Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Dragon Reborn

Completed Book 3 of Robert Jordan's massive Wheel of Time series this week. This novel raises the question of why one would write a 15-volume saga when one is already borrowing from oneself at the 20% mark. To its credit, The Dragon Reborn moves at a remarkable clip, juggling three POVs and resolving a number of important questions from the previous installment. The Aes Sedai (female wizard) trainees hunt a rogue sect of their order, trickster Mat Cauthon is healed of his sinister enchantment by Aes Sedai and escapes their city, and a large party moves East in pursuit of Dragon Reborn Rand, who has stumbled into The Sword in the Stone.

Aside: The Once and Future King is a far better novel that The Dragon Reborn. Go read it.

By far the most compelling of these plotlines is the Aes Sedai hunt. Its cloistered danger reminded me a bit of Ecco's The Name of the Rose minus the theological instruction. Unfortunately, this line requires us to spend hundreds of pages with trainee and former village wisdom Nynaeve, perhaps the most unpleasant character I have encountered in many years of reading. Robert Jordan has been repeatedly accused of male chauvinism in his novels, of portraying all his female characters as harpies. To the contrary, I like many of the female characters in the novels so far, and would place Aes Sedai Moiraine among my three favorites, with blacksmith Perrin and traveling entertainer Thom Merrilin. Nynaeve is remarkable. She is indisputably brilliant and if her elders disagree with her on any point at all, well that clearly indicates their unfitness for their positions. She may be only a few years older than her companions, but in comparison, they are intellectual infants and require a particularly patronizing sort of nurture. Even when a fact is known to everyone in a room, it is important that she remind everyone of it. And she is easy to read - whenever she is a bit upset, she tugs her braid. The tug may be soft, the tug may be hard, but when she's pissed, nothing else will do.

In contrast, the journey of the large party to the city of Tear includes many of my favorite characters, but almost no events of interest. The characters stay at inns. They are always attacked when they stay at inns. They defeat their enemies and move to the next inn. For variety's sake, they sometimes meet attackers between inns. This leads me to point out that three books into the series, no major characters have died. I don't especially enjoy reading about deaths, but in a long series with a villain hellbent on destruction and domination, major characters need to die or all tension is lost. Mat's subplot begins well, as he gambles for enough money to escape the Aes Sedai citadel, but the devolves into the same sort of inn and attack routine. The climactic battle is a veritable clone of the final battle from the previous two novels, with Rand engaging supervillain Ba'alzamon in single combat and presumably defeating him. The catch this time is that Ba'alzamon turns out to be the second most super villain.

So, given this mostly negative review, why will I continue to read the series? To being with, these books read very quickly - better than a page per minute, and I finished this volume easily in four days. This is not a huge investment of time. Furthermore, after reading many reviews, readers who sound like me, regard novels 4-6, sometimes 7, as the high point of the series. These novels promise substantial political intrigue and extended military conflict, both of which I enjoy. Finally, I enjoy aspects of the novels, especially Jordan's mastery of local color. This volume contained a few good scenes, particularly Perrin's work in a blacksmith shop in Tear, and the resulting longing for home. This is probably the most deeply felt scene so far in novels that are usually emotionally inert. I'm told that by Book 8, the series becomes unbearable, but I expect that I'll have invested too much to let them go at that point. We shall see.

Not Worthwhile

Also finished Homer's Odyssey this week. Might type a few notes later.

No comments:

Post a Comment