Hello, all. Super Hubs here!
Confession time: I don’t read a lot of fantasy. I love the idea of fantasy. I love being whisked away to another world where the laws of physics don’t adhere to the boring bullshit of our stupid, normal world; I love imagining sprawling landscapes full of impossible geology and incredible cultures; I love crazy monsters and magic. Everything about fantasy seems like it should appeal to me…and yet, the only fantasy I’ve read has been the Harry Potter series, the Lord of the Rings series, and GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire series.
There are lots of reasons for this, all of them pretty dumb. However, the dumbest reason I have thus far avoided most fantasy novels is also probably the biggest reason: almost as a rule, I hate fantasy language. By that, I mean I hate the way that almost every fantasy I’ve ever tried to read has been very…insistent…about how alien the language is supposed to be. All the characters are speaking English, but their names are all craaaaaaaaazy. They have unnecessary apostrophes, lots of consonants, and no real reason for being as weird as they are considering how, again, everyone is speaking English and almost always with an implied English accent. For an example:
Tua’t’thallamon cocked an eyebrow at his companion, the question lingering between them unspoken but powerful.
Baalroar bellowed, and pulled the hood of his cloak forward, shielding his eyes. His voice was rough-hewn and brimming with anger. “Piss off. I’ll tell you when I bloody well know.”
That’s how I imagine all fantasy. Stupid names and English accents. Like I said, my reasons for avoiding fantasy are insanely dumb. I’m not even really sure where this aversion came from—probably from forcing my way through Lord of the Rings in seventh grade and being bored out of my mind. Yes, Internet: I don’t like Lord of the Rings. I love the story and the lore, but the writing bores me to tears. COME AT ME BROS!
Regardless, it has been a part of my life for a long time. Which is unacceptable. I’m supposed to be a Reader. Not just a reader. I can’t let the trappings of genre discourage me from trying new things. That’s what scrubs do! My wife is a semi-devout follower of the Church of TLC, and rule 1 is that scrubs can’t get no love from them!
And so, having been faced with the nigh-inevitable dissolution of my marriage, I decided to stop being a scrub and open my damn mind. There are many options for the burgeoning fantasy fanatic out there, but I decided to jump straight into the deep end and go with the universally acclaimed Wheel of Time series, the highest of high fantasies.
Begun in 1990, the series stretches 14 books and just under 23 years. It was written by Robert Jordan until he unfortunately passed away; then it was finished by Brandon Sanderson, who was hand-picked by Jordan to complete the story once he was diagnosed with a terminal disease. Both are well-loved and critically acclaimed in the fantasy world, and the series itself is often held in similar regard as Lord of the Rings.
I wasn’t sure if I would be sticking it out, so I didn’t start this post until I had already made it halfway through book 3. Having made it this far, I’ve decided that I will be reading the whole series. So I might as well talk about it on the internet! Cus nobody’s eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeever done it before. My reviews of the books will be very loose and…as coherent as I can make them. The books are all pretty long with lots of characters and lots of storylines and looooooots of lore, and it can get a little difficult to keep it all straight. But I’ll do my best.
Now, I’ve been spoiled by A Song of Ice and Fire in terms of character motivation and political machinations, so I’m sometimes bored by Manichean stories of good vs. evil (is that redundant?) and The Wheel of Time is very much a story of good vs. evil. The good guys are on the side of “The Light,” the bad guys follow “The Dark One,” and it’s all going to end in a final showdown between the two sides. However, not everything is black and white, and the good guys, though definitely good, might not be such a good thing for the world. But we’ll get to that later. For now, I shall discuss the series opener.
The first book is called The Eye of the World, and it’s very much in the tradition of Tolkienesque fantasy. Three simple boys from a small village overlooked by the rest of the world are swept up in a conflict that’s spreading across the globe and in which they will unexpectedly play an integral part. However, they are joined by a girl from their village, and the wizard that gets them to leave their world is also a woman. In fact, women are a huge presence in these books, and, for the most part, they are actually well written. So that makes things better than most other fantasy writing. Yay!
There is actually not much to talk about in this first book. I mean, there is, but it’s all pretty simple. Well, maybe simplistic is a better word. Like I said, it’s all very much in the vein of Tolkien, but I think it’s by choice. Whatever. This first post is more to introduce the series, and to do that, I’m going to have to talk about the world for several thousand words. There’s a lot going on guys and gals.
We begin in a village called Two Rivers. It’s a simple village full of simple farmers, and everyone is getting ready for a yearly festival called Bel Tine. We’re introduced to our ostensible main character, Rand al’Thor, and his father Tam. I’m going to take this opportunity to deviate momentarily and ask…the fuck is up with fantasy and apostrophes? Seriously. So anyway: Rand and Tam. They’re sheepherders who live outside of the village. Tam is stoic but kind, a good father and nice guy with a mysterious past. He’s cool. Rand is a teenager caught between trying to be cool like his dad but also childish. They’re traveling to the village and giving us lots of exposition about how winter has been weirdly long, and times are tough, but dammit, they’re still gonna try to have a good festival for everyone. While Tam is expositing lots of information that Rand would already know, Rand sees a mysterious, cloaked man who makes him afraid. Tam doesn’t believe him.
When they get to the village, we’re introduced to some of our other main characters: Matrim “Mat” Cauthon, village troublemaker; Perrin Aybara, contemplative blacksmith apprentice; and Egwene al’Vere, daughter of the Mayor and practically betrothed to Rand. They’ve all seen the man in black too, and their parents didn’t believe them either. Soon after, we’re introduced to more main characters as two strangers have come to Two Rivers: a woman who seems ageless and her deadly guard. Their names are Moiraine and Lan. Also a gleeman (a term for storytellers, musicians, magicians, and general entertainers all in one) has come to Two Rivers, which is cause for celebration as they are incredibly rare in the boonies. His name is Thom Merrilin, and he’s also a main character. Also the village Wisdom (a wise-woman/healer that is common in most villages). Her name is Nynaeve, which I read as “Nee-nuh-vay,” but it’s apparently pronounced “NIGH-neev,” and I am VERY salty about it. A peddler named Padan Fain is there too; he’s also a major character. These books are full of characters—I tried to warn you!
So look, shit happens. The village is attacked by things called Trollocs, which are like half-man/half-animal monsters, and the man in black is revealed to be a Myrddral, which is a man-like monster with no eyes and weird magic. Rand and Tam are attacked at their home, and they have to fight their way out with a sword that Rand never knew Tam had and which has a Heron mark, which is a big deal for reasons that won’t be revealed for several hundred pages. Anyway. We get hints about Tam’s mysterious past, somethin’ about him maybe not actually being Rand’s dad.
Moiraine is revealed to be an Aes Sedai, which is the book’s version of wizards. People don’t like Aes Sedai very much. They don’t trust them, and they’re scared of them. Also, only women can be Aes Sedai as magic is composed of two-halves: one male, one female. The male half of the magic (called the One Power) is tainted due to the main villain tampering with it thousands and thousands of years ago, and any man who channels goes crazy and kills people. So any man who learns how to use magic is hunted down and “stilled” by the Aes Sedai, and most wind up killing themselves after that.
I should take a moment to explain something about the world. It is very much a matriarchal society. Women are runnin’ the show in most places. It’s actually pretty cool as it basically takes the patriarchal, semi-medieval style of most high fantasy and flips it to show what it would be like as a matriarchy. Fun fact: it’s basically the same.
So anyway. As you would expect, the main characters are forced to flee their village and embark on an epic quest. The reason for this is that it would seem the Myrddral is hunting one of the three boys. Moiraine was in the Two Rivers hunting for them to try and help them…probably… She’s actually up to her own shenanigans, but we won’t really learn the extent of her plans until the end of the book. Egwene bullies her way into going too, and Moiraine allows this because it turns out Egwene has the potential to be an Aes Sedai. Later we find out that Nynaeve followed them to bring everyone back, and it turns out SHE has the potential to be an Aes Sedai too—a particularly powerful one at that. Also, Nynaeve hates Moriaine, and so far this has not changed. Her entire purpose in the books is to become powerful enough that she can kill Moiraine. This…actually gets to be really annoying. I’ll talk about it more in later posts.
After fleeing for a while, our heroes are hounded into a city called Shadar Logoth. It’s a dead city ruled by an ancient evil called Ordeth that even the forces of the Shadow are afraid of. Ordeth is basically like Tom Bombadil, if Tom Bombadil was an evil smoke monster that possessed people. Long story short, Mat is stupid and takes a dagger from Ordeth’s treasure room after specifically being warned not to touch anything. (Mat’s stupid.) After this, all the characters are forced to split up as they are chased out of the city by Trollocs. Mat starts going insane because of the dagger, Nynaeve meets up with Moiraine and Lan, and Perrin and Egwene are washed away down a river.
This splitting up of the main characters happens…a lot in this series. It’s a big part of the reason there are so many books and why they’re all so long.
Mat and Rand do a lot of walking while Mat’s health and mental state degrade, and all the other characters are trying to get to the city they were originally going to. It’s during this Scooby Doo split-up section that we’re introduced to probably my favorite thing: Perrin can talk to wolves! He and Egwene meet this weird dude who runs with wolves, and he tells Perrin that he can do it too. And Perrin, like an idiot, hates this about himself. He seriously spends every one of his chapters complaining about how he can feel the wolves around him and how they’re all trying to talk to him. It’s annoying. I’m on the fourth book now, and he’s still doing this shit. Other than that, Perrin is my favorite character. The series is being turned into a TV show, and if they by some miracle have open casting, I’m totally going out for the part of Perrin. He’s the best.
So after a few hundred pages, everyone finally meets up. Moiraine heals Mat but says that to separate him from the dagger, they’ll have to go to Tar Valon. Also, Nynaeve falls in love with Lan, and Lan falls in love with her but he can’t be with her for stupid honor reasons. That love story actually develops really well, and the hints set it up so that you can see it coming in a very natural way. That shit made me smile.
We’re also introduced to a group called the Whitecloaks, a super religious group kind of like the Knights Templar mixed with the Spanish Inquisition. They suck.
There’s a great deal of walking, and they meet a character named Loial, who is an Ogier. Ogier live in forests called Steddings, and they’re all nature-y and shiz. It’s awesome. They travel through this thing called The Ways, which is like a side universe that allows quick travel but has a horrible monster made up of lost souls that’ll kill ya. They use the Ways to get to Lan’s homeland, which is right on the side of The Great Blight, which is exactly what it sounds like. Trollocs live there, the Dark One is bound somewhere within it, and it’s full of twisted mockeries of life and nature.
From there, it’s a quick jaunt to the end of the book as they have to travel into the Great Blight to look for someone called The Green Man who guards a place called The Eye of the World. The Green Man is basically an ent. They make it to the Eye of the World and do what they have to do there, which is mostly just McGuffin the shit out of it and are confronted by two of the Dark One’s lieutenants. These people are called The Forsaken; there are thirteen of them, most are male Aes Sedai from the Age of Legends, and they’re the most powerful channelers of all time. The Green Man kills one, and Rand is forced to fight another. This is when he finds out that he can also channel, and he uses the One Power to kill the Forsaken and confront Ba’alzamon. He wins and assumes that he killed the Dark One, but of course it isn’t that easy. Moiraine tells him as much, and at the end of the story, she says to herself that he’s the Dragon Reborn as Lan teaches him how to fight with a sword.
So yeah… There’s a lot going on, and that’s just the first book! I hope you can remember all the characters and factions and lore cus there’s gonna be a lot more added to it in the posts to come! Overall, the book was good and, as I said, very Tolkienesque and simple. It’s good versus evil with a few twists on old tropes. It had to set up a huge world with lots of history and came with the type of literary baggage you would expect from a story like that. For the most part, the world building didn’t drag the story down. It was a little difficult to get through the whole thing just because, again, I’m a fantasy scrub, and I’m not used to reading these sorts of books. After finishing the third book, I definitely got the impression that each book is more like a chapter, and the chapters in the books are just sub-chapters. Everything is more or less building in three-part story arcs. With the way I read (brief bursts of lots of reading, followed by long periods of not wanting to read), it’s going to take forever for me to get through this whole series. So, hope you’re looking forward to me writing about this shit a lot!
See you in the next one! Which hopefully I’ll get out within the next week. But I make no promises!
Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.