Whoa! It’s been over a year since I last showed up on my blog. No matter! We’ll continue as if there never was a gap in the pattern. 😉
The last high fantasy series I read is A Song of Ice & Fire by George R. R. Martin… (or Grr! Martin, where’s your next book?) I love the genre.
When I finally managed to get my hands on the e-book version of the Wheel of Time series, I didn’t think I would have the patience to order the box set and wait for it and so I started right away. It took me a whole month to complete the 15 book series… not to mention many cross-eyed nights.
The first 11 books (including the prequel) are written by Robert Jordan and when he passed away in 2007, the 12th book was written by Brandon Sanderson (with reference to notes prepared by RJ before his death.) The 12th book proved to be quite large for a single volume and was split into 3 volumes.
Before anyone reads any further I would like to put out the mandatory spoiler alert…
The books follow the quintessential struggle between the forces of Light and those of the Shadow. It is set in a fantastical world reminiscent of the medieval era with a memory of a bygone Age of Legends which might have been an advanced, modern age much like our present and possible near future.
The story is a saga of epic proportions… plots and sub-plots and enough characters that the series has a Companion / Guide to help you keep track if you are lost, especially if you are not reading the books at a stretch like I did.
My biggest complaint about the series is the use of weirdly spelt, difficult to remember and sometimes very similar names for most of the characters. Thankfully, the main characters have quite simple names.
Robert Jordan himself claimed that he was inspired by, arguably the king of High Fantasy, J. R. R. Tolkien and his Lord of The Rings. You can right away see the inspiration… the format of a quest / task / expedition undertaken by unlikely heroes that ultimately results in a last stand between the forces of good and evil.
Though I enjoyed all the books, the pace of the story drags a bit around the 7 – 9th books. Its beginning is interesting and paced well enough to hold your focus and make you want to read further.
I did find Jordan’s writing a tad loose, riddled with repetition and heaped with unnecessarily descriptive passages, especially towards the later books. I found myself skimming a page or two at times to learn that skipping them would not make a difference to my experience of the series. That happened a lot in books 7 through 9. The last three books, on the other hand, which were written by Brandon Sanderson were paced perfectly well and the writing was more concise, the story taut and perhaps it had to do with the fact that the last books were essentially the climax of the saga. I would say that Brandon Sanderson did a great job of picking up the series and injecting adrenaline into it when it seemed to be flagging… though the idea and story were still all Jordan.
About the characters:
Every book has you rooting for a character, making you pick a favourite and perhaps sticking to that favourite if they manage to stay alive in the series (sorry that doesn’t work in ASOIAF.)
This is one series I did not have a favourite that stuck with me from start to finish. The main characters all had their moments which made me want to strangle them and those times when I pulled out my pom-poms and did a cheer dance for them.
I do have a problem with Jordan and the editor, his wife, Harriet McDougall… I am not sure whether I should term it sexist or just a misguided view of things. The world of Wheel of Time has a society or societies in which women are the driving force… they are mostly either the dominant sex or at least as good as any man. Now, why should I have an issue with that? Well, that’s because the series does not have a single woman character who is not annoying and bullying in some way or the other. They can be emotionally manipulative, physically or magically manipulative and they use their arrogance, their positions of power, and just the fact that they are women to have their way. It would have been fine if the balance was right and the men weren’t portrayed as the innocent, much harassed victims of some form or the other of female tyranny all the time. In fact, it would seem that the only way a woman communicated was by glares, stares, glowers, pursed lips, gritted teeth and a lot of tugging the braid with anger. The women either stalked about or sniffed and snorted their way through life. Well, they also ‘folded their arms under their breasts’ and looked at you down their noses. A Lot.
There should have been an equilibrium and its absence was glaring.
Rand Al’Thor, Matrim ‘Mat’ Cauthon and Perrin Aybara are the three main protagonists of the series. If you take an ideal man and split his character traits and distribute them between the three without overlapping traits then that’s who they are.Rand is duty bound, dedicated to his task to a fault… so much so that his own identity is in danger of being overwhelmed. Perrin is cautious, thoughtful, a pacifist and needs a focal point to rally around. Mat is at first the whiny, yet to grow up young man who later does grow up and does not lose his identity in the process, he is the rakish dapper dude with all that charm and sass.
If I had to absolutely pick one of the three… it would be Mat. He just keeps his head on screwed perfectly well all the time.
Moiraine Damodred projects the perfect blend of mystery and command. She is delightful except when she is being manipulative.
Lan Mandragoran is Aragorn from LoTR… just a bit more angular and rough-hewn.
Egwene Al’vere is young and resourceful. She is annoyingly set in her way of thought but she is a fighter and you can only wish her to win. Every time.
Nynaeve Al’meara is so damn annoying that I found it endearing. She is a bully with a heart of gold and perhaps the most level-headed character in the whole series. It is a pity that she wasn’t used better in the end of the series. I did feel she got a bit side-lined in the end.
Elayne Trakand… haughty, generous, politically adept, and quite lovable a character in spite of her less than perfect attitude.
Min Farshaw is immediately likeable a person when you get to know her… but she is a little lost in her own world and like all other women in the series… an ace manipulator.
Aviendha is fiery, enigmatic, loyal and still manipulative in her own stark way.
Faile Bashere, I found her extremely annoying when she was introduced. But she is tolerable in the later books.
Tuon is the only character in the book I did not like, at all. I think the saga could do perfectly fine without her character.
Gawyn Trakand: Stupid. Annoying. Jealous. Irresponsible.
Galad Damodred: Interesting, pity there isn’t a lot to him.
Morgase Trakand: The perfect Queen.
Aes Sedai & the White Tower: The most powerful society in the series… an all-female stronghold with all the typical foibles of women hidden behind a mask of serenity.
The Aiel: I absolutely loved the concept of the Aiel as a people and their society. A stalwart people.
The Seanchan: I think the addition of the Seanchan to the story dragged the series down a few notches. Cutting the whole Seanchan track from Wheel of Time would have made for a neater pattern, a smoother saga. Any important point in the story line attributed to the Seanchan could have easily been woven in by some other means.
The Forsaken: Ishamael, Lanfear, Rahvin, Demandred, Sammael, Balthamel, Be’lal, Aginor, Graendal, Asmodean, Semhirage, Mesaana, Moghedien… the 13 Forsaken. Disclosing their personalities is too much spoiler material.
I would give the series a rating of 7/10… it borrows heavily from LoTR and other epic High Fantasy sagas… but it is enjoyable and a satisfying read. A lot of the issues I had with the series were a result of me reading the books one after another without a break… it does take a lot to keep me engrossed if the series is going to stretch 15 volumes.
Note: Please read the series from the Book 1: The Eye of the World. The New Spring is a prequel but it is better read after the series.
The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills.