Friday, 26 March 2010

Robert Jordan, Wheel of Time 3: The Dragon Reborn (1991)

For some reason, and I'm not entirely sure why, this wasn't such a chore to read as vol 2. I say so despite the fact that nothing very much happens in the story: Rand, our hero, is the Dragon Reborn, but he's gone missing. His mates, especially his two best mates 'Reggie' Perrin and Mat Cauthon, go questing after him. Perrin is still only called 'Reggie' in my mind; but I keep hoping that J. will catch up with me and slap down the nickname for real. He is already calling his Evil Characters things like Neil and Julian (well: Niall and Juilin), so it's not as if naff names carry any stigma as far as he's concerned.

Anyway, eventually Rand comes back, has another show-down with the evil one, Ba'alzamon, and is publicly declared the Dragon Reborn, to much falfalla and parading. Along the way there's a good deal of stuff about the various sects of Aes Sedai magicianesses, some more stuff on the corrupt puritans, The Children of Light, and quite a lot of narrative dilly-dallying. Mat was under the evil influence of a wicked dagger, but he gets cured of that by the end. Otherwise it's pretty much all just padding out the circular plot. Maybe I'm now reconciled to the Jordanian schtick; maybe it's that where most volumes in this enormous series are 300-pages-pretending-to-be-800-pages long, this one is 200-pages-pretending-to-be-650-pages. At any rate, it slipped down easily enough.

That's not to say it's any good, mind. I appreciate that it's YA adventure, but that's not a reason to 'make allowances' for a book as far as I'm concerned. Quite the reverse. And this book has all the limitations of a YA novel and none of the focus or penetration. So, for instance, The Dragon Reborn remains coy on the subject of sex. In one chapter Mat is visited in his bedroom by the evil Selene ('so beautiful he almost forgot to breathe') which causes the young lad 'tingle and pain' [227] as well it might; but nothing more explicit is stated. (Then again, chapter 42 is called 'Easing the Badger', which may well become my new favourite onanistic euphemism). There's spits and spots of violence, but this all feels been-there-done-that tired -- already! and we're only in vol. 3!
Perrin shouted wordlessly as he struck out with an axe ... the Trolloc fell, roaring and kicking. [75]
Good YA books are generally less padded and meandering than 'adult' books; not, as here, more so.

An issue I had with the second vol. was intensified for me by this, third one: namely that Jordan has a problem representing, because conceptualising, evil. It's all second-hand and none of it alarming in any genuine sense: medieval Bond villains, beast-men, creaky but (see above) euphemistic old decadence. In the prologue an evil 'Fade' shows how e-e-evil he is by gouging a table with his bare hands.
The Myrddraal was drawing a hand across the tabletop, and thin tendrils of wood curled away from its fingernails. [29]
Then there's a sort-of Dreamtime dimension in which the e-e-evil Ba'alzamon, gathering a conclave of his underling-baddies, gets to be both Freddy Kreuger ('"You all dream," Ba'alzamon said, "But what happens in this dream is real!"') and a Bond villain, both at the same time:
"You have been given tasks. Some of these tasks you have carried out. At others, you have failed. .... You!"
...The man screamed and began to quiver like a file struck against an anvil. [411]
To be clear, that's 'like a file struck against an anvil'. Boingg!

Otherwise a few more gobbets from general myth/culture are added to the stew: some more Arthuriana, in the shape of an Excaliburish magic sword that only the Dragon can wield, called (the 'Ex-' prefix having been filed away) 'Callandor'. There are also bits of Wagner ('the Maidens of the Spear') and some wolves. But most of it remains the same-old same-old. Characters still explain things to other characters who presumably already know those things:
"The soulless?" Egwen said, a tremor in her voice. ... "A Gray Man?"
Sheriain ... gestured to the corpse. "The Soulless, the Gray Men, give up their souls to serve the Dark Lord as assassins. They are not really alive after that. Not quite dead, but not truly alive." [188]
A bit like this novel, then. Or later in the narrative:
"Let us saddle the horses," said Mat. "Horses are gramnivorous quadrupeds with forty teeth, namely twenty–four grinders, four eye–teeth, and twelve incisive. They shed their coats in the spring; in marshy countries, shed their hoofs, too. Hoofs are hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Their age can be known by marks in mouth." "Excellent," cried Reggie. "To horse we go!"
Well, I made that last one up. But you take my file-struck-against-an-anvil point. Boingg!

22 comments:

redrichie said...

I'm impressed that with you being a professor, fairly prolific author, husband and father ss well as an active tweeter and blogger that you find the time to read this stuff. Even more impressed that you still have the will to write reviews of it.

My theory is that a malfunctioning household device - possibly a washing machine; I'd imagine yo'd need a powerful spinny thing- gave you access to the multiverse and thus many Adam Roberts. My question is this: do evil Adam Roberts have beards?

Chris said...

This is like an MST3K of book reviews. Which is good. Very very good.

The great thing is that even if it answers some questions, like whether I should read this - yes, if I can reverse time and become again the age at which I thought the Shannara books were good - it also raises new ones worthy of study. Like what is it with evil dudes and apostrophes? And why hasn't anyone (afaics) called a novel Infodump?

abeyer42 said...

@Chris, Your speculation about what age you might be to joyfully welcome the WoT saga is quite right. The unfortunate fact is that for a series this endless, those ideal readers were born yesterday, or maybe last week.

Mom brought home The Eye of the World from the public library for me during a week-long homebound sickness in junior high. She knew I was usually found behind books with similar covers, and probably assumed one was as good as another. It's likely I overextende that sickness to stay home and finish the book.

Could.not.wait. for the final two books to show up in what I assumed, by default, would be a trilogy. By now, with the final volume scheduled to appear sometime after my 36th birthday, I find it a bit easier to wait.

CSA said...

I read WOT as a young teen and had caught up with R.J. by book 7ish. I loved the story as a whole but often found descriptions of scenes and charachters far too long, drawn out and often(as with the file on the anvil) bizzarely unnecessary. As i aged with the books i found myself enjoying each new book in the title more and more boring.

Central characters seem to spend their entire time sorting out food for armies etc. And R.J. builds up an increasing number of sub-plots leading particularly books 9-11 to advance the plot at a snails pace.

Sadly as i said, the novels dont get any better. I think i enjoyed 5 or 6 the most. However, given how R.J.left the series when he passed away, i felt compelled enough to pick up the newest novel (written with Brandon Sanderson) and have to admit i guiltily enjoyed being pulled in by the story again. Sanderson, neatly ties off a large amount of sub-plots and advances the main story in a way which the 4-5 previous books failed to do.


Book 10 and the first 90% of book 11 may cause you physical pain.

Bruce the Loon said...

Just felt like nailing a point home about your choice of quote for the infodump, which is a valid complaint btw.

This specific instance Eggy, who a lot of WoT fans regard as a vacant blonde with a desire for power that rivals Stalin, would have no idea what a Gray Man was. She was at this point a rather uneducated farmgirl. Which she remains.

GeoX said...

Don't really know anything about the character, but I would bet any amount of money that, consciously or not, Jordan chose the name "Perrin" because of the way it combines "Merry" and "Pippin."

rreugen said...

Maybe the way Aes Sedai keep telling each other stuff that they already know (the 'as you know, Bobette' syndrom) is a feature not a bug. Maybe it's a trait of their order (not very informed but I have read that these esoteric orders have all sort of idiosyncrasies like that). Aes Sedai are described as very tough, I think.

Adam Whitehead said...

"This specific instance Eggy, who a lot of WoT fans regard as a vacant blonde with a desire for power that rivals Stalin,"

That's Elayne. Egwene is, amongst other things, a brunette ;-)

"would have no idea what a Gray Man was. She was at this point a rather uneducated farmgirl. Which she remains."

She was the daughter of the mayor of her town and had a higher degree of education, plus about six months' education in the White Tower (including detailed classes on the different types of Shadowspawn and how to identify them), not to mention Jordan's decision (questionable but it's his world) to give everyone in his world a higher degree of education than was actually the case in the 17th/18th C (his sociological level of the civilisation, although tech-wise it's back in the 14th/15th C).

There are plenty of problems in the book but this point doesn't seem to be one of them ;-)

Rajashekar Iyer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rajashekar Iyer said...

Wert, the higher level of education is, I think, somewhat explainable given that the printing press survived the Breaking. That means 8000 years or so of continuous printing. That might explain it, even though technology itself has been slowed by the Trolloc Wars and the War of the Hundred Years.

And is the tech really as old as you claim? They're a year away from the steam engine, after all.

Adam Roberts said...

redrichie: "do evil Adam Roberts have beards?"

They do. Not necessarily on their chins, though.

Chris: "This is like an MST3K of book reviews"

Some of my blog post's have been compared to 'MST3K' before, which I'm sure is very flattering, although I've no idea who/what 'MST3K' is or are. Something American, I'm thinking.

abeyer42: you're not yet 36, yet your moniker is 'abeyer42'. Puzzling ...

CSA: 'slow' does increasingly seem to be the vibe.

GeoX: not the only Tolkien borrowing, neither.

Bruce, Adam, Rajashekar: yes. I've now read Book 6, which has some more stuff in it about steam-age inventing, or the redisovery therein. Otherwise: I suppose I'd assume Magical and particularly Evil Magical stuff would be pretty widely known about in a Magical World ...

marco said...

"do evil Adam Roberts have beards?"

They do. Not necessarily on their chins, though.


You mean evil Adam Roberts are closeted gays?

Cory said...

You are such an envious and jealous little fuck. Get over yourself. You're a mediocre author, so stopping try to rip apart another man's hard work. Who gives a shit if you like it or not?

Had you gone into this with an open mind I might have given you more credit, but your bias is littered all over the place. Get a life punk.

Adam Whitehead said...

@ Adam: MST3K (Mystery Science Theatre 3000) is an American TV programme from the late 1980s consisting of some guys trapped on a space station and forced to watch rubbish B-movies, over which they record a witty and amusing commentary. Its influence can now be seen in the various audio commentaries you can download for TV shows and movies off the Internet, and may have influenced the 'straight' director and actor commentaries on DVDs.

Or so Wikipedia tells me anyway, so therefore it must be true ;-)

GeoX said...

Who gives a shit if you like it or not?

The evidence would suggest that YOU care very deeply.

Gaenor Burchett-Vass said...

Bless you Adam, for making me laugh in the middle of what was otherwise a very dull and difficult day.

Gaenor

Adam Roberts said...

Gaenor, you're welcome. Life is dull indeed outside the English dept office, I fear.

Cory: it's as if you know me personally! Perhaps you live on my street?

Nick said...

Can we go 'round to Cory's house? Can we? Can we? Can we?

There's something classy about going outta your way to post something like that on someone's blog... Wait, did I say "classy"? I meant trolloc...

Victoryperfect said...

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Pete said...

Nice Dickens reference in the one you made up at the end.

Pete said...

Nice Dickens reference in the one you made up at the end.

Eric Cartman said...

The lotr references are so far fetched, that only a reviewer that has an agenda to look for them can see them.
As for the readers of this blog i can say that you should give the books a try. They might have some flaws but are not boring in any way.