The book is one that I had seen on many lists of best fantasy – apparently it’s extremely well-known and widely read – and one which I had heard mixed reviews on from those I know who read fantasy. Even after buying the book it took me a while to get around to reading it, though not for lack of trying. Two or three times I would sit down in my reading chair with some tea or a drink intent on delving into the world of the Wheel of Time, and each time I would read a half a chapter and find myself bored, and would pick up whatever other book was handy. Finally I decided to take it as my only source of distraction on a flight and force myself to get into it – a two-hour layover later I was at last into the story, and once it picked up it didn’t slow down.
The story is squarely in the vein of the more optimistic fantasy worlds out there, where the young peasant boy embarks on an adventure to defeat the great evil of the land, fairly black-and-white and generally just a lot of fun. This particular story revolves around three young boys from a backwater town of Two Rivers, who are randomly attacked and hunted by said great evil for reasons they don’t know.
The plot is made more intriguing in this particular instance of farmer-boy-becomes-hero in that there are three main protagonists, each with their own special thread of plot driving their character forward. This serves to make all three of the main characters interesting in that the reader is not simply given a single main character and a handful of insignificant side-characters who just happen to be tagging along. This makes for an entire troupe of memorable characters which the reader develops an attachment towards, keeping you interested even when the characters become separated and you
The setting of the story is very well made, with a rich history and factions the background and motives of which are only slowly unfolded. While the overall world has a feel of black-and-white, it is nuanced, in that both the great evil and the one destined to destroy him are seen as ominous figures, while the different factions which claim to be serving the Light are also never viewed – either by the common populace in the story or from the outside – as being wholly good or evil.
In a passing note, I don’t have any problem with the whole dirt-farmer discovers the world trope. Indeed, I think it’s a great way to give foreign eyes to the protagonist without needing them to enter an alien world (ala The Chronicles of Narnia). Having characters who are generally ignorant of the world gives the reader somebody to relate to as they progress throughout the world, and backwater farmboys are good figures for filling this role.
As a final note I will say that I was very pleased that the book can function as a stand-alone novel. I was worried when I first delved into the series that I would have to read all the books before I got any sort of closure, but the first book could work very well by itself and I feel no need to start the next one just to complete an unfinished story. At some 800 pages the book is certainly long enough, but I was kept interested throughout the entirety of it.
-“In wars, boy, fools kill other fools for foolish causes. That’s enough for anyone to know.”(p49)
-“Anything can be a weapon, if the man or woman who holds it has the nerve and the will to make it so.”(p139)
-“No, lad, it no be the treasure that makes for seeing the world. If you find yourself a fistful of gold, or some dead king’s jewels, all well and good, but it be the strangeness you see that pulls you to the next horizon.”(p356)
-“You’ll use it [the axe], boy, and as long as you hate using it, you will use it more wisely than most men would. Wait. If ever you don’t hate it any longer, then will be the time to throw it as far as you can and run the other way.”(p440)
I don’t have many criticisms of this book. It was slow at first, though I’m not sure this is due to the book actually starting out slow or if it simply took me a while to get used to Jordan’s style of writing – I’ve begun to notice that most of the time between books if there is an abrupt change of style it will take me a few chapters to get used to the new style before I can really start to enjoy it. Another slight criticism is the blatant comparison made between Satan and the main antagonist by having his name be – Shai’tan – be a near homophone for Satan, as well as Ba’alzamon (where Baal is a name often used to refer to Satan).
While I did say that I liked the fact that the book can work standing alone, I also felt that the ending was rather rushed, and I was a little disappointed with the rushed feeling of the final ‘battle’ (if it can be properly called that). It was abit of deus ex machina, and while it was alluded to at various points I don’t feel that the reader was given a very good idea of what was going on – at least I know I didn’t really figure out what had happened until the last fight was nearly over, and then there wasn’t much in the way of expository dialogue to clear it up afterwards either.
One other very minor criticism is that the ‘romance’ (if it can be called that) between Nynaeve and Lan seemed to come out of absolutely nowhere. I didn’t see it come at all and it seemed sorta tacked in there without any real precedent or meaningful effects.