Lord of Chaos is the volume when things fall apart for Rand. Before this things have been going pretty well. Sure, the odds are stacked against them, but each book seemed to end with Rand taking another step forward on his quest to save the world. Lord of Chaos at first appears to end in a similar way, but when one really looks at it, it really doesn’t. Rand’s victory at Dumai’s Wells is as pyrrhic as they come.
Lord of Chaos is also the last great WoT book, at least for a while. Crown of Swords is really good, but not quite on the level of the four books previous, and the three after that are troubled to say the least. LoC is the end of what I like to think of as the second trilogy of the series. The first three books work well together, and the next three, Shadow, Fires and Lord of Chaos, aren’t quite as well tied but still work. They cover the rise of Rand as a leader, up to the point where the wheels fall off the wagon. It is also the last book, until maybe one of the last two, to have all the major characters active in the story.
Rand has two big problems at the start of this book, and together they are making each other worse. The first problem is in his head. After seeing many of his friends nearly killed, and some actually killed, at the climax of the last book, he wants to send everyone away from him because it is too dangerous. The other is that too many of his friends have already left him. His rise to power has been sudden and there are few people he can trust. More and more of his close allies are being taken away from him. He is aware of this problem, but since he knows that being around him brings trouble he is still eager to distance himself from them.
This forces him to do things that are pretty obviously stupid. Like putting Marzim Taim in charge of his goal to bring in male channelers. The idea of finding other men who can channel and training them is a good one. He needs help, and he needs help he can trust. One thing Aes Sedai have proved themselves so far is untrustworthy. So a cadre of male channelers loyal to would be a definite plus. But Taim is obviously bad news. Jordan could not have made that more clear outside of having him just state it. Rand, unfortunately, doesn’t have the time to do it himself nor anyone else to turn to. He uses the tools he has and hopes for the best. It is the same with his ruling of Cairhien and Andor. He has truly conquered Cairhien, but he hold little more than Caemlyn in Andor. He has only the Aiel to rule them, and the society difference and racial animosity between them and everyone else makes that difficult. Especially since everyone would love to see him gone.
The only friends from Emond’s Field he has left are Egwene and Mat. Mat he sends away as part of his strategy in his fight with Sammael in Illian and then sends him away again when he finds the Rebel Aes Sedai in Salidar. Egwene has made herself doubly suspicious to him. While until this point has always been on his side, she is now both Aes Sedai and Aiel. While he trust her, he can’t really afford to use her in his planning. Mat has probably the least going on of a major character in this book. Rand sends him south, and he goes south. He does find Olver on the road south, an important wrinkle in Mat’s growth as a character. Then Rand sends him to Salidar, and he goes. Mat is always entertaining, but he doesn’t have a big effect on the plot.
Egwene’s story takes a big turn in this volume, though. In the first half, while recovering from her assault at the hands of Lanfear at the end of the last book, she finally starts her romance with Gawyn. Midway through the book, though, she is summoned to Salidar to be the Rebel Amyrlin. This is also a big change for Siuan. Siuan is fighting to remain relevant without the ability to channel, and influencing the ruling council in Salidar to choose an Amyrlin. Egwene is the one they choose as an agreeable alternative to giving someone else power or putting their own head on the block. Egwene accepts, but is determined not to be a puppet, at least not longer than she must. Siuan soon realizes this and, too her credit, is immediately on board. Especially since Egwene doesn’t treat her like an invalid. Even from the start, Egwene fights to show her independence, if just in small ways. The pomp and ritual of the ceremony is something that Jordan does especially well. It is strange and alien and still somehow familiar and understandable.
After Rand sends Mat away, he does get the bonus of having Perrin return. Perrin missed the entire last volume, and has little to do for the first two thirds of this one. I do love the family drama of Perrin meeting his in-laws, as well as Faile being jealous of Min.
Min’s arrival in Caemlyn is part of the biggest plot thread of Lord of Chaos, Rand’s struggles to deal with Aes Sedai. First, there is his meeting with the girls who came from the Two Rivers along with Verin and Alanna. Alanna bonds him without permission, something that is akin to rape in the Wheel of Time world. This is nearly a sundering of Rands trust of any kind in Aes Sedai. Then he meets with the ambassadors from the rebels in Salidar. Things with them are going largely well until one of those sisters is assaulted by what she thinks is an Aiel, and therefore at Rand’s order. In truth, it is one of the remnants of Padan Fains Whitecloaks. Their retaliation really rubs Rand wrong. Which is unfortunate, because until that point it had been the most honest the Aes Sedai have been. Rand retreats to Cairhien, along with Perrin.
In Cairhien he had been meeting with Aes Sedai from the Tower. They have been treating him with absolutely no respect, as though he his is a stupid country bumpkin. Rand does not have much more than that for them, stringing them along and playing to their preconceptions. They aren’t stupid, though, so they eventually grow tired of his games and that leads to disaster.
I almost forgot to go over Elayne and Nynaeve. Their story is one of the best parts of Lord of Chaos. They are back with the Aes Sedai in Salidar and are having trouble dealing with no longer being in charge of themselves. This is offset by their use of the captures Moghedien to help them find lost weaves from the Age of Legends. Of course, they also have some new ones of their own. If Nynaeve’s awesomeness was still in question, her discovering how to heal stilling is amazing. It is one of the best segments in the book. Especially when she heals Siuan and Leane. That is as genuine emotion as you get in fantasy novels. By the end they have convinced Egwene to send them away again on what they hope is an important mission. It seems to me that it is mostly to escape the strictures of the other Aes Sedai.
That leaves us with the big climax of the book, Dumai’s Wells. The Tower Aes Sedai kidnap Rand, as well as Min, and escape the city. Once Perrin and Aiel catch wind of this, they gather what loyal troops they can find and go to rescue them. Along the way they meet the Rebel Aes Sedai, along with the rest of Perrin’s men, and join up. Meanwhile, the remnants of last books bad guys, the Shaido Aiel, have betrayed their Tower allies and make an attempt to take Rand for themselves. It all culminates in a terrible three way battle. First of all, how the kidnappers treat Rand is reprehensible. The fact that several of them are Black Ajah is not surprising. With the Shaido attacking, Rand is able to escape, but he remains trapped between two groups of awful people. Also, his captivity was obviously damaging to his psyche.
That last battle has everything going on. Aiel Wise Ones joining the battle, irrevocably changing their culture. Perrin and the hodge podge army he leads wading into the already started conflict on a desperate attempt to save Rand with little hope of coming out alive. Rand running free within the enemy camp, more after revenge that escape. Gawyn having to weigh his two sets of ideals against each other. And it ends with the arrival of Taim and the Asha’man. I said putting him in charge was a bad idea, but it pays off here. The mechanical precision of how they take apart their enemies is scary, doubly so since you know they are fated to go crazy. The final image of the novel is Rand forcing what should have been his ally Aes Sedai to kneel before him. While Rand is saved and complete disaster is avoided, he is damaged, as is the image of his power. Rand is measurably worse off than he starts and his true enemies, the shadow, have lost nothing.
This is an amazing book. It is the fall of Rand. I would liken it to Empire Strikes Back, with it being a near complete loss for the good guys but still awesome. This volume has some of the biggest changes to the cast since the first book. While Rand has assumed his power, this book has Egwene’s rise, as well a more ascent from Nyneave, Elayne and Perrin. While it is bad for Rand to be without allies, it is important for his allies to get away from and grow so they can truly help him. The fall in quality after this book is inevitable, since the cast is now so spread out. The first six volumes of this saga is the best such segment in any books series.