The Eye of the World, originally published in 1990, is the first volume in the late Robert Jordan’s series entitled The Wheel of Time which has become one of the most popular fantasy series of all time. The novel follows in the footsteps of such fantasy greats as Terry Brooks and the great man himself, J.R.R. Tolkien. With its blend of fascinating characters (including several strong women,) the rich tapestry of its fantasy world, and the exciting plot, this book is a great read for any fantasy fan.
The novel revolves around the intertwined fortunes of several young people from a small town called Emond’s Field. The three men, Rand al’Thor, Perrin Aybara, and Mat Cauthon, are integral parts of the Patter, the intricate tapestry that connects all human lives to one another. They are swept up in a chain of events that will take them far from their home, and are guided and protected along the way by the powerful Aes Sedai (this world’s magic-wielders, who are women due to the fact that all men who are able to wield magic, called the One Power, eventually go mad) Moiraine and her bodyguard (called a Warder) Lan. At the same time, two young women, Egwene al’Vere and Nynaeve al’Meara, are also caught up in the Pattern, and both desire to become Aes Sedai themselves, though for very different reasons. In the end, it is revealed that Rand can wield the One Power (implying he will go mad,) but also that he is the Dragon Reborn, who is fated to be the world’s champion against the Dark One in the Last Battle.
Although the characters, especially the male ones, tend to act almost idiotically at times, Jordan deserves especial credit for giving the women of his tale so much power. While they are not the central driving forces per se, without them none of the male characters would be able to move beyond their own insipidness. Moiraine, although she has few chapters all to herself, is one of the most intriguing characters in the entire tale, while one cannot help but like both Egwene and Nynaeve, even though the latter has quite a temper and often finds herself unable to control it. The fact that the women have such a strong role to play is in marked contrast to a great deal of other fantasy fiction (in Tolkien, for example,) where the women usually sit on the sidelines, waiting for their masculine saviors to return home.
Where Jordan truly excels, however, is in his painting of a completely realized fantasy world. The world that his characters journey through is full of countries and nations and peoples, all of whom have particular customs, modes of dress, beliefs, and behaviors, all of which combine to truly immerse the reader in this other reality. Furthermore, this world has a history fully as intriguing and full of struggle as our own world. From the great Age of Legends, when male and female Aes Sedai worked together (before the male hall of the One Power was tainted by the Dark One,) to the many wars and empires, the history of this world is almost more fascinating than the events currently unfolding in the novels.
All in all, the first volume in Robert Jordan’s epic fantasy series is an excellent romp through the world of epic fantasy. If you’re looking for a fully developed plot, a rich, textured world, and characters who are flawed yet ultimately likable, then you’re sure to enjoy reading this first volume.