The Great Hunt (Book Review)

Welcome! After a long and arduous chapter-by-chapter re-read of Robert Jordan’s The Great Hunt – the second book of his The Wheel of Time series we finally made it to the end. You can find my chapter recaps HERE.

Now I will provide a review of the book in its entirety. There will be no spoilers beyond this book in my review. There will be spoilers for *this* book, though. Read ahead with caution.

“The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again.”

The second installment of Robert Jordan’s series begins a few weeks after its ending point in volume one – with the characters we know still in Fal Dara after their adventure to The Eye of the World.

The Plot

The plot of this book centers around the theft and recovery of The Horn of Valere and the Shadar Logoth dagger. Padan Fain is rescued from Fal Dara’s dungeon by myrddraal and trollocs, who are themselves aided in their efforts by Darkfriends within the city walls. After Fain’s rescue, he scrawls a message on the dungeon walls for Rand and tells him that they will meet at Toman Head. He then takes the Horn and dagger and flees the city.

The rest of the book, for the Emond’s Field boys, is one long big chase. Rand, Mat, and Perrin join a Shienaran search party for the Horn, following Fain all the way to Cairhein – including even having the Horn in hand briefly – before losing it again. The party eventually travels to Toman Head where they recover the Horn and the dagger. In the process of rescuing the Horn, Rand notices that Egwene is captured and among the Seanchan damane.

How did she get there? Egwene and Nynaeve travel to the White Tower for training after the theft of the Horn in Fal Dara to open the book. Nynaeve – due to her ability – is immediately tested to become Accepted. Egwene remains a novice, the lowest station among Aes Sedai trainees, where she meets and befriends fellow novice, Elayne, the Daughter Heir of Andor. They also meet Min, a woman from the Andoran village of Baerlon who can see auras around people that predict the future. Egwene, Nynaeve, Elayne, and Min are all taken by the Aes Sedai Liandrin to Toman Head where she betrays them to the Seanchan Empire to be taken as damane slaves. When the girls realize they are about to be taken, Nynaeve and Elayne manage to escape. Egwene, however, is captured.

The Seanchan place a device around Egwene’s neck, called an a’dam, which allows them to control her due to her ability to channel. They use the a’dam to speed her growth with the One Power while also using it to torture her into compliance with her new role as a sub-human slave. Nynaeve and Elayne stage a rescue of Egwene. They succeed. In the process, they also learn a secret that might undermine the stability of the Seanchan Empire. Damane, the women who are collared by an a’dam are not the only Seanchan women who can channel. Unbeknownst to the Seanchan, the women who control the damane, called sul’dam, also are able to channel.

After the boys escape with the Horn, and while they do not know that Egwene has been freed, they find themselves trapped between Seanchan soldiers on one side and Whihtecloak soldiers on the other, Mat blows the Horn of Valere in hopes that it might provide a rescue. The Heroes of the Horn return from beyond the grave, address Rand as Lews Therin, and agree to help Rand rescue Egwene and drive the Seanchan from Falme underneath The Dragon Banner. As this war starts against the Seanchan, Rand finds himself fighting Ba’alzamon in the skies above the city. Rand’s fight ends with his sword driven into Ba’alzamon’s heart while the villain’s staff is likewise buried in Rand’s side. The book ends with the Heroes victorious and Egwene rescued, as Rand wakes up and learns that his fame from the battle, seen by thousands in the sky, has now spread beyond his ability to hide.

New Story Elements

Lanfear:

Along with Fain’s message to Rand on Fal Dara’s walls is another message – a Dark Prophecy. Here we learn that the Shadow has prophecy that is fulfilled, too, and it tells us some other details about the series. Perhaps most meaningfully, the Dark Prophecy tells us that the Forsaken Lanfear is loose in the world again. When the Aes Sedai discuss Lanfear, they tell us that little is known of her other than her immense power and the fact that she was once the lover of Lews Therin.

Rand spends much of the book traveling with a mysterious woman named Selene – a woman he meets in a Portal Stone World (more on that below) during their journey to chase Fain. Selene pops in and out of the story, knows things that she seemingly should not know, and is described as impossibly beautiful, wearing a white dress belted in silver. When the book ends, an impossibly beautiful woman, in a white dress belted in silver, appears and speaks with Min as Rand is recovering from his fight in the sky against Ba’alzamon. The woman tells Min that her name is Lanfear. She advises Min to take care of Rand until she comes to claim him from her.

The book does not confirm outright that Selene is Lanfear. However, the hint here is so strong that the reader should assume they are the same person.

Thoughts on Lanfear:

I find her *much* more compelling as a villain than Ba’alzamon. Her motivations are more complex. She wants Rand to love her and she wants to control him. She seems to even care for him in a twisted way. She seems to be the one who saves his life with some minor healing as the book ends. These motivations are a sharp contrast to Ba’alzamon whose dialogue with Rand reads consistently like the type of thing an internet troll says in the comments section (i.e. “you miserable worm,” “you utter fool,” and the like.)

Portal Stones:

In this book we learn about a new form of “insta-travel” called Portal Stones. These Stones are an ancient relic that predates the Age of Legends. The story tells us that they may have provided the knowledge base for the creation of The Ways during the Breaking of the World. The Stones can be used to travel great distances quickly. They can be used to travel to other parallel worlds (similar to the notion of the multi-verse.) They are also capable of putting people into a loop wherein they live out the other possible versions of their lives – if only different decisions had been made along the way.

The first time we see the Stones used, Rand wakes up in a parallel world wherein the Shadow has won. He is able to travel distances here at much greater speeds than is possible in the real world. When he leaves this parallel world, he has traveled in a manner akin to the ways and manages to get ahead of Fain.

In the next instance of using the Portal Stones, Rand – or someone else – accidentally sends their search party into a loop of living out all the possible versions of their lives. The story follows Rand’s perspective. He lives out hundreds of versions of his life where he is not proclaimed the Dragon Reborn and each of those lives ends badly in some way.

The other members of the group appear to be shaken by their experiences with this though we do not learn a lot of the specifics. Mat apologizes to Rand after and says he would never betray him on purpose. Perrin looks grim and resigned – as though some things for him are always true no matter what. Ingtar returns and seems haunted as well. It is unclear how much these experiences shape – or will shape – the subsequent actions of the characters involved.

This plot contrivance is not a big problem to me, this early in a series. It makes sense that there would be something like this and that it might have served as the knowledge basis for how Aes Sedai created The Ways (or other things also.)

The Seanchan:

In the backdrop of this book, not coming to the fore until Egwene is captured, is the rumor of the long lost armies of Artur Hawkwing returning and landing on Toman Head. We eventually learn that this is true.

Artur Hawkwing was the King of a consolidated empire that spanned from the Borderlands south across the entire continent, from the Spine of the World, bordering the Aiel Waste in the east, to the Aryth Ocean in the west. Before he died, one thousand years earlier, he sent his son Luthair and a fleet of ships west across the Aryth Ocean to find and conquer whatever they encounter. Finding and conquering all of the lands on the other side of the ocean apparently takes generations. As the series starts, the Seanchan finally decide to return to their homeland and reclaim it. They land on the shores of Rand’s world right around the time that this book begins.

While away, the Hawkwing’s heirs changed somewhat. They have adopted the practice of slavery. This includes servants of all types, who embrace their station as a part of their culture, and it also includes enslaving women who can channel. While fighting the armies on the other side of the ocean, Hawkwing’s son was approached by a woman who can channel. She brought him a device called an a’dam. One end of it goes around the neck of a woman who can channel. It is connected by a leash to a bracelet that goes around the wrist of woman who can control the leashed ones – the sul’dam. The Seanchan are so brutal in their treatment of damane that the women who are leashed cease even thinking of themselves as fully human. Egwene – before her rescue – can see that she is close to breaking and just accepting her new station, her new “pet” name “Tuli,” and forgetting who she is altogether. All of this is uncomfortable to read but it reflects the real life trauma of Stockholm Syndrome though perhaps to an extreme extent.

In addition to the every day evils of the Seanchan, we also learn that some among their ranks are Darkfriends. The exchange between Liandrin, the Red/Black Ajah Sister who betrayed Egwene and the others to the Seanchan, and High Lady Suroth, indicates that both serve the same Master – Ba’alazamon.

Obviously the Seanchan are villains in the story, if not the primary villains, but I am not clear as to how I feel about them from a story-telling standpoint. Most of the world of Robert Jordan’s novels feels like something I can pull from in the real world. I’m not sure I feel that way about the Seanchan. The best (and only) explanation for why the Seanchan Empire has not interacted with “Randland” prior to now is intervention of Darkfriends. That makes sense as an explanation for “why now?” But it is not all that satisfying. I am open-minded though. Let’s see how their story progresses. There is no chance that this is the last we see of them.

Daes Dae’mar – The Great Game:

While the characters are in Cairhein, Rand gets involved in the political trappings of the country. The noble class is immersed in a type of communication called Daes Dae’mar. Herein, every social interaction, or lack of action, is examined as part of a potential plot or scheme.

When Rand arrives in Cairhein, he is invited by a noble house to visit. Worried that he will be ensnared by The Great Game, Rand burns the invitation and declares to the Common Room of his Inn that he is not part of the game. This encourages the other houses to believe that Rand is deep in the game. More invites come, from increasingy larger houses, until eventually Rand receives invites from the King and from the King’s chief rivals – House Damodred. Rand accepts the invitation to House Damodred because he needs inside the Manor House to look around for Fain. The whole episode sparks the deaths of the head of House Damodred as well as the King, and a civil war within the country.

The best modern day comparison I can make to the chapters in Cairhein is to imagine a country with a ruling class completely fevered with conspiracy theories. And… yeah, that’s not actually all that hard to imagine.

The best thing to come out of these chapters was that we learn Thom Merrlin survived the incident at Whitebridge. Unfortunately, after running into him in Cairhein, Thom’s new girlfriend Dena is murdered by the King due to a brief conversation Thom had with Rand at House Damodred’s manor house where he was performing.

Quirky Thing About the Book

The Prologue is long, and quite frankly, it is odd. We learn right away that Ba’alzamon survived The Eye of the World. We also learn that there are a lot of Darkfriends in the world. The prologue is a gathering of them. Jordan lets us know that they are in every group, high and low, in the world. However, the prologue is told from the perspective of “the man who calls himself Bors.” Jordan uses that exactly phrasing “the man who calls himself Bors” seemingly fifty times – well beyond the point of irritation. Bors is a code name for a high ranking member of the Children of the Light. But I suppose Jordan when writing this section was worried that if he called the man “Bors” just once that the fact this is clearly a codename might later become confusing.

Perhaps more quirky, the man who calls himself Bors really did not play a role in the story for the rest of the book.

What I Liked

Rand’s Arc:

He started the story planning to run away and die somewhere, alone, where he cannot hurt anyone. He ends the story leading a small company of men and he cannot run from his destiny any longer, nor can he deny the truth of who he is.

Along the way, Rand learns to take charge – and that doing so is sometimes the best way to help others who need him. He learns how to channel the One Power on purpose. He learns how to fight with a sword well enough that he is able to best an actual Seanchan Blademaster.

As part of his journey within this book, we get two of my favorite scenes in the entire series:

  1. Rand’s meeting with the Amyrlin Seat. Everything about this scene – from Lan’s mentorship, to Rand’s nervousness, to the exasperated way Siuan and Moiraine receive his behavior is chef’s kiss perfect.
  2. Rand’s last conversation with Ingtar. Rand handles this confession about being a Darkfriend perfectly. He handles the mixed emotion of liking a Darkfriend perfectly. He handles telling his friend that he thinks he can come back to the Light perfectly, too. His growth from village youth into a man carrying the weight of leadership really comes forward in how he handles all of this – including his decision to let Ingtar fight the Seanchan when it might not have been 100% necessary, strictly speaking.

Nynaeve’s Arc:

She starts this book a bit heartbroken by what she perceives to be rejection from Lan. Before she is able to even leave Fal Dara, though, Lan convinces her that he did not reject her specifically so much as he rejects love from anyone. More resolved, Nynaeve wears Lan’s ring around her neck for the rest of the book. We see the best of Nynaeve in this book: she survives a brutal testing to become Accepted, she is first to suspect that Liandrin means them harm, she escapes the Seanchan and displays IMMENSE power in doing so, and then she plans and executes a successful rescue of Egwene. In one of the most powerful scenes in the book, Nynaeve pronounces judgement on a pair of captured and weeping sul’dam by leaving each of them to be found wearing the damane collar, unable to move. She knows that there is a chance the two women will face a lifetime of the type of torture that they have been inflicting on damane. She tells Egwene and Elayne that this is justice – and it is hard not to agree.

Egwene’s Arc:

I don’t think saying that I “like” this is exactly right. I thought it was well executed. Egwene in the span of a book moves from a naive village girl who wants to become an Aes Sedai and help the boy she loves, to a completely broken woman who has lost Rand to the circumstances of his life. Not only that, she is captured and brutally tortured for weeks because she was tricked by an authority figure who used her desire to help Rand against her. After her rescue, she thinks her love for Rand has been betrayed to some degree by the person (Min) who was her closest friend while she was a damane slave.

Egwene comes out of this experience deeply scarred and changed. Frankly I like that Jordan sets up serious stakes with his characters, even if I was consistently outraged while reading Egwene’s sections.

The book ends and we know that the young people from Emond’s Field have now grown too much to ever go home and return to their old lives. The story just gets more expansive from here.

All in all, I really enjoy this book. The pacing starts quickly, provides some moments that make me stand up and cheer, and then it ends quickly with more huge moments, too. This is Jordan’s style. Just hang on and enjoy the world building details in the middle and you’ll enjoy The Great Hunt.

2 thoughts on “The Great Hunt (Book Review)

  1. Great summary and review of the second book of the series. The great hunt is a personal favorite of mine. It really concreted my interest into the wheel of time series and I feel like this book is where it really broke itself from being a Middle Earth clone.

    1. Thank you for the kind comment and I completely agree with you about the book breaking away from the Tolkein feel of The Eye of the World.

      It’s hard for me to pick a favorite in this series but this book is where I got hooked on this series.

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