The Dragon Reborn (Book Review)

Welcome! After a long and arduous chapter-by-chapter re-read of Robert Jordan’s The Dragon Reborn – the third book of his The Wheel of Time series we finally made it to the end (or “an end” at least.) 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 third installment of Robert Jordan’s series begins a few days after its ending point in volume two – with some of the characters we know on their way to Tar Valon and others camped in the mountains not far from Falme.

THE PLOT

The main plot of this book centers on a magical crystal sword, Callandor, in the far-away country of Tear. Rand – who is still not convinced that he really is The Dragon Reborn – decides that he must go alone to Tear and attempt to take the sword, thereby fulfilling, or not, the prophecy that only The Dragon can take it. He hopes to learn the truth about himself one way or another.

Though Rand’s decision to travel to Tear drives the plot, he is not often part of the narrative. Instead the book spends most of its time with other groups who go to Tear, too, for varying reasons. Moiraine, Lan, Perrin, and Loial track and follow Rand to Tear in the hope that they can protect him and guide him while there. Despite their best efforts, though, they cannot actually catch Rand who is traveling on his own. During their journey Perrin learns more about his connection with wolves, and the Wolf Dream. He also meets a woman who calls herself Faile (falcon) and begins to have feelings for her. Along the way, Moiraine discovers that more of the Forsaken are loose in the world, with Sammael ruling in Illian and Be’lal ruling in Tear.

Egwene, Nynaeve, and Elayne return to Tar Valon with Verin and Mat, the latter of whom makes the end of the journey in a litter and near death. Upon their return, Siuan Sanche, the Amyrlin Seat, recruits the three Tower initiates to surreptitiously hunt the Black Ajah for her – and in particular thirteen Black Sisters who fled the Tower after committing multiple murders. They must do this while also serving a severe penance for “running away.” After initially being outraged that they are being punished for running away, when they were in fact kidnapped, the girls understand that this penance protects them from suspicion and harm. Egwene and Elayne are immediately raised to the Accepted after their return and Egwene continues her training as a Dreamer. To assist in that, Verin Sedai gives her a ter’angreal stone ring, which allows the wearer to enter The World of Dreams while sleeping, so long as the ring is touching her skin.

Siuan and a large linked group of Aes Sedai heal Mat from his connection to the Shadar Logoth dagger. The effort is enormous and requires them also to use a sa’angreal as well. The dagger is hidden in a box inside the White Tower and Mat is told by Siuan that he must stay inside the Tower indefinitely while he recovers and until he is given permission to leave. During Mat’s convalescence, the Forsaken Lanfear visits him and attempts to instill distrust of the Aes Sedai within him. She succeeds but also manages to instill in Mat a distrust of herself. Mat begins looking for a way to escape Tar Valon.

Lanfear, in disguise, guides Egwene, Elayne, and Nynaeve to a trove of Black Ajah notes which seem to indicate the Black Sisters fled Tar Valon for Tear. Despite a belief that these notes are so obvious as to likely represent a trap, the three Accepted meet with Siuan and decide to travel to Tear to spring the trap, on purpose. To this end, Siuan gives Nynaeve and Egwene blank slate signed notes which authorize any actions carried out by the owner of the notes, as legal and as done on behalf of the Amyrlin Seat. The girls decide that since Elayne’s mother, the Queen of Andor, was already angry that she disappeared from the Tower once before that they need to send her a letter detailing recent events and letting her know that she will be out of the Tower, and thus advising her not to worry. They decide to send Mat to Andor with Elayne’s letter, and when he tells them he is forbidden from leaving Tar Valon, they give him one of their two Amyrlin signed notes to assist in his escape.

Mat leaves his room and is met by eye rolls from those who think he has no chance to get off the island. He decides to briefly gamble in an effort to improve his finances before going and in the process discovers that his luck is so good as to be miraculous. In short order, he becomes very wealthy. He notices that he is being followed and thinks it is related to the letter he is carrying for Elayne. He barely escapes a cutthroat, and when the man dies, Mat run inside a nearby inn to hide out. Once inside, he finds a deeply depressed and inebriated Thom Merrilin. Mat manages to convince the old gleeman to travel with him to Andor. As they go to a ship sailing downriver from the city, they are attacked again. Mat and Thom manage to jump aboard a ship just as it untethers from its dock and Mat waves the paper, signed by the Amyrlin, to authorize what they have just done.

Thus, Mat and Thom, and the girls, all travel down river from Tar Valon at about the same time, in different ships. Mat and Thom’s ship is attacked by river brigands and the two of them manage to kill the brazen attackers. Mat grows increasingly concerned as to what the letter might say so he and Thom break the seal to read it. Thom declares that it is innocuous news from Elayne, with no cyphers, but Mat cannot attribute their constant attacks to anything else. The two men, outside of Caemlyn, inadvertently rescue a woman from men who intend to murder her. After knocking out her would-be attackers, they learn that she has recently been banished from the Illuminator’s Guild due to an incident in Cairhien. She pays them for helping her by given Mat a large bundle of fireworks.

The girls’ ship runs aground on a sandbar after some time and they depart the ship for the shore of the river to travel on the ground. While doing this, they encounter a party of Aiel who ask for help healing an injured comrade. Nynaeve succeeds in healing the injured woman and the Aiel come to like them. After the girls part ways from the Aiel, they are attacked by a band of Darkfriends and knocked unconscious before they can use the One Power to defend themselves. When they wake, they learn by listening from their cell that they are being sold to three myrddraal. Just as they are about to embrace the One Power and free themselves, a group of Aiel arrives and attack the Darkfriend camp – as well as the newly arrived myrddraal. The Aiel – with some eventual assistance from Egwene, Elayne, and Nynaeve – defeat the Darkfriends. When the group parts this time, the girls successfully board a ship and sail to Tear.

Mat and Thom, under frequent attack, arrive in Caemlyn and stay with Basel Gill at his inn. While there, they learn that Queen Morgase has a new lover, a previously unknown nobleman from the far west of Andor named Gaebril. After distrustful guards refuse to admit him, Mat has to sneak into the Palace in the same way that Rand did a year before to deliver his letter. As he does this, he overhears a plot to kill Elayne, Egwene, and Nynaeve, and he sees the man assigned to carry out the task but not the man giving the assignment. In front of the Queen, as he is giving her the note, he is about to tell her of what he just overheard when he realizes her lover Gaebril is the man behind the plot. He returns to the inn, gathers his things, and immediately sets out for Tear with Thom.

After reaching Tear, Mat searches the city and manages to find Gaebril’s assassin. He kills the man. However, before the would-be killer dies, he lets Mat know that he was not the only one sent to carry out this task. Mat sets out in earnest to find the three girls.

Egwene, Nynaeve, and Elayne arrive in Tear and find the local version of a Wisdom, concerned that the Black Ajah will likely have spies watching the city’s inns. They convince Mother Guenna that they are after dangerous murderous women and she helps them to hire a thief-catcher, Juilin Sandar, in order that they might find these women. Sandar manages to find the women, all of whom are hiding in the city’s fortress, the Stone of Tear, with the High Lord Samon. However, he is forced to betray their location to the Black Sisters, against his will, and all three women are captured, beaten severely, and imprisoned inside the Stone.

Outside of their inn in Tear, Moiraine tells the group that the High Lord Samon is the Forsaken Be’lal. She tells Perrin, Faile, and Loial that they should leave the city and travel to Tar Valon for their own safety. Faile returns to the inn first and mysteriously collapses inside the inn’s private dining room as she crossed through it. Moiraine prevents anyone else from entering and points out that a small wooden hedgehog inside the room must be a ter’angreal and that it must have done something to Faile. After some speculation, she decides that the hedgehog likely trapped her in the World of Dreams. She tells Perrin that she cannot help Faile, and that she needs to attack Be’lal now, while the Forsaken believes this hedgehog trap succeeded in capturing her. Perrin decides to rescue her himself, believing that The World of Dreams and The Wolf Dream are one and the same place. With Loial guarding the door, he enters the room and collapses, too.

Thom becomes sick while traveling through rainy Tear looking for some sign of the three girls. When Mat takes him to someone for healing, he comes to realize that the healer, Mother Guenna, has already met his three friends. He finds out that all three of them are captured, but he learns where they are being held as well. With Thom too sick to help, Mat sets off to the Stone of Tear fortress to rescue Egwene and the others by himself.

While scouting the stone from the rooftops of Tear, Mat runs into a group of Aiel as well as the thief-catcher Juilin Sandar. The Aiel warn Mat not to interfere with what they are doing and he agrees not to do so. Sandar wants to help Mat find the girls, feeling guilty and confused over why he turned them in initially. Mat, who is carrying his bundle of fireworks, sets it off in an unoccupied arrow slit of the Stone, intending it to be a distraction. He is surprised when the explosion from the bundle knocks a hole into the wall large enough to enter through. Mat, with Sandar behind him, fight through Defenders of the Stone and then Sandar leads Mat to the cells where the girls are being held.

Egwene is with the others in their cell when she wakes up. All three women are being shielded from the One Power. Egwene is surprised to learn that her stone ter’angreal was not seized when they were captured and the three of them decide that Egwene should try to enter the World of Dreams to see if she can discover a way for them to escape. They know they must hurry because the Black Ajah told them that Be’lal, whose existence here is bad enough, has already sent for enough myrddraal to forcibly turn all three girls to the Shadow. In the World of Dreams, Egwene can touch the One Power, and she manages to shield two of the Black Sisters, including the one that she believes is holding their shield in the waking world. She also binds the woman holding their shield with air, both in the waking world and in the dream. Egwene wakes up thinking that she and the others will be free from their shield but she finds out that is not true.

Mat finds an Aes Sedai sitting outside of a cell, unable to move. Despite the fact that she is pleading with him for help, Mat bravely pulls the cell keys from her and opens the door she is guarding. Inside, he finds Nynaeve and the others. They seem almost angry to be rescued. When they finally join him outside the cell, and see the Black Sister outside, unable to move, Nynaeve punches her and knocks her unconscious. When the women is knocked out, the shield on the three women is finally removed. Nynaeve quickly heals both Egwene and Elayne from their injuries. Ignoring Mat’s pleas that they leave the Stone because it is under attack, incredulous that he is there, and generally ungrateful, the three women march away without him.

Perrin is assisted by Hopper, in the Wolf Dream, in his hunt for Faile. He finds her multiple times only to have her disappear after she is rescued. Finally he locates her in a place from which she will not disappear. In the process of reaching her, he is attacked by hundreds of falcons, within the Dream, but he manages to free her from the ter’angreal trap. Faile wakes up in the real world, in the inn’s private dining room, and finds Perrin with her bleeding profusely from the falcon injuries he procured in the Dream.

Inside the Heart of the Stone, Rand finds Callandor and also Be’lal, who tries to make Rand take the sword to save himself. Rand and Be’lal have a sword duel and it becomes increasingly clear that Be’lal is better. Abruptly, Moiraine shows up and walks toward Be’lal. The Forsaken does not have an opportunity to get over feeling dismissive of her before she kills him with balefire. A moment later, though, Ba’alzamon makes his presence known, flinging Moiraine violently out of the way, and attacking Rand fiercely, by trying to rip his soul from his body. Rand decides that the only hope he has of saving himself is to take Callandor – which he does. With the crystal sword in hand, Rand is able to channel immensely more of the One Power than he can without it, he stops the efforts of Ba’alzamon to kill him, and then he starts to hunt him instead.

Ba’alzamon flees into the World of Dreams, in the flesh, and Rand follows him though he does not know how. After a cat and mouse chase, Rand eventually finds Ba’alzamon and kills him. He then brings Ba’alzamon’s body back into the real world. Convinced, finally, that he really is The Dragon Reborn, he announces it to everyone in the Stone. Defenders of the Stone and Aiel kneel before him.

The next day, Moiraine, Rhuarc – one of the Aiel, Egwene, Elayne, Nynaeve, and Mat discuss the events of the night before. To everyone’s surprise, Moiraine tells them that Ba’alzamon was not the Dark One. Egwene speculates aloud, based on some things she studied with Verin during her brief stay in the Tower, that perhaps Ba’alzamon was Ishamael. Moiraine tells everyone that Perrin was well when last she saw him but that she does not know if he still is. As they all speculate about The Prophecies of the Dragon, and wonder whether the prophecies concerning Callandor mean that their group is “the people of the Dragon,” Rhuarc hesitantly tells them that the Aiel are “The people of the Dragon” though that is a name known only to clan chiefs and wise ones. He then shows them the symbol from The Dragon Banner etched into the skin of one of his forearms. Outside, people are chanting, and have been chanting for hours, both Rand’s name and “The Dragon Reborn” as Rand’s banner flies atop the Stone.

WHAT I LIKED

Mat’s Arc:

Mat goes from arguably the least interesting Emond’s Field character to the most interesting in this book. For the first time since early in the story, Mat is fully healthy. Also for the first time, Jordan gives Mat POV chapters. Once the readers get to be in Mat’s head, then actions that might be hard to interpret from outside become endearing because we see the heart of where those actions are rooted. He is a very well written rogue with a heart of gold.

Mat joins the rest of the Emond’s Field group in getting something of a special power – he is lucky. Rather than feeling like plot armor, the power is fun to read because most of the time we see its effects after it has occurred and Mat himself did not see it coming. Alternatively, we see it in more low stakes settings wherein Mat is gambling to make money and getting the upper hand on someone who feels like they deserve it.

This book has numerous memorable Mat scenes, but two of my favorites are the following:

  1. Mat fights Gawyn and Galad after getting out of a sick bed in Tar Valon. This is the scene that really sets up the character as a roguish underdog with tricks up his sleeve. He wins a fight against a couple of princelings, wins those princelings and their Warder trainer over in the process, and pockets a little coin via a bet for his trouble while he is at it. An important element of this scene, too, is that Mat wins on legitimate skill acquired from his upbringing in the Two Rivers.
  2. Mat blows a hole into the wall of the Stone of Tear. I love this scene. He actually has a good plan – using the light and noise from the fireworks to draw attention away from where he wants to go. The fact that the whole things backfires – in his favor – is quintessential Mat. Unlike Rand, who also used fireworks concussively in the previous book, we know Mat will continue thinking about the implications of the fact that fireworks can destroy stone. This scene is also funny because Mat has just promised the Aiel that he will not sound an alarm about their presence. He agrees not to do that and then mere moments later sets off a bundle of fireworks that he knows will be loud and attention-grabbing. Mat is willing to do anything – ANYTHING – to rescue his friends who are in danger, all the while complaining and panicking inwardly about what he is doing.

The Expansion of Scope:

More so than the first two books, we leave this one feeling as though this is a global story. Forsaken rule in at least two countries. The Seanchan are still out there, and the Aiel are now an integral part of the world-building of the story with their own separate prophecies concerning Rand. Rand has jumped headfirst into rulership of a large powerful nation over night. The series went from a place where it felt like it might wrap up soon to somewhere else where the end point feels well beyond the reader’s story horizon.

The Tone:

For a lot of the first two books, The Wheel of Time feels like a horror adjacent fantasy. The story is driven by the attempts at survival and the heroism of our characters to help each other in that respect. While those elements continue in this book, we are also given a story that becomes more action-adventure adjacent, too. As a result, The Dragon Reborn contains a lot more fun and laughs than the first two volumes of the series and it is a welcome change.

WHAT I Did not LIKE

The Ending:

For the first ninety-seven percent of this novel, it was was easily my favorite in the series. However, I think Jordan really failed to stick the landing with this book. He told a story that featured everyone except Rand – who was absent for the vast majority of the novel – and then sidelined all of those characters and plot threads in favor of Rand at the end. It was like Jordan did not know how to send this story off so he essentially wrote an ending more befitting Books 1 and 2.

We spend a lot of time with Perrin but do not know his fate. I guess that functions as a cliffhanger leading into the next book. However, I feel much more annoyed by this than anxious. Jordan will have to pay this off in the next book.

Mat’s race to Tear feels pretty anti-climactic at the end. It is not clear – at all – that his arrival was necessary for the survival of Egwene and the others. It seems likely that they were either going to free themselves or be freed by Rand and the Aiel. As a result, I think Jordan needed to make Mat’s importance here more obvious. His rescue also feels anti-climactic because of the extreme – and frankly out of character – reaction from the three women. I might believe that Egwene and Nynaeve could dismiss Mat’s efforts here, given their shared history, but Elayne has no extensive prior history with him. Elayne’s typical role in her group relationship with Egwene and Nynaeve is to smooth over the social miscues of her Emond’s Field friends. It makes no sense that she did not do that here. What I expected from Elayne was a smile and some comment about him being a good Andorman. The whole scene really feels like an unnecessary effort to undermine the likeability of the three women. The end result of all of this is that it felt like an unsatisfying end to the otherwise excellent plot arc of Mat and all three women.

Maybe more than anything, at the end of the novel, it just feels jarring to suddenly be back in Rand’s head after being away from him so much throughout the book. With so much of the focus on his friends, it would have felt more natural to me for his friends to be the primary heroes at the end. On the other side of that coin, with so much of this novel focused on the machinations of Lanfear, Be’lal, the introductions of Sammael and the unnamed Forsaken in Caemlyn, the narrative switch back to one last fight with Ba’alzamon did not feel smooth.

Interesting NEW STORY ELEMENTS

More Forsaken:

In addition to Lanfear, we now know definitively that Sammael and Be’lal have escaped. Though we do not know his real name, we also can infer that Lord Gaebrl of Andor is another of the Forsaken. The end of this book also tells us that Ba’alzamon was not the Dark One, but was rather most likely Ishamael. When we remember also that we met Aginor and Balthamel at the end of The Eye of the World, then we can sort out how many of the thirteen Forsaken are (or were) loose.

Ishamael, Lanfear, Balthamel, Aginor, Sammael, Be’lal, and whoever Lord Gaebril happens to be. So… we have definitely seen seven of the thirteen thus far. Of thoe seven, Ishamael, Balthamel, Aginor, and Be’lal are dead.

Callandor:

The sword that is not a sword is an object that significantly amplifies Rand’s power and by virtue of Rand being able to use it, he proclaims to the world his identity. This is also the prophecy of the Dragon that, once fulfilled, actually convinces Rand that he really is The Dragon Reborn. Unlike the events in Falme, this fulfilled prophecy successfully announces Rand to the world. Jordan provides a pretty obvious homage with this plot line, too.

al’Thor pulls the magical sword from the Stone to prove his identity.

Sounds familiar? Just as a reminder of some other Arthurian character names and their inspiration:

Egwene al’vere = Guinevere
Lan = Lancelot
Nynaeve = Nyneve
Gawyn = Gawain
Galad = Galahad
Elayne = Elaine of Corbenic
Thom Merrilin = Merlyn
Tar Valon = Avalon
Caemlyn = Camlan

The World of Dreams / The Wolf Dream:

This novel really delves into this place, also known as tel’arah’rhiod. This place is is a parallel world where all the possibilities of various parallel universes connect. The World of Dreams is simultaneous part of all worlds and apart from them. Anyone can enter the World of Dreams but only a Dreamer, someone with a ter’angreal, or someone who is a Wolf Brother, can do so at will. The normal rules of reality and physics do not apply in the World of Dreams. Entering can be extremely dangerous and lead to injuries or death to your body in the waking world.

Personally I enjoy this place as it essentially introduces a new magic system. While the One Power appears to function as a hard magic system, the World of Dreams seems to operate in more of a soft magic way thus far. In addition, we can see that the World of Dreams has a relationship with several hard magic items – most likely – including most likely the ter’angreal that Aes Sedai use for testing to be Accepted. The Portal Stones may also have a relationship with the World of Dreams.

As a result, the magic of the series feels very much like science, with some of its aspects operating under well understood rules and other parts of it it operating either without rules or without rules that can be understood just yet.

The Aiel:

Though we have met them before, this book is their big and true introduction. They are a fierce race of fighters, from the desert lands just beyond the mountains at the edge of the continent, with their own beliefs and prophecies. We learn in this book that they are not savages, as is widely believed, but are instead quite intellectual and honor-bound. Their world is also much more connected to the main continent than anyone on the main continent has previously believed.

All of the Aiel we have met thus far are likeable characters. Jordan is presenting the Aiel as mysterious and powerful good guys, just as he presented the Seanchan as mysterious and powerful bad guys in the previous book.

QUIRKY THING ABOUT THE BOOK

In a lot of ways, The Dragon Reborn is a repeat of The Great Hunt. In both books, the Emond’s Field group, and Moiraine, get split up, engage in a cross-continent chase, leading them all via different paths to one location, to obtain a magical object, the Horn and the dagger in one case, Callandor in the other. In both books, Egwene is captured and used as bait to lure Rand into a trap. In both instances, the girls help themselves escape (or largely do so) before rescue arrives. In both stories, Rand overcomes the trap by obtaining and using the sought-after magical artifact. In both stories, the outcome is that Rand is proclaimed as the Dragon Reborn and his banner is raised.

Criticisms of the ending notwithstanding, I really enjoyed this book and however it got there, the place where it ends really has me eager to dig into the next book in the series. The well executed development of several characters (Mat in particular), and its world building elements, were my favorite features from this series’ third volume. The novel’s ending really changes and broadens the scope of the story into one that is a rich and well-developed global conflict, far beyond just the characters we have met to this point, and frankly the breadth of the story is now finally more befitting the premise of who “The Dragon Reborn” is said to be.

I am eager to read the next book in the series, the ominously titled The Shadow Rising.

2 thoughts on “The Dragon Reborn (Book Review)

  1. Hi, I’ve been reading the wheel of time books since watching the Amazon books. After reading the eye of the world ending, that I didn’t understand. I stumbled onto your chapter summaries which have helped immensely in understanding the book more. And have continued since, I always check your summaries to see if I’ve missed something now . I enjoy your summary and your ire reaction too.Thanks for all your work!

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