You may have noticed I’ve been slacking off on blogging lately. That’s because I’ve been busy reading Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, as the last book came out this month. I read all fourteen books in a period of three weeks, so I was pretty busy.
I first came across these books around twelve(?) years ago. I got to around number ten over a period of a few years, and then they started coming out really slowly / the author died / I forgot about them. Since it had been about ten years since I touched one of these books, I forgot everything that happened except that the main character got the harem end, and I decided to re-read the entire series from the beginning.
What does this have to do with anime, you ask? Well, not much. I guess books and anime are both storytelling mediums, so you can extrapolate lessons from these books to anime. But I figure a lot of anime fans also like fantasy books anyway and I felt like writing something about this. I doubt anyone will actually read it, and it basically amounts to a random sequence of inane observations; hey, whatever.
I’ll start off without spoilers, and put a big warning once I get into spoiler territory.
Robert Jordan Created a Great Setting
The world in these books is so cool. That’s the main appeal of the series for me. The world is huge, there are tons of different countries, each with their own distinctive culture, and we get to learn a fair amount about each of them. There are probably at least a hundred characters in the series.
It’s all the little details that make the setting so convincing: we hear rumors of rumors of distant places, tantalizing glimpses of the world before the breaking, snippets of the adventures of Jain Farstrider, legends passed down through board games, detailed glimpses of the clothing different people wear— even the swear words people use are of religious significance. The world of the Wheel of Time isn’t just populated by people from our own world thrust into a strange setting— everything everyone does is motivated by their cultural context.
The magic system is especially unique: people with magic powers literally weave together threads of the five elements to form spells. Much more interesting than magic words or just imagining things. There’s also carefully defined limits on abilities (which keep getting broken, but meh, rules are meant to be broken).
Robert Jordan is not the World’s Greatest Writer
Ok, that’s an understatement. The writing is pretty clunky. There’s tons of pointless description, and the books could probably be reduced to half their length without much of a loss. It gets worse as the books go on too. Do we really care about every single outfit each of the characters is wearing? Do we have to describe every campsite, every inn we stay at in detail? I ended up skimming many of these descriptive passages.
We also have some weird pacing. You’ll read through three quarters of each book, and it seems like nothing much has happened. Then the last quarter is chock full of developments.
Also, Robert Jordan’s portrayal of relationships between men and women is atrocious. Every time men and women are in the same room, some man will inevitably declare that all women are incomprehensible and some woman will proclaim that men have brains the size of peas. EVERY SINGLE TIME. This was probably the most frustrating aspect of reading the books.
Furthermore, whenever one of the three main characters (Rand, Mat and Perrin) talk to women, they will inevitably spend a couple paragraphs complaining about how the other two are so much better with women than he is. That got old pretty fast.
The books by Brandon Sanderson were much better in all these regards. Not that Brandon Sanderson is the greatest writer the world has ever known either (the only thing I’ve read by him is Mistborn, and I wasn’t a fan… but the combination of his writing with Jordan’s world created something I think is greater than anything either could have done at their own). With that said…
The Final Book was a Disappointment
The final book is literally one long battle. You’d think this would make for an exciting climax. But no. It turns out, battles are not particularly interesting. They’re good for capping off a long buildup in a quick climax. But a battle the length of an entire book gets old pretty fast.
This is made worse by the fact that most of the characters we care about play very minor roles in the battle. People are dropping like flies, so it’s pretty depressing to boot. And to top it all off, in the end it turns out that the battle didn’t even matter that much. It’s the other battle going on out of sight that’s really important.
Plus this series could really benefit from an epilogue. It’s disappointing to spend an entire book with these people and then just be abruptly cut off when the world is mostly destroyed, with the only intact army belonging to the invaders who collar people who can channel into slavery.
And we end with Rand pretending he’s dead and riding off into the sunset while they hold his funeral. He doesn’t even tell his father. What an asshole!
The Dream World: Who Cares
This dream world was such a waste of time. Did anyone actually find this stuff interesting? They could have just replaced it with a telephone. Instead they had to spend all this time explaining all these things that no one really cared about. Even Perrin had to waste time there. So much time wasted describing this thing…
Why Be a Darkfriend?
The whole series suffers from poorly motivated villains. Why would anyone become a darkfriend? It doesn’t make sense. The Dark One wants to destroy the world.
Ok, maybe he could trick people into serving him without them knowing. That would make sense. But he doesn’t. They all know they’re working to destroy the world. They’re just fighting over who will rule the new world.
It’s completely obvious that most of them won’t even live to see it though. Pretty much every darkfriend who makes an appearance gets killed off (typically by other dark friends). It’s a job you’d have to be an idiot to take.
The Wheel of Time series has great potential for shipping. Unfortunately this is thwarted because every single relationship is successful. There is never any conflict. Even in Rand’s relationships, where there are three suitors, there’s no conflict since everyone just accepts the harem end. And some of them come completely out of nowhere. Thom, Galad, Egeanin, WTF?
The only exceptions are Mat and Tuon (excellently done, I ship them so hard), the beginning of Perrin and Faile (you know, before she became jealous of everything) and the start of Rand and Aviendha (before they forgot about Aviendha). Oh also Siuan and Gareth Bryne was pretty good. Oh and that Asha’man and the Red Ajah Aes Sedai who showed up randomly in the last book. That was the best part of the last book, which is just sad.
Now I’ll talk about things in more detail loosely organized by character arc.
Mat is the Best Thing Ever
This whole series was worth reading just for him. Can we please get a sequel about Mat’s adventures in Seancha?
The chapters with him were hilarious, and it got even better once he started running from the queen and from Tuon. Great stuff.
Egwene, Please Kill Yourself (Oh Wait, You Did.)
My god. I hate hate hate this girl so much. For the first half of the series she’s fine, although not particularly likable. Then she becomes the Amyrylin and she becomes so completely fully of herself it made me sick.
She’s portrayed as some sort of political genius or something, but nothing she does convinces me of this at all. She just learns how to be a dick and bully people. Plus she thinks she’s Jesus or something.
She keeps making out with Gawyn like she’s a middle school girl while she lectures 100 year-old women about their lack of maturity. Then she gets spanked and becomes a hero because she doesn’t cry. Then she blames both sides equally for the civil war even though she was one of the sides’ leader, and acts like it’s not her fault at all. Then she’s a complete ass to Gawyn and to all her friends, wanting them all to bow down to her and obey her. She decides to conspire against Rand to get everyone to betray him and not break the seals, even though pretty much everyone she talks to thinks he’s right. She wants Rand to bow down and kiss her ass too, blames him for Taim bonding the Aes Sedai (which was the Aes Sedai’s original intention anyway), and doesn’t feel a bit of guilt for the Aes Sedai that kidnapped Rand, stuffed him in a box and beat him everyday. Oh and then she almost kills Nynaeve so that she can prove she’s not going easy on her friends and doesn’t feel a bit sorry for it. Oh right and she was a complete dick to Mat, tricking him into almost getting himself killed in Ebou Dar while she borrows his army.
And after all this, she becomes a fucking martyr. The writers never seem to catch on to the fact that Egwene is a terrible, terrible person.
Ok, I’ll give her a little bit of credit for getting rid of the Black Ajah, but that was really Verin’s work, Egwene just helped out by coincidence.
Elayne is Useless
Elayne is also an asshole to Mat, although her jerk level doesn’t nearly approach Egwene levels. She treats most other people fine, even if she is a bit full of herself. She grew up as a princess so we can cut her some slack. Egwene grew up in the middle of nowhere so she has no excuse.
My biggest problem with Elayne is her “romance” with Rand. It just makes no sense. She spent two weeks with him and decided she wants to have his babies. Even if she has to share him with two other people. What the hell?
After they spend two weeks together in the Stone, he visits once to make the babies, and then they basically never talk to each other again. Why? This relationship makes no sense.
Similarly, with all of her maneuvering to become the Queen— why do we care? It’s all just useless fluff. Introducing more random people to supposedly outsmart, kind of along the same lines as Egwene’s story. Elayne added very little to the story, despite being one of Rand’s three love interests.
Min is Useless
On to Rand’s second love interest.
Min makes even less sense than Elayne. She talked to Rand what, once, and suddenly fell in love with him? I guess with her that makes slightly more sense since she could foretell she would marry him. But still… why does Rand fall in love with her from that one meeting?
Plus she doesn’t really do anything for most of the story. Her falling in love with him sort of makes sense since they actually spend time together. But she just spends all her time reading books and sharpening knives. They could have just replaced her with a crystal ball.
Aviendha is not Useless so she’s Forgotten
Aviendha is the only one for whom the development of her relationship with Rand actually made sense. In fact, it was pretty well done. A classic tsundere with some interesting cultural ideas tossed in.
Her relationship with him was the most interesting by far. So of course, for a good part of the series, they just completely forget about her and made her carry water jugs and stuff. What a waste.
What Happened to Perrin?
In the first few books, Perrin was my favorite character (since Mat was busy going mad and all). Then he met Faile, and she was pretty crazy and he didn’t know what to do with her, and it was all in good fun.
But then after he got married… wow did Faile get annoying fast. She used to be busy running away from home and kniving people, which was cool, but then suddenly all she had time to do was get jealous of Berelaine for no good reason.
That was bad enough, but then she got kidnapped… how many books did we wasted on rescuing her from her kidnapping? Most of it was spent with absolutely nothing happening, too. People doing mean things to Faile in the camp… Perrin striking desparate, lonesome poses against the sunset… such a waste of time. Also Aram contributed nothing to the story.
Same with the whole Slayer thing. What a waste of space.
Nynaeve is my favorite female character in the series (aside from Tuon, but that’s more just from association with Mat). She has serious temper problems. She can be a jerk to Mat, like Egwene and Elayne. But the difference is, she has the capacity to be ashamed of herself.
Nynaeve provides a foil to Egwene and Elayne (or she almost does, but the author’s don’t quite seem to know how to make use of this). Egwene is obsessed with the White Tower, unifying it and spreading its authority around the world. Elayne is obsessed with making her kingdom strong. Both perfectly reasonable goals, especially for rulers. But in their quest they seem to lose sight of the big picture. Especially Egwene (partly why I hate her so much).
With the final battle coming, Egwene should be helping Rand defeat the dark one. But instead she decides to fight him. Like her predecessors, she decides she has to control him. She’s more worried about how to get him to listen to her than about how win the battle, and more concerned with her own power and the White Tower’s power than anything else.
When she tests Nynaeve to raise her to the shawl, she makes the test extra hard. For a hundred times, she forces Nynaeve to watch little kids or Lan die while she walks past them, indifferent. This is supposed to show that the Aes Sedai is able to remain calm in any situation.
But Nynaeve is having none of that. Every time she fights to save the random children and her husband. She comes out of the trial almost dead. Egwene is considering failing her because she wasn’t able to stay impassive.
But Nynaeve doesn’t take any of their crap. She decides she doesn’t want to be an Aes Sedai if it means walking right on by while little kids die. Being an Aes Sedai (supposedly a “servant of all”) is downright evil if that’s what it means.
We could have had some great epiphany here. Nynaeve could have been ousted from the White Tower and not given a shit. Or maybe Egwene could realize what a monster she’d become. But no. Instead Egwene decides to pass Nynaeve so that they can save face, and doesn’t seem to learn anything from the encounter. This was simultaneously one of the most and most frustrating passages in the series.
His story arc was pretty well done. He was frustrating when he was refusing to trust anyone, but hey, that was the point. I especially liked the way they showed how he learned not to trust Aes Sedai. When he got out of the cage, the Aes Sedai tried to argue with him, and he made them kneel down and swear themselves to him right then and there, that was the most satisfying part of the book.
He did become ridiculously nice and flowery at the end. And I can’t believe he played dead and didn’t even tell his dad.
Also, what was the point of Alanna? She bonded him, and then she spent the rest of the series lying in bed crying. Then at the end she just cut her bond and saved the world or something. Why didn’t she do that a year ago if it was going to just make her sit around and mope?
Hard to summarize what’s basically a random slightly incoherent string of observations, but go read the books if you like long, epic fantasy series. The series certainly has its issues though.