You read, and sometimes enjoy, books. That’s a given, here. And so, here’s a question for you:
Have you ever been reading and enjoying a book at your own leisurely pace when you reached a point when the book started to demand your attention? A point where putting the book down caused you anxiety? A point where you needed to keep reading?
Not every book has one of these, to be sure, though I’d wager any given writer would pay his or her own weight in gold to bottle that something magical and soak their manuscripts in it.
Well, I reached that point in The Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson last week. I was probably about a third of the way through the book when I realized I’d reached it. I’ve now less than a quarter to go. (I’m so far behind when other “Wheel of Time” fans have already read the book because I was on a major reading hiatus throughout most of Grad School.)
This isn’t a review, and I won’t say what happened, or what’s happening, or anything like that. If you’ve read it, you recall about what was going on during this part of the book. If you haven’t, you don’t want to start with Towers, you’ll want to start at the beginning, with The Eye of the World. Or, if you’re someone who’s read part-way through “The Wheel of Time” series but gave up for some reason or another, then I offer this: pick the books up and start reading again. Because if you keep going, through whatever it was that made you put the books down, and read through to these latest books, you’ll find it was worth it. The Gathering Storm was good. Towers, I think, is better (or maybe seems better only because of the recency bias, but whatever, they’re both unquestionably very good). And the end, the final for-really-true end is in sight.
When this magnum opus is finally complete sometime next year, it will be milestone not easily surpassed. Flawed in ways that are at times vexing and frustrating, but nonetheless great, a magnificent accomplishment that will not easily be surpassed, even by writers aware of and careful to avoid the flaws. Because, how do you ever approach the “Prophesied/Destined Savior” trope again without feeling like a rehash of “Wheel of Time?” How do you do it authentically, and yet make it fresh? It’s a powerful deconstruction and reconstruction of one of the most prominent archetypes of fantasy fiction. I mean, without outright subversion or negation of the archetype, it’s hard to approach it – that’s what I meant by “authentically”.
Which is one of the challenges I face with my hibernating “Project SOA”, which in various drafts has made ample use of the “Chosen One” trope. My main character has variously been destined to be King, and destined to save the world. Admittedly, that was in the boring prior version of the story. But even in my most recent revision ideas, my thought had been to work up to this “big reveal” at some later part of the story. At this point, with “Wheel of Time” nearly complete, I’m no longer sure how you add something new to that framework. In time, I may figure out some angle that makes my approach fresh and interesting. But even if so… The Wheel of Time’s shadow will be long, and I don’t expect I’ll ever grow tall enough to step out of it.
Still, like other authors, I’ll yearn and strive to find a way to bring about this reaction, this feeling, in readers.
In the meantime, I’m along for the ride, caught in the maelstrom and happily going down with the ship.
So, how about you? Which books caught you up like this, and why? Any books that were so good you stopped and wondered if you, as a writer, could ever match it?