Oh, hey! Fancy meeting you here.
So it turns out that Tor is re-releasing the Wheel of Time series as eBooks, avec brand-new and (thus far) smashingly brilliant cover art, and since they’re under this crazy impression that I may have some tiny amount of experience talking about the Wheel of Time, they asked me to introduce one.
And I said, “Bring it”, and lo, it hath been broughten, as I am here today to tell you all about the fifth book in the series, The Fires of Heaven, now available to you in shiny 21st century eBook formation. Sweet!
And if you’ll click the link, I’ll tell you why this is a good thing. Be warned that there are major spoilers for the book underneath, so if you haven’t read it, now would be a good time to buy it, read it, and then come back and be dazzled by my verbosity. Or, you know, whatever.
So, without further ado, the Fifth, I give you.
The Fires of Heaven is not my favorite Wheel of Time book—that would be A Crown of Swords—nor is it what I feel is the best-written (so far) Wheel of Time book—that would be The Shadow Rising. (The intro for which was snagged by that punk Jason Denzel, like he knows anything about the Wheel of Time, hmph.)
But all that is of course a purely subjective evaluation, which does nothing to take away the fact that The Fires of Heaven (henceforth abbreviated “TFOH”) is an all-around fabulous book that was in every way a worthy successor to the total awesomeness that was The Shadow Rising, and which I enjoyed immensely, both on first reading and on every subsequent re-read.
TFOH was in a lot of ways a sea-change for the series, for a number of reasons. For one, it was the first installment in which one of the three main protagonists—Perrin—did not appear. Concurrently, it was where a number of other, formerly more secondary characters stepped up and became major forces in the narrative; some for the Light, like Siuan Sanche, Gareth Bryne, and Birgitte, but more significant was the emergence of the villains into the limelight—by which I mean the Forsaken.
Though the Forsaken were of course always there in the first four books, other than Ishamael and Lanfear they had largely remained shadowy background figures, whose influence on events had mostly only been presented to us at a remove. TFOH is the first book where we really begin to see them acting directly (well, as directly as a bunch of devious scheming evil people can, anyway) to affect the course of the story, and it distinctly altered the way the story flowed as a whole.
In general what we see in TFOH, therefore, is a broadening and a deepening of WOT, in all aspects: in the worldbuilding, in the characters, in the plotting (literally and figuratively, heh), and just in the sheer scope of the story. Political intrigue, massive battle scenes, and moments of shocking revelation abound. Not that WOT didn’t have these things before, but TFOH had More Bigger ones, and was chock full of Moments of Awesome to boot.
Mat being outed as a military genius to Lan and Rand, for instance, is one of my favorite scenes in the entire series, and that’s not even mentioning the Battle of Cairhien itself which follows. And then there’s Nynaeve, who became one of my favorite characters as a result of this book, because firstly she is HILARIOUS, and secondly has yet another Moment of Awesome vis à vis Moghedien—and then Rahvin a chapter later! And lest we forget, TFOH is also the first book in the series in which there is finally some resolution on—well, I’m just gonna say “The Far Snows”, and leave it at that. (FINALLY)
TFOH also, in my estimation, is where the Wheel of Time really took on what is now one of its most defining characteristics as a series—which is, of course, its status as one of sf fandom’s richest sources of Looney-Theory-Spawning Mysteries. Exemplified, naturally, by the murder of Asmodean—which WOT fans are still fighting about, seventeen years later.
I mean, seriously; in a very real way (and here’s some ancient Internet history for you), TFOH was the reason the Robert Jordan newsgroup was created to split off from the original rec.arts.sf.written group on Usenet, because so many people would not shut up about TFOH after its release that it eventually warranted the creation of an entirely separate forum. Which may seem like an obvious and non-controversial move now, but at the time the idea of having a whole newsgroup dedicated solely to one series/author was Not Done, and thus A Big Deal. Ah, the olden days.
And of course, no discussion of TFOH is complete without mentioning how it contains one of the most shocking plot developments in the whole series: namely, the death of Moiraine.
I should say, the “death” of Moiraine, because as we all know, she is far too awesome a
Gandalf character to stay dead. But even though none of the fandom doubts that Moiraine will be back, her blaze-of-glory exit was nonetheless jaw-dropping, in more ways than one, and done in a way that was a perfect tribute to her character. In short, A Crowning Moment of Awesome if there ever was one.
It is fitting, therefore, that she is the character chosen to grace the cover of the eBook version of The Fires of Heaven. “Grace” being the operative word, thanks to the talented brush of artist Dan Dos Santos, whose depiction of Moiraine grows on me more and more every time I look at it, capturing as it does the strength, regal bearing, and essential aura of mystery that made her such a wonderful character. (Plus, I LOVE that blue.) Perfect choice, if you ask me.
I’m also very tickled that I get to intro the first eBook with a female character on the cover, which strikes me as very fitting, all things considered. Here’s hoping this isn’t the last one.
So, in conclusion, yay.
And that’s all I gots to say about that, campers! Go ye forth, therefore, and download ye an eBook of awesomeness, if that be your wont. And if it ain’t your wont, why did you read down this far, eh? Scoot!
Leigh Butler is a writer and blogger for Tor.com, which isn’t even close to the weirdest job she’s ever had, where she pontificates mightily upon the Re-read of the Wheel of Time series, currently on Book Seven, A Crown of Swords. She lives in New York City, but nevertheless invites you to laissez le bon temps roulez, y'all.