A Crown of Swords flows like my favorite book in the series, The Shadow Rising. Each handful of Ebou Dar chapters is followed by a handful of Cairhien chapters. Each section is just long enough to resolve the last obstacle, advance the plot, and introduce a new obstacle. The two plots are loosely connected by chapters showing Sammael meeting with other villains in both locations. Moridin is a second character whose actions affect characters on both locations. A minor plot involving Morgase, the White cloaks and the Seanchan serves as setup for future books, having little impact on events in this one. A major plot involving Egwene’s tenure as Amyrlin has at least one important impact on the Ebou Dar story. By keeping the number of focal characters low and establishing a consistent pattern for several chapters spent in each locale, the flow and speed of the story are maintained at a fun pace.
The thrill of discovery comes from new characters instead of exotic locales. Cadsuane, Moridin, the Kin, the gholam, and others all have mysterious origins, abilities and motives. Some introductions are strong, others disorient the reader.
The theme of A Crown of Swords is one of leaders and followers. Who leads, who follows them, and why do they follow? The theme was introduced early in the prologue with a smattering of examples of relationships. A series of leaders emerge in the Fortress of the Light, each seizing power from his predecessor. The question of who leads was central to finding the ter’angreal cache in Ebou Dar. The actions of followers pushing the limits of their orders affected the heroes several times, whether by Moghedien, Carridin, Alviarin, or Colavaere. Morgase abdicates since she is no longer fit to be queen. Egwene blackmails Aes Sedai to compel their obedience. The loyalty of the Asha’man is a question that continues to aggravate Rand. Galina has her role completely reversed as she moves from world-shaker to pointless labourer. The book ends with Rand conquering Illian without having to subjugate the population or the ruling lords. The people of Illian want to follow Rand because he has exhibited traits they desire in their King.
This book feels like more of a whole book than the last one, because several plot lines are resolved, providing a strong sense of completion. Along with several plot lines, a bit of the theme from the previous book Lord of Chaos carried through to this one, but the tone is very different. You could more easily say that Lord of Chaos has some of this book’s theme, since a good part of the chaos and humour in that book stemmed from the relationships between leaders and followers.
The personal threats faced by the heroes were more interesting than the plot-driven obstacles. Jordan easily transforms physical plot-driven obstacles into personality and character-driven obstacles. Elayne faced threats to her authority and identity. Nynaeve had to learn to surrender control and was instantly rewarded when she did so. Mat endured all manner of unfair treatment to finally earn respect from those two. Min convinced Rand to keep her near. Egwene began to assume the role of the Amyrlin as well as the title. Rand realizes he is an equal partner with Min, not the belligerent mauler he made himself out to be. Cadsuane places herself close to Rand despite his misgivings about Aes Sedai. Perrin fears what he has realized about the value he places on Faile. It satisfies the reader that each of the heroes had some pages dedicated to them.
The nature of ta’veren was presented as a tool to be used as Mat, Elayne, Nynaeve and Rand try to twist fate and make progress by keeping a ta’veren present. Although they rarely recognize when it is working, it does work to bring them the people they need to meet at the right time. The Sea Folk are handled on two different occasions by ta’veren, and dealings with the Kin and Cairhienin rebels are possible because of chance meetings wrought by the ta’veren.
The timing of many events was necessitated by the plot, but the reason given for the timing was couched in the characters’ relationships.
Overall, the happy resolution of many character-driven plots and a strong structure overcome a few problems with introduction of new characters, and contrived timelines.
Resolution of plot lines provides reader satisfaction. Dangling plot lines induce reader dissatisfaction.