The Great Hunt

I know I said I wouldn’t write book recommendations for each of the Wheel of Time books since there is 14 of them and, let’s be honest, you only need the first book recommended in a series to get started and determine for yourself if you will finish it. That said, this post is not technically a recommendation. I thought it would be fun to track my journey through this enormous series. So, here comes my thoughts on The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan. I will keep this post spoiler free (which proved harder than I thought) for anyone who hasn’t read it yet, but I am absolutely open to having a discussion in the comments with any spoilers. I would greatly appreciate it if you do not include spoilers from later books so nothing is ruined for me before I get to it.

I finished this book about two weeks ago (and about two weeks after I finished the first book). I flew through it. I found myself absorbed in the story and wanting to read it with any free time I had, which is a sign of a good book. I have to say I am greatly enjoying this series. Right now I’m about 2/3 through the third book and will probably finish it before this time next week. Of course, there were things I liked and didn’t like as there are for nearly every story. So let’s begin.

One thing I didn’t like that is completely excusable is the lack of resolution for some story arcs. Obviously there is plenty of story left to resolve some of the arcs that begin in this book (or began at the end of the first book), so I can live with a few unknowns at the end of this one. Though unless there is going to be a long play, there was one specific character that I was expecting to see a resolution with, and I have no idea where Mr. Merchant Darkfriend is currently (hopefully that doesn’t give anything away). Honestly, I would have been okay with just a short description but I’m sure he will pop up later on.

This book begins the trend (I’m assuming it will continue to be one from where I am currently) of using prophecies. These prophecies, some to be potentially accurate and others probably not, are used to heighten expectations and let the entire population of this imaginary land be somewhat in-the-know of what we as readers are experiencing. Prophecies are a great literary tool and I think Jordan uses them well.

One thing that is only slightly excusable is the Seanchan. I was intrigued by them and they obviously created some questions, which so far many are unanswered but still interesting (I hope I get the answers thought it may be awhile). They of course created conflict and allowed for some great character development. They also were an interesting commentary on slavery and psychology. I’m not going to write a literary analysis of this, but I’m sure I could if I was so inclined. Human history is littered with societies that included slavery, but this is a different take on it since many things apply to only Jordan’s world.

I’ve become a big fan of Loial. Maybe because I also love books, but also because he is odd man out. He is too hasty for an Ogier and is considered young at the age of 90, yet he now travels with those who he considers hasty and naive in many ways. The Ogier as a people often remind me of the Ents in Lord of the Rings with their relationship with nature and their view concerning the actions of those who live shorter lives.

Also, what is up with Selene? I felt like every time she is mentioned I was reminded that men go simple-minded in front of gorgeous women (which is not entirely true) and that good-looking people are highly influential (which pop culture today proves to be true unfortunately). I know she is dangerous and I found myself at times shaking my head at how some characters interact with her.

Let’s not even talk about Ingtar. I like that guy and choose to continue doing so.

The introduction to fast-travel in the first book via the Ways was interesting, plausible, and enjoyable. Then we get another means of fast-travel that opens up an infinite world of possibilities and I’m unsure of how it will impact the remainder of the story. Especially since the theme of dreams is further explored. Either way, I got a Skyrim vibe from this form of travel. I hope it doesn’t get overused as I continue through the story because it could easily become an overly convenient way of getting characters around.

Well, that’s all I have for this book. I’m afraid things are already starting to merge in regards to what happens in each book. I’ll post about The Dragon Reborn shortly after I finish it so the events are little more fresh. I may very well include spoilers moving forward so I can discuss things freely, but I’ll give a heads up either way. The last thing I want to do is ruin anything for anyone.

As always, I’m happy to discuss this book with you so leave a comment.

Happy Reading.

The Eye of the World

Today I am recommending The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan. This book is the first of 14 in the Wheel of Time series and was originally released in January of 1990 (preceding Game of Thrones by about six years). This epic fantasy series was and continues to be extremely popular. I’ve met several people who raved about it and even one person who has a tattoo covering the middle of his back. My grandmother bought me this first book of the series and it has sat on my shelf, on my “to-read” list, for over ten years. She has always encouraged my love of reading. Then a friend of mine started the series recently and loved it and convinced me to bump this book up to the top of my list so he would have someone to talk to about the series as we both progressed through it. So here I am, beginning possibly the largest series I’ll ever read.

Jordan began writing the first book in 1984 and the series was planned to span six books. It ended up being 14 books with a prequel novel and two companion books. The Wheel of Time series is an impressive 4.4 million words with this first book running just over 300,000, which is the average length for each book in the series (an average novel is roughly 85,000). Below is a breakdown of the series by length.

Image borrowed from Barnes & Noble Statistical Analysis of the Wheel of Time

This is a massive series which, if I’m honest, was the reason it has stayed in my “to-read” pile for so long. I knew I would eventually get around to reading it, but I’m glad I started it now because books are always better enjoyed with friends. In this case, we are both reading through it for the first time so it isn’t a “you should read this because I already have and it’s great and you need to think it’s great too” kind of deal.

I do want to note that I do no plan to write a recommendation for each book in this series (though it would increase the number of book recommendations I post this year). I plan to write this initial recommendation and one final post when I finish the series. I am recommending this series now because I have finished the first book and enjoyed it.

I thought there was a slow area about 2/3 of the way in, but that isn’t bad considering the length of this book, and the ending made up for it and then some. This book is well-written and I never found myself bored (even during the part I thought slow). There is much description but not enough I think to turn many people away. Jordan does name a few of the horses (I have a friend who draws the line at the naming of horses in books of fantasy, weird I know) but nearly everything has a purpose and isn’t simply superfluous world-building. The characters are well-rounded and easily discernible. There is plenty of mystery as you ease your way into this world Jordan has created but he provides everything you need at a good pace and doesn’t leave you hanging unnecessarily. This is a rich world and I am excited to continue my journey into it as I progress through the series.

I will not be providing a summary here because I wish to keep this recommendation spoiler free and I would prefer not to provide a summary of the overarching story versus what is contained in the first book alone. All I will say is that if you like epic fantasy, such as The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, The Name of the Wind, The Riftwar Saga, etc., then you will enjoy this book and series. If you can convince a friend to join you in this journey, then you may find it even more enjoyable and I recommend doing so. If you can’t, then you will have fun all the same. Just know that you are jumping into a story that will surely make an impression. If you don’t like the first book, then I recommend not completing the series. If you do like the first book, then be prepared to consider this series an essential collection in your library (just as many of us consider Harry Potter).

I understand any hesitation in starting a series this large but know that millions of people have already made this pilgrimage and returned enriched. I look forward to finishing my own read-through as I reach the last novel. I hope you may one day make the journey yourself. If you do, let’s talk about it.

Happy Reading.

The Unexpected

Have you ever experienced a story that left you utterly lost? As in, you don’t remember what your perception of life was before experiencing it. Where you can’t stop thinking about the characters and what happened to them. Have you experienced a story that meant more to you than you thought originally possible?

I think some of the stories that hit us the hardest are the ones we never saw coming. By this, I mean the stories we knew little to nothing about but gave it a shot because something drew us to it, and before the end we realize too late that it wove itself through our muscles and bones and became as important to us as the air we breathed. At least, for a little while. The obsession fades usually after a few days but we will always recommend the story to our friends and maybe re-read, re-watch, re-listen to the story so we can experience it all over again. But it won’t be quite the same as that first time. Every re-experience is just a reminder of how it left us both empty yet fulfilled. We are just a story junkie chasing that first high.

Not the best analogy, but I think you get the point, and I hope you know what it is I’m talking about. Stories have power. They can make us question things and help us grow. They can teach us new things or make us question old things. They can do all of this across one page or an entire series, within one episode or even within five minutes of a movie (think of that scene from UP, you know which one I’m talking about). We are drawn to stories because we want to experience something. The type of story I’m focusing on is the one that comes out of left field to completely knock you off your feet. The type of story that is the reason I write. Even if I write 100 books and only 3 pages perform the magic I am talking about, then it will all be worth it.

There are several stories I can think of that left me catatonic. Simply sitting there, somewhat withdrawn into myself, wondering. Just wondering. Sometimes about the characters or what happened to them or sometimes about what my life is and what more I can do with it. I would love to hear what stories have affected you in this way. Please, leave a comment or send it to me from the contact page.

Stories like this don’t come around often enough for my liking. Maybe once or twice a year if I’m lucky, but I recently experienced one that I wanted to talk about before my obsession with it faded. There are many reasons I enjoyed this show (yes, it’s not a book this time). The show is a Netflix original called Violet Evergarden.

One thing I absolutely enjoyed and will enjoy for probably a long time is the soundtrack. I think I first heard of this show because it popped up as a suggested soundtrack to listen to online. I listen to a lot of orchestral soundtracks. I didn’t listen to this one until after I watched the show and now I own the soundtrack and am listening to it right now as I type this post. The second thing I found drawing me in was the character and the world she inhabits. The setting is a post-war era similar to maybe the 1920’s. The show takes place in a fictional world but it has a feeling similar to what I imagine life may have been after World War I. Our main, title character was a war orphan who was trained and treated as a weapon through the end of the war. The story picks up after the war has ended and Violet sets off to learn what happened to her commanding officer and what his last words to her meant. In her journey, she becomes an Auto-memory Doll, which is someone employed to write letters for other people and help them say what they cannot seem to put into words. Many of the people cannot write themselves. All the letters are written on a typewriter (which has me dusting off my old typewriter that was given as a gift many years ago). Her character development is enthralling even though most episodes are independent stories that build her experiences. Again, the soundtrack is amazing and music adds so much to shows and movies. The animation (did I mention it is animated?) is gorgeous. The entire show is well paced and I found myself watching several episodes at time and finishing the short 13 episodes within one week. The show gave me a feeling of nostalgia. Of a time simpler to the world we live in and the busy hustle and bustle of our technological world. That alone was worth the watch for me to be honest.

Nothing is better than finding a story this way. Unexpectedly and leaving you hopeful. Giving you an experience you will never forget. One you cherish and want to shout about so everyone else can feel how you feel. But of course we don’t because that is rude and you know that builds expectations which then hinders the story for others. You have to let others find it on their own. I know I gave away a lot about the show I just wrote about and I’ll apologize to you now if that gave you expectations for it, but I won’t really mean it because you may not watch it regardless or you may watch it now because I wrote about it and it caught your interest and you may not have heard about it otherwise.

The unexpected story is what we hope for when we give a book, show, or movie a chance without knowing anything else about it. I encourage you to go out and find something you have never heard of that sounds interesting and give it this chance. It may become a treasure to you. Yes, there are plenty of other stories your friends are recommending, but go out there and give the unknown a shot. You may find yourself recommending it to your friends, and fervently.

With that, I dedicate this post to the unexpected. May we all find such stories when we need them. To remind us that there is something out there we may have forgotten, or to remind us of what we dream to be.

Rashomon & Other Stories

Today I am recommending Rashomon & Other Stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa. This collection holds six short stories by Akutagawa. The title story “Rashomon” has become widely recognized because of the movie of the same name first released in 1950. However, the movie follows the storyline of a different short story titled “In a Grove,” which is also found in this collection. Akutagawa was considered the “Father of the Japanese short story.” Many of his works have inspired movies and he wrote well over 100 stories before his untimely death in 1927 at the age of 35.

The six stories in this collection are: “In a Grove” “Rashomon” “Yam Gruel” “The Martyr” “Kesa and Morito” and “The Dragon.” I first encountered Akutagawa’s work during my MFA program. We read “In a Grove,” which I think is the stronger story in this collection. It is a great example of Akutagawa’s work and sets the tone for many of the other stories. It is also a great example of what fiction can do and I recommend it to all writers who may be unfamiliar with his work. After all, it is used in many educational settings and has inspired several movies with it’s simple yet complicated storytelling.

These stories are not traditional stories that follow a structured plot and have happy endings. The main characters tend to be the forgotten or downtrodden who are overlooked or mocked despite holding high positions. Though I wasn’t alive at the end of the 19th century (though I did get to see the end of the 20th), I can see through these stories the strife Akutagawa felt during his own time. I believe a great short story keeps you thinking long after it ends. Most of these do just that. Despite their often strong critique of humanity and status quo, some of them end with a tinge of hope.

Some of these stories may not sit well with you. Others may make you wonder what times were like 100 years ago, and yet others may make you see that certain societal problems have existed for a long time. These six stories span roughly 100 pages and can be read all at once or picked up here and there. This may be outside of your usual reading bubble, but that’s a good thing. Give it a try. You may love it or you may hate it. You will probably learn something nonetheless.

Happy Reading.

The Once and Future King

Today I am recommending The Once and Future King by T.H. White. This book is actually a collection of four books. The first being The Sword in the Stone which was turned into and animated film by Walt Disney in 1963. This first book was originally published in 1938 (Beyond the first book, I’d say this novel is not particularly for kids as war and fighting and sex and death are, for the most part, shielded from the eyes of children). The collection of all four into The Once and Future King was published in 1958.

This recommendation does come with a few reservations. I enjoyed the lengthy novel (roughly 650 pages and nearing 300,000 words) which is centered around the Arthurian tales, but I’m afraid I may have come to it with a slight case of expectations. I know, I know, it is best to remove all expectations prior to experiencing a story so as to allow yourself to form your own opinion of it. I was planning on doing just that but seemed to have caught the little bug, which flew to me upon the words of Ursula K. Le Guin and Neil Gaiman as well as others who provided blurbs or introductions to this book. People whose opinions hold weight with me.

I understand their love for the book. The wit-filled pages that recount Arthur’s education and inauguration as king to his formation of the round table and the era of chivalry and through the years beyond where if falls into ruin. The story is interesting and entertaining. Some areas drag while others are captivating. It stays true to what is known about the legends (which most of us know of but may have never really read about) and White often refers to Mallory or other sources of the Arthurian legend. I felt that White relied on the reader having previous knowledge of the legend during certain passages.

The more I think about the story the more I like it, but I was not enthralled while actively reading it. White was funny and whimsical while also covering the darker story-lines and allowing tragedy. There are no detailed descriptions of fights or battles or hardships. Many are written without providing action but do provide some detail about the aftermath. The result is no blood and gore (which is perfectly acceptable and not really essential to the story) but plenty of description about scenery and the lands of England. The story of Arthur and his knights has captivated the world for centuries. I believe his story and legend will survive for a long time and White’s telling of it will continue to entertain. After all, it is written for modern audiences and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

The greatest thing about this book is its arching storyline of how England, through Arthur, was shifted from the “Might is Right” society to a more civilized land of laws. The tragedy of Arthur is in his good deeds. He transforms England into a peaceful land by channeling baser human instincts into a morally superior lifestyle. The new lifestyle is what ultimately causes the personal turmoil of the aged Arthur because he ties his own hands against saving the ones he loves.

If you are interested in, or already love, the Arthurian tales, then this book will likely be of great interest to you. If you know a little but would like to know more about these tales, then this book is a great place to start.

Happy Reading.