Titel: The Dragon Reborn
Author: Robert Jordan
Concerning spoilers: This review is of the third book in the Wheel of Time Series, spoilers for previous novels in the series can occur.
For more information about The Wheel of Time Series, audiobook narrators, editions, review of previous books, etc. you can find my introductory post HERE.
The Dragon Reborn—the leader long prophesied who will save the world, but in the saving destroy it; the savior who will run mad and kill all those dearest to him—is on the run from his destiny.
Able to touch the One Power, but unable to control it, and with no one to teach him how—for no man has done it in three thousand years—Rand al’Thor knows only that he must face the Dark One. But how?
Winter has stopped the war—almost—yet men are dying, calling out for the Dragon. But where is he?
Perrin Aybara is in pursuit with Moiraine Sedai, her Warder Lan, and Loial the Ogier. Bedeviled by dreams, Perrin is grappling with another deadly problem—how is he to escape the loss of his own humanity?
Egwene, Elayne, and Nynaeve are approaching Tar Valon, where Mat will be healed—if he lives until they arrive. But who will tell the Amyrlin their news—that the Black Ajah, long thought only a hideous rumor, is all too real? They cannot know that in Tar Valon far worse awaits…
Ahead, for all of them, in the Heart of the Stone, lies the next great test of the Dragon Reborn…
I concluded my review of the previous book, The Great Hunt feeling optimistic. I felt energized, believing that after a fifteen hundred page (give or take) introduction and “setting the scene” the story was now finally kicking off. I was wrong.
After finishing this third book, The Dragon Reborn I can’t help but feel that The Wheel of Time is better observed from above, or maybe in a rearview mirror. As a part of the chain that links the series together and continues to build on the larger narrative, The Dragon Reborn is good. But when you get down on the ground level and get a closer look at the plot and characters, it’s not that great.
That said there are parts of the story I like.
I find it refreshing to see the main protagonist that isn’t suddenly ready to lead, an expert in military strategy and Mr. Perfect as soon as his destiny is revealed. I enjoy that he doesn’t just accept everything that he’s been told and rebels against the fact that he’s being used. It’s interesting to see that the power he’s discovered is also what’s ultimately driving him insane. Initially, I also liked that you spend the entire book seeing him from other people’s perspective. In retrospect, I’m not sure I still feel this way, but I’ll get to that later.
I think it’s a good choice for Mat and Perrin to be given their own destinies that they have to find, accept and embrace. It gives them a purpose in the story that isn’t just the “heroes” tagalong friends. Perrins character continues to be one of the few I find likable and Mat finally grew somewhat of a personality.
I have two major problems with this book; plot and characterization. If you look only at this book, there’s not much wrong with either. If it was down to style, the author’s skill or the pacing I’d rate this book the same as I rated The Great Hunt, a sold seven out of ten. But this isn’t a stand-alone book, we’ve already spent over fifteen hundred pages in this world and with these characters. My problem is that despite adding another six hundred plus pages to this series the plot and characters are stagnant.
Now, to be fair, in a lot of fantasy the big images, worldbuilding and the grand plot usually take center stage. If you want really deep character studies, this type of storytelling probably isn’t your best choice.
However, considering how long this series is and the amount of time and attention Jordan spends on details, I really think he should have spent less time explaining the cut and color of clothes and more on developing a plot that didn’t feel so similar to the previous books.
Granted many of the details differ, but all in all, The Dragon Reborn follows a now well-established pattern of what happens in a Wheel of Time book:
The group is separated, and then everyone spends the entire book trying to catch-up with someone else. The “bad dudes” are manipulative and evil. Rand is upset he’s the Dragon Reborn. The Children of the Light are fanatics and schemes, a lot. The Red Ajha hates men and schemes, a lot. The Black Ajah are evil and schemes, a lot. The Blue and Green Ajha are manipulative but kind of good and schemes, a lot.
You spend a great deal of the story at inns, and on boats. People are wrestling to come to terms with their destinies while Nynaeve gets angry and pulls her braid, a lot.
I can’t help but feel that Jordan is using the concept of The Pattern and The Wheel of Time as an excuse to recycle the plot. I mean, is this all there is? The group splits up and then we spend the following six hundred to a thousand pages traveling so they can all meet up right at the end just in time for the Big Bad of the story to be defeated?
As for the characters and their actions, instead of becoming deeper, more complex and well-rounded individuals, they’re beginning to feel like caricatures of the people we were introduced to in the first book. It’s not the characters fault, their outlines, their potential as individuals are not bad, it’s just that Jordan completely ignores them. He gives them no believable character growth and when something does happen it usually lacks explanation or is waved away with another reference to The Pattern.
I mean, look at Nynaeve. Nynaeves whole character can be summarized by two character traits: she gets angry and acts bitchy or, she gets insecure and pulls her braid. If Nynaeve pulling her braid was a drinking game, you’d die from alcohol poisoning before you finished one-third of this book. Three books in her biggest motivation is still to get back at Moraine for taking her friends away from the Two Rivers. Now, let’s look at what’s happened to her so far…
- Her town was attacked, people she’s know all her life were killed and if Morain hadn’t left with her friends, it would have kept getting attacked until everyone was dead. As a result, she’s now left her isolated part of the world, traveled far and wide, seen and done things he’s never done before.
She’s found out that:
- Both she and Egwene can channel and had they not met Morain and been taught how to control it they would have died;
- Mat, Rand, and Perrin are all Ta’veren and had they not left the Two Rivers they would have been hunted down and killed;
- Rand is the Dragon Reborn, and he’s battled the Dark One;
- The Forsaken are free, and the Dark One is plotting his return;
- The Black Ahja are real and plotting against her and her friends.
- Captured, beaten, chased by Trollocs and Myrddraals and almost killed several times;
- Trained in the White Tower and earned her place among the Aes Sedai.
Her friends have been:
- Taken as a slave and tortured;
- Captured and tortured;
- Captured and beaten;
- Almost been killed on several occasions.
Oh, and in the middle of all that it turns out she’s madly in love with a brooding, would be king. Although, apart from a few scattered lines here and there, it’s not really explained how that happened or, more importantly, why they like each other.
And after all this, her personality and motivations are exactly the same as it was in the first book. Are you kidding me?! Jordan will spend page after page describing clothes, the pattern of brickwork, the color of stone and how every single inn is furnished. But after all that he still can’t think of any other way to describe Nyenevs personality and her motivation than that she gets angry, hates Morain and pulls her braid.
And it’s not only her. I understand that this is a slow-moving story, but you put all of these characters though life-changing, traumatic experience and apart from bitching and sulking they don’t react to them. Their personalities, character traits, views on life doesn’t change, how is that possible? Things and events that should shape these individuals are ignored, and when they do have development it’s often sudden and lacks explanation, or the explanation is lazy.
There’s this rare and powerful form of magic we haven’t heard of before now. Oh look, Nynaeve got angry, and now she can do it!
This person saw in a dream that this other person belongs with a falcon. Oh, here’s a new character whose name means falcon! Well ok then, we’ll just stare at each other and sulk for half a book before we decide we’re super in love and belong together forever. Really?
If this were a trilogy made up of action-packed four hundred page books I’d accept that the characters and their development is this simplistic. But it’s not, this series is long, complex, detailed and slow; three books in and we’re still at the beginning of the story, yet all these characters have had hundreds upon hundreds of pages set from their POV, there is no reason for them to be this one-dimensional. But instead of fleshing them out Jordan spends those pages describing another inn or another person we’ll never meet again or literally anything except his characters.
Instead, it’s the same over and over, Nyneave pulls her braid, Mat plays with his dice, Egwene smooths her dress, Thom pulls his mustache, etc.
That’s why, when I think back on Rand who’s going through something very complex, I feel torn about him not having his own POV in this book. I can’t help but wonder, did Jordan decide not to write from his perspective because he believed it would be creatively effective or, was it because he wasn’t interested in describing his own character?
By now, I’ve read dozens of Wheel of Time articles, discussion posts, and forum discussions. I’ve read pages upon pages of people writing long, intricate analysis about these characters all speculating or discussing what their personalities are really like. They might all have a point.
My point is that I shouldn’t have to speculate. After these many pages, I should know who they are and why they act the way they do, not as props, not as puppets of The Pattern, but as individuals. I don’t. Scratch the surface of these characters, and you’ll find nothing. The only thing I can say with certainty is that if Nyneave read this, she’d get angry and pull her braid.
I give up.
The Wheel of Time Series has bested me, and I’m sitting here waving a white flag while secretly hoping for The Dark One’s ultimate victory. I just want it to end.
Despite my reservations about the first book I trudged on, and I really liked the second one. I believed the story would finally take off for real but it didn’t, it’s more of the same.
I understand why people find this series a staple in fantasy, but it’s all about the Big Picture, and I’m all about the small, character-driven details. If you’re a plot-driven reader and you liked the previous two books you’ll like this one as well. Quality wise this book is as good as The Great Hunt, but put side by side with the pervious two books the plot of The Dragon Reborn felt like a rehash.
This is not a bad book. But when you’re book three of fourteen, there needs to be a spark, something in each book that will motivate me to pick up the next one, not the same people, doing the same things, for the same reasons, again.
This is epic fantasy, no doubt about it. There is a reason these books are so iconic, and they have all the ingredients of a story I should be devouring, but something about the way they’re written rubs me the wrong way, frustrating me beyond reason. I don’t think that will change as the series progresses. Jordan’s characters will not suddenly become the deep, complex, three-dimensional characters I need to stay interested.
Not because Jordan is a bad writer, but because that doesn’t seem to be his motivation as a storyteller. His writing is all about the grand, over-arching story and his characters are props, not people. That doesn’t work for me, but it might for you.
In writing this review, I felt bad, that I was too harsh and maybe while writing I’d gotten myself all worked up over trivial things. So I picked up the next book, The Shadow Rising thinking maybe I’d give it a chance.
Sometimes when I want to get a feel for a book, I open it somewhere in the middle and read a page or two. In a book of over nine-hundred pages, opened at random, the first line my eyes fell upon began, “Nynaeve pulled her braid…” I closed the book, stood up and put it back on the bookshelf.
My Rating: 6/10
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