So I picked up and finished The Dragon Reborn in one rainy Sunday. With a week of work ahead, it’s unlikely that book four will see the same progress (and it’s over 390,000 words, longer than any of the previous three books by some margin). However, book three was definitely easier going than the second book, with much less loin girding required to get through it. Whether this is because I got a full clean run rather than having to read in fits and starts I’m not sure, but anytime I have to gird my loin a little less is a good time for me.
The deep irony of Jordan’s third book in the Wheel of Time series, The Dragon Reborn, is that the Dragon hardly takes part. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is somewhat amusing. Essentially, early on, Rand decides or is pushed towards a goal, a place he has to go to, and the thing the Prophecy says he should do there. To achieve it, after a little bit of preamble with the whole gang, he sets out alone. And other than literally, one or two half chapters, that’s all we see of him until right at the end.
The original book cover basically gives away the ending of the book, in case you’re wondering.
The rest of the story then, is filled with the adventures of Mat, Perrin, Moiraine, Lan, Loial, Egwene, Nynaeve, Min, Elayne and The Bad Guys.
The Dragon Reborn is the shortest of the first three books, but still rolls in at a meaty 250 thousand words. That time is spent covering the separate journeys of three groups, Moiraine, Lan, Perrin and Loial; Egwene, Nynaeve, Elayne; and Mat. Sometimes their paths cross, or they travel together, but they spend large periods of the book separate from each other.
The relationship between Lan, Moiraine and Perrin is interesting, and Perrin grows significantly in the Dragon Reborn, discovering more details of his ‘condition’ and some of the dangers it brings. However, close behind in terms of development are Mat and the girls. If Jordan had all this planned out from the start, then my hat off to him, but if not, it does feel like he suddenly realised Mat needed ‘something else to do’, and some quirk, to hang it together and he gets it in spades in this book. From a virtual back seat passenger (always ill) in the first two books, he develops into a significant player in this one.
The majority of the book really focusses on The White Tower and the continuing education (planned or otherwise) of Egwene, Elayne and Nynaeve, and their adventures drive most of the story even if it isn’t obvious what’s going on initially. There is intrigue and danger throughout The White Tower and the girls struggle to stay above it.
We get a few new characters thrown in, and some old characters take form properly, and all the time we are driving towards the first big proof of the prophecy.
There are some less exciting moments, and the continual ‘all women think men are stupid and need women to pull them out of trouble and all men think all women need saving and protecting from the world’ thread is bared more than ever and it grates. Sometimes the major players seem to act out of character, and not just because of events forcing them, but because Jordan needs them to; they act dumb when they should be clever. However, as before, those things can be overlooked when the story is gripping, and The Dragon Reborn is mostly just that.
The story is like 20 rivers, all running down from the mountains towards one city, one event, one moment, and it brings together characters, races and creatures from all over the land in that one moment. Like the books before, Jordan spends a long, long time writing the set-up, and then the conclusion is over in less than a chapter. But that chapter packs a punch. The Dragon Reborn feels like the most scripted, and carefully planned of the three books at the start of the series, and shows Jordan’s skill in bringing together many threads at once.
I try and avoid actual plot spoilers in this section, but I do reveal some of my frustrations with the overall series to date, so you may want to read carefully if you’ve never read the books.
I had completely forgotten how little of Rand there is in book three. It was a real surprise to me that we’d only seen him a few times by the time we reach the end. In my mind, I had a memory of him going increasingly crazy – but I guess that must be one of the later books.
On top of that, during the read, I kept remembering things that are yet to happen, and then wondering if they happened in this book or not, which did lead to a little bit of confusion (wait, that can’t happen until the other thing happens, but that hasn’t happened yet, so when does the first thing really happen). I tried to squash those feelings, because they were getting in the way of enjoying the book, but it’s always going to be an issue with such a complex story over so many books, read so long ago.
There’s a lot in The Dragon Reborn that I look forward to, and a lot that comes after it as well. These may be more spoilerish than previous retrospectives, so be warned.
I love the Aiel, I love the mythology and their delivery. So I enjoy anything that has them, and they start creeping into the story here. Their arrival really cheered me up. I also enjoy the truth we’ve had hinted at, that the Forsaken are loose and it is they, and not directly The Dark One who Rand et. al. have been battling. It’s a great reveal, and it adds depth to the story. Now we know what we’re up against, and the strong hints that the bad guys aren’t all pulling in the same direction counter-balances the truth we’ve known all along, that the good guys certainly aren’t doing that either (for a myriad reasons).
In fact, it’s ever more clear that there’s not much in the way of black and white going on here.
I love Rand and Moiraine developing their powers, Moiraine starting to show signs of being increasingly bad-ass, and Rand showing us (confusingly) how powerful he can be. He hints at some of my favourite things later in the books where lots of the characters learn new and powerful things to do with the One Power. No more lighting candles, we get a whole slew of powerful skills. So the little hint of Rand picking them up is excellent. Jordan does show his handle a little early here, with the apparently simple defeat of two Forsaken, but there’s a twist in that tail later.
The Dragon Reborn plants its feet firmly and gives Jordan a really solid footing to move on from in the next few books, growing Rand and everyone else in power while increasing the complexity of the threat three-fold. So that memory of what is to come definitely enhanced my enjoyment of the book. So it’s definitely a two-sided coin. I know what’s coming so it enhances my enjoyment, but some stuff I can’t remember leading to confusion. Overall, the stuff I do remember coming wins out in the end.
The irritation is still there, my memory of it matching the reality. Too many repeat phrases (okay, we get it, Nynaeve tugs her braid when she’s angry, but once or twice is example enough), too many over-stated themes (yes, all women think men are fools and all men think women are over-bearing bullies who need to be saved), and too many out-of-character dumb moments. But the story, pacing and reveals in the Dragon Reborn get you past them, still.
The Dragon Reborn was as good as I remember, but not always for the reasons I remembered. Bring on book four.
The Angry Spoilers
There are spoilers here, for the book and possibly for the series. Stop reading if, somehow, you’ve never read these books before.
Was Jordan an idiot? Was he a genius? Was he living in a world where men and women have broken relationships and no shared understanding, no ability to realise their own commonality? Or, was he just trying to write a world in which that was true? Intentionally, or accidentally? Is it a real theme, is the world broken not because of the physical breaking, but because of the sin of the male channelers, their pride, and their subsequent madness? Is that in some way an allegory for the idea of ‘original sin’, some attempt to redress that balance? To show men what a dumb idea original sin is? Or does it just feel like a theme, because it’s some weirdness stuck in Jordan’s head and authors ‘write what they know’?
I still don’t know yet, and it’s irritating me.
I like to try and give him the benefit of the doubt, that the behaviour the two genders have for each other is a metaphor for the broader conflict, a mirror of the male and female channelling breakdown. That the Age of Legends, when men and women channelled together was better not because of the channelling, but because men and women liked each other, respected each other, enough to work together towards the same goal with open hearts. Instead of deceit, subterfuge, bullying and contempt?
Is the misogyny and misandry intentional, part of the story, part of the whole point, or is it casual, just something Jordan included, or worse perhaps, unthinking, a revelation about Jordan’s psyche?
Check the ‘net, there’s plenty of discussion about it. Right – moving on.
There’s the usual collection of Jordanisms. It could be a drinking game (I bet if I searched the ‘net now, I’d find someone had already created it). Braid pulling = angry. Rand / Mat / Perrin all think the others know how to handle girls while they can’t. Girls mooning over good looking men. Men mooning over good looking women. Women who are ‘handsome’ rather than ‘beautiful’. Men falling into three camps, so boring as to not warrant a description, ugly due to some facial injury or beautiful and being mooned over.
We don’t learn a massive amount of new stuff in this book, unless I’m missing something. We have some things confirmed, we meet another couple of monsters, and we have some stuff clarified, but not a huge deal is new. We learn more about the cultures, about the prophecy, but nothing substantial about the One Power, or the world. Jordan has pretty much introduced everything we need to know by this point – and from here on in, it’s how those things are applied, how the world is explained that becomes his focus.
What really happens in book 3? Rand confirms what we all knew, takes Callendor, and the gang get back together. Egwene leans how to move around in the world of dreams. That’s pretty much it basically.
So it’s slowing down, I hope book 4 doesn’t piss me off so much I give up (and then book 5, and then book 6, and then book 7 ……)