After the slow-moving narrative of the previous book, Knife of Dreams is all it’s hyped up to be. Many of the plotlines that dragged Crossroads of Twilight are officially brought to a close as everyone steels themselves for the last battle. I’ll talk about the pacing of the overall series below, but first, let’s dive into the specifics of Knife of Dreams. As always, your warning: Spoilers abound.
Perrin and the Rescue
I hate to bash on Robert Jordan, as I understand that in a 15-book series, there are bound to be some mistakes. Unfortunately, as a reviewer, I have to talk about the good and the bad, and the rescue storyline here has to be one of the most boring parts of the series. The introduction of the Seanchan and the use of forkroot tea against the Wise Ones did add a bit of flair to the narrative, as I think Perrin’s alliance with the Seanchan shows a lot more about his character and his love for Faile than any of his “I must rescue my wife!!!” moments or even the knotting of the cord each day. The same went for his last act with his ax in Crossroads of Twilight: these particular choices clearly go against his moral code, and yet he does them anyway.
The interest points, however, were not enough to keep me interested in this particular plotline, and I honestly dreaded reading any of Perrin’s or Faile’s point of view scenes. In the end, I even googled what chapter the rescue took place in, I was that eager to be done with it. Compounding the general annoyance of the two characters, I also found Masema’s presence intolerable. His madness is well-noted, but at the same time, it is difficult to understand how his own mind connects two very different ideas, such as the idea that only Rand as the Dragon Reborn should be able to use the One Power, or that his ragtag army of “prophet” strong-arms is anything near what the Dragon Reborn would want out of him. Yet Masema survives the battle to free Faile, leaving me to wonder exactly what use he could possibly have for the rest of the narrative.
One final point: I find Aram’s demise to have been incredibly sudden and not particularly sensical. Over the past book or two, after spending “too much time with Masema,” Aram grows on-edge and hot-headed. Despite the fact that he’s been sworn to Perrin from the beginning, and was even excessively over-protective of his liege-lord, Masema was somehow able to completely warp his mind into attacking Perrin with the intent to kill. In addition, the death scene happened in the middle of the rescue, amidst the chaos of a battleground, preventing readers such as myself to feel the full weight of Aram’s betrayal.
The Tower Divided
Crossroads of Twilight ended with Egwene captured. Now, rather than beheaded or even severely punished, as everyone expected, she is merely returned to novice white. I found myself hugely impressed with Egwene’s bravery and her refusal to let them erase who she is, even at the cost of many beatings each day.
Understandably, the rebel Aes Sedai are still in a frenzy. Elaida kept Egwene alive because it was more politically savvy than killing her–kill Egwene, and the rebels could just appoint another Amyrlin Seat; with her alive and broken, the rebel Aes Sedai might just give up and accede to Elaida’s demands. The rebel camp’s machinations is very in-character for all involved, though it’s frustrating to deal with Romanda and Lelaine once again being at each other’s throats. I was glad to see Halima gone from camp, but the main part of this plotline was Egwene’s sowing dissent within the Tower.
The complete turn-around for the novices and Accepted was well-done, as the initial bullying from Accepted and novices contrasted beautifully to that last scene of hers, when, in the dining hall, all present–no Aes Sedai, of course, just novices and maybe also Accepted–rose when she entered, showing the respect a proper Aes Sedai deserved.
Rand Against Darkfriends
Rand’s continual struggle against nausea every time he channels remains something of an annoying mystery. I can’t tell if it’s meant to cap his abilities so that he doesn’t become too powerful, or if it will actually play some major role in the narrative now. Either way, it did not prevent the battle against Trollocs any less intense. This may be controversial, but I found the battle here far more chilling than the battle at Dumai’s Wells. The Ogier’s battle cry gave me goosebumps, and Lews Therin’s aid in weavings resulted in a quick defeat of the Trollocs despite having the clear advantage of number.
I think where the plotline stumbled was their later meeting with the Seanchan. Like with Aram, Rand’s loss of his hand during the fight made its loss seem abrupt, and because the fight was in Rand’s point of view, cold and distant as he is now, it did not hit hard at all. I think the scene would have benefited from being in Min’s point of view, especially because Rand knowing Semirhage’s identity is already explained by Semirhage herself. In fact, had it been in Min’s point of view, the explanation would not have seemed to redundant, and as Rand’s lover, seeing the loss of his hand would have hit her hard, and by extension, the reader. But I am curious to see how they handle his loss of a hand in the next three books.
Nynaeve ti al’Meara Mandragoran
Wow. Just wow. The Golden Crane absolutely took my breath away. If you’ve read the book, you know exactly what scene I’m talking about. I think that her discussion with Lan about the Blight was important in the grand scheme of things, especially since we know the Borderlanders are still very far from home with no intention of turning around until they find Rand. However, what was most beautiful was the deft writing of the following scene. The fact that it was written in someone else’s point of view allowed the reader to experience first-hand how persuasive Nynaeve was. Not to mention, having read New Spring, the fact that Lan will lead men into the Blight just feels right.
The Long Succession Ends
I would not say that the events leading up to Elayne’s gaining enough House support was particularly thrilling. However, after waiting so long for this moment, it did still feel incredibly rewarding. In one fell stroke, Elayne manages to clear the Black Ajah’s presence from Caemlyn and destroy Arymilla’s forces. Watching Arymilla’s grudging allies turn on her was very satisfying.
That said, I think that the timing of both attacks were a little oddly placed, enough so that it seemed weirdly coincidental. It was already established in a previous scene that Arymilla intended to attack on a certain day, but the time passage in the series is often vague. The two attacks could have been written in a way, I think, that reminded readers that Arymilla’s attack was taking place, upping the stakes for Birgitte’s hasty rescue of Elayne from the Black Ajah Aes Sedai.
On that note, I do also want to add that the Windfinder’s inclusion didn’t feel as natural as it could have. Elayne even mentions that the Kin could have been involved, but was glad they weren’t because of their…innocence? With the deal that the Windfinders had about not getting involved in the war and fighting, and with the Kin’s loyalty to Elayne, I think it would have read a lot better had the Kin actually swapped places with the Windfinders.
The Prince of Ravens
I don’t know if it’s his ta’veren nature or just some extreme coincidences, but the visuals of the foxes and the ravens connecting Mat to Tuon just made their partnership inevitable. Their relationship, of course, curves abruptly as first Tuon realizes just how capable Mat is on the battlefield and then as the general of the Deathwatch Guard promises to take her to safety and she completes the Seanchan marriage ceremony. The two are an unlikely pair, but with their time spent with Luca’s traveling show, they have a chance to learn each other’s customs and interests. And, unlike Perrin and Faile, it’s not one-sided: both Mat and Tuon are open to learning about the culture of the other.
In addition, Tuon herself gets a point of view chapter at a critical juncture, right after Talmanes stumbles across Mat and their group. We get to learn a little more about the finger-waggling that Mat’s seen, noting that there are different forms depending on who’s speaking. It was also rather funny, that Tuon compares Mat to a lion in her head–the initial line was powerful as she realized she had him pegged all wrong—and then, in Mat’s point of view scene that follows immediately after, he hears her mutter something about lions. It’s ironic, as we the reader knows what Tuon means, but unlike us, Mat has not been in her head, and is completely at a loss.
The Impending Last Battle
What this book includes that the previous books did not is a sudden but much-needed reminder of the stakes. All along, the characters have set out on a journey, knowing that Rand is the Dragon Reborn and that, by extension, the Last Battle is coming. However, despite fulfilling bits and pieces of the prophecy, and little tidbits that suggested the Dark One was expanding his hold on the world, there was no real evidence that the Last Battle draws near. From hallways changing to rooms disappearing to the appearance of the dead, it’s obvious to anyone with eyes that time is running out.
In addition, in a previous blog post discussing Fires of Heaven, I noted a growing fear that Trollocs and Myrdraal were going to be treated as an unlimited resource in the Last Battle and in the events leading up to it. I was very happy to see Morridin address the issue by commanding all Forsaken to relinquish command of whatever Trollocs they had been using for their own plans. It also explains why the Borderlands has been so quiet. It’s unclear who sent the Trollocs against Rand, but the deaths of a hundred thousand Trollocs will be felt keenly, and their loss will hopefully help the protagonists in the Last Battle.
What remains to be seen is the pacing of the last three books. Although the inclusion of the inexplicable and eerie gave Knife of Dreams that much-needed reminder of the bigger picture, it begs the question: what else remains before the Dark One and his minions finally strike? I’m curious to find out when I begin reading The Gathering Storm.