The Wheel of Time is a series of books by Robert Jordan. No, scratch that, it’s a whole blooming set of telephone books pretending to be a fantasy series. At my last count, there’s 23 of them. No, 24. And he’s written another one. 25. 26. 27….. Awe heck. I’ve lost count.
I don’t know what Robert Jordan is on, but I sure don’t think it’s legal.
The thing is, there’s a lot going for the Wheel of Time. It ticks the boxes of all the standard fantasy cliches: prophecy, nobodies from a remote village becoming world shattering heroes, the bad guys are ugly, etc, but it does so in a way that’s quite original and well realized. All of the central characters are well rounded with a healthy blend of romance and danger. It’s all good stuff, on paper at least.
It’s the amount of paper that’s the problem. There’s just far too much of it. Robert Jordan has taken a story that would make a great trilogy and turned it into 23 entire books. That’s about 20 books worth of padding, and boy does it show. We’re told the thoughts of every single character. We hear all their words. Every single blasted road, field, inn and room is detailed whether it’s relevant or not. We even know the colouring and height of every horse ridden by each character. It’s just too much!
Where a paragraph would do, the Wheel of Time devotes a whole chapter. Where there should be a chapter, there’s a 600 page book. One trip between 2 towns takes up three quarters of book two. I kid you not. It’s a shame because after about the 3rd book you just lose the will to live. I’ve skipped about 7 books in the series (how many times can you say that?), and hardly missed a thing. A few trips to the shops, three meals and one combat, I reckon.
The thing is that the world of Wheel of Time deserves better, and in this case, less is most definitely more. The basic premise behind the story is good, the evolution of the five central characters is strong and there’s a great political undercurrent that’s masterfully handled throughout. I love the way magic works in these books; some types of magic can be cast only by women, and others only by men. The problem is that since the Breaking of the World (boy, was that some party!) male spellcasters are very rare, and have the unfortunate habit of going insane and killing everyone around them. Nasty, that.
There’s a lot in the Wheel of Time series which transplants well into role-playing, and D&D in particular. So much so that it’s got it’s own RPG, with D&D mechanics. Even without that tome though (and it’s beautifully written too), it’s not hard to plant Ais Sedai (female cleric/wizards), Warders (their male warrior guardians) and the rest into your game. Which is good.
All in all though, it’s hard to recommend Wheel of Time unless you’ve got masses of stamina and/or a willingness to skip a book or two. Or three. Or seven.
Next Book: American Gods by Neil Gaiman