Friday, November 4, 2011

The Wheel of Time [7] A Crown of Swords (1996)

I don't consider this volume part of any "trilogy" within the overall sequence, like I have for the previous volumes. It's more of a bridge between the first half of the series and the second half. It's the end of the fast-paced adventure that the characters have gone through thus far. Many readers mark this volume as the beginning of the slowdown of the series, but for me that comes in the next few volumes.

I've always liked A Crown of Swords; I felt it was almost as good as the last few, but not quite there. It features the same elements/pattern as previous novels: a few major events, a new land/city to explore (Ebou Dar), the death of a Forsaken, Rand conquering another nation... but here is where Jordan begins some trends that change the tone and pace of the next "trilogy" (Books 8-10).

Before you continue:
  • This is part 7 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

Before we get into that, though, let's go back to when I first read the novel. It was 1996 and I was just finishing up my sophomore year at the University of Nebraska. The release of this one was a bit odd because it was the first time we had to wait two years for a book, it came out in the spring and it was shorter than the mammoths of Books 4-6. It was along the lengths of each of the first three, but I felt letdown because I had come to expect the lengths of Books 4-6.

I don't remember getting this or actually reading it the first time. What I do remember is that I was mildly disappointed at the end. Both because it was much shorter than the last few, and because I didn't feel like much had happened in the grand scheme of things (on the road to Tarmon Gai'don). I was also disappointed that Perrin got short shrift again in this book. At this point the only thing of importance Perrin had done since Book 4, The Shadow Rising, was help rescue Rand at Dumai's Wells.

I wasn't at the point where I started to feel like he was milking the series a little. That comes later.

Thoughts Now

I have a completely different view of this book now, having read the entire series up to Book 13. Realizing that Rand and friends will hit some roadblocks in the future and how that fits into the overall arc of the story – I have a better appreciation for what Jordan was doing with this and the next several books. I still don't enjoy them 100%, and I have issues with Book 10, but I get the point.

However, the drawback is that such appreciation can really only come when you've read the entire series once already. Jordan could see it and he knew what he needed to do, but it's hard for a reader to understand and see that vision when they have to wait 2 years between volumes.

Re-reading this has made me think about another current series that is taking forever... George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. Like many, as a reader I sometimes get frustrated with long waits and seemingly glacial pacing and lackluster user reviews of later novels in a series like that. However... if you do get involved a series like this, there is a level of trust the reader has to put in the author, and a commitment the author has to put to the reader. The reader must be patient and the author must reassure them that their investment in the series will be worth it.

Can you put your trust in the author?

"Don't worry, I know what I'm doing. Trust that I will get you there," the author says (or should say). It may seem like Jordan might be losing his way in this volume, but he's not. The story has changed, that's all.

So What Happens?

Not a whole lot... though it is enough for a full volume when you're reading it all straight through. Pretty much nothing happens with Egwene and the Salidar Aes Sedai, other than them leaving Salidar. We get to experience Ebou Dar, which I now picture in my mind as Venice, having visited there a few months ago and knowing what such a city looks like firsthand.

You get a random chapter with Forsaken, who seem to be wasting time and goofing around with inconsequentials like the Shaido (which we learn later in Perrin's storyline are just a major distraction to the main storyline). A little something with Morgase, a little something with Elaida.

There are only a few major events here, which led to my initial disappointment back in 1996. Nynaeve finally breaks her channeling block – one of those "cool things" she does after being super annoying for a few chapters. Let see... oh, the Seanchan finally return and take a few cities, Elayne and the others find the Bowl of the Winds and Rand abruptly launches an attack on Sammael, who dies at Shadar Logoth. Rand becomes King of Illian. A few of the sequences are very cool, but they only take up a handful of chapters.

Oh, and there's the appearance of Cadsuane. I don't like this character and she is my least favorite of the series. I even like her less than Sevanna. I suppose that means Jordan wrote her well. But I've never liked how she just suddenly appears in the middle of the series and is this super important person that all Aes Sedai are in awe of and who's a bitch to Rand. Not one mention of her before? Even though Jordan said it was all planned, I have a hard time shaking the feeling that she was added to the storyline as he went along. Maybe it's because I hate this character so much.

If I were casting Cadsuane, I would choose either Meryl Streep or Judi Dench, who can both be nasty old women.

I'm sure there will be more on Cadsuane in later blogs. Just wanted you to know how much I dislike her.

New Wrinkles in the Telling of the Wheel

Along with not much going on, Jordan starts doing some different things with this book. One is that he jumps around in time much more than before. There are a few sections in this book that actually happen during or before the end of the last book (the Dumai's Wells sequence).

You have Dumai's Wells from the viewpoint of the Shaido Wise Ones. You have the immediate aftermath from the viewpoint of Gawyn and the Younglings. Those aren't too bad; they are in the Prologue, so it's not that jarring to read.

But much later on, in Chapter 8, is the scene where Moghedien escapes. Now, this was shown at the end of the last book. I had forgotten about the jumping around here and it confused me at first. It's a bit strange to suddenly jump back to the end of the last book when you're 25% of the way into the next one. Couldn't this have been shown earlier? Or maybe picked up from the moment after Moghedien escapes?

Jordan does more manipulation of time throughout the next few books, and with the amount of characters (and particularly the wait between books back in the day) it can get a bit confusing keeping track of all of it. Particularly when you realize that A Crown of Swords only covers about 11 days total – the shortest time span for a single novel in the series, according to Dragonmount.

The Worst Picture of Rand... EVER

Onto the cover. Yes, we're talking about the Darrell K. Sweet cover.  Again. Is that really supposed to be Rand on the cover? Really? Take a look for yourself:

No comment.

I actually thought it was a different character at first, but the reddish hair and the dragons on his arms confirmed my worst fears. Once again, I have to wonder what in the world Tor was thinking when they had Sweet do these covers. Rand has appeared on every cover so far (save The Shadow Rising, I really have no clue who any of them are on that cover), and not once has he looked the same between them.

Since when did Rand start rocking the feathered-back look? And did he shrink about a foot? He's supposed to be around 6'5" according to Jordan, but here he looks like 5'5". Later on Jordan said he gave up when it came to Rand's height in the Sweet covers.

And as usual, the completely incorrect Trollocs grace the back of the cover like they do for many of the others. Not worth showing.

Who is That Person Again?

This volume is where you might start to encounter characters that had appeared earlier in the series, but you can't remember exactly when. Like Teslyn and Joline in Ebou Dar... I drew a blank and had to go to (an extremely handy reference site) to figure out where they had come from and why. Also had to do this with Pura (Ryma Sedai, from Book 2, The Great Hunt, also from the New Spring prequel), who appears with the Seanchan that capture Amador. I knew I'd seen the name before.

Back in the day, before sites like encyclopaedia-wot, I would draw complete blanks, just kind of shrug it off and think, "If this person was important, I would have remembered them." Unfortunately there is a lot of that going on in the next few books. And in the end, many of these minor characters are not that important to the overall arc of the story. They help flesh out the world, expand it that much more, but many readers would not miss them had their scenes been skipped or handled differently, and the overall story would not have suffered much at all.

Along with this, there's a couple of very short scenes with an unnamed old man talking to Mat and watching him later on. It's thrown in there and I had to look it up because I had no clue who this was – had forgotten these details entirely. Come to find, it's Noal Charin, an important character later on, and the reader doesn't learn this until Book 9 (since Mat doesn't appear in Book 8, The Path of Daggers, grumble grumble). In publishing time that was 4 years. So easy to forget these random snippets here and there that are ultimately pointless. Just introduce him in Book 9, Jordan... most people will have forgotten about the mysterious old man by the time his identity is revealed.

The Alternate Paperback Cover

A Crown of Swords is notable because when it first came out in paperback, the cover was different. There was no Sweet cover like the previous volumes (yay!). It was simple, with an image of the Crown of Swords. Kind of like the current covers for A Song of Ice and Fire. Here it is:

So much better than any Sweet cover.  Looks professional.

I thought this cover was awesome. I was surprised they had changed it, but figured they were actually doing something about the crappy Sweet covers! Alas... 'twas not to be. I couldn't find the source, but I remember reading once that it was an experiment by Tor to see if they sold differently... honestly, I don't think it mattered since the series was selling hugely at that point (the next volume would be the first #1 New York Times Bestseller of the series).

They even made promo versions of The Eye of the World with a similar style cover. You can see it here.

Either way, I had a copy of this version. I don't have it anymore, since I donated all my paperback versions to a library. In hindsight I probably should have kept it for nostalgic purposes.

An Old Friend

If you read my first blog in this re-read, about Book 1, The Eye of the World, you might remember that I met my first friend in my new high school (Papillion-La Vista High School, in Papillion, NE) because of this series. His name was Brian Watson. We didn't keep in touch much the last year of high school and beyond, but I did run into him again, about a year after this volume came out.

My friends and I used to hang out at the local Denny's on 84th street, near I-80, in Omaha, NE. It's a 24-hour Denny's and we used to sit in the corner booth of the smoking section for hours late at night, many times just drinking soda or coffee for hours. As long as you bought something, they wouldn't kick you out for squatting.

So many hours of my young life spent here.

One time, Brian showed up. We got to talking and eventually the topic turned to The Wheel of Time. Brian mentioned that he had given up on the series since it was taking forever. I told him that the last few were pretty good and related some of the major events from them when he said he didn't care about spoilers.

We even started joking about how Jordan would probably die before he ever finished the series, at the rate he was going (the end seemed nowhere close with only 7 books out). How prophetic that observation would be.

I'm pretty sure that was the last time I talked to Brian – it was at least the last time I remember. I have no idea what became of him.

The Same Font

Something that struck me as I was reading this on my Kindle, is that the format of the text has been the same on the Kindle since the first volume. I don't know about you, but with some of these books that I've read so many times when younger, the font and font size actually make a difference in the reading of the book. It gives it a different feel from book to book.

You have something like Lord of Chaos, where the hardback has very small print, compared to A Crown of Swords,where the text is larger and there's a totally different feel to it. When you're reading them, you have a slightly different mindset with each volume, whether you realize it or not.

The font you use in an essay could affect the type of grade you get. The font used in advertising could make a viewer more receptive to the message. Fonts with serifs (as opposed to sans serifs) are easier for those with dyslexia to read, and many find serif fonts more sophisticated.  There have been various studies done on this and they make for interesting reads.  Search for them.

I have no doubt that publishing companies choose the fonts of their publications very carefully. Which makes eBooks interesting... because with the Kindle, I can select from 3 different fonts and it's not dictated by the publisher. What's more interesting, the font will be the same from novel to novel. This makes the series read differently for me, more than any re-read before. It truly feels like it's all the same set of writing. Once I finish one book, I just grab the next and continue. I don't get the different feelings from covers, fonts or line spacing.

So thanks, Amazon, for creating the Kindle, which allows me to experience this series in a whole new way, 20 years later.


Book 8 – The Path of Daggers

Book 6 – Lord of Chaos
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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