Spoiler Check: I have completed Wheel of Time series, Book 8 – “The Path of Daggers”, not started on Book 9
It has only taken 10 days to polish off The Path of Daggers as an audiobook. At only 23 hours it is I think the shortest Wheel of Time book so far, but I don’t think that fully accounts for how rapidly I got through it. The truth is that I wanted to keep reading so put off listening to my podcasts. I now have a tidy backlog of the latter to catch up on.
Often, after finishing a book I’ll read the reviews on the web, to “validate” my own opinions against other people’s. To my surprise TPoD (the eighth book) is widely lambasted. A lot of WoT fans seem to think the series was going great guns until Book 6, Lord of Chaos, then went to pot and TPoD is regularly cited as worst in the series, or maybe second worst after Crossroads of Twilight.
That is at odds with my own view. Certainly, A Crown of Swords (Book 7) had been bogged down with bloat and very slow narrative before meandering all over the place at the end. But TPoD was definitely a return to a snappier pace, with a series of nicely done set pieces such as the invocation of the Bowl of Winds, and Egwene’s parley with the Andorran army followed by her clever consolidation of her authority as Amyrlin. The momentum did drop off with Rand’s war of attrition against the Seanchan but the book did end with some interesting developments.
A possible explanation for why my opinion is more favourable than most is that, as a latecomer to the series, I have not had to wait for years between books. Maybe if I’d been waiting anxiously for TPoD to come out I might have been wanting more concrete pay-offs. Despite the shorter book, I might have had less patience with some of the more annoying elements such as the tiresome posturing of the Sea Folk, the obsequiousness of the Kin, the blinkered superiority of most Aes Sedai, who have lived long enough that they should have learned a bit more sense, and Rand’s repetitive battles with his inner demons. Also, I think some readers were just running out of patience with some plot arcs taking forever to resolve themselves, e.g. Elayne still not quite on the Throne of Andor, no news of Mat, White Tower still split, relevance of Cadsuane only emerging in tiny dribs and drabs, and so forth.
Looking back on the series so far I am starting to marvel, or maybe goggle, at how far we have come and how we got there. For the story to work over the whole series, Jordan has to take a bunch of teenage country folk characters from a godforsaken backwater and build them all up to powerful players in an overarching battle of Good vs Evil. He employs a few tricks to help him. Rand, Perrin and Mat are ta’veren which explains away all manner of otherwise unswallowable coincidences. Egwene, though, is harder. She is not (so far as we know) ta’veren. So Jordan has to find other ways to transform her from inn-keeper’s daughter to no less than the confounded Watcher of the Seals, the Flame of Tar Valon, the Amyrlin Flipping Seat herself. All still aged 20 or so. She is portrayed as bright and canny, but it does take a huge effort on Jordan’s part to sell her rise to such an exalted station in record time.
The device used is to concoct a reason why it might suit the Salidar rebels to choose a young Amyrlin untainted by Tar Valon (the “biddable child” concept), principally for PR purposes, while they pull the strings in the background. Jordan then has the rebel leadership (notably Romanda and Lelaine) weaken itself through infighting so that the clever young Amyrlin can trick them and seize de facto control. It is still all very unlikely and hugely contrived. Jordan helps the reader swallow this by taking his time, so we get used to Egwene growing in authority in small steps. Added to that she has the former Amyrlin, Siuan Sanche, as adviser and confidante. And a rare talent as Dream Walker, alloyed to a spell as Wise One apprentice, has given her some added perspectives and advantages. Still, having very old, experienced and senior Aes Sedai such as Romanda and Lelaine lose authority by behaving in such an infantile petulant fashion does take a bit of believing.
I will take a week to get back up to speed with podcasts but there’s no question about my next audiobook choice. Straight on to Book 9, Winter’s Heart. I still plan to have completed Towers of Midnight before A Memory of Light comes out.