Warrior of the Altaii by Robert Jordan

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For lovers of action and all things magical, Warrior of the Altaii will not disappoint. However, while it delivers with uniqueness and is unarguably a developed concept, the story itself is somewhat confusing and hard to follow. A tense read, filled to the brim with various character arcs with some really well-written sections, this was unfortunately a largely disappointing read for me, as I felt I only scratched the surface of the Robert Jordan’s fantastic mythical world and abundance of characters.

From the very first page, the reader is immediately thrown into the action, as Jordan wastes no time in setting the tone and pace for this story – fast-moving, action-packed, and incredibly well-thought-out. No word is wasted, as we join main character Wulfgar, an angry yet considerate hero, as he leads his men and discovers the ominous fate of him and his people. In this respect, Jordan doesn’t hold back. The narrative moves quickly, peppered with hints to the logics of the mythical world, yet much of this is assumed knowledge which the reader can (for the most part) quickly pick up. Deep rivalries are established and enemies made known. The dynamic between the male and female characters of the world is asserted too, albeit a largely unfavourable one. We learn more about the social dynamics of the different ‘clans’ mentioned and their place within the wider world.

However, despite these insights, I also felt that not enough was explored of the individual characters mentioned, perhaps because there were so many. Instead, it felt as though we scratched the surface of each personality, and often, just as an individual was introduced and teased to us, they were just as quickly removed from the narrative with little explanation. One such example is Elspeth; a headstrong and dynamic character, I was intrigued when Jordan introduced her to the novel early on, relieved that a layered, female personality was being portrayed. She is witty, has an interesting backstory that differs from her peers, and doesn’t conform to the stereotypical representation of the women around her. She is a fantastic character with a great deal of promise. Yet once she is taken to the camp and her ‘training’ begins, we hear very little from her until the end of the novel again, when her powers are realised once more. She added a sense of humour to the novel, so I was disappointed when her personality was not played with more. For me, this is what made the novel so strong to start with, yet the muddled plot line and absence of strong characters largely distracted from the writing after this point.

In fact it is the first third of the novel, where much of the scene setting and relationship-establishing takes place, that also exhibits the strongest and most interesting language choices in the book. One of my favourite sections was the dungeon scene, where we were really able to focus on Wulfgar and his psyche. The book almost takes on that of a horror novel – the physical torture, the intense scenes where the floor randomly gives way, and the heightened sense of stress Wulfgar feels for the entirety of his capture. We are shown a more vulnerable and weaker side to him, which only makes his later escape and victory against his enemies even more impressive. These pages were gripping, and I felt as those I was right there with Wulfgar, experiencing his pain. The days blended, and it is unclear just how long he is absent for, which gave the scene an almost “book within a book” feel. It was as though a separate narrative was taking place and we were seeing a deeper, more nuanced side to Jordan’s writing, almost as if he was experimenting.

My only criticism of this section is the logic behind the Queen’s reason for capturing Wulfgar – in order to essentially make him her sexual slave. While she does explain her reasoning, it feels somewhat shallow and not entirely fitting with her character. I questioned whether there was a need for the sexual element of her explanation, and wondered if it was just included to fit in with the largely stereotypical representation of the genders within the novel. Apart from Elspeth, the women in Warrior of the Altaii fall into either the categories of submissive and mothering, or passionately angry and deceitful. We often didn’t get past this portrayal, sadly, which is why I was keen for Elspeth to be bought out more. The Sisters of Wisdom do slightly challenge this view, however they too are largely unexplored and usually lurk in the background of the book as an eerily ominous presence, until the final battle. It would have been interesting to understand a little more of their backstory.

The final battle did give a nice ending to the novel, and I enjoyed that Wulfgar actually questioned the outcome – he wasn’t entirely satisfied, and it wasn’t as straightforward as winning is good and losing is bad. As readers, this made us sit back and reflect on what it was that Jordan was aiming to portray in this novel, and while this part was moving and effective, I do wish that more was done throughout the book to tease out these complexities regarding to the different groups’ place in the land. I found it hard to imagine the environment in the previous pages; I could only really envision the Plain because of its obvious naming. Yet Lanta was largely faceless to me, as was the area where the rival communities lived. In my favourite dungeon scene, Jordan did demonstrate that he was skilled at creating these really moving and impactful surroundings, yet this wasn’t really applied to our setting unfortunately.

While the novel was undoubtedly interesting in places and indeed had a lot of promise as an engaging piece of fantasy fiction, I unfortunately felt that the fast, muddled plot and surface-level portrayal of our setting and characters distracted from Jordan’s skills a gifted storyteller, and I wish more was done to play to these strengths.

Warrior of the Altaii is published by Tor.Com

Robert Jordan

James Oliver Rigney Jr., better known by his pen name Robert Jordan, was an American author of epic fantasy. He is best known for the Wheel of Time series which comprises 14 books and a prequel novel.

Reviewed by Mariah Feria

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