Friday, 23 April 2010

Robert Jordan, Wheel of Time 7: A Crown of Swords (1994)

You can see, there, how much I paid in Thames Hospicecare for this hardback copy of WoTVII, or ‘wotveee!’ as I shall call it. I’m glad I paid no more. Though I'll confess I quite like the cover (That Bodybuilder Who Was Darth Maul playing one-potato-two-potato in front of a giant pothole). That is to say, I like it more than some of the other ones.

A heatwave has devastated the WoTland, and the parching climate is described at length, but I can’t say I cared. Rand al’Thor, who has wangled himself three attractive girlfriends, spends quality time with one of them: Min Of The Goon-Show Name. He plans an attack upon the blond-haired, scarred Evil-fellow, Sammael, and I can’t say I cared. Then he gets stabbed with a magic dagger by evil former-pedlar Padain Fain, although not stabbed fatally, and I can’t say I cared. I thought Padain died in a previous instalment, but I must have got that wrong. Must keep up. What else? Mat, Nynaeve, and Elayne look for a magic bowl with the power to end the heatwave, but I can’t say I cared. Perrin does a lot of sniffing around; literal sniffing, since he’s a half-man-half-wolf, but I can’t say I cared. The Evil characters plot and counterplot and plot some more, but I can’t say I cared. There's some more awkward titillating nudity, and a lot of waffling about. I just can't say I cared.

Did I care about anything in this novel? Well, I cared about the quality of the writing, which seemed to me markedly worse than even previous instalments. In the prologue, e-e-evil Elaida talks with a subordinate called Alviarin, a lady described as being ‘slim and cool-faced’ [5], though I’m not sure what that means.
The Ajas sent to the Keeper whatever dribbles from their own eyes-and-ears they were willing to share.
Eeew! As for Alviarin, ‘the slim woman merely smiled her cool smile’ [6]. Cool, you see. ‘Her voice became cold ... [she] stood there, calm as a frozen pond ... the woman’s reply was cool and smooth as her face ... if anything it should have coated the walls with frost.’ You get the idea. Ah but it’s ironic, see, because the world is suffering an unnaturally prolonged heatwave! D’you see the irony?

You do?

I started keeping note of some of the more out-leap-y examples of WoT/THoG style:
That old woman reminded Sevenna of a landslide plunging down a mountain. [22]

The threat hung in the air like a gleaming dagger. [30]

The birdlike fellow made Valda itch [37]

Suddenly he pressed the looking glass to his eye as a woman galloped a tall black horse. [39]

This had been his first real lesson as a soldier. You always had to pay the butcher. [42]

Shoulders wide enough to make him seem shorter than he was slumped under the weight of responsibility. [45]

Worry ... ate inside him like a ferret trying to burrow out of his middle. [45]

Perrin shut out the rest, no easy task, with his ears. [51]

He sounded like a bumblebee the size of a cat instead of a mastiff. [63]

A rabbit watching for a hawk might have been as intent, but never with that air of menace. [77]

Min held herself stiffly and took ginger steps. [102]

Her slightly tilted eyes fastened on him, dark liquid moons. [104]

His nose strained for a scent of her, but the perfume was too strong, and the fear. She had a reason for being there on the dais, a good reason. She did. [104]

Gently he took her by the shoulders and lifted her until those big tilted eyes were level with his ... Berating himself for being an oaf he let her go, arms springing apart, but before he could apologize her fingers clutched his beard. [119]
But after 120-pages of this I exhausted the patience necessary to interrupt my reading with jotting examples down in my notebook. I wanted to get through the damn thing as soon as possible. That's not to say that the writing get any better, for it does not ('cold eyes followed her in a bubble of silence', 493).

One thing that sticks most in my mind is the book’s very un-Tolkienian, un-Herbetian obsession with interior design and soft furnishings:
The case clock balanced the door to her sitting room ... the carpet covering most of the tiles came from Tarabon, patterned in red and green and gold; silk carpets were the most precious. In each corner of the room a marble plinth carved in unpretentious verticals held a white vase ... [3]

The furnishings were Domani, striped wood inlaid with pearlshell and amber, bright carpets in patterns of flowers and scrolls ... [27]

Tall gilded stand-lamps with mirrors on every branch ... scattered niches held bowls and vases and now and then a small statue, in gold and silver or alabaster ... [102]

Carved chairs heavy with gilt stood in paired lines to either side of a golden Rising Sun, two paces wide, set into a polished stone floor ... a carpet spread for the occasion was green and gold and blue in a Tairen maze. [305]

Min watched him, rooting through the coats in the huge ivory-inlaid wardrobe. How could he sleep in this room, with all its black, heavy furniture? [520]
Hideous bourgeois Homes-and-Gardens decor-porn, the lot. 'Egwene returned to her unsteady chair and pushed her breakfast tray aside ... filled her teacup, setting it and the blue-glazed honeypot on the corner of the table.' [197] Can you imagine Arwen eating off a breakfast tray? Aragorn?

Otherwise: 'the fox-faced woman across the way popped into his view again' [260]. The fox-faced woman? Really?

That's enough wotveee! for one week, I think.


Jonathan M said...

I'm currently listening to the second Millennium book on my iPod (The Girl Who Started A Fire or whatever it's called) and that's FULL of decor-porn.

There's one great bit in which she buys a new flat and we are told not only exactly upon what street the flat can be found and how to get there from the station but we are also treated to a shopping trip to Ikea in which the character discusses the fine wooden finish on her new dining table complete with a reference to the name of the model.

It's called padding.

Larry said...

Decor-porn. Now I have the one word I needed to describe this series to someone. Of course, I'm just only starting to see the full force of this decor-porn, as I started re-reading this series in large part due to your interesting takes on the books, Adam. Don't know if I should hate you or not, as I vague memory tells me that I'm about to hit the troughs you've had (I'm on Book 4) and I believe the next 4 are killers compared to #7.

Samuel W said...

Given how you mentioned the squeaky-cleanness of the relationships in earlier books, I find it interesting that you didn't mention the (mostly off-page) rape of Mat by Tylin in this book.

Oddly, it is an issue that quite a few people miss, but as I have said, I would have thought you'd have commented on it.

Adam Whitehead said...

The problem is that Jordan played the Tylin/Mat relationship for laughs and later had Mat developing feelings for her (SPOILERS, but I don't think Adam cares), so I think Jordan wasn't really trying to do anything too subversive there.

Slightly darker is the arrival of Shaidar Haran as the real servant of the Dark One whose incredulous reaction to the Forsaken's extreme incompetence is to scare the crap out of several of them and then definitely rape another (Moghedien), indicating that Jordan's rubbish villains was at least a deliberate touch (or retconned by Jordan at this point into being so).

Misanthrope said...

Adam W, I think you've touched on one of the major difficulties Jordan had with characters - each new character has to be more intimidating and 'badass' than the last one. Everytime some new Aes Sedai showed up she would have the previous ones gulping and smoothing their skirts nervously. Everytime a new baddie showed up, he had the old ones fidgeting and nervous etc. It got old after a while...

Емануил said...

Reading these posts is total blast, but I would Adam, if he's not gone insane by then, to save some goodwill for Sanderson's contributions.

I haven't read The Gathering Storm, but I've heard from both fans who still love the series and fans who've grown to hate it that TGS is far better than anything Jordan could have written ever - which isn't surprising: judging by Sanderson's other books, he's clearly a talented guy.

Емануил said...

...*I would advice Adam*...
...*judging by Sanderson's other books, I think he's clearly a talented guy*

Abalieno said...

I wonder if Adam could be convinced to do Erikson or Martin.

I'd love to see another perspective.

Tom Elrod said...

Adam, why are you doing this to yourself?

Adam Whitehead said...

I was actually going to ask Adam to do Goodkind next. His insights into the Ayn Randian Evil Chicken would be interesting. At the same time, he might be moved to gibbering lunacy by the experience, so maybe not ;-)

Adam Whitehead said...

There's cover quotes attributed to Adam on the last Erikson book, so I assume he much more approves of SE compared to RJ.

GeoX said...

Do we get to put it to a vote? My favorite fantasy series when I was a teenager was Weis & Hickman's Deathgate Cycle. I'd go for that.

Abalieno said...

I tracked that comment about Adam Roberts and Erikson and it seems from a very old review of the very first book.

So it would be surely interesting to know his point of view on how the series develops.