I was really nervous about reading this; I’ve heard a lot about the Wheel of Time series, and a lot of it wasn’t all that good. When I mentioned to a friend I was thinking about reading the series, he told me to skip several of the middle books because nothing happened in them other than reactions to things from the previous book… which is not the most encouraging thing to hear. Also the series is LONG. But the boyfriend had the first book just sitting about on his shelf, so I figure why not? If nothing else, I get to join in with the mutual commiseration that seems to be the general way of appreciating them. This is not the best way to go into a book reading.
As it happens, this all appears to have been unfounded. I don’t doubt that friend is right and the middle books get less thrilling, but the first book is actually pretty fun. I raced through it in about three proper sittings, and almost immediately bought the sequel – what greater praise can there be?
Ok, that said, I should get straight to the thing that troubled me most: it felt quite LOTR. Not the story, exactly, but a lot of the elements seemed to be quite close to LOTR-y things. Like the crownless king business. And the Eye of the World itself (ok, not evil, but big eye thing). And the names. And the place names. And just… everything. It’s not like Eragon where they basically wholesale nicked the setting (and the plot of Star Wars), or a carbon copy of the plot, but it seems to draw on Tolkien a great deal more than the rest of the fantasy genre (and yes, I know, everyone does that, but not this much). It’s also… pretty tropey. Farmboys chosen by destiny… yeah. No one is winning prizes for original thinking with this one.
All of that aside, I really did enjoy it. When I stopped sighing and going “no, really? What a surprise…” at everything, it was a good, fun book. It just took a little more suspension of disbelief than I am accustomed to. The writing is hardly stellar, but nor is it trash, and the characters aren’t… the most realistic, but all in all, it’s not the worst book I’ve read. It’s fun and escapist, and very big on the drama and melodrama and the high stakes, fate-of-the-world sort of thing, which is a wonderful way to stop worrying about getting a job and to pass the time. I doubt I could take reading the whole series end to end in one go, because it is so easy to overdose on that kind of melodrama, but a book or two at a time? Perfect.
I can’t say as I can quite see how this became a classic, though. If someone felt like explaining, I would greatly welcome the clarification, because it really isn’t obvious to me. Or maybe it’s not a classic and I just have a really warped sense of its importance because of the people I talk to. I have no idea. But it just… to me, it feels like yet another fantasy novel being a fantasy novel like fantasy novels stereotypically are. There’s nothing really distinctive about it at all, and that bothers me. Not that everything has to be quirky and different to be good, but there has to be something about a book to make you want to recommend it above another… otherwise what’s the point? Take The Name of the Wind, for instance. It too is a ridiculously tropey bit of fantasy, but for the most part, it is pretty well written. Or the Stormlight Archive, which has excellent characters. Or ASoIaF, which will kill every character you ever want to love. There has to be something which sets a book apart for it to feel worth reading and worth liking. And The Eye of the World didn’t really have that for me. It’s not terrible, and it was quite fun, but there’s nothing about it which I can pick out and say “this, he did this well, if you like this, you should read the book”… so the only reason to read it as far as I can see is the reason I read it: because everyone else has and you can thus join in on the mutual commiseration and in-jokes.