Back in 1998, Robert Jordan was asked to contribute a short (ish) story set in his Wheel of Time world to Robert Silverberg's Legends anthology, along with a number of other authors such as Stephen King, Terry Pratchett, Ursula K. LeGuin, George RR Martin, Raymond E. Feist and Tad Williams. Jordan decided to write the story of the first meeting of two of his pivotal characters, Moiraine Damodred and Lan Mandragoran, and their first steps on the road that would eventually lead them twenty years later to the Two Rivers and the discovery of the Dragon Reborn.
This was a big test for Jordan, whose narrative skills run (obviously) to massive novels packed with detail. Jordan himself acknowledged it was a challenge, but surprisingly it was one he rose to. In less than 100 pages, New Spring introduced some new characters, featured a major new city we hadn't seen before in the main series (Chachin, the capital of Kandor) and featured some fairly important plot twists that set up events later in the series. It was an economy of storytelling that I suspect most people thought Jordan was incapable of.
However, in 2003 Jordan announced he was taking a break from writing the main Wheel of Time sequence to expand New Spring into a novel, adding several tens of thousands of words of new material. Fan reaction was somewhat bemused, but given the negative reaction to Crossroads of Twilight Jordan taking some time off from the series to refresh his creative batteries seemed like a good idea, and the next main novel, Knife of Dreams was a vast improvement. In the meantime, New Spring: A Novel was released in early 2004 and was greeted with indifference. Its sales were not stellar (it's by far the most common Wheel of Time book to run across in remaindered stores), and the critical reaction was generally muted.
The novel version of the book is three times the length of the short story. The opening sequence is set during the Battle of the Shining Walls and we see what Lan was up to during the battle. We also get to see the much-reported moment when Moiraine and Siuan learn that the Dragon has returned, and then the political machinations in the Tower that follow the battle and Moiraine and Siuan's raising to the rank of full Aes Sedai. The original version of New Spring, expanded with some extra material, makes up the latter third of the novel and remains a rattling good read.
Unfortunately, the new material at the start of the book is almost totally superfluous to requirements. Yes, it's amusing to see how the White Tower initiates handle the almost overnight transition from callow Accepted to wise Aes Sedai, and the test for the shawl is vaguely interesting. Trivia-minded fans may also enjoy spotting all the references to other Aes Sedai from the later books and what they are up to at this point in time. The big problem is that the revelation of the Dragon's Rebirth, as reported in The Great Hunt, was ominous and powerful. Here Moiraine and Siuan's reaction is extremely muted, to say the least, and there is no real tension in their storyline as a result (not helped by the traditional prequel problem of the readers knowing who is going to survive the story). It's not until we reach the novella version of the story that any sense of momentum and tension kicks in.
New Spring (***) is readable enough and has some points of interest for major Wheel of Time fans, but it is also packed with unnecessary padding. Nevertheless, the original novella remains readable and compelling, and despite its short length still raises the overall quality of this book. The book is available from Orbit in the UK and Tor in the USA. However, if you are in the UK you may be able to find copies of the book readily available at a much cheaper price from your local branch of The Works.