While the novel has a slow start, it actually ends up picking up the pace and finally sees the conclusion of a few separate plotlines. The prologue starts with three characters I really don't care about at all, so that was just about the worst part to get through. First, Galad challenges a leader of the Whitecloaks to a duel, and then there are a few pages from the perspective of Rodel Ituralde (he's been making appearances in a few prologues but I honestly forget about him as soon as they are over so at this point his character doesn't have much of a purpose - yet another guy involved in battles in the West with Seanchan and the Prophet etc.). Suroth's pages weren't that exciting, either, despite a meeting with Semirhage and the announcement that she has killed the royal family in Seandar. After that the novel picks up as it returns to the White Tower and some of the things going on there. The rift between the Ajahs continues, and news of the events from the past few novels and Elaida's failures are starting to trickle in. Additionally, the Reds are still considering their plan to bond the Asha'aman as warders, while Alviarin begins to suspect some of the Aes Sedai that are searching for the Black Ajah. Finally, the prologue ends with Egwene, captured by the White Tower.
While the rest of the novel has a few chapters that aren't that interesting or exciting (Rand and Elayne, for example), for the most part, Jordan's plots finally show some forward momentum. Perrin has made an alliance with the Seanchan to rescue Faile, and has his battle planned out. Tam al'Thor even shows up, asking if his son is really the Dragon Reborn. Mat continues his journey out of Seanchan controlled territories while still wooing Tuon. Thom also reveals to him that Moraine is alive, and in order for any rescue to be successful, Mat must be a part of it. He also finally links up with elements of his army, so Tuon has a chance to witness him in his element. Egwene uses her position in the White Tower (Elaida believes that Egwene is too young to be responsible, and instead tells her she is a novice once again - while Egwene obeys orders, she also maintains that she is the Amyrlin) to gain support and create dissonance in the Tower. She orders the Rebels not to rescue her since she believes she can fight more effectively from within, and sees how bad Elaida's leadership has been. These were the parts of the book I enjoyed the most. Perrin started getting interesting again and slightly less emo. I can only hope that this also the last of Sevanna. In fact, it seems that Jordan may have actually tied up the Shaido storyline. About time.
As far the weaker aspects, Rand just isn't that interesting a character. He is possibly more emo than Perrin, with his big burden. There is a battle with an army of Trollocs and while Lews takes control and introduces some new weaves, the struggle barely seems to be with the Trollocs. Instead Jordan focuses on the conflict in Rand's head. He has cleansed saidin, but still feels sick when he reaches for it (I guess nothing can ever got right for him). Shit, there is a confrontation with a Forsaken in this novel, and I didn't get too excited. And Cadsuane's approach to Rand is just obnoxious while all the women around Rand continue to confuse him. Meanwhile, Elayne is still trying to gain her throne, and discovers that the head of her bodyguard is working with Darkfriends and members of the Black Ajah. The pregnant woman decides to confront them on her own (well, with three others, one of whom she suspects to be Black Ajah as well). At one point, Dyelin, one of the other nobles of Trakand, compliments Elayne and tells her that the worst thing that can happen to Andor is to have someone incompetent or foolish on the throne but that she is neither. I would hate to see what is considered foolish then. I liked Elayne in the first few novels, but she has gotten progressively more annoying as the series progresses. I think that basically applies to all the women in love with Rand. Aviendha left Caemlyn, but I'm hoping that maybe her character will start being interesting again now that she is no longer simply Elayne's sister and side kick. Of course, she would have had to appear in the novel again after leaving Elayne for that to happen. There was also a chapter about the Windfinders and Seafolk. When first introduced, these people also had potential, but have been reduced to bickering xenophobic women like everyone else in the novel that simply cannot believe it when people don't understand their customs. I want more of Logain. Can't he be the Dragon Reborn instead of Rand?
Still, overall, the novel showed quite some progress compared to the others. Jordan even did something with Lan's storyline and the fact that he is the surviving heir of Malkier. Some of the flaws from the series still remain, but it is wrapping up. The next three books are the ones that are cowritten by Sanderson so I'm looking forward to seeing where he takes them.
My favorite part of this Amazon review is the description of the cover art. I hate the covers on these - they look so cheesy, I almost feel weird reading this series in a public place.