My Wheel of Time project is already slowing down and we’re only two books in. It’s not all Robert Jordan’s fault though. It’s a combination of life stuff, other books that are simply more interesting to me at the moment (Poppy War series, I’m looking at you), and books that come with a deadline (ARCs, Hugo finalists). But it’s also a little bit due to the fact that I was never really gripped by The Great Hunt.
THE GREAT HUNT
by Robert Jordan
Published: Tor, 1990
eBook: 624 pages
Series: The Wheel of Time #2
My rating: 6.5/10
Opening line: The man who called himself Bors, at least in this place, sneered at the low murmuring that rolled around the vaulted chamber like the soft gabble of geese.
The Wheel of Time turns and ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the age that gave it birth returns again.
For centuries, gleemen have told the tales of The Great Hunt of the Horn. So many tales about each of th Hunters, and so many Hunters to tell of…Now the Horn itself is found: the Horn of Valere long thought only legend, the Horn which will raise the dead heroes of the ages. And it is stolen.
It’s a little strange and a lot disheartening how much The Great Hunt felt like a middle book. After all, the Wheel of Time series has a whopping 12 “middle books” and if they’re all like this, I have a long and arduous journey ahead of me. The reason I’m still motivated is that these first two volumes do one thing really well and that’s setting things up, promising a huge and satisfying payoff. It also helps that Brandon Sanderson is a big fan and his books always have epic endings with great twists. But on its own, The Great Hunt, didn’t do much to push the larger story forward.
We start right where we left our group of unlikely heroes at the end of The Eye of the World. They are in Fal Dara with the Shienaran people, as well as Moiraine and Lan. Now that Rand has learned that he truly is the Dragon Reborn, that he can channel and will surely go mad from it sooner or later, his reaction is first of all to run away. He wants to protect the people he loves from his inevitable mental downfall. And secondly, he refuses to be a pawn in the Aes Sedai’s game of power. Rand has no idea just what they might plan – although being gentled is a very real possibility – but he’d much rather go somewhere isolated, away from their games, and defy the madness that is supposed to come over him.
What they formed was a disk the size of a man’s hand, half blacker than pitch and half whiter than snow, the colors meeting along a sinuous line, unfaded by age. The ancient symbol of Aes Sedai, before the world was broken, when men and women wielded the Power together. Half of it was now called the Flame of Tar Valon; the other half was scrawled on doors, the Dragon’s Fang, to accuse those within of evil.
What made this book immediately more interesting than its Lord of Rings rip-off predecessor was the glimpses we got into the workings of the other side. Right at the beginning of the book we see that some characters aren’t trustworthy at all and are, in fact, working for the Dark One in secret, spinning intrigues and setting events in motion that will harm our protagonists.
But then word gets out that the Horn of Valere – which hasn’t been mentioned in the first book, as far as I remember, and thus felt to me like a huge McGuffin – had been stolen by Trollocs and Darkfriends and must be found. For whoever sounds the Horn can call back armies of dead heroes. And they will fight for the blower of the Horn, no matter what side they are on…
So off they go on yet another journey because I guess Robert Jordan couldn’t quite let go of the Lord of the Rings traditions yet. Rand, Mat, Perrin, and Loial go with the Shienarans and their sniffer Hurin to hunt for the Horn. I loved the concept of sniffers, people who can smell when violence has been done, and so can follow the Darkfriends who have stolen the Horn. Meanwhile Nynaeve and Egwene leave for Tar Valon to begin their training as Aes Sedai. Now here’s where the pacing and POV problems truly start. Both those story lines have interesting things happeneing, they show us a bit more of the world, and they drop ever so many hints of epic stuff yet to come (just not, you know, in this book). But the balance between the storylines is less than optimal.
Egwene and Nynaeve’s life at Tar Valon was so intriguing to me, the way Aes Sedai work, how they are trained, what it means to use the One Power – I wanted to learn everything about that. After all, Jordan had spent about 1000 pages making a big fuss about the Aes Sedai, so I was hoping I’d finally learn ab it more about them. And sure, he does give us glimpses and an initiation ritual, but to me, that felt like we were only scratching the surface. It’s fine to keep some information for later books, but in this case, it just felt forced.
Similarly, Rand’s journey went from exciting to frustrating, to eyeroll-inducing to quite thrilling again. What I disliked the most about the boys’ story line was how incredibly obvious the “bad guys” were. The evil characters behave so over the top manipulative that it not only isn’t fun for me as a reader but it also makes Rand and the other characters look all the more stupid for not seeing through them as well.
That said, Rand’s trip led to some highly interesting stops and added a layer to the world I had not seen coming. Fast travel via Waygate is one thing but in The Great Hunt, we learn about another mode of travel, if you can call it that. I’m trying not to spoil this for other Wheel of Time newbies like me. But this piece of world building truly puts everything upside down and offers so many possibilities for the future.
Another thing I found rather silly, just like in The Eye of the World was the lack of clear conflict for most of the book’s 600 pages. Just like last time, a last minute enemy is conjured up in the final few chapters of the book, so our heroes can have an epic showdown or a big battle. But most of the book before that ending was about other things. In this case, the focus on the Horn of Valere doesn’t end up being completely useless but the final battle still felt a bit like it came out of nowhere.
Again, there were aspects of it that I liked. What with all the travelling, we got to see new places on the map, meet other cultures (Aiel, Seanchan, Ogier!) and I even really enjoyed the time Rand and Loial spent in Cairhien, a City that apparently runs solely on political intrigue and power-hungry machinations. Their little stint there took a lot of pages, had no bearing on the overall plot (so far, at least) but it was a lot of fun!
And that sums up my overall feelings about this book. There were many chapters that were fun to read, but once I looked back on them, they felt almost useless for the larger story. We’ve known since the end of the last book that Rand is the Dragon Reborn. There are many prophecies about him (which, just saying, it would be really nice to get to read) and we know the Dark One is stirring, his agents are hiding everywhere, and the world is supposed to break again. That’s all I’ve been told about the plot of the series and, not knowing what I still have ahead of me, it didn’t feel like this particular volume got me any closer to this grand battle between Good and Evil at all. The one event that felt truly important is the ending. It’s Rand accepting who and what he is – and now we have to see where we go from there.
So how do I rate this? I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it. I mostly kind of liked it even though many parts felt predictable yet again. But for the world building bits that hit me off guard and because, for no reason I can explain, I just like the characters, I’m going to rate this a bit higher than The Eye of the World. And yes, I will continue reading the series. Slowly, and without pressure. I just hope that this mind-blowing conclusion I’m hoping for is really going to come.
MY RATING: 6.5/10 – Good