Knife of Dreams by Robert Jordan

I’ve begun to suspect that I am not able any longer – if I ever was – to be impartial when reading these books. You see I really love reading them. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about that and why that might be. Viewed from a purely analytical standpoint I don’t know why I like them. Robert Jordan’s writing is verbose to the point of lunacy. The details are so exquisite that they make you want to tear out pages in order to thin the book down to its natural size.

In mathematical terms these books are in some definite need of normalization.

I wondered if I felt an emotional attachment to these books as some kind of nostalgic gripping of fond memories past, much like – dare I say it – the way I love Star Wars or adult women seem to love the oh-so-creepy Twilight books – on second thought the Twilight thing is just weird and appalling, not the same thing at all. (Star Wars truly is a thing of my past that I love without letting myself think too hard about what is being said or done with the writing and story. That’s a discussion for another time, however.) That particular theory didn’t hold under even rudimentary scrutiny, though. I read Terry Brooks when I was younger and can’t even get through one of his books now. David Eddings I found to be immensely entertaining as a boy but painfully repetitive as an adult. Even Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game that I’ve read a dozen times at least wasn’t as good the last time I read it. In short, my nostalgic feelings attenuate rather rapidly when propagating in free space.

Over the years, my relationship with the Wheel of Time books has run through a very definite series of ups and downs. If it were plotted on a graph I’m sure it would look very much like a sine wave but it really hasn’t been long enough to make that conclusion with any certainty.

Knife of Dreams is officially (by me) subtitled ‘the one where things finally start to happen’. In fact so many things start to move along that it almost feels artificial, but with the glacial pacing of the last several books I don’t hear anybody complaining. Nearly the last half of the book is moving characters along in their story arcs, and with this many characters that means it happens fast.

Mat and Tuon have the second real relationship in the entire series – even if it is a little strange because of their circumstances. Mat also finds out why Thom Merillin is still hanging around in the story and what purpose Olver serves for the plot. Perrin and Faile finally wrap up that whole fiasco they’re in. Elayne ends her nearly as terminally long succession plotline. Rand fulfills another prophesy that was given all the way back in book one – there are a lot more of these than you might think.

Some of the criticism that Jordan gets for his books is fair. Many of the gender relations are hokey at best and downright creepy at worst. Jordan seems to think that women don’t respect a man who doesn’t yell at them, stare at other women and spank them when they’re being especially out of line. I have a difficult time seeing that working out for very many people. On the other hand Jordan is very good at showing women who are powerful just because they are (instead of making them strong ‘even though they are women’).

One of the other complaints often leveled at Jordan is that he didn’t know what he was doing and made it all up as he went along. It is really hard to plot and plan one book so that it feels cohesive from beginning to end. It’s nearly impossible to make it look like it was well planned if it wasn’t already. Try writing just a short story sometime without planning anything out and make sure that you use Checkov’s gun and foreshadowing appropriately. Also make several of your characters prophetic so that you can give hints about future events and do it without making an outline. Jordan did this with a series of 14 books. That’s not a feat that you just tackle without notes or at least knowing where it’s going from the beginning.

I think what it comes down to is that where Jordan succeeds is in his ability to create truly heroic moments. He has a magical ability to recreate myth and legend in all its fantastical glory and make it feel real, like it could have happened that way. On a cursory level these books are just an over long fantasy series. At a deeper level they are a compilation of myths and legends interspersed with hidden clues to the past and future of the world.

Knife of Dreams is a Robert Jordan novel with all the flaws that he’s had all along. But it’s also got all the things he does right in copious amounts. Action, battle, and characters being awesome (Nynaeve seems to get the most of those but Mat and Perrin also have their fair share and Elayne even pulls through in the end.)

After this book I feel like maybe it will all turn out to be worth it after all. The Last Battle is coming and the good guys are woefully ill prepared.

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