I am a big fan of Robert Jordan’s books. I understand that they slow down considerably in the later volumes and he is fond of overly detailed description and repetitive recap on each book but those things don’t bother me so much. Okay… actually book eight through eleven were really hard to finish. The first six books are possibly my favorite outside of Tolkien in the fantasy genre and I’ve read them each multiple times. Jordan gets compared to Tolkien frequently (what fantasy author doesn’t?) and I don’t have a whole lot to say about that except that, as with anybody this comparison is a good comparison in a few ways, but mostly not. I’ve said a lot about Tolkien lately so I don’t want to dwell too much on this but any comparison will show that Robert Jordan just did not have the same kind of subtle power that Tolkien did.
That’s not to say that Jordan couldn’t be subtle. He was the master of subtle. This is the first time I’ve reread these books since the eleventh came out and I’m suddenly beginning to realize how early Jordan knew what he was doing. In the very first book there are hints and foreshadowing of events that don’t happen for eleven more books. There are some hints that still haven’t played out and which I can only expect will.
My only other observation (about the Tolkien comparison) is that Jordan might be closest to having some claim as a Tolkien successor than most authors. First of all he outsells all other fantasy (except Harry Potter) by several (as much as a hundred) orders of magnitude. Second is a trend I’ve noticed recently. It used to be when authors stated their inspiration for writing fantasy it was always Tolkien and his work that lit their imaginations. Lately there has been a rush of new fantasy authors that cite Robert Jordan as the author that inspired them to start writing fantasy books, the one who introduced them to fantasy.
Robert Jordan is very good at characters, plot, foreshadowing, and endings. His endings in fact are incredibly intense and might possibly be the reason that some of the slower novels (5, 6, and 7) are still so enjoyable to me. He is a genius at world-building and descriptions. He writes so smoothly that I find myself reading long after I had planned to stop because each sentence just flows together. Despite his problems with realistic characters relationships (more on this later) there are some truly touching moments in this book.
The characters, as frustrating as they can be at times, are amazingly true to their respective maturity levels. Most of them are teenagers, thrust into a world of intrigue and danger that is way beyond their level of competence to understand or deal with. They do the best they can but sometimes they make stupid teenager mistakes.
He is very bad at relationships. I mean VERY bad. Most characters see each other once and then spend several books mooning over each other while hundreds of miles apart. I think the Elayne and Rand one is nearly as bad as Nynaeve and Lan. In fact at this point in the series I think there are only two relationships that seem realistic at all: Rand and Aviendha and Rand and Moiraine – one of which is no longer a factor after this book.
Jordan also gets repetitive, not in his plots or stories or characters – those are incredibly and constantly fresh for such a huge series – but in his descriptions. How many dresses can be slashed with colors, how many times can Nynaeve yank her braid before it comes off, why are all women intolerant of men while the men are completely clueless at their frustration. Why does Jordan seem to think that the best way for men to deal with over-controlling women is spanking – I would hazard to guess that this form of relationship would lead to more avarice from the women, not less – and it’s very demeaning.
One of the themes of the entire series is lack of communication. Sometimes this is taken way too far. Men and women don’t tell each other anything, friends never explain anything to each other, political factions remain silent, leaders don’t speak to underlings, even wives don’t tell their husbands things and vice versa. I understand the theme and the real-world lack of communication from which it is derived but it gets tiresome. You’d think, in the few instances that people do communicate in these stories – and things always go really well when they do – that people would learn to communicate eventually.
The Fires of Heaven is still one of the ‘good’ Wheel of Time books and I really do enjoy it despite it’s flaws.