None of the previous volumes in this series are what you would call fast-paced (although I concede the first one had a reasonable, if stately, momentum to it); but this book is slower than a slug on mogadon. By this stage in his series Jordan had evidently, and I think unwisely, decided to jettison ‘stuff happening’ as the organising principle of his fiction in favour of ‘characters talking, backstorying, bickering, flirting, fretting over their motivations and wearing painstakingly described clothing’. Of course, Jordan’s previous model of ‘stuff happening’ was ‘meandering characters getting intermittently attacked by trollocs.’ But it was better than what we get here. The thing is, it so happens I have a very high tolerance for, and in some cases, deep love for novels in which nothing happens. A novel in which nothing happens can be a wonderful read. This is not such a novel. Nothing happens here in a maddeningly faffy, self-regarding, high-school-soap-opera sort of a way. Then at the very end there’s a big set-piece Fighty-fight, although the notional drama of it bounced off my soggily worn-down imagination.
Tedium, oh tedium. Or, indeed, something stronger than tedium: coffeedium. Tripleexpressodium. Rand leads an enormous army of his super-warrior ‘Aiel’, and there’s some dull, laboriously described but hard-to-visualise military stuff, all lead-up and no pay-off. More, Jordan assumes we will be fascinated by which adolescent crush is uppermost in his hero’s life.
Sex, which in the previous installments had been non-existent or else Carry-On euphemistic, here comes out of the wardrobe, and its a ghastly sight. Pantechniconloads of beautiful girls fling themselves at the main guy, Rand, and he worrits and ponders which of them, or which several of them, he fancies the most. Rand by name, Randy by nature. But, oh, and woe, and oh dear the novel’s sexual politics is offensively narrow and essentialist, to the point often of being actively gynaphobic: women in fancy dress granted notional ‘powers’ by authorial fiat, set up as ‘strong women’ in order to be humbled, magically enslaved, spanked or forced to perform humiliatingly menial tasks. J.'s male characters complain endlessly that they 'don't understand women'; but I don't know why. The key Jordanverse women are either transparently vain, or man-hating, or both.
And, gosh, but there are a lot of boobies in this novel. Really, lots and lots. Low-cut dresses, boobies, silk clinging to breasts, cleavage, lady lumps, bosoms. Jordan can't stop going on about them. It’s embarrassing.
Otherwise, the Bene Gesserit characters go after their ‘black’ chapter, and Mat uses his nifty ability to channel all the Great Military leaders there have ever been in all time ever. Perrin doesn’t appear to be in the novel at all. Or else Perrin is in the novel but my imagination and memory were so stupefied by the reading process that I don’t remember him. But, then again, what do I remember about this novel? Its interminability, mostly; its details hardly at all.
Now, see, I’ll give you an example: two of Jordan’s most powerful, if nascent, female magicians, Nynaeve and Elayne, join a travelling circus in this instalment. That either happened, or else my heat-oppressed brain has somehow muddled childhood memories of watching Dumbo in with memories of reading this book (Elayne learns to walk on a tightrope! Nynaeve has to fend off the circus-owner who has a crush on her!) Elayne and Nynaeve spend a lot of the novel bickering, whingeing and complaining. Characters wander about. The evil characters compound their banality and thinness with stupidity and incompetence. Nothing is resolved. This does not make for interesting reading.
Also, I have no idea why the novel is called 'Fires of Heaven', unless it is to mock me by reminding me of this vastly superior novel. I don't recall there being any heavenly fires in Jordan's book. But it is conceivable that they're there, I read them, and all thought of them has fallen out of the gash in the back of my imagination caused by being rear-ended by this clanking juggernaut of a book.