We debate the merits and demerits of the third book in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series: The Dragon Reborn. Study up before the TV show comes out!
DAN: We’re here discussing the third book in The Wheel of Time series, and while it’s still fun to check in with Perrin and Nynaeve and the rest of the gang as they go on their adventures about Randland, I’m starting to see patterns in the storytelling. Structurally, The Dragon Reborn was pretty similar to The Great Hunt and even The Eye of the World: the gang is together (mostly) in the beginning), go on separate journeys throughout the bulk of the book, and then come back together for a huge climax. It’s a solid enough formula, but it’s hard not to see the strings.
I really liked the climax of The Great Hunt, which seemed like a big step forward for Rand on his journey to accepting that he is indeed the Dragon Reborn, or the Chosen One, or however you want to put it. It was interesting to find him in full-on…denial? despair? bargaining?…at the beginning of this book. The climax here, which I assumed finally convinced him to embrace his destiny (I hope) felt a little like a retread, although I did appreciate that Ba’alzamon was finally dealt with for good…right?
I seem to have a lot of lingering questions, which I can’t tell whether is due to sloppiness on Jordan’s part or if this is just the kind of slow burn story he wants to tell. Like, at the end, it finally occurred to the characters that Ba’alzamon and the Dark One may not be the same being; I feel like they were behind the readers on that one.
My favorite part of the book was probably when Egwene, Nynaeve and Elayne were in the White Tower and charged with hunting down the Black Ajah. It wasn’t A Song of Ice and Fire, but there were some cool cloak-and-dagger bits in those sections. And I remember jumping when Lanfear suddenly showed up out of nowhere.
Anything in particular about The Dragon Reborn stand out to you, Corey?
COREY: To steal a line from another of our favorite fantasy authors, oh my sweet summer child.I am several books ahead of you, so I’m not sure which of your questions you want answers to, but I’ll do my best to walk the line between spoiling things and being a good conversationalist.
So, let’s start with your first point: The Dragon Reborn’s structure. You are correct: it is structured similarly to the other books in the series thus far, with Rand being the exception. Rand spends most of the book off-page, only appearing occasionally until the climax. I thought it was a welcome and bold choice. Removing your main character this early in a book series — and yes, three books in is early when there are 14 in all — takes some backbone. It played with the notion that Rand was going insane, as well as allowed the other characters to breath. Main characters are fun and all, but they can drag down the development of the supporting cast, so it was nice to focus on other people for a bit.
As for Rand fulfilling the prophecies, oh buddy, that never stops as far as I’ve seen. Every group of people in Randland has a different prophecy about the Dragon, and Rand goes around fulfulling all of them. It’s sort of annoying to a certain extent. That being said, yes, Rand does start to really gain confidence at the climax of this book. As for Ba’alzamon, I’ll only say that I was really just annoyed that he was in this book at all. This was the third book in a row that Rand fought and defeated Ba’alzamon, and this book is just starting to introduced us to the other Forsaken. They’re the best parts of the series, and it really hits its stride when they’re all running around.
As for lingering questions, again, get used to it. The whole series is a slow burn, so answers are a long time coming on a lot of subjects.
I also enjoyed the bits with Egwene, Nynaeve and Elayne. That trio has not yet devolved into the bickering group that it becomes later on in the series, and it was fun to see them make their way down to Tear. I quite enjoyed the trio discovering Balefire again, and later seeing Moraine use it during the book’s climax. Balefire is one of Jordan’s more unique inventions, and it has a big part to play throughout the series.
And although this book largely followed the structure of the previous entries, I will say I enjoyed Perrin’s side plot, and the introduction of Faile, as well as the Aiel he rescues. The Aiel begin to really show themselves in this book, and they are a lot of fun. From the Aiel to the Hellhounds and the Forsaken I enjoyed how Jordan’s novels slowly expanded beyond just a fight between Rand and Ba’alzamon. Did you get that impression as well?
DAN: Yes, the world definitely continued to expand here. For instance, there was that whole subplot where Egwene traveled to the realm of dreams, or wherever that was; that was a new realm on us, right? And I too enjoyed spending more time with the Aiel, who I think have been mentioned a bunch but little seen up to this point. I’m reading the Dune series right now and they kind of give me Fremen vibes: super-tough desert dwellers with an epic destiny. But there I go comparing The Wheel of Time to other fantasy series again.
I’ve heard fans talk about how cool balefire is, but then I get to the parts of the book where someone uses it and it’s…magic fire? I dunno if I’m a convert yet but I’m sure I’ll get more information as the books go on. As for the climax at Tear, I liked it, although it suffered a bit from those diminishing returns you were talking about: it ends with Rand fighting Ba’alzamon again? I’m very ready for him to be dead and for Rand to actually move on in his development, which you imply he does, so I’m glad.
You know, you keep warning me about Egwene, Nynaeve and Elayne getting tiresomely catty with each other, and I’m sure it’ll happen, but for two straight books now they’ve been my favorite part, and Nynaeve might be my favorite character (well, other than good sweet Loial). Yeah, she’s brash and domineering but she gets sh*t done so I’m never mad at her for long.
I also enjoyed the introduction of Faile and am glad to hear she sticks around. Although speaking of characters, I have to bring this up: did Mat strike you as…very annoying in his book? I think it was how he kept effortlessly winning fights against people far more skilled than him but the text still drew him as an aw-shucks Han Solo-esque rascal I’m supposed to like. Oh, and what was with his “what’s in it for me” attitude when Egwene, Nynaeve and Elayne wanted him to help out with their mission? Mat sucks.
COREY: Fantasy series tend to lend themselves to comparison I think, but yes, the Aiel are essentially the Fremen minus the sand worms. They are very much wrapped into the fate of the series, and become the center of the plot for the next two books if memory serves. They do have some original aspects to them of course, and have some surprising ties to another group in the series, as well as to a main character whose identity you might have guessed.
And on the subject of our protagonists, it seems we are again of differing opinions largely due to the fact that I have read ahead. If you could only read faster, you might share my obviously correct opinions.
I kid, but truly, it does seem my opinions on the characters have changed over the course of the novels. Initially, yes, Mat was rather annoying. From his self-centered attitude to his suddenly morphing into master warrior overnight, he wasn’t exactly a favorite of mine. And although his attitude has only slightly improved, I will say his sudden martial prowess is at least explained.
As for the ladies, perhaps we won’t agree in the end, but I’m at the point now where I can hardly stand to read a Nynaeve chapter, and have skipped a few for my own sanity. I understand that narratively it makes more sense for there to be some level of conflict between protagonists, but Jordan has turned it up to 11. Virtually no one shares any pertinent information with one another, male or female, evil or good, and it’s forever aggravating to watch our heroes keep secrets from each other that could result in smoother sailing for all.
As for Ba’alzamon, hard agree that it’s time for that dude to take a vacation. Permanent or otherwise, it’s time for another villain or two to step forward. Regarding balefire, I’ll only say that its use comes with consequences that keep it from simply being wizard fire.
For me as a whole, The Dragon Reborn sort of felt like a retread, and it was only when we reached the next book that the plot structure at least began to feel different. There are similarities of course, but the first three books really blurred together for me, and it wasn’t until book four that we really began to see things take shape. That being said, do you have any hopes and dreams that I could dash regarding the longest book in the series (by word count) The Shadow Rising?
DAN: The Shadow Rising is the the longest one? Whoof, I dunno if I’m ready. But I guess if I can get through that I’ll know I can get through the whole thing.
I’m just looking forward to a new chapter in the story. I’m ready for Rand to wake up and smell the destiny, and to get a clearer idea of exactly what the group is fighting and what’s at stake. For how long these books are, there’s a still a lot we don’t know. What exactly is the nature of the Dark One? How did he get locked up in Shayol Ghul? I’d be down to learn more about the Forsaken, who I have enjoyed even if I’m not quite as head over heels for them as you. And I’d love to see the heroes work better together, but from what I gather I’ll have to wait on that one.
Oh, before I go, one more complaint about Mat: so this dipstick gets himself magically infected at Shadar Logoth, drags a potentially world-destroying pathogen into the outside world, is healed by the Aes Sedai, and then has the gall to be pissy and mistrustful of them when he wakes up? Seriously, Mat sucks.
I’m nervous about him in future books. So since you’ve read ahead, Corey, where does The Dragon Reborn stack up among the novels so far?
COREY: What’s interesting about having read ahead of you is that I can say you are going to get a lot of things you are asking for in the next few books, but so far as I have seen, yeah Mat still sucks.
Anyway, Shadow Rising starts off a trio of books that are extremely long. After that, they begin to taper off and return to the lengths of the first three books. And they pick up the pacing a bit.
I’ve not read the entire series, but so far it appears that The Dragon Reborn ends the introduction into Jordan’s world. After this, you start to move into the more complicated areas of his mythos and get some of the answers you’re looking for. Likewise, characters like The Forsaken begin to grow from generic bad guys into characters with thoughts, desires and plans of their own. They fight amongst themselves as much as they fight our heroes.
But back to the novel at hand, I think overall this book served its purpose of concluding the first act, so to speak. Considering how much Jordan’s world expands, three books feels about right to softly introduce the reader to it. There is a lot going on where I am at in the series, so it was good to hook the reader early considering how quickly the books balloon in length. That’s not always a good thing, and I admit my patience has been tested, so it’s nice to look back on the simpler times in the series.
I also enjoyed how Jordan played with the idea of Rand’s madness by largely removing him as a POV character, although I think that might have played better later in the series as Rand’s powers continue to grow. Likewise everyone traveling to Tear from different point on the map was fun, as later on in the series the main characters spend more and more time separated from one another.
In many ways, The Dragon Reborn is the final book to feel like a traditional fantasy novel, so it’ll be interesting to see what you think when we move into the next chapter of The Wheel of Time.