Despite some crazy long days (and nights) working, I did manage to pick up book two of The Wheel of Time and give it a good read. Managed only about 1/4 of it during the week, but made a big dent on Thursday night, and then pretty much finished it Friday and into Saturday. I still have an appetite to read them all – we’ll see how strong that is after the expected food poisoning around book 7 – and I’ll keep reviewing them.
Book two of The Wheel of Time picks up literally where book one left off. We are with Rand and the others in Fal Dara, near the Borderlands after the battle at the end of The Eye of the World. From here, things progress at a reasonable clip, and Jordanisms aside, are pretty interesting and engaging until about a third of the way into the story. Then however, it becomes hard going.
I found it hard because the characters are inevitably split up, which happened in book one as well, but it’s not handled as smoothly in the early parts of The Great Hunt. In The Eye of the World there was always an obvious goal for the whole group – get to Tar Vallon. It drove all their decisions (right up until it changes, for reasons I’ll leave to those who’ve not read the first one). In The Great Hunt though, the reasons are less well defined in some ways. Or they are well defined, but less interesting, I’m not entirely sure which. Despite the obvious risks that Jordan introduces if the goals aren’t achieved, it’s just not quite enough to flow properly.
Along with that, a new character is added, and her presence irritates me because I never like significant personalised deception as a plot device. That’s odd I admit, but I just never enjoy it. I don’t mind the deception of politics or war, and non-personalised deception, but when I know there’s some deception going on, and can see a character being fooled by it, I struggle.
However, once beyond the middle of the book, the plot tightens up again, the pace improves and it’s a much more enjoyable rush to the finish than it feels like it might be in the middle.
There are some moving moments in the book, and some really touching scenes as well. If you like honour and justice there’s plenty of that to go around too. We follow all the characters from the first book, we learn more about them, and most of them grow, we meet a few more legends, and for the first time (I think) we get point-of-view pieces for Moiraine.
Also, Verin makes an appearance, and I love her.
The book features my favourite scene so far, out of both the first and second books, where Lan takes Rand under his wing and teaches him a little Borderlands pomp and ceremony to bolster him against the Aes Sedai.
Of all the major characters that transfer from book one, Egwene and Nynaeve make the most progress in terms of character development, they also suffer more than the other characters (along with a friend or two that started as possibly minor characters in book one). Rand, Mat and Perrin do make some progress, but it’s more subtle overall. Moiraine and Lan even show a little bit of development here as well, which is good considering how static they are during the first book. The end though, as so often in Jordan’s novels drives all of the characters forward in a big leap, and changes them for ever.
The Great Hunt isn’t quite as polished as The Eye of the World, and the annoying habits that Jordan brings get in the way more than they did in the first one, but it’s still worth a read, it’s still entertaining, and it’s still unique.
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 don’t remember anywhere near as much of this book as I did the first one. I remembered most of the basics, how it started and roughly how it ended, but the detail eluded me until I was in it, which was a surprise. In some ways it was good, I saw a lot more than I did the first few times I read it, and in other ways it was frustrating because I knew something was going to happen, but couldn’t remember when.
I’ve already alluded to the most frustrating bit for me plot-wise in the review section, which is basically the introduction of Selene. Because I know who she is and how that plays out, I found it harder to cope with than normal. Also, I sometimes think that Jordan assumed his readers were as stupid as his characters. If you have to make it that obvious that someone is lying or behaving oddly, but not let your characters notice it, then you need to think about it and give your readers more respect.
So overall, not as memorable as the first one, and I think it suffers from ‘middle of a trilogy’ syndrome.
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.
Jordan allows his main flaw (in my view) to really show through during parts of The Great Hunt. At times, his characters behave as though they have no common sense or are plain stupid. However, we know that’s not true. We know his characters can be clever, and intelligent and observant, so when they step out of character and act dumb for plot reasons, it’s really quite infuriating.
I’ll give you a specific example. In book one, we witness the descent of Mat into madness thanks to carrying the dagger. Egwene and Rand, among others, see this and know it to be true. Egwene isn’t stupid. Yet Egwene upon visiting Fain regularly, a man she knows to be a darkfriend and who Morgaine has described as dangerous, comments on but otherwise ignores the fact that the guards around Fain are becoming more surly, more rude every day.
At no point does she connect to the two things together. At no point does Rand make the connection when it’s described to him. Yeh yeh, I get it, they were both under stress, but it’s out of character to not even question it (unless there’s some great mystery yet to be revealed to me).
Equally, Ingtar’s behaviour descends towards the same kind of crazed intensity in the search for the Horn, and yet Rand pays it no attention. Rand, a man who knows he’s going to go crazy, who has watched Mat do it basically twice, ignores Ingtar’s increasing switch from ‘we will find the horn’ to ‘I MUST HAVE THE HORN FOR MYSELF’.
It grates on me.
The second book once again reveals a bunch of stuff, the plot moves forward a great deal (eventually). We learn about ter’angreal, we learn about a bunch more cities, the Seanchan, loads of channellers every-fucking where, the Aiel make a show, other worlds, other possibilities, portal stones, and a whole bunch of other things. Not as much as book one though, never as much as book one. The flood of stuff has slowed ever so slightly to only a strong torrent. As the books progress it will eventually turn into a wasteland of nothing new happening (in my memory).
One final thing, and I’ll expand on this in the book 3 rant. If you search the web for ‘Wheel of Time Feminism’ or ‘Wheel of Time misogyny’, you’ll get a million hits. There’s a theme here, with Jordan, of men and women failing to work together. It sneaks everywhere in his writing, and he’s either trying to introduce themes and concepts and make us think, or he’s got the oddest world view ever about how men and women operate. We’ll keep an eye on how that progresses.