The Fires of Heaven picks up where The Shadow Rising left off, largely leaving behind the events in the Two Rivers where Perrin has become the de facto ruler of a small kingdom. There are references to what’s going on there, but that’s not the focus of this book. Rand’s expansion into the world beyond the Aiel Wastes is the primary focus of this novel, as he walks a delicate balance between the diverse and often dissenting factions he’s ruling over as both The Dragon Reborn and Car’a’carn. Wanting nothing to do with the trappings of fate, Mat attempts to escape on multiple occasions, only to find himself more firmly entrenched in the wheel’s design and–much like Rand–dizzied by memories not his own. At the same time, Nynaeve and Elayne are on a collision course with the remnants of the White Tower in hiding, where Siuan, Leane, and Min are also heading. Little do Nynaeve, Elayne, Thom, and Juilin realize that they’ll soon be sharing their journey with an unexpected face from the past. Robert Jordan spends a large portion of this book familiarizing readers with the politics of the various kingdoms, as well as the machinations between individual Forsaken. We also learn more about the world of dreams and the dangers associated with that realm, and we discover some of the previously unknown danger of magic when Rand uses Balefire. This installment in the series provides readers with a lot of action and warfare, both close-up and distant, which keeps the story flowing. Additionally, it showcases the stakes, and reveals that even those we consider pivotal to the narrative are not shielded by plot armor, at least not permanently. As with the previous four volumes in the series, the narration provided by Kate Reading and Michael Kramer is fantastic, fully bringing the narrative to life and fleshing out the characters in the way the best audiobooks do.
The Shadow Rising picks up where The Dragon Reborn left off, with Rand al’Thor wielding his authority from the Stone of Tear after breaching the fortress with the assistance of a cadre of Aiel and taking Callandor in accordance with prophecy. For a brief interval, the companions who set out from the Two Rivers are together in one place again, before the machinations of the Forsaken and Rand’s reluctant determination to embrace his fate forces them to head in separate directions yet again. Mat and Moiraine follow Rand deep into the Aiel Waste, set for the sacred city of Rhuidean where Rand means to fulfill the next prophecy on his path to become The Dragon Reborn. Perrin, Faile, and Loial depart for the Two Rivers, where Perrin hopes to save his family and friends from the Children of the Light, only to discover that things are far worse than his nightmares prepared him to expect. Nynaeve, Elayne, and Thom Merrilin follow the trail of the Black Ajah to Tanchico, desperate to discover the secret weapon the dark sisters are hoping to use against Rand. All of this takes place while Min attempts to sus out the meaning of her prophetic visions at the White Tower, as tumult and upheaval loom on the near horizon. The Shadow Rising was one of my favorite books in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series when I originally began reading the series years ago. This was primarily because we begin to catch tantalizing glimpses of the world before the breaking as well as insights into the less previously well-explored cultures introduced in the first three books, in particular, the Aiel and Seanchan. Jordan also provided readers with a fascinating look at the dynamic between various Forsaken as well as the Dark Friends operating in the world, and how those various individuals and groups are frequently acting at odds with one another. It isn’t all world-building in this book, though. There’s plenty of action and a whole lot of story along the way. As with the previous three audiobooks, the narration provided by Kate Reading and Michael Kramer is spectacular, at no point taking the listener out of the experience or disrupting the flow of the narrative.
The Dragon Reborn, I recalled quite correctly, was one of my favorite installments in what I’d previously read of The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. This is the book in which we receive a much clearer glimpse of the effect Rand al’Thor has on the world and people around him, largely through the events witnessed by his friends rather than from Rand’s perspective. It was a daring move, shifting the focus of the third novel in a series away from the protagonist, allowing the bulk of the tale to be told from the perspectives of Perrin, Mat, and Egwene. Though Perrin is the only one who knowingly pursues Rand, Mat, Egwene, and the others are drawn by the gravity of Rand pulling at the weave. What we do witness of Rand’s journey to Tear–where he intends to prove himself and to embrace the prophecy that marks him as the Dragon Reborn–causes some small amount of concern that he is indeed going mad. While little attention is paid to the day-to-day travels as Rand journeys to take hold of his destiny, we are far from kept in the dark as to what he’s been doing as he manages to remain ahead of the pursuit from Perrin, Moiraine, Loial, and Lan. As we bounce from one location to another, we are provided with a much greater perspective of what is happening throughout the world. We discover that the Forsaken have escaped from their imprisonment and taken up positions of power throughout the world. We learn that the corruption of the Black Ajah has grown within the Aes Sedai in Tar Valon. We learn of darkhounds and the soulless. We also discover that the Aiel have left the wastes and ventured secretly into the world that fears them, in search of the answer to a prophecy of their own. The Dragon Reborn is a spectacular book, the best of the original trilogy, for sure. It is filled with intrigue, action, and suspense that marked Robert Jordan as a great storyteller. The narration of this book is no less spot-on than the previous two installments of the series.
Robert Jordan’s The Great Hunt has always been one of the greatest follow-up novels to a series introduction. It could be argued that it’s the best installment of The Wheel of Time. As I indicated in my review of the audiobook for The Eye of the World, I haven’t read the whole series, so I can’t say for sure that this remains true throughout, but of what I’ve read, it is the best of the bunch. At its core, The Great Hunt is a story of acceptance amidst transformation…recognition of the changes taking place and the role one must play in this changing world. We see Perrin finally coming to terms with what he is, embracing his status as a wolf brother when it becomes the only way to continue the search for the Horn of Valere. While in Tar Valon and after, we watch Nynaeve learning to embrace her role as Aes Sedai as well as her burgeoning feelings for Lan. Even Rand begins to accept who and what he is, though in action and deed more than in word. Though he spends the bulk of the novel insisting he is nothing more than a shepherd, he slips into the guise of a leader and a lord with increasingly greater ease. I think that’s the aspect of this story that makes it my favorite of the portions I’ve read. There’s a vitality and realness just beneath the surface of the fantasy tale being woven, focusing on the nature of identity, diving into the differences between the versions of ourselves we know–or believe we know–and those others around us see and acknowledge. Of course, there’s also a great deal of action and adventure to this story, and that certainly helps to make it one of the best fantasy tales I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading–or, in this case, listening to. We get to explore the potential of divergent realities, where events play out with lesser or greater similarities to the way we know they’re playing out. We have the introduction of the Seanchan and the horrific creatures they use as beasts of burden and war, along with their hideous practices of forcing dedication from people they encounter and enslaving women with the capacity to channel the One Power. We have the rising of legendary heroes from the mists of time as the horn is sounded. Of course, we also have that fantastic duel between Rand and Ba’alzamon that changes everything going forward, forcing him into an unhappy acknowledgment of his place as Dragon Reborn. For books as old as these, and as popular, I don’t feel quite the aversion to providing spoilers, but I’ll try to keep it at what I’ve already given away. As one could expect, knowing how this story plays out, Kate Reading has more of a part to play in the narration than she did in the previous volume. I’m pleased to see that she and Michael Kramer appear to have narrated every volume of the series. I had known they narrated the first five books since I already had them purchased…but I looked ahead at the remaining Wheel of Time audiobooks and felt a bit of relief at seeing those names again and again throughout.
Thirty years after its original publication, Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World remains as timeless and captivating as it was when it first came out while I was still in my pre-teens. Following in the footsteps laid by previous epic fantasy series from authors like J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Terry Brooks, Jordan’s Wheel Of Time stands as a someday classic series of epic fantasy in its own right, though it does borrow elements from those earlier works. That’s a petty complaint to level against Jordan’s books since his doing so was far less dramatic and obvious than Terry Brooks’s borrowing from Tolkien with major elements of The Sword of Shannara. Nothing we read is truly original and written in absolute isolation from the books and stories that inspired the author. It’s this same understanding that makes it easy for me to also enjoy Terry Goodkind’s series, The Sword of Truth, which transparently borrows some elements from The Wheel of Time as well as from those earlier epic fantasy series. Following Rand and his friends from their humble but auspicious origins in Emond’s Field in the Two Rivers district to the horrific landscape of the Blight as they’re led by Moiraine and Lan is as exciting now as when I was a child, though I find myself relating more to characters I’d not related to as strongly when I was a younger reader. That is a sign of a great author indeed, that the novel can still appeal to readers (albeit differently) when they’re young men and when they’re adults in middle-age. This book (and the subsequent series) is a coming of age tale as much as it is a thoroughly engaging fantasy, exploring the nature of fate/destiny and the cyclic nature of civilization, society, and (within the series) time itself. I’ve never read the concluding few novels of this series nor the prequel to The Eye of the World, and I thought it might be appropriate to listen through the audiobook recordings of the books I’ve already read, to catch myself up to where I need to be. The narration provided primarily by Michael Kramer and occasionally by Kate Reading (when Nynaeve is the focal point of the chapter) is immersive and successfully propels the story forward. It’s a different experience to hear this book in a different voice than the ones in my head. Michael Kramer manages to breathe life into the characters of Rand al’Thor, Matrim Cauthon, and Perrin Aybara in the way they deserve. This is a relief, seeing as how he and Kate Reading are the narrators for at least the first five books of the series (those are the ones I’ve purchased from Audible so far).