(Yes, this post contains spoilers. If you haven’t read Winter’s Heart yet, you’re warned. And what are you waiting for?)
Like many Wheel of Time fans, I can’t choose just one favorite book. The scenes and quotes that resonate for me are scattered so well, if I had to write about my favorites, I’d be hopelessly indecisive. Fortunately, when Jason Denzel and Matt Hatch suggested I write a blog post for an upcoming ebook release, time had already narrowed the choices down so much that there was no choice. If I could pick one of the remaining books, it had to be Winter’s Heart. Everyone has a book in the series that holds a certain special place for them: the last volume you didn’t have to wait for. Winter’s Heart is mine.
And how lucky—in some ways—were we who started reading at this point! Yes, we missed out on years of anticipation, discussion, theorizing, roleplaying, and tours… but we missed out on years of waiting, and got to read nonstop from the road outside Emond’s Field to the cleansing of saidin! We didn’t have long to wonder if Mat would ever manage to tie Tylin up for a change, or blink when he found the Daughter of the Nine Moons!
Let’s talk about a few other outstanding moments from this book. Many of them are triumphs of character and friendship over moments that could break courage and break people apart. Like Elayne and Aviendha becoming first-sisters. I don’t always connect very well with either of them, but the brutal honesty as they trade revelations of what they dislike about each other is surprising, refreshing, and funny all at once. In our age of casual acquaintances, it’s too easy to forget that friendship is weak as a house of cards unless we’re able to accept the infuriating along with the good. What sets Elayne, Aviendha, Nynaeve, Mat, Rand and Lan apart from Moridin, Cyndane, Demandred and Moghedien? Who is more prone to hold grudges and casually cast people aside?
The girls are also told, “Your body is only clothing. Your flesh will wither, but you are your heart and mind, and they do not change except to grow stronger.” They’re getting some self-image advice here, but stories of mind prevailing over matter are everywhere in WoT. Mat doesn’t sit around endlessly complaining while his leg heals, or fixate on how the injury limits him—if he did, the gholam would make a slurpee out of him. When Elayne, Aviendha, and Min bond Rand, they’re shocked to feel his constant pain, which he faces so well, they’d never have known about it without the bond. In other words, age, accidents, disease, and war will diminish us all, but only we decide how far they will hold us back.
Before long, Nynaeve has something of a different nature holding her—up, in the air, while she squirms and whimpers. As much as she desperately needs to be taken down a few pegs, I find myself upset when it comes at the hands of the Windfinders. I realize this judgmental, domineering bundle of fury from the Two Rivers has oddly endeared herself to me. I can accept her infuriating side because she is much more than the caricature Mat and many fans make of her. Just listen to Lan and Rand by the fireplace in Chapter 32. They know Nynaeve’s worth. Who else is brave enough to stand between Rand and Cadsuane?
These fresh defining moments come with the characters as many of them converge on Far Madding with different agendas to prepare for the climax of the book. Agents of Taim, Demandred, and Moridin are here to kill Rand. Moridin also wants Rand’s stuff. Fain is hunting Rand, and everyone else who’s hunting Rand. Slayer’s hit list includes both Rand and Fain. Meanwhile, Rand, Cadsuane, Nynaeve, the Sea Folk, and Rand’s Asha’man are all starting to work together... except for a moment where Verin comes close to poisoning Cadsuane! It’s enough to make a Wheel of Time fan’s head spin.
But the best part of Far Madding is Rand and Lan on the roof. Lan is edgy around Rand. And Rand knows it. He is aware of the threat of madness, after all. But Lan is still willing to walk into a trap with him. And then Lan falls off the roof, and almost takes Rand with him. Rand is all that’s keeping him from a rough landing and a stay in a cold cell. Maybe execution, if the women can’t get him out.
What was that about holding grudges and casually casting people aside? Because there’s none of that here.
“When the sun turns green.”
Even when their reward is a stay in a cold cell, and it’s especially traumatic for Rand.
And then we come to the cleansing. What else could fill the cover so well? Though there’s way too much in the scene to capture in this small space, Scott Fischer has done a great job of presenting Rand focused with the statue and saidin, and the bubble growing in Shadar Logoth. If it has to be a tight focus, let it be on Rand alone. Because even though he’s working with friends, on some levels he still feels and walks alone. He can admit he needs help sometimes, but do you think he trusts Cadsuane enough to link with her? And though he trusts Nynaeve enough to use the female access key, and the loves of his life enough to hold his bond, he will not let anyone know Lews Therin is in his head. There is cooperation here, but not a unity strong enough to face Tarmon Gai’don.
Still, this is progress. The Forsaken knew Rand wanted to try purging the taint, and they were both skeptical and horrified that he might pull it off. In Lord of Chaos—as Richard Fife pointed out earlier—the Shadow won. After some Light victories in A Crown of Swords, The Path of Daggers felt like a grim draw. Winter’s Heart is a rally for the Light. Rand’s experiment with a book-ending strategy that’s not “charge in and kill some Forsaken” is a smashing success. With help from his friends, he has swept away the taint, which seemed like a permanent advantage for Shai’tan’s Chosen, and even used it to clean out Shadar Logoth. And all the Forsaken’s efforts to stop them are mere bickering and fumbling, because they won’t share and collaborate. The world yet has hope.
What stands out from Winter’s Heart for you? What are your favorite triumphant moments of friendship, courage, and unity from the rest of the series? How do you think the characters have grown since The Eye of the World?
Steve Godecke co-founded Portalstones.com, a roleplay-focused Wheel of Time fan site, and is also the recorder of JordanCon.