The Dragon Reborn is where The Wheel of Time really branches out to let each character have their moment in the sun, particularly Egwene, Perrin and Mat, the other original Emond’s Fielders. There were glimmers of this shift from a single hero to a full cast of heroes in earlier books, but the focus was always on the central character Rand. Keeping Rand off the page is unconventional, since the larger story revolves around his quest. Rand has the point of view for only 19 pages in this entire book, and makes cameos throughout various dreams and street scenes. Since his quest was simply to gain Callandor and confirm his identity as the Dragon Reborn, his plotline would have held less interest than the secondary characters, who have not yet found their new identity. They find that their role is partly based on their relationship with Rand; there is still loyalty and love between the Emond’s Fielders, no matter that they are being pulled towards organizations and allies that are far removed from the Prophecies of the Dragon.
Each of the Emond’s Fielders remains determined not to turn their back on each other, to oppose the Dark One, and to use whatever comes their way to maintain their independence.
Dire circumstance leads the Amyrlin to grant Egwene and her friends exceptional privilege. They may have to suffer publicly, but their special status as Black Ajah hunters is also a sop to their exceptional pride and self-reliance. Full sisters know well how much they will need to defer to these women when they gain the shawl. These are women you want on your side. Aes Sedai invented the Great Game, and the Amyrlin is the best there is at playing it. Swift advancement in the Power and the need to find Black Ajah are convenient excuses to bestow favours on Nynaeve and Egwene, solve a few problems, and gain powerful future allies, something the Amyrlin may need very soon.
When Nynaeve tries to cut Egwene out of the hunt for want of protecting her, Egwene begins building resentment towards her. She often tells herself that she will not be collared again, but Nynaeve’s overbearing manner and the Amyrlin’s schemes must appear to be collars of a different sort, no less damaging to her freedom. She is transposing her negative feelings about the Seanchan to anyone and everyone who impedes her freedom.
Dreaming, having control over tel’aran’rhiod, provides true freedom. She slowly begins to understand her abilities in this place, not yet realizing that it is force of will that sculpts the reality around her. Egwene’s role is to be the most powerful Dreamer. She can’t achieve that unless she is completely driven to accomplishing her goal, which is a way of showing her force of will. Her personality thus becomes a source of irritation for many readers, yet she has to be that forceful and arrogant or she could not be a powerful Dreamer. Doubt, insecurity, uncertainty are weaknesses in tel’aran’rhiod. Self-awareness, motivation, and desire are strengths. That hers are built upon her overcoming her abuse and attacks on her very identity at the hands of the Seanchan is admirable.
Perrin too is powerful in the wolf dream, because he is single-minded and sure of what is doing once he sets out on a course of action, as demonstrated in his blacksmith scene. Until he reaches that decision point however, he exposes a weakness. The major choice he must make to determine his identity is choosing whether he is a builder or a destroyer. Does he wield a hammer, or an axe? At this point he is still sounding out his tools, learning what they do, testing them as he battles Shadowspawn or enters tel’aran’rhiod to save Faile.
Mat tries hard to be a free spirit, but is dragged back into the struggle time and again by duty to his friends. Like Egwene, he wants to be free of constraints, but can’t quite manage to shake them off.
The fact that the World of Dreams is a major ability of both of the featured characters, and of Rand as well, is noteworthy. Even minor characters’ lives are affected by the World of Dreams. With the limited insight provided, the World of Dreams has a more important role to play in the future. And with it will be continued focus on the characters’ identities.
Your characters need to be consistent in some way, even as that consistency drives other changes.
My second hardcover of The Dragon Reborn (If you read this blog, you too find it normal to own two of everything Wheel of Time) is the signed copy I won in the Knife of Dreams contest a few years back. What a pleasure it is to be greeted by these words when I open the cover:
The Dragon Reborn first came out in hardcover in 1991, and it was the first Wheel of Time book I saw. I had read all of Robert Jordan’s Conan novels, and found him to be far and away the best of the bunch. Being a cost-sensitive student, I bought the two first books in softcover on the spot, and waited for the softcover of this one to come out a few months later. A year or two later, I forced The Dragon Reborn on my roommate during exams. His marks suffered. You’re welcome Scartoe!
I managed to convince my prof in Publishing to let me include a book review of The Dragon Reborn in the college’s Fall ’92 edition of Locus magazine. As one of the students most interested in publishing and not simply filling a hole in my schedule, it was an easy sell. Twenty years ago, I wonder if my insight was any better than what I wrote above. Let’s not spare any embarrassment and find out!
The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan, Tor, 1991, 699pp., $6.99.
Rand al’Thor is a young man with a blessing, or a curse. Rand is the latest incarnation of the infamous Dragon, the most powerful and dangerous man ever to live. His blessing is the ability to control the One Power, which gives him control over the elements. His curse is that the One Power is tainted, and the more he uses it, the quicker its evil will drive him insane.
Though the focus of Robert Jordan’s third fantasy book in The Wheel of Time series is Rand’s dilemma, The Dragon Reborn doesn’t deal with how Rand is affected, but how his friends are affected by the changes in their lives since Rand has accepted the fact that he is the Dragon Reborn. They must deal with the fact that their best friend is destined to save the world from the evil of the Dark One, and in so doing, he will destroy most of the civilized world, as he has done in past incarnations.
The wide array of characters in the book makes it very enjoyable. Everyone is able to find characters they sympathize with: There is Perrin, a man who is trying to deny his empathy with wolves in the same way that Rand was trying to come to terms with the tremendous power he wielded in the previous novel. Egwene is a country girl also capable of using the One Power, that Rand was to have married, until he discovered his curse. Thom Merrilin is a traveling performer interested in keeping Rand out of Aes Sedai hands. The all female Aes Sedai and the Children of the Light are two opposing factions who both want the Dragon killed before he breaks the world with his power. Rand is also hunted by Moiraine, an Aes Sedai trying to keep him alive and sane long enough for him to combat the Dark One. The relationships between these characters are extremely well developed and give the book just the right balance between adventure and character development.
Jordan’s tale is also lighthearted enough to make readers laugh and dire enough to make them fear for the characters’ future. The book is very reminiscent of Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, in terms of the emotions provoked by reading the story. Jordan has brought new, innovative ideas to the fantasy genre, especially in terms of the religious and political conflicts in his story. The importance of women (Aes Sedai) in the society he has created is another example of his commentary on our own society.
When Rand al’Thor became the Dragon Reborn, so Robert Jordan’s books became the new standard for the genre: Fantasy Reborn!
Aside from the gross factual errors, misrepresentations, and drooling celebrity worship, I like it!