The Eye of the World or: The Fellowship of the Wheel of Time

I had considered reading The Wheel of Time for quite some time, but had always been somewhat reluctant, for two reasons. First, the series is ridiculously long; by the time it finishes, it will consist of fourteen books (plus a prequel), with each book averaging about 800 pages. Secondly, and more importantly, nothing I had heard about it had convinced me that it was anything other than standard Tolkienesque fantasy.

I was right on both counts. For a series that has been billed as the best fantasy not written by the good Professor, this is seriously underwhelming stuff. It feels like it genuinely wants to be the Next Big Thing, but is even more derivative of Tolkien's writing than most fantasy I've read, and that's saying a lot. This might not be a problem if it didn't have the pretensions to greatness that it seems to; and it's well-written enough that if it had been half the length it is, I would strongly recommend it. Unfortunately, I can't recommend reading through 800 pages of predictable, formulaic plot, with dull characters who leave little impact on the reader, and where the pace frequently grinds to a halt in an attempt to pad out the book, as if it wasn't long enough already. It takes more than a colossal word count to make your book an epic.

I have to say, it starts very well. The prologue is extremely exciting and gets the reader anticipating a grand, sweeping epic, with a literally eternal battle between good and evil that spans the whole of Time itself. The basic idea behind the series is that Time is cyclic, and the same events happen over and over again, but with such a huge amount of time between that people have forgotten about them by the time they happen again. At the beginning of Time, the Dark One was imprisoned by the Creator; when his followers attempted to free him, a great hero known as the Dragon was able to lock him away again, at the cost of Breaking the World. It is prophesied that the Dragon will be Reborn in the time of the world's greatest need, but that in order to imprison the Dark One again, another Breaking of the World must occur. The premise is a splendid one, and that is one of the great tragedies of this novel: that Jordan didn't do more with it. After this excellent prologue, the narrative dumps the reader in a farming village in the backwater of nowhere, where we are forced to endure 100 pages of people preparing for a spring festival (a long-expected party, if you will). The plot focuses on one Rand al'Thor, an insignificant farmboy with dreams of going out into the world and having adventures.

Now, anyone who has read any piece of fiction in their life will already have figured out that Rand is the Dragon Reborn. Oh sure, he has two friends who are also being hunted by minions of the Dark One, but they are little more than red herrings; desperate attempts by Jordan to preserve some sense of mystery in an otherwise depressingly predictable narrative. It doesn't help that most of the characters, Rand included, are thoroughly unengaging; his friend Perrin goes through some interesting development about halfway through the novel, but it's all but forgotten when the narrative focus flips back to Rand. His other friend, Mat, is the annoying comic relief of the novel, whose one notable character trait is his unbelievable stupidity. The other members of the Fellowship fare little better; most of their character traits can be adequately summed up by their RPG character classes. Other than the aforementioned three, there's a Ranger, a Mage, a Cleric and a Bard. That's pretty much all there is to them, except for the fact that the Ranger is the uncrowned king of a nation at war with the Dark One. Wait a minute...

And this is one of the novel's greatest flaws: practically everything here is ripped straight out of Tolkien, to the extent that if you turn the map ninety degrees, Rand's home and the Blight (the domain of the Dark One) line up almost exactly to where the Shire and Mordor are on the map of Middle-earth. The characters spend most of the novel either walking across country or being pursued by riders in black, and late in the novel they discover a mysterious, skulking figure in rags, completely consumed by evil, is pursuing them. I don't necessarily mind an author using a Middle-earth clone as his setting as long as he does something new with it, but it bothers me when people recycle the plot and try to pass it off as something new; The Eye of the World is one of the most blatant rewrites of the plot of The Lord of the Rings I have ever read.

The novel's other flaw is the fact that it is criminally overlong; it's an 800 page novel with enough plot and ideas to fill 400. As already said, it starts with 100 pages of people at home, and I know it's important to establish the characters before the main plot starts otherwise what happens to them is meaningless, but Jordan doesn't do this. So much of the novel is pointless padding which could safely be cut without affecting the plot in the slightest that it makes me want to throw it at the wall; later in the novel, we get to follow two of the characters walking from one city to another, stopping at villages on the way to rest. They arrive at a village, encounter minions of the Dark One, defeat them, and move on. This happens no fewer than three times, takes up a good 80 pages, and doesn't further the plot in any way. For the record, I don't dislike long novels; each book of A Song of Ice and Fire (one of my favourite series of novels of all time) is longer than this, but the characters are engaging, the plot compelling, and the pace quick enough that you don't notice.

It's not all bad, fortunately. The ending is actually pretty spectacular, and finally delivers on the promises of the prologue, giving a long overdue sense of the epic that this novel desperately needs. After so much tedium, it finally manages to give a sense of urgency to the narrative which had been totally lacking up to that point. It's a shame that it occurs far too late to save the novel. Other than that, the world itself is well-drawn, and the way magic works in this world is actually very interesting. Magic has a yin/yang duality, in that males can draw on one half, and females the other. However, because of the influence of the Dark One, men cannot use it without ultimately going horrifically insane.

It's a real shame. Despite all my complaints, The Eye of the World is not catastrophically bad. I almost wish it were. Its problem is that it's just so formulaic, so standard, so forgettable. I question the point of writing an 800 page novel which brings absolutely nothing new to the genre; everything in it has been done before and better. If it were half the length it is and the pacing were better, this might not have been such a problem; David Gemmell's novels aren't terribly original, but they're exciting, and they're brief, rarely more than 400 pages. I'm told that The Wheel of Time gets better as it goes along, but a novel ought to grab you after 50 pages, not 750. Go back and read The Lord of the Rings again; that's what The Eye of the World is trying to be, but it's unfortunately nothing more than a second-rate copy. So much work was put into this novel, but it's just so ordinary, so... average. And that, in a way, is more disappointing than if it had been outright bad.

Anachronism:
...the narrative dumps the reader in a farming village in the backwater of nowhere, where we are forced to endure 100 pages of people preparing for a spring festival (a long-expected party, if you will). The plot focuses on one Rand al'Thor, an insignificant farmboy with dreams of going out into the world and having adventures.

This is why I have such a hard time reading fantasy and sci-fi :/

I can't count how many times the 'farmboy grows stronger and rises up against the oppressive evil king' has been used as a plot before. But I'm pretty sure if you gave me the number of fantasy books that exist, take away about 10, that would be pretty close.

I want to suggest a book here. I recently started reading one by a new Australian author who I met. He's very enthusiastic and has a second book in the series coming sometime next year. Now I admit I haven't finished it and I've had it for a year, but that's only because I leant it to a friend about a week after I got it (while I was finishing the Dresden Files) and haven't gotten it back yet. But what I did read, about the first 50 pages, it seemed very different indeed. It's by Christian Tamblyn, called Dragon of the Second Moon. Kind of an average title but from what I read, apart from the 'training' stuff, it actually seems reasonably original. It also has a slight sci-fi element that I won't spoil.

But yeah I agree with what you say, it's kind of sad. And from your little synopsis it seemed veeeeeery ripped off. I mean, black riders and a Gollum-esque character, that just smacks of laziness :/ Personally I prefer sci-fi though, and occasionally you do get some very original stories. I REALLY want to suggest Richard K Morgan.

Richard K Morgan has written some damn amazing works of sci-fi. Start with Altered Carbon, it's absolutely amazing, especially for a first book. It's the first in a series of three (so far). He also has two standalone's. He also has one other book, a fantasy story called The Steel Remains, with a sequel coming next year.

Now that was a bloody original book. Instead of a character who needs to be trained by a mentor, it starts with a guy who lead troops and kicked epic ass in the war against the Scaled Folk (dragons). Also he's gay, (but this is necessary for both the characterisation and the narrative. I mean it really does actually affect the storyline, and because he's shunned because of his 'disease' it makes it so much more powerful when he fights for those who fuck him over).

As a fan of both, and fully caught up on WoT, I can honestly say that Jordan's contributions to the series are *amazing* books. His ghost writer's contributions aren't so awesome, but...Well, he does good with what he's got.

Yes, it starts slow. I had that issue as well. But given what Rand goes on to become...hell, what they ALL go on to become, you need that bit of boring exposition to remind you where they started.

Also, your description of Mat and Perrin as "little more than Red Herrings" is...Well, vastly off. Both Mat and Perrin come to play huge parts in the series of their own merits, yet at the same time Rand can't do what he has to do without them.

The main flaw of your synopsis is that you're trying to take the first book in a long series and compare it to a full story. Eye of the World sets up the beginning of the story. That's it. Lord of the Rings is the entire story. That's why it fails to compare to you.

At any rate, my little ramble isn't going to change your mind. You'll probably just write it off as fangirlism. But I felt the need to speak up.

LightPurpleLighter:
You'll probably just write it off as fangirlism.

Honestly, I'm actually a little offended that you assume I would be so unreasonable. Frankly, I'm delighted to hear that the novels get better as they go, and I'm sure as hell not going to start bashing the fans; if you've found a series that you love, that's wonderful, and I'm not going to try and stop you. If someone had been critical of A Song of Ice and Fire, I would likewise leap to its defence.

My problem with The Eye of the World is that it completely failed to make me want to read the other novels. Essentially, I was bored by it. I'm sure all of the characters go on to become more, but that doesn't change how uninteresting they were in this novel. Mat and Perrin doubtless become more important, and there were certainly suggestions to that effect in this novel, but they still didn't feel necessary to the plot, and I always got the feeling that everyone would be better off if they'd left Mat in the Two Rivers. I understand that it is, as you say, setting up the rest of the story, but was it really necessary to take 800 pages to do so? I don't think so.

Anachronism:

LightPurpleLighter:
You'll probably just write it off as fangirlism.

Honestly, I'm actually a little offended that you assume I would be so unreasonable. Frankly, I'm delighted to hear that the novels get better as they go, and I'm sure as hell not going to start bashing the fans; if you've found a series that you love, that's wonderful, and I'm not going to try and stop you. If someone had been critical of A Song of Ice and Fire, I would likewise leap to its defence.

My problem with The Eye of the World is that it completely failed to make me want to read the other novels. Essentially, I was bored by it. I'm sure all of the characters go on to become more, but that doesn't change how uninteresting they were in this novel. Mat and Perrin doubtless become more important, and there were certainly suggestions to that effect in this novel, but they still didn't feel necessary to the plot, and I always got the feeling that everyone would be better off if they'd left Mat in the Two Rivers. I understand that it is, as you say, setting up the rest of the story, but was it really necessary to take 800 pages to do so? I don't think so.

I'm sorry. I really didn't mean to be insulting with that line, that's just the reaction I'm used to getting when I champion a book someone else doesn't like. Foot-in-mouth moment, I guess. >.<

LightPurpleLighter:
I'm sorry. I really didn't mean to be insulting with that line, that's just the reaction I'm used to getting when I champion a book someone else doesn't like. Foot-in-mouth moment, I guess. >.<

Don't worry about it :)

Out of interest, how does The Great Hunt compare to The Eye of the World? As I said, I actually really enjoyed the ending of this one, and if that quality continues to the next novel, I'll seriously think about picking it up.

So I was reading your review and bracing myself to fly to the defence of WOT. But in truth you are completely right. I was thinking of recommending you read the second before you totally write off the series, its a lot more original and the ending is one of my favourite reads of all time. But in truth all that would do is potentially get you interested in the series and then once your hooked force you to endure books 7 through 10, which are some of the worst written things I have ever read (even some of the most hardcore fans will agree on that).

For me it was the first Tolkien clone I had ever read so I was still up for the whole "farm-boy becomes saviour of the world" scenario, but now like you I can't stand it (tried to read sword of truth a while back).
The big problem I have with fantasy at the moment is that of so much wasted potential; I mean you could write about literally anything, its the one genre with no limitations on the author, but instead we just get the same old stuff.

Agreed that ice and fire is awesome, has anyone read the Malazan Book of the fallen series? heard that's in the same sort of vein.

I agree about the first book being quite meh, but as someone above said, they do get better, but I've given them up by now since it's been so long between the releases and there's like 50 people in the line for loaning them, so there's not even a point trying to get it from there, and I'm not interested enough to, god forbid, spend my own money on it.

In any case, for some out of the "Farmboy Becomes Hero" genre you should check out Shadows of the Apt by Adrian "Somethingpolishsounding", which basically is about a world where every nation is named after a typ of insect, and the residents of each of them gain the atributes of the insect their province is named after. It's a pretty cool book, with great setting and very nice characters. It's only lacking is the author not being too good when it comes to creating atmospheres. For instance, if he writes a place is spooky, but you don't feel it, if you know what I mean. But it's nothing dealbreaking, and it's a recommended read. Oh, and the setting is steampunk. Yeah, steampunk.

Another really cool series is The Sceptre of Mercy by Harry Turtledove. Definately not of the standard fantasy mold, and definately worth checking out.

Njaard out!

So volume one of the interminably long Wheel of Time series amounts to little more than a cut-rate Tolkien rip-off until almost the very end? Yeah, I'll get right on that (no I won't). I'd never really planned on reading those books but it is nice to at least have some concrete reasons as to why, so I found this review quite useful, as I get the distinct impression that I would have concluded the exact same thing.

Anyhow, I shall now do what I always do whenever anyone even vaguely brings up fantasy novels: recommend Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman's The Death Gate Cycle as hard as I possibly can! There are certain qualities that it seems are all but universal in fantasy literature, but that particular heptalogy[1] does entirely novel things with them, and eschews the tired old "farm-boy becomes savior of the world" scenario entirely, chucking into the refuse bin along with the staggering host of tropes that traditionally accompany such fare. The protagonist arguably starts out as what would be the villain in a different setting - part of a race of demi-gods, sent out by his lord into the sundered universe to act as a scout and agent of chaos prior to their coming invasion; the fellow you're supposed to 'root for' sets about inciting a world war in the first book, which makes the bit where he legitimately becomes a genuine heroic character whom you will absolutely emphasize with all the more impressive.

The first volume of the series was actually published the same year that The Eye of the World was (1990), but unlike Jordan, Weiss and Hickman penned a volume that's about half as long and 300 times as gripping/interesting (and they ended their series after a reasonable duration and before either of them died) - if you've never read Dragon Wing (volume 1 of the Death Gate Cycle) you really need to check that out, especially considering the reasons you were so disappointed by The Eye of the World.

[1] A series in seven parts.

as noted, the series does get MUCH better. the first few (4-5) books were barely interesting enough for me to keep dredging through them. but pretty much around the time Mat stops being braindead and starts being awesome, it gets interesting.

now, i know a lot of other people make the Tolkien comparison, but aside from a couple obvious but minor things (Lan = Aragorn, Dark One = Sauron (except not really, he's more like Morgoth, Sauron's pappy, so really Ishamael is more like Sauron, despite being typically considered equivalent to Lord of the Nazgul)), i really didn't think there was much else in common. there was no MacGuffin equivalent to the Ring. there are tons of wizards instead of only 2 or 3. granted, Rand can be kinda emo like Frodo, but even that gets better with time.

Anachronism:
Out of interest, how does The Great Hunt compare to The Eye of the World?

He stops deliberately emulating Tolkien, for one thing. The plot threads Jordan is introducing become far more important, and the story pace picks up considerably. In other words, it starts being more like the second half of Eye of the World. Admittedly, one of the most common complaints of the series is that the pacing starts dragging considerably at about book 7 (or 6, depending on who you ask), and other than some assorted high-octane moments scattered throughout, doesn't start picking up again until 11. Books 2-5 are widely considered the best in the series, although I imagine people are starting to put forth 12 and 13, based on the pacing increasing with the approaching cataclysm, numerous long-reaching plot threads being fulfilled, and characters reaching their full development (sometimes after long and painful journeys).

Also...

Oh sure, he has two friends who are also being hunted by minions of the Dark One, but they are little more than red herrings; desperate attempts by Jordan to preserve some sense of mystery in an otherwise depressingly predictable narrative.

Okay, maybe that was needlessly insulting, but..."red herrings?" Oh, hell no. They just take a couple of books to start coming into their own. They get more of a role in the next book, but Mat starts really coming into his own during book 3, and Perrin follows in book 4.

smeghead25:
I can't count how many times the 'farmboy grows stronger and rises up against the oppressive evil king' has been used as a plot before. But I'm pretty sure if you gave me the number of fantasy books that exist, take away about 10, that would be pretty close.

What about one where the farmboy grows stronger and becomes the oppressive evil king?

I mean, Rand never becomes "evil," per se, but he's a pretty good demonstration of what a good guy slowly sinking under the weight of the world's pressure and his own magical insanity is capable of.

Jamboxdotcom:
as noted, the series does get MUCH better. the first few (4-5) books were barely interesting enough for me to keep dredging through them. but pretty much around the time Mat stops being braindead and starts being awesome, it gets interesting.

For the record, saying the series takes 4 books to get good isn't exactly a point in its favour, regardless of how good it gets after that point; I imagine most people would have abandoned it by that point. As I said in the review, a novel needs to keep you interested right from the beginning; saying "it gets good later" isn't a great defence.

NeutralDrow:
Okay, maybe that was needlessly insulting, but..."red herrings?" Oh, hell no. They just take a couple of books to start coming into their own. They get more of a role in the next book, but Mat starts really coming into his own during book 3, and Perrin follows in book 4.

I'm sure this is true, and, as I've said, I'm sure all the characters get more development as the series goes on; I would certainly hope so, at least. However, I don't care what they do in the later books; I reviewed The Eye of the World, not the series as a whole, and Mat and Perrin don't do a single solitary thing that has a meaningful impact on the plot of this novel. Perrin almost becomes somewhat interesting with the whole wolf business, and Mat demonstrates what a colossal moron he is by deciding it would be a good idea to help a strange man who lives in a ruined, cursed city find some treasure, but that's about it.

Anachronism:

For the record, saying the series takes 4 books to get good isn't exactly a point in its favour, regardless of how good it gets after that point; I imagine most people would have abandoned it by that point. As I said in the review, a novel needs to keep you interested right from the beginning; saying "it gets good later" isn't a great defence

oh, i agree. but i would also say that there's a difference between "okay" and "bad". and i would firmly put Eye of the World in the former category. it was most certainly not the best thing i've ever read, but it was far from the worst. granted, i have to admit that i never would have picked up the subsequent books if i didn't have several friends (whose taste i already trusted) who assured me it got better.

Anachronism:

NeutralDrow:
Okay, maybe that was needlessly insulting, but..."red herrings?" Oh, hell no. They just take a couple of books to start coming into their own. They get more of a role in the next book, but Mat starts really coming into his own during book 3, and Perrin follows in book 4.

I'm sure this is true, and, as I've said, I'm sure all the characters get more development as the series goes on; I would certainly hope so, at least. However, I don't care what they do in the later books; I reviewed The Eye of the World, not the series as a whole, and Mat and Perrin don't do a single solitary thing that has a meaningful impact on the plot of this novel. Perrin almost becomes somewhat interesting with the whole wolf business, and Mat demonstrates what a colossal moron he is by deciding it would be a good idea to help a strange man who lives in a ruined, cursed city find some treasure, but that's about it.

I know you're reviewing the first book on its own. I'm just pointing out that for a long-running series, calling a couple of insanely important characters "red herrings" based on their first appearance is pretty short-sighted. Especially when a crapton of the stuff they do in this book (Mat's dagger and the holes it leaves in his memory, Perrin and the wolves, his and Egwene's encounter with the Tuatha'an, and those two Whitecloaks he killed, etc.) become very important very quickly, and stay that way for a long time.

saying "it gets good later" isn't a great defense.

I also strongly disagree with this, but that's another argument. And not one I'd apply to the Wheel of Time, anyway, since I loved this book to begin with, and never really had a problem with any of the others. Even book 10, Crossroads of Twilight, which even most fans of the series talk about like it personally kicked their pet dog.

 

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