Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Wheel of Time: Lord of Chaos review

    I tend to consider The Wheel of Time one of the greatest works of fantasy ever completed, even though it does have its serious flaws. These include over-reliance on stock characters, everything being just a little too twee, and the fact the morality is Black and White with the only occasional smattering of gray. Despite this, it's an amazing work which contains hundreds upon hundreds of characters interacting with their own distinct plotlines in various ways which sometimes turn out quite different from the way you'd expect. While the series slows in the middle, Lord of Chaos is still when the pacing was going strong.

    The premise is Rand al'Thor has conquered Andor and now rules over the third largest territory in the history of the continent after Arthur Hawkwing as well as the False Dragon he defeated. Unfortunately, consolidating his control is more difficult than it might appear because his plans to secure his position involving giving Andor's crown to Elayne and she's offended at the thought of being "given" what she considers hers by right. Furthermore, he has the territory of Sammael the Forsaken right on his doorstep but can't trust his own nobility not to turn on him should he move against it.

    Things aren't noticeably better with the Aes Sedai as Nynaeve, Egwene, and Elayne all wish to overthrow Elaida due to her manifest unfitness to lead the White Tower. Unfortunately, even as they are securing their positions among the Rebels, they are being pressured by Rand to swear allegiance to them. None of the women's pride tolerates this sort of insult and they, ironically, forestall efforts to ally with Rand which was the entire purpose of the Rebel Aes Sedai to begin with. They also become interested in a mystical bowl which has the ability to fix the continent's weather. Moghedien, one of the Forsaken, remains their captive as Nynaeve uses her to learn lost secrets of the One Power.

    Rand Al'Thor's problems don't limit themselves to his inability to deal with a insoluble political situation, however. He has decided he needs male channelers to serve as weapons against the Dark One. To that end, he grants amnesty to all of the ones around the world who will come to serve him. This attracts Mazrim Taim, one of the False Dragons who preceded Rand, who is practically screams evil but is highly competent with reasonable answers as to why he would want to work with our hero. Rand's insanity is getting worse, though, with Lewis Therin's personality goading him on almost constantly. Throw in Elaida's White Tower allying with the renegade Shaido Aiel armies and things are getting very-very complicated.

    Lord of Chaos is probably the tightest of The Wheel of Time novels. It avoids getting bogged down in many of the minutia of subplots to focus on the larger struggle between Rand and the White Tower. As such, the story is probably my favorite of the series. There's also a good deal of attention paid to the flaws of our all-too-often flawless heroes. Rand's insanity is accompanied by his pride, anger, and disdain for anything which stands in the way of victory. Egwene can't let go of her own pride which refuses to let herself believe she has to subordinate the Aes Sedai to anyone, let alone someone she knew back in Two Rivers as a callow youth. Elayne can't bring herself to overlook the fact Andor is no longer her family's since it's conquest and she needs Rand to take it back. Nynaeve and Mat are, well, Nynaeve and Mat.

    I was quite fond of the Queen Morgase subplot. Having fled from Andor due to her Forsaken captor mind-controlling her, she has found herself unwittingly falling into the hands of the Children of Light. As their "guest", they would very much like her to sign a treaty legitimizing their claim to serve as Andor's police force in exchange for helping her "liberate" her country from Rand. Believing Rand to be another False Dragon who has usurped her crown, she believes she has no choice but to cooperate despite her attempts to stonewall them for as long as possible. Morgase is also unaware of the split between the White Tower or that her daughter is neck deep in Aes Sedai politics. This is another story which really does a good job of showing the ambiguities and complexities of politcs in Randland as well as how good can be as big an impediment to change as evil.

    We get some really good new villains this time around with Graendal, Sammael, and (possibly--at this point) Mazrim Taim. The first two are fairly weak-tea compared to Ishmael and Lanfear but that's kind of their point. One is a decadent hedonist and mental rapist while the other is a blustering blowhard with too high an opinion of himself. Mazrim Tam, by comparison, is a cool and calculating planner with a great knowledge of military tactics. I look forward to seeing how all of their plots develop. I also like Lord Niall, the leader of the Whitecloaks, and his principled stand against Rand which has led him to do some genuinely repulsive things like conduct false-flag operations against innocent villagers to turn them against the Dragon Reborn. Two other villains, Sevanna and Demandred, don't get much development this time around.

    Fans of the Aes Sedai won't be too happy with their portrayal as they're at their most obstructive this time around. The White Tower and Rebels dig in their heels to fight over who gets to be the "True" Aes Sedai while the apocalypse is right around the corner. Worse, our heroes, as mentioned, are part of the problem rather than the solution. We get some progress to fixing the situation but not nearly so much as creating new divisions as well as anger that may turn the entirety of the world against them.

    In conclusion, this is a really impressive book and probably Jordan at his best for politics and complexities. Good and evil are still things in his world but that doesn't mean they get along with their own "teams." Good is incapable of cooperating the same way evil is and the story is all the richer for it. The action is okay this time around with a somewhat low-key battle at the end versus the more intimate spell-fights we're used to. Still, I'm going to go out on a limb and say this is my favorite book in the series.


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