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Book Review: Knife of Dreams by Robert Jordan

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Knife of Dreams, the eleventh book in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series follows the continuing adventures of an intrepid band (it’s fantasy; of course they’re intrepid!) of heroes in their quest to save the world… or for some, destroy it.

Central to the story is Rand al’Thor, known as the Dragon Reborn, a savior-in-the-flesh reborn in the form of a young shepherd from a small village. Throughout the previous ten novels, fans have watched al’Thor grow from a naive farmboy into a rock-hard ruler on a divine quest to fight the “Dark One,” the WoT equivalent of Satan.

When I first began reading the Wheel of Time, it was 1997 and only six books were published to date, with a seventh on the horizon. Like many others who came to the series late, I devoured the first few books and set in for the long wait for the next.

But only disappointment came. After the seventh book (though for some, this point seems to have come earlier), Crown of Swords, the series seemed mired in detail. Characters were spread all over the world, nations were disentegrating, and subplots were spinning out of control. It seemed impossible that Jordan could wrap everything up in the initially promised ten books (he didn’t), or even in twenty (looks like he’s not going nearly that far). Further, the books were becoming repetitive and bogged down in those subplots without getting to the real action — the impending Last Battle, the clash between Good and Evil and all the shades of grey between.

After several disappointing books, I picked this latest up with a sigh. I had to read it; after all, when one has invested nearly ten years in a series, what else is there to do? I’ve always enjoyed reading all the prophecy within the novels and have spent a good deal of time theorizing about the fate of certain characters. Two of the supporting characters, Min (one of Rand’s lovers) and Egwene (who has become a major character in her own right) have prophetic visions and dreams, and prophecy turns up in many other places in the books. These serve as clues to the final outcome, and the careful placement of those clues has always been one of Jordan’s strengths. Lately, perhaps, his only strength.

So I read it — and was utterly astounded. Here was the book we’ve been waiting for since 1997. Plot lines were actually wrapped up. Mysteries were solved. Disguised villains were revealed. Lovers came together, siblings were split apart, and destinies realized.

Best of all, we got to read the text of a letter for which we’ve been waiting for more than ten years. Yes, fans… Moiraine’s oft-mentioned letter to Thom Merrilin is reprinted here in full. I found I had to run into the other room and exclaim over it to my husband, who had no idea what I was talking about.

Even the writing was better in this book than in the last few prior to this. Jordan seems to have calmed down a little from the excitement of a guaranteed bestseller and gotten back to what he was doing in the first place, which is telling a story. Even better, he manages some fabulous surprises. Dedicated fans have pieced together much of the story from his clues, a fact of which Jordan must be aware, so he has searched for, and found, new ways to surprise us… as with the sudden deaths of several minor characters.

I have one major complaint with Knife of Dreams, however — the lesbians.

Don’t get me wrong; when the first whiff of homosexuality appeared, several installments back, I found it intriguing. Fantasy is typically the realm of the utterly heterosexual, and it was interesting to see a writer who would include even an innocent hint of homosexuality. The theme popped up several more times, even becoming part of a minor plot spike, but in KoD it seems every third woman either is a lesbian, or has had some lesbian relationship in her life.

It gets very, very tiresome. None of it adds anything to the story whatsoever and in fact seems as though an adolescent boy tinkered with the manuscript after editing to add some level of titillation to the tale. If two-thirds of the references had been left on the proverbial cutting room floor, some of the plotlines might have advanced further and made for an even more satisfying denouement. As it is… well, after the sixtieth time the words “pillow friends” appear in the book, you can’t do much more than roll your eyes and speed up the reading of that particular passage.

I’m still uncertain that everything can be completed in one final book, but events surely are marching straight for the Last Battle now, and this book is a glorious prelude to that battle. It’s not perfect, by any means — some sections could have been cut or shortened considerably, and some characters (like Rand himself) could have used a little more face time, but it’s wonderful to see the series picking up again. Now I’ll chew my nails and wait for the last installment instead of forgetting about it until the novel is announced.

The LegendaryMonkey is also Alisha Karabinus, a blogger and writer in Little Rock, AR. Find out more at Sudden Nothing.

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  • http://oracknows.blogspot.com Orac

    Hmmm.

    I totally gave up on Jordan after The Path of Daggers. That and the couple of books before that were such slogs for me to get through that I had totally forgotten how much I had enjoyed the first three books in the series. Reading each new tome from Jordan had become a chore, no longer a pleasure. I only made it through the first few chapters of Winter’s Heart, after which I did something I only very rarely do: I put the book aside and gave up, so tedious was the reading.

    So should I forget about trying to go back and get through Winter’s Heart and Crossroads of Twilight and just skip right to Knife of Dreams instead? Would I be missing anything?

  • http://www.suddennothing.net LegendaryMonkey

    I’ll tell you the same thing I told a good friend who hadn’t read the last book… don’t bother, just go check out the WOT FAQ. If you don’t want to read them, no sense in doing so when those folks have compiled pretty much everything. Get up to speed on things that don’t seem familiar and if it piques your interest, read the book.

    This one ain’t perfect… but it is a helluva lot better than the last couple. And there are some really awesome things that happen that got me all excited again.

  • http://criticalculture.blogspot.com Pacze Moj

    The Wheel of Time’s still going strong? Wow. I read The Eye of the World a long time ago, and a few more after that — then I gave up. Maybe I’ll check out the FAQ (thanks Monkey) and take a gander at this, latest Jordan.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    I gave up halfway through the first book. It had all the imaginative originality of a Terry Brooks novel but added in boring minutia and a complete lack of interesting characters.

    Dave

  • http://www.suddennothing.net LegendaryMonkey

    That’s our Dave… never a positive word on anything. :)

    Personally, I found the first book a little spotty, but books two through seven were much better, and after that, they couldn’t even be called spotty (would have been far too nice) until this last one.

  • Alan

    I think, for me, the Wheel of Time just ran out of steam. When it started, the series offered high fantasy with actual women, a class structure and a few other things most fantasy authors usually leave out. The characters were rounded. Hell, for a while the characters made sense.

    The plot device of X does not know what Y is doing and tries to solve the problem by giving Y orders that make no sense at all is getting really, really old. As is the number of organisations that seem to believe a through spanking solves everything. As is the endless business with whether Elaine ever gets to be queen of Andor and/or if Egwene ever gets to be Amyrlin.

    Instead of resolving the uncrowned queens we’ve now got a third uncrowned queen in play and we’re supposed to be desperately interested in whether Tuon ever gets to be empress. There is a limit to the number of uncrowned queens you can keep track of, let alone feel anything for. If Number 12 involves a fourth succession struggle I expect many readers to run sceaming down the road.

    Equally there is a limit to the number of times you can believe Rand is worth following. He used to be an intelligent character. Sadly, he’s now fallen into the Aes Sedai/Wise Woman/Forsaken mode of acting really strangely without explanation and uttering the Curse of the Cat People if anyone disagrees with him. Leaving a fairly obvious Darkfriend in charge of his kingdom while he wanders the world not communicating with anyone does not strike me as brlliant strategy. Perhaps he plans to administer a good spanking next time he sees Mazrim Taim. Perhaps the Sword that is not a Sword is actually a riding crop.

    About the only character I found sympathetic this time is Mat, who at least spares people listening to yet another iteration of the Curse of the Cat People if they don’t take orders from him. He’s also mercifully free of the spank anything that moves motif.

    It’s really becoming quite difficult to find any two characters who have not ether spanked each other or wanted to.

    I may find myself barracking for the Dark One soon in the desperate hope he wins the Last Battle and puts all these people out of their misery.

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple A. Stark

    This post was chosen by the section editor as a BC pick of the week. Go HERE (link) to find out why.

    And thank you
    – Temple

  • http://www.suddennothing.net LegendaryMonkey

    YAY! THANKS, DR.PAT!

  • http://paperfrigate.blogspot.com Pat Cummings

    This book review has been selected for Advance.net. You’ll be able to find this and other Blog Critics reviews at such places as Cleveland.com’s Book Reviews column.

  • Chris

    I gotta agree with Alan here on some points. But it was worth the wait Jordan seems to have gotten back his mojo and is now headed in the right direction again. There some parts in the story that I will not mention (Semmirage, hand,) I’m not going any further than that. Which had me kinda upset. But the letter from Morraine, and Mat and the Daughter of the Nine Moons was a high point for me. The black tower has enough issues and they need to be addressed in the next book because after what I read at the end of this book, I was somewhat upset that Rand has not taken charge, instead of moping around and arguing with everyone insight. (oh I want to die at the end- I must be harder than steel) QUIT COMPLAINGING AND WUSSIN OUT!!!!. Other than that the book was great read, and makes up for the last few books that Jordan has thrown out and called a moving story.

  • crypple

    After being a fan of Jordans series for quite a while now I frankly feel insulted by this book. After the launch of New Spring (which was pointless) I have been waiting in much anticipation for the release of Knife of Dreams… once again 400 pages into the book and nothing has happened… sure this book ties up a fair bit of the sprawling and far ranging loose ends, but this series is no longer an epic adventure, the biggest adventure is staying awake while the driveling plot fills yet more pages of useless information. I used to be in love with these characters, now I just wish they’d shut up and die already. The Boredom Reborn can keep his Last Battle, it’ll probably be just the same as all the other “last battles” with the Foresaken anyway… I’m off to read some Goodkind.

  • matrim azyth

    i am a long time fan of jordan, and while his seires has stretched out a bit, i dont find this uninteresting or useless. it gives the sieres a real life touch. i enjoy all the back plot that the recent books have given.

  • LilCherub

    Wow – I am really surprised by the negative comments. I haven’t lost interest or thought the story wandering at all. Still love the characters, still love the stories. I guess it must be a personality type thing about whether detail engages or disinterests you.

    I think the same applies to the “pillow friends” frustration. As a gay person, it’s not really a point of novelty or titillation for me, it was just another element of the characters – like their gender, religion, social status etc…

    Whether these things stand out or not really depend on the reader, and all the things that make up their perspective and life experiences.

    I will concede that the trick to writing a novel that is widely considered a best seller is to walk the line in terms of people’s personality preferences and the widely acknowledge social standards of the day.

    I think, regarding the “pillow friends” issue, that it needs to be acknowledged that environmental or contextual homosexuality is an observed phenomenum in single geneder environments (i.e. levels of homosexuality are high than in the general community where both geneders are more or less equally represented).

    This is the sort of thing experienced in women’s prisons etc… Not that I am saying that Tar alon and the White Tower is like a women’s prison, but sheesh, the atmosphere isn’t that much different lately ;)

  • Mattimeo

    The obvious solution is to put a caption on the books stating, simply, “people not capable of following mature levels of plot development leave right now.” (I have been on the wheel of time messageboards where juvenal, 12-18 year old readers clearly understood this series) Jordan, greatly to his credit, ties the lives of a great many characters together in very convincing fashion. (its ridiculous to assume that the band of five or six starting out from emond’s field* can triumph over the armies of the world thrown against them without help) On an aside, in a world where crazy men completely rearranged continents and killed thousands if not millions of people, it is understandable for there to be gender tensions…as there certainly was in the medieval time of our own world.

  • Jack

    Jordon still lacks any of his Mojo. I skipped the previous book after reading so many bad reviews, and had seen a few reviews on KOD so I decided to buy the paperback. The first 50 pages were tough to get thru; the next 100 were ok, but then it was the same old crap – how many times do we have to read about someone smoothing their skirts or a warder touching his sword hilt! Do I really need to read about how a character feels or how they’re dressed every time their name is mentioned!! The entire storyline with Elayne was painful – it could have been told in 20 pages instead of 200. By the end of the book I would skim over any large paragraph that started with a description (she was dressed in Green silk, Elayne felt tense, the bug like helmet…). The only part of the book worth reading was Mat’s storyline.
    Is there a book category award for ‘Worst Set of Novels on the New York Times Best Seller List’, because the last 4 or 5 of ‘The Never Ending Wheel of Time’ series should win it hands down!