The Dragon Reborn
by Robert Jordan
Recommended Ages: 13+
Way back in The Eye of the World, a group of young friends left the town of Emond's Field in the semi-autonomous region of Two Rivers and discovered a much larger world, a world torn by conflict, aswirl in magic, threatened by cosmic evil and full of strange cultures, competing agendas and dangers worse than death. In spite of all the books being rather thick and this being the third one, they don't really get very far in their overarching adventure; it's pretty much just one leg of a larger journey. This may be the besetting flaw of this series, and one that I have heard some readers comment on, to the tune of "it just gets worse and worse." Still, I can't complain about the entertainment it provided during a couple of long road trips – definitely a situation in which a too-long-by-half, flagrantly unabridged novel is most welcome.
During this installment, our original Emond's Fielder friends and their close allies find themselves split into approximately four parties, only to meet again at the very end. Everything in the book seems to lead toward that reunion, but their relationships will never be the same. In Unit 1, as I'll call it for now, are three novices of an order of female magic who are on a mission to recover magical talismans stolen by a group within their order that has been secretly serving the Dark One. The Black Ajah, if you'll forgive my likely misspelling – going the audio route does make it hard to name names in a review – is practically taboo to speak of, and most Aes Sedai are conditioned to deny that it even exists; but the three young women have seen more evidence of it than anyone, and now they have to put everything on the line to keep the Black Ajah from accomplishing a dark ritual and making the return of Ba'alzamon even more imminent than it already is. Meantime, Unit 2 includes a sometime blacksmith's apprentice named Perrin, who is starting to identify, more closely than he likes, with wolves. Perrin and his companions are in pursuit of Unit 3, Rand al'Thor, who has now all but publicly revealed himself to be the Dragon Reborn, i.e. the reincarnation of a guy who centuries ago broke the world and was driven mad by the male principle of magic. Finally, there's Unit 4, light-fingered Mat, who barely recovers from being poisoned by a cursed blade, just in time to join a minstrel who was previously thought dead and now exhibits freakish amounts of luck in addition to his skill with a quarterstaff.
The three male friends, at least, are all ta'veren – people whose actions have a greater than average pull on the strings of fate whose weaving will shape their age. The girls, including a bonus initiate who happens to be a royal princess, also have incredible power, if only they'll allow someone to teach them how to control it. The trouble with these kids, and perhaps what makes them so appealing to today's reader, is that they're more exactly like people in the world we know than the heroes of most sword-and-sorcery adventures. They are so self-absorbed, stubborn, flawed in their motives, resistant to being guided or ruled over, that they get in their own way and create more trouble for themselves than the initial state requires – and that's bad enough. The world seems to be about to come apart. Ba'alzamon's disciples are breaking loose from the seals that have protected the world from them for so long, and once all the seals are gone, the Heart of the Dark himself will return. Even dreams aren't safe any more. And the Black Ajah are only one of many groups that would happily stick Rand's head on a pike. But in its gradual, scattershot way – dropping a thread here or there – this book does perceptibly move the storyline ahead toward the conclusion of its (gulp) 14-book arc, authored toward the end by Brandon Sanderson.
Next on deck is book 4, The Shadow Rising. I'll have to plan ahead and request the audiobook from my regional library system in time for my next big road trip. Till then, for now at least, I'm still interested in where the weaving leads from here.