Knife of Dreams has several things going for it. It isn’t as bad as the last few for one, no slight achievement. It is relatively crisp in prose and pace. It advances story and character at a more enjoyable pace. It even has a few (though too few) strong scenes that evoke fond memories of earlier (much earlier) books in the series. It is without a doubt an improvement on the past few and anyone who has put the time into this series and felt like they were scraping along will breathe a sigh of relief.
That said, though, there isn’t much to praise beyond its improvement over the last few books and its more clear movement toward resolution. Knife of Dreams is a serviceable book. It does what it needs to do (finally) but does so without any real panache or aplomb, without any sense of passion or wonder. It’s readable, but not compelling. You’ll want to know what happens, but not by the end of the first night you picked it up. For those who remember their reactions to the first books in the series, that’s a disappointment.
Many of the same flaws that have cropped up lately remain, though in more minimal fashion. There’s still the incomprehensibly frequent (though less so) references to spanking, bottom switching, bottom pinching, and barely covered bosoms (I swear Jordan had a macro set up so he could use “with hands folded beneath her breasts” at the flick of a single key, again and again and again). Braid pulling luckily seems to have gone out of fashion. The (same) women veer maddeningly between strongly competent and simpering, whining, gossipy clichés. If we’re told something once, we’re told it twenty times — Perrin, for instance, really wants to rescue his wife and that’s his one and only focus — “nothing else matters.” “Nothing.” “Nothing.” No matter how many things come up. Really,“nothing else matters.” Elayne’s section bogs down over political gamesmanship. Minor characters are given too much time at the expense of major characters (Rand is barely present). Characters too easily walk into traps they admit could be traps. And so on. Again, all of these flaws are much less present than in recent books, so they simply mar an otherwise solid book rather than truly annoy the reader.
About storylines: there is a truly great scene involving Lan and Nynaeve, though sadly the only one with them and the only truly great scene in the book. Rand’s story has many of the other strong moments and he remains the most interesting and complex character, as do his adversaries or maybe-adversaries, but we spend far too little time with him. Matt and Tuon’s story is also interesting and laced with some needed humor, though it could have been streamlined a bit. It does come to a good close, though not a resolution. Perrin and Faile’s plotline is, in my mind, just not interesting enough. As mentioned, we’re burdened too often with reminders of Perrin’s single focus, and there’s never any real sense that things won’t work out as planned so there’s little suspense to the story. Elayne’s sometimes bogs down in House jargon, pregnancy details, or asides concerning the sea-people, Aes Sedai, etc., but Jordan throws a welcome jolt into that sidestory to liven things up. The Forsaken make a relatively weak cameo, a wasted opportunity. Some of these plots resolve, many open up possibilities (but ones that are nicely tethered to the base story as opposed to tangential), and all lends themselves to a sense of urgency with regard to the upcoming Last Battle.
It’s hard to imagine how Robert Jordan wraps it all up in one book but Knife of Dreams at least moves him clearly and smoothly and crisply to that home stretch. It pales in comparison to the first five or six books, but it’s much, much better than the last few on the basic level. One hopes with some of the underbrush cleared away through this book, Jordan can aim a bit more at the heights, casting that same old spell on the reader. Recommended.
I have to say that Robert Jordan can surely set a scene; indeed, each chapter begins with a very detailed description of the setting, including such minutia as the style and oiliness of men’s beards, the height of ladies’ boots, every knickknack on every plinth, every bit of jewelry worn by each character, how much bosom is exposed, how tight the pants are, etc. The reader certainly feels immersed in the setting, but for those who have other books they hope to read this year, this may be aggravating.
By this point in the series, I can no longer keep track of the characters. In the chapters about Elayne, we findPelivar, high seat of House Coelan, and Perival, high seat of house Mantear. Ack!! And here are the names of the characters whose names begin with “An”: Anaiya, Anaiyella, Ananda, Anath, Andaya Forae, Andaya Murasaka, Ander Corl, Ander Tol, Andhilin, Andil, Andra, Andric, Andris, Andro, Androl Genhald, Mistress Andscale, Anemara, Mistress Anford, Anghar, Angla, Anjen, Ankaer, Anlee, Annharid, Annoura Larisen, Anthelle Sharplyn, Antol, Anvaere, Anya. You’ll find a list like this for every letter of the alphabet (see them at Encyclopaedia WOT). Did he expect us to study? I feel like I need flashcards.
Again, there’s so much stuff in Knife of Dreams that we’ve already heard before: eyes a man could drown in, rosebud mouth, seductive copper-skinned domani, Aes Sedai don’t show emotions (but they do), Loial sounds like a bumblebee, damp bowstrings don’t work, arms folded beneath breasts, unnecessary adjustment of clothes, smiles that don’t touch eyes, Mat worries about his men’s influences on Olver (wink, wink — yeah, we got it already!).
I could go on and on and on. And don’t even get me started on the spanking. There was more spanking in Knife of Dreams than any of the previous novels. Why are adults spanking each other?? (It’s not for fun.) I rolled my eyes so often, I started to worry they’d stick.
There was one major redeeming factor here, though, and that’s that the plot actually moves forward in Knife of Dreams. There are some big events that occur (each surrounded by a lot of fluff). I got the impression that after the last book (in which nothing happened for 900 pages), Mr Jordan woke up and said “oh, Light! Tarmon Gai’don’s got to happen in the next book and I’ve got to get everyone there and on the same side!”
And so we see that starting to happen — alliances are being made, people are getting in position. In fact, some of it happens much too quickly and easily to be believed (e.g., Egwene’s storyline, Whitecloak storyline). But that’s fine with me — let’s get this over with.
Since Knife of Dreams was Robert Jordan’s last book published before his death, let me say that I have enjoyed the world, the story, and the characters he created — THE WHEEL OF TIME is truly epic and I respect Mr Jordan’s work. My complaint is that it became aggravatingly slow and repetitive for the last several novels. But I eagerly look forward to finding out how it all ends.
You’re up, Mr Sanderson!!
The Wheel of Time — (1990-2013) Publisher: The peaceful villagers of Emond’s Field pay little heed to rumors of war in the western lands until a savage attack by troll-like minions of the Dark One forces three young men to confront a destiny which has its origins in the time known as The Breaking of the World. This richly detailed fantasy presents a fully realized, complex adventure which will appeal to fans of classic quests.