Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Wheel of Time: The Eye of the World review

    Because I don't have enough lengthy series to review, I'm going to take a crack at reading and reviewing Robert Jordan's unfinished (by him) magnum opus. I last tried to read these books when I was ten years old and the first had just come out, which may have been a bit much for my developing mind to handle. I didn't get through half of it before I decided they just weren't for me. As a more mature reader, I'm hoping they will prove to be more engrossing.

    Having just finished the first book, I have no doubt I'm going to finish the series now but it is going to be a serious commitment of time and effort. Not so much it's going to interfere with other projects, reviews, or works but enough it requires effort. The first book in the series is dense and I don't mean in size. No, in fact, it's a book which is filled from top-to-bottom with detail which you need to fully engross yourself in.

    J.R.R. Tolkien was able to fit massive amounts of detail into relatively few words. So much so that many readers, myself included, would swear to you they know the Shire or other locations as well as their hometown. This, despite the fact Tolkien only so many pages on them. Robert Jordan isn't that good but is able to achieve the same effect with many more words devoted to fleshing out his locations. By the end of the first book, I could tell you a massive amount of detail about Two-Rivers, Cairhien, and the Borderlands. This comes, at times, at the expense of anything happening for chapters.

    This isn't to say the book is ever boring. Quite the contrary, I was able to immerse myself in the setting's details and atmosphere. If I were to draw a comparison, it was a bit like hanging around with friends and discussing nothing in particular hours at a time. The Eye of the World was a treat for me as a fan of world-building but its differently paced from the vast majority of fantasy out there today. Ironic, given the Wheel of Time was so influential to present-day classics like George R.R. Martin's Westeros.

    The premise is Rand al'Thor, Mat, and Perrin are dragooned by a mysterious woman named Lady Moiraine into coming with her to Par Valon, the home of the Bene Gesserit-meets-White Council Aes Sedai. They are joined by her companion Lan, Rand's kinda-sorta girlfriend Egwene, a traveling performer named Thom Merrilin, and later their too-young-for-her-position wise woman Nynaeve.

    I'm skipping over a massive amount of stuff here but bear with me. One of these individuals, or all of them, is extremely important to the war against the Dark One and may be related to the prophecy of the Dragon Reborn. It's not really a secret which one of these characters is the Dragon Reborn, any more than Rosebud is a sled or the Matrix is a giant computer simulation but I'll respect the author's intent this is supposed to be a spoiler.

    The book is a classic "Chosen One will save the world" storyline, which isn't bad and Jordan shows why the trope is there in the first place. Jordan spices things up with the fact the Dragon Reborn is also cursed with madness. Not just quirky madness but, "kill everyone I know and love before blowing a giant-sized hole in the world" crazy. Seeing how this develops kept me going along with all the hints this is an eternally recurring pattern of Monster, Hero, and Insanity. You know, wheel of time.

    One thing I like about the book is the amount of estrogen is a good deal higher than your typical fantasy fair. Lady Moiraine is a great Gandalf/Obi Wan Kenobi substitute and I adore Nynaeve. There are a great number of well-realized female characters, many of which are in positions of authority. Robert Jordan isn't breaking any long-standing taboos but it's rare enough to deserve remarking on.

    Much of the book will feel familiar to people who have read The Lord of Rings in-depth. Doorstopper fantasy wasn't yet a thing when Jordan wrote this book so he was trying to lure in his readers with the trappings of the familiar. While some things are a little too familiar, he starts veering away around the halfway point to his own thing. I also like how he subverts several common storytelling tropes throughout the book which, given the otherwise standardized plot, come from left field.

    Readers should understand this is a classic story of good versus evil, romanticized past, and possibly romanticized future. It's pretty much the opposite of my usual fantasy leanings but done so well I'm willing to make the fourteen-book commitment necessary to see this through. I'll keep you abreast of my progress as we carry through.

    It's going to be awhile.


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