Spoiler free review from Jason at Dragonmount
Standard Disclaimer: This "spoiler-free" review will not give away specific plot elements, but it will likely hint at a few things. Also, by the very nature of the fact that I'm going to talk about the book, I can't exactly hide some things which some die hard fans consider spoilers. (You know who you are). By reading this, you're going to find out who's in the books. But overall, I'm not going to ruin anything.
Well once again, here we are, waiting for the new Robert Jordan book to come out. I think it would be an understatement to say that anticipation amongst fans for Knife of Dreams is really high, and a lot of people are still grumbling after Crossroads of Twilight. Before I get into Knife of Dreams, though, I should remind you that a lot of you didn't agree with my review of Crossroads. I said CoT wasn't all that bad, and if you look at the big picture, it's actually enjoyable. Some of you thought I was nuts, but many of you seemed to agree with me on my other New Spring review. So maybe we're not all that far apart.
Anyway, I don't think it will matter this time. You're going to love this book as much as I did.
Time is running out
No doubt about it: The Dark One is breaking free. Oh, he isn't free yet of course. But he's getting there. Remember all those weevils in CoT? Remember those "scary" but harmless ghosts? They're all back, but the weevils aren't so rare, and the ghosts aren't so harmless. Even the infamous wind from the opening of chapter one is (as many of you already know), touched with ash and not just a gentle breeze. Practically every chapter gives us signs that something isn't right in the world anymore. The stakes are higher, time is running out, and the heroes -- as well as Jordan -- know it. The result: stuff happens. Better yet: stuff finishes.
I was surprised when the first plot thread was completed. I thought to myself, "Will I ever read about this person again? Could it actually be possible that I've read their entire story now?" I stopped thinking that to myself by the time Jordan wrapped up his 4th or 5th plot line. Then more story lines got wrapped up, at least to the extent where I don't need to hear about a certain character again without feeling cheated. All of the major plot lines advance. Some are completed. (Have fun with that statement on the message boards). Lots of smaller plot lines are resolved or brought near conclusion. I haven't done a full count, but a few days after the book's released I'm sure every website will have a tally going.
One particuarly refreshing thing I noticed in this novel, more so than the other most recent novels in the series, was how Jordan introduces new elements: people / items / places / stories, whatever, and then resolves them completely in the same book. Also, remember all those chapters in previous books that you read where you wondered who this person was and why were you reading about him or her? Knife of Dreams answers a lot of those. Sometimes in very big or surprising ways. More than one tiny character suddenly bumps into a much bigger character and, well, things happen.
Even when the pacing slowed down, RJ suddenly hits us with some interesting tidbit. Little snacks for the long ride, with the promise of a big dinner coming up.
So, stuff happens. But is it any good?
In the words of Grandpa from The Princess Bride: "Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love...!" It's all there. All of it, and more. And not just at the end of the novel. The middle of the book is packed with stuff. I can honestly say, without hyperbole, that this novel is the most focused, most action-packed book in the latter half of the series. This book contains more death and dying than any other WoT novel. Talk about a body count! Not to mention a lot of answers to questions we've been asking for a while.
(That little chill that may have just run down your spine, or the excited giggle that you let escape, was how I felt several times when RJ delivered some long over-due answers or shared a particuarly good action sequence.)
But despite all the Deathgates, zomaran, and bolt cranks, the best parts of this book center on the main characters finally reaching what is probably (or will be) the pinnacle of their destinies. To Emma, the webmaster of the official Nynaeve fan club: your heroine might have played out her biggest plot point by helping to cleanse saidin, but she stole the show in this book with one particular chapter about half-way through. All of you will know which chapter it is. After that powerful, emotional chapter, I had to put the book down for a while. Sign me up for Emma's club.
All good stories are filled with iconic moments. They're those moments that are so good that they stick with you and are often all you remember years later when the details of the books fade. Moments like Rand taking Callandor, Mat hanging from the Tree of Life, Dumai's Wells, and Elayne putting on her 5th robe in as many pages. (Okay, kidding about that last one. You get the picture). Knife of Dreams has several of those iconic moments. The above mentioned Nynaeve moment, a certain vision coming true, a critical change in Rand, and yes, even Egwene's special tea. (That's not a joke). All of them are iconic moments in my mind. Not too big, however. You can tell that even now Robert Jordan is holding onto his best cards for the final novel. The biggest battles and encounters are yet to come. The end of the novel is not as abrupt as CoT, but it was just enough to whet my appetite for the last book.
Boiling it down
Knife of Dreams is a strong, strong addition to the series. It is not, however, all action and secrets revealed. Like the rest of the novels, the narrative is long and conservatively paced. It wouldn't be Robert Jordan if we didn't get every detail of armor, every insight into the situation, and yes, a description of every dress in the room. It's his style and you probably would not have made it this far if you didn't enjoy it on some level by now. Also, although I understand that the sub-plots need to happen, but I confess I wish there was more of Rand in particular. Don't get me wrong: he's in this book (way more than he was in CoT), he does a lot of stuff, gets in trouble doing it of course, and all the things that Rand normally does. But oh how I wish we had just a little more time with him. Fortunately, Jordan cleared up enough plots in this novel that I'm guessing we're going to see an abundance for al'Thor in the final novel. I mean, we've got to, right?
As every chapter reminds us, the Last Battle is coming. Plots are burned away, minor characters fade, and long kept secrets are revealed. All eyes are turning towards the same direction, and the question is being asked: Who rides for Tarmon Gai'don? After reading Knife of Dreams, easily the most enjoyable overall book in the series in years, I am absolutely certain that I'll ride with Robert Jordan into the final Wheel of Time novel.