As of this last weekend, I finally finished The Wheel of Time series. I began reading the books around 1995, so this chapter of my life was roughly 18 years long. I feel different being done. In some sense, I grew up with these characters. For their story to be done, while mine is still in its first chapters (or at least still near the beginning of the series), feel unjust somehow.
What did I think? How do I feel about the ending? Would I recommend these books to anyone else?
I will answer the last of these three questions first, as the first two will entail something akin to spoilers. I will give fair warning before I say any spoilers.
Would I recommend these books to someone? It is possible that I would. Certain people have preferences that indicate that they would like this sort of fantasy series. This series features large numbers of characters, a fairly clear-cut division between good and evil, an exquisitely detailed world, wordy and deep descriptions of everything in the books, and a certain…cultivation of belligerent flair.
Why would I not recommend these books? They are very, very long (over 4 million words). Most of the books are very, very slow. I believe that there are entire ~1000 page books in this series in which one of the three main characters doesn’t even appear directly. Despite the large cast and many interesting characters, there is also a monotony to the characterizations, particularly of women.
I have read a lot of fiction, particularly fantasy fiction, so I think it is fair to say that I have preferred, on a word-for-word basis, the work of some other authors. If you are looking to read an interesting and fresh fantasy series, but are new to the genre, check out the Riftwar and Serpentwar sagas by Raymond E. Feist. If you are a seasoned veteran of reading fiction, particularly if you are alread well-read in epic fantasy, then I highly recommend Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series. Sure, it is almost as long as Robert Jordan’s (~3.3 million words), but it is worth it. The worlds he weaves are rich beyond anything I have seen elsewhere. His characters come alive more deeply than any I have seen. The only reason I don’t recommend Erikson without reservation is that the books can be quite dark, even to the point of sometimes brimming with tragedy.
Back to the discussion of The Wheel of Time.
Possible spoiler(s) alert!
What did I think? How do I feel about the books now?
I was rather surprised at how satisfied I felt by some aspects of the ending. It was like watching a master craftsman put together a machine of stunning complexity, part by part. As the last part clicked into place, the whole thing comes alive, completed.
That said, the ending felt abrupt. I am used to reading tens, even hundreds of thousands of words of aftermath of any significant event in this world. The very end of the last book simply…ended. Sure most of the major questions posed during the series had been answered, but at least one major mystery was opened up right at the end. I wonder, if Robert Jordan had survived to write the end of the series himself, whether he might have slipped in more nuggets about the aftermath for the most voracious of his readers. I feel like a petulant child cheated of a treat. He built a beautiful and complex world that has a vast future ahead of it – a future with such possibilities it strains my heart. But I needed to close the last book and reflect on the completion of this work of art.
I am still getting over it.
All in all, reading these books was good for me. I got a mighty dose of epic fantasy, tons of practical psychology, wagon loads of witty dialogue, a world to reminisce upon and explore with my mind’s eye, and – bloody buttered onions – a lot of hilarious curses that I can probably never use.