A strong installment to the series. Finally the main characters (excluding Perrin) accomplish some useful goal without it blowing up in their faces completely. The cliffhangers for Mat and Elayne leave open an interesting if predictable sequence of events for the next book. Rand appears to finally be learning some lessons about what he can and cannot do. Perrin and Faile have a disappointing story line in this book, mainly because it concludes on a "to be continued" less than a third of the way through the book. With the exception of the Battle of Emond's Field, I'm having a hard time determining the necessity of Perrin's storylines. Rand and Mat have clearly intertwined stories, with Mat developing into the general that Rand will need. Mat also protects and brings in characters that are necessary to advancing the plot. Egwene's storyline is necessary to helping resolve the conflict Even Elayne and Nyneave serve some necessity to the story. Perrin though, appears to be the protagonist of a related but unnecessary story line.
The length of the series may be a weakness that is starting to show here. There are a few characters that seem to be unnecessary to the actual storyline. Perrin is mentioned above, but Slayer is a clearly unnecessary storyline as well. Slayer, so far, has served no purpose than to be an antagonist to Perrin in the Two Rivers. Even Padan Fain, despite being the driver behind the Great Hunt, serves little purpose any longer than to be a slasher villain. If Fain had died in Falme, Slayer hadn't existed, and Perrin had not been a central character, the whole series would likely be substantially shorter and the main story would not suffer much if at all. Perrin and Slayer's story could still be told, but it would be better in a spin off that told the story of non-central characters during the central story, in the vein of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.