*Regardless of what I thought about this book, it evidently made enough of an impression for this review to stretch on for much longer than it needed to. Much like the book itself. Don’t forget to read pt 2!
Before we get started, know that I love fantasy. Whilst Sturgeon’s law dictates that 90% of everything is bad, it often feels more apparent in fantasy writing. I sometimes wish I was writing in the 80s because they’d publish anything back then. I get the impression a lot of fantasy writers only ever read fantasy, and this shows. I often wonder if my love for fantasy would be so strong if I was born a woman. On the whole, the only characters I’d have to try to relate to are prostitutes who spend most of the time naked, damsel in distress princesses, nagging shrews or ‘bad-ass’ sexy warriors complete with boob armour.
For context, I have worked as an editor in various capacities (not for fantasy novels, alas) and that will probably influence this post somewhat. Anyway, a friend recently recommended Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series to me. They said it was good. They said I would enjoy it. In conclusion, we are no longer friends.
The Eye of the World
Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time franchise is a high fantasy epic that is so successful he managed to keep publishing books after he died. This franchise, influenced by Eastern mythologies and philosophies, have sold over 80 million copies world-wide and spawned games, graphic novels and there is even a television series in the works. There are fifteen books. Though I think one is a prequel, so you can forget about that one.
It starts with The Eye of the World, a 782-page door stopper.
The first sign that The Eye of the World and I weren’t going to get along came with the blurb, which ended: “What was, what will be and what is, may yet fall under the shadow.” Firstly, everyone knows it goes, past, present then future. Secondly, this immediately made me think, ‘I bet there’s a dark lord.’ Sure enough, the main threat is known as The Dark One. Whilst lacking a peerage, it still counts.
The second sign came with the opening paragraph:
First of all, the opening sentence is dangerously close to, if not definitely, a comma splice. Swapping groaned for groaning might help there. There’s a clarity issue there too, is it the rumbling earth that’s groaning or the shaking palace? Minor details I know, and perhaps Jordan has deliberately tried to build a jarring sense of confusion.
The second sentence is in desperate need of commas. I would say that, as I am a comma whore, but just look at it! Here’s how I would edit that sentence: ‘Bars of sunlight, cast through rents in the walls, made motes of dust glitter in the air.’ See how that flows better? If you say no, you are being deliberately argumentative, and I won’t stand for such nonsense. Leave. Leave now.
You might think that this is all very anal and doesn’t matter, and you may be right. But I refuse to live in that world. Teachers spent time teaching me grammar. I used up my limited mental energy learning it. I was told, if I wanted to be a writer, I would need to learn this shit. If it turns out none of it matters, then all is lost.
The rest, as is often the case with high fantasy, is too bloated. There is never any need for anyone to write ‘in odd counterpoint.’
The third sign that I would struggle with this book is…
I love LOTR
The Eye of the World starts with protagonist Rand Al’Thor and his father Tam transporting some goods to the local village in preparation for the Bel Tine festival. At risk of going off on a tangent (this will happen a lot), these goods are cider and apple brandy, leading me to assume they owned an orchard and/or were brewers of some description. However, they talk about farming a lot and are frequently called shepherds, despite doing very little shepherding. Minor point, but I’m all about that nonsense.
On the way, Rand spots a dark, hooded figure atop a black horse. This ominous cloaked being makes him feel very uneasy. This figure is a Nazgul – wait my bad… this figure is a Myrddraal (pronounced MURD-Drall). The more unnecessary letters you have in this world, the scarier you are. Myrddraal, go by many other names, but are twisted servants of Sauron – I mean the Dark One.
Rand reaches the village and meets up with his friends Mat and Perrin. They too have seen the Myrddraal. Moiraine, a beautiful Aes Sedai (wizard), overhears them and gives them a coin each. It turns out they are all marked by the Dark One and one of them is probably the Dragon Reborn. It was very convenient that they all happened to be from the same village; it saves a lot of time. At this point, Rand’s love interest Egwene turns up. She is beautiful and – in terms of character – she’s Rand’s love interest. She is studying under the village’s young healer (Wisdom) Nynaeve, who is beautiful. The more astute among you may have noticed a pattern emerging.
Anyway, just as Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday – I mean Bel Tine – is about to kick off, Trollocs arrive and shit hits the fan. Tam gives Rand a fancy sword, is wounded and becomes delirious. In this state he starts muttering important plot points, as those who catch a fever are wont to do. Most importantly, he reveals that Rand is not his son and was in fact born on a battlefield far away – he’s the Dragon Reborn.
So, all three boys must go on an adventure with Moiraine and her warrior companion Lan. So far, so derivative. Egwene decides she’s going too… because why not? It turns out she’s ‘part of the Pattern’ and can touch the True Source. The Gleeman (bard) Thom Merrilyn decides he’s going too, and it’s revealed that he’s ‘part of the Pattern’. Later, Nynaeve catches up to them and it is suggested she can touch the True Source and (say it with me now) is ‘part of the Pattern’.
Which brings me onto…
The Wheel Weaves as the Wheel Wills
Seeing as how the whole series is largely about history forever repeating itself and important characters being reborn time and again, it would seem a touch ignorant to lament the use of fate or destiny. It would be like complaining about the religious connotations of the Bible. But that’s precisely what I’m going to do.
In my opinion, which is the right one, fate is a boring and lazy narrative device. Stories, particularly fantasy stories, are propelled primarily by the choices each character makes and the impact this has on the events and relationships. When thrust into tumultuous times, it’s interesting to see the people the characters choose to be. If they are simply following the ‘pattern’ weaved by ‘the Wheel of Time’, then what’s the point? You may as well be watching a computer program follow its code. Once in a while you might get an interesting glitch, but that’s only because the coder fucked up, not because the program got bored and decided to go against its master’s wishes. And yes, I did stretch that metaphor a bit, but not nearly as much as the Wheel of Time metaphor is stretched.
This leads me to conclude that it isn’t a metaphor but a literal thing. The Wheel of Time weaves the Pattern of Ages. The repeating events of history. There are Ta’veren, specific people around whom the Wheel weaves. These people can change the pattern. But in doing so, the Wheel simply weaves that into the Pattern… or something.
It’s all much of a nonsense. With fate comes the question: why bother doing anything? Just let fate sort it out. Others will argue that it’s in doing things that executes the orders of fate, to which I would argue, then is fate not just nonsense?
Characters can believe in fate. It can make for an interesting dynamic. The way they justify events can be interesting too. But the way characters go on in this book over and over with ‘part of the pattern’, ‘the Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills’ it becomes so damned tedious. Much like it does in the Netflix The Witcher series. Even Game of Thrones, which was very much about choice, ended up diving head first into determinism with the Hodor reveal.
Hodor was Hodor before Bran was born. And yet it’s Bran’s warging through time whilst controlling him that messed his brain up. Therefore, because Hodor was hodoring before Bran made him into Hodor (in the past), Bran had to get paralysed, Ned had to die, Bran had to become the Three-Eyed Raven… *sigh.
The only way any of it can be saved is with some interesting characters…
Rand? More like Bland!
*Pause for laughs*
Credit where credit is due, there are a number of female characters in this book and there’s not a single bare boob to be read. There certainly isn’t a gratuitous blowjob scene (looking at you George). The women also look as though they will have quite an impact on the plot overall. Alas, very few have that much depth.
Of the three boys: Rand, Mat and Perrin, only Mat has any semblance of personality. That personality largely comes down to the fact that he laughs a lot. Apart from when he doesn’t due to the corrupting influence of the One Ring – I mean a dagger he stole from Shadar Logoth that is tainted with the malignant spirit of Mashadar…
They are otherwise interchangeable. Rand, I suppose, can be excused in being the protagonist (in my opinion). In being stuck to the back of his head for much of the journey, his clueless blandness works to provide the reader a conduit into the world. This is undone somewhat by the fact that we’re obviously supposed to feel things for him, what with his dad not being his dad and him being the Dragon Reborn.
Moiraine exists to dump exposition. Lan is there to swing a sword. Egwene is there to be loved by Rand. If pressed, I’d say my favourite character is Nynaeve, if only for the fact that she seems to have some agency beyond being swept up by the plot. She tracks the group down and travels with them out of some desire to see her villagers safe. Unfortunately, she has both feet planted in the shrew garden of character tropes.
Occasionally, we come close to some endearing characterisation in that Rand often wishes he was as good as Perrin when it comes to talking to the ladies. In some sweet irony, we see that Perrin often wishes he was as good as Rand when it comes to talking to women. Though this comes up so often, I think Jordan thought it was a lot funnier than it is.
I said before about how I feel one of the most important aspects of a fantasy novel is choice. In the Eye of the World, the choices made by the characters are largely stupid. Some would defend the villagers’ choices by zeroing in on their ignorance and naivety. I would say that those two things are precisely why they wouldn’t make these stupid decisions.
One moment that made me tut out loud (tut I say!) immediately follows a battle of sorts. The boys get their first taste of proper action, narrowly escaping from armies of Trollocs led by several Myrddraal. The only way they escape is by taking shelter in the ruins of an ancient city called Shadar Logoth. Moiraine informs them that even the forces of evil fear the city.
The battle and the fact that THE FORCES OF EVIL FEAR THE CITY, would make anyone a little cautious. However, here’s how the scene plays out. I’m paraphrasing of course:
Just… why, why would you do that? Another instant occurs when they reach the city of Baerlon. They are all told not to mention Moiraine’s name or that she is an Aes Sedai, because there are some religious zealots on town and there could be darkfriends everywhere. A few pages later Rand sees someone he recognises who is clearly acting insane, and so he immediately uses Moiraine’s name and mentions the term Aes Sedai for good measure. Moments later they’re attacked and the inn they’re staying at is burnt down.
The only possible explanation I can offer for this (other than plot needs to happen) is that no one trusts an Aes Sedai. Which leads me onto…
Which leads me onto PT II. Which really loses the plot.