Review: Wheel of Time Books 1-3

The epic in both length and content Wheel of Time series concluded recently under the eye of Brandon Sanderson.   Brandon Sanderson has shown glimpses of promise as a writer in his Mistborn trilogy so I hope the transition after Robert Jordan’s death will not impact the story for the worse. I long ago promised to give this series another shot once it was finished and so here I am.

Book 1 Eye of the World – This is the book I started long ago and never finished.  It’s about the most cliche fantasy epic start that you can imagine.  Young boys from obscure farm area must leave home to battle the Dark One as one may be the reborn savior according to ancient prophecies.  There is even a a know-it-all wizard type, Moiraine, to shepherd them along and some kind of monstrous grunt of the Dark One with the familiar name Trolloc.

It also includes a lot of wilderness trekking, which is not my favorite fantasy trope.  To Jordan’s credit, it is not insufferable but this book is as long as two volume of Lord of the Rings and the entirety is essentially getting somewhere and the final destination changes in the final pages of the book.

I can’t say I enjoyed this book greatly, the most exciting parts were trying to puzzle out from prophecies and such what was going to happen in future books.  Jordan appears to have planned out his series in some detail from the beginning, though I hear his writing is less direct later on.

Not much to say here except that the ending seem fairly rushed coming on the heels of 700  pages of travelling.  The eponymous plot device is barely mentioned until the very end and its importance is only hastily examined once they arrive.  Also the last battle is confusing and less epic than it should have been, in my opinion.

 

Book 2 The Great Hunt – I was kind of disappointed with this book as it really seemed to be driving toward a riveting conclusion but it never fully crescendos.  In this one our heroes (Rand, Perrin and Mat) have recovered the legendary Horn of Valere at the end of the last book and in time honored fantasy tradition whine about being thrust into the role of heroes.  For once I want to see a character that jumps eagerly into the role of prophesied savior rather than this moping about that seems to dominate fantasy heroes.

Anyways the Horn of Valere is stolen by a man named Padan Fain who is a childhood acquaintance of the heroes now revealed to be a Darkfriend.  He wants Rand (believed to be the Dragon Reborn of the prophesies) to follow him and threaten his home if he dos not come.  Fain also stole a dagger, an evil artifact bonded to Mat that he will die without, so all the boys have some reason to follow Fain.  Meanwhile, the female characters head to Tar Valon, home of the female wizards of the setting.

The boys do some more wilderness trekking as they follow Fain to Falme.  The women learn a bit as Aes Sedai before being tricked into running off to try to save Rand.  Instead they are captured by the Seanchan, the progeny of the armies of an ancient king sent across the ocean.  Some events on the other continent cause the Seanchan to distrust channelers, magic users, such that they leash them with a magical artifact that allows them to bend the channeler to their purpose.

My disappointment with this book stems from the unexciting resolution of the story.  Jordan has so many events and people converging at once on Falme and he does very little with them.  Egwene, Elayne and Nynaeve, three young Aes Sedai in training, are there; the former captured and the latter trying to free her.  Whitecloaks, a religious cult distrustful of all magic, has a contingent in the area scouting out the Seanchan.  The boys are headed there to find Fain and the Horn and Matt’s dagger.  Fain is ingratiating himself with the Seanchan.  The motives of the Seanchan still seem a bit nebulous, but their presence is certainly fearsome with a large fleet, monsters under their control and channelers at their call.

Yes, Jordan was a little heavy handed in contriving this confluence of events, but we can forgive him if it turns out well.  But it doesn’t.  Instead we have the Whitecloaks engaging in a suicidal charge which causes Matt to blow the Horn.  Ok so we get some dead heroes to fight, awesome right?  No, because that is ignored in favor of Rand and the Dark One fighting, again.  Jordan doesn’t write this combat well and the final move was foreshadowed at the very beginning of the book.  Also, this turns out to abort Nynaeve and Elayne’s rescue attempt.  Fain is nowhere to be seen and the Seanchan seem rather easily swept aside.

Jim Butcher is a master of resolving these events where so many things are arrayed against out heroes that they can’t possibly triumph and yet they do.   It is like the formula for every Dresden book.  Jordan is not as skilled or simply doesn’t care.  Both books so far have had unfulfilling denouements as if he is more interested in everything but the plot.

 

Book 3 The Dragon Reborn – Here is the shortest book so far and the most quickly paced.  I also enjoy it because it has so few Rand chapters.  Up to this point, Rand is a pretty dull hero cut from the same cloth as so many fantasy heroes before him.  Matt’s chapters are mostly a pleasure as he has been mostly neglected while under the influence of the dagger. He also has an insanely cool power with his incredible luck.  I loved the scene where he schools the two princes with a quarterstaff.  Perrin gets a lot of time as well, but he seems a mopey sort most of the time and his sequence unfortunately introduces Faile, yet another annoying female character.

After the last book Rand, Moiraine and Perrin are chilling in the woods waiting for… something.  Rand escapes toward Tear to fulfill some prophecy and Moiraine and Perrin follow.  The women are back at Tar Valon to continue their studies until they learn something terrible will happen to Rand and chase after him again.  One wonders how they ever plan to become Aes Sedai if they are never studying.  Matt is ready to throw off the yoke of the Aes Sedai but becomes embroiled again when an errand for Elayne reveals a plot to kill Elayne and her compatriots.  Thus, once again everyone is headed to the same place.  It is even less clear than the last book how they all managed to arrive at around the same time since they all used conventional travel this time.

This book follows the same general plot as the last, but with better pacing and following more interesting characters.  The resolution is also much better.  Having everyone assault the impregnable fortress all at once was really quite cool and the final battle between Rand and the Forsaken is MUCH more exciting.  Though I do wonder how Moiraine so easily dispatched a Forsaken.  Finally, this particular event has been foreshadowed since the first book and I always find it pleasurable to see how an author will go about fulfilling his own prophesies.

 

Let me say a few things about the books do far in general.  First, the female characters are all insufferable.  All of them think quite highly of themselves and have very few nice things to say about any man.  The worst part of this is that every man just seems to take the verbal lashings meekly.  Even all the supporting female characters such as the cook at the Queen’s Inn in Camelyn or the cook at Tar Valon or the head housekeeper in the Stone of Tear display this absolute authority and angry chastisement of everyone.  Egwene and Nynaeve are always fighting because both are as proud and stubborn as the men they are constantly berating.

The irony is that of the main female characters, the only one with enough knowledge and power to pull this off is Moiraine and she is by far the least annoying.  The other women get captured in the second and third book with relative ease and require the male main characters to save them.  Lowly Matt saves them in the third and do they thank him?  No, instead choosing to belittle him some more.  It’s completely ridiculous and I am assured that it gets no better.

The other flaw is a drastic lack of communication that seems contrived to drive along certain conflicts rather than being an organic reaction of the characters.  These people are supposed to be childhood friends, but they rarely act like it.  Mat and Perrin seem ready to abandon Rand once they learn he is the Dragon.  Perrin still has not shared his bond with wolves.  Nynaeve and Egwene seem to chafe while in the presence of the other.

One of my favorite scenes was in the first book when Matt, sick and paranoid from the malevolent influence of the dagger, watches over the disabled Rand.  That is a friendship strong enough to cut through an evil that scares even the forces of the Dark One.  I am reading book four now and the first part is a rare time when everyone is together again without any pressing catastrophes and yet they still barely talk to each other.  Frankly, I always find a powerful friendship more stirring than a love story and Jordan is throwing that away in lieu of a pathetic love square around Rand.  I mean Elayne and Min have barely spoken to him and Egwene is doing the whole denying her feelings thing.  Also, it is Rand, he is as of yet pretty bland.

 

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