[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 from Knife of Dreams onward.]
It occurs to me that it’s no longer accurate to title these posts “Revisiting the Wheel of Time,” since from here on out I’m not re-reading stuff; I’m reading it for the first time. But calling them “Visiting the Wheel of Time” sounds odd, so we’ll go with the parentheses approach.
The schedule, of course, has been one book every two months — but Crossroads of Twilight being the wasteland that it is, and New Spring being so short (it isn’t really; it’s 122K, which is perfectly respectable, but svelte next to the usual doorstops), I decided to “double up” for this round. It was the right decision; there isn’t really enough here to make me feel it would be worth that kind of pace.
It’s an odd book, really, and occupies an odd position in the series: a prequel written while Jordan was mired in the deepest part of the bog. It started out as a novella, then got expanded to a novel; I know I read the original version, but don’t remember exactly what it consisted of. (Did it start with Lan’s arrival in Canluum? I feel like it might, since that starts with a line about “new spring,” and it’s also where Lan comes back into the story, after being largely absent for the first 200 pages.) Sometimes novellas get expanded by tacking on more material before or after — and I’m pretty sure that’s at least a big part of what happened here — but I don’t know if the novella material also got expanded or altered.
I’m also not sure who the book is intended for. New readers? There’s so much in here that doesn’t get explained in the least, like who the Aiel are and why the rest of the continent is at war with them; I don’t even think the story gets around to explaining what exactly happened to Malkier until near the end of the book. Current readers? There’s too much explanation of things that were made abundantly clear long ago, and on the flip side, there just isn’t enough in here that’s new — that isn’t expansion of things we’d already been told about in the main books.
I read this book in publication sequence for a reason; I wanted to see how it fit in with what Jordan had already written when it came out, with what readers had seen. It turns out that a whole lot of its plot is stuff he had already talked about. I recognize the impulse; you build up backstory in your head, it works its way into the book, then you turn it into a piece of short fiction, or in this case a novella and then a novel. (That’s basically the sequence that produced Dancing the Warrior.)
But the risk, naturally, is that your readers say, “I already know this stuff.” In this case, we knew that Moiraine and Siuan had been novices and Accepted together. We knew about Gitara Moroso’s Foretelling and death. We knew Tamra Ospenya had sent searchers out to find the Dragon Reborn, and was subsequently murdered by the Black Ajah, along with those searchers. We’d even heard about the pond incident between Lan and Moiraine, and of course we knew he would end up her Warder. Furthermore, we knew that unless twenty years elapsed during this book, it was not going to end with Moiraine finding the Dragon Reborn . . . even though that’s basically the central plot.
Mind you, Jordan didn’t intend for New Spring to stand alone. It was supposed to be the first book of a prequel trilogy; the intarwebz tell me Book 2 was going to be about Tam in the army, finding Rand on Dragonmount, and Book 3 was going to lead up to the beginning of The Eye of the World. So the plot would have gotten resolution eventually. But what’s the point? We know where it’s going.
This is why the strongest parts of New Spring are the ones that haven’t already appeared as backstory in the main text. I don’t remember hearing anything before about Edeyn Arrel and her raising of the Golden Crane, her plans to marry Lan to her daughter, all the carneira business, etc. It is, of course, rife with Jordan’s usual “lemme make up some weird gender politics” fun, but I still found it the most interesting part, because it was all new.
New not just in plot terms, but also character. Although there’s definite entertainment in seeing wee!Moiraine, Siuan, and Lan (or at least less-experienced!Moiraine, Siuan, and Lan), those first two bear a regrettably strong resemblance to Egwene and Elayne, and to a lesser extent Nynaeve. They’re all at the same stage in life, and in the same society, which is going to produce a degree of similarity; but really, at its root this is Jordan’s usual difficulties with characterization — by which I mean writing more than one kind of female character. Lan at least comes across as different. He and Rand share a particular flavor of hard-ass-ness, but that’s because Lan taught Rand, and Lan’s Malkieri upbringing and historical burden make his thoughts distinct from those of a Two Rivers sheepherder. I can’t say I’m fond of the way his interactions with Moiriane go — they’re too heavily tinged with all the things I don’t like about Jordan’s gender politics — but I do like Lan himself, and his part of the story.
Jordan was reportedly “disappointed” by how poorly New Spring was received. I sort of wonder how he expected anything else. He was ten books into an ongoing and ever-growing series whose pacing was swirling the drain; years were elapsing between volumes, and less and less was happening in each one. If the series had been coming out reliably, each installment a full meal of exciting plot, and New Spring had come out as a little side dish — then yeah, fans probably would have loved it. But it felt like something we got instead of the next book, like the story, having stalled into a dead halt, was now going backward. There may be some interest in the other two prequel novels after the series is done, but at that point it’s going to feel like the Dune continuations: milking the franchise for the last drops of cash.
I asked in the text of the cut-tag whether an author can fanfic himself. That’s what New Spring comes across as, almost: canonical fanfiction. It picks up details from the text and tells a story about how they might have gone, putting flesh on those bones, just like I’ve seen people ask for in Yuletide prompts and the like. I have nothing against fanfiction (obviously), but in this context, I just find myself wishing this book had put together a new skeleton instead.
And from here we go to Knife of Dreams, at which point, for the first time since January 2003, I will finally resume forward motion through this story.