Thursday, February 29, 2024

The Wheel of Time Reread: Winter's Heart

Welcome back, dear readers, to The Wheel of Time Reread. Today we’re going to talk about Winter’s Heart, the ninth book in the series.

Winter’s Heart is the book where I start to feel like we are making a real push to the end of the series, though we are going to move from the holy shit that really happened at the end of the book right into Crossroads of Twilight in which the rest of the world reacts to something happening somewhere that is probably important but no matter it’s very far away. We’ll get into it, but before we do we’re going to talk about *this* book first.

You know, one interesting thing about reading The Wheel of Time as a single volume ebook is that at any given time I have no idea where I am in the specific book I’m reading. If I don’t check on the chapter count all I know is that I’m on something like page 6700 of 10,000+. Because I’ve read these later books fewer times than the earlier ones, my memories of particular events are less clear and I just don’t know how close I am to the end. I’m just enjoying the ride.

If you’re reading a Wheel of Time re-read deep enough that we’re talking about the ninth book, I assume nothing here is going to be a spoiler. But just in case, we’re going to talk about the ending first.

You’ve been warned.

Chekov’s Cleansing. Rand’s first act plan to cleanse saidin from the Dark One’s taint goes off in the third act. If anyone asked me what happens in Winter’s Heart I would respond that this is the book in which Rand and Nynaeve cleanses saidin. If anyone asked me what else happens in Winter’s Heart I would shrug, because, well, first, that’s a series defining moment for anyone who has been reading from The Eye of the World. The taint on saidin that makes male channelers go crazy? Gone. It’s pure again. It is one of the singularly most important moments of the entire series besides, you know, winning The Last Battle.

It’s such a small moment in the book. Rand announces it early, and then goes and fucks off to Far Madding for a fair amount of the book. Far Madding is a weird city that has some ter’angreal that prevents men and women from touching the Source. There are, of course, ways around that, but what Far Madding also allows is for Cadsuane to shine some more, a bit of a scene with Alanna, and Verin being awesome.

Honestly, I didn’t mind it. Oh, Rand is still just about the least interesting part of any book he is in but Far Madding is a very different setting that most other cities we’ve seen thus far so it still feels refreshing even at the same time there’s a bit of treading water and *another* moment where Rand declaims his need to be hard and Cadsuane notes that she still needs to teach Rand to laugh and cry otherwise the world is doomed even if the Light wins. I don’t think there are therapists enough in the world to deal with the collective trauma everyone is going through.

I do still find the Faile / Shaido / Perrin storyline to be tedious. More specifically, I find Perrin’s part in that storyline to be tedious. He’s probably my least favorite major character not named Rand right now. Faile, Alliandre, and Morgase are much more compelling as captives of the Shaido than anything Perrin is doing to rescue Faile. The fact that Perrin’s storyline is intersecting with the bloody flaming Prophet, Masema, does not help one bit. What *does* help one bit, though, is that this is a much smaller part of Winter’s Heart than I remember. There is almost no forward progress but fewer chapters are spent on the storyline than the nearly half of the book I misremembered. This makes me nervous for Crossroads of Twilight, honestly.

I also don’t mind the Elayne / Andor Succession drama. It’s just that, like so many other things the last few books, there is very little progress. Realistically, Elayne securing the throne in the particular way of Andoran politics is not something that would occur very quickly. Narratively, it’s a bit of a drag. I just happen to enjoy spending time with Elayne and Andor.

Possibly more importantly, that particular storyline leads to Elayne, Min, and Aviendha all bonding Rand as their collective warder as Rand declares his creepy love for all three of them. Which, really, that’s fine because it’s not like he spends any sort of time with any of them except for Min (and when the Aiel required Aviendha to be his shadow) or have any sort of real conversations with any of them. The relationships don’t feel quite real, but, eh, he’s just going to wander off and do Rand things somewhere else and this at least allows the chance to make more Dragon Babies to set up the next generation.

Back to The Cleansing. I think that’s a moment which should be capitalized. The Cleansing looms large, but it’s only one chapter in the book and there’s a massive battle with Forsaken and darkfriends trying to get to Rand and Nynaeve doing the work and there are all of the lightfriends guarding our dynamic duo and….most of it happens off page. There are hints of what’s happening, but so much of that action is not described. Heck, most of the actual Cleansing isn’t described but I guess there is only so much description one can write about filling a saidar tube with saidin and pushing it into Shadar Logoth until the city explodes. There are hints for the duration of the Cleansing but at the same time it could have been forty five minutes of active Cleansing or two days and it’s all unclear.

I’m making it sound like the Cleansing is not thrilling, but this is probably the fourth or fifth time I’ve read Winter’s Heart and there is no recapturing the shock and wonder of reading the Cleansing for the first time. It’s still a big deal and still a really cool moment, but it just doesn’t land the same this time.

All of this sounds waaaay more negatively about Winter’s Heart than I mean it to be. This is a better book, overall, than The Path of Daggers and absolutely a better book than Crossroads of Twilight. Oh! I also never mentioned Mat. Mat is consistently the best part of any book he is in and Winter’s Heart is the book where he finally meets The Daughter of the Nine Moons, one of the daughters of the Empress of the Seanchan and Mat’s future wife. Shenanigans will ensue, mostly in the future books but Winter’s Heart has Mat working on being a hero and saving some captured damane Aes Sedai. And - we discover the male a’dam that was supposed to be dumped in the middle of the ocean was unfortunately not dumped in the middle of the ocean and that’s something that should probably stay far away from Rand and will certainly come into play later.

Next up: Crossroads of Twilight, in which things happen (more or less). Plus, some people notice something is happening somewhere, a siege begins, the falcon is still in captivity, and courting the nine moons.

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