Reread of LORD OF CHAOS by Robert Jordan

By this point in the series, I feel like Robert Jordan’s strengths and weaknesses have been pretty firmly established. He’s a strong world- and character-builder, which helps to carry the story when he gets too verbose or his plotlines meander.

In this book, Jordan did a better job of writing Rand, who for me has either been a non-entity or has actually hurt the book ever since the first tome, THE EYE OF THE WORLD. I thought some of the strongest parts of the book came at the end, when you could feel Rand’s rage and frustration practically leaping off the page.

As in previous books, LORD OF CHAOS was at its best when Perrin was brought back into the picture. For me, he is by far the most likeable character in the series, and at times the only one I truly root for. Unfortunately, he doesn’t show up for the first 800+ pages, and so we spent the bulk of those early pages watching the Aes Sedai plot amongst themselves. Early in the series, I’d been impressed with Jordan’s use of Egwene, Elayne and Nynaeve — while the three ta’veren were content to react to the world around them, the women were the ones actually moving the plot forward. For a series that was clearly so inspired by Tolkien, it was a strong way to differentiate itself. But for the last few books, I’ve begun to wonder if Jordan’s writing of women is as positive as it originally seemed to me.

As the series has gone on, Jordan’s characterization of the women seems to to have become largely negative in my eyes. Nynaeve has become a bitch who rages whenever she doesn’t get her way — often, it seems that even her friends don’t truly enjoy being in her company. While Elayne and Egwene are better drawn as strong women, they’re often working at odds with Rand and are far too easily insulted by the male characters’ temerity in having opinions. I can imagine how much readers would hate a male character who snidely dismissed the opinions of every woman he met and felt justified in using magic to abuse the opposite sex. I’m not a particular fan of Mat Cauthon’s, but I actually grew angry realizing that Nynaeve and Elayne had every intention of trying to steal his foxhead medallion and leave him vulnerable to Aes Sedai magic. The plot of this book especially seems designed to show just how dangerous the Aes Sedai are, and I think even Elayne, Egwene and Nynaeve are dangerous to the male heroes in their own way.

Jordan’s ability to finish a book strong is in full force here, as the ending is terrific. And again, Jordan’s proclivity for verbosity is equally in full force. Even the embarrassingly terrible cover art is again present, this time with a weird monster (a dragon, perhaps?) flying through the sky even though there are no dragons or flying monsters anywhere in the book. It’s pretty much the perfect example of bad cover art — poorly crafted while displaying monsters that aren’t in the book.

Overall, it’s pretty incredible how similar this book is to its predecessors. It shares the same strengths and the same weaknesses, so if you loved what came before, you’ll love this book. If you didn’t, it will continue to frustrate you.

It’s like a metaphor for the Wheel of Time itself …

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Review of THE FIRES OF HEAVEN by Robert Jordan (re-read)

To this point, I’ve enjoyed my re-read of THE WHEEL OF TIME, but I struggled at times to wade through this one. The length — nearing 1,000 pages in the mass-market paperback edition — wasn’t so much the problem as the character Nynaeve.

To this point in the series I’ve been mostly positive about Jordan’s use of women. There’s no disguising the fact that WHEEL OF TIME is heavily inspired by LORD OF THE RINGS, and seeing Jordan correct one of Tolkien’s weaknesses — the role of women in his stories — seemed like a solid step. And while some of the male protagonists seemed passive, merely reacting to the world around them rather than making proactive choices, Nynaeve, Egwene and Elayne at times drove the plot, making decisions and bringing the fight to the bad guys.

But in this book, Jordan relies more heavily on Nynaeve’s point of view, and that sucks much of the fun from the story. To this point, Nynaeve has mostly been a side character. Surly and grouchy, almost always criticizing the other characters, she has always been portrayed as a good person who’s a bit overbearing and rough around the edges. But spending as much time inside Nynaeve’s head as we do in this book, I came away with almost the opposite impression. She hates almost all of her “friends.”

Elayne is a slut because of the clothes she wears, even though Nynaeve is often wearing something similar.

Anyone who disagrees with her is a fool.

All men are morons, except for Lan.

Thom is an old fool.

Juilin Sandar wears a silly conical hat (Nynaeve seems obsessed with this damn hat. In every Nynaeve POV chapter, the first thing she ever says about Juilin is that his hat is silly, yellow and conical. She is literally unable to mention Juilin’s name without commenting on how much she hates this hat).

It’s exhausting to be around someone this negative, and Nynaeve’s POV dominates this book, making her constant negativity impossible to ignore. In the end, it drains this book of much of its fun. Even some of the plot developments late in the book are overshadowed by Nynaeve’s personality, and that’s too bad because Jordan moves the story forward and takes it to some interesting places. I just wish Nynaeve didn’t have to be in any of those places.