The Wheel of Time… where to begin? The first volume of the series, The Eye of the World, was published in 1990. George W. Bush was president, East and West Germany were in the process of reunification, and your helpful reviewer was making plans for Kindergarten.
Who would have guessed that the 14th and final volume of the series wouldn’t see the light of day until 2013, and that when it did, it would have had a different author’s name on the book jacket? Not me, that’s for sure. And yet, not only have I happily read all 14 volumes, but I imagine I’m one of a relatively small minority of people who have made their way through the series twice (cue the hatemail from devoted WOT fans here…).
WOT is famously long and meandering, so I’ll skip to the chase: should you read this series? The answer is: Yes, if epic fantasy is your thing. The series is famously long and meandering- each book clocks in at 500+ pages , and with 14 books in the series, WOT is one of the most time-intensive book series you’ll encounter. The series starts strong with books 1-7 (ish), and the opening trilogy of The Eye of The World, The Great Hunt, and The Dragon Reborn stand out in my memory as being truly excellent. Around book 7, however, it’s clear that Jordan begins to lose his way. The books continue to add in new characters (and reborn versions of past characters), in a way that can be challenging for readers (my wife recalls that she started a journal just to keep track of who was who, and who seemed to be evil, etc.).
Books 8-11 are a bit of a slog- the action doesn’t always seem to be progressing, and it’s not clear that Jordan is preparing the way for a satisfying conclusion. By 2005, Jordan had been diagnosed with terminal heart disease, leading him to start preparing detailed notes for what he intended to be the 12th and final volume of the series. He passed away in 2007, with the series as yet unfinished.
Books 12-14 (Jordan’s final novel was eventually split into 3), would come to be written by fellow author Brandon Sanderson, who was chosen to continue the series by Jordan’s widow. Sanderson, in typically frenetic fashion, churned out all 3 final novels between 2009 and 2013, giving a satisfying conclusion, and general closure, to the legions of WOT fans. The final novel, A Memory of Light, may not be perfect, but it is a wholly satisfying end to the series, and given the very real possibility that the series could have ended with Jordan’s death, I for one am tremendously grateful to Sanderson for stepping in.
Ultimately, WOT isn’t a series that can be recommended without reservations. This is a special beast, and one that only certain kinds of people will have the energy and interest to complete. With that said, WOT will forever inform my opinion of what “fantasy” is as a genre, and will stand in my memory as the classic example of what an epic fantasy series can be, for better or worse. If you’re looking for a truly epic series, give this a try. The world of Rand al’Thor is a truly incredible one.
Rating: 3- Highly Recommended