The Wheel of Time – A Review of Sorts for Books 12 & 13

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When an author of a long-running book series passes away and someone else picks up the mantle to complete the series, there is understandably some concern from the fan base. Here you are, committed and eager to see the conclusion of some epic story, and someone else who had no hand in shaping that story, takes over.

For the Wheel of Time series though, Robert Jordan took great pains to document and outline how he saw the conclusion to the series shaping out. He left detailed notes and ideas for that next author to use, and it’s obvious, when reading the last three books in the series, Jordan really worked hard to make make sure the story flowed continuously.

I’ve written before about my long journey with The Wheel of Time series and how I picked it back up after a long hiatus. My main form of WoT consumption these days is through audio books since it’s easier to get through them at work or while plodding around the apartment doing chores. With books 12 and 13 it was no different. And considering that it was read by the same actors as the other audio books, it didn’t feel off or vastly different. It felt comfortable and familiar which was exactly what I was looking for when I started it.

Book 12 really revitalized the series for me. I enjoyed books ten and eleven and was looking forward to Sanderson’s twist on Jordan’s plotting but it really exceeded my cautious expectations. We had some good twists, and a call-back to the earlier books that I hadn’t been expecting but that was much appreciated as a means of tying together plots. It’s nice to see all the books in a series this long tying together, which makes the long trip through them seem worth it. Book 12 felt like the start of something new and exciting, a good beginning to a concluding trilogy of books that need to perform and end what has been a very long and extensive story. Book 13 only continued that sense of continuity.

As a reader of the series, seeing the growth of the main characters has been awesome. To get through as long a series as this, you have to become truly invested in their stories and in their development. It’s not enough to be fascinated by them, you have to care. Comparing where our rag-tag group of world savers has started to where they are now is like looking at a high-speed video of someone’s life. Frame one is them as a small child, you blink, and here they are as adults showing a maturity and strength of character that had previously only been hinted at.

As much a series about fantasy, politics and war, I am finding that the Wheel of Time series is, at its core, a coming of age story. Yeah, I know how that sounds but really. Our main six characters (Rand, Mat, Perrin, Egwene, Elayne & Nynaeve) are forced to grow in such drastic ways with literally the fate of the world thrust upon them. We read about their struggles, their triumphs, their pain and smiles. We follow them through mistakes and the lessons learned. I found it to be more than just a great fantasy story with magic and strange creatures roaming about. More than the solid mythology and world-building that Jordan had spent so much time creating. It’s a story about people, and how those people adapt and mature. Even the dumb way our Six talk about the opposite sex is, in its own way, endearing. Men are “wool-heads” and woman are manipulators. Their silly viewpoints only emphasize the fact that these are the same kids who so many books ago were tending sheep and stressing over the concerns of a small town. As much as they’ve changed, they are still our characters. The ones we’ve known for eleven books before. (Though I will say that the sexist way men and women think of each other is one of the only lazy feeling tropes the books have.)

I’m not really one for retelling a plot in a review like this. If you want to know details, you can find one of the many wiki pages devoted to it. I for one relied on the WoT Encyclopedia site while listening to the books as a means of keeping track of all the comings and goings. What I am interested in is, why people should read this series at all. Why I found it so compelling that I’ve spent the better part of two years reading it. For all the slow parts, the books that seemed to crawl through their plots, I think the main redeeming quality to the series is that it was all worth it. It all ties together. Events in one book affect events in another and that sort of consistency and forethought is awesome. Especially to someone who aspires to write his own novels and stories.

I’m well into the last book, as I write this, and it is engaging and dramatic. It’s going to be kind of sad to reach the end, I may just go back and skim through book one for the hell of it.

 

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The Wheel of Time – An Update From Dan

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(edited)

I last wrote about the Wheel of Time series in August of 2012. I was so young then, just an idealistic youth, naïve to the struggles of the real world with nary a worry for me to write about. Well, no. Not really. I just wasn’t a father then so that’s what it felt like. Now, two years later, with an almost-2 year old running around, I look back at that Danny from August 2012 and think “Wasn’t it so much simpler then? When you could sit and read a book for two hours straight and not feel like you were wasting precious child-bonding time?” (Or sleep. Like you were wasting even more precious catch-up-on-sleep time but….you know, go parents!) Anyway, here I am now, June of 2014, older and wiser, busy and seemingly always tired. In those two years, even with the added responsibilities, I did make it through a pretty steady rotation of books. While fitting in a healthy dose of non-Robert Jordan written books, I made it from Jordan’s second Wheel of Time book, “The Great Hunt”, to book eight of the series (come on, book eight. That’s a lot!). Then my mind shut off, outside distractions took over, and I had to put it down. Not just the book, but the whole series. And I remember that moment very well. I was reading in bed after a long day and I found myself in that place of having re-read the same page four times, and retaining nothing. Names blurred, sentences ran into each other and I just didn’t care anymore. I admit, it was a both a sad and liberating feeling.

Now at this point, you are probably thinking, “What a terrible book review. Who cares about your life. Get to Rand.” (If you don’t know who Rand is, then the rest of this will just be really terrible for you. Sorry.) And in some ways, you’re right. This isn’t going to be a good book review. Because, well it isn’t a book review. It’s an update of sorts. I wanted to write about my progress with a series spanning fourteen books (suck it Hunger Games trilogy!) and for me, two years.  Things change in two years. People change. Locations change. I started this journey with Rand, Perrin and Mat while they were living in Emond’s Field, and I was living in Brooklyn, NY. Now they are spread all over the lands west of the Spine of the World, and I live in Phoenix.

So why now. Why am I writing this, if I seemingly gave up on the series and forgot about all our ta’veren friends? (Again, if you are unfamiliar with ta’veren then either check out the Wheel of Time encyclopedia page at http://encyclopaedia-wot.org/main/wot.html or just stop reading. Or keep reading, its you’re life.) Because I eventually picked up book eight again. Because I find myself now, one chapter into book twelve, engaged and invested. I realize now that part of the reason I stopped in the first place was because, and this is probably inevitable in such a long series, some of the books seemed to muddle through their plots. They felt like place-holders for larger things to come, and less like worthy stories in and of themselves. While the story did move, and characters evolved, it was slow and monotonous. To put this in a little perspective, books eight through eleven take place over the course of a year. Four books, one year. And one of those books covers just a few weeks. If I hadn’t been genuinely interested in the collective fates of our protagonists (or committed with an OCD-fueled fervor to finish what I started) I may have just quit all together. And trust me, I thought about it.

But I didn’t quit. And now here I am, on the other side of the slow plotting and all the better for it. I sit here now, the audio book for book 12 “The Gathering Storm” waiting patiently for me on my phone, actually excited to see what happens next. The slow pace of the earlier books worked for me because now I have a real feel of what is at stake. There was an urgency to book eleven that has carried over into book twelve. And with Brandon Sanderson (who wrote the Mistborn series which I thoroughly enjoyed) taking over the helm for the last three books, after Robert Jordan’s passing, I am even more excited to see how he puts his own mark on what has, in its entirety thus far, been a fun and you know what? Satisfying experience. Yeah I said it. Even with the kinda boring parts and the hundred names that crop up every chapter so that I have to listen to the audio books with that encyclopedia page open.

Many times in life, we are forced to live through the boring parts. To just make it to the other side of some long endeavor, wishing the journey were more exciting. There are times when quitting and moving on to something else makes so much sense in that moment. It really does. We think we could be spending our time more productively. And I felt this way about school for a long time. Why suffer through Intro classes and full schedules, when I already knew what I wanted to do and just wanted to go ahead and do it? It’s tough sometimes to stay motivated and push yourself past those moments of monotony and tiredness. But we do it. And often we come out the other side so much better for it. I’m not saying reading this series is some grand life achievement that I expect will enrich my existence the way school might. What I am saying though is that there is a lesson in there somewhere. That sometimes if we just keep moving forward with something, complete it and judge it as a whole, we might realize we enjoyed it. And this is how I feel about this series. I want to see it as a whole, and judge it as a complete package.

So, if you know how it all ends, don’t tell me. I’ve been vague in this post so that I wouldn’t spoil anything for you. This two year journey so far with Rand, Perrin, Mat (and Elayne, Nynaeve, Egwene, Min, and Aviendha), has been fun, and I appreciate the experience of having grown alongside those crazy kids. No regrets. No judgment.

I’ll be posting reviews of the next three books as I read them, just as an FYI kind of thing. So look for them on the site. And I’m curious to know what you think about the series if you’ve read it, or are reading it, or are thinking of reading it. It’s an investment, but most things are. I say go for it. Or don’t. It’s your life. 🙂

 

Sun and Water

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Opened in 2001, Steele Indian School Park in downtown Phoenix is one of our favorite places to go with our son on weekends. He loves the large playground and the two dog parks, and the water. He loves the water. Including the sparkling , sun-kissed fountains.

Happy (late) Halloween!

In the spirit of Halloween, that hallowed day that seemed to pass us by unawares this year. Well, we were aware but the baby wasn’t. Since we missed our pumpkin carving party this year, here are some pictures from last year. 🙂

Breakfast

There are certain photos that have the ability to take you right back to a special place in your mind. It doesn’t have to be flashy, or deep, or stunning. It can be of everyday objects that just seem to bring you back to a time, a place, a feeling. This picture, from San Pedro, Guatemala, always brings me back to that morning were we found a small, hidden café seemingly randomly placed amongst man-sized leaves, and colorful flowers. The picture is just of some lemonade, and coffee and fruit but it means so much more. One more reason why photographs can connect so deeply, and why I love them.

Stego

We have two cats; sweet yet shy Sally, and bull-in-a-China-shop Stego. Short for Stegosaurus. I know, self fulfilling prophecy – he is a terror. But a good terror. A bottle-cap fetching, fly hunting, sink tap water drinking, needs to be in everything, ball of long orange fur. So when I took this picture, and the shadows and colors made him look calm and normal, I thought I couldn’t miss this chance. He’ll always be our favorite trouble maker, the big brother to the baby to come, and an annoying youngen for Sally.

I See You

He thought he was hiding from the crowd, but I was able to sneak just below him, get a good zoom, and catch this shot (one of my absolute favorites) of this bird quietly hiding at his next. This continues to be one of my faves. We took this at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden last summer.

All for me!

I love flowers. I love taking pictures of them. But what I really love is taking pictures of insects ON flowers. This was in the Brooklyn Botanical garden, and this little guy seemed not to know where to start! I feel that way sometimes; a little fly, on a big flower. Trying to figure it all out. Perhaps even ignorant of the beauty just underneath me, too focused on whats right in front of me.

Coconuts and Phone Calls

My cell phone didn’t work. We’d just gotten off the small dirt-bike that a stranger graciously let us hang off the back of as he raced towards our isolated beach and fresh-from-the-tree coconuts. But my cell phone didn’t work. And we needed to check in with the family who’d only hours earlier sent us on this crazy journey. Long story short, a machete wielding man leads me up a steep and tree filled hill, to a special crooked tree where overlooking a steep drop down, when placing a hand on one of the furthest reaching branches, one would get reception enough to make calls. I hadn’t had the heart to tell him, on the 15 minute hike up a hill, that my phone had actually died half way up. He was doing me a real solid here. So, we reached the top, laughed about it. He used the machete to cut down some fresh coconuts, and I used his phone to tell my uncle we were alive. And in the meantime, I got this wonderful picture that I fell in love with.