When I reviewed the eighth book of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, I commented that most of the interesting stuff happens in the first 25% of the book. With the ninth book, Winter’s Heart, it’s instead the last 25% of the book that winds up being interesting. Things start off slowly, which is an increasingly frequent problem as the series drags on. There’s a lot of setup, and much of it is setup for events which don’t pay off in the same novel. On the extreme end of things, this novel starts off with a scene showing some characters in the White Tower, dealing with a plot line that has had all of about three chapters in the past three novels — and is no closer to conclusion than it was before.
I’ve been taking notes as I go along these reviews… initially this was just to refresh my memory when it came to the reviews. It’s getting to the point though where I’m glad that I have the notes to refer back to when Jordan retrieves some character that was last seen 1600 pages ago.
On the plus side, in this novel Jordan actually remembers all of his protagonists and gives them each a little time on the page. Perrin’s story, however, is essentially just looked in on for a chapter; it doesn’t advance and it seems to be there only to say “Yes, this character still exists and is still doing the same thing as he was when last we saw him”. Considering his storyline has felt like it’s been on a detour for quite a while as it is, it’s kind of annoying. It’s not helped by the fact that another protagonist, Mat, actually gets a fair amount of focus in this book, but his chapters don’t have the same feel as normal. There’s some important character development — as well as a major event near the end of his part of the book (which is unfortunately left dangling) — but the section doesn’t feel as “fun” as his chapters usually do. His sections have often been some of the lighter ones in the series, and they help to keep everything from feeling too grim and dark; here, though, he’s having to play underground rebel and the sense of fun is sacrificed, and it’s not exciting enough to make up for it.
Mostly, though, it’s Rand’s story this book. It’s handled in an annoying fashion, though. His early chapters consist of him moving from place to place setting false trails for his enemies. It isn’t very interesting, and it plays with a sense of “what is he doing?” Only problem being that if you don’t figure it out, it’s just perplexing, not intriguing, and if you do figure it out, it’s fairly pedestrian and those chapters feel wasted. (I fell into the latter camp; it was reasonably obvious.) Very little of what he does is actually important in this book — except, as noted above, in the last few chapters of the book, where a long-awaited for event finally occurs.
That event should be exciting and a great section of the series. There’s a term I’ve seen on the internet, usually applied to troubled starlets, that might apply here: “hot mess”. I’m not as up on my internet jargon as some people are, but I think the term means someone who is attractive but an emotional wreck. But if there’s a literary equivalent to the “hot mess”, the tail end of Winter’s Heart fits the bill: the events shown are exciting, but it’s told in a confused manner, jumping perspectives constantly and throwing in character after character just to give conflict to a scene that otherwise would have been fairly straightforward. I understand the narrative reason for it, but it was clumsy, and felt like Jordan was saying “Oh, and I can also throw in this guy, and I should send her there….” It was enough to make me expect him to write “Bob was there, too” at some point.
While not exactly a bad book, Winter’s Heart gives the strong impression that it could have been a much better book than it was.