Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan

My Rating: 4.5 / 5.0

Amazon Rating: 4.50 / 5.00
Goodreads Rating: 4.16 / 5.00

Note: I read this as part of a Read Along: you can find links to my previous posts here. I have already reviewed Book 1: The Eye of the World.

Yet one shall be born to face the Shadow, born once more as he was born before and shall be born again, time without end. The Dragon shall be Reborn, and there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth at his rebirth. In sackcloth and ashes shall he clothe the people, and he shall break the world again by his coming, tearing apart all ties that bind.

At the Eye of the World, Rand channeled knowingly for the first time, showing himself to be the Dragon Reborn of prophecy. He used his newfound power to kill Aginor, one of the thirteen Forsaken, powerful channelers who were sealed within the Dark Ones prison at the end of the War of the Shadow. It would seem that the seals around the prison are weakening and allowing the Forsaken to walk free again after three thousand years. Once the Eye is drained and destroyed in their battle, the Horn of Valere is found in its place. The Horn is an artifact associated with the Last Battle, when the Dragon Reborn will confront the Dark One. Blowing the Horn will summon an army of mighty warriors.

After these staggering events and revelations, our heroes are recuperating in the Shienaran city of Fal Dara when the Amyrlin Seat, Siuan Sanche, arrives accompanied by a group of her sister Aes Sedai. It is quickly revealed that she and Moiraine are old friends and that they have been working together to find the Dragon Reborn. However, before they can decide on what to do next, Padan Fain steals the Horn and also the tainted dagger that Mat stole from Shadar Logoth and which has infected his soul. It becomes clear very quickly that Mat needs to be reunited with the dagger in order to survive and so the three ta’veren and Loial set out in pursuit with a small group of Shienaran soldiers and an Aes Sedai called Verin. During their chase Rand encounters a beautiful and mysterious woman who calls herself Selene, who shoes him how to use ancient portal stones.

Meanwhile, Egwene and Nynaeve head to Tar Valon to begin their training as Aes Sedai. However, this places them in danger from a particularly vicious and sociopathic Sister called Liandrin. In Fal Dara we saw this woman use unscrupulous techniques to Compel people to do her biding, and now she encourages the girls to travel to Toman Head where she claims the lads are in danger. Unfortunately, they believe her and decide to follow her advice, taking Elayne Trakand and Min with them. When they arrive in Falme they are surprised by a group of people called Seanchan and Egwene is collared with an a’dam, which makes her a slave to the will of the woman wearing the attached bracelet. Now she cannot channel freely and is merely a power source for the other woman to draw upon.

I was a little disappointed with the opening to this volume because it showed certain similarities to the beginning of the first one, with a surprise attack of Trollocs. However, it soon became clear that Mr Jordan had no intension of simply rehashing the same old storylines and we soon settled into exploring new and interesting characters and places.

As with the first title in the series, we follow a quest-based plot for most of the book. The primary concern is to retrieve the Horn and Mat’s dagger, but this is no simple affair of riding along for a bit and then fighting a small dragon in order to win the day. Indeed, some of our characters have other concerns, although they do become enmeshed in the quest eventually. The routes that the various groups take to reach the town of Falme, which acts as the backdrop for the dénouement, are varied and sufficiently obscure to keep us entertained and wondering how everything will resolve.

We see our heroes from Emond’s Field begin to change and develop as their world expands and they come to terms with the roles they will play in it. We see Rand gradually accept that he really is the Dragon Reborn and start to take a leadership position within the group. He also strives to deserve the heron-marked blade that he carries and becomes increasingly proficient by using his father’s trick of holding the void to increase concentration. Perrin follows a similar path as he begins to make use of his heightened senses to help him in the search for the Horn. Mat has little development to make because he is busy dying very, very slowly, but even he shows a greater ability to do what is necessary and is responsible for possibly saving everyone’s lives at the end of the book. Egwene and Nynaeve show a little less development, but they are busy adapting to life in the White Tower and, later, the problems they encounter in Falme, so they hardly have time to breathe.

Some favorite characters from the first book, who are obviously destined to play a greater role in the series, return to the fray. Primary amongst these are Min and Thom Merrilin. It was especially good to see Thom again because our last sight of him was as he battled a Myrddraal. He is such a great character and obviously has lots of secrets from his long life, so I always enjoy reading him. In this book he takes a rather serious emotional blow, so we see a very sad, maudlin side to him that is quite surprising, but rather touching. We also get a chance to spend a lot more time with Elayne Trakand, the Daughter-Heir of Caemlyn. Rand met her very briefly in Book One, but now she is Egwene’s roommate in the Tower and soon becomes her BFF. She accompanies the girls to Falme, and it is quite clear that she will be one of the main protagonists of the series.

Of the secondary characters that reappear, the one with the largest role is undoubtedly Padan Fain, who has developed from a rather irritating Darkfriend into a seriously creepy and disturbing character. He is obsessed with Rand and the dagger that is responsible for Mat’s problems. It seems that something highly unpleasant happened to him in Shadar Logoth and that his mind is severely broken. However revolting he might be, he is certainly entertaining in a shocking and gibbering kind of way. We also revisit Elayne’s brother Gawyn, who takes one look at Egwene and falls head over heels fro her. She is rather taken with him as well, but is somewhat blinded by the hunky gorgeousness that is his half-brother Galad. Although Elayne constantly warns everyone that Galad is a total nuisance, it seems that he is so drop dead gorgeous that even the Aes Sedai are not immune to his manly manliness. Fortunately, he seems to be totally unaware of his effect on women, but he is still rather irritating and I felt very sorry for poor Gawyn always standing in his shadow.

We do meet some interesting new characters, such as the enigma that is Selene. Much like Galad, she has a befuddling effect on the opposite sex and Rand turns into a drooling idiot around her. However, she is most certainly not what she pretends to be and is likely to be one of the female Forsaken. She is certainly aware of Rand’s identity as Lews Therin reborn because she keeps making reference to how Rand ‘used to be’. Deploying his much, much smaller second brain, Rand does not notice her obvious evilness or dubious behavior and places far too much trust into her, even when she disappears and reappears at will. I was sorely tempted to give him a good slapping, but could only hope that one of the female characters would do the job for me. I am sure that Selene will prove to be evil and treacherous, and I hope that Rand notices before it is too late.

Our first look at the Amyrlin Seat is rather scary and overly littered with references to fish, fishing and sailing. Siuan Sanche grew up in and around fishing vessels and so she is constantly using metaphors that relate to that life, which is rather funny as she is possibly the most powerful woman in Randworld. She is certainly a formidable character and, as leader of the Aes Sedai, she is bound to be very influential in the future. However, it seems that her planning with Moiraine has all been kept very secret, which I find worrying because it is so important for the Aes Sedai to support Rand in the Last Battle.

The last new character that I want to mention is Birgitte Silverbow, one of the Heroes eternally bound to the Horn. She is a wonderfully sassy warrior woman and I hope that we get to see much more of her in the future.

However, I think the biggest innovation of this title is the Seanchan, an invading force from far across the western ocean. They believe themselves to be the descendants of Artur Hawking, another of the Heroes bound to the Horn, and so they consider their effort to conquer the lands of Randland to be The Return to their ancestral homes. Their society is caste based and very heavily regimented, with many aspects that are influenced by Chinese and Japanese cultures. They also deploy a range of weird and wonderful animals as well as the damane, female channelers who are leashed using a’dam and can only channel at the behest of their linked handlers, sul’dam. Their armed forces are stunningly effective, often simply because of the sheer terror that they engender in their enemies, but they are not invincible and over suffer from overconfidence. Their arrival was an unexpected complication in what is already a fairly complex world, but I hope that they prove entertaining in the future.

This is a solid sequel to the first book and expands the world in a way that emphasizes both its size and complexity. Although some of our characters behave in ways that are a little annoying, they always act from a logical set of reasons, such as age, level of experience and up bringing. Many new ideas are included and it is much more apparent why this is such a long series: the war is going to be long and very complicated, which is no bad thing in my mind.

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