I finished Book 6 of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series last night. I’ve read it before. More than once.
I think it was 1993 when I started reading this series. It had been recommended to me by a friend at school (I had recommended Wars of Light and Shadows to her, but that is a topic for another day). At the time only 4 books from the series had yet been published, but I think that what had started as a 6 book series was now set to be an 8 book one. Book 5 was released later that year, and book 6 the year after, but after that the books starting coming further and further apart. And we were told that the 8 book series would now be 10, then 12 (it ended up at 14). Fans of the series were talking about how Robert Jordan had lost his way a bit and had spun so many threads in his story that he was having trouble bringing them back together again, and this is why the series kept expanding. As books were coming out further apart, I was finding I needed to reread earlier ones to remember where I was up to. I eventually stopped after book 9 and decided to wait until these series was complete and start again from book 1.
I was a bit late picking the series back up again after it was completed. And in the interim I had replaced books 1-6 with new copies as they had gotten rather tatty from their multiple reads. I finally started again from the beginning late in 2019. With the plan to read one book every 1-2 months. And that brings me to the subject of this post…
I started reading book 6 in June 2020. I got about half way through and was very much struggling to stay interested in the book. At the time I had been moved onto another project team at work and was trying to lead a team across several time zones, with my work days expanding to 12 hours/day (later to be even longer). At the time I didn’t make the connection as I remembered that there had been a point around book 5/6 where things slowed down and a lot of people gave up on the series, but it got good again if you just made it through. In June 2020 I just couldn’t make it through.
This month I picked it up again, and this time I didn’t struggle to read the book. Even recovering from burnout from my current (different) job, it kept my attention. But this time something completely different jumped out at me. Something that I don’t remember being such a big thing in my teens and twenties when reading the books, and maybe not even as starkly a few years ago when I started my reread again… Robert Jordan is incredibly bad with female characters.
I think he was going for strong independent women. Instead he landed on irrational, shrewish, immature women who get upset if they don’t get their way. It’s not uncommon for male authors to struggle with female characters. It’s what put me off JP Pomare after reading his first book. David Eddings enlisted the help of his wife (at the time a silent coauthor) for his books. And I have always thought that it was at the root of the reason Janny Wurts wrote the Empire trilogy of Raymond E Feist’s world (as it had to centre around a strong female character). Robert Jordan would have done well to seek some assistance too.
But though characters are an important part of a book, they aren’t the only thing that is important about a story. There is of course the story itself. And the writing and pace.
Having set this book aside for more than two years, it took a bit to remember where the story was up to. Especially with the multiple threads being spun. The pace of action didn’t phase me in the second half and I was enjoying waiting to see what happened next as I have forgotten so much from the last time I read it. There is an unevenness to the story though, with some things being resolved too quickly and cleanly, and others taking some time, or not being resolved at all. And you find yourself trying to dig for clues to work out who some of the characters hiding in plain sight might be. I keep thinking Taim is one of the Forsaken. But if I am right, I haven’t worked out which one. I think I may have had a theory before I put the book down in 2020, but now I have to start building that again from the clues I read now, having forgotten the others.
So, onto book 7.