Once again we follow along with our heroes as they make their way across the land. They spend most of this book split up - Egwene, Nynaeve, and Elayne make up the central group and most of the story is concerned with their hunt of the Black Ajah. Moiraine, Lan, Loial and Perrin make up the second group, though their adventure devolves entirely into following Rand Al'Thor, who has run away and is traveling on his own.
So much is happening in this one, I find it difficult to keep track of just where everyone is at and what they're currently up to. It also seems we've reached my brain's capacity for details; I can't keep track of all of Min's visions, or Egwene's dreams, as they begin to play out in the real world. Sometimes I feel a bit lost. If not for that, I would probably give this a slightly higher rating - it has all the elements of a good fantasy story, there's just so damn much to keep track of.
We're finally getting to see more about the magic system but I wish we could spend more time delving into some details. Three books into the series, and I did hope to have a better understanding of just how magic works - there's a vast range of levels of power being displayed but it's hard to appreciate sometimes if you have no idea what it takes to do magic in the first place. See: Sanderson's First Law of Magics.
One particularly satisfying moment is when Nynaeve heals an injured Maiden of the Spear:
The glow of saidar surrounded Nynaeve suddenly — Egwene leaned forward, trying to see, and so did Elayne — and Dailin started up with a scream, eyes wide open. In an instant, Nynaeve was easing her back down, and the glow faded. Dailin's eyes slid shut, and she lay there panting.
I saw it, Egwene thought. I... think I did. She was not sure she had even been able to make out all the many flows, much less the way Nynaeve had woven them together. What Nynaeve had done in those few seconds had seemed like weaving four carpets at once while blindfolded.
Without actually explaining anything about how healing works (other than implying some sort of weaving of energy flows) we get just a touch more insight about the mechanics of magic rather than just how damn good it feels to channel. This moment really stands out, and I hope there's more like this to come. The idea of weaving magic starts to be discussed more, and while it's certainly a nice break from just feeling it, I am still hoping for more detailed descriptions of what the hell people are actually doing.
Perrin finally starts to lean into the wolf thing towards the end, as he spends more and more time with Hopper in the 'Wolf Dream' - which, as it turns out, is actually Tel'aran'rhiod. All of the characters have some sort of connection to the dream world, but I think we're going to need to spend more time here before it really starts to make sense.
- Moiraine's sudden ability to compel random women from apparently anywhere to pack up and just... abandon their homes? to ship off toward the mountain to deliver news? is a new, weird flex that nobody is talking about. Once they're on the move, none of this is mentioned or thought of again - but it feels like something that could be used more?
- Speaking of Moiraine, we're gonna need a lot more information about balefire and how it works before it feels any less like some sort of deus ex machina. If there isn't a drawback, risk, or consequence for using balefire, then I really see no reason why all of the Forsaken, the darkfriends, and the Dark One himself haven't already been cleaned up. It's used twice in this story, and it's just a bit too easy.
- Perrin is really shaping up to be a favorite character, and the brief return to smithing was a lovely little bit of character building, though the Faile/Zarine thread seems to be a little weak overall. Who is this random girl? Perrin's transition from attempted disinterest to risking his life (and maybe Hopper's!) to rescue her feels a little forced. I suspect this may have to do with the fact that I can't recall any details about the Falcon, or the vision Min had. It's all a bit too much.
- Mat went from recovering from the dagger to delivering a letter to Caemlyn, to... playing dice with the Dark One? He just suddenly decided that he had a wager with the source of all evil? How does that work? Did I miss a step?
I also wanted to just mention that at one point, Rand appears to slaughter twelve or thirteen people — almost at random, unless I've missed some major clue as to who they were — and then arrange their dead bodies so that they are kneeling towards him. It's kind of fucked up! This is not discussed again in the book, though I presume it should come up at some point later in the story. It's one of the quickest, darkest moments so far in the book, and feels like it may be foreshadowing for the madness Rand is fighting and may end up succumbing to. I'm copying down this passage here mostly because of how genuinely shocked I was reading it.
Letting the sword vanish, he turned to examine the horses. Most had run away, but some not far, and the woman's tall gelding stood with rolling eyes, whickering uneasily. Her headless corpse, lying on the ground, had maintained its grip on the reins, and held the animal's head down.
Rand pulled them free, pausing only to gather his few belongings before swinging into the saddle. I have to be careful, he thought as he looked over the dead. No mistakes.
The Power still filled him, the flow from saidin sweeter than honey, ranker than rotted meat. Abruptly he channeled — not really understanding what it was he did, or how, only that it seemed right; and it worked, lifting the corpses. He set them in a line, facing him, kneeling, faces in the dirt. For those who had faces left. Kneeling to him.
One woman, the ten men Rand was sure he killed, and one more man who appeared at the end, kneeling in the dirt with all the other corpses. I hope this moment is brought up again, so we might get some explanation for who these people were (darkfriends?) or why they had to die. Maybe Rand is just going mad?
With eleven more books to go before this story comes to a conclusion, I expect most of the things I'm concerned with now will be dealt with or replaced with more pressing concerns, new places and new characters, but I can't help but feel that if I could just wrap my head around all the stuff happening in the story, I'd be a little less confused with it. The only real remedy to that, I suppose, is to finish this bloody series. Book Four, here I come.