Revisiting the Wheel of Time: A Crown of Swords

[This is part of a series analyzing Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time novels. Previous installments can be found under the tag. Comments on old posts are welcome, but please, no spoilers for books after Crossroads of Twilight, as that’s the last book I read before starting this project.]

Back in the day, I think A Crown of Swords was my favorite book in the series. As I’ve said before, it’s the one I waited the right length of time for (enough to build anticipation, not enough to become annoyed); furthermore, it has a lot of Mat, and also some really good moments for both Elayne and Nynaeve. In retrospect, it isn’t as good as The Shadow Rising — which will probably remain the best-constructed slice of this sprawling narrative, unless Sanderson really knocks my socks off — but it’s okay. Its major weakness is probably the fizzle of confrontation at the end. (A lot of people apparently complain about how little time passes during the book, but a) man, that must take obsessive work to figure out, since there are no dates given and b) I don’t care about time so much as plot elapsed. And while this one is firmly in the throes of “too many new plots, not enough resolution,” stuff does happen.)

I’ll get to the plot construction in a minute, but first: exciting news! I think I’ve figured out Faile. But I need other people to check my characterization math, because I don’t have a copy of Lord of Chaos around to see if I’m correctly remembering her behavior there, and I don’t remember what happens later well enough (especially the bits from Faile’s pov).


So, my epiphany started with a rare moment of sympathy for Faile. For once, I understood where she was coming from, after the showdown with Colavaere; she put herself at risk to get evidence against the woman, only to see her evidence ignored and Berelain’s (by way of her thief-catchers) taken as damning. Yeah, I’d be pissed too. Of course, right after that moment, there was a much less rare moment of wtfery, as Perrin yelling at Faile makes her melt. Pondering it this time around, I thought that maybe this was Jordan trying to do the old-skool romance thing — that what Faile wants is an “alpha male.” But an alpha male, in the romance-genre sense, would probably try to keep her safe, and that clearly isn’t what Faile’s after. In fact, she gets annoyed and/or hurt when Perrin’s idea of protecting her means keeping her away from danger.

. . . and, if memory serves, she likewise feels hurt when he tries to speak uber-gently to her. Furthermore, she again feels hurt, and jealous, when he yells at Berelain to stay away from him.

I think, to Faile’s way of thinking, gentleness and protection = disrespect. The message she takes from it is that Perrin thinks she’s fragile.

Whereas when he yells at Berelain, it shows a kind of respect for the other woman. I don’t think Faile believes Perrin is in love with Berelain, but — let me make an analogy. Pretend they are all ordinary people in the real world. Perrin does not like his job, and so when Faile asks him about it, he brushes her off, thinking he’s sparing her boredom and/or annoyance. Berelain, however, is a colleague of his, and so he regularly talks about work to her, sometimes when Faile is around. To Faile’s eye, this looks like her husband has no respect for her intelligence: “oh, don’t worry your pretty little head about it.” But he does respect Berelain. Replace “intelligence” with “toughness” and “talking about work” with “being forceful in his opinions,” and I think that’s what’s going on here.

The thing is, I could actually get behind this dynamic . . . if Jordan were able to execute it in a way that didn’t come across as borderline abusive. The whole “leopard” metaphor between Faile’s parents does not cast it in a good light, especially when physical confrontation is apparently not only an acceptable but a desirable way to make one’s point. But I can see Faile being frustrated by her husband treating her as if she’s made of spun glass, when she prides herself on her strength. It’s a common enough trope when it comes to physical danger — Min yells at Rand, later on, for his “I have to keep you safe” bullshit — and it isn’t unreasonable to extend it to conversational arenas as well. There are people out there with perfectly functional relationships whose bedrock is top-of-the-lungs disagreements (often followed by great sex). The problem here is that Perrin doesn’t realize that’s Faile’s game.

(And she won’t tell him. But refusal to tell anybody anything is possibly the single most endemic illness among characters in this series, only occasionally going into remission, so she’s hardly alone in that.)

Aside from that epiphany, there are other moments with female characters that I quite enjoy in this book. Birgitte, for one; this marks the start of her friendship with Mat, and it’s such a freaking breath of fresh air — largely because Jordan doesn’t use the usual female cookie-cutter on her. She likes drinking; she likes pointing out women for Mat (and having men pointed out for her), and she actually says what she means. THANK GOD. More like her, please? Also two fleeting touches with other characters, that please me entirely out of proportion to their size: the first is Sulin’s reaction when they tie Rand’s hands for sneaking into Caemlyn (she realizes Galina’s crew tied Rand up, and almost cuts him free on the spot), and then Samitsu’s response to Flinn’s Healing of Rand (“I will pay you, have your babies, anything, just TELL ME WHAT YOU DID”). I want more characters like Samitsu, too: women who have something they’re really passionate about, to the extent that they will chuck scheming and secrecy and everything else out the window to get at their target.

Unfortunately, this book also has Tylin. And, erm. Problems.

The really frustrating thing is, I think I see what Jordan was trying to do, and if he hadn’t completely overshot his target and fallen into the abyss of Wrong Wrong Just NO, it would have been great. Mat says it himself: he chases women, not the other way around. Making him the object of desire — a feminized position — with Tylin calling the shots could have been hilarious. In fact, it’s pretty evident by the reactions of the other characters that Jordan thought it was hilarious. But even in high school, when I first read this book, I know Tylin’s single-minded pursuit bothered me; revisiting it now, I realize that her actions wander close to — possibly over — the border of rape.

The only reason I don’t call it rape outright is that we don’t get much detail — Jordan fades to black very quickly — so Mat’s exact mindset during the festivities is unknown. But let’s summarize the context: Tylin fancies Mat. He thinks she’s pretty, but is a) worried about consequences to snogging the Queen of Altara and b) put off by her approach. He communicates his lack of cooperation by measures including but not limited to hiding from her and locking the door of his room. Tylin responds by trying to starve him out, then breaks into his locked room, holds him at knifepoint, cuts off his clothes, and has her way with him. Mat’s response to this afterwards is not “whee, that was fun, let’s do it some more,” but rather to go on hiding from Tylin. She, in turn, uses his scarf to tie him up (without asking), has her servants move his stuff into her rooms (again without asking), and makes plans to dress him according to her own desires (does she ask? Of course not). In general, she treats all of his refusals as part of the game, and uses her social power to coerce him into playing.

This is not okay.

Mat’s line later on about how he’ll miss her after all does not take the skeeve off the situation. Gender-flip the relevant scenes, and it becomes obviously horrifying; furthermore, it becomes the kind of thing we are repeatedly assured Mat himself does not do (nor have we been given reason to doubt him). The women he flirts with flirt back, in unambiguous fashion. I don’t mind Mat holding back from flirting with Tylin because she’s the Queen of Altara; that’s an objection that could be dropped once it became obvious that she’s game if he is. I don’t mind him being initially uncomfortable with his role as the hunted one, rather than the hunter, if that faded away under the realization that the roles don’t matter so long as they both enjoy the outcome. But his objections don’t go away. He resists becoming Tylin’s boy-toy, and goes on resisting, and Tylin doesn’t care whether she has his consent or not. I think Jordan would have seen the problem in a heartbeat if a male character had treated a female one that way — but in his attempt to flip Mat’s usual pattern on its head, he goes too far, and doesn’t seem to notice.

Grargh. Okay. Let’s move on and talk about story structure.

The thing I really noticed, reading this book, is how Jordan tends to work in narrative blocks. After the usual prologue montage, we get a hundred pages of Perrin and Rand, a hundred pages of Egwene and the Salidar crew, sixty pages of Ebou Dar, etc. Aside from three chapters in the middle — “Mindtrap,” with Moghedien, “The Irrevocable Words,” with Morgase, and “To Be Alone,” where we cut briefly back to Perrin — once the focus shifts to a particular corner of the plot, it generally stays there for a while. Given that the various sub-plots don’t intersect with each other that often, but rather go off on long, looping arcs that don’t touch Rand directly for books at a time, I think this actually makes sense. Intercutting is most effective when the thing you see in one strand somehow connects to or comments on the next, and that doesn’t happen too often here. (In fact, sometimes it could and doesn’t: we leave Rand on a “please Mat get Elayne here soon” moment, and cut to . . . Egwene.)

But the consequence of this, of course, is that it plays merry hell with the usual structure of a novel. Rand’s central position dictates that whatever he does will generally be the focus of the final chapters; therefore, climactic moments in other plotlines have to happen elsewhere in the book. The action rises and falls and rises and falls and rises and — you get the idea. No smooth curve of growing tension here. The necessity of timeline management complicates this further; I have no idea how much Jordan restricted himself from stepping back in chronology when he switches strands, but he uses a trick here, several times, of a half-page italicized flashback to cover something that happened before whatever chapter we’re actually reading. It’s not terribly effective, I’m afraid, especially since sometimes what he’s skipping mostly over would have been a scene worth reading. He does this a lot with Perrin, for whatever reason, and I really wish he’d written out the staged confrontation with Rand. I understand why he didn’t; it would have been impossible to make us believe the confrontation was real, the way he tries to do with the actual chapter (“To Be Alone,” which gives us the aftermath). But since the confrontation is more exciting than its aftermath, I don’t think the deception is worth the effort. Much better to have us be afraid that Perrin’s pissed Rand off a little too convincingly.

He’s also still way too fond of cutting away for brief, unnecessary villain pov. We get a scene for Carridin, Mili Skane, and Sammael; another one for Joline and Teslyn; a third for Falion and Ispan. Aside from reminding us of who some of those characters are (seriously, I’d half forgotten the Black Ajah pair), these scenes do . . . what? Tell us there are people scheming to take out Elayne and Nynaeve? What a shocker. Honestly, these feel to me like the kind of scenes Jordan might write for his own benefit, to keep track of where his villains are and what they’re doing — but that doesn’t mean they’re worth the reader’s time.

Oddly, there’s another flaw in this book, that I don’t remember seeing in previous ones: Jordan has begun shoehorning in expository paragraphs in the oddest (and least successful) places. Seriously, early in Egwene’s bit, there’s a four-paragraph stretch that goes, “blah blah” <exposition> <exposition> “blah blah,” she went on without pause. As in, that second bit of dialogue follows immediately on the first. Contrary to what the two intervening paragraphs (which take up most of the page) would have you believe. And the second bit of dialogue involves something shocking, but apparently we have to stop for two more paragraphs, these describing what Siuan and Leane are wearing, before we actually get their reactions. It’s possible Jordan did this occasionally before, but it’s all over the place in this book, and really creates a sense that his basic craft is slipping while he juggles all the balls he’s put into the air.

Having said that: stuff actually does happen, to a much greater extent than I feared. It gets off to a slowish start, with the usual scattershot prologue and then a moderately tedious (and not quite shell-shocked enough) aftermath to Dumai’s Wells — but Niall gets gacked in that prologue, and then there’s Colavaere’s attempted coup, and Egwene learning about Moghedien’s escape from the previous book, and the blackmail from Nicola and Areina, and the confrontation with Myrelle, and so on. All of the major plot strands involve the characters accomplishing something meaningful (bar the fact that Perrin is largely pov to Rand’s actions, rather than acting in his own right). If those random expository paragraphs were shuffled off to better locations, and the villains didn’t all suck (seriously, Elaida, palace, wtf), it would be structurally pretty sound. Weak ending confrontation, but really, how many Power battles with Forsaken can you have before it gets to be old hat? I’m looking forward to Winter’s Heart, where (if I recall correctly) Rand spends the entire final showdown busy with his pet project while everybody else has a running slap-fight through the forest.

One worldbuilding thing: I feel increasingly as if Jordan plays favorites with the Ajahs. Clearly he’s fond of the Blues, what with Moiraine and Siuan, and there are enough cool Greens in the story — especially with Elayne and Egwene choosing that Ajah — that I think it’s safe to say Jordan finds them interesting, too. And the Reds, of course, are largely there to be antagonists (though I do so appreciate the introduction of Pevara, a non-bitchy, non-evil, non-man-hating Red). In the case of Brown and Yellow, I think his investment ends at a few characters, basically Verin and Nynaeve; beyond those two, the Ajahs are mainly plot devices for exposition and Healing. And I don’t think he has much use for the Grays and the Whites at all. Seriously, I’m not even sure why those Ajahs exist; why not fold the Grays into the Blues, given that both do political work? Or, if you want them to be more impartial than the Blues, why not merge the Grays and the Whites? I can see a role for mediators, but I fail to understand why there’s an entire Ajah of philosophers. How do they justify their existence? Why isn’t that work done by Browns instead? Seriously, if I were running a WoT game, I would probably house-rule two Ajahs together, and come up with a new one to fill the gap. Not sure what they would do, but I could think of something.

Sadly, I’ve had to give up reading Leigh Butler’s recaps over on Tor.com; I’m starting to hit way too many spoilers for Knife of Dreams (and in another book or two of recapping, there would be Gathering Storm spoilers, too). Unfortunately, I’m also beginning to think I need to avoid the Wheel of Time wiki, too; an injudicious click while looking something up outed a particular character as a member of the Black Ajah. <sigh> Pity; Leigh’s posts were good for making me think of other stuff I wanted to say. And the wiki is good for refreshing my memory on things. But I’m trying to avoid spoilers, so.

Next up, The Path of Daggers, in which my favorite character takes his sabbatical from the narrative. <sigh again> Well, say it with me: at least it isn’t Crossroads of Twilight.

0 Responses to “Revisiting the Wheel of Time: A Crown of Swords”

  1. Anonymous

    Me here, obviously.

    The Tylin thing makes me crazy. I’m not sure how a whole stable of editors let that fly.

    I actually don’t have much to say about this book. But I am sorry you’ve come across spoilers. I’ll hazard a guess who the Black Ajah you saw outed was, and that would have made me REALLY sad to know in advance. Hide thyself.

    It is fun to think about what the new Ajah would be.

    • Marie Brennan

      Actually, I’ve sort of accidentally outed two characters that way — one explicitly, the other in a way I’m trying to pretend to myself might not mean what I’m pretty sure it means. That one is almost certainly the one you’re referring two, and now I will stick my fingers in my ears and go “LA LA LA I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT.”

      The thing with Tylin is, it’s not that hard to overlook its implications. The very fact that WoT fandom apparently had a flamewar over the issue indicates that a lot of the readership sees only the (clearly intended) comedy, and not the (probably unintended) horror.

      The new Ajah would, I think, have to serve a visible purpose, the way (most of) the current ones do: Greens fight Shadowspawn, Reds take out men who can channel, Yellows heal, etc. The problem, of course, is that Randland is deliberately constructed such that nobody trusts Aes Sedai or wants them around, which limits their ability to be useful. I might make them judges, except that’s close enough to the Grays’ purpose that it should probably be part of their schtick (not to mention that it requires people to trust their judgment). Crafters, maybe. Using the Power to make useful stuff. Yeah, I’d probably go with that.

      • Anonymous

        ooo, crafting. i like that. very feminine and gender-appropriate. RJ would have approved. (cough)

        • Marie Brennan

          Thppppt. Blacksmiths are crafters, too.

          Mind you, women aren’t supposed to have much talent for Earth or Fire, and nobody knows how to make ter’angreal anymore, and studying them is mostly done by the Browns. But I don’t think it would be hard to tweak that a bit and have a craftswoman Ajah.

  2. shadowkindrd

    Actually, I think the whole Faile/Perrin thing is completely culture clash that stems from different styles of argument in each culture. In Saldea, the whole culture is argumentative in the Toulmin Model sense; they argue to win, to dominate their opponent, to take the upper hand, to be victor, to be boss. Notice that Faile is always forcefully arguing with Perrin, pushing him into corners where he can’t escape until he loses his temper. That’s a product of arguing to win standards.

    Perrin, on the other hand, grew up in the Two Rivers area. The culture there practices consensual argument, no matter the rivalry between the men’s and women’s circles. They don’t argue to win; they argue to improve the community, and they try not to step too hard on anyone’s toes in the process. Meetings take place behind closed doors, and no matter their differences, people fall in line behind the agreed upon course of action.

    What happens when these two styles clash is that they’re both pleased by what the other perceives as bad arguing style. Faile is appalled at Perrin’s inability to speak his mind (from her perception), and he’s appalled when she gets all up in people’s faces and trims them down to size (from his perception). When Perrin blows up and starts giving orders, Faile thinks he’s a success, while he considers losing his temper to be a very bad thing indeed. When Faile uses subtle means…wait, I don’ think that happens enough for me to talk about, at least not to the point you’ve read the books.

    This culture clash is made explicit in the latest Sanderson written book, btw, but I saw the problem well back in the books you’ve read. While these clashes are real and create many problems, I think Jordan handled the whole thing in a hamhanded manner (like so many other relationships and characterizations). He’s an amazing worldbuilder, and an ok plotter, but he really falls down on expressing many cultural and gender issues.

    • Marie Brennan

      I don’t think you’re wrong about that — but it doesn’t explain why Faile reacts in a hurt fashion when Perrin yells at Berelain (as I’m fairly certain she does). To cover that, I think there needs to be the additional element that Perrin being soft-spoken equates, in her mind, to not treating her as a strong woman deserving of respect. (A worthy opponent, in the terms you propose.)

      • shadowkindrd

        I think Faile’s issue isn’t stemming from the strong woman needing respect. I think it’s stemming from jealousy. “He’s treating HER like he should treat me! Why won’t he take charge of me like he did her? I’m his WIFE. I should be well in hand like that! I should be FIRST.” Alpha female, yes. But Berelain is not in the approved pack, and therefore shouldn’t receive superior treatment. (My first marriage broke up over this very issue, btw; my then-husband roared in to play white knight for someone who I didn’t like, right in front of me and my friends.) She’s married to a wolf who acts more like the junior member of the pack than the alpha male. It’s causing problems.

        • Marie Brennan

          What I’m trying to get at are the moments she feels hurt. Not angry, not jealous — those are flagged separately in the scent cues he picks up — but hurt, as if Perrin is somehow belittling her or showing disdain. I think, though I’m not positive, that it happens when he’s gentle in the face of her anger, and when he’s openly angry at Berelain. I don’t think that’s explicable just by “Perrin is a bad Saldaean;” there has to be some reason she values openly confrontational behavior, not just as the mode she’s used to, but as something that carries a positive message about their relationship, and about her as a person.

  3. Anonymous

    Seriously, if I were running a WoT game, I would probably house-rule two Ajahs together, and come up with a new one to fill the gap. Not sure what they would do, but I could think of something.

    Sparkle Ajah—they could do crafts!

    -Erin (who obviously needs to get more sleep)

    • Marie Brennan

      πŸ˜›

      (Actually, I probably wouldn’t be able to resist the urge to call them the Purple Ajah, after the long-running fandom speculation about a Creator-side Ajah to balance the Darkfriend Ajah.)

  4. jehane_writes

    I was going to say, it’s problems like this that is making me not want to embark on WoT. The benefits (world-building, engaging characters, complex plot and political intrigue) seem to be entirely outweighed by the burdens (overly complex plots and subplots that seem to go nowhere, inaccessible storytelling, chunks of expositiony dialogue that run on for pages and interspersed with gratuitous other-character-reaction shots, questionable gender/sex interactions). The dubcon episode would have made me throw the book at a wall, to be honest. I mean, I get enough wtfery and torment by wading through Stephen Donaldson.

    • Marie Brennan

      Donaldson is the one I can’t stomach. Jordan undeniably has problems, and I don’t really recommend to people that they pick the series up; it’s too much of an investment for not enough payoff. But my investment started a long time ago, before I started noticing these problems, and I’m finding this re-read highly educational: if I ever write my own long series (of the arc-plot sort, rather than episodic), I will definitely apply the lessons I’ve learned from this analysis.

  5. mojave_wolf

    You really want to stay away from the recaps; forget KoD and GS, there’s even a ToM spoiler looming if you restart.

    Not much to add, just wanted to thank you for doing the recaps; they are fun to read, especially for someone who has trouble remembering what happened in which novel. It’s interesting; I like the series as a whole WAY more than you do but tend to agree with you about most of the major flaws (other than characterization; maybe I add stuff in my head that’s not on the page, but most of the major characters come across as quite engaging to me).

    & bravo for coming up w/an explanation of Faile that makes sense, beyond just “from a strange culture where they behave in nonsensical and highly annoying ways”, which was sort of what I’d settled on in my own head prior to reading this.

    Totally missed the creepiness of Tylin w/Mat, tho, (and, happily, the entire flamewar), Or maybe I just forgot; it’s been a few highly eventful years since that book came out. Will have to reread that at some point. Or maybe I shouldn’t.

    Two things that should cheer you, that I don’t think count as remotely spoilery–Knife of Dreams forward, the pace picks up substantially, the plotting is a lot tighter, and Sanderson does a terrific job (Imo) of carrying forward Jordan’s plot. (I think some of the scenes in the final books are mostly or even all Jordan, but not sure how many or which ones?),

    • Marie Brennan

      I think TGS came out during the ACoS recaps, but Leigh avoided spoilers for it until she started in on TPoD; I haven’t looked to see how far she’d gotten when TToM came out. KoD, however, was always a risk, and now I’m firmly into the territory of plots and characters that are relevant to that book, so.

      I am, however, looking forward to those books; I’d heard they were much more lean mass than the ones leading up to the bog that is CoT.

      Main characters . . . I quite like the girls, and Mat. Perrin gets neglected through the stretch of books I’ve just covered; he’s absent from TFoH, almost absent from LoC, and mostly an observer during ACoS. I like him okay, but I remember that he’ll be spending most of the next two or three books caught in the godawful Faile/Berelain thing, which is hardly in his favor. (On the other hand, now that I have a paradigm for understanding Faile, maybe I’ll find more to interest me in that part.) Rand see-saws between stuff I really like and stuff that makes me want to slam the book against my forehead, but if I put in the effort, I can usually find ways to read into him (my phrase for “adding stuff that’s not on the page) which make him work better for me.

      Mat and Tylin: I missed the flamewar, too, but I checked Leigh’s recaps for those chapters to see what she had to say about the relationship, and she had an anecdote about discovering that issue herself. Very enlightening.

      • mojave_wolf

        I only started reading the recaps off and on after you mentioned them a couple of months ago; so I missed those chapters; I’ll try to make time this weekend to go back and find that.

        The mars/venus gender crap is my biggest issue with the series, actually thought about stopping reading at one point early on because of this. Otherwise, I can deal with the sprawl (even have some affection for the sprawling nature, once I get past the point of “hurry up and get on with it so I can see what happens next I’ve waited 300 pages will what happens next to (whichever plotlines I’m most impatient about) even be in this book?”) and the repetitiveness of certain things.

        With you on liking most of the female leads,. at least when they’re with each other and not the guys; for some reason I thought you’d previously said they weren’t well developed and were like the same person in different roles? Which I didn’t think at all. That must have been someone else’s comment. Where we most differ there (from what I recall) is that while I always liked Elayne and Min and Av and Verin and Moraine and even Suian. Egwene wound up much beloved but took a while to grow on me–early books I really didn’t think she was very fleshed out, and Nynaeve was always one of your favorites, I think, but I didn’t particularly care for her in the early books, either; wound up liking her a lot, but it took a while. She and Egwene really hit their stride around the time Ran started being AWOL and Perrin got bogged down

        The 3 male leads — yeah on Mat; really nice arc all the way through. And I thought the same of Rand. The only thing about him that truly drives me nuts is the way he keeps ignoring one particular developing problem that, errrr, I don’t want to say much, because I can’t remember exactly when it got so glaringly obvious, though I think you are well past this point, but, aaaaaaaaaaaah!!!

        Of course, most of his issues can be explained by a combination of youth, overwhelming pressure every single day, having a crazy dude in your head, feeling sick all the time, being in pain all the time, having too many things to cope with at once and never a bit of relief, and the madness-taint, which I think is handled really well.

        Perrin–you’d think he woulda been my favorite character cause of the animal connection, but his arc does get boring sometimes. It took a while for his character to grow on me, also. That also improves later on, thankfully. And igg, hope this was semi-coherent.

        • Marie Brennan

          The sprawl is in some ways easier to handle now, when a) I already know the plot and b) am paying attention to structural and thematic issues, rather than trying to get invested in the story. It was a real problem, though, when I waited two years or more for a book to come out, and then what I received was full of padding rather than plot.

          The women . . . I both like them and think they gradually merge into one horrible person. Which is to say, I detest the way they all decide men are stupid woolheads who need to be gently manipulated and/or yelled at to the right thing, and how their attitudes toward sex can mostly be summed up as “fascinated prudery,” and how they claim they don’t really care about clothes yet become obsessed with them at the oddest moments, etc. I have to actively shove that stuff out of the way in my head to get at the stuff I do like, which includes Egwene’s growing political savvy, Nynaeve’s courage, and so on. If Nynaeve stayed with not caring about clothes (except perhaps where Lan is concerned), and Egwene was consciously leveraging them for political/public image uses, and Elayne embraced semi-Domani behavior as a weapon in her social toolkit — or something else that differentiated their attitudes more clearly — I’d be a lot happier.

          My problem with Rand is that I feel like he stops having a character arc as such, beginning with maybe TFoH. Plot still happens to him, but his inner state keeps pounding on the same limited set of notes: “I have to be hard, I can’t let pain stop me, oh no I’m going crazy, I’m a horrible person for loving three women, here’s a list of every woman who’s died helping me, etc.” His mental state isn’t a priori bad, but I don’t recall a lot of change in it between TFoH and where I stopped reading, except that cleansing saidin took away the fear of going crazy. I suspect it’s an artifact of the extent to which the series starts being about people other than its central character.

          Perrin, I think Jordan got bored with. He’s the solid, dependable one, and that can be hard to portray in an interesting fashion.

  6. havocthecat

    I’ve been enjoying these posts a lot! Thanks for doing them.

    • Marie Brennan

      You’re welcome! I’m doing them at such a slow pace, it’s hard to be sure how interesting they are for other people.

      • havocthecat

        You can just tell everyone you’re doing them slow so you’re keeping with the spirit of the novels and their release dates. Honestly, who would doubt that? πŸ˜‰

        These are reminding me of things I loved and hated, and pointing out things that, frankly, I didn’t always realize when I was reading them as a baby proto-feminist *mumble* years ago, so I’m finding the posts endlessly fascinating. I have LJ set to email me a notification whenever you post a WoT-tagged entry.

        • Marie Brennan

          You can just tell everyone you’re doing them slow so you’re keeping with the spirit of the novels and their release dates. Honestly, who would doubt that? πŸ˜‰

          <snerk> No, if I do that I’ll open myself up to all kinds of mocking speculation as to whether I’ll ever finish . . . .

          I didn’t realize most of these things either, back when I first read the books. Now I have college, grad school, and novels of my own under my belt, which provide a lot of perspective.

  7. tenillypo

    Found these reviews through a link on my friendslist — great job! It’s nice to see thoughtful criticism of the series. πŸ™‚

    I think you’re dead on with the explanation for Faile’s behavior with Perrin. It’s still a problematic dynamic with that in mind; mostly because it’s incredibly obvious from the text that she’s aware Perrin is from a different culture and doesn’t understand her perspective and yet she STILL outright refuses to just explain it to him for way, way too long. And Jordan is typically hamhanded about presenting it is a gender essentialist way. But yes, I think for Faile, it’s all about respect. When he refuses to yell at her, he’s telling her that he doesn’t think she’s strong enough to handle it; when he yells at Berelain, he’s complimenting her strength.

    Re: Mat and Tyling, it’s my understanding that we are supposed to be disturbed by their whole dynamic. At least, according to this post:

    “RJ wrote the Mat/Tylin scenario as a humorous role-reversal thing. His editor, and wife, thought it was a good discussion of sexual harassment and rape with comic undertones. She liked it because it dealt with very serious issues in a humorous way. She seemed to think it would be a good way to explain to men/boys what this can be like for women/girls, showing the fear, etc.”

    …which is an interesting idea in theory. Of course, the idea that they could have a “funny” story about rape is where I think it went off the rails in execution. Lord, I hate the Tylin story so, so much.

    • mojave_wolf

      Re: explanatory comment: For the sake of my peace of mind, I’m going to pretend I never read that. OMFG. To quote one of my favorite Battlestar Galactica lines: “Well, that was a bust.”

      Okay, what were we talking about again? Oh yeah, Tuon, and the game of stones, and the circus …

    • Marie Brennan

      Glad you’re enjoying them! Feel free to dig back into any of the old posts; I don’t mind belated comments.

      Leigh Butler’s recaps make the argument, and I think convincingly, that Jordan very deliberately makes a pattern of characters not telling each other things — and furthermore he intends that to be a problem and a failing on their part, one that never ends well. Which I can see, and wouldn’t even necessarily mind, if it weren’t that it goes on for. freaking. EVER. (thanks to the length and pacing issues of the series as a whole). Also, it’s a problem everybody seems to have, which is both repetitive and unrealistic.

      Mat and Tylin: augh. Jesus. Yeah, I almost wish I hadn’t seen that. I’m not sure which bothers me more, the idea that RJ and those around him didn’t notice the rape-y aspect, or the idea that they thought this was a good treatment of it. The closest ACoS comes to addressing it is Elayne saying “oh, that’s very bad of Tylin; we’ll talk to her for you.” Which would be an appropriate response if Tylin had been, oh, dragging Mat off to the theater when he really didn’t want to go. As a response to the actual situation, it isn’t anywhere near sufficient. And Mat’s reaction is all wrong, too: the realization that he’ll miss Tylin is squick-tastic in this context, and his feelings about everyone teasing him are totally off-base if we were meant to read the situation as problematic. Mat doesn’t ever seem afraid, not in the way that women and girls do in similar situations.

      All of which probably comes about because, as you say, they thought they could have “comic undertones” to a plot about sexual harrassment and rape. It can be humorous if Mat’s just freaking out about the reversal of gender roles, finding himself in the position of object rather than subject. As soon as coercion comes into the picture, though, it stops being funny — or it should.

      Anyway, thanks for sharing that; it does shed some (unpleasant) light on the topic.

      • tenillypo

        Leigh Butler’s recaps make the argument, and I think convincingly, that Jordan very deliberately makes a pattern of characters not telling each other things — and furthermore he intends that to be a problem and a failing on their part, one that never ends well.

        I think that’s true; miscommunication and misunderstanding is certainly a common theme throughout the series. I agree that it gets tiresome when there’s never any variation. But at the same time I appreciate that Jordan doesn’t fall into the opposite trap that I see a lot in other fantasy books, which is that everyone always seems to know exactly what they need to know about how other characters are thinking/feeling in order to move the plot in the direction the author wants; making all your characters mindreaders all the time equally unrealistic.

        The trick, I suppose is moderation which sadly Jordan never managed. He did like to beat a theme to death, bless him. πŸ™‚

        • Marie Brennan

          Good point, and not just in people being mindreaders; characters often also share information too willingly, because the plot requires it. (I’ve been guilty of that myself.)

          The trick, I suppose is moderation which sadly Jordan never managed. He did like to beat a theme to death, bless him. πŸ™‚

          Truer words were ne’er spoken. πŸ™‚

          • tenillypo

            Yes! Either too willingly or too accurately — because in real life, even when people are trying to work together, they don’t always understand exactly what the other person needs to know. So I do like the way Jordan makes it clear that all the characters are somewhat unreliable narrators because all of them have their own prejudices and knowledge gaps. And I do like that they frequently don’t share information that could really help each other, often because they just don’t know what’s relevant to the other person’s situation.

            It’s when it drags on for so long, and is so pointless — as with Faile simply refusing to communicate basic info about her emotional needs to her own damn husband — that it gets super, super tiresome.

            I’ll be interested to hear your opinions on the Sanderson books. I think he does a much better job at having the characters communicate with each other, but not always without escaping the contrivance trap.

          • Marie Brennan

            Well, on the current schedule I should be getting to Sanderson sometime around the end of this year. πŸ™‚ Given that he was hired to write one book, which turned into three, and at that he’s still having to haul ass to make the plot actually wrap up, I kind of can’t blame him for taking shortcuts in getting the characters to TALK to each other . . . .

          • tenillypo

            I know, right? I can’t imagine trying to tackle that many plot threads and wrap them up in one, three or five books, honestly. On the whole, I think he’s done a remarkably good job. I like a lot of the things he’s done, and he’s an efficient writer, which god knows these books need. His prose has a slightly different flavor than Jordan’s, and sometimes he makes word choices that feel… wrong… for the time period Jordan’s trying to invoke. But that was probably inevitable.

            I have some issues with his characterization for Mat, though. And since Mat’s one of my favorites, I tend to fixate on those issues. On the other hand, I like his Nynaeve a lot, and she’s my very favorite… like I said, I’ll be interested in your thoughts. πŸ™‚

          • Marie Brennan

            A friend who read The Gathering Storm (and is a big fan of Mat’s) said it felt to him as if Sanderson liked Mat too much — and as a result, wrote him as too heroic, with not enough of his flaws.

          • Anonymous

            I’m a big fan of latter-day Nynaeve (it’s so hard to say “Sanderson’s” or “Jordan’s” because we don’t really know who is doing what); I think she’s shown herself to have grown the most as a person and a character of the Supergirls the past few books.

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