I recently decided to undertake the task of re-reading the Wheel of Time. It’s only now, three books in, that the scale of this undertaking has hit me. Three down, eleven to go!
I’ve decided to take a break and read a few other books, lest I over-saturate myself with Wheel of Time. I have also decided that this might be a good time to post my own short review and thoughts on the first three books as a whole.
Anyone who knows me will know I am a massive Wheel of Time fan, though I will happily admit it is certainly not perfect. What follows is a summary of the books’ premise and a very brief review / my thoughts.
The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, and Age long past, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning, there are neither Beginnings nor endings to the turning of The Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.
First paragraph of The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan (1990)
So, what is the Wheel of Time about? At it’s heart it is a story of good against evil, but it’s also a story about the natural balance of things i.e. light & dark, yin & yang, and ultimately it’s a story about the nature of free will.
As you probably have guessed by the name, time is cyclical in the world of the Wheel of Time. In fact, time is a wheel with seven spokes. Each spoke represents an Age, which is repeated again and again with the turning of the Wheel. The Wheel is turned by the True Source – a power that comes directly from The Creator. This power is split into two halves that are male and female, called saidin and saidar respectively. Magic exists in the world of the Wheel of Time in the form of men and women called Aes Sedai who can channel saidin and saidar.
With every turning of the Wheel a being called the Dark One is loosed on the world (through the folly of humankind) and each time a specific soul is reborn to fight it, by the name of The Dragon. It’s not always the same person, but it is the same soul each time. The Dragon is basically a walking, talking hydrogen bomb, in that he is, was and will always be the most powerful Aes Sedai in existence.
The problem is that in this turning of the Wheel, saidin has been corrupted by the Dark One in the most recent Second Age and this causes all male Aes Sedai to go insane and literally break the world. Therefore, in the current Third Age people really aren’t looking forward to The Dragon being reborn, as he is as likely to kill everyone than save them.
The story begins in the sleepy Two Rivers and follows the villagers Rand, Mat, Perrin, Egwene and Nynaeve as their lives are forever changed by the arrival of two strangers and an attack by forces they once thought of as nothing but myth.
- The first three books are basically a coming of age story. The five villagers are forced out of their quaint lives and into the wider world. A world filled with danger, adventure and intrigue. A world that is a masterpiece example of world-building. As I’ve said before, Robert Jordan’s world is astoundingly well realised, with thousands of years worth of history and culture. We don’t see it in much detail in book one, but book two and three really open up the map. It is the world, history and culture in the Wheel of Time that sets it apart from other fantasy series.
- The first three books are well paced (unlike some of the later books which grind to a halt, story-wise) and the main characters are wonderfully fleshed out and developed.
- The magic system is one of the most well thought out, and therefore believable magic systems in fantasy
- The Eye of the World introduces (in my opinion) two of the best villains in fantasy fiction; Ishamael and someone else who I won’t name, as it is actually a spoiler for the first book that they are a villain. N.B. neither of the villains may seem overly special, or even original at the beginning, but as the books go on they really come into their own
- The books take the common fantasy trope of ‘The Chosen One’ and turn it on it’s head, which is refreshing
- Robert Jordan describes everything in minute detail
What’s not so good?
- Robert Jordan describes everything in minute detail – yes, that’s right, Jordan’s descriptive prowess is both a blessing and a curse.
- The first half of book one really evokes the Lord of the Rings. This was a deliberate act by Robert Jordan, as he said something along the lines of wanting readers to feel that they have been here before. The group spend a lot of time being chased by terrifying, black cloaked figures, cross a river on a ferry, have journey’s in the dark etc. Things that are really quite derivative of the Fellowship of the Ring. This will put people off. It very nearly put me off the first time I read The Eye of the World, but the second half changes things for the better.
- Look up criticism of the Wheel of Time online and you will find my next point over and over again; some of Robert Jordan’s female characters are written like they are awful, shrewish and snooty. It’s almost as if Robert Jordan had a few bad experiences with women and then just decided to make his female characters insufferable pricks, as he is on record as saying something along the lines of “my portrayals of women in my books are fairly accurate in my experience”, or something to that effect. I can safely say that some of my most hated characters in the series are women, and it is all down to the way Robert Jordan wrote them, with their constant sniffing, braid tugging and tutting.
Should you read these books?
Yes. Yes you should. But I would say that. If you start to read The Wheel of Time, you need to be in it for the long haul. It can get frustrating at times, but I cannot emphasise this enough; the payoff for sticking with it through all fourteen books is worth it. Sometimes the journey becomes hard going and you may want to give up, but the destination (A Memory of Light) is worth the long build up.