Another Wheel of Time book again. Robert Jordan's epic series has already spawned ten books, and now there's another to read. This time however, the latest entry doesn't bring the series any closer to resolution (to be fair, one could make the same argument for the last two books). At a time when Jordan's fans are becoming increasingly disillusioned over the the declining quality of the series, a prequel was probably the last thing anyone was hoping for.
And in all honesty, over a third of this book isn't even new - as it first appeared titled as... wait for it... 'New Spring' in the excellent 'Legends' anthology. If that weren't enough fuel for Jordan's detractors (it's more than enough, they'll whine about most everything) the prequel's new material doesn't add a great deal to the series' mythology as a whole.
Granted, Jordan's books have tailed off recently, with 'Crossroads of Twilight' being an abysmal failure. His disappointed 'fans' however, seem to forget what drew them to the series in the first place: Jordan is undoutedly one of the most skilled fantasy writers alive today. The first six books of the Wheel of Time are simply incredible, and the next two installments are pretty good books when looked at on their own. What has of late become a complex world with numerous interwoven plotlines and a staggering cast of characters started out much more simply. Essentially, 'The Eye of the World', the first novel of 'The Wheel of Time', told the story of a boy, and told it very well.
Jordan's taken time out now to write a prequel, and this time he tells us the story of a girl, and in the telling we're reminded of what drew us to the series in the first place.
The fresh material in 'New Spring' is concerned mainly with the Moiraine and Siuan, two young Accepted in the White Tower (A school for women schooled with the One Power, a type of magic). Their ultimate goal is to attain the full rank of Aes Sedai, but as the novel opens they bear witness to a ominous fortelling by Gitara Moroso. She claims the Dragon has been reborn, a male channeler fated to go mad yet stand against the Dark One himself at the last battle. Gitara passes away after her fateful fortelling, and Siuan and Moiraine are sworn to secrecy. They nevertheless realize the importance of finding the child and soon realize darker forces out of legend oppose them.
Don't be looking for Myrddraal or hordes of Trollocs here; it's the Black Ajah at work, and again Jordan does a good job of creating some likely suspects and dropping some intriguing hints along the way. This is the story of the Wheel of Time, yes, but on a much smaller and intimate scale. Jordan's run everything down to essentially tell the story of Moiraine and Siuan, and for the latter half - Moiraine and Lan, the last Malkieri King.
The characters are created beautifully, and it's obvious Jordan's lavished a lot of work into bringing the two girls to life. Younger readers will especially enjoy the bond between the pillowfriends, but there's plenty to appeal to seasoned veterans of the Wheel. For once, it's not necessary to have to read about Rand's distrust of everyone, or his inability to kill when he has to. There's no shadow of despair spread across this novel as in so many of the earlier main sequence books. It's a very enjoyable tale, and runs out of pages far too quickly.
For those of us expecting to find tantalizing secrets about the world of the Wheel, you're bound to be a little bit disappointed. There are no major revelations here. It is interesting however to see how sisters we've read about throughout the ten main novels acted decades back, and how they've changed (or not changed) in the interim. As for the main characters, Siuan still likes to break out the dreadful metaphors of fishing life, but it plays to much better effect in the prequel. Moiraine seems less omnipotent and much more human, and we come to understand her sometimes heartless resolve.
Robert Jordan has shown us why we fell in love with 'The Wheel of Time' in the first place. 'New Spring' is an excellent book, and would have scored higher if it was only longer and contained more new material. In addition, the book serves as a capable introduction to new readers who may be initimidated by the sheer size of Jordan's world.
'New Spring' is vintage Jordan, and we can only hope the time it took for him to write the novel has impressed upon him where this series truly began. Here's to hoping the eleventh volume is the best yet. If not, I'll gladly take another prequel.