The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time #1) by Robert Jordan
Wow. If I went back to before I read this book for the first time, it'd be 1993? 1994? Not too long after that, I think. We moved to Texas and were in the local Bookstop bookstore and I saw this book. It looked interesting and was *thick.* I riffled through the pages and decided then and there that I wanted to read it.
My first reading didn't go so smoothly, however. At one point, the central characters split up and I had a very difficult time figuring out who was where. So I gave up. But I still wanted to read it, so I tried again, only I skipped those few pages. And even though it was kind of jarring to skip several pages, things actually seemed much clearer in the long run. Then, the second time I read "The Eye of the World" all the way through, I knew who was going to end up traveling together, so I was able to read it straight through without stopping.
Since then, I've read "The Eye of the World" at least four more times, not including the at least twice that I've listened to it as an audiobook (one of which was during my drive to and from grad school).
This time, however, I begin my reread because I finally got a friend from work to take the plunge and give the "Wheel of Time" series a read. He made a reference to something and that gave me a hankering to reread it for myself. So, I checked the ebook out of my local library on my phone and reread.
Robert Jordan (and eventually Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson)'s "Wheel of Time" series starts out like a pretty typical fantasy novel. Small-town protagonist Rand Al'Thor lives with his father on a farm in a clearing in the woods near a small village. The small village is isolated from the world around them, so the residents don't believe in anything that they have never seen. That is, until the night when the proverbial "call to adventure" happens. This "call" takes the form of an attack by trollocs, which are one of the things that the people of his village, Emond's Field, don't believe in. The wizard (well, actually a female magic-user called an Aes Sedai) takes the hero out into the wider world, which is where the plot actually happens.
The initial group that sets out, however, are not just the hero, the Aes Sedai, and a couple of companions, though. Four outsiders visit Emond's Field that first night, and three of them (the Aes Sedai, a warrior, and a traveling gleeman), all leave with the central group of young adults, including three young men and a young woman who also has the talent that means she can become an Aes Sedai. The characters spend a lot more time exploring the outside world than in most fantasy novels, such as Tolkien, which, to be honest, I remember as mostly characters sleeping under the stars in good weather and hiding in caves in inclement weather. We see, and explore, a couple of cities and numerous small towns. For a travel junkie like me, this aspect of the series was wonderful.
The background and overarching plot of the series is that the world of the "Wheel of Time" is on a planet with a history much like that of Earth. Things seem to have gone along pretty much like our history until the rise of the Aes Sedai, who originally were a group of both male and female magic users. At some point, which is elaborated on much further in the series, the source of evil, which/whom was originally sealed off from our world, became able to touch the world. A male Aes Sedai and his followers were able to seal it/him away temporarily. However, the seal is breaking and eventually the rebirth of the original hero who created the seals, whose name was Lews Therin Telamon and went by the title "The Dragon," will have to confront it/him and seal it/him away for good. The war that led to the creation of the seals that are keeping The Dark One from touching the world also caused widespread cataclysm, an event known as "the Breaking of the World," and that the rebirth of The Dragon will break the world again.
After doing a little research, it turns out that "Eye of the World" was Jordan's 11th novel, and yet his writing is still a little rough around the edges. This roughness really stuck out after having read the series to its conclusion. Despite Jordan's death in 2007, he is said to have written the ending of the "Wheel of Time" himself before his death, so the last part of the series that I remember reading was definitely his most polished work, which makes the roughness seem even more obvious.
The "wizard" character being female and the inclusion of one of the young women of Emond's Field in the original "quest" group (which starts out as a trip to the home of the Aes Sedai so that the young men, one of whom is the Dragon Reborn, can be protected and the young woman can be trained) was really refreshing to me, too. As much as I love epic fantasy, it tends to be very heavily male-oriented. But in "Eye of the World" we meet seven (I think.:counts: yeah, I'm still getting seven.) female characters who are fairly prominent and who (spoiler alert) we will spend more time with and get to know better in the rest of the series. There are a number of female background characters, as well. Another thing that I liked is that, after the Breaking of the World, a lot of the way we divide people by skin color has gotten lost. Nearly everyone in the series has dark hair and eyes and seems to be a little darker-complected than the protagonists of other fantasy novels, where light skin, hair, and eyes tend to predominate. One of my friends sees the characters as looking like they are from the Indian subcontinent, though I see them as looking more Latino.
We follow Rand, Moiraine (the Aes Sedai), Lan (the warrior), Thom (the gleeman), Mat and Perrin (the other two young men) and Egwene (the young woman), along with two more characters that they pick up along the way (one of whom is also female) out of Emond's Field and across their nation of Andor. They get threatened by various menaces, both supernatural and human, along the way. One of the characters makes a big mistake, as well, which has repercussions farther into the series. Additionally, one of the characters that they pick up along the way is awesome. I can't say any more about him or her lest I spoil one of my favorite scenes in the book.