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Innocents Abroad
Innocents Abroad
by Mark Twain
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.30
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4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and ascerbic in equal measures, January 12, 2015
This review is from: Innocents Abroad (Paperback)
I wonder if those sailing on the Quaker City's jaunt through the Mediterranean knew that their fellow shipmate Samuel Clemons was the author better known by his pen name Mark Twain. Would they have behaved better? If so, it would have been a shame for the narrative. Twain displays his usual caustic wit in this travelogue, where he and his traveling companions make a months-long trip across the Atlantic, through the Mediterranean, and overland across Palestine. His targets include, but are not limited to, tour guides, ignorance (of both the travelers and the people they meet), books, Michelangelo, animal rights, and seasickness. A long and sometimes rambling book, perhaps some examples will best illustrate what you're in for, and help you to decide whether this travelogue is for you.

At the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, there is a pair of legendary lovers buried side-by-side: Heloise and Abelard. Twain deconstructs the myth of their supposedly star-crossed romance and takes the side of the vilified uncle of Heloise who conspired to keep them apart. Moving on to Genoa, his group torments their tour guide (they call all their guides "Ferguson" after disliking the name of a previous guide in France) by criticizing the penmanship of Columbus when shown a letter written by him "in his own hand"..... feigning ignorance as to who this "Columbus" was. Further along they break quarantine in order to sneak into Athens to see the Parthenon. Further still he compares the relative merits of the horses and asses he had as mounts when touring ruins in Syria.

Underlying all his writing is a disdain for ignorance. He targets his fellow passengers, "the Pilgrims", especially harshly as they travel through the holy land stealing pieces of statues, temples, and ruins, chipping off souvenirs from places they supposedly hold sacred. He does not spare the natives in their own lands either, accusing various peoples of being dirty, superstitious, or (worst in his mind) abusers of animals. Parts are laugh-out-loud funny, especially when he writes of tormenting his tour guides (and they tormenting him in turn): how it takes them all day to get from their hotel to a site in Paris because the guide keeps stopping at his friends' shops to try and sell them things; how they describe Michelangelo as having painted, invented, or built everything in Italy; the aforementioned Columbus episode; etc. There are also parts that are truly inspiring: his description of the beauty of Genoa, of the majesty of Milan's cathedral and the Parthenon, of the hospitality of the Romanovs, of the hard work of certain porters in Palestine, etc. Finally, there are the surprising bits - he talks about the desolation and empty spaces of the holy land, and how different things are compared to today, a mere 150 years later. Jerusalem has maybe 20,000 inhabitants (as compared to double that in Jesus's time and a million today).

Unfortunately, there are parts that drag, especially the chapters in the holy land. Not only do the descriptions contain much of a sameness, Twain seems to be burdened down by the poverty and squalor he sees everywhere. During these chapters he finds his sarcasm directed at the writers of guidebooks who talk about how lovely the land is, as opposed to what he sees with his own eyes. He has ample targets and humour for 50 pages, but this part stretches out over a couple hundred and wears on the reader.

Perhaps the best way to appreciate the book, besides reading it for Twain's trademark wit, is to use it as a comparison of how places are today versus how they were before urbanization really took hold, before the holy land became so overcrowded, before acid rain completely defaced the limestone monuments, etc. I continue to look forward to comparing my experiences with these sites, when I see them, with Twain's.

The Long Goodbye
The Long Goodbye
by Raymond Chandler
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.54
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4.0 out of 5 stars keeps you on the hook, December 11, 2014
This review is from: The Long Goodbye (Paperback)
In spite of the advice of some reviewers, this is my first Marlowe novel. Sure, I'm familiar with the character from Bogart through to Elliot Gould, and the novel delivers more-or-less what I expected in terms of plot: a wealthy heiress is dead, her widower (who happens to be a friend of Marlowe's) flees to Mexico, and suddenly the cops, gangsters, and newspaper publishers are assaulting Marlowe on all sides - figuratively and literally. As is generally the case with novels of this type, it's not the destination so much as it is the journey, and the prose and the dialogue either makes of breaks the novel. It's a bonus if it all makes sense at the end. I think it's to Chandler's credit that he manages to keep all the threads of the plot in play, and it's a relief at the end that the threads pull together without any cheating. That's not to say that the ending can be predicted from the setup - this isn't a whodonit where all the information is there for the armchair sleuth. However, there is nothing contradictory or illogical about the ending, Marlowe and the other surviving characters act as they must because of their personalities, and that's the whole point of this style of noir fiction.

So, is the book good? Certainly - it had me picking it up whenever I had a couple minutes to try and get in a few more pages before the next parenting fire needed dousing, which I use as my standard of whether I'm really enjoying a book. Is it perfect? Well, I give it 4 stars instead of 5, mostly because I found the main character rather unpleasant. Obviously this is heresy to the legions of Marlowe fans, but I really found the main character himself to be unlikable to the point of it distracting me from the quality of the writing. It's almost like he's a caricature of an abrasive bully, which makes him a little too cartoonish for the novel he's in.

And a note for those who've seen the Altman/Gould film - the book and the film bear little relation to each other in tone or in plot outline. I like them both, but don't let the events of the film and the book mix together in your head, or neither of them will make sense!

Top 10 Normandy (Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guide)
Top 10 Normandy (Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guide)
by Fiona Duncan
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.69
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an excellent guide to Normandy, easy to reference while traveling, November 24, 2014
I don't know if it's the geography or the history of Normandy, but this Top-10 guide was really all we felt we needed when visiting Normandy for 2 weeks. I've found other Top-10 guides in this series to be great for ideas on what to see, but because they take a shotgun approach, it's inevitable that some things are left out. Conversely, this guide seemed to include everything in its mostly geographical divisions, while giving good overview highlights in other sections.

Norman geography follows a mostly linear coastline, and inland in mostly farmland and forest. Thus, the geographical variety of, say, Provence is not present here, so that could be one reason why this guide can be more comprehensive - geographic divisions are not natural, so a list covering all of the coast is a natural division. Also, the roads are excellent, allowing end-to-end driving in a few hours. Historically, the region has little remaining of its pre-Roman and Roman history, so the historical main sites naturally divide into medieval (religious and secular) and WWII, with little else such as art galleries or Roman ruins that need to be covered in a separate list. That's not to say that the region is dull: the medieval sites and cathedrals are massive and ornate, while the Battle of Normandy sites are modern and evocative. Finally, Normandy has virtually no wine industry, removing yet another complexity that clutters other regional guidebooks.

This year (2014) was the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, which prompted our trip. This guide included all the main sites (the 5 landing beaches) but also suggested several others we had not initially considered, such as the Nazi battery at Longues-sur-Mer, Pegasus Bridge, and Pont-du-Hoc. It also many good suggestions for what to see in town, including the Tapestry Museum and public garden in Bayeux, the abbeys and fortifications of William the Conqueror in Caen, and, of course, Mont-Saint-Michel (this last is arguably in Brittany, but it is famous enough to belong in both Norman and Breton guidebooks!). Traveling as a family with two boys (aged 9 and 6), we were never at a loss for things to do, rain or shine, and in fact did not even have time to cover all the most promising leads this book offered in our 2-week stay.

Lonely Planet France (Travel Guide)
Lonely Planet France (Travel Guide)
by Stuart Butler
Edition: Paperback
Price: $19.81
76 used & new from $12.17

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good overview of sites in France, November 24, 2014
Prior to a trip to France for an extended stay (9 months), my family purchased or were given a number of guidebooks. Of those guidebooks, I think my favourite is this one. Although France is not a large country - the state of Texas or the province of Ontario are the same size - it is a very dense one. There are prehistoric sites in Brittany and the Dorgogne; Roman sites through Provence and Languedoc; Medieval castles, villages, and ruins everywhere; WWI and WWII battlefields in the east and Normandy, respectively; mountains and gorges; and thousands of wineries. No guide book can present all of this in a comprehensive manner (hence the plethora of regional guides!). However, if you are traveling through France, or looking for an overview in order to decide where to best spend time, this is a great starting point.

It is not a small book, and therefore is probably not particularly portable - at 1000 pages you're not putting it in your pocket! However, it's great to keep in the car, for example. It has a tear-out map of Paris, which we've made use of, and numerous maps within the text - this is most welcome, and is my most common complaint in travel guides. The number of maps is still less than I'd l like, but better than most. There is a lot of useful general information as well - emergency numbers, tips on how to find doctors or pharmacies (chemists), weather patterns, etc.

The meat of the guide is, of course, the descriptions of sites, hotels, and restaurants. These are presented in what I would call a "linear" fashion - if you were driving through a region, they appear in the order you'd come to the site/city. This is very useful for planning itineraries, perhaps not so useful if you're randomly trying to find something to do that day. Similarly, it is not as easy to refer to as some guides.

To sum up, this is perhaps the first guide to pick up if you are thinking about a trip to France. It's also a good first guide to read if you are looking for ideas of things that would be interesting to see. Once you've chosen a specific region or city to visit, especially if you'll be spending more than a few days there, you'll want to supplement it with a regional guidebook.

Secret Provence
Secret Provence
by Jean-Pierre Cassely
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.46
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5.0 out of 5 stars Not a comprehensive guidebook! but full of interesting trivia and quirky sites, November 24, 2014
This review is from: Secret Provence (Paperback)
First off let's be clear: this is not a comprehensive guidebook. It is not even a guidebook for people visiting Provence from other countries. If you have 2 weeks in Provence, you'll be wasting your time looking up these sites. If, however, you are lucky enough to live here, or if you are able to stay for months at a time - university students, backpackers, people on sabbaticals, etc. - this book will take you to some very interesting places that aren't in the normal guidebooks. Written by a journalist, who specialized in those quirky or feel-good end-segments that newscasts like to close with, this book collects his various discoveries. It is subtitled "off the beaten path", and that's a perfect name. Want to see the aqueduct at Pont-du-Gard? Not in this book. Want to see Mary Magdalene's skull? That's here, along with St. Peter's ulna, a cannonball stuck in a wall, phallic ironwork on a balcony in Aix, and the largest chimney in Europe.

Perhaps the best part of the book, and something that would make it worth your while to read even if you are unable to use it as a guidebook, is the fact that each site has a full-page description, including some Provençal history, and it's written with a journalistic (but not sensationalistic) flair that will keep you well-entertained.

Top 10 Provence & Cote D'Azur (Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guide)
Top 10 Provence & Cote D'Azur (Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guide)
by Robin Gauldie
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.78
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4.0 out of 5 stars What it does, it does well, but it's not supposed to be a comprehensive guide, November 24, 2014
These Top-10 books are, by their very style, selective and subjective. Obviously what someone likes best is going to vary from person-to-person. So don't buy this book as your only reference source when touring Provence and the Riviera. However, it is a great book to flip through for ideas. Looking for a club in Nice? There's a list for that. Interested in the Roman period? There are lists for that. Want to take a boat trip to a scenic island? There's a list for that. Again, though, choosing what to make lists of tends to leave out small or one-off items. And some of the choices are bizarre to say the least: the list of top beaches, for example include several that require long hikes to find, and others have no parking or are inaccessible to people with disabilities. If you just want to take the kids somewhere with soft sand, safe surf, and a bathroom, you'll find no useful information here.

Having said that, the opinions and choices of the editors and contributors seem to be quite closely aligned with my own. I'm not afraid of crowds, so a midsummer trip to Les Baux, with its medieval re-enactors and crossbow-shooting lessons was great. Similarly, I would not have considered visiting l'Abbaye Notre-Dame-de-Senanque had it not been #9 in the overall Top-10 list, but it remains one of my favourite sites in Provence (and we've been here 3 months now).

So: I would suggest getting this book as a supplemental guide. The maps are not comprehensive, and it tends to be difficult to navigate because of its Top-10 structure. On the other hand, it's fun, it's quick to refer to in a pinch (as another reviewer pointed out, it's a great source for back-up plans in case of rain), it's light, and it's quirky. Perhaps the last is the strongest endorsement, because it might lead you to a site you never thought would be interesting, but which turns out to be a favourite experience.

Rick Steves' Provence & the French Riviera
Rick Steves' Provence & the French Riviera
by Rick Steves
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.13
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A great reference if you are an "ambiance" traveller, or if you are planning to use public transit, November 24, 2014
Guidebooks generally have two tones: those written with an apparent air of detachment, trying to present facts and allowing the traveler to decide what s/he wants to see. These are often dry to read but work very well as references while in-country. Then there is the more personal style, which this Rick Steves guide most certainly is. If he doesn't like something, or thinks it's not worth the money, he says so. This makes the guide more entertaining to read, perhaps, but it also means that you might dismiss sites based on someone else's opinion which might not be the same as yours.

There are a two things Rick Steves's Provence travel guide do extremely well:
1. Help you get around using public transit. I think this is sorely neglected in many guide books written by and for (North) Americans, since our first impulse is to rent a car. For those on a budget or those looking to decrease their carbon footprint, such detailed public transit options are very useful and helpful. At the same time, he highlights where having a car might be useful if you want to rent one for a day or two (e.g. for a scenic drive or places ill-served by public transit).
2. This is the perfect guidebook for those who like to stroll around and take in the ambiance of a place. He includes walking tours of many towns, pointing out interesting sites (buildings, squares, fountains) and the best places to grab a coffee and people-watch. I have many friends and relatives who travel and site-see this way.

Unfortunately, neither 1 nor 2 apply to me. I am definitely a car-rental person, and I'm very site-oriented. I would rather tour a museum, explore a Roman ruin, or swim in the Med than sit at a sidewalk café watching the world going by. This is not a criticism of Rick Steves' books, it's just an observation that travelers like myself are going to find other guidebooks more useful - for example, the "Top 10" books or (my favourite) the "Lonely Planet" series. Having said that, I have referred to this guide for things like scenic road trips and for the interesting nuggets of historical information that is included. I have not made use of the hotel listings, since we are here long-term and are using websites like AirBnB and VRBO/HomeAway for longer stays in each place; however, they seem more extensive and more interesting than similar listings in other guides (highlighting a lot of family-owned businesses).

Another problem is the lack of maps - every guidebook that I've referred to tends to underestimate the use of maps, but this book is particularly bad, I find. French roads may not be well signposted, and they certainly don't have directional markers based on compass directions; nor do they use large cities as guides, instead giving the nearest 2 or 3 villages you've never heard of. Maps in these situations, including the names of all the little villages, would be more useful than text telling you to take a certain road (and road numbers changes when you cross department lines!). Further, I find that Rick Steves (and his contributors) have very different opinions of what is worth seeing. Perhaps it's because I like the insides of things better than outsides, and perhaps it's because I'm traveling with children (aged 7 and 9), but I've found that many of the sites this book dismisses out-of-hand are places my family have enjoyed seeing, e.g. the Granet Museum in Aix, some of the towns along the Med, and the Palais Longchamps in Marseille. Finally, a big complaint that I have with all guidebooks for Provence: the almost complete lack of a guide to Mediterranean beaches. I have been to a dozen or so, and they are all very different - shallow vs. sharp dropoff, rocky to pebbly to soft sand, ease of access and parking, etc.

So, if you are backpacker who likes to grab the bus/train from place to place and to simply "be" in a new place, this is the guide for you. If you are more site-oriented, this might not be the best guide for you.

Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914
Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914
by Sir Max Hastings
Edition: Paperback
31 used & new from $5.33

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good summary of the start of the war, covering all the countries involved, June 9, 2014
The author has written a great many books, and is generally considered in the popular historian camp - he wants his books to be interesting to the layman, and to tell a complete story without errors in facts. They are not meant to be "exhaustive" or "definitive". Balancing this line to tricky for World War I because so much of the war was a stalemate of mud and shelling - not very compelling reading! In this book, he sticks with the mobile phase of the war - the initial moves, focussing on the Western Front, through August to December of 1914, which has the potential to be much more interesting. Although he spends much time on the Western Front, there is a certainly more information here than I've seen in a 1-volume work on the Eastern Front, especially regarding Austria-Hungary. Largely forgotten by most texts, at least once the initial trigger for war is pulled, the Austria-Serbia conflict was brutal and existential: Serbia survived at a cost of 50% of its manhood. Austria did not survive, and its military and logistical performance is harshly laid bare by Hastings when he visits the Eastern Front. These chapters are the most interesting in the book because they present the least-common details for books about this era.

The most entertaining chapter for me was undoubtedly the naval chapter, especially the parts chronicling Roger Keyes's mad plan that eventually turned into the (1st) Battle of Heligoland Bight. This chapter breezes along with an exciting narrative and even some biting commentary. Unfortunately, much of the rest of the western front (and those chapters devoted to the Prussia-Russia front) take on much of a sameness - Allied troops retreating + German troops advancing, then the opposite as the Germans outran their supplies and the Allies counterattacked. Having said that, I think Hastings captures the "feel" for this part of the war in a way that most other authors do not: the exhaustion, the fouling of rifles and guns in the mud, the casual atrocities, the fear of the local peasants, the sheer "newness" of the experience for inexperienced troops, etc.

He bars no holds when attacking the generals and politicians who blindly led the way to the titular catastrophe of WWI. He marvels at the sheer incompetence of the British generals, especially Sir John French, but also Haig and the other corps commanders. The French generals fair little better, although he does give much credit to Joffre for the Marne counteroffensive (while acknowledging Joffre's brutal miscalculations in the initial battles). The Germans fare no better - Prince Rupprecht is preening and self-important, Moltke is unimaginative and overwhelmed by the scale of the war he (according to the author) had the biggest role in creating, and even Ludendorff is subjected to a metaphorical lashing, saying "He was nowhere near the military genius he thought himself to be". Naturally, he deals out even harsher criticism for the Autrians and Russians - the former disdained to even think about logistics and the latter were a fractious lot who refused to communicate with each other or St. Petersburg. It's no wonder the ordinary soldier was subjected to 4 more years of hell - except those countries like Russia that disintegrated first.

Thus, Hastings tactical analyses are biting and convincing. I am not sure his strategic analyses stand up quite so well. First there is the common theme of fighting the last war and taking the wrong message from other battles - in this case Waterloo (!) and the Russo-Japanese war. However, he makes scant mention of the American Civil war, which some people (e.g. recently by Keegan in his "The American Civil War") as being the first truly industrialized war, often fought between entrenched defenders and exposed attackers. The Civil War's Peninsular Campaign was especially representative of the stalemate that became the Western Front in WWI, which the Old-World generals ignored and thus made the same mistakes. It surprises me that Hastings does not take the WWI generals to task for this oversight. Perhaps he doesn't agree with the parallel, but if not, an analysis as to why this is the case would be welcome. Even less convincing is his analysis on the "rightness" or "necessity" of WWI - he resurrects the old theme that German militarism needing to be destroyed for the safety of Europe. There is nothing wrong with reinstating an old theory, but his defense thereof is threadbare. He certainly never addresses the fact that if WWI was the right fight, then why did the world go through it all again a mere 20 years later? He also uses a common misdirection technique of asking how the war could have been avoided given the initial boundry conditions - and he has a good point as far as it goes - but it doesn't argue for placing the blame mainly on Germany.

So, I would give this book a "B" grade - it's not the best (Tuchman's "Guns of August", while more limited in scope, is still tops for me), but there are lots of things to recommend it that are simply missing from other books about the era. And, as you would expect, it is a well-written and will keep you interested throughout.

by Kim Stanley Robinson
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $8.73
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The main character is just too unpleasant to enjoy, May 5, 2014
This review is from: 2312 (Mass Market Paperback)
Fans of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy (the only other works by the author I have read) will recognize the general pattern of this book. It is really two intertwined narratives: a travelogue of the Solar System, as envisioned by Robinson in the 2312. It is also the story of a set of characters within that framework. As a vision of the future, Robinson's populated Solar System is a thing of beauty - he has hollowed-out asteroids (essentially each a biodome), a fully-colonized and independent Mars (thankfully not a main location since we've seen his Mars in the aforementioned trilogy), Venus and Titan in the process of being terraformed, etc. We also see the different systems of government that arise - Venus is a frontier society with big-bosses competing with each other for dominance, Saturn's moons form a commonwealth, Mercury contains one big city-state, etc. As with any skilled writer, all of this exposition is interwoven through the main story (there are a few "explanatory" chapters, but they are blessedly short and far between). Robinson also presents an Earth still coping with the ecological disaster of general climate change - desertification, a rise of several metres in sea level (NYC has no streets, only canals.... no word on what happens to Venice!). The main characters travel to and fro throughout this system.

Thus to the plot: Mercury suffers a catastrophic terrorist attack, the nature of which requires significant manpower and enormous computing power. Combined with some earlier events, a group of people have organized to investigate the possibility that there are self-aware quantum computers behind the attack, perhaps building humanoid robots to enable them to carry out the required physical work. This allows Robinson to bring together people from throughout the Solar System (and to allow the characters to travel around in their investigations). I will not further reveal any more plot details, but instead will focus on the characters, because Robinson spends a lot of time with only a few characters (probably because his locations are each characters themselves!). We also get a wide variety of societal systems - the Saturnian creche, a long list of pseudo-gender identities, and so on, all of which makes Robinson's vision of 2312 very rich and detailed.

After reading about 100 pages, I started flipping through the chapter headings, which are named after the characters featured in that chapter. When I saw that the majority of them contained the character Swan, I almost put the book down. It's the closest I've come to doing that in many a long year. She was simply so unpleasant - narcissistic, untrustworthy, vain, moody - that I couldn't bear the thought of spending another 350 pages with her. It's not that I expect to like every main character - but she was only unpleasant, there was nothing interesting about her. One example of her behaviour, and bear in mind that Swan is 137 years old: when she is not told a security secret, she threatens to start screaming until she's told the secret. Really? This is a 137-year-old woman, with grown children, supposedly sane, and this is how she deals with the world? To make matters worse, she gets away with it! The parts of the book focussing on Swan - and she is the main character - consists of her betraying others' trust, blithely ignoring prudence and good sense, verbally (and physically) abusing her friends and relatives, and sulking. And every time, she ends up being forgiven, getting her way, or having her bad behaviour rewarded. Again, I'll reiterate: I have enjoyed books containing a main character I don't like, even books only containing characters I don't like.

Perhaps I am missing the point - the characters are supposed to be secondary to the locations, perhaps. If so, Robinson should have delved into the political theory of his governments, or detailed much more of the science behind the terraforming, or whatever. Although the locations and societies are imaginative and interesting, there is much more content relating to specific characters and the plot, and therefore not enough interesting "science fiction" to cover over the unpleasantness of the main character. I really did want to like this book, but I just can't.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 14, 2014 8:03 AM PDT

A Memory of Light (Wheel of Time)
A Memory of Light (Wheel of Time)
by Robert Jordan
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $9.74
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4.0 out of 5 stars The end ... after all these years, March 26, 2014
Is Tarmon Gaidon (the last battle) as epic as the series deserves after thousands of pages in 14 volumes over 23 years? Well, it's long - the chapter titled "the Last Battle" is itself 250 pages, but that is not the whole battle. It certainly comes to a resolution - the 3rd Age ends, which it must by the terms of the mythology of the series. And all the characters that are still alive have their parts to play. And, naturally, not all of them are still alive by the time the Epilogue arrives.

There is really very little plot. Generally, the nations of the world are divided into five battlefields, centred on one or more of the "main characters" (the original 7 characters that set out from Emond's Fields in the first book): Egwene fights with the White Tower in one major battle; Mat leads the Seanchan, Whitecloaks, and Elayne's armies in another battle; Lan is in the Borderlands in a third major battle. Rand takes Nynaeve and Morraine to attack the Bore where the Dark One's prison is most easily accessed. Finally, Perrin patrols the Wolf Dream to protect Rand from assaults from Tel'aran'rhiod and to hunt Slayer. The story shifts through the various storylines, keeping all the fronts and characters in play throughout. Naturally there are some twists, and even some surprise returns (e.g. Padan Fain has had very little exposure for the last 5 books or so, but even he has a part to play in the last battle). Variety is also shown by switching from large cavalry charges to 1-on-1 personal duels to a non-battle interlude where people are talking around a campfire while dinner cooks.

So, after this many pages, is the last battle satisfying? I think yes. The book ends when the battle ends, which is perhaps more fitting than dragging out an epilogue that says what happens to everyone who survives. Perhaps if Robert Jordan had survived his illness, he would eventually have written a book set in the 4th Age. As it is, the series chronicles the end of the 3rd Age and nothing else, and I think that's as it should be.

So, a satisfying ending to an epic series. If this was a TV show, the finale would be akin to M*A*S*H, rather than to Seinfeld or the Sopranos, and that's the best we could ask for anyway.

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