Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Great Hunt

The Great Hunt
by Robert Jordan
Recommended Ages: 14+

One long, eventful book into his adventures, tall red-haired hero Rand al'Thor remains almost the last person to accept who he is. He insists he is only a young shepherd from the village of Emond's Field in the backwater district of the Two Rivers, the son of a local farmer named Tam and his late wife. But he finds himself increasingly helpless to stop people calling him "Lord Rand." He proudly refuses to be maneuvered by the Aes Sedai, an order of women with the ability to channel the feminine side of the One Power woven into creation. He tries to resist the temptation to channel the male side of that power, which (since the Breaking of the World, ages ago) tends to drive its adepts insane and subjects them to a lingering, wasting death. (He also has to be careful to hide his ability to channel, because many Aes Sedai would summarily "gentle" him if they found out about it.) He violently denies it whenever anyone observes, from his resemblance to their race, that he must be one of the fanatical desert-dwellers known as the Aiel, possibly even the prophesied hero they have been expecting. And when either the Aes Sedai or the Father of Lies himself - who alternately taunts and tempts him in a series of disturbing visions - accuses him of being the Dragon Reborn, the latest incarnation of his world's cyclic hero Lews Therin, destined either to battle the Dark One to the end or perish trying - well, he can't accept that, can he? But it's no use. Everyone who looks at him seems to know more about him than Rand will admit to himself. And thanks to some deft switching of luggage, when he sets out on a quest to recover the Horn of Valere, which has the power to summon the heroes of the Age of Legends from beyond the grave, he rides forth with the clothing of a lord, the sword of a blademaster, and the banner of the Dragon.

Rand, who hates above all things to be used like a pawn, rides forth in spite of all his denials, because his boyhood friend Mat will die unless they recover a certain cursed dagger that was stolen with the horn. The two talismans were stolen by a villain named Fain, a servant of the Shadow who has been driven insane, or worse, by contact with an almost equally evil force opposed to the Shadow. This is a guy so evil, he makes Darkfriends (human servants of the Dark One) tremble with fear. He travels with a retinue including one type of monster that like to cook and eat people, and another kind whose kiss destroys a person's soul. And among his other advantages are traitors in the White Tower of the Aes Sedai and even in the party of soldiers traveling with Rand. Rand has some advantages on his side, though. He has a friend named Perrin who can communicate telepathically with wolves. He has an increasingly devoted follower who can sniff evil and violence from a long way off. And he has also attracted the interest of an Ogier, a member of a race one might describe as "big-boned elves" or, perhaps, "Vegan, pacifist trolls," who was among the first to recognize that Mat, Perrin, and especially Rand are ta'veren - people with a strong enough destiny to alter the weave of history around them.

Because of these connections, the support of some powerful women, and some other weird fantasy-world stuff, Rand is able to travel vast distances really quickly. He experiences a strange, alternate universe. He finds the horn and the dagger, then loses them again. He gets caught up in a dangerous political game. As he and his party continue their quest, and as his lady-friends Egwene, Nynaeve, Elayne, and Nin are drawn into the game by an equally dangerous route, Rand grows to take a leading role and to accept, against his will, his place in the fate of his world. But first, he and his friends must be caught between the armies of a band of religious fanatics - the Whitecloaks, who make the Spanish Inquisition look tame - and a race of invaders from across the ocean - the Seanchan, who put Aes Sedai on leashes and use them as weapons in a devastating war of conquest. Only by getting themselves into this tight spot can Rand & Co. rescue those dear to them, recover ancient relics that must not be allowed to fall into the hands of the Shadow, and remove all doubt about Rand's place in the weave.

It takes a while to sketch out even a spare summary of this book, because it is so big and, well, tightly woven with story threads and fantasy concepts. Its action spreads across a huge stage, geographically and culturally. It twangs with lines of tension between numerous groups and individuals with conflicting agendas. But it also brims with the personal passions, hopes, fears, and cares of a handful - a large handful, to be sure - of attractive yet believably flawed characters. It has epic scope and world-shaking seriousness, but the humanity (not to mention, sex appeal) of its characters is what engages the reader through the long haul of nearly 700 pages. It is a story that blends cosmic terror with endearing mischief, light romance, alien weirdness, and sword-and-sorcery action in one big, richly colored tapestry.

This is the sequel to The Eye of the World, and the second book in the 15-novel "Wheel of Time" sequence. Because these first two books are quite lengthy, both have also been published in two-volume format, with Eye split into From the Two Rivers and To the Blight, and Hunt split into The Hunt Begins and New Threads in the Pattern.

Robert Jordan actually lived to write only the first 11 books of the series, plus a prequel titled New Spring. Brandon Sanderson, an important fantasy author in his own right, wrapped it up after Jordan's 2007 death with four additional novels based on Jordan's notes. Jordan was also the author of the "Fallon" trilogy, using the pen-name Reagan O'Neal; about a dozen novels featuring Conan the Barbarian; and a western novel titled Cheyenne Raiders, using the pen-name Jackson O'Reilly. The next book in this sequence is titled The Dragon Reborn.

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