I've said before that the Wheel of Time series is one that I find it impossible to judge objectively. It's the series that made me realise I was a fantasy geek through and through. It's the series that out of all of the books I read as a teenager still stands out in my memory. The reason I started to re-read the series in the first place was that I found that because of the gaps in publication, I became distanced from the story. I was reading the books occasionally but without a particularly strong memory of the books that had gone before and I was starting to just go through the motions. This series deserves more than that.
I've kept this review spoiler free but it's probably the last of these posts that I'll do that with to avoid them all being variations on the "I read another Wheel of Time book and it was great" theme!
I read The Great Hunt during November last year. I've seen reviews on GoodReads from people who bemoan this book as being weaker than the first. I'm not just being a gushing fan when I say that I honestly don't see that. The world is expanded to include new cities and the cast of main characters is widened. If there's some travelling, there isn't nearly as much as there is in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and there definitely aren't any rambling songs so I don't buy that as a major criticism. There's political intrigue, plenty of fighting (of the sword and magical variety) and there's kidnapping and slavery and romance. Even though I knew what was coming, I was completely sucked in.
The story of this instalment revolves around the Horn of Valere, a mythical object hunted by hundreds of men and women looking for glory that is said to call back dead warriors to fight for whoever blows it. There are Darkfriends (the bad guys, obviously) hunting for the horn to call heroes of old to fight for the Dark One and our band of village folk turned potential heroes hunting it down to stop that happening. What's not to like?! It's a good focus for a single book, as well as providing some of the grounding for later books. If re-reading has shown me one thing, it's that these books are jammed full of hints and portents about later events and playing spot-the-foreshadow has become a favourite hobby of mine!
The Dragon Reborn was one that I'd remembered as being one of my favourite instalments out of the books that I've read so far. At a mere 674 pages, it's the shortest book in the series and even by 'normal book' standards (as opposed to epic fantasy book standards) is action-packed. The characters visit new places and there are some (excellent) new additions to the cast but most of the book builds on the solid world building of the first two books and focuses on moving along the plot with some pretty significant twists and turns. The pacing on this one is spot on so even if you read The Great Hunt and you weren't 100% sure, I'd really, really urge you to pick this next one up and give it a go. It introduces the Aiel (a warrior population from the 'Waste' (read: big desert)), who I love. Their 'Maidens of the Spear' kick some pretty serious ass and they balance out the otherwise largely silk-dress wearing ladies nicely.
As far as stacking up against my fond memories, goes, The Dragon Reborn surpassed them. I don't know if it's because I've read more fantasy in the intervening years or if it's because I feel such a sense of familiarity when I'm reading them but whatever it is, I absolutely flew through this one while I was reading it.
One thing that I'll give to the critics is that the writing can be a little dawdling and there are some phrases that you'll read a few too many times. I don't find it to be any more than in any other fantasy series, though, so if you're used to reading long series, you'll be fine.
If you haven't read any of the series yet, I just don't know what else to tell you other than that, even after all these years, it has a firm place in my heart and I really do believe that it has stood the test of time. Read it. If you've read The Great Hunt and found it a bit slow-paced, absolutely pick up The Dragon Reborn and give it a try.
I'll admit that I'm a little wary about The Shadow Rising, which is the next book. It tops 1,000 pages and I remember it taking me ages to read when I was a teenager so we'll see if the same is true this time around!