Last week, I prefaced my commentary-like review of the first Wheel of Time book, The Eye of the World, with explanations as to why I was embarking on this re-read project after a decade-long break. It would be redundant to repeat all of that, so if you have not yet read the original review, I suggest you start with that before reading this second, shorter review of the second volume in the series, The Great Hunt.
When I first read this book back in November 1997, I found it to be a major step backwards from the first novel. In the few re-reads I did between then and the autumn of 2000, I recall that my opinion of the book (and the third volume, The Dragon Reborn) did not improve at all. But what impressions would I take after reading it nearly ten years later?
Several of the same problems that I felt plagued the first volume were pretty much repeated in this second volume[, yet] despite this, in some ways, this story was more enjoyable than I had remembered it being a decade ago.
On the whole, I would still argue that The Great Hunt was a less enjoyable reading experience than was The Eye of the World. Several of the same problems that I felt plagued the first volume (too lengthy personal descriptions of minor characters, an uneven pace to the plot(s), the thin characterizations of the major characters and even more importantly, the enemies, the rather pedestrian prose) were pretty much repeated in this second volume, with a few curious additions. Yet despite this, in some ways, this story was more enjoyable than I had remembered it being a decade ago.
The story picks up roughly one month after the conclusion to the first novel. Rand al’Thor, one of three adolescent males from the backwater village of Emond’s Field, has discovered that he can touch the magical, tainted male side to the magical One Power (which runs the universe, in a way that I wonder might be analogous to the “dark matter” that makes up most of the universe’s mass). Furthermore, he may be the reincarnated soul of the dreaded Dragon Reborn, who in madness helped destroy civilization after a ten-year battle with the forces of evil. Rand is the hero (villain?) of prophecy, a mantle he does not want and makes quite clear, in both internal monologues and in conversations with characters, on numerous times. As I was reading this, I kept wondering to myself if perhaps the author went a little overboard with utilizing repetitive comments to reinforce the centrality of Rand’s conflict. It felt a bit forced at times to me and I cannot help but to speculate how differently (and perhaps, how much more powerfully) a reduction in the times Rand (and to a lesser extent, the other character and their own personal crosses which they bear quite vociferously) has to put voice to his conflicted thoughts.
One problem I vaguely remembered from this book in particular dealt with the volume of prophecy-spouting, infodumping commentaries. While it is understandable that in the second volume of a rapidly-expanding series (I believe at this time, the goal was to shoot for around six-seven volumes) that plot foreshadowing and scene explanations were inevitable, it seemed rather clunky and intrusive to have characters who ought, considering them as being within the narrative and not speaking to the fourth wall of the reader, to know most, if not all of what is being shared. It is one thing when inexperienced country bumpkins might need customs and traditions explained to them, but it is another matter when two or more members of the same society feel the need to explain at length matters that the other character ought to have had the experience to already know and understand.
But the character interactions were not always poorly-done. I found, in light of information released in the most recent novel, The Gathering Storm, one character’s motivations and actions to be more relevant and interesting than I had at the time. Likewise, viewing one of the young female character’s interactions with a few of the initiates of the Aes Sedai organization through the lens of what transpired in the latest novel made that character a bit more interesting than I had found her in previous reads.
Laughing manically and destroying the odd evil peon may look and sound impressive at first, but after a while, it becomes rather trite and boring.
Regrettably, Jordan still seems to have any desire to have his main villains, the Forsaken, be anything more than tissue-thin characters. Evil for the sake of EVIL is fine enough for certain types of stories, but having more complex motivations than takes on the Seven Deadly Sins I believe would have added more believability to several of the scenes here involving two of the main evil group. Laughing manically and destroying the odd evil peon may look and sound impressive at first, but after a while, it becomes rather trite and boring. He almost showed some development with one of the female baddies, but this appeared to me to be undone by hinting rather broadly that there is indeed no fury like a woman scorned. Again, would have been nice to have seen more rounded characters on the baddie side other than the one (two?) who appear in this novel.
The plot, namely the recovery of the stolen Horn of Valere and the dangerous dagger that Mat had found (in addition to dealing with a matter of prophecy and the arrival of a certain wild card group), was not as disjointed as I remembered. While there wasn’t quite the sense of urgency that I found in the middle chapters of The Eye of the World, there certainly were a few moments that seemed to hold a more mysterious cast to it than I had recalled. Furthermore, the subplot involving the young female trainees was not as inane and distracting this time as I had remembered, although there were a few times that I found myself wishing a chapter or two of their story had been cut out in order to help with the overall flow to the story.
Failing to achieve several of these ambitions does not mean that The Great Hunt fails to be a good, solid epic fantasy read.
One of the weaknesses I noted before about Jordan’s stories is the rather average prose style. At times, he gets a bit too ornate with the physical/clothing descriptions, yet there is not a corresponding examination of character and motivation. Several times, I observed to myself that if some of the descriptions had been omitted, the story would feel less sluggish. I also remarked to myself (not out loud, since I don’t talk to myself like that) that the level of narrative fails to match the type of story being presented. For a story that purportedly revolves around the reluctant reincarnated hero, the repetitive use of internal monologue to show the hero Rand’s reluctance did not reinforce and deepen this thematic element, but rather it seemed to weaken it. The same holds true for lesser characters – too much repetition of the obvious and not enough exploration of those conflicts within them.
Yet despite these faults, the questing nature of this novel was still of interest to me. If anything, the comments I made can be construed as being the critiques one might give a solid story, in hopes that it could be improved later on. For other readers, the very repetitiveness that I lament may actually have served to generate a rhythmic quality that perhaps pulled them deeper into the story. But for myself, it is only a solid, mildly enjoyable story. The author could and perhaps should have striven to make this a more compelling early volume in a very ambitious project. But failing to achieve several of these ambitions does not mean that The Great Hunt fails to be a good, solid epic fantasy read. It just means its promise was not fulfilled to its full extent. Interest is still high in re-reading the next volume, The Dragon Reborn.