It’s been awhile since I posted my thoughts on The Eye of the World, the previous book in Robert Jordan’s Epic Fantasy series The Wheel of Time. I’ve been chipping away at my must-read list, and just got back to my favorite series. Returning to The Wheel of Time always feels like coming home.
(The non-spoiler section comes first, as always, but there will be quite a bit to talk about in the spoiler section.)
I hadn’t noticed in previous reads of The Great Hunt, but the opening chapters are heavy with recap. If you already know most of the information, it takes a will to claw through some of the exposition-laden dialogue. Thankfully, it feels natural, motivated by the characters and the situations they’re in, so it’s not unbearable. In Epic Fantasy, however, I find I’d rather the authors assume, to some degree, that you’ve read the previous books.
Robert Jordan’s prose starts to come together in book two. There’s an understated poetry in his work, and every word matters. His narrative sits snugly in the head of the PoV character’s head for most of each passage, only expanding outward to describe the land at the beginning of each novel. This book contains my second-favorite passage in the series, one of my favorite passages of writing ever put to page. This passage alone makes the book worth reading.
Randland (as the world of The Wheel of Time is often called) starts to stand apart from any other Fantasy series. The world becomes one, not just of ruins and castles and fantastic history, but of traditions, old grudges, and prejudices. It becomes a world where the heroes aren’t endangered only by the plotting of evil, but of the greed or indifference of good. It becomes, as I’ve always said, a world of gravity.
The world is darker than that of the first book, with promise that it will only grow darker. And yet, it retains an important, heroic glimmer. The world is dangerous, but not cynical. The characters you follow will do what is right, or will try to do what is right, even if it kills them. These remain characters that you care to follow.
Rand is still a looking-glass character. It isn’t until the next two books where he grows compelling in his own right, though he remains sympathetic and readable here. Meanwhile, the book grows Nynaeve and Egwene into main characters, and gives Perrin plenty to do. Perspectives from villains fill out most of the rest of the novel, and it’s through these that you get hints at the sheer scope of the world and how deep its murky waters swirl.
I’m consistently surprised by how Jordan switches viewpoints. I read a chunk from one character, and he tears me away when I least want to go. I sigh as I see the next chapter will be a different character’s perspective. What I was just reading was so interesting! There were driving questions and mounting tensions! Whatever’s next will be so boring in comparison!
Instead, somehow, the next chapter is better than the last. Jordan is great at giving each character secrets and conflicts unique to themselves, even if they are driven by the same main goal. When it’s not suspenseful, it’s exciting. When it’s not exciting, it’s funny. He juggles different kinds of interest very well.
But each time he switches, he waits until there’s nowhere you’d rather be than with the current characters, as if he’s a sadistic telepath. It’s both a strength in his writing that each perspective proves so enjoyable, and a weakness that each switch is so reluctant on the part of the reader. Throughout the rest of the series, this is a common problem–though in some books, he balances it much better, so that the reader is always excited to jump to the next character.
Sometimes when I reread a book in this series, keeping in mind the ending, I have this thought: There’s only a hundred pages left! But this and this and this need to happen! How’s he going to resolve all of this in time?
The last hundred pages of a Wheel of Time novel are truly a marvel to see. Suddenly, we move away from the slow burn typical of the series. Suddenly we’re breakneck down the side of a mountain. And yet it never feels forced. Instead, it feels like payoff. We’ve earned this ending, with all the threads suddenly weaving together in a way that feels meant to be. Jordan hits all the notes, and just as importantly, he gives every moment the time it deserves. I never feel cheated with the ending of a Wheel of Time novel (no, for those of you who’ve read the series, not even during the bad books).
The Eye of the World had an ending that really does feel as though it comes out of nowhere, a hijacking of the plot. Though that ending is good, it hardly deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the better endings in the series. The Great Hunt is the first ending that lands in true Jordan fashion.
To keep this from being an entirely positive review, here are a few nitpicks I have with the novel.
The middle of the book slumps in a way that hints at the sluggish pace some of the later books will have. It’s not severe, and it’s not for long, but it’s enough of a problem to mention.
There are some minor errors in how the magic systems work that are distracting to someone who knows the magic as intimately as a decades-long fan. It’s still early in a long series, so everything isn’t quite figured out. One gaff in particular made me laugh during a dramatic moment.
One middle-rank character starts his story off strong, but seems to fizzle meaninglessly, all to fulfill an important-but-uninteresting A-to-B major plot point. It feels like a waste of a good character, particularly because we don’t see them again for books.
Aspects of the ending don’t quite work for me. The pacing and the basic plot are great, but the execution feels a bit too in line with the Tolkien-esque Fantasy to feel like it belonged in this book.
As you can probably tell, I’m reaching. None of these problems really affected my enjoyment of the book as a whole. I had a great time reading The Great Hunt. So much so that as soon as I was finished, I picked up book three, which has long been my favorite book in the series. We’ll see how The Dragon Reborn holds up!
My favorite passage in the book? I win again, Lews Therin. That entire Portal Stone sequence is just breathtaking. My second-favorite passage in the book is Nynaeve’s test to become Accepted. They both get better every time I come back around to reading them.
After those, Ingtar’s death is a moment that was absolutely as effective to me as it ever was. Reading his whole journey throughout the novel, knowing why he’s so obsessed with the Horn and reading the foreshadowing in the prose, is just heartbreaking.
The Heroes of the Horn and the duel above Falme were the parts that read too Tolkien-esque for my liking. Too 80’s Fantasy, too much enforced sense of wonder. It doesn’t help that “Sheathing the Blade” was as subtle as a sledgehammer on a repeated reading. I thought it was incredibly clever the first time I read it, though, which is what I suppose is truly important.
Making Liandrin a traitor was brilliant. Having her be Black Ajah was so obvious that on a first read, I discounted it immediately. Even if I had guessed she would betray them, no way I knew what she’d have planned. Also, Hi Suroth! Didn’t remember you here! Guess you were introduced as a Darkfriend. See you in a few books!
Egwene’s time as a damane was effective as well, I suppose. By that I mean that I was nauseous knowing that it was coming up, and I was nauseous the entire time she was Leashed. It is terrifying and sickening. As someone who’s read the whole series and is kind of used to the Seanchan at this point (to say the least), it was a shock to the system and a reminder to really, really hate them. If I never have to read that section again, it’ll be too soon.
In trying to use the Portal Stone, Rand almost burns himself out! That was way scarier in future reads than it was the first time. Rand/Hurin/Loial’s time in the Mirror World was necessary, and had plenty of payoff…but was incredibly dull. This was the sag I was referring to. Although the latter portion of that, I liked to play a game called, “Is Lanfear using Compulsion?” The way that Rand’s thought processes are altered–not just what he thinks, but how he thinks–suggests so. I’m sure there’s a canon answer to this, but I lean toward yes.
At one point, Rand embraces saidin. The copy of the book I’m reading from isn’t early-edition–there were one or two continuity errors that were fixed in this version–which makes it all the more puzzling that the gaff I mentioned wasn’t fixed.