Friday, September 28, 2012

The Path of Daggers - The Wheel of Time Re-Read

Here we are, well here I am, with The Path of Daggers which is of course the eighth book of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time. While it isn’t a terrible book, it is the weakest book in the series up to this point. Although Jordan overlaid a great level of detail in previous installments, here in The Path of Daggers those details border on obsessive bloat.  This does not bode well for future books in the series (he says knowingly). 

The Path of Daggers is an important book in the series for me personally, one that I recall reading quite well even if some of the plot details don't stick so strongly in my memory. For starters, it was the first installment of the series I bought new upon publication (much like Leigh Butler, curator of The Wheel of Time Re-read). While I was able to get other books on remainder shelves in hardcover at Barnes and Noble (The Fires of Heaven and Lord of Chaos), in my frenetic reading of the series it was The Path of Daggers for which I anticipated its new release. It is also the first installment to reach #1 on The New York Times bestseller list, a string that has continued with each consecutive installment since. Furthermore, I  remember reading the book so well because I was on Jury Duty at the time of the book's publication (the first of three times I was called to perform my civic duty and each time in a different NJ County over the past 15 years) and one of my fellow jurors was just starting to read The Wheel of Time.

I remarked on the cover Sweet provided for A Crown of Swords, so I’ll do the same here since The Path of Daggers has Sweet’s best cover for the series. Rand looks…like Rand should look and the scene on the cover actually happened in the book. It is a majestic, grandiose cover and is bittersweet since it shows that Sweet really was able to put together a great cover. The eBook cover, while very eye-catching in how well it captures a scene in the book, strikes me as the cover of an X-Men comic (with Elayne as Jean Grey, Nynaeve as perhaps Psylocke, and Avihenda as a slightly demure looking Emma Frost). Then again,  our primary characters can really be considered superheroes.

Anyway, the book itself does feature events important to the overall story arc I enjoyed even if some sifting through the details was required.

The power trio of Elayne, Nynaeve, and Aviendha use the Bowl of Winds, the Macguffin of A Crown of Swords after much bickering with the Atha'an Miere aka The Sea Folk. Elayne later claims the throne Andor despite her mother being secretly alive and under the guise of another name.

Rand is a loony dickhead with a crazed demigod living in his head. We saw trickles of Lews Therin previously, but here Rand seriously questions his own sanity. Of course my gal Min (and maybe Davram Bashir who Rand says is the only person he can trust) is the only one who can keep him grounded.

The Seanchan finally invade and Jordan shows even more of their brutal society. I think The Path of Daggers, up to this point, provides the largest percentage of the books' narrative from the Seanchan point of view in the series to this point. It is not pleasant and illustrates, along with Padan Fain, the many obstacles not specifically related to Shaitan to the Light's hoped-for victory at Tarmon Gai'don. 

Rand’s storylilne interweaves with the Seanchan when their armies clash in a bout of great chaos which is brought to a close by Rand’s ill-advised use of the terangel Callandor. The effects are devastating both to Rand and the armies involved. The character of Cadsuane makes another appearance in an attempt to admonish Rand. I realize Cadsuane grates on quite a few fans/readers of the series, but I find here interesting.

The storyline that worked best for me was Egwene further cementing herself as the true Amyrlin Seat. Not comfortable or satisfied with being a puppet to other sisters, she takes bold, public steps to ensure her authority is not questioned. Previously I found her storyline not quite as compelling as the other characters initially from the Two Rivers, but I think Jordan stepped up her story a bit more in The Path of Daggers. At least she's much more than a simple Aes Sedai and will play nearly as crucial a role in the lead up to the end as will Rand.

Perrin’s POV took up a good portion of the novel, too. His frustration with the Wise Ones can be seen as a parallel to reader’s frustrations with those characters. More than any other character, I’ve long pegged Perrin as “our” eye in the series, a regular guy adjusting to irregular circumstances. Sure Rand is in the same situation, but as the Savior and Dragon Reborn he soon becomes “Other” and difficult for us to identify with as closely as we can with Perrin. 

Perrin’s frustrations are much more relatable since his problems involve real people, both from his home and those outside the circle of people he knows.  Conversely, Rand is a man of the world, the global leader of the Forces of Light. Although Jordan does convey empathy for Rand’s plight fairly well in some instances, there’s still a distance between the reader and Rand that isn’t present with Perrin. Additionally, though Mat is more of "a regular guy" than Rand, his luck and all prophecies surrounding him also create a distance from the "regular guy" mold that Perrin embodies. Not surprising since the gods after which he is modeled, Perun and Thor, are considered gods of the common man. This type of myth-matching and resonance is one of my favorite elements of The Wheel of Time.

Perhaps the most disheartening aspect of this book, is of course the absence of Matrim Cauthon whose fate at the end of A Crown of Swords was seriously in question. A chapter midway through the installment was emblazoned with the dice icon that had long been associated with Mat; unfortunately, it did not announce his appearance but rather the import of luck and members his army The Band of the Red Hand, particularly Talmanes Delovinde.

In a nutshell, The Path of Daggers is a book where important things happen, but you have to get through some more gristle than is comfortable to digest in order to get to the meat.  Engaging parts that don't add up to the sum of the whole all told, but I am still enjoying this re-read being and enmeshed in Randland a great deal.

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