Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Fires of Heaven - Robert Jordan

My next review is turning out to be a real pain in the backside and I can't seem to find the energy to give fixing it a serious go. It will have to wait until Saturday. In the mean time an older review. This one was originally written in April 2009. Did some rewriting on some sections.

I almost never bother with getting all books in a series in the same print so while a lot of my Wheel of Time books are Tor mass market paperbacks, I own a (rather battered) Orbit copy of The Fires of Heaven. One of the older prints that still has the artwork by Darrell K. Sweet on it. Later Orbit shifted to the design I used for this review. It is pretty hard to find the Orbit/Sweet covers online for some reason. Given my opinion of Sweet’s artwork (The Fires of Heaven is not the worst in the batch but still) I must admit that there is something to be said for this design. Even if it is not very eye-catching.

Before I continue, let me warn you I will assume you have read up to The Shadow Rising. There will be spoilers for the first four books in series in this review.

The Fires of Heaven is the fifth book in the series and after branching out in The Shadow Rising we find the main characters in a number of locations. Min, Siuan, Leane and Logain have escaped Tar Valon where Elaida has now been installed as Amyrlin. Siuan and Leane are expected to curl up and die after having been stilled but neither woman is going to settle for that fate. If Siuan can’t be Amyrlin at least she will see Elaida pulled down. Her plans to achieve this go awry when they reach Kore Springs in Andor and make the acquaintance of Gareth Bryne.

Rand, Egwene and Mat are still in the Aiel waste. Egwene is busy studying with the Wise Ones to become a Dreamwalker. She quickly finds out that their teaching methods are even harder than what she is used to in the White Tower. Something that causes problems for Egwene when her duties to the Tower and the restrictions imposed by the Wise Ones clash. Moiraine’s presence do not make things easier.

Meanwhile, Rand is looking for a way to unite the Aiel. Several clans have joined him but a number are still hesitating. Things become over more complicated when the Shaido Aiel, quite obviously opposing Rand, head for the pass across the Spine of the World that will take them into Cairhien. Rand gathers up his spears and sets out in pursuit of the Shaido. There is going to be a bit battle if Rand wants to stop the Shaido from razing Cairhien to the ground but can Rand really commit himself to battle with a number of undecided clans at his tail?

Battles seem to have become very familiar to Mat after his visit to the Aelfinn in Rhuidean. Not that he wants anything to do with them mind you, and most certainly not the one Rand seems to be getting himself into, it just seems this military knowledge pops up in his mind at the most inopportune moments. People have noticed. No matter how hard Mat tries to resits, a general he will be.

On the other side of the continent Nynaeve and Elayne have escaped Tanchico but are not quite sure how to proceed. Rumours of events in the tower reach them and the meetings with Egewene in the World of Dreams convinces them that the Tower has split. With Elaida running the faction in Tar Valon there really seems to be no alternative but to seek out the rebels. Slipping unseen though legions of Whitecloacks, escaping the overprotective eyes of Gallad and staying hidden from Moghedien, who seems to have taken her defeat by Nynaeve in Tanchico personally, are formidable challenges though.

Jordan makes an interesting choice to drop Perrin’s storyline in this novel altogether. There are brief glimpses of the Two Rivers seen in the World of Dreams but other than that we won’t know what is going on there until Lord of Chaos. Jordan didn’t think Perrin’s story during the period covered by The Fires of Heaven interesting enough to mention. He is probably right, as we’ll learn later, Perrin is mostly busy having himself set up as Lord of the Two Rivers by Faile. Still, the absence of Perrin, after he kicked ass in The Shadow Rising must have been a disappointment to many readers. It does help keep the story in this book relatively straightforward with only two mains story lines in novel, and creates space to make significant progress in the overall plot.

Rand in particular is making some great strides in this novel. The military campaign he's directing, leads to one of the major battles in the series, and a confrontation with a number of Forsaken. In a way, this plot line will continue until Winter’s Heart but Jordan does reach some sort of conclusion at the end of the book. The same can unfortunately not be said to for the part of the novel featuring Nynaeve and Elayne. Jordan weaves in quite a bit that will become important later (Forkroot, for instance, plays a vital part in Knife of Dreams) but in this book, their story drags. The constant arguing between Nynaeve and Elayne doesn’t improve things. Especially Nynaeve seems unable to resolve any difference of opinion without resorting to physical violence. Just when it seems things can’t possibly get more ridiculous Jordan throws in a third woman for the pair of them to argue with. Brilliant move.

Several sub-plots are worked into this novel in a way that would get him in trouble from A Crown of Swords onwards. He introduces the Siuan/Gareth Bryne story line, a part of this book I particularly enjoyed. I must admit it gets annoying in later volumes but Siuan’s reaction to finding out Bryne is in Salidar is very funny.
“You were the Amyrlin Seat,” he said calmly, “and even a king kisses the Amyrlin’s ring. I can’t say that I liked how you went about it, and we may have a quiet talk sometime on whether it was necessary to do what you did with half the court looking on, but you will remember that I followed Mara Tomanes here, and it was Mara Tomanes I asked for. Not Siuan Sanche. Since you keep asking why, let me ask it. Why was it so important for me to allow the Murandians to raid across the border?”
“Because your interference then could have ruined important plans,” she said, driving each word home in a tight voice, “just as your interference with me now can. The Tower had identified a young border lord named Dulain as a man who could one day truly unify Murandy, with our help. I could hardly allow the chance your soldiers might kill him. I have work to do here, Lord Bryne. Leave me to do it, and you may see victory. Meddle out of spite, and you ruin everything.”
“Whatever your work is, I am sure Sheriam and the others will see you do it. Dulain? I’ve never heard of him. He cannot be succeeding yet.” It was his opinion that Murandy would remain a patchwork of all but independent lords and ladies until the Wheel turned and a new Age came. Murandians called themselves Lugarder or Mindeans or whatever before they named a nation. If they even bothered to name one. A lord who could unite them, and who had Siuan’s leash around his throat, could bring a considerable number of men.
“He… died.” Scarlet spots appeared in her cheeks, and she seemed to struggle with herself. “A month after I left Caemlyn,” she muttered, “some Andoran farmer put an arrow through him on a sheep raid.”

Siuan and Bryne remembering a past meeting on much different terms – Chapter 28 – Trapped
We also get a closer look at Elaida’s troubled reign in Tar Valon, a meeting of a number of Forsaken, examine Morgase’s affair with Gaebril and see us what Liandrin and her posse are up to. All of these and a few more will continue in Lord of Chaos, making that book the most complex and scattered in terms of characters and location of the entire series. In The Fires of Heaven Jordan still manages to contain the sub-plots to reasonable levels however, one might even wonder if it had not been better to pay more attention to them and less to Nynaeve and Elayne.

The Fires of Heaven is also the book that contains two of the most enduring mysteries in the series. First is the death of a certain forsaken. The second the fate of a certain Aes Sedai. Both mysteries have been fodder for a number of theories, ranging from quite plausible to outright nonsense. It may not be the best book in the series but it certainly helped to boost the online status of these novels and provided material for quite a few fan sites and Internet communities. Jordan never provided us with a definite answer on either mystery, although it was clear one of them would have to be solved in order to tie up a number of loose story lines. Brandon Sanderson tackled both these mysteries in Towers of Midnight.

With a large part of the story dragging and frequently turning downright ridiculous, this is far from my favourite Wheel of Time book. Hemmed in between the two biggest books of the series so far The Fires of Heaven felt longer than either The Shadow Rising or Lord of Chaos. Rand’s adventures makes up for this a bit. After this book he becomes increasingly unstable and unbearably arrogant. In this novel there is enough of the Two Rivers boy in him to like him somewhat. All in all, The Fires of Heaven is a decent read, but certainly not a memorable one.

Book Details
Title: The Fires of Heaven
Author: Robert Jordan
Publisher: Orbit
Pages: 912
Year: 1998
Language: English
Format: Mass Market Paperback
ISBN: 1-85723-209-7
First published: 1993

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