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Book Review: The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan

A Farmboy of Destiny hikes through Middle EarthFantasylandia


The Eye of the World

Tor, 1990, 670 pages



The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, and Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.




Although I have read many fantasy novels, there are very few multi-volume epics that have turned me into a follower. I think there are few series that really need more than a trilogy to tell their story, and if you want to drag me along for five, ten, or fifteen books, the writing and plotting had better be damn fine.

So I avoided the Wheel of Time for the same reason I have thus far avoided Game of Thrones — yes, lots of people are rabid fans and say it's the BEST FANTASY SERIES EVAH! but it's not finished and also damn, that's a lot of books to read.

Then Brandon Sanderson finished WoT, and I kind of like Brandon Sanderson's writing, but I still was not really enticed to start WoT because damn, that's a lot of books to read.

Then the entire WoT series was nominated for a Hugo. And since I have had a paperback copy of the first book, The Eye of the World, sitting around forever, I figured I would at least read it.

Now I have.

Portentous Prologues, Chosen Ones, Mars/Venus magic systems, and three thousand years of sitting around with their thumbs up their asses



First there is a prologue that describes how the big bads back in the day broke the world with their ultimate mortal kombat.

Then, thousands of years later, we meet Rand al'Thor, Farmboy of Destiny, living in his bucolic village out in the Ass-End of Nowhere Woods, just before an assortment of interesting characters arrive there. Followed by "trollocs."

Groan. I groaned. It was the first of many groans.

(Goddamn fantasy/sci-fi apostrophes are a pet peeve of mine. How are you supposed to pronounce "Rand al'Thor"?)

I used to read big epic fantasies more often, though there are some I've never gotten through, and the reason I rarely do nowadays is not because I don't like fantasy, or even because I expect something fresh and original every time — a well-told story can still be a well-told story even if it's a very old one. But The Eye of the World is the epitome of an utterly generic medieval fantasylandia chock full of tropes that are there just for the sake of being tropes. The main character is a Chosen One, there are cryptically-intoned prophecies galore, everyone is still talking about shit that happened three thousand years ago because that's why the world is the way it is today (and unlike Earth, generic medieval fantasylandias never advance beyond the Iron Age, no matter how many millenia they've been stuck there), and the story itself consists of a rag-tag band of adventurers being chased across several maps labeled with places like "Cairhien" and "the Isles of the Sea Folk" and "the Blasted Lands."

To call this book "derivative" is only stating the obvious. I mean, the Big Bad is known as Shai'tan or alternatively, Ba'alzamon.

A wizard, a ranger, a bard, a cleric, three 0-level fighters and one 0-level magic user go on a quest



Rand al'Thor and two of his friends flee their village when it's apparent that the danger threatening it is looking for them. They are accompanied by a wizardess from an all-female magical sect called the Bene GesseritAes Sedai, and her hunky bodyguard AragornLan. They are followed by Rand al'Thor's would-be girlfriend, Egwene, because Rand needs someone to blush and stammer adolescently at, and the village "Wisdom," who provides healing and minor charms for the villagers and a constant stream of kvetching and mistrust and acting like she knows what she's talking about.

Barrow wights, Gollum, and Tom Bombadil



This is a fantasy novel for fans who adore the craft of "worldbuilding." We're treated to a ton of names, places, events, and groups, most of which are not fully explained and obviously will have a future role. And ye gads are there a lot of Made-Up Capitalized Fantasy Words. This is all of TVTropes in one volume. It's almost embarrassing how obviously Jordan is just stealing characters and places (and sometimes even scenes) from Tolkien, but there is enough of a shade of originality in his inventions that you could almost believe his world is a brand new creation.

The plotting was involved and engaging, but the story itself was bloated all to hell. You could tell that sometimes the author himself lost track of his chronology, as when we get identical paragraphs, pages apart, about a farmer giving Rand a scarf. There are pages and pages of Rand and his friends on the run, and meeting incidental characters who are, in this book, little more than colorful background detail, padding out the chapters.

The characters themselves were somewhat distinct, but few of them really had enough personality for my taste. Rand al'Thor is Luke Skywalker (and about as personalityless), one of his friends turns into a "Wolf-friend" and the other gets tainted by a magical Dark MacGuffin he picked up at the magical Dark MacGuffin place. Okay, the librarian ogre"Ogier" was kind of cool.

Over hundreds of pages, we hike with them over hill and over dale, through bigger and bigger cities, encountering bigger and bigger big bads, until a dramatic and exciting climax, in which Rand al'Thorn faces Ba'alzamon directly, and his friends find out they all have bigger destinies.

The climax was almost worth the journey, but not worth slogging through fourteen more books, I'm sorry to say.

The thing is, I can see why the Wheel of Time has picked up the following it has. It hit at just the right time, in the early 90s, when huge doorstopper fantasy series were reaching their peak and let's face it, they were all ripping off Tolkien. The Eye of the World is pretty shameless about it, but despite that, and also despite Jordan's famous wordiness, it's head and shoulders better than the Shannara books (which I could never do more than skim), and Robert Jordan is a much better writer than David Eddings (which is damning with faint praise, but....).

On the other hand, he is no Tolkien or Wolfe or Vance, nor even a Moorcock or a Lieber. Hell, I'm not sure he's even a Brandon Sanderson.

Robert Jordan fans got the entire Wheel of Time series nominated for a Hugo "best novel" this year, due to a quirk in the Hugo nomination rules. There is no way I'm reading the next fourteen books before August, even if they have given them all away. In fact, there is no way I'm reading the next fourteen books ever. I've read the first book, and that's enough.

Poll #1974037 The Eye of the World

Have you read the Wheel of Time?

No.
7(31.8%)
Only the first book.
5(22.7%)
I read a few of them.
1(4.5%)
I read most of them, and intend to finish someday.
3(13.6%)
I have read the entire series.
4(18.2%)
I have read and reread all of them, multiple times.
2(9.1%)

What is your opinion of the series?

It's awful.
3(15.8%)
Meh.
7(36.8%)
It may not be great literature, but it's entertaining.
4(21.1%)
I am a big fan!
4(21.1%)
I am a fan and you'd like it if you gave it another chance! Just read three or four more books!
1(5.3%)




Verdict: The Eye of the World is honored for its sentimental value and because of the massive investment Wheel of Time fans put into reading this huge series, not because this book is truly great. It isn't. It's not terrible. But Robert Jordan was not a great writer and there was barely anything original about this trite and overwritten epic fantasy quest. I don't mind having read it, but the thought of reading fourteen more fills me with existential horror. Enough.




My complete list of book reviews.
Tags: 2014 hugo nominee, books, fantasy, reviews
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