Epic, Deep, and Meandering
I have finally read the first novel in the Wheel of Time epic, The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan. Here are my thoughts.
Title: The Eye of the World
Author: Robert Jordan
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: The Wheel of Time
First Published: 1990
[This review contains minor spoilers – sections are marked]
Rand, Matt, Perrin, and Egwene grew up in the country village of Emond’s Field. It’s a quiet life filled with ordinary concerns: bringing in the harvest, going off hunting, asking someone to the dance, or avoiding the ire of the young Village Wisdom, Nynaeve. This peaceful existence is shattered one day when an Aes Sedai (a member of the female order of mages – those that can touch the One Power) and her warder arrive in the village. The Aes Sedai, Moiraine, is a thing of wonders for the villagers – a figure from a fairy-tale.
Shortly after she arrives, however, other figures of legend attack the village – Trollocs, twisted forms of man and beast, servants of the Dark One. This attack confirms what the Aes Sedai suspected: The Dark One is after one of the boys – Rand, Matt, or Perrin. They must travel to lands far afield to the Eye of the World – the final source of the “male” side of the One Power. There they will face the Dark One and learn the truth.
I love epic fantasy! I adore stories with rich lore and a world with a heartbeat. You certainly get this in Robert Jordan’s first installment of The Wheel of Time. But – there’s a big but – you have to work for it. The book is 782 pages long – at least 600 of those is setup.
Don’t get me wrong, the writing is excellent and most of the setup pays off in some way, but there were large meandering sections where I found myself questioning the significance of events and resisting the temptation to skip to the next chapter (luckily for you, I did not).
As a writer, you must ensure that every scene does one (or both) of two things: build the character or advance the plot. The Eye of the World is littered with sections that do neither or do them in such minute ways that they seem insignificant.
Be that as it may, the ending is great! The ending is why you should read this novel. It certainly makes me want to read the next installment in The Wheel of Time series. It just takes a lot of investment.
The grindingly slow pace of the novel can be a big turn off. I’ve picked this book up several times, and only through sheer stubbornness did I finish it this time. The audiobook version of the novel comes highly recommended as it forges through the plodding parts.
There are also many characters, place names, and historical events to keep track of as you putter along. This is to be expected from a fantasy of this nature, but I know that this can be a turnoff to some.
Potentially Offensive Content
Not much to say here, as the narrative errs on the side of Tolkien rather than Martin (if you know what I mean). Standard fantasy violence occurs during the fight sequences, which – I must add – are excellently paced and presented.
A lot of work went into this novel. While the broad strokes of it feel like The Lord of the Rings, the worldbuilding is unique. One becomes aware of a living, breathing world with a rich history and a complex magic system. There are many secrets to pull apart and hidden agendas to guess at.
Unlike other classics from this genre, Jordan positions female characters in a prominent position in the world. Women are not damsels in distress or mere sex objects, they are Wisdoms and Wizards and political leaders. This social commentary – if you will – in the realm of fantasy is what I enjoyed most. This was something I expected from Le Guin or Atwood or Pratchett (more on that later).
As mentioned before, the ending is fantastic. I expected an unsatisfying “to be continued…”, but instead the potential of Rand is put into action and we see him take on the Dark One. The Dragon is Reborn!
[End of Mild Spoiler]
Final Score: 7/10
Excerpt from the sample chapter on the Orbit Books website.
The rider’s cloak covered him to his boot tops, the cowl tugged well forward so no part of him showed. Vaguely Rand thought there was something odd about the horseman, but it was the shadowed opening of the hood that fascinated him. He could see only the vaguest outlines of a face, but he had the feeling he was looking right into the rider’s eyes. And he could not look away. Queasiness settled in his stomach. There was only shadow to see in the hood, but he felt hatred as sharply as if he could see a snarling face, hatred for everything that lived. Hatred for him most of all, for him above all things.
Abruptly a stone caught his heel and he stumbled, breaking his eyes away from the dark horseman. His bow dropped to the road, and only an outthrust hand grabbing Bela’s harness saved him from falling flat on his back. With a startled snort the mare stopped, twisting her head to see what had caught her.
Tam frowned over Bela’s back at him. “Are you all right, lad?”
Have you read The Eye of the World? Have you read the whole series? Let me know what you think in the comments below.