“He calls upon the mountains to kneel, and the seas to give way, and the very skies to bow.
Pray that the heart of stone remembers tears, and the soul of fire, love.”
Cadsuane enters the scene with one self-appointed mission; to teach the Dragon Reborn to laugh again and to cry again. As a living legend, people jump when she says jump. She holds back nothing in her contempt for stupidity and her insistence on manners (meaning, everyone should be polite to her). Yet, she has moments of startlingly empathy in a series where most characters cannot understand themselves much less anyone else. Her appearance in A Crown of Swords announces the next step in what it takes for Rand to truly be the Dragon Reborn. In the first three books, he had to accept his fate and the responsibility of saving the world. In the next three books, we saw Rand growing harder, from farm boy to tyrannical ruler to ready the world for the Last Battle, Tarmon Gai’don. Now, Rand must learn to feel again, before his hardness destroys the world.
Rand gears up to fight another of the Forsaken while trying to do some good in a world gone mad. Of course, he no longer resembles sane. Min’s constant company appears to be his one remaining link to his humanity as he struggles to bear a burden no man could shoulder. He sends Perrin off on a semi-secret mission, once again leaving himself primarily in the company of those he cannot trust.
Mat, leader of his own army, acts as additional protection for Nynaeve and Elayne as they search for a way to right the weather. His original mission had been to deliver Elayne to her capital city so she can rule the land she had been born to rule. Elayne, unwilling to give up her Aes Sedai duties for her duties as a ruler, has continued to search through Ebou Dar for the missing relic.
After over 5,000 pages the weaknesses inherent in Mr. Jordan’s style become notable, especially when they annoy. Especially, his difficulty writing in writing romances. Nynaeve and Lan do not appear to have anything in common, nor did the beginning of their relationship get much page space. Instead, one day Lan and Nynaeve confess their love for one another. Lan has some of the most romantic lines throughout the book, guaranteed to soften even hardest hearts, yet one cannot understand why he feels this way for Nynaeve of all the women in the world.. However, the effect of that love on Lan works well with his character. While readers delight in Lan’s return to the series, this romance continues to fall flat, even with its long awaited happy ending.
A Crown of Swords marked the point where many original readers of the series began to drift off. It appeared two years after its predecessor, and it also marks the point where the editing begins to go downhill and more errors creep in. At this point, the books truly need to be read in the context of the full story arc, a difficult task when we still await the final book. I remember nearly giving up on the series at this point myself. Only, a new one would appear on the shelves after a few years, curiosity would catch me, and I kept plowing through them. Reading through them with nearly the entire series on hand, I find myself with a greater appreciation of the slow development of certain plots and the amazing foreshadowing of things yet to come.
Books 7 and 8 would have been better off published together, if anyone would buy a book over 1500 pages long. The climax of this book feels rushed, ruining the intensity of a confrontation that had been building over the past couple of novels. The two major plot lines (there are numerous subplots) center on Rand versus Sammael on one side, and the ladies’ search for The Bowl of Winds on the other. Rand gets his ending but the The Bowl still has not been used.
Also, for readers used to having things spelled out for them, the truth in these books truly is hidden in the details. The Forsaken do not stay dead but reappear in new bodies. How do you know who has become who? Those details provided in earlier books regarding their personalities and body language. That serves as one example of many of the importance Mr. Jordan places in those pages long descriptions that wear out even the most patient reader.
On the other side, A Crown of Swords really begins depicting the end of the world just not in the traditional, armies-of-evil-on-the-march form. Instead, chaos rapidly descends on the land. Few rulers retain any control beyond their capitol city. Brigands, armies, and homeless swarm everywhere. Every chapter, every point of view, reinforces that the world has lost the stability readers saw at the beginning of the series. The Wheel of Time series does not depict the heroic journey of one person against evil; it depicts the reaction of an entire world to the approaching final battle. People form alliances with others based on one shared goal, regardless of the overall tendency toward good and evil. Not all good characters fight side-by-side.
I enjoyed A Crown of Swords more re-reading it after nearly all the other books have been published than I did the first time. Partly, because I already knew that some of my least favorite parts are yet to come and I wanted to savor these moments. Mostly, I appreciate the shear scope and complexity of the overall story arc. I cannot think of another series or author that has attempted to create a story of this scope.