Friday, July 2, 2010

The Dragon Reborn - Robert Jordan

I have a big exam on Saturday so I have spent most of the week preparing for it. This has cut into my reading time considerably and I am pretty sure that when I am done tomorrow I won't feel like writing a review. So I moved an old one. I originally wrote this one in February 2009. I did some minor tinkering as usual to eliminate the worst of my errors. I'll be back next week with a review of The Dervish House by Ian McDonald. I am also working on a review of a non-fiction book but I am not sure I am going to run that one yet.

Being the third book in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Jordan is still writing at a fast pace at this stage, The Dragon Reborn was published only eleven months after The Great Hunt. I have always felt that the first three are somewhat different from the books that follow. Starting in The Shadow Rising, the story lines become so sprawling and complex that he leaves a lot of them dangling until the next book, or the book after that. The Dragon Reborn is the last book that very clearly contains it’s own story arc and where all the main characters end up in the same place at the end of it. The truly epic aspects of The Wheel of Time lie yet ahead.

The opening of the books finds Rand in his makeshift camp somewhere in the Mountains of Mist. He has proclaimed himself the Dragon Reborn and word of his battle with Ba’alzamon in the skies over Falme is spreading quickly. Many have already proclaimed themselves Dragonsworn and more fighting has broken out on the already troubled Almoth Plain. Rand spends most of his time arguing with Moiraine over what to do and trying to control his ability with the One Power. After a raid on the camp by Trollocs during which he can’t control the One Power well enough to be useful Rand decides to set out on his own. Being hounded by Darkfriends Rand is driven to Tear and manipulated into trying to fulfil one of the prophecies of the Dragon before he is ready for such a monumental task. He is on his way to take Callandor, the sword-that-is-not-a-sword.

After Rand’s disappearance Perrin and Loial join Moiraine and Lan in pursuit of him. Perrin is still coming to terms with his own new-found abilities. His relationship with Moiraine is almost as poor as Rand’s, and rapidly deteriorating. Most of Perrin’s adventures in this book seem to be linked to Min’s predictions, the most important being the hawk and falcon one, but also the caged Aiel prophecy. A storyline that is the beginning of the love story between Gaul and Chiad (and Bain I suppose). Jordan seems to have a thing for multiple wife’s stories. It isn’t limited to The Wheel of Time either. There’s another fine example in Cheyenne Raiders, a western Jordan wrote before starting The Wheel of Time. There’s quite bit of the Cheyenne in the Aiel actually.

But back to the plot of The Dragon Reborn, Mat, Egwene, Nyneave and Elayne have returned to Tar Valon under Verin’s guidance. Mat’s health has deteriorated some much Nynaeve fears he is close to death. Upon their arrival the girls find out how much trouble they are in for leaving the tower without permission. The Amyrlin Seat herself sets their punishment, which includes a raising to accepted for Egwene and Elayne. Disobedient they may be, they are also useful for the Amyrlin. Not knowing who she can trust in her own sisterhood she sets the three of them on the trail of the thirteen sisters that revealed themselves the be Black Ajah. It soon becomes apparent the trail leads to Tear.

The Aes Sedai see to Mat’s healing almost as soon as he arrives in the Tower. Since he is the only one of the three t’avern Moiraine discovered still firmly in control of the White Tower, the Amyrlin means to keep it that way. With the excuse he may still be dangerous to his surroundings he is not allowed out of the city. Something Mat doesn’t like at all. Egwene, Nyneave and Elayne are willing to help him escape however, if he will deliver a message to Elyane’s mother, the Queen of Andor.

Jordan again introduces quite a few new elements in his story, if not quite as many as in the previous book. We briefly met the Aiel in The Great Hunt but what they are doing on the wrong side of the Dragonwall remains unclear until this book. There’s hints that the Seafolk are upset, suspicion is unsettling the daily life in the White Tower and in several nations we see the rise of previously unknown lords, Gaebril in Caemlyn, Brend in Illian and Samon in Tear. All things that will become important in later books. The Dragon Reborn is mostly focussed on Rand’s attempt to claim Callandor.

The-sword-that-is-not-a-sword, now that we are on the subject, is one of the most unfortunate descriptions in modern fantasy. Granted, there is no shortage of phallic symbols in the series, if you care to look for them, and most Wheel of Time fans I had the pleasure of meeting in real life a bunch of perverts (yes, I fit right in) but even so, Jordan must have seen this one coming. The-sword-that-is-not-a-sword drawn by he-who-comes-with-the-dawn. Ah well, it is an endless source for bawdy jokes I suppose.

The Dragon Reborn is the first book in which Mat gets his point of view. Both Perrin and Rand had quite a few point of view chapters already in the previous two books. Rand receives comparatively little attention in this book but Mat’s character is developed more in the coming books. I suppose that after his exposure to the Shadar Logoth dagger in The Eye of the World Mat was not all that interesting a character. On the other hand a look into the mind of paranoid Mat might have been interesting.

Most sources mention Jordan had a six book series in mind when he started on the project. I have always wondered about that. Arrange things a little differently, have Rand face the Dark One at the end of this book instead of Be'lal and you have a very nice fantasy trilogy. It could have been done. Perhaps at one point Jordan thought so too. Maybe that is part of the reason why the later books have a different feel to them. Although part of that no doubt has to do with Jordan’s development as a writer.

I must admit I like the feel of the next book, The Shadow Rising, more. And that of The Great Hunt too I suppose. The pacing of this book is a lot better than the first two books however. Take for instance clumsy climax of The Eye of the World or the middle part of The Great Hunt that drags too much for any but the die hard Wheel of Time fans to really appreciate. The Dragon Reborn keeps a good pace all though the book and delivers a good finale when the characters meet at the Stone. Perhaps a little bit predictable, but then, a lot of people don’t read epic fantasy because they want to be surprised. Somehow this book never quite captivated me but it is a good read, if a light one. It doesn’t have the many beginnings that make The Great Hunt such a good book to reread, nor does it have the complexity of one of the later novels. It is a good, entertaining read but Jordan has written better books.

Book Details
Title: The Dragon Reborn
Author: Robert Jordan
Publisher: Orbit
Pages: 707
Year: 1996
Language: English
Format: Mass Market Paperback
ISBN: 1-85723-065-5
First published: 1991

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