Wheel of Time Review: Books 12-14

Now we come to the Brandon Sanderson books.  He gets a lot of flak, some of it deserved and some of it due to the constraints of Jordan’s plotting.  Overall he was adequate, producing neither the best books nor the worst in the series.

The Gathering Storm: In my opinion the best thing that Sanderson writes in all three books is near the beginning of this one when Dark Rand shows up.  The entire scene with Semirhage taking control of him, to his use of the True Power, to his eventual banishment of Cadsuane gripped me like very little in the whole series did.  The Fall of Rand has been hinted at for so long and it was almost good enough to forgive the excessive wait.  It is hard to say whether Sanderson nailed the sequence of events or if it was merely a legacy of Jordan’s often immaculate plotting.  Either way Dark Rand is awesome.  Not my favorite incarnation of Rand, I prefer the slightly crazy and unpredictable Rand of books 5 and 6, but still intriguing and probably the best descent into darkness of any character in any literature I can recall.

However, Dark Rand doesn’t get much room to breathe, committing only one ambiguously evil act when he tries to kill Graendel and takes out a bunch of mind-controlled innocents.  I again blame the drawn out state of affairs of books 7-10 for forcing Sanderson to compress the plot.  Eventually, Cadsuane meddles again and tries to get Rand’s father, Tam, to talk to him after a satisfying scene where Tam calls her a bully, because lets face it, for all her calls for respect she is just a bully.  She lords her status over Aes Sedai and constantly tries to control Rand and seems to rely on force far too often to try to get a point across.  Rand explodes after learning of Cadsuane’s involvement in Tam seeing him and then sits on Dragonmount to philosophize with himself.  First, this was the worst possible way to purge Dark Rand.  I would have much preferred a heart-wrenching moment with Tam.  After all Rand is young and not even groomed for the duties he has assumed, seeing his hard shell melt in his father’s arms would be much better.  Instead we get a sophomoric introspection about life and reincarnation and a dawning realization that you should make the most of second chances.  This series seems to have an aversion to major characters interacting with each other and Rand’s solitary epiphany is emblematic of that.

The worst part of the cleansing of Dark Rand is  that we then get Jesus Rand which is easily the worst incarnation of Rand.  Sanderson softens (hardens?) him up again near the Last Battle, but his benign mystic attitude is kind of grating at times.

The other major plotline is in the White Tower where Egwene still resides as a novice undermining Elaida.  The is interesting and all but the resolution is decidedly unsatisfying.  After Egwene lays the smackdown on some Seanchan that attack the White Tower everything just falls into place for her and despite this she chews out the people who rescued her from the White Tower.  We learn that a secret cabal of Aes Sedai engineered the entire split to gain power for themselves, but mucked everything up, and decide that Egwene is their best option now.  Meanwhile rather than having to actually deal with Elaida she is conveniently taken captive by the Seanchan so the plotline can be neatly wrapped up.  This happens a frustrating amount of times in the series: we have Liandrin, Elaida, and Moghedien captured by the Seanchan and Galina is similarly indentured to the Wise Ones.  I guess this is the series’ attempt at karmic justice, but it always seems to be a deus ex machina situation so that the authors can avoid messy aftermaths.

Anyways the mending of the split White Tower is unsatisfying because everything felt so pointless.  Egwene’s machinations are mostly irrelevant as is the siege the rebels carried out.  Instead a Seanchan attack deposes Elaida and aforementioned secret cabal of incompetents elect Egwene as Amyrlin.  I want characters to succeed because of their actions, not because of serendipity.

Before I conclude this review, I would point out that Verin’s confession to Egwene about being Black Ajah is one of the best in the series.  It caused me to tear up a bit.  Still I can’t forgive Verin giving Matt a letter with time-sensitive information and telling him not to open it.  It was thoroughly inane and never properly explained away.

If it is not clear this is Sanderson’s best book by a fair margin.  The next is weak and the last is constrained by a foreordained ending that had little hope of being exceptional.

Towers of Midnight: Much of the disappointment of this book results from the feeling that it is rushing along trying to finish plotlines so everyone can be around for the Last Battle.  Again, the stagnation of the plot in books 7-10 has suffocated more interesting and more important plotlines in later books.

Perrin continues to underwhelm.  He has been isolated from the world for so long and the events in his arc are so insignificant that every one of his scenes seems like a completely different book.  The rest of the world is gathering enormous armies for the Last Battle and Perrin is trying to kill one guy, Slayer, and is derping around with Galad and the Whitecloaks.  At least Perrin starts to develop skills in the Wolf Dream, turning into something of a bad ass there.  I especially like when he basically trumps Egwene in the battle with Messana; that stuffy bitch needed to be taken down a notch there.

Speaking of Egwene, she is terribly annoying in this book.  First, the scene where she tries to shackle Perrin in the middle of a battle with a Forsaken and Black Ajah is both arrogant and mind-numbingly stupid.  Continuing her pomposity she decides to oppose Rand in breaking the seals despite having no alternative nor the advantage of the memories of Lews Therin to aid her.  Who are you going to trust?  Uppity 19 year old Amyrlin or a dude that is hundreds of years old and has experience fighting the Dark One?  So yeah Egwene continues to disappoint whenever she is not surrounded by other Aes Sedai who just make her look OK in comparison.

Finally, we have Mat who craftily kills the Gholam and then enters the Tower of Ghenji with Thom and Noal.  I was disappointed that Noal, who is the legendary Jain Farstrider, i.e. the equivalent of Marco Polo, dies without really utilizing his impressive body of knowledge.  In particular his experiences with the Shar would have been interesting when they appear in the final book as enemies.  Still the entire Tower section felt like old school D&D, like the famous adventure module Tomb of Horrors.  Also I was legitimately surprised by how the prophecies regarding Mat were finally resolved.

At this point I have to bring up the suspicion that Jordan and Sanderson are trolling us with the romances.  I have already written how poorly motivated the couplings in the series are and this book throws two of the worst at us.  I mean Thom and Moiraine?  Even the other characters are surprised by this and it is doubly weird considering Thom’s past with Aes Sedai.  Then we also have Galad and Berelain, which is less galling because neither character I care about, though it is hard to see Galad really falling for anyone as morally ambiguous as Berelain.

In conclusion, kind of a sloppy book that exists mostly to set up the last book.

A Memory of Light: The fact that we know there is a giant Last Battle and the Rand must fight the Dark One leaves few surprises here except what the body count is.  I have no problem with the killing off of characters, after all nobody important has died for the entirety of the series and the Pattern demands balance, what I dislike is how they get snuffed.

Your enjoyment of this book will depend on how much you like battle scenes as that is pretty much the entirety of this book.  The only reprieve is a short sequence where the Black Tower is reclaimed.  I think Sanderson is better at this stuff the Jordan, but it still gets tiresome after 800 pages.

So things that bothered me.  First off, how is Demandred such a good general and swordsman when he lived in an era of peace, when he has access to the power as a weapon and when technology allowed for more effective weapons than swords?  I can maybe give him learning to battle tactics during the War of Power, but not being a better swordsman than the best of an era when melee weapons are the dominant form of warfare.  Still I let it pass because he is essentially the only formidable Forsaken in the entire series.

While we are on the topic of Demandred, him fighting three sword duels against Gawyn, Galad and Lan was just ridiculous.  How they even got to him on a crowded battlefield is something that boggles the mind.  Then we have Gawyn fail to accomplish anything with his death, Galad only inflicting a quickly healed wound and Lan predictably Sheathing the Sword to defeat him.  I guess he was built up as invincible when it came to battling with the Power, but this succession of duels felt like a fan fiction author determining who was the best swordsman.  Also I was madly disappointed that Demandred never learned that it was Mat that bested him on the battlefield and not Lews Therin.  Hell, I though Matt should have taken him out with his quarterstaff, we know that he could take Gawyn and Galad simultaneously.

Another stupid thing was reading that all the Great Captains had their minds tampered with and that no Aes Sedai, not even Egwene who is trained in using Telaranrhiod, thought to guard the dream world.  Not even from regular old spying like they did on the White Tower during the split.  This felt horror movie retarded, only allowed to further events rather than because the characters would actually overlook such a thing.

Characters that died in seemingly feckless ways: Siuan, Bryne, Birgitte, Gawyn, Bashere.  Siuan dies almost off camera defending Mat against raid on HQ and Bryne quickly follows.  Seemed anticlimactic.  I have no idea how Elayne and Birigtte were ambushed, it felt like a contrivance so Birgitte could come back with the Horn.  As I said earlier Gawyn accomplishes nothing continuing his run of utter uselessness.  I was also sad Bashere died and just got a quick mention.

Other things that annoyed me.  How did nobody figure out the Horn was unbound since Mat had died?  Why was Logain so criminally underused?  The entire Faile story.  With gateways how is getting an object from point A to point B so hard?  More fail from Faile.  What the fuck is anti-balefire?  Why couldn’t Cadsuane die?

Finally, we have the battle with the Dark One.  First off, why is Moiraine there considering the power has been nearly burned out of her?  Secondly, the entire Alanna thing was dumb since she can let go of the Warder bond at any point.  Also didn’t see the point of Moridin at all, despite being an interesting character.  I guess they had to trick him so they could use the True Power.  But lets talk about the Dark One.  TALKING IN ALL CAPS IS DUMB.  The Dark One must not be popular on the internet.

I guess they can’t have a physical battle, but this was a pretty tepid ideological battle.  The consequences of killing the Dark One do not follow logically.  First off, we know the Dark One is outside the Pattern.  Secondly, we know the Pattern strives for balance.  Yet we are supposed to believe that without the Dark One all humans will turn into glassy-eyed care bears, that the Pattern will only spin out humans with only good inside them.  The Dark One is not the source of all evil according to everything we have learned up to this point.  I mean the Age of Legends was fine even before they created the Bore that let the Dark One out.  Furthermore, lets take it at face value as what will happen.  Is that actually worse than a world with the Dark One still around?  I think I would take happy people over a world with war and poverty and all the other terrible things humans do to each other.  But apparently Rand feels that is all necessary for humanity to thrive.  Rand is wrong.

Then we have the epilogue.  Not sure where the body swap thing came from, but OK.  What I dislike is that all the major characters get maybe a token scene together in this book or the last book and the epilogue doesn’t address that paucity at all.  Also Rand’s ending has me scratching my head.  Does he really just want to go derp derping around the world?  He doesn’t want to continue to make the world a better place or even hang out with his posse of beautiful women that love him?  I just never felt that Rand was itching to be a carefree vagrant all the time, that seems more like a Mat ending to me.  Also that would free him from the clutches of Tuon which can only make him happier.

Again, the books had to end this way, but it still felt a bit unfulfilling.  I will have another post with broader thoughts about the entire series.

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