Thoughts on Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” so far

10 Jun

So I meant to do this at the end of Book 4 The Rising Shadow– and life’s busy. Life’s always busy. Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing. I’ll probably do an entire series recap once I’ve finished The Witcher. A quick recap:

Someone recommended Wheel of Time to me when I was in first year University, and the course load was pretty intense, and I just couldn’t get into it. I got into Malazan and Game of Thrones about a year or two later, but I was initially turned off with the infamous slog that apparently starts around book 6 or so (almost there. Almost). I thought, compared to the aforementioned other titles, that Wheel of Time was more childish and I would get around to it, but people kept recommending me different series and I never circled back to WoT. I can also be a little hipster and prefer titles that aren’t mainstream. Thing is, last year I haven’t been able to go to book shows and see what the locals are doing, so I figured I would take a stab at my Goodreads ‘to-read’ list and see what I could get library-wise via ebooks.

My workload was heavy last year, but i still have downtime at work and really enjoy audio books for driving. I like setting reading goals and analyzing what I’ve read and what I ought to do in the following year, and at the time, I thought there were 12 books in The Wheel of Time, so why not do a book a month? I technically started last year, and I’m a little behind, but I suspect that I’ll be getting the later audio books quicker as there’s more of a demand for the earlier books at any given time. I could be wrong, so we’ll see how this prediction holds out.

The premise is about a hero predestined to rise up and save the world from the enemies of not only humanity but light itself, and the terrible cost associated with that role, including madness and his own personal destruction. The story incorporates some eastern philosophies concerning reincarnation and duality in a traditionally western fantasy setting (at least at first), and takes its time examining how the rules of the universe would play out. Some readers might be put-off by ideas such as male and female having different ways to access the True Source (channeling) and the first book does come across as very familiar to other classical material, notably The Lord of the Rings. However, because the author is in no real rush to get to the plot points, ideas are very fleshed out and the world is fantastically developed.  If you’re going to be put off by chosen ones or characters having plot armor (Ta’veran, ones whom around the pattern weaves) or you want a most post-modern look at fantasy, or don’t want to commit to a 14-book series, this probably isn’t for you. I think those who want to write fantasy should at least give it a shot when they can handle the time commitment. Sometimes you start out thinking something is going nowhere, and it’s actually set up for something that comes later. I’m roughly 1/3 into the series, and about to start the famous slog, so I’m going to commit to more commentary when I get through that part.

One of the most common phrases stated in the story is, “The wheel weaves as the wheel weaves” and to me, this is exemplified in how ideas are introduced and shown for a while, and then a viewpoint or idea is seemingly dropped only to reappear or be shown in a different way. The pattern isn’t always apparent to the reader, although I don’t think the ideas are super complicated that you have to be very familiar with tropes that have come before. If anything, this shows how fantasy does extremely well at showing how different peoples and cultures examine ideas.

When the main story begins, only women have the ability to become channelers safely. The male half of the source has become corrupted, and every man who can channel but be cut off from it, lest he go mad and hurt folk. This corruption has led to not only the female channelers themselves being weaker, but for different societies to view the ability with magic in different ways. You have the Crusaders/Inquisitors of the Children of the Light who think all ties to magic as evil (regularly calling women who can channel Tar Valen witches and highly suspicious of anyone outside the regular world as Dark Friends) and the Seanchan who have devised ways to control women who can channel by collaring them and treating them like chattel, to cultures who go out of their way to keep their daughters from being taken by the White Tower to be trained. The White Tower is slowly revealed to not be a safe haven, where personal politics and ambitions plague the simplicity of what should be defeating the great evil. People all may want to defeat the dark one (unless they’re on the other side, obviously) but they have different ideas on how to go about it. For instance, among the female mages (Aes Sedai) once you’re raised you chose an Ajah, or dedication of field, be it education, or logic or healing. One of the more hated and feared among the public is the Red Ajah, a field dedicated to finding men who can channel and ‘gentling’ them, something that’s ultimately a death sentence but it saves the man from hurting someone. They’re portrayed as a group that hates men, but logically a red sister has a terrible duty, because to allow a man to channel (and he almost invariably will) isn’t just a death sentence for him. He’s not evil, he’s insane, and depending on his potential, can level villages. Thing is, they’re not established as evil – there’s an entire Ajah, the secret Black Ajah, who are sworn to the Dark One. The reds vary in methodology and philosophy, but it’s suggested that proportionately, there’s no more reds in the Dark Sisterhood than any other Ajah.

The big beef is the portrayal of women. I’m used to the more dated ideas, insofar as writers trying to portray their women as, “not being like others”. I’m not talking about characters that embrace their femininity or anything to that extent. I’d think that, even if magic is highly regarded as something to be wary of, women only really being able to access it safely would result in a more divisive role between the genders, as there’s plenty of women who aren’t using the Big Guns but still able to use their almost innate abilities channelling as village wise women, healing and helping with the weather, showing in one culture as a job designation that allows sailors to get favorable winds. It’s more of the, “she had a stare that could melt you” clichés over and over again. I don’t mind women who are rough around the edges (I kind of liked the Head Cook of Tar Valen, her name escapes me and it might be three volumes before we see her again) it’s just so… there’s a lot of posturing, let’s put it that way.

I get it; Jordan is establishing that these women can be atypical or different from other women, even among their culture. But when 80% of them are more steel than silk, it becomes the norm. Another aspect of it is that the female aspect of magic is that they have to submit to it, so the idea shows up again and again in the woman’s roles in society. Women are told they must give up and do as they are told, obedience is expected, meanwhile we’re hit over the head with the woman in question wrestling with being headstrong in her own mind. Ultimately this leads to women who become full fledged channelers (almost always Aes Sedai, but it’s more complicated) governed by laws designed to keep them from opposing their will on others, but ultimately they find ways to circumvent their oaths and they come across as manipulative.

Men, meanwhile, must embrace their masculinity and seize, and they call women out for essentially being sneaky instead of forthright, even though I suspect if Moraine laid everything on the line when she first met the boys, she would have been run out of town on a rail. I kind of understood why Rand is wary of those who would try to manipulate him, but given he’s known Egwene since they were kids and Moraine is dedicated to a cause not a person, you’d think a guy worried about his own mental state would use them at the very least as guiding posts. So far my favourite female character is Nyneave, who I probably would have hated if I started reading the books in junior high, but now I have a writer brain not a reader brain.

Anyway, this is getting long enough so I’ll wrap it up. There’s tons of characters, but it’s really not that bad to remember who is who. Jordan takes his time to name characters who have roles, and because it might have been half a book if not books since we met them, they’re quickly reintroduced. Really, I never mind having a sprawling cast and they’re memorable enough that you quickly remember even if it’s been a while. Could it be more precise? Sure. Do I care? No.

I’ll probably finish The Witcher (minus the anthologies, they seem to be more in demand than the main series, haha) in about a month or so and I’ll do something similar. I’m not enjoying it as much as I thought I would, but the same went for the Netflix show. Until next time.

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