New Spring, the only Wheel of Time prequel of a planned three, deals chiefly with three (really two, but I’m including a third) of Jordan’s most well realized characters, but characters that do not drive the events of the main series, merely facilitate it. Moiraine and Lan are important characters, but not character that the main series really examines in depth. They are held away from the reader, sources of mystery and awe. Siuan starts that way, though she becomes much more prominent as the series goes along. New Spring gives the reader a completely different look at those characters, seeing them before they were the people they became by the time the series started.
Reading Siuan’s portions of New Spring are a different experience after reading A Memory of Light. (Spoilers for that book) Before knowing her final fate, Siuan’s naïve desire to have adventures and see the world was sadly ironic. Readers knew that she ended up stuck in the White Tower for most of the next two decades, her rise to power as the Amyrlin Seat directly preventing her from living out her youthful dreams. It highlighted how young she and Moiraine were when they fell into the hunt for the Dragon Reborn and their youthful naivety. Knowing that she dies at the end the quest makes it downright tragic. She wasn’t just stuck in the tower for a small portion of an Aes Sedai’s extended life; she was stuck there for the majority of hers. Just as the quest that had marked her entire adult life, to some extent, was coming to a close she was killed. Those adventures she dreamed of as a young woman were not simply put off, they were never to be. It hurts all the more because Siuan was a favorite of mine. In a world of stubborn, wrongheaded people, she was one of the smartest and most rational. To have it end the way it did, so close the finish line, is one of the most painful elements of the series. New Spring is not her first adventure, it was her only one and in it she only got to play sidekick to Moiraine. It’s not fair, but life is not fair.
Lan is the most like his latter incarnation. He is already a grown man. I’m not going to look it is to be sure, but I would guess he is somewhere around 30 years old in this book. He is already regarded as one of the most dangerous men in the world, but his personal war with the Shadow is less focused and more destructive. He still has the last vestige of his disturbed childhood around in Bukama, one of the men who were tasked with saving him in the fall of Malkier and who raised him. Of course, he was raised with the destructive idea that he will spend his life fighting and eventually dying in the Blight for a cause that is already lost. It is a great tragic hook for a character, but a horrible thing for him to have to live with his whole life. This book has him face his greatest hope and greatest fear: that someone would try to bring back Malkier. Lan wants nothing more than to have his home back. That desire is blunted by his knowledge that any attempt to reclaim it is doomed to failure and would cause the death of thousands. He is constantly faced with seeing the last remaining expatriates giving up on Malkieri customs to take on those of their adopted lands. It hurts him, but he realizes it is necessary. Malkier is dead. Meeting Moiraine, and seeing that last desperate hope for his homeland snuffed out, leads him to refocusing his war in the shadow in something less futile. There is little change for Lan here, just as chance to see him as one of the primary movers of the story for once.
Moiraine was always one of Jordan’s most intriguing characters. She is an example of how he didn’t really upset the tropes that many fantasy stories are built on, but he did like to give them a push and see them teeter. Moiraine plays the same role as characters like Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars or Gandalf in Lord of the Rings; she is the mentor, the “Wise Old Man.” Except, she is does not appear old, she is not a man and book questions exactly how wise she is. For the first book, and even up to the third, there are questions about just what her motives are. Following her is clearly a better choice for Rand and company than facing the Trollocs, but does she have their best interests at heart? The Eye of the World plays with this, never quite letting the reader trust her. Of course, in the end the true order is upheld, Moiraine is not just trustworthy, she is one of the few trustworthy Aes Sedai in the world. Coming long after her mysterious introduction, New Spring gives readers a new look at Moiraine. She is not the cool and collected mentor of the main series, but a young woman in over her head. She is not too different from the Wheel of Time’s protagonists, though with some training but lacking a mentor. While knowing that she survives to be in the rest of the series robs New Spring of some tension, it is still fun to see a young, less assured Moiraine in action. It is easy to see how she became the character she was by the start of the series.
That is what New Spring delivers to readers. Not an essential addition to the series, but an entertaining look at some characters whose roles in the main series means that they are somewhat remote. It is rarely clear exactly what Moiraine or Lan are thinking in the main series, but New Spring lest readers see inside. And while it is nothing revelatory, it is still fun to see. Of course, calling New Spring “fun” side steps just how dark a tale it is. There is plenty of levity, but the whole book is stained with blood and tragedy. Heading into the climax it is in many ways a romp, allowing for a handful of assassinations, but the end is bleak. Good times must end and adventures tend to be bloodier than Moiraine or Siuan suspect.