Friday, July 02, 2010

The Eye of the World, a Review

eye_of_the_world Blood and ashes, what a book.  The Eye of the World, the seminal volume of Robert Jordan's masterpiece epic fantasy series The Wheel of Time, was released on January 15, 1990.  It has long been on my TBR pile, and after Brandon Sanderson took over the helm of the last book, I finally decided to dive into the series.

In 1990, fantasy was mostly what I think of as clichéd.  Dark Lords, prophecies, simple farm boys, and the like stomp through the books of the era, and The Eye of the World contains its fair share of them.  Still, I knew this all going into the book, and I'm a patient reader, willing to give the author many, many pages before I make my decision to abandon a read.  More often than not, I finish a book once I start it, and it's a rare thing indeed if I put one away in disgust.  Still, by the time I finished The Eye of the World, I felt somewhat relieved, somewhat exhilarated, somewhat exhausted, and somewhat interested to find out what happens next.

The dramatis personae is enormous for this book, and I imagine can only grow as the series progresses.  Rand al'Thor, Matrim Cauthon and Perrin Aybara are from the Two Rivers, a simple farming village nestled away in the backwater lands of Andor.  They make their lives as simpletons dreaming of adventure and life outside the country vale.  One night, the town is attacked by Trollocs, devastating the unprepared town, and the three lads learn that they were the reason for the attack.  They flee the Two Rivers, hoping to keep their homelands safe, and thus the epic journey begins.

EyeOfTheWorldUKMany curious and interesting things happen on the road for the travelers.  More people are joined to their party, and the world slowly unfolds.  The group is hounded by followers of the Shadow, and soon it's obvious that the Dark One must be stopped and that this group is more important than once thought.  Jordan painstakingly describes the scenes, like the master of high fantasy Tolkien himself, long worded and lengthy.  I sometimes found myself zoning out at the language, much like I did when I first discovered The Lord of the Rings

All of this is not to say that The Eye of the World is a bad book.  No, on the contrary, it has plenty to keep the reader excited and thrilled.  The imagination is impressive, crafting a world full of legends and many different cultures and creatures.  The use of magic is never far from belief, and the threat of the Shadow is constantly reminding the reader that the world is not safe.  Plus, some scenes are just plain fun, especially the resolution.

Still, the biggest problem with Jordan's opening volume, and the most difficult thing to overcome, is the wordiness.  Jordan has a terrible habit of repeating himself over and over, using the same actions for the same characters.  For one, the characters "curse" all the time; saying "burn me" or "blood and ashes" after every bad thing that happens is just boring and trite.  It's not that I have a problem with the curse words in literature, but I just think they're a bit overused and unrealistic.  In fact, I'd go as far as saying that the dialogue is quite unrealistic more often than not.  Also, not only are the curses re-used over and over, but so are character mannerisms.  Having Tom "blow out his mustaches" when he's flustered is okay on occasion, but not every single time.  And the women pulling at their braids or smoothing their skirts?  Bah. 

EyeOfTheWorldKindleYet, if you can get past the wordiness and the lackluster dialogue, Jordan has a rough gem buried.  The worldbuilding is excellent.  The legends are fascinating.  The tale is truly epic in scope, exploring various themes of what it's like to be chosen as the savior of the world, how the common people react to growing Shadow, and countless others.  Many of the characters in the main party are all interesting for different reasons, and though Rand is the main POV, the insight to other characters is great fun.  (I never really warmed up to Mat, that dork.  Perrin, on the other hand, was cool, and Thom, too.)

Overall, The Eye of the World is a long novel that only scratches the surface of the enormous Wheel of Time series.  I've read that the series drops the ball a bit in the middle, and that could prove problematic.  Still, it is a modern classic that must be read by all fans of fantasy, or at least attempted.  However, I already own The Great Hunt, the next book in the series, so I'll probably be starting it at some point in the quasi-near future.  I feel like I need to pace myself between books to keep it up and not get burned out.  In the end, I recommend The Eye of the World to all fans of fantasy, especially in the epic subgenre, but with a warning: be prepared for a great story, but a little work to get to it.

9 comments:

Jay Belt said...

Wordiness is an understatement when it comes to WoT. And if you had trouble with Book 1, where stuff actually happens...book 7,8,9,10 are going to be rough to tackle with the extremely slow pace and only 1 thing happening of much significance.

But there IS a light at the end of the tunnel. 11 picks back up with the pacing, and 12(when Brandon came in to finish it)...12 is a breath of fresh air into the series. When reading 12 there was a point in the middle I reached and said, "This is where Jordan would have ended the novel and built it to 300,000 words."

Character wise, yeah the repetitive mannerism get annoying fast. Especially when each person seems to only have 1 mannerism they repeat constantly. Mat is kind of a tool in the first book, but his character arcs to a point that I could read just Mat's story now and be happy with the series.

You know. I have a hard time recommending this series to people. And it's all because of 7, 8, 9, 10. If I had a wish to spare, I would wish that those 4 books be pressed together and all the fluff cut out. Then I could recommend this series again to people, because it IS a good series if you cut out all that fluff.

logankstewart said...

@Jay: I plan on doing my best to make it through the series. I'm not sure how long it'll take, but I want to try and experience the WoT.

David Wagner said...

Great review! Now I don't have to read it! Honestly, will I miss out much by not reading it, do you think? The consensus seems to be that it holds up pretty well for 4 books or so, then drags to a near-stop. I've read many testimonies where people either stopped reading mid-way through the series, or finished the series, wishing they had stopped 4 books in...

Maybe there's a certain amount of pride in being able to say "I've read the series"... like running a marathon, or something...

In any case, thanks for taking the time to read it, and the time to write the review. I don't feel bad bumping it from my "books to consider reading" list now...

David Wagner said...

Hey! You're reading Storm Front now! Cool. You seem to be far more patient than I am; I look forward to your take on it.

I'm reading more KJ Parker now... Devices and Desires. Thick book... and it's book one in a three-book series...

By the way, I'm now facebook friends with a couple professional competitive eaters, lol... how funny, the way life plays itself out...

logankstewart said...

@Dave(x2): That's the general consensus I've read, too, but I still think I want to try and make it through them. Glad to have helped you decide whether or not to read it, I think...

As for Storm Front, I just finished it, actually, and I loved it. I'll be putting up a full review next week. I've wanted to read the Engineer books from Parker, so I'll be interested to see what you think about Devices and Desires.

Oh wow. Facebook, bringing complete strangers with passing interests and controversy together.

Carl V. said...

I read the first 4 books in the series, waaaaay back when they were coming out, and loved them. I was sucked right into the story. But then it never ended. And each book took longer to get out and by the time it would I had forgotten just who everyone was, etc, to some degree at least and I finally got tired of it and said enough is enough.

Since then I have stayed away from all of these long ongoing series. Which is why I'm surprised that I read A Game of Thrones recently...and, crap!...Loved it!. Part of the reason was seeing GRRM in person recently and hearing him talk about the series having an end in the next couple of books. I just hope he gets to it soon and doesn't end up being like Jordan, passing away before his dream is realized.

logankstewart said...

@Carl: In no way do I expect these books to be as wonderful as GRRM's series. Still, they're certainly comparable in size, just lacking is execution.

Carl V. said...

I understand from friends who have kept up with them that they get worse, become a bit more meandering and you end up with huge books that progress the story only a tiny bit. But it sounds like Sanderson is doing a fantastic job with Jordan's notes and should hopefully be able to bring the whole thing to a satisfying conclusion.

logankstewart said...

@Carl: Aye, although I want to read the remainder of the series to get to Sanderson, if it becomes unbearable I will give it up.