Welcome to the Binge Project series! These Binge Projects will feature me reading or watching an entire run of comics, books, TV shows, or other media in rapid order, then writing expansively about the experience. This installment will be a slower process, as I work my way through the lengthy “The Wheel of Time” book series.
Previously: Book 1 (The Eye of the World), Book 2 (The Great Hunt), Book 3 (The Dragon Reborn), Book 4 (The Shadow Rising), Book 5 (The Fires of Heaven), Book 6 (Lord of Chaos), Book 7 (A Crown of Swords), Book 8 (The Path of Daggers), Book 9 (Winter’s Heart).
And now, The Wheel of Time Book 10: Crossroads of Twilight.
So, I was nervous about this book. My friend who first strongly encouraged me to read The Wheel of Time viewed it as the worst entry of the series, and I didn’t exactly feel any better when buying it and noticing that its average rating on Amazon was just 2 stars. But, ever the contrarian, I actually liked Crossroads of Twlight a decent amount. It certainly had its fair share of frustrations and wasn’t even particularly close to equaling the best books of the series. But expectations can make a big difference in how you feel about a work. I came into Book 10 with very low expectations that weren’t going to be hard to surpass, and by just delivering a solid enough book, Jordan did surpass them.
All the best highlights to me in Crossroads involved the White Tower: both the machinations inside Tar Valon and the siege outside it. Egwene has, bizarrely compared to my thoughts on her in the first few books, become maybe my favorite character to read about. She’s now a skilled manipulator and politician, but she’s juggling so many balls that it feels inevitable for some of them to start crashing down — as they do at the end, with her being betrayed and captured. But the journey there was fascinating.
Egwene finds herself beset by multiple surprises this book, with unexpected proposals to open negotiations with both the White Tower and the Black Tower. The latter was especially entertaining, as Jordan really set the scene of chaos that erupted during that Hall meeting; I particularly liked how Egwene both showed how far she’d come as a leader during that meeting (restoring order when no one else could, while the Sitters were on the verge of actual fistfights) but also showed how much was still beyond her control (her opinions having little effect on the subsequent proceedings). Her meetings with her two main rivals among the Sitters were likewise fascinating. She outplayed Romanda wonderfully, putting the woman squarely on her heels, only to lose that ground at the end by outraging Romanda with her proposal to remove the Oaths for retirement into the Kin. It seemed like a misplay to me; Egwene was finally on solid ground, cowing Romanda a little. Dropping the proposal then just refilled Romanda with righteous anger again; I know she would have had to initiate that proposal eventually anyway, but waiting til she was on more solid ground seemed smarter. It’s not like there was any rush; they don’t have the Oath Rod yet anyway.
Lelaine, meanwhile, seemed on stronger footing from the start, clearly having uncovered at least some of Egwene’s secrets and teasing her upcoming ability to hold them over Egwene’s head. I imagine Lelaine and Romanda will be Egwene’s first two suspects as she considers who betrayed her. While we know instead that Halima is one of the Forsaken and Sheriam is in Halima’s thrall, I still wonder if one of the two sitters could have played some role in it; knowing two possible sources of betrayal doesn’t mean there aren’t others. The most intriguing possibility to me would be if both Lelaine and Romanda were Black Ajah and secretly working together. We’ve been told repeatedly how much Siuan and Leane have been able to do by working together secretly while publicly pretending to be at each other’s throat (which, really, should be an obvious fake to everyone, given how long those two worked together). It’d be a fascinating twist if they were themselves taken by Romanda and Lelaine pulling the same trick on them.
The only disappointment I have with Egwene for now is her blindness to the threat of Halima. It started to really annoy me in this book that she’s now so thoroughly competent in almost all of her duties, yet doesn’t even suspect Halima at all. I’m not saying she should have figured out it’s a woman killing with saidin, as obviously that’s a fairly impossible curveball. But to not even think twice about how her headaches only occur with Halima around, including once in this book immediately after Halima got upset at her? Or to find the timing suspicious that Halima was out very late the night that an Aes Sedai was murdered? Come on, Egwene. Likewise, she should have put a lot more thought into Sheriam suddenly turning into a pool of wrecked nerves after previously being such a pillar of strength. The fact that she didn’t think about either of them much at all was a disappointment. Still, I’m Team Egwene now. Her discovery of how to make cuendillar, and the plan to use that as a weapon to block the Tar Valon harbor, was very cool. Too bad it ended with her captured; I was more than ready to see Egwene the victorious conqueror.
Inside Tar Valon, we got perhaps the best scene of the book. Some of the White Tower subplots were uninspired; the hunt for the Black Ajah has been slow and dull since the rush of the first discovery. But massive missteps by Mesaana and Alviarin created a couple moments of great drama. I’m not clear on what all Alviarin was doing in her absence from the Tower, but that absence cost her everything. Elaida had time to recover and to scheme, and used that time to thoroughly outmaneuver Alviarin and remove her as Keeper, just a drop of evidence away from a treason trial. Elaida is hardly a sympathetic character, but watching her retake her power, as Alviarin suddenly realizes how screwed she is, was some dramatic theater. Immediately following it up, Mesaana got her own comeuppance from Shaidar Haran. The mysterious Myrddraal becomes one of my first correct predictions, revealed to indeed be an embodiment of the Dark One himself. As the first known physical representation of our series’ Big Bad, it was damn effective. He was powerful and intimidating and definitely raised the stakes by a lot. That 1-2 punch of Elaida regaining an upper hand, followed by the Shaidar Haran reveal, was about as good as it got in Crossroads of Twilight.
Elsewhere, things were more of a mixed bag, and often more bad than good. Elayne’s plots have gone steadily downhill; I had once excited about her return to Caemlyn, but it’s somehow only made everything far slower for her. She had a high point early in the book with her negotiations with the Atha’an Miere. After the Seafolk kicked her (and Nynaeve’s) ass in talks previously, it was good to see her regain some standing by more than holding her own this time. But that was the only good thing I can say about her parts of this book. This civil war for Andor has become long and is hinting at becoming interminably long, since there’s absolutely no end in sight. Meanwhile, I just hate her pregnancy subplot so much. It’s feels like a way for Robert Jordan to backdoor in the return of the Angry Woman while being able to blame it on hormones.
Elsewhere, there’s Perrin. Our sole commenter so far, Ryan, mentioned Perrin’s chapters as particularly bothersome to him in Books 10 and 11. They didn’t bother me too much in Crossroads, but they’re clearly trending in the wrong direction. Faile meets a guy with a crush on her who may or may not help her escape eventually. Perrin goes to a town that has a bunch of ghosts, which, ok. I get the point of showing the breaking barriers to ramp up toward Tarmon Gai’don, but the ghosts thing felt stupid and out of place in this book. I’m sure this isn’t the end of the whole walking dead angle, and we’ll probably see it bleed into other storylines as well. For now, the ghost stuff feels like a poor fit for this series.
Perrin’s highlight is probably his “interrogation” of the captured Shaido. While everyone else was preparing for weeks of torture, Perrin got everything from them with one disfigurement and speech, creating the threat of leaving them handless and footless beggars. It was an effective moment, but undercut by him then abandoning his axe because he’d grown to like using it. I get the symbolism of that moment, but, um, aren’t you going to still need to fight at some point? Especially while doing that whole thing about rescuing your wife? Won’t that require a weapon at some point? Feels shortsighted, Perrin.
I was very interested once to see where Jordan would take the subplot of Masema/the Prophet, but there’s little movement on that in this book. I suspect Perrin will eventually give into the advice to kill the man, but as he’s already pointed out, that would only result in numerous smaller bands of thieves/murderers. Personally, I’m hoping we see Masema survive long enough to be brought before Rand. I’d be intrigued to see how Rand would react to him, and how Masema would accept strong rebuke from the man he claims to be serving. And speaking of service gone awry, I also have a feeling Aram will turn on Perrin at some point. His devotion is so fierce that I can’t help feeling like it has a dark undertone that will be exploited at some point.
Mat’s storyline is a slightly mixed bag, but pretty strong on the whole. I’ve already had more than enough to last a lifetime of Valan Luca and the plot idea of major characters hiding out in a circus (this is the second time Jordan has gone that silly route, though at least this one has been better executed so far). But I enjoyed Mat’s budding relationship with Tuon and the way they play it as a game, maneuvering for control as much as affection. Tuon has a couple bitchy moments, especially toward Egeanin, but I didn’t think it was overdone in this book.
The Seanchan themselves are in for interesting times, as more people (including Tuon herself, now) learn of the explosive secret that sul’dam can channel. That could be the most engrossing development yet for the Seanchan, as their entire way of life could be undercut, even as their spread has continued. Meanwhile, Perrin and Rand both reach separate decisions to consider alliances with the Seanchan. I really don’t have any great guesses for where that will go, or even where I want it to.
Unfortunately, Rand doesn’t do much else in this book. Logain enters the picture for his group of allies, but we only get to see a glimpse of that. Logain and Rand working together, especially if Mazrim Taim ever reenters the story as their target, could be a really great development. But after all the effort to cleanse saidin at the end of Winter’s Heart, it’s disappointing to see relatively little follow-up on the matter in Crossroads of Twilight. Watching the various reactions to the use of the Choedan Kal was good stuff, but I expected it to be followed by widespread reactions to the cleansing of saidin, including among the dark Asha’man, but that just didn’t fully materialize.
On a larger scale, the disappointment of Book 10 is how far apart the pieces still seem. Egwene is increasingly a badass, but she doesn’t get too much closer to becoming the sole Amyrlin Seat, and probably even took a step back with her capture at the end. Elayne doesn’t get much closer to winning the throne of Andor. Perrin is still chasing after his wife, and Mat is still slowly hitching a ride. We’re at the point where I’d really like to see all these people reach their various positions of power, so we can have at least a couple books to see how those positions affect the dynamics between characters. As the current snail pace, I wonder if Elayne and Egwene will only take their places like the day before Tarmon Gai’don.
Book 10 had a lot of solid moments in its favor, with a few strong storylines that made the book an overall pleasant surprise to me. It still had its disappointments, the largest of which is that all the change is still occurring on a micro level; we’re near enough to the end now that I want to see more macro-level change, with the big picture coming further into focus.
Only one book left by Robert Jordan. I’ve gotten some less than favorable reviews of Book 11, but I’m still really hoping he goes out on a high note.
NEXT TIME: Knife of Dreams, Book 11 of The Wheel of Time
Nice!! Christmas came early! The review was out before November!!!
The thing I hate about the Perrin plot is he is taking a whole fucking army to go after his wife! There are thousands and thousands of people that are, I’m sure, in more fucked up situations, but he doesn’t give a fuck, and is only focused on getting his wife. How selfish can you be? I understand that he never asked for them to follow him, but he’s a leader, those are the responsibilities of being a leader, and I don’t think I’ll ever really think what he did was ok.
It also bothered me how the cleansing of Saidin isn’t mentioned really in this book, it was such an epic thing, and it was supposed to have big implications, but nothing came of it.
I never thought of that Romanda and Lelaine being black ajah reading the book the first time through. That’s an interesting theory though, I like it.
I felt the same way about Egwene’s capture, but it definitely does pick up, and if she is your favorite character now, I think she will only more firmly cement herself as your number one.
The storylines do seem like they could take another 5 books to solve, and I think it really isn’t until Sanderson’s books that they start to fall into piece, but it also really makes me wonder how Robert Jordan was going to do it all in one book (he promised until his death that there were only going to be 12, no matter how big the last one would have to be). Rand of course still having the farthest to come, but also the most intriguing transformation. I think the puzzle pieces will fit better than you think (I know they did better than I thought they would).
Like I keep pushing, in the last 3 books, everything becomes clear.
Well, since this review made it (barely) before November, now you have to wait til January for Book 11. Kidding. My pace has actually picked back up pretty well. Getting the audiobook accompaniment has been a big help. Could be on to Book 12 by next week.
Yeah, I think literally every Perrin chapter has to have him say or think that all he cares about is getting Faile back. Which makes sense for his perspective, but it gets old and makes him a pretty horrible leader.
I don’t really think Romanda and Lelaine will be Black Ajah, especially now, but it was a fun thought. Already in Book 11, it’s seeming clearer that they’re really just selfish about their own ambitions. I think that’s been one of the more interesting things Jordan has done, dating back to the reveal that Elaida wasn’t a black sister despite the red herring hints in the early books that she would be. Almost all of the Aes Sedai often seem so inscrutable and shady, usually without even being darkfriends, that there’s been a lot more doubt about who’s actually Black Ajah. A character like Lelaine probably isn’t actually evil, but she’s still trending toward an antagonistic role. More shades of gray is usually good.
I still have around half of Book 11 to go, but the idea of Jordan trying to wrap up everything in one more book after it sounds insane. Though I guess if he knew he was dying, maybe he was just desperate to try to finish the series on his own.
Half a year late to the party, here, so this might not even be seen, but I just discovered this blog upon finishing Crossroads of Twilight myself. (I had been reading along with the TOR WOT re-read blog, but it had too many needless spoilers, and I had to drop it somewhere around Book 6 after two major reveals from Book 11 were casually broadcast for no particular reason).
Anyway, I had read Books 1-6 as a kid, and was disappointed to return to take in the now-complete series late last year to discover that, by most readers’ accounts and popular consensus, Books 7-11 were supposedly the worst of the bunch. But, fortunately, I’ve been pleasantly surprised, for the most part. With books 7-9, I think my lowered expectations were a small blessing in disguise. Every book in the series has been really enjoyable. The later volumes are kinda slow, with some needless tangents, sure — but really, by book 7 a WOT reader should be kind of used to that. For the most part, I actually enjoy Jordan’s unhurried pace and the tremendous level of immersion that comes with it. There are other flaws to the series, but nothing unique to just books 7 onwards — Jordan’s failings are pretty consistent throughout the whole series, and almost every book has some highs and lows.
That said, COT has admittedly been the first book in the series to flat-out try my patience, and I do understand the poor reviews it received. I didn’t *hate* it, and it has some minor merits, but man. The Elayne subplot that began in WH and continued at length here has just been brutal, turning Elayne into my least favorite character. She was never a favorite, but putting her in a terribly dull subplot — in which nothing is even happening, despite the weirdly large number of chapters devoted to it — has driven her to the bottom of the list. And I, too, could totally do without her pregnancy.
Like many, I was disappointed and frustrated by the fact that the big Cleansing in WH functions as little more than an afterthought in COT. It just seems like it should have had a much broader and more interesting impact on various characters and events, but we barely get anything. I think one of the Asha’man is grinning a lot suddenly, but that’s about as pronounced a reaction as we get. It certainly doesn’t seem to have done Rand himself much good, which is a shame, because the dude’s just kind of getting on my nerves at this point. I’d like to see him shape up and return to form a bit.
I’ve been dying to see Logain and Rand come face to face and interact, but when that finally happens here, it’s kinda just … “okay … that happened, now.” Perrin’s still just spinning his wheels, and I agree that the “ghost town” thing is one of the silliest and most out-of-place feeling tangents in the series to this point. At least it doesn’t seem like very much time will be devoted to it.
I’m also not nearly as taken with Egwene or her subplot as David, so that certainly didn’t help where COT is concerned. Egwene is my least favorite character other than Elayne. I think David makes some interesting points about Egwene and a good case for her throughout this blog, but … I don’t know what it is about Egwene. I’ve never quite “bought” her, somehow. Her whole election as Amyrlin always seemed forced to me. Her attraction to Gawyn seemed forced, and kind of inexplicable. Her abilities as a manipulator seem too advanced, and at the same time, she’ll have these frustrating, gaping blind spots as well (Halima). I did think she was starting to shine in ACOS, but the whole siege has just been so slow-going since then, and some of the big manipulation reveals have been anticlimactic, somehow, for me personally. Still, I’ll take her over Elayne, at this stage, for sure. What I really lament, though, is the relegation of Nynaeve — previously my favorite female character — to being practically a minor character in these last few volumes. While I understand David’s frustration with the “Angry Woman” trope, Nynaeve always struck me as funny and lovable, somehow. But since Lan showed up again, she’s just kind of no longer as major a player. I’d even take more Aviendha — I didn’t like her at first, but much like with Mat in the early volumes, when she finally got a little POV time, she really came to life in a great way. But she’s just kind of Elayne’s sidekick, these days, without anything of real interest to do.
I did like the introduction of Mat and Tuon’s strange dynamic in COT, though I too could do without any more of Valan Luca or his stupid traveling circus. To be honest, I didn’t even actually mind it back in book 5 — it didn’t bother me the way it did a lot of readers — but, it also wasn’t an aspect of the story I expected to still be at large five books later, when so many other far more interesting contextual elements have been left wayside. Speaking of which, who knows what most of the Forsaken are even playing at, at this point. Not that all that much of what any of them have done has ever made a great deal of sense. My favorite Forsaken was Asmodean — the dynamic between him and Rand was one of the most interesting and amusing in the whole series — and Jordan killed him off after just one book. One problem I’m having with WOT at this stage is that while we have no shortage of villains in the fringes, what any of them are doing is either unclear, or somewhat nonsensical, which lessens their gravity as a potential threat. Why doesn’t Halima just kill Egwene, again? I guess there’s some reason, but if so, I’ve lost track of what it is. I’m not sure what she’s trying to accomplish. And the logic — first explicitly seen in COT — that the Forsaken now have to help keep Rand alive for Tarmon Gai’don “so that the Dark One can defeat him there” — just seems blatantly stupid. Am I missing something? Yeah, you could do that … or, uh, you could kill him now, and then the Last Battle will be a walk in the park. Megh.
Still, for all my complaints here, I vent with love. WOT is a blast, despite the frustrations. And the failings of COT notwithstanding, I’m looking forward to Knife of Dreams, which I’ve heard is much better.
I don’t know how I feel about pressing on into Sanderson territory after that, though. I really don’t think it’ll be as enjoyable without Jordan at the helm. For all his quirks, Jordan had a very unique personality and well-rounded life experience, which is an integral part of the fabric of what makes WOT so enjoyable (even through a disappointing volume like COT). Jordan has flaws, but he also has soul. Sanderson seems like a nerdy D&D kid who got a chance to do some high-level fan fiction. But, what can you do. I’m going to give him a chance when I get there and keep an open mind, since many readers claim that his books are reasonably good.
Hey B! Thanks for commenting, regardless of the time passed. My memory around the edges is already starting to slip slightly, but I really have enjoyed talking WOT since diving into the fandom last year. I ended up criticizing it a lot, but like you, I mostly vented with love. The only real exception was some of the writing of women, which as you can tell depending on how many of my posts you’ve read, I really did hate at times.
I think that’s why I grew to love Egwene. In COT and the few books leading up to it, she actually started to have some actual agency in her plots, whereas so often the women seem to be there to bitch out the men who are doing the real action. The blind spots annoyed me too, but I was willing to accept her sudden skill at manipulation just because it gave her some real cunning and competence, which felt like such a breakthrough for WOT (especially post-Moiraine). The biggest exception for me was her love of Gawyn, which like you, I never got. I never did grow to like Gawyn, and the Gawyn/Egwene relationship was basically, “Ok, these two love each other now. Don’t ask why.”
Elayne never recovered for me. I spent most of the rest of the series just thinking she’s the worst. Nynaeve did recover for me some. I loved her early on, but turned on her because of how pissy she always was written to be. I’m sincerely glad you still like her at this point though, because I always wanted to.
I should have written more about Asmodean, because I loved his dynamic with Rand too. Jordan dragged so many things out longer than I thought he should have, which makes it all the more of a shame to me that he nipped the Asmodean story when it felt like it still had a lot of room to grow and breathe. I think generally, Jordan plowed through a lot of Forsaken in the first five books, then almost seemed to regret it, bringing some back a couple and slowing down on killing the rest. So it felt to me in these books like they were mostly just milling around, killing time with some pretty pointless plots.
You probably like Jordan’s writing more than I did by the end, which is fine, so maybe you’ll have more misgivings about the transition to Sanderson. But I can say that for me, Sanderson’s three books ended up being my favorite three of the series because there were so many big payoffs, and some of my frustrations with Jordan (the pacing, the Angry Women) were either gone or at least lessened.