I love designing magic systems. And I will give Jordan credit that his magic system is interesting. It’s pretty basic in a lot of ways (and I’ll try to avoid the sexist bit of it entirely).
So his system is that there are 5 elements which are fed through 2 possible valves of magic, male & female.
My biggest complaint is that Jordan says men are stronger in the One Power (which isn’t actually the only power…). I don’t get it. If the symbol is supposed to be the yin/yang black/white “equal” on both sides this philosophy doesn’t make sense. Regardless of of anything else, it’s super confusing that the men are stronger and somehow women weren’t subjugated in this like they are in so much else. There is something about women being the catalyst for linking, but honestly it’s unclear what the value of having “free & independent” women would be if when men LEAD they are stronger.
The social power dynamics of the magic-wielders pre-breaking don’t make sense. Post-breaking when men go crazy and dangerous…. women being given the authority/mandate/whatever does.
Now, post-breaking a lot of knowledge was lost on magic. I am guessing it was during the trolloc wars, but for all the time we spend in the White Tower/with Aes Sedai they don’t cover it much. I definitely felt like I understood the rise of queens in Andor better than the history of the White Tower. But maybe that was intentional.
So of these 5 elements, women tend to be stronger in water & air, men in earth & fire while both genders “share” spirit right. There are some elements of “humors” in this setup which is interesting. But honestly, very little time is spent exploring the powers. They rarely are questioned by the people using them and as readers we just get told that Nyaneve is an amazing healer and Egwene is surprisingly good with earth – but not why. Expecially considering Nyaneve “discovers” (re-discovers?) healing using all FIVE powers.
Then there is the term “weaving” which is a fascinating theme Jordan touches on but never delves. He talks about “the pattern” and the “weave of the world” and magic “weaves” – it’s something I really hoped would be further explored throughout. THIS is where I always expected women should be stronger, their experience weaving (real threads/stuff) could make them stronger. I.E. poor farm girls who literally weave material for their own clothing made the strongest Aes Sedai because they have a visceral understanding of the process that nobility & men don’t have.
In fact the act/process of weaving is really just kind of hand-waved into the story (haha – pun!) both for men and women. HOW do they learn it fitting together? Harry Potter learns spells & recipes – he can’t do spells which he hasn’t learned. Not so much in WoT – in fact, men somehow learn to weave some pretty impressive things without tapping into “past lives” like Rand does.
It really is very glossed over which considering how much history Jordan tried to build for so many other things I think this caused him plot problems. When he needed a reason Rand couldn’t detect Asmodean or other Forsakens, people learned to “invert” the weave. When that got old there was this whole other super-duper special power that the Dark One could grant… and somehow Rand could use without permission but it’s all like locked-down for everyone else?
I find the core elements of Jordan’s magic system fascinating. It’s part of why the bumps hurt so much, I am running VERY close to the ground. I walk away wanting more and wanting it to delve into the depths it hints at. It is such an integral part of the series – of the climax and solution – that for me to be confused hurts more than it should. Think about how much time we learned about Potions vs. horcruxes in Harry Potter. We (the readers) learned all about those evil pieces of Voldemort’s soul. I wanted to learn all about the power which Rand was using to seal the Dark One.
And I actually hold Sanderson accountable on this one. He took over just as the Dark One’s super-special power was showing up and Sanderson didn’t delve into it. How did Rand learn about it? Did Lewis Therin know about it? That is never made clear… and I know Sanderson can do better than that. I didn’t feel this way at the end of Mistborn! By the end of the third book I was figuring stuff out before the characters ’cause I had been exposed from so many views – I had the information to make the final few leaps the character had to make.
Overall, the magic system is fascinating but it ended up feeling like a deus ex machina. They had plenty of time to explore more of how and why. Teach me a little from Egwene when she’s learning with the wise ones while Nyaneve is learning from Aes Sedai and Elaine is learning from the Sea Folk. When the characters don’t know – the reader can/should. I don’t like when I can feel the deus ex machina. Good but not great for the magic system….
Wheel of Time reviews: