The Wheel of Time – Robert Jordan

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For what is evolving into a “Timeline” (thanks, Facebook) of things thought, experienced or encountered, I’d be remiss without mentioning this fantasy series which has been a touch point for my family for many years. 

The Wheel of Time is a fantasy series, not the name of a specific book.  It encompasses fourteen books.  Thick ones, too.  Plus a prequel.

This adventure began around 1992, when I bought my wife the first book, “Eye of the World,” for Christmas.  She enjoyed it, and I read it and enjoyed it also.  So, we picked up the second book which was already published.  Very soon, the third came out, and it was obvious that this would be no “mere” trilogy.  It would soon become clear that the author had no idea how long the series would be either.

Although by that point Jordan was an experienced writer (having written Westerns and historical fiction), the third book began a trend wherein his writing style moved from an engaging narrative to descriptive.  In the former, things happen.  In the latter, things are described at length before anything happens.

Description is important in any story, and the world he created was inhabited by more “lands” and types of people than any other series I’ve read.  It’s natural, then, that each should be defined by particular traits, cultures, and styles of dress.  By book five or so, an entire paragraph might be spent on the color, texture, and craftsmanship of a person’s gauntlets, with more paragraphs about the rest of their clothing.  I exaggerate only a little.

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Still, the first book introduced characters that remained of interest, even if, book by book, they essentially stood up, rotated one seat to the right, and sat down again.  I might have been more satisfied had each book knocked off one major bad guy.  Instead, when one was finally killed off, darned if The Dark One didn’t bring him back.

Fans would say I’m not being fair, and they’re right.  The societies, the personalities, the struggles, the humanity of what would become a gazillion characters, back histories, the omnipresence of the lurking evil that will fight the good... it’s the stuff of an epic tale.

By the second book, I was speculating that this might be the best fantasy series, ever.  At its end, I’ll say that it was the most richly detailed.  The wealth of Jordan’s creativity is considerable, evidenced by keeping an audience who found that  the central character, Rand, that very man from prophecy who will defeat The Dark One, becomes unswaying aggravating and unlikeable through 70% of the series.  His sanity and pleasantness returns, but he never regains any charm.  By the end, I don’t really care if he lives or dies saving the world.  Just do it, please.

Jordan passed away in 2007, and the last book was passed on to another fantasy author, Brandon Sanderson, to complete.  Only, Jordan left so many hanging threads that it became necessary for three thick books to complete the story.  Why not?  After 11 books, you’re pretty well committed.  And Sanderson would have been the wrong writer for the project if he had tried to end it other than he did.  And he was the right person for the job.  After eight books of hoping that the author would return to movement in his story rather than additional pieces, Sanderson came as close to that as possible.

“A Memory of Light,” the final book, gives a sense of the immensity of the remaining variables to be settled when it opens with a 60 page prologue.  This final book has all of the fights that have been brewing for the 20+ years of this series.  As welcome as that is, it’s a tiring read.  As is expected, things go from difficult to grim to worse before getting to its expected conclusion.

Did the book unravel all the hanging threads?  I don’t know, and I don’t care anymore.  Sanderson sufficiently handled all the major ones, and if there are lesser ones that were not seen to, then I’ll leave it someone else to comment upon them.  As I was working my way through the book, it’s telling that I was never disappointed that only x pages were left before this (briefly) great series would be over forever.  I was eager to be done with it.

On a positive note, this was a great introduction to Brandon Sanderson.  He has a very creative mind that balances all the elements of good fantasy.  “The Way of Kings” is a promising intro into his own (likely longer than a trilogy) series that hopefully will not overreach as The Wheel of Time did.  And one of his earlier books, “Mistborn,’ (highly recommended) will be in theaters later this year.

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