Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Winter's Heart by Robert Jordan

Tor reread by Leigh Butler

Wheel of Time Challenge discussion on Dreams & Speculation

My "first half" review, through Chapter 18.

The second half of the book suffers from the same problems as the first half: chapters that are full of padding, pointless description, flaccid tension-building, wordy sentences, sub-plot shifts that ruin plot momentum, and meandering point-of-view writing that does little or nothing to enhance our understanding, enjoyment, or appreciation of the characters.

Jordan's editor evidently failed to tell him that a book composed of plotting and scheming is a dull thing without sparkling insights, tight dramatic writing, and unique characters. We can enjoy reading about the plotting and scheming that ensued, say, at the end of World War II, between Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill (if it's well-written.) I'm just offering that, for the record, to show that I'm not opposed to reading about "plotting and scheming" per se.

There are a few good scenes where something actually happens.
  • A creepy Seanchan Seeker (a spy for the Empress) exploits Bethamin, a Sul'Dam, to spy on Egeanin, a sympathetic Seanchan captain who was introduced in previous books (The Great Hunt and The Shadow Rising).
  • Bethamin immediately confesses to Egeanin that she is a spy (plot contrivance?), stimulating Egeanin to form a plan to escape, and to collaborate with Mat. Convenient, but a typical novelistic coincidence; quite tolerable for the genre.
  • Rand kills Rochaid in a sword fight in Far Madding.
  • Rand and Lan have a big fight with Fain; Rand gets captured; fun! Rand gets all gloomy and hardened while sitting in a prison cell; Cadsuane gets him out.
  • Big show-down at the end: Rand and Nynaeve make Saidin and Saidar have sex! What else would you call it when the feminine Saidar power creates a tube which the masculine Saidin power flows through, throbbing and pulsing? Meanwhile, Forsaken nincompoops run around, duking it out with our heroic defenders, and losing. There's a big boom and Shadar Logoth is puffed up and obliterated -- because it's a big garbage can of taint?
  • Mat and crew start their escape caper. He has a fight with Tuon, she's captured, and seems happy when they decide to take her with them. He learns that "she is his wife," as foretold by the Aelfinn fox-people; the Daughter of Nine Moons.
As a reader, I'm not pleased that in almost every case, Jordan doesn't share the details of plots. We have no idea exactly how Mat plans to escape the city, but we have a lot of pages spent telling us that he is planning, and doing this-and-that little part of the big plan, being foiled, and so on. My impression is that RJ thinks that this is how one creates mystery and tension: Tease the reader! Tell the reader that there is plotting and scheming going on, but don't share too much. Just bore them with excessive preliminaries that may bear no ressemblance to the solution. Huh. I don't like it. I don't feel engaged with Mat's predicament, I feel manipulated by Jordan.

Plot contrivances, or did I miss a crucial passage?
  • Why is it so easy for Mat to gain access to the Damanes? As I recall, they were carefully locked away in Falme when Egwene was made into a Damane.
  • Mat figures out, working with an empty leash, how to open the a'dam collar. In Chapter 32 he opens Nestelle's collar. How can he do that? Perhaps his fox medallion guards him against channeling and traps and such. He instructs Nestelle how to remove her own collar. Eh? In The Great Hunt we learn that a Damane suffers extreme pain if she even thinks about removing her collar, let alone attempts it. If it was easy to remove, new recruits would leave as soon as possible. What am I missing? Once Mat removes it, is the charm broken? Is the reader supposed to puzzle that out? It's less than obvious to me.
  • In Chapter 24, a pack of Aes Sedai and their ilk are having a tour of "Far Madding's guardian," a device that prevents channeling inside the city. It also triangulates the position of anyone channeling — is that a contradiction, or a weakness in the device's effectiveness? While they watch, the guardian indicates that a man is channeling, but that shouldn't be possible. Later still, we learn that there are some precious wearable ter'angreal that store power like a battery, and these can be used inside the city. In chapter 34, Cadsuane leads a delegation to free Rand, and asserts that there are flaws in the guardian's effectiveness, and does a theatrical trick with Hummingbird, her personal saidin battery, to deceptively demonstrate to the Counsel that Asha'man can channel in the city. What can the reader conclude? That there is a man who has such a device inside the city? But we hear nothing more about it, we only learn about the womens' devices, which Cadsuane and Nynaeve wear. So who was channeling in Chap. 24? Is it a carryover mystery for the next book?

Fav quote: Chapter 25, Cadsuane confides in Verin regarding her interest in Rand,
"But I want for him to come to me. You see the way he runs roughshod over Alanna and the others. It will be hard enough teaching him, if he does ask. He fights guidance, he thinks he must do everything, learn everything, on his own, and if I do not make him work for it, he won't learn at all."
There is some discussion buzz that Verin is really Black Ajah: that could be interesting in the next books.

1 comment:

  1. Winter's Heart is generally considered the worst of the series. Knife of dreams was considerably better.

    But really all of them after Dragon Reborn became insufferably similar to a certain bear from the thousand acre wood. full of fluff.