This is Part 10 of my continuing series of blogs regarding what may possibly be my last re-read of The Wheel of Time, in anticipation of A Memory of Light. I have been reading this series since 1992. WARNING: EACH POST MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE SERIES. The best way to approach this retrospective is via your own re-read. If you have not read the entire series yet, you may want to wait on reading this.
These blogs are mirrored on my regular blog, Murgenblog, and I originally started them in May 2011. If you want to read ahead, check the link.
Undoubtedly some of you will disagree with some things I say, as I am brutally honest about elements of the series I don't like. But remember that overall I love this series, despite any perceived flaws, and I just want to share my memories and thoughts on this work. My life has changed a lot in the last 20 years, but WoT has always been there for me; it's been the one constant. I'll be sad to see it go, but will be glad to finally have closure.
Book 10: Crossroads of Twilight (2003)
Overall, I love this series. I wouldn't be writing these retrospectives if I didn't. However, I don't like this book. It is by far my least favorite of the series and I was so upset by the book when it came out that I nearly quit reading the series. The last of what I call the "Wandering Trilogy," there are only a few interesting events in the latter half of the book and the best thing about it is that it leads into the home stretch and things get much better from here on out.
I don't want to be too negative in this post, but there are a few items I need to get off my chest. If you happen to really like this book for whatever reason, you won't miss much by skipping the first half of this post.
Anyway, imagine you were like me in 2003, that you had been reading the series for over 10 years at this point and had stuck with it, even though the books had gotten shorter, the story had slowed down quite a bit, there did not seem to be an end in sight and people were really criticizing Jordan for dragging things out and "milking" the series. I was starting to fear that now it would shift to 3 years between each, although technically the wait for this was only a little over 2 years (Nov 2000 – Jan 2003). It felt like 3, though. A lot went on in my life during those years and I forgot about The Wheel of Time for a while.
Nebraska to Illinois to Virginia
I moved from Omaha, NE to Chicago, IL in 2001, to play drums for a fairly well-known death metal band called Broken Hope. You can find out more about my musical ventures on the Music page of my blog. Anyway, they were already established and needed a drummer for a European tour. I had been in the underground scene for a number of years with my Omaha-based band, Lead, and jumped at the chance, already being familiar with much of their material. Lead had pretty much broken up by that point, anyway, so after the tour I relocated to Chicago to help with a new Broken Hope album.
Things in Broken Hope fell apart later that year. I remained in Chicago until 2002, working the night shift in an ER downtown, doing a lot of reading and writing in my spare time, and finally tired of being alone in the city, decided to move to northern Virginia, where all of my immediate family was residing. I stopped the music thing for a while, did more writing, found a new job and got settled.
Then I found out the next book was finally coming out. Finally. I wasn't that excited for it, and I was a bit leery after the last couple, but I was still willing to give it a try. Third time's the charm, right? I only re-read Winter's Heart to prep for this one, and ultimately it was unnecessary. There was another pre-release of an eBook prologue, which I skipped. I don't remember buying the book, but as usual, the first thing I did was check the number of chapters and was immediately disappointed by only 30. Given the scope of the story, I just didn't feel 30 chapters per book was really enough to sate my appetite anymore or justify the long wait. I wanted it to be back in the 50 range like it was in the beginning.
I did some quick skimming of chapter titles and icons, noted new icons, but I wasn't feeling too good about this one. I started reading, and close to halfway through the book I realized that not much was going to happen, and that I had been shafted again. I'd been waiting over two years for this? I was excited to see how people would react to saidin being cleansed. But we get virtually none of that and it was a huge letdown. Rand and Logain meet and there's no mention of it at all. So after the previous two and giving Jordan a third chance to get the story moving again, this was too much.
I was very upset and disappointed. Though there is some decent material in the last third of the book, it was all I could do to finish it, and I felt like my support of the series book after book didn't matter to Jordan. It was a complete slap in the face to me. How could he let us down like this? Did he seriously think we enjoyed reading about what everyone in the Rebel Hall of the Tower is wearing? I know I shouldn't be lumping those who like this book in with me, but I think we can all agree that the majority of long-time WoT readers were displeased with this book when it first came out (and still are). I even wrote an extremely scathing review of it on Amazon, but I've since removed it as I don't feel that strongly about it anymore. I vowed not to read Jordan anymore until the series was finished, and I stopped recommending the series to friends.
Obviously, not reading it anymore didn't happen. More on that in the post for Knife of Dreams.
I still don't like this book. This is only my third time reading it, and I got bogged down in the first half once again. It's plain boring to me. Too much description and rehashing of the "rules of the world." By Book 10 we know how the world works, Jordan, there's no need to go over the same details and background every book. It drives me nuts and I skim a lot on those sections.
Important events here are given little screen time. The first meeting between Rand and Logain—something we've been waiting for for years—is only three pages. Egwene sneaking out to sabotage the harbor chains in Tar Valon is only two pages. Yet we spend longer detailing what the Rebel Hall of the Tower is wearing. It takes longer to explain how Elayne takes a bath. As a reader, it's frustrating to read. As a writer myself, I don't particularly understand the rationale behind writing the book this way. We love the detail, Jordan, but not that kind of detail.
Honestly, the storyline of Elayne claiming the Lion Throne is way too long and is as interesting as watching paint dry. Knowing how it turns out, we now know it's not vitally important to Tarmon Gai'don itself, and is a lot of wasted words. My eyes glaze over when I read the Elayne chapters in this book. I could dedicate an entire blog post to how pointless some of the Elayne material is, but I'd probably bore myself with it.
Given that—and many other reasons—it's the only book in the series I have trouble reading. I've only quit one book in my life without finishing (Ulysses by James Joyce), so I don't quit easily, and I've read a lot of books. I really struggle with this one, though. The new appreciation I have for the previous two books that the years and multiple re-reads has brought me doesn't extend to this book. Only my love for the series and the promised ending keeps me going. I firmly believe that half of this book is unnecessary and it could have easily been combined with Winter's Heart, leading right into Knife of Dreams.
And on Amazon, they still don't like it...
The fact that it's still only 2 stars on Amazon after 2400+ reviews is telling. Yes, we all know the Internet is made for complainers, and haters gonna hate, and there are a lot more reviews for this volume than others in the series, but usually if a book is good enough and there are enough votes, the "crap" votes don't factor into the overall rating as much. But it's still at 2 stars. I've rarely come across a 2-star book—and a NYT #1 Bestseller to boot—with that many ratings.
If I ever re-read the series again—which won't happen for a long while—I'm going to skip this book. Really. If you feel you must read it, I recommend you read the prologue, skip the first 15 chapters and read the encyclopaedia-wot.org summaries instead, then start at Chapter 16, which picks up from after the Cleansing.
The Failed Structure
Jordan has admitted that the structure of this book didn't work out the way he had hoped. Showing what everyone else was doing while Rand was cleansing saidin sounds like a good idea... but there's a problem with that. The problem is three-fold: 1) we already know that none of the others do anything in regards to the Cleansing since they didn't appear during the ending of Winter's Heart, 2) they don't do anything worth reading about while the Cleansing is occurring and 3) it takes too damn long to read about how they are doing nothing.
This is really the only part of the series where I question events. As cool as the Cleansing sequence was, the fact that no one else in the world aside from the Forsaken did anything about it has never sat right with me. Everyone stares off towards the massive beacon of the One Power, but they just shrug and are like, "Rand's doing something important, none of our business." That has always struck me as rather odd. The behavior of the Aes Sedai are understandable, given that they are weak, confused and generally scared of the Forsaken by this point.
It takes 15 chapters to give us an update on Mat, Perrin and Elayne up to and during the Cleansing. Mat gets ready to leave the Ebou Dar area, even though we thought he had left in the last book. Perrin chases the Shaido and finds them in the city of Malden. Elayne is still trying to claim the Lion Throne, everyone just chilling in Caemlyn.
There, I've just given you a summary of half of the book in three sentences. That could be a single one-hour episode of a TV show. Seriously.
Mat and Tuon
Now to talk about something good.
The best part about this book, by far, is the "courtship" of Tuon by Mat, even though it only spanned a couple of chapters. Back in Book 4, The Shadow Rising, when we learned Mat was fated to marry the Daughter of the Nine Moons, to me it was something cool, but I didn't know that it was related to the Seanchan for a few books, then I sat around for years waiting for this character to show up. And when Tuon finally does in Book 9, I thought, "how in the world are they going to marry each other?" They are like night and day, and she is not his type at all (as Mat frequently reminds the reader).
Credit to Abigail Goldsmith... see the rest here.
But Jordan surprised me and pulls it off. I didn't think at first that it would just be a marriage of "convenience," like that among royalty, but it makes perfect sense. Mat starts the marriage ceremony by mistake, and he chases after her because he knows he has to... and eventually realizes that it could be a good thing to be a Seanchan Prince, come Tarmon Gai'don with the whole of the invading Seanchan army there to be used.
Very cleverly done by Jordan, I only wish there had been more of it in this book. It doesn't redeem the book as a whole, but it's worth mentioning.
The Wandering Covers
To go along with my concept of the "Wandering Trilogy," comprised of Books 8-10, are the covers to these same books. They each show one of the three ta'veren—Rand, Perrin and Mat—wandering somewhere with a bunch of people following behind them. I didn't notice this pattern when they first came out, but looking at them now, I wonder if it was a conscious effort on Sweet's or Tor's part to do the same cover three times in a row to reflect the crawling pace of the series.
It's quite fitting, in a way. And though I've said many times that I hate the Sweet covers, these three are the only decent ones, with the cover for The Path of Daggers being my favorite, as I mentioned previously.
Something else that ties these three books together—they all end with a kidnapping. Faile in Book 8, Tuon in Book 9 and Egwene in Book 10.
The End of Epic Investments
A side effect of the publication of this book is that I stopped getting invested in unfinished epic series. I used to read a lot of series when they first came out and followed many as each book came out, but based on my experience with WoT by 2003 and having to wait so long, I stopped doing that.
I waited until the last Harry Potter book was out before reading anything in that series. I was already reading A Song of Ice and Fire at this point (started in 2001), but after being disappointed with Book 4 and waiting six years for the next volume, I've put that one on hold for now. I'll probably wait until it's done before picking it up again.
I didn't bother to try The Malazan Book of the Fallen until learning the last book would soon be out. I bought Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings for him to sign on the Towers of Midnight tour, but I have no plans to read it any time soon, given that the series is planned for 10 books. I stopped reading The Sword of Truth halfway through (about 10 years ago) as no end seemed in sight and because Book 7 was abysmally bad.
Epics... when to start?
I love an epic series as much as the next person, but forgetting things during waits between books really sucks. These days I don't have a lot of time to read, much less re-read things every couple of years so that I'm not confused on the next book. And getting a bad entry to the series only makes things worse. I suppose you could say I've been a little disillusioned with sprawling epics over the years.
A Memory of Light Finished!
Just wanted to add a note that while I was re-reading this book, Brandon Sanderson finished the first draft of the final book, A Memory of Light. I've waited 20 years to hear that the final book had been completed. I seriously thought it would never come. I really won't believe it's over until I have the book in my hand and get to the end.
I usually end each WoT blog post with a "thank you" to someone, but this time I'm not going to. After reading this post you should know why. I'm putting Crossroads of Twilight behind me for good and moving on. I'm never reading it again. Sorry, RJ. Even the best make mistakes sometimes.