The Dragon Reborn is by far the best one of these books yet. Jordan is clearly getting his feet under him writing-wise (although I know this will start changing for the worse around book five or six, depending on who you talk to), and a lot of the things that annoyed me in the first and second books are either gone or much softened here. I’m long past thinking this is a LOTR clone. He does make one puzzling choice that I feel sort of ruins the flow of the book as much as it helps it, so narratively I can’t give it the full four stars, but I think I’m invested in this world now. I sort of wanted to pick up the next book right away to find out what happens, where with the last two I definitely needed a break, so that’s a good sign.
So this book picks up an indeterminate amount of time after the last one, weeks probably although it might be months. Egwene, Nynaeve, and Elayne have made it back to Tar Valon all the way from the coast, an unconscious and barely alive Mat in tow, so that had to have taken awhile. The group has split up. The girls and Mat have gone to Tar Valon, them to resume their training, and him for healing, to finally be separated from the Shadar Logoth dagger. Loial, Rand, Perrin, Moiraine, Min, and Lan remain in a camp in the Mountains of Mist, Rand and Moiraine fighting regularly because Rand wants to do something instead of just sitting there, even though he knows it’s the right move for now, and Moiraine constantly having to rein him in. The book opens with Rand basically having a One Power temper tantrum, and then running off into the mountains. The rest, excepting Min (can’t remember where she goes), follow after him. The narrative splits again after Mat is healed, so for the most of the book, POVs alternate between the girls (mostly Egwene, but the occasional Nynaeve as well), Mat after leaving Tar Valon, and Perrin and the rest chasing after Rand, who appears to be on his way to Tear, the place where the Dragon Reborn is destined to reveal himself.
You’ll notice I mention nothing of Rand POVs, and that’s because he’s barely in this one. He has maybe ten pages total of POV, and most of them at the end. The focus here is mostly on Egwene, Mat, and Perrin, a move that I simultaneously appreciate for what it does for those characters, but that also limits the effectiveness of the ending somewhat.
Mat and Perrin fair very well. They are still a bit frustrating as their stupidity lingers a little. Both of them still fail to accept their importance almost entirely, but they are given storylines that I actually felt were interesting. Perrin still doesn’t want to be a wolfbrother, but the focus on his character here is more between choosing violence and choosing creation, symbolized by his axe and his blacksmith’s hammer. And after his healing, Mat is a changed man. His story was my favorite in the book, largely because it was so unexpected, but also because he was an asshole in the first two books, and here he becomes more of a reluctant hero with a magical burden. I still like Egwene, but her character suffers because of the way Jordan writes women (he is mostly terrible at it), and to a lesser extent the Aes Sedai. She doesn’t suffer nearly as bad as Moiraine or Nynaeve, though. Moiraine continues to be seen as a bad guy, despite overwhelming obviously NOT being one, and Nynaeve doubles down on being a stupid, arrogant ball of rage. She also refuses to treat Elayne or Egwene with respect, and they fight most of the book. It’s not super fun to read about. Why couldn’t they have just been friends?? (The men are continually befuddled by the women. It makes me wonder what Jordan’s life was like, if he’s ever met a real woman at all, but his wife seems cool, so I don’t get it, really.)
SPOILERS So the whole book is spent with those three storylines, which all come together in the end in Tear, but it only half works. All the stories with Mat, Perrin and Egwene work relatively well, despite the continual hang-ups I mention above, and their narrative climaxes are satisfying. And then Rand pops in to have an epic fight and claim the sword that is not a sword, defeating two Forsaken, and it is utterly anti-climactic. If we were going to care about this scene, we should have spent a significant portion of this book with Rand, and not completely away from him. His actions are significant, but emotionally, he is completely empty as a character in this moment. To top it all off, after he kills Ishamael (Ba’alzamon), who he still thinks is the Dark One and not a Forsaken, he stupidly thinks, That was it, The Last Battle, he defeated Sha’itan, war over. Hurrah! Like, what. Are you kidding me. No, Rand. That unbelievably easy battle was not you defeating the representative of all evil END SPOILERS.
All in all, though, I enjoyed this, and I’m looking forward to continuing the series, probably next month.
[3.5 stars, rounded up]