*note – since this is going out as part of Wyrd & Wonder and maybe not everyone reading has seen these posts, I thought I’d explain what I’m doing. This is a completely spoilery account of my rereading The Wheel of Time – I don’t recommend unless you’ve read them, or just don’t care about spoilers. On with the show*
In this quarter of the book we get PoVs from all the Emond’s Fielders and it switches back and forth fairly frequently. I think the effect is mean to be building the tension but I have to admit that, as I start this section of readthrough, I’m not entirely expecting to find that to be case.
It’s probably easier to summarise now the threads that happen.
- Nyneave (start) and Egwene tell Siuan they’ll be going to Tear, travel south through war-torn lands, meet and heal some Aiel, and it ends with them being rescued from a Myrrdraal by Aiel, who reveal they are also going to Tear for reasons of prophecy
- Mat goes dicing to make some money and instead makes a ton of money as his luck goes supernova, and while being hunted by Darkfriends bumps into Thom. They leave together on the first ship and Mat survives an assassination attempt. It ends with Mat rescuing Aludra, an illuminator seen in The Great Hunt.
- Perrin and friends arrive in a village full of Hunters of the Horn, a girl who stares at him, and an Aiel in a cage. He frees the Aiel (Gaul) and kills some Whitecloaks in the process, meaning they have to flee, which they do with the staring girl – Faile, another hunter. On the way down to Illian he has some wolf dreams (and is nearly killed by Rand), learns that Faile is the falcon of Min’s vision, and learns he can smell Grey Men when they attack, which results in Moraine exploring Illian alone
- Rand just goes down to Tear, killing his hunters as he goes, with one particularly gnarly scene where it’s never quite sure how he knew the hunters were darkfriends. Maybe they weren’t? It seems they had a Grey Man so they probably were… but how did Rand know before the end? Fearful paranoia that just happened to be right? Suspicion of someone so far away from everyone? It’s a bit creepy.
Quite a lot of action happens but at the same time, there’s not a whole lot of progress. People get closer to the location, but nobody’s there yet. We learn a small bit more about who’s going to be there at the big reveal in Tear with the Aiel, and the news that the Aiel have their own prophecies that match Rand suspiciously well, but not a great deal more. You can enjoy the process but when you look back – as I foolishly am doing – it feels a tad empty calorie.
Are we getting any character development?
Well, we get a decent sense that Rand is trying to hold it together but that it’s a struggle, which we did know but it now feels a bit more extreme.
Perrin is Perrin. A nice gentle boy trying to hold onto what he thinks is right in life even when it causes a ton of trouble, and disturbed by how well he handles the trouble. There’s a burgeoning romance between him and Faile, although at this point it’s at the annoy each other and be physically attracted to each other stage. Do they have chemistry? I guess to an extent. They gravitate to each other. They challenge each other. It’s a start. But it’s not as fun as watching Perrin with Moraine, or Perrin with Lan. In a lot of ways its the biggest challenge the two of them have seen so far in the series and it really brings out the most of them. Fraught Lan has big dramatic energy, and I enjoy seeing the exact limits of how nice Moraine will be with everything on the line.
Egwene and Nyneave seem locked in a battle for supremacy as Egwene embraces the change that says she is no longer just another of Nyneave’s charges, and Nyneave has nothing to do with it. Although to an extent I’d never notice it if Elayne didn’t call it out. There’s some small interesting notes in how overconfident Egwene is about communicating with the Aiel, and how she blanks out certain amounts of the suffering they pass compared to Elayne. I also think Nyneave’s domineering manner with the Aiel, and how deeply her sense of self as the Wisdom remains even when dealing with people who know her only as an Aes Sedai is interesting too.
And then there’s Mat and the return of Thom, which is great fun. They’ve got the best dynamic for sure with Thom getting to be the grumpy wisecracking sidekick to Mat’s grumpy mix of absolute confidence and “why me”. They’re on an even keel with each other over all, but with an imbalance between Thom’s knowledge and Mat’s energy and actually knowing what’s going on. This comes through really strong in the scene where Mat rescues Aludra. Mat reacts with pure instinctive altruism, leaving Thom to advise on clearing up the mess and remark wryly on Mat being as bad as Mat thinks he is, which leaves Mat very defensive. Not that it takes much more than breathing to make Mat defensive. I think part of what makes Mat so great is how his determination to be his own person and how his instincts to be a good one clash so much.
That scene aside though, it feels less like we’re getting fireworks than we’re getting all the prep for them. Which I’ve now written in some shape or form for the first 75% of The Dragon Reborn. At some point you’ve just got to say “not a lot happens in this book” and I’m now so far past that point I don’t know where it was. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed the read, but there’s no moments where Jordan drops the boom like Shadar Logoth, or the Portal Stones. The instigating attack up in the mountains is a B-side compared to those on Emond’s Field and on Lord Agelmar’s keep. It’s 500 pages of series transition and set-up for the finale. Now I have read the finale and it is pretty good, but we’ll see whether I think that was worth it next time…