It’s true. This is my very first time reading The Wheel of Time and I am a bit surprised myself that I have lived to the ripe age of 35 without catching any spoilers. With the TV show coming up in a few months’ time, I thought it would be nice to get a head start on the books and see if this beloved epic fantasy series is for me. Or if it holds up to the test of time. My impressions are pretty much as expected, although the positives outweigh the negatives. 🙂
THE EYE OF THE WORLD
by Robert Jordan
Published: Tor, 1990
eBook: 751 pages
Series: The Wheel of Time #1
My rating: 6.25/10
Opening line: The palace still shook occasionally as the earth rumbled in memory, groaned as if it would deny what had happened.
The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and pass. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.
Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.
The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, an Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.
When The Two Rivers is attacked by Trollocs-a savage tribe of half-men, half-beasts- five villagers flee that night into a world they barely imagined, with new dangers waiting in the shadows and in the light.
So this is it, the beginning of a 14-book saga, planned and plotted and mostly written by one man, finished by another. I pushed this series ahead of me for so many years. The page count is intimidating to say the least, there are many mixed opinions about whether it’s just too damn long, and it’s not like I needed another fantasy series to be in the middle of. But it turns out, there’s no motivator quite like an upcoming TV adaptation to get me reading books that I should have read ages ago.
Thanks to this handy guide posted by Sensei2006 on Reddit, I knew a little of what to expect and I was prepared for the heavy Lord of the Rings influences. This made a huge difference to me, because knowing a little about the background (publishers wanting to publish nothing but LOTR copy cats because that shit sold) as well as getting an idea of what to expect in future books, those things really help me adjust my expectations. I still rolled my eyes at all the moments where I could pinpoint “Oh, so this is their Aragorn” or “Mat is just Pippin and Gollum rolled into one” or “I guess the Mountains of Dhoom are the natural barrier to the evil land” and “this place is Jordan’s version of Moria”. The parallels are really quite ridiculous but throughout the book, there is a sense of original ideas that want to come through and simply didn’t get the chance yet.
The story begins in Emond’s Field, a small village in the Two Rivers area, where Rand al’Thor and his father are going to town to prepare for a big feast. A mysterious dark, hooded rider seems to be following Rand, giving him the creeps. If you’re thinking “Bilbo’s birthday” and “nâzgul”, I don’t think anyone can fault you. And indeed, the village is attacked by monstrous Trollocs, and Rand and his companions leave on a perilous journey to Tar Volon. I’m not going to give you all the murky details here. The magic woman – an Aes Sedai named Moiraine – said the boys should go, so they go. So it’s Rand, Mat, and Perrin, Rand’s kind of love interest Egwene, Moiraine herself as well as her warder Lan, plus a travelling bard who start out on the journey. Not long after, Nynaeve, the village wisdom joins them and the fellowship is complete. Thre is a nice mi of people who already know and like each other – the boys are friends and Rand and Egwene have some unspoken love thingy going – and newcomers who can’t be trusted. Nynaeve is the most sceptical of Moiraine, not least because Egwene (who’s supposed to follow in Nynaeve’s footsteps) seems very taken with the poised and powerful woman.
What follows is a mixture of boring repetitive stuff, exciting action, hints of original world building, and a whole lot of other Lord of the Rings-esque places and people. At one point the fellowship parts ways and we get to follow the separate groups on their little side adventures, hoping they can reunite and get to where they need to go. Some of those side adventures were better than others. I really enjoyed Perrin’s story line, for example, maybe because it was the least reminiscent of Lord of the Rings. But we get a bit of everything here, including a boat voyage.
Mat and Rand’s endless series of inns dragged quite a bit, even though there’s a lot of cool stuff going on in the background. Because, let me tell you, those boys’ dreams are not normal. And Mat, being the Golpin of this group and alternating between completely idiotic Pippin behaviour and Gollum-like paranoia, is definitely nothing like Sam Gamgee…
As I read along, I got more and more into the story. Of course there are many silly tropes, certain things were super predictable, and Robert Jordan apparently only knows how to write one type of woman, but the further along I got, the more I got to see of what this world has to offer that’s not LotR-like. The magic system, although not really explained in any depth, is interesting in that it uses a gender binary and only allows women to use the One Power without danger of going insane. When men wielded that Power, they broke the world. And also went insane. It makes for interesting power dynamics despite the lack of varied female characters.
I was also quite taken with the race of the Ogier and I hope to learn much more about them in later books. Ooh, and the Waygates! And I’m super curious about the long-term outcome of Perrin’s adventure, which is all I can say without spoiling anything.
Despite its pacing issues, the blatant parallels to Tolkien, and the weak characterization, I did enjoy this book. It has been my companion for about a month and it had its ups and downs. Sometimes the plot slowed to an almost-standstill, but we got a bit of character development. Then the plot would come up with a cool revelation and I’d be hooked again for a while. I guess the best way to sum up my feelings is that I never had to force myself to read this. I was always looking forward to the book, even though I felt I knew 90% of what was going to happen. The last-minute Treebeard was just an added bonus that I admit I didn’t foresee. And the very end, although also partly predictable, left enough questions open for me to remain curious. Also, I somehow started to really like Rand and I want to make sure that boy is okay. I’m very much expecting him to not be okay, but a lot can happen in thirteen books.
What The Eye of the World does, most of all, is set things up. It lets us travel a nice chunk of the world, we get to know the major characters and even catch glimpses of what might be the big bad. We are given a very basic idea of the magic system, although I like that there are no clear instructions about “good” or “bad”. Some people fear the Aes Sedai and curse their magic, others revere them for their powers and ask their counsel. I like the fact that I don’t know exactly what to think about Moiraine, and I like it even more that there are factions among the Aes Sedai who don’t always agree. I smell politics brewing and poor innocent (although without a doubt super important prophecied hero and maybe lost prince or whatever) Rand caught in the middle. There is lore here and history, cultures, songs, royalty, and the feeling of a much bigger story than we got to see so far. I have no idea if it’s a story that should really be fourteen books long, but I’m going to at least read the next one to see what Robert Jordan does when he’s not trying to be the next Tolkien.
MY RATING: 6.25/10 – Good