Revisiting The Wheel of Time

After I watched the first season of The Wheel of Time on Amazon, I couldn’t help but try to remember just how much had changed from the source material. It had been nine years since I’d read anything of the series, despite having read the earlier books many many times. (I would guess I’ve read the first book, Eye of the World, around ten times, since I’d typically reread the whole series before each new book came out.) These days, I’m much more hesitant to reread books, simply because there are so many other books out there. Rereading the whole series (14 books plus the prequel) means about 12,000 pages of reading. 4,410,036 words, according to Wikipedia. When would I ever feel like reading that much of something again? Something that I’d already read so many times?

After the first season of the TV show, I decided the time had come. Yes, this meant I’d be reading beefy books, which might put my “1 book a week” goal in peril, but in the end I wanted to read the series again, so I did. I started it in January, and I finished it on Saturday. It took three and a half months, though during that time I also read two non-fiction books as preparation for my current novel, and Don’t Go to Sleep one more time for the page proofs.

Did I fall behind in my reading goal? Nope. I’m actually about 4 books ahead of where I need to be at this point in the year, which goes to show just what a difference reading a book you really love makes versus reading just anything. I finished the last two books in three days a piece. Plenty of times I was reading instead of doing pretty much anything else.

I realize that the series gets a fair bit of flack from some corners. There’s a popular perception that the middle of the series is particularly weak, with a lot of time spent doing a lot of nothing. Reading through the whole thing all at once helped me to see the series as one long work. There’s a weak spot indeed in Crossroads of Twilight, which almost felt like an experimental book to me. A “What if we just looked at a few days in the life of all of the characters for an entire book” sort of thing. There are a few scenes that do fine, but by and large the book could be skipped over without a huge impact on figuring out what’s happening in the book.

But other than that one, I enjoyed my time with all the others, giving them at least a 7/10. In the end, the series is noteworthy to me for a few reasons. First off, it actually has an end, and the payoff is worth it. So many of the looong series these days feel like they just sort of sputter or else spiral out of control. The Malazan Book of the Fallen is hailed by many as an excellent series, but to me, its writing is so dense as to be almost incomprehensible at times. I love the beginning five or six books, and then it just gets bewilderingly sloggy. Game of Thrones is still not finished and likely never to get finished. But with Wheel of Time, you’ve got a beginning, middle, and an end.

The final book is almost all payoff. It’s essentially one very long action sequence as all the different plots of the earlier 14 books come to a head.

People try to lambast the series, saying the writing is too simple, so I suppose if you’re in the market for high literature, this isn’t the place to come. But if you’re looking for page-turning epic fantasy that tells a great story, this is a great place to come. Perhaps that says something about me, but by and large, when I’m reading, I want to escape. I want to be entertained. If I want to think, I’ll read pieces online, but almost always reading is what I turn to for fun.

In the reread, I thought I’d notice the change from Jordan’s prose to Sanderson’s prose more than I did. I remember in my first read through that I felt like Matt became a different character. This time reading, that didn’t stand out to me. The story just kept rolling along, and I didn’t notice much in the way of differences. In many ways, I think allowing someone else to finish the series did a lot for The Wheel of Time, and it makes me wonder if George RR Martin wouldn’t be better served just hiring someone else to do what’s proving so difficult for him. Having someone else who’s both a fan and an excellent writer come along and tie things up allows the series to refocus itself. Back before Jordan passed away, the word on the street was there was just one book left to write. When Brandon signed on to write that one book, he looked at all the material and said it would be impossible to pull off. He’d need three books. Judging by how much happened in those final three books, he was very right. (This isn’t to say George RR Martin has to do anything. It’s his series, and he can write it or not, as he sees fit. But I’ll be stunned if we see another book out of him, let alone the rest of the series. So if fans want an actual resolution, they either need to watch the TV show or write their own. I’m confident some of them could do it.)

In any case, I got to the end of the final book, and I just sort of stared off into space. I’d been reading the same continuing story for so long, switching to something else was going to feel strange. In the end, I’m very glad I reread the series. I don’t know if I’ll do it again, but I’d never read the whole thing straight through, and that’s a different experience than reading it one book at a time.


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