I enjoyed this book although I do have mixed feelings about it. At a basic level, it's hard to not give a high rating to a book that has so much depth and attention to detail and is part of a fictional universe that has clearly been given a great deal of attention and love. Jordan has created a group of characters that are all unique and interesting in their own rights and bring a lot to the story.
There are also things that drive me a little crazy about the book.
One thing that I think is lacking and a big reason why I couldn't give it five stars is that there doesn't seem to be a particularly clear overall narrative picture. I read through chapters and scenes and got through them fine but then at some point I would realize that I couldn't really explain what was happening in the book. It seems like the story is perpetually captured within the scene that you are reading but there isn't any indication of where the story is going or how the characters are planning on achieving their goals. For most of the book, the characters seem to be just questing off into the void without any real clear idea of what they are doing which in a way to me felt like a nice metaphor for the reader as well.
Another technique Jordan employs a great deal is the use of repetition. Now it is entirely possible that this is affecting me more due to the fact that I'm listening to the audio book and therefore am forced to engage with more of the text. Regardless, it is frustrating to hear so many phrases repeated so many times, to the point where it feels like any time a character speaks, they come up with a reason to say things like, "Blood and Ashes" or "Fortune prick me" or "Burn me". One character in particular tugs at her braids so frequently throughout the book, I'm kind of surprised she didn't actually yank them out.
One issue sort of related to the repetition issue is the completely anemic, pathetic excuse for cursing from the characters. Now I suspect that the author likely didn't want to use a ton of profanity because he wanted to book to be appropriate for younger readers. Also, looking back to the nineties, I think that the more PG rated fantasy was more the norm, as opposed to the grittier, George RR Martin style writing that is more popular today. It isn't like I expect the characters to be dropping F-bombs every five minutes but when he repeats what constitutes for cursing and calls so much attention to it, I find that it becomes old and annoying fast. It makes the characters feel like they lack emotional depth.
It probably sounds like I didn't enjoy the book at all.
One thing I think Jordan does really well is maintaining disparate story lines as the characters are separated from each other into smaller groups for most of the book. He manages to make all of their stories pretty compelling and interesting to read, then by the end of the book everyone is brought back together in satisfying fashion. The main character from the first two books of the series is barely present here, as he makes the decision to go off on his own in pursuit of what he sees as his destiny. The more secondary characters get to shine in this book and I like that aspect as well.
The Wheel Of Time series was woven into an extremely intricate world so massive and long reaching that the author didn't even survive to see its completion. I am compelled to read on, although I have certainly read my fair share of bad reviews as the series goes on. It clearly isn't for everyone. Regardless, throughout this book I would have to say that I enjoyed the read. The descriptions are done well, the dialogue is great and the book is paced pretty well, even though the narrative can be a little myopic at times.
After a break while I give my brain some time to reset I will move on to book four and we will see how I feel about the series at that time. Until then, read on!