Years ago I read the Wheel of Time series up through book 10. Now it’s late 2008, Robert Jordan has passed on, and we’re expecting the last Wheel of Time book, A Memory of Light in about one year. Brandon Sanderson will be writing it with the help of notes and taped messages left by Jordan, and in consultation with Harriet, Jordan’s widow and confidante.
When I read it the first time, I really enjoyed WOT until it bogged down in the middle of the series. In fact, I stopped reading it after Crossroads of Twilight. But the story was interesting and exciting (though excruciatingly slow at times) and now I’m quite curious to see how Brandon Sanderson will bring it to an end. So, because I need a refresher on the story, but mainly because I found these books in audio formats, I’ve decided to re-read them. I would not have had the patience for actually reading them again in print, but I have much more time for listening than reading (and I don’t have anything else to listen to right now). So, here goes:
The Eye of the World was just as fun as I remembered it. I still like long adventures where ordinary folks find out that they’ve got special talents and destinies and that they have to stop the bad guys from taking over the world. And I still enjoy a bildungsroman [bildungsroman: a kind of novel that follows the development of the hero or heroine from childhood or adolescence into adulthood, through a troubled quest for identity]. If you’re the type who rolls your eyes at these types of stories, then skip this series.
The WHEEL OF TIME is truly epic in scope — there’s a huge cast of characters, each with his or her own (though often over-the-top) personality. Jordan doesn’t tell us everything up front — we’re not sure which side some of the characters are on. He also unfolds the history and magic systems little by little, which helps to avoid weighty info-dumps and makes us slowly realize how rich and well-thought out his world is (though I suspect that there are some inconsistencies).
Jordan is mostly a smooth writer. His style is slow and very descriptive (for example, he frequently gives us the minute details of each character’s garb). He uses the third-person intense narrative voice, giving us the internal thoughts of several of the main characters, which produces good characterization. He’s got a few annoying habits, however: sometimes words (especially adverbs) are imprecisely used, and he tends to repeat things: there are way too many sniffing ladies, blushing farmboys, hands scrubbing through hair, smiles that don’t touch the eyes, people muttering to themselves, skirts being gathered, and innkeepers wiping their hands on their aprons. And how could we forget that Lan’s face is all stony planes and that Aes Sedai never lie but the truth they tell you may not be the truth you hear? These little things continue throughout all the books and start to become annoying to the reader.
But still, I was amazed to find myself looking forward to my commute, or folding laundry, or scrubbing toilets, because then I could turn on my MP3 player and listen to The Eye of the World. Even the second time, the story truly is exciting. So, though it’s got faults, I’ve got to give The Eye of the World high marks just for keeping me thoroughly entertained.
By the way, if you need a refresher, but don’t want to re-read the books before the last one comes out, you can find a recap of the books, including a glossary of characters and a synopsis of who’s alive, who’s dead, and who’s neither, here.
The massive length, not only of The Eye of the World itself but the entire epic WHEEL OF TIME fantasy series, along with some differences in critical opinion regarding the literary worth of this series, has always daunted me. But I thought I owed it to myself to read at least this first book and judge for myself, so when a group of Goodreads friends decided to buddy read the series, I was happy to seize the opportunity. In the end, this book was both more and less than I had anticipated.
The plot primarily follows the adventures of three young men from a farming community ― Rand, Mat and Perrin ― whose sheltered lives are uprooted when monstrous Trollocs, led by undead Myrddraal, attack the village and their homes. When it becomes clear that the attack was focused on these three, they leave the village in the company of some more experienced and powerful individuals who “happened” to be there at the time of the attack, along with Egwene, a young woman from the village. Other characters join their journey along the way, as they travel to a destination that they hope will protect them from the evil that seeks to capture their souls and, ultimately to the mysterious Eye of the World itself, to shore up the forces that imprison this evil.
Robert Jordan’s debt to J.R.R. Tolkien are fairly obvious: the group of unsophisticated young men, from a small, isolated community, join a quest and undertake a long journey, continuously battling against a powerful malevolent force and pursued by its evil minions. The company is split apart during the journey. It’s no wonder that I kept envisioning orcs every time the Trollocs appeared on the page, notwithstanding their initial description as having an animal-like appearance.
It’s a highly detailed story and world (as it should be, at 800+ pages), but the pace of The Eye of the World is frequently plodding. My detachment from the tale wasn’t helped by the repeated immature actions and decisions of several of the characters, particularly Mat, whose greed and irritating penchant for mischief endanger both himself and the group. Rand is a more sympathetic character, although he oozes “The Chosen One” vibes and occasionally his obliviousness is frustrating. Both Rand and Mat read younger than the 19- or 20-year-old men they are supposed to be. The most interesting of the trio was Perrin, who initially seems slow-witted but then develops some unexpected depth, particularly when he meets Elyas, a man accompanied by a wolf with which he telepathically communicates. Elyas claims that Perrin also has the ability to mindspeak with wolves. Perrin is resistant to the idea but here, as so often is the case, resistance against your destiny is futile.
The Eye of the World did become more absorbing and interesting as I got deeper into the tale, when some intriguing new characters were introduced and the narrative took some unexpected turns. In the end, although it never completely captured my imagination in the way I had hoped, it’s still a worthy epic fantasy with layers of meaning and complexity. I’m not convinced yet that I’ll find it worthwhile to plow through thirteen more volumes of the same or greater length, but I’m open to the idea of checking out at least the next volume or two.
The Wheel of Time — (1990-2013) Publisher: The peaceful villagers of Emond’s Field pay little heed to rumors of war in the western lands until a savage attack by troll-like minions of the Dark One forces three young men to confront a destiny which has its origins in the time known as The Breaking of the World. This richly detailed fantasy presents a fully realized, complex adventure which will appeal to fans of classic quests.