I started in August and finished on Wednesday.
I can say I still like this series and I’m stoked about the final book coming out in January.
I’ll talk about the four eras of books, the strengths and flaws on the series and the items left to resolve in the final instalment.
I see four eras to the series.
First is the original trilogy. Eye of the World, the Great Hunt, and The Dragon Reborn. These are the greatest books in the series. Each has a conclusive climax and a focus on Rand before others. ( although Rand is not POV for much of TDR, he remains the focus). They could be read as a whole and then put down. Millions of plot threads don’t get resolved, but the core works.
Then comes the next three books. The Shadow Rising, The Fires of Heaven, And The Lord of Chaos. The series changes as the main characters all separate at the start of TSR. Even now they’ve never all come together again. Instead of one main plot with side plot, the books now have 2-5 main plots. Rand continues to be the main focus with strong arcs in each book. This is where the world and the scope grows. Many of the coolest elements are explored here: the Aiel, Tel’aran’rhiod, the Ashaman, the split of the White Tower. The Forsaken become a larger influence. The sense that the series is endless starts, but each book is still pretty nifty.
Then books 7-10. Crown of Swords, Path of Daggers, Winter’s Heart, and Crossroads of Twilight. The wait between books grew. Many plots are started in COS that remain unfinished until Knife of Dreams. Rand loses the spotlight. Often he still does a major act, but sometimes it comes out of almost nowhere. COS and WH are the better books. COS gets to start all the plots. WH has more Rand and a firm purpose and main plot. But POD and COT are just not good. In both books nothing happens. COT is worse because it recovers the days in WH again and just goes nowhere. Also frustrating is many of the plots hold little interest. Perrin and Elayne and Nynaeve often have adventures that you just can’t care about. Finally the supporting cast grows to dizzying heights. Each plot has about 10 central characters.
Knife of Dreams stands alone. I’d put it in era 2 as far as my enjoyment and construction. The plots in 7-10 all get some closure. A ton happens. It was pretty cool.
Era four is the Sanderson books. It is hard to classify these. Sanderson writes differently than Jordan while trying to maintain plots, themes and characterization. I think he is successful. He greatest flaw is that he doesn’t evoke emotion as well as Jordan. His benefit is having many great scenes to show including long awaited maturation from all three male leads.
The greatest strength of the books is the world building. Tolkien is the only fantasy author with a vision and scope of similar size. Cool elements continue to be introduced throughout. Cultures, magic, history, and geography – a smorgasbord of awesome.
The action is great. Clear, taut and exciting.
The writing and imagery are vivid and evocative. Sometimes it is clunky. Jordan will never be called the best wordsmith but he achieves his purposes well.
Finally, the books satisfy the demands of what I’m looking for in Epic Fantasy without just being derivative. WoT just does fantasy well.
Outside of era 3 the flaws of the series are mainly characterization, some themes, and surprise climaxes. While Jordan has complex character arcs for each character, they move glacially. Worse, he often relies on a short hand of quirks to portray characters rather than their actions and decisions. It is especially visible with the female characters. Finally every character seems to share stubbornness and a complete lack of self-understanding.
Jordan also uses themes of gender roles and lack of communication and trust that often fall flat. The themes themselves are ok, but their constant repetition grows very annoying. You often want to shake the characters and yell, “just talk to each other already!”
In the 3rd era, those flaws are exacerbated by the lack of plot momentum, the giant casts, and as a result nothing but those flaws seem visible.
In books 1-6 and 11 the strengths far outweigh the flaws. In 7 and 9 they balance. In 8 and 10, the flaws seem paramount.
The Sanderson books can’t be judged be the same ruler. He is better at character and plot. His strength is also world building, but it is less obvious in WoT than Sanderson’s own books. He is pretty good at action although not quite Jordan’s equal. SAnderson’s flaw is not creating as great an emotional response.
Ok. Here is the end. Spoilers follow. I’m going to talk about the elements still needing resolution:
– meeting everyone up
– retrieving the Horn
– final conflicts with the Forsaken
– dealing with the Seachan and Mat’s marriage
– the climatic encounter with the Dark One
– answering many outstanding mysteries and prophecies
– resolving Rand’s fate
– other denouement (like the fate of the Aiel and the ultimate fate of the main characters)
There is still a lot to do, but most is now aimed solely at the climax of the series. Oh boy!