Tuesday, 2 March 2004

New Spring

Robert Jordan
Orbit/Times Warner
ISBN: 0-84149-260-4

Just to get it out of the way right at the beginning - this is not the next book in the 'Wheel Of Time' series but a prequel to the events of 'The Eye Of The World', the first book. Apologies to all of the die-hard Jordan fans out there, but you'll just have to wait.

In the meantime, 'New Spring' should be enough to keep you thirsting for more... The novel covers the elevation of the young initiate, Moraine, and her friend, Siuan, to the rank of full Aes Sedai at the time of the Aiel invasion. As the foreign hordes begin to retreat, giving no reason for either their assault or their withdrawal, a foretelling by a senior Aes Sedai warns of the birth of the Dragon Reborn.

Finding the long-prophesied saviour of the world is immediately of the highest priority to the Aes Sedai and as the newest of the ageless sorceresses Moraine and Siuan are assigned to take the names and birthplaces of all those babes born in the area during the conflict as a cover for that search.

When Moraine becomes embroiled in plots concerning the thrones of two kingdoms - one lost to the wasteland and the other ravaged by the Aiel - she is forced into contact with Al'Lan Mandragoran and their initially rocky relationship soon becomes a bond of respect and friendship as they race to unravel the knot of schemes tightening about them and discover the darkness that lurks in the White Tower of the Aes Sedai.
There is no doubt that Robert Jordan is one of the finest creators of fantasy settings since Tolkien and 'New Spring' can only add to that reputation. Jordan's world is a vibrant, intricate masterpiece teeming with novel ideas and concepts that soar merrily past the typical fantasy pitfalls.

Above all, the world is alive with the complexities which make life such an interesting thing: a thousand subtle factors interacting in a way which mirrors reality with uncanny accuracy; a tangled web of character motivations driving the plot in unexpected but always realistic directions. It is nothing but a shame then that Jordan's writing ability fails to keep pace with his imagination. 'New Spring' lurches along in stops and starts, making up for the admittedly brilliant set pieces with vast swathes of text where nothing at all happens!
The plot is not advanced and no character growth occurs. Whole sections of the book could be chopped out with no effect on the novel whatsoever beyond shortening it by a few thousand words. There is no point to these huge wads of endless description and such barren plains of mundanity are made all the more frustrating for the occasional breathtaking peak.

While characterisation is good and Jordan seems unable to resist the temptation to give even the most minor of characters a fully detailed life-story the description of idiosyncrasies and defining traits are limited in variation and quickly become repetitive.

In addition, even the meekest of the female characters possesses a stubborn, shrewish nature and a condescending view of men that grates on the sensibilities. Jordan's idea of the female psyche is primitive and one-dimensional and seems rather out of touch with reality, so the male vs female conflict which pl
ays a big part in the novel feels crude and heavy handed. The plot is, for Jordan, a simple one, but still intertwines numerous schemes and intrigues so deftly that the unwary reader is swiftly lost. While one thread seems little more than a plot device designed to get Moraine away from the White Tower, the rest are plausible and interesting.

As a prequel whose characters appear in later books, 'New Spring' loses a lot of the tension at dramatic moments through the reader's knowledge that whatever happens certain characters must survive, particularly during the slightly flat finale.

However, enough interest is maintained to make the novel an entertaining read, if not up to the standard of Jordan's best, so I happily grant it a place on my 'more highs than lows' shelf.

This review was originally written for SFcrowsnest.com