The final 650 or so pages of prologue, and last bit of primer you need to fully enjoy Randland.
If the title of the book wasn’t spoiler enough, I am going to give you a spoiler; Rand is the Dragon Reborn, and this book revolves around this fact. SURPRISE!
In something of a departure from the previous books, Rand acts more like a gravitational center rather than a main character. Huge parts of the Eye of the World and The Great Hunt are told from Rand’s point of view, but Rand is largely absent from the pages of this work. Instead, all of the events orbit around his actions, and you find out what he is doing at any given point more from a second hand point of view which creates a fascinating historical narrative. LE Modesitt Jr’s Saga of Recluce has a sort of similar feel to it, in that you as the reader understand what is happening, but the characters are merely experiencing a small portion of the overarching plot.
The narrative style of this book makes it an incredibly interesting read for those of us who like to see humanity at work. The reactions of the characters, the bending of the world around a force that cannot be understood by the general populace is masterfully woven. I’ve mentioned it before, but the idea of the reluctant protagonists is pulled off very well–each of the main three characters, Rand, Perrin, and Matt, handle their duty in a very different way that feeds from their personality.
The saying that is often quoted in this book, “Death is lighter than a feather, duty heavier than a mountain,” applies directly to Rand and Perrin. Rand at first rejects his destiny, but once it becomes clear he must take up the sword he grabs at it so aggressively that his destiny almost balks at the fervor.
Perrin handles his destiny with a level head, accidentally following a path that was set for him thousands of years ago, though with earnestness and a sort of devotion. I won’t hide my bias, Perrin is my favorite of the main three, but I’d like to think he has earned it. The way Perrin approaches his destiny is (appropriately enough, if you’ve read the first two books) much like a blacksmith approaches a forge on a hot day–it is not pleasant, and he won’t enjoy it, but he realizes it is his duty and he bears his burdens silently.
Matt rejects his destiny, then rejects it again, then when it is clear even to him that he must follow his destiny, he rejects it some more, and even harder. Like a toddler who can’t get his way, the general approach Matt takes to problems is sitting on the ground and flailing his arms and legs while screaming (and probably crying). Man, screw Matt.
There is a concept in the Wheel of Time called ta’veren, which describes a person who basically pulls destiny along with them, rather than having their life bent to it. It is difficult to describe in under 1200 pages, but the short version is that a ta’veren acts as the sun to a solar system, and every other object they pass by starts circling them regardless of what they want. I wouldn’t call it lazy writing as it has a deep backstory and well developed roots, but this is the function that allows some of the “romantic” subplots to function.
Rand, the Dragon Reborn, basically pulls the rest of the universe behind him in its wake, kicking and screaming. Part of that is that there are women whose destinies end up tied to his, and while there is absolutely no actual development of romantic feelings, three women instantly find themselves in love with him. This might sound sexist, and through a certain (shallow) lens it could be, but there is a point to it. In any case, the romantic plot that surrounds Rand won’t give you a warm fuzzy feeling at any point, and you may yell at your book that one or two of the characters are being just plain stupid. That’s ok, I understand your rage.
Perrin’s romantic plot is much better developed, though he is also ta’veren. The woman that ends up being his constant companion actually has a reason to do so, and their feelings develop much more organically than the women who fall for Rand. As far as two characters I really want to have a happy ending, Perrin and the woman he falls for top the list in this series so far.
Matt doesn’t have a romantic subplot yet (though prophecy seems to indicate there will be one forthcoming?), and I like to think it is because nobody likes Matt. The women don’t like Matt, and destiny doesn’t like Matt, and I don’t like Matt, and he can go die alone in a corner for all I care. Stupid Matt. But in all seriousness, the character acts far less mature than a lot of his peers, and many characters mention it in kind. Matt may get along with the occasional barmaid, but that’s all he gets.
Moiraine’s plot is perhaps the most interesting, but not for what I would consider the standard bevy of reasons. For the first two books she is level headed, a cold application of logic and reason against a chaotic world. In the first two books, she felt she knew what had to be done, and how to go about doing it, and acted on her own plans as though they were the only thing anchoring her to the world. As events rapidly slip from her grasp, she loses that calm demeanor and becomes incredibly unlikable at times–an odd thing for me to enjoy, but the closer you look the more amazing the writing is. Moiraine is not a two dimensional character, doing what she believes is right in every situation no matter what, as though her choices are already clearly laid out in prophecy; in The Dragon Reborn, hers is a psyche that has to accept that the last 30 (or more) years of her life have left her completely unprepared for the world she lives in. She is stressed beyond human endurance, the cracks show in a short temper that was not there in the previous books, and an almost frantic desire to get the cart back on the tracks. As you watch the stress of a chaotic world destroy her plans, you watch her crack and nearly break under it. Throughout the book you will see her accept that her plans are not always the perfect machinations she believes, and out of this forge a new Moiraine walks. The new Moiraine is similar to the old, many may think it is the same, but if you look closely she is a much stronger character for the trials she faces.
You are introduced to two more major cultures in this book, the last two you have yet to meet, rounding out the list. At this point, you have a general overview of the races, cultures, beliefs, and religions of the world–that allows us to go deeper into the world in the upcoming books. You may think that is positive, but it ends up being the reason a lot of people cannot finish the series. There are parts of the series that are not about the characters, they are about the ripples of destiny creating waves in the very bedrock that makes up Randland–and that is an odd thing to consider; books about a world, not the people in it. But those are things to speak of in upcoming reviews, as this theme will be much more heavily in focus.
While still focused on the characters, a dark, foreboding world is crafted. The Forsaken, thirteen of the most powerful evil channelers (mages) in history are loose on the world–and no one knows what they look like or what they plan. The suspicion forced on the main characters is real, and you as the reader (with a much more omniscient viewpoint) can see the tendrils of evil creeping out of every crevice. There is suspense, though it is built slowly over thousands of pages and that may make the unprepared reader balk.
For all of my words, it boils down to this: The Dragon Reborn prepares you for what is to come. That is the best single sentence description I could hope to come up with–though containing 650 pages in a single sentence is an exercise in futility.
The climax of the book, though, will leave you wanting more. I had barely set down The Dragon Reborn when I picked up The Shadow Rising (book four), and I really felt a desire to step back into the series at this point. There is a lot to enjoy here, and I would be perfectly willing to compare it to a gold mine–those with the patience to dig through the rocks will find it well worth their time.
The Dragon Reborn
Rand's Storyline - 7.0/10
Perrin's Storyline - 7.0/10
Matt's Storyline - 7.0/10
Moiraine's Storyline - 10.0/10
History - 8.5/10
Overarching Plot - 8.5/10
Other Characters - 7.5/10
While the most compelling characters in this book would more accurately be called “supporting characters”, there is a lot to like buried in these pages. The human element trying to find its way in a chaotic world is well written, and the empathetic reader will find themselves deeply invested in the world of Randland.
There is still a lot of exposition happening, and there are two major cultures introduced in this novel to add to the list you’re already (trying to become) familiar with. Some readers really do keep a writing pad handy to try to keep everything in order, and I wish I were joking.