Book 1 of 14, read before the Prequel. First published novel of the Wheel of Time Series.
The series totals out at 11,898 pages and over 4 million words. Many might be intimidated by its length. But consider that the Harry Potter series is over 1 million words, and I know a dozen people who read that series multiple times, I’m not worried. The Wheel of Time promises to be one of the most complex and readable fantasy series anywhere.
Worldbuilding – 5 out of 5 – The start of something great. Book one is like a strong river coursing toward a vast ocean. An ambitious addition to the fantasy genre. Way more flawed than the Lord of the Rings, but arguably more rewarding – I hope. Consider that the total series has more than 2000 characters, an endless number of races, histories, place names, artifacts, creatures and multiple forms of magic. Don’t worry about comprehending all of it right away. Appreciation of the crafting of a universe takes time. I recognized most of what the author was doing, and didn’t question when new ideas were introduced. Everything fits together into a cohesive whole, though I had the sense there was a lot more out there waiting to be explored. Much of the exposition does not directly outline the mythical history. Check the ample glossary in the back for help with key terms and historical figures.
Characterization – 4 out of 5 – Mat and Rand were probably my favorite characters in the book. There are many characters to keep track of, some would say too many. But each has his or her own personality. Jordan must have had a clear outline in his head or on paper for all of them. Throughout their long journeys they struggle, against the Dark One. Several of them channel magic at various points, and make definite choices for good or ill. As mouthpieces for the exposition, they come equipped with specific modes of speech, humorous twists to common expressions, and often behave in a charming or quirky way. The author does not go for simple arcs, most of the emotional and psychological change is earned through struggle, bonding, interaction and co-reliance. Subtlety is not always the rule, but regarded in total, the characters, while not terribly unique, are not 100% cliched either.
Atmosphere – 4 out of 5 – rich imagery, a feast for the senses, immersive landscapes. Surprising set-pieces, well-conceived description and a great deal of tension. But it’s not extremely literary or old fashioned. I would liken it to Stephen King, that is, on the lower end of sophisticated, but still effective. The world itself provide enough interest through contextual clues to keep anyone interested.
Pacing – 3 out of 5 – The pacing is not uniform, but there are no long, tedious stretches where nothing happens. At most a slow couple chapters will be followed by an action-filled chapter or two. Trollocs are always waiting around the next corner to attack. The middle can seem a bit repetitive, but I was entertained from start to finish. I enjoyed the chapters where they were just sitting around a fire, chatting. A lot of world building happens in the slow moments. There are a dozen dream sequences or so, but they have a point, are unpredictable, and feed into the plot. They are welcome distractions. Problems arise when lack of explanation saves the day, toward the end of the convoluted plot especially, many conveniences intrude.
Prose Style – 2 out of 5 – The weakest part of the novel. Maybe the reason for most of the low ratings out there. It’s truly sad that such a monumental project as this is marred by amateurish over reliance on adverbs, passive verbs and sentences that hinge on the chewing gum framework provided by ‘as’. A qualified editor would have done a world of good. The story might have needed tightening up too, but once you buy into the fantasy setting and get used to the execrable prose of the first third, the rest of the novel is not a problem. I know I’m no brilliant editor myself, made my fair share of mistakes, but the uneven proportion of cringe-worthy sentences in the first 300 pages will skew a lot of opinions away from an otherwise enjoyable experience. I don’t know if the final draft was rushed or these issues were ingrained in Jordan’s writing by this point, but he improved enough by halfway through that I stopped caring. I would put it on the level of Book 2 of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. If you enjoyed that series, you will likely love this one. Both King and Jordan deserved to have their manuscripts ravaged by a merciless red pen.
Storytelling – 4 out of 5 – Jordan strikes a balance between scene and storytelling. By the end you will know all about gleemen, Trollocs and various agents of the light and the dark. Characters carry stories with them, referring to conflicts near and far, recent and ancient. Well-integrated personal tales provide depth of character and break up the plot-driven pace. Heavy trope usage and a few magical action scenes cheapen the brilliance elsewhere on display.
Dialogue – 4 out of 5 – The dialogue delivers enough info-dumping to satisfy fantasy standards, but does not go too heavy into dialect and made-up languages. The characters come through clear as crystal, sounding like their own person – or Trolloc – whatever race they may belong to. Another product of the masterful world building. I’m not counting the dialogue tags, which marred my enjoyment of the book somewhat, since this belongs in the category of prose style. Everything within the quotation marks was good, necessary, and even witty.
Length – 5 out of 5 – When does length become a positive virtue? When you’re invested in the story, care about the people you’re reading about, and believe in the world. Then it can go on forever.
Potential – 5 out of 5 -It’s wonderful to imagine sitting with this series all the way through. For those of you who watched all the director’s deleted scenes in LOTR, there are plenty of fancy, elaborate side stories to come. Volume one does a fantastic job of suggesting and foreshadowing.
Overall enjoyment – 4 out of 5 – The extreme reliance on established tropes did not bother me. The classic tale of Good versus Evil is not a problem. What matters is how the tale is told. This is a different manner of telling from Lord of the Rings, though the story beats resemble it to an extent which may arouse suspicion. I recommend setting out on this fine adventure with an open mind, disregard the endless see-sawing reviews. Experience it for yourself.