Twelve years ago, I bought the first book in The Wheel of Time series. Only a teenager, and without much knowledge of fantasy, WoT hooked my attention. The immensity of the thousand page books, the ornate naming scheme (The Eye of the World, The Fires of Heaven, etc.), even the garish cover art – they all delighted my inexperienced mind. My immediate fascination with the series had nothing to do with any sort of literary merit, but instead with the magnitude of new experiences that Jordan (author) was jamming into my mind. Many twelve hour days of reading followed as I quickly pulled myself through the ten books already published. They were brimming with arcane prophecy, complex magic, and clandestine schemes & betrayals; yet they also suffered from hundreds of pages of gratuitous description, generally poor writing, and Jordan’s complete inability to break from clichés when writing his female characters. As green as I was, even I could see the gigantic flaws riddling the pages of Jordan’s ambitious work. Still, the imperfections simply didn’t matter to a teenager. The overwhelming uniqueness of the work shielded WoT from any real criticism.
If I’d finished the series as a teenager, the power of nostalgia would probably force me to consider WoT peerless. Sadly for my adolescence, the series wasn’t finished, and the books kept coming out. As the years passed, and my mind lumbered on from juvenility, the light of experience began to illuminate WoT’s critical weaknesses. Each new book published was another bit of childhood fancy exposed as hollow; while the story was still progressing, and the swords & sorcery were still as entertaining as ever, the inexpert half of Jordan’s writing came to dominate nearly every page.
Abruptly, Jordan was diagnosed with a rapid and terminal disease. Sadly, Jordan died soon after, and I was left to wonder: how was this thing supposed to end? To Jordan’s artistic credit, he had actually spent his last few weeks of life planning the conclusion to his behemoth work, writing detailed notes as to how the hundreds of story arcs should merge and conclude. He left these to his editor (his wife, Harriet) with consent to allow another author the rights to finish his story. Harriet found an author she thought suitable: Brandon Sanderson, the young and talented author of the Mistborn series.
In the years since beginning WoT, ravenous for fantasy, I’d read everything I could collect. I was well acquainted with Sanderson, and had read all of his books. I quite liked his stuff, but his style was radically different from Jordan’s, and I wasn’t sure if he’d be able to adapt. Sanderson was comparatively concise, and far better than Jordan at creating realistic character motivation, but couldn’t write warfare with the same power, detail, and thrill as Jordan. Still, I was pleased that the series would now finish – even if it had to limp the rest of the way there.
In short: my doubts were ill placed. Sanderson’s final three books are the strongest of the series. He was able to reconstruct formerly wooden characters into believable, complex humans. Sanderson carried on Jordan’s strengths, and fixed all of his weaknesses as well. He transformed WoT from an ambitious but severely flawed series into a well written and emotional epic. Essentially, Sanderson saved the series.
For several years, I’ve feared that WoT’s conclusion wouldn’t move me – that the years since my introduction would’ve soured me enough that I wouldn’t care what happened. Sanderson fixed that. As I read the conclusion, I didn’t experience the same force of emotion that my teenage self would’ve, but I did feel something. For that, I tip my e-hat to Mr. Sanderson.
Despite Sanderson’s heroic rescue of the series, fourteen books and 14,000 pages is simply too much of a commitment to recommend to anyone but the most fervent fantasy fan. If you’re interested in reading fantasy, there are better, leaner, and more impressive worlds to start with. I’ll review a few of them soon. Unfortunately, my long history with WoT precludes me from giving an objective grade to this series, so I’ll just finish with a few words.
Final review for The Wheel of Time: powerful at times, grindingly boring at others, with a marvelous final three books that almost make up for the thousands of inessential pages before them.