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Knife of Dreams
Robert Jordan
Tor, 784 pages

Knife of Dreams
Robert Jordan
Robert Jordan is the pseudonym of American writer James Oliver Rigney, Jr., who has also written as Regan O'Neal, Jackson O'Reilly, and Chang Lung. A lifelong resident of Charleston, SC, Robert Jordan was born in 1948. He served two tours of duty in Vietnam (from 1968-70), earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Bronze star. Following that, he entered the Citadel, the military college of South Carolina, where he received a degree in physics and went on to be employed by the Navy as a nuclear engineer. While hospitalized with an injury, he thought he could probably write as well as the authors he had been reading during his recovery. He has been writing ever since.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: New Spring
SF Site Review: Crossroads of Twilight
SF Site Review: A Path of Daggers
SF Site Review: A Crown of Swords
SF Site Review: The World of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time
The Complete Wheel of Time Index
Wheel of Time Links
Book Summaries
Wheel of Time Fan Art

Past Feature Reviews
A review by William Thompson


"The Golden Crane flies for Tarmon Gai'don!"
That's right, child, good things can come to those who wait. After haring off (probably too active a verb) along side plots and secondary characters for the past three books -- some would say four -- Knife of Dreams appears to return the series to its earlier stride, as the quote above suggests, finally moving the primary plot forward. Those who have been patient, addicted, or simply too far invested to give up will be pleased to hear that most of the ancillary storylines that have bogged down the last few outings -- Perrin's protracted chase after Faile; Elayne's unsteady struggle to gain the Lion Crown; Mat's languid flight from Ebou Dar and his tangled courtship of Tuon -- have for the most part been resolved. Several villains that have become prominent during this period finally meet their deserved bad end. The anticipated return of a long-absent character is all but announced. And though Rand and Egwene's plights and perils persist, there is a sense of horizon right around the corner; that Robert Jordan has moved his various players into position for the Last Battle: thirteen is the number, after all, of a completed circle in Jordan's world, and I expect the end of this cycle will be concluded within the next two books.

Thus the pace has significantly picked up, and while this may have come at the cost of some resolutions that seem a bit abbreviated, especially considering the length of buildup, this can perhaps be forgiven by the author's return to a more active plot progression, more directly seeming to serve his central story. And with sharper focus, the devil no longer is in the details: while Jordan has not abandoned his love of describing characters and locales, here for the most part they enrich and contribute to his world creation and storytelling, which have always been the author's greatest strengths. Reading Knife of Dreams reacquaints one with why they became involved in the series in the first place, as well as why it has continued to captivate a large audience, retaining loyalty despite voiced dissatisfaction in the recent stalled progress of the series. Though one begins to suspect intentional padding of the last several installments, at his best, which this book represents, there is no better bard of high fantasy than Robert Jordan.

Granted, the usual juvenile role-playing now expected of Jordan continues, testing the credulity of a more adult audience. Recalling some of the Hollywood gender stereotypes of the 30s and 40s, we have plenty of braid-tugging, sniffing, foot-stamping and hands-on-hips from the part of the tale's heroines; Elayne blaming Rand for the unpleasant aspects of her pregnancy; and a lot of looks that could kill. Aes Sedai are spanked for misbehavior. Meanwhile the males of this saga remain utterly baffled by their feminine counterparts, resigned to a philosophy of can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. This kind of clichéd battle between the sexes, long ago overdone in film by the likes of Flynn and Gable, is certain to put off more mature or sophisticated readers, especially as Jordan obviously delights in revisiting it. Yet high fantasy has always indulged romance in one form or another, and the continued popularity of romantic fiction and these types of worn-out archetypes may suggest that Jordan has tapped into role models that retain relevance for a significant portion of his readers, or that the series has always been aimed at a young-adult audience. It could also be argued, I suppose, that progress has been made over Tolkien in providing strong, equal roles, however stereotyped or anachronistic. But this series is unlikely to find adherents among the readers of more serious or literary-minded fantasy.

Nevertheless, even they, if they are fair, must recognize that at his best Jordan is a masterful storyteller, and that the world he has created, while initially borrowing from Tolkien, has since grown into its own, with an underlying mythos equaling Middle Earth. Tolkien has had many imitators, but only one true inheritor, and within this context, it is hard to imagine anyone surpassing Jordan's creation in future. It possesses its flaws, and there is much to criticize in the glacial pace of the series' last few books. But now that it appears the author is back on track, and focused on taking the story to its conclusion, one can once again recommend this series, without too many reservations, and highly to its intended audience.

Copyright © 2005 William Thompson

In addition to the SF Site, William Thompson's reviews have appeared in Interzone, Revolution Science Fiction and Locus Online. He also has worked as a freelance editor for PS Publishing, editing The Healthy Dead and Grandma Matchie, by Steven Erikson, and Night of Knives, by Cameron Esslemont. He lives in Mesilla, New Mexico.

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