[Fantasy Review] Men at Arms, Wheel of Time 4 & 5- 12 minute read
This post is a continuation of a read I started in 2019 where I decided to make my way through a bunch of the major fantasy epics that started in the 1990’s. Included are reviews for Books 4 and 5 of The Wheel of Time as well as Men at Arms, the 15th in the Discworld series. Spoilers are marked.
1. Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett (1992)
No spoilers for this first section.
The first Discworld book I read was Guards! Guards!, so I was pretty excited to finally return to these characters. Moreover, I feel like Pratchett was still feeling out what exactly he wanted Discworld to be back when he wrote Guards! Guards!, which was the 6th entry to the series. Now with Men at Arms, the 15th entry, I feel that Pratchett has a found a fine footing with the series and his characters.
Pratchett manages to tackle integration, class, politics, and gun control in an effortlessly hilarious and engaging way throughout Men at Arms. The premise of the book is that there’s a new reform to bring greater representation of diversity among the City Watch, so they bring on a troll, a dwarf, and a lady werewolf. It’s established that everyone in the city is speceist in some way, and especially trolls vs dwarves, so we get a lot of thought-provoking situations from this. Another premise is that Captain Vimes is stepping down in order to marry the richest woman in the city, Lady Sybil, which offers some bits about rags to riches and humility. There’s also a whirlwind of a whodunnit plot involving assassins, a Hitler dog, and even clowns at one point.
I liked Guards! Guards! enough to commit to reading as many Discworld novels as possible, and I was thoroughly pleased with the continuation of the City Watch plot line from Guards! Guards! I really look forward to Discworld between all the other fantasy I’m reading. They go by quickly as Pratchett hits you with a whirlwind of jokes and dialogue and clever witticisms, it’s very much the book form of those 1940s screwball comedies like His Girl Friday.
Overall I can’t recommend the City Watch novels enough.
Here are some more specific things I enjoyed from this novel:
Spoiler warning from here on!
Pratchett essentially uses this entry to the City Watch to make it clear that he wants to set the stage for these different shades of “hero” in Carrot and Vimes. Carrot is the Superman of the group, whereas Vimes gets the edge. I think he achieves this exploration really well in this novel with these characters, with multiple compelling scenes that test one or both of Carrot and Vimes. That brings me to my next point to, which is:
Pratchett establishing the “Good Is Not Soft” trope
“If you have to look along the shaft of an arrow from the wrong end, if a man has you entirely at his mercy, then hope like hell that man is an evil man. Because the evil like power, power over people, and they want to see you in fear. They want you to know you’re going to die. So they’ll talk. They’ll gloat. They’ll watch you squirm. They’ll put off the moment of murder like another man will put off a good cigar. So hope like hell your captor is an evil man. A good man will kill you with hardly a word.”
Pratchett takes care to paint in some nuance for the type of hero that he wants Carrot to be with bits like the above paragraph. It’s that certain depth that brings a character to life and glues you to the pages.
Detritus and Cuddy
One of the best parts of the novel for me. Their relationship alone makes this worth reading.
I enjoyed this character, but I didn’t think Pratchett explored the dynamics surrounding her as much as he could have. I don’t think we get her point of view until much later, at which point I think her character comes to life. But that’s alright, as the characterization that does unfold is pretty fantastic and has me excited for the next City Watch books. Oh and I of course also loved all the bits around Carrot x Angua.
How rad is this character? There are multiple scenes that contribute to his greatness, to name a couple:
- We find out Vimes has been spending half of his meager wages providing for the widows and children of dead Watchmen.
- Vimes is able to put the gonne down.
2. Book Four of The Wheel of Time: The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan (1992)
Rand and company just sort of mill about at the Stone of Tear for the first third of the book before the crew finally splits out into the world. Rand, Mat, Egwene, and Moraine take a portal out to a new place called Rhuidean, in the Aiel Waste. Neat! Book 3 had a fun introduction to these folk, and so it’s nice to get some more of their story. Rand quite literally gets their back story when he passes through some magical glass columns and we get the Visions of Rhuidean sequence:
Visions of Rhuidean
The purpose of the magical glass columns in Rhuidean seems to be to let an Aiel experience the lives of their ancestors. Overall this is another solid piece from Robert Jordan. The backstory of the Aiel is revealed in such an interesting and engaging way, I really enjoyed this. The glimpse into the futuristic high tech society of the past was unexpected and awesome.
A popular opinion for this series seems to be that it’s packed with an almost unnecessary amount of detail. While I generally agree with that sentiment, every once in awhile Jordan will throw these amazing bits of writing at you that make a lot of that detail worth it.
Mat Power-ups - Thought and Memory
Mat wanders into a random door and meets some unexplained magical folk, who bestow him with some sweet power-ups. Including:
- A magical anti-magic amulet
- Memories of a bunch of war generals
- A neat sword spear called an Ashandarei
- The ability to speak the “Old Tongue”
I’m not sure how I feel about these, they feel a little unearned. But I suppose the plot point falls in line with Mat’s luck, and at least Mat will likely end up utilizing them all in a cool way.
Tanchico, Tarabon - The Black Ajah - Nynaeve, Badass
We get to see another new spot when Nynaeve, Elayne and Thom go searching for Black Ajah and magical artifacts out in a port city called Tanchico. It was nice to see another new area of the world, but the most exciting bit of this plot line was Nynaeve’s fight against Moghedien and her realizing that her power level matched that of a Forsaken. I also love that Nynaeve wins this fight by just hitting Moghedien with the sa’angreal.
The Two Rivers
Perrin heads back home, accompanied by Faile, Loial, and a few Aiel, and together they end up repelling a massive Trolloc army siege. The whole arc is suspenseful and the stakes established are high as Perrin arrives to news of the death of his parents. This arc also includes a bunch of badass moments for each of the characters involved. Loial destroys a portal gate and outruns the Trolloc army with an injured ally on his back. Faile is able to recruit some help and saves the day a la Gandalf at Helm’s Deep. And of course Perrin demonstrates his fortitude by leading the defense and then tells off some Whitecloaks that try to arrest him after the fact. Hell yeah.
The Amyrlin Seat
Some infighting goes on in the Aes Sedai world when a Red Ajah named Elaida takes over the “Amerlyin seat” by overthrowing the current leader, Siuan. I’ve got to be honest, this White Tower conflict doesn’t pique my interest too much. I respect that it adds another layer of intrigue to the world, but personally I’m more invested in the characters that I’ve already spent the last few books with. Although, Elaida stilling Siuan was pretty metal and offered a good glimpse into that process.
Asmodean and the Choedan Kal
I have to admit that I lost track of all the Forsaken awhile back. There are a lot of them and they seem to just sort of pop in and out of events and are generally there to give the crew a hard time. Rand gets another cool fight with a Forsaken named Asmodean, but after three books culminating with a Forsaken fight scene, I was growing tired with them. Rand does something a little different with this one though and manages to capture him! This sets up the possibility that Asmodean can mentor Rand. Clever!
The two are also fighting over control of keys to super powerful ancient sa’angreal items, the Choedan Kal, which have some pretty awesome imagery (pictured right).
I really enjoyed this entry to the series. I wrote in my opinion of Book 3 that I’m officially along for the ride and Book 4 makes me glad that I stuck it out as a lot happened in this book! Well, a lot happens, and a good portion of them were a little unmemorable, but at least our main cast got some really cool bits. Onto Book 5, The Fires of Heaven!
3. Book Five of The Wheel of Time: The Fires of Heaven by Robert Jordan (1993)
The first stop after leaving the Aiel Waste is Cairhien, which is under siege from an army of bad Aiel that are known as the Shaido. It’s here that we see a good first glimpse into Mat’s new powers, when Mat comes up with a grand strategy for the battle pretty effortlessly, presumably with all his newfound War General knowledge.
Mat then tries to create distance between himself and the rest of the crew, but is quickly brought back into the fray by the Ta’veren effect. He even gains his own personal unit to lead gets a major kill in when he takes out the leader of the bad Aiel! This is all pretty awesome, made even better by the name his little crew gives themselves, The Band of the Red Hand.
Rand learns a fast travel trick from Aviendha, this time it’s called Traveling. So we had Portal Stones in the early books, then we were introduced to Skimming in the last book, and now we have the quickest and most efficient method in Traveling. The scene that introduces Traveling was also fun as Aviendha and Rand accidentally Travel out to a winter scape and Rand gains yet another girlfriend (I’ve lost count of these).
This was a powerful event! Moraine goes out in a badass way, and it seems like it’s the right point in the story to lose one of her importance. It forces the rest of the crew to step up their game. And I appreciated that Jordan was able to properly convey the weight of the loss.
After Moraine’s death, Rand and company dip out to yet another new spot, Caemlyn, where Mat, Aviendha, and Asmodean promptly get killed off also! This makes Rand very angry, and he sets off for revenge.
Nynaeve vs. Moghedien
The heroines all get themselves into a variety of adventures and situations, the particulars of which are generally difficult to recall. I remember some intrigue between different groups of Aes Sedai, a traveling circus, a semi-interesting bit about a Seanchan lady, Elayne bonds an archer from that Heroes of the Horn group, and some stuff about Elayne’s bro Galad.
Meh, I think my favorite out of this crew is Nynaeve. She’s funny, compelling, and her class is fun (Berserker Healer). Nynaeve gets in another round versus Moghedien in this book, and this time Nynaeve even captures Moghedien! Towards the end of the book Nynaeve also distracts another Forsaken, allowing Rand to kill him with balefire. This was the Forsaken that killed all of Rand’s friends earlier on, so killing him with balefire brings them all back. Exciting!
I wasn’t sure about this one. First of all, Perrin seems to have went on honeymoon since he and Faile were totally absent from this entry. Other than that, it does feels like a lot happened: Rand gets some new powers, Mat gets another power-up, the good guys lose a big gun, the bad guys lose a couple bad guys, and a bunch of other game pieces in the world get shuffled around a bit. But it’s hard to know the real ramifications of all these events. I’m a little bored yet still compelled to stay in this world and continue on. I suppose this is the nature of epic fantasy.
23 Years of Fantasy, Part III
The next part of this read will feature the year 1994, which includes another Wheel of Time novel and another Discworld novel in the Death series!