My first thought to shareabout reading the second quarter of Jordan’s The Great Hunt is that this is the first segment where I sat back and just went “wow”. My reminder that, among everything else, Jordan wrote some of the fantasy that hit me as hard as anyone else could.
Let’s rewind a little and go through this in detail though.
We start with everyone having left Dal Fara. Rand, Mat, Perrin, and Loial are all attached to Ingtar’s mission to reclaim the Horn. Egwene and Nynaeve get on a boat to go to Tar Valon with the Aes Sedai. I want to start with the girls as this part still feels a lot like set-up and therefore I’ve got the least to say about it. They get two chapters, both from Egwene’s point of view, which arguably takes us away from the character with most at stake. After all, it’s Nynaeve who’s got more conflict with the Aes Sedai point of view, and therefore more to gain and lose with her first brushes with it beyond Moiraine. But perhaps that’s for the best. Nynaeve’s point of view would be very repetitive here; Egwene’s greater curiosity and openness to the Aes Sedai allows for more variety.
It also gives her more ability to learn, which is the action we have here. Nynaeve is not receptive to learning; the first lesson, Verin has to bully her into it. A lot of the reason for this lies in her greater world experience than Egwene. Nynaeve has formed a world view that works for her and as such, sees no need to adopt a new one. Egwene is still searching and as such, is clay in the Aes Sedai’s hands. This is the lesson of embracing Saidar writ large; Egwene opens herself up, rushes to it, takes on more than she should. Nynaeve doesn’t. Her blocks applies at all levels. It’s a big difference that will play into their decisions over and over going forwards. Which is a fun building block, even if it doesn’t completely compensate for it just being building. Since we see Egwene learning and Nyneave in stasis, Egwene is the sensible PoV here.
We learn a little more about the Aes Sedai too. The term ‘herding cats’ springs to mind. Siuan is a force of nature, a hugely impressive woman with little compunction about treating people depending on their use to the organisation rather than as individuals. Yet she can do absolutely nothing when Moiraine, Verin, and the Red sister Liandrin all abscond. For all the reverence she is offered, her authority is tenuous. If a sister wants to do something, she does it. In a lot of ways, and ironically for the Servants of All – the Old Tongue translation of Aes Sedai – each sister is an island, connected to others as she sees fit. There’s both a self-aggrandizing side to that coin, in that it gives them great freedom to pursue their goals and they mostly take it, and also a more sad one. Being Aes Sedai cuts one off. Fitting for a sisterhood based on an island though, right?
There’s an example of that in Chapter Twenty-Two, in which we switch to Moiraine. She’s at a farm getting advice from a pair of semi-retired Aes Sedai, and also dealing with a little distance that’s grown between her and Lan. I’ll switch back to this at the end but we see both Moiraine’s freedom, and her sense of being cut off.
The boys are in action though, and it’s their chapters that leave me going wow. They’re pursuing a dangerous foe, and any moment could send the story off on a new slant. I think I mentioned this in The Eye of the World readthrough, but Jordan does creepy and a sense of being hunted very well, and that applies even when Rand and co are officially the hunters. Everyone in the party acts unsettled and their actions feel totally reasonable. Even Ingtar’s melodramatic proclamations about the decline of civilization seems in place as they ride through ruined lands, never sure when they’ll come across atrocity. The tortured Myrrdraal was one hell of a moment and a perfect example of using pre-set expectations to indicate things going south. Fades are in command, they’re the baddest of the bad. The sudden revelation that oh no they’re not is great. As too is the barely glimpsed figure, and Egwene’s dreams far off. Something bad is going to happen, but what?
Rand, Loial, and the sniffer Hurin waking up in another reality is what. I don’t think I ever expected it first time, nor did I feel cheated. Rand’s emotions here – the shock at finding a world where the Shadow won, trying to keep Loial and Hurin going, trying to keep himself going, his struggle with Selene’s beauty – feels real. The verbal sparring between him and the mysterious noblewoman Selene is electric. There’s a real controlled panic to Rand here about everything, and a sense of change too. The range of things he will consider to do to keep others safe seems larger, more reckless. The Rand who agonised over possible violence on the rocky road to Caemlyn doesn’t feel like the Rand who decides he can take on five shadowspawn. He hasn’t changed totally however; he is not reckless enough to openly approach Selene with his sexual attraction, no matter how much she flirts. And while he excepts the lordly responsibilities pressed on him by Ingtar and Hurin, he still makes a point of asserting he is no lord. Rand doesn’t want to get above himself in his own opinion of himself.
Back in the world they left, we find Perrin reluctantly stepping up in Hurin’s absence as their sniffer. It can sometimes be hard to parse differences between Rand and Perrin but there are some as we can see here. Perrin is far slower to embrace the idea of responsibility and violence than Rand, although as we see again here, he does have a berserk button that carries him through. Perrin’s gentler, calmer, more communal nature shows in the contrast between his and Mat’s reactions to Rand’s behaviour, and the fact he can channel – something Perrin guesses – and how much more forgiving he is. Mat is far readier to distance himself from Rand on all counts; he is more excitable, more of an outsider. The further away from Emond’s Field, the more this becomes apparent.
Chapter Twenty-Two and Moiraine. Before this point, Moiraine is mainly seen from the outside. She is a figure of awe, a touchstone of constancy. Her drive is next to inhuman and all-encompassing, and leaves little in the way of respecting others’ humanity. She’s sent Rand the Dragon Banner, and made him 2iC of Ingtar’s band to press responsibility on him. She’s lied to her closest friend, ally, and ruler, and follows that up by deserting her. Now she informs Lan that she’s arranged for his Warder bond to pass to another when she dies, effectively disposing of him as a household good. It’s done for the best of the reasons – the nature of the bond turns Warders to suicidal fury when their Aes Sedai dies, so she is giving him life and the chance for happiness (as well as preserving a very efficient weapon of the light) – but it still smacks of a lack of respect. Yet beneath that high-handedness, there’s a sense of mixed happiness for and exasperation around Lan and the changes in his temperament now he’s falling for Nynaeve. It’s nice to see that humanity; showing the people behind terrible actions is a big part of what makes The Wheel of Time work.
Now I’ve finally got this recap out of the way, I’m really looking forwards to pushing on into the third quarter.