Top critical review
The Waste Of Time, part 2: Tolkien and Herbert should launch a class action lawsuit from the Beyond.
Reviewed in Australia on 24 April 2020
There’s some good stuff here (villains, some action, big finale) but WAY too much pointless description, repetition and outright theft from other, better, more original (and competent) writers for this series to enjoy the “classic” status fans would have us believe it deserves.
In this installment, for example, we are treated to the Alia-like haunted voices from the past that disturb our heroes in the present, making them question their true identities. How much more can this author steal from Frank Herbert's “Dune” series?
Most intolerable however, are the female characters - and no, my objection is not because they are assertive women - but because they are just badly written...They’re the SAME; argumentative, prudish, judgemental, ignorant and naive, overly critical, tone deaf. And there’s no escaping them in any storyline. Even (!) when they enter the entirely tedious dreamworld, they spend at least half of their lengthy chapter allocation worrying about their fantasy outfit and if it will merit the disapproval of their snippy, overly critical dream pals who, as an aside, just so happen to be planning the defence of the world from the destructive forces of evil - better not let that hemline slip when you’re trying to avert the Apocalypse! Like so much in this series, it’s fetishised, strangely off-kilter, hack stuff. If your characters are going to be regularly distracted by this petty nonsense, ignoring the world-ending stakes, why should the reader invest their emotional energy in a story no one, not even the characters, seem capable of taking seriously?
And speaking of fetishes, am I the only one left a little uncomfortable by the author’s lingering male gaze on Nynaeve’s oft-mentioned ample breasts and generous figure? Yikes!
More damaging for the story though, is that these characters all have the same inner monologue, they all exhibit the same behavioural ticks (what’s up with all the mumbling and sniffing?), they all undergo the SAME story arc wherein they lose their centre of power and then struggle endlessly to reassert themselves in the most petty, inefficient and soap-opera-like way possible: In short, they all feel like clones of the Nynaeve template established in book one. I’m almost 5000 pages in at this point and they’re still at it! And none of it feels like deliberate artistry, wherein each character or storyline throws a revealing and nuanced light upon the other. Whatever the author’s ambitions, it all comes across as pointlessly repetitive and dramatically empty.
Of course, it’s all made so much worse by the fact that these “heroic” female characters are all so relentlessly unlikeable. If further evidence of Jordan’s gender myopia was needed, almost to a man, the guys, while universally two dimensional, get better, slightly more varied and certainly more sympathetic treatment from the author. The men are “Ta’veren”, natural if unwilling leaders whereas the women invariably act in bad faith, are secretive back room manipulators and flat out bullies.
These faults are further magnified as Jordan has been let down by overly-indulgent editing. All the books could be considerably shorter and more effectively constructed - think of Mat’s anticlimactic confrontation with the rebel Aiel or Nynaeve’s multi-chapter obsession with that red dress. This author’s understandable desire to provide the genre with a more balanced gender representation post-Tolkein is another example of the pitfalls of agenda-pushing at the expense of art. Unfortunately, he just doesn’t seem to understand women in positions of power at all - we know that female dominated leadership models tend toward group decision making and consultation rather than the Uber-Thatcherite nonsense every woman in a leadership role displays in this tediously monotone series. If indeed, as I have been told, the unending tone deafness of these women is the result of a jaundiced world view resulting from the “tainted magic” that underpins the story, the author is then seriously guilty of a fatal lack of imagination. Why would a powerful matriarchal society revert to this endlessly juvenile default setting? In our own male-dominated society I fail to see how every leader with an xy chromosome is the same testosterone driven, uber-competitive bully; recall the bemused reaction of NATO leaders as Trump pushed his way to the front of the group for a photo op, or the incredulous eye rolling at the latest instance of his embarrassing ignorance. A competent author would allow for some variety of character types and styles while staying thematically on-message. After all, Jordan seems focused on creating variety in his “world building”, why not in character representation? All too often in fact, Jordan doesn’t write to his strengths - crafting large battle sequences, duels, etc. Instead, in seeking to empower female characters in Fantasy, he creates such intolerable, myopic and unbearable cartoon stereotypes that the reader is left wondering why they were ever given authority In the first place. It’s just not dramatically convincing - and in Fantasy it’s so important to get the basics right the further you depart from reality. Things might change further down the track, but for God’s sake!, we’re 5 oversized books in at this point.
And as for romance - let’s just concede that Jordan’s totally inept. Is there any reader out there who finds this insta-love rubbish anything but the worst kind of Illogical, poorly executed, soap opera dreck? For a series that wants to be a more realistic take on “Lord Of The Rings”, this unconvincing rom-com nonsense is both infantile and worse, tonally inconsistent. Reading it feels like watching the next instalment of an endless daytime soap, or being forced to sit through a well-intentioned production by your local amateur dramatics society: For all the effort, it just doesn’t quite work and you’re left bored and slightly embarrassed for everyone involved. I mean! (*sigh*) an igloo sex one-nighter (which took a book and a half to set up) followed by Aviendha’s “Days Of Our Lives“ assertion of “never again” is just the worst kind of “stay tuned” padding I’ve read outside of a daytime TV soap opera script. Who’s on board for this rubbish? Who behaves like this? Fantasy or not, it just doesn’t ring true. There’s more padding here than a lunatic’s holding cell - and at least there it serves an important purpose. Tell me, other than dragging the story out, what’s the aim here?
Which, at last, brings me to my biggest complaint about these books - despite first impressions, there’s actually not enough story to go around. It’s just not good enough to ask the reader to wade through 700+ pages or so of repetition, inactivity and pettiness only to be rewarded with a 100-150 page action finale for their efforts. Time and again, our characters either disappear for entire volumes or story-wise they have little to do and readers are left circling the wagons. People with nothing to do obsessively talk about themselves and other people - a truism this series amply, generously demonstrates. It’s beyond tedious! And speaking of wagons, the extended cross-continent trek with the menagerie is a text-book example of pointless fantasy world “saddle exposition” if there ever was one, and serves no other purpose than to get our characters from A to B, as the introduction of the new character we meet could have occurred anywhere. This could have easily been dropped after a chapter. Not only here, but taken as a whole, the pacing in these books is terrible! One assumes that Jordan created the way gates for this very purpose. Here is yet another example when their use would have been most welcome!
This series follows the law of diminishing returns; each book just gets more amateurish and annoying than the last as Jordan seems increasingly free to indulge his obsession with petty minutiae - and the next one is another 1000 page tome! Talk about overstaying your welcome...
So...I hereby announce my retirement from the series. There are so many better books out there by other, more talented writers. Fantasy should be fantastic, not this much of a chore.
Well...that’s a load off.
ps...Who outside of a Warner Bros. cartoon or your local retirement home, actually, audibly mumbles? It’s sassafrasin’ ridiculous!