started reading Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series of despite myself, but enjoyed it once I did. For half a dozen books, at least.
Jordan is a bit better than the average fantasy writer, and he's got some good plot ideas and creates interesting characters that keep readers interested in his never-ending story, but he's a very poor novelist in terms of keeping the story moving, paying off exposition and plot developments with big conclusion scenes, and crafting realistic characters.
WoT is an interesting series in that the 10 books (so far, as of July 2004) have only covered about 2 years of real time. They're long books too, 700+ pages, so we're talking 7000-8000 pages of fiction for less time than lots of individual novels cover. As you can imagine, this allows/forces him to cover things in microscopic detail, as well has host a cast of hundreds. The downside is that the reader is regularly expected to remember who minor character X is, what they were doing when last seen 3 books ago, and what it means that they're threatening major character Y, in location Z, now. The other problem is in pacing, and Jordan has really run into problems with that since book 7 or 8. Books 9 and 10 weren't bad in of themselves, but they hardly advanced the overall plot at all, and instead split the ongoing plot threads up even further. Readers, previously loyal and devoted, are beginning to revolt.
Also see my review of Crossroads of Twilight, the 10th (and most recent, as of July 2004) novel in Jordan's epic Wheel of Time series.
As for Jordan's writing, it's not bad. His Wheel of Time series has interesting good guys, and the main bad guys are pretty interesting as well, with frequently divided loyalties. But beneath them are countless hordes of monsters that constantly pop up to create tension and bloodshed and force the plot to advance with battles. It's not that the books are no fun to read, but it's clearly a sign of a mediocre novelist who constantly requires a sort of clawed and fanged deus ex machina to keep things humming along. Jordan also lacks the ability to move a book towards a conclusion by logical steps of progress. He tends to diddle around for 500 pages with sporadically-interesting but unimportant character interactions and silly teen angst stuff, and then tries to salvage the book by sending Rand (his hero/savior character) popping off halfway around the world for a huge battle with one of the superpowerful Forsaken. And it worked, for the first 5 or 6 or 7 novels in the Wheel of Time series.
Unfortunately, he's up to 10 in that series, and the last 2 or 3 books have been the worst of the ongoing saga. There are way too many plot threads, nothing is coming together, things continue to split apart, and the last-chapter epic battles we've come to expect haven't even been there. Those were a gimmick, and usually felt rushed and shoehorned in to make something happen, but they were all that made the books worth reading, since they advanced the plot and made major changes to the framework of the world.
The Wheel of Time has now spun out of control. There are way too many characters, all off doing their own thing, with about 8 parallel story arcs going on, all of them pretty interesting, which is a feat, but at the same time, you read 1500 pages, 3 or 4 years of his writing, and three of the main characters have done nothing but be mentioned by others in passing, or had 20 pages in one chapter devoted to catching up on what they are doing, which is usually nothing at all. I can Jordan writing another half dozen novels, taking us up to 2010, and only moving the story forward about three months, while resolving none of the current splintered timelines.
He has to be panicking at how he's drowning in his own invention.
Collected Blog Essays about Jordan and his books
I recently happened upon this FAQ that covers Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series in excruciating detail. I'd glanced at it, meaning to read it at some point before book #10 is released early next year, but hadn't really given it any thought. Yesterday, for no particular reason other than boredom and laziness, I started rereading book 7 in the series, and found it a lot more interesting than I'd remembered. So I returned to the FAQ late last night and read a few sections of it, and it set me to thinking about Jordan's created world.
I think I dishonor his effort in my quick dismissal on the Fantasy Novelists page. True, his writing isn't that great, and I think he's gotten far too detailed in the minutia of his epic yarn, which has ground the momentum of the plot to a near-halt over the last 2 or 3 novels. However Jordan has created an incredibly epic tale and amazingly-detailed world, and keeps expanding the detail with each book. Reading the FAQ really drives that home.
The FAQ discussion just of the Forsaken, 13 super-powerful ancient mages serving the forces of darkness/their own twisted needs, is illustrative. All 13 have posed as numerous different people over the course of time, and during the novels. The reader only knows who 4 or 5 of them are at any time, while the others are seen talking to each other in their true forms, but not in whichever normal human form they are spending most of their time as. So there is (nearly) endless speculation in the FAQ about who Demandred is, for example. They know he's someone connected to the Dark Tower, and most people thought he was Mazrim Taim, since clues in books 5-8 seemed to point at him. However events in book 9 suddenly offer contradictions to the accepted wisdom, and the FAQ page has 19 points of evidence, with three way arguments for each, as well as several more points of evidence for the other side of the argument. Things as minor as the exact wording the character used to refer to another race are debated in great detail.
My point is that Jordan has created an amazingly-complicated world, and must be doing an incredible amount of advance planning. There are literally dozens of major characters with personalities and lots of dialogue, and hundreds of minor characters who appear here and there, some just one time, others popping up in different books with hundreds or thousands of pages of text between sightings.
As a writer who has done some larger novel-type stories, I can attest to how hard it is to keep just a handful of characters consistent over just a few hundred pages. It's damn hard to remember what Character A said and how they said it (thus casting light on their internal motivations) one-hundreds pages ago. Jordan is doing this for 200+ characters over 5000 pages! And apparently he's doing it with a great deal of accuracy and subtlety, since the FAQ isn't pointing out a dozen contradictions over time.
Jordan's must have notes and a detailed outline the size of a dictionary, and finds some way to remain tightly-consistent to it over time. He can't change anything in the past, since it's all in published novels. So if he gets ideas about the future, he'll have to work them into his existing framework.
I find this amazing, since I never write anything with more than a vague concept of where I'm going one hundred pages down the line. Plus at least 75% or my ideas for cool events and character traits and plot twists come to me while I'm writing, and these often require going back and reworking previous scenes to make them match up with my new conception of a character's personality. Jordan can't do this, at least not very much, so he had to work it all out in advance to an amazing level of detail, and work in dropped hints about all sorts of things that will pay off only 2 or 3 novels later.
It would be more believable if he'd written the whole damn series already, 12 or 15 or however many books, and then gone back over the whole 1000 pages and massage things here and there, changing how various scenes worked and how they presented characters, and kept everything consistent. Instead he's writing it as he goes, though obviously keeping to some detailed master outline, and he simply has to be making some stuff up as he goes, unless he's a total robot to his own advance planning.
Whatever the case, he's crafted an incredibly-detailed and involved world. His problem is that there's so much going on and so many dozens of characters that it's taking forever to get anywhere. You'd think that by book 8 or 9 he'd be paring down the subplots and extraneous characters to concentrate on the core events and move towards a conclusion. Instead he's doing exactly the opposite and keeps introducing new characters and extended plot twists, making the actual amount of time that passes per book grow steadily less. Around book 6 you might have thought it would be over by book 7 or 8. Now at book 9, it looks like there might be another 4 or 5 books easily, unless a lot of major events tie up quickly and neatly. Or you assume that they never do, and there are still a ton of side shows going on while the main characters move on to the grand finale of world-shaking importance. But in that case, why are we getting hundreds of pages about things happening on other continents and having so many minor sub plots expanded upon at great detail, if they're all going to be just padding and filler and never resolved other than by the entire world more or less coming to an end?
I'm tempted to read the whole thing again, since half the stuff in the FAQ is a faint memory for me, at best. I read books 1-8 about a year and a half ago, very quickly, and then book 9 some months later when it was first released. Plus I'm bad with names, so there are characters that have been in all 9 books who I'm still trying to remember details about when they appear each time. Jordan doesn't include a background summary each time someone pops up, and it might have been 1500 pages since they last made an appearance, so I just read on and hope that something in their new description will ring a bell for me about what they were previously.
But I don't want to spend most of my time for weeks plowing through nine 700 page novels, not when I should be working on writing my own, as well as other stuff.
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