I’m starting to wonder if I’ve made a mistake in deciding that I wanted to complete THE WHEEL OF TIME by reading all the books in the series consecutively. With THE PATH OF DAGGERS now under my belt, I’m eight books into the 14-book saga, and I can’t honestly say that I feel any closer to the conclusion than I was three or four books ago.
When I began reading THE WHEEL OF TIME, I was a senior in high school, so I was able to read the first seven or eight books consecutively without having to wait for the next installment. But once I caught up to Jordan, I had to wait a couple years between books, and in that time other characters and other plots filled my mind, shoving Jordan’s characters into the background. By the time the next book had been published, I found it impossible to distinguish the lesser characters or keep the infinite subplots tidy in my mind.
After THE CROSSROADS OF TWILIGHT, I decided that once the series ended – if it ended – I would go back and read the whole thing from start to finish. With A MEMORY OF LIGHT set for a January release, I started with EYE OF THE WORLD this fall and remembered why this series has established itself as one of the most famous and successful fantasy series in history. By this point – after reading nothing but WHEEL OF TIME for months – I also remember why I needed to put the series down and why Jordan’s detractors are just as vocal as his fans.
Jordan’s world building is strong and the narrative scope of the book is unparalleled by anyone but Tolkien and Steven Erikson, but he has two flaws that have really drawn the ire of Jordan’s critics. The first is his wordiness, the way he uses a full page to describe something when a sentence will do. Sometimes it makes for beautiful prose, but most of the time it just seems like verbal diarrhea. I work as a communications specialist at a college, a job that requires me to speak to college professors and administrators regularly, and while most everyone is quite pleasant, there are some people I dread speaking to, especially when I’m on a deadline, because they’ll speak with me for an hour while providing just a few minutes of real, useful information. Jordan reminds me of these people. He cranks out these 700-page paperbacks, but for the last few books it feels like I’ve only gotten 300 pages of the book I want to read and 400 pages of padding.
Jordan’s second flaw only compounds the first issue. Jordan has created a deep and detailed world and he literally provides us with dozens of POV characters. Early in the series, this was a strength, but as Jordan has added more characters, plots and subplots, it has become too much for him – and possibly any author – to manage. Characters take center stage in one book, then disappear for the next two. Once you decide you like a character’s plotline, they’re gone for the next 1,500 pages.
Or a character does nothing for a book or two, finally lulling you into complete and utter apathy, and then they take center stage. Early in the series I didn’t like Egwene, but her plotline with the Aiel and the Wise Ones made her one of the more likeable characters in the series to me. But once she became the Amyrlin Seat, she spent the next two books doing nothing. By the time THE PATH OF DAGGERS began, I no longer cared that much about Egwene. She’d been inactive for far too long. Then she began taking action in this book, moving the plot forward and changing the landscape of the story. She was one of the best parts of this book, but even as I think on how much better she was in this book, I can’t help but remember that she’s been a non-entity for the two books beforehand.
When A CROWN OF SWORDS ended, I was looking forward to A PATH OF DAGGERS in some part because of the way Mat Cauthon’s storyline ended, with him trapped in Ebou Dar as the Seanchan take over the city. We’d already been told that Mat was destined to marry the Daughter of the Nine Moons, who is apparently Seanchan, so I was looking forward to getting more insight into Seanchan society and seeing how Mat would interact with the Seanchan’s warrior society. So, of course, I was disappointed when Mat made exactly zero appearances in this book.
There are plenty of instances of this – characters picked up and then dropped, plotlines seemingly forgotten – and it’s all a product of Jordan trying to tell too many stories. The sheer scope of the series is admirable, but at this point, I can’t help but think that I’d rather read a book with just a handful of plotlines that the author can really dig into.