Binge Project: ‘The Wheel of Time,’ Book 2

Welcome to the Binge Project series! These Binge Projects will feature me reading or watching an entire run of comics, books, TV shows, or other media in rapid order, then writing expansively about the experience. This installment will be a slower process, as I work my way through the lengthy “The Wheel of Time” book series. For the post on Book 1, “The Eye of the World,” click here.

great hunt art

If I were to summarize The Great Hunt in terms of its literary goals, I would say it’s Robert Jordan’s attempt to earn the stakes he set up at the end of The Eye of the World. Book 1 did an admirable job of setting up a very big fantasy world for the series to explore, and it gave us plenty of nuggets about the magical system, the history of this world, and the ways in which prophecy could come into play. But it tried to restrain itself from fully exploring those elements, in order to retain the ability to end The Eye of the World on a bit of a cliffhanger, resolving that book’s plot by setting up the stakes for our main character (Rand al’Thor) moving forward.

But as we move into Book 2, Jordan moves forward more deliberately. Rand found out a major revelation about himself at the end of the previous book, with Moirane’s POV ending setting up a second huge revelation that Rand learns early in The Great Hunt. Combined, they set up massive, massive stakes for Rand. But while Book 2 advances those stakes in highly significant ways by the end, the bulk of the book is spent on Rand coming to terms with who and what he is. His main character trait for much of the narrative is denial, and we follow him as layers are stripped away until there can be no more doubt.

In terms of those literary goals, The Great Hunt is a success: the book does earn the epic stakes that were laid out for Rand. The final battle in the book felt appropriately huge and gave the sense of a character ready to come into his own. Getting there, however, was occasionally a drag. As in Book 1, we got an extended stretch of Rand and a couple companions separated from the main group, and as in Book 1, that struggled to stay compelling for its duration. Once the character dynamics of that mini-group were firmly established, too much time was left for brooding within Rand’s head, and that main character trait of denial started to sound a wee bit whiny.

Elsewhere, the Seanchan seemed over-the-top as villains to me initially, but they grew on me as the story went on and a couple main characters interacted with their villainy. The buildup of this group could be a bit rough, but the payoff in the final battles was well worth it. And speaking of villains, while Padan Fain isn’t the Big Bad of the series, he developed into what looks like it could be an intermediary boss; now that we’ve been told more of what he is, late in this book, I’m much more intrigued by that possibility.

One note of concern, other than the dragging stretches while Rand is off by himself (or with a small group), is that Jordan’s Tolkien analogues persisted again into this book. The similarities in The Eye of the World had felt like playful homage, but as Ingtar slipped more and more into a near-clone of Boromir, I felt a little wearied in The Great Hunt. It was only one character in an otherwise good book, but the closeness was striking enough that I really hope Book 3 has no Tolkien analogues, or at least none so close.


Perhaps the novel’s best note, aside from its thrilling conclusion, was the development of Nynaeve into my favorite character, perhaps by a wide margin at this point. Like Rand, Nynaeve was confronted in Book 1 by surprising revelations about herself, and like him, she initially fought against that being her destiny. But unlike Rand, by the end of the first half of Book 2, she had embraced her true identity and began growing into it. She’s as willfully stubborn as ever, so the growth is on her terms, but the flashes of her power that we’ve seen are truly thrilling. More than Rand or anyone else, I can’t wait to watch her come into her own.

Book 3 is set up to be very interesting. I don’t think Rand can possibly go back to denial after the events in The Great Hunt, but nor does he seem likely to throw himself full force into the prophecy. My hope is that a reunion with Tam is coming in the near future, as those two would seem to have much to discuss now. Does Egwene take a character turn after her trials late in this book, not to mention the possible break in hers and Rand’s relationship? I rather hope so, as she’s the main character with the most development still needed, I think. What else does Moirane have in store for everyone? My guess is that we still have at least one more book that’s largely about setting the table, but Jordan has shown an ability to do that while still advancing his overall mythos in fun and exciting ways.

NEXT TIME: Book 3 of The Wheel of Time: The Dragon Reborn

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