Wheel of Time Book 3: The Dragon Reborn.
Before I start going over The Dragon Reborn, I have to be upfront about something. This book is my absolute favorite book. Not just in the series, but period, out of all the books I like this one the best. So if I get to gushing outrageously, you know the reason why.
The first thing that jumps out at me is that for a book titled The Dragon Reborn, the character that the title refers to appears very little. Rand dominated the first two books of the series, clearly establishing himself as the series true protagonist. However, that put his growth as a character pretty far ahead of most of the cast. At the end of the last book, he accepted his role, he now only needs to actualize it. So that leaves page time for the rest of cast to grow and develop, especially Perrin and Mat.
Mat is the breakout character of this book. In the first two volumes, Mat has been little more than a nuisance. An amusing nuisance, but as much a hindrance as a help. Yes, it was mostly due to the Shadar Logoth dagger he picked up, but picking up daggers from Shadar Logoth is just the kind of problem he causes. Elayne, Nynaeve and Egwene, affectionately or derivatively referred to as the Supergirls, also get much more than their brief chapters from The Great Hunt, getting out and getting involved as much as the guys. Lastly, Perrin takes over as the primary star of the this book, and his personal difficulties that will rage for the rest of the series are clearly outlined. So basically everybody but Rand gets some significant page time.
We start with Rand and his allies hiding in the mountains, waiting. Rand is impatient, but he doesn’t really know where to go and he doesn’t want to leave his friends. Moiraine is waiting to try to turn the situation in Almoth to hers, and Rand’s, favor. As well and Moiraine and Suian played Rand at the start of the last book, she fails pretty herd here. Moiraine still thinks she is in control. And if she would have just shared her plan with Rand, let Rand think it was at least partly his decision, then he would have likely followed her. The Aes Sedai’s habit of secrecy really hinders her plan. So after some Trollocs attack, and Rand almost loses control he leaves, sneaking away in the night to what he believes he must to become the Dragon Reborn. After the first five or so chapters, it is exit Rand for the bulk of the book. From here on there are just a few fireside snippets and the last chapters.
So Perrin, Loial, Lan and Moiraine chase after him. Perrin takes center stage. He is much more laid back than Rand, but no more eager to be under Moiraine’s control the he was. But he knows the she knows more than he does, that he can use her help. Especially due to his wolfbrother nature. His worries over that are exacerbated when they encounter a man with similar powers who has given in entirely to the wolves. That is Perrin’s struggle for most of the rest of the series, his fear that if he uses his wolf powers he will lose his humanity. We also see the effects of a Ta’veren on the world, with chance skewing wildly in the towns that Rand has visited. Soon, they stop in a town that has seen plenty of excitement, what with hunters of the horn and Aiel. The Aiel War, which took place almost 20 years before the series, is the inciting incident for many events of the series. And things such as the hatred the general WoT populace has for the Aiel. Which is why they put a captured Aiel in a cage. Perrin saves him because Perrin isn’t a horrible human being, and cares more for what is right than what people will think of him. Saving Gaul, the Aiel, also catches the eye of Faile, a hunter for the horn. Pretty quickly she worms her way into the group and into Perrin’s thoughts. Their tumultuous relationship is the other side of Perrin’s future worries. Now that Perrin is set, the book moves to the other half of the group from Emond’s Field.
The girls and Mat are headed back to Tar Valon for learning and healing respectively. The girls are simultaneously punished and elevated. They are thrust right into the web of mistrust and deceit that is Aes Sedai politics. Their plight also shows just how precarious the plans of Suian and Moiraine, the only confirmed good guy Aes Sedai, are. Whitecloaks are at the gates, the Black Ajah has revealed themselves and Suian can only trust three half-trained girls. It seems like a really dumb idea, but laid out like Suian lays it out it makes sense, if only because no Aes Sedai would willing give up information for nothing. The only people that Suian can be absolutely sure aren’t Darkfriends are the ones that were almost killed by them. So now, Elayne, Nynaeve and Egwene play Nancy Drew to try to figure out where the Black Sisters went and what they are up to.
While the girls are ostensibly being taught, it has never been clear to me exactly what the Aes Sedai know how to do. I would guess there is a significantly longer list of weaves that they no longer know than ones they are shown still knowing. Of course, we don’t see the girls doing much learning, because that would be boring, so instead we only see the aftermath of lessons and important meetings. I like how they take the Amyrlin’s lack of direction as license to do whatever they want in tracking down the Black Ajah. Despite already being caught unawares once, they are jumping headlong in once again. Also, as the book goes on the power dynamics of the trio start to shift. Nynaeve is no longer above the other two, and they start to realize that. Plus, Nynaeve is far from the best leader.
Mat, meanwhile, gets his first POV chapters. And finally, readers can find out exactly what he is up to. From the first moment we are in Mat’s head the book becomes about twice as entertaining. Jordan outdoes himself with Mat. He is the perfect rascal. He hates boundaries, hates being confined. As soon as he thinks someone is trapping him in, he starts looking for ways to get around it. Which gets him into trouble, like how he is more susceptible to Lanfear’s promises of power than Rand or Perrin. Though to Mat’s credit, he knows enough not to out and out trust her. But it also earns him some respect from the Amyrlin. She knows she can’t get far bullshitting Mat, so she is honest with him, at least as honest as an Aes Sedai can be. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Mat’s duel with Galad and Gawyn, which is one of the truly great moments in the series, moments that this book has more than its fair share of.
Poor Suian, her carefully laid plots go awry because she was forced to rely mostly on Two Rivers folk, and they help each other out. She needed, or thought she needed, Mat kept in the tower, but in order for the girls to accomplish much they had to have her notes of authority. How could she have foreseen them giving one to Mat, allowing him to escape Tar Valon? In a truly unfortunate way, the Two Rivers folk are largely responsible for her fall from being Amyrlin.
We get a few chapters of the great Mat/Thom duo. Thom playing straight man to Mat’s foolish antics is just about the perfect pairing. I think Thom sees a young version of himself in Mat, and can’t help but be caught up with the exuberant youngster. We also start to get an idea of just how much trouble the world is in, with every country seemingly controlled by a member of the now freed Forsaken. There is Rahvin in Caemlyn and Sammael in Illian and Be’lal in Tear. In just the first couple of books, the world got a whole lot more dangerous, and they were running for their lives to start with.
So with Rand sidelined, we see the rest of the cast evolve or at least learn more about them. Mat absolutely will not be forced, but given the choice he will usually do the right thing and he sticks by his friends. He rushes after the girls once he finds out they are in trouble, no matter who or what else might be after them. Perrin, always careful for fear of hurting someone, is greatly troubled by his powers and hesitant to use them, even to the point of endangering everything. And the girls are prodigies, but reckless. They know no fear, but need to learn caution. No of their obstacles are as dangerous or as life shattering as Rand’s, but in The Dragon Reborn they all truly begin the road to facing them.
One last note on Moiraine. Though she bungles handling Rand at the start of the book, it is clear that while she was gone in The Great Hunt she upped her game. Coming face to face with the Forsaken and realizing she was not up to that challenge I think forced her to reevaluate her plans. But being gone from the group allowed them to assert their independence from her, meaning that she still loses. At least until she can reassess again.
In the end, all roads lead to Tear, to the Stone of Tear specifically. That is where the girls are lured, that is where Perrin and Moiraine follow Rand. That is where the Aiel were headed. Amazing that the fortress had stood untaken for centuries, only to be breached about a dozen times on one night. Also, because I am apparently incredibly dense, I read this book about 4 times before I realized the Callandor is the Sword in the Stone from King Arthur. The last few scenes in Tear are truly great because so much is happening at once. The Aiel are attacking, Rand is having a showdown with Ishamael, Moiraine takes out Be’lal, Mat and Juilin are freeing Egwene and the rest and Perrin is fighting to save Faile from the Black Ajah’s trap. It is a breathtaking finish that puts quite an exclamation point on the end of the first part of the Wheel of Time. After this book, Rand is the Dragon Reborn, mo more hiding or doubts. In some ways it is the point where the series really gets going.
Despite or even because of Rand’s absence from the bulk of this book it is one of the best. While the scope of this series was large from the start, by leaving Rand out for a book, Jordan really emphasizes the importance of the supporting cast. When friends of mine pick up the Wheel of Time for the first time, I always tell them that the need to at least read through the Dragon Reborn. If they don’t care for it then they should stop. I’ve had a few only decide to stick with the series because they went ahead and read the third volume. It is not only incredibly good, but it also really brings the world to life more than the previous two books. I absolutely love it.