me. That is what she did scream. And one of those damane did fall down crying, and they did put one of those collars on the neck of the… woman, and I… I did run.
Bayle Doman’s recount in The Great Hunt, “A Plan”
Certainly, Egwene is captured, and it is horrible. But her capture is quite short and gentle compared to many of what the other Aes Sedai had to endure. She is rescued in short enough time before any real damage is done.
Contrast her experience with the transformation of Ryma Galfrey to Pura, a dog that is utterly loyal to Seanchan. She cannot even remember her own name, as she forces herself to think of herself as Pura to avoid being punished. And worst of all is Bayle Doman’s recount that haunts us. Being forced to capture your close friend and not doing a thing to help her.
Sheraine Caminelle simply wanted to die and escape her fate; she refused to eat or drink water… Until she was shipped overseas and Tuon took her in. And her fate became much the same as Ryma’s.
I will be the first to admit that many of the Aes Sedai are quite detestable and extremely annoying. But it still continues to be one of the most horrific elements in the books - certainly greater than anything the Forsaken do.
Even when Mazrim Taim turns Aes Sedai and Asha’man, he lets them roam free. They are not treated as property or animals. The Seanchan way is remarkably unique in dehumanizing those born with the spark.
Attention to Detail
Jordan is a master author, and as such, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that he pays attention to detail. He is something who is able to make promises and fulfill them eight books later. He never forgets anything.
But I’m consistently amazed by how much attention he gives to each character and his unique point of view.
When the narration is given by Siuan Sanche, a fisherman’s daughter at heart, the sailing metaphors flow as naturally as one of Lini’s old sayings coming from Elayne. The perspective of each character is maintained remarkably well along with their motivations, their speaking styles, and even their thought processes.
How pikemen are used in battle versus cavalry. The steps used in blacksmithing. How dresses are weaved down to the embroidery. The intricacies of horse riding, down to how stables are maintained.
Just one small example of what I mean:
In The Eye of the World, they come across a dock for the first time; Rand had never seen a ship or a dock before, and Jordan describes it as a “bridge that led to nowhere but the ferry”. Such an attention to detail to not even slip up on a word as common as a dock!
This may seem trivial, but over the course of ten books, not once does he slip up. He continually ensures that even descriptions of commonplace items are in character. I was blown away by the commitment to the world and to the characters Jordan repeatedly showed.
So the forces of light have triumphed. The Dark One has been sealed better than ever - now using Saidar, Saidin, and the True Power. The prophecies have been fulfilled.
Is everything good and well?
Not even close. The nightmare that is the Seanchan Empire have not even come close to being contained. The various kingdoms have a tenuous peace at best. The White Tower just lost another Amyrlin, and the future of the Black Tower is uncertain - particularly with regards to how the White Tower will treat them. And who’s to say this whole Dragon’s Peace will last now that the Dragon is “dead”? How do we deal with the Seafinders and their tresspasses on sovereign lands? What will prevent the Aiel from slipping away and being destroyed completely as Aviendha foresaw?
We don’t know.
And that’s a good thing.
This monstrosity of a fourteen book epic just finished, and the greatest, most imminent threat to humankind - the Dark One and the various Forsaken - have been put to an end. Humanking clung to victory by a fingernail, and that’s pretty much the only thing that has been resolved.
Robert Jordan just built up an epic world, and much like our own world, it has a myriad of problems. Heck, the last three books were nothing if not a lesson in that one man could not solve all of these. Many, like the unraveling of the damane culture would take decades, even after the truth that sul’dam could be collared was known.
So the world doesn’t simply set into its “happily ever after” routine. Mankind still has its share of problems, particularly with the hegemony of the White Tower being utterly destroyed for the first time. This is an adult novel, and that means complications.
So that is my list of top five good things about The Wheel of Time. It truly is a remarkable series.
There are a whole host of minor things that didn’t make it onto my top five. So here are a couple of those things.
Okay. I’ve fluffed you RJ readers for long enough. Here’s my top five things I
There are strange relationships, and then there are strange relationships. And Robert Jordan’s series has plenty of them. Nearly all of the romantic relationships in Jordan’s book seem to develop out of nowhere, and go from zero to love in half a paragraph. This is a very long list, so let’s start.
Rand and Elayne
The Eye of the World, chapter 39 and 40: Rand meets Elayne for the first time when he falls into the garden. The whole experience is awkward, and thankfully ends after a couple hours at the most. Elayne casually remarks that she thought him cute, and Rand promptly starts blushing and leaves.
Elayne then leaves for Tar Valon, and the next time they meet is in the Stone of Tear where Egwene and Elayne try to teach Rand to channel (The Storm Rising, chapter 7). Soon after this, Egwene renounces her feelings for Rand, and Elayne announces her love for him.
Uhh, why again? You’ve spoken to each other maybe for 4 hours? Seriously?
I suppose she’s an impulsive sixteen year-old who’s been sheltered her entire life, and now this forbidden man waltzes into her life. And she’s a future queen after all; the only woman who can say no to her is a thousand leagues away.
Anyways, let’s get past how two people who have known each other for a couple days and have “fondness” suddenly declare love for each other. The weird timeline with Rand continues. They spend roughly four days together, and then Rand and Elayne separate for months, while he gets closer to Aviendha (ahem chapter 31 of The Fires of Heaven).
Let’s go forward several books; Rand and Elayne have had no contact on any real level, and Rand even goes to great lengths to avoid Elayne (to the point where even Min tells him to go visit her), and then, just like that, in Winter’s Heart chapter 12, Elayne, Min, and Aviendha all bond Rand, profess their love, and we get Elayne and Rand make love.
What an unbelievable romantic relationship…
Rand and everyone else
Many people are bothered by the polygamy aspect of Rand’s relations.
This doesn’t bother me; the Aiel promote a healthy polygamy where the other women accept, and in fact because women have to be the first to propose, it seems very unlikely that Aiel men are bundling them up into unconsentual polygamous relationships. Given how much conventional power is placed in female hands (the Wise Ones, the dream walkers), that seems very unlikely.
Similarly, the Aes Sedai (well, the green ajah, at least) have many instances of polyandry. In fact, we know the polyandry the Aes Sedai practice is certainly one-sided, as the bond can be used to compel warders, often without even their knowing, into borderline unconsentual acts. In this case, the women clearly hold the upper hand.
Where non-monogamous relationships are the norm, the possibility of a main character engaging one such a relationship does not seem so farfetched.
What does seem unlikely is a lad growing up in the Two Rivers, where the Women’s Circle run a tight ship and modesty is king. Any of the individual things he does with any of the women would be chastized, let alone all three of them.
Even to the end, Rand cannot abide by the co-ed baths where women may see him naked; heck, he does not like even female gai’shain to look at him. The modesty from his upbringing is so strong, so I cannot really believe any claim that he has somehow seen past his Two Rivers life and fully immersed himself in the Dragon Reborn.
Egwene and Gawyn
Why exactly do they love each other again? Because they spent a couple scenes together in Tar Valon (where she openly oggles Galad in front of Gawyn the whole time)? Or is it because the entire time he believes it would be wrong to love her, since her brother cares for her?
Ultimately, this has to fall into yet another case of she is seventeen and he is a teenager who is rather horny.
Faile and Perrin
I end up liking Faile quite a bit by the end, and she becomes an awesome wife who backs up Perrin without being overshadowed by him. She’s wise and cunning in navigating court politics, and isn’t afraid of getting her hands dirty when it comes to killing - especially when Perrin can’t know.
So why does she spend such a large portion of her time playing the maiden in distress? I’m not sure why we couldn’t shorten this period at least slightly.
But what bothers me the most is that, this relationship, like so many others, went from her barely knowing him to love in a couple chapters. Her motivations in the beginning are very believable - she sees a very strange party and is naturally curious.
Thom and Moiraine
This is perhaps because the reader gets so few points of view with any real hints of this. They travel together most of the first book, and parts of the second, but besides that, they have very few interactions that we see.
And perhaps a large part of Thom feels guilty at letting Moiraine go and simply die, as Mat so crudely puts it. He stays with the letter for so long, simply marinating in the guilt, that perhaps he thinks a woman is all he has left to live for after Dena was killed.
We do have some few scenes with him coming to terms with how Moiraine is not red ajah and thus not responsible for what happened to Owyn, but it would be good to at least get some view points from Moiraine’s side regarding Thom.
Nyneave and Lan
This relationship is very interesting, but I’m not quite sure how it develops. Other than that she tracks Lan, which surprises him, what do we have to go on? It’s unclear.
To be fair, I think that the scene between Lan and Nyneave when she confronts him is quite possibly the single best romance scene in the series. I just dislike the buildup to this scene.
“A Wisdom seldom weds.” She paused to take a deep breath, as if steeling herself. “But if I go to Tar Valon, it may be that I will be something other than a Wisdom.”
“Aes Sedai marry as seldom as Wisdoms. Few men can live with so much power in a wife, dimming them by her radiance whether she wishes to or not.”
“Some men are strong enough. I know one such.” If there could have been any doubt, her look left none as to whom she meant.
“All I have is a sword, and a war I cannot win, but can never stop fighting.”
“I’ve told you I care nothing for that. Light, you’ve made me say more than is proper already. Will you shame me to the point of asking you?”
“I will never shame you.” The gentle tone, like a caress, sounded odd to Rand’s ears in the Warder’s voice, but it made Nynaeve’s eyes brighten. “I will hate the man you choose because he is not me, and love him if he makes you smile. No woman deserves the sure knowledge of widow’s black as her brideprice, you least of all.” He set the untouched cup on the ground and rose. “I must check the horses.”
Nynaeve remained there, kneeling, after he had gone.
Sleep or no, Rand closed his eyes. He did not think the Wisdom would like it if he watched her cry
By the end of the book, basically anyone who is good at all finds a relationship. This just seems to bizarre and unnecessary.
Siuan and Bryne.
Mat and Tuon - one of the few relationships developed, probably because love doesn’t factor into it until the very end. Relationships take constant work and effort from both parties, and this is possibly the only pair that show this consistently, asides from Perrin and Faile in some circumstances.
Galad and Berelain - literally love at first sight.
Bayle and Egeanin.
As the Last Battle approaches, everyone and anyone find partners. It’s altogether so unnecessary. It’s quite alright to be single; really, it is.
We have a couple motifs throughout the series, and for the most part they are memorable and unique to Robert Jordan’s universe. Anyone who has read the books will remember “death is lighter than a feather, duty heavier than a mountain.” For the most part, there are sayings that identify the separate cultures in this universe.
But some motifs rapidly devolve to blatant repitition and get far too stale.
Faces and rocks
How many times do you have to compare a man’s face to being as hard as a rock before you find another simile? Or perhaps as hard as steel? Or perhaps harder than steel? Or maybe how easily looks could have cut.
It starts out quite naturally; in the first couple books, only Lan is described as a hard man, and these comparisons stem naturally from his character. Lan is a determined man with a tragic past, and all he has left is revenge for his kingdom.
But why then do we feel the need to introduce so many other characters with the same comparison? And constantly berate the reader with these? Virtually every Aiel man we meet gets some version of the same simile at some point (particularly Rhuarc).
In the sixth book alone I counted twenty-six occurrences of this comparison, and it only seems to increase in number by the end of the series. It almost seems to border on laziness that such a talented writer sticks with a single way to describe tough characters.
Show, don’t tell.
Understanding the other sex
Women are truly alien creatures in Robert Jordan’s universe; heck, even the laws of physics (or whatever laws govern the One Power) are different for them. So perhaps it’s no small wonder that men can barely understand them, and women men for that matter.
But what started out as cute quickly becomes exhausting as even the most simple situations become misinterpreted. And soon each of the sexes develop increasingly implausible tales about what the other sex really wants and how to really deal with them.
As if comparing men to animals (insofar as housebreaking them is concerned) and women to luscious sex dolls were not enough, we have this bizarre trio of misunderstanding between Mat, Perrin, and Rand.
Each constantly thinks if only the other were here, surely he would be able to understand women. Sure, in the first three books it started off as cute. They were simple village boys who lived sheltered lives and perhaps at most kissed a single girl.
But now, as a married man, to have Perrin think - oh if only Rand or Mat were here; he always knew what women meant. Really? Surely there is a more mature attitude to take with your wife.
Weird height fetish
Men in Robert Jordan’s universe have a rather strange relationship to height. As if height were a man’s last name, nearly every man is introduced alongside his height in relation to the narrator.
In some weird cases, height is used to give hints as to strength in the One Power. Ishamael is introduced as being near-equal to the Dragon, and is of the same height.
Demondred, just shorter than Lews Therin, is also just short of the man in almost everything else in his achievements. He was almost as strong in the One Power; he was almost as beautiful. He was almost as tall. Heck, he even loved the same woman as Lews Therin.
His hawk-nosed profile was handsome enough, though not quite the sort to make every woman’s heart beat faster. In a way, “almost” and “not quite” had been the story of Demandred’s life. He had the misfortune of being born one day after Lews Therin Telamon, who would become the Dragon, while Barid Bel Medar, as he was then, spent years almost matching Lews Therin’s fame.
Graendal contemplating in Lord of Chaos
Sammael, of course, is bothered most by how short he is. He’s always wished to be taller, if only to be as tall as Lews Therin.
There are exceedingly few characters taller than Rand, even amongst the Aiel.
And virtuall all powerful male channelers are tall. Logaine, Rand, Taim, and basically all the male Forsaken.
What’s Robert Jordan’s deal with height?
Virtually everyone in any position of leadership in this book would greatly benefit from a basic MBA course, or even just a Management 101 seminar. Overall, I’m very unimpressed with the Forsaken in general.
As a manager, your first and foremost responsibility (if you work in an industry where talent is hard to come by) is to keep your employees happy. Happy employees are productive, and unhappy employees leave the company, which is the worst result possible.
Given how rare strength in the power is, particularly in these days where there are rumors that the red ajah have been “culling” the talent out of humanity, when a very talented and eager recruit shows up, you don’t shun them or prevent their progress out of deference to some bizarre hazing tradition. You use them. And you let them grow.
But this is precisely the opposite of what Rand, the White Tower, and even the rebels in Salidar do. Consistently. Even in the Age of Legends this seems to be a pattern.
We are meant to dislike Areina and Nicola, since they are anti-Egwene, but honestly I felt for them right from the start. Nicola has incredible potential, only just below Egwene and Elayne, and she is disregarded. Nicola begs Egwene for the same chance at learning that she herself received, and Egwene refuses. So she has to resort to blackmail. And when that doesn’t work, she moves to blackmailing other sisters. She is very resourceful and determined in seeking education.
Only to be constantly denied.
If you were enrolled in a school that constantly denied you access to higher level classes, what would you do? Change schools.
And that’s precisely what Nicola does. She leaves the rebels and goes to the White Tower. And why not? There is no great sin here. Nicola is here for one reason only: to learn about the Power. And if one group cannot teach that to her, she will, of course, leave for another group that will. Any of us would have done the same. She cares not a whit for the politics of the Tower.
Egwene manages this rather poorly and loses some very valuable talent.
Mazrim Taim is a wildcard. He cannot be trusted fully, and indeed a large part of why he submits to Rand’s rule is simply to live, and possibly the promise of greater power and glory in the days to come.
Given that Rand knows his motivations, it doesn’t take a Daes Dae’mar player to come up with a strategy that keeps Taim satisfied, but at the same time makes him useful.
The Black Tower is a good idea to start with, and Taim quickly keeps his promise on meeting the number to match even the White Tower. And what does Rand do with them?
When Rand leads a battle on the outskirts of Ebou Dar and single-handedly tries to wield Callandor to drive the Seanchan back, not once does he think about using Taim.
Taim is filled with the need for glory. And he has a mass militia of men. And Rand himself says he’d rather focus on the Forsaken than dealing with the Seanchan. So why then does he leave so many resources to waste?
For a man who is now king of three countries and leader of the Aiel, he certainly does not know how to manage his resources in the slightest.
And, having been ignored by Rand and his ambitions not fulfilled, is it any wonder that Taim then defects to the Dark One? Of course not. The Dark One promises all that Taim wanted and more. But with just the most minimal amount of thought, he could have avoided all of this.
It wouldn’t have taken much to have Taim deal with the Seanchan and completely dominate their empire. Either Taim dies in the process or he succeeds - but either way it’s a win for Rand, and almost certainly Taim’s hands are full with dealing with themm, so he wouldn’t have time to turn the Black Tower against Rand.
Almost a mirror image of Taim’s story here, only with Lews Therin. Demondred was not recognized enough for his talents, and ultimately it was Therin’s promotion over him that caused him to quit and defect.
What a horrible morale the White Tower of the Age of Legends had bred. How prideful does one have to be to ignore all others’ achievements and not recognize them?
I’ve already written at length of Demondred above, but I will simply say once more that this is a classic case of horrible management.
The Amyrlin Seat(s)
The Black Ajah is a huge threat. But traitors in the midst are not new. Every general has had to deal with them, and even in this backward world, surely, people have dealt with traitors before.
Strategies for rooting them out are not new.
And yet, the White Tower, for all its omniscience, deals with them consistently in the worst way possible: total secrecy without any backup plan in case the Amyrlin Seat died.
By now it cannot possibly be a shock that the Amyrlin Seat doesn’t live for very long. Tamra is murdered; Sierin takes her place. Sierin is murdered; Marith takes her place. Marith is murdered; Siuan takes her place. Siuan is stilled; Elaida takes her place. Elaida is collared; Egwene takes her place. Egwene dies in combat. Seriously. Six Amyrlins in twenty years.
And yet, almost all of them deal with the black ajah in exactly the same way. Tell no one, except for letting two Accepted know. Siuan and Moiraine find out when they are simply Accepted, and when Tamra and all her seekers for the Dragon Reborn die (Tamra evidently doesn’t have a backup plan in case of her death), they two are the only ones left knowing about it.
Siuan then confronts the threat of the Black Ajah in much the same way: she has two (okay, three) Accepted ferret them out. She sends Egwene and Nyneave (and Elayne, unwittingly) after the black ajah. This is her grand scheme after having twenty years to think on the problem.
Surely, she could have pulled sisters to her quarters one by one, have them reswear the oathes, and then have sisters she could trust. But alas, two Accepted not even at the full height of their power is what she uses. Genius plan.
And what does Egwene do, as Amyrlin of the rebels? Why, send off Elayne and Nyneave to Ebou Dar of course. To be fair, they don’t have an oath rod, so perhaps she really couldn’t think of a better plan, having only had a couple months to think on the problem of the black ajah. But again, Siuan, right by her side, does nothing.
So three times Accepted have been sent off the hunt the Black Ajah, and the Amyrlin Seats scratch their head and wonder why they aren’t more successful in being able to root them out.
For someone who said she would use any tool at her disposal, she certainly used very few of them.
The Ebou Dar scenes of Elayne and Nyneave simply refusing to include Mat or tell him about the potential dangers he faces (the Forsaken? Hello!?) are quite annoying.
Elayne has an excuse insofar as Mat is extremely irritating for the first three books, when she last met him, and suddenly changes by fate due to all these memories he receives (ah, what a meritocracy). So she treats the new Mat as she would the old Mat, but regardless, they simply refuse to use the tools available. Even Egwene asks them repeatedly that they are using Mat, a ta’veren, aren’t they?
And they simply lie and say of course they are.
And who could blame them? Honestly, it’s not like the whole world was at stake or anything…
The leadership in Salidar has been seeing Elayne and Nyneave come up with remarkable discovery after discovery, and yet they keep insisting that the girls be made to work by scrubbing pots or some such. How ridiculous?
Of course, many of these were not actually their own discoveries but rather interrogations from Moghedien, but even still, the sisters in Salidar certainly didn’t know that.
Sure, in certain cases they show eagerness to help breakdown Nyneave’s block, so she can continue making remarkable breakthroughs, but overall they still show little to no care, and in many cases purposefully put them down as just Accepted and tell them to go do chores.
Not a way to utilize two of the best resources the Tower has ever seen.
Some of this, of course, is because of culture.
The Seanchan, for example, would be far fiercer had they not limited themselves with the collar and hatred for the One Power. They refuse healing, as being touched with the One Power is considered disgusting.
Similarly, if the One Power really is genetic (who is to say, but the talk of culling makes me think it’s possible,) then of course we would expect the power to get weaker in humanity over time, as nearly everyone who can learn (Aes Sedai) never have children. Perhaps the men will change that.
Overall, there are plenty of characters that seem to be turned away from the cause of the light simply because of poor management. And equally many catastrophes could have been avoided had Rand and the other leaders simply thought about their troops a little bit more.
Well, now. Made-up creatures from my stories. Is that what they are? You lads are widely traveled, then, it seems.
Thom Merrilin in The Eye of the World
This passage sticks out so amazingly because it is the only instance in the entire series, that I can find, when someone makes an assertion without a hair of proof and finally gets called out on it.
And it happens in the very beginning of the series.
From then on, the pattern of every conversation shifts to the following formula:
A person of high status (typically Aes Sedai or a ruler, though occassionally a ta’veren, too) asserts with incredulity how “x” could possibly be true, and how anyone who believes “x” is an imbecile. Person with a compendium of evidence that “x” is actually true calmly and carefully shows how “x” is true. The person of high status then proceeds to assume to know more about “x” than anyone in the room, despite not even knowing of “x” five seconds ago.
As virtually every conversation follows this typical pattern, the day to day interactions between characters in The Wheel of Time quickly becomes grating - and only more so upon rereads.
At least on the first read through, the reader completely shares Rand’s perspective; he’s a boy who has been led to believe nearly everything he currently faces is only a myth, so he is naturally skeptical and curious.
But even that quickly fades into irritation. A boy who who knows virtually nothing about the world - indeed, one who thought Trollocs to only be a myth until a day ago - presumes to know more about what the Dark One wants than an Aes Sedai who has spent a lifetime fighting and studying Trollocs and Myrddraal. He proceeds to then constantly question and doubt Moiraine.
If only, once, Rand could just give her the benefit of the doubt. And upon a second or third re-read, Moiraine’s unyielding patience becomes even more remarkable given how little respect Rand gives her on occassion.
“Sheep herder. You talk when you should be listening”
“It’s alright Rand. I understand how you feel. I see I’ve handled this badly.”
Nyneave, of course, is far more agitated with Moiraine than anyone. Moiraine has to stack evidence so high that even a blind person couldn’t help but see, and even then she barely grudgingly accepts the Aes Sedai’s explanation.
Elaida, of course, is the apex of foolishness with blunder after blunder. She rolls from “such an herb as forkroot cannot possibly exist” to “there can’t possibly be more than a dozen men who can channel in the Black Tower” to “the rebels can’t possibly have rediscovered Channelling”, to many, many more. Alviarin plays her deftly while reserving her evidence for the very end, making her look quite foolish. But even then, throughout her numerous blunders, she never changes her attitude once. Why not? Why can’t she for once give someone the benefit of the doubt? She’s certainly not unintelligent.
The Salidar Aes Sedai are not better than Elaida in many ways. Within hours of learning that the world of dreams is actually not a myth, they presume to know more than the Wise Ones, who have spent nearly their whole lives mastering it. Their arrogance, of course, nearly gets them all killed as they walk headfirst into a nightmare and decide to use the Power on it instead of disbelieving it. And after Egwene goes in to save them all, they simply respond with “you kept your head very well tonight child. Don’t spoil it now.”
The same thing happens when Nyneave discovers how to cure stilling, and the yellow ajah pounce on her - demanding to know how it’s done. Would it kill these women to show even a hint of deference to someone who is clearly stronger in the power and knows more than they? By the time the same thing happens when Elayne discovers how to make ter’angreal, I am honestly to exhausted with their arrogance to even care.
The problem with all this, of course, is that life is not so neat always. You cannot always find such neat evidence for a disproof. In most cases, we make do with imperfect information. And in Robert Jordan’s world where rumors fly and dark forces plant their own false tales, this is particularly so. When characters refuse to give anyone the benefit of the doubt and always maintain “my way or the high way”, what chance for compromise or understanding can there be?
Even Perrin, a seemingly slow and careful thinker, rounds on the Aes Sedai for having broken ranks and going into the heat of the battle (during Rand’s rescue from Galina and the other Sisters). He yells at them, only to be yelled back when one of them explain to him about the three oaths, and that sitting way in the back, they would have been of little help.
Tuon, of course, is much the same. She refuses to believe in Trollocs or gholam or any of the creatures until she is basically killed by them.
If even Perrin makes hasty assumption without all the facts, where do we turn to find reasonable, level-headed characters?
Perhaps the kin. Surely, those who nearly worship Aes Sedai as goddesses show deference? Yes, they do. But not in a reasonable manner. They show deference in the same way a dog would show deference to its owner. It’s not a reasoned benefit of the doubt amongst equals; and indeed, by the end of the journey to Camelyn, even the Kin start to rebelling. After all, how long could their worship last?
Reanne jerked as though struck. “And how do you suggest keeping them?” she demanded finally. “We have always held runaways apart until we were sure they were no longer hunted, and if they were found before, we let the sisters take them. That is the rule, Alise. What other rule do you propose violating? Do you suggest that we actually set ourselves against Aes Sedai?” Ridicule of such a notion larded her voice, yet Alise stood looking at her, silent.
“Yes!” a voice shouted from the crowd of Kinswomen. “We are many, and they are few!” Adeleas stared at the crowd in disbelief. Elayne embraced saidar, though she knew the voice was right—the Kin were too many. She felt Aviendha embracing the Power, and Birgitte setting herself.
The Path of Daggers
By the time the end of the series arrives, I’m so exhausted with these characters that honestly I wouldn’t mind if the Dark One really did win. No one seems to be reasonable, and any love I once had for any of the characters is long gone; I found myself dragging along, if only to finish the story.
A Dark Age
Perhaps the biggest reason I have for disliking The Wheel of Time is that it’s simply not a world in which I’d like to live. Truth be told, it’s a horrific world. One of the wonders of fantasy is that readers get to explore fun new worlds and imagine themselves in awesome circumstances. Who wouldn’t want to go to Hogwarts?
On the other hand, who would want to live in Robert Jordan’s world?
The world immediately starts in a veritable dark age. Most of the knowledge and technology the world once had is lost, and the story begins in a post-apocalyptic setting where rumor and superstitions are all that remain.
And like any dark age, the people are backwards in almost every way imaginable. Galad’s character arc is possibly the least compelling of all. The great lesson he learns after eleven novels, when he meets his mother in Perrin’s camp, is that good and bad is not black and white. Wow. What a great lesson. Forgive me if I’m not impressed.
As a society, we have advanced far beyond such tawdry messages. And that’s the sad part: in Robert Jordan’s world, that would be a legitimately ground-breaking advancement in philosophy.
Nearly everything in the world is given by birth and not meritocracy, and then people struggle to understand why things don’t turn out for the best. Strength in the power is something one is born with, not earned. All kingdoms in this world operate on a strict monarchy with a class divide, so, for non-channelers one’s birth determines virtually everything about quality of life. Oh, and of course, any man that can channel will go mad. End of story.
What a pleasant world!
Is it any wonder that Aes Sedai have egos larger than the Choedan Kal when they know virtually nothing? Who dares to stand up to them?
Moiraine’s quotation very early on in the series is possibly the best summary of everyone’s fate:
“You have further to go yet,” Moiraine said. “Much further. But there is no other choice, except to run and hide and run again for the rest of your lives. And short lives they would be. You must remember that, when the journey becomes hard. You have no choice.”
And of course, like many backward societies, they have slavery. Openly and even praised as one of the hallmarks of their military. Very few people in this world have any choice at all. It’s quite possibly the most illiberal world ever conceived. Between compulsion, the a’dam, the White Tower forcing rulers to its will, and the threads pulled by ta’veren and “the Wheel”, who has any choice in anything?
Given how the nobles believe, is it any wonder that Mat sees being called a nobleman an insult? Ultimately, I leave the series with a shudder, and thanking the Gods that this is not the world in which we live.
Intermission Part 2
There are plenty of other things that bugged me, but those are my top list. I always wanted to know a bit more about the Dark One’s vision, and Rand in particular (in his battle with the Dark One) seems to have, at times, eerily similar visions to the Dark One.
Which begs the question of whether the Dark One is really so evil after all. The Dark One just seems illiberal, but that’s a whole blog post for another time.
Why someone would become a dark friend has always fascinated me, too. The promise of eternal life seems vague considering most of these people don’t know when the Last Battle was coming; so why would someone make this promise if they’d be dead long before the chance of ever fulfilling?
Presumably darkfriends are like a gang; you don’t get the option to say no, and once you’ve said yes, you serve for life.
Based on my friends’ suggestions, I was truly worried that maybe Robert Jordan’s epic would not stand up to the laurels. I can safely say that was not the case at all. The fact that I sat down to write over 8,000 words about it alone should say more than enough.
Based on the numerous interviews with Jordan, we can see he has a keen awareness of history and politics, as well as how he wanted the story to play out.
Some of my complaints may just be because I personally couldn’t suspend my disbelief to accept some premises.
Regardless, it was an incredible epic and a wonderful journey. Rest in peace, Mr. Jordan. Rest knowing your magnum opus will be well remembered for a long time to come.