This is a blog with spoiler free reviews. Most will be Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror, but there will be some books in other genres, including the occasional Non-Fiction review. There is an ongoing series of Cover Reveal Round-Ups, and sometimes I'll write an article on something that interests me.

26 February, 2011

REVIEW: THE EYE OF THE WORLD

Cover Art: Darrell K. Sweet

THE EYE OF THE WORLD
THE WHEEL OF TIME BOOK 1
BY
ROBERT JORDAN

   ISBN: 978-0-8125-1181-9
Pages: 782
Publisher: Tor
Publishing date: 15 January 1990

On the cover:

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and go. What was, what will be, what is, may yet fall under the Shadow. Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.

   NOTE: As you can read here this is the first time I've read this book. And I have not been following the series at all, so I basically know nothing about what comes later. So this review is written in the same way it would be if it was the only Wheel of Time book in existence.

   Let's begin with the obvious, Jordan steals/borrows heavily from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Not just the formula, but characters, locations, monsters and events are more or less carbon-copies from TLoTR.
   I don't mind the occasional nod to other works, but here it is not so much nods as a barrage of headbutts. It was in fact so much of it, that I found it really annoying. Especially since this has been done before by Terry Brooks in The Sword of Shannara (1977) and Margaret Weiss & Tracy Hickman in The Dragonlance Chronicles (1984/1985). There's also one character that has some striking similarities to a character from Stephen Donaldson's The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (First and Second Chronicles 1977-1983, sorry I don't remember which book).
   So the level of originality in this book is pretty low. So if you expect that, this is certainly not the book for you. -But let's move on.

   The worldbuilding seems a bit lacking. There's several things that just don't seem to add up in the kingdom that most of Eye of the World is set in. What I reacted to most, was the political side of things.
   There's a sect that opposes the queen. Yet they have much more power in the capital, where there are plenty of "Queen's guards", and next to no power in the outlaying districts of the kingdom where the queen has no presence that we hear about. Add to that the fact that these outlaying districts is far closer to the power-base of the sect, it made little sense to me. And it totally lacks any explanation in the story.
   It seems that there is not much real worldbuilding at all, and that the world is just thrown together to fit with what is needed for the plot. Making it inconsistent, and neither believable nor logical to me.

   There's nothing wrong with the story itself, although it is a "light" fantasy done after a formula. Jordan has embraced the tendency of epic fantasy to go into descriptive mode. Unfortunately he does this way too much, and inconsistently. There were lots of detailed descriptions of what I found to be uninteresting things. But when it came to some of the cities, where a description could have added to the understanding of culture and thereby the worldbuilding, he chooses to give only a fleeting description. Something that was disappointing to me.

   The pacing of the book was rather slow. The endless description dragged it down, and there is really not a lot happening. There were several times when the book picked up the pace, but these ended quickly, and it was back to the plodding along.
   Overall the book gave you the feeling of being stuck in traffic. Every time it started moving forward a bit, and I got hopeful that things were going forward, it clogged up again and ground to a halt.

   There are several other things that I think is wrong with this book that I could mention, but there is no real reason for me to go on.
   I wouldn't really recommend this book if you want to read epic fantasy, there are lots of books out there that are much better. But if you loved The Lord of the Rings, and miss fantasy that evokes memories of it, this would be a perfect book for you.

See also Malazan Book of the Fallen vs The Wheel of Time

LINKS: Dragonmount (Wheel of Time community)  Tor Books

6 comments:

  1. I have a somewhat more favorable view of this book than you do, but I'm still happy you've decided not to continue the series. It peaks in Book 4, and by Book 6-7 enters a long slog where less and less happens in every book. Really, it isn't until Jordan's last book before his death and the Sanderson co-authored books that things start to get interesting again.

    If the faction you're talking about is the Whitecloaks, they're pretty much against everybody. They have so many people they deem impure that they have to prioritize.

    It's interesting that you should mention the excessive description, since that's a huge complaint in later books. Basically, Jordan decides he can't do even the largest, most complicated scenes without giving a fashion-show description of what everybody's wearing, and it drags his books down. People put up with it in early books when they didn't know so much about the world's culture, but it starts to get old when you know how Cairhienin nobility dress.

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  2. Thanks for this! I've never read the series, but always felt like I ought to get around to it for the sake of cultural references if nothing else. Glad to hear that it's nothing I should rush to do!

    I wonder if the world building is better earlier on, and this book relies on you already knowing that. On the other hand, with a LotR rip off, one rather hopes that the books will get better as the author leans away from their original material. I couldn't get into the Sword of Shannara at all, but read a couple of books later on in the series that stood fairly well in their own right (even though I was often a bit at a loss to know why some of the characters were in the places they were).

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  3. Interesting, I'd be curious to hear what you found to be derivative from LotR. Yes, trollocs are obviously orcs with a different name, but they are also different in their own unique ways.

    I'll agree that the series lags in later books (maybe 6-7 as K.R. Smith mentions, but I thought it was another book or two later before it came out of the bog), but there are some truly epic moments in the series and it remains--despite some problems--one of my favorite series to date.

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  4. @Clifton

    I didn't mind the Trollocs. They are the same as any trolls/goblins/orcs going back to before Tolkien.

    [SPOILERS]

    The Two Rivers is isolated from the rest of the world in the same way the Shire is. The people there are unaware of the greater events in the world in much the same way as the Hobbits are, with only select information seeping in. And Taren Ferry has a Bree-like quality to it.

    You have hooded riders, and winged beasts who work with them, who hunt the heroes.

    The knife that changes Mat works on him in much the same way as the One Ring worked in LotR, and earlier on Gollum.

    Loial is arguably a tree-herder, the same as the Ents.

    Lan, and especially him being a "lost king" is too similar to Aragorn to be pure coincidence. And even the towers are reminiscent of the towers with the Palantirs in Tolkien.

    The companions getting separated beside a river is the same as at the end of Fellowship of the Ring.

    The final battle at the end is very similar to LotR, in that there is a great army going off to fight what is in essence a diversionary action while the main character, Rand, fights the real battle.

    [END SPOILERS]

    There are arguably a couple of more instances, but these are the obvious ones. Isolated they don't matter much. But the cumulative effect is too much copying and too little originality.

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  5. EotW is definitely derivative of Tolkien, even beyond the Tolkienesque elements built into the setting. I believe Robert Jordan is supposed to have said that his strategy was to lure readers in with a Tolkien rip-off in the first volume, and then change things up later. The subsequent early volumes in the series do emphasize the more unusual aspects of the setting (time as a Wheel, the Aiel, the magic system).

    @Clifton Hill: There are different estimates of when the decline of WoT begins. I picked Book 6-7 because I think somewhere in that area is the first time somebody says a certain event is imminent, a refrain you keep hearing for several books.

    And yes, I still have affection for the series because of some of the really great moments. Robert Jordan was a writer of great strengths and weaknesses. When he did something right, he did it really right. When he did something wrong, it was a train wreck

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