The Wheel of Time – Is It Worth Reading?

The Wheel of Time is epic fantasy like no other. It divides opinion, and it’s hugely variable in quality as the series progresses. It is though, one of the great pieces of art of our generation and it would be a shame not to at least give it a shot.

The Eye Of The World: Book 1 of the Wheel of Time The first book in the Wheel of Time (The Eye of the World) was published in 1990, the 14th and last book (A Memory of Light) was published in 2013.  Close to a full 23 years between the two books (it was 22 years, 11 months and 24 days).  If you include the short story / prequel ‘New Spring’, then there are 15 books, totalling 4.4 million words, and almost 12,000 paperback pages (all data from Wikipedia).

I can’t really remember when I read the first book.  I guess I might be able to find out if I dredged enough Internet history or e-mail, but if I had to take a stab, it would likely be between 1993 and 1995.  That feels right, and puts me around Fires of Heaven or Lord of Chaos as the last one published at the time I was reading them.  I probably had to wait therefore for either A Crown of Swords or The Path of Daggers, maybe both.

Waiting for new books isn’t anything new, and anyone who’s read a ‘live’ series will know the experience.  Waiting for a Wheel of Time book though, became a lottery.  It killed a lot of fans, because the ‘middle’ books were so slow, and made so little progress.  Some people didn’t mind, and obviously, it didn’t kill the series, but many, many people were put off and couldn’t go on.

I was one of them.

Waiting a few years to find out what your favourite characters were up to, only to find out they weren’t in the book because there wasn’t room, despite the 300,000 words, and you had to wait another two years was hard.  Finding out the main plot didn’t advance, but new characters and threads and complexity turned up, was hard.  Finding out that you didn’t find anything out was hard.  So I stopped reading them.  My wife still bought them, but even she gave up in the end.  I read some on-line summaries for one or two of the books and then put them out of my mind.

Sadly, Robert Jordan fell ill and passed away in 2007.  At that stage, I pretty much gave up hope of finding out how the story ended, which against the loss of another person’s life is a tiny inconvenience.

Eventually, news started to circulate that Robert and his wife Harriet had picked someone to continue and in fact complete the series after he passed away – Brandon Sanderson.  I’d never read anything of his, and I wondered honestly, how much of my problem with The Wheel of Time was Jordan and how much was just the source material.

Then more news – the single book was going to be three, the first one due in 2009 and the last one, well, sometime after that.  I refused to end up waiting to read another Wheel of Time book and I pretty much forgot all about them (or pretended to).

I made the occasional blog post, threatening to go back and read them all, and be ready for the new ones, or go back and read them all when the new ones were out, but I wasn’t reading fantasy really.  Or much at all.  So those plans never came to fruition.

Then, a few months into 2014, a friend on Facebook mentioned having just finishing listening to the series on audio-book and that the boring stretches weren’t as bad as he remembered.  Either audio book made them better, or the pain had eased with time.  I resolved then to re-read the whole series.  The final book was out, it had come out in 2013, so there was nothing stopping me reading them end-to-end and finally getting some answers.

It started out okay, like greeting old friends.  The Jordanisms weren’t too bad, and the first three books were enjoyable.  Then the rot set in.  Oh, not straight away, there are still some good moments after book 3, and in fact, some very good books by Jordan after book 3.  Knife of Dreams, the last he completed on his own is excellent in fact.  Sadly though, many of the middle books are dire in parts or their totality.

This is obviously my personal opinion, and different people will have different views about the books.  For me however, Jordan was too interested in telling us how the world looked, smelled, sounded and felt, and not interested enough in telling us what was going on and making progress.  Major plot threads stalled and vanished for entire books, we spent a lot of time being told what people were wearing and why it was or wasn’t appropriate, how men and women just couldn’t get along, with all men being stupid selfish children and all women being bitchy hags at heart.

It grated and it dragged.

But I knew there was some light ahead, because I knew no matter what happened, there would be a final battle and the good guys would win.  As I said in the review for A Memory of Light, the truth of epic fantasy is that the good guys always win, the only question is the cost.  So I knew Rand would beat the Dark One, somehow, and that the Wheel would continue to turn.  What I wanted to learn along the way, were the answers to questions Jordan had posed early on, and the cost of that victory.

All I had to do, was to keep reading.

Then something odd happened.  Book eleven, Knife of Dreams, was really quite good.  Jordan had recaptured the magic.  He drove the story forward, he wrote emotional character pieces.  He answered some questions, sure he posed a bunch more, as normal, but he actually answered a few.  I really enjoyed Knife of Dreams, and that made me even more angry.  Robert Jordan can write superb fantasy.  He can put down complex and detailed plot threads, weave lots of ideas together, deliver complex political and military situations, and make us feel like we know people through limited PoV writing.

He proved it in book eleven.  So where the hell was he in book 10, or the other dire books?

Anyway, with book eleven behind me, I read the first of the Brandon Sanderson books, and it was also excellent.  Book thirteen was good, and the finale, book fourteen, A Memory of Light is as good as you can expect given the constraints.

Books 12 and 14 were particularly emotional in parts.  Book 13 slightly less so for me, due to the nature of what is going on, but none-the-less it was very enjoyable.

I’d done it, in just over a month I managed to read all fourteen books, I’d pushed through the hard times and got my reward at the end.

Was it worth it?  Is it worth it?  I’ve you’ve tried before, or never read them, should you pick them up from book one and give them a shot?

My answer is, maybe.

A Memory Of Light: Book 14 of the Wheel of Time They’re very long books.  They’re very, very slow in places, even the good ones, and they have a lot of characters.  Despite his best efforts, Sanderson can’t close down every thread properly, and some are left hanging.  There’s no grand epilogue telling you how everything works out at the end (something I felt I might have enjoyed), and so you’re going to need to fill in some blanks if you get there.  Some of the characters are irritating beyond recognition, your gender may affect which you find more irritating.

Sometimes the characters are stupid.  Sometimes you wish they’d just sit down and tell each other what they were thinking or doing and everything would be a lot easier.  Sometimes you wish they would just jump off a cliff and let the Dark One win.

But.

You can’t deny the genius of Jordan at times.  The complexity of some of the plot threads, the groundwork laid down in early books come to fruition in later ones.  The complexity of the world, the colour, the depth of vision, and the varying political landscapes.  Despite their annoyances, the characters are often engaging and interesting.  Some are just superb, Lan for example.  It’s fantasy on a truly epic scale.  Sure, it draws on a lot of sources, but it blends them into a unique and ultimately engaging story.

I’m happier for having finished them, and if I had never read them at all, I’d be poorer for it.

The Wheel of Time is epic fantasy like no other.  It divides opinion, and it’s hugely variable in quality as the series progresses.  It is though, one of the great pieces of art of our generation and it would be a shame not to at least give it a shot.  There is an end in sight, you just have to keep your head above the water during the choppy bits and keep going.  I did it, you can too.


My reviews of the books (reviews are spoiler free, but the sections below the reviews are not, reviews for later books may spoil books before them).

  1. The Eye of the World
  2. The Great Hunt
  3. The Dragon Reborn
  4. The Shadow Rising
  5. The Fires of Heaven
  6. Lord of Chaos
  7. A Crown of Swords
  8. The Path of Daggers
  9. Winter’s Heart
  10. Crossroads of Twilight
  11. Knife of Dreams
  12. The Gathering Storm
  13. Towers of Midnight
  14. A Memory of Light

Cover Love

There are many times when a particular genre will demand a specific type of cover image, so for me it’s wonderful when I come across something that steps outside the mould.  It’s even better when I find the images beautiful, emotive or clever.  I wanted to share why I loved some covers so much, and while some may be new releases, others may be older but are favourites of mine.  I’m not an artist or an art critic, I just find some things very attractive and book covers are no exception.


Alex Verus series (by Benedict Jacka)

The cover for Fated (the first of Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus series) really caught my attention when I first saw it.  I connected with the image immediately and it really made me want to open the book up and get reading straight away!  I’ve now seen all three covers, and I still love them.  Despite their simplicity, they really evoke a strong feeling of London.  The clever use of the lettering in the title, with each one being a little picture in its own right, places them well above the crowd.  I’m not sure there is a typical cover type for Urban Fantasy (excluding a lot of the romance sub-genre), and that gives artists and designers a lot of flexibility which has worked strongly in Jacka’s favour in this case.

Fated was our first look at these covers, and I was instantly drawn to the landmarks worked into the bold two tone title.  The sense of old parchment of the rest of the cover really gave a strong impression something old was behind the modern landmarks.  Simple, yet clever.  The second book (Cursed)  has a darker feel, with a monochrome title.  The landmarks look more like ink splotches and somehow lend the whole image a more sinister air.  Orbit have only just revealed the third cover and it’s a clear step up from the previous two.  The background is now much more obviously a map of London, the bright blue contrasting with the previous more muted covers.  It’s impossible not to see the lettering as blood somehow leaking out into the surrounding landscape.  The phone box is absolutely my favourite element in all the covers so far.

You shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, but these covers are so brilliant and I honestly can’t wait to find out what story lies behind the cover of Taken.

The covers were designed in-house by Nick Castle and Sian Wilson and I think they have done an outstanding job!

Gemmell’s Drenai series has new covers

Orbit have re-released 6 of David Gemmell’s Drenai books with brand new cover art.

You can read the press release here on the Orbit website.

A quote from that press release,

To celebrate Gemmell’s legacy, we’ve reissued the classic Drenai novels that orginally earned him his reputation as a master storyteller. All six novels have gorgeous new covers courtesy of our designer Sean Garrehy and the talented illustrator Tim Byrne, who together have perfectly captured the grittiness of Gemmell’s books. In addition, two of the biggest names in modern fantasy – Brent Weeks and Joe Abercrombie – have given their seals of approval.

I think the covers look fantastic and reflect the gritty realism that David brought to all of his work.  If you’ve never read David Gemmell before, then check out my post on why you should.  If you have read Gemmell and are looking for something similar, check out this brief list.

The Subterrene War – Exogene (Book 2) out soon!

You know that here at BookThing we loved T. C. McCathy’s Germline.  Seriously, loved it.  You will too, you should probably buy it right now in fact.

Exogene (the 2nd book in the Subterrene War series) is released on March 15th in the UK, and Orbit are ramping up the publicity.  They’ve released some really superb videos, you can view them below!

Video 1

Video 2

Video 3

Video 4

We are super excited about the new book, and these videos give you a really good taste of what to expect.