Friday, 28 May 2010

Robert Jordan, The Wheel of Time 10: Crossroads of Twilight (2003)

Let me see if I can boil down Crossroads of Twilight’s 700-pages for you.


There you go.

I was warned. Many people warned me. Jordan writes. He doesn’t revise what he has written, and nobody edits what he has written. He writes a great fog of fretfully realised detail, very loosely bunched into clusters of pointless character interactions. Nothing else happens. Jordan writes many ill-formed and many more gangling, clumsy, clause-carcrash sentences of the ‘Sashalle was no taller than she, not to speak of, but she had to hurry to keep up, as the Red glided swiftly, along wide, square-vaulted corridors’ and 'Sheriam's shriek shattered the stillness in more ways than one' and 'the stream of people flowing the other way was mostly Seanchan, soldiers in ordered ranks, with their segmented armour, painted in stripes, and helmets that looked like the heads of huge insects, some marching and some mounted nobles, nobles who were always mounted, wearing ornate cloaks, pleated riding dresses and lace veils, and voluminous trousers and long coats' kind. But we’re used to that from previous books.

Jordan writes: ‘but then, who would have expected to see Bertholme Saighan walking peacefully with Weiramon Saniago, neither man reaching for the dagger at his belt?’ [81]. And we read (for reading is in part a process of interpreting writing): ‘but then, who can honestly say they remember who Bertholme Saighan is, or why he should or shouldn’t be walking peacefully with Weiramon Saniago, or whether we’ve ever encountered either of them before, oh god when will this end, haven't we suffered enough?’

Jordan writes: ‘the odour of horse dung seemed strong.’ [286] Well, quite.

Is there tea? There is tea. Even better than that, there is explosively detonating honey: ‘Without thinking Elayne picked up her teacup and took a sip. The tea had gone cold, but honey exploded on her tongue. Honey! She looked at Avienda in astonishment.’ [351] Exploding honey would astonish me too.

Have you ever nodded to somebody? Ah, but have you ever nodded like this: ‘After a moment, his chin moved, the vestige of a nod’ [541].

Oh. You have?

‘Loial’s ears trembled with caution, now.’ [553] That’s a neat trick.

Towards the end, Jordan writes in a way that might even betray that most un-Wheel of Time quality, ironic self-awareness (‘so many fabulations drifted out that telling reality from nonsense became difficult’, 363). But no; it’s all painfully earnest; he really thinks that we will be interested in all this clothing, and furnishings, and terrible terrible sentence constructions.

This is the conclusion to which I have come: Jordan is the Fantasy-writing equivalent of this Belgian man, rolling his marbles endlessly, happily round and round the same track. He’s enjoying himself. It’s not really for our benefit (although it's performed under the polite fiction that it is). It's for his own benefit, and does us no harm. Can’t we leave it at that?

Here’s the opening paragraph I originally wrote for this review:
The Wheel of Time does not turn, and books freeze and stall, leaving memories that become confused as to whom all these minor characters are, actually. Minor characters blur to one another, and even quite important figures are long forgotten when the series that gave them birth comes again. In one Book, called the Tenth by Jordan, a Book neither future nor past but interminably, tediously present, a wind rose at the Punkadiddle waterfall. The wind is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. The wind says: I was warned. And yet, to encounter textual stasis of quite such magnitude is a staggering experience. My God, and I thought earlier books were slow.
But riffling through some of the 1000 readers' reviews of Crossroads of Twilight, I found this—which is the same gag, done not only first but rather better:
The Wheel of Time turns, and Books come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Book that gave it birth comes again. In one Book, called the Tenth Book by some, a Book yet to be written, a Book already burned, a yawn rose in the Crossroads of Twilight. The Yawn is not the beginning, there are neither beginning nor endings in the Wheel of Time (not if Jordan is still paid by the word.) But it is a beginning.
…which busted my flush somewhat. I also liked Time Traveller’s review from the future:
Greetings Fellow Humans. I come from a thousand years in the future and have traveled back in time to tell all of you that the end is in sight and it is worth the wait. Robert Jordan, having his consciousness digitized has greatly increased his efficiency and is on Book 1452 and is now writing at a clip of 2 books per year. Each book now spans a time period of 1 minute, and he has introduced over 5 dozen new characters, none of whom (like Jordan) can die. But as I said before, the end is in sight. Robert Jordan X20485 has promised that he plans to end the series at Book 1500. So I urge all of you to stay the course. Be diligent and read the books. And finally, there is a twist in Book 438 that will simply blow your mind. It is so great that it was instrumental in brokering peace between Pakistan and India after WW4.


Drew said...

Yes, this is really a tedious book. Kudos for staying the course despite various superfans amazement that not everyone likes neverending stories or tedious descriptions of clothing, simplified systems wearing the clothes of complexity (i.e. the One Power and the Pattern) and superheroes who the author earnestly want to mean something (but really, he just wants you to like them, and is annoyed when you hate one or more of them).

I've said it before: RJ doesn't want you to exercise your imagination. He wants to tell you exactly what he envisions for each scene, and you are merely invited along for the stroll. The books proceed too slowly for me to call this a ride.

Larry said...

I was hoping that you would have tackled the Elayne bath scene with more detail. When I originally read this book, I lifted the car junkyard scene from Modris Eksteins' Rites of Spring to make the connection about banal oblivion. Should have done so when I did those re-read commentaries.

Femalethoth (Mal from xkcdsucks) said...

Jesus Christ, those sentences are mind-bogglingly awful. How is it even possible to write bumbling, never-ending nonsense like that, if not by deliberately exaggerating the awfulness of earnestly amateur attempts to pile on "evocative" detail?

CSA said...

We all knew you would love it. I think i would rather read the entire Old Testament than pick up Crossroads again.

Fortunately, if my memory serves, Crossroads was the worst in the series though i think Knife of Dreams possibly wasnt too much better until like the last 2 pages.
But it could be like comparing cow pat to dog crap.

I, like a number of eh... i'm not going to call myself a "fan"... was relatively pleased with Gathering Storm just for fact stuff could be accused for actually happening.

I can't even remember if anything happens in Knife of Dreams, so looking forward to your next review!

Steve said...

I can't wait to hear if the Brandon Sanderson novels are better than Robert Jordan's.

Misanthrope said...

Well hats off to you Mr Roberts! I honestly didn't think you would make it this far! You can now take comfort from the fact that the worst is now behind you (as long as you don't read the prequel 'New Spring' which in my opinion was the worst of the entire WOT cannon).

Also, another superlative review. I actually preferred your intro to the other one!

Lagomorph Rex said...

yup yup, this is by far the most tedious of the series.

"Not the End, nor Even the Beginning of the End, But Perhaps the End of the Beginning"

Good use of Churchill if ever there was.

AnabelM_Es倫音 said...


Paul said...

Wow, a man who doesn't give in. I find it impossible to read books I don't enjoy without at least skipping many, many pages so respect for you for carrying on. No surrender!!
It's a shame this saga went on so long as the first book of this series wasn't terrible, if it had been finished in 2 or 3 books it might have been semi readable. I agree that Robert Jordan became obsessed with the world he had created and forgot the story.
It's hard to believe how terrible some of the prose has been. No self editing... but no evidence of good editing at all... still the books made/make money for the writer and publishers, and quantity not quality is what they were after.

Adam Roberts said...

The more I think about it, the more that Belgian marble guy, in the link in the main post, seems to me the perfect cypher for Jordan. Look! He's got all his myriad marbles, each one lovingly named and arranged. Look, he sets them all off again on the endless track! Look, he records their times and passages.

CSA said...

Adam, I think your right. He throws his plots down the marble run, and few get stuck along the way, some eventually make it to the finish line, but a few have shot off the track into his pint of ale.

Each pointless sub-plot and useless sub-character Jordan has loving named.
We have little "Galad Damodred and the White coats", and "Queen Morgase falls in love", and who can forget "pointless banter between siuan and gareth"?

He seems to have lost "Moraine and Lanfear" under the sofa, I miss that marble, er, I mean plot. I'm sure it will turn up. Maybe Sanderson will find it.

Hmm come to think of it, the Marble Man definately was more organised. After reading crossroads, how can you even jokingly think that Jordan kept any record of how fast his marbles/plots finished?

Viviana said...

Mr Roberts, I consider what you've done to be a public service of sorts - reading WOT and reviewing it so I needn't waste my time.

Just as we have the Comics Curmudgeon for our daily newspaper strips in the US (his original slogan was "Josh reads the comics so you don't have to), you are now my WOT Curmudgeon, and I thank you.

nix said...

"and terrible terrible sentence constructions"

I didn't come here to read your... charity. ;)

(btw, just remember: what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Or at least makes you more depressed. This may be the same thing.)

Gillian said...

Is the Brandon Sanderson contribution better than the preceding volumes? Yes - I actually managed to read it rather than just flicking through as I had for the previous six tomes. But so far not good enough for me to recommend starting WOT.

Are there any books which can be compared to WOT in style yet succeed? I've just finished The Stone Dance of the Chameleon by Ricardo Pinto
which shares an oppressive delight in world building and a certain clumsiness of expression with WOT. Only three volumes though so Pinto could be accused of being too concise. Likr Jordan, Pinto succeeds in depicting his truely different world by piling up detail, but it is a far more interesting world. This is also a critique of both epic fantasy and our modern society of global inwquality so maybe wider in scope than WOT. Pinto also provides appendices on the internet. Don't read about the putrefying corpses over dinner.

I can't think of any other book that even comes close to WOT while at least approaching success. There must be others.

marco said...

what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Maybe. Sometimes it can make you permanently maimed.

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