December 3, 2010
Reviews: "The Wheel Weaves as the Wheel Wills" -- Robert Jordan's 'Wheel of Time' Series of Novels
This series is set in a different world and in a time that is somewhat reminiscent of the 18th century. At just over 11,000 pages (so far), this is not a series for the less-than-serious. You gotta make a commitment with this massive set of of books, but in my opinion it is well worth the effort. The characters are complex, complicated, interesting, and in some cases deeply flawed, i.e., just like each one of us. This is your classic Manichaean struggle between 'Good' versus 'Evil', the 'Light' versus the 'Dark'. While it is easy to say, "Well, this has been done before by Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings; and while that is, on the surface, a truism; Jordan has done something astounding here. These books completely immerse the reader in a world and with characters that they can completely relate to. If anything Jordan is the uber-Tolstoy in constructing the scope and sweep of this immensely epic story--this really is the ultimate War and Peace. There are story arcs upon story arcs in this tale, all woven together in an exciting and hair-raising framework. Much, much more than just magic-wielding characters, or armies struggling on battlefields, these novels are more a sophisticated blend of political intrigue, diplomacy, lessons in command and leadership, as well as an in-depth study of human psychology and interpersonal relationships. I have read the series, from start to finish, several times now; and it still continues to be very, very difficult to put the book you are reading down for the night. That is the magic of Jordan's writing, he just pulls you in deeper and deeper into his world and his characters.
While the primary thread of the tale revolves around a young 'hero' by the name of 'Rand al'Thor', and his continuing struggle with the 'Great Lord of the Dark', one of the things I love the most about this series is the supporting cast and Jordan's creation of some of the most amazingly powerful female protagonists and antagonists. Women are so important to this series in so many different ways. As I said above, this is not your typical swords-and-sorcery or swashbuckling type of fantasy fiction. No, not at all. This is the thinking person's fantasy. As a general rule of thumb, and with very few exceptions, it is the women that hold and exert the real power to influence the course of events in the plot. This is especially true for the women that can wield what is know as the female half of the "One Power", or saidar. Most of these women are Aes Sedai, their use of saidar, and their close-knit Ajah societies are to me some of the most fascinating characters in the novels. And let me just finish up the description of the novel's characters by saying that the evil characters, men and women, are really, really bad and really, really scary; and the good ones, while good and decent, definitely have issues. For me it it is so captivating and somehow just feels real. I know people like the characters in these novels!
Sadly, 'Robert Jordan', James Oliver Rigney, Jr., died in 2007 of a very rare heart condition. Fortunately, he did have the time to prepare a set of very detailed plotting outlines to finish the series. He worked feverishly over his last few years to write portions of the conclusion of the series. After his death, his wife and publisher selected the up-and-coming fantasy author, Brandon Sanderson, to finish the series. Using Jordan's outlines and notes, Sanderson has done a sterling job of beginning to bring the story arcs together, and wrapping up the million-and-one loose ends and developing an incredible conclusion to the series. Sanderson, working with Jordan's outlines and notes, has authored The Gathering Storm and the Towers of Midnight, and is working on the final novel in the series, A Memory of Light, due to be released in Spring 2012. I have to say too that Sanderson's writing is very, very good. He has done a superb job at preserving Jordan's voice and perspective as he completes this amazing story. I am very pleased with the two novels that he has added to the series.
So, if you're looking for an epic fantasy that grabs you from the get-go and just doesn't let up, I highly recommend Robert Jordan's (and now being finished by Brandon Sanderson) series of novels--The Wheel of Time. If you love the Arthurian legend, Tolkien's Middle Earth, Ursula K. LeGuin's Earth Sea, or George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, et al., you will dig Jordan. Start with The Eye of the World and begin to become completely swept up and lost in "Randland". If you doubt the veracity of my words here, I dare you to 'Google' "The Wheel of Time". You'll be gobsmacked! There is a universe of fans and on-line forums and communities, personal blogs, etc. associated with Jordan's massive creation. These novels, the plot, and the characters are studied and analyzed as much or more than just about any other works of literature. Have fun, and let me know if you start reading this series. You'll be hooked, I guarantee it!