With The Path of Daggers, the pacing of the books slows both in the amount of elapsed time within each book, and the pace of plot resolution. This is deliberate to show how the Shadow is stymieing the Light by miring them in chaos and obstructions and keeping them from communicating or coming together.
The slowing reached its nadir or zenith, depending on your point of view, in Crossroads of Twilight. As it was planned to do:
“And it shall come to pass, in the days when the Dark Hunt rides, when the right hand falters and the left hand strays, that mankind shall come to the Crossroads of Twilight, and all that is, all that was, and all that will be shall balance on the point of a sword, while the winds of the Shadow grow.”Jordan’s aim was to make this stagnation palpable.
- Crossroads of Twilight, Opening Prophecy
At the same time, the reader is informed a little more of what the Forsaken have been doing, but not enough to convince that the Shadow is a long way ahead in the war. Too much of their plans has been held back for surprise or mystery, increasing the effect of the slowing. The lack of information on the Forsaken’s plans means the reader doesn’t fully appreciate how well the Shadow is doing. Consequently, some readers were surprised to read:
But look at the situation in the world as it actually stands, from the White Tower divided to crop failures caused by a too-long winter and a too-long summer and people fleeing their farms because the Dragon Reborn has broken all bonds, meaning still less food, and that spoiling at a fearsome rate, from chaos in Arad Doman to a large part of the Borderland armies out of position, from the arrival of the Seanchan focusing too many eyes on them instead of the Shadow to the strongest single nation, Andor, riven by civil war in all but name and Tear split by open warfare, from.... Well, take your pick. There are lots more to chose from. Take a step back and look at what the forces of the Shadow have wrought. The world and the forces of the Light are in bad shape. At this point, boys and girls, the Shadow is winning. There are glimmers of hope, but only glimmers, and they MUST pay off for the Light to win. All the Shadow needs for victory is for matters to keep on as they have been going thus far and one or two of those glimmers to fade or be extinguished. The forces of the Light are on the ropes, and they don't even know everything the Dark One has up his sleeve.and commented that they weren’t convinced. For instance, the above post on Jordan’s blog in 2005 was the first news that the Borderlanders’ trek south was at least in part a plot of the Shadow. Perhaps with more and earlier hints in the books the reader would appreciate both the delaying tactics and the threat of the Shadow more.
- Robert Jordan on his blog
Jordan took a considerable risk slowing the pace for three and a half books even though it is artistically correct. It is rare to see the good guys flounder or struggle for such a length of time due to the possibility of readers becoming disappointed or impatient, as happened. Another reason is that subplots that almost stall can be difficult to accelerate smoothly again. In my opinion this occurred in a couple of places in Knife of Dreams, one of them being in Perrin’s thread.
What I like about the slowing is the realism that the struggle is great and world-wide and that Shadow truly has obstructed the Light’s progress with war and chaos. Unlike in many earlier series, the bad guys are a force to be reckoned with. Jordan was in the vanguard of writers of Spec Fic series attempting to describe planetary scale destruction and portray truly effective megalomaniac, apocalyptic villains. (Compare the Forsaken’s activities with those of the Nazghul.)
The detail and assurance in Jordan’s world and nation building in the later books adds to the realism and heightens the sense of a population clinging to normalcy while the world collapses around them. During Books 8 to 11 the emphasis was on the personal development of the major and many minor characters and on the building of sustaining or co-operative relationships. As The Gathering Storm showed, these will be as important as any external victory in the war against the Shadow. Maybe more. And they are something the Shadow hasn’t gauged.
The plethora of plot strands and their interweaving is realistic and fascinating, but a real drawback to such complexity is that there are too many strands to progress them all in one book. The Wheel of Time series is not alone in exhibiting this. George R. R. Martin’s series is one example that springs to mind, but there are others.
The slowing of the last four books makes the acceleration into Tarmon Gai’don all the more intense as the world potentially tips in to the abyss. However the reader’s blissful ignorance of the Shadow’s plans – indeed even merely of the location of some of the Forsaken – leads to complacency that the Light will win. With more knowledge of Shadow’s plots there would be more sense of danger. If a villain stays hidden and secret for long enough, eventually s/he is discounted as a threat.
Only with the completion of the series will the crucial role and full import of the slowing be appreciated.