Fantasy as a genre had evolved a lot since its inception- if you can even define when that was. The stories of heroes and monsters in the days of old became what we call “myths” and now serve as inspiration for countless modern interpretations.
Tolkien wrestled the genre out of niche pulp fantasy and gave it a mainstream success. From there, Tolkien’s work has served as the basis for the rest of the modern genre, with few other authors whose staple work can even come close to rivaling it.
One of those works, however, is Robert Jordan’s 14 novel fantasy epic: “The Wheel of Time”. Many fantasy fans grew up with this series and were inspired by it, but I hadn’t even heard of it until relatively recently.
I decided that since so many fans of the genre rate it highly, I needed to check it out – sort of like how I got into EasyBet Casino. And since it was already finished, and I didn’t have to worry about getting Game of Thrones-ed again. Currently, I’m eight novels into this juggernaut of a series, and… agh, I’ve got words.
Beware of spoilers, I guess.
Welcome to the world of “The Wheel of Time”. Time is literally a wheel, where eras and ages rise and fall, and the monsters of ages past return in a never-ending cycle of good versus evil. In every age, The Dark One- an evil, god-like entity, unleashes its best efforts to break the cycle and leave everything in ruins.
To combat this threat, every era produces a “The Dragon”- a male with exceptional power, who possesses talents of the previous Dragons, who will break the world, then unite it before leading the battle against The Dark One and his servants.
Our story begins with three young men, Rand the farmboy, Perrin the gentle giant, and Mat the trickster, who lives in a remote village in a region known as “The Two Rivers”.
Their lives change forever when Moraine, an Aes Sedai sorceress, turns up and declares them Tavern- people whose mere presence drastically alters world events around them. She suspects that one of them may even be The Dragon Reborn and urges them to join her so that they can be properly trained.
Joining them on this journey is Egwene, a girl who has been practically betrothed to Rand since they were children, and Nynaeve, a feisty healer who solves her problems by shouting at them more than anything else. Together, along with a supporting cast that literally numbers in the hundreds, they will change the world forever.
Not that any of them initially would like to admit it. None of them trust Moraine in the slightest (because who can trust the enigmatic Aes Sedai, who always has another plot up their sleeve?), and everyone in the main cast are dragged into the main plot kicking and screaming the whole time.
Spoiler warning: The Dragon is Rand, Perrin gets wolf powers, Egwene and Nynaeve become Aes Sedai themselves, and Mat spends the first half of the series desperately trying to escape the plot by any means necessary.
Let’s start with Wheel of Time’s strongest asset: The worldbuilding. There is a reason that this series is a staple of any reading list for epic fantasy.
The world is unfathomably huge, filled with several continents worth of countries, cultures, kingdoms, and factions- each with a gazillion sub-factions, all attempting to pursue their own agenda. Moraine’s quest to train The Dragon Reborn goes into immediate conflict with nearly every other Aes Sedai, who are determined to put down every male who can channel and prevent his coming again.
The Two Rivers considers itself independent of the greater kingdom of Andor, who considers The Two Rivers as part of its territory but is too remote to send tax-men to regularly. There are the Children of Light, Bordermen, High Lords, and many, many more. Robert Jordan’s world is just that- an entire world.
Strong worldbuilding, however, cannot save a story with bad characters, however. That is not Wheel of Time’s problem. Each of the characters are distinct characters, with their own motivations, agendas, quirks, and desires- and with a cast that numbers in the hundreds, that damn impressive. Oh, and I should mention: There are over one hundred and forty POV characters and nearly three thousand named characters in total.
However, it’s not perfect. I think one of the weakest aspects of this series so far is its relationships. Characters form relationships of ever-lasting love- or break them at the drop of a dime. In particular, Rand and Egwene’s situation sort of just… fizzles out, while Nynaeve spends several novels apart from her love interest, and marries him the moment they reunite, even though they hadn’t really had any “screentime” together before.
Overall, though, I’d rate Wheel of Time’s characters fairly strongly.
The Name Salad
A pet peeve of mine when it comes to fantasy novels is when the author mashes his face on the keyboard and invents a bunch of nonsense words I have to add to my imaginary dictionary.
In the opening prologue of this series alone, we’re introduced to Lews Therin, The Dragon, the True Source, The One Power, Shai’tan, Ring of Tamerlyn, Nine Rods of Dominion, the Gates of Paaran Disen, and The Hundred Companions- and as the reader going in blind, I had no idea what any of those things are. Now I have finished eight books, and I still don’t know what some of those things are.
It’s a very generic fantasy nitpick, but Wheel of Time just continues to throw term after term at the reader, like Taveren, Ji’e’toh, Dai Shin, Saidar, Saidin- and those last to are used all the time but mean critically different things.
Oh, we’re doing THIS now?
But here’s my biggest critique of this series: Wheel of Time experiences something professional called the “Saggy Middle Syndrome”. The middle of the story sags as the author pads space to get to bits that matter. Wheel of Time has several saggy books in the middle, each of which run as a slow burn as major events fall into place. Rand spends most of his time doing sweet FA until he randomly decides, “Ho! It’s time for the plot to progress!”
This happens several times as the climax of the current novel. An important plot point is that Rand is facing 13 Forsaken evildoers who serve the dark one. These people have knowledge lost to time, powers unknown, and are incredibly evil.
Rand spends two novels preparing to fight one of them, building an army, laying red herrings, etc… only to just decide, “Okay, it’s time to kill him!” and he teleports straight to the bad guy, chases him around for a bit, and kills him. What the hell was the point of the entire army and the two books of waiting if Rand is just gonna teleport in, snap the bad guy’s neck, and save the day? He kills two or three of the major villains this way, I swear.
Then, in the eighth novel, Rand wants to do a big plot significant thing with the entire way that magic works in the story- and then just… does it. He uses tools he already has had for, like, two books now, and… it just made me go, “Oh, we’re doing THIS now?” No figuring how, just gotta pull a Shai La’Boufe and DO IT.
That’s Wheel of Time for ya.
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