Stop me if you've heard this one before: Hapless companions set out from their sheltered rustic village accompanied by a wizard and a warder (cough, cough ranger), pursued by shifty fellows on horseback wearing dark-hooded cloaks that conceal what really is no face at all and serve a master beyond the mountains (Mount Dhoom to be precise) who's the epitome of all evil. Along the way, they stop at and narrowly escape an inn in Baerlon (cough, cough Bree) and seek shelter from pursuing monsters in an abandoned city that is now home to something far, far worse. Sound familiar? Yeah, me too.
Still....there's something here and I'm not quite 100% sure what it is exactly. Let's call it potential for now, but I say so with reservations because anyone who follows my reviews knows I'm a sucker for high fantasy and am more willing to let mediocrity pass if they do their world-building right. For all the derivative nature of the The Eye of the World
and its unevenness in prose and pacing, it does seem that Jordan picked up a few things about creating a remarkably large world with an intricate history and interesting lore. So what to make of all these other reviews on Goodreads? People are either giving it five stars (please people, this is no five star book, go and read Patrick Rothfuss's Kingkiller
series to see what that looks like) or one star (mostly Tolkien fanboys who see any homage to the Creator's work as shear forgery). Well, that last one isn't entirely fair. There are moments that this is definitely one star in terms of quality of writing and its salvaged only by interludes of "info dumps" where the action is temporarily paused to give depth to the world we've been exploring.
In my mind there are two types of fantasy books: 1) personal tales that are character-driven in a fantastic setting and 2) world-building books that have flat characters, but cover it up with epic struggles of good and evil painted against the backdrop of a unique world you'd probably like to visit. This is the latter for sure. And the flat character gibe is not necessarily a death sentence. I think all of Tolkien's characters were flat as boards, but he succeeded brilliantly by giving depth and breadth to a wonderfully imaginative world. Jordan could just as easily do the same with this one, given time, and again....it's that potential that warrants the three stars here.
Most of my complaints at this stage could probably more fairly be leveled at the editor of this book. The narrative is repetitive in structure and imagery so that the early to middle sections feel like pure slogging. Just because your characters go on a voyage of a thousand miles doesn't mean we literally have to be with them for every single mile. At one point, toward the middle, Jordan inexplicably fastforwards down the road, which gave me a sigh of relief, only to reduce me to tears of frustration two pages later when he flashes back to fill in the gaps. Stylistically it sticks out like a sore thumb because its so wildly different from the step-by-step narrative he'd been pursuing for the previous four hundred pages and turned out to be completely unnecessary. There are also several laughably predictable instances of repetition in imagery and dialogue. Every single inn
in the entire world has a sign that "creaks in the wind." Several times throughout the story Rand's unique sword gives them away when they're trying to keep a low profile and they receive the same advice about hiding it every single time. After every
such exchange, Rand has an interior monologue crisis where he insists "It's like when I wear it Tam is with me...and Tam IS my father." Every single helpful stranger says the same thing about not wanting to be connected with them and the book is littered with protestations of disbelief as country bumpkin eyes are opened up to the wider world they only heard about in stories. Superlatively, cities grow in size and grandeur in direct proportion to the page count until I'm pretty convinced that by the end of book 14 they will come upon a city that's the size of the entire planet. The first half of the book is incredibly slow and painful to get through, while the second half is fast-paced, action packed and gripping at certain moments.
That's a hefty list of complaints, and while it seems trite, they become incredibly distracting. The dumb thing is, these are very easy things to fix by any competent editor who takes the time to read through the book with a big fat red pen to cross stuff out. This could have easily been 600 pages of quality writing with a taut tale of pursuit fraught with danger and wonder alike. And that's why I'm so reluctant to dump this down to one star. I'm sure this is pretty much the way most of these affairs starts out in rough draft form. It could very well be that Tolkien's early drafts contained just as much repetition. The difference, again, is the editor, who clearly did Jordan a disservice in this novel.
What this book does have going for it is a pretty unique (though I wouldn't say "well-developed" as Wikipedia says) system of magic that draws heavily on both Hindu and Taoist mysticism, a really cool cyclical history that's very promising, and a lot of cool legends and locales that are worth fleshing out. In spite of the problematic narrative, I do want to see the Great Hunt and I want to meet the people of the Aiel Waste. There's also a really cool system of travel that is pretty unique and sci-fi-ish. This may seem like a paltry list compared to the criticisms, and it is at this point, but it could go somewhere pretty fantastic, so I hold out hope.
Is it worth slogging through the first 400 pages to get to the second 400? At this point, I'm inclined to say not unless the second book makes it worth it. By the end of this book I believed it may very well be so, but I cannot fully recommend this book until I know that it's going somewhere worth going in the long run so I may update this review when I get around to reading book two.