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The Wheel of Time

Moe_Syzlak

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Below you will find my mostly spoiler free thoughts on the series as a whole as well as my mini reviews from the book reviews thread.
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I’m not a big fantasy reader or fan. I never played Dungeons and Dragons growing up and really had little to no interest in those sorts of stories until I saw the Fellowship of the Ring movie. I would, however, describe Star Wars as more fantasy than sci-fi and I did grow up with those movies a big part of my life. I say this to give context. I have since read the LotR books (and the Hobbit) and watched and enjoyed the Game of Thrones series (though I haven’t read the books). The Wheel of Time is a good to great fantasy series, in my opinion, but my issues with it revolve around many of the same issues I have with the genre in general.

As with much fantasy like LotR or Star Wars, it succeeds in creating a fully realized world that you want to explore. It also has characters that are archetypes; they exist mostly as types of characters rather than true characters that grow in anything more than the simplest ways (although I’d argue that some WoT characters grow more than LotR or OT SW characters). Further, the stories are simple; they are good vs. evil. That’s all great for a simple, short story. It works in that setting as a way for audiences to understand the characters and the story quickly and easily. But as the story evolves, it starts to feel TOO simple. Characters don’t have much emotional connection or motivation other than fighting “evil.” Characters don’t grow; the “battling evil” motivation starts to feel hollow and you want to understand the motivation of that evil antagonist. The ultimate antagonist--the Dark One or Dark Lord in this case--is an abstraction rather than any tangible threat. The characters that are on the evil side do so for simple or even non-existent reasons. They want power or feel that evil’s victory is inevitable. That starts to ring hollow when you’re talking about a 12,000 page epic.

For the protagonists, why do the characters do what they do? What is their motivation? All we’re ever really given is that it’s prophecy--fated to happen--and good vs. evil. Mat is somewhat of an exception but he too seems to accept that what he does is simply because he’s ta’veren, someone for whom fate bends around (by the way, the ta’veren concept is a clever way to explain the fact that so many young people from a small farming village are these epic heroes).

This is not to say there isn’t any character development. The saga does a good job of introducing smaller, accretive character development moments for the main characters. And the world feels fully realized. Many call Jordan’s penchant for description too much, but I think it’s his strongest attribute. By describing every room, every outfit, every character, and every emotion, he makes this very fantastic world feel genuine. There are over 2000 named characters in the series. Even very minor characters are often given names and descriptions. This may seem tedious and unnecessary to some and I wouldn’t argue. But for me, perhaps due to reading the books quickly, it made it feel like the world was more real; as if Jordan were describing things he’s actually experiencing. And his prose is very good. He’s not a master, but I didn’t find things getting repetitive.

Finally, there’s the issue of magic. It’s core to fantasy. But it can be a crutch. Too often we see story points conveniently explained by expanding the role of magic in the story universe. I feel this is a major reason for Star Wars' decline in storytelling quality after Empire and it’s a true detriment as this series goes on. New magic skills keep surfacing for the characters all the time at exactly the moment needed to take the story in a certain direction. A new talent in the One Power or angreal (magic focusing device) is discovered at convenient story points just as we saw with new Force powers in Star Wars or a new capability of the suits of Batman or Ironman. It starts to feel really lazy and, as I said, a crutch, to be able to get the characters into and out of tense situations.

Unfortunately, the limitations of theme and depth prevent me from fully endorsing the series. Still, it’s probably the best of the genre I’ve encountered, though I’m admittedly not that experienced (LotR, Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Marvel and other superhero movies). But I tend to want more depth from longer stories. These heroes are more nuanced than most. You’ll find more conflicted characters here than you will with the OT Star Wars characters for example. But it’s also 12k pages. In my opinion, it should’ve developed more. But I was enthralled throughout. It may not be a masterpiece, but it’s definitely worth reading.

In the end it’s fantasy and I probably shouldn’t expect too much. I haven’t read a lot of fantasy but it does seem like this sort of lack of depth is par for the course for the genre. It was an entertaining read and likely worthy of its reputation as one of the best fantasy series. But it’s definitely hindered by lack of depth. In a series where so much of the world is painstakingly (and sometimes painfully) drawn, it’s too bad that the characters don’t have that same attention to detail.
 

Moe_Syzlak

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I started this book with my kids. We were ready for something a bit more grown up after they read the Harry Potter series and The Hobbit. Lord of the Rings still seemed a bit much. As it turns out, this was a bit much for them too. The slow pace of Jordan’s style combined with the slow pace of reading aloud every other night made this a slog. We ended up reading just half of this first book and moved on to the His Dark Materials series, which they are liking much more. But I decided to finish the first book myself knowing there is an Amazon series on the horizon. I don’t know whether it was my ability to read faster without having to read aloud or whether the pace does indeed pick up, but I really enjoyed the second half. The ending got to be a bit much for me, however, but I was interested enough to continue with the series. I will say Jordan (supposedly intentionally) borrows heavily from Tolkien to the point where I found it bordering on fan fiction.
 

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The second book in the series has the distinction of really starting to find Jordan come into his own. The previous book’s Tolkien fan fiction is largely gone, though I think it’s impossible to have this sort of fantasy without a huge debt owed to Tolkien. Instead we start to see a different sort of world building that reminded me more of Game of Thrones. There is much more political maneuvering and many, many characters interacting in complex ways that sometimes span many lifetimes. Again, however, the book concludes with an epic battle that, for me, strains credulity.
 

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Book three serves as a sort of climax to the first three books. Our reluctant heroes have (mostly) accepted their fates and we feel we’ve reached the end of the first act of the series. Unfortunately we also spend very little time with our main protagonist, Rand, in this book and it suffers for it. That does, however, give other characters more room to grow. It’s a mixed bag, in my opinion, and the weakest of the first three books. The climax, which we’ve now come to expect a final “boss battle,” was much more interesting and, though not “believable” in any real sense, does work better for me within the rules of this narrative universe.
 

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I just finished The Shadow Rising (book 4). It’s definitely the best in series so far, in my opinion. It has also solidified my opinion that George R.R. Martin certainly drew much influence from this series. It is, at times, getting difficult to juggle the many characters and storylines, particularly as some characters are known in different ways. Though I enjoyed this one the most so far, it definitely has some lesser storylines that scream that Jordan was just trying to find something to do for some main characters from previous books.
 

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Just finished book five of the Wheel of Time, Fires of Heaven. For me, it was definitely a step down from the previous book, though not a huge one. There were times where it felt like a chore to keep reading. But it all came together in the end. I definitely missed Perrin, Faile, Loial, and the Two Rivers folk who comprised the standout plot lines of the previous book and are totally absent from this book.
 

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The pace really picks up in this book. All of our Emond’s Fielders are now a long way from their former selves. Well, almost all. Mat is still Mat to a large degree. It was nice to have all the main characters represented in this book after missing Perrin, Faile, and Loial for the last book. There are quite a few major developments as well.
 

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After the terrific conclusion of the previous book, this one has the feel of resetting the pieces on the board. It spends the first half of the book mostly just setting things up for the next leg of the saga. It does, however, offer some great new characters and provides new opportunities for growth for our main characters. Unfortunately the conclusion that should’ve been amazing feels rushed and anticlimactic. I’m assuming there’s reasons for the choices made for the conclusion that will be revealed in future books. But it did feel like this book was robbed of its climax.
 

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I had initially planned to take a break from this series before this book as this one—along with the two books that follow—have a reputation among fans of the series as a bit of a slog. But, after finding book seven a bit of a slog, I worried that I would never continue with the series if I didn’t push forward now. I’m glad I did as I found this book to be a slight improvement on its predecessor. If I’m not mistaken, Jordan had originally planned to wrap up the story in eight books. At some point that estimate was increased to 12 books, with 14 (plus a prequel) ending up being the final tally. So I can see that fans of the series that read these books as they were released may have wanted the story to advance more towards the conclusion. That said, I enjoyed this one due to it introducing more uncertainty—more fallibility—in the characters. For the first time, things don’t seem to be marching inexorably towards the prophecy. Sure, favorite characters like Mat (who is completely absent) and Egwene (who is given very little to do) being sidelined doesn’t help. But it’s not the first time in the series that major characters have been left out of books. All in all it was a pleasant surprise that this one wasn’t the slog I was expecting.
 

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This another one that fans of the series claim is a slog to get through. I didn’t find it that bad. But we’re definitely so far into the series that there are so many different plot threads and literally thousands of characters. Sometimes a relatively minor character from several books back is suddenly front and center. It’s good that there’s a wiki for the series that has allowed me to check back easily to remind myself of characters like this. I’ve been reading this just for a few months; I can’t imagine keeping this all straight over many years let alone decades. That’s not a criticism, but rather acknowledgment of the complexity of the story. There are so many characters and plot threads yet so many characters feel important. Or rather, you feel you must consider them important because even seemingly minor characters can prove important down the line.

It’s true that there aren’t a ton of major developments until the climax and some of the few that there are are pretty cringey. Yet I found it an entertaining read. There were a few laugh out loud moments and I can’t remember any in the previous eight books. Some of the tropes have grown a little stale, but only a little. But you can’t talk about this book without talking about the climax. To me it was the most cinematic and consequential ending yet. The constantly shifting points of view could be confusing if not handled deftly. It is a momentous and cool scene and the manner in which it was written elevates it—and the book—immensely.
 

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This is the book in the series that is pretty much universally considered the worst. And, while the previous two books also share a poor reputation, I really only agree with this one. As I ask myself about the development of the main characters, very little can be said to be different from the end of the previous book. This book also largely happens simultaneously with the events of the previous book making its lack of a true climax all the more glaring. This is definitely not a bad book, but just feels like so much padding. Though I do feel like it continues to add to the world building by adding many layers to the negotiations and politics. Perhaps reorganizing this book and the previous book would have allowed for it not to seem so ineffectual. Though that likely would’ve necessitated an epilogue hundreds of pages long.
 

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This is definitely an improvement on the last book and it also manages to make the last book better. Though it still has too much padding. I think Crossroads of Twilight and Knife of Dreams could’ve been combined for a single book by a skillful editor. It still may have made for the longest book of the series but it would’ve been a more satisfying read. Again, this isn’t much of an issue for me reading the series in a matter of months. But if you were reading these as released I would imagine this book ranks so much higher than its predecessor due to feeling like the second half of one book.
 

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The first book after the passing of author Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson does a fantastic job of not only advancing the story, but also making it feel seamlessly a part of the larger series. If I understand correctly large sections were written by Jordan with copious notes for still more of the book. While some sections, notably anything with Perrin, are completely Sanderson. But without this knowledge it wouldn’t be apparent at all. In fact, I’d wager anyone reading the series unaware wouldn’t notice any changes at all. That said, the pace is much quicker than it has been in the series for some time. This book was a real page turner and it has left me chomping at the bit for the final two books.
 

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Although I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as the previous book, it’s still very good. It advances many of the important plot lines, but still feels like what it is: the set up for the conclusion.
 

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The final book in the series was appropriately epic. All of the many main characters get a chance to shine. The battles are interesting and unexpected. I am often bored by battle scenes in both books and films but this has a battle that is roughly 300 pages long and it held my interest. The end felt right, if not that perfect sort of ending that makes you shout “YES!” It’s definitely among the best books of the series.
 
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