You may remember my announcement that I am going to read the entire Wheel of Time series before the release of book #14 this coming January. Well, I just finished book one, “The Eye of the World” fifteen minutes ago and in my announcement post I had figured I would need to read on average 40 pages a day in order to finish all 13 books in time. It took me 19 days to read 670 pages – which is an average of just over 35 pages a day. Not too bad, but I could do better.
What I find interesting about this first book is that everything about the main characters is laid out. We know who Rand, Perrin and Mat are all destined to be. Egwene is told she has to capacity to be one of the most powerful Aes Sedai ever. The relationship between Nynaeve and Lan is set forth as the tragic thing that it is. It’s all there.
Robert Jordan has created a world with a history and cultures that almost seem like we should know them personally. He has taken myths and legends we are familiar with and turned them around, twisted them a bit and made them something new while still being recognizable to us. The story of “Artur Hawkwing Paendrag” is similar enough to the King Arthur that we can say, “Oh yeah. I get it.” The book is even riddled with one liners that a discerning eye can find, if you pay attention. On page 43, Egwene asks the gleeman to tell the story of “Lenn, and how he flew to the moon in the belly of an eagle made of fire.” Could that be a reference to John Glenn and the Eagle spacecraft that landed on the moon? I know John Glenn never went to the moon, but that’s how Jordan does it – taking bits and pieces and re-forging them into something new.
As in all fantasy stories and epic myths from our past, the hero (we find out at the end it is Rand Al’thor) undertakes a quest against all odds. Strangely, we don’t even know what the quest is until close to the end of the book. When the backwater village of Emond’s Field is attacked by Trollocs, Rand and his cohorts go on the run and are running for most of the book, unaware why the forces of evil want them. The one character who might have a clue, Moraine Sedai, frequently says, “The Dark One wants you. I work against the Dark One.” She even admits at one point that she isn’t even sure what is going on.
The group is separated into three smaller groups and it is at this time that things start to take shape and secrets are kept. Rand wields the One Power for the first time, dangerous for men to do because the Dark One tainted the male half of the true source and continued use guarantees that Rand will eventually go insane. Mat becomes ever more bound to the dagger of Shadar Logoth, an evil almost as vile as the Dark One and he also begins to show a stronger ability to channel the knowledge of the long lost kingdom of Manetheren. Perrin becomes a Wolfbrother, able to talk to wolves and begins to question whether he should live a life of violence or a life of peace. These personal conflicts stays with them throughout the entire series and it is many books later that these conflicts come out in the open.
The book is 670 pages but it goes fast. Jordan has a conversational style that allows fast reading. The pacing is fast as well, moving seemingly from one action scene to the next, but that’s not quite the case. When the group is split, Jordan writes a few chapters for one group, leaves a cliffhanger and then moves to another group. This device gives the illusion of action and fast pacing when in reality, he’s just making us anxious for more – and it works.
“The Wheel of Time” series is far from the best I have ever read. I can name others of better writing and greater substance, “Neveryön” by Samuel R Delany, “Urth of the New Sun” by Gene Wolfe and “The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant” by Stephen R Donaldson, for example. But what keeps me coming back to it is that it’s candy compared to Delany’s, Wolfe’s and Donaldson’s sushi. Who wouldn’t choose Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups over raw fish? Candy is everyday, while sushi is for special occasions.
“The Wheel of Time” is a fun and enjoyable read and I’m going to enjoy my candy while it lasts.
Then, perhaps, I’ll have some sushi.