Tor Books has just announced that they will be publishing Warrior of the Altaii by Robert Jordan in fall 2019. Warrior of the Altaii is the book that started Jordan’s career, but it has never been published. Expect something more along the lines of his Conan pastiches than The Wheel of Time. And don’t expect too much.
(You can now find my review here.)
Warrior of the Altaii is the book that launched Jordan’s career. He sold it twice. It didn’t get published at the time, but it did get him the gig writing Conan pastiches. Tor churned out dozens during the 90s (in addition to Jordan’s novels, I covered Tor pastiches by John Maddox Roberts, Steve Perry, Roland Green, and Leonard Carpenter). Jordan’s widow and editor Harriet McDougal described Warrior of the Altaii as “muscular fantasy.” In explaining why it was never published, she compared it to the notorious Gor novels.
If you are wondering what to expect, look to Jordan’s seven Conan pastiches, not his Wheel of Time books. Jordan insisted Conan creator Robert E. Howard wasn’t a major influence on his writing, and I believe him. I like his Conan books plenty, but he didn’t get Conan in the same way that John Maddox Roberts did. At the same time, they are very distinct from The Wheel of Time. Harriet is fair in calling them “muscular fantasy.” They’re fun books if you like sword and sorcery as much as you like epic fantasy.
The book that is probably the most relevant is Conan the Invincible. Unfortunately, it is also Jordan’s worst Conan book. Jordan got the Conan gig for two reasons: Warrior of the Altaii and an ability to write fast (Tor got the rights to Conan just in time to capitalize on the 1982 movie if they moved fast). Write fast he did: all seven of his pastiches were published between 1982 and 1984 (take that GRRM!). That’s an impressive output by any measure, but Conan the Invincible, Jordan’s first pastiche, does show as a rush job. I also suspect he wrote it before reading or rereading Howard’s original stories, because it is only loosely tied to Howard’s world. Hence why I think it the best source for thinking about Warrior of the Altaii–I wouldn’t be surprised if Jordan recycled elements.
Warrior of the Altaii may not have been a rush job, but it wasn’t considered good enough at the time to be published, and it was never rewritten. It has been available as a part of his papers at the College of Charleston and no glowing reports have filtered out. Harriet herself was dismissive of it.
Why now? The TV series will result in a surge of interest in The Wheel of Time. I won’t complain that that is the impetus. I’m excited about the TV series, and I am excited about this book. I suspect I will like it more than most Wheel of Time fans, because I like Jordan’s Conan books more than most Wheel of Time fans. (They also, by the way, feature his best prose.) And people’s assets are their to dispose of; I won’t complain if they want to monetize them.
I’ve long been of the mind (and, separately, the hope) that we will eventually see the three planned “outrigger” and two remaining planned prequel books. I think the probability of that just shot up on the basis of this announcement. It displays more willingness to put out new IP than Team Jordan has previously evinced. But don’t set your expectations too high for those books either–one reason why they’ve been considered a longshot is that Jordan left no detailed outline for them…or any outline at all.
Bottom line: The Wheel of Time is a monumental work of epic fantasy that deserves to remain in the public eye. I am in favor of anything that helps do that. And if this also leads people to the work of Robert E. Howard, all the better.
I’ve had a lot to say at Every Day Should Be Tuesday about The Wheel of Time, and you can find it all here. But not nearly as much as I’m going to have to say. Stay tuned.