I get the feeling like I might make some enemies over this one.
The Wheel of Time is one of those fantasy book series that I’ve always been vaguely aware of. I remember seeing it on the shelves in libraries and thinking “Man, there are a lot of those!” Back then, I thought they would be about time travel or something (hey, there are like, what, fourteen of these? For all I know, that’s what it might turn into!) But I never gave them the time of day.
Let’s fix that, shall we?
The Eye of the World stars Rand al’Thor, a typical fantasy farm boy living in the Shire- I mean, the Two Rivers. One day, his peaceful home is attacked by a Nazgûl- I mean, a Myrddraal and his force of orcs- I mean Trollocs, servants of Sauron- I mean, the Dark One. Turns out, this attacking force was looking for three boys of a similar age in this village: Rand and his two friends, Mat and Perrin. Now, the three boys, along with Rand’s crush Egwene and the village wisdom Nynaeve, as well as traveling gleeman Thom Merrilin, must travel with the Aes Sedai Moiraine and her Warder Lan to Tar Valon to escape the Dark One’s clutches and discover the truth behind their mysterious destinies.
This book has a lot of fantasy jargon names to memorize. So many, in fact, that I had to check the Wikipedia page just to remember them all. If you’re looking for magic fantasy stuff with ridiculous names, fear not! This book is right for you!
Now, let me get to the point that I alluded to with my little Tolkien jokes up in the summary: this is a very generic fantasy adventure plot. Farm boy with a grand destiny? Check. Dark lord? You got it. Mighty and mysterious magic? In spades. A holy shit ton of characters? You guessed it: yes. An ending that doesn’t really resolve much and is basically sequel bait? Tragically so.
Personally, as someone who has read a… decent amount… of fantasy over the years, I found this book to be a bit challenging to finish. It wasn’t that I hated it. More that I couldn’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t presenting me with anything new or exciting. Like I’d already seen everything it had to offer somewhere else.
The characters are a mixed bag. Some of them are really interesting an memorable! Lan, Perrin, Thom Merrilin, Moiraine, and Loial are all great characters! But the other members of the cast are so cliché that I could hardly imagine them as anything beyond a cardboard cutout. Rand suffers this problem the most; take literally every chosen one fantasy protagonist and boom! you’ve got Rand.
The journey they take isn’t exactly compelling, either. It does have a few fun moments, like when their fellowship ends up divided and everyone needs to fend for themselves. But overall, it’s a very typical ‘run from the badguys to safety’ plotline. It’s like if Tolkien tried to make an entire book out of the hobbits delivering the Ring to Rivendell. Cap that off with one of the most anticlimactic finishes to any fantasy book that I’ve ever read and you’ve got a recipe for forgettable.
It certainly doesn’t help that Ba’alzamon is one of the most forgettable and generic villains I have ever read. Sure, his name is awesome! But all of his dialogue is so mustache-twirlingly evil that it’s kinda hard to take him seriously. All he really says is “You will be mine and I’ll rule the world!” Frankly, I was waiting for a ‘nya ha ha’!
Am I being too harsh on a story from the 90s? Maybe. But I’m reading it in 2020, so I’ll be judging it as a book in 2020.
Now, in terms of worldbuilding, this book is actually super interesting. Yes, most of the fantasy names are complete nonsense. But the history of this world is an interesting one! There’s so much stuff to be explored in later books, entire locals, cultures, and even races of people that we haven’t met yet! It feels like a setting that’s just begging to be explored!
Which, evidently, it will. There are practically a billion of these god damn things.
Honestly? At this point, I can’t really recommend reading The Eye of the World. Maybe I’ll change my mind later, once I’ve read the sequels. But on its own, this is a very generic and kind of dull fantasy novel.
You’ll have to excuse me now. I can hear the angry mob pounding at my door.