Friday, September 2, 2016

The Eye of the World

The Eye of the World
by Robert Jordan
Recommended Ages: 13+

I didn't particularly like the prologue to this nearly-800-page novel, which is probably why it sat on my shelf for many long years before I made a serious attempt to read it. I still don't think the prologue hit the right tone for this novel, but I'm glad I finally got past it, because it was the last part of the book I didn't like.

These days, I probably don't have to say much about this book to give you an idea what kind of story is in it. Just look at the cover. It's not a bad representation of the contents. The story features a large party of diverse characters who must make a perilous journey, mostly on horseback, in a medieval-ish fantasy world represented within by some beautifully drawn maps. Analogies to The Lord of the Rings abound. The main characters are ordinary folk from a peaceful, isolated, agricultural area who are totally out of their depth in a world full of dangerous adventure and a quest to thwart a cosmic evil; apart from being humans, they're pretty much hobbits. Along the way they encounter queens, princesses, warriors, priests, wizards (of a sort), troubadours, various goblin-like creatures (roughly equivalent to Tolkien's orcs), chilling minions of a dark lord who is trying to break free of his three-thousand-year prison (think ring-wraiths), slow-paced giants who sing to trees (think ents), winged nasties (er...), pacifist gypsy types, a guy who communicates with wolves, a giant made entirely out of plants, a ruined city infested with evil, a country where the trees and flowers actively try to kill anyone who passes through, and lots, lots more.

So, it's pretty much Tolkien, with extras. Among the extras are strong, central, female characters whom you don't forget about when they aren't mentioned for 1,000 pages. Their particular world is distinguished by a cycle of history, called the Wheel of Time, that weaves notable people and events into a web or lace of destiny. It has a long, turbulent history whose epochs bear such impressive (and sometimes terrifying) titles as the Age of Legends, the War of the Shadow, the Time of Madness, the Breaking of the World, and the War of a Hundred Years. It is a world whose magic, drawn from the One True Source (somehow connected with the Creator), has both a male and a female aspect - but the male version has been polluted by evil, and brings madness, disaster, and death wherever it is used. Every now and then a "false Dragon" arises, claiming to be a certain ancient hero reborn, and often bringing war to the lands.

And now this world's he-who-must-not-be-named, variously known as Shai'tan and Ba'alzamon, is trying to bust loose and seize control of the wheel. Somehow he has narrowed his search for a prophesied person, destined to change the shape of the Pattern either for good or evil, down to three youths from the rustic backwater of the Two Rivers - three boys, hardly men, who grew up in the tiny village of Emonds Field, so far from the big-time that they don't even know they are subjects of a queen - one, or all, of whom must either be destroyed or enslaved to the Dark One's will. Just when the minions of evil are about to strike, a member of the order that practices the feminine side of magic - called Aes Sedai - scoops them up and flees across country, desperate to deny whatever the Dark One wants.

Will they all make it to safety? Will they stop the Dark One? Which of the boys will turn out to be the ta'veren, the turning-point in the Pattern? Or will they all? A level-headed reader will have a good guess ready, based on knowing this book is only the beginning of a massive fantasy cycle, and the sense that one particular youth - Rand al'Thor, who suspects he is not really a scion of Two Rivers stock - is singled out as the point-of-view character, except when the party splits into two or three groups. To keep you guessing, his buddies both find their own strange destinies: jokester Mat Cauthon becoming tied to a cursed dagger, and blacksmith's apprentice Perrin Aybara developing a psychic connection with wolves. But what is special about Rand remains a surprise to the end, except perhaps for readers who are paying very close attention. There are more characters you'll get to know too, and some of them may become even more important in later books. Let's leave you with these three young men for now, and a promise that once you meet them, you will care about how the Pattern weaves itself around them.

This 1990 book was the first of 12 books in the "The Wheel of Time" series (including a prequel) completed by Jordan, né James Oliver Rigney, Jr., before his death in 2007. The fact that his plans for the last three books of the series were realized by author Brandon Sanderson may tempt me to bend my personal rule against reading another writer's continuation of an original writer's series. All in good time, however. Book 2 of "The Wheel of Time" is The Great Hunt. Under a variety of pseudonyms, Rigney also wrote seven "Conan the Barbarian" novels in the early 1980s, a western novel, and a historical-fiction trilogy; he is also rumored to have done some non-fiction and ghost-writing work. There is some controversy about his willingness to compromise quality for quantity, but this book is a promising start for a 14- (or 15-) book fantasy epic, and understandably became one of the sacred texts of the fantasy genre.

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