I found this book more absorbing than The Eye of the World; I finished reading it around Feb. 15 and had to force myself not to start The Dragon Reborn until March. Picked up Bernard Cornwell's The Winter King in the meantime, but more about that in another post (TK).
Leigh Butler's smartly written synopses at Tor are very handy references and refreshers.
I think these books need to be understood as "Lord of the Rings fan fiction". I read that quote somewhere. Wheel of Time could never have been written without LoTR. These books have similar strengths and weaknesses of LoTR: shallow characters, black-and-white vision of good/evil, a chaste and non-gritty way of describing and experiencing, richly envisioned landscape, culture, and long journeys, epic "save the world" plot, and of course the usual cast of warriors, magicians, orcs, elves and other such myth-like beings. For those of us who were entranced by LoTR, the WoT promises a much longer immersion in a magical world where one's actions have epic meaning and value.
Perhaps the weakness of the character depiction is intended as a tabula rasa: the reader brings her own ideas and dreams to flesh out the characters, creating a more intimate and personal bond with them. Only dreamy types read these books anyway. One must understand one's intended audience, right?
- Development of the background on masculine and feminine powers (saidin and saidar)
- The Ajah intrigues and dynamics
- The practices of the Aes Sedai
- The pace and building of the plot
- Rand's emerging power and skill to manage it
- The scene where Rand tries to channel saidin to pass through the portal stone and "flickers" between alternative lifetimes in which he experiences the same calling but with different circumstances and outcomes... is great. Beautifully and economically written and intellectually rich. Makes me think it's a pity that the rest of what I've read isn't up to this quality.
- The alternative universe accessed via the Portal Stones through the exercise of the One Power
- Nynaeve's ter'angreal Accepted testing. It's a spiritual test to turn away from all that one knows to be good and all that one desires, to attain what one REALLY desires.
- The damane theme (enslaved Aes Sedai)
- Nynaeve's caper to rescue Egwene
- The way the plot-driven writing and obscure atmospheric hintings and spookiness immerse the reader in the sense of great events unfolding
- The Black Wind inside the Waygate is a really cool entity or force or whatever it is!
Not so much:
The damane theme (enslaved Aes Sedai) was... what is the word I want, "titillating"? Pruriently stimulating? Deliciously agonizing?
- jumbotron display of Rand as the Dragon Reborn battling Ba’alzamon. A narrative convenience with no supporting explanation. We live too much in the world of mass telecommunications now.
- I didn't completely get the buildup to the epic battle here. I missed something? Why were the White Cloaks going to fight the Seanchan invaders? and Rand's "coming out" is a bit of a let-down; I'm worried that the rest will be boring.
- I also missed this: how did Rand know that Ingtar would meet up with them in Cairhien?
I haven't yet decided if this is too silly to read.