I’ve reached the halfway point at least in this series to date. Death is like a feather, duty like a mountain, and around 5000 pages of WoT is like carrying a 400 lb. woman wearing spandex and a tube top on your shoulders as you run up that mountain. Not the most pleasant of images, true, but this book was much more of a slog than the previous book, The Fires of Heaven, had proven to be.
When I first read Lord of Chaos back in November 1997, I even then found it to be the most difficult of the seven books to date to enjoy. Back then, used as I was to reading cultural and religious histories in English and German, it wasn’t the size of the novel that daunted me but rather how disjointed it felt. Nearly 13 years later, that sense of disjointedness was even more pronounced. It was a struggle at times to pay attention to what was transpiring, which might explain in a perverse fit of reasoning why I am reviewing it so soon after completing it (I finished it about an hour before I began writing this post), when I typically wait 1-2 days. Between the often-interchangeable character types (Aes Sedai, Cairhein, Aiel, Forsaken, Tairens, etc.) and the over-explanations of things that I first read about several books ago, I fear my own complaints may become just as repetitive if I don’t spice them up with some actual observations.
The story begins a few weeks after the events of The Fires of Heaven. But instead of opening with the wind blowing its way through some po-dunk village, there is a lengthy (72 p. in my MMPB edition) prologue that begins with one of the hitherto-hidden baddies, Demandred (so demonic, that), meeting up with a new baddie, an ultra-tall eyeless Myrddraal, Shaidar Haran, where some sort of ret-conning seems to be taking place about the ultimate Shadow-y goals. Perhaps Jordan wanted the Dark Side to be seen as being more competent than the EVIL Snidely Whiplashes of the first five volumes. Or perhaps this had been planned the entire way. Regardless of intent, there were several times while reading this novel and reflecting back upon the earlier ones where I wondered if the real evilness was in having a Space Invaders-sort of feel, where as each EVIL level/Forsaken is destroyed, the others move faster and faster, making it more and more difficult for the Light/Good side to keep up.
For a novel of 1011 MMPB pages, Lord of Chaos felt more like 900 pages of scene description and vague foreshadowing than an actual narrative progression. There were three main locales in this novel: Caemlyn (Rand at times/some Aiel/later Perrin/later Min), Cairhein (Rand at other times/more Aiel/some Mat/early Egwene), and the rebel Aes Sedai base of Salidar (Elayne/Nynaeve/early Min/rebel leaders/late Egwene/late Mat). A fourth locale, Ebou Dar, took place so late in the novel that it serves more like a non-hanging cliffhanger element than anything really important to this particular novel. Each of the three on the surface would appear to get ample space for plot/character developments, but due to the unfortunate tendency of the author to try and elaborate over and over again how Aes Sedai X is in this camp and sniffs this way while Aes Sedai Y huffs another way and belongs to another camp while Aes Sedai Z is in a third camp and looks down her nose at uppity Accepted and/or males, the Salidar scenes felt more like hundreds of pages of wet hens sitting around while the trainees Elayne and Nynaeve “discover” some “lost” Talents that the captured Forsaken Moghedien is forced to show them. The Rand chapters are okay, except it’s more of a holding pattern there until the end, while the Egwene ones are the only ones that show any semblance of actual character development, as she gets her ass whipped for admitting to lying to her Aiel Wise One teachers. It was a growing moment, seriously, although the nakedness and the beatings (with the nudity repeated shortly afterward in Salidar) was a bit much.
Death is like a feather, duty like a mountain, and around 5000 pages of WoT is like carrying a 400 lb. woman wearing spandex and a tube top on your shoulders as you run up that mountain.
Like I said in my The Fires of Heaven commentary, the clunky prose, the repetitive and increasingly-long descriptions, and the odd breaks in scenes to follow other characters led to a sense of disjointed prose. I feel more strongly than ever that Jordan made a mistake in giving so much space to these relatively extraneous subplots. In trying to have several parallels among the male/female interactions, the outside cultures clashings, and other such examples of a comedy of manners occurring, the overall focus is lost. Perhaps Demandred was laughing at the end about letting the “Lord of Chaos” (presumably Rand and his being tied down with rule rather than trying to whip Forsaken ass and strengthening the Dark One’s prison) rule because in letting full rein be given to the other subplots, Jordan seems to have been inching nearer and nearer to narrative progression defeat as his purported main protagonist, Rand, is slowly seen being diverted away from plotline victory.
Shall be interesting to see how I view the next volume, A Crown of Swords, since that book was actually the first WoT novel that I read. Hopefully I can find the inner strength to continue on, as these middle volumes were much worse than I had remembered them being.