Almost caught up on The Wheel of Time! This novel changes up the structure a bit since there is a large, defining battle in the beginning of the novel. In comparison, the rest of the novels have mostly built up to big battles and dead Forsaken - not to say that part doesn't happen as well . . . I don't think it's exactly a spoiler when the novels have started to display a specific pattern.
At the end of the last novel, Rand declared himself the Chief of Chiefs, and to prove this, revealed the secret Aiel history to all: that they had originally been peaceful, and the Tinkers were the ones that had continued to follow the true Aiel way while they had turned away by embracing the spear. Apparently this type of history was too shocking for some of the Aiel so they have refused to follow Rand, and have instead decided to side with the Shaido Aiel who leave the waste to wreak havoc on the wetlands. Rand, friends and allies pursue them to Cairhien and engage in a decisive battle (Cairhien had shown up in an earlier novel and is a city where everyone is well versed in politics and loading everything with extra meaning; they were also responsible for the last war with the Aiel 20 years ago). Rand also continues his complicated relationship with Aviendha who has been charged to teach him all things Aiel but since they are opposite genders and this is Jordan, they just don't understand each other. Translation: like every other female that isn't from Two Rivers, Aviendha wants Rand and he wants her in return.
While Perrin does not make an appearance in the novel, Mat puts his knowledge from his previous lives as a warrior to good use, and is incredibly useful during the battle. I would say it's in this novel particularly that Mat transitions from annoying to interesting as he starts developing his own skills beyond simply luck. Egwene continues to try to understand Aiel ways and learn dreamwalking, while Nynaeve, Elayne and Brigitte travel with a circus in order to avoid the Black Ajah's attention and find the rebel Aes Sedai. I really wasn't that into this story line. Thom was more interesting before he got attached to Elayne and Nynaeve - Rand and the men appreciated his skills, while the women grudgingly accept he might be useful and just don't take advantage of the tools at their disposal.
The rebel Aes Sedai story is interesting as Siuan tries to deal with her new standing now that she has been stilled. However, she continues to try to shape the world around her. Since the Aes Sedai treat women without the ability to channel as children, it is easier than she might have expected but she does have a hard time with her new, reduced position in the world. I quite like Siuan, and Morgase's rejected general and lover becomes involved with the rebels due to Siuan. Morgase meanwhile realizes that her kingdom has come to shambles under the guidance of her new lover, and decides to escape from his control to rally support. Given that she has ordered some of her most loyal subjects flogged, this will be harder than she imagines.
The ending has a few twists and deaths although Jordan does reverse a few of those. Rand is still rather annoying with his inability to hurt or kill women - I guess it's supposed to be noble and chivalrous but when they are engaging in battle with you, you might want to get over that. Of course, this all plays into Jordan's weird gender stuff, so no point beating a dead horse at the moment (on Amazon, there is a snippet of an interview with Jordan and he says he is incapable of lying to women - seriously?).