Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Book 32: Crossroads of Twilight

This novel appears to be the most hated in the series based on Amazon, wracking in over 1500 one star ratings.  I didn't think it was that bad though there were certainly parts that irritated me.  The last novel concluded with Rand and Nyneave cleansing saidin.  The first half of this novel takes place simultaneously, as Jordan shows us what all the characters were doing at that exact moment.  Perrin and Mat do not feel the power being used, but due to the pull of the Pattern, they immediately realize that it has something to do with Rand.  All the women that can channel feel the Power being used, and are worried about what this might mean.  Thanks to their bond, Elayne and Aviendha also know it is related to Rand but not sure in what way.
Perrin is still looking for Faile, who is still held captive by the Shaido and a personal servant to Sevanna.  His storyline actually almost got interesting but Perrin could not be distracted from his rescue effort.  When Perrin and his forces visit a town to replenish their foodstocks, it turns out there is something odd about the area.  Unfortunately, Jordan doesn't pursue this too much - yes, there are maggots/weevils in the grain, and apparently the town is haunted by ghosts but rather than investigating what is causing this or helping the people, Perrin decides to leave to save Faile.
Egwene is back, and continues her seige of the White Tower started two novels ago.  Gawyn even makes a short appearance in the prologue but of course doesn't know what's going, who's sided with whom and continues to support the White Tower as a result.  Given that all these people know how to Travel, communicate in dreams couldn't his sister or lover maybe drop by and explain exactly what's going?  Just an update, really.  "Hey bro, I'm alive, I'm queen, Elaida's a bitch.  Egwene's the Amyrlin Seat and I'm pregnant."  No?  Egwene continues to suffer from headaches caused by Halima, a Forsaken in disguise, and a few people are murdered in the camp by Halima as well.  Egwene for the most part handles her opposition deftly, but one thing that did irritate me was everyone's reaction to the incident with all the Power.  Their very first assumption is that it is the Forsaken, and when they send out a recon party to investigate the area, they still assume it was a horrible weapon wielded by the Forsaken.  So, whatever happened left Shadar Logoth, a place of unspeakable evil that even Trollocs fear, destroyed and you think the bad guys did it?  This does, however, lead the women to think they might have to forge an alliance with the Black Tower.  Oddly enough, a few people in the White Tower are beginning to have similar thoughts.
There are a few chapters with Mat but not very exciting ones.  He is now traveling with the same circus that Elayne and Nynaeve once found refuge with, and trying to understand the Seachan noble, Tuon, he is destined to marry.  I can't say much of significance happens, though Tuon is revealed as someone that keeps her word.  The Aes Sedai of course act like children because that's how Jordan writes most of these supposedly strong women.
Meanwhile, Elayne and Aviendha become sisters by Aiel tradition, Elayne takes a bath, and tries to garner support while being irritated with the way she is treated due to her pregnancy.  I'd be pissed as well to be treated as an incubator at only a month pregnant.  However, I also can't help but think how stupid Elayne is - have sex with Rand in secret, it's all good.  However, from everything we have learned about Andor, it is one of the more conservative societies, so maybe hold off on the pregnancy until the throne is secure.  Her mother may have had lovers but this was after she had already done the political thing and had an acceptable heir to the throne while married to another noble. 
So yes, there wasn't really that much going on in this novel.  Parts of it weren't bad to read but I really don't even feel like I have to give spoiler alerts at this point because there was nothing to spoil.  The novels are weird because it's hard to say if there is dramatic tension.  Things might take forever to happen but the reader knows everything is going to work out: everybody ends up with the person they like, not even Rand had to make a choice between three women, and so far only one important character has died, so there is really no worry about sacrifices.  Compare that to George R.R. Martin where so many beloved characters have died or the show The Vampire Diaries - so many characters died in the first season, some of whom I was rooting for and a bit attached to.  I entirely expect Rand's prophesied death to be symbolic, and everyone will end up living happily ever after with a few scars.
However, this novel died have some truly inspired reviews on Amazon such as this one, this one, or this one.  Really, just go to the main page, and start reading.

Book 31: Winter's Heart

This might just be me, but the attitude conveyed in these books about sex is weird.  On the one hand, all the characters seem incredibly squeamish about sex, constantly judging people's clothes for being to revealing and calling people too forward (Perrin looks at Berelain in shock when she tells him he would only be 3rd, and it really seemed like he thought that was a lot - then again, maybe he was shocked that she was propositioning him after his wife was kidnapped), but on the other hand, the novels are oddly obsessed with sex.  So many pages are devoted to descriptions of dress styles, and how the women in different nations have such low neck-lines and the women's "bosom" are barely contained.  Considering that this seems to be the style everywhere but Andor, I would expect Jordan and the characters to stop commenting on this.  One character comments that she likes cuddling as much as "the other" - newsflash: if you're old enough to do it, you're old enough to call it sex, fucking, whatever.
So there was a bit more progress in this book, though Mat still didn't show up until over halfway through!  After the prologue, the first few chapters focus on the events immediately after Faile and her parties' capture by the Shaido, and her initial impressions of the camp (so ready for the Sevanna story line to be done).  Perrin is heartbroken and is about ready to ignore his primary mission of getting Masema, the Prophet, under control due to his desire save his wife.  Fortunately (?) for him, Masema agrees to go with him to help save Faile and her entourage.  And that's basically it for that storyline.  Faile is still kidnapped, and Perrin is mad.  Of course, that's still more face time than Egwene gets who only shows up in a dream meeting with Nynaeve and Elayne, despite the fact that she was about to lay seige to the White Tower in the last novel (apparently, Jordan likes to end novels on cliff hangers for certain characters and then ignore them for an entire book - see Mat in A Crown of Swords and not at all in The Path of Daggers).
A good portion of the novel is spent with Elayne as she tries to gain the right to her throne.  She is housing three different groups of women that can wield the Source in the palace, all of whom have varying approaches and disagree a lot (the Kin, the Sea Folk and Aes Sedai).  For the most part, this section wasn't necessarily exciting or boring; it was just kind of there.  Rand also has a plan to cleanse the male half of the Source and visits Caemlyn to involve Nynaeve in this.  At this point, Rand finds himself in the same room with Aviendha, Min and Elayne, all women that he is in love with who are in love with him, and two of whom he has had sex with.  The women all immediately tell him they are willing to share him, have come to an arrangement and bond him as their shared warder.  This whole story line bugs me.  Seriously, I still don't see anything that great about Rand.  And then there is this whole weird voyeuristic feel to the whole thing since the warder bond means that the women can feel Rand's emotions as he is finally having sex with (and impregnating) Elayne, making for three out of three.
However, Mat's storyline finally progresses: he is still in Ebou Dar and serving as a playmate to the queen, Tyelin.  The Seachan have taken control of the country, and a woman named Tuon shows up as well, a high-ranking Seanchan woman, Daughter of the Nine Moons.  This is the woman that Mat was prophesied to marry many novels ago, although she doesn't share that part of her title upon arrival, and only the reader knows.  Mat is plotting to escape Ebou Dar and Seanchan control, and promises to help a few Aes Sedai that have been captured.
A few characters from previous novels make a few appearances as well (there are Black Ajah in Caemlyn), and the Aes Sedai hunting for Black Ajah in the White Tower find their first.  Just like in the last one, the fact that certain characters are now in the same city etc. means that it is slowly coming together.  However, there are still a few plot lines that just need to be wrapped up ended.  There are so many characters that just kind of show up, and barely serve a purpose, and so many of their names are almost the same, especially amongst the Aes Sedai - there's Lelaine and Leane, but at least they have large enough roles to keep straight.  I'm just glad I'm reading these now that almost all of them have been released - at least, I just have to wait for the next Amazon order to show up to get a few more chapters about the characters I'm actually interested in.  If I had to wait a year or two between novels with only so little progress and pay off, I would probably have been incredibly frustrated (kind of like it was a good thing I didn't start watching Lost until the sixth season was almost over), but as it is, I can at least get the answers eventually instead of having to wait forever.  One thing that surprises me so much about the Amazon reviews though is when the talk about multi-dimensional Jordan's world and characters are - I'll give him world, although I'm not sure if crowded necessarily three dimensional, but characters?  Maybe in the beginning, but since then they have all become shallow caricatures with few exceptions.  Even Min was really annoying me in this one, and I generally prefer her to any of the women in the square (Elayne being my least favorite) - just too much hero-worship for Rand (when they bonded, all the women started crying because of the pain he feels - gah - a few more lines like that I might have to "sniff, pull my braid, and cross my arms below my breast").

Book 30: The Path of Daggers

Oh my god, it took forever to get through the first half of this book!  A Crown of Swords ended with Mat in Ebou Dar as the Seanchan are invading the city, and he doesn't even make an appearance in this novel.  His ending was the cliffhanger of the last book, and then he doesn't even show up?  I was very disappointed about that.  For the most part, Jordan picks up right where he left off though at a snail's pace.  Elayne and Nynaeve had found the Bowl of Winds and enough women with skill and strength in the Power to use it.  Naturally, one would think this novel would start with them fixing the weather - which it sort of does after 150 pages!  The first 100 or so pages mostly talk about Elayne, Nynaeve and their huge group Traveling and walking to the appropriate place to fix the weather while bickering at each other.  However, they finally conduct the appopriate ritual, and then escape the Seanchan with the Kin (Aes Sedai runaways or rejects), the Seafolk women and the rest of their party, enroute to Caemlyn so Elayne can claim her throne.
Rand sent Perrin to Ghealdan to deal with Masema, the Prophet, who has been causing many problems in his name.  While there, Perrin runs into Morgase who gives him a false name, and joins his party.  While Morgase's storyline has bored me the past few books, I'm actually glad about this development since it means at least some of the characters are converging.  Right now, it seems like one of the problems with the series is that each character is off doing their own thing, none of which seem related at all.  Of course, all the other random characters don't help either: can we please kill Sevanna already?  She's really just dumb and pointless.  Egwene continues to struggle for control with the Hall of Sitters as the Amrylin Seat, and tries to make her way as an actual leader rather than a puppet.
The last part of the novel started to pick up a little bit.  Rand decides to go after the Seanchan (unfortunately, he isn't written as a very appealing figure to me; he's sexist and I'm so tired of hearing about how much harder he takes every woman's death), and while he seems intelligent enough, he is too cold and boring to make for a charismatic leader or character.  I also enjoyed the chapter about the search for the Black Ajah in the White Tower.
The best part about this novel honestly is where it ended: there are several things finally really in motion, and based on where the novel ended, it seems like quite a few things could finally come to a head in the follow up.  However, considering that this is book 8, and there are still five or six left, it seems like Jordan is probably going to continue to drag things out with way too many descriptions about dresses, and reiterating things over and over that readers already know (Lan's favorite colors are blue and green).
And here are some of the negative reviews: I like this one's imagined description of a character blowing their nose, and I enjoy this one because there's a list of gripes.

Book 29: A Crown of Swords

I've heard that this and book 6 are the turning point in the series when any type of progress comes to a halt.  Having said that, a few things actually happened much more quickly in this novel  than the last novel.  For example, during Lord of Chaos, I kept waiting for Lan to finally show up in Salidar since his bond had transferred to Myrelle, only for it be about two paragraphs at the very end of the novel.  Egwene finds out that Lan's bond has been transferred (Myrelle has been hiding this because transferring a bond between warder and Aes Sedai without the warder's approval is very frowned upon), and orders him to follow Nynaeve to Ebou Dari to assist with her quest for the ter'angreal that will set the weather straight.  I was actually pleasantly surprised when Lan actually caught up with Nynaeve before the novel ended - the way Jordan's been going, I thought that trip might still take a novel or two.  However, Jordan does seem to be in a hurry to couple people off - Rand has obviously already slept with Aviendha, in this novel he hooks up with Min, Egwene and Gawyn declared their love for each other in Lord of Chaos, Perrin is already married, so I guess he wouldn't want to keep Nynaeve and Lan apart much longer.  Speaking of coupling up, I wish he would stop trying to turn everyone into a couple, particularly Morgase and the young officer that is with her.  In fact, the Morgase story line really seems to add absolutely nothing - she's a queen in exile, but nobody even knows she alive, and she doesn't do anything.  Could we just kill her off already or stop wasting space on her?  I'm also ready to be done with the White Cloaks.  I'm much more interested in the White Tower and the Rebel Sedai.  I think the reason these stories lines work for me is because it's only women.  Jordan can occasionally be alright when he writes about women in a group.  As soon as mix of genders in a group, though, his characters just start losing all common sense because they don't communicate.  I'm also ready for the Shaido and Sevanna storyline to end.  She's just irritating and boring.  I don't feel like she is a threat, just dumb.
At the end of Lord of Chaos, Rand had defeated the Aes Sedai from the White Tower who had kidnapped him, and the nine rebels have sworn fealty to him.  As this novel begins, Elaida dreams of glory with the Dragon Reborn at her heel, but soon finds these dreams destroyed, and is looking for a way to cover up her actions.  Her distrust of Alviarin, her Keeper, leads her to order another Aes Sedai to search for traitors, though this woman interprets that as an order to search for the Black Ajah.  The rebels are finally moving and on their way to the White Tower to assert their claim.  Egwene is still trying to assert her power and authority, and I actually enjoyed reading her chapters dealing with all the manipulations she is dealing with.  Unfortunately, she only had a few chapters in the beginning, and then didn't appear again.  There also wasn't too much of Rand in this novel, which I liked, and he is mostly focused on reconsolidating his power since a few people took advantage of his temporary disappearance.  There wasn't too much of Perrin in this novel, either, but that's actually a good thing.  I quite liked Perrin at one point, but now Perrin means that there will be more Faile.  I think Faile has the potential to be a great character: she is intelligent, cunning, brave, and is one of the few women that is portrayed as powerful without having any magical powers, but when it comes to her marriage, she is portrayed as a psychotically jealous crazy woman who likes to start fights and be dominated.  And it's not like that last part would necessarily be bad even though it seems sometimes Jordan advocates that women just want to be spanked or physically punished (whatever works for you), but she's just so annoying about it.  I liked her best when she and Perrin were fighting together to defend the Two Rivers.  Since then, she has been too focused on trivial dumb things.  And unfortunately, this affects how much time I really want the novel to spend with Perrin.
For the most part, the novel focuses on events in Ebou Dari and the search for the Bowl of Winds.  During this search, the two women stumble upon a society of Aes Sedai rejects that still have some ability to channel and great respect for the White Tower.  The split of the Tower, Egwene's vision and this pocket of women with talents all point to a complete overhaul of traditions, and possibly could return the Tower to its former glories if the Last Battle doesn't destroy them all.  Mat and Birgitte hit it off quite well in a friendly way so Birgitte finally puts some sense into Elayne and Nynaeve regarding their treatment of him.  Unfortunately they tend to be nicer to him afterwards more for each other's approval than because they care about Mat's feelings.  Nyneave and Elayne aren't the only ones searching for the Bowl, and there are quite a few other people of interest in Ebou Dar.  I'm still not sure why I'm enjoying the series when more than half the main characters annoy me.  I like Mat the most at the moment, and Birgitte is rather refreshing since all those Two River and Andor folks are way too uptight about anything having to do with sex (as usual the women both loved the dresses and judged the low necklines - how is it that every nation has lower necklines than Andor?  Do they wear turtle necks or something in that country?)  I thought the ending felt rather tacked on and unnecessary.  It's like Jordan realized he needed to have a big battle scene but since there had been absolutely no build up, it didn't feel climatic.  Just weird.  However, another part of the ending definitely promises for more progress in the next few novels, but then again it could also be yet another storyline that distracts from the final battle.
Also, negative Amazon review time.  I couldn't decide between two: one was just funny, the other was a bit funny but also well-thought out.

Book 28: Lord of Chaos

Lord of Chaos (The Wheel of Time, Book 6) by Robert Jordan
While the prologues in some of the previous novels have been relatively short, this one devotes a few pages to all the minor/major characters that aren't Rand.  Nynaeve and Elayne are with the rebel Aes Sedai where the fifth novel left them, and Elayne has had some success with creating ter'angreal, while Nynaeve continues to examine Leane and Siuan to find a cure for "stilling."  After a novel long hiatus (I was definitely disappointed not to see Perrin in the previous novel), Perrin once again feels the pull of ta'veren, and embarks on a journey to Caemlyn, capital of Andor, to join up with Rand.  Mat, meanwhile, has mostly accepted his role, and is planning an attack on Illian, or Sammael, the Forsaken who has taken it over, more specifically.  The novel tells the reader straight up that Mat's attack is a strategic faint but it is not all the open about the actual plan of attack.
There is actually a lot of movement going on in this novel, and while it seems like most of the other novels have ended with the death of a Forsaken and/or a huge battle, I enjoyed the more political aspects of the novel.  While there was a battle at the end, of course, for me the action doesn't always have to be actual action like battles so if this is how the lag in the series works out, I can definitely deal with it (I've heard that it's around book six that the series starts dragging on).  Egwene is summoned to Salidar, and is finally reunited with Nynaeve and Elayne after several novels worth of absence.  To her surprise, she is chosen as the Amyrlin Seat of the rebel Aes Sedai but considering that they would all think Egwene's age would make her malleable, it might not be surprising that the different factions and powers could agree on her if they could not on each other.
While I found Mat quite annoying the first few novels, he is quickly getting up there with Perrin as far as favorite characters go.  He has matured a lot over the last few novels, and I just think his arc is interesting.  His mission is diverted since Rand decides it is more important to get Elayne back to Andor to take her throne.  While the women weren't nearly as annoying in this novel (Elayne, Nynaeve and Egwene actually acted as friends without bitching), as soon as Jordan has his male and female heroes interact with each other, I generally want to strangle the necks of some characters - usually the women.  It's bad enough that the characters don't communicate well, but they don't communicate at all across the genders.  So many misunderstandings could be avoided by a simple question of "did you mean this or that?" instead of constant assumptions that the men are simply acting arrogantly.  In fact, there were a few scenes from the view of the Forsaken in the novel, and I actually really like the evil women, especially Graendal.  I like how capable she is.  Somehow, I don't think the Forsaken are supposed to be among my favorite characters but they are just so much more entertaining - some of the other characters definitely have their moments of whininess.
One of the big things in this novel has to do with the Aes Sedai.  Rand has followed through on his pardon to men that can channel and has established a school for them to be trained.  Aes Sedai delegations have been sent from both the rebels at Salidar and the White Tower.  One is at Caerhien and the other at Caemlyn, and Rand Travels back forth and between the two as he sees fit.  This is another one where the women's attitudes get annoying because they see Rand has yet another man that has to learn his place and show them proper respect.  Given how much power the Aes Sedai have lost over the past few centuries, they should consider learning a more diplomatic route - or perhaps use their common sense.  The main plot revolves around how Rand will deal with the Aes Sedai, and mostly sets up for the next novel as it ends with several forces and characters enroute on various quests.
While the novel didn't drag at all, when actually writing down what occurred, it really doesn't seem like all that much necessarily happened.  As I said, a lot of it was setting the stage for later events.  Morgase, the Queen of Andor, is still with the White Cloaks but has not formalized their allegiance yet, while the Dark One is putting his Forsaken into motions although what his current endgame is remains unclear.  One thing that does seem clear is that he appears to want Rand left alive.  Lews continues to make his presence known in Rand's head, and one can only assume that Rand will learn to use the voice of the dead man in his head to advantage in the future though he currently fears that Lews will try to take him over.  For the most part, the voice is rather annoying, constantly bewailing his dead lover/wife.  When it comes down to it, I'm not really a huge fan of Rand's.  I think the whole love triangle/square is obnoxious - really, Robert Jordan, your hero had to have three women fall in love with him at once?  And they are all okay with it?  I'm not sure if I want to see how he ties that one up.
From this book on, I admit one of my favorite things to do has been to look at the negative reviews on Amazon because some of them are hilarious.  And generally, the negative reviews don't even get negative feedback - even the most radical fans are willing to admit to the series' flaws.  I've decided for at least the next few novels I'm going to link to one of the more inspired Amazon reviews for entertainment.

Book 27: The Fires of Heaven

Almost caught up on The Wheel of Time!  This novel changes up the structure a bit since there is a large, defining battle in the beginning of the novel.  In comparison, the rest of the novels have mostly built up to big battles and dead Forsaken - not to say that part doesn't happen as well . . . I don't think it's exactly a spoiler when the novels have started to display a specific pattern.
At the end of the last novel, Rand declared himself the Chief of Chiefs, and to prove this, revealed the secret Aiel history to all: that they had originally been peaceful, and the Tinkers were the ones that had continued to follow the true Aiel way while they had turned away by embracing the spear.  Apparently this type of history was too shocking for some of the Aiel so they have refused to follow Rand, and have instead decided to side with the Shaido Aiel who leave the waste to wreak havoc on the wetlands.  Rand, friends and allies pursue them to Cairhien and engage in a decisive battle (Cairhien had shown up in an earlier novel and is a city where everyone is well versed in politics and loading everything with extra meaning; they were also responsible for the last war with the Aiel 20 years ago).  Rand also continues his complicated relationship with Aviendha who has been charged to teach him all things Aiel but since they are opposite genders and this is Jordan, they just don't understand each other.  Translation: like every other female that isn't from Two Rivers, Aviendha wants Rand and he wants her in return.
While Perrin does not make an appearance in the novel, Mat puts his knowledge from his previous lives as a warrior to good use, and is incredibly useful during the battle.  I would say it's in this novel particularly that Mat transitions from annoying to interesting as he starts developing his own skills beyond simply luck.  Egwene continues to try to understand Aiel ways and learn dreamwalking, while Nynaeve, Elayne and Brigitte travel with a circus in order to avoid the Black Ajah's attention and find the rebel Aes Sedai.  I really wasn't that into this story line.  Thom was more interesting before he got attached to Elayne and Nynaeve - Rand and the men appreciated his skills, while the women grudgingly accept he might be useful and just don't take advantage of the tools at their disposal.
The rebel Aes Sedai story is interesting as Siuan tries to deal with her new standing now that she has been stilled.  However, she continues to try to shape the world around her.  Since the Aes Sedai treat women without the ability to channel as children, it is easier than she might have expected but she does have a hard time with her new, reduced position in the world.  I quite like Siuan, and Morgase's rejected general and lover becomes involved with the rebels due to Siuan.  Morgase meanwhile realizes that her kingdom has come to shambles under the guidance of her new lover, and decides to escape from his control to rally support.  Given that she has ordered some of her most loyal subjects flogged, this will be harder than she imagines.
The ending has a few twists and deaths although Jordan does reverse a few of those.  Rand is still rather annoying with his inability to hurt or kill women - I guess it's supposed to be noble and chivalrous but when they are engaging in battle with you, you might want to get over that.  Of course, this all plays into Jordan's weird gender stuff, so no point beating a dead horse at the moment (on Amazon, there is a snippet of an interview with Jordan and he says he is incapable of lying to women - seriously?).

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Book 26: The Shadow Rising

I started reading the series The Wheel of Time back in January, and have finished the first ten novels.  Unfortunately, I read the first five without writing any reviews, and I have not looked forward to going back to write them because the series tends to blend together quite a bit.  However, I did learn my lesson, and wrote reviews for books 6-9 as soon as I finished them that are just waiting to be posted.
At the beginning of The Shadow Rising, all the main characters are together at the Stone of Tear.  Rand has conquered Tear, and has proven to much of the world that he is the Dragon Reborn.  Of course, there will always be naysayers, especially those further away from the action who believe it was an Aes Sedai plot, but Rand is on his way to unite the world for the final battle.  As the novel progresses, the protagonists go off on different missions and quests, though in some cases this leads them on a common path for very different reasons.  For example, as hesitant as Mat still is about Rand's ability to channel, he feels the need to go to Rhuidean, and accompanies Rand and his party.  I didn't realize this when I started reading this, but this actually marks the last time that the entire group of main characters is in the same spot (excluding Min who was sent to Siuan at the White Tower during the last novel).  In the six books since this one, some of the characters' paths have crossed and converged in different ways, but they have not been together as a group since then (despite everyone's increased abilities).
Rand goes to Aiel Waste to further prove some of the Dragon Prophecies true.  Additionally, the Aiel believe that he is their prophesied Chief of Chiefs, and he wants to rally their support.  Moraine, of course, chooses to go with him as she attempts to teach and guide him.  Mat is drawn to Rhuidean in the Aiel Waste for reasons of his own after being given answers to three questions in ter'angreal at the Stone of Tear.  Egwene accompanies them to meet the Aiel Wise Ones who she stumbled upon in the dream world to learn more about her talent, and the young Aiel woman Aviendha goes as well at the call of the Wise Ones because she must give up her spear to become one of their apprentices and learn to use the Power.  Aviendha, Mat, Moraine and Rand all enter Rhuidean, an ancient Aiel city where leaders are tested to discover answers, and test for their future/prove their position.  During this visit, Jordan reveals the true history of the Aiel which was interesting.
Nynaeve and Elayne continue on their quest for the Black Ajah and head westward after Elayne and Rand part who have spent the first part of the novel making out in corners.  It wasn't a bad plot line; Nynaeve faces one of the Forsaken, Moghedien, but the two characters were incredibly annoying.  Lots of braid pulling, sniffing, crossing of arms beneath breasts, bitching about low cut necklines while also coveting the material.  Jordan cannot write women.  Well, in his defense, his male characters aren't really that much more realistic.  Meanwhile, Min has arrived at the Tower and is assisting Siuan by using her ability to read people's fate.
The best plot line by far was Perrin in the Two Rivers.  After hearing gossip about the area, he decides to go home.  Faile forces him to let her join him.  On the one hand, Faile was rather annoying and badly written but I also am rather annoyed with how much the men see the women as the weaker sex.  While I wasn't exactly excited to have her come along, I also was irritated with Perrin trying to protect her and make up her mind for her so I was ambivalent about her forcing herself along.  Faile actually becomes a much better character in the Two Rivers when she is helping Perrin rally his friends and neighbors to defend themselves against Trollocs instead of relying on the White Cloaks.
At this point, there was still a lot of interesting plot development, but Jordan's characters are very whiny and are completely stuck in ideas of gender roles, and very culturally insensitive and judgmental.  I'm mostly reading the novels because I want to see what's going to happen, not because I necessarily care about the characters.  Even the ones I do like tend to do things that I would consider out of character or completely uncalled for, but since they aren't the main characters (by this I mean the top six of Mat, Rand, Perrin, Egwene, Nynaeve and Elayne), it doesn't always happen as often.  After reading this novel, Perrin was definitely cemented as my favorite character so imagine my surprise when that changes only two books later.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Book 25: The Dragon Reborn

On the one hand, I quite liked Jordan's approach in this novel since it barely had any chapters from Rand al'Thor's perspective and was almost purely from his friends' points of view.  There's only so much "woe me, I'm the Dragon Reborn, and I'm going to go mad" a reader can take.  On the other hand, it is in this novel that Jordan's portrayal of women started getting on my nerves.  I was willing to give Egwene some slack with some of her issues since she had been the one collared by the Seanchan in the previous book, and I figured some of her behavior was a result of this temporary enslavement.  However, I quickly became annoyed with their attitudes in general - they all seem to think they know so much better than everyone around them even though they have a lot to learn.  I'm not sure if this was an issue in this novel in particular (I'm a few novels past this one as I write the review), but they are also so fucking judgmental of other cultures that it's ridiculous, especially considering how much traveling they do.  And yet, every time they meet people that do things differently from them they are scandalized and then instead of trying to understand these different cultures, try to make them change to conform with their views.
Rand has mostly accepted that he is the Dragon Reborn at this point, and even has a few followers after the battle that concluded the last novel which was somehow seen in the sky across the land.  However, he feels frustrated that he's wasting time (just wait until the later books, Rand!), so in an effort to speed up his destiny, he takes off alone to Tear where the famed, impenetrable Stone of Tear is located.  One of the prophecies of the Dragon Reborn states that the walls of Tear will fall, and that the Dragon Reborn will claim the famous sword that isn't a sword, Callandor.  Instead of following Rand on his travels, the narrative focuses on his friends who are split into three groups.  There are Loial, Perrin and Moraine that follow behind him; Elayne, Nynaeve and Egwene who end up enroute south; and Mat and Thom, the gleeman.  Eventually all their paths and goals converge on at the Stone.  The three Accepted (after being punished for running away, Elayne and Egwene are raised) are on the trail of the Black Ajah - thirteen Aes Sedai vanished shortly after they left the Tower, led by Liandrin, stealing ter'angreal and leaving three dead women.  Siuan can't use any of the other sisters because she doesn't know who to trust, and most of the White Tower doesn't want to acknowlege the existence of the Black Ajah.
Moraine and her party discover that Illiam is under the thrall of Sammael, one of the Forsaken, setting up for the next novel, and Mat discovers that Elayne's mother's new lover has some evil plans for Elayne, and decides to follow her to warn her and his friends that her with her.  As the reader discovers, Morgase's lover is actually another of the Forsaken, and the Stone also is under the control of one.  Obviously, in addition to Rand's quest to get Callandor from the Stone, Jordan is setting up for quite a few adventures later.  He introduces Faile (falcon in the Old Tongue) after Min warned Perrin that she had viewing of a hawk and a falcon perched on his shoulders.  The legendary Aiel also appear throughout the novel as they search for the Chief of Chiefs, or their version of the Dragon Reborn.
Especially now that I'm much further into the series, it is amazing how much Jordan packs into these early novels.  Not only does he set up stories and plots for later, but he also has a mission or quest that ties the novel together while the rest simply adds depth to the story.  Still, as I said, he really starts losing me around here with the portrayal of his female characters.  Mat also kind of irritated me in this novel since he grumbles way too much about his friends, and the way he cannot deal with Rand's ability to channel at all - every time someone tries to kill him he blames Rand instead of acknowledging the fact that he is also important.  However, his luck that will become such a huge trait later really starts showing itself in this novel as well as the fact that he is ta'veren.  That's another thing that surprises me as the series progress - while Mat annoyed me in the beginning, he is now my favorite of the male characters (although at this point and novel 4 it is definitely Perrin). 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Book 24: Reading Women

Stephanie Staal attended Barnard as an undergraduate and took classes like "Feminist Texts."  After college, she embarked on a career in journalism, but once she hit 30, she realized that she was facing similar problems as women 50 years ago.  After starting her career, Staal ended up married and with a child.  She and her husband both work from home, but somehow like most other women, she still found herself with a greater deal of the housework, and wondering how her life had led her to such a domestic spot.  After reading a few chapters of The Feminine Mystique and relating, she gets the idea to go back to college and re-take "Feminist Texts" to see how her perspective has changed and how they relate to her current life.
The book is part memoir and part analysis of feminist texts.  She discusses all the obvious suspects, such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Simone deBeauvoir and Virginia Woolf, and also engages in these women's complicated and contradictory life styles.  Compared to some of the young women attending the class for the first time, Staal has a more forgiving view of their personal lives, and understands the difficulties.  It was definitely a nice reminder of some of the theories I had read in college, and I have wondered before how I would engage differently with some of these texts now vs. then.  It's so easy to see things in black and white when younger.  I know just when reading feminist websites now, I occasionally think people are going a bit overboard about things, I feel like there are way too many trigger warnings at some websites (are we really that fragile?), and become rather defensive whenever they try to talk about women in the military.
In her personal life, Staal discovers similar problems that have already been discussed endlessly in feminist classes - the difficulty of balancing personal life and career; the treatment her husband gets for being an engaged father while it's expected of her; the idea that women feel selfish for taking personal time (I don't remember how much we discussed this in my "Intro to Feminist Theory" class, but it definitely came up in my class about chick-lit since many of the chick lit texts about motherhood deal with exactly that - one novel in particular that we read was I Don't Know How She Does It - the point being that she wasn't doing as well in either her personal or professional as she wanted).  She and her husband experience some marital difficulties after they move away from New York, and they attend therapy - their marriage counselor basically asks Staal what's wrong when told that he assists with some household tasks, doesn't cheat and makes money.  They resolve their differences, though Staal doesn't elaborate too much on how they did that (they moved back to New York as well) other than combined dislike of their counselor and a new approach to communication.
I quite enjoyed the book while I read it but it's been about a week, and I feel like it was rather forgettable.  This may be because Staal didn't go completely in depth with many things.  I'm not sure if I felt like she'd really changed that much by the end of the novel with the exception of her location and I guess I would like to know more about how she is now doing balancing the professional and personal.  Given her subtitle, I can't say I feel like her life really changed as a result of the feminist texts, and that may be more due to what she has told the reader - I guess moving back to New York is a big change, but it's the day to day that would interest me more, such as how did she communicate with her husband or get him more involved?  Her analysis of the texts was also more of an overview rather than in depth analysis but it works for what she was trying to accomplish.  She discusses her classmates' views some and compares them to students in the early '90s.  I thought a bit more of this would have also been interesting.  She touches on a few topics along those lines, such the different reactions to pornography in discussions now (it was more accepted now, and included arguments about women's empowerment).  She also believes that the students are more aware of how impossible it is to have anything, while Staal had left college thinking she could have it all.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Book 23: We Need to Talk About Kevin

I've kept in touch with a few of my college professors, and generally see them when I'm back home to visit my parents.  Recently, one of them recommended this novel to me, and I finally had time to read it.  The novel is written in the epistolary format, and is compromised of letters from Eva to her former husband, Franklin.  Kevin is their son who is currently in a juvenile detention facility because he was "one of those Columbine boys."  Only a few days before Columbine occurred, Kevin shot and killed several students and a teacher at his high school.  Eva uses this correspondence to tell her side of the story, and attempt to understand her culpability, if any.  As a result, while the novel is a series of letters, the level of honesty and detail also make it seem very journal-like.
As the novel progresses, Eva reminisces about her and Franklin's early years together, and their very different backgrounds.  Eva is a jaded and cynical world traveler of Armenian heritage - her parents both lost family to the genocide in the 1910s.  Franklin, on the other hand, has traveled, but loves the United States of America in all its glories.  They have very opposite views, and didn't meet until their 30s, and as a result, become parents at a later age than many.  Eva describes herself as very happy with Franklin, but eventually decides to have a child because she feels like Franklin wants one.  Eva, on the other hand, is very ambivalent.  She earns more than Franklin and developed her own company of travel guides but is willing to embark on this new journey.  However, from the very beginning, motherhood disappoints her: as soon as Kevin is born, he rejects her breast and milk, and she never develops that maternal bond she hoped to.  The interplay between Eva and Kevin, and its affect on her marriage, was fascinating.  Eva believes that from early on, she and her son were engaged in a type of warfare with each other, and says that even as a child he would have a different personality when he was around her husband.  Based on only this, it would be easy to say it was simply post-partum depression, and that maybe he was reacting to her based on her behavior, but it is obvious that Kevin is a difficult child: no one wants to babysit him more than once, he drives off nannies, children's play groups become much more disruptive after he joins them.  Odd incidents occur when Kevin is around, and while Franklin is afraid he might be traumatized by them, Eva feels he caused them.  Obviously, knowing that he would later kill seven students, a cafeteria worker and a teacher, it is easy to want to side with Eva and just see something cunning about Kevin from the beginning.
While it is easy to describe this novel as a study about nature vs. nuture (was Kevin the way he was because his mother didn't like him, or was it in his nature from the beginning?), personally, I think this debate is not quite the point of the novel.  Even if Eva is a horrible mother, and mostly her sin is that she didn't want to be a mother, and that she is very cold, he had what could only be called a loving father, which is more than some children have and they don't shoot up their high schools.  Instead, the part that interested me was the idea of Eva as a narrator.  How reliable is she?  Everything the reader sees is her interpretation of events, with the occasional comments during which she describes Franklin's interpretations.  But really, even those are her interpretations of his interpretations.  After all, I doubt any father would be quite as amused and excusing of some of Kevin's antics as Eva describes him.  Clearly, Eva blames Kevin for the disintegration of her marriage, and there are various examples of Franklin picking Kevin over Eva.  I would have loved to get this novel from Franklin's perspective.
I was interested in the novel from the beginning but it took me longer to get through the first hundred pages or so than the last three hundred.  The first hundred are mostly set up and background, and it is only then that Eva really starts delving into Kevin's development.  However, while Franklin always takes Kevin's side, Eva still believes that her son had more respect for her exactly because she saw through him.  In fact, during one of her regular visits to Kevin's prison, Kevin tells her that she was the audience.  Eva and Kevin are the only characters in the novel that are truly portrayed with any types of dimensions.  While Eva loves her husband, it is hard to tell what the attraction was at times, and she has glamorized and simplified him as a very optimistic man's man.  Celia, her much younger daughter, is incredibly sweet, and the exact opposite of Kevin.  It gives the impression that Eva creates strong opinions of people at the very beginning and then pidgeonholes them, so no matter what they do, she interprets it to fit into her world view.  For example, at one point she talks about how Celia is absentminded, and would forget to set the table or do other chores as a result.  Yet if it had been Kevin, it would have been described as malicious and another battle.  I looked through a few Amazon reviews, and what I found interesting is that most of the reviewers focus on the idea of the novel as a character study of Kevin, but it is just as much as character study of Eva.