Eye of the World: Wheel of Time book 1

A review by Nalini Haynes

The Eye of the World is the first of 14 books in the Wheel of Time series started by Robert Jordan and completed by Brandon Sanderson after Jordan’s tragic death, using Jordan’s notes and final chapter.  This series is so popular it has its own wiki.

The publisher’s blurb:

Life in Emond’s Field has been pretty boring for Rand Al’Thor and his friends until a strange young woman arrives in their village. Moraine is an Aes Sedai, a magician with the ability to wield the One Power, and she brings warnings of a terrible evil awakening in the world. That very night, the village is attacked by bloodthirsty Trollocs – a fearsome tribe of beast-men thought to be no more than myth. As Emond’s Field burns, Moraine and her warrior-guardian help Rand and his companions to escape. But it is only the beginning of their troubles. For Moraine believes Rand Al’Thor is the Dragon Reborn, and that he is fated to unite the world against the rising darkness and lead the fight against a being so powerful and evil it is known simply as the Dark One.

The prologue sets up the idea of the Chinese Wheel of Time so well I could hear the intro for Monkey as it concluded.  Not the bit where he teased the gods and everyone and some fun, but the bit where eons wheeled and passed while the four worlds formed again and yet again.

There are many similarities to Lord of the Rings; I’d have to assume that Tolkein was one of Robert Jordan’s heroes and mentors in absentia.  This is not a bad thing as the two stories are very different in plot, characters, timelines and feel; it’s just that I kept getting a LotR vibe that was almost like deja vu.  Some of this may simply have been resulted from both authors using Jungian archetypes in their writing, which, coupled with good writing, is a fairly sure key to successful novel-writing (for varying definitions of ‘success’: see Tom Dickens’ interview).  Some examples:

In the beginning there were three apparently ordinary Hobbits/humans, Rand, Mat and Perrin, from a small village out in the middle of nowhere who were chased out of their ordinary lives into a great adventure.  One of these was Pippin/Mat, whose mischievous pranking nature got him and his friends into lots of trouble.  Gandalf had a sex change (Yay!) and turned into Moiraine, who was both wise wizard and benevolent parental figure who classically sends the young on their journey.  Lan is a Warder whose likeness to Strider the Ranger leapt off the page although his role is to protect Moiraine.  A couple of young women – Egwene and Nynaeve – join this party – again, yay! – who don’t seem to fit Tolkein’s story at all.

Egwene serves as love interest for Rand although this relationship is a bit mixed, lacking much actual romance and more ‘will we, won’t we’ distraction for both.  Generally I liked  Egwene as she has strength of character while also coming of age as much as the young men.  After the ‘Breaking of the Fellowship’, Egwene ends up with Perrin, largely leaving leadership to Perrin and leaning on him.  This was rather disappointing; I would have been happy for a bit of a tug of war or a platonic partnership of equals, but not Perrin feeling the responsibility of leadership while Egwene looks to Perrin for care and guidance.

More events along the way had parallels with LotR although Jordan clearly wasn’t following Tolkein’s script.  Examples of parallels were Pippin’s temptation with the Eye contrasting with Mat and the treasure, using the least desired route for a journey that was underground, ‘You shall not pass!’ (although I don’t think Moiraine actually said the words, it was more in actions and consequences) and several more.  The important point is that the events are very different as well as in different sequences with characters who talked a lot more.  The feel of this novel was more like The Hobbit in style, although just as epic as LotR in scope.

Although the Eye of the World read as an epic journey, Jordan retained my interest by focusing on events of interest and suspense while avoiding a common failing of many authors: ‘look at the world I’ve so lovingly developed.  See this bit.  And This bit.  AND THIS.’  While the countryside and its inhabitants change, they remain the background for the focus of the story rather than the setting becoming the lead character, lulling readers to sleep.  Eh hem.  Stepping down off soap-box now.

Breaking the group apart early helped retain interest as time could pass while following different characters, thus those whose journey was tedious plodded on outside the focus of attention.

There were a few editing flaws in that, for example, Mat and Rand were given scarves by a farmer twice.  There were a few minor hiccups but more distracting were the typos in the ebook version.  In my opinion an ebook edition published three years ago has no excuse for typos: it should have been corrected and updated.  Most of those errors should have been picked up in spell-check too: some were simple typos and some words were split in two with a space in the middle.  To be fair, if I was grading the novel on typos alone, for the size of the book it probably would still get a B (in an A, B, C, D, E, F system).  Due to the size of the book it’s probably better carrying the kindle version than the paper version if you’re the kind of person who reads while commuting or travelling; doubly so if you’ve purchased a collectible.

The Wheel of Time part one was first published in 1990.  Ground-breaking for its era, it is epic in its scope with a following that spans at least two generations.  It’s the kind of series that appeals to fans of Lord of the Rings but also to a younger generation who may not enjoy Tolkein’s narrative style.  My son started to read LotR at my urging when he was in middle school but he gave it up in disgust because he disliked the style.  In contrast he’d enjoy the Wheel of Time if he took the time to read it, because the prose has a more active focus with more dialogue and possibly (no death threats, thanks) more character-driven than LotR.  At 14 doorstopper reads, this series is for lovers of the truly epic fantasy who enjoy more magic than in the early instalments of Game of Thrones.

For those who have been holding off for the series to be complete, START READING NOW.  The final book in the series, A Memory of Light, will be for sale on 8 January 2013.

For those not in the know: Robert Jordan died of cancer a few years ago but he left a legacy enabling completion of the series according to his wishes.  Jordan even wrote the final chapter of the final book before he passed away.  Brandon Sanderson was selected to complete Jordan’s life work and has done so with loving care and trepidation.  To hear a little of his relationship with the Wheel of Time, listen to Brandon’s interview here.

Feel free to jump in the comments below, point out aspects I’ve missed (many), and discuss the Wheel of Time compared with other fantasy novels/series.  One of the reasons this review is so short is that I’ve already started on book 2.  I have somewhere else to be…