The Great Hunt
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my impressions on re-reading The Eye of the World, the opening volume of Robert Jordan's long-running epic fantasy series The Wheel of Time.
As before, I have no intention or interest in doing any sort of overall coverage of the basic plot of The Great Hunt. I think that instead I am coming into the basic format of how I want to cover these books, and that's simply to talk about I did like and what I did not like.
I can't say that the "In the Shadow" prologue of The Great Hunt has anywhere near the impact of the "Dragonmount" prologue of The Eye of the World. It doesn't, and perhaps, can't. What this prologue does well is establish beyond a shadow of a doubt (no pun intended) that there really are Darkfriends among all lands and all people, both highborn and low, even among those who should not be touched by a taint of shadow. This prologue is from the perspective of a man named Bors, though it is not his real name. This prologue is a meeting of Darkfriends, to give each Darkfriend their instructions. Bors notes, walking around the room, that some have not hidden their identities very well.
He could read them all, to class and country. Merchant and warrior, commoner and noble. From Kandor and Cairhien, Saldaea and Ghealdan. From every nation and nearly every people. His nose wrinkled in sudden disgust. Even a Tinker, in bright green breeches and virulent yellow coat. pg xv
Bors marks certain nations, a High Lord of Tear and an Andoran Queen's Guard, Aes Sedai, and himself - one of the Questioners of the Children of Light. The point of all of this is that I appreciate how Jordan, in a handful of pages, covers just how widespread the infection of Darkfriends are and how anyone can be a Darkfriend. This means that ultimately, everyone may be a threat to Rand and his friends. Anyone could be that Aes Sedai. Who is the Sheinarian soldier?
Frequently, what I appreciate is the moments where history is revealed as part of conversation. Take the scene opening Chapter 5 with Moiraine speaking with her old friend, the Amyrlin Seat, Siuan Sanche where Jordan reveals for the first time the secret plan these two old friends had to find Rand, the Dragon Reborn, and what they risked, even among those who are fighting The Dark One. It is one of those conversations which is ultimately an info-dump, a chance for Jordan to reveal so much detail that no other character knows so that we, the reader, are not left in the dark (so to speak) regarding what Moiraine is planning and why she is acting the way she does. In the hands of a lesser writer such an info-dump might come across as clumsy, but in the hands of Robert Jordan this very info-dump (and make no mistake, it is an info-dump) feels comfortable and necessary. It works more than it should.
This followed by a half-reveal of who one of the Aes Sedai Darkfriends are. A Black Ajah, one dedicated to serving the Dark One. What I am trying to remember is if I realized what that scene meant when I read the book the first time or if it is only crystal clear because I've read the series and was hit on the head by the full reveal. I want to believe I was smart enough to catch it the first time.
Page 89: The dark prophecy written in blood which mentions a Daughter of the Night, Luc and Isam, and hints at the Seanchan. The first time I read this I appreciated the mention of The Daughter of Night (Lanfear), the second time I appreciated the hints of the Seanchan. This time, I appreciated Luc and Isam. I can't say I really understand the mechanics of the Luc / Isam stuff, but Luc is brother to Rand's birth mother and Isam is Lan's cousin. The other part I love about the prophecy is we then get to see Verin piece together what it may mean and then move right into realizing what Moiraine and Siuan are up to.
Pg 146, regarding Ingtar: "He spoke of the glory they would have, their names remembered in story and history, in gleeman's tales and bards' songs, the men who found the Horn. He talked as if he could not stop, and her stared down the trail they followed as if his hope of the Light lay at the end of it." This is colored by having read the book before, but it's just sad. And, while Jordan pushes it a few times, an excellent set up.
As much as anything else in this book, I love the idea of the Portal Stones and the alternate worlds where history turned out differently. This is where Rand meets Selene, a woman who is very much not who she seems to be . The Portal Stone sequenes are very well done early in the novel and the short sequence near the end with flicker flicker flicker and "I have won again, Lews Therin" is nothing short of masterful.
Pg 254. Remember how I pointed out the crystal spheres Bayle Domon mentioned in The Eye of the World? Well, here's one of the two in Cairhein and Rand feels drawn to it - to such an extent that even Selene, who previously has asked Rand to seek power and glory, wants Rand away from it and she is scared. By this point we should have an idea who Selene is, but clearly she knows what the sphere is and why Rand should be afraid. These two pages gives the first hint about how much power Rand can channel through that sphere and while it won't pay off in this volume this is part of Robert Jordan's setting things up for much later in the series and also just worldbuilding - except it is worldbuilding with a purpose. Page 385 tells us clearly that it is a very powerful sa'angreal for men to amplify the One Power.
Pg 284. I just like sequences at The White Tower and this one is where Nynaeve goes through the Rings and sees lives she could have (and could still) live if she takes another path, each one with different pain and possibilities. Powerful sequences.
Pg 311. The Illuminators. Nothing comes of it now, and really, nothing comes of it throughout much of the series, but there is a feeling of importance to fireworks and the Illuminators. Even now, with the first mention of the Illuminators there is a feeling that they will matter.
Pg 325. I like prophecy and this is the beginning of the "twice and twice shall he be marked" prohpecy with the herons and dragons. It'll pop up a few more times, but Jordan does prophecy very well.
Pg 420. I don't remember if Min mentioned this or not in The Eye of the World, but here is a mention of Tuon, and the Court of the Nine Moons. This will matter much later in the series. It's not even a throw-away line, it's just description of no signficance, except that it introduces something important.
Here's one thing I did not like: Nynaeve. No, she didn't tug her braid in this book either (two in a row!), but at page 232 she is being taught the same lessons in channeling that Egwene is being taught, except Nynaeve has a block and cannot channel except when angry. Okay, fine. This comes up throughout the series. Only problem is that late in the novel she channels time and time again with great control and skill. Now, given the situation late in the novel she is very likely angry. But, what Jordan established in the first book and midway through this one is that Nynaeve needs to be very angry to be able to push past her block and channel. When she does channel it all comes out as a rush and partly out of control. So how then, exactly, does she channel with such control and precision near the end of the novel? How?
No answers are forthcoming, except perhaps that she was angry and had such a controlled anger during that period that she could do what she needed to do. Just seems a bit shady, though. Give Elayne those actions and there's no problem.
Pg 308. Min. "Light, I don't want to fall in lovewith a man I've only met once, and a farmboy at that." Min has visions about people and she knows that she will fall in love with Rand, as will two other women, and they'll all have to share him. I'm projecting a bit here, because Min didn't say she loved Rand yet, but two of the three women in question feel a bit forced...no, that's not right. Not forced. Just too easy. Only one of the three seems like there might be an honest attachment that comes from really knowing each other. Min, and the second woman, seems calculated for story.
Overall The Great Hunt is a stronger novel than The Eye of the World as Jordan begins to step away from having the series be a basic kitchen boy / farm boy fantasy. There are so many little details to note, things that really stand out on a second read through (or in my case an eleventy billionth read-through) of the series. The opening of the novel is a bit slower than necessary as Rand is not yet his own man (stubborn, yes, of course he is stubborn). Rand reacts when events push him, but he does not make his own decisions yet. Of course, the series will show later that Rand probably should not make his own decisions and that he is better off when he doesn't, but given that the novel opens with Rand having said he was going to leave Fal Dara for weeks but staying despite his protests (until something forces the issue), this can be a frustrating issue. On the flip side, it gives Jordan a chance to have some speechifying and info-dump history and the fact of the matter is that Jordan is just damn good at doing that.
This is Robert Jordan improving. He'll hit his stride in the next two volumes, but there are some absolutely fine moments (the blowing of the horn, Egwene with the Seanchan, the Portal Stones, Rand in front of the Amrylin, etc) in this volume. Little things still matter here and for the first time, Robert Jordan really broadens the scope of the series with the Seanchan. He also pulls characters apart so that while they are all working towards the same thing and know what Rand is, Egwene / Elayne / Nynaeve are off doing the Aes Sedai thing, Moiraine is trying to lead Rand by not leading him, Rand is trying to figure out what to do while trying to help Mat, Mat and Perrin are coming to terms with Rand being the Dragon, and at the very end, we get Masema looking reverantly on at Rand after the battle in the sky. This is another little thing that will matter.
Hey, you either like Robert Jordan or you don't, but when you do, you realize just how much he put into these books, just how much detail that doesn't feel like overkill. It's an impressive achievement.
Not that I ever would have wanted to intrude into such a private and emotional moment, but I would have loved to have been there when Jordan told his wife, cousin, and perhaps someone else the overall arc he planned for A Memory of Light. This was shortly before he died, but even stepping away from what that moment meant for him and his family, it would have been something to have the man himself spin out the tale over a period several hours. No fan outside the family should have been there (and wasn't, if I remember correctly), but I would love to have heard Jordan spin out the story...any story. The man was a great storyteller.