Saturday, December 5, 2015

Winter's Heart Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Robert Jordan
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: The Wheel of Time Book Nine
Pages: 860

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(Spoilers for the eight previous Wheel of Time books are below).

Winter’s Heart is a title with a double meaning.  The surface level meaning refers to the winter weather that was created by the Bowl of Winds in order to combat the Dark One’s taint on the weather.  The deeper meaning of the title refers to the growing coldness of many of the characters in leading positions.

Winter’s Heart begins with a lot of emotionally centered scenes in the first third of the book, the second third of the book is where the book begins to suffer a bit and drag through extended side stories, but the final third of the book produces one of Jordan’s stronger endings in any of the individual Wheel of Time books.

After two significantly weaker books in the series, Winter’s Heart re-elevates Jordan’s story to the higher level of storytelling fans of the books grew accustomed to at the beginning of the series.

Mat Cauthon returns to the story, along with the characters that were all left behind in Ebou Dar at the end of A Crown of Swords.  The hardening of people’s hearts is the dominate idea in this book, and many of the main characters are now in leadership positions and have to make difficult decisions.  Along with this unifying idea, a myriad of plot lines dominate Winter’s Heart along with a number of subplots. See the bullet pointed plot threads below.
  • Rand must face the three women he loves, he begins to hunt down the traitorous Asha’man, and he begins to plot a way to cleanse saidin.
  • Elayne begins to solidify her grip on the throne of Andor along with Aviendha and Nynaeve.
  • Mat Cauthon begins to plot his escape from Ebou Dar and the Seanchan.
  • Perrin Ayabara has to keep Masema close while he begins to hunt for his captured wife.
  • Faile and her companions must survive their captivity at the hands of the Shaido Aiel.
  • Egwene begins planning her invasion of Tar Valon.
  • The hunt for Black Ajah in the White Tower continues.
  • Cadsuane begins to start working on helping Rand.
  • Morodin and the other Forsaken begin to coordinate thwarting Rand together.
Two of the biggest questions put forth in The Shadow Rising are finally answered in Winter’s Heart: what did Rand al’Thor learn from the Aelfinn, and who is the Daughter of the Nine Moons?  The identity of the Daughter of the Nine Moons has been hinted at sporadically since she was first mentioned in the fourth book, but Winter’s Heart gives her some narration, which ultimately allows her to bring more questions to the table than answers.

Mat’s time in Ebou Dar isn’t nearly as exciting as it was in a Crown of Swords, especially without him able to argue with Elayne and Nynaeve.  The Seanchan culture, which a lot more is learned about through Mat’s chapters, proves to be captivating though.  Jordan does an excellent job of providing very unique cultures in his books and the Seanchan and their slavery institution is one of his most compelling.

Rand’s story in the book occupies three different plot threads.  His plot thread that acknowledges the fact that he is in love with three different women is handled decently, but his hunt for the Asha’man drags and is arguably the weakest primary plot line in the book.  His attempt to cleanse saidin, though, is easily the most exciting part of the entire book, and it more than makes up for a lot of this book’s flaws.

Perrin, Mat, Rand, Elayne, and Egwene are now all characters holding significant amounts of political and military power.  The decisions they have to make in many ways are lose-lose, and the result of making decisions like this continue to harden these characters hearts.  This book explores the decisions these characters are making while trying to justify the harshness of their decisions without condemning them either. However, Jordan frequently reminds readers that having too hard of heart can be dangerous, too.

The prologue and final chapter of Winter’s Heart are just fantastic.  These two chapters could be two of the strongest chapters in any Wheel of Time book, it honestly brings the quality of the entire story up drastically.  Although the middle drags, Winter’s Heart is mostly a return to the stronger books that appeared earlier in the series.

Score: 8.9

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