Book 1 of The Wheel Of Time
Published by Tor Books
With the release of the fourteenth and final instalment of The Wheel of Time series, A Memory of Light, at the beginning of this year, I thought it fitting to go back to the beginning of this epic series and review the place where it all began, The Eye of the World.
I first read The Eye of the World way back in 1992 as a young teenager. I picked up the novel at a book sale, intending it as a gift to a friend, but something about that beautiful cover image sparked my imagination so much that I simply could not give the book away. (It is a shame they did not keep those same beautiful cover illustrations throughout the series, but went to a far more boring “modern” cover for later volumes)
I read the entire book in a few days and loved it so much I lent it out to a few of my friends, and before long our entire group was “into” the series. We waited each year for the release of the newest volume, desperate to find out what fate had in store for our favourite characters. Ironically, my best friend and I joked that should Robert Jordan die before he finished the series we would head to America with resuscitation paddles to ensure that the novel was completed. Sadly, High Fantasy lost a giant when Robert Jordan died in 2007 with his work unfinished. Using Jordan’s extensive notes, Brendan Sanderson completed the series.
Despite its flaws, The Wheel of Time series will always hold a special place in my heart. Those of you who have read this series from the beginning of publication will know that we have been reading this series for over 20 years. My copy of The Eye of the World was the most lent-out book in my library and, as happens to good books, ended up staying at a new home.
So, let’s get into the review:
The Eye of the World follows the adventures of a group of young people, Rand al’Thor, Matrim Cauthon, Perrin Aybara, Egwene al’Vere, and Nynaeve al’Meara, who live in a small village called Emond’s Field. Their peaceful existence is shattered when Trollocs (orc-like creatures), and sinister, eyeless creatures called Myrddraal attack their village, trying to kill the three boys. They escape with the help of an Aes Sedai named Moiraine, who uses the One Power to avoid capture, her warder Al’Lan Mandragoran and a Gleeman named Thom Merrilin. So begins an epic journey for the group who are then pursued at every turn by the forces of darkness as well as a host of equally hostile and dangerous foes, such as The Children of Light. The group spend the entire novel in mortal danger; even their dreams are not safe.
Jordan’s world just hums with a rich, original history, and even if you didn’t know there was going to be another 13 books in the series, it is clear from first reading that this is going to be an epic series. Critics of Jordan often note that he borrows heavily from myth and legend, as well as having creatures and a narrative style reminiscent of Tolkien (for example, his Trollocs are very much like Orcs, and the Myrddraal have many of the qualities of Tolkien’s Ringwraiths and both serve a similar sinister purpose). Jordan also makes use of the classic ‘Hero’s Journey’ structure – a reluctant hero from humble beginnings, marked by destiny and guided along the way by mentors, who must struggle against all the forces of evil to save mankind. While some people see this as a negative towards the book, I think it is a positive. To rewrite anything well known and make it your own is a masterful undertaking, and the reason that classic structures and stories remain is that they resonate so strongly with us. Remember, Shakespeare borrowed heavily from stories of the day.
The level of detail and research which must have gone into the writing of these books is astounding, and you really feel like you are in Jordan’s world when you read. His lavish cities are filled with cultural nuances; his landscapes rich and detailed. Jordan’s magic system, called “The One Power” is also very cleverly and thoughtfully designed and gives women the upper hand, meaning that this isn’t your typical “boys club” high fantasy. The characters are rich, diverse and easy to like, even when you feel exasperated by them.
The first thing that struck me about re-reading this book is just how long Jordan is able to maintain a single character point of view. Nearly three quarters of the book is told from Rand’s perspective, which gives this novel a much tighter feel than later novels where Jordan branches off into endless POV’s, reducing the main characters to cameo roles. Jordan also has a propensity to write “densely” (his word), which means he tends towards lavish descriptions, often describing every blade of grass and then having all the action happen in the final few pages of a chapter. Again, The Eye of the World didn’t suffer from this; the plot moves swiftly and although Jordan introduces a large cast of characters the novel is full of action and danger. The only thing which dragged for me were the dream sequences, which were just a little long.
This is a hefty book, over 400,000 words, however the easy narrative style means that it is a breeze to read. If you have been living under a rock or are new to the High Fantasy genre, this is a fabulous and thoroughly enjoyable read. For those of you who know and love this series, The Eye of the World is well worth a revisit now that you have the whole set of The Wheel of Time so that you can relive the magic from the very beginning.
I give this book 10 out of 10 Shiny Dragons