Posted by: yannaungoak | October 10, 2011

(Book Review) The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

I know, I know, it’s been like four months since I wrote on this blog. And today I’m just bored from grading exams for my tutorial class so I decided to engage in some fruitful procrastination.

So, these last few weeks I’ve been taking really long walks like every other day, and to pass the time I’ve been listening to audiobooks. And the late Robert Jordan‘s (and now Brandon Sanderson‘s) epic Wheel of Time series seemed like a fitting thing to start on, with 12 eight-hundred plus page books and counting, it’ll definitely occupy my nightly walks for some time.

This review is for the first book in the series, called The Eye of the World.

This stuff is classic epic fantasy. It’s got Lord of the Rings written all over it. In fact you can actually find pretty direct equivalents to the Shire, the Nazgul, Aragorn, Orcs, a female incarnation of Gandalf, and quite a bit more. The world of this series, judging from just this first book, seems to be definitely as rich as Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. Chronologically in this world, prior to the beginning of this book’s story there has been countless ages with heroes and legends and cataclysms and interactions with various fantasy races all with unpronounceable names. Indeed the whole concept behind the Wheel of Time is that time is a cyclical thing and you know, the whole “all of this has happened before, all of this will happen again” concept is drilled into the reader. So yeah, epic scope, hope I make that clear. Twelve books, two authors, still hasn’t ended.

The story starts out pretty slow I thought, in a quiet backwater village that seems inconsequential to anything important that might be happening in the world. But of course things are not as they seem. First of all, the heroes of our story are adolescent denizens of this village, which makes the whole story a coming of age tale (making it a tad annoying at times). And, soon enough, weird visitors start showing up, a mix of good guys and bad guys. And then boom, crazy shit starts happening and our young heroes now have to go off on a great quest! It’s boilerplate fantasy fare.

What kept it from just being a boring rehashing of a coming of age fantasy tale, though, is the sheer richness of the world that Robert Jordan has built. I’ll attempt a half-assed summary of it. So, there is this powerful dark lord who has been imprisoned, and is somehow on the verge of escaping from his prison, and in anticipation of his release, his minions have been preparing the ground for his dominion, and the good guys have been trying to hamper them in their plans. It’s just that most people in the world have forgotten about this grave threat and are going about their lives either worrying about minor things or in other cases being overly worried about irrelevant things (there’s a group of zealot Inquisition type guys who go around torturing and killing everyone they suspect are helping the dark one). So, the only people who seem to know what’s really going on are the Aes Sedai, who are an order of mages/sorceresses, who are the only ones able to wield “the One Power”, which is like the source of the most powerful magic in this world. The thing though, is that the Aes Sedai are all female, so they’re kind of like the Bene Gesserit in Dune. Well, it’s not that men are unable to wield the One Power, they used to be able to in ages past, it’s just that all of the male Aes Sedai went crazy and died off 3000 years ago before our story begins. And guess what, the Aes Sedai have a prophecy about the coming of a man who will be able to wield the One Power and defeat the Dark One, which is of course, another fantasy staple. On the other side of the good/bad spectrum, are the Fades and Trollocs, who are minions of the Dark One. The former are like Nazgul from Middle-Earth, and serve as commanders for the hordes of the latter, which are kinda like Orcs from Middle-Earth, just with heads of various animals and bodies of men. You can see them looking badass in the pictures below.

And that just barely scratches the surface of the story in the first book, which barely scratches the surface of the whole series. There’s tree people, space-time warps, merry ale drinking in inns, ravens that are, well, particularly ravenous, lost treasure, fog-monsters, hippie traveling parties, and all kinds of things going on.

So, what do I think of it? It’s not my favorite fantasy series for sure. The last fantasy book I read was A Dance with Dragons, and comparing that book with it’s intricate plotting and gritty realpolitik to the more adolescent, wide eyed adventurey tone of The Eye of the World, I’d say I’ll go for George R R Martin’s grittiness any day. But that doesn’t mean that the Eye of the World isn’t fun and super enjoyable to get lost in. I’m pretty sure I’ll keep listening to the rest of the audiobooks in this series.

I do have certain complaints about it though. And that mostly has to do with the characters. Again, it might be unfair to compare the characters in this book to the ones in say, more “mature” fare like A Song of Ice and Fire and Dune. But… it seemed like all the characters are either those coming of age types who are young and naive right now but just waiting to become awesome superheroes, or are already really powerful types who have very few flaws. That does make the characters hard to relate to. I never really felt particularly worried about any character’s plight because it felt like you already knew beforehand that they’ll succeed in some way eventually.

And for a world on the verge of being overrun by all consuming evil, people seem to be awfully polite and honorable. The only extant of swearing in this book seems to be the ubiquitous cry “blood and ashes!” And there’s no sex or gory murder or anything of the sort. It’s all very PG. And certain gallant characters spout lines such as “I will hate the man you choose because he is not me, and love him if he makes you smile“, which makes me all emo on one hand and roll my eyes at the same time.

But those complaints aside, if you’re fantasy fan, and don’t mind devoting a huge amount of time reading thousands of pages about a made up world, by all means pick up this book. It’s really fun.

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