Half way round the wheel and back to the start

October 19, 2010

Books Longtime fans of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time fantasy series are still awaiting the conclusion to the series. The passing on of  Jordan himself has not helped, but Brandon Sanderson has taken over the mantle and the thirteenth and penultimate book in the series, Towers of Midnight, is just weeks from release.

I may have been an early adopter of Vista but was decidedly late to the WoT party and have just finished the sixth book, Lord of Chaos. I have consumed all 6 books to date as audiobooks, narrated by Kate Reading and Michael Kramer who, I understand, are a husband and wife team so they can at least agree pronunciation of weird character names over a cup of tea before bedtime.

I remain utterly hooked on the series and will shortly embark on Book 7, A Crown of Swords. There seems to be a view in some quarters that the quality of the series starts to tail off towards the end of Jordan’s tenure, before being given a lift by Sanderson’s arrival on the scene. If so, I have yet to witness the decline although I am still not half way through the series, despite over 200 hours of listening. And I shall keep going – I have invested too much time and am too familiar with the characters and story framework to give up on it now.

That’s not to say that the series is without its faults. Some aspects are decidedly annoying. The first book, The Eye of the World, was so obviously derivative of Tolkien as to be laughable. I still enjoyed it so forgave the parallels with Lord of the Rings and, in any case, TEotW is hardly alone in borrowing from Tolkien. But there are more serious grumbles. The bickering women are the worst. Does Jordan imagine women have nothing better to worry about than what colour and style of dress to wear, and how low the neckline is? His female characters seem to spend the whole time obsessing about their attire and the extent to which it reveals their bosom. Isn’t that somewhat demeaning to women? And there are more schoolgirl romances than the average TV soap opera. Thankfully there is no explicit sex but a good deal of gratuitous nudity. Jordan has the female characters parading around in their birthday suits at every opportunity. Was Jordan indulging some strange exotic fantasies? Who knows.

Immediately after finishing Lord of Chaos I had the urge to relisten to the first book right from the beginning. I was conscious that a lot had happened to the various characters, Rand, Mat, Perrin, Nynaeve, Egwene, Moiraine et al and thought it might be interesting to revisit how they were portrayed when we were first introduced to them. I’m about 2 hours into it and there are few surprises. Nynaeve is yelling her head off at all and sundry from the get go. Mat is infantile from first meeting and his special favourite curses such “Burn me!” and “Blood and Ashes!” are already in evidence.

What has been instructive is the extent to which references to major story threads and factions appear very early on. We meet a Myrddraal in chapter one, long before we know what such creatures are about. In only the second chapter we meet Moiraine Damodred, long before we know she is Aes Sedai, although there is discussion of Aes Sedai in chapter three when the peddler, Padan Fain, is used as a literary device to inform the reader about goings on in the wider world. There is even a passing reference to Tar Valon.

I heard details on the second listening that I do not recall from the first. I think it’s because there were references that meant nothing at the time so went over my head. When you re-read, or re-listen, you come at it with fuller knowledge so all the references have a meaning and register in your mind. It may also be something of an audiobook phenomenon. If I had been reading TEotW as a physical book first time around, my eye may well have fastened on the early reference to Tar Valon, paused to wonder about it and made a mental note. With an audiobook, the narrative just keeps flowing and it is not always practical to stop and keep relistening to bits. And unfamiliar words or names, whose spelling you can only guess at, are likely to go right past you.


One comment

  1. A quick Googling around suggests the complaints do start around Book 6 and centre on a shift away from “action” or “fast moving plot” and towards politics, characterisation and general bloat. Yes, Jordan probably was milking the success of the early books by stretching the series, but I did not feel Lord of Chaos was bloat to fill in time while nothing happened. To my mind there was a huge amount going on. At least we were spared a succession of pointless and predictable trolloc attacks which have been an annoying feature of earlier books.

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