Review: The Eye of the World

the eye of the world

The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time #1), Robert Jordan. New York: TOR Books, 1990.

Summary: Following an attack of trollocs and a Myrdraal on Emonds Field, Rand and two friends, joined by several others, flee when they realize that they are the object of the attack, and somehow at the center of a web of destiny that may either thwart or aid the rise of the Dark Power.

Rand and his two friends Mat and Perrin, along with Egwene, the innkeeper’s daughter seem ordinary youth in a remote village, Emonds Field. Egwene is apprenticed to Nynaeve, the Wisdom (a kind of healer) of the village. The greatest excitement comes at Bel Tine, a feast at which Thom Merrilin, a gleeman or storyteller arrives. All this changes when it turns out that a strange, dark figure (Myrdraal) each of the boys sees leads a fist of trollocs to invade the village. Tam, Rand’s father is nearly killed and bequeaths his heron-mark blade sword to Rand. A regal woman, Moiraine heals Tam, and then helps the young men see that they were the object of the attack, and one or all are at the center of a web of destiny in a battle against good and evil. To save Emonds Field from further attack, they must flee and make their way to Tar Valon, where Moiraine is part of an order of Aes Sedai, women who have been trained to channel the One Power to resist the Dark Power as well as to “gentle” men who cannot wield the power without becoming insane.

This results in a desperate flight by the boys and Egwene, Thom, Moiraine, and her warder Lanb, pursued physically and even in dreams by the powers of evil. Nynaeve, concerned for her villagers, tracks them and joins the company. Mat is compromised and nearly lost when he steals a dagger from a hoard in an abandoned city. The party is separated, and except for Thom eventually make it to Caemlyn, where they are reunited. Thom, who was with Mat and Rand, sacrifices himself so they can escape, although there is a question of whether he really died. It is here that Moiraine understands the true threat of evil to the Eye of the World, a pool thus far untouched by evil, and Rand understands that he is at “the heart of it all” a ta’veren or a person around which the Wheel of Time weaves surrounding life threads, forming a Web of Destiny. The company, joined by Loial, an Ogier, pursue desperate ways through the Blight to confront evil, and for Rand, to confront his destiny.

Jordan’s work has been likened to The Lord of the Rings. Except in sheer length of the fourteen volume series, I do not think he surpasses him, and there are elements that are at least parallel to, if not derivative of, Tolkien–a remote people, ordinary figures caught up in a great conflict, a company, dark riders, a desperate flight and quest against the rising of a Dark Power who threatens the world.

That said, Jordan has also created a richly textured world with a history, a unique vision of time, and a seemingly different way of thinking about power that seems more eastern than western. Light and dark seem two sides of the same coin. It turns out that only women who have been trained can wield the One Power as a force of Light. Men are turned insane by it or to instruments of the Dark Power, something that will become an issue for Rand. Time symbolized by the Wheel with an intertwined snake swallowing its own tail brings past, present and future together and weaves a fate for individuals. Instead of “God works in mysterious ways” it is “The wheel weaves as the wheel wills,” which is repeated near to the point of becoming tedious. As in real life, forces of good often are at cross purposes–different orders of Aes Sedai, the Children of Light, and the various kingdoms, all at some point becoming threats to the quest as much as the Dark Power.

Jordan creates strong female characters. Aes Sedai Moraine leads the party and wields great power. Nynaeve the Wisdom and even Egwene have their own power, Moiraine seeing them as Aes Sedai in training. Caemlyn is ruled by a strong queen, Morgase, to be succeeded one day by her daughter Elayne. I can’t think of an evil female character in this volume. Not so with the men, such as Padan Fain, the evil peddler and Dark Friend. Yet there are both strong and delightful male characters from some of the innkeepers to Thom, the gleeman, who lays down his life and most of all Lan, the warder, descended from kings (one thinks often of Aragorn).

So the question is, will I go on? I can say that I will not be binge-reading the series. Yet the writing held my attention, and I find myself caring about what will happen to Rand and the others. I wonder if the Dark Power will be defeated and I’m curious why it takes fourteen books. It is clear that Jordan’s plots take many twists and turns, only some of which resolved in this book. I wonder how patient I would be with this over such an extended series.

Some friends have told me that the middle books do seem to get bogged down at times. I’d be curious what others think. Was it a slog, or did you not want it to end? Did you read straight through or read another volume periodically? Did you finish the series or give up? As you can tell, I haven’t made up my mind. This was a great summer read. Maybe that’s what I’ll do, except that this would take until 2031. Wheel of Time fans, I need some encouragement here…

10 thoughts on “Review: The Eye of the World

  1. When you first posted about this book, I thought it sounded like an interesting. I started searching for it on Amazon and then realized I already had it on my shelf! I’d acquired it years ago but had never gotten around to reading it. Perhaps the sheer size of it discouraged me from starting, or maybe my constant exposure to new books kept pushing it down to the bottom of my TBR pile. Whatever the reason I’d been putting it off, I finally began reading.

    And my opinion is exactly the same as yours. It holds my attention, but I’m not sure if I’ll read any more in the series. In fact, I doubt I will. It’s too big of an investment in my time for too little gain, as I don’t believe the story improves me in any way. It’s entertaining, but it doesn’t expand my understanding of other people and cultures, the world I live in, or the truth of God. (Certainly not the latter.) It is a classic example of well-written fantasy literature, so that benefits me as a fiction writer. But do I want to read the whole series? I don’t think so.

    Thanks for bringing this book back to my attention. I haven’t quite finished it yet, but I’m enjoying the read.

    • I appreciate your comment about stories improving you. That is what separates this and Tolkien. I want to be more like Frodo, like Gandalf, like Aragorn, even like Samwise. Thom may be the only character I’m drawn to emulate.

  2. Currently listening to book 4! The audio presentation is fantastic even in the boring parts of the books. Like you, for me it’s less of a desire to binge read to finish the story, but I love the experience of getting lost in this world and watching the characters develop. I’ve also heard the middle books are tough to get through, but so far 1-4 are worth picking up!

  3. Was it a slog? You asked, in regards to the book. The review is, Almost. I think the first half of your review could have easily been left out, came across to me more or less, as the author’s synopsis. However, you did manage to get into the heart-of-the-matter: “the review” and that wasn’t half bad. You would do well with a star-rating app on the site too. Much potential here though.

  4. There are similarities to Tolkien in the beginning of the series because Robert Jordan intentionally wanted to start in a familiar place. The story then veers off and becomes something of its very own. I read many books in both fantasy and other genres and for me there hasn’t been anything to rival this series. The experience several readers had that there are some parts where it gets a little bogged down in book 9 and 10 is true to some extent. The plot lines didn’t advance that much in those books and the releases of them were a couple of years apart since Jordan had reduced his writing pace due to medical reasons. Readers back then was a little disappointed when it took a few years for the next book and they didn’t get exactly what they had hoped for in terms of story progression. In hindsight (with perspective) I don’t think they are as bad as people thought at the time.
    Book 1 – 3 have clear endings with some cliffhanger moments
    The rest of the series don’t have such clear endings but are more of one continuing story line.

    The Wheel of time have a connection to our world and our own myths and legends have a connection to it.
    Explanation: The Wheel of time is supposedly set in our world but time is circular instead of linear. That means that events from our time are old myths from a forgotten age (such as Lenn flying to the moon in the belly of an eagle is an old myth of John Glenn and lunar missions). The characters in the books are templates for characters in our forgotten myths. There are connections to Slavic, Nordic and other mythologies where the characters in the books have been “transformed” through time to godlike beings in our myths. References to the Arthurian saga can be found in both people and place names.

    Some positives of the series are:
    You’ll never find a more emersive story.
    The characters are great. Every major character has an interesting character arc.
    Descriptions are very detailed.
    The different twists to our old stories, myths and legends that are featured are interesting. There is a twist to a virgin birth, as well as to the “sword in the stone” legend.

    The negatives are:
    Descriptions are very detailed, if you don’t appreciate lengthy descriptions some parts may be an issue for you.
    There are a lot of characters to keep track of.
    The series is long.

  5. Pingback: The Month in Reviews: August 2018 | Bob on Books

  6. Audio book seems the way to go with this book, though I already have the paperback version *sigh*. I know people have have read the whole series and loved them. I myself have only gotten through the first three. The second book actually goes really fast. I read the first and second pretty quickly. The third one, I suppose because it started with another POV, not Rand who I liked the most except for the female characters, it took me a while to really enjoy it. By the end I did, but it was a test of wills whether the book would get the best of be. I think I would defiantly recommend audio book versions. I’m currently reading another book from a different series, and its very long, so being able to listen, had helped me get past the first few chapters that were pretty mundane, to where its starting to take off.

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