I've fallen back into bad habits it seems. Well, maybe not bad habits but definitely old habits. I was trying so hard to break my cycle of fantasy reading and then I stumbled across these two books, The Eye of the World and The Great Hunt, the first of the Wheel Of Time series by Robert Jordan. This was a huge error as when I started to read them I didn't realise that there were 14 volumes in total.
One is taking me a good three weeks to read at the moment (I haven't actually finished the Great Hunt yet - I'm about a third from the end, but I've read enough to include it in this post). I just know that my sense of order and neatness is going to end up kicking in and I will be compelled to read all 14 as once you start a series, you have to finish it, whether you want to or not.
There is a rich background history to this world; thousands of years ago certain men and women could 'channel', tapping into the One Power, (said'in and sai'dar, male and female halves of the True Source, the creator of all life). However, whilst the female source, sai'dar is still pure, sai'din has been tainted by the Dark One during the Age of Legends when The Dragon, Lews Therin attempted to contain the Dark One. The taint left by the Dark One on the male half of the One Power is foul, driving all male users eventually to madness. After the madness led the Dragon and his male followers to Break The World, leading to an Age of Madness, certain female members of the order of the Aes Sedai (women who could channel) swore to 'gentle' all men who are born with the ability; driving the power out of them, an act which is as good as a death sentence.
At the time of The Eye of the World, Aes Sedai are thin on the ground due to the lack of male channellers able to pass the ability on and are also widely distrusted and feared. People fear the coming of The Dragon Reborn as this will herald the start of the Last Battle against the Dark One and spring is very late coming. Rand al'Thor, his best friends Mat and Perrin, the Wisdom from his village Nynaeve and the girl he always thought he would marry, Egwene, find themselves caught up in a chain of events that is spiraling around them.
I found the books cumbersome and very slow to start with - a significant amount of time is spent with characters conversing and uncovering the history of the world (there is enough there for a WoT wiki which can be helpful) and there are a huge number of character names, terms and places to remember. Thankfully there is an index in the back with name pronunciation included as I was really struggling to remember what the difference was between the One Power and The True Source and Sai'dar as opposed to Ta'veren. This is the other problem - the names are so unfamiliar to a native English speaker and the pronunciation is more Celtic than Ango-Saxon that this was also a bit of a headache for me! However, once you got used to the flow of the story and the characters settled down a bit (about halfway through the first book) it did become easier to read, and once that happened the story did become engrossing.
I'm wondering if my need to work out what the hell is going on is actually worth ploughing though the rest of the series for. Book 2, The Great Hunt, is better than Book 1 as the characters are far more established. I felt a lot more confident in what they were trying to achieve and the intrigue and political shifting was starting to come into play. There was still a lot of running and hiding in dark streets and self-tormented inner reflections which got a bit tedious. However watching the characters trying to deal with multiple political agenda's and trying to remain true to their own needs and desires is one of the strengths of this book. I am feeling like Mat and Perrin are becoming a bit one dimensional though - a lot of attention is focused on Rand as the protagonist and the other characters suffer as a result in my opinion.
You can probably tell I am utterly conflicted over these books. I normally love a good fantasy novel, and there is no doubt that these are good fantasy novels; they have been around for long enough to have gathered quite a cult following, but I just can't work out why! In my opinion there are better writers out there who can give you the same sense of epic fantasy scale without dedicating paragraphs to the description of a coat, no matter how nice the silver herons lining the collar and sleeves are.
I'll finish Book 2 and give Book 3 a go - then I may call it a day on The Wheel Of Time.
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