Many of the lifelong fans of the Wheel of Time, myself included, point to this novel as their favorite of the series.
I think that baffles some readers, the ones to whom the Wheel of Time just doesn’t speak. (That’s perfectly all right, by the way. Not every book is going to appeal to every reader.)
Books one and two, and to an extent three, follow a more traditional fantasy quest narrative. (Book two following it the most exactly, in a lot of ways.) Book four deviates. The climactic moments are staggered very differently from a standard quest story, and here shortcuts in travel start to appear, turning the series away from the quest/travelogue archetype and into a more expansive, political intrigue and character relationships narrative.
Is this the best-written Wheel of Time book? I’m not sure, honestly. As far as tightly focused narratives go, book two is probably the best. As far as character depth and emotion goes, I usually prefer books six or seven.
I think we latch on to book four, as fans, because this is where the series first changes dramatically and, in a way, comes into its own. I’ve noticed three major turning points in the Wheel of Time. (My own pinch-hitting not included.) This is the first. This is where the books stop being “Here’s a problem; this book will deal with it” stories and start being “Here is an expansive world, with a thousand things going on, and we’re going to follow the characters as they try to make sense of it.”
I love this book. From the trip into Rhuidean, to Rand’s reveals, to Asmodean. Rand really seizes his destiny for the first time here, rather than being shoved around. Egwene comes into her own, in my opinion, as a real major character.
And, of course, there’s Mat.
Often when longtime fans read the series over again, they’re surprised by how little Mat is in the first two books. He starts doing cool things in book three, but it’s really in this volume that his personality solidifies.
Keep track of Brandon’s musings on the Wheel of Time in the Memory of Light index.
His thoughts on:
Brandon Sanderson is the author of Elantris, The Mistborn Trilogy, and, with Robert Jordan, the New York Times bestselling The Gathering Storm, Towers of Midnight, and the forthcoming A Memory of Light, the final volumes to the epic Wheel of Time.