The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, an Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.
Based on people’s reactions to the first book of The Wheel of Time, I was expecting to either hate The Eye of The World, or love it. To my surprise, neither happened.
Some things were done quite well. The world building for instance. It’s a huge and complicated world – enough to draw me in, yet not so much that I despair of ever understanding what’s going on (looking at you, Malazan). Robert Jordan has a real gift for writing too. His descriptions are incredibly vivid, his prose enchanting. The best example is the opening paragraph of the first chapter:
The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.
Now, I’m no big connoisseur of fine prose, but this just struck me as remarkably beautiful. So when there are epic scenes in the book, they are epic as hell. Both the prologue and the climax feel really awesome.
Another plus are the characters. They’re all distinct with their own quirks and flaws and mindsets, and with a couple of exceptions, avoid falling into stereotypes. You sometimes laugh at them, sometimes grimace at their stupidity, often feel their bewilderment and unease at being thrust from the simple life they know to one of being chased by dark forces and getting tangled in nets and intrigues and prophecies. Their banter feels completely real.
For me, good characters are when I have some emotion towards them – be it positive or negative. And this book nailed that. I totally loved Moiraine and Perrin and Thom the gleeman, while Nynaeve really got on my nerves. She’s always, always getting pissed off about something or the other, especially at Moiraine, even when it is nobody’s fault. I mean, goddamnit Nynaeve, can’t you see Moiraine’s only trying to help! Though on calmer thought, Nynaeve is also a really good person in that she is doing her utmost to protect the kids from her village from the big bad world. See, this is what I meant by good characters – you can kind of see why she is the way she is, even though you don’t like her.
But now for the cons. There’re two big ones: clichéd and too long.
The entire opening could just as well be reduced to one sentence, “Mat, Rand, Perrin and Egwene are teen villagers whose homes were attacked by the forces of the Dark Lord™, and they are off on an adventure with Moiraine the mage and Lan her super serious bodyguard.” Because it uses perhaps the single most overused opening in fantasy, ever.
To say that the book borrows from LoTR would be a huge understatement. In one form or the other, you will see Orcs, Ringwraiths, Mines of Moria, Gandalf, The Shire, Sauron, Gollum, Aragorn and more.
And even apart from that, the book is just chock full of fantasy clichés. Put the two together, and the plot is really predictable. There were almost no big surprises, apart from one memorable moment when Rand (trying to keep a low profile), fell across a wall and found himself face to face with the princess of Andor. My favorite scene, that was.
There is some justification though. For one thing, it’s old. Like, twenty-five years old. It was written at a time when the genre was just starting to move beyond LoTR. So things that were original, or at least fresh at the time, have been used and reused so much that they now feel dated. For example, you’re not supposed to name the Dark One, aka Shai’tan, but call him by names like Dark One, or Father of Lies, or Shepherd of The Night etc. Anyone who’s read Harry Potter will immediately realize this is ripping off You Know Who a.k.a Voldemort. Except that Eye of The World was published before Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone. Suffice to say that the book hasn’t aged well.
Also, I have been repeatedly assured by fans that the similarity to LoTR in the book was quite intentional and that the later books do their own thing. How well this works out I have yet to see.
The other big flaw is that the book is too damn long. You know how the journey in The Fellowship of The Ring felt really long. Well, this was like that, except it took twice as long in The Eye of The World. There are repeated cycles of ambush-run-escape that get kinda tiring after the first few. And to make matters worse, at one point, the party is split into three groups, and now we have to follow the tortuous progress of each group as they take their sweet time getting back together and getting the plot moving. I started to have déjà vu.
Then there’s the aforementioned descriptions. They are good in themselves, but Jordan has the habit of putting them everywhere. This means that they often totally wrecked the tension as we paused a nightmare to describe in details the furniture. All said and done, this 800 page book could easily have been 600 page long and be none the worse for it.
tl;dr: Excellent writing and characters, complex and rich world and lore, but far too long and feels dated.
I would, at this point, ordinarily taking a long hard look at whether I want to continue with a series, but this WoT, and it’s legions of fans and admirers have earned it the right for more chances. Off we are to The Great Hunt.