This book is a prequel to the Wheel of Time (WoT) series of books. The subtitle of the book is The Wheel of Time: In the Beginning. Not having read the actual series I don't know how the time line of this book fits into the larger scope of the story arc defined by the WoT stories.
Nevertheless, this book stands quite well on its own. It does a great job of describing the setting, people, and conflicts that the WoT stories are based around. The two main characters in this story are two women Moiraine and Siuan who have been discovered to have the ability to cast magic "saidar." The story starts with the two being "Accepted" or sorceresses in training and continues through their test and success at being full sorceresses "Aes Sedai." In this world only women have the power of magic. Men who display such talents are broken and cleansed or destroyed, because they have dark magic that can cause much grief.
Woven through these events is a grave foretelling of the birth of a savior/destroyer, a boy child with magic who under the wrong tutelage could cause the end of the world. The Aes Sedai are sent out to find this child and take him into custody to prevent the catastrophe. But strange accidental deaths start happening to the searchers and the Aes Sedai leadership culminating in a great plot twist and revelation at the end of the book. The plot lines and characters are very well developed and the book moves along at a very rapid pace.
The only complaint I have with the book ( and the only time the book slows down ) is when characters are described in great detail, never to be found in the book again. In some cases insight into the background and motivations of a tertiary character are justified, but the author spends time and ink on many characters that have no relevance in the story and don't further the plot in any way. This was annoying at times.
Overall the book is recommended for any fantasy reader. It is a great read whether you have read ( or plan to read ) the other WoT books or not.
Thanks to my friend Phil Knight for recommending I read it and lending it to me!
Title: New Spring The Novel (The Wheel of Time: In the Beginning)
Author: Robert Jordan
# Pages: 334
Published by: Tom Doherty Associates (New York)
ISBN #: 0-765-30629-8