Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Fires of Heaven

Dreams and Speculation's Wheel of Time Challenge.'s Wheel of Time reread of TFoH by the ever-entertaining and in-your-face Leigh Butler

Adam Roberts' witty and snide review of TFoH. What most concerns him is the writing style. And really, I agree with him.

A very sprawling read, and I really began to feel bored. Very tedious and repetitive detail. What kind of literary mind repeats unilluminating details over and over, as if that conveys character? Perhaps he wrote each scene in isolation, then stitched it all together without realizing, "hey, I used that same description in the last chapter." A good editor could have pruned and tightened this up and reduced it by 200 pages without losing anything. This book demonstrates a failure in editing as much as writing. Perhaps by book five RJ's Tor editors were bowing and scraping — unwisely.

What happens (as I recall): to escape from Moghedien and the Children of the Light, the girls join a circus and flounce around in sexy gowns. Nynaeve does absurdly dangerous things but they always turn out well, hooray! Of course she's an idiot and gets Birgitte kicked out of Tel'aran'rhiod (a sort of dream world purgatory) but Birgitte is a good sport about it. Meanwhile, Rand is marshaling the Aiel to cross the mountains to do something or other (capture Illian and kick out Samael?) but things get heated up when the renegade Shaido Aiel and their dragon-poseur leader Couladin attack the fragile city-state of Cairhien, so Rand assumes a new mission to kick out the Shaido and thus begin his campaign of world domination — for the purpose of uniting the nations to defeat the dark lord, of course. In Tar Valon, Siuan is deposed as Amyrlyn Seat and stilled, but she and her second-in-command, Leane, are wonderfully broken out of prison by Min, and that crew together with the gentled false dragon Logain (a boorish clumsy man like so many of the male characters) unite with the Tar Valon government-in-exile in Salidar. Egwene is learning from the Aiel Wise Women how to navigate the dream world. I discovered that her name is pronounced "Eg-Wain", surprise! — I looked at the glossary.

Character development: Rand decides to act more like a man, but he's afraid to tell anyone what he's thinking because ... why? They will try to manipulate him and change his mind, and/or will interfere if they knew what he was doing. You too, dear reader, are not trusted enough to know the great man's intentions. In other character development news, Nynaeve has a small insight that she's a bitch. Maybe there's a shred of hope for her. Moiraine realizes that Rand isn't going to let her run the show, and that if she wants to have influence she needs to work with him on his terms (surely she should have realized this earlier? Oh, yeah, the women characters expect to dominate men, right.) Egwene grows up a bit when she learns that she can tell Nynaeve off and that Nynaeve will respect her for it. That's it, in 963 pages, if I'm not forgetting anything. The way the characters arrive at these transformations is worth only a couple of sentences, and are only achieved after many tedious formulaic interactions. It's just not what this book is about.

There's much about breasts but very little sex. Mat sleeps with an aggressive Aiel woman (well, to be honest, they are all aggressive women) and Rand gets laid (seems to be his first time?) but very little comes of these encounters, and like so much in these books, the really interesting stuff, such as "how did they make love?" and "what the heck are they planning?" is capriciously hidden from us, poor little readers. Oh, sorry, that's called "building tension" when the writer hides the most pertinent motives of his main characters. Yeah? No, I think that's called "manipulation" of a very simple sort, and I find it aggravating, and not "stimulating". Of course, the characters only exist to move the plot along, and they themselves are mere retreads of more ancient and powerful versions of themselves, so there's really nothing happening here, and we don't get the satisfaction of peering into their minds as they deal with mindblowing stuff. Mat and Perrin and Rand all share the same grumpiness about their discoveries of unknown dimensions of themselves.

My favorite parts? Reading about the Forsaken. They're so wicked and fun! But still sadly stupid, the way all the characters are stupid. The scene of Moghedien torturing the Black Ajah sorority, or fighting with that bimbo Nynaeve. Natael (Asmodien) promised to be a potentially interesting inwardly conflicted character, but then — nope. Let's not make characters actually interesting or smart; why, that would take away from our snail's pace unfolding plot that has to go on for more than twelve books! AAAAARRRRRGGGHHHHH!

I need to brush up my skimming technique.

Mostly, at this point, I'm anticipating reading how Brandon Sanderson wraps it all up, and if he can put a bit more polish, a bit of verve, on the quality of the writing. The buzz I'm gathering says that the later RJ books are even worse than this one.

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