The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan & Teresa Patterson
The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time is a companion for readers of Robert Jordan’s THE WHEEL OF TIME novels. Although I enjoyed the ~14 (15, if New Spring is included or fewer if the final three novels are counted as one, the way Jordan intended) WOT novels, I don’t recommend this companion. Here’s why.
The book is written from the point of view of fictional historians from within Randland, but the device doesn’t work. It seems odd that many characters of little renown are mentioned in a history of Randland. Prominent characters from the series like Faile, Nyneave, or Mat seem like odd inclusions in this history, and Padan Fain’s entry is especially incomprehensible. Padan Fain is an important villain in the series, but how would a historian know about such an obscure contemporary? It’s not like there’s an international press in Randland. Further, the historians do not appear again at the end of the book, which means the narrative device is all but abandoned after it’s introduced in the preface to generate a voice for the book.
The worst part of The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, however, may be that it reduces the depth and breadth of Jordan’s imagination. At first glance, the WOT is amazing — a wide and varied range of antagonists, a detailed history of many cultures, and an intricate magic system. Upon reading this companion, all are reduced. The way the trollocs are illustrated makes them seem ridiculous, revealing that readers’ suspension of the trollocs’ ridiculousness is tied up in the more general suspension of disbelief. The Forsaken, when introduced one after another, seem less like characters than final bosses in a video game — it’s almost as though there are 13 of them because the series has about 13 books. The Aiel, meanwhile, have many ways of forming communities — clans, sects, and still other societies — but this book does not explain their culture any more clearly than the novels do. Suffice it to say, the magic system also seems less magical.
Originally published in 1997, The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time came out between A Crown of Swords (book 7) and The Path of Daggers (book 8). Given that the series would continue for over another decade, it’s difficult to justify reading this book. In fact, I often found myself wondering why this book was published. I usually conclude that it was a place to publish “The Strike at Shayol Ghul,” an account of Lews Therin’s attack on the Dark One at the end of the Age of Legends. It may be worth noting that this short piece can be found online.
Ultimately, very little about Rand’s world is revealed that is not already provided in the novels and their glossaries. The artwork rarely inspires wonder, much of it is actually just the covers of the (first seven) books, and the maps are never more sophisticated or detailed than what are provided in the novels. The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time does not stand up to similar books about other fantasy series, such as The World of Ice & Fire or Day’s A Tolkien Bestiary, and it’s hardly surprising that a replacement WOT companion has since been published, The Wheel of Time Companion: The People, Places and History of the Bestselling Series.