In which the Fellowship arrives in Baerlon, Nynaeve catches up with them, Whitecloaks and Min are introduced, the three ta’veren get their first taste of battle, a desperate choice is made to enter Shadar Logoth, Mat takes up the dagger, the Fellowship splits, the boys take a river cruise Perrin becomes a wolfbrother, Thom falls, ravens hunt, and Perrin kills.
For a series known for a gobsmacking number of POVs, Jordan eases us into things with only three POVs in The Eye of the World (not counting the prologue and the very last one). The vast majority of the chapters are from Rand’s perspective. It helps a lot, and I wish a lot more writers today would start things a little slower. But The Eye of the World really gets going when the characters split fleeing Shadar Logoth.
One of Jordan’s great strengths is in writing large numbers of distinct characters, but where he really shines isn’t in how he describes characters but in how he shows us their personality through their POV chapters.
I hated Nynaeve when I first read The Eye of the World and I loved her picking it back up in anticipation of A Memory of Light. Age helps a lot in coming around on her as a character. Her own POV chapters help too. She is an authority figure to Rand et al. Her POV chapters remind us that she is much younger, less worldly, and less powerful than Moiraine and Lan. My favorite Nynaeve moment from this section—one that reminds me why she is one of my very favorite characters in the later books—doesn’t come from one of her POV chapters. It is when she tells Rand in Baerlon that she lied to Moiraine about where he was born. She left the Two Rivers to protect the four youngsters spirited away by Moiraine, and she never, ever forgets that.
These chapters are also enormously important to Perrin as a character. He is a bit dull and lifeless before we get a POV chapter. Probably by design—we are seeing Perrin the way the books tell us other people typically have. But alone with Egwene and in his head we see flashes of the leadership he will later display. As frustrating as his storyline will be, the seeds are there in these chapters. His time with the Tinkers, his willingness to put Egwene out of her misery, and killing the Whitecloaks set up his basic struggle with his own violence. It is easy to make light of his struggle to accept being a wolfbrother. But he killed those Whitecloaks in reaction to Hopper being killed. The wolf aspect of his nature is inextricably tied for violence. And, man, Elyas does not make it sound like sunshine and roses. It’s easy to forget how rough around the edges and dangerous Elyas is on his introduction. How is Perrin supposed to react to tales of killing warders and Aes Sedai trying to gentle him!? Does this sound pleasant?
The wolves find you, not you them. Some people thought me touched by the Dark One, because wolves started appearing wherever I went. I suppose I thought so, too, sometimes. Most decent folk began to avoid me, and the ones who sought me out weren’t the kind I wanted to know, one way or another. Then I noticed there were times when the wolves seemed to know what I was thinking, to respond to what was in my head.
This section also has one of the most memorable set pieces from the entire series: Elyas, Perrin, and Egwene dodging hunting packs of ravens. The first time I read The Eye of the World has mostly faded to myth by now. But that damn sure made an impression! It is so vivid, so creepy, so tense. It is one of the few times Jordan uses horror to great effect. I just wish we would have seen more of the ravens in later books.