Memory can be a little funny sometimes. I’ve mentioned before that this isn’t the first time I’ve read this series — up to a point, anyway. I had read up to a certain book in the series, found it severely lacking, read the next and didn’t find it as bad but still not quite good enough. I decided then to wait until the series was finished before going back to it. The series is now concluded — at least, assuming there have been no last-minute delays, the last book was published just a week ago. I started my re-read back in May, wondering when I would get to the book that bothered me before, and what I would think then. Now here’s where the memory part comes in. The titles of the books, after the first few, don’t give a very good idea as to the events in the books. So with fuzzy memories at best, I had thought the book that bothered me was earlier in the series than this. As it happens, it was this book, the tenth, which I had disliked before, and the last book I read in my initial read was the 11th, which was also the final one Robert Jordan finished before his death.
I had also thought it was a lot longer ago that I read this, but it seems it was only published in 2003; that’s only 10 years ago, which I guess is a little while ago, but doesn’t seem as long as I had thought.
Now, why was it that this book had me so disgusted before and had me concerned about reaching it in my re-read? Simple. At the end of book 9, a major event that the series had been building toward finally happened. And book 10 consists primarily of reactions to that event. I remember thinking of it before as 700 pages of “what was that?”
…And while my initial reading of the books sometimes had little comprehension failures due to the huge gaps between release dates, sadly my original assessment on this was pretty much spot-on. It’s not a constant “what was that?” fest, but it’s still pretty frequent. I kept a running tally of the number of times one or more characters in a scene made some sort of reference to the event, wondering what it was, without in any way actually advancing the plot. It was 11 times, in a book that’s 30 chapters long. It’s actually a little denser than that, since the book “catches up” to the event around chapter 24 — when the main character finally appears back on the pages of the book — and people stop asking what happened. So for a while there it’s pretty much “what was that?” for every other chapter. This does not make for thrilling reading, especially when one already knows what that was due to having read it the book before.
And those other chapters… well, they don’t have a lot to offer either. Other plot lines progress at a snail’s pace, and one chapter in a character’s story arc feels much the same as another this book. I’m pretty sure at least half of the chapters that aren’t dedicated to asking what happened could be cut from this book and it wouldn’t feel like it was missing anything. Perrin’s storyline feels tedious until he reaches a place with an interesting supernatural twist — and then that twist isn’t really dealt with in this book. Mat’s storyline still suffers from the lack of fun that was present in the prior book, although it did pick up a little bit (and the latter part was arguably the highlight of the book). With Egwene’s, there’s some building up and hinting at things, including a mission she’s planning, but by the end of the book, we only see the start of the mission and we don’t see why she’s doing it (though it becomes reasonably clear if one knows what a certain item does, this is probably not common knowledge and is not explained in this book). There is a minimal advancement of the plot in any storyline, and virtually everything of interest is left dangling.
And yet for all that, I’m not completely convinced this book could be skipped. That it’s close is condemnation enough, of course. But there are a few hints dropped here and there, and things set in motion, that I suspect understanding later books would require knowledge of this one. The question is whether anybody who isn’t actively taking notes would be able to remember those hints and beginnings buried within the 700 pages of idling.