With the success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy in the last decade and George R. R. Martin's most recent foray in to the world of television with HBO's Game of Thrones; not to mention LotR prequel The Hobbit (or at least the first part) coming to cinema's last month, Fantasy fiction has found itself in somewhat of a resurgence in recent years. Most authors of such fiction find themselves writing trilogies or stand alone novels but every so often there comes an author who doesn't stifle themselves with such restrictions on their world and their characters. Along with the aforementioned Martin, one of these such authors was James Oliver Rigney, Jr, more commonly known as Robert Jordan, author of the first eleven books in The Wheel of Time series, unfortunately he died before he could complete the series which is now being finished by a renowned Fantasy author in his own right, Brandon Sanderson.
Since I've only read the first book in the series, entitled The Eye of the World, I feel a review of the series overall will probably come at a (much) later date, given university commitments and the fact that the series overall clocks in at an impressive 11,004 pages to date. That said however the first book can be taken as a stand alone story, were the reader not to carry on with the series.
It starts with the familiar Fantasy cliché of a small idyllic village full of innocuous sheep-herders and blacksmiths drawing parallels with Tolkien's Lord of the Rings from the get-go. From then on things go from bad to worse as an Aes Sedai, or “witch” shows in the sleepy town of Two Rivers the same night as it is attacked by Trollocs (Jordan's Orc equivalent). From then on events unfold somewhat slow at first and begin to gather momentum as our protagonists journey unfolds around them. There are many similarities between Lord of the Rings and Jordan's epic or perhaps they're common tropes of the High Fantasy genre, such as the dichotomy of good against evil; suspicion of magic(s) and an unnatural interest in wolves. Clichéd this may be, but cliché can work, and in Jordan's case it does it excellently. If you can overlook the myriad of invented words and the atlas full of new place names (Tar Valon, anyone?) then what you'll find in Jordan's first entry is a fully realised world, with characters you come to care about more than you initially imaged. Sure you've probably read it all before, or if not something similar, but does that really matter if you're a fan of the genre? Jordan has expertly crafted environments and people who are believable. The very black and white divide of good and evil wears quite thin towards the end of the book. Especially for those who are used to the bitter-sweet amorality of Westeros. Quite often during The Eye of the World you find yourself more interested in the aside characters who play integral roles throughout the book. Such as the in-keeps who keep the heroes one step ahead most of the time.
Perhaps not a book for people who are looking for quick fix of Fantasy, or even to those new to the genre, but that said the first book of Jordan's epic saga might not be a page turner in the manner of Martin, but the steady pace it set looks certain to pick up.