Can I read over 3,000,000 words in six months (and keep my job and friends)?

Sunday, 18 March 2012

An Age long past, an Age still to come.

Book; 12: The Gathering Storm

Chapter; 36: The Death of Tuon

Character Groups;

Bandar Eban: Rand, Min, Nynaeve, Cadsuane, Alivia, Logain, lots of Aiel. 
The Aiel Waste: Aviendha.

Trustair: Mat, Thom, Julin, Thera, Noal, Olver, Egeanin, Setaille, Aludra, Verin.

Somewhere in Ghealdan: Perrin, Faile, Elyas, Morgase, Berelain, Alliandre, Two Rivers Army.   

Caemlyn: Elayne, Birgitte.
Outside Tar Valon: Siuan,  Rebel Aes Sedai, Rebel Aes Sedai Army.
Inside Tar Valon: Egwene, Leane, too many Aes Sedai to count.

The Gathering Storm marks the end, and beginning, of an era for the Wheel of Time. In November of 2007, James Oliver Rigney Jr. AKA Robert Jordan, succumbed to a long illness, leaving his masterpiece unfinished. However, it was his wish that his wife (and editor), Harriet McDougal find someone to complete his work. Enter Brandon Sanderson.
For those who don't know (and considering some peculiarities in publication dates, you might not) Brandon Sanderson is the Utah-based author of the phenomenal Mistborn series. Mistborn is characterised by a much darker, pessimistic tone than is usually found in Wheel of Time (the tag line of the first book, The Final Empire, is 'What if the Dark Lord won?') and Harriet reportedly felt that this would suit the grand finale to a tee.

Just a quick aside here. If you haven't already, read the Mistborn series. Its dark and bleak and clever, it has one of the most original magic systems I've seen in a long time and it comes in easy-to-digest trilogy form! OK, so there is a second trilogy now, but however many books there end up being we are not talking about, say, a fourteen book epic here.

Where was I? Oh right. Due to the nature of Jordan's illness (some rare form of blood cancer, I think. The description is actually quite hard to understand and not really relevant here) he had plenty of time to plan out the end of Rand's, Mat's and Perrin's stories with lots of other stuff dotted all over the place. When I say lots, Sanderson apparently got handed the biographies of around 1500 characters and enough details of places, times and events to fill a couple of filling cabinets. He has two secretaries to help him keep track of it all. 
Strangely, it seems that right to the end, Jordan was only planning for one more book to be called 'A Memory of Light'. After studying the material, Sanderson and McDougal determined that such a book would have to be about 750,000 words long and so they decided to split it into three, in something-close-to Sanderson's words (coz I can't find the quote), "to keep it within the range of current binding technology".

So now we have book 12: The Gathering Storm, book 13: The Towers of Midnight and the yet-to-be-released book 14: A Memory of Light. All based on Jordan's notes where he didn't actually write it himself. 

The problem with three books is that you now need three finales where previously there was only one. This has led to Sanderson accelerating certain characters plot lines ahead of others so that something shiny can happen. Don't get me wrong, the ending to TGS may be one of the best moments of the series so far and I am greatly looking forward to reading it again, but there are little bugs to bear. A developing plot line over the last few books has been the 'colors' [sic. Americans!]. Every time one of the big three (Rand, Mat of Perrin) thinks of one of the other two they see a swirl of colours that form a vision of that person at that moment in time. They have all got quite used to this now and rarely pay much attention. However, Rand's visions in the past few chapters have been of Mat and Perrin doing things that have not happened yet. By my guesstimation from my knowledge of the next book, Rand could be as much as two weeks ahead of the other two. In the first half of ToM, there is a fairly major character that seems to be in two places at once. This could be seen as a clever form of foreshadowing but I think it is just an unfortunate side-effect of the split. A necessary evil. 
Another necessary evil, I suppose. The publication date for A Memory of Light is now the 8th of January 2013. Just too late for my birthday. Poop. 

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Amyrlin Shamyrlin

Book; 11: Knife of Dreams
Chapter; 36: Under an Oak
Character Groups;
Somewhere, who knows where: Rand, Min, Nynaeve, Lan, Cadsuane, Verin, Alivia, Logain.
Altaran/Andoran border: Mat, Thom, Julin, Thera, Noal, Olver, Tuon, Selucia, Egeanin, Setaille, Aludra, 3 Aes Sedai, 3 sul'dam.
Malden: Perrin, Faile, Elyas, Morgase, Berelain, Alliandre, 'The Prophet', Two Rivers Army.   
Caemlyn: Elayne, Birgitte, Aviendha.
Outside Tar Valon: Siuan,  Rebel Aes Sedai, Rebel Aes Sedai Army.
Inside Tar Valon: Egwene, Leane.
Just in case anyone cares, !!SPOILER WARNING!! This post is going to discuss some major plot points and I don't want to be responsible for spoiling anyone's fun.
Are they gone? Good. 
So I would like to talk about a character that I think has had one of the most impressive arcs in the series, Egwene Al'Vere. Egwene has always been far from my favourite character but I cannot deny that she has turned from a silly, whiny little girl to a powerful and commanding woman and I'll be damned if I can see the join.
Egwene Al'Vere was one of the original four hobbitses that left the Two Rivers all the way back in book 1. Back then her purpose was basically to be a sounding board for Moiraine so that the we on this side of the fourth wall could learn about the Power, channeling, men going mad, all that stuff. She was also all but engaged to Rand at the time and so provided the love interest that these stories always seem to need. 
She wasn't too important until she went to Tar Valon and almost immediately fell afoul of an evil scheme that left her a captive of the Seanchan. She was rescued by Min, Nynaeve and Elayne but developed a phobia of captivity that made her do some very silly things on the slightest provocation. Things like causing an earthquake under a bunch of soldiers feet or threatening anyone who looked at her funny with a lightning bolt. This got very annoying. 

Pretty soon though Egwene, Nynaeve and Elayne were embroiled in another, less evil, scheme that had them haring off to Tear where they were captured, again. After being rescued, by Mat this time, Egwene decided against returning to Tar Valon instead heading off to the Aiel Waste with Rand, Mat, Moiraine and Lan to learn about Dreams (with a capital D) from the Wise Ones. 
This is where the changes start to happen. The Wise Ones of the Aiel, as well as being masters of the dream world, are incredibly formidable women. They rule the Aiel in all but name with the shear force of their will as the fact that many of them are channelers is not generally broadcast. Egwene learned fast. While she was still impatient and slightly self-absorbed, she starts manipulating people with nothing more than the tone of her voice and a look. This has a particularly noticeable effect on Nynaeve who until than has simply stomped on anyone who opposed her. Egwene quickly becomes one of the increasing number of people who can call Nynaeve down and regularly does.
While Egwene is in the Waste, events take a turn for the worse in Tar Valon. Rebellion has broken out in the White Tower and a new Amyrlin has been elected. The rebels have fled and with a little persuasion from the former Amyrlin, Siuan, form a Tower in Exile. Who do they choose as their rebel Amyrlin? Why Egwene Al'Vere of course. 

Remember that none of the Aes Sedai had seen Egwene since her silly I'll-put-a-lightning-bolt-through-you phase and so they assume that she will be a weak and easily controlled figurehead that they can all hide behind if the rebellion fails. It takes a while but they eventually realise that they have in fact raised a highly skilled player of the Great Game (read, politics) and now they have to live with it.

Egwene has come a long way and my opinion of her is never higher that during the chapter 'Honey in the Tea' in Knife of Dreams. Egwene has been captured (bad habit) by the Aes Sedai in the White Tower. Instead of executing her they decide that she can't have been responsible for her actions and have sent her back to be a novice. She has no friends, she is guarded day and night and forced to drink a herbal concoction that stops her from channeling with any strength. All she has is her mind and her voice and she uses them to slowly pull the Tower down from the inside. I love this. I am one of those people that always thinks of something clever to say about five minutes after it would have been relevant and so nothing makes me happier than a good put-down. It's pure wish fulfilment, and what else is fantasy about?

Thursday, 1 March 2012

An Ending

Book; 10: Crossroads of Twilight

Chapter; 29: Something Flickers

Character Groups;

Somewhere in Tear: Rand, Min, Nynaeve, Lan, Cadsuane, Verin, Alvia, Logain.

Somewhere in Altara: Mat, Thom, Julin, Thera, Noal, Olver, Tuon, Selucia, Egeanin, Setaille, Aludra, 3 Aes Sedai, 3 sul'dam.

So Habor: Perrin, Elyas, Berelain, 'The Prophet', Two Rivers Army.

Malden: Faile, Alliandre, Morgase, Shaido Aiel.

Caemlyn: Elayne, Birgitte, Aviendha.
Outside Tar Valon: Egwene, Siuan, Leane, Rebel Aes Sedai, Rebel Aes Sedai Army. 
So that’s it folks, it’s March 2012 and as you can see, I am not finished. It turns out that I have gone and got myself a life somewhere in the last four years and six months is no longer long enough.
But fear not! This little skirmish may have been lost but the Last Battle is still to be fought, literally.
You see, when I started this here thingumy back in September, the publication date for book 14, A Memory of Light, which will finally see Rand face off against the Dark One, was March 2012. Around the end of October it was moved to sometime in November, which I might have neglected to mention.
So HA! Instead of being nearly two months behind schedule, I am in fact seven months ahead! However, as much as I love the Wheel of Time I do not plan to spend more than a year on the re-read especially as, with both Christmas and my birthday passing in quick succession, I have a pile of unread books awaiting me.
So here is my plan. I will finish books 10, 11 and 12 ASAP. I will then switch to other literary delights until the weeks before I know I can get a copy of Memory of Light at which point I will read book 13, Towers of Midnight so that I will be well up on current events and not have to rely too much on wikis. Maybe I’ll even keep spouting my ill-formed opinions on non-WoT literature.
Until then.     

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Far From the Madding Crowd

Book; 9: Winter's Heart
Chapter; 34: The Hummingbird's Secret
Character Groups;
Far Madding: Rand, Min, Nynaeve, Lan, Cadsuane, Verin, Alvia.
Ebou Dar: Mat, Thom, Julin, Thera, Noal, Olver, Tuon, Selucia, Egeanin, Setaille, Aludra, 3 Aes Sedai, 3 sul'dam.
Ghealdan: Perrin, Elyas, Berelain, 'The Prophet', Two Rivers Army.
Ghealdan too: Faile, Alliandre, Morgase, Shaido Aiel.
Caemlyn: Elayne, Birgitte, Aviendha.                        

The soothing balm of book 9 has washed away the stresses of the mid-series slump (although for obvious reasons, Mat's entourage is getting a little hard to keep track of) and I feel the urge to be positive again.
In Winter’s Heart, Mat schemes, Perrin hunts and Rand, finally, mans up and gets his murder-rampage on.
Ok, so maybe rampage is a bit strong as he is actually being very calm about the whole thing, and yes, he only manages to personally kill one of the four men on his death list but it’s the thought that counts.
The important point is that these events take place in the city of Far Madding, a small independent city state that is all that remains of the country of Maredo. Far Madding’s survival is in no small part due to the presence of the Guardian, a huge ter’angreal that blocks channellers from using the source. The men that Rand wants to kill are Asha’man, men who can channel and have attended the school that Rand set up. At the end of book 8 they had a damn good go at killing Rand, destroying half a royal palace in the process. The fun part is that since none of them can throw fireballs or blow each others heads up while in Far Madding we get to see some good, old fashioned swordplay.
Rand al’Thor is a blademaster. He picked up the sword in the months after he left the Two Rivers under Lan’s tutelage and is known to be one of the quickest studies ever. This is not entirely surprising as he is the reincarnation of the chap who invented sword-fighting in the first place. However, apart from a bit of sparring in book 8 which was interrupted by everyone’s favourite death-fog,  since he became more proficient at channelling he hasn’t really bothered. Why draw your sword when ripping someone out of time is so much easier? Unlike most of the Asha’man though, who think that swords are a bit beneath them, Rand has at least stayed in practice.
Sword fighting in Randland is, like everything else, a verbose affair. Every movement in the ‘dance’ has a long flowery name that I guess is supposed to allow readers to visualise the action. I have the good fortune to have some experience with Japanese sword forms (and a library of martial arts and anime DVDs) and so I can kind of figure out what is meant to be happening. It can get a bit silly at times, especially if there are two blademasters duelling and you get sentences like “Boar Rushes Down A Hillside meets River Undercuts The Bank, Hummingbird Kisses the Honeyrose meets Crane Takes Flight, Great Big Pointy Sword meets Feeble Knee Ligaments”. Not only are there Far Too Many Capital Letters in there but you can sometimes miss something because your brain has just started to filter out the surplus.
Still, I like this return to form by Rand. With Elayne filling in the intrigue and politics quota and the Seanchan doing the big armies thing, the three musketeers can get out of the mud and get back to what they are best at, dancing for my amusement. Dance monkeys! Dance!

Monday, 23 January 2012

If anybody can, Seanchan.

Book; 9: Winter's Heart
Chapter; 1: Leaving the Prophet
Character Groups;
Ebou Dar         Caemlyn        ???                Ghealdan 1                   Ghealdan 2             Tar Valon 
Mat                  Elayne          Rand             Perrin                            Faile                       Egwene
Thom               Nynaeve       Min               Elyas                            Alliandre                Rebel Aes Sedai
Julin                 Aviendha                          Berelain                        Morgase                  Egwene'sArmy    
Olver                Birgitte                            'The Prophet'  
The Seanchan                                           Two Rivers army       
As the relevant cast list slowly and inexorably builds to some kind of critical mass, I would like to take a moment to discuss just one group. Yes, as promised, it is time for the Seanchan. That's SHAWN-chan by the way, like Jackie's Irish little brother.
The Seanchan first showed up way back in book 2 where they received a darn good spanking from the scooby gang and fled across the sea to regroup. They returned in spectacular fashion at the end of book 7 by dropping a building on Mat. Even after a second, less decisive defeat in book 8 (which I finished in less than a week by the way) they now control Tarabon, Amadicia, Altara and most of Almoth Plain and Arad Doman. They are a force to be reckoned with, the only force on the planet that has so far been able to teach Rand a touch of humility. And they kinda get on my nerves.

The story goes that 1000 years ago, the High king of all Randland, Artur Hawkwing, sent his son Luthair with a great big army to conquer the lands across the Aryth Ocean. This took him, and his descendants, eight HUNDRED years. Frankly I would not be giving that boy his pocket money. Anyway, having done what Daddy said, they built an armada and turned their thoughts to going home, expecting to find the glorious Empire waiting for them with open arms. To their surprise, a lot seems to have changed over the last millennium. Declaring that everybody in Randland is an oathbreaker and a traitor, the only reasonable course of action was of course to invade.

Tarabon and Arad Doman put up little resistance as they were busy having civil wars and definitely seem to have improved under Seanchan rule. Other countries have been less willing but the coupling of a highly trained army and a ruthless bureaucracy has so far won out.

Obviously the new overlords have new laws for their subjects to remember. Whilst bowing to any Seanchan in the street and baldness being illegal are odd, they are a minor inconvenience compared to what they do if you can channel.

The power of the Seanchan throne is built on the Power of the damane, women who can channel, on leashes. The leash, known as an a'dam, controls a channelling woman making her no more than a complicated tool or a well trained animal. Which is exactly how the Seanchan see them. The controllers are known as sul'dam and are amongst the most respected and honoured people on the whole Seanchan Empire. 

But there is a dirty secret behind all this power. Although the damane are treated like animals and the sul'dam like heroes, they can, in fact, both channel. Damane are women like Egwene, Elayne and Nynaeve who can channel whether someone teaches them or not, while the sul'dam are like Elayne's mother Morgase, they will never channel unless someone draws it out of them. If this became common knowledge it would destroy the Empire from the inside out, especially since the Empress herself (may she live forever) is know to be sul'dam. But no one seems to be able to come up with a way of spilling the beans. The few Seanchan who have discovered the truth have done everything in their power to cover it up and the war machine simply keeps chugging on, refusing to listen to reason.
But at least they get stuff done. An approach that has finally rubbed off on some of the other characters. With his megalomania given a kicking by the Seanchan boot, Rand has turned away from politics and is concentrating on more interesting things. And the plot moves on! 

Monday, 9 January 2012

The Storm IS Coming. But First...

Book; 7: A Crown of Swords
Chapter; 41: A Crown of Swords
Character Groups;
Ebou Dar        Cairhien       Somewhere in Andor     Somewhere in Altara  
Mat                  Rand            Perrin                             Egwene
Nynaeve          Min              Faile                               Rebel Aes Sedai
Elayne             Cadsuane     Berelain                         Rebel Aes Sedai's Army
Aviendha                              Two Rivers army          The Band of the Red Hand

Ok... Ok... So it has been a month since my last update, but with Christmas and family and food and food and birthdays and food, I have fallen a bit behind, all right?
All right.

Not that I've had much of interest to say really. I am, of course, not trying to sync blog and plot line here but I do sort of rely on what I am reading to spark off some musings. As may have come across in my last, short but horribly bitter post, the current story arcs could not be described as action-packed, hence a dry spell. 
But as my handsome boyfriend pointed out, that in itself might be worth talking about.

Let one thing be clear. I love the Wheel of Time. If I didn't, I wouldn't have kept reading all those years ago when I first got to books 6 and 7 and found myself faced with quite startling monotony. At least now I have the benefit of knowing that it gets better. 

I have pondered, at length, on what exactly is wrong with these books. Here are my conclusions, feel free to disagree.

As I mentioned before, the first three books of the series had a clear, well executed if predictable arc. In book 4 the arc gets mussed up a bit and longer games come into focus. Book 5 follows up on this with a big flash-bang finale that removes several key pieces from the board and sends others off on seemingly random trajectories. Thus, book 6 and 7 are concerned with the aftermath of book 5. The world is slowly cooking in its own juices and no-one can pull themselves together long enough to do anything about it. In book 6 especially, I feel that even the editor (who I believe was Jordan's wife) was having trouble getting through it. On this read-through I noticed so many silly grammatical errors and things like people channelling the wrong half of the power (women channel saidar, men saidin. This was made worse by the sudden appearance of a character that actually does channel the wrong half of the power.) that it was almost painful to read.

But it wasn't just an editing issue. Sad as it makes me to say it, Lord of Chaos and A Crown of Swords were simply not as well constructed as those that came before. In both books there is a climactic battle with swords and spears and things exploding and burning all over the shop. Should be grrrrrreat, but each battle is crammed into the last chapters with hardly any build up and not even the previously used device of seeing the same thing from a number of different points of view to help you get the full picture. They feel rushed. They feel small. They do not feel like characters should still be speaking of them with a sense of horror and awe six books later. To be honest, when I first read the series and people talked about "the battle of Dumai's Wells", I had to google it and then re-read the chapter. And bare in mind that there were only nine books in the series at that point! 

Anyway, The difficult second album is nearly behind us (ok, so sixth, seventh and eighth album. You know what I mean) and thankfully, at a mere 641 pages, book 8; The Path of Daggers is practically a short story. 

The storm IS coming. Promise.