Tuesday, 5 April 2011

The Eye of the World

I like understated covers. A cover filled with busy fantasy clichés doesn't interest me in the slightest. The old adage goes don't judge a book by its cover, but I like my bookshelf to look stylish. So The Wheel of Time covers fit in quite nicely, almost seeming bespoke alongside other covers.

Or, at least, that's how the second volume looks. The first volume of The Wheel of Time was my first purchase for the Kindle. So the only cover it has is a black and white electronic ink one I only turned to on completion, as, for whatever reason, the Kindle turns to the opening pages rather than the cover when you first open a book on there.

The Wheel of Time is the series that, over the last 20-odd years, has come to dominate epic fantasy. That's no mean feat. In that time, A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin's epic, has been released. Robin Hobb has released a fair few books. Steven Erikson has risen to prominence. And yet it's The Wheel of Time that dominates.

I still write fantasy. Not much, granted, and very rarely is there any kind of quest to a mountain to defeat an evil overlord or whatever, but I do still write it. And as such, I felt the need to read at least the opening couple of volumes of The Wheel of Time, my need to read it further fuelled by glowing reviews from half a dozen friends.

The Eye of the World is the first volume in the series (which will number 14 books in its ranks before long). At over 800 pages, it isn't light reading. But neither is it difficult; the language used is seldom challenging beyond the fact there's a lot of it. I'd have been comfortable with the prose when I was 12, if not the volume of it. I'm not criticising the book because the prose is easy. Far from it. It's actually quite nice to come away from reading heavy stuff to read something that, linguistically, is crystal clear and easy to follow. Language doesn't need to be complex to be well-used. It's one of the reasons I like Isaac Asimov and his works.

However, there is a difference between Asimov and Robert Jordan - not least that Asimov didn't write epic fantasy. I'll also stick my neck out and say that most of Asimov's works weren't just simple escapist reading. And simple is the word. Compare The Eye of the World to A Game Of Thrones. One follows the basic Tolkein-fantasy plot of an incorporeal evil overlord and a group of Shirelings with a wizard and a couple of other hangers-on trying to defeat it. The other has political manoeuvrings, multiple plot threads, dastardly characters and nefarious deeds by the bucket and - unusually - an original(ish) premise (apart from the bits nicked from Dune). I know which I prefer.

As Tolkien knock-offs go, The Eye of the World isn't bad, and I'll be reading the second volume of The Wheel of Time at some point in the future. However, if I have to choose between a George R.R. Martin book or a Robert Jordan novel in future, I know which I'll be picking.

But the covers are nice. I'll give them that.

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