It was with some trepidation that I picked up Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World. Not that it hadn’t come with great reviews from friends. The copy I read was borrowed from a coworker after he fervently recommended that I read it. I was nervous because of those recommendations. Nervous that I might be let down. And, oh yeah, there was also the fact that this was book one in a fourteen book series. Yeah. Fourteen books. Now, I’ve survived other long series like King’s DarkTower (well most of them anyway), the eleven books in the Ender’s Game/Bean series, Harry Potter’s seven book adventure, all (most) of the Dune’s… So I knew I could (most likely) invest myself in something and make it to the end of a long, epic story. But then again, this was fourteen books! …I took a deep breathe, told those other books I had waiting on the shelf ‘goodbye, I’ll be back one-day’, and dived into Jordan’s lively world.
The Wheel of Time is a fantasy series by Robert Jordan, following the adventures of Rand al’Thor, Matrim Cauthon and Perrin Aybara (amongst countless others). The first book, The Eye of the World, introduces us to our three main protagonists, as well as to this rich and extremely well thought-out land they get to adventure in. It has a very comfortable and recognizable fantasy feel to it, one that calls back to Tolkein and brushes broad strokes of familiar fantasy themes and character archetypes: the boy who is more than what he seems, the wise guide, and quiet warrior, and rouge, the brute, the quiet but powerful young woman and her angry but hurting counterpart. The mystic order pulling strings behind the scenes.
As familiar though as the story might be, there remains so much that is fresh and exciting about the story and how Jordan writes. I tend to pay close attention to writing styles when I read, despite how engrossed in the plot I might get, trying to pick out why what I’m reading works or why it doesn’t. The art and skill of good writing is such an amazing thing. And while at times the narrative might seem repetitive, or slowed, it’s in that deliberate pacing where Jordan creates the tension and the bonding that occurs between reader and character. Jordan’s introduction of his main characters is done so naturally and smoothly, that by the time danger arrives, and their destinies begin to unfold, you are genuinely invested in the lives of these young men (and two very strong female protagonist as well) as they begin what I can only imagine is an epic journey through time. Fourteen books!
The book worked for me on major two levels. On the surface, the action was well written and dramatic. And sudden! It was normal to have our characters hanging in an inn one minute, then running for their lives from a Darkfriend the next. That worked well with that deliberate pacing and kept the story moving; the action relevant and not just there as filler. The second level was the play between characters and Jordan’s slow unfolding of this new fantasy setting, where magic takes its own form and a whole new mythology is created. Jordan, while drawing on so many familiar inspirations, takes the common and makes it uncommon, and thereby his own. From Trollocs, the Orc-like grunt soldiers of the Dark One; to Warders, the quiet and deadly warrior-servants of the mystical Aes Sedaii (that mystic order I mention above). The whole book feels it might be something you’ve read before, while being new and refreshing at the same time.
I went into this book expecting to be thrilled, with high expectations well above anything I should have expected. I wasn’t ‘WOWed’ in any way, but I was left very much satisfied, and just as eager to keep reading to find out what happens to Rand and the bunch.
And while I may have to put some other books aside for the time being, though I already broke my pledge to read one “normal” book between every Wheel of Time book just to keep things fresh, I’m looking forward to taking my own journey along with those characters. Lets see how far down fourteen I can make it.