With the Dune books filling my Sci-fi reading interest, and having finished the Mistborn series, I was looking at options for the next big fantasy world to dive in to. Then Amazon announced their Wheel of Time series would be dropping November 2021, and the r/WOT sub-reddit also began an official read-along. That made it easy to choose Robert Jordan's work which many fans of the genre call classics.
The series itself is long - 14 books, with an apparent "slog" period in the middle. I know it's a large commitment that I am happy to make (I'm a bit of a series completionist), but is it right for you? Read on to find out, as I drop my reviews of The Eye of the World, The Great Hunt and The Dragon Reborn as I complete them!
Alternatively jump ahead to part 2 of this series, why the TV show disappointed me.
Jump to sections below:
#1 The Eye of the World
Read: September 19th, 2021
“The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.”
This was an underwhelming start to the long Wheel of Time series, although it holds promise for successive novels. For every great character moment, there was an equal number of frustrating choices, mostly stemming from an overbearing reliance on established tropes within the Fantasy genre.
The story starts off in Emond's Field of the sleepy Two Rivers, and after some great tonal shifts we primarily follow Rand al'Thor, Mat and Perrin, in addition to Egwene and Nynaeve. This cast grows with gleeman Thom, Aes Sedai Moraine and warrior Lan as the party is pursued by Trollocs and Myrddraal, and we get to explore the North and central part of the world map.
“Remember the flame, lad, and the void.”
Well, a short comparison with Lord of the Rings outlines where most of my similarity frustrations lie: a royal bloodline fallen into disarray has backstory with a guiding wizard fending off riders in black, a 'good' character suffers from many years of corruption by a dark power, Mountains of Dhoom... I understand Jordan said he wanted to place the reader in a familiar environment, but I do feel this was also a note by publishers and I just want to get all the tropes out of the way as I feel the rest of the book was great!
There's a rich world being built throughout the novel, with past rulers and kingdoms mentioned against countless towns and factions including Children of the Light, wolves and Tinkers. This was where the tension was at its greatest, as our characters face unexpected decisions and expose themselves to the magic systems of the world. Otherwise the writing was good but not spectacular but again showing promise, with the conclusion being stronger than the rest of the book.
In spite of my complaints, I appreciate the direction Jordan is taking this and will keenly move on to the second of thirteen books, especially seeing the fandom surrounding the series. If you're an absolute long fiction/ fantasy nut you may enjoy Eye of the World more than me - just don't expect to find out what the title of this book means until 80% of the way through!
#2 The Great Hunt
Read: 12 January 2021
And at the end of every life, as he lay dying, as he drew his final breath, a voice whispered in his ear. I have won again, Lews Therin. Flicker.
Ah... so, this was an improvement on The Eye of the World. Personally, The Great Hunt was very up and down. There were moments where I was hooked on the story, and then stretches where I was wondering how long more I had to read before returning to a point of motion in the story. The book is long, and when you read it in the context of a larger series it isn't that bad - but as a single novel, it doesn't really have an identity of its own.
The plot is a great illustration of this. Having Rand try to escape the Amyrlin Seat's arrival in Fal Dara after the conclusion of the last novel made for a fantastic and tense opening, whilst establishing where our various characters were at. Then when the Horn of Valere was inevitably lost, I was keen to read an exciting hunt like that of the tales mentioned in the first book - after all, this is an event that occurs in every age and has many characters from across the world who want to get involved! Yet it becomes a very small story between Rand and Padan Fain, whose intriguing but sparing glimpses show he has evolved into something more than the conflicted creature of the last book.
Concurrently, Nynaeve and Egwene are taken to Tar Valon where they meet Min and future Queen Elayne as they engage in their training as Accepted and Novice respectively. In a much smaller plot thread, Moraine is researching the prophecies from the Karaethon Cycle. Her newly explored vulnerability and familiar sense of danger is some of the most interesting content! Above all of these was a teasing Prologue featuring the man who calls himself Bors that was all but completely dropped from the events of this book's story.
Whilst the world-building had far more original content than its predecessor, I actually found the new factions and places a lot weaker or less interesting than those of its predecessor. The Eye of the World introduced us to Elyas Machera and the wolves, the Aes Sedai and magic system through Moraine, the dagger and darkness of Shadar Logoth, Lan Mandragon and the Shienarian warriors of Fal Dara, Ogiers and their steddings, Queen Morgase of Andor, two of the Foresaken and the Dark Lord himself in a climactic final battle that branded Rand as the Dragon Reborn. In hindsight, I actually appreciate all the world-building that the first book offered!
"The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.”
The positive stuff is that The Great Hunt does a good job of fleshing out Shienarians as they travel with Rand, Matt and Perrin, with the strongest new content involving portal stones and the massive revelation that the Wheel of Time exists in a multiverse (or at least has multiple different timelines/ parallel worlds)! This was the height of this novel's excitement, and matches with the well-written trials that Nynaeve must undergo to be an Accepted trainee of the White Tower. In fact, that whole secondary plot does a good job of fleshing out the four young female characters. The Saidar/ Saidin magic system is also explored through reluctant Rand, slow Egwene and flash-tempered Nynaeve especially, and some of the Ajah colours are fleshed out.
Unfortunately, everything else pales or is half-filled to be completed in a future book. We enter a stedding, yet after the first group visits not much is done with this concept. A Foresaken appears, but the true outcomes of their frequent interactions with our characters aren't depicted here. Nothing new is done or shown with the wolves and dagger. The Whitecloaks are there for some reason, and get infrequent perspective chapters to keep us updated on their whereabouts. It was interesting to get the return of two minor characters from Eye of the World, but again their appearances ultimately don't account for much. And worst of all, a new antagonistic faction appears with little to no explanation, and then proceed to derail every group's plot points. Whilst some of the tools and their ideology would be fascinating to see, they are introduced and written in such a plain manner that we understand they are evil and that's it. Even the final climactic battle (which many readers enjoyed), I found repetitive and a bit confusing when compared to the first novel. The longer a series goes on, the less patience a reader has in being led blindly through events that can become mundane. It didn't help that this time around I really didn't care for the local people of Toman Head since they aren't really given a voice. The action as well becomes more of a facade than anything - elegant names of sword moves are not further explained, smart at first but then leaving the reader to continually imagine what each movement looks like as fights become more frequent and lengthy.
Despite these criticisms, I will power on ahead - partially because I am intrigued in the acceptance and title of the third book, but also because I'm really hoping for some epic pay-offs - as a reader, you have invested enough time and energy into this series now that the reward should be satisfying!
#3 The Dragon Reborn
Read: 28th February 2022
"Pull yourself together sheepherder," Lan said harshly. "The whole world rides on your shoulders."
I enjoyed 80% of this novel. Definitely another step-up compared to its predecessor but hampered by this series’s long-form storytelling structure.
The Dragon Reborn directly continues from the ending of The Great Hunt, but not in the victorious manner that may have been expected. One thing I have to mention is that Jordan’s writing style and plotting has improved from book to book. After moments in the previous novel where the story seemed stretched, Jordan selects three character perspectives and gives each one a significant length of chapters this time around. In addition, he is much better at developing and articulating these characters’ thoughts. I found myself rooting for Perrin, understanding Egwene and viewing Mat as a fully-realised character, not a one-note figure. The extra length before changing POVs also means I was able to get more invested into each storyline.
As a short summary, Moraine has been keeping the Shienarians and Rand in the mountains as she plots their next move following the epic battle in the West coastal town of Toman Head. Rand is slowly starting to lose his mind because of the Power, and decides to head South for the legendary floating sword of Callandor in the Stone of Tear to decide once and for all if he is truly the Dragon. Not sure how he needs more convincing, but I understand him wanting to take action of his own accord instead of waiting or being directed. Perrin, Moraine and Lan set out in pursuit as we watch how the Wheel creates patterns around its ta’averen. Meanwhile Nynaeve, Egwene and Elayne rush Mat back to the safety of Tar Valon under the guidance of Verin so he can safely remove the parasitic influence of his Shadar Logoth dagger. There the trio get involved as the Amyrlin Seat’s agents in a plot of the Black Ajah’s, with dangers in the physical and dream worlds alike. Throughout, everything remains centered around the book’s title, The Dragon Reborn, which assists even more in the overall story’s cohesion.
"A pattern that is all one color is no pattern. For the Pattern of an Age, good and ill are the warp and the woof.”
The worldbuilding was very well done, particularly due to that tighter focus from the aforementioned perspectives and storylines. Jordan continues to provide descriptions to the names on his map, with characters both carving new paths and revisiting previous ones. This was done to a healthy extent, with enough time given to each place for it to become a distinct location. Readers are also given a chance to see how established locations (Tar Valon, Camelyn) are changing under growing threats in the series.The Aiel initially frustrated me as it is basically Jordan recreating the Fremen from Frank Herbert’s Dune (see reviews here) in the world of Wheel of Time. However there was some development and I felt a bit more attached to these characters than previous faction introductions, which I feel can be attributed to the fact that we see them in conflicts and they bring a new sense of combat to the books. There is one standout new character introduced, and a familiar one is given much more page-time than book 2. Both of their respective relationships added a lot of humanity to the third entry in this series. This was in the face of some of our existing characters becoming a bit harsher than I expected, but that directness reflects a maturity in our Emond Field characters and the series.
My biggest gripe with The Dragon Reborn was that after all this tight plotting, as you approach the conclusion new ideas and characters are introduced seemingly from nowhere. Whilst we understand that they are dangerous, they pale in comparison to the individuals and factions established earlier in the novel. This could be forgiven, if we as readers feel a sense of conclusion to this novel. Even Rand’s frustrations echoed my own, as a mentor figure clearly spells out that this is ‘only the beginning’ of a long conflict. Well, I guess that’s why there are 13 books in the Wheel of Time series…
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Continue this series with part 2, why the TV series disappointed me.
If you're just interested in the books, jump ahead to part 3, books 4 to 6 (The Shadow Rising, The Fires of Heaven, Lord of Chaos).
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