The Wheel of Time used to be important to me. I was introduced to the series in Grade 11 way back in the year 2000. I’d already been a lifelong SFF reader, with a heavy emphasis on fantasy, mostly via Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance. A friend of mine convinced me that I needed to read this series. Her whole family was basically obsessed with it, to the point where I was just given copies of book 1 to 8, many in hardcover, as they were the -extras- the family had kicking around since they collectively owned multiple sets of it.
I’d found Lord of the Rings to be too dry, Shannara to feel too old, and thankfully (and to this day) had avoided even attempting Terry Goodkind, so outside of Rob Salvatore’s endless repetition of Drizzt novels, the Wheel of Time was my first real foray into truly epic fantasy, in terms of page count if not of scope.
And I dove in with both feet. I bought the new books in hardcover as they came out, I discussed theories about who the forsaken were, what Min’s viewings meant, where the story was going to go. I read the books, and re-read the books. I joined TarValon.net briefly (less said the better). I’ve figured that altogether, in reading the 14 book series, I’ve read about 30 Wheel of Time novels given all the re-reading to refresh myself on the story between books.
Of course, as the wheel turns, ages come and go, and memory fades into myth and I move on to better writing. As I did so, I often looked back and had cause to reevaluate just why I thought Wheel of Time was so great. And then Amazon Prime announced a TV show. I’ve watched season 1, and while I certainly have a lot to say about the conversion of the books into this show as executed, that’s not for this particular publication.
What’s happened as I watch the show alongside friends who’ve never read the books, and some friends who have, is that I’m called upon to explain the divergences from the books, and what I think those divergences will mean for the later seasons of the show. Additionally, seeing a new interpretation of the world and plot that does diverge so heavily, it provides the most direct contrast I’ve yet had between what was and what could have been. No better story to compare The Wheel of Time to than what amounts to an alternate weaving of the story of The Wheel of Time right?
It’s also been a long time since I’ve read the novels (I read A Memory of Light when it came out in 2013 and that’s been the last I’ve read of them) and I sort of resent needing to double check my memories on a wiki while I’m talking about the books in the context of the show, so it’s been on my mind since Season 1 launched that I really ought to do a re-read.
But it’s not good enough to just re-read the books, and there’s definitely no real point in reading them to publish traditional reviews. In the usual format of a non-spoiler book review discussing broad strokes, there’s not enough there for me to write. Here, I’ll review all 14 books for you if that’s what you’re here for:
“[Book title] is the [number] book in the epic fantasy series The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. It gets [6/6.5/7] out of 10, it’s pretty alright, not bad by any stretch. Some interesting bits, but lots of problematic portrayals of many kinds of people. If you like this sort of pseudo-harem building white savior fantasy story, you’ll like it, if not you won’t.”
And that’s basically it for all 14 books. They’re not BAD, but there’s nothing about them where if that thing is your favourite thing in books, I can’t suggest better options. So I needed to think of another way to parlay this re-read into something useful so I’m not just re-reading them so I can more easily answer questions about the tv show, and this is what I’ve come up with.
So starting today, I’m opening my re-read with The Eye of the World, and my intention is to create an article series that covers all the areas where The Wheel of Time has issues and falls short, and engage critically with the ways it chooses to tell its story. I’m going to talk about world building, use of visions and prophecy, portrayal of race and culture, gender issues, keeping secrets from the reader, basically any time I reach a point in the series where I remember a thing that bugs me, or makes me want to talk about it for a while, I’m going to pause, and write the article.
I don’t know how many articles will fall out of this, but to be honest, this is less about whether I think it will create great content for you, the readers (though obviously I hope it will!), and more to serve as a final cathartic release for me of all the weight this series has piled on me over the years. Hopefully when I’m done, when it comes to basically any topic I would normally get all involved in, and feel obliged to wiki dive to confirm my memories, or think about how I really do need to re-read this series again even if I don’t really want to, I can instead just point to the relevant article here, and move on with my day.
Think of this as the text version of one of those “A critical look at [media]” youtube videos that is 7 hours long. By the time I’m finished, the collection of articles will amount to a complete technical and critical analysis of the entire Wheel of Time series, and maybe some reader with video skills will come along and put video into the background of me reading all of these out or something. That would be really cool.
Another reason to decide to do this, at this time, is that my young nephew has decided that he wants to issue the family a book-reading challenge to see who can read the most books, which is something our family has done a number of times in the past, but not in the last few years. He’s a great reader, and put up some solid numbers in 2021, but in years where I can find the time to read even half as much as I’d like, my family can’t really keep up with me, so in the name of giving my nephew a fighting chance, starting off the year with some extremely long books felt like the right thing to do. Support the young readers in your life any way you can!
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