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New Spring: The Novel
Robert Jordan
Tor, 334 pages

Art: Darrell K. Sweet
New Spring: The Novel
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: 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

In the early work to this series, Robert Jordan quickly established himself as the most prominent author shadowing Tolkien's legacy, churning out six novels in rapid succession that exhibited the author's considerable talent in weaving ever more complicated and burgeoning plotlines, as well as managing a diverse cast of characters which threatened to overwhelm the reader's count. In doing so, he invested great and fond detail in rendering the many cultures and peoples of his emerging world, slowly revealing a mythos and history that, after the first book, began to increasingly individuate itself from Middle Earth, while continuing to acknowledge its inherent indebtedness. His heroes and heroines, if often centered around juvenile characters, delineated popular archetypes that carried great appeal for young and old alike, as was evidenced by the series increasing sales and dominance of fantasy bestseller lists. But despite the series' growing popularity -- each new novel exhibiting more robust sales than the last -- the pace of publication has since significantly slowed: whereas the first six books were published in a frenzied spate of five years, the last four have appeared intermittently over nine, with the span between publication increasing with each new entry. While this might be understandable, considering the many storylines and characters Jordan has to juggle -- like the complicated weaves of saidar demanded of an Accepted at the time of testing -- the measure of complaint on behalf of his audience has swelled as well, along with claims that the series has stalled. In all fairness, such impatience could be ignored, if the delay was founded on an output that significantly resolved or added to some of the existing storylines, or moved the primary narrative forward. But instead the result has been ever accreting plot threads and new characters, many of which seem inconsequential, while more important storylines -- Perrin's attempt to rescue Faile; Matt's involvement with the Seanchan; and the rebel army's march to Tar Valon -- are spanning volumes to little effect. The Wheel of Time has ground down to marking seconds rather than hours, let alone days or years, and by now complaint seems more than justified.

So the appearance at this point of a prequel seems ill-favored for stemming the tide of dissent, and at best represents possibly a sop to those forced to wait for the next installment. The publisher's spin is that it offers "the perfect entry point for new fans." Perhaps. But I would argue that the original book, The Eye of the World, represents a far stronger opening, despite any obvious borrowings from Tolkien, and that much of the content and references found in New Spring will only offer full resonance for previous readers of the series.

The story itself revolves around the early careers of two of Jordan's more popular and important characters, Moiraine Damodred and Lan Mandragoran, and the events leading up to their fateful meeting. The initial chapter suggests the reader may actually experience the birth of The Dragon Reborn, but instead the story soon shifts to the halls of Tar Valon, leaving the circumstances of Rand al-Thor's birth the stuff of legend and prophecy. In retrospect, this is probably a wise strategy. But the following hundred and fifty or so pages which concentrate upon Moraine's experiences as an Accepted in The White Tower, as well as her testing for the shawl, proceed down paths in most respects already well traveled, despite any further revelations regarding the hunt for a child that will bring about another Breaking of the World; the murder of an Amyrlin Seat; the Black Ajah; or the relationship between Moraine and Siuan Sanche. Once she flees the Tower and begins her search of the Borderlands, encountering Lan as well as the formidable Cadsuane Melaidhrin, the tempo to the novel begins to pick up. Hints are dropped and I suspect red herrings laid. And the emerging relationship between Lan and Moraine is handled with Jordan's usual ingratiating charm and mix of menace and humor. But it is difficult to see how this prequel will distract earlier readers from their impatience or succeed as an entrance for a new audience. Too many references are made whose import will only be revealed in later novels, and a visit to the earlier days of Lan and Moiraine can only serve as a diversion for existing fans, however alluring.

In this last respect I must admit that, despite a comparative lack of weight, this newest offering will provide rewards for current fans of the series. Moraine Damodred remains one of the author's more mature and indelible characters, as does Lan, and her absence in recent books has been felt, if in part replaced through the role of Cadsuane (though it waits to be seen whether she makes a reappearance -- after all, death can be relative in The Wheel of Time). And Jordan's skill in gradually building tension through emerging glimpses of interwoven motives and storylines, as well as characters whose identity remains just out of reach, is once again displayed here, as is his ability to visualize his world for the reader. Some will say, and with justification, that this talent has already been on view before, and by now far too amply, and that what remains to be seen is whether he can again regain the dramatic pace that typified his earlier work. Yet there is little question that many of the more admirable qualities of the author's prose -- identifiable characters, a deft faculty at managing a plentitude of plots and cast that would overwhelm most others, and creation of a world that is vivid in comprehension -- continues its presence here. And it is these very qualities which originally attracted so many readers to the series. Still, and acknowledging the irony, what was once a strength has now become, within the context of the overall series, a perceptible and indulgent weakness.

Copyright © 2004 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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