What is the longest book you’ve ever read? The longest series? Perhaps it is the seven books in J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” or the five (hopefully seven) books in George R.R. Martin’s grim series “A Song of Ice and Fire,” more commonly known as “Game of Thrones.” In today’s hyper-stimulating, information-overloading, attention-span-shortening world, the act of sitting down and reading a book can be a challenge, let alone staying focused and committed long enough to read an entire series.
While I have found success in reading longer series in the past (including “Harry Potter” and “Game of Thrones”), one series in particular has always scared me off because of its length: “The Wheel of Time.”
With 14 books — 15 if including the prequel — consisting of over 4.4 million-odd words and 147 unique points of view, Robert Jordan’s “The Wheel of Time” (WoT) is one of the longest fantasy series out there. This sprawling epic of incredible scope, mountainous stakes and meticulous detail is no easy thing to tackle. Both the series and individual books are long and, as such, have consumed my literary mind as I’ve read them over the past year.
“WoT” is a series of immense depth, sophistication and inspiration (which the Amazon Prime Video TV adaptation failed to capture). If you are a fan of the rich, articulate world-building and delicious political intrigue of the “Game of Thrones” universe, you’ll love “WoT.” The series offers an array of uniquely distinct characters — 2,787 to be exact — of great complexity and relatability, who have all been given the proper time to be fleshed out into their full potential. When reading “WoT,” it feels like you know the characters personally. In spite of so many distinct perspectives, Jordan does not fail to deliver spectacular characters who undergo immense growth throughout the series. With both major and minor characters getting the spotlight, the reader is given the chance to form deep connections with them and a stronger understanding of the story as a whole.
With so many books in the series, it’s difficult to succinctly summarize the premise. Imagine getting tapped on the shoulder and being told that you are inescapably destined to save the world. But to save the world, you must destroy it to allow a new age and order to rise from the ashes and flourish (I literally mean destroy — the ground crumbling, mountains shifting, species extinction, etc.). Oh — and you die at the end. Don’t question it.
You must march towards your simultaneous damnation and salvation, whether you like it or not. You must cut all ties, end centuries-long blood feuds, win the favor of world leaders and conquer nations. All the while, the forces of darkness spin webs of lies and deceit to do everything in their power to stop you.
“WoT” exceptionally delivers a sense of escapism, a feature of the fantasy genre that attracts so many readers. We’re given the ability to imagine and believe that there is an alternative reality that assuages the existential angst and dissatisfaction that we feel on any given day. The length of “WoT” makes this feature detailed and complex, enhancing the escapism and making the story more believable. Its intricate world-building, exhaustive history, rich characterizations and comprehensive depictions of nations and cultures muster up intense feelings that range from bona fide love and admiration to visceral disgust and disdain.
My favorite book was the fourth in the series, “The Shadow Rising.” It’s in this book where everything picks up and the story and characters fall into place. Even though my favorite book comes early, the latter half of the series is just as good. My second favorite book is the eleventh, “Knife of Dreams,” when the series gets out of what the fans call “the slog.” Consisting of books seven through 10, for many, “the slog” represents a painful slowing of story pacing and publication. At this point, I think the scope got too large, with too much potential and too much going on. That being said, one should not skip over these middle books. Albeit slowly, the story and characters undergo important developments that should not be missed.
“Knife of Dreams” is also unfortunately the last book that Jordan completely wrote himself. He died in 2007, so the series was finished by the beloved and prolific epic fantasy and science fiction writer Brandon Sanderson (author of “Mistborn” and “Stormlight Archives”). Sanderson finished the series based on the extensive notes Jordan left, which included whole chapters and polished character arcs. Sanderson did the series justice in regard to his capturing of Jordan’s prose and descriptive abilities in addition to the overall essence of the characters and story. Among the extensive notes left to Sanderson was the completed last scene of the series written by Jordan: the epilogue of book 14, “A Memory of Light” which is believed to have been kept almost entirely intact and unchanged by Sanderson. In a rather poetic and beautiful way, Jordan had the final say.
Over the last year, the story became a part of me. The fantastic world and the entrancing characters were a constant in my life. While the length of “WoT” isn’t necessary for the successful execution of these features, it did enhance these aspects of the genre. Beyond being a great read, “WoT” also brought new insight into my relationship with reading. As I mentioned earlier, it can be difficult to keep up with reading in today’s fast-paced, increasingly online world. But because reading “WoT” required consistency, I formed better reading habits. Reading “WoT” reaffirmed my love and appreciation for reading. Though it might seem daunting, it’s always worth it.
Daily Arts Writer Noah Lusk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.