Author: Robert Jordan
Length: 782 (hardcover)
Selected By: Elle Tea
Elle Tea’s Score:
The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, an Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be, and what is may yet fall under the Shadow.
When the Two Rivers is attacked by Trollocs – a savage tribe of half-men, half-beasts – five villagers flee that night into a world they barely imagined, with new dangers waiting in the shadows and in the light.
Elle Tea’s Review
I first read The Eye of the World in high school. I remember being really blown away by it, but I set the series aside after the third installment, fully intending to pick it back up, and then… never actually doing so. I now intend to get back into this series, and since two decades have passed since last I read anything from The Wheel of Time, I opted to start over from the very beginning.
“Aes Sedai do what they do for reasons of their own, and they aren’t always the reasons others think.”
The Eye of the World begins in a way familiar to fans of epic fantasy: a handful of young people from a remote village almost entirely removed from the goings-on of the world fully intend to live out their sheltered lives in the same manner as the generations before them. But the world outside presses ever closer, with war breaking and remaking borders and refugees scattering from and in all directions. Naturally, our young people are swept up in the adventure, each with their own reasons to strike out on this first great quest.
Each of our protagonists is bound to the others and unknowingly destined for greatness – what remains to be seen throughout the series is whether they will serve the Light or the Shadow, good or evil… but regardless, they will be great.
“Anything can be a weapon, if the man or woman who holds it has the nerve and will to make it so.”
Our primary focus is on Rand al’Thor, a strapping young red head who fulfills the standard fantasy hero niche: he is fiercely loyal, wise for his years, and, though logical, he does tend to let his emotions get the best of him – he knows what he knows, and the rest must be proven for him to trust in it; for my fellow fantasy / RPG geeks out there, Rand is your middle-of-the-road sword-and-board fighter. In contrast to Rand is Matrim “Mat” Cauthon, a reckless and rowdy young man whose penchant for getting into trouble is almost as strong as the luck that seems to be all that keeps him alive. Mat is fueled purely on practical jokes and gut instincts; for my fantasy / RPG geeks, Mat is definitely and unmistakably the rogue of the band. Stocky, sturdy, stoic and steadfast Perrin Aybara, meanwhile, is a bit like wallpaper for the first few chapters: he is quiet and thoughtful, preferring to allow Rand and Mat the full spotlight. But Perrin is left to his own devices about halfway through The Eye of the World, and at that point he truly comes into his own and rises to be quite possibly my favorite of the three in this particular installment; for my fantasy / RPG geeks, Perrin is the tank (complete with later berserker tendencies).
Of these three, one – or perhaps all – are destined to fulfill the prophecies of the Karaethon Cycle and become the Dragon Reborn: the reincarnation of Lews Therin Telamon, the champion of the Light against the Shadow, the man who will break the world in order to save it.
“… when what they do is hidden, men sometimes deal with strangers in ways they wouldn’t if there were other eyes to see. And the quickest to harm a stranger are the soonest to think a stranger will harm them.”
With our three potential heroes lined up, we move on to the women who initially accompany them, each also set out on her own course for greatness. First up is Egwene al’Vere, Rand’s one-time crush from their sleepy village of Two Rivers; it’s clear from the beginning that Egwene wants more from her life than to be a farmer’s wife and the mother of future farmers, but she lacks direction in this introductory novel – she is changeable, a teenager suddenly let loose in the world and surrounded by options and possibilities, until she essentially wants to be everything that everyone else is, provided they aren’t a farmer’s wife or mother of future farmers.
Nynaeve al’Meara, Wisdom (i.e., wise-woman and healer) of Two Rivers, on the other hand, knows exactly who the hell she is, and she makes no apologies for it. Nynaeve is used to facing down opposition – she was the youngest Wisdom appointed to the position, and she faced down many a grumbling old farmer without batting an eyelash; she truly has in mind the best interests of the young men and women in her self-appointed charge, but her weakness in this novel is her inability to see the forest for the trees – she is wise for her age, but she has been sheltered no less than the rest of the village folk. Min Farshaw is a strong compliment to both Egwene and Nynaeve, but she takes a backseat for most of this first novel; she is a mysterious young woman who experiences visions and auras, giving her a glimpse of the future and people’s true selves, making her invaluable even to the Aes Sedai who seek her counsel.
“Whether the bear beats the wold or the wolf beats the bear, the rabbit always loses.”
Of course, no group of bumbling young heroes can hope to conquer the darkness without the aid of more knowledgeable, more powerful characters. In The Eye of the World, we spend a majority of our time with only a few: the Aes Sedai (think sorceress, healer, scientist) Moiraine Damodred, her Warder (guard and protector) al’Lan Mandragoran, gleeman (a traveling entertainer) Thom Merrillin, and Wolfbrother Elyas Machera. Moiraine and Lan take center stage for most of this novel, and the majority of their time is spent just trying to get the rowdy village kids to relative safety, where they can be thoroughly tested and a determination can be made on how to proceed with each of them. Thom, meanwhile, ends this novel almost as mysteriously as he begins – he’s a juggler, bard, and storyteller with, as Liam Neeson would add, “… a very particular set of skills, skills acquired over a very long career…” And then there’s Elyas Machera, one of my favorite characters in the Wheel of Time, though his actual presence in The Eye of the World is relegated to his role in introducing Perrin to a very special gift: the ability to communicate, and therefore live and run, with wolves.
“Her name isn’t Dapple. It’s something that means the way shadows play on a forest pool at a midwinter dawn, with the breeze rippling the surface, and the tang of ice when the water touches the tongue, and a hint of snow before nightfall in the air. But that isn’t quite it, either. You can’t say it in words. It’s more of a feeling. That’s the way wolves talk.”
So the kids aren’t so bad, and they’ve got a good lot helping them out, so it’s all roses from there, right? But alas… it isn’t so – it’s never so – for here in the Wheel of Time, the Shadow has hordes of the nastiest, most brutal, most vicious creatures to ever step out of fantasy nightmare.
The least of these are Darkfriends, men and women driven by greed, power, lust, or a thirst for vengeance to dedicate themselves to the Shadow. I say “least,” but the threat of each Darkfriend is specific to that individual – some are more devoted to the darkness than others, and the blind zealots are infinitely more dangerous than those concerned first and foremost with the safety of their own skin. Trollocs are considered Shadowspawn (creatures created by darkness for darkness) and are not far behind Darkfriends; monstrous but fairly mindless creatures, Trollocs are born of a blend of human and animal, and the characteristics of their various bloodlines are clearly stamped on their physical statures and mental aptitudes.
The Myrddraal (aka Fades, aka the Eyeless, aka Halfmen) are another Shadowspawn, born of Trollocs but with the blood of their human lineage dominant, which gives them a human (if pasty and eyeless) appearance and a propensity for much greater evil. They serve as the generals for the Dark One’s armies of Trollocs, whose animal natures would render them useless without Myrddraal intervention to bind them all together into cohesive units. Even without Trollocs, the Myrddraal are formidable foes, being skilled swordsmen in addition to a host of powers associated with the Dark One.
“Take life as it comes. Run when you have to, fight when you must, rest when you can.”
In The Eye of the World, our company meets all of the above and more, but of the greatest threat to them throughout the series are the Forsaken, thirteen men and women who can also tap into and use magic… but who made the decision to use that power in the service of the Shadow. While many Forsaken fought alongside darkness in the historic War of Power centuries before our story begins, the thirteen remaining were the most powerful and most cunning – so much so that they were trapped and imprisoned with the Dark One when the War of Power came to an end. In this introductory novel, of the thirteen only a handful are introduced, beginning with the Shadow’s chief lieutenant, Ishamael, and eventually the weaker – but by no stretch of the imagination weak – Forsaken, Aginor and Balthamel.
That’s a lot going on in one book, right? And we’re not even close to done. Not even close. There are Tinkers (think Gypsies) and Aiels (desert warriors), siren-like vampiric Dragkhar and ghostly Soulless, the Children of the Light (a militant religious sect… or religious militant sect, depending on how you look at it, I guess), the Amyrlin Seat (the leader of the Aes Sedai in Tar Valon), and more. So much more.
Perrin raised the axe to throw it in the pool, but Elyas caught his wrist. “You’ll use it, boy, and as long as you hate using it, you will use it more wisely than most men would. Wait. If ever you don’t hate it any longer, then will be the time to throw it as far as you can and run the other way.”
As you can probably tell, I absolutely loved re-reading this novel, and I look forward to taking up the next books with the hope of tackling this series over the months ahead. I originally had it marked as a three-star on Goodreads but with this re-reading upgraded it to a four. For me, the only thing that holds The Eye of the World back from a perfect five at this point is that it is sooo original and creative and sprawling, and yet for some reason the author still stuck with a Lord of the Rings epic fantasy format from beginning to end. I previously read enough of the first few books of this series to know that The Wheel of Time does abruptly yank off the LOTR training wheels and strike out on its own… but the parallels in this first novel are still pretty clear.
I highly recommend this one to all fantasy lovers out there.
Elle read the Amazon Kindle edition of this selection.