Reading the Wheel of Time: The Eye of the World

‘The rose petal floats on water. The kingfisher flashes above the pond. Life and beauty swirl in the midst of death.’

So I have finally done what I thought would both never happen and was impossible to do if it did. I read The Eye of the World and started The Wheel of Time series.

I actually had a copy of this as far back as 2018. I picked it up after a boozy brunch with a pal, never got to it. One of my friends did a read along in 2020, I failed to even start the book fully to keep up. October 2021 though, I finally started this tome. This will function as mostly a review, as is my style, but I also kind of want to dissect where I had impressions right and where I had them wrong as well. This is a very beloved, classic series for many reasons and while I agree with some of them, I also am critical of others.

When their village is attacked by terrifying creatures, Rand al’Thor and his friends are forced to flee for their lives. An ancient evil is stirring, and its servants are scouring the land for the Dragon Reborn – the prophesised hero who can deliver the world from darkness.

In this Age of myth and legend, the Wheel of Time turns. What was, what may be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.

Main question to answer first, I did highly enjoy it and do intend to carry on with the series. That I want to get that across first. Despite the three months I spent reading it, I never once didn’t feel immersed or disconnected from the characters. This is a slow, methodical opening to the series. The characters are far more the focus than the journey they undertake but the world itself is given as much attention and even at the end of this first book, is still bigger in scale than I originally realised.

So bold start to the book, we begin from the perspective of another character entirely as they are confronted with their deeds after being manipulated by a shady dude. We then cut straight to a young man, Rand al’Thor, and his father Tam as they make their way to town with their harvest. This is Edmonds Field, a country town in the Two Rivers. A simple place with it’s own traditions and people who can be described simply as stubborn. We’re very quickly introduced to Rand’s two pals and his love interest. Perrin Aybarra (my boy) is the blacksmiths apprentice, thoughtful and at ease. Mat Cauthon, easiest described as class clown and all round headache for locals with his tricks and jokes. And of course, Egwene al’Vere, Rand’s crush and a young woman on the edge of her own life. The boys also quickly realise they have all seen the same dark stranger trravelling the roads and are uneasy from it.

Others we meet as the lads settle in include Nyaneve al’Meara, the town’s ‘Wisdom’ (a healer and someone consulted overall on town matters) who is taking Egwene on as her apprentice. There are also some folk in town, Thom Merrlin a visiting gleeman (or bard) and two mysterious folks of Moiraine Damodred and Al’Lan Mandragoran, or Lan). And that is all I’m going to go into here, the characters themselves are the only thing I think are important to know going in.

This book is overall a journey. And it’s a long one too. There is a lot of density to it, Robert Jordan clearly took the formula for the first book in a fantasy series and has shaped it so that you get every moment with the characters. Even at one point where the party is broken up, there is no time wasted in establishing more detail now they are on their own. But that is my main con with this book really.

Both the intro and the level of detail the chapters go into, are definitely going to come into play. I have absolutely no doubt about that. These are details that will come up over the other 13 books in the series but for a first book, can be a bit difficult to read through. I definitely wasn’t feeling much tension until a certain point in the book where the characters were separated and from there I really started to ‘get it’. So that will definitely be a put off for others.

The other main con I had was the strange dichotomy of the writing of the women characters. Firstly, this book shocked me with leading with things I would never have expected of a fantasy from 1990. Edmond’s Field has the Women’s Circle, equal only to the town’s actual council and treated with respect and privacy by the men there. Women are the main wielders of the One True Source, the main magic source of the series. Known as the Aes Sedai, they are excellent. Nyaneve as the Wisdom, she is written as bossy, forward but is later shown to have so much tenderness and a vulnerability that is a real testament to the character work, and of course Moiraine is absolutely iconic. However, there are flaws.

It is of course of it’s time. Women are in very binary roles, magic mostly but they are also expected to be more sympathetic or patient just because. There is a part where Perrin (who I adore so just know that) and Egwene are separated from the others. There is a lot of Perrin getting annoyed she won’t do what he says or delight in moments where another male character gets her to be quiet. Moiraine and other Aes Sedai are constantly called “witches” and not to be trusted because they wield magic men can’t and so on. It’s smaller things in the long run but when you’re already aware of similar things in reality, hard not to comment on it.

Overall I love the formula of the book. It takes the formula for The Fellowship of the Ring but does it in a way that is a bit more realistic. Like if Gandalf showed up in any content Irish town I know and tried to take the locals away to maybe never come back, they would be reluctant. I can see why Edmond’s Fielders would be! So that is fun to see. I also am a forever Perrin and Nyaneve simp. But this is of it’s time and lacks a lot of modern fantasy nuance but it does have more than I thought.

Longer than usual review but I have been reading this longer than any of my other books this year. I do plan to do the show and get to The Great Hunt next month so do feel free to chat to me on anything I mentioned above. Reviewing without spoilers for this one was definitely a challenge. Thanks for checking in guys, and most of all, happy reading!

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