Monday, January 22, 2024

The Wheel of Time Reread: The Path of Daggers

Welcome back, dear readers, to The Wheel of Time Reread. Today we’re going to talk about The Path of Daggers, the eighth book in the series.

We are now more than halfway through The Wheel of Time regardless of how we count New Spring (the prequel novel) and friends, we have officially hit The Slog. I think my definition of the slog has changed over the years, with it starting as early as Lord of Chaos (Dumai’s Wells not withstanding) and pretty definitively running through Crossroads of Twilight. This time through I could see the beginning of that muddy road in A Crown of Swords but truly felt it here.

Things happen. Some pretty significant things even. And yet.

I think part of the idea of the Wheel of Time slog if you had been reading the series as it was written / published (hi, it’s me) you noticed that the time between books had increased to two years between books rather than just one and if you couple that with the narrative pace likewise slowing down around this time it was a frustrating time to be a Wheel of Time reader. Where this really comes up, and I will absolutely talk about this when we get to Crossroads of Twilight is that in that book it had been two years since this really awesome, world changing event, and then…it’s a bunch of characters noticing something is happening pretty far away and for the most part it’s just Robert Jordan catching everyone up to that moment, except that none of the characters had any idea what was going on so it didn’t have a significant impact. And then it was *another* two and a half years until Knife of Dreams - which happily was awesome.

But, with that, the idea of the slog coalesced, I think, because of the disappointment of how Crossroads of Twilight was handled and it pushed back into these slightly earlier novels because the signs and symptoms of what was to come really started here.

Except - upon a reread that stagnation is no longer as glaring as it once was because the only delay between reading The Path of Daggers and starting Winter’s Heart is my willingness to pick up the next book (or, in the case of the single volume Wheel of Time ebook I’m reading this on - to turn another page). That’s why even though I’m spending more time writing about the slog than I had expected to, it’s much more of a idiosyncratic idea that changes on each read through of the series.

To work through all of that and to get to the next book, we do need to actually talk about this one - and to do that, there shall be spoilers.

Before I touch on those actual plot moments, such as they are, let’s talk about Verin. From her first appearance Verin has been a favorite - which is something that the show gets very right. What, did you think that just because we’re between seasons that I’m not going to work in a reference to the delightful show? Of course I am!

The prologue has an extended Verin section and I really wish I could remember when I first started to ask questions about her but readers should be asking questions about Verin after The Path of Daggers. There are several bits here - things about “questionable” weaves, her wondering if she had an opportunity to arrange for an accident for an escaped Aes Sedai, and the final line about ensuring Rand lives long enough until it’s time for him to die. The thing about Rand specifically is clearly meant to be ominous and over-considered and argued about and throughout the series there have been multiple references to prophecies and visions where Rand / The Dragon will shed his blood on the rocks at Shayol Ghul, that a character will help him die, he price Rand must pay, “twice to live and twice to die” and more so there can be any possible explanation for why Verin is considering that Rand must live long enough until it’s time for him to die.

The rest of it, Verin using questionable weaves and wondering about killing an escaped Aes Sedai - that’s not quite what we’re expecting from our heroes. And Verin is an Aes Sedai and our favorite so of course she’s a hero, but this is very strongly suggesting that something is wrong with Verin.

I suspect I’m not going to spend a lot of time thinking about Perrin over the next several books because we’re about to lead into one of my least favorite storylines. I haven’t thus far enjoyed a single thing about Masema, the batshit insane “Prophet” of the Dragon who has a fervent cult of murderous unwashed followers. Perrin’s mission is to approach Masema and get him to stand down (with an implication to stand down or be stood down) because Masema’s cult army has been a scourge upon Randland and if anything is going to unite the world against Rand such as might be possible it’s the actions of a rogue group purportedly following Rand.

Getting Perrin and Masema to reunite, however, leads into Faile being captured / kidnapped by the Shaido Aiel - and THAT storyline has historically been my least favorite in the series, though that point I don’t remember just how many books it takes. The kidnapping looms large enough that it feels like Perrin is chasing after Faile and the Shaido for something like four novels, but it certainly could have been just Winter’s Heart and Crossroads of Twilight - which given that the kidnapping happens at the very end of this book wouldn’t be nearly as long as it feels like it is. It’s something to not look forward to in the upcoming re-read.

Something much more interesting to me is the use of The Bowl of Winds to fix the Dark One’s touch on the weather and end the unnatural endless summer (but with much less surfing). It’s been a story arc crossing several books, which might suggest that maybe I don’t need to complains so much about Faile’s capture but I tend to appreciate Elayne and Nynaeve as characters much more than I do Perrin and Faile, so even though it’s taken a while to finally get here I think it’s a much better journey.

It’s a fairly dramatic scene and is a major use of magic to steer the weather onto a new course, and the bowl weirdly uses saidin even though saidin is not channeled into it, and takes a whole lot of people to come together to make it happen. It is, of course, part of a bargain so we’ve got Aes Sedai, the Kin, and Sea Folk all working together. It’s beautiful and incredibly reluctant and fraught with tension and that’s great too because Nynaeve is perpetually annoyed and put out and that always leads to some fantastic dramatic irony.

The end result of all of that (besides the actual use of the bowl) is that our Super Friends escape from a Seanchan invasion / war party, Elayne finds out exactly what happens when you mess around with picking apart a weave (things go boom), and we begin another lingering storyline - which is Elayne returns to Andor (finally!) to claim her throne. It’s a process because Andor doesn’t necessarily just go to the next in line, especially with Elayne’s absence from Caemlyn taken into consideration.

I do tend to enjoy political infighting, especially when there are no Forsaken-given headaches, so I’m down for Elayne claiming her throne and ready for the lingering Egwene storyline to keep moving.

Egwene, of course, is slooooooowly working her way towards besieging the White Tower because fuck Elaida, but we’re getting to the best Egwene (Knife of Dreams Egwene) so I dig all of the moments where she can - step by baby step - claim the authority of the Amyrlin Seat for herself and operate as an Amyrlin in her own right. Suian correctly identifies just how thin of an knife edge Egwene is walking but it’s do nothing and be a puppet or risk it all and save the world.

Rand goes to war in The Path of Daggers and despite being the true protagonist of the entire series (and technically the point of it all) - I could almost always use less Rand than we get here - but he takes the fight to the Seanchan, gets overconfident, uses Callandor for the first time since The Dragon Reborn but because he’s fighting where the Bowl of Winds was used and the Bowl did “weird things” to saidin in the area nobody can really control saidin and Callandor exasperates the problem and Rand makes everything explode and killed a bunch of people on both sides of the battle. It’s ugly, because war is ugly. The Wheel of Time doesn’t glamorize war by any stretch of the imagination, but Rand’s fight against the Seanchan really uglies it up to another level.

Also of note is the betrayal of Rand by several Asha’man - it’s a frantic sequence that leads to Taim showing up both just in time and also just after it would have been too late. Dashiva’s betrayal doesn’t make Taim less suspicious of a character and his leading the Asha’man has long been a questionable decision Rand made - but now we know for sure there is rot at the core of the Black Tower.

As mentioned, big and exciting stuff happens in The Path of Daggers, but it’s also a novel that is just kind of there. It’s easy to think about a different version of The Wheel of Time where A Crown of Swords, The Path of Daggers, Winter’s Heart, and Crossroads of Twilight are all condensed into a much tighter two volume middle set - which maybe would be too rushed compared to the rest of the series. The Path of Daggers and Winter’s Heart are already the two shortest books in the series, but it’s a fun exercise to think about how and where to tighten up the storylines.

Next Up: Winter’s Heart, in which things happen (probably). Plus: the daughter of nine moons, a three way warder bonding, chasing a falcon, and a magical cleansing.

Joe Sherry - Senior Editor of Nerds of a Feather. Hugo and Ignyte Winner. Minnesotan.