A 5 star series, 4 stars for this work“The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, and Age long past, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning, there are neither Beginnings nor endings to the turning of The Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.”
This is probably in contention as my favourite book series of all time. I don't re-read many books unless I really love them. But I am in the process of re-reading these. That said this book remains for me as a four star novel purely because it is in my view weaker and less original than the accompanying volumes.
This book can be read on its own and I strongly encourage anyone interested in taking up the long series to give this first novel a go. Chances are if you like or love this you'll be interested in the others. If you only find it somewhat appealing I think you'll like the second book even more because from the second and third books the series really comes into its own. So before I pump up the entire series I'll briefly tell you what this novel is about.
In the usual fantasy manner we start out with a sheepherder whose life is interrupted by the arrival of strangers in his village. These strangers turn out to be a magical user and a master warrior. A peddler and a gleeman (a bard) also decide it would be great to arrive at the same time. And then a bunch of Trollocs led by a Myrddraal decide to arrive and reveal who the mysterious strangers truly are. Our main protagonist Rand al'Thor is given his father's sword and told that he is one of three men who was being hunted by the Dark One's minions. As a result to protect his village he has to leave (and this eventually all leads to he and his friends heading towards the Eye of the World). Compared to the later books this is average fantasy fare and hardly unique. But there are the subtle glimpses of how epic this series will become.
For in my opinion there is no other fantasy series as epic as that of The Wheel of Time. It simply cannot be contained in its scope. Even after it was originally meant to be a trilogy it became six books and then ten. Now it will be fourteen books and has lived beyond the lifespan of its original author. And yet the story has lost little of its overall consistency. It is a sprawling world that forms across thirteen books with hundreds upon hundreds of characters that enter the frame. Indeed if you want memory training why not try reading this sprawling and long series?
The premise of the entire series is only hinted at in this first book. That is that the world as our characters then know it has been created by the nameless Creator, a being of physical good, who bound the Dark One (Shai'tan) in a physical prison on this world, held captive by the turning of the metaphysical Wheel of Time. This Wheel is powered by the One Power. The One Power can be tapped by certain adepts called Aes Sedai and is divided into male and female halves called saidin and saidar. This One Power allows for Aes Sedai to weave Fire, Air, Earth, Water and Spirit to attempt various magical things and in past ages create objects of power. The Aes Sedia in the past released the Dark One partially and then rebound him but not before he tainted the male half of the power driving all male Aes Sedai insane. This destroyed the world and led to women holding the ability to channel. However prophecies exist which talk about the Dark One rising again and when he does the Dragon Reborn (a kind of male saviour) will confront and defeat the Dark One. The idea is suggested that because the Wheel keeps turning heroic characters are reborn or reincarnated and the Dark One keeps one being released and rebound in his prison and so it is the Dark One's aim to stop the Wheel of Time turning and have a kind of final Armageddon battle at last. So that is where the entire story leads towards: a massive final reckoning with good and evil.
Robert Jordan draws upon many other fantasy and mythology references and yet he creates something very unique ultimately. His overall vision is huge and massive and hopefully the conclusion is equally satisfying when at last the final and fourteenth book is released. However to this date the other novels have been incredible and visionary. Not to mention that they introduced me to the works of Brandon Sanderson. Be as cynical about this series as you want there's very little that can convince me that this personally is one of the crowning pillars of epic fantasy that focuses on the conflict of good versus evil. And nothing beats this for scope in my mind.
I encourage anyone who is interested in reading this series to start here and see if you like it. If you don't I'd still encourage you to try the second book as that is where the unique elements start to emerge. The third book is better still and if you make it to book six you'll start to see how wonderful the overall story is I hope. There is also a prequel which may catch your eye called New Spring. However if you're not drawn in by book one or two I'd probably admit defeat and say that this is not your kind of book. Anyway it's my aim to re-read all the books by January so I can be up to date with the final book. And hopefully I shall also be able to own the books in the future.
For anyone interested here's a list of all the characters I found and thought was interesting: http://www.ugcs.caltech.edu/~karlh/cgi-bin/wot.cgi