Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan

Publisher: Tor Books - Pages: 896 - Buy: Book/eBook

As I believed I mentioned somewhere earlier in one of my commentaries, A Crown of Swords was actually the first WoT book that I read. I was in the midst of my MA exams (I want to say I purchased the book during the week between my MA writtens and my MA orals) and I wanted something light to read. I was doing my usual late-night grocery shopping when I thumbed through the books in the display. One of them looked somewhat promising. Said it was one of several books by this author (I should note that this was the alternate paperback cover that didn’t feature any of Darrell Sweet’s artwork, or else I might not have ever picked up the book in the first place), but no indication if this series was a bunch of stand-alones or part of an ongoing serial. Since it was only $7 or so and I was bored, I picked it up and read it the next day/night or two between my readings on the Second International.

There weren’t quite as many “Oh hell, why did I decide to re-read this and to do so without skipping paragraphs at a time?” moment as there were in the previous two volumes.

I remember finding the thing to be a sort of mystery (obvious, since there were six volumes before it), but I was quickly able to figure out the particulars based on the repetitions within the text. It was a nice antidote to the heavier historical monographs that I had been reading, so I decided to buy the first six volumes and read them in order (once I was in a bookstore a week later and could browse the SF/F shelves, almost for the first time, for this mostly-unknown-to-me author).

I believe I re-read it a couple more times between early November 1997 and the autumn of 2000. None of those subsequent re-reads appealed to me as much as the initial read did and I found myself thinking even worse of this novel after finishing my first re-read of it in nearly 10 years. And yet, there weren’t quite as many “Oh hell, why did I decide to re-read this and to do so without skipping paragraphs at a time?” moment as there were in the previous two volumes. Of course, this is probably due to the fact that A Crown of Swords was nearly 150 pages shorter than its predecessors.


Although I noticed this occurring to some extent in the earlier novels (and especially in the fifth and sixth volumes), there was an ungodly amount of attempts to have situational comedy tropes within this novel. I have no problems with comedies of manners; Henry Fielding’s 18th century classic, Tom Jones, is one of my all-time favorite novels. But this novel was overloaded with these attempts to juxtapose the serious with the ridiculous. It would have been one thing if Jordan had interspersed these moments better or have more variations on the theme of showing how little people understand each other (and how that lack of understanding is the inverse of how confident they are about their abilities to understand others). But ohhhhh noooo….Jordan just had to bludgeon the reader throughout the entire narrative and virtually every single subplot with near-countless repetitions of the same type of character interaction and character response. It felt ham-handed and rather numbingly dull after a while.

Related to this was the sense of stagnation that I got when reading the PoVs of several characters. Despite Jordan’s attempts to portray some development, several of the main characters felt as though they had been stuck in a rut for the past 3-5 novels and that they would still react in the same oft-ridiculous fashions. From having Elayne and Nynaeve screw up yet once again in negotiating with another to them somehow making it through, to the PoV females universally treating the male characters, especially Mat and to a lesser degree Rand and Perrin, like a rotting skunk carcass (and the males beginning their emo-like stages of handling this), to the tinny EVILness of the Black Ajah and the surviving Forsaken, it just all felt as though I were watching a bunch of episodes of Scooby-Doo Mysteries back-to-back-to-back-to-back and seeing the same structures repeating themselves. Combine that with the overdoing of the comedy and I found myself struggling to engage with the story.

The storylines here are more like post-coital moments – slow, languid.

Crown of Swords by Robert JordanThe storylines here are more like post-coital moments – slow, languid, with not much sense of urgency after the storm had broken, which I suppose is an ironic sentiment to have, considering the talk near the end of the novel about a storm that was coming. There’s barely any resolutions to speak of, outside of Rand and the Forsaken Sammael (I will not eat it with a fox or in a box, Sam-I-Am!). The Bowl of the Winds subplot is left unresolved, as it still hasn’t been used at the novel’s end and the weather is still screwy there. Egwene is still fighting for control of the rebel forces and the march continues. A cliffhanger or two is interspersed as well.

Oh, I’m certain that fans of the series will argue that there are some key developments. To a small extent, they would be correct. More prophecies are uttered, the Hero moves toward becoming like the Arthurian Fisher King, and chaos is being reaped. If anything, the baddies’ real dastardly plan is revealed here, as the remaining Forsaken, power-hungry and thus blinded by their greed and ambition, are just fronts for a nasty shell game, where the objective is really to unravel reality and to spread chaos throughout the land in order to smooth the road for the Dark One to burst forth. That is actually an interesting twist to the series so far and I would applaud it, if only Jordan could have created a more plausible rationale in the earlier novels. Here, it just feels a bit stuck on.

The usual complaints about the writing and the prose are again raised upon this latest re-read. I’ve already mentioned before how grating I find continual repetition and when it is coupled with a limited range of adjectives for character actions, this becomes magnified. Jordan never really was a good sentence crafter, but here it felt as though he were using sentences of character and clothing description to cover up perceived deficiencies in the dialogues. It is sad that a running joke about this series is that of women sniffing while smoothing their blue slashed with cream skirts. Strip away the extraneous description and very little happens within the character exchanges outside of the above-mentioned monotonous comedy of manners.

Too many dull and redundant moments for me to be enthused about reading it.

But yet there was a greater sense of focus here. The Rand and Ebou Dar chapters get a lot of play and while the Ebou Dar one overplayed its comedic elements, any enjoyment I derived from the book came from reading the Rand chapters. Perhaps it is because I am aware of how this plays out in the following five volumes, but I did find Rand’s progression into a hardened, ruthless character to be fairly well-done. Sure, there were times that he moaned too much in the internal monologues (which still continue to plague me whenever I read this series), but on the whole, the character actually had some believable development done over the course of this novel.

So while it wasn’t as disjointed in feel as was Lord of Chaos, A Crown of Swords contained too many dull and redundant moments for me to be enthused about reading it. Onwards and upwards. After all, on the heights The Path of Daggers awaits.

Written by Larry Nolen

Larry Nolen

Larry Nolen is a language arts and history teacher who does occasional freelance translation work of Spanish and Portuguese-language authors. He has had several articles and interviews published in Spanish, French, and Portuguese translations. He is the editor of The OF Blog.

  • Amit Doshi March 28, 2013 at 12:08 am

    I am dissapointed that this series of articles is continuing. One of the things I have always liked about the online Fantasy community at large was that its a generally friendly place even among peope who disagree with each other. This series of articles comes of to me as similar to the recent phenomenon of hate watching. I am not saying that no one should have a negative opinion about things and only happy stuff should be put online, but this crosses a line into relentless negativity that I am not enjoying. Make of my opinion what you will.

  • Aidan Moher March 28, 2013 at 6:40 am

    I’m sorry you feel that way, Amit. I believe that Larry’s experience with the novels is a familiar one to many of Jordan’s readers, however.

  • J March 28, 2013 at 8:30 am

    I agree with Amit here. Yes, certainly most Wheel of Time readers are familiar with the manifest flaws of the series, and yet still manage to find enjoyment from it. A post or two are fine, but I don’t see the need for an exhausting 14-part torrent of negativity. (15? New Spring! Why miss the opportunity for more slagging?!) Although he reviews interesting material with a different perspective than many SFF bloggers, I stopped reading Larry’s blog because of his tendency towards condescension and snide writing. I’d rather not see that propagated here.

  • Justin March 28, 2013 at 8:36 am

    I disassociate myself with the remarks of the two commenters above.

  • Adam (@sensawunda) March 28, 2013 at 8:48 am

    As far as negative reviews go, I find Larry’s to be pretty restrained. He’s raising legitimate points about certain shortcomings of this series. There needs to be this sort of dialogue to temper fandom’s need to exalt certain works. The WoT reviews that ADoI is re-rerunning are not mean-spirited, they are truthful, well-thought out criticisms to a popular series. But of course, they are also his own personal feelings. I definitely wouldn’t consider this sort of review, “hate watching” in the way critics like Only Requires That You Hate review works (however enlightening and poignant they may be).

    As far as the quantity of reviews, there are, after all, 14 books in the series (15 if you count the prologue work). And the reviews for the first books were more positive than negative. Like Aidan said, this ennui with the later volumes is something that is heard quite often, even from people who adore the series.

    The fact that Larry Nolen does review works in ways not often seen by the genre community at large is just more validation for the importance of this criticism.

  • SMD March 28, 2013 at 8:52 am

    What Adam said.

    Or, in my silly slang head: word.

  • Django Wexler March 28, 2013 at 9:04 am

    I agree with Adam above. I’m actually enjoying these re-read posts a lot.

  • Amit Doshi March 28, 2013 at 10:04 am

    I am having a tough time articulating my point here. Marie Brennans reread on her live journal was also pretty negative(, but that didnt feel like hate watching to me, that felt like someone explaining what they liked and didnt about the series. This feels like Mr. Nolen is seeking out the stuff he dooesnt like and than be as nasty about it as possible.

    I absolutely understand that as much as I like the series its not for everyone and I am always interested in understanding why it does or does not work for certain people. I just am not getting that out of this series of articles. I am probably wrong given that more people are enjoying these revies than not.

  • Silence March 28, 2013 at 10:48 am

    I have to ask if we will see more critical reviews like these, or are they only reserved for the Wheel of Time? I ask this because anyone who frequents any Wheel of Time communities knows that the reviewer dislikes the books, perhaps even disdains them. Would you allow a member of Something Awful or Is Winter Coming to review books written by GRRM? Because I do not see much of a difference between the reviewers other than the people from the detractor sites tend to like the books, if not the author.

    I would recommend that if you truly want to introduce honest critical reviews, then bloggers should simply finish the books they do not like, and then write their reviews critically. After all, most of you book bloggers get your books for free, the least you can do is finish them…

  • Aidan Moher March 28, 2013 at 10:51 am

    In the past week, I’ve published critical reviews of Redshirts by John Scalzi and A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan. I don’t believe either of those are related to the Wheel of Time series, though I may be wrong.

  • Larry March 28, 2013 at 10:57 am

    Interesting to see that reprinted three-year-old reviews can still spark some interesting reactions…

    Amit, based on your comments, I suspect that you either did not read or did not read carefully the introduction to my commentary on The Eye of the World, as that would certainly put to rest your odd claim that I was “seeking out the stuff he doesn’t like and than (then?) be as nasty about it as possible.” I have had times (early on, granted) where I was enthused about the series (the late 1990s), times where I didn’t want to read another word (2000-2006), times of apathy (2006-2009), brief reflowering of interest (2009-2010), and dismay at the conclusion (2010-2013). Those reviews that I wrote in 2010 (to be distinguished from my 2009, 2010, 2013 reviews of Sanderson’s completion of the series) are meant to reflect the shifts in my attitude over those time periods and I suspect it is my mixture of personal history and literary criticism that led Aidan to ask me a couple of months ago if he could reprint the reviews here.

    I don’t disparage those who read the series (OK, I tease those who take it too seriously, but that’s still different from outright dismissal of über-fans), but it is odd to see your claim that you “absolutely understand” and “am always interested” in seeing why the series doesn’t work for certain people and then interpret my reviews as being “nasty.” The dissonance there is rather odd, to say the least.

    For what it’s worth, there are some elements that I praise in some of the upcoming volumes, as well as many continued criticisms.

  • Silence March 28, 2013 at 11:21 am

    Maybe it is just me, but there seems to be a difference between reading a book and disliking it, then writing a critical review, and someone openly disliking a series and writing reviews with the intention of picking the series apart. That is cool if you let other bloggers do the same thing with other series, not so much if you only single out the Wheel of Time series.

  • Larry March 28, 2013 at 11:34 am

    Silence, please live up to your handle name for a moment and read what I said above. Your reduction of my complex relationship with the series to facile dislike/hatred is wrong-headed, to say the least, but it’s also telling that you seem to associate me purely with that series. Very odd. But for your edification, here is a best-selling author commenting on my blog, even when I said just as critical things about his series. I give you George R.R. Martin.

    Enjoy ;)

    P.S. I really wish those who have problems with my reviews could argue points from the books themselves that might refute my points of criticism rather than just pouting and moaning about me saying “mean things.” Such moanings do make the complainers look pathetic and do nothing to rebut the arguments made in the reviews/commentaries.

  • Leave a Response
    You must be logged in to comment. Log in