Monday, September 12, 2011

The Wheel of Time [5] The Fires of Heaven (1993)

While a good book in its own right, this is where Jordan really starts to get long winded.  Aside from that, this book is notable for several reasons: Perrin is missing entirely, one of the most popular murder mysteries in fantasy is born, one of the central characters is (seemingly) killed (gasp!) and the annoying-ness of the women in this series hits an all-time high.  The "Action Trilogy" continues and there are some quite awesome sequences in the latter half of the novel as Rand continues to take down Forsaken and the nations one-by-one.

It's also notable for me personally because this was the first volume I bought in hardback upon release – I had finally caught up to the most recent entry.  From here on out I had to wait for each new volume to be released.  Little did I imagine that in 2011 I'd still be waiting for the end.  In those days I couldn't think that far ahead.

Before you continue:
  • This is part 5 of my The Wheel of Time retrospective
  • See this blog post for an overview of the retrospective
  • These blogs are most effective with your own re-read of the series

Thoughts Then

I couldn't wait for this one to be released in paperback, so I used my meager allowance to buy it on hardback.  I carried the massive volume around with me at school, looking like a total dork, I'm sure.  But I didn't care; I was hooked on the series.  I'm pretty sure I read it twice in row.  That, or I re-read the entire series yet again after finishing.

I distinctly remember getting about halfway through the book before realizing that Perrin had not appeared.  I was like... huh?  Where's Perrin?  I looked through the chapter titles, hoping to see something that sounded like Perrin's storyline.  Nothing.  I then paged through the rest of the book, looking at the chapter icons (which were a sort of code to the contents of the chapter by that point) and skimming the text.  No Perrin.

Once I finished the book and verified that Perrin was missing, I felt a bit pissed off.  His storyline from The Shadow Rising was pretty awesome and I wanted to know what happened next.  How could one of the three major characters be entirely ignored for a book?  I was very disappointed that I would have to wait another year to find out what happened next for Perrin.  This is the start of a recurring theme for me... finishing a WoT book, feeling a bit dissatisfied and having to impatiently wait for the next volume.  At least until Book 10.

Thoughts Now

Today, it doesn't really bother me that Perrin is missing.  I already know how annoying he and Faile become later in the series (Books 9-12), so I'm resigned to having to wait until the end of the series before he becomes cool again.  The novel flowed fairly quickly for me this time and I was somewhat surprised to see some reviews on the internet grouping this volume in with the later ones for being "too slow" and "too descriptive"... really, this one isn't half as bad as the later ones.

First, the cover.  This one is okay, though Aviendha's hair is way too long and Mat looks a bit strange.  But at least from here on out, Sweet has kept Mat's look pretty consistent on the covers where he's featured (Crossroads of Twilight, Towers of Midnight).  Not too hard when he's so distinctive with the black hat, ashandarei and foxhead medallion (which is also completely wrong, it's supposed to be a profile of a fox, with the ancient Aes Sedai symbol as the eye).

Oh, and Rand should be taller than Mat... thanks a bunch.

Yes, I know I just sounded like a geek, splitting hairs on the details of a fantasy novel cover.  But this stuff is important, dammit!  The cover was part of the experience at the time.

Back to the story itself.  What really stood out to me during this read was how annoying some of the women get, particularly Nynaeve and Elayne.  Seriously, they are annoying as hell while with the menagerie.  I've always loved the menagerie sequence, it's a chance to see a different side of some of the characters (and it's where Birgitte fully comes into the story), but I don't remember those two women being so "wool headed" and whiny.  It really drove me nuts and I grimaced, remembering that I still have to wade through Crossroads of Twilight at some point.

The second half of the book is great and goes by pretty quickly.  The capture of Moghedien was cleverly done and the death of more Forsaken and taking of nations had come to be expected by that point, as nearly every volume was ending with an epic confrontation.  I reasoned that Rand would kill the Forsaken one by one through each novel, and would take over the world before the Last Battle.

Of course, that aspect of the story pretty much ends after Book 7, as struggles force Rand to change his plans.  But that's where I thought it was heading back in the day.

Who Killed Asmodean?

When I first read about Asmodean's death at the end of the book, I was disappointed (no more Rand learning cool stuff from him), but I didn't really care about who actually killed him.  It was fairly obvious that it was a Forsaken (who else could it have been?), but "the who" of it didn't matter to me.  I was like Jordan and didn't think it that big a deal or terribly important.

It wasn't until years later, after the internet came about, and sites like and the WoT FAQ were born, that I realized a lot of people were stumped by this murder mystery and were analyzing it in ridiculously minute detail.  If the series were more popular (think Harry Potter "popular"), the question of "Who Killed Asmodean" would probably be part of pop culture.  As it is, readers pestered Jordan so much about it that he had to leave a note before his death, stating who actually killed Asmodean so that whoever finished the series (Brandon Sanderson) would know and could add it in somewhere (the killer is finally named in the glossary of Book 13).

Speaking of Asmodean and Brandon Sanderson... when I went to the signing for Book 12, The Gathering Storm, a couple years ago, they were giving out WoT bumper stickers.  They had one that said "I killed Asmodean," which was by far the best one.  I got one and put it on my car.  It's still there:

Yeah, it's a little crooked... it was windy when I was putting it on.

I get asked about it from time to time.  Someone in a parking lot stops me and says, "What's that?  Who is As-mo-deen?"  And I have to explain it as briefly as possible without sounding like a dork.

So.  It took 17 years to find out who killed him.  And no one was really surprised when they found out.  There were only a handful of people it could be anyway, and to be honest, it wasn't important to know.  But I find it somewhat fascinating to look back and see how the whole thing evolved.

Moiraine and No One Ever Dying

I thought she was dead at the end of this book.  Lan not feeling the bond anymore was proof enough to me that she was gone for good.  But, over the years, unlike George R.R. Martin, it seems that Jordan has a tough time killing any major characters in this series.  Virtually everyone who dies comes back later, even the Forsaken (something that has always annoyed me, even though Jordan said that was planned from the beginning).  So I suppose I wasn't surprised that she might come back.

Side note: the eBook cover (by Don Dos Santos) for this book is awesome.  Best picture of Moiraine out there, in my opinion.  How this painting came about is a good read.


It's after this book that past characters start coming back, beginning with the prologue for Lord of Chaos.  Even the sacrifice of Moiraine turns into something less – she was never dead, only trapped by the Aelfinn and Eelfinn.  I don't remember when I came across the theory that she was trapped in Finnland and would be rescued later... sometime in the late 90s, early 2000s.  The letter from Moiraine gets to Thom in the next book, but we don't learn the content until way later in Book 11, Knife of Dreams.  Everyone had figured it out prior to then, but it was excruciating having to wait some 17 years to read the actual sequence!

I'll touch on that in my Book 13 blog.  Suffice to say it was worth the wait and is one of the best sequences in the series.  Sanderson did a great job with it.

The Last Time I Lent Out a Book

Another reason the hardback of this book sticks out in my mind is that I lent it to my high school locker partner at the time, Dave Parker.  He was into fantasy as well, saw that I had the book and asked if he could borrow it.  Sure, why not?  So I gave it to him and when I got it back, the dust jacket was a bit wrinkled and had a few creases, the hardback cover was scuffed and scratched, and the pages themselves looked a shoddy and dirty, as though he had bumped the side of the book into things or read it while eating Cheetos or something.

It's hard to show in a picture... couldn't get the lighting exactly right, but trust me, it looks like crap.

At least the dust jacket manages to hide the wear and tear on this copy.

It really ticked me off, though I didn't say anything at the time.  I like to keep my hardbacks in good condition and for this series I only read them once or twice, doing future re-reads on paperback copies (or on the Kindle like now).  And I always took the dust jacket off when I read a hardback.  Dave probably left it on sometimes.

I lent him another book later on, a paperback copy of The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice... and I never got it back.  I never really stayed in contact with Dave and we didn't hang out much outside of school.  But after that I didn't lend out books unless it was to good friends or family.

So thank you, Dave Parker, for messing up my hardback copy of The Fires of Heaven.  And for never returning my copy of The Vampire Lestat.


Book 6 – Lord of Chaos

Book 4 – The Shadow Rising
Book 3 – The Dragon Reborn
Book 2 – The Great Hunt
Book 1 – The Eye of the World
Retrospective Overview

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