Sunday, March 14, 2004

Review: "New Spring" by Robert Jordan

It's no secret that I haven't been the biggest fan of Robert Jordan's last few books. When I read "The Eye of the World" more than a decade ago, it floored me. I proclaimed Jordan the next Tolkien and tried to convince everyone I knew to read his books.

But as the seemingly never-ending Wheel of Time has spun out of control, I've become more and more frustrated with it, so I was understandably reluctant to pick up Jordan's latest, "New Spring" ($22.95, Tor). Its small size (less than 350 pages), the fact that it wasn't a new installment in the Wheel of Time and those fond memories of "Eye of the World" finally convinced me to give it a shot, and I was pleasantly surprised.

"New Spring," which is an extended version of Jordan's novella in the first "Legends" collection, takes readers back before the events of "The Eye of the World." When the book opens, Moiraine Damodred and Siuan Sanche still wear the dress of Accepted, struggling to attain the shawl of Aes Sedai. Lan Mandragoran, the heir to a dead kingdom, is a soldier protecting Tar Valon from an Aiel invasion. He wants nothing to do with Aes Sedai, much less to be bonded to one as a Warder.

The story follows Moiraine and Siuan's ascent to the shawl of Aes Sedai. When they witness a foretelling that the Dragon Reborn, the man who will sunder the world and save it, has been born on the slopes of Dragonmount, they become obsessed with being the ones who find him. But the Tower has other plans. When the Amirlyn, Tamra, dies mysteriously, Moiraine seems to be bound for the throne of Cairhien, to which she has a claim. But rather than make that claim, she flees the Tower to search for the child.

Her search leads her to the Borderlands, where she and Lan meet, and the rest of the story, readers of the Wheel of Time are already familiar with. (Well, most of it. Word is that Jordan plans two more of these prequels.)

"New Spring" is nice for fans of the Wheel of Time, in that it gives them a chance to see a foolish and fun side of Moiraine, one not often seen in the other series. It also provides some background information on several characters that are important to the series.

For those like myself, who have been turned off by the direction the series has taken, it's a chance to remember what you liked about Jordan's work in the first place.

The detail is still perhaps a bit heavy-handed - like the 3-plus page description of Tar Valon as Moiraine and Siuan ride out for the first time as Accepted. But that's always been Jordan's style. Sometimes it works to put the reader closer to the story; others it doesn't.

"New Spring" doesn't have the same sense of adventure that the early Wheel of Time books had, but that's probably because we already know where it's headed. It's a problem shared by any prequel, and one easily overlooked once you get into the story.

Has "New Spring" convinced me to give the next Wheel of Time volume a shot? Probably not. At the pace that story has moved forward in the last several books, I don't think I'll miss much if I wait for the last volume and just see how it all turns out. But I will check out the other two prequel volumes, and I'll look forward to whatever Jordan does once that unwieldy saga is ended.

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