"A Crown of Swords" is the first book in series that takes the same time as another book ("Lord of Chaos" in this case). It is also much shorter book that its prequels (less than 750 pages) - but neither of its sequels is longer by much, if not shorter. Another interesting fact, this book takes very short time in plot-time: some nine or ten days, I think. Which doesn't mean that there isn't lot of going on here, only that it is thicker. There are several plots. Rand is trying to deal with problems that arose from his capturing in "Lord of Chaos", and with his trauma from it. After several books of waiting, he finally enters a romantic relationship with Min. Perrin has a lot of coverage, in the first part of the book, but more as a narrator than as active characters - I almost forgot that he even was in this book. Egwene also has few chapters, but they are clustered so that I thought it was only one or two. Both Perrin's and Egwene's plots really take place in further books. There are also some chapters from isolated characters (Elaid, Alvarian, Forsaken...), but almost a central plot-line of this book is in Ebou Dar, including both Mat and Elayne and Nyneve.
This book has one of longer prologues, but not ridiculously long as they will be in some other books (e.g. "Winter's Heart"). Here we are introduced to Alvarian as major bad player - one of few POVs from the evil side. Also, Alvarian is one of only three successful and capable bad characters (other two are Moridin and Shaidar Haran, maybe Padan Fain). On the other hand, we have Elaida's POV- for a supposedly good characters, she does more evil that all other Forsaken together. This series is full of people with lots of misunderstanding of the world about themselves, but Elaida is somewhere at the top of them.
We have a very complex and interesting beginning: Asha'man vs. Wise Ones vs. Aes Sedai. We follow Perrin for some time as the beginning, but as I said, more as narrator. He provides few funny moments; well, him and Faile and Loial.