Widely regarded as the final book of the “slog,” Crossroads of Twilight leave a lot to discuss. There are quite a few different PoVs I’d like to take a look at individually, but first I think it’s important to address a few questions: How bad is the slog, exactly? And how does it affect the series as a whole if several books are widely agreed to be subpar?
The slog is widely regarded to envelope books 7-10 (A Crown of Swords through Crossroads of Twilight). The beginning point can vary based on the reader, but Crossroads of Twilight (abbreviated: CoT) is pretty well-accepted as the final, and perhaps the worst. Before I answer either question from above, I do think it’s important to point out that the “slog” terminology has been around since the books have been published. Writing and publishing take quite some time, as A Song of Ice and Fire readers are painfully aware of. Waiting for the next book after being disappointed with the ending of the one prior would be enough to make anyone upset. But the beauty of reading the series now, or even rereading it, is that you no longer have to wait a year or two. A lot of what I’ve seen while looking into the slog is that many seem to agree that their rereading now is nowhere near so painful now that they don’t have to wait.
These past few books have not quite felt like subpar material, and I think that the lack of wait time has played a big role in this. The last two to three books, I remembered reading them and wondering why people were so upset about it. Yes, maybe they were a little slower than the previous books, but Robert Jordan quit writing his endings the same way, which made them less predictable and, thus, more interesting. That said, I cannot deny that CoT felt incredibly slow at times. I think that there is one storyline in particular that really knocks the legs out from under CoT, but in a more generalized sense, what CoT is is the calm before the storm. With so many point of view characters and such a large scope for his narrative, Jordan had to place all of his characters just so in preparation for the books to come, the steps these characters took to prepare for the last battle, and also giving readers a chance to ground themselves in the timeframe. Narration with multiple PoVs is rarely linear, and with Rand’s big project from Winter’s Heart shining like a beacon, we can line up timeframes from the multiple PoVs just by noting the characters’ reactions to it.
That said, we’re talking about what amounts to a quarter of the series being clumped into this “slog.” That’s a lot of read-time. To expect anyone to fully push through one book, let alone five, that are considered subpar just because they’re in the middle of such an epic is a little unfair, especially when there’s no guarantee that the reader will actually enjoy the grand finale and the denouement. Take the Throne of Glass series. I kept hoping it would get better, and kept listening to the hype over how good it was, but in the end, it was rough the whole way through and had an ending as disappointing as the Game of Thrones TV show. (Wheel of Time, of course, is vastly better written than Throne of Glass, but the point remains.) I think what saves the Wheel of Time from being killed by its slog is that the slog itself isn’t the horrific standstill mess that so many people try to paint it as. In order to explain its faults and salvations, though, it’s time for me to go more in-depth. Which means…. this is your official Crossroads of Twilight spoiler warning.
Perrin and the Most Boring Rescue Storyline Ever
The Faile Rescue is the weakest part of CoT. The groundwork for this particular storyline was rocky to begin with, as I never found the… Peraile? Failin? relationship particularly compelling. The feud between Berelain and Faile is absolutely unnecessary, and to be completely honest, it feels like it’s been included solely because Jordan wrote Min’s prophecy about the hawk and falcon and then had no idea what to do with it.
Secondly, one of the most infuriating character traits in Jordan’s books is that men cannot stand to put women in harm’s way, even if they want to be there, as in the case of the Maidens of the Spears. Most of the time it’s an annoyance I can swallow, but the rescue storyline puts the opposing sides against each other: Faile’s desire to escape as quickly as possible is because she’s afraid of how bloody and costly it will be when her husband’s forces go against the Shaido’s, and Perrin is out of his mind with worry over the safety of his wife. It feels like some attempt to generate conflict or tension when it already has opportunity to be tense on its own.
Thirdly, there are too many strings in this part of the narrative, too many named characters involved. This is what I mean: Faile is not the only one captured. Morgase, under a false identity of course, has also been captured, as has some queen whose name escapes me. Each person has people in Perrin’s camp frothing at the mouth to get them back. Then we have Masema, who is unpredictable, and it brings a lot of really loud personalities onto the page, and somehow they don’t complicate the plot. They just… overwhelm it.
To simplify: the Shaido Aiel are a threat that have overstayed their welcome by several books, especially considering they don’t seem to be doing anything to help the plot. Faile’s capture takes away from the original plotline they were meant to follow: Masema’s. And, worse, Masema remains on-page as a loose canon, as if to remind readers that we’re missing out on what probably would have been a much more interesting storyline. As a result, dragging out Faile’s capture, especially when taking into consideration everyone else involved and all of their motivations, just makes it feel like a false attempt to keep us engrossed, made far less engrossing because of the attempt.
Elayne and the Long Succession
I’ve seen some disappointment over the length of time it takes Elayne to secure the Lion Throne, especially as the Daughter Heir. I’ll push back against that sentiment a little. Andor is not just a European-monarchy sub-in. There are different rules when it comes to gaining the throne. It makes the ascension that much more complicated, and in a way, that much more intriguing. It’s like any other novel with political intrigue, except the people Elayne has to scheme against are not really in her immediate surroundings.
I think where the succession storyline might stumble is in its unwillingness to really face head-on what happened there when Morgase was under Rahvin’s thrall. I think that the somewhat mysterious aspect of her opposition–why so many Houses have fallen behind Arymilla, for example–is what made it so slow and dull: if Arymilla opposed Elayne because of what Morgase had done, it would explain why she had so many to back her, and would have been easier for us as readers to swallow. It also would have raised the stakes, in a way.
But the plot is still relevant. Elayne denies Rand’s help to gain her throne, an action that inspires Tear to attempt casting out Rand’s own forces. And everywhere, in Caemlyn and in the besieging forces outside it, in Egwene’s camp and the Tower, everywhere, Darkfriends are sowing the seeds of discord, undoing Rand’s hard work towards unity as their world marches towards the Last Battle. If Elayne can’t gain the throne before then, that’s yet another fracture that could help the Dark One win.
CoT cover published in 2010.
Rand Suggests the Unfathomable
Admittedly, very little happens in Rand’s parts of the book, yet what does happen is monumental. In his unceasing effort to create unity against the Dark One’s forces, he suggests a truce with the Seanchan. I will say that his chapters suffer a little from lack of information and a rather improbable succession of timing that brings Bashere, Loial, and Logain all together at one time. They are also a strange trio, it seems a bit strange that they’re able to work together well enough to accomplish what Rand desires. Yet the fact is that they do, and it’s no small thing for the overall narrative, either.
Mat Cauthon and the Not-Insta-Love
I think what I really love the most about Mat’s strange interactions with Tuon is that it’s a slow-build. There’s a strange added dynamic of Mat knowing that he’s going to marry Tuon, but it doesn’t make it insta-love. Instead, what he tries to do is get to know her. And, unlike between Perrin and Faile, although there are obvious cultural differences, Mat can’t help but find common ground. What will be interesting to see, in future books, is whether or not Mat has any effect on the Seanchan practice surrounding women channelers. I think that has the potential to be a point of contention, but the truth of the sul’dam could very easily help solve that particular bump anyway.
The importance of their relationship is even suggested in the epilogue, when Rand is asked to meet the Daughter of the Nine Moons, Tuon. Mat, who is now widely regarded as a Lord, and who holds political sway as the Dragon Reborn’s childhood friend, could very likely use his marriage to Tuon as a sort of political alliance to again attempt unifying as many as possible under the Dragon’s banner.
Egwene Continues to Impress, at a Cost
What I really appreciate in Egwene’s character is her insistence that she acts every inch the Aes Sedai. I think it was in the last book, she chastised Elayne and Nynaeve for wishing they wouldn’t have to swear on the Oath Rod, telling them that, no matter its restrictions, it gives people something to hold on to when they’re dealing with someone who can wield the One Power, and Egwene is following her own advice. Even when she knows it will cost them, she refuses to give way to Gareth Bryne’s request that they use Travelling to get inside the walls of Tar Valon. She doesn’t lie, but rather warps the truth as needed in a true Aes Sedai fashion.
In the end, in an attempt to block the harbor so that Tar Valon cannot continue to supply itself with supplies and soldiers, Egwene and Leane work together to turn the great harbor chains into cuendillar. I think this plot charged forward the furthest, as it ends with Egwene captured by Tar Valon Aes Sedai. It wasn’t your usual Rand-vs-Forsaken climactic battle, but I think the entire scene was really well-written, and I think it was very impressive and in-character for Egwene to take this risk herself rather than leave it to someone far less experienced albeit somewhat less important.
Some Final Thoughts 🙂
As you may know if you’re a frequent visitor here, I read Wheel of Time many years ago, before the entire series was fully published. I don’t know which book I stopped at, but to be honest, I think this was it. All I remember was catching up to the current book and then, when it was announced that the next book was about to be published, I balked at the idea of rereading the entire series to refamiliarize myself with what was going on. So while it’s unfortunate that I let myself stop at what was probably the lowest point of the series, I can’t help but be optimistic for this new territory that I’m walking into. Happy reading, and best of luck.