I’ll start by saying I found Winter’s Heart to be a pleasant surprise. I’ve been waiting for the ‘dredge,’ the point in which the series tips towards its low point, as I have been warned by many it would, but I haven’t really found that. Because to call these books low points means you have to ignore the high points in them, and some of the scenes are too good for me to dislike the book overall, and overall I found Winter’s Heart a more enjoyable read than The Path of Daggers.
It does suffer from the same issue the past couple of books have, in that it drags out what feels like inconsequential plot lines (if any of the three-thousand plot lines Jordan somehow balances could be called ‘inconsequential’) for the duration of most of the book without resolving anything that feels important. Perrin is no closer to rescuing his wife, Mat spends the entire book trying to escape Ebou Dar (and as of his last chapter he still technically wasn’t out of the city gates), and Rand goes hunting for renegade Asha’man while putting off what he really set out to do. But it is balanced out by a welcome lightness, a humor that really offsets all the darkness and sense of hopelessness, that “even when we win the bad guys are winning more” feeling that permeated these past few books. Mat’s return was a strong contributor to that humor, watching him struggle to free Aes Sedai from the Seanchan while being watching by Tylin and being stalked by Tuon, well, there was comedy to be played up there, and Jordan played it. Added to a few other lighter scenes and the tone of the book felt much different from the previous ones (at least, up until Rand’s last section, when it gets all dark again).
And I don’t think its possible to talk about Winter’s Heart without spending some time talking about With the Choedan Kal, a chapter which features an exciting battle between pretty much all of the Forsaken (correct me if I’m wrong, but I think Moridin was the only living Forsaken not to show up?) and Rand’s ragtag group of loyal Aes Sedai and Asha’man. Perhaps it is the fact that the book left off on this note more than anything else that has left me with such a positive opinion of it; if I was waiting for the siege of Tar Valon because I wanted to see some mage-on-mage action, this chapter delivered in the siege’s absence. If there was one flaw with it, it was that much of the resolution of those battles was left up the reader’s interpretation; we don’t know what convinced Cyndane to retreat, how Verin won her battle, and so on. We just know in the end we are down one Asha’man and one Aes Sedai. Still and exciting chapter.
We were brought backwards a bit, in terms of Egwene’s story. Last we saw of her, she was bringing her army through the portals to begin the long awaited siege of Tar Valon. We don’t get Egwene as a POV character in this book, and the few times we see her is her meeting in the dream world, and in those she hasn’t left Murandy yet. Much later in the book we learn the army has moved, but we don’t see anything of the siege underway, if it has.
We get quite a bit from the Seanchan POV this book, more than any in the past, and it really tells us a bit about why they are as they are and how their culture works. I find it hard to really dislike them to the same extent I dislike the other secondary antagonists, such as the Whitecloaks; whereas the Whitecloaks are shown to have few to no redeeming qualities, the Seanchan are not necessarily awful. Yes, they chain Aes Sedai, which is certainly them at their darkest, and only minorly excused for their historical reasons for it, but for the rest…they leave the standing leaders if the leaders agree to kneel to the empress, even raising them to The Blood, they don’t seem to force any major cultural changes (besides the Aes Sedai thing), and they expect their own kind to follow the same laws and face the same punishments as those they conquer. They remind me somewhat of Rome…if Rome’s power was built on the back of chained witches.
It feels as though the Forsaken either overestimate their own Age or underestimate this one; this becomes all the more clear as they are repelled completely by a mere scattering of Aes Sedai and Asha’man. Nynaeve was supposed to be the exception, an Aes Sedai with power the likes of which had not been seen in generations, and capable of matching a Forsaken one-on-one, but as we meet these other factions of casters she simply becomes the bar which is set to judge other powerful women. We see women who come close to her or even surpass her among the Kin, the Windfinders, even among the damane. The Forsaken may have been the most powerful Aes Sedai of their time, but they are really going to have to step their game up.
It seems I was right regarding the identities of Moridin and Cyndane. Moridin is referred to the same way Ishmael always was (thinks he is the Great One himself). Demandred made me doubt myself about Cyndane being Lanfear when he doubted himself on that same count due to her apparent weakness, but Cyndane’s POV potion of the battle left little room for interpretation. Seems whatever happened on the other side of the portal left her weakened, though still plenty crazy.
We officially reached the amount of minor characters that I can’t keep them all straight. I tried, I failed. It doesn’t help that so many of them have similar names (there’s a Saerin and a Seaine among those in the White Tower investigating the Black Ajah, and later a mention of a Sierin murdered by Black; likewise there a Falion who has almost failed the Black for the last time and a Faolain among Egwene’s raised Aes Sedai, not to mention a Reene and a Reeane in the same damn scene). The Glossary isn’t really any help (when compared the massive character reference at the end of a Song of Ice and Fire book) and I can’t use google without risking serious spoilers. I’m just grateful that when its important to remember someone Jordan gives enough reminders to make it possible.
I am very curious as the solution of that Bellfounder riddle. And I haven’t the faintest idea.
Mat’s reaction when he finds out Tuon is the Daughter of the Nine Moons was hilarious. “She is my wife!” to a bunch of people who have no idea what that means. I’m quite curious as the what Tuon’s own interest in Mat was, she was definitely stalking him. Perhaps she saw one of those ‘signs’ she is always looking for in regards to him.
I facepalmed hard when I realized that the male a’dam had not been disposed of and was now in the hands of the Seanchan. With Rand’s madness at a 7-8 out of 10 at this point it might be better that it remains in play, but I still have a very bad feeling about it.
Speaking of Rand’s madness, seems like he actually succeeded in purifying the male half of the Source, which is crazy, but it might be too late for him, unless he finds a way to dial down the talking to himself. Course, there’s this whole thing with him knowing he has to die to live…his future is far from certain.
Rand had to confront his three lady-loves for the first time, and it all…just kind of works out. Now I know why the genre is called fantasy. /s I know, I know, he’s ta’varen, on top of possibly looking like he just popped out of every bored housewife’s fantasy.
Still, reading that scene, I couldn’t help thinking, “Dear Fantasy Penthouse, I didn’t think it could happen to me…”
Aviendha: This man has great toh to us, and we to him!
Min: I do’t know what anybody’s toes have to do with anything, or feet either!
Curiosity: does the world of these books have an official name that I’ve just completely missed, or is it just called ‘The World of The Wheel of Time,’ which is quite a mouthful?
And that’s it for that. Now I brace myself for the book that is universally considered the series low point. I think I’ll go in with expectations low and hope to be pleasantly surprised again. See you in…two-ish weeks.