The Wheel of Time series is one which is a hefty time investment even for those who devour books quickly. Nevertheless, it is a collection of books which contain a fascinating array of characters both silly and serious. If I were to make a comparison, it's less a single series of books than several main books and a dozen spin-off series or trilogies which have been pushed together. This doesn't make the books bad, quite the opposite, but it does mean that they tend to meander and go in directions which aren't always conducive to the plot being resolved. In English, the books are going to drag in places and that's going to be doubly the case from this book onward until the resolution.
The Fires of Heaven picks up with Rand al'Thor consolidating his hold over the Aiel people when he receives word that the Shaido Aiel, those who refuse to follow his lead as the Dragon Reborn, are now attacking a nearby nation. Raising his armies to stop them, Rand pauses to deal with his increasingly close relationship with Aviendha, who struggles with her attraction to Rand while hating herself for it (due to her friendship with Rand's quasi-girlfriend Elayne). Elayne and Nynaeve, meanwhile, try to get in contact with the Aes Sedai who have fled from the White Tower. They are hunted by a Forsaken, though, who intends to avenge her prior defeat. Siuan, Min, and Leane are on the run from the White Tower with a new pursuer in Lord Bryne.
The conflict with the Shaido is, sadly, a little underdeveloped as we never really get to see Rand interact with them. They don't recognize him as the Dragon Reborn but one of their own instead and thus are going to fight to the bitter end. However, they decide to go pillage the people which Rand is protecting instead (sort of). Some more development would have been appreciated about them but they're really just an excuse for giving Rand something to kill. Honestly, the majority of villains this time around are the Forsaken and we get a decent amount of insight into what makes these petty psychopaths tick.
I will say, though, I'm not too sold on the Rand al'Thor romances. Since Rand is destined to get with Elayne, Min, and Aviendha all three then I'm not sure where the source of the tension is supposed to come from. I'm pleased to say we get some resolution and progress, which was desperately needed. Sadly, the progress isn't quite to a resolution, which is a shame since I was over the 'will they, won't they' before it became since they're fated to get together anyway. Really, I was much more interested in Rand's relationship with his "tame" Forsaken Asmodean. Having purified one of his mortal foes of the Dark One's taint, Rand has since started using Asmodean to re-learn the many magical powers lost to time. Asmodean's own motivations remain questionable even to him as a part of him wants to reform but evil has become such an ingrained part of his personality.
The side characters of Siuan, Min, and Leane actually proved to be one of my favorite parts of the series so far. While divorced from much of the main plot, I enjoyed how the characters played off one another. Siuan is coping with the loss of not only her magic but her political power, Min is stuck away from her friends as well as destined lover, while Leane is, well, deeply interested in getting laid as a coping mechanism. It's kind of hilarious, even before when Lord Bryne becomes their pursuers. I also enjoy all of the various high lords and ladies which gravitate around poor Mat, who is doing his best (and failing) to avoid his destiny. I hated Mat in previous books but he's rapidly risen to become one of my favorite characters. Perhaps my favorite part of the book was giving Morgrase, the imprisoned Queen of Andor, a chance to rescue herself from the Forsaken who is holding her prisoner.
New villains are introduced throughout the work which include some genuinely interesting ones like the Prophet and Graendal. I'm looking forward to seeing more of these two and how they play off of the heroes. Sadly, I think we don't get nearly enough Perrin or Fail this time around, which is a shame because they are some of my favorite characters. The Seanchan play almost no role in this book and I feel this is a shame since they're a very enjoyable set of hateable villains. The final climatic confrontation with evil in the book is rather lacking, however, since none of the villains have quite the same punch as Ishmael from the first few books. I also think the character of Liandrin, one of my favorite villains in the series, is badly misused here. Her threat level is rapidly reduced to make another villain look good and I hate when authors do that. Still, there's quite a few great moments of karmic justice in this book and that's always good.
World-building-wise, there’s not much new this time around. We’ve established most of the characters, countries, politics, and interactions. The biggest problem I have is so much stuff is going on that the characters spend a great deal of time communicating with each other in dreams in order to keep everyone on the same page. It gets annoying because they keep trying to insist dream-walking is dangerous but have to do it constantly so they don’t completely lose track of where everyone else in the plot is. I'm really interested in the character of Birgitte and look forward to what sort of insights the character can bring regarding events in the Age of Legends as well as other time periods which current inhabitants have forgotten the details of.
In conclusion, I'm still enjoying series but I feel like the story has lost some of its forward momentum. I hope this won't prove to be a deterrent to my enjoyment in the future but I'm still involved in this story. While I tend to prefer grimdark over high fantasy, I'm really-really enjoying this epic.