Book Review: Robert Jordan, “The Dragon Reborn”

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The third book in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series is excellent. There is excitement from beginning to end, and each chapter moves at an extremely fast pace. That pacing is perhaps he biggest change from the first to books to The Dragon Reborn, although it’s not the first change the reader will notice.

Unlike the first two novels in the series, very little of The Dragon Reborn is told from the perspective of what I assumed to be the main character of the book, Rand. Instead, most of the book is told from the perspective of Egwene as she continues her training as an Aes Sedai sorceress, and Perrin, Rand’s childhood friend who has unique supernatural powers of his own. Many other of the stories characters feature prominently in the book, of course, all taking their own turns as the reader’s focal point.

On the one hand, this is a refreshing change. By the end of the second book in the series, I had had just about enough of Rand and his doubts, fears, and brooding. I had begun to dislike the character, and that sentiment carried over to the first part of this book, too. Meanwhile, Perrin had become a bit of a favorite of mine, so it was nice that he featured more prominently in this book.

Unfortunately, much of what I liked about Book 2 over Book 1 was abandoned here. The characters in the first book were a little uni-dimensional, especially the females. That got better in the second book, but worse here. Three books into the series, and it’s still not yet clear who among the female characters is definitely a protagonist. I like thematic ambiguity and intrigue as much as the next guy, but it would be nice to know who I’m supposed to be cheering for by the end of 2,100 pages of reading.

Furthermore, some of the female heroines are downright mean. There’s a scene in the book in which some of them are saved by a male character in the book, and they treat them in an extremely rude and haughty way. It’s evident that Jordan intended this for comedic effect, but it’s so out-of-place that it merely highlights the female characters’ meanness. When I first started the series, I forgave a lot of this behavior as part of the author’s feminist proclivities, and to a certain extent, this works. The books were written in the early 90s, which was a time when spunky, headstrong heroines who threw their male foils for a curve were a popular thematic device. So, that could be part of it, too.

Even so, it’s tiresome when page after page of story is filled with well-meaning men doing what they think is right, and cruel, condescending females who consider themselves to be above almost all interaction with the male characters. I look forward to the parts of the story that do not involve any male-female interaction, if only because I’m guaranteed that none of the heroes will antagonistically condescend to the others.

...except, of course, that isn’t true, either. The Nynaeve character in the book is practically defined by that sentiment, and by the end of the book it has bled over to Egwene as well.

Robert Jordan writes a wonderful story, and The Dragon Reborn is certainly no exception. It is, however, the third book in a row in which I find myself despising characters that I think I am supposed to like. Time will tell if this holds throughout the series. For now, it’s on to the fourth book.

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