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Pile #14 “The Great Hunt” by Robert Jordan

22 Jul

The Great hunt / Robert Jordan.  NY:  Tor Books.  1990.   598 p.

So, what do you do, having left your village fleeing from minions of the Dark One, seen the world, entered the Blight  to find the Eye of the World and the Green Man, defeated two of the Forsaken, battled Ba’alzamon and uncovered the legendary Horn of Valere, not to mention one of the Seals of the Dark One’s prison and the infamous Dragon Banner of Lews Therin Telamon. Oh, and discovered you can channel, which might make you the Dragon Reborn? Why, return to Shiernar and cool your heels of course while waiting for more directions from your friendly Aes Sedai and basking in your new-found power and glory.

Or not.

Second Verse, not like the First

This, the second book in the “The Wheel of Time” opens with a prologue detailing a gathering of Darkfriends sworn to the Dark Lord from among all the nations and organizations in the world, where they are given certain tasks to perform to prepare for the Dark Lord’s coming, tasks which do not immediately come to fruition.  As the book proper opens, Rand and company are still in Shienar, and wondering what is going to happen next..All Rand wants is to be normal, to escape from a net he sees increasingly being thrown upon him. But for Rand, of course, there is no going back, as he is no longer ‘just’ a sheepherder, as the next 50 chapters, demonstrate.

Upon his return to Shiernar, he finds himself being treated as a lord in his own right by the Shiernarians, no matter how hard he protests. Then the Amyrlin Seat (the leader of the Aes Sedai) comes to Fal Dara, and a dangerous Darkfriend -and more than Darkfriend- escapes, taking with him the Horn of Valere so recently found again, and -more importantly to Rand and his companions- a dagger from the dead city Shadar Logoth that is tied to Mat, that sends Rand, Mat, and Perrin along with a troop of Shienarians all the way to Toman Head at the opposite end of the continent in pursuit, only to find themselves caught up in a large battle between new and old foes -but not before Rand, Loial and a thief-catcher named Hurin are temporarily separated from the group when Rand inadvertently channels.

In the meantime, Egewen and Nynaeve finally enter the White Tower to begin their training, only to quickly find themselves betrayed and worse -with the training interrupted they are whisked away to the city of Falme (which just happens to be on Toman Head, incidentally), where Egewen is enslaved, by a people calling themselves the Seanchan.

Along the way, we are treated to the machinations of the Children of Light (th Whitecloaks), the arrival of the aforementioned Seanchan -descendants of the armies Artur Hawkwing sent over the Aryth Ocean- and introduced to the workings and factions within Tar Valon itself, not even considering glimpses of secondary characters such as Thom Merrilon and Domon Bayle.

Quest Within a Quest

This second installment of the Wheel of Time for the most part is a straightforward quest for the stolen Horn of Valere, and for Mat’s dagger -without which he will die. And yet, it is a trial for Rand, knowing who he is, and what must happen to him -what happens to any man who can channel, and more, as he is the Dragon Reborn. He wants to find the dagger so Mat can live, and then depart so he won’t hurt anyone he loves and cares for, yet he never seems able to disentangle himself when the time comes.  At the same time though, other themes are introduced and set up for the future: the manuverings of the Children of the Light, the Hailene of the Seanchan, Padan Fain and his desire for revenge against Rand, Perrin’s developing wolfsense, even the “wheels within wheels” maneuverings of the various political factions known as Daes Dae’mar -the Game of Houses (or Great Game), if you pardon the pun.

The story begins splitting like tree branches, or maybe tree-roots is a better analogy, since time and time again the smaller stories merge into one another, entangling the plot, only to diverge a few chapters further on. The first time is after the Horn is stolen, and Rand joins the search for it while Egwene and Nynaeve go to the White Tower, Another split occurs when Rand and a small party get separated from the main group, and then again, when Egwene and Nynaeve are whisked away from the Tower.

One Thing Less

Certainty now takes its place among hope, trust, and love as missing from Jordan’s world, and yet I continue to want more. Everything that Rand thought he knew becomes shaken, Egewen, Elyane and Nynaeve find that what they thought they knew is as nothing compared to what they do not know, and no one is certain what will happen now. There is also a lot of fear built into this world: fear of the Dark One, fear of the Dragon Reborn, fear (and hatred) of Aes Sedai, of Trollocs, Fades, Darkfriends, Aiel, and Whitecloaks.

What I begin to find irritating in Jordan’s work over and over again is an unbalanced worldview in the relation between Good and Evil. While the Dark One -even from his prison- can touch the world and influence the course of events through dreams, and run amuk with his minions, the “Creator” -who sealed him in Shauyul Ghul at the moment of Creation -we are never told why, or where the Dark One came from- is a completely hands-off deity with no apparent concern for what happens in the world that He has created. People claim to be dedicated to the “Light” -that everyone uses as a prayer and a curse- as opposed to the Dark One,  but no one looks to the Light for help against the Shadow.

Another weave is introduced into the Pattern though, the mysterious military force known as the Seanchan, representing the Hailene, meaning in the Old Tongue, “Those Who Come Beforethat is preparing for a Corene, a “Return”

Whatever Happened to Who says Character Development is Dead?

Some reviewers criticize Jordan for backsliding the characters in this second book.  After everything they went through in The Eye of the World, the theory goes, surely they would have learned something about what is to be expected of them, and they would mature, grow into the responsibility that has been thrust upon them. Except, in reality, this is not always the case; not everybody learns from their experiences .

Keep in mind: Rand, Mat, Perrin, Egwin, and Nynave are from The Two Rivers, an isolated, provincial, hill-billy type world, with no training or prior experience to prepare them for their tasks in a much wider world, their much flouted stubbornness aside. Even after what they experienced, they still find it hard to accept -much less adapt to- what is happening to them (well the boys at least). Additionally, the boys are struggling with the notion of being ta’veren, of being caught up in something they did not ask for, and for Rand, especially, knowing what is expected of him as Dragon Reborn, -not to mention the madness he is heir to as a man who can channel- an additional burden not shared by the women.

So, you want to just jump right in, do ya?

Caveat: this volume is a continuation of The Wheel of Time series, and not appropriate for the reader who is not already familiar with the series. Prospective readers are invited and expected to read the precursor volume(s) starting with “The Eye of the world” to understand the timing.  Some other [Amazon, but also personal acquaintances of this reviewer] reviewers complain that Jordan does not make his volumes stand alone. The statement is true on it’s surface, but the interpretive slant placed on it by the reviewer does not follow i.e. that each volume should neatly wrap up the events that began  on page one.

Unlike a television soap opera (to which TWOT has also been unfavorably compared to) or lighthearted sitcom, you cannot just ‘pick up’ a volume of Jordan and expect to understand  the whole storyline at a glance; each volume is part of a larger tapestry, and I for one, appreciate this aspect, just as I appreciate the ‘real-time’ nature of the protagonists’ development as characters and as (fictitious) persons.

At the same time, readers who first pick up volume 2 (or even  Volume 3) can still enjoy an understanding of what the stakes are, even if the minutiae escape them, just like a person can read a history of WW2 without necessarily having the background of the events of WW1 and the Paris Peace Conference of 1919.

The Wheel of Time Sequence:

The Eye of the World
The Great Hunt

Coming up next is  a review of  Doors of Perception by John Baggley, introducing history, theology, and practice of Icons to a Western audience. So until then my friends, stay calm and keep reading!

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Pile #12 “The Eye of the World” by Robert Jordan

19 Apr

My first ‘serious’ fantasy book review is finally upon us!

As always (and for the next to the last time) the original review can be found here: “Eye of the World” http://www.amazon.com/review/R32L1PFWZI7WVK/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

Rand al’Thor is a farmer’s son and a sheepherder from Emond’s Field in the Two Rivers. Or so he thought. But then, one cold, supposed Spring night, strangers come to his small village, followed closely by nightmares out of legend. He finds himself fleeing his home with childhood friends Mat and Perrin, and Egewen, his childhood sweetheart, in the  company of an Aes Sedai (a woman who channels the One Power), Morraine and her Warder Lan, -and soon the village Wisdom Nynaeve- but one step ahead of minions of the Dark One (the supreme evil being in this world).

Separated from their guides and nearly from each other at the site of an ancient evil and traveling throughout the land, the friends make their way by smaller group  not without further difficulty to the city of Camelyn, capital of Andor, where they eventually reunite, though not happily.  From Camelyn, they find themselves Traveling along shadow-tainted Ways to reach, along with a new companion, an Ogier, the legendary Eye of the World where they uncover evidence that the Seals on the prison of the Dark One are weakening, and in some cases failing. Oh, and a long expected, long feared prophecy is unfurling -The Dragon Reborn may walk the earth once more. Just what the doctor didn’t order.

An Epic in the Making

This is but the shallowest glimpse of the epic story that Robert Jordan unleashes upon the reader with The Eye of the World, first published in 1990 (though sadly he did not live to finish the tale, though he did leave enough material behind for another to complete the final 3 volumes). Like the wind itself that “rose in the Mountains of Mist” but, which itself “was not the beginning”, for “There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time” which touches everyone it encounters without stopping -and imitating its ebb and flow, the narrative goes rolling on till it assumes hurricane strength, and even when things have calmed down again, it is but the calm before the storm, a storm called the Tarmon Gai’don (The Last Battle).

This is no simple fairy tale, or traditional fantasy quest. Good versus evil in spades, and yet Good is not unsullied. Characters and heroes aplenty, though not everyone is as they seem.  Readers are treated, even in as massive a corpus as Jordan has bequeathed us, only to a sliver of the vast world that lies beyond the pages. What  remains concealed is so much greater than what is revealed.  Jordan provides us with a slowly unfolding yet complete in itself world.  We see things, not from the point of view of an omniscient-third person, we know only as much as the viewpoint character can and does know.

On the one hand, we are privy not just to character’s  emotions, but to their yearnings, their frustrations, their strengths and their limitation, in short, their whole way of thinking.  No one character, or point of view, has all the answers, most people have only partial answers, (as well as reacting to movements of the Dark One and his minions, as opposed to acting themselves).  And, many characters  have no answers -they hardly have the questions to ask- which doesn’t stop them from trying to put their own answer (even to other people’s questions)

One Thing (Only)  is Missing

Jordan’s world has many things:  magic (of a sort), political intrigue, family bonds,  glimpses into the life of high and low, a long history. The one thing missing in Jordan’s world, though, is hope. And trust. Two. The two things missing in Jordan’s world are hope, trust. And love.  Three.  The three things most basic to a happy ending missing in Jordan’s world (so far) are hope, trust, and love.  This leaves a vacuum, and we all know that nature -even fictional nature abhors a vacuum.  In this instance, that vacuum is filled by fear.  Fear, suspicion, and manipulation through power is the driving force in a world touched by the Dark One, a world every much as tainted as the male half of the Source at the end of the War of the Shadow.

This is a world that has lost much since the Breaking of the World ended the Age of Legends.  Even, or especially, in Tolkein’s Middle Earth, there was hope, the hope, that  if the One Ring could be destroyed then Sauron’s evil could be thwarted once and for all; there was trust in the Fellowship of the Ring, and in Gandalf; and there was love, the love of home which drove Frodo and Samwise beyond even their own endurance. In Jordan, though, this hope, this trust, this bond of love has been overthrown by the taint of the Dark One. People cry out for salvation, but they fear the very salvation they see, afraid of its price -the Breaking of the World anew, as in the War of the Shadow.

On the other hand, most of the character types do not come off as particularly admirable, especially the ones belonging to particular institutions (in fact I cannot think of one Whitecloak that I do not despise).  Its a muddled world that Jordan introduces us to. It is also a hard world,  much harder than most fantasy worlds, and though much attention and possibly love is lavished upon it’s creation, there is not much joy to be had of it.

Tangling With the Reviewers

Many (mostly Amazon) reviewers who gave the book two stars or less, complain about the one dimensionality of the characters, and his overabundance of description. and long passages of ‘filler’.  Well, most people start out as one dimensional until we  get to know them. And, these same reviewers also complain about the repetition of description. I wonder if they ever read the unabridged “Illiad”, or the “Odyssey”, or other epics that began life as oral poetry, where repetition is necessary to fix objects in the hearer’s mind.

Granted I do agree with the mostly negative reaction to how women are perceived in the text relative to men, but on the other hand, for three thousand years it has been the women, and only the women who have access to a greater than human Power, and as surely as patriarchal thinking has shaped most of the world’s attitudes toward manhood and womanhood in our world, so the one-sided use of the One Power has shaped gender perceptions in the world of The Wheel of Time.

Personally, what ticks me off the most about reader reviews is the incessant back and forth tug of war  about how Jordan stacks up to Tolkein, from gripes about his being a hack imitator (which says the reviewer hasn’t even recently read LOTR, much less EOTW) to the paeans that Jordan has gone beyond Tolkein. To respond to the first sort of people, I need only point out that the whole of modern fantasy is in one sense or another a reaction -and a response- to Tolkein’s work. Tolkein (whether intentional or not) set the agenda for modern fantasy. Love him, hate, seek to replace him if you will, but you can’t ignore him. He’s in the very air that fantasy writers breathe. (For more on this, see Michael Drout’s great lecture series in  The Modern Scholar series by Recorded Books: Rings, Swords, and Monsters: Exploring Fantasy Literature) and everything else up to this time  is imitating, copying, or rejecting that agenda.

People write disparagingly of writers imitating Tolkein, but nearly every other fantasy quest story other than Tolkein is about finding and USING the magic talisman, not seeking to destroy it, so whenever I see that canard, I have to go “huhh?”. Rand is a partial exception. He is born with a Power to fight the Dark One, but he doesn’t want it, and yet has to use it. Moreover, the Power is tainted by the Dark One he seeks to defeat -using it will drive him mad- and ever power structure in the world seems bent on using him for their own ends, whether he likes it or not.

He Who Endures to the End…

From the length of the first book, and the hints of things to come, I know (even without knowing how many other books are in the series) that this is to be a drawn out fantasy story, with its own unique pacing.  My advice is to endure it, for the tale Jordan bequeaths to us is worth the reading.

                                                                                                                                   

My next review is Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church by Ron Moseley, one of the earliest to take a more sympathetic look at the Jewishness of Jesus and the first Christian community. So, until then my friends, keep calm and read on!

Pile #11 “The Highest Tide” by Jim Lynch

4 Mar

The Highest Tide: a Novel / Jim Lynch.  Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.  2010. Kindle Edition.

As always, the  original review can be found here: “The Highest Tide” http://www.amazon.com/review/R12KYOKY89C1G/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

You know its time to buy your own copy when you’ve checked out the same book more than three times from the library, and for me this is certainly true of The Highest Tide. So many passages cry out to be underlined and flagged, to be savored. I even re-read the book just for this review. A shocking admission, I know. Even more  shocking (at least potentially) is that this was the first fiction title I purchased for my Kindle (wonderful device a Kindle is: a dedicated platform for reading books, and only books (and periodical literature that happens to fit the screen size), not only can I hold more books in my hand than I used to, and can juggle them at the push of a button or two -a thing I like doing, alot- but it saves wear and tear on the physical volume, which doesn’t always hold up well in my grubby hands. And that doesn’t even consider the Kindle apps for PC and iPad that really assist the book review process).

Always looking

Miles O’Malley is a boy with a passion for exploring the tidal flats, and very good at finding things, ever since he read Rachel Carson at age 6. This all changes the summer he was thirteen. It starts as a normal summer, spent collecting sea-life to sell to local restaurants and aquariums, mooning over his former baby-sitter Angire Stegner, and helping to care for his elderly neighbor Florence. But, by the time of his first discovery made on the night of the lowest tide of the summer. He makes further discoveries, finds himself the subject of television and nationwide newspaper articles, even pursued by members of a religious cult because of his perceived insights into the meaning of life he finds along the seashore.

This is the summer he learns to see things about himself in the same way that he wants others to see things around them. He notes this early in the book: “In the space of a summer I’d learned that everything was changing, including me” (from the Question and Answer section).  Even old Florence, tells him “This is your summer, Miles. This is the summer that defines you” (p. 47).

The first thing to say about this book, in response to other reviewers, is that not all tales with a adolescent protagonist are for adolescents.  Miles chides us that

“People usually take decades to sort out their view of the universe, if they bother to sort at all. I did my sorting during one freakish summer in which I was ambushed by science, fame and suggestions of the divine” (p.2).

These prescient comments come in the very beginning of the book, and are not the voice of thirteen year old Miles, but of middle aged Miles, looking back *back* on that summer, not experiencing it then and there as some other [Amazon] reviewers claim.  Simply put, the book is about life, in all its wonder, grittyness, and pettiness, in short the book stands as “an ovation for life itself” (p. 226).

The book is composed of 30 un-named chapters. Beyond the text itself there is a question-and-answer section, with the author, group study questions, a biographical note on the author, even a “love me” wall of complimentary reviews about the book -though the book can be enjoyed without the extras.

Maybe Jim Lynch is trying to tell us something

Miles’s story, as the title implies, is framed by the tides: it starts with the lowest night tide of the summer and that first discovery, and ends with the highest tide of the year (a freak, unexpected event, unless you happen to be looking for the signs).  The question to ask ourselves becomes is Miles different in the end than at the beginning of his “freakish summer”?  I think for Miles, the answer is yes.

The exploration of the tidal flats around his hometown, the opening of his eyes to what is really there, the relationships he has with family, friends, and other members of his community- it is through his looking in the tidal flats, that he has trained himself  to be able to look at himself and those around him. He does not always like what he sees, but he does not shy away from the seeing.  Along the way Miles, and Lynch, hopes to reawaken our own sense of wonder and magic about the life that lies all around us, whether on the border between see and land, or the hazy border that is the self.

The passage from ignorance to self-knowledge. Seeing life for what it is.  Finding your place in life. An environmental message about caring. The exuberance and passion of youth. – All these could be said to be messages contained in Lynch’s book.  I think, though, that Lynch’s message is much simpler, that it revolves around Miles’ declamation that “I just see what I see” (p72) and could be summed up by saying “its amazing what you can find if you simply look”.  Miles is looking around, and he too is seeing things in his life he never noticed before.  He sees his parents and their troubled and rocky relationship that just might end in divorce. He watches the slow, painful decline of his elderly friend Florence, and the equally deteriorating condition that Judge Stegner has to deals with in Angie and  her wild and self-destructive lifestyle and drug addiction. He observes his friend Phelps antics in regards to girls. Above all and always, though it is the Tidal Pools of Puget Sound, a character in itself, and the wondrous things about him that he discovers in this one summer.

The Sea’s the Thing

Some readers may become distracted, or even irritated with the long passages about marine life that abound in the novel, and in fact some reviewer complain about the long passages of, but they are in fact integral to the story, from the giant squid in the beginning to the many unexpected species found at the biodversity right before the climax of the story. It is in relating this information that Miles reveals his true self.  Even all the references to Rachel Carson, with its strong hint of ecological crusading, serve to reinforce, that the earth is speaking to us if we but take the time to really look, and listen.  It is not important to Miles -as it is for the students of the ‘School’ he meets- what we find, or whether it comes from science or new age religion, or from within oneself, but that we are looking.

When Miles starts sharing the maritime discoveries he has made, he goes off into another world (sort of like me0, I can just see him beginning to talk and talking more and more rapidly

Squirming with Life and Love

Admittedly, as other (Amazon) reviewers have pointed out, there is a lot of crude sex-on-the-brain imagery, and less than flattering descriptions of women, but this is a story about a boy entering upon adolescence, and there is a more than casual resemblance between the observed fecundity of the tidal shallows of Puget Sound and the growing sexual awareness of youth.  You can’t expect a character to be outstanding in all areas, now can you?  Even Miles admits this -right at the beginning he tells us “I was an increasingly horny, speed-reading thirteen-year-old insomniac” (p2).

On the one hand, the book is free of overtly graphic scenes of sexual or violent activity, but on the other hand, an atmosphere of sexual exploration is still present, reminding us (as if we needed any such reminder) that the sexual reproductive drive is as strong in man as in the rest of creation.  Yet he is still sensitive about these things, feeling guilty afterwards as he wrestles with his burgeoning desires. As Phelps passes on what he has ‘learned’ from others, Miles remarks that “Something about it made me feel defensive, as did most of the crap I heard directly or indirectly about what girls wanted.”(p. 54) and the changing tenor of his relationship with Angie, who finally agrees to wait for Miles perhaps caps his summer of self-discovery.

Defining Miles

So, in the end, we have a boy who finds himself, a girl who is beginning to find herself -thanks in part to Miles just being himself- after a young adult binge of sex, drugs, and rock music, and a town coming to grips with itself in the wake of  a summer of extra-ordinary yet natural occurrences. And it’s all related to Miles’ self-discovery.

note for readers of the Kindle version:   There ARE  typos, quite a few of them, sadly: I noticed lots of them  on several “pages”: 23, 78, 122, 123, 139, 143, 160, 188, 189, 195, 196, 205, 208, 240