Thursday, May 11, 2006

DUST JACKETS: The Eye of the World

Out of all my “Dust Jackets” entries, I’ve looked forward to this one the most. My path to Robert Jordan’s world (nicknamed “Randland” by his more hardcore followers) was a long and indecisive one.

The Wheel of Time series came to my attention in the early nineties while I was in college. Tor Books released a free printing of the first third of The Eye of the World, the first book in the series. I have to applaud the publisher’s promotional strategy and the fact it worked. That they would do this just shows their faith in Jordan, because even a third of that book wasn’t a light read. Oddly enough, I didn’t read the free copy in its entirety. My curiosity got the better of me, and I went ahead and bought a copy of the paperback.

This is where you might expect me to say, “Once I started, I was hooked and couldn’t put the book down, finishing all 832 pages in no time.” Not quite. Actually, the first time I tried to read this book, I couldn’t get into it. Months later, I gave it another try, with the same results. I approach most books with a “three strikes” rule, so when I gave it that third try, it was all or nothing. I didn’t plow through the book, but Jordan did hook me.

Jordan opens with a prologue, which as many of you might guess, didn’t do much for me. Yes, it sets the tone, but it really adds little to the book itself. Somehow, I think when Jordan writes the final book, that prologue will take on new meaning, but we’ll have to wait to see.

From there, Jordan introduces us to the main character, a farm boy named Rand al’Thor. Yes, a farm boy. Is there anything more clichĂ© within fantasy than the farm boy destined for greatness? Yet Jordan makes it work, because this character needs a lot of room to develop or else this series wouldn’t have lasted that first book, much less made it to eleven (with more to come).

I could probably spend an entire month of entries picking apart why this book and series works, but let’s just discuss the magic for now. Jordan might never use the word magic in his book, but there is magic. Women called Aes Sedai channel the “One Power” to perform all sorts of things such as healing, moving objects and controlling the weather. Jordan does a great job defining these abilities, and never makes it seem like these women are without weakness.

The Aes Sedai hold powerful sway over the rulers of all countries. So what about the men? Yes, there are men who can “channel” as the women do, but there’s a catch. The male half of the “One Power” has become tainted, and any man who channels for too long will go insane. Because of this, the Aes Sedai hunt down these men and cut off their ability to channel. You might call it the magical equivalent of neutering. Complicating matters is that prophecy (you knew there had to be one, didn’t you?) claims a man who can channel will become known as the Dragon Reborn and save the world—by breaking it. Given that last detail, not everyone wants to see the Dragon Reborn and will do anything to stop him from rising to power. The question Rand faces in this book is whether he is that man.

Here’s where I pay The Eye of the World the oddest compliment I could possibly give any book. I also think Jordan might find it insulting, but I’ll say it anyway. I despised the ending to this book. Things just ended too abruptly and felt a bit too pat even with the obvious need for future books. I got the impression the book could have kept going, but he needed some way to just close it and close it quickly. Despite my disappointment with the ending, I knew the moment I was done that I wanted to read the next book. He just created such a credible world with strong characters, political intrigue and well-defined magic that never goes over the top. I didn’t just want to go back to “Randland,” I needed to. As I’ve grown as a writer, I’ve also come to appreciate what a great writer Jordan really is. No matter how good I get, I read his books and feel like a hack.

Other Books by Robert Jordan:

With all this praise, you might think I’ve demolished my way through this series. Not so, but I’ve known people to do it. A co-worker read through all eleven books for the first time within a matter of weeks, but I’ve only made it through book six, The Lord of Chaos. I’ve paced myself with this series, but there are times when the desire to plow into them until I’ve hit the end of the latest book becomes near unbearable. The closest I’ve come to doing this was the end of book five, The Fires of Heaven, which offers up one damn good cliffhanger of an ending. I’m a bit overdue to tackle book seven, so you can probably expect a review on that one sometime this summer.

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