I never thought I’d actually read Robert Jordan’s (and I guess Brandon Sanderson’s) Wheel of Time in its entirety. I had started reading it back in junior high when The Eye of the World was first published, and up into college it was my favorite series of all time. But as I got older, the series got worse; and after finishing the ninth book around the turn of the century, I never bothered picking up another one, and the bad reactions of those who did bother confirmed me in my course of action. When I started hearing good things about the last, Sanderson-penned, volumes, I sort of regretted dropping the series, but who has the time to go back and read a a fourteen-brick series in one big gulp?
It turns out: me. This past winter, I decided I was sick of having to choose a new book every time I finished one, and so I wanted a series that would put me on autopilot for a good long while. Well, nothing says “autopilot” like The Wheel of Time, right? So I started in on the first volume, and then basically just kept reading until I was done, fourteen books and a few months later.
So the conventional wisdom is that the series starts out strong (if you like epic fantasy of this sort), goes badly off the rails in the middle, and then picks back up when Sanderson takes over. That’s not exactly wrong, but when you read it all in one gulp, it’s not quite right, either. Because, yeah, the series gets more digressive in the middle, and if you’re reading as the books are published, waiting years and years to see some eagerly-anticipated plot event, and then you don’t get it… it’s crazy frustrating, and feels like the books aren’t moving at all. But if you know that everything’ll happen shortly enough, and there’s no wait in between books, that frustration goes away, and you can appreciate what actually does happen.
So, yeah, the middle books do get buried in the weeds for a bit, but read as a single coherent whole, that middle section is still entertaining enough, and not the mad frustrating mess of boredom and nothingness that it seemed like as the books were coming out.
And similarly, Sanderson’s turnaround doesn’t quite seem like one when read in a chunk, either—it’s really the book before Sanderson takes over that the forward momentum of the core plot resumes, and Sanderson just keeps that up (though to give Sanderson his credit: I doubt Jordan could have kept that momentum up. It’s Sanderson’s relentless forward drive that lets the series hit its ending in “only” fourteen books).
Overall, this is certainly a flawed series—it’s weirdly paced, significant characters don’t even appear until halfway through it, some plot elements are never dealt with satisfactorily, and of course if you don’t like this particular type of epic fantasy, you’ll find all the flaws of that genre here, too. But if you do like this style of thing, well, I think this is still a very good example of it. Maybe not good enough to really justify fourteen books out of a busy person’s schedule, but if you ever started this series and liked it, it’s worth finishing it, I reckon.