With New Spring, Robert Jordan offers himself up to two major criticisms up front. One is for releasing a prequel when you haven’t finished the first series yet and the other is for trying to grab a quick book by just padding out an already published first story. With regard to the first, I think it’s pretty silly to complain about an author’s choice of subject — perhaps he became inspired with something in terms of the back story and is excited to write it, perhaps he needs to flesh out the backstory before continuing with the original series, maybe he just has writer’s block and is using this as a tool to work through it. Whatever his reasons, fans have no claim as to what an author writes, frustrating as that choice may be.
As for the second criticism, I haven’t read the original short, so I can’t speak as to how much this is “padded” and how much is really new, but since it’s the first book of a projected three-book prequel, it seems the criticism once again isn’t valid. Perhaps he could have made this one longer and made it a two book series, maybe he was caught by deadline, but he’s obviously going well beyond the original if he’s going to end up with over a thousand pages. And since many people new to Jordan might begin with this storyline, why not give them a standalone book since it’s likely they haven’t read the original.
So does the book stand up when considered by itself and not as a quick buck or a slap at the faithful? Yes, though in workaday rather than exciting fashion. If you haven’t read any Jordan, this isn’t a bad place to start as it is a much stripped down, easier read with a lot of good information. If you are in the midst of the original series, it serves the purpose of filling in some gaps and expanding a bit on the characters, but in book one at least there is nothing essential or particularly compelling.
The book follows Moraine and Siuan (among many other familiar Aes Sedai) through their later training, their acceptance into the sisterhood, and their race against the Black Ajah to find the Dragon Reborn (it begins with the prophecy of his birth). A parallel story which eventually, unsurprisingly to fans, converges with Moraine’s is that of Lan, the king of the lost city as he works his way back home from the Aiel War.
While fans obviously get a lot more information on Moraine, Siuan, and Lan, I can’t say that it really deepens their characterizations much (with the single strong exception of one of the closing scenes involving Moraine). We have seen them through so many pages now in so many situations that it would be difficult to give us much more insight (as opposed to just more background information). And because we know them so well, or have heard much of this in some fashion if only in hints and bits, it doesn’t read as compellingly as the other books, always a danger in writing prequels involving many of the same characters. For instance, how much anxiety can we really feel for Moraine as she faces a Black Ajah when we know she appears on the scene in book one of the original series relatively no worse for wear. The same for the other characters for whom we have no fear of death.
The characterizations themselves sometimes slide a bit into caricature or repetition. The bottom-pinching references in particular come a bit too frequently and trivialize the characters somewhat, especially if one knows them in later form.
The story itself is a bit slim for three hundred plus pages in terms of action or character development. In the other books, Jordan’s richness of detail combines with a lot of action to give us thousand-plus page books. Nearly the same level of detail in a book a third the normal length means not a lot really happens. It is a less complex read as it focuses only on two storylines which eventually come together. Less complex means it’s more tight, but also not as rich or stimulating. And some of the detail on specific Aes Sedai rituals or Cairhien royalty I could have done without. When Moraine is facing the trial of a 100 weaves, I began to have panic attacks that Jordan would actually go through all one hundred, weave by weave by weave. He didn’t, but you know he was tempted. This same level of detail may seem a matter of course in a much longer book, but here it stands out and bogs down the book a bit.
All in all, New Spring serves as a good, quick overview (almost like an outline relative to Robert Jordan’s other works) to the backstories of several major characters. With much of the exposition and necessary “meeting up” of characters out of the way, there is more room for the typical richness and characterization of the original WOT books — I hope he attains it. Recommended, but not with a lot of excitement.
New Spring is a prologue to Robert Jordan’s bestselling fantasy epic, The Wheel of Time, which, sadly, the author did not live to complete. (I won’t comment at this time on the length of the series or the decision to release a prologue while many readers were hoping for a conclusion.) Brandon Sanderson, the author of Mistborn, has been tapped to expand Mr. Jordan’s notes into the twelfth and final WOT novel, A Memory of Light, tentatively scheduled for release in 2009.
For those who are coming to the saga fresh: Stop. I strongly recommend reading at least the (very good) first book, The Eye of the World, before New Spring.
For those who have read one or more of the novels: New Spring is, overall, a good contribution to the saga through its illumination of Moiraine (before becoming a full-fledged Aes Sedai), Lan (before becoming her Warder), and other characters some twenty years before they meet those wool-headed boys and girls from Two Rivers. It presents in depth the secret rituals of the Aes Sedai (revealing the White Tower as both a university and sorority system) and lays the foundation for Moiraine’s and the Black Ajah’s actions. The writing is clear and solid, though the pacing is (as in the later books) often slower than it should be, despite the book’s relative brevity, and the sheer number of female names and repetitive (strong-willed) behaviors is often distracting. On the plus side, the conclusion is surprisingly strong.
Recommended (but not necessarily required) reading for devoted fans of the WOT series. I may be waxing nostalgic for the pre-internet days (eighteen years ago?!) when The Eye of the World stormed triumphantly into bookstores, especially now that Jordan has gone to his reward in the Light; but I feel reasonably comfortable in giving New Spring three-and-a-half stars and giving the series one more look.
The Wheel of Time — (1990-2013) Publisher: The peaceful villagers of Emond’s Field pay little heed to rumors of war in the western lands until a savage attack by troll-like minions of the Dark One forces three young men to confront a destiny which has its origins in the time known as The Breaking of the World. This richly detailed fantasy presents a fully realized, complex adventure which will appeal to fans of classic quests.