Eye of the World: Chapter 3

Warning: .gif under the cut.

Wow. My traffic exploded over the past week! Thanks to everyone who came to check out my review of Forever Innocent. I know my web traffic here is small potatoes compared to some, but I never imagined that anyone other than my friends and family would read this. I’m overwhelmed by this, honestly. However, it has led me to a realization: I may need to lay down some ground rules.

Rule #1: Don’t be a dick.

That’s basically it. I’m not going to tone police anyone who wants to curse or say naughty words, because that would be dazzlingly hypocritical. However, in my boundless idealism, I would like to foster a culture of tolerance here on this blog. You have literally the entire internet to use if you want to hurl insults at other people. Don’t bring that shit here. If you feel the burning need, you know where to find Reddit, 4chan, and Fark. This is not one of those places. If I feel like any comments get out of line, there will be a warning/reminder. HOWEVER. HOWEVER: If at any time someone uses a slur (and I don’t care which kind), that comment will be deleted outright. That’s it. I don’t care if the rest of the comment divulges the final fate of Jimmy Hoffa. Thankfully, this hasn’t happened. But just know that I will not tolerate that for a red-hot second.

Great! I love all of you. Yes, everyone. Even you. That’s right.

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I Finished a Book: Forever Innocent by Deanna Roy

This isn’t exclusively a Robert Jordan re-read blog, after all. I finished a book this week that I blew through in one sitting because not only was it a quick read, it was a compelling one: I just couldn’t put it down.

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Forever Innocent by Deanna Roy. New Adult Romance.

Yeah, that’s right. Romance.

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Eye of the World: Chapter 2

Warning: Post contains a .gif

Chapter 2: Strangers

The Action

Hey, wouldn’t it be super ironic if strangers showed up in this chapter, especially since the narration just finished beating us over the head with how strangers NEVER come to Emond’s Field?

Nah, that would be silly.

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Eye of the World Chapter 1

Chapter 1: An Empty Road

The Action

From the destroyed opulence of Lews Therin Kinslayer and Elan Well-Dressed, the narrative shifts to the opening motif that will begin chapter 1 for this and the next thirteen books: following the path of a breeze, with the note that this was not the beginning, but a beginning.

A series called the “Wheel of Time” that has a theme of cyclical happenings?

(That image will never not be hilarious to me. DEAL WITH IT.)

This wind that is not the beginning blows past Rand al’Thor and his father, Tam, as they bring their wagon of cider and brandy from their remote farmhouse into the town of Emond’s Field in the general province of Two Rivers. Jordan would like you to know that Strange Things Are Afoot in Emond’s Field: even with the Bel Tine festival—

Wait, you mean Beltane, don’t you? You misspelled Beltane, you may want to look at that—

Nope.

THE Z IS SILENT: 2

We’ve moved from a Judeo-Christian inspired concept of Satan to a Gaelic pagan springtime festival. Basically, Rule of Cool (WARNING: TVTROPES TIMESINK LINK) dictates the spiritual life of the denizens of Jordan’s imagination. Side note, yes, it can be spelled “Beltine”, as one word. But, you know, the Z is silent. By the way, what are the betting odds that any Hindu or Aboriginal or Shinto mythology will find a reflection in the text?

(HAHAHAHA, I’ll go ahead and stop you right there. It’s not going to happen. It’s a white, white, Anglo-Saxon world we’re dealing with. Literally, all of the non-white people were thrown to the ends of the earth after the Breaking.)

Moving on. Even with the Bel Tine festival approaching the next day, the weather is still brisk. There’s snow on the ground and the fields don’t have that tourism brochure look of flourishing in the green, green springtime. Even worse, wolves are getting bolder. You know the easiest way to signify that shit gets real in a medieval farm setting? Throw in wolves. Audiences get wolves.

You know, credit where credit is due: while not the most subtle author in the world, Jordan does understand the concept of “show, not tell” in regards to setting. In this chapter, as in the prologue, the information given to the audience allows the reader to extrapolate a great deal without being bogged down by meaningless trivia. While we do get a laundry list of Rand’s motivations, fears, and actions, the actual world building continues to be introduced in a palatable, informative way. As Rand and Tam guide their steady, faithful mare, Bela, down the deserted path, Rand suddenly gets the feeling that he’s being…watched.

And of course he is. Behind them on the path is a horse and rider, both of whom are all black. I mean, the rider is wearing all black, because remember, everyone here is super white. Sadly, the rider isn’t Elan Well-Dressed because there is a tragic lack of white lace collars and thigh-high boots. The rider’s black hood completely (and conveniently) obscures his face, but Rand still gets the feeling that the rider viscerally loathes him on absolutely no evidence.

It may shock you to learn that Rand is, in fact, a teenager.

He stumbles in the road, breaking eye contact, and I think you know where this is going. He looks up and the rider has vanished as though he never existed.

If you correctly called that, you will correctly call the next steps: Tam has seen nothing, there’s no evidence that anyone has been on this path other than them, and Rand convinces himself that he made it all up. Besides, he tells himself, one thing he noticed but is only bringing up now at the time of appropriate drama, the wind didn’t touch the rider’s cloak at all. The constant, chapter-starting breeze that gave Rand such a hard time skipped this guy. That’s an awesomely creepy image, and does help explain to the reader why Rand would be willing to doubt the validity of his own eyes.

Tam consoles his son and tells him to “think of the flame and the void”. SO IT BEGINS.

THE VOID STARES BACK: 1

This is Tam’s old soldier trick of clearing the mind before battle by imagining a flame and feeding your emotions into it to achieve…balance? Ascend to a higher plane of existence? This apparently is the reason that Tam wins the archery contest at Bel Tine every year. Anyway, this is not the last time we see the appearance of the flame and the void. Not by a long shot. The void is a tricky thing to achieve, though, and Rand has never had much luck with it.

When they reach Emond’s Field, I kind of want to hit my head against the table. Remember how I mentioned that subtlety is not Jordan’s strong suit? The rest of this chapter could basically serve as my entire thesis. Here’s what you need to take away:

  • Emond’s Field is SO QUAINT and SO BUCOLIC.
  • SERIOUSLY. THATCH-ROOFED COTTAGES and BICKERING TOWNSPEOPLE and STRANGERS? STRANGERS DON’T COME TO EMOND’S FIELD, SILLY. WOULDN’T THAT BE WEIRD IF THEY DID? WHAT ARE THE ODDS?
  • Bel Tine customs are strange (according to whom? Jordan, I guess) but that’s just the Way Things Are Done and no one questions it because That’s What Country Folk Do. They have strange customs and don’t even know why, unlike the rest of us who completely grasp why a rabbit hides chicken eggs to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. I considered making this a count, but we won’t see Emond’s Field again for another three books or so, so I didn’t bother.
  • Rural countryfolk are also ornery. After reading this chapter, I had The Music Man stuck in my head for the rest of the day. They can be cold as their falling thermometer in December if you ask about their weather in July! And they’re so by-god stubborn that they’ll stand touching noses for a week at a time and never see eye to eyyyyyyyyyyyyyye! (If you didn’t grow up in my family, kindly see Iowa Stubborn for reference.)
  • Apparently, one of those quirky things that country people do is have strange names for things, like a road that is called one thing south of the river and another thing north of the river. I can only assume that at the time of writing, Robert Jordan had never been to San Antonio. Or Austin. Or all of New England.
  • Women, am I right?

Yeah, that’s going to be another count:

WOMEN ARE FROM VENUS

Expect to see this count skyrocket at an exponential rate. In this chapter alone, we have:

  • Rand musing about his crush on Egwene, the innkeeper’s daughter, except it doesn’t sound like a crush so much as him living in terror of her because omg girls: 1
  • The fact that there are gender-segregated village leadership boards: the Women’s Circle and the Village Council. Does this strike anybody else as an inefficient form of government? Also, LOL the Women’s Circle gets SO ANGRY when menfolk try and meddle in their business because women are SO TOUCHY. Why can’t they be more rational and level-headed and accepting like the men? 1
  • Nynaeve, the village Wisdom, doesn’t show up in this chapter but we learn that her reputation is that of a bossy, overbearing, demanding nightmare. Oh, I’m sorry, did I say Nynaeve? That’s pretty much every woman in Emond’s Field. To compound Nynaeve’s sins, she’s also young and doesn’t put up with the bullshit the townspeople give her. what a horrible person: 1
  • The first (living) woman we ever see on page in this entire book series is Daise Congar, the wife of local small-minded grumpypants Wit Congar. She literally roars her dialogue, berates her husband for poking his nose into Women’s Circle business, and summarily hauls him off, presumably to hen-peck him to death. She’s also described as huge, shrieking, Valkyre-like harridan while her husband is a small, cowed, twitchy guy, presumably because he’s had to live with her for so long: 1
  • All of the local housewives are constantly trying to get widower Tam al’Thor to marry their single cousins/daughters/sisters/what have you because women are obsessed with marriage: 1
  • That hasn’t worked so they start to cast their eyes on Rand, and he reacts more fearfully to this concept than he does to the memory of the unnatural black rider: 1

WOMEN ARE FROM VENUS: 6

I mean, this chapter is only 18 pages long, and for 7 of them, the only characters around are Rand and Tam.

Good points: the description of the physical appearance of Emond’s Field is gorgeous to imagine: mountains looming in the distance, a wild forest that leads from the foot of it, farms for miles around, and a pretty spring that feeds into a wide river. It’s basically everything I love in life in one place.

After several run-ins with the local Debbie Downers, Rand and Tam finally make it to the inn, where the innkeeper/mayor Bran al’Vere is there to welcome them and take that cider off their hands. Also there is one of Rand’s best friends, Matrim Cauthon. Mat is your prototypical man-child prankster with no ambition who hates work and you’d be forgiven for wondering just how old these characters really are because Mat’s idea of hot fun is to tell Rand that their mutual friend Dav has captured a badger and is going to let it loose on the green where all of the women are sitting, presumably to watch them shriek and run around. Oh, to think I’d left that out of my list! No matter.

WOMEN ARE FROM VENUS: 7

I think that qualifies. To remind everyone, they’re supposed to be seventeen or so. A badger? It strikes me more as something a twelve-year-old might find amusing. Also, poor badger. Where are they even keeping it? It should be noted that the women are out on the village green preparing the May Pole Spring Pole for the next day’s festivities.

THE Z IS SILENT: 3

Plot-relevant information finally enters Rand and Mat’s conversation as Mat mentions that he, too, saw the strange black rider but no one else did. DUN DUN DUNNNNN. Despite having corroboration for their tale, they both decide to keep this news to themselves. Naturally.

After that, the chapter devolves into a weird anticlimax, as it trails off into the men of the town bickering over the presence of a gleeman (which is a cause for great excitement, since strangers don’t come to Emond’s Field EVERRR), the possible presence of fireworks (which is a cause for even greater excitement, since everyone there hasn’t been a fireworks display in ten years and besides, everyone loves Gandalf), and the expense thereof. Lip service is paid to Rand having a good head on his shoulders, at which I laughed long, loud, and heartily for several minutes. Finally, we get some KOMEDY as Mat is unwittingly roped into helping Rand unload casks of cider. He has to actively remind Rand about Egwene, and the text lampshades how Rand had completely forgotten about her. All of Rand’s thoughts now that he remembers are how to avoid her. Seriously.

WOMEN ARE FROM VENUS: 8

And on that weird note, the chapter ends.

My Thoughts

Oh my god, I managed to forget that we got this much gender stereotyping right off the bat. The chapter started out strong, with hints of conflict in both nature itself and in the appearance of the strange black rider, and continued nicely with the lovely description of Emond’s Field. Then it took a turn for the cliché, introduced a few elements that are actually relevant (Mat’s encounter with the rider and the presence of the gleeman, though the audience doesn’t know this is significant yet), and then hit a wall with the minutiae of purchasing fireworks before ending with a ha-ha scene of “Mat is lazy and doesn’t like working and Rand is ~so confused about Egwene”. I dunno. It kept my attention when I was younger, but at my current age, I think I’d put the book on probation at this point.

COUNTS:

THE Z IS SILENT: 3

AT LEAST I’M PRETTY: 1

HINDSIGHT IS 20/20: 1

THE VOID STARES BACK: 1

WOMEN ARE FROM VENUS: 8

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Eye of the World: Prologue

Well, it was on this day eight years ago that the literary (and physical) world lost Robert Jordan. In his honor, I am going to crack my knuckles and tear into the magnum opus that eventually came to define his entire career. THIS! IS! EYE OF THE WORLD!

Notice that I am deliberately withholding any kind of information on the frequency of updates. No need to box myself in, right? So without further ado, let’s tackle this project.

(See? I don’t have to curse to get my point across. I was totally going to say “motherfucker” but held off. It’s possible.)

For reference, quotes and page numbers come from the Tor Fantasy paperback edition, ISBN # 978-0-8125-1181-9.

The Eye of the World

Prologue: Dragonmount

The Action

Right off the bat, we open on a scene of destruction. A palace shows the scars of a recent battle: scorch marks, destroyed walls, dead bodies lying where they fell. An earthquake’s aftershocks still rumble through the earth. Did the earthquake itself cause this chaos, or is there another culprit? All in all, it’s a pretty solid first showing.

I notice the language and while it stays just on the good side of descriptive, some of the word choices strike me as odd. For example, sunlight streams in through the rents in the walls. I typically associate the word “rend” with fabric, like rending one’s garments. Unless this world is inspired by feudal Japan, I doubt the walls are made of fabric. It continues by describing the dead men, women, and children as being struck down by “lightnings”. Lightnings? Spellcheck refuses to believe that’s a word. So do I. Even if it was, what’s wrong with “lightning bolts”?

When we meet Lews Therin Telamon, something is…not right. While he’s agile enough in his movements, he seems oblivious to the carnage around him, concentrating only on finding his wife Ilyena. We then get a description of maniacal laughter, in case we as the audience thought the preceding introduction didn’t solidify it. So, yes: Lews Therin: clearly unbalanced.

Our new visitor thinks so, as well, and the first overt sign of the world’s magic system appears to herald his arrival as he steps out of thin air. More specifically, the air rippled, shimmered, solidified into a man. By the way, I didn’t leave out the conjunction. Less than two pages in and this stylistic quirk appears several times. My first impression of our visitor is that he’s faaaaaabulous. Dressed in all black except for white lace on his collar and silver fastenings on his turned-down thigh high boots? I know that this fellow isn’t a Good Guy, but come on. Thigh high boots. New favorite.

He addresses Lews Therin as “Lord of the Morning”, which sets off an increasing variety of Important-Sounding Titles and Things That Are Capitalized to Signify Importance. The one that immediately leaps out is a reference to “Shai’tan”.

Shai’tan is an existing word, Arabic for adversary and most often associated with Satan. (Guess the etymology of “Satan”! Pull that one out at your next game of Trivial Pursuit, with my blessing.) This world has a spirituality angle with a Judeo-Christian influence, and the similarities don’t end here. Welcome to one of the prototypical high fantasy tropes that Jordan adopted with gusto: taking real-world proper nouns and inserting them, usually with a letter or two added, missing, transposed, or otherwise altered to make it “his own”. Let’s keep track of this, shall we?

THE Z IS SILENT: 1

Every time there’s a name with a real world equivalent that looks like the parents from Baby’s Named a Bad, Bad Thing got their hands on it, expect to see that count pop up.

Lews Therin is too busy being insane to appreciate this, and from the sound of things, we can infer that this ruined house belongs to him. Our fabulous visitor gets an equally fabulous name—Elan Morin Tedronai—and he is unimpressed with the state of things. I think he’s supposed to be Ishamael, the Forsaken, but I can’t remember for sure which one he actually is. Anyway, his eye-rolling annoyance gives me life. More titles are thrown around: Elan is Betrayer of Hope, because apparently someone else must have laid claim to Evil McEvilpants of Evilvania. Lews Therin is the Dragon, and now known as Kinslayer.

Clearly, we’ve found the culprit of the destruction.

More meaningful words: the Servants. Ring of Tamyrlin, the High Seat, the Nine Rods of Dominion. Places like the Hall of Servants (presumably the same Servants as mentioned above), the Gates of Paaran Disen (a play on “paradise”?). Elan Morin tosses these things around to establish that his antagonism with Lews Therin is personal, rather than political, and he takes a certain satisfaction in a Shai’tan-powered Healing, temporarily granting the Dragon an agonizing but effective period of lucidity.

Things go downhill rapidly following this, as the very reason Lews Therin went mad in the first place—the realization that he murdered his entire family, including his beloved Ilyena Sunhair—threatens to drive him to insanity again.

Oh, yeah. The two men we’ve met? The Lord of the Morning. Betrayer of Hope. The Dragon. The one named woman? Described consistently as “golden-haired” and given the title “Sunhair”. Because, you know, women are most easily described by their features and not their accomplishments. For all that women are supposedly just as powerful and equal as men in this society, I don’t see Elan running around with the title “Well-Dressed”. Let’s kick off a count, just to keep track.

AT LEAST I’M PRETTY: 1

Lews Therin does what any unbalanced man in the throes of grief would do: he seizes tainted saidin, the source of magic, and flees the scene. Saidin is the male half of the power that drove the universe, that turned the Wheel of Time and he feels the oily taint fouling its surface. Like the wholesale slaughter of his family, this too is his fault. Through his arrogance, Lews Therin destroyed the world, destroyed his family, destroyed a force of nature and now, he destroys himself.

The forming of Dragonmount pulls a volcano out of a flat prairie, detours a river, and pulls up an island in the middle of it. I see you there, Tar Valon! Hey, that’s neat! I never noted the significance of that before. New count!

HINDSIGHT IS 20/20: 1

Elan appears one last time so we can end this prologue on a fittingly ominous note: he claims that the battle will not end with Lews Therin’s death. The battle will not end until the end of time.

The prologue closes with two excerpts that describe the Breaking of the World and the Cycle of the Dragon. The Wheel spins on.

My Thoughts

The prologue manages to take fantasy standards—the fight of light vs. dark, the vaguely medieval setting, the existence of magic—and keep it compelling. Even now, almost fifteen years since I first cracked open this book, it isn’t boring to me. And trust me, I’ve read a lot of fantasy between now and then. Without trying anything that’s too off the wall, he conveys common tropes in a way that doesn’t make me feel as though I’ve seen this before (well, you know what I mean). The readers get a roaring start, hints of world-building without info dumps, and a hook for chapter one. All in all, a great start to this epic series.

COUNTS:

THE Z IS SILENT: 1

AT LEAST I’M PRETTY: 1

HINDSIGHT IS 20/20: 1

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Coming Soon!

A new project looms on the horizon!

Ladies and gentlemen and everything in between, I will soon embark on a quest: to re-read Robert Jordan’s A Wheel of Time series from start to finish.

14 books.

658 chapters.

Almost 4 million words.

23 years in the making.

Oh, and I’m going to blog about it, sharing my thoughts and experiences with all of you. You’re welcome!

Is this a daunting undertaking? Quite. Will I make it? We can only hope!

Good lord, why would you do such a thing?

Because I can, mostly. Why does anyone do anything on the internet? Ever since the last book, A Memory of Light, came out back in January, I had that moment of melancholy that inevitably comes with finishing a long-haul series. I wrote about this back when I began the task of reading it, but the salient point still stands: for the last…oh, since Winter’s Heart, I completely lost track of the prohibitively huge list of characters. And actions! Characters would reference happenings that I didn’t recall in the slightest and inevitably end it with “If only we knew at the time that it would change the course of everything!” Yeah, wish I knew that, too, because I would have paid more attention.

In addition…I began reading these books when I was twelve. What would hold up over time? What would I catch this time that I missed the first time? Would certain themes like spirituality come off differently? Would the blatant misogyny and overwrought attempts at comedic misunderstandings hit me over the head even more?

So I thought to myself, idly, that it would be great to read these things through without 2-3 years in between each installment. Perhaps then I’d stand a chance of recalling the many things and people I’d forgotten. I wouldn’t wander through the books in state of confusion, wondering if I should remember this person or what they did before giving up and deciding that I’d have to exercise my critical reading comprehension to figure it out.

Then I thought, even more foolishly, what if I did that and then blogged about it?

So there you go.

What’s this going to be like?

A chapter recap, basically, while I overanalyze things and muse on my reactions then and now. I reserve the right to alter my approach at any time. I swear I’m not out to nitpick this to death or be overly critical (though some of that is inevitable); this is supposed to be a fun retread down memory lane with a series that I have a genuine affection for. Hopefully it will be funny and entertaining. Maybe even a little thought-provoking.

Oh good, because I think my twelve-year-old might like it!

Hey, maybe they might! But, uh…they may not like my language. I’ll try to keep it clean, but I make no promises. This is a blog, not a cathedral. For any new readers, I will be referencing future events and spoiling the hell out of the series, and I won’t be pretending I’ve never read this before. If you don’t want to be spoiled for any point of the book series, turn back now.

Well, I’m sold. When does this begin?

September 16, 2013, the eighth year anniversary of Robert Jordan’s death. See you then.

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When Christ and His Saints Slept

Yesterday, I finished Sharon Kay Penman’s When Christ and His Saints Slept. At 748 pages, it spans over 20 years of the 12th century and imagines the war of succession between Countess Maude of Anjou and Count Stephen of Blois as they battle for the crown of England, which would usher in the Plantagenet dynasty. And we all know what that means: the Eleanor of Aquitaine! Richard the Lionhearted! War of the Roses! Lancaster versus York! Richard III and the princes in the tower!

This is the second Penman novel I’ve read; the first, The Sunne in SplendourI picked up on a recommendation after they dug up Richard III in a car park. I have a few bones to pick with her style, but otherwise I find her novels engaging and even romantic, which I realize is an odd word to attach to a survey of England’s bloody and sordid royal misdeeds. On the whole, they are extremely well-researched and the attention to detail is gratifying: with very few exceptions that Penman herself admits, if she puts a monarch at a certain castle on a certain day, you can be sure that there are plenty of primary sources that confirm it. She also does her level best to humanize characters that have been swelled up into mythical legends or monsters by the passage of time, which occasionally veers towards the self-indulgent but on the whole works very well. Even if it isn’t strictly realistic at times, it is most certainly earnest. I want to believe her portrayals, which must count for something.

As far as techniques I don’t like so much, she takes great pleasure in relating stories that are likely apocryphal. I certainly understand the urge, and it does make for neater story telling. At the same time, it feels a little dishonest. The next one is purely stylistic: if there’s ever a time skip, the reader learns what has happened in the interim via a character’s long-winded info-dump exposition. It’s almost word-for-word “As you know, Bob…” It’s clumsy. Lastly, she weaves in original characters, often as major players, and doesn’t inform the audience until the afterword. It’s well done, but like I said with the tendency towards the apocryphal, it feels dishonest.

My complaints are not enough to stop me from reading further. Unlike almost every English historian ever, she stops right before the Tudors and focuses her efforts on the centuries before Henry Tudor emerged victorious at Bosworth Field. To be frank, I’m burned out on the Tudors and appreciate the War of the Roses getting the same in-depth, human treatment that Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn get so often. I’m looking forward to making my way through the rest of her books.

I have a soft spot in my heart for English history. Ancient Mediterranean Studies may be where my credentials lie, but everything Battle of Hastings onward is my hobby.

I started reading it on Sunday, which means that I blew through it reading over 100 pages per day. I wish it didn’t take a vacation to remind me how much joy I derive from pleasure reading.

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