on June 4, 2008
In 1990, I picked up a book by a writer named Robert Jordan, who was mainly known among fans of fantasy for the Conan novels he penned, which were among my favorites at the time. I bought it without a moment's hesitation and loved it. The Eye of the World followed the classic formula high fantasy had been treading since Tolkien wrote of hobbits leaving the Shire with Nazgul in pursuit.
Getting to the end of the book and realizing it was the first in the series was icing on the cake of a thrilling, fast paced fantasy read. I couldn't wait for what I assumed would be the conclusion, the third book in the series. After all, nearly all high fantasy before the 90's were trilogies.
Alas, Book 3 did not wrap up the story, and in a pre-Internet world, I had no way of knowing that Jordan intended for 12 books. By the time book 6 came out, I was tired of waiting for closure.
So I got stuck at book seven for several years. Last year, I began listening to Book 7, sure that I'd be using it to augment my actual reading of the book. I'm not sure I've picked up a Jordan novel since. But I am about to begin Book 11. And I'm looking forward to the posthumous collaboration of Jordan with Brandon Sanderson. So, to all those who have given up on Jordan, and wished they hadn't, or to those who are thinking about starting but have heard too many negative reviews, here's how I recommend reading Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time" series.
1. Understand that Jordan loves detail. He describes clothing in so much detail, that if "Wheel of Time" ever gets optioned for film or television, the costume designers will be able to go for a lot of coffee breaks. He is fond of giving elaborately detailed descriptions of every character, even minor ones.
2. The repetition of previously established plot elements in subsequent books is for people traveling on planes who pick up book 5 in the airport. It allows them to enter the world enough to get through the read. It's a device publishing companies use with bestselling series like this to ensure that the series remain a bestseller. While I have never started any series mid-way through, some people apparently do, and these passages are for them.
3. Jordan likes to weave intricate plots with a cast of characters so large it necessitates a glossary at the end of each book. Many of the books are entirely character based, and so seem to have "no action" taking place. This is because many readers want someone to storm a tower, engage in a climactic battle, or throw a ring into a fiery pit. Jordan is too busy marrying characters or introducing a new plot thread to bother with such things. And while he may not talk about a character for one book, he almost always returns to them.
4. I started thinking about "Wheel of Time" as a television series. It's long enough to sustain several seasons, and the cast is basically the OC meets LOTR. We watch TV one episode at a time. I began to view the chapters in each book as "episodes" of "Wheel of Time" as a television series, and each book as a "season." I don't like every episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and there are some seasons I like better than others. Some of my favorite episodes are in my least favorite seasons. But I love the characters, and I want to see what happens to them. I love the characters in Wheel of Time. I want to see what happens to them. So I keep "tuning in."
5. I got over the reasons I quit. Simply put, they were my reasons. I had expectations of Jordan he never intended to fulfill. I expected him to wrap it up in a trilogy. He didn't. I expected him to snap Rand out of his sullen funk. He didn't. I expected him to stop telling me about the embroidery on coats or dresses. He didn't. I expected him to bring a certain major character back from the dead. He didn't. And finally, I expected him to finish before he passed away. And he didn't.
It was that last one that really galvanized me. When I heard he had terminal cancer (many years after it was a reality), it got me thinking about the legacy the man would leave on this earth. An epic bestselling fantasy series. And I realized that, to quote Elvis and Sinatra, he'd done it his way. I might not like some of the choices Jordan made, but I love the world he created and the people walking through it. And I want to know how they fare in the end.
So that's my journey to Book 11 of "Wheel of Time" and I share it because I want new readers to know what to expect, but also to let go of those expectations, and know that the journey is worth taking. Especially if you want to be there when the final novel is released next year.
Me? I'll be starting book 1 again this fall and listening to all the previous "Seasons" of "Wheel of Time," one per month, in anticipation of the final installment. The Wheel of Time turns...and I'll be "turning pages" with it.
on November 8, 2002
The Wheel of Time is probably the best-known and most widely read fantasy series other than The Lord of the Rings.
When this book was published in 1988 or 1989, it created a sensation -- a tremendous first volume that had the usual good-evil battle and tons of action but also was filled with magic, history, politics, sociology, cultural background and realistic characters. When I re-read the first five books, I was amazed at the details of history and politics that Jordan provided in his world. Jordan also has numerous protagonists, not just one or two primary ones like many other fantasy writers.
Moreover, Eye of the World features strong men and, through their magical abilities and powerful personalities, stronger women. Jordan has been rightly lauded for the prominent and powerful roles he created for the female characters.
The Great Hunt, The Dragon Reborn, The Shadow Rising and The Fires of Heaven followed and created a tremendous series such that The New York Times noted that Jordan had come to dominate the genre that Tolkien made famous.
In Eye of the World, the writing is smooth, the various characters and their motivations work well, and there's action aplenty. The sense of innocence and mystery that correspond to the heroes' relative lack of knowledge of their surroundings and the world at large is palpable and realistic.
Unfortunately, starting with Lord of Chaos (book 6), Jordan's creation became unwieldy. Instead of concentrating on following the themes and story-threads of books 1-5 (which combined are more than 3500 pages, hardcover), he created new storylines, bogged down the narrative and halted the pace of the epic. Book 8 in particular is an unmitigated disaster -- 650 pages (hardcover) of wheel-spinning (pardon the pun) with almost no progress to the story. Book 9 began to jump-start the narrative once again.
The series is at 10 books (the tenth will be published in about two months from now) and growing (13 total possible -- it's a common numerical theme in the books), thus the last volume will be published in 2006, at the earliest.
The Eye of the World is great, as are the next four in the series. They are, however, addictive, so know what you're getting into.
on December 18, 1999
This book was recommended to me by the manager of a brick and mortar store nearby. I have read a great deal of science fiction/fantasy, and after a while, it all starts to feel the same. You know what I mean: how many times can we revisit Tolkein-esque charcaters like elves, dwarves, and orcs? I was very pleased to discover an entirely new world.
Robert Jordan has created a landscape of magnificent proportions. Accents, legends, superstitions, politics...His amazing attention to detail allowed me to become fully immersed in the story. Even more surprising is that the quality of his writing is maintained throughout the book's length of 782 pages. I couldn't put this novel down, with the result that I finished it well inside of a week.
This is the first book of a series, and the reviews for some of the later books aren't as glowing. However, I feel that this book is a great read, and can stand on its own. It is not uncommon for series to degrade over time -- take a look at "Wishsong of Shannara"by Terry Brooks, "The One Tree" by Stephen R. Donaldson, or "The Sorceress of Darshiva" by David Eddings. All three of these books fail to live up to the quality of others in their respective series, but that doesn't mean you should avoid the series altogether.
"Eye of the World" provides us with an epic that is also refreshingly new. Robert Jordan presents us with a world that is the most richly colorful since Tolkein. If you're a fan of fantasy, then don't miss reading this book.
on April 9, 2000
I was in the latter half of my 20's when I found this book. I might have found it sooner, but I'd given up on fantasy years before. This is the book (series) that revitalized fantasy for me.
Eye of the World starts a bit slow. Jordan takes his time introducing his characters and his world. I like that, myself, though others may want the action to get going a bit sooner. Wait it out. 150 pages in you won't be able to put it down.
While it is certainly true that Jordan has started stretching it out some (Path of Daggers is a majour disappointment), the series is still well worth the (considerable) investment of time and energy it requires. This isn't just because Jordan's found a new take on the genre, or because there are few works that rival its scope. The main and best reason to read WoT is that Jordan has created a cast of truly interesting characters that you sincerely care about and want to spend more time with when the book comes to an end. You'll be entranced by the adventures they find themselves in. You'll rave for or rage at the brilliant or boneheaded decisions they make. You'll feel what they feel and worry about whether or not they'll do what you can see they ought to do, if only they'll notice. You'll wonder what will happen to them next when you get to the end of the most recent installment and jones (hard!) for a fix even though you know it'll be months before there's another.
It's true that, as the series progresses, the bulk of the novels increases out of proportion to the amount of adventure in each. Jordan seems to feel it necessary to keep us up-to-date by reminding us a lot of what's gone before. As the series wears on there's a lot that's gone before, so, for those who read the books one after the other, the reminders can get a bit annoying. All I can say is, it beats the alternative - I recently read the second book in the Song of Ice and Fire series and was consistently frustrated by the author's failure to add a single sentence reminding me why the bloody dagger was so significant for half the book. Those single sentences are very useful in WoT, even if, in aggregate, they make each book quite a bit longer.
All things considered, this is one terrific series. Read it.
on January 13, 2004
Many years ago I wrote a review after reading the first book giving it five stars in an Amazon review and calling it some of the best fantasy ever. A few years after reading the sixth book (I believe) I gave it one star and demanded that Jordan stop dragging his feet and finish the story before his fans went insane with impatience. I am writing this after having read the tenth book and have moderated my opinions, possibly because Jordan has wrung all resistance out of me.
Anyone thinking of starting this series is advised to check out the Amazon reviews of the most recently released book to see just how frustrated and angry many of the early fans have become and think hard if they really want to take the risk. The first two books, in my opinion, rank among the best of recent fantasy, but the pace of the books is absolutely glacial by the sixth or so. The plot moves so slowly that I actually missed the ninth book entirely and didn't realize it until I was halfway through the tenth, as so little had changed from the eighth. (I just got the 9th, which I'll get around to reading sometime.) I now pick up the books whenever I feel the need for a distraction and reread sections that I find particularly interesting. The main characters often are on their own sub-plots for so long that you can treat portions of the books as novellas. The only way to keep my sanity is to assume that the series will never end and enjoy small bits of Jordan's lavish descriptions and meticulous detail. By the tenth book it is quite normal for a character's internal thoughts to go on for pages without pause, and Jordan seems to have run out of ways to make the characters dynamic, so most of the time they spend pages agonizing about how grim they've become.
If you are the kind of person who is at all tempted to peek at the end of novels to see what the end is, do not start this series. If you have a life expectancy of less than ten years, don't bother. If you are perturbed by the thought that major characters can be introduced six books into a series, do not start this series. Basically, if you are not a hard-core fantasy fan who is willing to suffer mortification of the mind under Jordan's lash, do not start this series.
If you are not one of the above, then go ahead and pick up used copies of the books, borrow them from friends or the library, etc but the mammoth cost of buying the entire series new probably isn't worth it.
on October 6, 2002
Ok, I'm giving this book only three stars despite the fact that, judged solely on its own merits, it probably deserves the 4 or 5 most people give it. Before you condemn me too harshly though, I'm doing it for a very good reason!
Before you read all the glowing reviews and buy this book, be warned: This is the start of a very long, drawn-out series. Not long and drawn-out in the sense that it's an "epic" story that needs time and patience to tell, but more in the sense that the author has discovered he has a virtual cash machine in his keyboard, and he's milking it for every last penny it's worth.
"But if they're good..." you think. Uh-huh. But they're not, you see.
The first four or five books in the series are excellent; I'd be lying if I said otherwise. Can Robert Jordan write? You bet your bottom he can -- but only when he puts his mind to it. Starting with the abysmal "Path of Daggers," the series' progress has slowed to a sad crawl. In each successive book, less and less happens, and more paper is wasted describing clothing, repeating characters' annoying mannerisms, and introducing new characters who don't seem to do anything to advance the plot. Maybe he doesn't know how to finish it... but that doesn't stop him adding to the misery.
How much of this do you think you can take? The 10th book is coming out soon; are you that patient? Will you really be able to stand seeing these cinderblock-sized lumps taking up more and more space on your bookshelf, nudging out more deserving titles? Will your wallet stand up to being burdened with a never-ending book series you're obliged to read because you've got too much invested to quit? What about when people come over, notice that massive row of "Wheel of Time" novels, and ask, "Oh. Robert Jordan fan, eh?" Will you be proud to turn them on to this series... or embarrassed? Give ya' a clue: Mine are boxed.
Really. It's your call. Go on and start this series if you want to. But don't say nobody warned you...
on June 20, 2000
The Eye of the World was one of the most fun books I've ever read. It's a strait-out fantasy epic based in a fully realized fantasy world. (If you read the rest of the WoT series anyway...) Nations are involved in power struggles and have their own heritage and culture. Some of these are archetypal and some are created purely from Jordan's fantastic imagination. In essence, it is still a story of a king risen from a farm boy, heroes, honor and love. However, Jordan does a wonderful job weaving a plot that intrigues from its start and gets delightfully complicated as it progresses. (Sometimes having 5 or more main plots going on at the same time.) The characters are easy to relate to. (Or so it seemed) There are several main ones, and each has a loveable and unique personality. When I picked this book up at age 15 I believed that any fantasy that wasn't Tolkien was a sacrilege or a copy off. This book was perhaps the best bet to convince me otherwise. Jordan's views on magic and the races (i.e. elves, dwarves, etc.) are refreshing, although they too have been copied several times. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves epics, classic sword and sorcery archetypes, or a refreshing fantasy.
on December 19, 2000
"The Eye of the World" is the introductory volume of the mammoth and immensely popular "Wheel of Time" series. It lays the foundation to the series by introducing us to three young men who are central characters in the great and cosmic conflict against evil, describing their difficult and dangerous journey to the Eye of the World, constantly facing the perils and powers of magical abilities wielded by friends and foes. The series bears the unmistakable imprint of two main influences.
1. The worldview of Tolkien.
Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" was the ground-breaking fantasy that firmly established the future direction of this genre. His originality and imagination pioneered the structures of the fantasy playing field within which Jordan works. Although Jordan's characterization, description, and use of language rarely equals that of Tolkien, many of his concepts and ideas (notably "The Dark Lord" and his "black riders") will be recognizable, and this epic fantasy with its cosmic conflict is superior to most other modern efforts in the genre.
Like Tolkien, Jordan's characterization and conflict parallels much found in the Christian Bible. Underneath the trappings of fantasy, "The Wheel of Time" is actually a very religious book. Aside from the central struggle between good and evil, there are many unmistakable Biblical parallels and allusions, such as the idea of the tree of life, and the multitude of prayers to "Light". One only has to substitute the constant references to "Light" with "God" and the point is already made. In contrast to the Creator and the "Light", is the Dark One, "Shai'tan". Is it a coincidence that this sounds like the Biblical "Satan"? "Shai'tan" shares many other titles with his Biblical namesake, notably the "Father of Lies" and "Lord of the Grave." And just as the fallen Satan and his angels of the Bible were destined by God to be bound in "Sheol" or realm of the grave, so Shai'tan and his followers ("the Forsaken") are bound in "Shayol Ghol." Jordan closely mirrors the eschatology of the Biblical Revelation, where Satan is set free from his prison, leading to a final cosmic battle between good and evil that ends the world. There is even a Messianic Christ figure - "the Light in the flesh" (p.779 ) - upon whom the hopes of the world rest, and like Jesus, Rand is tempted by Shai'tan to receive great power by kneeling before him. Jordan plainly borrows from Tolkien, and from the source that inspired Tolkien's cosmic conflict - the Bible.
But this is not to say that Jordan is not original. Quite the opposite: he is far from a Tolkien carbon copy! Within the contours of a Tolkien-style genre of fantasy, he has created his own medieval type world, with his own conflicts and cast of characters. "The Eye of the World" has captured the hearts and imaginations of readers by its own strengths, not merely strengths borrowed from Tolkien. Although he rarely matches the epic grandeur and heroic tone of Tolkien's classic, Jordan in fact even surpasses Tolkien in suspense and action.
2. The worldview of Taoism.
Yet Jordan does not slavishly follow Tolkien's Christian worldview, but significantly departs from it by strongly incorporating elements of New Age Eastern thinking, particularly Taoist religion and philosophy. In contrast to Tolkien and the Bible, where history is portrayed as linear, progressing towards a final goal, the history portrayed in "The Wheel of Time" is circular, repetitive, and without end. Jordan describes history as a "Wheel of Time" (a symbol for eternity) which turns, and ultimately repeats itself. Not surprisingly, this history features reincarnation. At the heart of the wheel of history is the "True Source" of power, consisting of equal male and female halves (saidin and saidar). This is clearly the Taoist yin-yang (Taiji) concept dressed in new clothing. Jordan's universe is actually very pagan in character, because the characters do not find success and salvation by reaching to God, but to the magical powers of this "True Source." Jordan's fantastic universe is governed not by the Creator, but by the "Wheel of Time", which leaves little room for the exercise of free will, since history is destined to repeat itself, and events are largely determined by the previous revolution of the "Wheel of Time". The Creator makes the wheel, but then it is the "Pattern" which weaves - "Everything is part of the pattern. We cannot pick or choose." (p.143). "It will be as the wheel weaves." (p.422). It is the Deistic, deterministic, circular universe of Taoism.
But don't let the underlying philosophy behind the universe of the "Wheel of Time" scare you. I found it stimulating, particularly the notion that all of history and even my individual life is part of a grand pattern, woven by the hand of an unseen Creator. But "The Eye of the World" is not primarily a book about philosophy, but an exciting story. Although I do not share much of the thinking behind the implicit world-view of the "Wheel of Time," this did not prevent me from enjoying the book as an engrossing story. Jordan has created a series that lacks Tolkien's grandeur, but is more readable. Admittedly, the first hundred pages are somewhat difficult to read, because you are introduced to a new world, with new characters, creatures, and conflicts. But once this world becomes familiar, you will find it completely captivating. The action and suspense rarely lets up, and you will find it hard to put this book down. One could argue that the ending is somewhat rushed, but on the whole, these hundreds of pages are sure to keep you constantly surprised and satisfied. "The Eye of the World" absolutely deserves its place as one of the best contributions to contemporary fantasy.
on June 18, 2000
After I read the _Lord of the Rings_, I couldn't help agreeingwith Tolkien that one of that trilogy's few faults was that it is tooshort. In other words, I (and many other readers, obviously) wanted to read more books that did the sort of thing Tolkien did--opened a gate to a new world; made us feel that ordinary life can suddenly take on epic meaning, and so on. Less healthily, perhaps, we wanted to lose ourselves in a fantasy world where we could think of ourselves as heroes without actually doing any work or putting ourselves in danger. (I think these two aspects go together--"escapist" literature is neither completely unhealthy nor entirely free of dangers.)
Terry Brooks's _Shannara_ series was clearly written with such readers in mind (so were a lot of much poorer tales--but I take Brooks as one of the better examples); Brooks himself was no doubt one of the Tolkien addicts whose withdrawal pangs after reading LotR twenty times or so he was trying to alleviate. While Brooks's series has its virtues (which this is not the place to discuss), they were generally best when they forged new ground, rather than treading in Tolkien's shoes. While one could take them as one's "Tolkien fix," that didn't really do justice either to Tolkien or to Brooks. Similarly, Stephen Donaldson's _Thomas Covenant_ series (far more skilfully crafted than the _Shannara_ books) showed clear signs of Tolkien's influence but headed in a substantially different direction.
When I picked up _The Eye of the World_ about three years ago, I almost gasped with delight. Finally, someone had done what Brooks had so obviously tried to do--written a story that rings the changes on the familiar Tolkien themes, but does so in a way that is interesting and gripping in its own right--a story that, if we had never read Tolkien, could open the same gates that he opened.
This would be enough justification for reading Jordan. But even in _The Eye of the World_, it's obvious that Jordan is more than a would-be Tolkien--even the best of the would-be Tolkiens. And this has become even clearer with subsequent entries in the series. Indeed, though it may be blasphemy to say it, Jordan's work is in some respects superior to Tolkien (though of course, like all other modern fantasies, it cannot compare with Tolkien in the things Tolkien does well). One of the biggest defects of the Lord of the Rings (well, maybe not defects--I wouldn't want Middle-Earth to be different than it is--but certainly one of the ways in which Tolkien fails, or doesn't even try, to create a credible secondary world) is its failure to give us many details of how people live. Indeed, apart from the Shire, Middle-Earth seems to consist of mountains and barren plains over which huge armies roam. The one large city Tolkien describes, Minas Tirith, contains only a fraction of the population it could hold. Of course, this is partly on purpose--the Third Age is waning, and the great kingdoms such as Gondor are only a shadow of their former selves. But one would like to know more about Tolkien's people than their languages and their myths. What do they eat? What do they wear? What are the major agricultural products of each region? The major industries? With a very few exceptions, Tolkien passes over such matters with fine disdain.
Jordan, on the other hand, creates a world that is crammed to the brim with life and bustle. Though he too can evoke vanished grandeur, his nations are not simply ghosts of ancient, legendary realms--they are real places with distinctive customs and cultural presuppositions. And Jordan describes these customs and attitudes in what threatens at times to become wearying detail. This does not create a better series than Tolkien's by any means, or even one half as good. But it is a series that in some respects surpasses its model. And that is high praise.
Another superiority of Jordan's series is the prominence given to its women. While all the women tend to be similar (no surprise, since Jordan says that they are all modeled on his wife), and all share a good deal of affectionate contempt for men, which they express over and over in more or less the same terms, they are nonetheless an impressive gallery of characters compared to those found in many other fantasy series, particularly LotR.
On the other hand, Jordan's work is by no means without faults. In particular, the attention to detail has increasingly come to bog down his series, so that each mammoth volume moves the story along only slightly. Furthermore, Jordan's style is voluble and repetitive, with similar cliches and mini-plot summaries repeated over and over. This makes it very easy and enjoyable reading, especially at the beginning. But after five volumes or so it begins to pall. One wants to say, "Don't tell us for the five thousandth time how stubborn and dumb Nynaeve (and all the other female characters) thinks men are, or how incomprehensible the men think the women are, or how Wise Ones don't trust Aes Sedai, or how difficult it is for Aes Sedai to tolerate the existence of men who can channel, or any other of the things that anyone who has been reading the series (and who's going to pick it up at volume 8? Jordan's series doesn't lend itself to that sort of treatment) has burned on their brain by now. Instead, how about making some progress on telling us about Egwene's march toward Tar Valon, or Perrin's mission, or which kingdom Rand is going to attack next?" But I don't have high hopes. Judging by vol. 8, vol. 9 is going to have a lot of Aiel and Aes Sedai bustling about, a few battles with Rand losing control of the One Power, and precious little else.
However, I'm supposed to be talking about vol. 1. The flaws I've been mentioning are distinctly manageable at this point. The main problem with this volume is its ending, which appears tacked on to bring the story to some sort of conclusion--a conclusion that turns out to be only the beginning. END
on September 20, 2013
I should love this book, this whole series. I am a big fan of epic fantasy. I love Song of Ice and Fire, Memory Sorrow and Thorn, and I even like Dragon Lance books. Every conversation I have about epic fantasy series, Robert Jordan always comes up. Everyone thinks so highly of this series, it seems. And I've tried repeatedly over the years to read it. I haven't been able to get through the first book. This time, I got the audible audio version, thinking that maybe a great narration would keep my interest long enough to finish this first book at least.
It's just not happening for me. I've tried to persevere, and not put it down for other reading as I've done every other time in the past, but I just have no desire to continue this book through to the end, because I care nothing for the end. I care nothing for the characters or their journey.
The characters are so typical and cliché. Even Dragon Lance books, with their very prescriptive character requirements, seem to have better rounded characters than Eye in the Wheel of Time. Dialogue is the same style no matter who is speaking, and people speak in stilted, long narratives. There is so much explanations, stories and speeches just for the purpose of info dumping and history. It's tedious. In addition, each characters every move, facial expression and tone is described in extensive detail. And the adjectives and similes are clumsy at best: crouched "like a hare gone to ground", ran "like a fox before hounds", scared "like a mouse in a hawks shadow". Some characters open their mouth "angrily" then speak "angrily" then look around "angrily" and then gesture "angrily", all in the span of a few sentences. The wording was jarring to me, and the extensive details really killed the pacing for me. Monsters were attacking, but I had to listen to minutes and minutes of descriptions, of something like the history of the town, after which the character would think "but no time to think about that now", and I was left thinking, ummmm, you JUST DID, for entire pages worth of text!! During this attack, this happened three times, and each time our hero would think "no time for that now" or "can't wonder about that now". It really ruined any sense of urgency or suspense I might have had. 3/4 of the description could have been cut out and the book would have gone much more smoothly for me. I like long, epic journeys, but it turns out, I don't care for as much descriptive filler that's in this book.
Situations are set up too easily for characters. They are described as dire or perilous, but aren't actually either at all. An example that has stayed with me (and set the tone for the rest of the book) was near the beginning. The monsters attack and foul the interior of a house with feces on the walls, yet miraculously, our hero finds clean water to fill water pouches, clean cloths to make bandages, ect. Uh-huh, okay . . .
I'm just tired of trying to read this book much less like it. Its just, sadly, NOT for me.
I can say, the narrator did a great job reading voices and trying to impart a sense of urgency in battle scenes even while having to wade through paragraph after paragraph of unwieldy description. I made it over half way through (about 16 hours I think) because of his talent.