Book One of the Wheel of Time
By Robert Jordan
“The Wheel of Time turns, and the Age that has already been comes around again. The Dark One is restless, and his prison walls are weakening. He has eyes on domination, and he knows the tools he needs, and how to get them. Even as he stirs, the wisps of his influence leak out.
Unsuspecting Rand lives in a quiet corner of the world. It has been a hard winter, but finally spring has arrived. The celebrations will be wild, until that is, the village is attacked. Rand was a target.
Rand and his friends are whipped away by a passing magician. They seek the safety of a mystical city. But the wisps are on their trail, and it becomes a race for their life. The Wheel of Time still turns, and the chance is running out. The Eye of the World is waiting.”
Well that was epic. I’d obviously heard of the Robert Jordan classic, but for some reason I’d never got around to reading it. Maybe it was the daunting size of the thing (because it certainly is daunting) or maybe there was no reason at all; I’m not sure. But I got stuck in this year, and boy am I glad I did.
Now, when I first started reading this book, my first thought was ‘Tolkien’. It just has that feel about it, the same sensation of being in that classic world. It was comforting in many ways, but also concerning – Tolkien is a high bar! So, what is it that makes this comparison so natural? These are my top three comparisons:
- The predicament is decidedly LotR, with a Dark One who was believed to be ‘absent’, and wizards roaming around with a distinct aura about them;
- The story follows three friends as they are dragged off on an adventure against the Dark One by one of these wandering magicians; and
- The writing has a slightly distant quality about it, which is quite akin to the LotR (most modern novels seem to adopt a much closer style).
So, on that basis, if you liked LotR, then… And who doesn’t like LotR? Easiest review ever.
But hang on a minute! Although calling this a bit ‘similar’ to Tolkien is hardly a criticism, it is absolutely its own novel with its own qualities and a big slug of individualism. This is a fantasy classic in its own right, so let’s get down to business.
The world of Robert Jordan is huge, detailed and complex – a masterpiece. The history is extensive, but the current politics are well considered too. There is actually a sense of a far more coherent world, something that is tangible when compared to our own world (or at least our history), but with fantasy richness woven expertly in. It’s very well done.
And related to this, this novel actually felt distinctly more adult-focussed. It is targeted at a more ‘worldly-wise’ readership, and this is evidenced by the finer political barbs woven in, but also by the nature of the ‘darkness’ and the more adolescent inclinations of our protagonists. It’s certainly not in the same arena as another rather successful fantasy franchise, but it actually seems to sit in a middle ground, which makes it stand out on its own. Great!
And there certainly seems to be enough depth here to engage for the long-term. Our protagonists are only just discovering what’s in store for them, and exciting times lay ahead. There is also a lot of world still lying undiscovered, and indeed a lot of history. Will it be enough to fill fourteen heavy volumes? I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to finding out.
And weaving all of this complexity and depth together is the Wheel of Time – and what a fabulous concept that is. Of course, the idea of threads and (by extension) destinies is hardly ‘unique’, but I really like the way that it is done here – I have an image of a great water-wheel weaving away at the heart of the planet. It also makes for an intriguing plot-driver, and I look forward to seeing how the Wheel struts its stuff.
So, was there anything that I was less keen in? Perhaps a few things.
This surprised me, but I found the writing style a touch too distant. I don’t think of myself as someone who needs close POV in a novel, but coming back to something with this slightly more traditional style did hit me somewhat. I found myself skipping the text in places, my mind wandering, and the sense of ‘description’ was a bit heavy for personal taste. This quality was most noticeable early on, but once invested it fades away – until you think back on it that is. It’s certainly not a criticism – this was published in the early ‘90s – but a note for the modern reader nonetheless.
And then there are the dreams. I didn’t realise how annoying dreams could be, but apparently they are. I understand that this is fantasy and they are kind of essential to the plot, but I found myself sighing when we dipped into one. I wonder whether the dreams will fade as the series continues. Hopefully.
The glossary! Goodness. I didn’t even reference it. I certainly don’t begrudge it – it fits with style and age of the novel – but I do think it’s actually unnecessary given that I didn’t even look at it!
And finally (in both senses of the word) the ending had a touch of 2001: A Space Odyssey about it – all a bit sudden and a touch abstract. Not unexpected perhaps, and certainly within the rules that have been laid down, but it is a bit of a leap. Having said that, it does set up the series nicely.
So, there we have it. A classic, and it is a classic. Another lengthy series I can add to my reading list – I’m licking my lips already!