Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Path of Daggers Read-through #1: The Slowing

By Linda

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.”

- Crossroads of Twilight, Opening Prophecy

Jordan’s aim was to make this stagnation palpable.

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.

- Robert Jordan on his blog

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.

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.


Chris said...

It occurred to me that Jordan could have done something truly interesting with this "slow time" that might have kept the interest of the readers a bit better.

Since the plot had effectively split into five nearly independent tracks (Perrin, Mat, Rand, Egwene, Elayne), he could have spawned five mini series from the main storyline. Each series might have been two or three books, which would have dealt with that storyline alone. There could have been connecting events - the cleansing of saidin, for example, or occasional meetings in T'a'R - but for the most part they would have been five independent sub-series under the Wheel of Time banner.

This would have been a good idea mainly because the five stories move at different paces, with their climactic moments not meshing together very well. Thus the irregular, forced feel of the books between LoC and KoD.

Once each series was resolved,they could be re-assimilated into the main story, which would resume under the Wheel of Time name alone.

I get Jordan's explanation for it, but I'm sniffing a bit of rationalization here. It's much easier to get through on the re-reads, but I can definitely understand why readership may have dropped off in this period.

Dida said...

Actually in the 'The Shadow Rising' book Chapter 5 "Questioners", the Borderlander nations armies are directly suggested by the captured Black Ajah Joiya as being part of the Shadow's Plan.

Neither Nynaeve, Egwene nor Aviendha wants to believe Joiya's story, only Moiraine sent three pigeons to the White Tower as a warning to Siuan. That warning by pigeon mail never reached Siuan's eyes. Joiya claimed to repent her sins, similar to Ingtar at the end of the Great Hunt book.

Joiya was correct about Mazrim Taim level of channel ability, and the plan to break him free. Egwene, Nynaeve both listened to this. Has Egwene finally accepted at the end of tGS book, that Joiya was telling the truth as she knew it correctly?

We know from Verin Sedai that a Black Ajah can betray other darkfriends (tGS). But they cannot betray the Dark One himself until an hour within a darkfriends own death.

If Nynaeve, Egwene knew their [I]histories[/I] at the time, they would have known who these nations were, then:

"Those who do not shrink at such butchery will seek out the Rand al’Thor who seems to revel in blood. The nations will unite as they did in the Aiel War . . . ” She gave Aviendha an apologetic smile, incongruous beneath those merciless eyes. “ . . . but no doubt much more quickly. Even the Dragon Reborn cannot stand against that, not forever. He will be crushed before the Last Battle even begins, by the very ones he was meant to save."

After hearing this plan look at Egwene's own thoughts on the topic:

[B]It was a plausible story, more plausible than Amico’s tale of a few eavesdropped sentences, but Egwene believed Amico and not Joiya. Perhaps because she wanted to. A vague threat in Tanchico was easier to face than this fully fleshed plan to turn every hand against Rand.[/B] (tSR, Ch.5)

However next sentences of Egwene's thoughts show her not really wanting to believe want she has just heard from Joiya.

[B]No, she thought. Joiya is lying. I am sure she is. Yet they could not afford to ignore either story.[/B](tSR, Ch.4)

Towards the end of 'The Gathering Storm' book Chapter "The Tower Stands" page 705, Egwene's actions do suggest she not ignoring the dangers posed by the Black Tower. Finally, a change in Egwene's earlier judgment:

[B]"Mother," Romanda said, "I have made the inquires you requested. There has been no contact with those sent to the Black Tower. Not a whisper."

"Does this strike you as odd?" Egwene asked.

"Yes, Mother. With Traveling they should have been there and back by now. They should have at least sent word. This silence is disturbing." [/B]

Dida said...

There also a whole theme in the earlier books about the Waygates, and their importance to both sides of the War between the Light and Shadow.

Loial at one point tells everyone that a Waygate [i]could[/i] be destroyed, with Verin Sedai in the audience no less too!

Source: The Shadowing Rising, Ch. 43 "Care for the Living" - Perrin pov:

[b]“I did not mean destroy, exactly.” Loial leaned on his long-handled axe. “A Waygate was destroyed once, less than five hundred years after the Breaking, according to Damelle, daughter of Ala daughter of Soferra, because the Gate was near a stedding that had fallen to the Blight. There are two or three Gates lost in the Blight as it is. But she wrote that it was very difficult, and required thirteen Aes Sedai working together with a sa’angreal. Another attempt she wrote of, by only nine, during the Trolloc Wars, damaged the Gate in such a way that the Aes Sedai were pulled into—” He cut off, ears wriggling with embarrassment, and knuckled his wide nose. Everyone was staring at him, even Verin and the Aiel. “I do let myself be carried away, sometimes. The Waygate. Yes. I cannot destroy it, but if I remove both Avendesora leaves completely, they will die.” He grimaced at the thought. “The only means of opening the Gate again will be for the Elders to bring the Talisman of Growing. Though I suppose an Aes Sedai could cut a hole in it.” This time he shuddered. Damaging a Waygate must have seemed like tearing up a book to him.[/b]

The Shadow has had a strategy advantage through the majority of the story, because of the flexibly of the Waygate transportation system.

DH said...

In part I like the slowing process and the effect it has upon the story but I think Jordan may have overdone it quite a bit in the last books (I'm thinking of CoT in particular). The shadow-plots should also have been a bit more clear, the casual reader might not pick them up and feel that the "obvious" win for the good guys is taking to long. The subtle part of the series is sometimes a bit to... subtle.

t ball said...

As a musician, I've always thought of Jordan's series as a literary Ring Cycle, though it's an epic even longer and more convoluted than Wagner's masterpiece.

We have just neared the end of the first act of Gotterdammerung. Still a long way to go with a couple more intermissions.

Wagnerian style music would work very well, btw, for a soundtrack. The subtleties and undercurrents Wagner brought out in the background of his thickly textured orchestration would be very appropriate for many scenes.

Pseudonate said...

Well said, Linda, well said. Jordan was a masterful storyteller and world-builder. He hooked us with the familiar (with tantalizing hints of something more) and kept the pace fast and furious. Once we were hopelessly his, Jordan fully immersed us in his creation.

Unknown said...

I have enjoyed the "slow" books very much, but I am fascinated by character development and growth.

Yes, overall I found Perrin's plot line least enjoyable, and Egwene's and Mat's most enjoyable, but that's also a matter of taste.

I thought when I first read it that Joiya's tale was a lie, or only a partial truth. And we now know, because of the Oath Rod, she couldn't have told the whole truth. But there might have been some elements of truth, or she might have been trying to distract the three from the real objective, or it might have been a lucky coincidence that something was up with Taim and that Joiya lied more convincingly than she knew.

I don't think the plan was ever to set him up, at that point, as a fake Dragon. Maybe the other, yet to be fully explained, plot that involved the Black Tower--or something with Rand--was already underway.

Vincent Trevane said...

RJ may have achieved what he wanted with his 'slowing', but it did serious damage to his reputation as a writer.

Every fan I have spoken to absolutely hates the slowing.

LordJuss said...

Contrary to Rybosh, even though I didn't really spot the thematic element until later, I always enjoyed these novels. The character building is clever and necessary. Indeed, on my recent re-read I set myself the task of trying to work out how I would have progressed the series if Crossroads of Twilight hadn't happened. It's harder than one would think. Most of the plot points necessary for the resolutions in KoD are set up in CoT (such as the layout of Malden, Furyk Karede's expedition and the extra sea-folk bargain). If all of these had been moved to KoD it would have felt very jarring - they would have been pulled out of a hat. And that doesn't begin to deal with the necessary changes in Mat, Egwene and Perrin.

My other thought is that, in most books the section between half-way through and three-quarters is often the slowest, as that's when all the pieces are moved into position for the endgame. In the case of the Wheel (which can be seen as one very long book) that works out as books 8-10. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised by the slowing.

Either way, the later books are never going to be to everyone's tastes, but some like them.


Timmay said...

The slowing didn't bother me, Winter's Heart is one of my favorite books in the series.