Everyone's in agreement on the Wheel of Time's first four or five volumes: They're topnotch, where-have-you-been-all-my-life epic fantasy, the best in anybody's memory at the time since The Lord of the Rings. But a funny thing happened on the way to Tarmon Gai'don, and many of those raves have become rants or (worse) yawns. Jordan long ago proved himself a master at world-building, with fascinating characters, a positively delicious backstory, and enough plot and politics to choke a Trolloc, but that same strength has become a liability. How do you criticize what he's doing now? You want more momentum and direction in the central plot line, but it's the secondary stories that have made the world so rich. And as in the last couple of books, (A Crown of Swords and The Path of Daggers), Jordan doesn't really succeed at pursuing either adequately, leaving a lot of heavily invested readers frustrated.
Winter's Heart at least shows some improvement, but it's still not The Eye of the World. Elayne's still waiting to take the crown of Andor; the noticeably absent Egwene is still waiting to go after the White Tower; Perrin gets ready to pursue the Shaido but then disappears for the rest of the book. About the only excitement comes with the long-awaited return of Mat Cauthon and a thankfully rock 'em, sock 'em finale in which Rand finally, finally changes the balance of power in his fight against the Dark One. --Paul Hughes