Review of WINTER’S HEART by Robert Jordan (re-read)

For the most part, I think I liked WINTER’S HEART, even though this book, more than any so far in the series, seemed to embody the strengths and weaknesses of THE WHEEL OF TIME.

By the time this book came out, people had already begun to turn on the series a bit, criticizing Jordan for making a money grab and stretching out the series as long as he could and filling his books with more and more characters, more and more world-building, and less plot advancement. In WINTER’S HEART, Jordan moves the plot forward in a few places, but does so in as bizarre a way as any author I’ve seen.

I don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t read this book yet, so if you don’t want any spoilers at all, please stop reading this review. If you don’t mind vague spoilers, I’ll do my best to be non-specific –

One of the series’ main female characters learns she is pregnant during the time period depicted in the book. “During the time period depicted in the book?” you might say. What a strange way to phrase that!

I word it that way because Jordan doesn’t actually include that part in the book. In fact, we spend probably eight to 10 pages in that character’s POV chapter before she mentions that she’s pregnant in passing, and that’s why Character A gets this, this, this and this for breakfast, Character B gets this, this, this and this for breakfast and she gets this, this and this to eat because she’s pregnant. I’ve honestly never seen anything like it. By the end of WINTER’S HEART, Jordan is nearing 240,000 words in this series. He has been roundly criticized for packing too much into the story, detailing every minute detail of his character’s lives, putting 100,000 words or more between major plot developments, and somehow we know everything the characters eat for breakfast on a daily basis but we aren’t there when one of the main characters learns they’re pregnant.

It’s totally bizarre.

For the most part in this series, even in the books I didn’t especially like, I’ve liked the way Jordan ends the book with a rip-roaring fight, usually between Rand and one of the big bads. This time, Jordan does an excellent job of setting up the big fight. Rand is busy using so much magic that he can’t defend himself, and he must rely on those around him to defend him from the Forsaken descending upon him. It’s great.

Jordan speeds up the pace, jumping from POV character to POV character, and we see the battle beginning from probably eight different characters’ points of view. But then we jump to another character on the outskirts of the fray who wants nothing to do with the dangers of battle. They can’t see anything, but they guess that the Forsaken are probably losing.

Of course, we can’t trust this because one of Jordan’s favorite games is to have a POV character express an opinion that’s wildly inaccurate, but in the next scene the battle is over and we’re told who lived and died. Somehow, Jordan spends all this time building up to this fight, and as good guys and bad guys run into each other, he cuts away just as the fighting begins. It’s as though Jordan hates the reader, and is now just taunting them. You want something to happen? Fine, but I’m not going to show it to you. I’ll just tell you everything that happens before and then skip over the exciting parts.

Mat Cauthon is back for this book, and seems to get the bulk of Jordan’s attention. I have to say, Mat has really grown on me again. I struggled with him in some of the early books, but Jordan has certainly found his grasp of this character, and I was happy to spend more time with Mat as he makes his way in Seanchan-controlled Ebou Dar.

Perrin’s determination to find his wife, who was kidnapped in one of the earlier books, is gripping early on and I expected to see him try to chase down her kidnappers, but Jordan soon drops this plotline and never returns to it.

Having Rand spend the bulk of his time with Min is a good choice, as Min has been one of the few female characters Jordan hasn’t made off-putting. I also liked seeing Rand working with Lan, even though they follow a red herring plotline where they walk into a trap set by a big-time bad guy, but then the big-time bad guy runs away almost immediately, making the whole thing kind of pointless.

Jordan is still creating more mysteries for the readers to try to figure out, and while he does answer others, they’re questions that were set up in the third or fourth book of the series. Sometimes he pulled out the big reveal, and instead of saying, ‘Wow, that’s amazing!’ my response was, ‘Oh yeah. I’d forgotten about that.’

So here I am, nine books into the series. Jordan seems to have a better grasp of his main characters than he did earlier and he has found ways to make some of them more interesting, but his pacing still isn’t quite right and some of the storytelling decisions he made in this book were downright strange.