So the beginning of this book definitely has the main characters being more proactive in relation to the earlier books. We have Rand planning a massive assault to attack Sammael in Illian, and as a side effect of that we have Mat finally taking some responsibility and using his newfound military knowledge without being completely forced into it. If you didn’t know that there were 14 books in the series, reading the beginning of this one you could easily think we’re starting to wrap things up, and losing Moiraine at the end of the last book could easily be seen as a low point in the series, definitely the lowest thus far.
But of course, being Robert Jordan, there are about 200 other things going on in this book right now, and all of them are well worth talking about. One of the first that I’m going to mention is the introduction of Olver, a young boy who is 9 years old when Mat saves him from some trouble. Though he’s only been in the book for a very short time at this point, Olver provides a lot of fun throughout the rest of the series, and ends up being a large part of what helps Mat grow in the later books. But enough of talking about stuff that is going to happen in later books, time to get back to talking about what happens in this one.
Throughout the series we’ve had several viewpoints from the Forsaken where they’re discussing their plans and what they’re going to be doing, and we’re definitely shown that they aren’t a unified force of any kind. Over the course of the series there have also been some interesting comparisons between the Forsaken – and all Aes Sedai from the Age of Legends for the matter – and the people of the age that we’re reading about. Early on we’re told that in the Age of Legends Aes Sedai were far more powerful than they are today, but to this point in the books there have been several examples of people in the books being stronger than the Forsaken in their use of the power. Nynaeve defeats Moghedian in a duel, and Rand and Moiraine have killed several other Forsaken as well. I would argue that the Aes Sedai of the current time are no weaker than Aes Sedai from the Age of Legends, simply that their knowledge of how to use the power has changed over the course of 3,000 years. This is clearly shown when Semirhage is torturing an Aes Sedai and doesn’t understand anything about the Warder bond.
Another problem in the world that is clearly shown in the first quarter of this book is how seclusion has negatively affected the White Tower. Many Aes Sedai know little about what goes on outside of the Tower, and they assume that if they don’t know something, then no one does. The clearest example of this is with Sheriam and the other Aes Sedai who are learning to use tel’aron’rhiad. They get caught by a nightmare, immediately reinforce it, and then refuse to listen as Elayne tells them how to get out, completely ignoring the person who is supposed to be their teacher in the world. As the books go on, you quickly learn more about the Aes Sedai, that they are not the all-powerful wielders of magic that they’re originally shown to be, and in many ways they’re more flawed than most other societies in the world, including other groups who also use the One Power.