The Great Hunt is a fast-paced, action-packed chase for the magical Horn of Valere, an artifact so sought after that even the attempt to take up the hunt for it is guaranteed to bring glory. For Rand, the quest for glory is not an objective, but an obstacle. Rand’s mistrust of Aes Sedai and wariness about their intentions regarding him and the Horn are enough to keep him from chasing after glory. Rand intends to retrieve the Horn and turn it over to others rather than claim it for his own. He will instead focus his efforts on retrieving the dagger that can save Mat’s life.
The greatest impediment he faces is in the form of Lanfear, the embodiment of desire. Her promises are seductive and urgent. She urges Rand to reach out and take what he wants, what he deserves. He just has to put himself ahead of other considerations once, even briefly, and he can have her, and everything else he ever dreamed of. Her methods have no subtlety, but are no less effective on a young man for that. A combination of stubbornness, bashfulness, luck, and steadfastness helps Rand avoid her clutches.
Rand’s idealism and perseverance eventually give enough hope to persuade even a Darkfriend to turn back to the Light. If the most important concepts of the series were introduced earliest, they should reappear in the final book, like bookends. Redemption of the wicked, duty before glory, selflessness and sacrifice are among those concepts.
The series expands its focus to several other prominent characters, none who stand out more than Nynaeve. She bristles with confidence and power, protectiveness, justice, and selflessness. Her rescue of Egwene is a testament to her resolve and courage. She and Perrin, like Rand himself, all find themselves making choices that tie them closer to a destiny they hope to avoid, always as a matter of duty to friends.
The pacing of the book benefits greatly from the back and forth skirmishes for possession of the Horn, as well as the rapid changes in point of view character. At almost no point does the story get bogged down, there is always something progressing towards the epic battles at the end. The book’s biggest weakness is even more pronounced than in The Eye of the World. For as much as the author had developed detailed rules that explain the magic and the odd happenings, much of it is left unexplained, such that the rules for using magic and the World of Dreams might as well not exist. Explanations in later books will allow readers to come back to The Great Hunt and marvel at how well it all fits together, but on a first read a shrug will suffice, so that they can get back to the action.
It’s not as easy to unravel the haphazard plotting of the Forsaken, and this proves to be a flaw in the storytelling, or perhaps a feature so far as Theorylanders might see it. Ba’alzamon’s ranting during his occasional encounters with Rand has little to do with Toman Head or anything other than rehashing what will happen to Rand if he keeps channeling without Ba’alzamon’s help. The Trolloc incursion at Fal Dara and theft of the Horn can’t be tied to him, and since Lanfear’s presence was felt in the fortress before the night of the attack, it had to have been her who organized it. “Ishamael thinks he controls events, but I do.” She isn’t completely independent, since Ba’alzamon was able to track Rand down in both a Mirror World and shortly after his reappearance on Toman Head. Ba’alzamon’s main focus for this novel was overseeing the Seanchan invasion, and trying to send Rand’s allies to captivity as damane. Lanfear trailed Rand for most of his journey, attempting to shape him, leaving his side only when she might be exposed as a liar. She is unperturbed by the fact that the Myrddraal failed to take the Horn north to Shayol Ghul, the fact that Rand chases after it is enough. Rand is her prize, not the Horn. When Fain escapes through the Waygate, Lanfear’s lever to prod Rand is taken with him, and she kills Barthanes messily for allowing this to happen. She now realizes to what extent Fain sets his own path. Though Barthanes must have told her where Fain went, her only hope to keep shaping Rand lies with him chasing down the Horn, so she does not interfere. She dare not meet Rand while he is with his friends, and his four month absence by Portal Stone keeps her away until after the battle at Falme.
The outstanding question of who wrote the Dark Prophecy, and a few other questions readers are reminded of throughout the book, is finally answered by Moiraine. Her last minute revelation about Padan Fain and Mordeth is meant to provide closure to the outstanding questions. Readers knew Fain had secret knowledge and newfound powers, if not their extent, now they know how he acquired them. He is the only character who spoke openly of luring Rand to Toman Head, scrawling his own message in blood for Rand to read, alongside the Dark Prophecy in neatly printed Trolloc script. Whether his knowledge comes from Mordeth, or was gleaned from Ba’alzamon in earlier trips to Shayol Ghul is yet to be determined.
The visions of the Mirror Worlds were a particular highlight, raising the stakes for the Last Battle to an undreamed of level. We saw what Trollocs do to ruin anything that can sustain life when they attacked Tam’s farm on Winternight, now we know what a world under the Dark One’s dominion looks like. And we know that many worlds have fallen under his rule. The immensity of the threat is astonishing.
My old roommate Scartoe and I used to finish conversations with “I have won again, Lews Therin.”
If rules of magic and plots are not simple, consider giving more insight into what is going on.