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 …


Review of THE SHADOW RISING by Robert Jordan (a re-read)

This was the book in which Perrin became the star of the series for me.

In THE SHADOW RISING, Perrin gets the most compelling story of the three primary plots, returning to the Two Rivers to save his family and friends from Trollocs and Children of the Light. On the surface, it’s a plotline reminiscent of “Scouring of the Shire” at the end of RETURN OF THE KING, but with some key differences.

Whereas the “Scouring of the Shire” occurs at the very end of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, marking the end of the hobbits’ development, this plotline is but a step in Perrin’s growth as a character. Jordan does a good job of showing how much Perrin cares for the people of the Two Rivers, and those personal stakes make Perrin’s storyline the most gripping of the three. I’m not sure I’m thrilled with the way Perrin’s relationship with Faile develops — Jordan really relies on the reader believing there’s a thin line between love and hate — but her behavior late in the book makes her a good match for Perrin. It’s just jarring that her behavior at the beginning of the book makes her seem manipulative and obnoxious.

Rand’s storyline isn’t bad once it gets started, as we get an in-depth look at the Aiel culture within their own lands. There isn’t a tremendous amount of plot moving forward, but the Aiel culture is interesting, and Rand’s position as the man coming to claim leadership of their people without knowing anything of their culture presents a lot of opportunities for future storylines/complications for Rand.

Again, the women’s storyline is strong as Nynaeve and Elayne travel to Tanchico, a city in turmoil, in search of the Black Ajah. Whereas Rand’s storyline seems to move slowly, the women seem far more proactive, hunting their enemies and making things happen.

Of course, it would have been nice if Jordan had been willing to make things happen in the first 250 pages. So far, the great weakness in this series, for me at least, has been the slow starts to these books. THE SHADOW RISING marked probably the worst, as it was more than one-quarter complete before we saw each character’s arc truly take shape. Jordan wastes a lot of time reminding us where everyone ended the last book, and each character gets a chapter or two to express their dissatisfaction with their current situation. Even knowing it would get better once Jordan got warmed up, it was a struggle to get through. Fortunately, Jordan has a tendency to get stronger as the book goes along, and he did so again here — I was gripped throughout the final three-quarters of the book and am eager to re-read the next book in the series — THE FIRES OF HEAVEN.