Sarah guessed it! The Wheel of Time Series, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, is at number five on our list. This was another suggestion from that gem of a librarian, who shrewdly suspected that I liked long books. Good thing I did, too, because The Wheel of Time is fifteen of them, all in the neighborhood of 500-900 pages of small print, each thick enough to stop a bullet. By the time the final book rolled around, twenty-two years after the first novel, there were around fifty major characters. It took so long that, tragically, the original author, Robert Jordan, passed away. A few months after his death, Tor Books controversially announced that relatively unknown Brandon Sanderson, author of Mistborn and Elantris, would finish the series.
I picked up the first book, The Eye of the World, a year and four months ago and almost didn't read it because it has, perhaps, my least favorite cover in the world. It is this type of cover that gives fantasy a bad name. (Tor has since released a newer, prettier cover, but the old ones remain iconic.) It was one of my first forays into a book of that size, so I settled down to read with hesitation.
The Wheel of Time turns eternally. People die and are reborn to a fresh start. Ages come and go and are long forgotten by the time they come again. One such age, the Age of Legends, held the world in a time of great peace, prosperity, and knowledge. But when an experiment with the One Power-- the force that drives the Wheel-- went awry and pierced a hole in the Dark One's prison, mankind needed to remember the forgotten skills of war to face the Shadow. One man rose to the call of duty-- Lews Therin, alias the Dragon. Using the male half of the One Power, he managed to patch a seal on the prison.
But the price was high, and he unwittingly tainted the very tool he used to repair it, causing all men who wielded the One Power to go hideously mad. The curse didn't spare the Dragon; in his insanity, he murdered his entire family before killing himself in grief. But, despite the loss, the Wheel still turns. Ages still pass. The seal on the Dark One's prison holds, but everyone knows it will one day fail, and mankind will face the Shadow in the Last Battle. The world's only hope-- and its greatest fear-- is that the Wheel will weave Lews Therin back into the Pattern, and the Dragon will be reborn.
In the idyllic countryside of the Two Rivers, Rand al'Thor cares little for ancient prisons and prophecies. He is a sheepherder, and his troubles-- his whole world, even-- extends no further than the next village over. Until one day when the forces of the Dark One spill into the Two Rivers, searching for someone-- someone like Rand. With new knowledge of his past, his two best friends, and a strange new guide, he must flee the Two Rivers to confront his destiny in a journey that spans ages, more vast than he could ever believe.
I would love to tell you that every sentence of this series is pure gold, with nary a dry moment. But that would be a lie. As of two months ago, while I struggled through book nine, this series was in the upper twenties of my favorites list. Although I had enjoyed the first four books, the next six or so... dragged. Mankind was engaged in an epic struggle against the root of all evil, and a fair portion of it took place in dusty old meetings, where the rulers of powerful nations bickered over whether or not they actually had to fight the Dark One. This took... according to my calculations... 4,244 pages. (In paperback. It was fewer in the hardback editions. But I'm striving for dramatic emphasis here, not fairness.)
So, yes, the series was low on my list and slipping. But once I made it through Winter's Heart, the pace picked up again. And then, at long last, I came to the last three books of the series. The ones that weren't written by Robert Jordan but, instead, by Brandon Sanderson.
I cannot imagine what a challenge it must have been for young Sanderson. He had to finish a series that spanned over twenty years, to which a man had dedicated his life, and had constantly debuted as #1 on the bestsellers' lists, often internationally so. He had to write almost three thousand pages of plots and characters that weren't his own.
But something amazing happened in those pages. Sanderson had a fresh perspective on the series. As a fan, he understood what readers didn't like, and why. And he fixed it.
(Jordan had a tendency to contradict himself when he switched between showing and telling. He also spent an enormous page count describing women's dresses and how they smoothed their skirts, all while the women acted completely insane in the name of feminine wiles. But that, dear readers, will have to be another blog post.)
Were the last three books of the series good? Let me phrase it this way. I read them all in less than three weeks. When I finally got my hands on the beautifully-titled A Memory of Light, the final volume, I spent six hours finishing it, during which time I forgot to drink water. That's right. These books are so good that they cause me to neglect my basic human needs. And, if that does not convince you, let me say this: you have not witnessed tears until you have seen me lying on my bedroom floor, clutching A Memory of Light and sobbing my eyes out.
In The Wheel of Time series, you will experience beautiful, joyous light, and its opposite: deep, consuming darkness. It will introduce you to characters that will stick with you for the rest of your life. It will be a major time commitment for the next year or so, in the same way that I imagine a small child would be. And it is, whether you love reading or write your own books, absolutely worth it.
Just remember that I hate the covers, too.
Reminder: Comment on any of the favorite books posts for a chance to win any book from the list! Entries are capped at one per post. You can earn an extra if you mention that Hannah from the Writer's Window sent you. I will interrupt the series on Sunday, September 28, for my review of Anne Elisabeth Stengl's newest book, Golden Daughter. (You can expect her on the list, too!)