Agony Column Home
Agony Column Review Archive

Crossroads of Twilight

Robert Jordan

Tom Doherty Associates / Tor

US Hardcover First

ISBN 0-312-86459-0

Publication Date: 01-06-2003

700 Pages; $29.95

Date Reviewed: 01-15-03  

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2003




01-27-03, 03-26-03

'Crossroads of Twilight' is the tenth book in Robert Jordan's 'Wheel of Time' series. In it, ominous, complex strands of human lives are woven as part of a huge storytelling canvas. The story neither begins nor ends with this novel. Jordan's world isn't the typical stuff of fantasy. There are no elves or dragons, and his version of magic is a carefully conceived technology of psychic powers. 'Crossroads of Twilight' is dominated by women, who narrate most of the novel. The political machinations they manufacture make the complex science look relatively straightforward. If all this told in prose that trends toward witty sounds of interest to readers who have not read this author, rewind, then go back and buy 'The Eye of the World'. Starting with the first novel, you'll have something on the order of 8,000 pages to read before you come to the end of this, the tenth. If you've already read the first nine, the chances are you've bought this novel already. In any event, if you're a fast reader, or a compulsive one, you have something fat, serial and satisfying to look forward to. But the series isn't over yet, and the end if nearer, is not yet near.

Though 'Crossroads of Twilight' is a longish book, there are so many threads and plots afoot that none of the characters gets too much airtime. Thus, the pace seems rather brisk. As the novel starts, Mat Cauthon is hiding out with his reluctant royal wife-to-be in a traveling circus, Egwene al'Vere is in Tar Valon, laying plans to attack the hierarchy of the Aes Sedai, the female priesthood than controls the psychic technology, Elane Trakland is trying to assert her right to the throne and Rand al'Thor is preparing an unexpected alliance. At his best, Jordan can be very witty and entertaining. At one point in the narrative, an annoying character is summarized: "She could irritate a brick." That brick would probably be smaller than this book.

'Crossroads of Twilight' shows Jordan to be a man immersed in the complexities of his world. As a writer, it gives him the advantage of being completely convincing. His characters live and breathe, which is certainly necessary for what is in some sense a grand soap opera that plays out over years of the readers' lives. These are characters that readers can come to look forward to spending time with. Mat Cauthon, in particular, is most entertaining, and a nicely written bit of psychic intrigue gives him some advantage in a world dominated by psychic women.

'Crossroads of Twilight' gives the majority of its time to the women characters. Jordan has clearly thought through the implications of a world in which there is truly no sexism -- it's not a historical event, as it is in ours. It's as buried in the past as wearing clothes. Jordan's women are fascinating. This is good because in the course of the series you're going to get to know them better than those you spend your working hours with. He brings the right sense of assumed power and self-doubt to bear on Egwene, Elane and Elaida, Egwene's foe who currently occupies the White Tower.

When Jordan wants to get spooky, he certainly can, and a stopover in the haunted town of So Habor is an effective set piece. The walking dead, people stepping into walls, rotting food, and crowded streets -- it's all almost like an excerpt from 'Dracula'. He creates a brooding sense of disaster that spreads out from the town like a stain. What's happening there clearly has implications for his entire world. Jordan expertly hints throughout the novel at Big Things Coming.

Of course, some readers will prefer that these things come sooner rather than later. For all the events and activity, there's not a great deal of action in 'Crossroads of Twilight'. Rand al'Thor is almost entirely offstage. On the other hand, the Darkfriends are on the move, and their activity is quite entertaining. The passages concerning Alviarin are among the best in the novel.

One thing that sets Jordan apart from other fantasy writers is his prose, which is neither faux-heroic nor High Drama. Instead, we get bestseller deluxe, with a touch of wit and entertaining insight into his complex and modern-seeming characters. By avoiding the drama, Jordan is able to go on -- and on, and on -- at length about the political machinations his characters are involved in, about the compromises and their costs. He's able to differentiate between the darkest evil and the greatest good and cast the shadows in-between. If you want to read Jordan, you have to make something of a commitment. In return Jordan has clearly committed himself to his world. If you are willing to make the effort to read this series, you're going to reap the rewards of a complex world and characters in a time of change. That description might make Jordan's fantasy seem a little too realistic.