I found this volume a very quick read. Perhaps that's because of its slightly shorter length, but I also think it's because I'm settling into the newer system Mr. Jordan had for changing viewpoints. We've slid into the "Large chunk from a viewpoint, then very little from them for a long while" system. With novels this complex and lengthy, there are really only two ways to handle the viewpoints. The first is to switch very quickly, like George R. R. Martin prefers. This gets you a sense of fast pacing and lets you keep readers informed about characters by coming back to them frequently, but never for very long. The other is to do big swaths from one viewpoint. This slows the feel of the pacing, but you don't have to worry as much about readers keeping track of everyone, since you have time in each viewpoint to give lots of reminders about what is going on, then leave that viewpoint long enough that it doesn't matter how much readers remember—you can just remind them when you come back. A middle ground between these two extremes would probably be possible, but I'd worry about readers being able to follow what is going on, since you never stay long enough to give reminders, but you don't come back quickly enough to count on them simply remembering.
Jordan's middle books followed the quick-moving method, but he's eased into the longer swath method here, which I think was a wise move. In truth, what we're doing in these later books is reading six or seven DIFFERENT books, but reading them in a serialized method.
I think that with readers, expectation is a big deal. If you go into these later books expecting to read a book which focuses on a couple of main characters, you might be annoyed. However, I'm expecting an engaging epic which shows me a lot of different smaller stories combining to make the larger one. In that, I'm very satisfied. I think Jordan did a marvelous job with these. (Though, I do remember Book Ten maybe going just a tad father than I like with the numbers of side viewpoints.)
Two things to note on this book in specific. First off, I love how the sections with Rand push him into his wild attack against the Seanchan. It shows how powerful and dangerous Rand is, yet at the same time gets across that he's still vulnerable and capable of being defeated. I've been waiting and waiting for him to use Callandor again and it was very fulfilling to see him pull it here, then have trouble using it. This is, as I recall, the first book which ends by Rand suffering a defeat. (Even if the Seanchan don't think they won either.)
Secondly, I'm reminded of how annoying the Sea Folk are. They seem to be a burr in the side of pretty much every group of major characters from here to Book Eleven. That's nice, in a frustrating way. It's less that they themselves are annoying and that they represent a kind of impotence to the White Tower. I'm a little bit sad, personally, to see the Aes Sedai growing less and less in control as all of these other groups of channeling women show up and seem to have it together far more than the White Tower. (However, I wonder if this is just due to the fact that we see a lot more through Aes Sedai viewpoints. Perhaps the other groups wouldn't seem so 'together' if we saw as much from their eyes.) It also presents a lot more room for growth, which is nice for the narrative. The Aes Sedai have to pull themselves together and become what they were in lore in order to face the dark days that are coming. I just wish that so many of my favorite characters weren't getting bullied so often by the Sea Folk or the Kin.
(Or, maybe this is all due to the fact that I think the Sea Folk totally took advantage of the whole Bowl of Winds thing. If they hadn't helped, the entire world might have starved and dried up. But instead of doing the honorable thing and helping in order to fight the Dark One and save lives, they insisted on an outrageous deal. They got to keep one of the most powerful artifacts in the world, AND got a whole bunch of privileges over the White Tower. They should be ashamed of themselves. Of course, on their side, if you CAN get away with it, then why not?)
Also, one more note. I was really glad to read Winter's Heart and get Mat back! (If you're following along, I've actually finished Winter's Heart and am now reading Crossroads. I hope to finish both that and New Spring by the end of the week.)
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