Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Crown of Swords

Dreams and Speculation blog's Wheel of Time challenge

Tor's Wheel of Time re-read and synopsis by Leigh Butler.

I am tired of whining about the quality and characteristics of these books. This month I just plunged in, and read it as if I were AA-grinding in EverQuest. If you want a payoff, you knuckle down and endure the dreary bits. I'm glad to say I finished it a few days ago.

I'm getting better at skimming over useless redundant detail. I've settled in my mind that this is poorly-written plot-driven "young adult" lit, and I'm treating it as the smelly object it is, trying to enjoy a few sparkly bits here and there.

My attitude being less-than-serious, I'm not glaring at the details, demanding that they make sense, I'm just shrugging my shoulders and saying "whatever!" It's like watching a bad movie and saying to oneself, "what the heck, it's sort of entertaining, though the script/acting/costumes/setting/effects are wrong and stupid," which would be typical of most movies these days.

I feel I'm reading background material about a counseling client: someone whose mother was dominating, critical, and punitive but sometimes unexpectedly warm and loving. (go ahead, call me a Freudian.) The client lacks insight into his feelings about women and himself. Great. I'm sorry, it doesn't resonate emotionally for me. When I read books about how human beings torment each other (and themselves), I expect to experience some insight, some catharsis, some illumination -- not unrelieved, quotidian, repetitive agonies and plots for domination. What's especially dreary is that the characters have very little hope inside; they're empty shells; they have no passion. The Forsaken are just more extreme undying expressions of all the other characters' feelings of compulsion, dread, failure, degradation, and unfulfilled desire for revenge.

What I liked: (I amuse myself with that segue-way)

  • Early on, I did like how RJ laid out the social complexities of the rebel Aes Sedai camp, and the conflicting and competing interests among the various groups: Elaida's crew in the White Tower, Sevanna's Shaido crew, and and the emergent strategizing of myriad interested parties. However, I felt that the tension build-ups were spoiled by deliberately murky goings-on whose only point was to exasperate the reader.
  • I liked that Egwene was undergoing some development, and becoming more socially adept and also more honest with herself and less punitive. Wow. A spanking can accomplish that? Geez.
  • I like the dream-walking magic, and the way our girls Nynaeve and Elayne find the bowl of the winds ter'angreal through a special act of will. 
  • I like the ji-e-t'oh (i.e., bushido) culture of the Aiel.
  • I like that Rand has to cope with the voice and will of Lews Therin, but I'm disappointed that this doesn't get much development, but rather, this issue declines into a matter of ... domination! (you were surprised, right?)
  • Mat is the most enjoyable character, but his cluelessness about women is painful and painfully manipulated by the author, who degrades him in a bondage/discipline relationship with the Queen of Ebou Dar. Make no mistake, RJ is Graendal.
  • Yay, the Seanchan make a reappearance! They're so cool and Borg-like, and they really groove on the dominance/submission themes.
  • Yay, I dig the guys who are channeling, but they're being turned into assholes, and RJ doesn't have a drop of sympathy or insight for any of them.

What I hated:

  • Why is Morgase suddenly an idiot? For that matter, Elayne comes across as an idiot, too, but more successfully manipulative than her mother. They are being portrayed differently in this book. I think RJ is taking revenge against the dominant feminine principle.
  • Tiresome, tiresome obeisance of the Aes Sedai to each other about their wonderful ranks of Aes-Sedai-ness. These are terrible puffed-up creatures, and deserve to lose their overweening self-respect, except that all they know is dominance and groveling. There really isn't anything else in this universe: just dominance and groveling. Which makes me sigh and wonder again why I'm reading this drivel.

What left me cold:
  • Nynaeve and Lan. How anyone could tolerate that woman is beyond comprehension. Lan is also made an object of female sexual domination, an act of aggression by the author toward his characters and readers. Yeah, there's RJ/Graendal at work again.
  • Faile and Perrin. Another dominating disagreeable woman and scrounging man-toy. Dreary, and I wish they'd just die rather than carry on in this passionless, punitive way. Smooching is not passion, I'm sorry to have to explain that. 
  • OK, Rand is taking his job seriously as this Dragon Reborn who has to save the world, I'm cool with that, it's very important, but there's a very thin line in Rand-land between leadership and asshole-ness, and everyone around Rand either thinks he's an asshole or they think they'll enjoy being members of the dominant party.
Really, I can't feel strongly about anyone in these books; they've been committed to RJ-hell and they're all to be tortured, exploited, and degraded.

"Whatever," I say.

I hope that Brandon Sanderson doesn't share this psychology; could there be a humane and literate outcome?


  1. Re: Morgase. The consensus is that it is PTSD / After effects of Compulsion. She was a captive under duress for a number of months being (here it is) dominated by one of the forsaken (She also tried sending coded messages out: "quiet talks in Sheriams study" would have been neither quiet or comforting -- you went there for punishment).

  2. Thank you for the comment on my humble blog, "Anonymous"!

    I looked up the reference you're suggesting in the Encyclopaedia WoT, in The Dragon Reborn.

    I got that being dominated by the forsaken turns one into an idiot --in Morgase's case by Rahvin, aka Gaebril-- but I don't find "after-effects" to be a satisfying explanation about her ensuing behavior. My complaint is that the author manipulates characters to serve plot interests. If he truly wanted to establish an explanation for her drastic change in personality, I don't think he did a good enough job in the writing, but perhaps, as you suggest, I'm not a subtle enough reader, so I missed the subtext.

    I think that the avid fans who compile amazing data mines such as the Encyclopedia are supplying more persuasive back-story than the author envisioned, but this is of course the nature of epic fantasy. The fans bring something to their reading that makes the work especially enjoyable, and perhaps this is the key to all reading: it's in the magic of what one brings to it.