Reviewed in Australia on 13 March 2020
I could forgive the plagiarism of book one once the story really got going, and become totally immersed in book two with its more consistent pacing, but doubts began half way through book three when the dull White Tower “mystery” plodded along and the girls began their trademark bickering.
Then we meet the Aiel (more properly, Fremen) and Aviendha makes her welcome appearance. But of course, in a repetitive tendency that becomes increasingly intolerable as the series progresses, she is robbed of her power in this volume and devolves into a supremely impatient and vindictive complainer whose company this reader found quickly tiresome. In book four we also endure Faile’s crazy, tone deaf behaviour, the amateurishly two dimensional Wise Ones (whose advice is self-serving, abusively sexist and just plain stupid), not to mention the insufferable sniping of Nynaeve and the super friends. It’s endless! How is this meant to be entertaining, let alone amusing? Worse, they all have the SAME interior monologue - same thought patterns, same responses, expressed in the same imagery and the same wooden language. It’s amateur hour.
The defence the all-forgiving fan base offers is that a critical reader is “missing the point”; that in the cause of all-important “character growth”, we are also meant to find them insufferable, that we’re meant to dislike them, and that we’re meant to give them time to “grow” into more tolerable human beings. Yet, would you ask the same of say, Dostoyevsky’s Roskolnikov? Would you wade through another 8000 pages or so of “Crime and Punishment“ before finally witnessing his eventual redemption and renewal...? A skilled writer knows when to stop - an amateur hack labours the point to exhaustion: I make this obviously ridiculous comparison because uber-fans insist that the series deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as such timeless classics and that it’s only the supposed anti-Fantasy conspiracy that robs this dross of the recognition it apparently deserves - I kid you not!
Whenever anyone mentions the series’ obvious shortcomings, the fandom responds with, “But the foreshadowing!” My response - “Who cares?” Get the story right in the here-and-now, keep me interested as I’m reading, don’t tell me to grit my teeth and bear it on the promise that it will get better ten books or so into the future when it all apparently pays off. I’m already 4000 pages in at this point.
And then, there’s Rand. At least the girls were the author’s (largely unsuccessful) attempt at crafting an original narrative. “Dune“ anyone? Does any of this sound familiar?...Paul...sorry, Rand journeys to the deep desert, takes a potion, has a vision that clarifies his mission and cements his place as a prophet, returns with a new sense of purpose, and unites the fractious desert tribes behind his messianic leadership. Let’s be clear - stealing multiple plot points is in no way “paying homage”; it’s simple unacknowledged plagiarism. I could (barely) justify this kind of theft once, but twice is just another act of bad faith. Add to this the terrible pacing (the pointless chapter “Cold Rocks” laughably ends with Rand turning to his buddy and remaking that they need to get going - “Absolutely!” the reader thinks), the anticlimactic ending of the Perrin confrontation with the White Cloaks, (another undercooked threat), the similarly unconvincing wedding proposal/threat (is “bad romcom” a redundancy?) and the author’s clunky, ham-fisted symbolism of the earthquake, and it all adds up to a pretty tedious read.
This is a writer who can’t seem to do more than one thing at a time and divides his chapters into “character”, “culture” and “action”, treating each separately in prose that is at best uninteresting and prosaic, at worst, repetitive and overly, pointlessly descriptive. Take for example, the introduction to the sea peoples. We spend a chapter or two in the captain’s cabin, being told stuff that plays no real part in the story in this novel at least, while our main characters sit around and ask questions - it’s amateurish, artless and a waste of the reader’s time. We learn nothing new about our characters or the wider plot centred world around them - time just stops. It’s so tedious! - and it keeps happening. It’s the recurring tick of a hack writer, supported by the indulgent attitude of a largely absent, hands-off editor.
It’s a pity that Jordan learned the wrong lessons from Herbert. Instead of slavishly copying the story to the third part of “Dune”, he would have been better served had he taken note of how Herbert expertly reveals plot, character and theme, while simultaneously foreshadowing events and ideas soon to be played out - as ever Jordan didn’t invent anything or even do it that well - he just fetishised it. Take the death of Jamis in the former novel, it’s aftermath, implications and consequences and compare that one sequence to say, the endless greeting rituals, tedious descriptions of living conditions and three course meal and the Aiel seating arrangements so fetishistically described in this fourth outing; one is economically written and purposeful, the other bloated and clumsy. You’re never allowed to forget that there’s an unflattering gulf in these novels between the author’s intent and his inadequate level of requisite skill. He even gives up the pretence of originality when he names his desert community a “Sept” rather than Herbert’s “Sietch”. If Jordan’s not going to make an effort, why should we?
With all that said, the ending is good, if derivative. But, four thousand or so pages in and I’m realising that I’m spending way too much time in the company of an indifferently skilled, over-parted amateur. “The Slog” begins here.
There are so many other great books to read. I’m getting tired of justifying the need to push through this dreck.
By book four this series’ overly-defensive, shouty fan base reminds me a little of those placard waving families and friends of second rate American Idol contestants; you know the ones - those poor souls whose tone deafness is only matched by their misplaced loyalty to a no-talent tragic with delusions of Mariah. No amount of raucous cheering can drown out the discordant notes Robert Jordan so frequently hits.
I can almost hear Simon Cowell complaining, “WOT was that?”
I agree Mr Cowell - I agree...
Fantasy shouldn’t be this underwhelming and shrill.