Read: 20 October, 2014
As per the pattern, the Goodie team splits up. Perrin and Faile head to the Two Rivers after hearing rumours of trouble; Elayne, Nynaeve, and Thom go to Tarabon to hunt the Black Ajah; Egwene goes into the Aiel Waste to study with the Wise Ones, and Rand goes along to chase prophecy; all while Min stays in the White Tower. Breaking tradition, each separate sub-committee gets their own climax rather than rejoin in time for Rand’s (though, of course, Rand’s comes last to serve as the Great Climax).
New characters are introduced, others are promoted from C-list to B-list, and the world is further developed. While it was lovely to see main characters other than Rand get big climaxes of their own, the book wasn’t terribly different from the others in the series.
There were a few issues that were largely present in previous books, but weren’t quite as explicit. For example, when some of the female characters try to help Rand learn how to channel, they describe the act as a submission for women, but an active riding requiring complete control for the men. It’s a tired stereotype of gender essentialism, and it would have been nice to see Jordan use a little more creativity (though perhaps dividing the use of the power along gender lines made it extra difficult for him to avoid evoking cultural assumptions about gender in describing difference). In this case, though, given just how much harm has come from the “power comes through submission” rhetoric, it really would have been nice for him to have tried something new.
The same gender essentialism creeps up in the relationships between the male and female characters. Rand, for example, being unable to figure out why telling his girlfriend that he’ll miss her when she leaves is a bad thing (because, in his mind, she’d already decided to leave, so what would be the point?). The image of men as hyper-rational-and-therefore-unable-to-comprehend-feels is silly and trite and hurtful. The number of times male characters shrug their shoulders and say some variation of “bitches be crazy” was absolutely frustrating. I’ve read complains about the female characters always calling the men “wool-headed” and such but, frankly, it’s hard not to understand their frustration when the male characters seem to have so much trouble understanding that the female characters are people, not members of some weird alien race.
I’m complaining a lot about the gender stuff, I know. And I want to make it clear that, so far, the Wheel of Time series has been absolutely fantastic in that respect. Not only have there been female characters, they’ve been active and powerful and have relationships between each other and their own goals that have nothing to do with the men and it’s just been absolutely fantastic. There are just these residual issues that are a shame.
And since I’m talking about relationships between men and women, let me just say that Jordan’s apparent weirdness about sex is hilarious. This is a series with a great deal of violence, with women walking around practically naked and doing sexy dances to entice men, and with a level of complexity that surely must be a perfectly adequate access barrier for the vast majority of pre-pubescent would-be readers, yet we have Mat gallivanting around town trying to find a woman to “cuddle” with.
The last thing I’d like to touch on is the Faile and Perrin sub-plot. It has its moments, plenty of them, but the stubbornness they both display is seriously testing the limits of my suspension of disbelief – even for characters who are supposed to be stubborn. Or, put another way, there is a difference between being stubborn and being idiotically childish, and this couple crosses that threshold far too often. It’s a real shame because I like Perrin a lot, and Faile has a lot of potential to be an interesting foil/companion for him. But, instead, we just get this advertisement-grade caricature of romance where the “playful establishing of boundaries” of a new relationship looks an awful lot more like mutual abuse.
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