Friday, September 17, 2010

Half-way through Winter's Heart ... the tedium of it

My contribution to the mid-month discussion. Actually, I'm almost done with the book, and I can assure you... almost nothing happens in this book, and there's little to enjoy about it. Oh yes, there are a few scenes you might enjoy, but wading through 800 pages for a few scenes spoils the enjoyment. Better to read the synopsis of this book.

I’m putting hands to head and screaming, “Hundreds of pages and nothing happens!”

What mostly happens so far in Winter’s Heart is a lot of scheming and plotting. I find it tedious, especially since I don’t have a strong emotional connection to the characters, and certainly not to sketchily-drawn minor Aes Sedai or random darkfriend wannabes, who, when they’re not lording it over someone, are whingeing and cringing. Why would I care about Toveine’s misfortune to be bonded to Logain? Jordan has fun demeaning the arrogant Aes Sedai, a theme close to his heart; unfortunately the writing lacks the humor that should enliven these events. Ahem: I’ll allow that there’s crude humor in the scenes where the Sea Folk Windfinders turn their Aes Sedai teacher (Nynaeve) upside down, but again, there’s the morally painful, constant undercurrent of sadism, arrogance vs. humiliation. For more fun along those lines, we have Elayne stripping in front of Mazrim Taim. Such arbitrary, sexually humiliating scenes are self-indulgent, creepy, and Graendal-like, not “delightfully titillating.” It’s young adult porn.

My assessment is that Robert Jordan had no idea how to build tension, create vivid characters, or block out a scene in a way that maintains momentum of the overarching story and sub-stories. He gets lost in shallow clothing and city descriptions that could have used a couple of well-crafted phrases to convey setting and mood. He writes chapters that should have been done in a paragraph. Instead, the reader gets filler that doesn’t convey new information or advance the plot or deepen one’s grasp of the setting or the experience of the characters. This book would have been twice as good at half the pages. I think Jordan drew entirely the wrong lessons from Tolkien about writing good fantasy.

The worst part of reading Winter’s Heart (and the entire series, so far) is that the style and skill of the writing is so poor. Jordan writes judgments where he should be evoking vision, for example, Logain is described as having an “arrogant face” – that doesn’t open the reader’s eye. There’s too much writing like that.

What actually happens:

  • Elayne negotiates tours of the Black Tower Asha’man training citadel, but doesn’t notice anything amiss. (filler.)
  • There is scheming and plotting among the Asha’man, and their Aes Sedai warders are sexually humiliated (RJ/Graendal’s favorite theme)
  • We learn about Faile and Morgase’s group’s humiliation in captivity by the Aiel, and enduring days of nakedness in the snow (yeah, whatever!) They ineffectually try to plan to escape, and negotiate with an Aiel faction who wants to use them. But they don’t escape.
  • Perrin gets emotional and wolfy about Faile’s capture (too much padding) and there is some chasing after them, but … nothing happens.
  • Elayne tromps around in the streets of Caemlyn to no evident purpose (boring filler.)
  • Kin-novices deduce that the Darkfriend must be either Sareitha, Merilille, or Careane. This important insight is received in the usual Aes Sedai manner, by scolding the novices for not focusing on their studies, but with subtle indications of gratitude and respect. There’s nothing more about this in the first half of the book. I suppose it’s not important to the bloody plot?
  • We learn that ex-damane repatriation is challenging. Alivia is arrogant and powerful. But she doesn’t actually do anything beside seem dangerous, and make everyone else seem stupid and careless and preoccupied.
  • The White Tower spreads around the proclamation that it owns Rand, (this thread initiated in the previous book) but nothing actually happens. But it could be important!
  • WOW, something happens: there is an assassination attempt against Elayne! So exciting. She makes the guy who saved her into the captain of her bodyguard (what?) and basically acts like an idiot. Oh yeah, he’s actually a darkfriend assassin aka Daved Hanlon. Just when things look like they might get interesting, that thread gets dropped.
  • There are sections with points of view for Asne and Shiaine, miscellaneous darkfriends who lick their lips a lot while plotting and scheming and tormenting each other.
  • Oh, something probably important: Rand brings some Ter’Angreal statuettes to Nynaeve because she has to use them with him. That sounds interesting, except we don’t hear any more about it in the first half of the book.
  • Sexual highjinks ensue when Elayne, Aviendha, and Min make a four-way! What fun! Voyeurism! Brigitte gets to share the experience! The whole “warder” thing: I’m reminded of the institution of slavery, but RJ plays this for an attempt at titillation. I’m irritated and bored with young adult porn, sorry. I’m just the wrong audience for this.
  • I forgot why Cadsuane is holding some bigtime Caemlyn politicos. Caemlyn politics: boring, in a big way.
  • Ailil and Shalon, a windfinder, have a lesbian relationship, but it’s just a device for Cadsuane to manipulate them, and has no other plot value.
  • The forsaken have a chit-chat about Rand, so we learn that he has a plan to use a dangerous Angreal called The Choedan Kal, and there’s more plotting and scheming, but nothing happens.
  • The Mat POV is a relief because it’s a substantial block of a story, but, alas, not much happens. There are dice rolling in his head, and he is plotting an escape from Tylin and from Seanchan controlled Ebou Dar.
  • Excitement! Mat gets attacked by a gholam, a kind of silly-putty super-ninja. He's saved by the lucky arrival of Noal, who might or might not be important.
  • What’s up with the swirling colors in their heads when the ta’averen think about each other?

The style of writing that we are seeing in Winter’s Heart exploits the passion of the faithful readers, who are willing to supplement, through mental gymnastics or through astonishingly masterful discussions, the meaning and import of all of this portentous yet empty plotting, scheming, and detail-seeding. The rest of us, who expect a story and the usual accoutrements of literature, find nothing to attract our interest.

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