The Wheel of Time

March 26, 2012

Yes, I’m speaking about the beyond-epic-length series of books.

I’d say that its readers fall into three categories:

1)  Never heard of it.

2)  Read some of the books, lost patience, and gave up.

3)  Avid fan of the series.  Think it’s great.

Before I say a bit more about each of these categories, let me state that for several years I would have fallen into category “2.”  That has changed, but more later.

For those who have never heard of it, imagine a series begun in 1990 and spanning 14 books (the 14th still in the works).  Most of these books are epics on their own, with quite a few of them exceeding 1,000 pages in paperback form.  At least five of them are bestsellers, though I suspect the number is higher.

Why so many books and so many pages?  I think there are some out there who would accuse Robert Jordan of cashing in — just writing books for the recurring income.  For my part, I’d say it is more likely that once he had built his fantasy world, he couldn’t help but keep returning to keep it alive.  As for the style of the books, it varies quite a bit.  I would describe the first 10 books as “moments of interesting stuff spread thinly through lots of less-interesting stuff.”  There are literally whole chapters in the middle books of people glaring at each other.  Just.  Glaring.

I started reading the books when I was a wee lad, just starting out in college in 1992 or so.  I found the first several books interesting, though admittedly my taste in books has changed quite a bit from those days.  By the late 90s, I simply couldn’t go on.  I put down book 7 unfinished and did not return for more than a decade.  Hence, I fell into category 2.

I’m in a different category now.  What changed?

Well, there are ways to approach that question, and some of them just don’t sound nice.  So, let me make nice first: Robert Jordan was an author with vision, talent, and a unique style.  He did lots of things right — some of them even brilliant.  Furthermore, what I’ve learned of the man leads me to respect him a great deal.  He lived a good life, and touched many people.   As for the Wheel of Time, he brought a world to life and put interesting characters in it.  Characters that people really identify with, in many cases.  I could go on, but I think my point is clear.  He was a good man, and a good writer in many ways.

So, having explained why I stopped reading the series, and stated my views on Robert Jordan as an author, I’ll (slowly) get to “what changed.”

I read other books by other authors, of course, and over the years began to identify a few who appealed to my tastes — authors whose stories were not chores to read (sadly, some of the first 10 Wheel of Time books were chores to get through at times).  One of these authors is Brandon Sanderson.

I no longer recall which of Sanderson’s works I read first, but I do know that I’ve read everything he has written that I can get my paws on.   I enjoy his books, and I think they are well done.  There is little, if any, of his work that is boring or tedious.  That’s a good thing.   I would stop short of labeling him the “best author ever.”  There are very, very few I would say that about (I’m looking at you, Tolkien).

What does he have to do with the Wheel of Time?  Anyone in category 3 above would already know.  Robert Jordan passed away before he could complete the Wheel of Time series.  I’ve read a bit about how he passed, and while sad, the circumstances are rather heart-warming.  From what I can tell, he died peacefully among family and loved ones after a long battle with his health.  Since it was not something sudden like a car accident or heart-attack, plans had been made to finish the series.  And so, after a “selection process” involving Jordan’s widow, Sanderson was approached to finish the series and has written books 12 and 13.  He has also written book 14, the final book, though it is still in pre-production editing and such.

When I heard this had happened, I knew I had to read these new books.  But I’m not the kind of person to pick up at book 8 after more than 10 years and try to jump back in… no.  I started over at book 1, of course.  Over the course of several months, I must have read around 10,000 pages of Robert Jordan, finally arriving at “The Gathering Storm,” Brandon Sanderson’s entry into the series.  I felt I deserved a t-shirt, at least, for the effort.

I expected the “new books” to be better.  No slight meant against Jordan, of course, but I simply knew going in that Sanderson’s writing style was more to my liking.  But “expected it to be better” does not move a person to write a 1,000 word blog post (the first post on the site, at that).

Sanderson breathed real life into the characters — without changing who and what they were.  Every time I sat down to read the book I was amazed — and what he did with Rand’s character (a central character in the series) was beautiful.  I was beside myself after reading the book, enough to re-read portions of the final chapters.  It was that good.

I am nearly finished with book 13 now, also by Sanderson.  It has been a joy to read, as well.  It’s going to be tough waiting for 14, and even tougher to finish it.  Because then it will be over.  20 years and somewhere near 13,000 pages.  I know one thing — Sanderson will finish it beautifully.

And there it is.  If you have the stamina, read the whole series.  For my part, I say it’s worth it if you like fantasy books.   Might be worth checking out some of Sanderson’s other works first, though.  I would recommend the standalone novel “Warbreaker,” for that.