The second book of this behemoth series is long and still more or less functional. Later books deteriorate in quality but this is a solid work.
When last we left our intrepid heroes, they had defeated two Forsaken at the Eye of the World.
Now they’re hanging out in a castle in Far Dara, near the Blight, which is the border between the creatures of the Shadow and the rest of the world.
They’ve also captured Padan Fain, who was a peddler who found the three boys in Emond’s Field. He’s a Darkfriend (aka, allied to the evil forces) and he’s been enhanced by the Shadow to hunt for those boys.
They’re just waiting for the Amyrlin Seat–the head of the Aes Sedai–to come by and see them. And she does. Suian Sanche, the Amrylin Seat, becomes a major character later on. She’s apparently been working with Moiraine for years to find Rand, the Dragon reborn.
While there, they were going to heal Mat of his connection with the dagger from Shadar Logath, but before they can, the castle is attacked by Trollocs and Padan Fain is freed, and he takes with him both the dagger and the Horn of Valere, which is meant to be used to summon the greatest heroes of past ages to fight in the Last Battle.
This puts Mat in a bad situation because they can’t actually finish healing him of his connection with the dagger unless they have the dagger. He’s going to die sooner or later if he doesn’t get it back.
Thus, a group of warriors from Fal Dara head out to search for the missing items, taking Rand, Mat and Perrin with them.
The girls, Nyneave and Egwene, go with Moiraine and the other Aes Sedai to the White Tower in Tar Valon, where they begin their training to become Aes Sedai. Nyneave is immediately tested to move to the second level of training and passes to become an Accepted, while Egwene starts at the bottom, as a Novice. She’s rooming with Elayne, the Daughter-Heir of Andor.
Rand and Loial and one of the soldiers get separated from the rest of the group because they slept next to a Portal Stone, which allows you to move from place to place and between worlds if you know how to use it. They used it inadvertently and are trapped in an alternate world.
In my opinion, this is the best book of his for the feeling of suspense and danger.
While in the alternate world, they run into Selene, a beautiful young girl who is clearly not what she seems. With her help they manage to get back to their own world. They’re ahead of the people they were tracking, because time and space works differently in different worlds. By sitting and waiting they get the drop on the bad guys and pick up the chest that used to hold the missing items. The items themselves are gone, though.
Then, with the intermittent presence of Selene, they wander into the nearest city, Carhien. Rand gets himself into a complicated mess with the local nobles who think he’s a powerful Lord and don’t seem to get the message. They also pick back up Thom Merrilin who did indeed survive his encounter with a Mryddraal in the previous book. In their attempt to get out, they accidentally burn down the Illuminator’s (fireworks people) chapter house and triggered the assassination of the king.
They find out that the Horn and the dagger have been taken to Toman Head, on the other side of the world. Their plan is to use the waygates to get there, like they did in the first book, but that does not work because the Black Wind, which kills when it touches you, is waiting at the entrance to the waygate in Carhien. Instead, Rand thinks they can use the Portal Stone. But he’s not good at what he’s doing yet and they end up losing MONTHS in the process.
Meanwhile, back in Tar Valon, the girls are befriended by Liandrin, an Aes Sedai. She tells them that the boys are in Toman Head, in danger, and promises to take them to the boys. Elayne and Min come as well. But Liandrin is actually part of the secret Black Ajah, which serves the Shadow, and she turns them over to the Seanchan. The Seanchan are an army from across the ocean that have crazy animals and trap women who can channel. They trap Egwene, but Elayne and Nyneave escape and hide in the city, trying to figure out how to free Egwene.
By the time Rand’s group finally shows up, the girls have an escape plan ready to go. They manage to free Egwene at the same time that Rand is battling a Seanchan swordmaster to get the Horn and dagger back. He succeeds and they’re all on their separate ways out of town when the Whitecloaks attack the city.
They’re all trapped between the Seanchan and the Whitecloaks, so Mat blows the Horn and brings back the dead heroes. The Seanchan use their trapped and tamed channeling women to defeat the Whitecloaks, and the heroes from the Horn defeat the Seanchan. Meanwhile, Rand encounters the Evil One (or so he thinks) and battles him in the clouds where everyone can see. Rand wins, although he takes a nasty wound on his side while doing so. Then he proclaims himself as the Dragon Reborn.