Review: The Dragon Republic

The Dragon Republic (The Poppy Wars #2), R. F. Kuang. New York: Harper Voyager, 2019.

Summary: Seeking revenge against The Empress of Nikan, Rin joins the effort of the Dragon Lord to create a republic, who seeks to enlist the support of southern warlords and a foreign power, the Hesperians.

[Note: This review includes a synopsis of the plot set up and some details that will be spoilers for those who have not read the first book in this trilogy.]

Rin and the small band of Cikes have turned into mercenaries for Moag, a pirate availing herself of the weakness of the Empire after the war. She is leading them after the loss of Altan. Rather, she is struggling to lead, remembering the devastation she wrought by calling the fire of the Phoenix and the nagging vision that it should have been she and not Altan who should have died. Her efforts to deaden the pain with opium are eroding her ability to lead. All that drives her is her desire for revenge against The Empress of Nikan.

After her last raid, a marginal success imperiled by her sighting of The Empress, she is kidnapped by Vaisra, the Dragon Warlord, sold off by Moag who recognizes her as a liability, and not one that she wants to give ships for a futile venture. He helps her shake her opium addiction and convinces her to join him in a coup effort against the Empress, after which he hopes to unite the warlords under his leadership, creating a republic instead of an empire. The coup plot fails and in the process, the Empress “seals” Rin’s ability to call the fire, injecting a “poison” that will eventually destroy her. But not yet. She retains her skills as a warrior.

The failed coup attempt doesn’t end Vaisra’s efforts. He plots a war against the Empress. This brings her alongside one time rival, and later friend, Nezha, Vaisra’s younger son, fighting together under Jinzha, his older brother. All through this story Rin struggles under her own guilt, the burden of leading the Cike, and her inability to regain her shamanistic power. She also struggles under being used as an instrument of war by Vaisra, and the probings by his allies, the Hesperians, who either would convert her or kill her. Yet her own struggle attunes her to try to help Nezha, who also struggles with an awakening awareness of his own shamanistic powers. Amid all this, she is faced with the consequences of Vaisra’s war for the people of Tikany, under the Monkey Warlord, Gurubai.

So many, including the Empress, want to use her. Increasingly, she becomes aware that it is a world where warriors like her are likely to be discarded or killed once their usefulness is past. Yet fighting wars for someone else is all she has known, and knows how to do. Not only her life, but that of those closest to her are at risk as she navigates this perilous gauntlet.

R.F. Kuang has created a story with twists and surprises as we wonder whether this instrument of the Phoenix, Rin, can rise from the ashes like her god. Whether she does or not, can she survive the forces both within and without that would tear her apart? Also, there is much unresolved at the end of this story setting up the third book in this trilogy, The Burning God.

My review of The Poppy War.

Review: At the Back of the North Wind

At the Back of the North Wind, George MacDonald. New York: Open Road Media, 2022.

Summary: Diamond becomes friend with the North Wind, who takes him on many adventures, even while he is a help to everyone he meets and known for his rhymes.

Diamond is a young boy, who is described as having “a tile loose,” and yet is so pleasant and helpful and even precocious that he is a delight to his parents and all those his life touches. His first bedroom is in a barn above the stable of “Old” Diamond, the faithful horse his father drives, first as a livery man and later as a cabbie. The wall behind his head has a hole in it that he and his mother both try to plug until he learns that in so doing he is plugging one of the windows of the North Wind. Diamond befriends her and goes on a number of night adventures. In one, he helps a little girl, Nanny, a street sweeper. Most of the adventures with North Wind are delightful but not all. On one, North Wind is a great storm that swamps a ship, with the loss of all but a handful aboard. At another point, he learns of the land at “the back of the North Wind,” and in a time when he is very ill, he is permitted to go there, a place North Wind herself has not gone, by passing through North Wind into a paradise-like place.

On his return, a crisis had passed in his illness, and a turning point occurred in his life, much like that of many who report near-death experiences. He has an uncanny capacity to create rhymes that soothe the baby in his home and improvise on nursery rhymes. By now his father is driving cab and he learns to handle Diamond, and takes his father’s place during illness. There is a period where he rarely encounters North Wind. But he helps Nanny who has taken sick, seeking the help of Mr. Raymond, a philanthropist, who had been a fare and was taken with the boy. While she was in the hospital, she has dreams of going to the Moon, which she tells Diamond, making him wonder if his own adventures with North Wind were real or also just dreams–or can dreams be real?

I won’t reveal the ending except to suggest that I believe Diamond discovers the answer to his questions, which remind one of the questions one might have about the life of faith. And what of the North Wind? We have both a beautiful woman who creates a nest for Diamond in her hair or holds him to her bosom, but is also a fierce power sending a ship full of people to their deaths. Is North Wind a kind of angel of death (very different than typically portrayed)? Diamond is given up for dead at the time he goes “back of the North Wind.” Death hovers over this story, as it did over life in this period where children often died young, a pregnancy could end in death, or an illness strike down a hearty man, as it nearly does Diamond’s father. There is at once an inscrutable character about death but also the assurances of One who will be near us in our dying, even a friend of the dying.

Most of us do not have near death experiences from which we return. MacDonald doesn’t shy away from this reality. In Diamond, we have one whose life is transformed by dying, “as one who has been back of the North Wind.” And the story suggests to me that when we face death’s realities and our hope for what is beyond, we also may be changed. Stern stuff for young readers in our day, but in MacDonald’s time, children became acquainted early with death and needed stories to help them live in light of its reality. As do we.

Review: The Last Mapmaker

The Last Mapmaker, Christina Soontornvat. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2022.

Summary: Sai, a girl from the Fens, daughter of a conman, manages to find a place with the last mapmaker of Mangkon just as he is enlisted on a voyage of discovery with great possible rewards, risks, and Slakes!

Sai was a twelve year old growing up in the Fens, a slumlike area of Mangkon. Her father, Mud, is a no-account conman in and out of prison. She longs for better things than working in a market. Yet she has no hope of receiving lineals on her thirteenth birthday, the mark of status. One day, she happens by the shop of Paiyoon, the foremost and last mapmaker in the land, just as he is lamenting his need of an assistant. She volunteers and he accepts and she does whatever he says, coming in earlier than he does.

Sai is talented at copying and her father wants her to forge an official letter. She is caught copying one of Paiyoon’s letters and he marvels at her skill. He discovers she can do this with maps as well. Soon after, Paiyoon learns he will be the mapmaker and navigator on an expedition ordered by the Queen to discover the Sunderlands, a continent that exists in myths, surrounded by the stormy and perilous Harbinger Sea, and guarded by the mythical Slake, a kind of sea dragon. He invites Sai along, and she jumps at the chance, giving up her hard-earned savings to be free of Mud.

But the rewards for the crew that discover the continent are good, along with lineals. And Sai gets to work with Paiyoon, further learning his craft, critical because his hands have begun to shake. The ship, the Prosperity, is the flagship of the Navy, captained by an illustrious war hero, Anchalee Sangra. There are two problems on board. One is Grebe, a sailor who had followed her one early morning in the Fens, until she eluded him. She fears she will be recognized, and her lowly origins in this status-conscious society betrayed. The other is Bo, a young orphan boy who had tried to pick her pocket on a port visit but was caught by her, but escaped arrest. He has stowed away and she discovers him and ends up trying to shield him. The two will ultimately team up. She also makes a friend with a striking young woman, Rian, popular among the sailors and ambitious to make the discover. She turns out to be half-sister to the captain.

It turns out the crew is divided, the Captain and Paiyoon and a few others on one side and Rian and most of the crew who want to take the risks to find the Sunderlands. The difference is not fear, as it turns out, but a recognition of the harms of Mangkon’s imperial ambitions. Sai and Bo will be caught up in this division, resulting in a conspiracy and a tumultuous finish. Sai and Paiyoon will be parted with Sai becoming mapmaker and navigator. Along the way are storms, shipwrecks, and the Slake!

This is a great adventure story that also raises thought-provoking questions about loyalties as well as the imperial ambitions of great nations. Is “discovery” really such a good thing for the “discovered”? It is written for an 8 to 12 year old audience, but this adult loved it. Christina Soontornvat first caught my attention when I had the chance to review her All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team. That was non-fiction but introduced me to her story-telling capabilities. She published two Newbery Honor Books in 2021. Her characters are “real,” her plotting makes this a page-turner, and there is an evident “moral compass” in these works in the real choices characters make amid pressures of personal and imperial ambition. I loved it.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer Program. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Balcony of Fog

Balcony of Fog, Rick Shapero. Half Moon Bay, CA: TooFar Media, 2020.

Summary: In a post-nuclear world, a laborer and a fugitive from a vengeful lover inhabiting a thunderhead meet up, transform to cloud-beings and eventually engage in a climactic battle.

Arden is a toiler in a post-nuclear war of toilers and overlords. He builds and repairs sluices channeling the water from ever present storms. He dreams of more, sailing away on the Mariod, named after a woman who sacrificed herself for him. After a beating from an overlord, he slips away to his boat and encounters a woman who seems to descend out of the sky. Estra is escaping an angry thunderhead driven by her former lover Ingis.

Of course they instantly fall into love and into the sack. Then when their escape plan is frustrated, Estra leads Arden into a transformation allowing him to ascend to the clouds. Arden finds himself transformed into a cloudlike figure capable of riding the clouds. For a while, it seems an idyllic life of incredible beauty. They immerse each other in Vats, cleansing them of bad memories and traumas, Spindles that draw out their wishes, and a pond of which they write their most private thoughts, which are transformed into cranes. Then there is love, where they merge their “motes,” their whole being into each other.

Of course it can’t last. Ingishead driven by a jealous and powerful lover relentlessly pursues them. At one point, Ingishead abducts Estra, with Arden relentlessly pursuing and ultimately rescuing her back. But Arden knows that any victory is temporary until Ingishead is defeated. Even as Arden builds Ardenhead, consuming lesser clouds and learning to wield lightning, there is also an inner conflict. What is Ingis to Estra? Why did she become his lover in the first place? How much of her heart did he still hold?

On one level, the story is about the lead-up to a climactic battle. It is also a study of the corrupting effects of power, which we see at work on Ingis. But will power and jealousy win over love with Arden? Will he become another Ingis.

Meanwhile, the structures of power on earth continue. A vengeful strike at one point seems emotionally cathartic but systemically unsatisfying. The Vats, The Spindles, and the cranes are interesting devices for the emotional healing and self-healing these abused characters need, yet self-revelation carries its own dangers.

There is some interesting world-building and ideas about self-knowledge mixed with what seem to me adolescent fantasy and pettishness. I think a gifted writer could have created a story of greater subtlety. As it stands, it is just OK. I can’t help but wonder if the immersive component of this project, pairing an app with this book, led to writing that does not stand on its own but is driven by the companion technology. Whatever is the case, I’d pass on this one.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Orsinian Tales

Orsinian Tales, Ursula K. Le Guin. New York: Library of America, 2016 (originally published in 1976).

Summary: A collection of eleven short stories set in the fictional eastern European country of Orsinia taking place between 1150 and 1965.

This is a lesser-known collection of Ursula K. Le Guin short stories published after her Earth-Sea books, where I first encountered Le Guin many years ago. These are set in an imaginary country, not in another world, but in Eastern Europe in the fictional country of Orsinia. The eleven stories span a period between 1150 and 1965, although not in chronological order.

The first story, The Fountains, suggests the basic theme running through these stories. An Orsinian scientist comes to Paris for a science conference, and takes the opportunity to escape and view the Fountains of Versailles, only to return once more to his hotel and the surveillance of the secret police. This and the other stories chronicle the efforts of people to exert their own freedom against the restrictive circumstances of their lives. A military man excels in his career only to realize he’d sacrificed what and who he’d loved forty years earlier in The Lady of Moge. A clerk with a family longs to be a musician, and despite counsel, determines to keep working on a large composition that will take him years to finish and may not provide any economic benefit. Others seek work that will help them move beyond survival, or love that seems out of reach. In The House, a divorcee comes back to her first husband to re-establish a broken relationship.

The stories pieced together trace the history of this country from a feudal power to an eastern bloc country. Many of the stories portray what seems a relatively dismal life of eking out an existence under some kind of authoritarian regime. The sense of this all was trying to find some glimpse of happiness in a life that is hard and then you die. Characters seem to seek the transcendent in a world where this doesn’t exist.

No doubt these are finely crafted tales. But the disconnected character of the stories, the jumbled chronology, and the bleak outlook of the stories failed to capture my interest. Remembering the Earth-Sea books, The Lathe of Heaven and The Left Hand of Darkness, I anticipated more. I didn’t find it here.

Review: The Black Coast

The Black Coast (The God-King Chronicles #1), Mike Brooks. New York: Solaris, 2021.

Summary: Former enemies seek refuge with the people of Black Keep against a backdrop of political infighting, intrigue around the succession of the God-King, and the rise of a sinister power.

The sight of the ships stirred alarm among the Naridans living in Black Keep. Decimated by plague and remember the last visit of the Tjakorsha raiders, they prepare for a desperate fight. Then leaders of the Tjakorsha come ahead under a flag of parley. Lord Asrel and his sons Darel and Daimon come to meet them. Saana Sattistutar, the woman warrior leading the clan doesn’t propose surrender, but rather peaceful co-existence of their two peoples. Asrel breaks the truce of the parley in striking out against the Tjalkorsha. Slaughter and a war resulting in the likely defeat of the Naridans is averted by Daimon, Asrel’s adopted son, who takes charge, imprisoning his brother and father.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this book, the first in The God-King Chronicles, are the encounter of these two peoples, two cultures with two differing religions, two differing moral codes. The Tjakorsha have men and women who only mate with each other. The Naridans have six shades of gender between any two of which sex is acceptable. Yet Narida is patriarchal while Tjakorsha’s women lead and fight alongside men. Are their differences too great for co-existence to be possible.

Daimon and Saana try to work out their differences, against a backdrop of other events that could change their world. Conspirators from Black Creek send an emissary to report on the blasphemous alliance of the two peoples, with the objects of bringing a force of Naridans who could end up wiping out both peoples, except for the conspirators. Then their are the concerns of the family of the God-King. Natan, the current God-King loves men, and has no successor. His sister is far more Machiavellian than he, recognizing the threat of the Splinter King, and acts to remove it while a rich young man becomes romantically involved with the thief who had picked his pocket. The most sinister of all is the demonic tyrant, The Golden, who subjected all the Tjakorsha except for Saana’s clan, who fled. His lieutenant, Rikkut is sent with a large force after her, another threat to Saana’s people and those of the Black Keep.

This book caught me by surprise. It started out with Natan and Tila which was kind of ho-hum until the scene shifts to the confrontation of those of the Black Keep and the Tjakorsha. For a while it was hard to keep all the different characters and plotlines straight, and then it started making sense and I found myself getting more and more drawn into the world Brooks was building. Then there are the war dragons and the kraiks, sea monsters that threaten every voyage! The cultures, the creatures, the characters, and the plot all come together to make this a page-turner. Even secondary characters like Darel or Saana’s daughter Zhanna are interesting and play crucial roles.

Dang, another series to follow! But this looks to be a good one.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: The Fantasy Literature of England

The Fantasy Literature of England, Colin Manlove. Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2020 (first published in 1999).

Summary: A study focusing on and surveying the fantasy literature of England, distinguishing it from that of other countries, identifying six types, and discussing a tremendous variety of writers.

For most of us, when we hear of English fantasy, we think of J.R.R. Tolkien, or C.S. Lewis, or Charles Williams. If we think further, we might include Lewis Carroll, A.A. Milne and George MacDonald (actually Scottish). Also, we tend not to think of English fantasy having a particular character. This book opens up our bibliography of English authors far beyond the few I’ve mentioned. And the author maintains that there is a particular character to English fantasy distinguishing it from other countries.

To begin, Manlove defines fantasy as “a fiction involving the supernatural or impossible,” fitting what he sees as an English preoccupation with the supernatural. Beyond this simple definition, Manlove identifies six types that define the structure of the book, one chapter on each. First of all, there is second world fantasy, the outstanding example of which is The Lord of the Rings. Metaphysical fantasy involves the presence of the supernatural. Charles Williams novels are a good example. The third type is emotive fantasy is characterized as works that evoke feelings from wonder to horror, from Kenneth Grahame to M.R. James (who wrote ghost stories). Comic fantasy involves “parody, satire, nonsense or play. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels is a recent example. The fifth follows, subversive fantasy, reflects the rise of postmodernism and the fixities of reason, morality, or reality. Peter Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor is an example of this type. Children’s fantasy is his last type. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll or Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia.

For each type, Manlove surveys the literature from its earliest examples to the most contemporary (in his case, the late 1990’s). He explores both themes under each type and offers brief descriptions of a number of the works. With many authors, there is overlap, and they will turn up in the discussion of several types. This can be dizzying at times, keeping track of the various authors and themes. I was unfamiliar with many of the works, which I think would help in following the discussion.

Manlove draws together the threads of these different types and summarizes the distinctives of English fantasy. His first conclusion is the sheer diversity of material, a fact not appreciated by many readers including this one. There is an expansiveness to this literature, an emphasis on the social circle (the fellowship of the ring), a general inclination away from ambiguity, the conquest of chaos by order, and an ultimately conservative character.

There are several things I wish the author would have done. Some subheadings in chapters might have made following the thread of his discussion easier amid the avalanche of authors discussed. While authors are listed in the text and index, a bibliography of authors, perhaps by the types would be very useful to readers. Finally, the book could no doubt use an updating, for Harry Potter alone!

Nevertheless, I came away with a number of new ideas for authors to explore. I appreciated the distinctions of type, and Manlove opened my eyes to the national character of fantasy literature. This is a good resource both for scholars and readers of fantasy literature wanting to go deeper in reading the literature of England.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: The Last Unicorn

the last unicorn

The Last Unicorn, Peter S. Beagle. New York: Roc, 1968.

Summary: A quest in which the last unicorn embarks on a quest to find her lost kin, eventually join by Schmendrick the Magician, and Molly Grue, a quest involving a confrontation with the Red Bull, and a grim king.

I was never much for unicorns, but then read a recommendation of this book. Peter Beagle takes us on a classic quest that introduced me to unicorn lore, and transformed a second-rate magician and a serving woman.

The unicorn has not heard of any of its kind for a long time, an absence that makes the joys of her forest inadequate. She embarks on a quest for her kin but is captured by Mommy Fortuna’s Midnight Carnival. Traveling with the Carnival was a second rate magician, who’d failed his training and could do little more than parlor tricks and sleight of hand, though he had learned all the spells, if he could but remember them. Schmendrick recognizes that the unicorn is no illusion and helps her get free, not by spells but by a little pick-pocketing of keys, and joins her quest.

In the next phase of the journey, they are fallen upon by would-be Robin Hoods, led by Captain Cully. The unicorn escapes, eventually Schmendrick gets free, in part by summoning the real Robin Hood, the first indication he is capable of real magic. He finds Molly Grue standing before the unicorn, both enrapt, and infuriated that it had taken this long for the unicorn to show up in her life. That’s Molly–unfiltered!

The questers learn that whatever happened to the unicorns has to do with the Red Bull, who lives at the base of King Haggard’s castle and periodically roams to round up any remaining unicorns. And so it comes for the last unicorn. The unicorn neither dies nor finds the others. There is yet more story involving a transformation into a woman, a journey through Hagstown, that sad village beneath the castle, a stay in the castle, and a love affair with a prince. But the bull awaits, and only the last unicorn in her true form has any chance of liberating the other unicorns.

The unicorn represents what is really real, and for those who truly see her, they become real as well. The magician discovers what it is to yield to the true magic rather than summon it with spells. Molly departs the would-be “merry men” for a real quest. The prince becomes a hero in his quest for the heart of Amalthea, the unicorn in human form.

But for all this there is the seemingly unconquerable Red Bull and the question of whatever became of the other unicorns. If you haven’t read the story, you will need to go on your own quest! One distinction of Beagle’s writing: you won’t be wandering for a thousand pages. This one finishes in under 300.

Review: The Poppy War

the poppy war

The Poppy WarR. F. Kuang. New York: Harper Collins, 2018.

Summary: First of a fantasy trilogy, focuses on an orphan woman, Rin, who escapes from her village by testing into a military academy, overcomes prejudice, only to discover disturbing powers that reveal her true identity, thrusting her into life-changing choices as war breaks out between Nikan and the Federation.

Rin is an orphan in a remote village of the country of Nikan, facing an undesirable marriage match. She determines to take and pass the test to win a place at Sinegard, the country’s military academy. She ends up achieving the highest place, only to find she is an outsider among the children of the country’s warlords and other elite families. Nezha, son of a warlord, despises her, even as she becomes his principal rival. Prevented from training in martial arts, she finds a mentor, Jiang, who trains her in older ways. In an annual match, she defeats Nezha, but awakens a fire within that only with the help of Jiang she comes to understand.

She becomes his only apprentice in Lore, learning to commune with the sixty four gods of their pantheon. She learns her “fire” is connected with the god of fire, the Phoenix, but Jiang discourages her from seeking the power, which he believes will destroy her. Her training ends when war breaks out anew between Nikan and the Federation. When the Federation is on the verge of taking Sinegard, and Nezha, who has become a friend, is severely wounded, Rin summons the fire, destroying her enemies and barely avoiding destroying everything.

When other surviving students of Sinegard are assigned to different divisions, Rin is assigned to a different group, the Cike, a group of crazy, powerful misfits, all able to summon the power of a different god, led by Altan, an incredible fighter Rin had admired and felt drawn to. Altan is, so it is thought, the one remaining Speerly, of a race obliterated in the Second Poppy War when betrayed into the hands of the Federation.

As she works with Altan, and is frustrated in her ability to summon her power, she comes more and more to face the question of whether to fully surrender to the god, which likely would lead to the destruction of her personality. As the war goes badly, descending into genocide and betrayals, Rin comes to understand her own identity, to the choice she must make, and the terrible consequences that could follow.

The fantasy world created by R.F. Kuang, a doctoral student in Modern Chinese studies creates a world similar to a Chinese, east Asian context, with threatening island nations and another power, Hesperia, that sounds like the U.S. It is also a world of shamans, of opium and psychedelic use, sometimes to attain transcendence, more often to feed and fail to satisfy addiction. There is brutality–rape, genocide, and gruesome deaths. Prospective readers will need to consider whether such content is appropriate for them.

Even with her petulance, we are drawn to the fierce resolve of Rin, her journey of self-discovery, and the choices she must make, a choice between the wisdom of Jiang, and the quest for power of Altan. As conditions worsen, we wonder whether Rin and her people will be able to stop the relentless Federation, perhaps aided by the apparent betrayals and flight of the Nikan Empress. The intensity of the book continues to grow from the rivalries of the academy to the desperation of the fight. It was one of those books you wanted to read whenever you had the chance.

The second book, The Dragon Republic will be out in the summer of 2019. I’ll be looking for it.


Review: The Eye of the World

the eye of the world

The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time #1), Robert Jordan. New York: TOR Books, 1990.

Summary: Following an attack of trollocs and a Myrdraal on Emonds Field, Rand and two friends, joined by several others, flee when they realize that they are the object of the attack, and somehow at the center of a web of destiny that may either thwart or aid the rise of the Dark Power.

Rand and his two friends Mat and Perrin, along with Egwene, the innkeeper’s daughter seem ordinary youth in a remote village, Emonds Field. Egwene is apprenticed to Nynaeve, the Wisdom (a kind of healer) of the village. The greatest excitement comes at Bel Tine, a feast at which Thom Merrilin, a gleeman or storyteller arrives. All this changes when it turns out that a strange, dark figure (Myrdraal) each of the boys sees leads a fist of trollocs to invade the village. Tam, Rand’s father is nearly killed and bequeaths his heron-mark blade sword to Rand. A regal woman, Moiraine heals Tam, and then helps the young men see that they were the object of the attack, and one or all are at the center of a web of destiny in a battle against good and evil. To save Emonds Field from further attack, they must flee and make their way to Tar Valon, where Moiraine is part of an order of Aes Sedai, women who have been trained to channel the One Power to resist the Dark Power as well as to “gentle” men who cannot wield the power without becoming insane.

This results in a desperate flight by the boys and Egwene, Thom, Moiraine, and her warder Lanb, pursued physically and even in dreams by the powers of evil. Nynaeve, concerned for her villagers, tracks them and joins the company. Mat is compromised and nearly lost when he steals a dagger from a hoard in an abandoned city. The party is separated, and except for Thom eventually make it to Caemlyn, where they are reunited. Thom, who was with Mat and Rand, sacrifices himself so they can escape, although there is a question of whether he really died. It is here that Moiraine understands the true threat of evil to the Eye of the World, a pool thus far untouched by evil, and Rand understands that he is at “the heart of it all” a ta’veren or a person around which the Wheel of Time weaves surrounding life threads, forming a Web of Destiny. The company, joined by Loial, an Ogier, pursue desperate ways through the Blight to confront evil, and for Rand, to confront his destiny.

Jordan’s work has been likened to The Lord of the Rings. Except in sheer length of the fourteen volume series, I do not think he surpasses him, and there are elements that are at least parallel to, if not derivative of, Tolkien–a remote people, ordinary figures caught up in a great conflict, a company, dark riders, a desperate flight and quest against the rising of a Dark Power who threatens the world.

That said, Jordan has also created a richly textured world with a history, a unique vision of time, and a seemingly different way of thinking about power that seems more eastern than western. Light and dark seem two sides of the same coin. It turns out that only women who have been trained can wield the One Power as a force of Light. Men are turned insane by it or to instruments of the Dark Power, something that will become an issue for Rand. Time symbolized by the Wheel with an intertwined snake swallowing its own tail brings past, present and future together and weaves a fate for individuals. Instead of “God works in mysterious ways” it is “The wheel weaves as the wheel wills,” which is repeated near to the point of becoming tedious. As in real life, forces of good often are at cross purposes–different orders of Aes Sedai, the Children of Light, and the various kingdoms, all at some point becoming threats to the quest as much as the Dark Power.

Jordan creates strong female characters. Aes Sedai Moraine leads the party and wields great power. Nynaeve the Wisdom and even Egwene have their own power, Moiraine seeing them as Aes Sedai in training. Caemlyn is ruled by a strong queen, Morgase, to be succeeded one day by her daughter Elayne. I can’t think of an evil female character in this volume. Not so with the men, such as Padan Fain, the evil peddler and Dark Friend. Yet there are both strong and delightful male characters from some of the innkeepers to Thom, the gleeman, who lays down his life and most of all Lan, the warder, descended from kings (one thinks often of Aragorn).

So the question is, will I go on? I can say that I will not be binge-reading the series. Yet the writing held my attention, and I find myself caring about what will happen to Rand and the others. I wonder if the Dark Power will be defeated and I’m curious why it takes fourteen books. It is clear that Jordan’s plots take many twists and turns, only some of which resolved in this book. I wonder how patient I would be with this over such an extended series.

Some friends have told me that the middle books do seem to get bogged down at times. I’d be curious what others think. Was it a slog, or did you not want it to end? Did you read straight through or read another volume periodically? Did you finish the series or give up? As you can tell, I haven’t made up my mind. This was a great summer read. Maybe that’s what I’ll do, except that this would take until 2031. Wheel of Time fans, I need some encouragement here…