Review of KNIFE OF DREAMS by Robert Jordan

Robert Jordan didn’t waste any time in making it clear that KNIFE OF DREAMS was going to make up for the wheel-spinning that soured the last few books, especially CROSSROADS OF TWILIGHT. After reading CROSSROADS, I recognized it for what it was – a book designed to set up the climax of multiple plotlines – but that didn’t make it any less frustrating.

In KNIFE OF DREAMS, we finally start to see the payoff. In the past, I’ve been frustrated by Jordan’s prologues, which have often extended almost 100 pages without any clear point. This time, he did it right – 13 pages of action with an interesting peripheral character. After those 13 pages, I still wasn’t convinced that Jordan would continue his momentum, but he finally wraps up a number of storylines that had been left dangling for the past three to four books. There’s plot advancement, action, some character development – everything that belongs in all fantasy books, to be honest, but had been missing in the recent WHEEL OF TIME installments.

The sudden shift actually makes it hard to judge this book on its own values. Is it a great book? I don’t think so, but I read it immediately after CROSSROADS OF TWILIGHT, and in that context this book has been a tremendous breath of fresh air for the series. As disappointed as I was at the end of CROSSROADS, I’m that excited to read the next book in this series, and it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to say that.

Of course, I say this in 2013, when I know there are three more books remaining. At the time KNIFE OF DREAMS was published, it was supposed to be the penultimate chapter. Had I read it upon publication, I likely would have been worried that Jordan would try to wrap everything else up within a single tome, as there still remain a significant number of unresolved plotlines. But knowing what I know, I end this book feeling good about where the series stands (even if it did take way too long to get here) and I’m glad to see that Robert Jordan’s final book was a strong installment. No matter what you say about the middle books in this series (and I’ve been as critical as anyone), Jordan deserved to go out on a high note.

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CROSSROADS OF TWILIGHT by Robert Jordan (a re-read)

CROSSROADS OF TWILIGHT seems to primarily serve two functions in the WHEEL OF TIME series.

First, and most importantly, it’s about slight changes in the characters of Perrin and Matt. Perrin’s wife Faile was abducted two books ago, and this is the first time we get an extended peek at how Perrin is handling that. As her period of capture continues, we see Perrin becoming harder. Perrin has long been portrayed as something of the proverbial gentle giant. With broad blacksmith shoulders and his axe at his hip, Perrin is often portrayed as the primary character who is saddest that the world is going to hell. He’s saddened by the suffering and the pain, and all he wants is to protect his wife and his homeland.

But now it’s been about a month since his wife was taken, and he’s a bit harder around the edges, a fact that is emphasized after his people capture some of the Shaido. In the aftermath of his actions, which display just how badass Perrin can be, Perrin is profoundly disappointed in himself, and frightened by what he could become. Whereas Rand has embraced doing what must be done, Perrin is disgusted by his own actions.

In Mat’s plotline, we see how he and Tuon interact and establish a baseline for their relationship. Like Perrin’s plot, we don’t seem to move much closer toward any resolution, but we get to understand these characters a little better.

The rest of the book’s pages are all about setting things up for the future. Whereas previous books have finished with a big battle, usually involving Rand, the Dragon Reborn barely appears in this book, and there’s no climax to provide a satisfying conclusion.

CROSSROADS OF TWILIGHT is not really its own book, but it’s really the middle 800 pages of a far larger story. It’s unfulfilling to look back after reading the book and realize the plot hasn’t moved forward very much. My first draft of this review reflected that frustration.

But in thinking about it some more, I do recognize the subtle developments in some of our key characters, and I think I see Jordan setting things up so the Seanchan become a crucial part of the series conclusion. I just wish it didn’t take 822 pages for Jordan to achieve these things, especially 10 books into the series.