When I first started reading this series a few weeks ago, I made the mistake of reading a few of the novels before getting around to the reviews because I wanted to know what happened next. However, now I have to write reviews on those earlier books even though my opinion is now very much shaped by events that occur later. The further I get into the series, the more irritated I get with Jordan's portrayal of certain characters. However, this was not an issue while reading this novel, so I will focus as much as I can on just this novel without letting my opinion be colored by later novels. However, there will be spoilers for The Eye of the World so be warned.
While I enjoyed The Eye of the World, it felt slightly derivative to me - as the first of the series, it began with the quest and upheaval of the young hero, much like most familiar epic fantasy stories. That's not to say that Jordan didn't have his own take on the whole thing, but it just felt like yet another hero's quest. The Great Hunt is the novel that really got me involved in the series. The novel begins in the northern kingdom of Shienar where the previous novel left off. Mat is still bound to the evil dagger, and has to be taken the White Tower to have the link completely severed before it destroys him. However, during a raid by darkfriends, the Horn of Valere and the dagger are both stolen, and Fain, formerly imprisoned in the dungeon, escapes. Rand does not want to accept the fact that he is the Dragon Reborn and chooses to join the hunt for the Horn and the dagger. Perrin and Mat come as well, since Mat will die if they cannot recover the dagger.
While this is going on, Egwene and Nynaeve finally arrive at the White Tower to receive training as Aes Sedai. They also meet the heir to the throne of Candor, Elayne, while there and the three of them form a quick and strong friendship. The three of them have the potential to be the most powerful Aes Sedai in years with the proper training. Min also is a part of their group though her power has nothing to do with the One Source. She has the ability to read people's futures and auras, and she and Elayne had initially been introduced in passing in The Eye of the World. However, they do not spend the entirety of the novel in the tower, learning their lessons: circumstances arise, and the women find themselves in the same part of the realm as the men on the quest for the horn.
This novel introduces the Se'anchan, a nation from across the sea that has figured out a way to harness the One Source and use women that have the ability to work with it as slaves. Additionally, the Children of the Light, who are rather similar to an inquisition, play a role in this novel (Perrin made enemies of them earlier), and all these forces find themselves colliding in one place. The prologue also shows that some of the Aes Sedai have turned to the dark side since a few women with the serpent ring are observed at a gathering of darkfriends. While this becomes an bigger issue later in the series, it can already be seen here: the characters really do not communicate. Many of these people supposedly grew up together, and are supposed to be best friends, but Mat basically refuses to talk to Rand because he is the Dragon Reborn and can channel. Perrin does not tell any of his friends about his newly discovered ability to commune with wolves, though that is partially because he keeps trying to deny this ability to himself, much like Rand tries to pretend that he cannot channel, and that he is not the Dragon Reborn. Still, I wish Perrin would just embrace the wolf side instead of fighting against it as much as he does - he is definitely one of my favorite characters in this series. I quite liked that Jordan gave the women an important role in this series, and at this point, they have a much better grasp of their powers than the men, which I like. Additionally, the women together save themselves rather than relying on men to come to their rescue. While I definitely believe that Morgaine has good intentions, she remains so cryptic that none of the characters trust her. I'm not sure if I'm more annoyed with her for not opening up more, or with the others for not trusting her intentions. Actually, I think I'm more annoyed with the others. This novel shows how complex and varied Jordan intends his world to be, and this novel made me very interested to see where it was going, how everything was going to relate and what the solutions might be. Similar to George R.R. Martin, there are so many factions that it is impossible to see them standing together to fight the evil on the horizon.