In some ways, The Dragon Reborn is the first true Wheel of Time book. This is the one where Jordan’s completely hit his stride. It builds to a definite ending from almost page one, and just clicks in a way that’s hard to describe, but easy to recognize. It’s perhaps the truest representation of what I think of when I talk about the series. If someone could only ever read one book in the series, I’d recommend that it be this one.
That said, do I like it now as much as I did in previous reads?
The depth and variety of characters is almost unrivaled, in my opinion. We get a half-dozen PoV characters in this book, and not only are their personalities consistent and realistic, but they’re dynamic and layered. We find out that not only do the characters all want more than one thing, but they sometimes tell themselves that they want one thing while there are hints that they actually want something else.
The best examples of this are Mat and Nynaeve. The humor in these characters is in large part from how much they lie to themselves. Jordan uses a tight Third Person perspective to turn them into unreliable narrators, shoving their opinions and observations into the narration, while also somehow suggesting that they might be wrong. It was this trick, in large part, that convinced me to be a writer.
Speaking of which, Mat is finally on the scene! Not the sickly, paranoid annoyance everyone’s been lugging around for two books. This is the Mat who dances and gambles and never breaks his promises. When people say Mat is their favorite character, this is the book where it started. His every scene in this novel is beautiful.
Perrin’s scenes aren’t quite so fun. He’s starting to struggle with problems that will overwhelm his storyline for most of the series. For now, though, we get a clear picture of why he’s struggling. In this book, at least, the struggle feels appropriate and means something. It’s Perrin who gives me my favorite passage in the book.
Rand is almost completely absent. That’s quite a departure from the last two books, in which Rand was inarguably the main character. It was a brave choice to have the main character go missing for most of a book, and there are some compelling meta-reasons for him doing this that I’m not going to go into here. Oddly enough, it’s Rand’s few scenes that I have the most problem with. But we’ll get to that in the spoiler section.
We get to see multiple cultures in this book. We’ve already seen many of them, and some of them we don’t learn all that much about. That isn’t to say that they’re executed poorly–on the contrary, Jordan’s worldbuilding has always been one of his strengths. Unlike some other books in the series, however, I don’t really feel like “seeing the world” was a primary focus of The Dragon Reborn. This book was about its characters, and its plot. And those shine bright.
The pace of this book is really weird. Different storylines start at different points and progress at different speeds, so that they all line up for the ending. It makes the first half of the book very scattered, but allows for what I think is one of Jordan’s best endings.
There are still some early-bookisms. The magic system is about 80% in place, but it’s not the concrete, almost scientific system we see in the middle to late part of the series. In dramatic moments, characters will sometimes fall into theatrical, archaic language that lends itself to narm. A romance plot comes oh-so-close to bombing, especially on rereads. And there is the occasional line of prose that could have used an extra polish.
Some of these are nitpicky, and some of these did interfere to a small degree with my enjoyment of the book. But none of it prevents The Dragon Reborn from being easily my favorite book in the reread so far, and one of my favorite books of all time.
So, you know, beware.
I love the Pedron Niall prologue. It’s always impressed me how fairly Jordan represents the antagonists of the series. (Except Fain, of course, because screw that guy.) Niall’s PoV is one of the best examples. I detest this man, what he stands for, the group he leads, and what they stand for. And yet Jordan made me understand him. Even empathize with him in places. I found things to admire in Niall, and could see why others followed his lead. That is beautiful character work.
Perrin at the opening of chapter one is just iconic. The whole sequence with him waiting for the Tinker woman, leading her down into the camp, is begging to be put on film. It’s written so beautifully, too. It truly felt like I was there in the cold with Perrin.
Throughout the book, different characters worry that Rand is losing it. Whether that’s Perrin after Rand almost brings the mountain down on them, or Egwene when he almost kills her in Tel’aran’rhiod, or the reader, probably, when Rand has the corpses kneel to him. I think he did go mad, for the last.
I loved Aludra popping back up and how fireworks became a plot point again. Everything about that plot thread, actually, all the way to the end of the series, works really well for me. It’s one of the longest-running pieces in the series, without ever overwhelming what I’d consider to be the main points.
The failed romance, of course, is Perrin and Faile. I’m one of the few fans who really likes Faile as a character, and even defends THAT ONE PLOT. ( In that I think it should have been a book shorter, but I don’t think it should have been cut completely.) In book four, their romance absolutely works for me. The second half of the book, anyway.
But in this book…
I don’t remember whether it’s Lan or Moiraine who speculates that Faile is only staring at Perrin because she finds him attractive. Looking at her behavior from this perspective is kind of adorable. She’s trying to act all cool and mysterious, meanwhile she’s fawning over Perrin. In other ways (the “cultural differences” stuff that gets really annoying later), I’m with Perrin all the way.
The actual failure comes at the end of the book. Within the space of a few pages, Perrin goes from, “I’m not sure what I think about this Zarine girl,” to, “MY FALCON!” Similar to Egwene and Elayne and Min all saying, “I think we should be friends!” in The Great Hunt, Jordan, that’s not how people work.
Naturally my favorite scene in the book is from just before that. The Perrin blacksmith scene. It’s beautiful, and calming, and it makes me as a reader feel at peace just as Perrin does. It’s a moment that Perrin needed, to recenter so he could move forward. It also breaks my heart. I have more to say, but it would spoil the whole series. So I’ll stop there.
Every scene from Mat. The duel with Gawyn and Galad. The footpads on the rooftops. Him and Thom adventuring. Aludra. Then Tear, which is even better. Every sentence from Mat’s perspective is perfect, it seems like.
I expected to wince as I reread Mat rescuing the Supergirls from the Stone. But to be honest, it’s written wonderfully. I think they’re in the wrong for not appreciating him risking his life to save them from, as he saw it, certain death. But it’s easy to see how patronizing that seems, especially considering that they were so close to escaping on their own, and he is so clueless about why what they’re doing is important. Everyone is in the wrong, unlike how the situation is presented later in the series. So the scene I was expecting to be hard to read was awesome. Everything’s good, then? Right?
Except the epilogue. The epilogue is a blemish on the face of a good book. Infodump that we don’t need, characters present only for what exposition they can deliver, new questions raised that are less interesting than the ones this book has answered, and prose that is workmanlike rather than beautiful. It’s not just the worst epilogue I think we get in the series; it’s one of the worst scenes. I’ll see if I run across a scene that I dislike as much as this one. It’s the low bar.
My last problem is with Rand’s scenes, particularly during the climax. Rand solving problems using the Power without really knowing how to use it yet is at its absolute worst here. I hope it is, anyway; otherwise, half of next book is going to be hard to get through.