Let me start out by saying that I have nothing against slow pacing, executed well. I enjoy Jane Austen's writing, which consists almost entirely of talk; within the fantasy genre, I loved Robin Hobb's Shaman's Crossing, which many reviewers excoriated, complaining that "nothing happened." But there is a difference between books like these and the train wreck that is "Path of Daggers"; it's the difference between slow but wonderful vs. slow, boring and tedious. Austen and Hobb are both masters of character development, and their writing is full of insights about human nature and relations; both make you care about the mundane stuff. Robert Jordan is not that kind of writer, and the Wheel of Time is not that kind of series. It is (meant to be) action-based epic fantasy; Jordan is a brilliant action-adventure writer with excellent world-building skills, and his first four or so books left me wishing I had selective amnesia so I could read them for the first time all over again. They were that exciting. Once he started thinking he could write books all about "politics" (women cross their arms beneath their breasts and glare at one another) and "character development" (bet you had no idea Rand hates killing women! Oh... we've read that... 20 times...?), it went downhill fast.
Path of Daggers is a readable book (although I felt the need to skim parts of it), and a few events happen. I never threw it at a wall in frustration. But that doesn't mean it deserves extra stars; that should be a prerequisite for any novel. The events that do occur would only fill 100 pages or so with the taut writing style of previous books. What fills the other 600-odd pages is formula writing; it seems to consist mostly of dress descriptions and power struggles between various formidable women, who usually aren't unnerved by anything, but unnerve each other, and we see the evidence in their skirt-smoothing and hair-tugging. Not only are all the female characters identical in personality, but they all share mannerisms; honestly, how many real women smooth their clothing when agitated? Jordan has made it an infallible barometer of female agitation; thus, we get bizarre sentences like "She had kept her cool during (fill-in-frightening-event-here), but now she was smoothing her skirt." All of the women here have such pride complexes that very little interests them other than one-upping one another, making them incapable of friendship, romance, or family relationships. Plus, all Robert Jordan's characters are caricatures of people who don't understand the opposite sex; this was somewhat amusing at first, but was never really funny and by now is downright annoying. And then random people (adults!) are constantly paddling one another. There's not even a rousing climax at the end to reward us for slogging through all this.
But I haven't written this review solely to bash the book, which you probably know already is lousy. Some fans would say, "if you don't like it, just don't read it!" and after reading this one, I actually did give up on the series for a couple of years. I've written this review because when I did return to it this year, I skipped straight to #11, Knife of Dreams, with minimal confusion about the contents of the two books in between after reading online plot summaries. (At this point even those who have read every book have lost track of who these hundreds of tertiary characters are, and who knows which secrets.) So for readers who want to finish, but would rather not wade through all the muck, my suggestion would be to skip this one and #10 (something important does happen in #9, if you're not already too jaded to care), or maybe all three of them. And to stop buying them if you haven't already--don't encourage this madness!