Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Wheel of Time [3] The Dragon Reborn

This is Part 3 of my continuing series of blogs regarding what may possibly be my last re-read of The Wheel of Time, in anticipation of the 14th and final book releasing in 2012. Please see this blog post for an overview of the re-read and why I am blogging about it. Warning: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE SERIES. The best way to approach this retrospective is via your own re-read. If you have not read the entire series yet, you may want to wait on reading this.

Book 3: The Dragon Reborn (1991)
Now the series starts to get really good. With this third book, The Dragon Reborn, the last of the "setup trilogy" as I like to call the first three books in the series, all the somewhat disparate elements that were thrown at you in the first two books are brought together, you really start understand where the whole thing is headed, and you are invariably hooked on the series. At least I was when I first read it.

I haven't read this volume in a long time... because I'm a dork, I keep track of every book I read in an MS Access database (since 2001) and according to that the last time I read this one was back in 2005, in preparation for the release of Book 11, Knife of Dreams. Six years doesn't seem like a long time, but it was long enough for me to forget many things that happened in this volume, even though I had probably read it 6 or 7 times prior to 2005.


Just a taste of the awesomeness that is The Database.

Posts from here on out will start to be a bit longer, because starting with this book, there is a lot going on in each volume, along with things I didn't notice much then, but which I do now with my knowledge of events through the 13th book. I really did forget how good this book was. Definitely one of the top five in the series, in my opinion (I'll probably rate them in a separate post after the final volume is out).

From this book until Book 7 Jordan flies at a breakneck pace and lots and lots of things happen. The world you were introduced to and the rules you had become familiar with – and which all the characters had accepted as "reality" – are bent and broken. Things begin to change; the world that existed for thousands of years without much change is different virtually overnight. And that always makes for interesting fantasy.

Characters do things that virtually no one did before. You have the Black Ajah finally announcing itself. You have Accepted leaving the White Tower on dangerous quests when Accepted never did this before – they were pretty much bound to the Tower until they were full Aes Sedai.

Lost knowledge is recovered, new talents explored. Egwene starts to become a Dreamer and Tel'aran'rhiod, the World of Dreams, is explored in-depth for the first time. Perrin enters the wolf dream and starts his own quest in learning how to live with his abilities. Black Ajah use ancient ter'angreal to access the World of Dreams as well. Moiraine and Rand use balefire, something rarely used in thousands of years. Mat and his interest in fireworks, which bears fruit much later in the series.  [Update 7/30/13: Particularly in the Last Battle, where they are one key to the success of the Light.]

The Forsaken make themselves known. Unlike the throwaway Aginor and Balthamel from The Eye of the World, who were trapped near the edge of the Bore and got out first, only to get bitch slapped by the Green Man and Rand in the space of a few pages, the ones that become known here set up shop in Illian, Tear and Andor, and when Moiraine reveals to Perrin and company on a stormy evening that Sammael rules in Illian, it's pretty creepy. Because now you start to realize the scope of what is occurring. You are entering new territory.

Thoughts Then
Let's take a step back into the past. I have distinct memories of reading this in my high school library. Why this volume more than the others, I don't know, I just have these snapshots in my mind of this novel and my high school library.

I also thought at the time that the cover for this one was a little better, though wildly inaccurate once I finished it. The Aiel are actually quite accurate with their dress – they had been shown and talked about in the previous novel, but I didn't really understand what their clothes were like until I saw them on the cover of this one. However, having Perrin and Mat (I guess that's him) there ruins it for me. I hate when the cover depicts a scene that doesn't exist in the book or is not accurate... the floating head of Ba'alzamon on the spine... really? Things like that bother me.


Callandor looks cool, but it's a bit too big, I think.

In the end this is the book that definitely hooked me on the series, as I mentioned earlier. I always thought it was interesting that the book titled The Dragon Reborn barely features Rand at all. Brandon Sanderson mentioned this when he re-read the series upon taking it over from Jordan, and I agree with his statements. At the time I didn't like that Rand was hardly in the book, but now it doesn't really bother me now that I'm older and understand the full scope of the series.

The Forsaken
I flew through the last quarter of this book and Chapter 55, "What is Written in Prophecy," which features the taking of Callandor, is one of the best chapters in the series. It is the only chapter that features the Forsaken Be'lal in the flesh, who is not even mentioned until this book except in glossaries. Unfortunately Be'lal's appearance is one that spans only a couple of pages, and he'll never return because he was balefired. Not as throwaway as Aginor and Balthamel, since he did take over a country first, yet disappointing all the same.

The sudden appearance and death of some Forsaken in the series is something that has always bothered me. Here we have 13 of the most powerful Aes Sedai of the Age of Legends, the ones that are whispered about in story and are a great way of cranking up the tension and mystique of the story – and some last only mere pages when they finally appear. Is it Jordan just making them out to be normal Aes Sedai? That they weren't really that powerful at all?

Maybe there's some truth to that. What's interesting is that earlier Loial says not much is known about Be'lal. Perhaps there's a reason for that. Perhaps he wasn't that great of an Aes Sedai in the first place, and too eager or headstrong, unlike the few other original Forsaken that are still around by Book 13. Anyway, more on that in the future blogs.

The Two Rivers Folk
I really liked Mat in this book, because this is where the Mat we all know and love emerges and comes into his own. In the previous two books he's under the influence of the ruby dagger from Shadar Logoth, and you never really get the full sense of his place in the storyline. But here he becomes the trickster and the gambler, realizes how his luck works and glimmers of his future military endeavors peek through during his attempt to enter the Stone of Tear.

Perrin starts to come into his own here as well, entering the wolf dream and meeting Faile, his future wife. I always thought his purpose in the story was to bring all the beasts to the Last Battle... I don't think that's entirely accurate now, but we'll see how that works out in the final novel.  [Update 7/30/13: I was correct.  He's essentially there to watch Rand's back and do the things that Rand is unable to do (like kill a woman).]  But seeing him get back to blacksmithing while in Tear was a great scene, and his struggle between axe and hammer begins here, culminating much later in Book 13.

As for Rand... he truly becomes the Dragon Reborn here. So really, this entire book shows each person from the Two Rivers edging into their place in the saga. Even Egwene and Nynaeve, forging their way into a new age of Aes Sedai.

Other Random Thoughts
Rather than get too deep into the happenings of the novel when you can read it for yourself, I figured I'd just relate some observations and "dohs!" (i.e. things I had forgotten about since I last read the book; there will be plenty of these in the next 3 or 4 books I'm sure).

Verin – I didn't realize how much Verin had been involved with the ta'veren and Black Ajah from the start. She knew Rand was the Dragon Reborn at the beginning of The Great Hunt, along with Siuan and Moiraine. I had forgotten about all that since I hadn't read these early books in so long. Knowing her fate in Book 12, The Gathering Storm, it creates a whole new layer to the story that wasn't there before. Especially considering that in this book she gives Egwene the initial list of Black Ajah and the ring she uses to enter Tel'aran'rhiod.

Faile – You know, I actually used to like Faile, when she first appeared in the series. The part where she says her name is Mandarb is pure comedy gold and made me laugh out loud along with Perrin. I always liked how their relationship grew. All that pretty much ended when she was captured by the Shaido later on in the series, but it's nice to see her and Perrin weren't always annoying.

Elaida – Funny how she was involved in the ritual of Egwene becoming Accepted, knowing that Egwene eventually replaces her as Amyrlin. Had forgotten that as well.

Aiel – Did not remember at all that Gaul was the Aiel Perrin freed from the cage in Remen. They've been together for a long time. And Aviendha meeting with Nynaeve, Elayne and Egwene on their way to Tear? Completely forgot that whole sequence. I must be getting Alzheimer's or something, geez.

Noam – Couldn't remember where Noam/Boundless was from exactly (this is resolved in Book 13, Towers of Midnight), but now it all comes back to me. Perrin's eventual reconciliation with his abilities makes more sense now.

Kindle Bookmarks and Notes
I would also like to mention that in reading through The Dragon Reborn on Kindle, I discovered how useful the bookmark and note features of the device can be. Many times I'd read a spot and think that I should mention it in the blog, or just wanted to add a note for later reference. You can bookmark and note a title as you read and later look at all your bookmarks and notes across all titles in one file.

My Kindle is pretty awesome.
Just like The Database.

This was a very useful feature for this blog about this volume. I didn't use it for the first two because not as much stood out for me to talk about. I'm sure I'll be using it for each volume going forward, though.

A couple of notes about my copies of this book (or lack of copies) to end with.

This is the one volume of the series where I'm currently missing the hardcover. I have all the others but this one. Why I never got it when I went back and bought the early volumes, I'm not sure, but I will be ordering it soon so that I have them all when the final book comes out next year.  [Update 7/30/13: I finally bought the hardcover a few months ago.  My collection is now complete.]

Also, I was among many who had the paperback version of The Dragon Reborn where the cover fell off because of poor glue. There is an entry about it in the WoT FAQ that
describes how you can fix it, but it's somewhat involved just for a paperback. I ended up just taping the inside of both sides of the cover after the first reading. I'd post a picture, but I donated it to a library, so I don't have it anymore.

So thank you, Tor, for making a shoddy printing of The Dragon Reborn and making me ghetto tape it together so it didn't look like I was reading a stolen book.

Book 4 – The Shadow Rising
Book 2 – The Great Hunt
Book 1 – The Eye of the World
Retrospective Overview