Review: The Wheel of Time (Pt1: Characters)

I started reading Robert Jordan in middle school.  I devoured the first few books with glee and then began the slog as the later books began to drag out.  I swear by book nine the man didn’t know what he wanted to do.

I went to DragonCon the last year of his life.  He swore there would only be twelve books. I was there. I heard him.

Of course he passed away before he finished book twelve and Brandon Sanderson took over and apologized – there was no way he could possible make all Jordan’s notes fit into a single book.

I had already stopped reading. I had skipped book ten and eleven’s releases because I didn’t want to spend money on books that, frankly, had been boring me for 3,000 pages or so.

I don’t remember why I decided to pick up the Eye of the World (book #1) on audio book from the library in January or so. But I did. The books are read by Michael Kramer and Kate Reading – and they do a fabulous job. Like, I might go find other books they read because they did such a good job.  It helped during some of those tedious stretches in books 7-9 to have good narrators. I’m not sure I could have given it anywhere near the attention it needed otherwise.

Spoilers below:

Characters

Whew, you knew I’d have to talk about them, right? I mean Jordan is famous (or infamous depending on who you talk to) his characters.  So let’s jump right in.

  1. He writes great “voices” for his characters.
  2. Jordan was a sexist pig.

There, that’s the summation of this section and if you don’t want to read the whole rant, feel free to skip to the next.  You won’t hurt my feelings.

The one thing I can and will happily give Jordan (especially with his extremism of adding characters) is that he is great at writing the voices of his characters.  I was hearing the same male narrator for the POV of the males, but because of the way they approached problems and the word-choices they made really helped to keep them unique. I was looking for something this time, trying to answer the question “why was this something I loved so much at first” and the character voices made a big difference.

It is hard to write this many characters. (Period) Writing a cast like this AND keeping them individual is even harder. But this is something Jordan does well, they have different motivations. They have different fears (Well, a few don’t but I’ll get there). They come from different backgrounds and it shows.

Matt curses a lot. Perrin thinks in terms of puzzles and uses smithing terms.  Siuan Sanche talks about fish and boats. Gawayne references historical texts and thinks in “bigger” terms than someone like Rand (early on). The consistency in their choice of curses/oaths/etc. is a strength Jordan brings to keep the character strongly differentiated.

The sexism….

So there is already a LOT out there about Jordan’s sexism, so I am going to sum it up very simply: I don’t think the man realized women are not a separate species.  He bought in to the “Mars v. Venus” myth hook, line & sinker. And sank. Hard.  Drowned in it. And then dragged the boat down with him.

In some ways I will give him credit for having some awesomely strong women: Nynaeve and Egwene being obvious.  But even in their strengths, he strikes at them for that strength. Why the hell did Nynaeve like Lan? This is the worst relationship in the book – they form this… obsession with each other and I have no idea why. Like, what do they have in common? What do they talk about?

In fact, they are the perfect example of his concept of “love” which is deeply disturbing. The only relationship in the entire series where I feel like there is respect in any form might be Matt & Tuan. Like, they play stones and have discussions and actually form a relationship of some kind that isn’t just based on sexual attraction. And Matt is pretty disgustingly sexist. I would argue it’s still weak as hell as far as relationships go, but it’s the best of the series… Even Faile – who I kind of love – I have no idea why she and Perrin formed up to begin with. She latched onto him and instantly was …. infatuated? I don’t even know what, but got paired off.

And the use of power in relationships – from queens raping people (Matt was raped. It was disgusting and there is no other interpretation for it.) to women being pressured to have sex (though of course none of our beloved female characters have to survive rape)  The sexism that “a man can’t be raped” is clear in that one of the three MAIN male characters is raped but in all the times the women are captured, tortured, shamed… nope, never rape!  I’m not saying I want any of the females raped, but it is insidious in that Jordan allows Matt to be raped but none of the females. And he never addresses it as rape. Never addresses the potential pain, suffering, or PTSD Matt could/should have developed. Matt even later remembers his rapist fondly. FONDLY…

And let’s not get into all the changes Egwene & Elaine managed to enact without being magically gifted to “twist the pattern to her will” which I could argue those two women were at least as powerfully Ta’veren as Matt or Perrin.  But noooo, women can’t be the ones enacting changes magically. They have to do it the old fashioned way with words and swords.  Which leads directly into the Aes Sedai structure.

Why are these women feared? Because they have magic or because they are manipulative? There seems to be some kind of internal struggle with Jordan himself whether the women are witches and feared because they can smote a man or whether they are feared because they are independent and powerful without men to “protect and guide” them which of course makes them bitchy manipulative man-haters. Their training methods suck like mud and it’s no wonder they lost so much knowledge DESPITE an “amazing” library…. Can you tell I did not like how he handled this particular group of women?

Additionally:

So my last bit about characters in WoT is this.  Whoever is the “current” protagonist/Point of View is automatically (apparently) the smartest person in the room.  It’s almost like Jordan heard that phrase “everyone is the hero of their own story” and assumes everyone thinks they themselves ARE the smartest person in the room.  Or he did.  I’m not sure which.  Either way, they LIVE this.  And the story shapes itself accordingly.

When Elaine is in “charge” of the scene, she comes up with the best plans.  When it’s Nyneve, she does.  The men have a similar problem but since they spend less time together, it’s less obvious.  Towards the end of the series it got more painful – especially when Aes Sedai were in the scene because they no longer seemed powerful AT ALL. In the first few books, Moraine is a source of frustration because she keeps secrets. She’s knowledgeable and hordes it.  But in the latter books they are just…. there for the most part. And not even just with Rand, but with Elaine and Egwene too.  Nyaneve pretty much has the BEST arc with the White Tower/Aes Sedai in that regard and if I did a review on just Nyaneve’s arc …. I would tear it up.

Without writing reviews on each character (which I probably could do after fourteen books….), these are really my big take-aways. I think Sanderson did a good job when he took over, but he didn’t maintain the truly powerful differentiation in voice. He did some, but it was a subtle difference and there were a few times it wasn’t until the character’s name was used I was SURE who it was – especially in the last book when EVERYONE is in the big-last-battle (how the hell do you spend 41 hours of reading in a battle). I slogged through this. I think it could have been shortened. I hit about 20 hours in and almost skipped to just reading the cliff notes – something about 400+ hours made me determined I would finish it RIGHT.

Links to come as the reviews get posted:

Locations: https://librinlatone.wordpress.com/2017/10/11/review-the-wheel-of-time-pt-2-locations/

Magic: https://librinlatone.wordpress.com/2017/10/13/review-wheel-of-time-pt-3-magic/

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Librin Latone

Writer, nerd, and perpetual student. I am obsessed with books - both the reading and the making of them. If I won the lottery I would try to have the best private(ish) library in the world. It wouldn't be totally private because the whole purpose of having books is helping other people find a book they will love. I have 2 cats, Genkii (energy) and Kawaii (cutie). I will mention them regularly because they are a daily delight in my life. Granted, sometimes when I'm playing video games they are not so much "delight" as they are "distraction"... but I love them regardless.

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