Another entry in the series that focuses more on being a biography than a story, Winter’s Heart is still very good (and leaves at least some of the politics behind).
For fans of Mat, it is a very good time; completely absent from The Path of Daggers, his plot returns to the series with a vengeance. It is in this book that the fulfillment of a prophecy begins to take shape, as we (and Mat) meet the Daughter of the Nine Moons. As much as I am not a fan of the character of Mat, this whole story line (a line that spans several books) is a much less political but far more interesting application of the Game of Houses than the usual political ideas. Watching the Daughter of the Nine Moons and Mat jockey for superiority in the weirdest relationship in the book is wildly entertaining, and as I’ve been saying, my enjoyment of Mat’s story has been constantly (if slowly) increasing book-by-book.
That being said, the coverage of Mat and his hilarious interactions with royalty does not fully cover the politics that are at the heart of this series completely. Elayne is working hard to gain the Lion Throne of Andor, and this is a purely political story with a minimum of fantasy injected that lasts for the next several books. As I’ve said before, I reference the wiki to make sure I am not cleaving books together when writing these, and the entire story of Elayne is summarized in one line–but takes up 24.31% of the book’s 780 pages (someone counted, exactly). I get that Robert Jordan really loves politics (and the character growth of those involved), but the thick politics is why people continue to quit the series even as late as nine books in.
Rand’s story in this book is incredible. A character that we have followed and watched grow for the last 8 books continues to make huge leaps and bounds as far as growth and change. It is not all forward momentum, but it all makes sense as far as being in line with who he is. The most interesting part is watching him learn to lead–in the earlier entries, Rand was clearly a farm boy elevated to leader, and led as though he were a farm boy. At this point, Rand is a leader who thinks about the big picture–a skewed version of the big picture, to be sure. A person could see either the point of making sure the world survives Tarmon Gai’don, or another version from the point of getting everything he thinks he needs. Robert Jordan did an amazing job of showing how his decisions impact the peoples that don’t fall within his idea of what Tarmon Gai’don will be, and that is probably where the series glows most brightly.
I am not sure I’ve mentioned it, but Robert Jordan has to be one of the most well rounded writers I have ever read. Many authors will mention something about horses here or there, maybe mention the way a certain piece of wood smells when burned, but mostly in passing. For better or for worse, Robert Jordan expands the details on everything, and in an age before the Internet was huge (the series began in 1990) it is amazing the breadth of knowledge he displays. It doesn’t always make the books better, and there are times I would call it almost masturbatory (there is a scene where Mat is buying a horse that was altogether more detailed than I needed to read). Did he believe it made his books deeper, more real? Or did he want to show off? I’d actually like to believe the former, but it’s tough since I can’t exactly just go and ask him (does anyone know a good medium?).
The climax of this book is actually a full book long. That will make sense after you read it, if you read it–the next book, Crossroads of Twilight takes place simultaneously with the final chapter of this book. I won’t lie, it is amazing how Robert Jordan pulled that off, and it is one of my favorite moves in the whole series.
Overall, this is probably my favorite book to this point. A lot of major, world changing events happen–you will never be left wanting for action, or for the plot to move along… That is, outside of Elayne’s chapters (DAMMIT, ELAYNE! Just kill them all and take the throne so we can be done with it!). I am impressed, though–the world changes in Winter’s Heart incredibly, but you never feel as though the world is unfamiliar. That just shows good character growth for… the planet? I guess?
Rand's Storyline - 10/10
Mat's Storyline - 10/10
Perrin's Storyline - 8/10
Elayne's Storyline - 6/10
History - 10/10
Overarching Plot - 10/10
Other Characters - 9/10
More happens per chapter in Winter’s Heart than in huge swathes of Lord of Chaos and A Crown of Swords. While not free from politics, they are slowly being phased out in preparation for Tarmon Gai’don, and as the pressure increases on each character you see the human limits that Robert Jordan writes so well.