Two books into its sprawling storytelling, THE WHEEL OF TIME is on the upswing, cementing itself as one of the landmark fantasy series of our time. That’s not to say the book is without fault, because they’re still there, but in this second book, THE GREAT HUNT, Robert Jordan has clarified some of the more vague aspects of his world and upped the plot’s ante.
For one thing, Rand has developed a bit. Sure, he’s a bit whiny at times, but he has plenty of reason to whine given the whole “use magic and you’ll descend into madness before you die” thing he’s got going on. And when he’s not whining, he’s actually proactive, a flaw that hurt his character in the first book. He now makes occasionally bold decisions, takes risks, and has actually earned the respect of those around him. Interestingly enough, though perhaps the first 10 chapters or so are horrifically slow, the basis for Rand’s change is actually spurred by Lan, who I enjoyed in the first book mostly for his mild disdain for the whiny villager. When Lan teaches Rand to sword fight and how to present himself before Aes Sedai, it lends depth to Lan’s character, and makes Rand a more interesting character for the rest of the book.
The subplot involving Egwene, Nynaeve, Elayne and Min is interesting, and the appearance of the Seanchan gives us interesting new bad guys on the board. The use of the a’dam is an especially good touch, though Jordan’s scenes of Egwene being tortured aren’t nearly as good as Terry Goodkind’s in WIZARD’S FIRST RULE.
In all, it makes for a strong book. I’m surprised in re-reading the book that we’re two books into the series and Mat still isn’t at all likeable. Again, the dagger’s evil is making him cranky, and while he’s not as outright evil as he was in the first book, he’s not terribly interested in any problems outside his own and seemed to only speak up to remind the other characters that he needs his dagger back. I know he starts to develop beyond this annoying buzzkill in later books, but I’m surprised to see that I’m more than 1,300 pages into the series and he’s still kind of a dick, which I don’t believe was Jordan’s intention.
It’s a standing criticism, but this book could have been tightened up quite a bit, especially the early parts where Rand mostly frets about his fate, though again, the stuff with Lan was quite good. It’s a criticism that can be made throughout the series, and long, ridiculous sentences telling us that the sun rose in the exact opposite manner in which it had set the evening before seems almost intentionally bloated. It’s laughable at times, but again, Jordan’s other strengths allow me (at this point) to overlook some of the fat in need of trimming.
My only other comment is also one that could apply to the other books — the cover art. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a popular series that had such truly awful cover art, and this may be the worst in the series. Rand is holding the Horn of Valere while a girl in white who I guess is Selene and another character who I guess is Loial stare at him. In the background, soldiers wearing helmets with rams’ horns converge on them. It’s not bad artwork, I suppose, but this scene never happens in the book, and the details make it clear that the artist, Darrell K. Sweet, never really cared much about getting those details right. For one thing, Loial is supposed to be huge, towering over Rand, but in this image he’s he same size. Rand is carrying his sword on his hip, on a belt emblazoned with huge emeralds that was never mentioned, and he also has a dagger on his right hip that’s also never mentioned. And the soldiers converging on him? Hell if I know what they’re supposed to be. Trollocs aren’t men wearing ram’s horn helmets, and the Seanchan’s helmets make them look like insects (Jordan is very clear on that). My only guess is that these bad guys are the bastard children of the Seanchan and Trollocs, and this is happening in one of the alternate dimensions available through the portal stones (another plot point for which Jordan deserves credit — very cool).
So in summary, the books are getting better while the cover art is getting worse. I suppose that beats the alternative. Now on to THE DRAGON REBORN …