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 Post subject: The Wheel of Time (Robert Jordan)
PostPosted: 090227 10:34 
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Inspired by this site, I've recently started rereading The Wheel of Time series, by Robert Jordan.

The Wheel of Time began with The Eye of the World, published in 1990. The series is still ongoing, in a sense; Robert Jordan died last year of a rare blood disease while working on what he claimed was the final book. Another author was tapped to finish the series from Robert Jordan's notes and is currently working on it, though the release date is unknown and there seems to be a haze of speculation as to whether it will be released as one large book or split up into... further books.

I've been reading/following this series for most of my life, unfortunately; it's just been one thing after another for the author and the last few books have been of diminishing quality, in my opinion. Because the series was written over such a long period of time, Robert Jordan's style and intentions changed as he wrote the books, too. Many people (including me) mock his descriptiveness, the phrases he uses all the time, and his penchant for describing people traveling from point A to point B without actually moving the plot along. We do it because we love the series; otherwise we wouldn't be this frustrated -- we just wouldn't care.

In a (large) nutshell, the series is about a "Third Age" in a world that may or may not be ours. In a previous age, the Age of Legends, man went too far and released the Dark One on the world, resulting in a long war that tainted Saidin, the male half of the One Power. Because of this, all men who used Saidin went insane and used their powers to rearrange large tracts of the earth to their liking. The Third Age presents a caste of women who can use the female half of the One Power: Saidar. These women seek to control the reincarnation of the most powerful man of the Age of Legends, the Dragon Reborn. The Wheel of Time presents the birth, growth, and possibly death of the Dragon Reborn.

It's a little more complex than that, but that gets the point across.


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 Post subject: Book One: The Eye of the World
PostPosted: 090227 10:42 
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The Eye of the World starts out as your standard fantasy -- farmboys in a remote village, mysterious strangers, monstrous beasts, a mystery, a quest to save the world, and a grand magical fight. If you keep in mind that the series was originally envisioned as a trilogy, the pacing makes a lot more sense, as do some plot elements that don't quite jive well with the rest of the series.

Parallels to Lord of the Rings are quite obvious, for better or for worse. As the first book, The Eye of the World does not suffer the most loudly ridiculed problems of the other books -- overused phrases and stereotypes. They're all "new" in this book.

The Eye of the World is easily one of my least favorite books of the series. Sometimes I think that if I had started reading the series with this book, I never would have kept going. It's pretty typical light fantasy with a touch of descriptive worldbuilding. Jordan didn't quite hit his stride in this book; many of the later books have one or two scenes that are described so well that they're practically cinematic masterpieces that elicit goosebumps; this book doesn't have any of those scenes for me.

It feels like a rough draft of the beginning of the series, if anything. The basic concepts are there, but it doesn't quite seem like Jordan had any idea what he wanted to do with them yet; fortunately, they're fleshed out a lot better in the next two books, making the series much more riveting... and unique.

The uniqueness is important; one of the draws of the series is the possibility that our own time may be an "Age". There are many allusions to our times in the series and in this book in particular. There are also many allusions to concepts used in other famous books. The Eye of the World walks a thin line between being light fantasy and a blatant ripoff at times; it's one of its most off-putting qualities. On one hand, I realize that many concepts are fantastic archetypes, but on the other hand, when one book uses so many at once, it seems like it's just trying way too hard.

Fortunately, the series improves.


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 Post subject: Re: The Wheel of Time (Robert Jordan)
PostPosted: 090227 10:48 
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I've read the first four books, and I enjoyed them greatly. My older bro got me the first book for xmas a few years ago, telling me that it was the best series since The Lord of the Rings, and since he's the one that also got me into The Lord of the Rings when I was younger, I figured it was fitting. I definitely want to read more/the rest of the series some time. It's quite good.

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 Post subject: Book Two: The Great Hunt
PostPosted: 090227 10:52 
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This book is another "quest" type of story, though it begins to break free of the traditional fantasy mold toward the end as Jordan begins to hit his stride. The eponymous Great Hunt is a hunt for a fabled horn that summons the heroes of past Ages. This book is largely about worldbuilding for me; it lays the foundations of the "physics" of the One Power for men and women, the "facts" of swordplay in the world, the different nations and political realities, the roster of bad guys, and the path ahead.

By the end of this book, it's quite obvious that the series is not going to wrap up in the third book. Hell, it's pretty obvious that that's not going to be happening by the middle of this book.

The worldbuilding is what a lot of people scoff at; the philosophy of the moment is to "show" what people do via actions and words, rather than describing it. Jordan does a good deal of describing -- far more than "showing". His descriptions are grounded in reality and are quite vivid, though; this means that his world is equally as vivid. The strength of the series, in my opinion, is in the depth of his world; the first book just barely skimmed over the world in favor of a typical fantasy plot, whereas the second book focuses heavily on laying down the foundation for the current conflict as well as hinting at future conflicts for the Dragon Reborn.

There are quite a few goosebump moments for me in this book, which is a plus. There are also plenty of wince moments.

The goosebump moments aren't just fight scenes, surprisingly -- Jordan is good at describing settings and people so that they're all arranged in your head, ready to move when he says "action". And when he does, sometimes they move just so and the dialog fits perfectly, resulting in an amazingly dramatic, easily-imagined scene. In particular, I'm thinking of the scene where Rand and Lan go to meet the Amyrlin Seat.

That scene is a great example of characterization. There are so many threads of obligations pulling at each character and they all resist and tug in their own directions. Lan pulls against his obligation to the Aes Sedai, who are led by the Amyrlin Seat, to help Rand. Rand fights his fate and denial in going to meet the Amyrlin Seat. He also learns some of what it means to be a man in a war. In the previous book, Lan may as well have been a stone for all of the character he had; this is a great moment for him.

Wince moments for me included all of the scenes where Jordan started introducing his made-up language. It seems to have hints of Spanish (especially in the pronounciation) but is generally just made-up. His introductions of the snips that he presents are pretty clunky -- "So and so old phrase. Translation. Phrase. Translation." It's just clumsy and so unlike him that, having read the later books, I wince.

I don't remember how I felt when I originally read it, though -- I was only eight or nine at the time.

This book is a giant step higher than The Eye of the World, but still nowhere near my top three.


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 Post subject: Book Three: The Dragon Reborn
PostPosted: 090227 11:03 
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This is the so-called "final book" of the series. In fact, it marks the quarter-way point for the series.

The book is ostensibly about a quest for a magic sword -- typical fantasy -- but deviates from the path in that the main character doesn't really show up until the end. It's a sign of Jordan's skill that his other characters (and he does have a ton of them) are all fleshed out so well through the course of the book that you don't really notice the loss all that much.

There are exceptions, of course.

If The Dragon Reborn has a theme, it's "acceptance". All of the main characters accept their past, history, crimes, guilt, and/or new powers in this book. They come to terms with who they are and what they've done, and they start looking to the road ahead. Many of these characters have known each other for all their lives, but with recent reveleations and new powers, they find that their roads are separating, or even lead to conflict against each other. It's almost painful to acknowledge that, but on the other hand, it's one of the great dramas of the series -- that these people you've learned about and grown to care for are being forced against each other in perfectly reasonable ways by unbending fate.

This is one of my top three favorite books of the series, largely because of the great amount of characterization I described. Nobody's really reached the "height" of their powers yet -- they're all learning and growing still, but they have that innocent naivete that leads them (and you) to think that they can do anything at all. It's exciting, even rereading it for the seventh or eighth time, knowing what lies ahead.

One of the interesting things about this series is that from The Dragon Reborn on, it seems as if Robert Jordan kept, indexed, and referred to copious amounts of notes. The first two books, in comparison, seem as if they were written on-the-fly. Three or four books down the line, events will happen that you saw set in motion in this book, The Dragon Reborn. You can see the marble rolling down the hill of Jordan's giant Goldberg Device. Things happen in the background, but when the bell finally rings, you realize what happened while you weren't paying attention.

It's amazing.

It's even more amazing when you consider that these books were written over a period of almost twenty years. That's a long time to be keeping track of a huge number of characters and facts in a fictional world, even if it is your world.

One of my favorite things about this book is that it introduces Perrin's acceptance of his Wolfkin abilities and what it means for his future. Because of that, one of my favorite scenes is one where he works in a smithy for a while, relaxing in his past while he still can.

When I read this book as a kid, one of my main complaints was that there were too many scenes with the girls talky-talk-talking. I was sick and tired of those -- I wanted more scenes with Mat and Perrin. I still feel that way to a degree, but I appreciate the scenes with the girls more now that I know that they're going somewhere, for better or for worse. Jordan deliberately works on a dichotomy between the sexes; just as it defines the magic behind his world, it defines the world itself.


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 Post subject: Re: The Wheel of Time (Robert Jordan)
PostPosted: 090227 11:37 
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lol @ the girly talk. It's been over a year (two?) since I stopped reading to pursue other things, and the books I've read, I've only read once, so I'm not remembering all the details clearly, but reading your reviews brings back bits and pieces here and there of things that I enjoyed, and it's making me want to continue reading the story. I'm gonna have to stop reading your reviews after the fourth book! :o

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 Post subject: Book Four: The Shadow Rising
PostPosted: 090228 11:10 
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In my opinion, this book is one of the, if not the best book in the series.

If The Dragon Reborn was about acceptance, then The Shadow Rising is about growth. Having accepted their powers, the main characters all begin to work on becoming stronger, both as people and in their respective powers.

This book also introduces one of the most interesting nationalities in the series -- the Aiel. Much has been made of the similarities between Jordan's Aiel and Frank Herbert's Fremen; they're both desert-dwelling peoples, they're both split into "tribes", they're both incredible fighters that become the messiah's personal army, and they both have a long and confusing history.

Be that as it may, the Aiel are still one of my favorite nationalities. Jordan does a fantastic job of sculpting a fictitious nation out of myriad real nations and their mythologies. He also takes threads from past books and weaves them into the Aiel story in a way that makes you sit back, blink, and realize that things are starting to get serious.

The Eye of the World was largely a throw-away book -- it simply introduced characters. The Great Hunt and The Dragon Reborn began to weave a world map and history while fleshing out the characters more thoroughly, breaking away from the typical fantasy mold. With The Shadow Rising, Jordan takes up some threads from the previous books and braids them into the Aiel history, showing the relationship between the past and the present. Several events in this book show that nothing is static -- everything is falling apart. But you don't have to give up.

The opening sentences of every book say that "The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again." Jordan takes full advantage of this -- weaving in bits of our time that show up as barely- or mis-remembered stories and myths. He also takes advantage of it in introducing his fictional past Ages -- those things are also presented as warped or barely-remembered myths. At times, when we learn the truth behind matters, we realize the importance of perception.

Everything is true, as Obi-Wan Kenobi once said, "from a certain point of view".

Nowhere in the series is this more true than in The Shadow Rising. The relationship between truth and myth takes a centerpoint here and the climax of that conflict is one of my favorite scenes of the entire series.

[Reveal] Spoiler:
My favorite scene is when the Taardad march on Alcair Dal, chanting "Wash the Spears". The Aiel mythos that allows them to face death calmly is neat enough, but when they all unveil to face the Shaido, who are ready to fight, it just blows my mind. The idea of an entire clan marching into battle, willing to be killed without fighting back, is so impressive. The interesting thing is that it echoes the Aiel in the Age of Legends who encircled a mad male Aes Sedai to distract him while people fleed the city; it echoes their original, peaceful roots. I suppose that's a way of indicating that the Taardad will be the most faithful to Rand.


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 Post subject: Re: The Wheel of Time (Robert Jordan)
PostPosted: 090302 23:39 
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Book Five: The Fires of Heaven wrote:
"Some time again maybe, Matrim Cauthon, some day." That was the Aiel way of saying "never" when they did not want to say it right out.


Seems really Japanese... along the same lines as "mata kondo".

Book Five: The Fires of Heaven wrote:
Supper, when it came at full dark, consisted of the usual flat pale bread, and a spicy stew of dried peppers and beans with chunks of nearly white meat.


Sounds like a fajita to me.


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 Post subject: Re: The Wheel of Time (Robert Jordan)
PostPosted: 090502 14:04 
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Taken from an online conversation a few days ago: "I'm so old, I remember when the Wheel of Time didn't suck"

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