First of all, forgive me if I spell the names of characters or places wrong for this review. If you notice that I’ve done this, please just leave a comment pointing it out so I can correct it instead of raging on me. Thank you.
So I was reading The Great Hunt, bored out of my mind, frustrated with the characters, uninterested in the world, and angry about how many pointless sub plots there were when a strange thing happened. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, I started becoming invested in the characters. I grew worried about them, tension built inside me until I was gripping my kindle and I was unable to put the book down. Let me put this bluntly for all the Wheelers out there who proclaim The Wheel of Time to be on par, or heavens forbid better, then The Lord of the Rings or A Song of Ice and Fire. The first 3/4ths of this book are a long, boring, tension less bore. Its chock full of plots and subplots that go absolutely nowhere, its main character is flat and one note, and it goes on and on about things I as a reader cared nothing about. Almost the entire way through this book I was at best mildly entertained, and at worst unbelievably frustrated. But how can you blame me, when the book takes FOREVER to begin. For the first hundred pages or so all we have is exposition and female characters talking about how stupid the men are and how they need to house break us. "Oh very well. The best men are not much better then housebroken." Gah! I just want to tear my hair out when I read stuff like this.
Coming off his miraculous victory over the Dark One and the discovery of an ancient and powerful horn vital to the final defeat of evil, Rand and company need to now deal with the fact that he is a man to can channel the One Power, and therefor is destined to go mad and die of a terrible wasting disease. But his triumph over evil is short lived as the Horn is stolen. Rand, along with the male half of his fellowship Mat and Perrin, join Lord Ingtar and his soldiers as they ride from Sheinar to find the Horn. Meanwhile Egwen and Nynaeve begin their journey to the White Tower in Tar Valon to learn to become Aes Seadi. The story pretty much picks up immediately following the conclusion of The Eye of the World and keeps the same tone and pacing of the first book. If you loved the first one, the second book will only appeal to you more, but if you’re like me and had major problems with the first then this book will no doubt frustrate you just as much.
So, bare with me, as I have to dump my rage first before getting to what’s great about this story. The Wheel of Time is not a perfect fantasy. Not even close. Its problems are many and they are severe. Through most of the first book, and almost all of the second, there is a lack of tension or personal conflict for most of these characters. Despite all the Trollocs and Darkfriends in the world being thrown at the characters I never felt like any of them were in any real danger. This was a problem in the first book, as anytime the characters were in a pickle Moraine would wield her magic wand and poof!! it would all go away. Fire would rain from the sky, the ground would open up, she would pull a Daus Ex Machina out of her back pocket and all the characters would be A okay. Though we don't have Moraine running around saving everyone in this book, this does little to rack up the tension for our characters, at least for the boring first 3/4ths of the novel. See, you can't just throw hordes of enemies and magical elements at a character and expect readers to feel tension especially if the threat isn't really explained or the stakes presented in concrete terms. Throughout there is little real danger to the characters, so there's little tension, and so I lost interest. For example, for a very large swath of the book our hero is forced to play politics in a strange city where everyone assumes he’s some kind of lord. However interesting I find politics, the “Game of Houses” he’s forced to play goes on far too long and ultimately does nothing to advance the story. SPOILER: Rand finds the Horn, he hides it for a while, it gets stolen again, story resumes. The political intrigue just serves as a sideshow with no real purpose. The whole subplot with the Game could have been avoided entirely, but Jordan has a bad habit of dumping locations on us in order to show off his world instead of letting us experience it naturally.
Our hero Rand is tossed around like a leaf from a tree from one location to another, from one set of characters to another, as if Jordan wanted to introduce us to characters and didn't really know how to do it and so resorts to inventing teleportation which magically allows him to solve all his problems. In The Lords of the Rings Tolkien had to write about a cohesive journey from the Shire to Mordor; in Wheel of Time, Jordan just teleports them. Convenient; and cheap. The biggest problem, however, is that little of this is interesting. His side quest with the Game of Houses is completely unnecessary and only serves to set up the NEXT book, but does little to enhance the enjoyment of this one. Not to mention Martins Game of Thrones makes the Game of Houses look like children fighting at the kiddy table. Leave the political intrigue to Cersi and Tyrion, they do it much better. Rand's story doesn't really go anywhere until near the end after reading through hundreds of pages of text before it finally pays off. We also get a fine little sub plot involving a leader of the Children of Light, which was VERY interesting but lasted all of a couple chapters. In fact, if I were to be honest, the most interesting parts of this novel are the parts where Rand is nowhere to be found. The sub plots with Moraine, Egwene, Nynaeve, and the Children had some of the best moments in the entire story whereas Rand’s were just a boring chore to get through. What’s more his two friends, Mat and Perrin who were favorites of mine during the first book, are regulated to side characters making snarky remarks. Mat’s role in the story is to look sick, while Perrin’s role consists of a lot of looking down. Mat’s no longer a smart ass, Perrin is no longer a bad ass, and Rand is just as much a whiny idiot as he was before.
So after saying all that, how could I give this book anything but a negative review? Well, simply put, because the parts of this book that were good were really, really good. Insanely good, in fact. In the far west of the world, along the coast of the Aryth Ocean, a new enemy has arrived from across the seas known as the Seanchan riding on the backs of monsters and leading slave Aes Seadi on leashes like dogs. No amount of resistance can stop them in their quest to retake the lands in the name of their ancient king. None can stand against them, even the mighty Aes Seadi are brought low by their power. See, it’s not the thousands of Trollocs, Fades, or Darkfriends that are frightening in this tale. They’re just cliché generic bad guys no more fearful then the average Orc or Goblin. But the Seanchan now, they’re freaking terrifying. And it’s not just their sheer military might which makes them so frightening, no, but their arrogant, totalitarian society which places no value in human life or decency. I realize the servants of the Dark One are much the same, but never in this book or the last did their actions reach the heights of unimaginable cruelty those of the Seanchan did. I cannot think of a more horrible fate a human being could possibly suffer then to become a slave Aes Seadi, or a Damane as they are called, at the mercy of Seanchan masters. I would rather be skinned alive by a Trolloc or drop the soap in a Fade prison then be subjected to the torture and degradation some of these characters are subjected to. Finally, we get to see some real vulnerability, some real no kidding danger they need to find their own way out of with no magical Aes Seadi or unstoppable Warden to get them out. And for the first time in two books, I actually felt fear for the wellbeing of these characters that good fiction is supposed to evoke. Funny how characters being laid bare and vulnerable will do that for a story.
Another example of this would be Nynaeve’s test to become one of the Accepted. In order to do this she muster enter a magical instrument which forces her to face her deepest, darkest fears three times. Never before have we seen a moment of such tenderness, such vulnerability, such insight into a character who’s only character trait thus far was being angry and feminist. Such an insightful look into the mind of a character so universally hated (at least by me) was so well written and so unexpected I almost brushed it off as a fluke. Shirley a writer whose brought me nothing but unemotional and tensionless “drama” couldn’t possibly have meant to deliver something as heart felt as that. “No way,” said I, “he couldn’t possibly do that again.”
But here’s the thing; he did. Oh good lord, he did, and it was one of the most amazing moments in fantasy I’ve ever read. Nynaeve and Egwene disappeared for most of the story, not that I missed them very much, as their overly feminist “I’m better then you” attitude towards men hadn’t faded at all since the first book. But once they came back and became an important part of the story again, and their subplot fell in line with the Seanchan subplot, well, let’s just say I’ve not gripped my kindle so much since the ending of Dance with Dragons. Where before it took me weeks to read only a few chapters, the last couple hundred pages or so flew by in only a couple nights. I sincerely hope this carries on to the third book.
The Wheel of Time, at least thus far, is not a great fantasy, though on occasion it shows sparks of greatness. It’s no Song of Ice and Fire, and it certainly no Lord of the Rings, but it doesn’t have to be to be a good read. It’s well written even if its pacing is a bit slow, the world can be interesting at times though Jordan throws too much lore at us without giving us time to take it all in, and some of its characters can be quite interesting though the females are still very annoying. But for all my gripes and complaints I can’t deny that I was riveted by the end of the story, and couldn’t wait to get my hands on the third book. It may not be The Lord of the Rings yet, but of Jordan built on the momentum coming off the amazing ending for The Great Hunt, it might very well come close.
I am a member of the US Air Force and presently serve overseas at RAF Mildenhall about three hours north of London. I grew up in Pappilion Nebraska and Crestview Florida, but since joining the Air Force … more
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