The Wheel of Time series has a special place in my heart. When I was about 13, one of my friends at school started reading the series. She stormed through the books and I was curious to see what it was that was compelling her to read thousands of pages of this series I’d never heard of. I’d of course read books featuring magic while I was a child but I hadn’t ever dipped so much as a toe into the world of adult fantasy. I bought the first instalment, The Eye of the World, with a birthday voucher not long later. I’ve been in love ever since. It was an introduction to fantasy and I’ve never looked back.
I used to dash quickly into the fantasy section of our local Waterstones after pretty much every birthday or any other time I had some pocket money to pick up the next book (often skulking because I was too embarrassed to admit as an awkward teenager that I was a fantasy nerd). Between then and some time in my early 20s, I read through 11 books. Eventually, I was leaving so long between books that, although I always enjoyed reading them, it took me longer and longer to get back into the story and world and I missed more and more of the subtleties. In 2015, I went back to the beginning to re-read the whole thing and finally make it to the end in a way that would do my love for the series justice.
Fast forward more years than I’d realised had passed and I’ve just finished book 7 of the 14 book series – A Crown of Swords. I adored it in a way that I don’t remember adoring it the first time. This instalment was a long one at 742 pages. The font is small and, if I’m being brutally honest, not a huge amount happens in the grand scheme of things. And YET, reading it was comforting while also actually being genuinely gripping. I wanted to be reading it all the time. I thought about it all the time when I wasn’t reading it. The world building is incredible and unlike anything I’ve read. That was true all those years ago when I was a teenager and, more remarkably after 20 years more of fantasy reading, it’s still true now. The characters have developed with each and every book, but it felt like this one really nudged them further on.
“And the Shadow fell upon the land, and the world was riven stone from stone. The oceans fled, and the mountains were swallowed up, and the nations were scattered to the eight corners of the World. The moon was as blood, and the sun was as ashes. The seas boiled, and the living envied the dead. All was shattered, and all but memory lost, and one memory above all others, of him who brought the Shadow and the Breaking of the World. And him they named Dragon.”
Obviously I can’t say a lot more given how far I am into the series, although I could rabbit on all day about just how much I love Jordan’s story, his characters and everything that the books represent to me. The million dollar question though – should you pick it up?
As much as I love it, my answer isn’t an insistent, “yes absolutely what are you waiting for?”. While I *do* want more people to read it, there’s a few points you should bear in mind:
1. It’s trope-tastic – the series is packed to the rafters with fantasy tropes that I know fantasy readers can find tired and annoying. You can bet your bottom dollar that there’s a farm boy going innocently about his business before finding out he’s got untold power (in fact, there are at least 5 people from the same village that experience the same!). There’s a great evil lurking and a final battle coming. There’s a LOT around that that is original but you will be treading some ground that you’ve trodden before if you’re a regular fantasy reader.
2. Other readers seem to hate the female characters – I will grant you that Jordan writes men better than he writes women. The men manage to be conflicted and complex, whereas the women can seem a little more one dimensional at times. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been reading the series for years but to me, they’re wonderful. It’s also actually the women who are the strongest wielders of the magic in this world, and there are as many queens as there are kings. Sure, you’ll read a lot about women’s bosoms but there are plenty of strong women in the series to get behind.
3. It is LONG – there are 14 books, each of which are over 600 pages. One even stretches beyond 1,000 pages. Going into the Wheel of Time series is a fair old commitment. Inevitably with a series that is so long, there is a lot of world building, a lot of political wrangling and a lot of travelling. Balancing that is a hugely detailed world, with history and legends and customs all of its own. The plot is intricate and there are innocuous moments in one book that pop up later on. Seeds sown all over for later events. It can be repetitive and it isn’t always pacey but the time and pages are worth it to me.
If you have the time, the patience and you don’t mind a trope or two, please do pick up the Wheel of Time. Robert Jordan was a marvellously creative man and I can’t even imagine the time that it took to build a world so detailed from scratch. Once a favourite, always a favourite.