Wheel of Time Reread #7: A Crown of Swords

In anticipation of the Jan 8, 2013 release of A Memory of Light, the fourteenth and final book in the Wheel of Time series, I’m rereading the entire series. Each book gets its own spoiler-filled post.

ACOSCoverA Crown of Swords is where the books start to really slow down – the whole book takes place over a couple of weeks, along with some events from the previous books from other perspectives. There’s a definite shift in writing style, there are more flashbacks and retrospectives, and more things happen off-screen. For instance, we see Sevanna’s view of Dumai’s Wells, and Egwene’s POV way before Moghedien goes missing.

Rand continues to make preparations to attack Sammael, and he is finally killed at the end of the book (although by Mashadar, not Rand). The Crown of Illian is offered to Rand (and renamed the Crown of Swords) – now he controls the Aiel, Illian, Tear, Andor and Cairhien. Aside from that, Rand doesn’t do a lot in this book – he does a lot of political maneuvering and moping. (Yeah, I know Rand has a hard life with immense amounts of responsibility, but it’s still not that interesting, despite all my sympathy).

Cadsuane finally shows up! I know she’s very polarising, but I love her. She’s the one Aes Sedai that doesn’t mind saying what she thinks, and although she treats Rand with little respect, I think it’s good for him that he sees that not everyone who wants to help him is either intimidated by him or loves him.

We finally meet some honourable nobles – the Cairhienin Lord Dobraine was shown to be honourable at the end of the previous book, but it continues here. We also meet Cairhienin Lady Caraline and the Tairen Lord Darlin, who were rebelling against Rand – one would assume that that meant they were annoying, but we find out that they’re just concerned about their homelands, and are actually pretty cool people. That’s what I love about Jordan’s books – he creates stereotypes, but then isn’t afraid to break them. Another example – we also meet someone from the Red Ajah that’s actually nice, hey Pevara! I think Teslyn is actually pretty cool too, although it’s not made clear in this book.

Morgase continues having the worst time in the world – she’s coerced into sleeping with Eamon Valda, and then the Seanchan attack and ask her to be their puppet ruler in Andor. She finally escapes, though (but as I recall from future books, she’s headed straight to Sevanna’s camp).

Nynaeve finally gets over her block! Maybe now she won’t be so angry all the time, since there’s no advantage anymore. I hope so, anyway. Oh, and Lan and Nynaeve get married, and everyone else thinks Lan is nuts but also step even more lightly around Nynaeve now. I can’t help but like Nynaeve, despite her total craziness, but I concur.

I like the story with the Kin – it advances the plotline of “how far the Aes Sedai have fallen” even more, and they seem like good people. I also like the Elayne and Nynaeve corral the Sea Folk Windfinders, and they all get out of there before the Seanchan arrive and make everyone damane (I’m attributing that to Mat’s lucky ta’veren-ness, since no one knew the Seanchan were attacking except for Nynaeve’s vague premonitions of a storm coming). And they even manage to find the Bowl of the Winds! And they apologise to Mat and start being (somewhat) nice to him!

Mat continues to be my favourite character – the scene I was waiting for where Mat and Birgitte realise who the other person is, and get drunk while reminiscing over memories of thousands of years ago… yeah. That’s one of my favourite scenes in the Wheel of Time. I forgot that the Horn of Valere connected them both, I was just assuming they’d get along because of their personalities. I also loved the moment where Mat realises that Birgitte is a woman that doesn’t confuse the hell out of him, and that women like that apparently exist.

The whole Mat/Tylin story always left me uncomfortable, especially the way everyone laughs at him about it. Reversing the genders would make it a horror story, but this is a problem that Jordan always has. Mat does have a bunch of funny moments though – especially the scene where he has different Aes Sedai factions pulling at him from different sides… literally, until his coat comes off. I’m so mad that Mat isn’t going to be in the next book.

Other things – I don’t think I picked up that Dashiva was Osan’gar on my first read. I knew there was something off about him, but I thought he was just going insane as male channelers are wont to do. Also, I was really confused about Elaida building a palace for the Amyrlin where she was clearly also worried about the Last Battle coming up, but Leigh Butler’s Wheel of Time reread points out that she’s being influenced by Mashadar/Mordeth since she was hanging out with Padan Fain earlier. Makes some sense. I’m sorry for what happened to Colavaere (I wish Rand didn’t have his Woman Hangup), but at least I’ll stop being reminded of this song.

I guess I should say a bit about Egwene, but there wasn’t that much – she’s still trying to consolidate power, and she’s fighting with some Forsaken-given headaches. And she’s taking after Rand (although she doesn’t know it) and demanding oaths of fealty from people. I thought Egwene was a lot more awesome in my first read, and I still can’t see why.

Last but not least – welcome back, Ishmael! You’re way better as Moridin-with-a-mysterious-connection-to-Rand than as “Ba’alzamon”.

A Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan (The Wheel of Time, #7)
Tor Books, 1996 | Buy the book

“Naamah’s Kiss”, “Naamah’s Curse” and “Naamah’s Blessing” by Jacqueline Carey

Naamah's Kiss coverYes, I’ve been reading a lot of Jacqueline Carey lately. (wait until I get to my Robin Hobb backlog – I’ve got four trilogies and a book of short stories to review…)

I don’t think there’s an official name for this trilogy, just “the Moirin trilogy”, but it’s the third trilogy in the Kushiel’s Legacy world (my review of the “Imriel trilogy“, and the individual books of the Phèdre trilogy: Kushiel’s Dart, Kushiel’s Chosen, and Kushiel’s Avatar.) It’s set a hundred years after the events of the previous books and features an entirely new protagonist – Moirin mac Fainche of the Maghuin Dhonn, who happens to be half D’Angeline. I pretty much have the same cricitisms and things I love for all three books, so I won’t be reviewing them separately.

Jacqueline Carey writes beautifully, I love the lush descriptions of her world, and I was really excited to see more of it – Ch’in, Bhodistan, Vralia, the Tatar steppes – even the New World! I thought the way Raphael ended up using Caim’s gift was ingenious. I love her subtle use of words, I love her characters, I love her twist on the “love conquers all” cliché.  I can’t not enjoy a Kushiel’s Legacy book… but these books didn’t live up to the previous trilogies. Here’s why:

Naamah's Curse cover

  • Moirin’s diadh-anam: As a child of the Maghuin Dhonn, Moirin has a very convenient thing called a diadh-anam. Whenever Moirin has to make a decision, it’s simple – she consults her diadh-anam. If it’s leaping, she says yes. If it’s still, she says no. This always turns out to be the right choice, and this means Moirin never has any internal conflict and turns out to be a Mary Sue. Her diadh-anam even points her to the direction she needs to go in next – it gives the idiom “moral compass” a whole new meaning. Very occasionally, her diadh-anam is silent, but Moirin ends up making the right choice anyway, and it leaps afterwards
  • Bao:  Bao is the worst character. He’s absolutely unbelievable. In Naamah’s Kiss, he’s surly and resentful, although a good fighter and protective of his master.  Then after a few months, Moirin realises that he’s beautiful? By book 2, he’s Moirin’s one true love and his character has changed completely – he’s now stubborn and confused, trying to figure out his feelings – kind of similar to Joscelin in Kushiel’s Chosen. In the third book, despite his ordeal at the end of the second, he’s suddenly a loving and patient husband – also like Joscelin in Kushiel’s Avatar – except he’s nowhere as awesome as Joscelin, and suffers by comparision. He should’ve been his own character – instead it seems like his character serves the plot rather than developing realistically.
  • The white savior: Like I said above, Moirin is very much a Mary Sue. Wherever she goes, she ends up finding sympathetic ears and changing the face of the society. In Ch’in, Snow Tiger ends up defying her father (something that never happens) to save the realm. In Vralia, she converts a fundamentalist Yeshuite to see the power of love and inspires him to go preach about it. In Bhodistan, she persuades the Rani to abolish the castle system. In Nauhatl lands, she persuades the emperor to give up human sacrifice. Not only does this reduce the lands she visits into stereotypes,  it’s just annoyinNaamah's Blessing coverg! Phèdre and Imriel manage to save the world multiple times without falling into this trope – Phèdre visits Khebel-im-Akkad without effecting women’s emancipation and Menekhet without changing the Hellene perception towards natives. Imriel visits Caerdicci Unitas without changing the stigma against homosexuality. It’s made all the more annoying by Moirin’s observations about how she’s not as good as the legends Imriel and Phèdre.
  • Moirin herself: Okay, Moirin is not that bad – she’s just bland. She has very little internal conflict because her diadh-anam tells her what to do, she’s Naamah and Anael’s child, and that makes her desires a lot tamer than Kushiel’s chosen, so that part  isn’t as much fun either. She had a lot of promise when she was a cave dwelling half-wild girl needing to understand D’Angeline society, but she figures that all out really quickly, which is boring. She’s just nice and kind and she has a destiny.

I still enjoyed the series, and if Carey wrote other books in this world, I’d pre-order them in an heartbeat. But I’d hope fervently they were more like the Phèdre and Imriel series’ than this one.

The Moirin trilogy is  Naamah’s Kiss, Naamah’s Curse and Naamah’s Blessing.

Naamah’s Kiss by Jacqueline Carey (Moirin Trilogy, #1)
Tor Books, 2009 | Buy the book

Naamah’s Curse by Jacqueline Carey (Moirin Trilogy, #2)
Tor Books, 2010 | Buy the book

Naamah’s Blessing by Jacqueline Carey (Moirin Trilogy, #3)
Tor Books, 2011 | Buy the book