Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Wheel of Time [2] The Great Hunt (1990)

In this second book of the series, we start off knowing who Rand is for sure.  I mean, we knew it in the first book – this archetypical fantasy story is generally predictable, some unknown person is actually a wizard or king and is destined for great things, yadda yadda – but now we know from the get go and frame the story in a different context.  In this book the world begins to expand, we travel from one end of the "Randland" continent to the other, the Seanchan are introduced, Mat's purpose in the series grows apparent and the females from the Two Rivers become major characters in their own right.

I like to think of the first three books in the series as the "setup trilogy."  Like the first act in a play.  They essentially do nothing but set the stage for the rest of the series, by educating the reader about the world and how it works and by introducing nearly all of the major players.  Robert Jordan has said that the ending of Book 3, The Dragon Reborn, was supposed to be the ending of the very first book when he originally planned the series out.  Obviously that didn't work out, as we all know how expansive and verbose Jordan can be.  But in reading so many fantasy and science fiction series in the past, more often than not a "Book 1" is usually chunky with setup, or is nothing more than a very long prologue to the rest of the action, and in this instance it got spread across three books.

Before you continue:
  • This is part 2 of my The Wheel of Time retrospective
  • See this blog post for an overview of the retrospective
  • These blogs are most effective with your own re-read of the series

Thoughts Then

I got this book not long after finishing The Eye of the World, but I don't recall where I got it or what I was doing then.  I probably just got it at the same place, Star Realm, along with the third book.  That or a place called Little Professor Books, which used to be in a shopping center near my high school in Nebraska.  Little Professor was actually a pretty crappy bookstore, as they were small and had a poor selection compared to the bigger players at the time like Waldenbooks... then mega stores like Borders and Barnes & Noble came along and many of the Little Professor stores went out of business.  It appears there are still a few left according to the internet, but none in Nebraska.

Before there was Borders... there was Little Professor.

Anyway, I do remember reading through this one much quicker than The Eye of the World.  The Hunt for the Horn was a good hook to pull the reader in, as Jordan was able to make it feel like a very important and revered item at the beginning of the book – something I've always been impressed with.  Usually in fantasy you get a few books worth of stories about some relic to build its mythology and mystique, then when it eventually appears in the story it seems that much more awesome.  The Eye of the World had very little of that leading up to finding the Horn of Valere at the Eye of the World.  But its discovery puts you firmly on the path of Tarmon Gai'don and there's no looking back.  The pace was swift and it didn't take me long to read through it, considering I read during much of my free time in high school.

I remember thinking at the time that the whole Seanchan invasion was strange, as they were driven away and eventually didn't return until the very end of Book 7, A Crown of Swords, which wasn't published for another 4 years (I was reading this for the first time in 1992).  There were hints in the intervening books that they might be back, but no one really knew and there weren't online communities or anything like that to discuss theories.  The internet as we know it now did not exist at the time and I only had a few friends in school that I could discuss the books with.  Other than that I was in my own little world.

Thoughts Now

Reading it now, I find I enjoy it more that The Eye of the World, but it still has those "forgotten" elements that disappear and rarely return later in the series, which is an inconsistency for me.  The Horn disappears from the series after this book, the Ways are rarely touched again, portal stones forgotten, etc.  Hurin, a major character in this book, vanishes soon after in the next book and doesn't return until way later in Book 12, The Gathering Storm.  I had actually forgotten about Hurin over the years.  I rather liked him and wish he had had a greater role throughout the series.

I haven't read this volume in many years, and even though I read the crap out of  it the first 6-7 years I was into the series, I had since totally forgotten about the whole sequence in Cairhien.  The Daes Dae'mar chapter is particularly well done, and is a great introduction to the kind of intrigue that proliferates throughout the series and what Rand has to deal with when he starts interacting with the different lands and leaders as the Dragon Reborn.

The reappearance of Thom Merrilin was one of my favorite parts of the book, as his interaction with Rand highlights how much different Rand is at this point vs. when they parted ways in Book 1.  The capture of Egwene by the Seanchan laid the foundation for the strong leader she eventually becomes, being ones of the "trials" she goes through to become one of the new generation of Aes Sedai.  When I think back on the series it's pretty amazing the trials she goes through – Seanchan damane, Aiel Wise One pupil, Amyrlin Seat of the rebels, prisoner of the White Tower.

The blowing of the Horn at the end of the book is one of the iconic moments of the series and anyone who has read the series knows it will happen again at the end, during the Last Battle, by Mat (unless something very unexpected happens in the final volume [Update 7/30/13: It is blown by another.  Mat's "death" in Book 5, The Fires of Heaven, severed his tie to the Horn.]).  This is another method of broadening the world for future volumes, as the Heroes of the Horn factor into the series later on, particularly with Birgitte Silverbow and Tel'aran'rhiod, the World of Dreams (we'll get into this in the next post for Book 3).  Having to wait so long to see the Horn blown again sucks, but that will only make it that much more awesome when it does finally happen next year.  [Update 7/30/13: And yes, it is very awesome.  One of great moments of the series.]

The Abysmal Cover

I know I didn't care for the cover during my first read, but I haven't really cared for any of them.  This is one of the worst ones, though... how anyone at Tor thought this was a decent and even-close-to-being-accurate cover is beyond me.  Loial is a joke, not even close to the descriptions.  I guess Darrell K. Sweet thought he could just paint a taller dude with pointy ears and a book in his hands and call it a day.  Selene (Lanfear) is ugly, not even close to the breathtakingly beautiful woman she is described as.

The best thing about this cover are the rocks.

And don't get me started on the Trollocs on the back cover... they are just humans with horned helmets on! Unbelievable. General displeasure over the covers of the series even prompted me to ask Robert Jordan about it, the one time I met him at a signing. More on that in the Book 11 post.

Sweet's covers are good for fantasy like Piers Anthony's Xanth, but The Wheel of Time has always deserved much more, something with a lot more realism.  Tor redeemed itself a little with the new eBook covers (which are used for the number icons at the top of this and other posts).  The new one for The Great Hunt is the same scene, but 5 billion times better.

So thank you, Kekai Kotaki, for painting a proper cover for The Great Hunt.

Damn, this is so much better.  The Trollocs look awesome.


Book 3 – The Dragon Reborn

Book 1 – The Eye of the World
Retrospective Overview

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