I’ve been reading Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, trying to finish it at last after having abandoned it fourteen years ago or something like that. I abandoned it because the books were becoming repetitive, and because Robert Jordan created characters who were plastic and immature even then; his fondness for corporal punishment was vaguely offensive.
I had written a critique of the series up through book seven, as I’d given up during book 8; there were a few good books in the series (four and six) but much of the “advancement” involved abuse and misinformation among allies; I’m not a feminist, but the women in the series are portrayed as such buffoons (and powerful buffoons, at that) that I couldn’t quite swallow some of the premises about culture. Unfortunately, my review has been lost in the mists of time.
But the series is finished now, surviving past Jordan‘s fatal encounter with cardiac amyloidosis; the final three books were written by Brandon Sanderson, who had Jordan’s notes and the blessing of Jordan’s wife and editor. It’s basically fan fiction as canon for the series.
Book eleven (“The Knife of Dreams“) actually showed some progress – I don’t know the timing involved, but it’s almost like Jordan realized that his cash cow wouldn’t be very useful to him once he had passed away. (I am unaware if he knew of his disease by the time he was writing book eleven.) With that, though, Sanderson seems to have decided that it was time for the series to actually wrap up as quickly as it could, while respecting the historical (and glacial) pace – he finished in three books, and I’m only halfway through the first of the three.
But it’s a marvelous change so far! People actually react in ways that you could imagine real people reacting.
For example, the women in the series are all bullies and buffoons; those women who can use magic (or “channel”) are among the worst of them, except for their social peers who are unable to channel. They are the worst. The men, bullied and chastised (and often beaten), simply take it, with the suggestion that they just don’t understand women, but that this is somehow valid behavior.
It’s especially not valid when you absolutely need the investment of the target of bullying.
The main protagonist (among what seems like hundreds of protagonists) is the Dragon Reborn, a reincarnated and tragic hero from the distant past, destined to combat the “Dark One,” dying in the process. He takes a number of wounds – some through ignorance, because even if people have useful information – a rare event – they still won’t share it with him. He takes a number of wounds that will not heal and cannot be healed; he is maimed and marked over and over again.
It’s not an easy role to fulfill. Everyone fears him; many see him as a target, because they’re idiots. Those he loves are targets, and he loves a lot of people.
So naturally, the bullies – remember, this is where I started this thought – spend a lot of time bullying him and those closest to him. “You may be the Dragon Reborn, boy, but I need a fresh cup of tea. Now travel five hundred leagues and get me one. Jerk.” They make promises they can’t keep, but so what? He’s a man, he’ll never be able to tell the difference just because you kept an artifact fatal to him just lying around.
… at least, that’s the way it is in the books Jordan authored.
In The Gathering Storm, the Dragon runs into an artifact that’s, um, fatal to him and his purpose. And commits himself to a path from which he may not be able to recover in order to survive. Because, well, survival. There’s no guarantee that he will win against the Dark One – but if he doesn’t survive to fight the last battle, there’s absolutely a guarantee that he’ll lose. (And for some reason, despite all the bullying, he cares.)
So after he commits himself to this irredeemable path, one of the people who keeps putting him down as a boy who needs to learn his lesson in order to die in battle … runs into him, head on with her failure to protect him from this artifact that she’s had in her possession. Sure, she put it in what she considers a safe place… in her room… in the same house in which one of the Dragon’s most powerful arch-nemeses is kept prisoner. Sure hope the arch-enemy doesn’t somehow break free, maybe through the aid of the arch-enemy’s allies and spies!
Because if the enemy did break free, well, the enemy is super-duper powerful, more powerful than anyone except for the Dragon! And the traps set for anyone trying to reach that artifact, well, the enemy might be a lot stronger!
In other words: “Whoopsie-doodle, boy! I suppose I screwed up a little, for the first time ever. Glad you survived, I guess. Now you’d better pay attention to me and what I have to tell you to do…”
And bless you, Brandon Sanderson! Because the Dragon, the Big Bad of the side of Good, has had enough.
The person who’s been whining at him, derisively calling him “boy,” using the idea that she is supposed to be somehow a trusted advisor, the one who kept that dangerous artifact around? She’s exiled. And all of a sudden, she realizes that if he actually needs her – and apparently he does – her exile would be fatal for the world. All of it. Fatal. Cataclysmic.
Whoopsie-doodle, indeed. And Sanderson doesn’t even write it as if I’m supposed to pity the poor old whiny woman. She’s been abusing the most powerful man in the world, constantly putting him down and punishing him despite his maturity and necessity. And all that abuse and insult comes home to roost, and he’s done with it. Surprise!
… and surprise for me, too, as a reader, because I can’t see Robert Jordan as having allowed the Dragon to have human responses. (Or, well, anyone, but especially the Dragon.)
Excellently done. The rest of the series might redeem the long, long, interminable stretches of dreck that the Wheel of Time had been. I’m now looking forward to seeing what happens.