In my review of THE GREAT HUNT, I noted that the second book of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series had improved upon the opening tome in the series, THE EYE OF THE WORLD. In THE DRAGON REBORN, Jordan’s series gets even stronger.
Jordan took a definite risk in this series, as Rand disappears for all but a few pages. In THE GREAT HUNT, Rand spends the majority of the time as our POV character. He shoulders less of the load in the second book, and at the same time, as he learns that he may be the Dragon reborn, he becomes a less enjoyable character. When Rand was in Emond’s Field early in the series, he was a reasonably charismatic character. I didn’t consider him a strength for the series, but he was likable enough. Since he learned to channel, however, he’s been so self-obsessed that while his reaction is natural enough, it hasn’t been much fun to see the world through his eyes. For that reason, I was perfectly content to see the story divided into three subplots — those of Nynaeve, Egwene and Elayne; Perrin and Mat.
While Rand’s POV has grown worse as the series has progressed, Mat, who I considered a weakness through the first two books, has become a far more interesting character now that the magic that made him a buzzkill has been flushed from his system. I’m still not certain I necessarily like him as a character, but his portion of the plot was engaging, and since this was the first time we’ve seen Mat without the dagger’s taint, it was like meeting a whole new character.
Of the three subplots, I enjoyed Perrin’s the most, simply because I like Perrin the most of any of the characters so far. His character arc in this book is fairly straightforward, but there’s depth to this character that Jordan hasn’t quite figured out in Rand or Mat. Perrin’s insistence on slowing things down and considering his options before acting, his simple love for his blacksmith’s craft, his disdain for violence, his interactions with Hopper and his utter confusion with womenfolk all combine to give me the feeling that I know and like Perrin. He’s relatable, and perceptive enough to make for an excellent POV character.
Once again, even as Perrin and Mat get more to do, Jordan doesn’t ignore the women, which continues to be a strong point in this series. Egwene’s fierce anger at even the hint that she might be held against her will feels truly earned, and the relationship between the three women feels equally well-done. While the three ta’veren blunder from place to place, these three seem like the only primary characters who understand the game and its stakes, and they’ve become more important than Perrin, Rand or Mat in terms of moving the plot forward. Even when they’re captured, they don’t fit the damsel-in-distress cliche — in some ways, they actually seem more dangerous than they did before they reached Tear.
In all, it’s another strong effort from Jordan. The mass market paperback edition is almost 700 pages, but it’s a quick, enjoyable read, and there isn’t a weak sister among the three plot lines. They’re not perfect — Jordan hasn’t known what to do with Loial since the first book, Thom Merrilin’s habit of showing up about a third of the way through the story then getting sick or injured and disappearing about two-thirds of the way into the book is getting a bit comical, and Jordan is recycling the “Rand believes he’s killed Ba’alzamon but really hasn’t” book ending already — but at this point the plot is moving forward even while setting the stage for the next book or two.