The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I don’t know if Robert Jordan knew this series was going to be a ton of books, but he clearly knew it was going to be more than one. In a book about the making of Star Wars, the author uncovers that the old rumor that Lucas spread that he started in the middle of the story because it’s more interesting than the beginning is a lie. However, the concept he was falsely trying to get across certainly is true. This book is SLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOW. The reason I gave this book 4 stars instead of 3 is that, like Lord of the Rings, which every high fantasy book written since is in conversation with, the extra slow beginning is important as a contrast for the adventure our protagonists go through.
Like the Hobbits in The Shire, we start off (technically no, but I’ll get to that in a second) with a bunch of village folks that think they’re Top Dogs because they’re not afraid to wander a few miles from their village. The book takes it time (a pretty good number of chapters) to show just how rural they are. They only get news about the outside world when traveling peddlers come to town. Everything revolves around the spring fantasy-Maypole celebration. The town inn is a big deal because it’s the only two-story building in town, etc. Like the villagers, we don’t really know anything of the world beyond. As the story progresses, each town they visit is as awesome to the previous one as to make it seem as small as their village seems to the first town they visit. This culminates in visiting the seat of government which is so remote that everyone remarks (correctly) they doubt our protagonists even know they’re part of that kingdom. Eventually it pays off in a story that I enjoyed the more I learned of the history of the world along with our main characters. So while I started off not knowing why this is such a beloved series, I came to understand a little better by the end. Especially considering a lot of the tropes that are blase now probably started here (more on this later).
Why not 5 stars, then? Because there are still some missteps in execution. The main climax of the story left me bewildered. I wasn’t quite sure what happened or what triggered it. It seemed to be something that could have taken place at any time in the narrative. And while it happened when they finally reached the location-equivalent of a MacGuffin, it didn’t seem that the location had any thing to do with why it happened. So for such a key moment not to make any sense is kind of annoying (to put it mildly).
Of all the tropes employed by this story, the most annoying trope: if only the protagonists would talk to each other (be honest), things wouldn’t get worse. Now, there are in-universe reasons why our protagonists don’t trust the non-POV protagonists. (We only get POV chapters for a subset of our main characters). That’s why I don’t dock too much from the story because of it. But it’s a plot trope I really got sick of from Marvel and DC comics (where it’s endemic), so it always annoys me here. Lots of things got worse because characters just wouldn’t share honestly with the other supposed good guys.
Of all the tropes employed by this story, the best trope: despite being a fantasy world, most of our characters have names that aren’t too different from our own, especially when pronounced out loud. Yes! Yes! A thousand times YES! I have such a hard time with fantasy books with names like Galadriel and T’uebadue and stuff like that. I don’t know why, but the further from my experience the name is, the harder time I have remembering who is who and relating to the characters. But while the spelling is a little weird compared to ours, if you’re pronouncing it in your head or listening to an audiobook, these are normal Earth names: Mat, Lan, Moirane (close enough to Maureen), Rand (close enough to Randy), Egwene (close to Edwin), and so on. And when it deviates, like Perrin – that’s not too hard a name. The Dark One is named Sh’aitan which is pretty similar to the way Satan is spelled in some other languages. Also, the characters are sheepherders and blacksmiths and each soup and drink tea. I know it can be fun to really deck out your not-Earth with not-Earth things, but almost everyone hates this trope: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.ph…
The last thing I want to talk about will have some spoilers for Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive. Mr. Sanderson finished The Wheel of Time series after Robert Jordan died. I’m curious if The Wheel of Time was one of those series that’s SO important in fantasy that it leaked into Stormlight Archive or if these tropes are more widespread and I don’t know about them because I’m not a fantasy person. Here’s what I found in common:
-the Ways reminds me of the gates that lead to the congnitive realm; and some of the dangers of each
-Both involve dreams in which our characters talk to gods – in a very literal sense, not as a dream or metaphorical
-Eye of Time seems like the pool found in Mistborn 1 and may have a similar purpose
-Dark one bound – this is one of those that’s maybe a bit more universal?
-opening is a non-sequitor that makes no sense until the end and takes place hundreds or thousands of years in the past
-the cyclical nature of the battles with the Dark One.
Anyway, Mr. Jordan got me intrigued by the end. I’ll give book 2 a shot.
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