Monday, August 7, 2017

The Wheel of Time Series by Robert Jordan

The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan is probably the longest series I have ever read. Over the course of 2016 (and a few months of 2017) I completed the fifteen book series (this includes the prequel). With the shortest book falling somewhere around 600 pages, this was no easy task. But I made it.

There are many things about this series that have me conflicted. I'm going to try and touch on some of the things that I liked best, and the things I didn't like at all, while avoiding spoilers. This is going to be less a review and more general thoughts and impressions about the series.

Let's start off with the positives, so that I don't go into a rant and forget all the things I do appreciate about the series.

1) It's readable, almost compulsively so. After finishing each book, particularly those near the beginning of the series, I would have a hard time pinpointing anything that really made the book special for me and yet, I needed to read the next book. They were also a lot of fun to read, for the most part.

2) The worldbuilding was quite spectacular. These don't have my favorite fantasy world, but the world is fascinating. This really started becoming apparent to me in books four and five (which were both quite excellent). The expansion and exploration of new societies--the Aiel, in particular--was fascinating to me. I loved the exploration and contrast between the various cultures.

2a) While the Aes Sedai often drove me insane, the White Tower was such an interesting place. And the Warders--I want to know more about these bonds.

2b) The Forsaken, our main villains in the series, had some really interesting stories that were sprinkled throughout. There are several of them that I would like to know more about. How did they get where they are?

2c) Throughout the series there were various instances of slavery brought up and explored (to an extent). I thought this was handled in a very interesting way because we got to see it from almost every angle. We were in the heads of people forced to be slaves, those who were raised slaves, those who were freed, those who were absolutely opposed to the idea, those who inflicted this on others. I don't know how to explain this, but it was just really interesting to have this piece of the world, that is so dark and depressing, explored so fully. I don't think I've seen that done in quite the same way anywhere else.

3) The wolves. I'm not going to go deeply into this because it would be very spoilery, but I found the wolf aspect and connection in the series fascinating.

4) Androl, who was only introduced once Sanderson took over the series. I have no idea (because I haven't sought out an answer) if he was a creation of Sanderson, or a character that Jordan planned to introduce. Either way, I adored his character and wish there had been more through the entire series with this guy.

5) Lan and Nynaeve. A lot of people don't seem to like these two. And while I never loved any of the characters (except maybe Androl) these were early favorites. In fact, I think a lot of the series would have been more interesting if they had been worked in more. There was a lot of potential that I felt like was ignored. But anyway, for positives, I did enjoy these two. Lan's portions in the last few books were particularly great.

6) The overall conclusion was very satisfying to me. There were a few characters I would have liked to visit again, a few more answers that could have been revealed, but overall I was very happy with how things ended. There was enough closure to leave me satisfied, with enough left open to keep the world alive in my mind. Which is the perfect ending, in my eyes. 

Alright, now let's get to the things I wasn't so fond of. Very few of these are things that I outright hated. It's more just things that bothered me in some way.

1) The Trakand family. I'm putting them at the top of my list because I want to get them out of the way. I will talk about the rest of the characters in a minute. This family was the worst part of the books for me. Elayne became progressively worse with every book and Gawyn and Morgase (her brother and mother) were no better. Each of them may have had a few moments where I could stand them, but they were few and far between. The only one connected to their family that I liked was Galad, and he didn't show up nearly enough.

2) The writing. It's not that I hated the writing or anything, because I didn't, I just found it rather clunky. It was really repetitive at times and there were certain things that just didn't need to be written. I would read a paragraph and feel like two or three sentences could be cut entirely, because the other sentences explained everything well enough.

3) This goes along with my last point with writing, but I wanted to mention it separately. Removing the line "she folded her arms under her breasts" and other variations of this could have easily cut out a hundred pages from almost every book. No, really, I don't think that's much of an exaggeration. In the beginning I didn't notice this all that much, but then it started nagging at me. We get it! Women have breasts and, if they fold their arms, it's usually under their breasts. We don't need reminding every five seconds! Along those same lines, Nynaeve's braid tugging got pretty old.

4) The characters. Just like with the writing, I didn't hate the characters, but there were very few that I ever actually liked. In the beginning, Perrin was my favorite, then the middle books happened and he fell apart for me. Mat was my least favorite to start, then the later books happened and I found myself wanting to be in his head more and more. I've already mentioned the Trakand's, so I won't go there again. Egwene...She had her moments, but still, overall I disliked her. I was never a fan of Rand either. Don't hate me.

5) The complete lack of understanding between women and men drove me insane. Yes, we are different from each other. Yes we see things in the other that we don't see in ourselves (despite the fact that it's there), but that doesn't mean we are always at odds, completely unable to understand each other. This is a slight exaggeration, but not by much. The highlighting of the differences in thought was good in theory, but the execution of how these differences would play out did not go well.

6) I was never that into the magic system in these books. I thought it was interesting, with the various weaves and how different Ajah's in the White Tower focused on different things, but it never made sense to me. I couldn't envision it well and that prevented me from being able to really appreciate the portions of the narrative that relied on the magic. 

7) The passage of time in this was frustrating to me. I know that time does not work exactly the same way in this world as it does on earth, but I found it very unrealistic for only around two years to have passed from beginning to end. Too much happened for that to be a reasonable time frame. I constantly found myself wondering how much time had passed, only to be reminded that it had been mere months (that felt like years) since the beginning of the journey. 

In Conclusion
This series is far from being my favorite series of all time, but I am very glad that I read it. It's easy to see how this was influenced by previous works and how more recent works have been influenced by this, which is really neat to me. It's difficult to be completely original, but you can put your own spin on things, so I think this getting so much hate for being a "Tolkien copy" is very unreasonable, personally, because it does add its own spin to the story. 

Will I ever read these again? I really don't know. I may revisit them in the future, to see what I think about them after becoming more widely read. In some ways I think a reread would be a good thing because I can try to catch some of the little details that I missed the first time around. Only the future can say whether I will get back into these again. 

Despite the many things that annoyed me about this series, I did enjoy reading it. It's not for everyone, but I would urge fantasy fans to give it a try. You may not stick with it, but maybe you will love it. 

If I left out something (or even got some details wrong) I would love to know. Feel free to chat with me about your own experience with this series in the comments. 

Note: This is not a particularly thorough analysis of the series, just my overall impressions. When I read I tend to read for enjoyment, hoping to pick up things along the way, but not extremely concerned about keep track of every detail. I didn't write this as a deep look at the overall story, just my general impressions and what I enjoyed or did not. 

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