The Path of Daggers ends on such a weak note, it’s hard to think of it as a complete book. The Hero gets ambushed in dramatic fashion, and survives, but is unable to deliver any retribution. A similar attack on an Aes Sedai is treated without emotion or build-up. And the final chapter covers a handful of plotlines from other characters that haven’t been seen for the last half of the book, only one of which involves any action or genuine excitement.
While the book moved rapidly and had several rewarding moments, the failure to deliver a strong conclusion can’t help but wear down a long-time reader. As with the previous two books, which read better as a pair because of the lack of resolution, I expect the most satisfaction will come from treating The Path of Daggers as the first half of Winter’s Heart, instead of a complete book in its own right. As with Lord of Chaos, the other half-book, this book uses a sudden plot twist near the end to try provide some excitement, hoping to make up for the lack of resolution of the main plots. It was much less successful here because the threat to Rand was much more physical than character-driven, and it involved foreseeable events instead of something never before seen let alone imagined.
The layout of the chapters has each character’s point of view chapters clumped together, mimicking the most successful pacing of the earlier books in the series. This layout delivers strong results once again, allowing a situation to be introduced, built upon, and if necessary to come back and complete the resolution in a later set of chapters.
The centerpiece of the book and the high point of the story is Rand’s epic war against the Seanchan. Rand knows the war was waged at a great cost to his own forces, with most of the losses coming at his own hands when he mishandles Callandor. He learns Callandor is flawed, but it is the war itself which was flawed. Rand is learning firsthand that the Tuatha’an saying is right; doing violence damages him and his people as well as the people he strikes.
In a similar vein, when the tools and people he relies on begin to let him down, whether Maidens rebelling or Asha’man going mad or trying to assassinate him, Rand builds up walls. Even if he can’t trust, he still intends to carry on as before.
Up until now, Rand had been presented simple solutions to all the problems: raise an army, and his opponents will surrender; kill a Forsaken and he can take over a nation. But his early successes are beginning to drag him down. He is learning through difficult experience that his tactics aren’t working any more, but he insists on pushing harder instead of examining whether other tools may produce better results. Rand has only recently achieved manhood and begun to take his responsibilities seriously, but he is fumbling with how to do it.
The metaphor of the sha’rah game in the prologue best depicts the book’s central theme. It can be more dangerous to have control than to give it up, the tool you hold can work against you, and the unseen pitfalls are many and hazardous.
A book’s conclusion demands resolution and reader satisfaction. Failing to deliver it will cost you.