Review - The Wheel of Time
I just finished the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. The series has been on my list of books to read, and I finally managed to make the time. Fourteen books long, the Wheel of Time saga is a masterpiece. Incredibly immersive worldbuilding with interesting characters and epic stakes.
The story is mostly a fantasy setting; magic and prophecy in a medieval world, except there are elements of scifi blended in, as we learn that the current world was built on the ruins of a golden age of technology and learning. It takes the trope of a fantasy world and turns it on its head. And that is not the only trope the Wheel of Time cracks open and drinks the gooey insides. Over and over again, the story takes familiar tropes and spreads them out in a new way. Chosen ones, prophecy, the secret heir, the evil overlord... the Wheel of Time takes every trope it touches and gives them a little twist.
If that’s all the story did, it would be noteworthy enough, but the story is great, and the characters are loveable.
Time is cyclical in the Wheel of time. People die and are reborn. Ages come and pass, then come again. The Ages are punctuated with cataclysms, making the actions of previous ages become history, then myth. Artifacts thousands of years old can be found with great power, and great danger. The idea of time touches every aspect of the story, and the world would not be possible without it.
Written in a limited omniscient perspective, similar to the style of Game of Thrones or A Saga of the Seven Suns, the story allows the reader to peek into the minds of its characters. This especially works well when viewing the same event from different perspectives. The motivations of the characters are laid bare, allowing for an exploration of why characters do things at all. Running for your life? Eager for power? Simply don’t see how the good guys could win, so you might as well survive? Feel a responsibility for others? There are so many reasons why characters move within the story, and we often get to see both the real they think they do what they do, and the perception of the characters around them.
It would take me days to take an in-depth look at the story mechanics, so I’ll keep it at the ten-thousand-foot view. The Wheel of Time is an incredibly enjoyable read. From the perspective of a writer, it is also an incredibly informative one. The way that the story takes old tropes and shows that they can be surprising and enjoyable should be taught to every creative writing student.
Unintentionally, there is another lesson for writers. Robert Jordan was diagnosed with cardiac amyloidosis in March 2006, he received treatment for a time and passed away in September 2007. Having published 11 books in the Wheel of Time, he intended to finish what he began, but when it became evident that it wasn’t going to happen; he set out notes and storyboarded the rest of the story. After he passed, his editor and wife, Harriet McDougal, was tasked with finding someone to finish the story. Harriet brought in Branden Sanderson to complete the last book, which since there was so much material, ended up being the final three books.
Considering the volume of the total work, 4.5 Million words – one million of which are the last three books, the Wheel of Time is also a study in voice. There are so many books on a writer’s voice out there, but actually reading the shift from one author to another is perhaps the best way to study it. Sanderson wrote in the prologue for The Gathering Storm that he was not trying to emulate Jordan but to write the best story that he could. In doing so, it’s possible to see the subtle differences between the two writers.
Whether you want to see a master twist tropes, read an epic story, enjoy fantastic characters, or analyse the complexity and subtlety of voice, The Wheel of Time is a fantastic read. If you’ve been putting it off like I did, don’t. You won’t regret it.