Series: The Wheel of Time, Book 1
Pages: 832 (Mass Market Paperback)
Publisher: Tor Fantasy
Date: November 15, 1990
I originally read Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series beginning in 2002 when I was living in Japan. My friend Mike introduced me to Mr. Jordan’s fantastical world, and I was hooked from the very beginning. At that time, there were nine books out in the series, Jordan having released them at a pace of almost one a year (take that, George RR Martin!). A tenth came out in 2003, and eleventh in 2005. Then, nothing. Jordan got sick, and passed in September of 2007, leaving his series unfinished, and his fans both saddened and disappointed. That was not, however, the end of The Wheel of Time.
My reviews of other books in The Wheel of Time series:
Prequel: New Spring, reviewed May 28, 2014
Enter Brandon Sanderson. Sanderson was a young fantasy writer, working with the same publishers that Jordan worked with (Tor Books). Jordan’s wife, Harriet, was a former editor with Tor, and she, in consultation with Tor head and founder Tom Doherty, decided to approach Sanderson, an avowed fan of the WoT books, to ask him to finish the final book. In a moment of metafictional karma, Sanderson came in to take the place of someone who had passed away, something that is one of the primary underlying conceits of the series – the “wheel” the title refers to is constantly turning, with ages coming and going, and people constantly reincarnating. Six years and nearly a million words later, that final book expanded into three, and the series was completed.
I’ve read all of the books in the series that Jordan wrote prior to his death, and decided to do a complete re-read of the entire series once Sanderson was done with his work. That happened about a year ago, and now I have enough time opened up in my reading schedule to take on this Herculean task. So, without further ado, let’s take a journey to visit with five simple folk from the town of Emond’s Field.
The book begins with Rand al’Thor, walking with his father to bring their homemade brandy to the local tavern. He’s being watched – and it turns out that so are his two friends, Mat Cauthon and Perrin Aybara. The watcher appears to be the same to each of them – a black-cloaked figure whom the wind doesn’t touch.
We soon meet several other people, including the innkeep’s daughter, Egwene al’Vere (whom Rand is sweet on), and Nynaeve al’Meara, the young village Wisdom. The town is attacked by Trollocs, a creature out of legend, and two visitors – the Aes Sedai Moiraine Damodred (Aes Sedai are women who can wield the True Source, or magic) and her Warder Lan Mandragoran – tell the three boys that the attack was focused on them; they must leave for the safety of their friends and loved ones.
They’re joined on the road by Thom Merrilin, a gleeman (a travelling bard and acrobat); Egwene, who knows they’re trying to leave and insists on coming; Nynaeve, who has tracked them far from home to bring them back – only to find that she, too, is part of the quest that has taken them away; and Loial, an Ogier, a large humanoid race that sings to trees and builds wonders with their hands.
The story examines the perennial battle between light and dark, good and evil, that is often the fodder of fantasy series. However, Jordan doesn’t approach the world from a Manichean viewpoint; rather, in a world that pits black versus white, nearly everyone is a little bit grey. That’s not to say that there aren’t some polarized forces – the Trollocs mentioned above are clearly evil – but as far as the main characters are concerned, there is nothing ever cut and dried. While Rand emerges as the primary focus of the book, each of the Emond’s Fielders has their moment, setting them up as major players in the series to come. Each is, in their own way, unique – and while this could be read as a kind of Mary-Sueism, the characters face enough adversity that Jordan largely avoids this trap as well.
Although this is the first book in a series that ended up running to fourteen volumes (out of an originally planned six books), it reads as a cohesive novel in its own right. There isn’t a whole lot of originality in the story, with analogues for all sorts of regular fantasy tropes (trollocs=orcs/ogres, the world facing a “dark lord” who wants to destroy everything, magic use being feared and misunderstood, even the whole “he comes from a small village, but is the savior of all mankind” storyline), but he puts things together in interesting ways. In addition, he has some of the strongest female characters in the genre, especially from a male writer. Even George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, with its strong women like Cersei, Arya, and Catelyn Stark, does not give women the unquestioned and largely unchallenged power women in The Wheel of Time have.
For this reason, and for the strong writing and tightly controlled story early in the series, I strongly recommend this book for readers of fantasy, those looking for unique uses of otherwise tired devices, and for those wanting to read about strong, sympathetic female characters. Be warned: not all is perfect in Randland; later books get bogged down with sheer numbers of PoV characters, and Jordan did make some choices that readers have had difficulties with as well. But those are reviews for another day – The Eye of the World is one of the finest fantasy books to come out in the two decades following Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and is worth your time.
Steve’s Grade: A-
An excellent beginning to an epic series that spans three and a half decades, fourteen books (plus a prequel), and two authors, The Eye of the World introduces us to likable and believable characters while mixing familiar tropes in unfamiliar ways.
Dragonmount, Robert Jordan’s official website (now run by fans and family)
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