The Eye of the World, the first novel in Robert Jordan’s epic Wheel of Time series, is a traditional coming-of-age fantasy novel that lays an intricate foundation of complicated plot twists and character arcs. Replete with vividly imagined cultures, fast-paced action sequences, richly detailed settings and true-to-life characters, Eye of the World is a fun read for any epic/high fantasy fan.
I haven’t read the rest of the series (yet), but this first novel wasn’t difficult to follow. There are plenty of characters (lots of them), but they are all so different from each other, I didn’t have any trouble keeping track. And while the plot is much greater than this one book, this single novel was satisfying enough to stand alone, although the way the whole things ends made me want to run to my bookshelf and pull out the second one which is calling my name even now.
A note on plot
I’ve read fantasy before, but I wouldn’t say I’m as well-read in it as other people. I have a lot of reading to do before I can really count myself among the truly accomplished fantasy readers. But it’s a genre I do enjoy. And it’s fascinating to me to see how the same story (the same basic plot) can be told in different ways.
There are so many examples I could use, but I’d better stick to the ones I’m the most familiar with.
- The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
- Wizard’s First Rule, Terry Goodkind
- The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss
Each of these would be an example of high fantasy, belonging in the same category as The Eye of the World. And, if you want to be mundane about it all, the storylines are very similar: An average guy is drawn (or forced) into a situation beyond his control and must rely on a power greater than he is to help save the day (or the world).
The framework of each story is different, yes. But the basic plot is the same. It’s just the way it’s told that is different. And that never ceases to amaze me!
Rand al’Thor is just an everyday kind of farm kid (kind of like Bilbo Baggins is an ordinary Hobbit and Richard Cypher is an ordinary woodsman). And then one day, his village is attacked by terrifying magical creatures (like Kvothe’s family was attacked by the Chandrain) and he is forced to flee, aided by two magical people who appear to help him (like the Sisters out of Goodkind’s universe).
So many things are similar, but Rand isn’t Richard anymore than Bilbo is like Kvothe. Each main character is so completely different that even though their situations were similar, they all react in completely different ways. So the story unfolds differently.
In any case, I’d love to be a fly on the wall if the four of them ever sat down to tea to compare notes on adventures.
A note on character
I constantly marvel at writers who can detail a host of characters so intricately that readers have no difficulty telling them apart. I’m eager to go back over some of the pages and identify exactly how Jordan managed it, because he’s juggling all these people so efficiently, so brilliantly that I never once had to go back and ask myself who he was talking about.
From the hero, Rand al’Thor, whose perspective we spend most of our time in, to the mysterious Warder Lan, whose perspective we never see or hear, each character is fully realized and multi-dimensional.
And something else? Jordan’s teenage boys act like teenage boys. And the teenage girls act like teenage girls. And I appreciate that. Because there’s nothing worse than reading in a teenage boy’s POV and suddenly getting the feeling like he’s no more masculine than the teenage girl he’s talking to. The only thing worse is reading in a teenage boy’s POV and suddenly feeling like he’s a hundred years old! Granted, if that’s what the author intended, that’s something else. But in this case, if Jordan’s boys didn’t sound like boys, it wouldn’t have worked.
Jordan also managed to communicate how confusing the female species is too, and the way he represented the relationships between the genders is so true to life, I couldn’t help but giggle through every altercation. And he demonstrate the awkwardness of it all without making the reading awkward, which (again) I appreciated immensely.
He also created a believable cast of characters with flaws and failings so familiar that it felt like looking into a mirror every time one of them spoke. Whether it was Moiraine’s businesslike leadership or Nynaeve’s know-it-all bossiness or Mat’s comic relief or even the eccentricities of Elyas the Wolfbrother, Jordan painted a world full of real people who shared personality traits and characteristics with people I know. So it’s likely that you’ll find someone you know in the cast too.
My favorite part
Maybe it’s silly, but the best part that stood out to me in the book was a description of one of the cultures Jordan created, the Two Rivers culture. The following two lines made me laugh out loud:
“That was the way of most Two Rivers people. People who had to watch the hail beat their crops and the wolves take their lambs, and start over, no matter how many years it happened, did not give up easily. … Outsiders sometimes said it [stubbornness] was the prime trait of people in the Two Rivers, that they could give mules lessons and teach stones.”
I love this so much because this is the Midwest. Maybe that’s not what Jordan meant to infer, but that’s what it is to me. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a better description of people who live in Kansas. And it just made me smile.
Rand al’Thor grows up and learns that he has more to offer the world than his skills as a sheepherder in the rural comfort of his home. It’s the story that everyone wants to live—to be an average person chosen for great things. But it’s told through the framework of fantasy with magic and adventure and excitement, terror and horror and pulse-pounding chases, richly textured cities and scents pictured so boldly you can’t help but experience them along with the characters.
The Eye of the World is a great read. If you like high fantasy, you shouldn’t miss this one. And if you don’t like high fantasy, it’s a good one to try out to see how you like it. It’s a good one to cut your teeth on. I can’t speak for the rest of the series (yet), but I’m excited to dive into it, which means that Mr. Jordan accomplished one of the main goals of series writing: to make the readers desperate for the sequel!