God, it feels like a thousand years since I started this series. It’s hard to believe that we’re nearly done with it all.
The Wheel of Time is one of the most complicated reading experiences I have ever had. Few stories have ever frustrated me more than this one. There were so many points where I wanted to abandon ship. Of the fourteen books, three of them were so unbearable that not even the hardcore fans try to defend them! This whole series was slow, tedious, repetitive, and endlessly frustrating!
And I would do it all again.
Every time I neared a breaking point, this series would deliver something absolutely amazing! Be it a tear-jerking character moment or a battle or a satisfying pay-off to something setup several books ago, there was always something to tug me along just a little bit further. This is ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, the series!
Long ago, the man known as the Dragon was driven mad by the Dark One and destroyed the world. Now, thousands of years later, the Dark One’s influence is growing again. To combat this, the Dragon has been reborn in Rand al’Thor, a simple farm boy living in the Two Rivers. One day, he and his friends are whisked away by an Aes Sedai, Moraine, and her warder, Lan, on a journey to face the Dark One and fulfill their destinies. But in a world ruled by self-interest and filled with misinformation, will they be up to the task?
It’s your typical ‘chosen one vs the dark lord’ plot you see in fantasy. Back when I reviewed the first book, that was my biggest criticism. What I failed to understand then was that that was the whole point of the first book. Besides, the series does end up carving its own identity as it goes on. The series starting as a more realistic take on Tolkien isn’t a problem.
Oh, no. The problems are in entirely different areas.
The characters in this story can be incredibly frustrating. They’re stubborn, selfish, clueless, and generally infuriating. On one hand, this gives them a depth and realism few other stories have. On the other, it makes me want to reach into the pages and strangle each and every single one of them.
And that’s the heroes. As for the villains, they are extremely disappointing. Oh, sure, the monsters are some of the best fantasy has to offer! But the actual human villains are so incompetent that any threat they present vanishes almost entirely by book five. That was intentional on Jordan’s part; it plays into the themes of tell vs reality at the core of the series. But it is a bummer to see a bad guy that’s been built up since book one just get swept away instantly.
To wrap up my rant about characters: romance. The romance in the Wheel of Time is so bad that it makes the Star Wars prequels look like Shakespeare! Some loves bloom out of nowhere. Others simply make no sense; why would those two characters develop feelings for each other? And others yet are so unrealistic and unenjoyable that they actively make the series worse; Rand and his four-way relationship with three women had me screaming in rage every single time it came up.
Pacing is another huge issue for this series. The Wheel of Time is an extremely slow and repetitive story, filled with tons of repeated information and a story that progresses at a snail’s pace. While it can make the books a bit of a drag at times, I do think it was overall for the best. Firstly, because the payoff to the setups were often incredible; Jordan set things up in book four for them to be paid off all the way in book twelve! And it does make the series more accessible to people who read more slowly than others.
But when three books are so slow that basically nothing of worth happens? That, I can’t forgive. The Slump is real, and it is insufferable. The books you get afterwards are some of the best in the series! But getting through the Slump is one of the most miserable reading experiences I’ve ever had!
Again: Knife of Dreams made it all worth it. But god damn, was it a journey to get there.
In terms of world-building, the Wheel of Time is absolutely massive! There are so many different cultures and so much history and a simple yet deep magic system behind it all. Keeping track of it all is an absolute nightmare, given the sheer scale of it all. It’s definitely one of the more memorable settings in fantasy.
All of it, world and characters and magic, come to a head in one of the biggest and most epic conclusions I’ve ever read to a fantasy series. It can be a bit exhausting at times, and the ending certainly isn’t perfect. But the fact that a series this big managed to stick the landing, even after Brandon Sanderson had to take over for the late Robert Jordan, is incredible!
As one last closing point, let’s talk about how the series actually makes you feel. After all, the whole point of storytelling is to make the reader feel emotions. Be it rage, excitement, fear, or sorrow, a story’s ultimate goal is to make the reader feel as the characters do. So, does the Wheel of Time do that?
Oh, fuck yeah!
No other book series has ever gotten such visceral reactions of emotion out of me! The Wheel of Time made me feel skin-crawlingly uncomfortable when Rand was locked in the box. It made my face heat up in rage when Elayne victim-blamed Mat for his relationship with a queen. It made me cry as Perrin faced a hopeless battle. It made me whoop for joy when its most loathsome villains got their just desserts. Plenty of other stories have made me feel similar emotions, but none so strongly as this one managed it!
My list of complaints about the Wheel of Time is nearly endless. I could go on and on about each individual character or on scenes that left me feeling disappointed or annoyed. If I tried to write down everything I hated about the three Slump books, I’d end up writing something longer than all three of those books combined.
But as much as this series annoys me, I did come to love it in the end. It’s length ultimately turned into a strength as its setups would lead to incredible pay-offs. Frustrating as they were, I grew to love the characters (except Elayne; I still wish the worst upon her) and the world they live in. It got so many reactions out of me that few other books could ever manage!
So, to go back to the question I asked all those months ago when we reviewed the first book: yes. The Wheel of Time is ultimately worth it. You’ll need to have the patience of a fuckin’ saint to get through some of this stuff. But when you finally cross the finish line, the catharsis you get for it is worth it.
Would I do it again? Not any time soon, but yes. As much as it frustrates me, I can’t deny that I’ve come to love this series. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the Wheel of Time is now one of my all-time favorite fantasy series!
Though I’ll admit: getting through New Spring has been a trial.