Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Wheel of Time [6] Lord of Chaos (1994)

This is the last book of the "Action Trilogy," as I've dubbed Books 4-6, and it ends with a bang. The final sequence in this volume, from the capture of Rand to the confrontation at Dumai's Wells, is one of the best in the series. It's a great action sequence and it and the chapters leading up to it are a reminder that when Robert Jordan was on, he was on.

Lord of Chaos is not my favorite book in the series, and it has the verbosity and over-descriptiveness that plague the series from here on out, but it has its moments and as long as it is, it's a good read and is rarely boring. This is a book that shows that intrigue and "talk" among characters can be just as interesting to read about as epic action scenes. And for all their talk the story moves along and provides a satisfying conclusion.

Get some coffee and find a comfortable chair, I have a lot to talk about this time.

Before you continue:
  • This is part 6 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

This was the first WoT novel that I bought in college. I headed off to the University of Nebraska in the fall of 1994, and this book came out soon after, in October. I don't remember buying it or reading it for the first time, but I do know I got it day of release. As I mentioned in the previous blog, since Book 5 (The Fires of Heaven) I have bought each new volume in hardback on the day of release.

University of Nebraska, son!  Go Huskers!

I thought the book was great and the logical continuation of The Fires of Heaven. I was a little disappointed that Rand didn't conquer another country or kill another Forsaken – as he had been doing steadily the last few volumes – so I was starting to wonder how long it would take for Jordan to get this done. At this point I figured that Rand would take over the world before Tarmon Gai'don, and at this rate it would take another 4 or 5 books to do so. Of course, I never imagined that it would take even more than that – no fantasy series had been so epic in scope before this, so any continuous story longer than 9 books was pretty much unheard of to me. I just kept reading.

I also didn't like the title at first, because it messed with the pattern of each book starting with "The." It doesn't look odd now, but it did back then, when the list of WoT books stopped at Lord of Chaos. Usually fantasy series have some sort of naming convention across each book, which continues today. Jordan kind of threw it out the window halfway through.

Thoughts Now

I appreciate this book a lot more now than I did some 17 years ago. Unfortunately, that appreciation only comes from the fact that I've read all 13 volumes out now, and I know what is to come and how it all fits together. Re-reading this one in particular at this point opened my eyes a little and I've come to appreciate the careful planning and thought Jordan put into the entire series. People might say that not much happens in this book. In reality a lot happens.

The remaining Forsaken all finally appear, and we learn where a few of them are hiding. The Dark One makes his (its?) first appearance. Elayne and Nynaeve learn all kinds of cool things from Moghedien. Nynaeve does something so cool (Healing Logain/Siuan/Leane) that you will instantly forgive all the braid-tugging and whining she has done the last two volumes (and there's a lot of that). Egwene becomes Amyrlin of the rebels. The Black Tower is founded and a new group in the Asha'man are introduced. Gateways become a staple in the series – no more travelling on foot for our heroes, a serious disadvantage against the Forsaken. Rand is captured, Aes Sedai swear fealty for the first time ever. And on and on.

The content and structure of the books in the series now are very different from the first few, which were more about doing and familiarizing the reader with the world rather than talking and occasionally doing. Lord of Chaos is a great example of both types done well together. Even when people are talking and scheming, the story is moving forward, and there's a whole new world post-Dragon to familiarize yourself with.

The Inaccurate Cover

But first... we continue my rants against the Darrell Sweet covers. I will never relent! Never!

This one is okay, but in the vein of The Dragon Reborn it is a bit inaccurate in that it depicts something that didn't happen in the book. If you don't know what it is, just look above Rand's shoulder. His left shoulder... yeah, up there by the title of the book. What is that?

Jordan... did you even get a chance to look at the cover before publication?

It's a... Draghkar? If you said to yourself, "there weren't any Shadowspawn at Dumai's Wells," then you are this blog post's lucky winner! You would be correct; there weren't any Draghkar, much less Shadowspawn, at Dumai's Wells. So why is one on the cover?

Why ask why? It's a Darrell Sweet cover.

The Birth of the Epic Prologue

This volume had the first of the epic prologues Jordan started writing in the second half of the series. These prologues were novellas in themselves, the later ones over 90 pages on occasion, usually touching on a number of minor characters and story threads to remind you that he hasn't forgotten about them, and that they'll be important fairly soon (although sometimes "fairly soon" meant 2 novels later).

Only Robert Jordan would have the gall and wherewithal to write such epic prologues. But along with that, he had necessity. From Book 6 forward there are so many plotlines and minor characters, it was necessary to spend the first 90 pages doing a kind of "meanwhile, back in (insert location here)..." No other fiction writer or series I've ever read has done prologues like these. They became a staple of WoT, and when the novels became consistent #1 New York Times Bestsellers, they even started releasing the prologues as eBooks prior to publication (beginning with Book 9, Winter's Heart) – for a price, of course.

I'll talk more about that when I get to those books. Suffice to say I understand the point behind releasing them, but I did not buy them. I wanted to experience the entire book at once, not piecemeal.

Where/Who is Demandred?

I personally have always thought this was a bigger (and more important) mystery than "Who Killed Asmodean?" Demandred makes his first on-screen appearance in Lord of Chaos, and appears occasionally throughout the rest of the series – but we are never explicitly told exactly who he is or where he is hiding. By Book 13, we essentially know the whereabouts of all the remaining Forsaken aside from Demandred.

The biggest and most popular theory has been that Mazrim Taim, the leader of the Black Tower and the Asha'man (as founded by Rand in this volume), is Demandred in disguise. They look very similar, and Lews Therin consistently rants about killing Demandred when Rand meets with Taim at various points in the story. However, Jordan threw a wrench into the gears by explicitly stating that Taim is not Demandred on a number of occasions.

Portrait from the "Big White Book"

It's hard to accept that Taim is not Demandred, given all the matching information between them. But in reality, he is most likely part of the Black Tower, and has been directing/assisting Taim this whole time. In the FAQ link above Jordan also said that as of Book 10, Crossroads of Twilight, we hadn't seen Demandred's alter ego on-screen yet. Given the content of the 3 books after that, I can only imagine that Demandred's activities will finally be revealed in the final volume. My money is on the Black Tower somehow. Logain will probably be involved.

Oh, and for the record... I hate pronouncing the name Taim as "Ta-eem." I still pronounce it "Taym," one of the few WoT terms I pronounce incorrectly. I know you said it's "Ta-eem," Jordan, but that one is a bit awkward and doesn't stick in my mind, no matter how hard I try. I was able to get Faile (fah-eel) and Shaido (shah-ee-do), but not Taim. Sorry. In later years he always started signings with a pronunciation spiel, probably because he got fed up with the mispronunciations.

The Healing

Speaking of Logain, Nynaeve managed to do something really cool in this book: she healed stilling / severing. I remember when I first read this, I thought it was the coolest thing ever and had to re-read it a few times. Siuan's and Leane's reactions make for a very moving scene. This is also one of those iconic moments in the series that sticks with you.

It's funny, because Nynaeve is super annoying up until that part. I mean, so annoying that I didn't really want to read her chapters at all. A woman glaring at a man and having them suddenly run away or trip or something is unfortunately quite overused in this series. At this point it's a joke when it happens, and it happens a lot. Virtually all the women do it. I didn't remember it happening this much in Lord of Chaos, but it does.

Anyway, after the Healing, Nynaeve is alright again. She tends to do that in this series. Gets annoying and then does something really cool and becomes your bud again. She does it a couple more times... I'll be sure to mention them when they come along.

Rand, Lews Therin and the Madness

Another notable thing about this volume is that Lews Therin really comes to the forefront here. He started muttering in Rand's head in the last book, The Fires of Heaven, but he really gets going here, even going so far as to try and grab saidin from Rand, which we can all agree is not a good thing (at least not in this volume). This makes for an interesting new dynamic, and really drives home the fact that Rand needs to do something about the madness, or get going on Tarmon Gai'don, or he won't be sane enough to fight the Dark One.

The emergence of Lews Therin makes for some really killer scenes in the later volumes, and if you've read past Book 12, The Gathering Storm (which you should have if you're reading this), you know how struggle between Rand and Lews Therin is resolved. But it's new territory here and provides a lot of tension. Will Rand make it? Or will he go mad before it's all over?

Rand as a character eventually leaves behind most of his former self here. He has to deal with the new stuff in his head (Lews Therin, Alanna's bonding), upholding the laws he makes (hanging of Mangin), balancing a dozen different groups with different desires, not to mention the Aes Sedai betrayal that sets up Dumai's Wells.

Speaking of Mangin, in my opinion his fate is about the most shocking event in the entire series. Far worse than the "gasp moment" much talked about prior to the Knife of Dreams release. I didn't want Rand to hang Mangin at all. Yet he does and it's very cold, and as a reader you're in disbelief that Mangin accepts it and goes to his death willingly. It's one of those moments where you stop reading and sit there and think about it for a while. How could anyone accept that?

Hints About Other Lands

The series has always focused primarily on Randland – the small continent where virtually all the action takes place. Of course we know about the Seanchan and that they live on a large continent across the Aryth Ocean to the west. The land of Shara, beyond the Aiel Waste, is mentioned occasionally in the series and it's always been a bit of a mystery. There is even another continent, called the Land of Madmen, which was revealed in the "Big White Book" (The World of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time) after Book 7 was released.

The entire Wheel of Time world.

In the past I've always wondered why Jordan hasn't explored much of these other lands. Tarmon Gai'don will affect the entire world, so shouldn't they be involved? Apparently in past re-reads I missed the thoughts of Sammael, when he meets with Graendal to discuss Forsaken matters (Chapter 6, "Threads Woven of Shadow"). His thoughts explain why everything is fixed on the Randland continent:
Was she trying to divert him toward the lands beyond the Waste by making him think she an interest there? The battlefield was here. The Great Lord's first touch when he broke free would land here. The rest of the world would be whipped by the fringes of storms, even racked by storms, but those storms would generate here.
Makes sense – the Bore and the hole in the Dark One's Prison is in the Blight north of Randland and the Waste. Those are the places where it touches the most and where the battle will be fought. While I have always wished to read about happenings in Seanchan and Shara itself, perhaps even incorporate the Land of Madmen into the story somehow, it's obvious with only one volume left that those lands will never feature prominently in the story. We just have the Seanchan invasions.

Just more of that fantasy mystique that makes some series great. Keep the reader curious so they keep reading. Jordan does that very well using both the other lands in the world and occasional stories / memories of the Age of Legends from the Forsaken and Lews Therin.

Reborn Forsaken

Having some of the Forsaken reborn is something that has always bothered me about the series. I guess the Dark One really can't find anyone else good enough to do his bidding, so he just recycles the ones that he can (those killed by balefire cannot be recovered, as they are burned out of the pattern). This trend starts here, in Lord of Chaos, and we are introduced to a couple of new "Dreadlords," Aran'gar and Osan'gar.

Now, these two are in fact Balthamel and Aginor, respectively, from The Eye of the World fame, where they were quickly killed by Rand and Moiraine. When I first read about these new guys, I was kind of like, "eh, okay" and wasn't too thrilled about it. It makes more sense to me now, but for a long while the "reborn" Forsaken bothered me. I'm not sure why, I suppose I wanted Jordan to come up with some new Dreadlords. Like Padan Fain, though he's completely disappeared at this point. Or possibly Mazrim Taim – a topic for a further blog.

It always seemed to me that Jordan might have just thrown them in as the series expanded and was successful, which gave him carte blanche to do whatever he wanted. However, according to this CNN chat from way back in Dec 2000, Aran'gar and Osan'gar were planned from the beginning. He also was asked about the series "taking on a life of its own," which he firmly disabused. Considering how much planning went into the series (he worked on it 6 years before the first novel was published), I'm inclined to believe him.

Dumai's Wells

And at last we come to it – considered by many to be the greatest action sequence in the entire series (though I hope Tarmon Gai'don puts it to shame). The capture of Rand, the chase and ultimate rescue is a great sequence, masterfully written, and I get goose bumps reading the last few pages of it every time. Asha'man and Perrin's wolves appear in a major battle for the first time, a half-dozen different armies on the field. It's one of those sections that you just can't put down and you have to read it for yourself to appreciate it.

Jordan has a trend of ending each book with an awesome confrontation or action sequence, even in the later books which on the whole don't contain much action. He always ends with some kind of cliffhanger or major event that makes you hate him for taking 2 years to release the next book. For Lord of Chaos was the last book released in the yearly cycle – the next would not come for 2 years.

Which made the waiting worse, especially after a sequence like Dumai's Wells. What would the world be like where Aes Sedai obey the Dragon Reborn? With Asha'man finally playing their part and being regulars in the storyline? The order of channelers for the last 3000 years is truly turned upside-down for good with the end of this book. It is a pivotal point in the series. I would almost call it the halfway point; everything before it was building up for this moment, and now we go in a different direction in a new Randland, for better or worse.

Of special note is the eBook artwork for this volume, by Greg Manchess, which depicts the battle at Dumai's Wells (really, there was no other choice for the cover). It's a great piece, and puts anything Darrell K. Sweet does to shame. This video showing the painting process is pretty awesome:

You can see the full picture here. The audio comes from the audio book for Lord of Chaos. Note that the reader pronounces "Shaido" wrong. I wonder if Jordan knew that and it factored into him starting pronunciation spiels at signings.

But anyway, thank you, Greg Manchess, for doing such a great job on this cover, and thank you, Tor, for putting together that awesome video. If only we had this cover from the start.


Book 7 – A Crown of Swords

Book 5 – The Fires of Heaven
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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