The Wheel of Time series has been on my radar for more than a decade, though it was the public announcement of Jordan’s terminal illness that finally caused me to investigate him with intent. At the time, I decided to wait until the final book in the series was released – if it was finished – before attempting so large an undertaking. This month, the final book in the series (book 14: A Memory of Light) was released, and so I finally started.
The Eye of the World starts with a prologue that is interesting, if a bit hard to follow with no knowledge of the world or magic system. Fear not; it is short and its meaning is clearer as the book progresses. Don’t worry about what you don’t understand.
Chapter one plunges us into a different time and place. We meet the people of Two Rivers, a small town out in the boonies, starting with Rand and his father Tam. The cast grows to include Rand’s pals Mat, who’s mischievous to a fault, and Perrin, the quiet apprentice of a blacksmith; the girl he’s sweet on, Egwene; and the town Wisdom (healer, herbalist, etc.), Nynaeve. Familiar small town character types abound, and it’s all delightfully pastoral until they’re invaded by outsiders, getting the adventure ball rolling.
The leaders of the company, Moiraine and Lan, are tough nuts to crack, but Lan’s a beast when it comes to a nasty fight, and Moiraine has more than a few tricks up her sleeves (tip: don’t make get in her way). Her kind, the Aes Sedai, are almost universally hated, but she doesn’t let that stop her from doing the impossible.
Whether or not you’ll be bored after the exodus from Two Rivers depends on your pacing expectations. There are patches of high tension and excitement bracketed by more sedate pacing where we learn more about the characters and the world. If you’re patient and appreciate the value of the journey, not just the destination, you won’t mind; but if you want a high-stakes, adrenaline pumping tale every step of the way, give up now.
Should you continue, you’ll find out why three country boys, Rand, Perrin, and Mat, are more valuable than they appear, why Thom the gleeman is awesome, and the unexpected gifts of Nynaeve and Egwene, all while we’re fighting or hiding from Fades and Trollocs and Darkfriends – none of whom you’d want to invite home to dinner.
Familiar themes of loss of innocence, coming of age, darkness and light, destruction of beauty, sense of displacement, corrupting power of treasure, etc., permeate the story. There are strong female roles, something often absent in traditional fantasy. I would wish for a bit more depth in them, but I’m glad they’re not tainted by an over-emphasis on female sexuality, as is also common.
Looking back over the book, it’s easy to look at the medieval setting, the farm boy(s) destined for greater things, the impenetrable mentor, the special sword, etc., and see a big ball of cliché. But there are two factors to consider: when the story was written and whether the story succeeds. To answer the second factor first, if you are able to suspend disbelief, this story definitely succeeds.
As to the first, in his time, Jordan was to that generation what Tolkien was to an earlier generation, inspiring and enthralling them. If his world seems like a tired cliché, that’s at least in part due to the writings of those who came after. If mimicry is the sincerest form of flattery, Jordan has been plenty flattered.
But, truth be told, I have no business writing an apology for Jordan. I’ve only read book one, and can’t fully comment on his value or success as a writer without the broader scope of the full series. What I can do is say that starting the series is worth your time.
RECOMMENDATION: This first book is not perfect, and at times Jordan’s ideas are beyond his skill to write, but I don’t believe those things keep Eye of the World from being a pleasurable reading experience. Impatient readers will likely miss the wonder of the story.