It took my brother nearly twenty-plus years of suggesting it and a TV series for me to finally begin reading Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series. Hailed as one of the best fantasy series ever published, the first book in the The Wheel of Time, titled The Eye of the World, starts off with a bang (literally) before settling in to a slower paced story that builds to a rather unsatisfying conclusion.
Spoilers ahead but since this book was published in 1990, there isn’t much that can’t be found with a simple Google search.
The edition of The Eye of the World I picked up on Kindle includes two prologues, which is exceedingly rare for the first book in a series. The first prologue, entitled “Ravens”, is a leisurely-paced chapter, introducing us to the principal characters that will be at the heart of the story: Rand al’Thor, Matrim Cauthon, Perrin Aybara, Egwene al’Vere (the narrator of the prologue), and Nynaeve al’Meara, as well as a few of the secondary characters like Tam al’Thor and Mayor al’Vere. There is a strong sense of foreboding in the prologue but also a joyfulness in the simple setting of Two Rivers during a sheep-shearing festival.
The second prologue, though, is what sold me on reading the book, titled “Dragonmount”. Filled with bombastic imagery, this is the first glimpse in to the ancient world of The Wheel of Time at a pivotal event: the death of Lews Therin Telamon, the Dragon, who stood victorious in a battle against the Dark One, an evil entity bent on destroying the world. But Lews Therin’s victory is tainted by the Dark One, resulting in all men who can wield the One Power being driven irrevocably insane. In the case of Lews Therin, he murders his entire family only to be given a brief reprieve from his madness by Ishamael, one of the key servants of the Dark One (known as the Forsaken). In his grief, Lews Therin destroys himself using the One Power, creating the volcano known as Dragonmount. The imagery and horror of the prologue is beautiful and tragic in equal measure.
From that high point, though, the first section of the book takes its time (which is not always a bad thing when dealing with high fantasy like The Wheel of Time). It’s only about halfway through the novel that we split up the initial party of characters, which now include al’Lan Mandragoran and Moiraine Damodred, a Warder and the Aes Sedai he is sworn to protect respectively. Jordan spends a great deal of time exploring the Aes Sedai and their sorcerous use of the One Power, a binding magical essence that when channeled by someone with talent can lead to spectacular effects. He doesn’t spend a great deal of time on how the magic system of The Wheel of Time works, since Moiraine is not one of the point-of-view characters in the novel but what we do see of it is more a soft magic system than the hard magic systems employed by authors like Brandon Sanderson (who would fill in to write the final books in The Wheel of Time after the untimely passing of Robert Jordan).
The pacing of The Eye of the World can feel off at times, with two or three chapters going by without any real conflicts or action beats. Instead, much of the time is spent with Rand al’Thor, who we learn in the end is a reincarnation of Lews Therin Telamon, making Rand the Dragon Reborn. We are given some chapters from the perspectives of other characters, mainly Nynaeve and Perrin to flesh out their subplots, but there’s no denying that this book really is Rand’s story since nearly three-quarters of the chapters are from his point of view.
The characterization is rich at times but also rather one-dimensional in others. Rand, for the most part, vacillates from foolish bravado to outright terror to dogged determination. The reveal at the end that Rand is the Dragon Reborn makes a re-read of the novel cause the reader to re-examine certain moments in a different light. I was already aware of that aspect of the ending before reading, so I was looking for moments where Rand’s abilities would come to light without his knowledge. There are subtle moments throughout the story where Rand subconsciously calls on the One Power, which is a credit to Jordan as a writer. Characters like Nynaeve and Perrin are seemingly stuck in the same character tics throughout, with Nynaeve being ridiculously stubborn and Perrin constantly doubting himself or wishing to forget things he now knows to be true.
The ending of the book is the main sore spot for me. While dynamic in many ways, particularly when Rand consciously uses the One Power for the first time to obliterate an army of the Dark One’s minions, it didn’t feel like a proper climax and denouement to the events that led up to it. It feels as if Jordan knew what he was leading up to but didn’t quite know how to end the first part of his story and the book’s climax suffers because of that.
With that being said, I highly recommend The Eye of the World for anyone who enjoys high fantasy. There’s a reason The Wheel of Time is considered a classic of the genre and it is due in no small part to the sumptuous feast Jordan prepared in The Eye of the World.
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