New Spring

by Robert Jordan

 

You could call this a break from the main series, which is taking its toll. I’m treating it as such, but I’d always planned on reading the books in publication order; I usually figure that the author’s thought processes should be roughly mirrored by the reader’s. Basically, I knew Jordan wouldn’t put spoilers in a prequel that was published before the final four installments of the main series. Regardless, this is the order in which I chose to read them, so here goes.

As I alluded to just now, I was looking for a change of pace, and I got one. Instead of continuing the story, New Spring–prequel that it is–takes us back in time about twenty years, to the end of the Aiel War. New SpringWe rendez-vous with Moiraine, living with her friend Siuan as an Accepted in Tar Valon, as well as Lan, hoping to return to the Blight when the war finally ends. Moiraine and Siuan, through sheer dumb luck, end up as the only living witnesses to the prophecy that the Dragon has been reborn, and the two friends take up the task of finding him before disaster strikes.

Moiraine and Lan haven’t yet crossed paths, so you know there’s gonna be an awesome meet-cute coming up. Moiraine’s journey leads her north, just as Lan discovers the possibility that an army is being raised in his name. Each with their own secret task ahead of them, the pair become reluctant companions and develop a grudging respect for one another’s ability. Not exactly a surprise ending.

There’s a plot here, but the specifics aren’t revealed until pretty much the last couple of chapters. The audience knows that Lan’s kamikaze mission won’t proceed as planned, and that Moiraine and Siuan aren’t going to find the Dragon for, oh, about eighteen years. We also know that any minor characters we haven’t alredy met aren’t going to matter much. This knowledge lets the story and the characters breathe a little bit; we’re not constantly waiting for Jordan to decide that something else is important, and we can just enjoy the events as they unfold.

The story Jordan creates is interesting and vibrant, so much so that, once again, I lamented Jordan’s refusal to focus on a single narrative in most of his books. Indeed, I was reminded of how much fun The Eye of the World was when I was first beginning the series. It’s the difference between a world of possibility and a world of obligation; obligations to plot, to characters, to things we already know have happened or will happen. My only complaint, and it’s minor, is that New Spring, like many prequels, suffers from Baby Muppets syndrome. That is to say, we’re introduced to the younger versions of so many characters that it becomes distracting and implausible. In this case, are we really to believe that, despite Aes Sedai living to be hundreds of years old, most of the ones we’ve met are in their early twenties around the time of New Spring? Most of the older Aes Sedai that we meet end up dead, with the exception of Cadsuane, who’s pretty much known as the oldest Aes Sedai around. It’s not a huge deal, but it detracts from the realism a bit.

Truthfully, knowing that this book was about Moiraine, I expected and hoped that it would lead to some indication that she had survived her apparent-but-corpseless death in book five. I mean, Gandalf fell fighting the Balrog, but came back better than ever. Thom Merillin came back from his apparent death, and that was in the first book of this series! I liked Moiraine as a character, so perhaps it was my wishful thinking on my part. In any event, we don’t really get any hints as to what’s happening in the last four books, at least as far as I can tell. It looks like Jordan set out to write a straightforward prequel, not a key to unlocking any mysteries. And that’s okay. Actually, it’s great.

New Spring is a breath of fresh air after ten books that are increasingly bogged down by plot and a mess of characters. It’s enough to remind me of why I liked Jordan’s writing in the first place, and it’s a glimmer of hope that perhaps the series will return to form before the end.

The Great Hunt

by Robert Jordan

 

Flashback to March 2012: A dashing young part-time fry cook and recreational blogger picks up The Eye of the World on the advice of some of his nerdy friends. He reads it, decides he likes it, and writes positive things about it on his aforementioned blog.

Months pass.

A world-weary (yet still dashing) young man picks up its sequel, The Great Hunt. It’s tough at first because he’s forgotten most of what happened in the first book, but he soon begins to enjoy it and, after several weeks, finally finishes. The end? Of course not. There’s twelve more books in the series as of today, when the 14th and final installment is released.

Some random fangirl with A Memory of Light

Some random fangirl with A Memory of Light

Like I said, it took me a few chapters to get back into The Wheel of Time. It’s hard to remember such a large cast of characters, and I was confused as fuck about what happened at the end of Eye anyways. But after a while (and after asking Wheel experts about a few details) I got really into it. Almost embarrassingly so; Metro riders seem to prefer more intellectual fare. Judgmental commuters.

I don’t want to get too much into the plot here- you either read the first book or you didn’t- so I’ll just tell you what I liked or didn’t like about the book. Mostly liked. First of all, one of the plot elements from the first novel really becomes important here. The main characters are frequently described as Ta’veren, meaning that the world kind of revolves around them. Makes sense, right, for the main characters in a fantasy novel to have a huge impact on their universe? So that’s cool, but I think in The Great Hunt, it plays out in interesting ways. Characters that have had minimal interactions with our heroes seem to have been greatly affected by them. It’s kind of a stupid thing to think is cool, but I like the way the story incorporates and reinforces the notion that these characters are equally important to their own world as to the audience.

I also liked that, with few exceptions, the narrative is pretty focused. It’s called The Great Hunt, and about 90% of the book follows various characters’ attempts to find, steal, protect, or use the Horn of Valere, the object of the eponymous hunt. This is somewhat different from The Eye of the World, in which the Eye itself wasn’t important till the end. The Great HuntCome to think of it, I don’t even really remember what the Eye was, and since it wasn’t mentioned in Hunt, I’m assuming that it doesn’t fucking matter anymore. Again, this might not seem like a big deal, but it’s nice to have some structure in place from the beginning, and to know when the finale is approaching.

Speaking of Eye, while I understand the whole hero’s journey thing, I do get tired of Rand al’Thor (our protagonist) complaining that he’s just a shepherd from the Two Rivers. No. Shut up. All signs point to the contrary, and it should be obvious even to you, Rand. The character Moiraine, who provides general expository services, already identified you as the Dragon Reborn at the end of Eye. The third book is called The Dragon Reborn. You don’t need to be a rocket surgeon to figure this out.

Since I seemed to have transitioned into things that I did not like, I must say that at times it’s frustrating to try to remember each and every character. Jordan has this annoying habit of introducing several characters at once, following one of them, and then not mentioning the others for hundreds of pages. All of a sudden they’re back, and you’re supposed to remember everything about them. It frustrates me, and means that the longer I take to read one of these books, the more confusing it becomes.

Many things confuse me, however. Writing checks, for instance. What goes on this line, and that one? Sometimes it takes a minute. Don’t front, you know it’s confusing as hell. But anyway, I can’t really complain about getting confused by Wheel; I have the sneaking suspicion that I’m supposed to be confused, or at least curious. There are certainly questions left unanswered, plotlines unexplored. I know that there are twelve more books, so I guess I have to be patient and have faith that the rest of the series will provide those answers. Or I guess I could just forget about the questions I have, and move on anyway.

And I am going to move on. Not immediately, though. I like to mix it up a little bit, and not read too much of any one thing for too long. Diversification. So I’ll probably read a book or two before moving on to Dragon. And y’all benefit too, as my blog (hopefully) won’t turn into a Wheel of Time forum. Or a James Bond forum. Or a weekly rant about the state of our political process, to hint at what I’m reading now. But I will come back to Dragon, and I intend to read the whole series.

The Great Hunt did more than The Eye of the World to hook me into the The Wheel of Time. Pretty exceptional.

The Eye of the World

by Robert Jordan

 

Once again it’s been a while since I’ve been able to post, for which I’m sorry. I am happy to say that this time it was not because the book was difficult, boring, ungrammatical, or otherwise ‘bad’. Actually, I very much liked The Eye of the World.

If you don’t know, and I don’t know why you would, this is the first book in a series of (soon-to-be) fourteen fantasy novels from Robert Jordan. I picked up a box set of the first three after a few of my friends, some of whom I wasn’t sure were able to read, recommended them to me. Now I know what you’re thinking: “What kind of loser reads fantasy?” “Who has the time to read a series of fourteen books?” “You have friends?” The answer is “Screw you, too.”

But you’re right, fantasy isn’t necessarily my thing either, and fourteen books is quite a commitment. I haven’t read a series that long since I read Ian Fleming’s James Bond books in middle school, and the last real fantasy I read was possibly The Lord of the Rings around the same time. Though I did enjoy that series, I’ve never really needed to come back to the genre, and I usually start to tune out whenever people (dweebs) start talking about fantasy, whether it’s Wheel of Time or Game of Thrones. But variety is the spice of life.

The Eye of the World indeed takes more than a page (literarily, not literally) from Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring. Obviously, if Jordan meant to begin an epic fantasy series it’s not a bad idea for him to hearken back to the most epic fantasy series of them all. The novel begins with Rand al’Thor, a native of the Two Rivers, minding his own business, when he and two of his friends are targeted and attacked by Trollocs. For reasons they don’t really understand, they set off with a woman named Moiraine to her city, Tar Valon, where she promises them safety.

I know that fantasy names are annoying, and that’s definitely one of the things that turns me off of the whole genre. I mean, the first hundred pages or so are all about Aes Sedai and Bel Tine and Wisdoms, and it’s confusing as hell. Luckily for the reader, there is a glossary at the back of the book to explain all of these terms. Unluckily for me, I did not find this glossary until I pretty much had it down. Oh well.

If you can get past the stupid fantasy convention of giving everything a stupid fantasy name, the book is actually pretty sweet. Jordan knows how to write an exciting narrative, and I was into it pretty much from the first page. By the time Rand left the Two Rivers it was hard to stop reading. Whether the characters are seeing a new city for the first time, or hearing a legend of old, or fighting for their lives, it’s always exciting and lively. With a book this long and nuanced, you might think it would get bogged down in excruciatingly detailed lore, but it’s really just very entertaining all the way through. For 800 pages. In small print.

Actually, my only real complaint about The Eye of the World is that it was so long, but when I think about where Jordan could have slimmed it down I draw a blank. It’s actually hard to imagine that any lesser degree of detail could even be considered acceptable in literature; every page seems to count. Now, it did take me two weeks to read, which is a long time, especially when you remember that the series is fourteen books long. From what I understand, this is also one of the shorter entries, meaning that it will take me (2 weeks x 14 books… carry the 3…) a really long time to read the whole saga. As one of my friends put it, “What if you want to do something else, like, ever?” Well, if The Wheel of Time keeps up the pace, then it’s worth the time commitment.

Solid book, even if you don’t like fantasy. Swallow your pride and give yourself time to accept Jordan’s universe, and don’t be put off by the length. Even Rome took, like, at least two weeks to build.