“The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the age that gave it birth comes again.”
The difficulty in reviewing the epic fantasy book series, The Wheel of Time, is its size. It covers many countries, conflicts, religions, and peoples, and fully immerses you into its world. So much so that it becomes part of your life. The characters are detailed to the point that they become real. Not just ink on a page, but real, living people who cohabit in your imagination for the entirety of the series and, as I have discovered, beyond the last sentence.
Written by Robert Jordan and completed by Brandon Sanderson after Jordon’s untimely death in 2007, The Wheel of Time consists of 15 novels (14 in the main series, plus one prequel). It has a legion of fans who go over it all with the dedication that only true fandom can. On November the 19th, Amazon is releasing a new television series based on the novels.
In a nutshell, it tells the story of the battle between good and evil, embodied here by the ‘Dragon Reborn’ and the Dark One. Beginning, as many fantasy novels do, in a small village inhabited by innocents who have little concept as to the tumultuous events that are about to take over their lives, and ending when the children have become men and women, when innocence has died, and truths have been revealed.
This may seem like a cliché, especially for fans of epic fantasy. It employs the well-worked trope of the hero’s journey, from innocent to warrior. Indeed, when the series started, that was precisely what it was. Publishers in the late 1980s were not yet looking for envelope-pushing fantasy; they wanted The Lord of the Rings. This trope was well worked throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s. Books like Terry Brooks’ The Shannara series or the novels of David Eddings stuck loyally to this blueprint, keeping fantasy alive, if not really pushing the genre forward.
From the very beginning, however, Robert Jordan wanted to push these tropes. He had previously written several Conan The Barbarian books, including the adaptation of the film Conan The Destroyer (1984), and approached his publisher with the idea of going much bigger. He tried to employ the common tropes in a way that would satisfy the publishers whilst also questioning and probing them in initially subtle and, ultimately, big ways (the subverting of gender roles being the most obvious). Along with later books like George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book Of The Fallen, The Wheel of Time proved that readers not only wanted to move on from the old clichés but were also willing to take a deep dive into the epic worlds that the authors built.
When it comes to the phenomenon that is The Wheel of Time, epic is the only word that can be used to describe it. The stats alone are jaw-dropping. On average, each book in the series is 826 pages long (12,390 pages in total) and consists of over 4.4 million words. There are 147 unique characters’ points of view and a total of 2782 different characters. Yet, despite its gargantuan size, each book was a best-seller, and the series has sold more than 90,000,000 copies in total. Before the Game of Thrones T.V. series boosted sales of A Song of Ice and Fire, the The Wheel of Time outsold Martin’s books by a large margin.
The story starts in a small village called Emond’s Field in a region known as The Two Rivers. It’s a simple life with hard-working folk who know or care little about what is happening in the outside world. They are busily preparing for Winternight and the Festival of Bel Tine, when they get a visit from Moiraine Damodred, an Aes Sedai. The Aes Sedai are women who can manipulate The One Power, a form of magic accessible to women. Some men can channel it, but it ultimately drives them mad. Morraine – accompanied by her personal guard, the Warder Lan Mandragoran – has spent the last two decades searching for The Dragon Reborn – the reincarnation of a ruler from 1000 years ago who fought and captured The Dark One. Prophesy foretells that The Dragon Reborn will either defeat The Dark One or join him and destroy the world.
She isn’t the only one to be searching Emond’s Field. The minions of The Dark One, known as Shadowspawn, are also looking. Soon the village is laid to waste, and Morraine escapes with five young men and women, one of whom is The Dragon Reborn. In the tradition of The Lord of the Rings, this first book follows the party as they travel across the country, witnessing the bigger world for the first time and the horrors that go with it.
Their destination is The White Tower, the home of the Aes Sedai and their ruler, the Amerlin Seat. Believing they know best, the Aes Sedai want to train and ultimately control The Dragon Reborn. The five survivors of Emond’s Field are Rand Al’Thor, Matrim Cauthon, Perrin Aybara, Nynaeve al’Meara and Egwene al’Vere. Each character has their own journey to take, their own battles to fight, before they can come together to fight The Dark One at The Last Battle.
“The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills.”
– Moiraine Damodred
Early on in the books, we discover that Rand is The Dragon Reborn. This weight hangs heavily on his shoulders throughout the series. It is a burden he does not want, and he tries to reject it for some time. The future does not look bright for this young man. Because he can channel The One Power, he understands that eventually, he will go mad. If he one day challenges The Dark One, he is almost certainly going to die.
Perrin, a blacksmith by trade, discovers he has an affinity with wolves and can sense them and is ultimately able to speak to them in another dimension known as the ‘wolf dream’.
Matt is the rogue of the group. He is happy to spend his time drinking and gambling (with maybe a bit of loving on the side), yet he remembers things that occurred centuries before he was born.
Egwene is a young woman betrothed to Rand who discovers she can channel. She decides to put her old life behind her and become an Aes Sedai.
Finally, there is Nynaeve, possibly my favourite character in the series. Although very young, Nynaeve is The Wisdom of Emond’s Field – a healer and advisor to the village and leader of The Women’s Circle. She does not take fools lightly and, although she too discovers she can channel, things do not come as easily as it does with Egwene. The Elmond’s Field five are rescued from an attack by Morraine (played in the series by Rosalind Pike), an Aes Sidai.
Although these characters lead us into the world, many more are introduced along the way. Among these are princess Elayne, who joins Egwene and Nynaeve in becoming an Aes Sedai; the Ogier Loial, a lovable and very intellectual giant; and Birgitte Silverbow, a woman who has died and been reborn countless times over the centuries.
Aside from the bare facts I have outlined, the span of The Wheel of Time is massive. It covers many countries and many cultures and peoples – all fighting for their own self-interests. Some are fighting for The Dark One; others are just fighting amongst themselves. Rand must not only work through his own fears and doubts but also learn the myriad of customs and religions and, somehow, get the countries together so they can fight The Last Battle.
I’m not going to go through each book here, and neither will I review them in detail. Basically, many fans split the books into three very rough groups;
The first comprises of the first six or seven books. Written by Robert Jordan, they are of fantastic quality and really pull you into this epic fantasy. Next, there is what some refer to as ‘the slog’. These comprise books 7-10 and are perhaps a little slower in pace than the previous books. Personally, I found them as engaging and immersive as the other books. I was so invested in the characters by this point that I cared little that books 9 (Winter’s Heart) and 10 (Crossroads of Twilight) could easily have been reduced to one volume. I would have gladly continued the series if there were many more books in the supposed ‘slog.’ The final loose grouping starts with book 11 (Knife of Dreams) and ends with A Memory of Light.
There is a definite sense in these books that the end is coming. The many different storylines are finally coming together as The Last Battle approaches. And what a battle it turns out to be. I don’t think I’m exaggerating in saying that seventy per cent of A Memory of Light takes place on the battlefield. Momentum ebbs and flows, characters we have loved for years are cut down; others, some improbable, rise to the position of champions. Heroes and warriors face off against each other in furious violence.
“All was shattered, and all but memory lost, and one memory above all others, of him who brought the Shadow and the Breaking of the World. And him they named Dragon.”
One of the benefits the Amazon T.V. series has over the HBO production of Game of Thrones is that it is complete. The last battle has been written and, for its readers, well and truly lived. The T.V. series is planned to cover eight seasons, and I would imagine The Last Battle making up most of the final season. The issue Game of Thrones had was that the producers didn’t have an ending. They may have had a vague outline from George R.R. Martin, but they couldn’t translate it onto the screen. Hopefully, series producer Rafe Judkins (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D) will learn from the mistakes of Game of Thrones and keep to the sheer size and weight of A Memory of Light.
The first eleven books were written by Robert Jordan, who died in 2007. However, he left copious notes for Brandon Sanderson, who was handpicked by Jordan’s wife, Harriet, to complete the series. However, what is more impressive is that Robert Jordan knew exactly what would happen at the end and wrote the final chapter of the last book while writing the first book, The Eye of the World.
Over the last few years, I’ve been fully immersed in this fantastic fantasy series. I’ve been listening to the audiobooks, read by the incredible Michael Kramer and Kate Reading, and have enjoyed every one of them. The best two books of the series, for me at least, were The Fires of Heaven and Towers of Midnight, but each one holds a very special place in my heart. Even the so-called slog offers so many great moments, some of which had me gasping whilst others had me punching the air. Some characters are now well and truly captured in my imagination – Siwan, Gareth Brin, Olver, Hopper, Verin Sedai, and many more. What’s more, I’ve even found myself using the oft-used expletive of ‘Blood and Bloody Ashes!’
Now that I have completed the series, I have an urge to go back and start again, and maybe I will, this time knowing what is come and the fates that the characters have in store. I will do so anticipating the vast foreshadowing that Jordan used that I would have initially missed. Until then, I look forward to (hopefully) eight years of television on Amazon Prime, which I will be watching from day one with nervous anticipation.
The Wheel of Time is an epic series. Its scale is unmatched by anything I have so far read, and I long for more. The Amazon Prime show allows me to relive this adventure. It will undoubtedly be challenging to capture the sheer size of the novels. It will prove very expensive, although Amazon is reportedly spending over $10 million per episode for the opening series (which is on par with the final series of Game of Thrones) and comparable with Amazon’s other epic fantasy series The Lord of the Rings. I am optimistic that they will pull it off and that any changes will feel natural. We know there will be changes and that this will be just another turning of the wheel.
“Duty is heavy as a mountain, death is light as a feather.”
The Wheel of Time starts on Amazon Prime November 19th 2021.