I've heard that this and book 6 are the turning point in the series when any type of progress comes to a halt. Having said that, a few things actually happened much more quickly in this novel than the last novel. For example, during Lord of Chaos, I kept waiting for Lan to finally show up in Salidar since his bond had transferred to Myrelle, only for it be about two paragraphs at the very end of the novel. Egwene finds out that Lan's bond has been transferred (Myrelle has been hiding this because transferring a bond between warder and Aes Sedai without the warder's approval is very frowned upon), and orders him to follow Nynaeve to Ebou Dari to assist with her quest for the ter'angreal that will set the weather straight. I was actually pleasantly surprised when Lan actually caught up with Nynaeve before the novel ended - the way Jordan's been going, I thought that trip might still take a novel or two. However, Jordan does seem to be in a hurry to couple people off - Rand has obviously already slept with Aviendha, in this novel he hooks up with Min, Egwene and Gawyn declared their love for each other in Lord of Chaos, Perrin is already married, so I guess he wouldn't want to keep Nynaeve and Lan apart much longer. Speaking of coupling up, I wish he would stop trying to turn everyone into a couple, particularly Morgase and the young officer that is with her. In fact, the Morgase story line really seems to add absolutely nothing - she's a queen in exile, but nobody even knows she alive, and she doesn't do anything. Could we just kill her off already or stop wasting space on her? I'm also ready to be done with the White Cloaks. I'm much more interested in the White Tower and the Rebel Sedai. I think the reason these stories lines work for me is because it's only women. Jordan can occasionally be alright when he writes about women in a group. As soon as mix of genders in a group, though, his characters just start losing all common sense because they don't communicate. I'm also ready for the Shaido and Sevanna storyline to end. She's just irritating and boring. I don't feel like she is a threat, just dumb.
At the end of Lord of Chaos, Rand had defeated the Aes Sedai from the White Tower who had kidnapped him, and the nine rebels have sworn fealty to him. As this novel begins, Elaida dreams of glory with the Dragon Reborn at her heel, but soon finds these dreams destroyed, and is looking for a way to cover up her actions. Her distrust of Alviarin, her Keeper, leads her to order another Aes Sedai to search for traitors, though this woman interprets that as an order to search for the Black Ajah. The rebels are finally moving and on their way to the White Tower to assert their claim. Egwene is still trying to assert her power and authority, and I actually enjoyed reading her chapters dealing with all the manipulations she is dealing with. Unfortunately, she only had a few chapters in the beginning, and then didn't appear again. There also wasn't too much of Rand in this novel, which I liked, and he is mostly focused on reconsolidating his power since a few people took advantage of his temporary disappearance. There wasn't too much of Perrin in this novel, either, but that's actually a good thing. I quite liked Perrin at one point, but now Perrin means that there will be more Faile. I think Faile has the potential to be a great character: she is intelligent, cunning, brave, and is one of the few women that is portrayed as powerful without having any magical powers, but when it comes to her marriage, she is portrayed as a psychotically jealous crazy woman who likes to start fights and be dominated. And it's not like that last part would necessarily be bad even though it seems sometimes Jordan advocates that women just want to be spanked or physically punished (whatever works for you), but she's just so annoying about it. I liked her best when she and Perrin were fighting together to defend the Two Rivers. Since then, she has been too focused on trivial dumb things. And unfortunately, this affects how much time I really want the novel to spend with Perrin.
For the most part, the novel focuses on events in Ebou Dari and the search for the Bowl of Winds. During this search, the two women stumble upon a society of Aes Sedai rejects that still have some ability to channel and great respect for the White Tower. The split of the Tower, Egwene's vision and this pocket of women with talents all point to a complete overhaul of traditions, and possibly could return the Tower to its former glories if the Last Battle doesn't destroy them all. Mat and Birgitte hit it off quite well in a friendly way so Birgitte finally puts some sense into Elayne and Nynaeve regarding their treatment of him. Unfortunately they tend to be nicer to him afterwards more for each other's approval than because they care about Mat's feelings. Nyneave and Elayne aren't the only ones searching for the Bowl, and there are quite a few other people of interest in Ebou Dar. I'm still not sure why I'm enjoying the series when more than half the main characters annoy me. I like Mat the most at the moment, and Birgitte is rather refreshing since all those Two River and Andor folks are way too uptight about anything having to do with sex (as usual the women both loved the dresses and judged the low necklines - how is it that every nation has lower necklines than Andor? Do they wear turtle necks or something in that country?) I thought the ending felt rather tacked on and unnecessary. It's like Jordan realized he needed to have a big battle scene but since there had been absolutely no build up, it didn't feel climatic. Just weird. However, another part of the ending definitely promises for more progress in the next few novels, but then again it could also be yet another storyline that distracts from the final battle.