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It's been nearly 30 years since "The Eye of the World" was first published. I had heard of it many times, but for various reasons never bothered to read it. I even bought my copy of this book some six years ago, and there it sat on my bookshelf. I finally brought it with me during a trip out of the country to make my travel time go by more quickly. I'm glad that I did.
"The Eye of the World" offers a relatively interesting spin on what has become the classic fantasy novel plot: a young band of inexperienced bumpkins, for mysterious reasons, are chosen by the forces of the ancient ones to travel to the kingdom of evil to do battle with the devil himself. There are many problems with this storyline, and I am not usually a fan of it. "The Eye of the World" is no different in this regard. It suffers the same weaknesses as all stories of this kind. My main gripe is that it is extremely unbelievable, even with a hefty dose of suspension-of-disbelief, that a small group of kids plucked fresh from the farm could defeat the most powerful evil threat the world has seen in eons. Even with a powerful wizardly guide and a stoic swordsman. It wasn't believable when Tolkien did it, nor when Brooks did it, nor is it particularly believable when Jordan does it.
The interesting spin here are the many feminist undertones. The characters live in a surreptitiously matriarchal society, where the men think they're running things, but really it's the women. This relatively simple twist enables Jordan to explore elements of the classic storyline that many authors couldn't. Stripped of the ability to control the most powerful magic in the world, the men must use their wits and their ability to befriend and persuade others. It all gives the story more interpersonal intrigue than is typical of fantasy novels. That's good.
Despite its ostensible feminism, though, the novel is still written entirely from a man's perspective. The female characters, while very powerful, are relatively flat. All of them hold men almost in contempt and go about their business, always whispering important things out of earshot of the male characters (and therefore the reader). So the great and powerful women come off as being stern, gossipy hens. That's bad.
Another weakness in the story is that, up until the final scene, all of the interesting things happen to everyone other than the main character. All the other characters discover their uniqueness and powers and have great adventures while Rand, the protagonist, watches and thinks, nothing more. It would have been better if some of these amazing things happened to Rand, too. But no. (I understand why the story was written this way, but it's a weak point, in my view.)
One of the book's major strengths is the way the historical background information is revealed to the reader slowly, rather than through long tangents or soliloquies. This leaves an air of mystery about the forces of evil and good at play in the novel's world. We learn what we learn as the characters themselves learn it, and slowly become more educated in the mythology of the novel's universe.
At any rate, by the mid-point of the novel, the action had me hooked, and I made it through a 750-page novel in a week. That's not a new record for me, but it's the most I've read in quite a long time. And I quickly had Amazon deliver the sequel to my doorstep in time to pick it up as soon as I had finished reading the last page. So Jordan got a lot right with this book, and I'm looking forward to the next one.
Overall, I'd give this 3.5 stars, but let's just round up to 4.