Robert Jordan’s Warrior of the Altaii: Non-Spoiler Review

Once upon a time, dear Tor.com, there was a giant massive behemoth of a fantasy book series, which some of you may possibly have heard of, called The Wheel of Time. Like many giant massive behemoth-type things, The Wheel of Time took a village to finish, but only two people to begin: its author, Robert Jordan, and its editor/muse/general enabler, Harriet McDougal.

Warrior of the Altaii is a key element in how that happened.

It’s also the book I just finished reading an advance copy of, and am now about to tell you, in non-spoilery fashion, what I thought of it. So if that is the kind of thing that intrigues you… well, c’mon, you know that intrigues you. Click on, me beauties, click on!

So, what is Warrior of the Altaii, you ask? Well, Harriet’s deeply personal introduction tells it better than me, obviously, but the gist of it, in case you didn’t know, is that Warrior of the Altaii was a novel Robert Jordan (at the time known best by his real name, James Oliver Rigney, Jr.) wrote around 1977 but was never published in his lifetime, even though it was sold multiple times over the years.

This is the kind of thing which automatically inclines a lot of people to wrinkle their noses and assume that the reason the book never appeared in print is that it just wasn’t any good, but in fact there are all kinds of reasons books don’t get published, and only one of them is “the book sucked.” And that is not the reason this one didn’t get published, by the way. Taken on its own, WotA is an entertaining time capsule of a story that is very much a product of the era it was written in, but also takes interesting steps away from that familiar product.

The 1970s and early 1980s, if you recall, were a huge time for sword and sorcery stories in the style of Conan the Barbarian, and this… is that, in a nutshell. I confess that in general, this is not really my thing. However, if you are a fan of Conan-style stories, this feels like an excellent example of the genre, and it deviates from the tropes in ways that are particularly intriguing for WOT fans—but I’ll get back to that.

It’s well-written: the prose does not quite have the lush polish to it that Jordan would acquire later on, but it has a lyrical rhythm that suits the first person narrative well, and his gift for vivid imagery is already evident. The world-building is a bit underdefined; but then, that too is a familiar component of stories like these…and almost anything feels underdefined when compared to the Wheel of Time.

It’s not perfect, and there are definitely some bits I had issues with which I will be discussing in more detail later, but the pace is fast, the grit is gratifyingly gritty, the battles are gratifyingly battle-y, and the plot is almost shockingly compact for those of us familiar with his later work. I was honestly startled when I realized the novel is only ~350 pages long, but it is, and makes for a quick and satisfying read.

So okay, you say, it’s good if you like a throwback, but why is it worth reading now? Why publish it now when it was never published before?

This is an excellent question that I can’t fully answer yet in this non-spoiler review, but what I can say is: this novel is good if you like a good sword and sorcery yarn, but it is fascinating if you’re a Wheel of Time fan. And I think that it’s the dimensions this novel adds to Robert Jordan’s main work that make it make sense to have published Warrior of the Altaii now, after The Wheel of Time has been finished, as opposed to before. This is what we’ll mostly be discussing in my very spoilery post on the novel next week, but for now, let’s just say if you like to consider yourself a completist WOT fan this should be on your to-read list.

And with that, I leave you hanging! At least until next week, when I will be spoilering the heckfire outta this thang and discussing WOT parallels and problematic bits and all kinds of fun stuff, like I like to do. I hope you will join me!

Warrior of the Altaii is available from Tor Books.

Leigh Butler is a writer, blogger and critic, who feels that humor, weirding of language, and the occasional application of head to desk is the best way to examine the impact of sociocultural issues on popular SF works (and vice versa). She has been a regular columnist for Tor.com since 2009, with multiple series to her name: The Wheel of Time Reread, A Read of Ice and Fire, the Movie Rewatch of Great Nostalgia, and now the Reread of the Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons. Leigh lives in New Orleans, and therefore advises alla y’all to let your good times roll.

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