Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Great Hunt - Robert Jordan

I've been a bad blogger this week with only one review of a book that wasn't all that big to begin with. Such trivial activities like working and studying have gotten in the way. Things don't look much better next week either so I salvaged another old review. This one was written in January '09 and was part of a Wheel of Time reread in preparation for the release of The Gathering Storm. I did some minor editing to eliminate the worst of my errors in the original.

Published only ten months after The Eye of the World this book is the second entry in Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. I always found it hard to pick a favourite but if I had to, it would probably be The Great Hunt. Jordan lets go of the Lord of the Rings approach he took in The Eye of the World and starts to fully explore his creation in this book. It is the beginning of a great many story lines that will be with us for most of the series. While Jordan spends quite a lot of time building the story and characters he does keep an eye of the coherency of the book itself. I think the climax to The Great Hunt is one of the best endings of a Wheel of Time novel in.

There will be some spoilers for The Eye of the World from this point on. A few minor spoilers to The Great Hunt may creep up in the text below as well.

The Great Hunt begins a few weeks after the events in The Eye of the World. Rand and company are still the guest of Lord Agelmar in Fal Dara. Rand is beginning to accept that he can channel and will most likely go raving mad before dying a miserable death. He is determined not to end up as a False Dragon in the hands of Aes Sedai though. To protect his friends he is considering leaving everybody and going out into the vast, sparsely populated areas between the nations. There at least, he can do no damage. Something is keeping him in Fal Dara though and by the time he is finally read to leave he is trapped in the city by the imminent arrival of the Siuan Sanche, the Amyrlin Seat herself. An unannounced visit by the head of the Aes Sedai is unheard of, the city is in uproar.

The Amyrlin does not announce the reason of her visit but to Rand it is clear why she is in Shienar. Before the Amyrlin can get to the bottom of Moiriaine’s actions however, and Rand’s part in recent events, the keep is attacked by Shadowspawn. In the confusion Padan Fain manages to escape and steal the Horn of Valere and the dagger Mat is still linked to. He leaves a cryptic message for Rand written on the wall of the dungeon he was locked in, daring Rand to pursue. With the Amyrlin’s blessing Rand, Mat, Perrin and Loial accompany a group of Shienarans on an expedition to reclaim the horn and dagger. Rand hopes he has finally cut the strings Moiraine has tied to him by leaving Fal Dara. As is turns out, he is more firmly tied to their plots than he imagined.

Egwene and Nynaeve accompany the Aes Sedai back to Tar Valon to begin their training to become Aes Sedai. In the Tower Egwene becomes friends with Elayne, the Daughter-Heir of Andor and meets the Barleon stable hand Min again. Both Nynaeve and Egwene learn quickly and even though Nynaeve has to be angry to be able to channel at all, she is raised to Accepted as soon as she enters the tower. Discipline is harsh but both are determined to learn. The sisters in the tower seem on edge. News from the outside world trickles in and it is nothing but war and false dragons. During one of their sparse free days Nynaeve and Elayne are approached by Liandrin and told Rand, Mat and Perrin are in trouble. They are to prepare for a journey to Toman Head to come to their aid. Elayne and Min have overheard the entire thing and decide to join uninvited.

I marked a specific scene in this rather battered mass market paperback I own, something I rarely do. Every time I read it, it reminds me of the summer of 1999 and the first time I read The Great Hunt.
She was all in white, her dress divided for riding and belted in silver, and her boots, peeking out from under her hems, were tooled in silver, too. Even her saddle was white, and silver-mounted. Her snowy mare, with its arched neck and dainty step, was almost as tall as Rand’s bay. But it was the woman herself — she was perhaps Nynaeve’s age, he thought — who held his eyes. She was tall, for one thing; a hand taller and she could almost look him in the eyes. For another, she was beautiful, ivory-pale skin contrasting sharply with long, night-dark hair and black eyes. He had seen beautiful women. Moiraine was beautiful, if cool, and so was Nynaeve, when her temper did not get the better of her. Egwene, and Elayne, the Daughter-Heir of Andor, were each enough to take a man’s breath. But this woman … His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth; he felt his heart start beating again.
“Your retainers, my Lord?”
Startled, he looked around. Hurin and Loial had joined them. Hurin was staring the way Rand knew he had been, and even the Ogier seemed fascinated. “My friends,” he said. “Loial, and Hurin. My name is Rand. Rand al’Thor.”
“I have never thought of it before,” Loial said abruptly, sounding as if he were talking to himself, “but if there is such a thing as perfect human beauty, in face and form, then you —”
“Loial!” Rand shouted. The Ogier’s ears stiffened in embarrassment. Rand’s own ears were red; Loial’s words had been too close to what he himself was thinking.
The woman laughed musically, but the next instant she was all regal formality, like a queen on her throne. “I am called Selene,” she said.

Rand meets Selene, Chapter 16 – In the Mirror of Darkness
I had a summer job at a mobile phone company that year. Rather boring administrative work. It was made a whole lot more pleasant by Celine, the girl sitting at the desk next to me. She was a student of international law, conversational in French, Spanish and English and very pretty. Oh boy was I in love. So was she, but unfortunately for me with a Spanish law student who would be joining her for a vacation later that summer. I marked that bit for her and let her read it. It made her smile but looking back on it, I suspect she thought the book was rubbish. Almost 10 years on this is a good memory, although at the time I saw it differently of course.

I didn’t catch the reference back during that first reading but Selene is of course the name of an ancient Goddess of the the moon. An obvious clue to the true identity of Selene. The Daughter of the Moon, a particularly nasty piece of work known as Lanfear, one of the Forsaken. In hindsight it may be better Celine didn’t read fantasy.

Apart from fond memories there are other reasons having more to do with the writing why I like this book. For one thing this book is one you can keep reading and rereading. Jordan put so many hints and minor things that will turn out to be important later on in this book that I would advise everybody to go back to it at least once after having finished the series. To give you an example from to prologue of the book:
The man who called himself Bors shivered in spite of himself. Hastily he undid the seals and buckles of his saddlebags and pulled out his usual cloak. In the back of his mind a small voice wondered if the promised power, even the immortality, was worth another meeting like this, but he laughed it down immediately. For that much power, I would praise the Great Lord of the Dark under the Dome of Truth. Remembering the commands given him by Ba’alzamon, he fingered the golden, flaring sun worked on the breast of the white cloak, and the red shepherd’s crook behind the sun, symbol of his office in the world of men, and he almost laughed. There was work, great work, to be done in Tarabon, and on Almoth Plain.
Bors at a gathering of Darkfriends, Prologue – In the Shadow
Although it is clear Bors is a Whitecloak Questioner, we won’t learn his true identity until the next book. Jordan will follow Bors’ rather painful career as a Darkfriend all the way until The Path of Daggers. There’s number of other beginnings in this book too. The origin of Masema’s obsession with Rand for instance. Rand looses sight of him in The Dragon Reborn but rumours of his deeds can be found in several books. Rumours that make Rand decide to send Perrin to collect him in A Crown of Swords. It the book where Bayle Domon and Egeanin meet each other, the book where Birigitte makes her first appearance, the book where the Aeil and He Who Comes With the Dawn are first mentioned, the book where Rand starts collecting the marks that name him the Dragon Reborn etc. etc. etc.

It is also the book that contains one of my favourite scenes from the entire series, the conversation in which Moiraine confronts Lan with his changing loyalties.
After this, you test me?”
“Not a test, Lan. I spoke plainly, not twisting, and I have done as I said. But at Fal Dara, I began to wonder if you were still wholly with me.” A wariness entered his eyes. Lan, forgive me. I would not have cracked the walls you hold so hard, but I must know. “Why did you do as you did with Rand?” He blinked; it was obviously not what he expected. She knew what he had thought was coming, and she would not let up now that he was off balance. “You brought him to the Amyrlin speaking and acting as a Border lord and a soldier born. It fit, in a way, with what I planned for him, but you and I never spoke of teaching him any of that. Why, Lan?”

Lan and Moiraine, Chapter 22 – Watchers
This scene is probably the seed of the story told in New Spring, in part the story of how Lan and Moiraine met. It exposes the nature of the bond between Warder and Aes Sedai and the precaution Moiraine took turns out to be quite important in The Fires of Heaven. With so many young characters dominating the narrative in the first three books this is one of the few scenes where the more mature characters get to have a turn. The relationship between Moiraine and Lan is a complex one, as we'll find out in later books.

No book is all good of course and one of the few things that didn’t work for me in this book is Jordan’s time line. In the later books he keeps track of what happens when to whom very well as his cast scatters across the nations. In the earlier books it is a bit of a mess sometimes. In The Eye of the World for instance the scenes taking place between the crossing of the Taren and their arrival in Barleon seems to suggest a week has seven days. In the later books it is ten (some fans are quite fanatical about the Wheel of Time chronology). In The Great Hunt some story lines quickly outpace others and to make everybody arrive on time for the climax of the book Jordan skips a few months in one of the story lines (Rand using the Portal Stone). It is probably the biggest leap in the narrative in the entire series and it always felt strange to me. Another thing that didn’t work for me is the cover. I added it to the top section of the article. Have a look, I don’t think I really need to say anything of this subject.

Jordan makes up for it by a great climax, the events at Falme send ripples though the world that will lead Pedron Niall to overreach and entice Elaida to rash actions. Ripples that can be felt throughout the later books in the series. Where Jordan followed in Tolkien’s footsteps in The Eye of the World he is taking off on a journey of his own in The Great Hunt. Much more than the first book in the series does Jordan make the scope of his project clear. From this book on the reader should settle in for the long haul. I suppose for quite a few people this poses a problem. Although The Great Hunt does contain a complete and satisfying story arc, Jordan leaves an awful lot of loose ends in this book to be pursued later on. Especially during the first reading the number of new elements Jordan introduces strikes some readers as too much of a good thing. I certainly appreciated it more after a second reading.

All in all I consider this book to be quite an improvement over The Eye of the World. If that book didn’t convince you to stick with this series The Great Hunt certainly should. It combines the great scope and detailed world of Jordan with the fast pace of the earlier books. Jordan grows as a writer throughout this huge project. Perhaps technically some of the later books are better written. For me however, this is the book where he had me absolutely hooked.

Book Details
Title: The Great Hunt
Author: Robert Jordan
Publisher: Orbit
Pages: 707
Year: 1991
Language: English
Format: Mass Market Paperback
ISBN: 1-85723-027-2
First published: 1990

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