The Wheel of Time adaptation is looking good

As I’ve explained before, I read all of The Wheel of Time books but they always annoyed me. I wanted to read a commercially available multi-book epic fantasy genre (i.e. one where you could reliably find the next volume in a book shop) and it was what was available. I can’t recall when I started reading it but it was by the point that there were several books available (being smart, I thought I’d start a series that might be close to being finished and was punished for my presumption).

I think it is fair to say that the books are a meandering mess but not so terrible that they didn’t end up with a huge readership. I can’t think of a set of books that hit that spot where I was annoyed by them and yet still kept reading them. Like I said, availability was a big part of it particularly in a period in my life where I was shifting between countries.

A TV adaptation of the books is an interesting idea. In many ways, the books already felt like a TV show that kept spinning its wheels on the overall plot because the show had to keep going but the premise (an inevitable final conflict with the forces of evil) would end the show. Good books can make for bad dramatic adaptations but conversely, mediocre books can be elevated by a visual medium. I found a lot of Robert Jordan’s written world and characters to be a bit flat — particularly in later books with the huge cast split across a continent that all felt very much the same. A dramatisation could fill out the flaws.

So far, the adaptation is doing that. A strong cast gives the characters more weight and also pushes them closer to how Jordan intended them to be (from context) rather than how they come over in the books. Nynaeve in particular is clearly meant to be a strong-willed character in the books but comes over as just whiny and annoying (your impression may differ) in Jordan’s dialogue. However, the show’s Nynaeve is a really compelling character played by New Zealander Zoë Robins, full of intensity and suspicion of what she (correctly) perceives as a hostile world.

It’s not without flaws. Along with the baggage it brings from the books (from cliched fantasy Romany-like people to gender essentialism), the first episode introduces a pointless fridging of a character that the plot doesn’t really know what to do with. It’s a very diverse cast but there are some potentially dubious choices in villains early on.

Some great magic scenes though and the Aes Sedai as maybe-TERFy Jedi is actually an interesting choice given the dubious nature of the group in the books as a whole.

Anyway, so far, good fun with dark doings, big scenery and a big mystery as to which of the five young characters from the village is the Dragon Reborn. I wonder which one it is! OK, we know already but they are playing that angle well currently even if the actual choice is the obvious one.

30 thoughts on “The Wheel of Time adaptation is looking good

  1. I never felt the urge to go past the first book. I’ve heard wildly mixed reviews of the series from both fans of the books and complete newbies. I’d try it if I had any space in my viewing schedule.

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    1. I was in two minds but what prompted me to watch it was Star Trek Discovery. The switch of that show internationally to Paramount+ made me decide that I wouldn’t do another streaming service and probably cut back and the ones I had. So before cutting off Amazon Prime (which is the most likely to go) I decided to give it a go.

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    2. I read three, I think, maybe four. I really liked the first one. I somewhat liked the second. By the time I finished the last one I read, I commented that it would probably be more pleasant reading the phone book. At least then, I would not have the tantalising promise of plot moving forward temptingly dangled in front of me, only to ve ripped away. Now, I am aware that this may just be the perception of 20+ years ago me and not an objective truth.

      If the remaining books followed the “elapsed fictional time” of the ones I read, by book 8 or so, we would be dealing with sub-second time spans, in door-stopper volumes.

      On the plus side, people were more than happy accepting WoT books as gifts from my shelves. “Oh, you like WoT? That’s them, on the shelf, anyone you haven’t read? Cool, take it!”

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      1. As for “why”, this was a time and age where I would occasionally go to the UK (before living there), buy a bunch of series-first-books on the first day in country, then read as much as I could to form an opinion on if I wanted to read the rest or not, then buy the full series towards the end of the week.

        Somewhat cheap flights, somewhat cheap hotels, and no VAT on books meant that combining a trip to London with book-buying resulted in both a trip to London, and more books than buying them in Sweden.

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      2. No, you’re right about plot movement constantly being ripped away. When I read them years ago, I remember Rand was planning to invade one of the southern kingdoms at the start of book 5.

        And then, at the very end of Book 7, it finally happened, but in the span of about 30 pages.

        That’s when I gave up on the series. If it takes 3000 pages to do something, I’m not going to wait around for the ending…

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      1. I only have Legends I, but the back cover says Jordan’s in III.

        I tried to read Wheel of Time at some point — probably in the Hugo packet, so it was free and came to me — and noped out not very far into the first book. I didn’t even save the files, they were deleted first when I needed disk space.

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        1. My first experience with Robert Jordan was one of the Conan pastiches he wrote and it was not very good. I never got into The Wheel of Time, because I always preferred science fiction on the one hand and sword and sorcery on the other to big fat epic fantasy. I tried to read the first book, when the series was up for a Hugo and found that it did not interest me at all.

          I also have a more personal reason to dislike The Wheel of Time, becaus I have been called “not a real fantasy fan” more than once for not liking The Wheel of Time and/or Robert Jordan’s work and/or Brandon Sanderson’s.

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          1. Cora Buhlert: I also have a more personal reason to dislike The Wheel of Time, becaus I have been called “not a real fantasy fan” more than once for not liking The Wheel of Time and/or Robert Jordan’s work and/or Brandon Sanderson’s.

            I’m with Cam, I found TWoT to be in the “not exceptional, but compulsively readable” category. I read books 1-11 twice and the rest after Sanderson had finished the series. I still think Sanderson deserved the Hugo nomination for pulling together the mess of Jordan’s massive plotlines into something coherent and providing a real ending.

            I have lots of mixed feelings about Sanderson’s writing. My first intro to him was The Emperor’s Soul – which, to this day, I consider a masterwork – and I really enjoyed the first Mistborn trilogy and Warbreaker. And I really loved the Legion novella trilogy. But pretty much everything else I’ve read since then just reads to me like it was phoned in, tropey as hell. And the first book in The Stormlight Archive seemed to me to fall into the Jordan/GRRM mold of “interminable plot churning to sell many books” mold. So I’ve basically given up on Sanderson at this point.

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            1. I’m impressed by the extent of Sanderson’s method. Fans often talk about his magic systems but his writing feels like that also. I get the impression of somebody who would be a great project manager – and that’s an excellent skill for somebody writing complex fantasy. But I don’t find him compelling, as in ‘I must read more of this’. Weirdly, Jordan had more of that element even though he was a worse writer than Sanderson (and I think the WoT adaptation is highlighting the flaws in Jordan’s writing by how well the TV makes up for the flaws).

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            2. I enjoyed Sanderson’s Elantris but could not get into the one Mistborn book I read, mostly because of all the details of the magic system. I don’t like magic systems; I much prefer magic with mood and style to the detailed D&D style elaborate rules. I get why people are intrigued — I have the same reaction to comic-book superpowers — but I’m turned off.

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            3. I don’t much care for magic systems and overorganised worldbuilding in general. If I wanted to play an RPG, I would do so.

              As for Sanderson, the novella by him that was up for the Hugo in 2016 (“Perfect State” – I had to look up the title) was so forgettable for me that when it came to filling out my ballot a few weeks after I read it, I couldn’t remember a thing about it. I read one of his superhero books, which was okay.

              Sanderson, Jordan and others along those lines like Terry Brooks just don’t write the flavour of fantasy I like.

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            1. True, writing Conan, while not being Robert E. Howard, is not easy, which is why many of the pastiches just don’t capture the character well. Roy Thomas did a good job in the Conan the Barbarian and Savage Sword comics. Karl Edward Wagner’s “Conan and the Road of Kings” is supposedly good. Ditto for “Conan and the Emerald Lotus” by John C. Hocking, which I haven’t read, because the paperbacks go for more than a hundred dollars, which confuses even the author. Scott Oden recently wrote a Conan pastiche short story as a game tie-in which was good.

              Robert Jordan’s take on Conan, on the other hand, was not good. Worse than many of the De Camp/Carter pastiches and those often missed the point as well.

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            2. Carter, while very knowledgeable as a fantasy editor, never made it beyond the hack level. DeCamp was a much better writer, but not a better Conan writer. Reading their additions to the mythos in Lancer’s paperbacks of 50 years past left me thinking Conan was pretty boring.

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            3. Yes, Carter was a good editor, but not a good writer. I reviewed one of his non-Conan books for Galactic Journey and it was just terrible.

              De Camp actually was a good writer, he just was a terrible fit for Conan, because his style is so different from Howard’s.

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          2. I reread the Wheel of Time because of the tv series. I discovered I did not like Sanderson’s writing at all; the characters felt off, the pacing rushed and just… Not Jordan

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  2. As someone who read the books, there are some odd choices being made that the show then have to commit to. Kind of get why, in the books no-one knew how to communicate at all. “You need to do this. Why? because I just said so.” summarizes a lot of the arguments. And here they might have gone a bit too far in being open about things. But it’s more accessible to new people I think. And it feels a little less like a LotR rethread than the first book so far.

    I do think how they’ve chosen to portray the the weaving of spells — which would be really cool as a ritual — broke the pacing when used in battle. No urgency to it.

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  3. “Nynaeve in particular is clearly meant to be a strong-willed character in the books but comes over as just whiny and annoying (your impression may differ) in Jordan’s dialogue.”

    I didn’t see her as primarily whiny, my impression ran more towards stubborn and muleheaded but simultaneously bad at actually persuading people. Which led to a certain amount of whining when she didn’t get her way, sure, but I think I saw that more as a result than a personality trait. And she was far from the only character who did that.

    But I agree it’s an improvement if the show have made her better at being persuasive and less prone to cross her arms and tug her braid.

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  4. I’m almost done with book #13 (just one more to go–unless I read the prequel). I have enjoyed it, for the most part, as a break from more serious reading. I think the comparison with a TV show is apt; you enjoy the characters and it’s fun reading about the things they try to do, and you don’t really mind the lack of progress towards the goal, since that will mean the end of the show. But if you don’t like the characters and/or you’re not that interested in the world they’re in, then it’s definitely going to be tedious.

    We’ve enjoyed watching the show so far. We’re letting our little guy (11) watch with us, even though there’s some mature content. (He’s still mad at us that we wouldn’t let him watch Squid Games.) He’s really enjoying it, and both he and Eric have lots of questions for me about the background of the story. It’s fun listening to them speculate as to who the Dragon Reborn really is. (Eric is thinking it’s Mat and our guy is thinking it’s Perrin, although they both started thinking it might be Nyneve after the last episode.)

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    1. I like that they made it possibly the women were the dragon. It’s a tiny addition really but it implies a man can be reborn as a woman which shifts how reincarnation works in a fantasy setting where magic has a big gender dimension.

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  5. I stopped after the first book in the 1990s for reasons I can’t remember, but started a reread in advance of the show because a colleague of mine who grew up loving the books kept bugging me to do so. This time round the books are perfectly cromulent fantasy product–which exactly fits with OGH’s point about adaptation improving on mediocre material. We’ll see how far I get in before I jump ahead to Book 11 (where I’m reliably told stuff starts moving again).

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